By: Blonde Two
Jean looked up towards Corryhabbie Hill, even when the cloud wasn’t down, the summit was hidden; today she couldn’t even see the ridge in front of it. She had already been half way up once, and had studied the hill enough times to know that she was in for another steep climb. The map said 400 metres height gain, which sounded okay, but in a kilometre and a half and over rough ground, she knew that it wasn’t going to be easy.
She shut the gate carefully and set off across the field. The first slope was gentle and by now she knew it well; up the little cutting, hard to know why it was there but it made a reasonable path, past the ‘phoone stoone’ as she had christened it; time for texts and internet access on the way back down, over the ditch, after yesterday’s rain full of water, and through the dilapidated deer fence. She wasn’t sure whether the fence was there to keep the deer on the hill or on the fields below, but it was flat on the ground further along and the deer roamed right up to the cottage boundary most evenings.
The slope increased, the ground thick with spongy orange moss and spiky heather stems; in theory just like Dartmoor, but in reality, totally different to walk on. The orange moss formed boulder sized mounds and was surely the stuff that memory foam was made of; no sinking here, rather bouncing. Bouncing could be fun she thought, but not so good if you were trying to walk up a hill; each bounce absorbed a bit of the upwards energy that she was trying to exert.
It took her forty five minutes to reach the saddle.She sat down for a cup of tea and an intended view watch, but the map required her attention. A faded laminated sheet that she had found in a cottage drawer; it showed a route to Corryhabbie Hill that took a few too many risks in the misty conditions that she was about to encounter. Straight uphill was the safest option from here; straight uphill, onto the plateau, then hopefully meeting the path that ran across the ridge, the path that would take her to Corryhabbie Hill.
Jean told herself off; ‘hopefully’ wasn’t good enough! Her navigation skills were there, she knew that they worked, time to put them to a real test. She fished her compass out of her rucksack pocket; first a back bearing to the cottage to pinpoint where exactly she was on the saddle, and then a bearing up the hill to where she wanted to hit the path – 42° should do it, not too near any dodgy falling-off places and just about straight up. 900 metres distance, no point in timing herself crawl up that hill, pace counting would tell her when she should expect to see the path. She stood up, packed her flask away and pulled her walking poles off her rucksack; a friend had once described climbing a hill using walking poles as ‘climbing the stairs using the banister’; they would help physically, but would occupy a hand that really needed to be holding the compass, the compass that provided emotional support as well as directional.
She looked behind her up the hill but could only see the bottom 100 metres; after that there was a bank of cloud. She reached into her jacket pocket, she liked to feel the security of the compass in her hand; it wasn’t there! She checked the other pockets and her trousers, still not there, and it wasn’t in its usual place in the rucksack belt either. Panic rose and Jean’s breathing quickened, a magnetic security blanket and she wasn’t even in the mist yet. The panic was forced down but quickly replaced by disappointment; she didn’t need a compass to get back down but going up into the mist without one would be foolish. Jean turned around to contemplate a second failed attempt at reaching Corryhabbie Hill, the cottage was visible and taunting her; and then she looked down at the mossy ground, the compass was sitting there, where she had left it. Cross with herself for leaving it on the ground, but more so for the panic, Jean picked the compass up, checked the bearing and set off up the second stage of the hill.
This section was steeper but despite, and maybe because of having to stop every 50 metres to check her bearing to the next tussock or funny coloured piece of ground, Jean made quicker progress than she had expected to. It had been ten days since her first attempt on this hill, and she had walked up a few since then, maybe Scotland’s steep slopes had worked a bit of fitness magic. Her calves hurt, but she resolutely kept on her ‘straight-up’ bearing, sliding a bead up its string every time she passed 100 metres. The terrain changed several times, each landscape more alien than the last, and each limited by the mist to a ‘spotlight’ of fifteen metre radius. There was no denying that it was creepy and Jean focused even more on what she was doing; direction, count, direction count.When she had counted her paces to around six hundred metres, the ground flattened out. Although losing the hill made walking easier, the flat rocky plateau looked the same in every direction. Jean stopped and turned slowly around, touching the compass in her pocket for comfort. You could walk in any direction from here and be convinced that you were heading for the path. She felt the mist close in on her, this was worse than navigating at night, how easy it would be to walk around in circles.
“Pull yourself together woman. You can do this!” She said the words out loud but they didn’t make her feel any more confident.
Jean checked her compass and started walking again, faster this time, she needed to find the path to calm herself down. Seven hundred metres, upland bog, eight hundred metres, mind the pools of water, nine hundred metres, quartz; quartz against black peaty ground, but no path. Where was it? Jean slowed her breathing. She knew what to do; on for another hundred metres and then rethink the situation if she didn’t see the path. She had done this many times before, just not on her own, in the mist, on a Scottish hillside.
“Always trust your compass.” she muttered, and walked on.
The mist cleared a bit but she still couldn’t see the path ahead, there was a pile of stones; difficult to tell if it was a walker’s cairn or not but it gave her hope. And then there it was, she was on the path almost before she saw it, yellow unruly stones hidden in a dip. Jean could have kissed the ground and she felt a tear of relief escape. The next bit would be easy; pace and time along the path to the Corryhabbie shelter cairn, force herself to stop long enough for lunch and a cuppa and then reverse the whole process. She could definitely do it now, she would be down and out of this mist and laughing about her fears in no time.