Day 8, and our last day of walking alone. Tonight we'd be joined by my brother, Donald, and we'd all walk out together. The walk from camp was nice - we soon joined the path next to the Kinlochewe River, which is utterly stunning. The woodland perched on the banks is among the best I've ever seen. Huge ashes spread their crown into the heights, alder lean at drunken angles over the water. Birch both ancient and young, and hollies as well.
I was in heaven: every bubbling burn running off the hill (and there are many) was a source of new delight, the rocky path was perfect: we made slow progress just because I wanted to stop and admire everything. It was worth it. At the bottom of the Gleann Bianasdail we were to follow to the north, we passed over the bridge of the Abhainn an Fhasaigh. The river was just the type I love: white and full and leaping with energy. Up and up we walked, but again the way was slow: this was the most beautiful glen I have ever been in. The waterfalls tumbled, the layer upon layer of the rocks creating steps that the water gambolled down, energy high.
Taken aback I shouted to Joey: 'I know what I want to come back as once I'm dead! A water molecule!' Such joyousness, to leap and spin down a waterfall. If the journey wasn't pressing, if we didn't have to keep moving, I would have stayed and I may be there yet.
Halfway up the glen we noticed movement on the opposite side. Looking closer, we could see the sturdy figures of four goats on the very steep side. That was the narrow paths we could see explained. Whenever we stopped, the stopped too. Watching and wary, pale coated and dark, sure-footed travellers. It brought such a smile to my face to see them. Not long after, we saw our first golden eagle of the trip. I'd expected more. Eagles on Uist are so commonplace that I can sit in my office and watch them without binoculars. Golden eagles on the mainland seem to be a quieter presence, and we were chuffed to see not one, but two, in this day. Frogs were incredibly common on the path: all colours. Yellow, brown, ochre, greenish.
I sang as I walked, nonsense songs, but the landscape was so utterly perfect that I couldn't help it. I sang about the mountains and the trees, and the land lasting forever. The odd tree was present in the glen really far up, quietly growing without fanfare. Saw my wildest holly ever. And felt glad for it. A lunch perched on the rocks was tasty: bacon and egg rolls from the garage in Kinlochewe - what a delightful change from oatcakes and cheese!
And then the inevitable happened: we needed to cross this bonny river that we'd been enjoying following, and the stepping stones mentioned on the map were hidden underneath fast flowing water. The loch (Loch an Fada) that feeds the river was swollen and full, but cross it we needed to do.
Knowing that there would be no way to dry our boots before getting home in two days time, we elected to take off our boots and cross that way. I rolled my leggings up as far as they'd go, and Joey did the same with his trousers, that went significantly further than my leggings would go! And cross we did. We quickly discovered that the cold wasn't terrible, but the sharp stones underfoot were. The water was mid-thigh depth, and we crossed holding hands. One would move, then find somewhere to be stable "right, you go", and the other would move and then steady themselves. I swore, not so under my breath, it felt like needles going into the sole of my foot, and in fact later on that night my sole would be purple with circular bruises. But we managed. And though my leggings were soaked, and the chilly wind didn't help, we walked briskly to help me dry. As a reward, just around the corner, we saw our first dipper of the trip: a bird we both love and had both been looking out for. A fleeting glimpse, but a glimpse nonetheless.
We were up high now, heading towards the Bealach na Croise. Weak paths that petered out before appearing again at random intervals, and one for burn crossing set us on our path. Right up in the bealach, we found a path: solid, dependable, that just started from nothing. We couldn't think why this would be, but my brother later said that it'll be a stalking path for the estate and it'll go to the estate boundary, or as close to it as it needs to go, and that'll be it: no further.
Following this down the hill we passed a huge harem of deer on the banks of Beinn Bheag. Paying us only the slightest notice, they remained where they were. A stag silhouetted himself on the horizon.
A waterfall fell from the Creag Ruigh a Bhraghad and fell into emptiness, the wind whisking the water away before it could reach the ground. The rocks around glistened wet and the aspen sang their song. My brother had set up camp on the southern end of Loch an Nid, where we'd arranged to meet. We set up our tent next to it, and had a wonderful evening to catch up. I'd not seen him since Christmas, the longest time we've not seen each other ever, possibly. And he brought a brilliant meal for us, including a wee dram of whisky - the first we'd had this trip.
Night fell, and a vixen on the other side of the burn barked into the sky. I thought of wildness, of the road we've walked. Of the fox's earth in Wester Glen Quoich, of the deer, of the eagles and the wrens. She barked, and I thought of the waterfall falling into nothingness, of the trees shimmering in the gloaming, reflecting the last of the light as the stars started to appear. And everything seemed right with the world.