Mission to Mull | Part Four
Updated: Sep 21, 2021
Day 6 - Jump Into The Bog
No alarm. What a godsend. The cottage wakes slowly from its slumber. I spend an extra few minutes in the shower thinking, processing, making sure to consciously appreciate the lack of schedule today.
“Don’t think too hard, it’s dangerous!” The voices of my parents (they’re not dead) echo in my head. That used to be a joke. Nowadays, with discussions about mental health becoming a social norm, combined with the terrible political, environmental, social and financial status of this world, it’s more of a genuine request fuelled by concern.
I wasn’t originally sure I was going to write this. As in, any of this. Had I not had such a comical passive interaction with Steve on the train up to Edinburgh, I probably would have written a couple of hundred words about the whole trip, and left it at that. But this, this has turned into a cathartic, intricate narrative that has become intrinsic to my time on this island.
I’m not very good at doing nothing. Days off often feel empty, devoid of direction. This has mitigated that feeling; I am doing my best not to take that for granted.
I find myself daydreaming about these very words as I eat a late breakfast. Maybe I’ve gone too far the other way? I have spent the holiday observing, but I don’t know if I can say for sure that I have done anything. Never before have I had such a philosophical revelation over an egg and cheese baguette.
On with the rest of the day. I have made it a mission of mine (‘roll credits’, kind of) to go for a run this week. Just the one. Doesn’t really matter how far, or where to. Today is going to be that day. I plan a route on Strava based on where the local footpaths and farm-tracks are, then wing it for the return leg using satellite maps on Google. What’s the worst that could happen?
A lot. A stupid amount. I was well and truly shown up as a dumb city boy who tried to take on the Island of Mull and lost in a big way.
The first kilometre is fine. A couple of hundred metres along the coastal path, then a hairpin turn onto a set of steps that take you up to the higher path that leads along to the golf course. I quickly realise that my intended route is not going to be feasible; other than the main path, most routes look like they’ve become overgrown with ferns. I cautiously shuffle through the first dozen or so metres, then retreat - I’d like to avoid becoming a walking tick sanctuary.
Along the main path it is, then. I reach a clearing, across which there seems to be another clear path. I chance it - I don’t want to reach the golf course just yet, and would like to explore.
Big. Stupid. Mistake. Idiot. IDIOT. The fern thickens, and I can’t see the path I was following, behind or in front. There’s a bog up ahead. I’ll have to try to vault over it - my shoes will suffer if my feet go under. A tentative step.
I recoil. What in the gelatinous fuck? The ground ripples like a carpet on a swimming pool. I’m too stubborn to turn back, but I don’t want to ruin my shoes. Forward it is, then. Tentative step numero dos. It holds my weight. I inhale, then go for it. Light, rapid steps across the wobbly carpet. My right foot punctures the turf as my left reaches the other side. It stinks, and now so do I. Joy of joys.
I’m in a field surrounded by horses. Were they just standing there, onlookers to my daring escapade? I politely shuffle around them, muttering ‘excuse me’s and ‘thank you’s to the closest ponies.
I run along the edge of the field, searching for a stile or gate. There’s a section of the fence that has been obliterated and left in the mud. That’ll do. I scramble around the side of a hill on what looks like an oft-used path, but it’s hard to tell.
There’s a farmhouse about two hundred metres away and thirty metres below me. There’s a locked gate blocking entry through the farm. I skirt around the edge, doing my best to not look completely lost and hopeless. There’s a narrow yet deep stream running through the rear of the farm. After my unsuccessful crossing of the bog earlier in the run, I call it quits and retrace my steps.
Rain has started falling, as has my hope of surviving this run. Back past the horses with a polite nod (‘good to see you again’), then towards a collapsed section of the stone wall on the far side. The ground is uneven, and I find myself slipping and stumbling more frequently than I would like. I berate myself with every step, criticising my brash approach to the whole affair.
STU-pid, STU-pid, STU-pid...
I can see the golf course, my intermediate target. Civilisation. I might not die out here. That being said, I’ve no supplies with me bar my debit card and a pack of Gaviscon (running sometimes gives me heartburn), so we’re not out of the woods yet. No - fields. We’re not out of the fields yet. I chuckle. It doesn’t last long.
