In this series we’ll be sharing unusual, inspirational and remarkable lockdown experiences from hikers across the country. Here, wild camping nomad Stuart Shipp describes how lockdown threatened to make his lifestyle illegal – until a timely message from a friend saved the day.
Image: Stuart Shipp in the Lake District
On Monday 16th March, I was collecting a group from Glasgow train station for some snowy fun in the Trossachs and Glen Coe areas of Scotland. At this point we were aware of the C-word and that it had made its way to our shores. However, the ‘stay indoors’ guidance had yet to be issued, so off to the hills we went.
By Thursday 19th March things were beginning to get a bit more serious. Non-essential travel was advised against and the social distancing measures that we’re all now so familiar with were being introduced. We headed back to Glasgow so the group could get back to their homes in London as quickly as possible.
In search of isolation
For me though, things were different. I don’t have a fixed abode. I’m a vagabond, navigating my way around and between the mountains of the UK. Travel is my life. I camp when I’m on my own and I stay in ‘regular’ accommodation when guiding groups. What was I supposed to do? Where was I supposed to stay? Do I stay in Scotland, or do I head south of the border?
I decided to stay in my comfort zone. I decided to stay in Scotland.
I was going to go remote. After all, getting away from people and self-isolating is what I do best! I had two weeks’ worth of freeze-dried food left over from a ‘winter traverse of the Cairngorms’ trip that I led in February. I had gas canisters and a stove. I had my trusty tent and sleeping bag. I was good to go!
A few days into my mountain-based self-isolation, though, my world unravelled. We were told that, save for shopping or once-daily exercise, we couldn’t be outside at all: LOCKDOWN!
When I found out about the lockdown I was camping north of Glen Avon in the Cairngorms and, for the first time in a very long time, I was lost. Not lost in the landscape, but in my head. What was I supposed to do? Where was I supposed to go? I have just been told that my nomadic existence, the one I’ve lived for the past four years, was not acceptable. In fact, it was now considered illegal.
The mountains around me started spinning. The ground beneath me began to warp as I stood motionless, wondering: “What the f**k do I do now?”
Home in the hills
I collected my kit and headed back to the minibus in the vain hope that a plan would simply come to me. As I approached the minibus I received a message from my good friend, Ewan, who resides in Inveralligin, a small hamlet just beyond Torridon.
Ewan and his wife Claire are currently working overseas and their home (www.benview.co.uk) – usually let to holidayers – was now empty. Ewan and Claire very kindly offered up their beautiful home for me to isolate within. My friends would tell you that I am a rather stubborn person who would usually turn down any offer of help, but on this occasion, with nowhere else to go, I thanked them and made my way to the west coast.
So, for the first time in four years, I have a base. I have a bed. I have a kitchen with a fridge and running water. I have all day access to a flushing toilet, and I have a sofa. I can take my shoes off and walk around in just my socks. These small things that you may take for granted are usually absent in my life, and the return to a more civilised existence has definitely offered me some comfort in this predicament.
I have been asked a lot over the past couple of weeks about whether there are any downsides to being in such an isolated location up here. The answer, for me, is simply: no!
I love isolated and wild places and here I have access to the rugged west coast of Scotland, which is quite literally on my doorstep. I have the mighty Beinn Alligin peering down at me from the front of the house and the high tide kisses the dry stone wall at the far end of the garden. The birds are returning to full song, the otters have been playing in the stream, red deer roam the gardens and the local seal keeps me amused with his intrigue as I balance precariously on the ruined pier trying to get a better look. Frankly, I couldn’t be ‘locked-down’ in a much better place.
Looking to the future
Day-to-day I am kept busy working through the various impacts to my business (www.citymountaineering.com) caused by the C-word, but I still make time to get outside for my once-daily walk or run. I’ve not yet ventured to Munro heights, but the yearning is there and, when the weather improves, I’ll take the short saunter to the summit of Tom na Gruagaich.
Thinking about the future, when the C-word takes a back seat, the situation I personally face is looking rather challenging. I need to organise mountain trips for groups and encourage people to join me at short notice just to keep the proverbial bank manager at bay. However, I choose not to dwell on that. That’s Future-Stuart’s problem. I’ve always tried to live in the moment and I’m currently in a stunning location, resting and resetting my normal.
There are people suffering right now. Whether it be through loneliness or anxiety, or through contracting or knowing someone that has contracted the virus. I feel anguish for them. And I hope this virus disappears as quickly as it arrived.
That said, however, I do wonder if this lockdown will continue long enough to for me to claim squatters’ rights on Ben View from my friends Ewan and Claire. They are truly amazing, kind people and their generosity in helping me affirms the fact that I have the best friends anyone could ask for…but this house though! I’m living in paradise. I might just claim it as my own.
Make indoor time better with The Great Outdoors
During the lockdown, we’re continuing to work (from home!) to make a magazine that will help you keep your outdoor spirit alive. Even though you can’t go physically go to the hills and mountains, we aim to take you there with our words and images, and perhaps conjure some of the feelings they inspire.
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Stay home, stay safe, and see you on the hills when the day comes!