When you have lived somewhere for three years and you invite your friends along on what is to be your Final Walk In Scotland, apparently people feel obligated to come.
Or maybe they just don’t want to miss a final opportunity to climb a munro with you.
Or maybe lots of folks want to make the time for an epic day of hiking but when you say this is the Last Chance To Go With Us, you raise the stakes just high enough that those who have been meaning to take you up on your earlier invitations for walks in the woods actually clear their schedules, wake up early on a Saturday morning and come along.
Or maybe it was just a rather gorgeous day.
Whatever the reason, somehow we managed to get 18 people on top of Mt. Keen and even more than that out for the first several miles of the day on our last big climb in Scotland.
It felt like a party in the car park at Glen Tanar, setting out with adults, teenagers, children and even a couple of dogs.
I loved watching friends meet friends.
Divinity world colliding with Trinity world.
Folks walking and talking.
And picking blueberries.
Folks exclaiming about the lovely day.
We ambled through the morning, sometimes a long snake of folks. And sometimes a big jumble.
I could tell the pace was slower than Taido liked.
He kept trying to get people moving along, when kids stopped to climb trees or play near the water.
“Long day ahead of us still!” he reminded us.
We said farewell to those who weren’t in for the big climb at a bend in the road, and then Taido picked up the pace, marching us through the next several miles.
We were swarmed by midges when we stopped for lunch and I could tell that Taido was glad the pesky bugs did the job of moving us along so he wouldn’t have to.
Mt Keen is supposedly one of the easiest munro in Scotland to climb. There are no scary bits or really difficult parts to navigate.
The trail is clearly defined so you can’t really lose your way.
It’s just a very long approach.
Like over six miles in before you really start to go up the hill.
Those miles are gorgeous though.
And so gradual is the incline that you don’t even notice you are gaining elevation.
You kind of feel on your way in like you could walk forever in this wonderland.
Of course, then you do walk forever.
Across more bridges and through more heather fields.
And it is lovely.
And because there is water and stones, there is stopping to play.
And kids being very silly.
But eventually you cross one final bridge.
And the uphill begins.
And the moment you start to go up the hill, you realize how very long you have been walking.
And maybe your legs are very tired.
Of course the kids all flew up the hill and waited a long time on top, but a few of us gals had a long slog to get there.
And the up stretched out in front of us for too far.
But in the end everyone who set out to get there made it up!
That’s a big success in my book!
How fun to be on top of a munro with such dear friends.
Oh Scotland, you have been so very good to us!
What beautiful memories we have!
And then after a snack and a few photos, it was time for the descent.
A few fellas headed off ahead of us because the day was stretching into late afternoon and they had evening commitments.
And of course the kids took off, practically running down, as they do.
But the downhill was much slower for me (and for a few others).
There was big relief on getting back down to this bridge. The day was fading and my legs were so tired but, oh to be on the flat ground again!
After getting off the mountain I wanted to lie down in the heather and nap but instead we needed to pick up the pace and walk the long road back.
And Long. It. Was.
We laughed thinking of how much longer the miles always seem on the way back, stretching on and on, marching on wobbly legs.
We speculated about what would still be open in the nearby town of Aboyne. Everyone was hoping for fish and chips!
The kids stopped and waited for us to catch up every few miles. These were the only moments I saw them all day, brief hellos before they bounded off again, disappearing before me with their friends.
And I walked along with my friends.
Telling stories, laughing at ourselves, talking of other walks.
Delirious with hunger and fatigue.
I was too tired to be sad about it being our last climb. I just wanted to see that familiar bend in the road that would indicate we were near the cars.
The daylight was fading when we finally reached them. Two cars filled and went on to scout for a dinner spot, and one more followed a bit later.
There was rejoicing that a fish and chip shop was indeed still open in Aboyne. They had outdoor tables and we sat around them eating and laughing for a long while before limping back to our cars to drive home.
We had friends in our car and we laughed all the way back to Aberdeen as our van snaked through the dark roads. I looked out the window at the night sky, and wondered when I would ever see all these folks together in one place again.
Maybe, probably not until heaven.
And that’s exactly what this day was for me, a little piece of heaven.
(Only I think I get new legs for my first climb in heaven, yo.)
Big cheers and thanks to everyone who came out and climbed Mt. Keen with us, picnicked in the park with us the Saturday beforehand and met us at our favorite Aberdeen pub, Six Degrees, the next Saturday after this hike. We had a brilliant month of Scotland goodbyes, and they are still reminding me that when you move to a place and dig in for three years and choose to love big, you will be loved. You will have such dear friends and you will smile from the deep wells in your heart (like I am in this photo snapped my friend Nicola). In the still very new place I am now (just a month in Germany), I need that reminder on the daily.
Also, thanks to Taido, Nicola and Joan for sharing their photos with me to use alongside my own in this post.