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Re: Norman Reeves

I think it was the Challenge of 2003 – whichever, it was a wet one – Norman and I had fallen into step in Glen Findhorn, while crossing the Monadhliath in pouring rain and a billowing cold wind.

As it came time to consider finding a spot for the night, we passed the Twin Towers, John and David, who were trying to pitch their tent in the lee of some drumlins; the wind was catching the flysheet and they were struggling to even hold on to it. Not for us… We decided to push on, hoping for the rain might ease before we had to pitch; perhaps we'd even find somewhere a little more sheltered.

Eventually we reached Coignafern Lodge. I'd passed it on several previous crossings, a huge, dark and empty, deserted shell of a place. This time, however, there was a portacabin outside, a builders' van parked alongside. Next to the lodge there's a square flat area of grass and this evening it was perfectly sheltered by the old place.

We met the plasterers, happy guys all, and asked if they'd mind if we pitched on that sheltered lawn. "Eh? Look, we're just about done here and we're off home in a few minutes. Feel free to sleep in the portacabin – there's a heater in the corner, milk in the fridge and you're welcome to read our newspapers (The Sun)… just help yourselves." Scottish hospitality at its best.

We chatted about what they were doing with the place. Apparently the estate had been bought by Sigrid Rausing, daughter of the Swedish billionaire and Tetra Pak packaging empire Hans Rausing, and the lodge was being fully restored. Would we like a tour? Would we!

The interior was massive, the work ongoing. Room after room after dusty room, the plasterers had the run of the place - there were dusty plaster boards every where – on the dusty walls, leaning against the dusty walls, laid on the dusty floor. Did I mention the dust? Then they showed us the boiler room – a room itself bigger than some folks' houses, perhaps, with a network of thick pipes rising from the boiler like those of some great cathedral organ. And that boiler was on full blast. That, they explained, was to drive out the damp that had developed during the decades the building had stood empty.

Tour over, we returned to the portacabin, the guys packed up, and we waved them off from the door as they drove off down the glen.

I said something along the lines of "Wow, we've lucked out! Milk, papers, heating and a dry floor to sleep on!"

Norman looked at me with a twinkle in his eye. "Nah, mate, we're not sleeping in here – come on, they haven't loocked the door of the lodge."

And he was right – the door was ajar. After all, no chance of intruders in a place as remote as this, right?

In we crept, dragging our packs behind us. Norman lifted down a couple of plaster boards that were leant against the walls and laid them on the floor. Insulated and protected from the dust, we rolled out our sleeping bags and slid in with massive grins on our faces.

We were probably the first folk to have slept in the lodge for many years, one of the most memorable nights on all my ten (and two half) crossings.

Cheers Stormin', a true leg-end.