Am Bratach No. 250
August 2012


A night in Lochinver
by Madeleine Ferrar

It was freezing cold, pouring with rain and the wind was so strong I could hardly stand up. Just a normal spring day in Ullapool, it seems, and especially disappointing because it was the weekend of their annual book festival. I had driven cross-country from Helmsdale, and was already soaked to the skin, having tramped the streets trying to find the festival’s venue.

“Have you been to many other events in the festival?” asked the woman sitting next to me in the village hall.
“No, I’ve come especially for John Burnside”, I replied. “What about you?”

“I was one of the performers.”

I looked more closely at my neighbour and recognised Mairi Hedderwick, the writer of children’s books. Damage done, I changed the subject, and we talked amicably about Shetland until the proceedings got under way.

When the reading had come to an end, we all filed out of the hall, back into the driving rain. The ferries had been suspended due to “adverse weather conditions” and the gift shops remained closed. I abandoned my plans to explore, and made for Tesco’s. (I’ve learnt, over the years, not to pass a supermarket without “stocking up”.)

I felt a homing instinct coming on after that, but I had booked a bed in the new, community owned hostel in Lochinver and felt under an obligation to honour the arrangement. Having been advised that, apart from me, there were only five male walkers booked into the hostel, I was looking forward to having a whole female dormitory to myself.

What I hadn’t bargained for was the fact that the atrocious weather had forced all the wild campers out of their sodden tents, so that when I arrived I discovered that the hostel was almost full and that I was the only female guest. There was to be no female dormitory; I’d just have to muck in with the boys.

There is something incongruous about visiting one of the most scenically spectacular parts of the British Isles and spending time indoors watching TV, but I’m afraid that’s what we did. It was mostly sport, but I didn’t mind. I was warm and dry, that was the main thing.

In bed later that night, I listened, in the dark, as my room mate, Paul, talked — with an arresting candour — about his life. When he eventually fell asleep, he snored all night long. I lay awake, trying to persuade my brain that the snoring was a soothing lullaby that would send me to sleep. Of course, it didn’t work — it never does.

In the morning Paul offered me a peppermint, as a farewell gift. “Take two”, he urged. I was touched by this small gesture. We both agreed that we hadn’t done justice to Lochinver, and that we would have to return one day. “I’ve been told April sometimes brings better weather in these parts”, he ventured. I might just put that statement to the test.

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