Intensive care to Cape Wrath
25 October 2021
Cape Wrath has been on my mind for decades, as desirable as French psychoanalyst Lacan’s petite objet ‘a’, the vague, false, longing for a preverbal object that never existed but survives because we differentiate thought from language. Language is a symbol, not the thing in itself. We know that and long for what is unachievable: “If only”.
I stumbled on Sandwood Bay several years ago, a mirage on the far horizon, guarded by the Herdsman, Am Buchaille, a stack off the southern headland, pure sand on the edge of the featureless moors of bog and river that block easy access across the firing range to the lighthouse where John Ure and his family offer 24 hour hospitality.
For a while it was Sandwood Bay that fascinated, then the Trail (CWT) and Shane Ohly’s Ultra race came into focus. I volunteered for a Lakeland event in 2016 to see what these ultra runners were like. To my surprise they were externally normal homo sapiens. I enjoyed the team experience, though I offended the competitive Shane. I won’t speculate on that. Every year I prepared for an attempt on the Trail. Every year my health interfered: 12 years of myeloma, chronic kidney disease, toxic epidermal necrolysis, strokes, sepsis, atrial fibrillation and cardiomyopathy (yawn!), most recently months in University College London Hospital with covid. I am in the minority of frail and elderly people that survived covid, aged 77 years, with that impressive list of morbidities.
Do you ever have a vague feeling of dissatisfaction that you can’t pin down? I’ve felt irritated and depressed for a few weeks, frustrated at ascribing it to my disabilities but not clear why since they have endured for 12 years. Maybe that’s it I thought, but not quite sure. Then in a flash of the blindingly obvious, I bought the Ordnance Survey and Harvey maps plus four guides to the CWT and began the close study of the maps, plotting waypoints. It worked! I cheered up and got scared in equal measure: the thousand metre mountains looked impossible.