I’ve reached a dead end. The ferns have cleared on approach to the golf course, but the fence-line is littered with shrubberies, and there’s no sign of a gate. I sigh. I return to the collapsed wall, plodding along with my head hanging low, and try another path.
STU-pid, STU-pid, STU-pid...
There’s a short, sharp hill that looks like it might lead somewhere. It does. There’s a rusty gate which looks past the point of use, but alongside it sits a stile. The golf course is within reach, as is my route home. I hop over with glee and…
I have entered the golf course about fifty metres to the right of where we walked into town as a group three days ago. In essence, I've taken a forty-five-minute long, three-kilometre detour through Gaelic hell for nothing.
Fuelled by rampant self-hatred, I power across the golf course towards the far side, where the path leads out into the higher levels of Tobermory. I utilise every metre of descent available, and return to the entrance of the coastal path as quickly as I can, in case the farmers from earlier have sent a mob into the village after me.
Ah, my dear coastal path. I was blasphemous about you, and I have rightly suffered for my sinful behaviour. I shall never speak poorly of thee again, oh Great Gravelly One. That being said, the final leg back to the lighthouse feels like it takes an age, even though I’m giving it some welly.
Let’s play a game to pass the time. I know - Race The Ferry! I spot one of the tour boats chugging along the Sound towards the lighthouse, and I attempt to keep pace. I know full well that I will not succeed, but the boat is moving slow enough that it might not overtake me just yet.
I let my pace slow as I approach the cottage. Once inside, my girlfriend begins the unceremonious task of scanning my lower half for ticks; my shorts provided little coverage, and the long grass was unavoidable during my foolish deviations from the clifftop path. Clear, for now.
A quick shower, then back into Tobermory for an afternoon of window-shopping and food-eating. A low, rhythmic grumbling comes from up ahead as we pootle along the path. An ATV appears, requiring us to quickly find a passing place.
“There are a couple of ramblers up ahead that you might want to keep an eye out for,” I warn the driver.
He cackles. “How many points do I get for them?”
Sick bastard. Funny, though.
The coastal path worms its way into the bay, then descends on the edge of Tobermory. Our first port of call is the bakery. A pile of macaroni cheese pies in the display counter catches my eye. That’s lunch sorted. Most of the cafes close mid-to-late-afternoon, so my girlfriend decides to sample the chip van’s ‘battered halloumi supper’. The ‘supper’ thing just means it comes with chips.
“Is that a macaroni pie?” enquires the local lad behind the counter, his eyes lingering on my half-eaten lunch.
“Oh man, so jealous. Is it good? Is it from the bakery?” There’s an unexpected sense of urgency in his voice. Is he salivating?
“Yeah. It’s wicked, to tell you the truth.”
“Awh, I’d love one of those right now.”
Perhaps it’s my mind playing tricks on me, but his accent seems to thicken.
“D’ye wan’ som’ red sauce tae go wit’ tha’?” He offers.
A kind gesture, but I decline, mainly because I don’t know what ‘red sauce’ is. Only later do I learn that ‘red sauce’ means ‘ketchup’ in the Scottish vernacular. I regret my decision.
We sit by the harbour to enjoy our late lunch. Considering we’ve been on the island since Saturday, it feels like very little of our time has actually been spent taking in the ambience of the quaint village. Sailors, fishermen and tour staff stroll up and down the jetty, tending to boats and equipment. A few enthusiastic seagulls cry out from their vantage point on the cliff behind us. The visibility across the Sound is excellent; the different shades of green and yellow on the Morvern peninsula are the clearest they’ve been the whole week. A few isolated clouds are dotted across the deep blue sky, but otherwise it’s fairly clear.
I tend to a particularly challenging crossword, whilst my girlfriend engages with an arrow-words puzzle. I wonder if this is what retirement is like? Not for me. Not yet, at least.
We call it a day as the shops shut around us at five. The walk back is uneventful, save for the occasional photo opportunity along the path due to the excellent weather. I can’t think of enough good puns to justify posting dozens of lighthouse photos on Instagram.
The evening is spent playing cards again; we are introduced to Carioca, a complex Chilean card game that has several rounds and plenty of rules to follow. Then, bedtime - big day tomorrow.