Things aunt what they used to be
WHEN the going got too tough for Kenya’s former President, Mwai Kibaki, he concocted a sovereign remedy. He took to his bed and found solace, said a cabinet colleague, ‘only in the works of P. G. Wodehouse’. Much of the President’s time was spent escaping his two wives, who, when not handbagging each other, controlled his diary in a Wodehousian auntly way and locked out those statesmen who might have offered him wise counsel in tackling corruption.
The saga seems almost more Waugh than Wodehouse, but political events in Caledonia have made a Kibaki exit strategy sound appealing. Auntie Nicola’s challenge to Aunt Theresa to yet another duel by referendum has caused consternation among most Scots, even among many of her own party. While the pair of them slug it out and, as P. G. put it, ‘aunt is calling aunt like mastodons bellowing across the primeval swamps’, it’s ‘stiff upper lip, Jeeves’ and bedtime for those who have had enough of the independence debate to last us the promised generation’s interval before the next one.
WHEN visitors come here for the first time, they exclaim at the view. To the west, it is indeed sublime. We look across the fields to Glen Strathfarrar and up to the high tops of Beinn a’bhathaich Àrd and Sgurr na Lapaich, 25 miles away. To the north is the wide, flat top of Ben Wyvis. When covered with winter snows, it resembles fresh folds of billowing cloth shaken across a table by a French waiter. The light changes constantly under restless Highland skies.
Whenever the hosts of Midian prowl around in the guise of threatening political predators from Planet Holyrood, and Wodehouse isn’t to hand, I look on all this and take comfort. I think that whatever they might try to take from us, they’ll bloody well have trouble taking this away.
HAVING ridden a nag from home in the east of Scotland through the hills to Ullapool in the west, I wanted to investigate whether a path from there to the township of Achiltibuie further up the coast was negotiable by the same means. During a well-timed ridge of high pressure last weekend, a friend and I set off to recce it on foot.
From the 1860s, the path was used by the local postman, Kenneth Mclennan of Blairbuie, who, for two-and-thruppence a journey, made the 20-mile return trip twice a week, in a day. Consequently, the route is known by the rather folksy sobriquet the Postie’s Path.
Lulled by that, and not having done any research bar looking at a map, we nonchalantly booked a table in a rather good Ullapool hostelry for a 2pm lunch, giving us more than three hours to make the oneway trip, at the end of which our wives would meet us and ferry us back to lavish ease.
How misguided we were. The first primroses were out and the first skylark tunefully abroad. The day was azure and the views across a still sea to the Summer Isles and beyond to the Outer Hebrides were lyrical. However, the walk, it transpired, was no Postman Pat saunter. Although there were occasional cairns and way markers, in many parts, the route was precipitous and indistinct and appeared little used.
In places, we crept along a narrow path across steep slopes above sea cliffs—‘great care is needed at this point,’ I read later on a website, somewhat unnecessarily—and scrambled up rocks on all fours where we had missed our way. At one point, looking across to the other side of an inlet where the path must continue, the cliff looked too sheer to accommodate it. We calculated that we still had time to retrace our steps in daylight, but, on rounding to the other side, the path was there after all, thinly sketched into the cliffside. The time for the rendezvous came and went. As for the lunch reservation, we were barely halfway to our destination by 2pm. We heard a helicopter and the familiar red-and-white coastguard machine came into view. Had the girls panicked and called in the chopper? Oh, the indignity of being airlifted out and onto the front page of Monday’s local paper! But, no, it flew on westwards, oblivious.
In unseasonal heat, we came upon a great rock that Moses might have been tempted to smite with his staff. As in Exodus, water flowed from a fissure through a viridian curtain of mosses, tasting deliciously sweet. Five hours after setting out, we heard, in the still afternoon, the gentle trilling of our wives’ voices in the distance. They were painting and sunbathing, deeply unconcerned.
Respect to that postie—he’d have been glad he pre-dated Parcelforce. As for taking a horse, it would have had to be Pegasus.
‘Oh, the indignity of being airlifted out and onto the front page!