The Science Page (sort of)...
The expectation equation
by Val Hamilton
It was my own fault really: I had subconsciously chosen to ignore the warnings, the stories of rounding the corner to see twenty-four tents cheek by jowl (well, guy-rope by fly-sheet), the tales of being overwhelmed by Duke of Edinburghing school parties. Knoydart - the inaccessible, the so-frequently pictured destination. One factor was that I felt I deserved more reward for my effort after the "wonderful" coastal walk from Kinloch Hourn to Barrisdale (which again I had foolishly imagined would be flat - yes' I can read a map, I chose not to see what it was telling me), steaming beneath full cags, cloud level about ten feet, humidity 200%, up and down and up and down and up and down. My afternoon had not started well with the discovery that a small but full bottle of cooking oil had leaked all over my rucsac. ("Why didn't you put the top on properly?" "Because I wanted all my clothes and especially my sleeping bag to smell like a chip shop for a week of course.") And then there was the weather forecast: set foul and confirmed as such by the car park man at Kinloch Hourn."What a shame:' he said,"and it was beautiful all last week".
Knoydart, the great unknown and unknowable, no roads, no hordes, no nothing but mountains, sea, space. And at last the first sight of the promised land: buildings in various states of repair, tents galore, signs, tractors, people. To be fair (though that is one of the delights of TAC - you don't have to be fair or reasonable or even rational), Knoydart and Barrisdale are not synonymous, and if you keep off the Munros (and even on them midweek), there are days of solitary walking to be had. I already had a less jaundiced view of the place by the following morning, having awoken to absolutely perfect weather (so much for local knowledge). By the evening the raging torrent we had camped beside had dried up completely, yet there was still a hint of breeze to keep the midges at bay. A great place to be, but not wilderness and not what I had expected.
Wilderness must be perhaps a personal thing, but I have always been suspicious of the "last great wilderness" tag on Knoydart. I have felt more alone on the hills above Gargunnock (particularly when the bracken is over head high), in Glen Artney, never mind the Cairngorms or Monadh Liath, and certainly more isolated on the London Underground. So it partly depends on individual perceptions, but I would have thought that by any definition wilderness does not contain flush toilets. Alltbeithe Youth Hostel, by this definition at least, has that much going for it in the wilderness stakes. During our visit, until after the heroic efforts of Graham the multiple bog-emptier, the preferred facility was the heather. I hadn't thought of Glen Affric as wilderness however; this time my expectation had been of old-time grey-bearded gangrels reminiscing of the days when all hostels were like Alitbeithe. In fact rather than being taken back to an earlier age I felt I had been transported to an alien land - in this case Germany. The Hostel is on a recommended route in the guidebook used by all German student visitors to Scotland. On one night there was a leavening of French - sole sustenance a bottle of Beaujolais - but another night the Teutonic monopoly was complete bar us and an insolvency accountant from Edinburgh.True there should have been a guy from London too, but he was last seen in late afternoon disappearing towards Loch Mullardoch, not to reappear for another 24 hours and to be greeted by the rescue helicopter looking for him. But that's another story.