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Feeling on top of the world

I'M writing this on top of Ben Nevis. It's one of the warmest days of the Easter holidays but it's a bit windy on the summit and the snow is ankle deep in places. I'll write the rest at home.

I made the trip with my science technician friend. We had been talking about it for more than a year, we had even done a few warm-up walks, but never got past vague plans. When we did finally set a date, it was a good few months after I had ascended anything more taxing than the stairs to the ICT department.

But we were well equipped and had decided from the outset that, if time or the weather conspired against us, we would give up and turn back.

At 6am, staid Skodas and Volvos were left at home in favour of my Reliant SS1 convertible. An hour later we pulled into Callendar to drop the top. By nine we were in the visitor centre car park studying the notice board which said that four hours should get us to the summit - if we walked at the average pace.

When we reached the halfway point at the Red Burn two and a half hours later, it was apparent that one of us was walking at a little less than the average pace. It was me.

The mountain was effectively a 4,400ft staircase made of boulders and loose stone. It was an unrelenting upwards slog and, from the start of the Zig-Zags, I felt every step. Fortunately my fellow walker remained patient and good-humoured.

Indeed he is probably still denying that I slowed things down. We reached the top in a little under five hours, took a couple of photos, sent texts to our loved ones, shook hands with people we had chatted to on the way and, in my case, wrote the first line of this piece on a PDA. Then we went home.

This should be the metaphor bit of the article. The climb up Ben Nevis was like the previous term or my teaching career or life itself. No it wasn't.

It was a damned good day out in great company which taught me that I could be fitter. In January, I wrote in these columns that I hoped to do the climb in 2003, and that I would also like to be published in a book and remain in charge of my subject though my APT post vanishes in August.

Having done one makes the others somehow seem more possible. Indeed, at the moment we seem to be at two out of three, which according to the song, ain't bad.

Gregor Steele got home in time for supper.

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