Wild Wild West

I returned home late Sunday from a few days working on Knoydart and Skye.  The road to Arnisdale, where the new JMT boat is moored, has views over clear felled commercial forestry to Skye. 

In the evening we camped near the shore.  My companion was Lester, the deer officer and property manager for this patch.  We pitched and drank tea, ate and sat talking until late, listening to Divers across Loch Hourn.  I'll never forget that sound now.  Lester also pointed out a Grasshopper Warbler.  That bird, he explained, broadcasts its call by moving its head in a slow circle, all the while never ceasing its song.  It sounds a little as you might expect from the name, but amplified  (You can hear the call by clicking on the links).  Occasionally it was interrupted by a Cuckoo.  In the afternoon we'd seen Porpoises and Terns when crossing the loch in the boat.  I was in excellent company. 

How the son of a bus driver from South London ever got to be here I'll never understand, but know that I'll be forever grateful.  In the morning it rained for a while, but quickly cleared.  I went for a wash whilst the light played on the hills opposite the shielings we had pitched closeby.  There was more to do today, but it was fun work, not hard work really.  Maybe I will tell you about the work on Knoydart in more detail shortly.  Its a spellbinding place, and it got under my skin, and I will be going back as soon as I can.

Later, I left for Skye, and drove to Torrin to line myself up for the next day.  On the way I past the quarry.  It mines for lime and marble and pebbledash and concrete.  The place Lester had told me about for a quiet camp was being bulldozed for new housing, and a resident and his dog were not overfriendly, so I moved on.  A bivi under Bla Bheinn, on lush green grass next to a low running burn, no tent tonight.  And a bath at 10pm, still light, in a wide pool warmed by the bright sunshine.

The midges are out in force, and their jaws grow stronger by the day.  My wrists and ankles can confirm that in particular.  I lit a small fire in the evening and again in the morning to scare some of them away.  There was an abundance of dead wood and my small stove allows a low impact fire.

I awoke at 3am feeling sick.  Maybe it was the fish and chips I ate?  I got up, gagged twice, drank some water and went back to sleep.  I was fine.  I awoke to a squadron of hungry insects hanging on my every breath right outside my window.  I lay there with one eye open for an hour or more, staring at the clouds slowly drifting past, a slight breeze in the higher tree branches far above me.

I lit my morning fire and made breakfast.  Cooking over wood ensured piping hot porridge and coffee, much hotter than meths and a potcosy could ever conjure.  Camping quietly by the waterfall was a timeless place to be in the still of the morning. 

Despite the bloodthirsty critters, it was very hard to leave.

In the day we walked over to Camasunary Bay and along the coast to Elgol.  The Elgol stretch of coastal path is fantastic and every bit as exciting as the section from Coruisk which I've walked twice before.  The weather, like the previous day, became more like summer as each hour passed.  Rum, Eigg and Canna shimmered in the heat haze, the Cuillin did their picture postcard best.

In the evening, my work was done.  I left Skye for Glen Shiel.  My plan was to walk the full North Ridge over 2 camps and a little over 1 day.  Leaving the car at the Inn, I caught the last bus back down the Glen and ascended the path alongside Allt a Chruinn. 

The sunset behind me lit my way, but the clouds I had seen deep up the Glen promised less for the day ahead.

I pitched for the night at 650ms, and it began to rain.  I began the next day at the head of the 5 Sisters of Kintail with my head in the clouds.  Still raining, I was slow to move.

By 11am I summited Sgurr nan Saighead and disturbed a half dozen mountain goats dozing near the cairn.  Its a primeval sight - horns in the mist.  They are big beasts, those.  As I fumbled for my camera, they moved off quickly.  Far below, Glen Affric has an issue with grazing and feral goats.  There is talk of them being imported from Spain - I don't know why or when.  The sun briefly tried to break through, but that was the last I saw of it.  The slight shadow in the background is of Beinn Fhada.

Despite the complete lack of views, there was still enough to enjoy.  I felt my body open up, relaxing to work hard on the climbs to the tops.  The cornices loomed ominously out of the mist, sleeping monsters, my mind wandered through the gloom and my feet took care of themselves... mostly.  Until a small error off Sgurr Fhuaran meant steeply contouring around to find a stiff descent south again.  Head in the clouds, like I said.

The ground in the middle of the ridge is tough going before the huge cairn at Ciste Duibhe, especially with no views to reward.  Up to the Peak of the Spaniards was a fun scramble, a snow field mirage on my left like a surreal Arthurian lake in the clag, but I'd already changed my plans by then.

I'd come off early at the Bealach Lapain, and hope to get a hitch back to the car.   I hadn't bothered with the first sister anyway because of the weather.  Another time for this.  A long weekend to do the full circuit with the South Ridge and the Saddle by the Forcan ridge is in order - that would be something to get into.  The thought of a wet camp in mist to wake at 5am and drive to work in Edinburgh was not appealing. 

I was almost shocked to emerge from the cloudbase at 700ms and have sight of the glen again.  The walk down from Lapain is steep, but I was saved from a longer and more painful walk out on tarmac by a Swiss woman who pulled over and offered a lift.  Hill people are the best people... a van full of maps, boots and mucky gear whisked me off in style to a pot of tea and a jacket potato before my journey home.  Thanks.