1st July


Halfway, he reckons. The strain in his calf muscles, the sweat he has to wipe from his face, the care with which he has to watch his footing, guarding against a twisted ankle – these things make their own computation of how far he’s come, how far he has to go. He’s on the spine of the hills now. The path – a thin scribble of peat through the heather – stumbles up and down as if over vertebrae, the short drops giving him the momentum to take on the rises. He is hurting but it feels good. He knows it could all go wrong – one bad step and he could twist or snap an ankle, have to limp the rest of the way home or maybe even drag himself because there’s no one else up here, in all the times he’s run these hills he’s never come across another person – but he doesn’t think it will come to that. Not now, today, because now he’s halfway to home.

He’s never been on exactly this route before. He knows the land, its con- tours and moods, but this is a new path. It’s led him round the edges of bogs and clear of standing water and so far it’s left him with dry feet. Halfway. This long stretch along the tops is where it feels best. The warm wind is pushing at his back, the sky is mostly blue, dotted with unthreatening white clouds, the great sweep of mountains is to the north, a loch below him to the south. When he came up the forestry track, that hard, aching climb, this was what he was putting in the effort for: running across the rough ground, alone, himself against himself, heading for home.

Twenty minutes earlier, just below the treeline, he surprised a red squirrel crossing the track. It darted away in sudden, comical panic. Last week a deer did the same thing. He relishes these meetings. They are signs of life, brief, unexpected, treasured; they, and his own body traversing the backbone of the hills. This, nothing else, is what he is for. Halfway. Another mile and it’s all downhill from there, but this, now, is the moment.

Reader: James Robertson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
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