Blimey, I wasn't expecting today to turn out like this. Sure, I didn't roll out of bed this morning expecting everything to be fantastic – the weather is still overcast and rainy, which makes this part of the world particularly miserable – but I didn't think I was going to spend the afternoon throwing up. It's totally scuppered my plans.
I've got food poisoning – yes, food poisoning! – which is a fine way to conclude this week of physical misery. Seven days ago I walked so far along the central canal belt that I got a nasty blister on my right heel, and the next day the same foot swelled up into a painful mess that turned the walk to Drymen into a serious struggle. A few days later I rushed along the shoreline of Loch Lomond so fast that I strained my left shin, and the following day's walk to Tyndrum was agony all the way. Today I managed to get a blister on my left middle toe – something I haven't had for weeks – but bigger and better than any of these injuries is the awful bout of vomiting that hit me this afternoon.
I'm pretty sure I can blame the sandwich I ate at lunchtime today, thankfully after I'd finished the short walk from Kings House to Kinlochleven. I thought it tasted a bit funny, but it wasn't past its sell-by date and you never think these things are going to happen to you; but within a couple of hours of eating it I started feeling queasy and over the next three hours I threw up three times. The third bout was particularly interesting and I kneeled there amazed as ever-louder heaves brought up practically everything I've eaten in the last month. My stomach muscles haven't had such a thorough workout since I lightened my pack in Okehampton.
So now I'm lying in bed, alternately shivering beneath the duvet and throwing back the covers in cold sweats, and tomorrow's 14-mile hike to Fort William looks increasingly like a very bad idea. I'll decide in the morning whether to stay or go, but one thing's for certain: instead of enjoying my last couple of hundred miles through Scotland, I'm rapidly reaching the end of my physical tether. None of the problems have been bad enough to send me home early – I presume I'll get over this food poisoning, assuming that's what it is – but the final lap is proving to be one of the biggest challenges of all and it's got nothing to do with the walking. My mind might be fighting on, but my body's showing worrying signs of giving up.
The weather really does make or break this part of the world. Scotland is glorious in the sunshine, especially if there's a reasonable breeze to keep the insects away; those walks along Loch Lomond were idyllic, for example, and I have fond memories of crossing the border to reach Jedburgh. But since I left Peta and the loch behind the weather has slowly disintegrated, and now it's reached the depressing level of cloudy, patchy showers that obscure the views and encourage the insects. I don't like it one bit.
In this weather I just can't love this part of Scotland. If it weren't for the fact that I'm going to finish this damn walk come hell or high water, I'd be chucking in my walking boots and staying inside, because today was everything I don't like about this part of the world, rolled up and stuffed into one tedious walk (and this was before I even touched that damn sandwich). Yesterday's low clouds hadn't moved by breakfast and they sat there all day, obscuring the mountains that the guidebooks rave about; the clegs were still there, hitching a ride on my backpack and trying to eat me when I wasn't looking; and around the Kings House Hotel the midges made an unwelcome return, clouding round the campsite and devouring the poor souls who'd already spent a long night fighting them inside their tents. I was lucky as I only got lacerated once I started walking, but by the time I'd dropped my pack, pulled out the baby-oil-and-Dettol mixture and smothered it on my arms and neck, I was already an itchy, blotchy mess.
So was the walking worth the effort? I'm afraid it wasn't, purely because the weather refused to let me see what was going on. I'm sure that in clear weather this place is the poetic beauty spot the writers all harp on about, but in low cloud it's a dismal place, full of dark shadows and ghostly silhouettes. I desperately wanted to enjoy myself, because this is one of the most celebrated walking spots in Scotland, but I didn't. Instead I walked the 9 miles to Kinlochleven as quickly as I could, before the clouds decided to get it together and turn into rain.
I suppose I did see the bottoms of some presumably huge mountains, and I did climb the Devil's Staircase, a switchback of a military road from which the views back towards the Kings House are probably great in the sun. But most of the walk was a weary exercise in plodding along the old military road, warily eyeing up the murky clouds while midges attacked me and clegs took chunks out of my legs.
The highlight of the day was when I finally arrived in Kinlochleven and ducked into the hostel, because that's when the lightly spitting rain tuned into a torrential downpour. I sat inside, warm in the happy glow of someone who's just avoided a drenching, and to celebrate I fished a ham salad sandwich out of my pack and munched my way through it, ignoring the slightly piquant flavour of the lettuce and the gentle effervescence of the ham.
And that's where today's story should have ended...