The 12.38 to Oban and Fort William. I locate it at last. The front two carriages go to Oban the rear two to Fort William. Eventually after some indecision, I decide where to sit, where to put my case and settle down. Deciding where to put my case had caused me quite a lot of difficulty. The logical place was the luggage rack. But this was some way from where I was sitting. So having at first put it there, and found my seat I began to fret about it. Suppose someone mistook it for theirs and got off with it? I got up and moved it. I tried stowing it on the rack above my head. It was too big and stuck out quite a lot. “I hope you have got a hard hat” This from the helpful bloke in the seat opposite. “It won’t stay up there if we come to a sudden halt.” I thanked him for the advice. He shrugged, I noticed that he had a 1998 Scout Camp Tee Shirt on. Just though I’d mention that. So I moved my case from the overhead luggage rack and tried to put it in the gap between the seats. After a lot of faffing about, grunting and breaking into a sweat I got it in. I wiped my fevered brow. Unfortunately I have the sort of helpful subconscious that just cannot let things go. “Supposing you can’t get it out again?” It helpfully, suggested to me. I stood transfixed. A small furry animal in the face of oncoming traffic. Should I try and remove it? Just to check that I could? And then what? Put it back again? I glanced round the carriage. I was self conscious enough about being on my own. I did not want to get labelled as an idiot as well. Perhaps I could just try and shift it a bit just to see if it moved? I decided to leave it and sat down. The smug scoutmaster smiled to himself and went back to his telegraph. I tried to casually check that my tickets that I checked five minutes previously had not mysteriously disappeared. I am not cut out for this, I decided. Too much stress.
Bang on time we leave Glasgow Queen Street. As we head out through the suburbs of Glasgow it has started to rain. It is an urban landscape, blighted by sixties trainee architects, their experimental playground. Soon we are following the Clyde. I am struck by the rubbish that litters the shoreline. Tons of it. Plastic of all sorts, shapes and sizes. But amongst it all I see Curlews huddled on the shore line. I wish I could lower the window and hear their cries. They seem unconcerned by all the rubbish. Soon we leave Glasgow and its suburbs and rubbish strewn shore behind.
What can I say about the landscape that the West Highland line passes through? It is a dramatic, head turning, block buster of a landscape. Remote,wild, glacial, scary even especially on this grey wet day. But it pulls you, calls to you, beckons you, urges you to wander into the hills. We stop at small unmanned stations. It is hard to remain on the train. I want to get off to strike off into the glens. As we move deeper into the Highlands the mountains become snow streaked. The grey black of the hillside merges with the grey black of the sky. It is hard to tell where one begins and the other ends. The colours are slate grey, lead blue, inky black, faded greens and browns. The further into the Highlands we go the more relaxed I become. I am starting to realise why I needed to do this. As the landscape expands so do the boundaries of my thinking.
We get to the Bridge of Orchy. Soon after the landscape changes. The mountains recede and the landscape opens out in to a jumble of hillocks and drumlins, boggy water logged ground. Rannock Moor. 12000 years ago or more before man returned to these islands, ice stripped the landscape, plucking rocks from the mountains and depositing them miles later, era tics, leaving piles of debris, gouging out depressions. It is a truly wild place.
After almost four hours we reach Fort William. First Impressions? Why did I come here? I leave the station and turn left. The pedestrian crossings talk to you. A mans voice booms out telling you that the lights are red and the oncoming traffic has right of way. I decide to go anyway as there is no traffic. I am sure that a woman’s voice commands me to stop and wait for the correct light, tells me that I have violated a road traffic bye law. Its probably all on CCTV anyway so I continue on my way.I find the hotel, its okay, it will do. Its 5.30pm on a wet Monday. I decide, to go and explore Fort William, at least buy a map so that I can plan a walk. My first impressions were wrong. Its okay. I find a pub. I sit in a corner, map spread out, my second pint half drunk. I am starting to warm to this. Tomorrow, I decide I will have a look at Ben Nevis. Better have another pint though, now I’m here.