16 Sep Findings
A perfectly intact coconut lay nestling at the water’s edge. It’s not what you expect when you’re walking the eastern shore of Loch Lomond in early September. Any time of year for that matter. We’re on Day 3 of the West Highland Way. Yesterday we weathered swirling mist and steady rain, made it up and over Conic Hill (it’s all in the name), en route passing a stream of young women carrying huge backpacks and coiffed with the most extraordinary plaits out doing their Duke of Edinburgh Silver award expedition. And we survived the long-winded check-in process at the Rowardennan Youth Hostel in time for the sun to emerge over the grassy slope that runs from the old sandstone building down to the water. We sipped a cold beer, rested our tired limbs at the end of a tough 22km. And smiled at the view. Lovely Lomond.
Trees cloak the steep hillside on this side of the loch, slopes that stretch right up to Ben Lomond. Rummaging in my past I find a memory of one midsummer when a crowd of us went up there at midnight, school friends at the end of our last term and a handful of teachers getting down with the kids. There were moments, stepping along the path, when I could picture the faces, almost hear the laughter, remember the slog uphill and the dancing at the top.
Socks draped over a rock or a branch or lying limp by the shore. Always one sock, never a pair – we wonder at the suggested preponderance of one-legged hikers. The sole of a hiking boot detached in one unbroken piece from its host. A glove. A hat. No surprises here – obvious findings on this iconic long-distance trail. An abandoned tent collapsed and tucked in among the bracken – our Australian companion eyed it eagerly, even contemplated slipping the pole into his rucksack as he needs a replacement back home. Alas, it was the wrong colour!
Tiny pebbles of pure white stone glint under the surface of the water alongside perfectly even amber, brown, grey and black ones rubbed smooth and small by the years. Heavy moss smothers huge boulders or clings to ancient trees. We go through oak woods where the light is soft, across glades where bracken and heather are in happy cohabitation. Trail our fingers through tall grasses and stroke powder blue scabious. Lift our eyes and there are mountains and valleys, shadows of green and brown. And always the loch.
The coconut stumped us. A lovely bird I could not identify hopped around inspecting it but not quite daring to touch it. Intrigued. Where did it come from? Why is it here? A funfair somewhere along the other side of the loch where the road runs perhaps? I know that road so well. In all the years I’ve never seen a funfair there. No cargo boats sail on this landlocked loch and it would surely be an odd thing to bring on your motor boat. A mystery.
Beside the coconut lies an empty bottle of whisky – dropped from a passing pleasure boat or left here by some lonely heart. Does it tell of joy or tragedy? So many stories might unfold.