I left you on a bit of a cliffhanger in my last piece; I didn’t know what was going to happen myself. I was ill, in fact I would have to say that was the most unwell I’ve been for nearly two years. Even swine flu had nothing on that. So, what happened next?
On Thursday I awoke, actually strike that; on Thursday I got out of bed after no real sleep at all. The night had been very tough indeed. At one point I had seriously considered crawling down the gorge to call for a lift to my family’s house. But I was too ill to move.
When I pulled myself out of my sleeping bag I faced a real challenge in lighting the fire. Although I had been throwing logs on throughout the night but had stopped at around five in the morning as I realised I was very quickly running out of fuel. I managed to light the fire, despite the fact the storm had dampened everything considerably.
As I ate my porridge (my first meal since breakfast the previous day) I knew I was going to have to let my folks know I wasn’t well and may need emergency evacuation. After talking to them and putting them on a twenty-four hour alert I then faced the next real test – gathering wood for the fire. I only had enough fuel left for a few hours at most, although I was still exceedingly grateful I had managed to gather as much as I had on Monday; it had seen me through the worst of the illness, when I couldn’t even move. Now, I was feeling a little stronger and this would challenge that strength, help me to gauge my recovery and, ultimately, decide on whether to head to Wick, warmth, shelter and a family who would envelop me in their love and care.
The rain was constant and hard and very quickly had soaked through all my clothing including the waterproof goretex but I kept moving, sawing, chopping and carrying logs back to camp. This, and my merino (thank you Chocolatefish!), kept me warm, so the fact I was drenched mattered little.
When I moved to this part of the forest and mountains, I deliberately left all the suitable firewood within a two hundred yard radius of the shelter. This was done in case the weather was so severe I couldn’t venture any further and it now proved hugely beneficial to my ill state. Within a couple of hours I had collected a variety of thicknesses of fuel and processed them into two foot sections for the fire.
As I sat by the now blazing fire pit, quietly sipping tea and steaming dry, I began to realise I was on the road to recovery. I certainly felt weak, very weak, but the aches, pains, hot and cold and head ache were disappearing. I did little else but cook some pasta with a roux sauce; basic but nourishing.
The following morning I awoke from the best night’s sleep I’d had for a little while. I felt tired and still weakened, but at the same time rested.
The storm was still raging when I went to call my family. I had left the final decision on whether to be collected until that morning and I decided to keep them on standby and try to recover out here.
The delicious irony that were I to leave the wilderness due to having picked up a virus in civilisation was not lost on me and I was determined not to be beaten by germs.
Being ill left me with a lot of time to think. To ponder my future, both immediate and longer term, and I have come to some realisations and decisions.
Firstly, my vague (pardon the pun) notion I still had of packing up and walking north, as had been my original idea, has now dissipated. It would be too risky to do so; if I had a relapse, or caught something else on one of the resupplies I would need to do, and found myself without firewood or any shelter beyond my tarp, things could become very serious indeed. So, I have determined it is safe to stay here, in an area I have come to know very well, well stocked with fuel and in a sturdy and secure shelter that keeps out the storms that keep ravaging this corner of the world.
Secondly, I want to stay out here until December. On the first of that month it will be four weeks since I last saw another human. This leads me to my next point; thirdly I will not venture out of the wilds to resupply again, instead I will ensure I make what I have last, adding to it with wild foods wherever possible. This cuts out the risk of contracting any other illness entirely and it is quite an exciting thought to think I will have been away from other people for that long.
When in December I decide to leave here depends simply on how long my food lasts. If I can make it to the seventh then that would be twelve weeks in the wilds.
Although I am very excited about spending Christmas with my parents and all but one of my sisters, I also don’t want to leave here prematurely. One reason for this is that I am currently making their presents and I’d prefer to have them finished before I head north.
Since my illness I have spent all the available good weather gathering and more fuel. I don’t want to be caught short again if I can help it. I estimate I have about two hundred and fifty feet of wood to burn, but keep adding to this.
