The Three Sisters in the heart of Glencoe, my favourite place in the whole wide world! Every time I visit here I feel like I’ve come home. This is my happy place, one might say this is my nirvana. These mountains and valleys are like old friends, and I’ve yet to climb even one of these three magnificent peaks. There’s a car park right where this photo is taken from with a wall for you to sit on and just gaze in wonder at these beautiful, majestic natural creations and – for me – it is like sitting in the doorway to heaven itself. So peaceful am I when I am here, you could leave me all day and I’d probably still be looking up at these wonders, admiring their beauty and vastness, along with feeling God’s presence through this remotest of places, in a very real and uplifting way.
Glencoe was the last stop on my sabbatical, before we made our way home. We had two days in which to savour some of the delights of this glorious place. Camped at the bottom of the glen, I sat outside our motorhome on our first evening here with my OS map of the area and planned myself a wee walk up the glen.
There are many walks in Glencoe and I’d researched where I might find a relatively flat walk through the valley to the Three Sisters. On discovering a 5km stroll up the Old Road (that ran alongside the main road) sounded just perfect for little Koda and I so the next morning off we went….
It started off well. My map showed a track and here was a track so all good.
We set off quite determinedly, delighted to be walking up the valley with mountains all around us, in the glorious sunshine and the whole day ahead of us. Dave dropped us off and went up the glen to park at our beauty spot beneath the Three Sisters, where we would meet up again with him later. At least, that was the plan….
After about half an hour of walking I started to notice the track ahead disappeared at times into a muddy part and then reappeared. ‘What harm can a bit of mud do?’ I said to myself and soldiered on. The first quagmire wasn’t too bad, only went ankle high so nothing to worry about, and we carried on. (Koda was loving every moment, skipping along without a care in the world whilst I squelched my way through the mud, hoping the path would reappear again soon). All the time I could see the road about 50 yards to my left, but impossible to reach due to marshland all around us. Then I came to a fork in the track, something that wasn’t showing on my OS map! The fork to the right was a clear path but took us further away from the road. Hmmm. The fork to the left kept us heading in the right direction but looked rather muddy for a while. Choosing to stay in line with the road we took this way and started to wade through slightly deeper mud. At this point I began to wonder if we were actually where I thought we were as the write up for this walk had rated it ‘easy, accessible and clearly marked’, not ‘challenging, dangerous in parts and not recommended for the unseasoned walker.’
I got to a part in the muddy path where I really thought we should go a bit higher and find firmer ground (my limited orienteering training from my youth was echoing in my head at this point that we may be a bit ‘off-track.’) To get to the higher ground required crossing a muddy puddle which didn’t bother me as had waded through a few of these already (ankle deep) so with Koda in one arm and the map in the other I stepped into this puddle, in order to reach the higher ground. Except that this ‘puddle’ was actually over three foot deep!!!!!
I found myself waist deep in mud, somehow holding Koda up over my head as I scrambled to get myself out of this mud pit before I fell any deeper in. To say I was a little bit scared and shaken afterwards would be an understatement. It absolutely terrified me as I realised I was not equipped to carry on along this so called ‘path’ that was looking just as muddy ahead as it was behind.
Having reached the higher ground and a little bit of track I followed it to the brook that was running down to the road (still only 50 yards away). Again my youthful orienteering training spoke in my head ‘follow the stream’, so I did. It looks shallow enough, doesn’t it?
Carrying Koda in my arms, we set of paddling at first, then wading as it got deeper (up to top of shins) but, thankfully, it did lead us to the road. We climbed up and breathed a sigh of relief.
All we had to do now was walk up here to find Dave and then de-mud and sip hot tea. And here was my third dilemma – this road doesn’t have any footpath and has lorries flying up and down it all the time. Looks empty here but only for a few seconds. I’d called Dave at this point to let him know we’d abandoned our ‘lovely gentle walk’ and, as I cried down the phone, said we were safely walking up the road and would be with him soon. Dave (bless him!) realised that just up from here around the corner there was actually nowhere to walk at all as was a set of very windy dangerous bends, so he (in his wisdom) decided to set off and meet me on the route.
This was unbeknown to sad little me who was wandering up the highway, hoping for an angel to appear to rescue me. I did meet another walker coming the other way who was most amused when he saw a bedraggled middle-aged woman, clutching her puppy and smelling of cow and sheep dung! I told him I was trying to get to the Three Sisters car park, explained my trauma (very dramatically of course!) and he offered to walk back with me to his car and then run me up to meet Dave. I was very close to accepting his kind offer when our motorhome sped around the corner and Dave waved for me to come and get in (he was not impressed that I had considered wandering off with a total stranger and getting in his car!……).
Once ‘saved’ in the van my husband promptly sent me into the bathroom to change and de-gunge and then we went to our beauty spot where we sat on the wall and sipped some hot tea. I was quite shaken, annoyed with myself for taking the wrong path and also for not being prepared for bogs in a valley….. Sipping tea whilst watching walkers climb the mountains in front of us I began to unwind.
A dear childhood friend of mine, Winnie-the-Pooh, went on a lot of adventures and some of them didn’t go well. On one occasion Pooh said:
‘I’m not lost for I know where I am. But however, where I am may be lost‘
That was how I’d felt when stuck in the mud, knowing where I was but not knowing how to get from where I was to where I needed to be.
There are times in all our lives when we walk through valleys and sometimes we get lost along the way, when we find ourselves on tracks we didn’t mean to follow, roads that looked inviting and then turn out differently, or disappear completely. Some of us have had really scary times when we’ve felt like we were sinking into the quagmire around us and been shaken afterwards, making us wary of carrying on. My experience in Glencoe was literally in the valley, lost, scared and unsure how to get to safety. Help was never far away but in the moment it was hard to think straight and stay calm.
Once I reached safety and re-read my notes on the route I’d taken I found the small print ‘do not start further down the glen as this part of the road is very worn, difficult to follow I places and can be treacherous….’ You don’t say!
Even in the hardest of times I believe God is with us – the God on the mountain is still the God in the valley. As the psalmist said: ‘Even though I walk through the darkest valley,[ I fear no evil; for you are with me’ (Psalm 23). I believe God guided me to the stream, God reassured me when I began to panic that the right road was not far away, he steered my husband to come and find me. I didn’t give up and phone the mountain rescue team (although the thought did cross my mind!). Instead I hoped and prayed that I’d get back to where I should be if I stepped carefully (and didn’t jump into bogs without checking their depth first) and tried to remain calm. I felt like a silly old bear, but I was never alone.
‘What should happen if you forget about me?’ asked Pooh.
‘Silly old bear, I won’t ever forget about you,’ said Christopher Robin.
So too it is with God. The God on the mountain is still the God in the valley. Take care on planning your routes through life but fear not, for even in the valleys, God will never forget about you, you will never be alone.
From one silly old bear, God be with you all till we meet again xx