Lady Luck must be smiling on me, because today I managed to avoid two of the most miserable things to afflict a walker. First, my leg held up throughout the day, and second, I didn't get rained on once. I should be ecstatic; behind the façade of a man who's rapidly losing interest in this walk, I probably am.
Today's walk was a long one, mainly because I forced myself to take it easy. Last night I woke up in the middle of the night with my left shin cramping and my mind whirling, and for the first time in ages I lay there wondering how I would cope with failure. Back in Okehampton I figured that retiring early because of an unavoidable tendon injury would be depressing but acceptable, and before I tackled the Pennine Way I knew that if it broke me for a second time, at least I'd have given it a good go. But now that I'm nearly four-fifths of the way through this walk and with the hardest walking behind me, failure would be a seriously bitter pill to swallow.
In the middle of the night, in a humid hut that's swarming with midges, the prospect of failure looms especially large. My left shin throbbed and I could hardly move my foot; if things didn't improve in the next few hours, I would have to seriously consider taking time out to get over it. I couldn't believe it; it's my own stupid fault that things have taken this turn, and at 4am the world sat on my shoulders and pushed me right down into the mattress.
Daylight brought logic, though, and I figured that I might as well give it a go. I made it to Tyndrum's Little Chef for breakfast, and from there I forced myself to walk at about two-thirds of my normal speed, which helped. The twinge was still there, but I figured I could handle it; I couldn't believe my luck.
Predictably I found it hard to concentrate on the walk itself. If my mind wasn't obsessing over every single pain and twinge in my body it was obsessing over the weather, because at last the heatwave has broken. Last night's thunderstorm heralded a change in the weather and the clouds rolled in and smothered the mountains overnight, leaving the atmosphere incredibly humid and on the brink of rain. With the state of my boots and the awkward condition of my leg, torrential rain was all I needed, and I stared at the clouds like a man possessed.
Luckily the weather held up as well as my leg, and apart from some spitting, I was safe. The conditions underfoot were never in doubt anyway; today I might have crossed the infamous Rannoch Moor, but I crossed it on one of the most amazing walking surfaces this side of the canal network, a road built by none other than Mr Telford.
From Tyndrum to Inveroran the Way follows the same military road that it takes from the northern reaches of Loch Lomond, a road that dates from the 18th century and the time when General Wade and Major Caulfield were tasked with sorting out the military transport network around Scotland. But from Inveroran, across Rannoch Moor, a drovers' road takes over, a road that would have been used to herd cattle to market. In 1803 Thomas Telford was commissioned by the government to rebuild a number of these roads to make it easier to drive cattle, and the road across Rannoch Moor is one of his.
It's a good road, if a little stony these days, and it makes crossing the moor simplicity itself. Sure, it's a long 9.5-mile trudge from Inveroran to Kings House, but it's a darn sight more pleasant than crossing the moors of northern England. Ink-black clouds loomed in the near distance, constantly threatening rain, and the surrounding peaks were hidden by long, grey swathes of mist, but in the end the real problem with Rannoch Moor wasn't the weather, it wasn't the path and it wasn't my shin; I've now entered the realm of the horsefly and I don't like it one little bit.
Horseflies, or 'clegs' as they're called round here, are terrible things. Slightly bigger than house flies and looking like lumps of furry green mould with wings, they can sense an attractive-smelling human from miles away by homing in on carbon dioxide emissions in the same way that midges do. Once they've tracked you down, they fly round and round your head, buzzing into your ears and having a good old sniff around, looking for a nice juicy patch of exposed skin to attack. They might join their friends on the back of your pack, sunning themselves until your guard is down, but whatever their tactics they eventually get stuck in, and that's when you really notice they're there.
The clegs of Rannoch Moor are particularly fond of the soft underside of my forearms, just where the veins meet the elbow. When walking with sticks in humid weather, this is where the sweat collects and drips off, so the odd tickling sensation under the elbow is no surprise; the surprise is when it turns out to be a cleg, because when these buggers bite, it hurts. They really sink their teeth in, and unlike midges and mosquitoes, they don't like to let go; I've brushed many a cleg off my arm only to find that it's still happily attached and drinking my blood. Quite literally, clegs suck.
This makes them surprisingly easy to kill, though. Clegs are obviously used to biting animals whose aim is only as accurate as a flicked tail or a shaken rump, and as a result they've developed a rather cocky attitude to meal times, ignoring any attempts to yank them out of your veins. When you're walking it's hard to take aim properly, but I spent many a happy minute resting on Rannoch Moor, slapping clegs into early graves and doing my bit to control the population. I couldn't spend too long swatting flies for fear of the midges, who aren't too proud to take sloppy seconds from the clegs, but at least it made me feel better about the itchy welts covering my arms.
Crossing Rannoch Moor to reach the lonely Kings House Hotel is, according to my guidebook, the highlight of most people's West Highland Way. If so, then I'm thoroughly past my sell-by date; I'm reaching the point when I've just about had enough of this bloody walk, and I'm not talking about the West Highland Way, I'm talking about Land's End to John o'Groats.
Basically I'm bored and I want to go home. Every few minutes I'm having to repeat the mantra I picked up before I set off on this walk, 'I have to want to finish, I have to want to finish.' But stopping isn't an option anyway, because I'd never consider giving up this close to the end; I'm 80 per cent of the way through this walk and the only thing that's going to spoil the party is injury. This is a distinct possibility, as it feels as if my body is giving way beneath me, but mentally I know I can do this, just as long as I can stay interested.
I didn't think this would happen, to be honest. I thought Scotland would wake me up out of the slumber that the latter stages of the Pennine Way induced, and I certainly enjoyed the Scottish Borders region, with its beautiful abbeys and easy walking. But the canals wore me down and I'm just not energetic enough to care about the West Highland Way, and still the walk continues. Frankly I want it all to end, and the only thing that's stopping me is the sure knowledge that I'd seriously regret giving up.
Perhaps this is what they mean by having to want to finish. I'm sitting in the bar in the Kings House Hotel, my feet are feeling reasonable, I've only got a 9-mile walk tomorrow, I'm enjoying the draught Caledonian 80 Shilling more than usual and I've even got a phone signal... but I'm deflated. It's odd, but at least it makes me want to get to the end even more.
Yeah, bring on the rest of the walk, if only so I can get it out of the way...