GOD, the fat lip. The throbbing, grotesquely swollen lip. The price is being paid. One moment of carelessness under a dark Scottish sky while rummaging in the back of the car for a can of beer. And how many times has it happened before? How many times over how many decades . . . ? The barely perceptible buzz. The mildly irritating tickle. The dawning awareness that a little sod of an insect has bitten your lower lip – which is expanding slowly but steadily like an airbed being inflated by one of those noisy pumps from a camping shop.
I’m rolling uncomfortably in my sleeping bag. The left side of my lip is swollen to twice its normal size and it feels like I’ve got a whole black pudding stuck in my mouth. It is my own fault. When I parked the car at half-past midnight in this open space somewhere in the wilds north of Lairg, I should have rubbed some midge repellent on my face and hands. But I didn’t. I had a couple of beers and rolled out the bag on the passenger seat. Result: one fat lip from a midge bite and little lumps itching like mad all over my head, neck and legs. I shall have my revenge. It will be bloody and involve chemicals.
At 5.30am I wake after fits of sleep, halfway through a very vivid dream about a scientist on a Scottish farm who rather unfortunately turns into a rabid dog while I am rinsing a teapot in the kitchen.
The morning is overcast. It’s cold and blustery. But I have a feeling the sun will get out. After a cheerless breakfast of muesli and green tea, I drive the couple of miles to the foot of Ben Klibreck, which is shrouded in mist.
This is the far north of Scotland. It doesn’t come farther north than this – not without dropping off the end. This is a land where A-roads are so narrow they have passing places. It is emptiness and loneliness and timelessness. And it’s great. This is a place that changes your perspective.
After two-and-a-half hours of steady plodding, then heaving my body up some incredibly steep ground, I arrive on the summit. Actually, I’m walking quite well today and feeling fine. Must have been the recent visit to the Cairngorms that has loosened me up. Oh, and the rabid dog scientist chasing me with the teapot under my arm. Don’t break the teapot, for heaven’s sake, I remember shouting.
The mist of dawn has dispersed. From the summit cairn I glimpse blue seas and lochs, and fine mountains in the middle-ground away to the north and east which I don’t know the names of. I’m in unfamiliar territory up here. The unknown mountains are well-shaped and have a challenging and pleasing appearance.
I feel that warm tingle deep inside that signals adventure and new experiences. I have three days to myself and an unknown country has opened up beneath the toes of my boots. I have strayed into a new land. And I could launch myself from the summit of Ben Klibreck into the stinging wind and sail across it.
And tonight, when I come down to earth – I tell myself – I’ll apply some midge repellent. Chemical warfare. Agent McOrange. Shock and awe. And the only thing within a fifty-mile radius of me remotely like a black pudding will be – a black pudding. Yes, I have one with me.
IMPORTANT NOTE: The black pudding in the above illustration is morcilla asturiana, an intensely flavoursome variety from northern Spain and an essential ingredient in fabada. Can you wait for more information? No? Read part two.