Cheap pitches. Free showers. View of the loch. Save for the omnipresent midge, there seems little reason not to stop at Kinlochleven campsite. Strange then that no-one stays a second night.
Looking west along Loch Leven as the sun dives horizonwards, the summits seem benevolent, cradling the little town in a gnarled embrace. Binnein Mor, Na Gruagaichean, Am Bodach, Sgùrr a’ Mhàim and more lie in wooded repose lochside, benign under the last sideways-slung rays. This dying of the light is picturesque to be sure, reaching up into the loch. Weary trekkers and wellness bloggers snap pictures for their Instagram accounts, their eyes on their phones whilst locals search the gullies, the craggy overhangs.
It is not the dusk that the townsfolk are wary of. At least, not the dusk alone. It is a stillness in the evening air, a sense of heavy dreichness. The villagers can sense it. They close their doors over softly and stuff dishcloths and rags in the loose window frames. Curtains are drawn, lights dimmed.
Things are different on the campsite. The penultimate stop on the West Highland Way plays host to hikers hobbling to and from the small kitchen, their tin-clad meals steaming in their hands. They talk softly, telling tales from the last week and looking forward to Fort William and their goal. The glowing embers of the fire draw their eyes away from the now-looming heights, where shrouds of cloud have started to cling to the mountain tops.
The walkers’ backs are to the loch when the mist begins its slow crawl down the grey quartz and brown granite of the Mamores. It rolls down from the night-clad ravines, some still with winter’s snow within, and unfurls across the black water. The first thing those at the campsite are aware of is the smell – damp and brackish. They stay at their campfire as the first silvery tendrils begin to snake their way up the bank and towards them. The campers fancy themselves seasoned travellers after a week’s walking. A highland haar is nothing to worry about; it will be held at bay by the sputtering fire until bedtime, after which it can swirl and reach around the tent pegs as much as it pleases.
Mist does funny things to voices. It can deaden them as effectively as a hand over a mouth. It can draw them out, twisting and stretching them until they are barely there, skeins of sound undulating through the air. Through experience, the locals can still pick out the noises that thread their way through the shuttered blinds and the tacked-down letterboxes. A whimper here, a muffled shout for a mother there, sobbing pleas thrown into the air for the gods of mist and vapour. After a while, the sounds die down.
After the sun has risen and the mist has burned off, the villagers ease open their doors and go about their business. The bell in the village shop rings in the clear morning air. The paperboy pulls a wheely as he finishes his round. At Kinlochleven campsite, the owner hangs the sign reading ‘vacancies’, before turning to look at the blue sky reflected in the mirrored loch.
Matthew Richardson is a writer of short stories. His work has featured in Gold Dust magazine, Literally Stories, Close to the Bone, McStorytellers, Penny Shorts, Soft Cartel, Whatever Keeps the Lights On, Flashback Fiction, Cafelit, and Shooter magazine. He is a doctoral student at the University of Dundee, a lucky husband, and a proud father. He blogs at www.matthewjrichardson.com and tweets at https://twitter.com/mjrichardso0.