Day six can be characterised in one sentence: My diary is empty.
It was a day not to be remembered, but despite this, I cannot forget it. It was a long day, another 20+ km day, but through the worst of weather. The rain was constant and heavy. The route was tough, and not particularly scenic - what we could see of it anyway.
Well, let's try and start at the beginning as per always. After packing up our oakwood camp we followed the lovely River Ling upstream, passing through new native woodlands, over burns with bridges and all the while making good progress. The track soon turned into a proper forestry road, over which we made even quicker progress, which is just as well as by this time the rain was heavy and there was no end.
The landscape here was interesting. Moraine scattered the glen, glacial ponds and a meandering river showed a landscape as old as time. But soon we'd reached an altitude which enveloped us in clouds for the rest of the afternoon. A mapped forestry block, which would have provided some shelter, was instead clear felled, wood rotting at the side of the road. Our lunch was eaten in a small remaining patch of standing trees, mostly snags, bare of needles. Rain dripped down upon us as we ate. Fingertips were swollen for being wet for too long. My period arrived on this day - the worst possible day, but nevermind, we just get on. And get on we did.
We decided to leave the path above Meall Ruadh and cut north for a kilometre and a half or so, as the track looped hugely out and on this day a shortcut seemed attractive. We should have known that it could be too good to be true. The boggy, lumpy ground was endlessly disorientating. Without any sort of view - the clouds gave us about 300m visibility - it was difficult to know where the end point was. Time and time again, we thought we should see the path in the next dip, but ahead would appear another feature out of the gloom: another loch, another rise, another fall. The only bit I'd like to remember from this 1.5km stretch was the stag. I walked over onto a high point, and suddenly there, five metres ahead of me was a stag. He'd been tucked in behind a rock, presumably taking shelter from the weather and the noise of our approach had been dampened until we were just there. He sprung to his feet, took one look at me and sprinted off, crossing in front of us both to reach safety.
This one encounter with a wild animal brought a smile back to both our faces, but it didn't last long. Even upon reaching the path, we were so soaked through and disheartened that we needed a chocolate break. Time to regroup. The walk now was simple: downhill to Strathcarron. Unfortunately, it wasn't quite so easy as that. The low cloud cover and the lack of view meant the way seemed endlessly long. Never ending, and featureless land emerged in front of us: were we just walking in circles round this hill? Rain-soaked paths led to falls and gloves were sodden - bare hands stay warmer than wet gloves. Before too long, however, we emerged out of the clouds and could see our destination in the glen below.
We were meant to be staying in the camping pods at Strathcarron Hotel, and this gave me a lifeline: we could see it, the pods were cute, we'd get there. But once we arrived the door to the hotel was locked and all the lights were out. The rain was still falling steadily and we were cold, hungry and tired. It is so hard for me to write this, as I feel like this whole post is one of complaint. But let me tell you what happened next:
I went into the hotel toilet and took stock. I was entirely soaked through, all my under layers included. I was tired, cold, and it all came out as I stood in that unheated bathroom, trying to dry my clothes on the hand dryer and get some warmth into my bones. I cried. If Joey had said right then, "come on, let's get the train into Inverness and then we can start again tomorrow", I would have leapt at the chance. This moment, right there, was the closest I came to defeat the entire trip. I just didn't want to do it any more. But do it I did, and the biggest mood lifter must have been tucking into the hot meal the landlady brought us (with a second serving of chips for me). We changed clothes as much as we could in the back room, and then we caught the train to Achnashellach and walked to Gerry's Hostel.
The hostel was fine: clean and warm and best of all, there was a drying room that was very effective, a warm shower, and it met our needs. Worst day over, the only way was up.