Saturday morning proved the toughest so far in terms of firelighting. The rain had been constant for over forty-eight hours and torrential at times and my fire pit resembled a pond. It took a lot of effort and all my skill to get the fire lit and, on the second attempt I somehow succeeded. Although it carried on raining all day I persevered with my fuel obsession and also managed to go for a brief walk to look down into the glen below.
The little burn I have mentioned before was no longer little. Not only were there now three burns instead of one, but the main channel was over fifteen feet wide, and raging. I could see branches and debris bounced around in the torrent and this slightly worried me – to get back to civilisation I have to cross this…
Sunday was finally dry and my fire was still warm when I got up. To my annoyance I found that the mouse had chewed a couple of holes in the bag that contains my powdered milk. This, and the tea-bag bag, are the only food items I leave out on the floor and so far no rodent has taken an interest. Now they are hung up out of reach along with my other supplies. I think the reason for this attack was that I had failed to leave him any food for a couple of nights (usually I manage to drop something on the floor, whether pasta, cheese, chorizo or anything else and I place this in the same spot for him (or her) to munch or collect).
The weather on Sunday was beautiful, with incredibly good clarity of the air, blue, blue skies and no wind at all. I guessed it would freeze overnight and I was right – in fact when I went out to look at the stars (I had missed this with my illness, then the weather) at about seven, it was already frosty.
I took some good photos of the frost the following morning. I am now on to my second 16gb card, having taken rather a large number of shots (some of which, if I do say so myself, are excellent). Annoyingly though, every time the eagle appears overhead, my camera isn’t to hand. I will get some pictures of him before I leave, otherwise I will be slightly cross.
I have managed to take some more shots of the woodpecker – he was drumming on the tree above the shelter yesterday, then actually flew down to tap tap tap away on my shelter itself!
Other recent nature sightings include an observation I’ve had regarding the local family of three buzzards; if I leave my bow saw (bright orange), while carrying trees back to my camp, on two different occasions now I have returned to find them circling over the saw. I may well use this observation in order to take some photos of them at some point.
I have also seen large flocks of birds on the sea below me – once there must have been over a hundred large dark birds, which were being pestered by gulls before taking off together. Even up here, several hundred feet higher and about half a mile away, I could hear them as they flew away. I’m not sure as to what species they were as I had neither my monocular nor my camera on me at the time.
I have seen and identified some whooper swans out on the loch, their calls giving them away. There is another bird that has recently arrived too; its call is eerie, strange and wild. I am fairly convinced it is some sort of loon, or diver. Probably a red throated diver. I love hearing it; it reminds me of the fact I am so deep in the wilderness, away from the constant background noise of the city.
I also had another visitation by the owl brigade last night. This time I didn’t find it at all sinister or unnerving and listened for over half an hour as these night hunters chatted amongst themselves before leaving to wreck havoc on the local rodent population.
I would like to be able to tell you about several projects I have underway at present, but unfortunately I can’t as these are destined to be Christmas presents for my family. This leads me to my concluding point.
It was heart warming indeed to receive messages from some of you, checking how I was following the last blog piece. This touched me and made me feel a lot better, thank you.
And a huge, huge thank you to my family. Knowing you were there and willing to rescue me was a massive boost just when I needed it most. Likewise, the support and encouragement of The Editor was a very welcome aid to my encouragement and continues to be so.
Having such a loving family is something I never take for granted. Thank you again.
To conclude, although in one way my journey has ended, I also feel as though it is just beginning. True, I won’t be wandering northwards towards new vistas but I will see the arrival of winter to this forested mountain I live on. I have a good collection of photos of the same view and, flicking back through these, it is possible to see the progression of the seasons, from summer, through autumn into what is increasingly wintry weather. Likewise, the photos of the sun setting show it doing so farther and farther to the south. Daylight is getting very scarce and increasingly precious. Will I make it to December? I guess only time will tell.