A Quest for Goatfell


Out in the world, the sky is shifting. What was before a calming blue is now an inky mess of pinks and purples, casting great impossible colour down onto the land. The fields around me are healthy and full of life, harsh yellow crops swaying lazily in the breeze. A house a little way back, hidden by trees and hedges, watches the sky with me. People walk their dogs here, but it’s almost nine, so I’m not expecting anyone to arrive. That’s why I feel okay, sitting atop this rusted tanker, watching the dancing clouds. Once filled with chemicals for the crops, the tanker has been left to stand unused by the side of the field. The ladder to the top feels like it was built for children, each rung just a little too close to the next for comfort. Any noise made atop the tanker is repeated in a vague echo, sounding out from the hollow nothing within. Up here, several feet closer to the approaching stars, I plan my trip to Goatfell.

I discovered the mountain by accident, pretty much. I knew I wanted to travel, so I got a job to scrounge some money together. I knew I wanted to travel, so soon after I told them I was quitting. I knew I wanted to travel, so why hadn’t I started yet?

Cities have never excited me, and holidays in general end up rubbish in my experience. I’m nervous about a lot of things in life and don’t trust myself to end up in interesting situations, which is a concern. The whole concept of solo travel doesn’t seem to suit me very much, if I’m being honest with myself.

But I wanted to. I wanted to go somewhere to do something. I wanted this time and this money to be spent well, to be spent on memories and learning to be myself, by myself. Which is when that childhood fascination with adventurers started creeping back. The evenings spent reading about Ian Livingston. The pure terrified fascination towards polar explorers and their incredible bravery. The world, hidden and delightful, scary too, but incredible all the same. I want to go there, but I hate holidays. I need adventures.

I’m no adventurer, though. I have no desire to push myself or to beat records. I want to put myself into vaguely uncomfortable positions and see what happens, but that’s about as extreme as these things get for me. Then in comes Alastair Humphreys, discovered through a YouTube video sent by a friend, and my passion for the romance of adventure returned with a vengeance.

I don’t need anything incredible to make it feel worthwhile, for me. I don’t need to cycle Europe or march alongside the river Nile to feel like I’ve achieved something. My need for adventure is small, and so a small adventure is all I’ll need. Goatfell, then. A simple name spotted while pouring over maps of Scotland. The mountain of Goatfell on the isle of Arran. It was perfect.

Goatfell is such a strange word. At once tolkeinesque and ridiculous all at the same time, it sounded perfect for an adventure of my scale. It was the sort of mountain that wanted to tell all the other mountains it was the best, despite basically being a glorified hill. I would camp atop it, I decided. I would clamber up Goatfell, and camp upon it’s sharpened rocks, waking up to the world as my view. It was a small idea, and distinctly achievable, but nevertheless exciting. It’s the sort of thing I’ll actually do, the sort of adventure I won’t wimp out from when it comes time to actually begin.

But then, it seems a little pointless, travelling all that way just to sleep on a mountain. A whole day on a train for one night in the wild. It was small, which was good, but perhaps it was too small.

Atop that aging tanker I dwell on the future. University is the most terrifying thing of all, stomping towards me with apathetic persistence. My life there could be amazing, but more likely than not it’ll be riddled with anxiety and loneliness. I’m not ready to share my writing with strangers, even though that’s the entire basis of the course. I’m not ready to fight for people’s friendships when there are so many others much more capable than me at giving the gift of laughter. I’m not ready for my future, and I don’t think I’ll ever be. But its march is unceasing. It shall come, and I shall be beholden to its arrival. I’m scared, really, really scared. But the cooling breeze blowing through my hair, the scent of crops and grass and nature, the sky with its endless perfect instability, bring me back into the world.

Now is where I am, and I need to make use of the now while I still can. So maybe camping on Goatfell is a little too small. Just a little. If I’m going to sentence myself to the loneliness of my own company for a night, I might as well commit. Nothing crazy, because that’s not me. So. Point William, not too far from the Isle of Arran, but far enough to need multiple nights away from home. That can be the new destination. I’ll travel by bike, so I’m not just living on a train for the rest of my life. I’ll climb Goatfell, bike and tent and all, and I’ll climb down the other side. I’ll catch a ferry to Claonaig, a much less romantically named place, and pedal my way past locks and whatever else lays in my path (I’ve honestly got no idea what that part of Scotland looks like) and hope for the best. Emphasis on hope.

It’s nothing compared to cycling around the world on £7000 like Alastair Humphreys. It’s nothing compared to backpacking around Europe, even. For me, though, it’s scary, and it’s exciting, and it’s big. I don’t think I’ll make it. I don’t think I’ll get anywhere close. But the sky is so beautiful in the evenings, and the world so fantastically unexplored, by me at least. I want to make a start at getting a little more out of this earth than I’ve been doing so far.

This is the first day of the rest of your life. That’s a phrase that keeps invading my brain. I don’t like it, for some reason, but it resonates with me. I need to start turning myself towards a life I’m happy with now, not next week, not next year. The future is scary, and I’m worried I’m going to hate it. But that’s a long way away. Right now, I’m living in an entirely different kind of fear. The kind of fear a great horror movie provokes. The kind of fear that makes me feel alive.

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