‘Are you ok there?’
‘Yes, we’re just doing a treasure hunt.’
— Meeting wanderers on a twilight path, somewhere near Newport, Pembrokeshire.
I awake inside the headmaster’s office of an old school building in Aberystwyth, a small but pretty university town by the sea. The students are still away for their summer break, giving the town a tranquil but not too desolate feel. I look out its jaunty multi-coloured Victorian terraces, so self-contained and sure of itself. Yet there’s little around Aber, and nothing in the landscape I passed earlier would suggest its existence. It’s not sucking the life out of its surrounding areas, unlike most of the major cities, nor is it desperately trying to prove a point, often badly, like many of the smaller cathedral cities. I hear the cry of the gulls in the air, and as Nia and I wander into the town for some breakfast, I can’t help noticing passers-by with a swing in their step.
‘Life doesn’t give you a user manual’ – Christy, Fort William.
Christy and I awake refreshed in our chintzy bed and breakfast on the shores of Fort William. The hotel’s a dive, and we’re both restless to escape out of the town in some way. But with a sprained ankle, Christy’s not able to ride any bicycle. Walking will only get us so far, and we’ve drunkenly lost ourselves in the wilds of Glen Nevis a previous night. The rain is still insisting on its responsibility to soak we weary humans to the skin, and fierce winds are affecting nearby boats.
Over a Scotch breakfast (like a full English, but with potato scones, black pudding and Irn Bru…) we decide to hire a car. It’s the one way of leaving the town and exploring and, besides, it can cheekily double-up as a cheap place to sleep. With that plan, we phone around til we find a cheap enough car on the outskirts of Fort Bill. It’s strangely exciting. Forget those steep mountains and hills, forget the bloody awful weather… none of these can restrict our striving to explore these landscapes. With the most basic of plans to head north, we decide to get lost on a spectacular level, to find and immerse ourselves in some rocky and remote wilderness. With provisions packed, we head out onto the open road.
Whoosh! It’s a brand new car and my driver handles it with some speed. It takes getting used to. Twenty miles, the subject of two to three hours’ meditative cycling and day-dreaming, expires in equivalent minutes. But it’s an opportunity to test how these landscapes feel at different speeds. Much of the north-west Highlands seemed like it would be as beautiful in a car. There’s a vicarious pleasure in reading about another’s travails and toils breaking their bicycles up the steepest of hills and most remote of midgey crannies. Surely in a car it’ll be much easier?