Make of this story what you will. Some of it may be true, or none of it – you decide.
I guess I must have seen him but never really paid any attention.
Perhaps I should go back a bit and start at the beginning – in the summer of 1932, I retired from my teaching career at a school in Tunbridge Wells in Kent. I had given most of my life over to the profession and found myself comfortably off. But the big question was what to do with my time? I had never found the opportunity to marry and therefore had spent a long and glorious life as a bachelor, suiting myself and entertaining my own company every Christmas day.
It was with this in mind that I made the decision to go on a walking holiday in the Highlands of Scotland. It was a place we much visited as children and a place I had grown to love.
I took the train to Glasgow and spent a rather pleasant night at the Central Hotel, where I found several experts willing to share their recent travels in the north. It was suggested that I travel to Tyndrum and there I was to alight and, over several days, walk to Fort William – a rather pretty little town on the banks of Loch Linnhe.
It was suggested that I spend the first night at Tyndrum and perambulate the relatively short distance, via the Bridge of Orchy, to a small inn beside Loch Tulla.
I thanked my companions and early the next morning did as they suggested. As the train moved off from Crainlarich I noticed that it had started to snow and by the time we arrived at Tyndrum, it was almost lost in the white of a large storm.
A horse and trap managed to get me to the Tyndrum Hotel where, with the help of a large whisky, I managed to revive my outer regions. After an excellent night’s sleep, I had the option of staying put in my charming little Inn or facing the arctic conditions which awaited me outside. I decided on the latter, bearing in mind that the whole idea of this venture was to get some fresh air into my lungs.
I started out after a heart breakfast of porridge followed by black pudding and eggs.
It was as I started to climb up towards the Bridge of Orchy that I noticed another, fresh, and therefore recent, set of footprints in the snow. The light in that area made it difficult to see how far ahead my companion was, and so I put my head down against the weather and trudged on.
I arrived at the inn on the shores of Tulla, just as the dark was settling on the loch. I took off my boots and dried my socks at a glorious roaring fire in the bar. At first I thought I was alone in the room, until I saw a man sitting in the corner. I bid him a ‘good evening’ but to no response. I therefore deduced that the man was either deaf, asleep or found no need for another’s company. When I’d finished my whisky, I turned to find him gone.
That night the snow and wind battered at my window and in the morning I found that my path was covered in two to three feet of the stuff. The landlord of the inn had suggested that I stop in at the Blackmount Estate and let them know it was my intention to cross their lands on my way to Glencoe. The road through their lands was an old military one, built by General Wade as a means of transporting troops, Redcoats, to the garrison in Fort William.
The family at Blackmount were extremely pleasant and bid me a wonderful day’s walking. I intended to rest my head that night at the Kingshouse in Glencoe.
Now here is the strange thing, the family had informed me that I was the first that week to pass on Wade’s road, but as I started to walk I saw another set of footprints up ahead of me. Perhaps the gentleman in question had not bothered with the courtesy of asking for permission – it does happen with the city folks from time to time.
It was just as I got to Ba Bridge, that I noticed the footprints veered off up into the hills. The snow must have been up to four or five feet deep at that point and it didn’t look as if the owner of the footsteps had any particular boots to compensate.
I shielded my eyes to see where he could have possibly headed but the very strong sunlight on the snow made that exercise impossible. I walked as best I could on to the Kingshouse and reached there a little before 6pm.
After a rather hasty wash, I made myself comfortable at the bar and ordered a very large whisky. It was probably around my third large scotch when I saw a man, not unlike my companion of that afternoon, sitting in the corner. I was just about to ask the gentleman if he was indeed the walker when my attention was distracted by a large foreign gentleman attempting to shout at the barman in some exotic language. I presumed it was to make himself more understandable (a method, we Brits are not averse to), but by the time I turned back, the man in the corner was gone.
I could see that he had left a box of some description on the table. I had a look around the bar and noticed that no one else was looking in that direction and therefore I quietly made my way over to the corner.
I had one more look around before opening the box, and inside was a medal from the Great War; a casualty Military Cross awarded at Passchendaele. It seemed only right to hand it into the hotel reception, where they thanked me kindly but said they had no one of the description I had given, staying at the hotel. Probably a tourist in a motor car, they thought, who would possibly return on his way back.
And so I continued on to Fort William where I spent several splendid days walking up Ben Nevis and the surrounding hills, and ultimately celebrating a wonderful New Year’s Eve (or Hogmanay as they call it in these parts).
There was nothing much to report until the spring of the following year, 1933. Glorious weather had been reported in the Scottish Highlands and since I was about to travel to India to start a new job, I felt that I should spend a few days re-tracing my steps staring at Tyndrum. This time in far more beneficial conditions.
I said farewell to my sister, and her son, whom I had been staying with in Chelsea, and set off on a beautiful steam train bound for the north.
After about an hour into the journey, I opened my haversack to find that my sister had packed some sandwiches and a bottle of beer for the trip. My godson had also tied a little package and placed it in beside the food. When I opened it, I could see that it was a medal, and that it was a casualty Military Cross from Passchendaele – it had been given to my godson by my sister’s father-in-law and now my godson wanted me to have it as a thank you for all the kindness I had shown.
It had originally been my plan, this time around, to take the path up from Ba Bridge where I had seen the gentleman climb, but there something about the mysterious man in the corner and the medal left on the table which made me change my mind.
Was it a warning?
I shall never know.
And yes, I did check at the Kingshouse to see if they still had the medal I had handed in the previous winter, but there was no record of it.
And here, dear friends is the most curious bit, there was a photograph of me which had been lying in the hotel storeroom.
One of the receptionist remembered the photograph and fetched it.
It was of me sitting at the Ba Bridge with the Military Cross held up for show.
I know for a fact I didn’t have that photograph taken and anyway who was holding the camera?
bobby stevenson 2017