From the south end of the bridge at Kylesku I headed down into Assynt, and the neighbouring parish of Coigach: a massive, harsh, empty land of lochs, rocks and mountains.

In Assynt, after 6,500 miles of walking around the coast of Great Britain, I felt the presence of the landscape more strongly than ever before.  It was not just the sheer size and epic scale of Assynt.  If I closed my eyes I felt its presence like the pull of Magnetic North on the arm of a compass.

I discovered that just as it is impossible to give a complete or even adequate description of such a landscape, it is also very difficult to photograph it.  Just as words limit it, so too do photographs.  Attempting to photograph a huge landscape one tends to end up with a picture of one loch or of a single mountain which gives no idea of the surrounding context of that loch or mountain.

This was midge season on the West coast of Scotland.  Several weeks ago in Wick, on the East coast, I had heard on BBC Scotland that as a result of near perfect weather conditions (for midges that is) 21 billion of them were on their way (from wherever midges come from) and that all of them would be looking for someone to bite.  Now it was midge season and all 21 billion appeared to have arrived successfully.

It seems that average human walking pace is slightly faster than the speed at which midges can fly.  However I soon noticed that when I stopped, for instance to take a photograph or to look at the map, a dark cloud would quickly form and unless I moved away fast the cloud would begin to surround and envelope me, and then the biting would begin.

This was a particular problem on a couple of occasions when after a long day’s walk I was waiting in the middle of nowhere for the once daily bus to take me on to my accommodation and I was obliged to walk continuously back and forth to outpace the midges which followed me relentlessly until the bus eventually arrived.  (I noticed at the isolated Acheninver hostel, people racing back to the dormitories from the adjacent shower block and slamming the door to shut out a cloud of midges in hot pursuit).

One evening on the bus from Lochinver to my accommodation in the tiny hamlet of Drumbeg I was the only passenger.  All the way the driver and I chatted about this and that, and at the end of the journey he told me he had enjoyed talking to me.  I greatly appreciated that he would say that because I sometimes feel on these isolated walks that I am losing the power of speech, unable, when I come back amongst people, to make proper conversation or to respond to the conversational cues they offer me.

Sometimes, however, I experienced the opposite problem: when in the absence of any public transport I hitched a ride at the end of the day I would suddenly become aware that I was positively overflowing with conversation!  To the couple from Thurso who kindly took me from Badnagyle miles out of their way (I fear) to Achiltibuie, to the family from Edinburgh who next day took me from Badnagyle back to Ullapool, and to the Italian couple from Milan who drove me from Drumbeg to Kylesku, I would like to offer my thanks for the ride and my apologies if my conversation was not as interesting as it was unstoppable!

© Nick Creagh-Osborne and manwalkstheworld.com 2017.

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