Saturday, September 7, 2013

Scotland Day 4 - Highland meanderings

Woke up early to an utterly grey morning so went back to sleep again for a while before arising at the more respectable hour of 8.30.

I was heading north today, possibly to Loch Ness, depending on how the time went, but first I was going to loch Eli. So I drove the several miles up the road to the car ferry, so I could jump across the other side of Loch Linnhe, which would save driving all the way around it. Then follow the western shore northwards until it doglegs left and feeds into Loch Eli.

That was the plan anyway, except I took a wrong turn when alighting from the ferry at Corran. Well there were two whole choices placed before me, so I can't be entirely responsible for that. Once I realised I was going the wrong way, I stopped alongside Loch Linnhe and got a shot of the little islands that reside in it, plus, as a bonus, I saw some seals messing about in the water which was nice.

Loch Linnhe on an overcast day. The seals were splashing about around those three islands.

And interestingly enough, thanks to the information board I stopped next to, I learned that Loch Linnhe is actually Scotlands longest fjord, and it follows the line of the mighty Great Glen fault, one of the most dramatic features in British geology. Plus I was looking at one of the only places where it was possible to see the two ancient volcanoes of Ben Nevis and Glen Coe simultaneously. Both formed about 420 million years ago, they are part of the Caledonian Mountain chain, which extends from Norway through Scotland, Ireland, North-East Greenland to the Appalachian range in North America.

I thought that was interesting, and well worth going the wrong way for.

So after turning around and heading in the right direction, I found the narrow road that hugs the loch’s shoreline and I was on my way. The weather was dreary to the extreme, so any shots of the loch were out of the question. But I did find a nice old stone barn and gnarled tree which diverted me for a while, along with a rusty old plough, half hidden in the pale grass.

Stone barn and gnarled tree, they both look they have been around a while.

I like the birds that happened to fly past as I composing the shot.

Drove up past Fort William, starting north towards Inverness, then after Loch Lochy, I turned off onto the road to Kinloch Hourn, stopping at Loch Garry for a spot of luncheon and to have a look-see at what could be found in the vicinity.

I did find some nice trees and ferns on the shore line, and some amazing red mushrooms. I got a picture of the trees but couldn’t find a decent composition for the mushrooms. Scotland seems to be awash with interesting fungi, wherever I go I see some new and interesting variations dotted about.

This was one of those scenes that seemed to offer loads of potential, but looking through the camera
I found it difficult to get something decent. I kept it simple in the end.
Long(ish) exposure to flatten out the water a bit, looking along the shore of Loch Garry.

I carried on up the road as it undulated and twisted through dense woodland, before it opened out to expansive views and started to become a bit more like the ‘typical’ Highlands. Driving along the twenty two spectacular miles of single track road, that heads westwards towards the Atlantic Ocean, under a dark sky, with unending views, it was definitely bleak, but incredibly impressive.

I stopped high up, overlooking Glen Garry and the river of same name that snakes through it. Then it was on to Lock Quoich, climbing towards the imposing Glen Quoich dam. This huge structure, 1050ft long and 105ft high, was built in 1957 and raised the waters of Loch Quoich by 100ft. Built as part of a series of major hydro-electric schemes in the Highlands in the 1950s and 1960s.

The river Garry that feeds into Loch of the same name.

Its dark stone and sweeping curve seemed to suit the landscape particularly well. The original road, the one I was on, was built by Thomas Telford in the early 19th Century as one of his Highland Roads. Telford hoped that they would reduce the depopulation that had already started in the Highlands. The tiny number of properties that survive along this road suggest that they were perhaps wholly unsuccessful.

That original road now provides access to the base of the dam, so for the next few miles I was on a much newer stretch, built in the 50’s along with the damn, and of a fairly sturdy constitution, as it had to stand up to construction and maintenance vehicles. As did the rather outsize three span bridge I next crossed, which traverses a narrow finger of the loch, which has flooded the actual Glen Quoich.

Loch Quoich, which is also a reservoir, and looking at the bare earth around the islands, it looks like the
water level is a bit down. 

Once leaving the shores of Loch Quoich, I was back onto the old road, and it was obvious from the state of the surface, that this was a road rarely used. Leaving the long rises and grand sweeps behind me, it was now all steep gradients, sharp bends and intrusive stone walls. But the scenery was just getting better and better.

I stopped on a small rise to look over a perfect little lakelet, as it relaxed under the precipitous slopes of Sgurr a Mhaoraich. I got a few shots, and would have stayed longer but I don’t believe I’ve ever been the object of so much intimate insect attention in all my life. Not just midges either, there were all shapes and sizes trying their best to make a home upon me, paying particular attention to my hair and ears for some unknowable reason.

Looking across to small lake, whose name I couldn't find, not far from Loch Coire Shubh

I carried on to where the road ends at Kinloch Hourn, which comprises of a handful of houses on the north shore of Loch Hourn, a separate farmhouse and a small, empty car park. The car park is a clue that there is more here beyond where the road ends. There is a walking track that can be followed for a further seven miles to Barrisdale Bay, one of the two main gateways to Scotland’s most remote and challenging mainland region, Knoydart.

The only sound was the wind whistling across the landscape and the insects buzzing about me.

But I wasn’t about to get stuck into that, it was starting to get late and the light was beginning to fade, and I still had a fairly long journey back to Glen Coe. The farmhouse did actually take guests, and part of me just wanted to stay the night and explore this wild landscape the next day. But then the rational part of my brain reminded me that I didn’t even have a toothbrush, and I can’t go to bed without cleaning my teeth. Perhaps I wasn’t cut out for journeying through this untamed scenery after all.

So I turned the car around and made the return trip, admiring the views anew. The landscape could almost be described as desolate, there was certainly a raw melancholy about the place, but even in the dreary, dim light, there was something bewitching about the terrain. I was almost glad that the sun wasn’t out, as the ambience of the place would have been entirely different. It probably took me around three hours or so to cover those twenty two miles, in both directions, and I didn’t see another person the whole time. It certainly wasn’t an afternoon I’ll forget in a hurry.

Remnants of an old farmhouse and an ancient stone bridge

By the time I got back to Glen Coe it was pushing 10pm and I really couldn’t be bothered to start cooking in the howling gale that was beleaguering the campsite. So I sealed myself in my tent and perused my trusty maps, whilst sipping on a glass of red wine I had thoughtfully procured earlier. I mean I’d bought a bottle of wine, I hadn’t been carrying a single glass of wine around with me.

Once in bed, I lay there listening to the wind torment and persecute my little tent and fervently hoped it would stay true, and not come a cropper in the night. If only I had more confidence in my pegging abilities…


No comments:

Post a Comment