Thursday, 12 October 2017

Scotland, September 2017; Days 5 and 6

Having recovered from our exertions of the previous two days, we decided on a drive down Glen Torridon past the towering giants of Beinn Eighe, Liathach and Beinn Alligan to Diabaig, beyond Torridon.  In this superbly remote location we enjoyed a lunch of seafood chowder at the Gille Brighde (oystercatcher) restaurant and wandered on the shore photographing the local wreck.  Out on the loch were divers, but too far away to identify the species.

From here it was back to Torridon village and further on to Shieldaig looking, unsuccessfully, for otters.  Once on the Applecross Peninsular, though, the bonus was to photograph the honeypot shot of the most pictured red tin roof in Scotland.  We had passed this cottage some years before and I had neglected to capture any images.  Normally I avoid honey-pot locations and seek out my own landscapes, but I couldn't resist this one, especially as there was a rainbow in the background.

The next day it was time for Heather and myself to head home in time to get ready for the Open Studios weekend.  We left in pouring rain, but it was galling that the further south we travelled the better the weather became.  Ah well such is life; Scotland is amazing whatever the weather.

Scotland September 2017, Days 3 and 4.

The main reason for our trip to Scotland was to backpack and wild camp in order to complete a round of The Fisherfield 5, the most remote Munros (mountains over 3000 feet) in Scotland.  The Fisherfield Forest has an alternative name of The Great Wilderness of Scotland and also has, allegedly, the worst bog in Scotland.  To make matters worse it is guarded by river crossings of which the guide book has to say: in spate these rivers can trap the unwary!  A daunting prospect in good, settled weather, but in the prevailing conditions we held out little hope of success.  Nonetheless we opted to 'go and have a look'!!!  The support team dropped the four of us off at the beginning of a landrover track which led up through the beautifully wooded Gleann Chaorachain with the sound of the river thundering through its gorge to our left.  The weather, however, was optimistic at this point with the sun putting in an appearance and lowering clouds looking as if they might clear from An Teallach towering above us.  Soon we left the trees behind us and climbed steeply past impressive waterfalls to pull up to the high point of our walk in.  Here we left the landrover track and followed an ever fainter and increasingly boggy path across the shoulder of An Teallach before descending steeply to the bothy at Shenavall with excellent, if murky, views into the Fisherfield Forest and our campsite for the night.  We were still full of hope at this point and the weather looked as if it might not be too bad so we pressed onto the river.  At this juncture the wheels came off. Despite wandering up and down the river and getting our boots full of water in the process, we could find no possible crossing point without having to swim.  What should have been an ankle deep paddle at the crossing point had turned into a waist deep swirling current.  Although  disappointing and frustrating, it was not entirely unexpected; at least we didn't have to face the bog!!!  We opted to return to the bothy and, if necessary, put up the tents for the night.  In the event the heavens opened and we decided to retreat into the bothy which, for the time, we had to ourselves.  This was no hardship for me as this remote croft is well-known in mountaineering circles and in 1950 the famous mountaineer/explorer, W.H.Murray, stayed here while he made a winter traverse of An Teallaich; the bothy being in much the same condition as his description.

During the night I have never known such rain, the noise exacerbated by the fact that we were sleeping underneath the tin roof.  We felt ourselves fortunate that we hadn't managed to cross the river.  Early the next morning when I went out we were surrounded by red deer, what a beautiful experience.  After breakfast we packed and then went to have a look at the nearby loch where the river entered - we should have needed a boat to cross!!!  What a stunning situation this was, though, surrounded by magnificent mountains and the furthest from a road it was possible to get anywhere in the country and the most remote ordnance survey grid square.  Wilderness indeed.  At the loch I had a most enjoyable time studying and photographing an amazing moss and lichen covered bog pine, perhaps thousands of years old.  Eventually there was only one thing remaining: a very wet and boggy walk out and when we we finally got a phone signal to ring for the cavalry to come and pick us up.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Wet Week in Scotland, September 2017. Days 1 and 2.

Having had a a wet few days at the caravan in The Lakes from 5th of September, we moved up to the far north west of Scotland to Poolewe on the 8th.We had a good journey, but the time it took was a reminder of just how far north we were travelling, especially as we already had a head start, being in Cumbria.  We were certainly pleased to see Loch Maree come into sight as we breasted the pass and saw it through the murk along the length of Glen Docherty.
After a long day of driving we were well ready for a pottery day on our first day.  Weatherwise this was to be one of our best days in a wet week. After a lazy breakfast we wandered down to the village shop for some supplies and then continued on for a view of Loch Ewe.  On a previous visit we had driven out the the seaward end of the loch where there is an information board telling how it was used as a mustering point for the wartime arctic convoys to Murmansk.  I found this a very moving place and it really gave me a sense of the past and the fact that landscapes hold memories.
 Later in the day we drove around the coast visiting first a viewpoint down to Loch Maree and then back through Poolewe on the coast road to Ullapool visiting the wonderfully remote beach of Mellon Udrigle.  The last time we had been here the air ambulance was lifting out a casualty and amazingly the same thing happened on this trip.  While here we saw again devil's bit scabious and monkey flower and there was still plenty of heather in flower especially bell heather.  We had excellent views of a hunting harrier as well as more chilling ones out to Gruinard Island, where, in 1942, the government tested anthrax with a view to investigating the feasibility of using it as a bioweapon.  Eighty sheep were taken out to the island and bombs containing anthrax exploded nearby.  The sheep began to die within days.  The main purpose of our day was to reconnoitre the start of our planned backbacking trip into the Fisherfield Forest when we had a suitable break in the weather.  Following this we explored a back road up to viewpoint overlooking Ullapool hoping to see golden eagles.  In this we were successful with a family group of four of these majestic birds hunting over the hillside above us.

We had identified Monday to Wednesday as our best window for backpacking so on the Sunday we pottered into Gairloch for coffee and cake at the amazing Mountain Coffee Company.  Fantastic coffee and cakes and a wonderful bookshop.  Suitably refreshed we drove along ever narrowing roads out to the headland lighthouse at Rudha Reidah.  Here I was fascinated by the old quay which at one time was used to supply the lighthouse with it's inclined plane and old winch.  We had good sightings of shags and map lichen on the rocks as well as views up to Sutherland and the mountains of Stac Pollaidh and Suillven.  

Feeling that it was time for lunch we headed back to Gairloch and round to the other side of the bay to the fabulous Badachro Inn where we enjoyed a delicious bowl of Cullen Skink.  The tide was out and in a brief period of sun the brillantly coloured seaweeds gleamed gold against the water and we were treated to a wonderful rainbow.

Needing a walk after lunch we continued to Red Point beach in worsening weather.  Foolishly we decided to walk down to the beach and received an absolute drenching for our pains.