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17: Some exploration

After a hearthy Scottish breakfast (scrambled eggs, bacon, mushrooms, tomato, sausages, white beans), I'm off for Sligachan, a small collections of buildings at the feet of the Cuillins: just a hotel, a bar and a camp site. The idea is to do some walking in this very popular area today. I park my bike on the hotel parking lot, change riding gear for walking stuff, put the shoulder straps on my tankbag and off I go - the idea of using the tankbag as a daypack turns out to be not a very good one, so I decide to go to the outdoor store I noticed when riding through Portree yesterday to see whether they have any cheap daypacks, it will come in handy on all the walking I'm planning to do.

With the Garmin GPS V came a new passtime to me, called geocaching. Somewhere along one of the trails leading up from Sligachan to the Black Cuillins there is a geocache hidden. Any sensible person would follow the trail, but I have some cross country walking in my mind for later that week so I decide to ignore the trail and just follow the GPS. It's not long before I realize that the terrain is not as smooth as it looks like from the bike. The grass is growing on a layer of peat, and in many places the grass gives way to the peat meaning that your feet sink away in the mud (mental note: buy decent gaiters when I buy that daypack). The heather is at some places quite dense, forming another obstacle, and finally there are lots of rocks and boulders. That, and the fact that the gentle slope upwards turns out to consist of lots of local hills and valleys make the ascent to the geocache, maybe hardly 2km away from the parking lot, quite strenuous. I start wondering how this will work when I'm doing the same with my 16kg backpack in a couple of days...

The geocache sits near a stream in a crack in the rock. I retrieve it, make a short log entry, and celebrate the occassion by emptying my water bottle. After a refill (and addition of some hypochlorite drops to desinfect it and then an Isostar tablet to mask the chlorine taste), I'm on my way to a boulder I can see sitting on a hilltop a couple of km away. The cross-country walking is strenuous, but fun, so I decide to have lunch up there.

The 2km to the bolder prove to be even harder than what I did so far, because apart from all the terrain difficulties there's now a small ascent to be made, some 200m I guess. I have to stop regularly to get my heartbeat back to healthy levels, and I'm very glad that I can do some of the work with my arms thanks to the walking sticks. Of course, this is immediately forgotten once I reach the bolder, a pattern that will repeat itself quite often in the coming week. The view over Sligachan and Loch Sligachan is marvellous, and lunch tastes great in this decor, even though they're just fuel station sandwiches.

I'm about to walk down when I notice my fleece vest is gone. I had it around my waist, and I surely had it when I found the geocache. Either I lost it during the ascent or it blew away when I put it down on top of the hill. Bummer - this was a pricey vest and a gift from my mother. The plan to go directly back to the hotel goes down the drain and with a sigh I put the GPS on 'trackback' mode. This will help me to retrace my steps back to the geocache. Even though the feature seems to work fine, no sign of the vest. Pray for good weather, then, because apart from the vest I just brought tees and polos. From the cache site I take the trail down because with the detour back to the geocache I have done enough cross-country for today. The trail quickly brings me to the parking lot, where I change back into rider's gear and after a pot of tea and sandwiches at the bar I ride back to the B&B.

I was planning to go out for dinner, try the Scottish kitchen, but I don't feel like sitting in a restaurant and waiting for a meal. I walk the 3km to the fuel station to get more not-quite-junk food. Who needs dinner anyway after starting the day with a Scottish breakfast? As I'm almost through Richard Feynman's ramblings I take a peek at the book department and select a self-course in Gaelic. The language intrigues me and although I don't have any doubts about my abilities after reading the book (none), I hope to pick up something that will help me understand all the Gaelic placenames. I read the book on and off in the coming days, and I'm right: it won't help me speak Gaelic (the language is just too bloody hard) but I do pick up some interesting tidbits.

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