Author blog of William A. Young; journeys through the mythology of the northern fringes of Europe
This is Scotland. This is what we do 🙂
Last winter, between Christmas and New Year, my brother and I took a wander out into the highlands. We caught the train to a place called Bridge of Orchy, and set out northward towards Rannoch Moor. This portion of Scotland is noted for its cloud and its rain; we were ridiculously lucky. The sun was blazing, and so was the frost. The image above is of Loch Tulla, with the edge of the Black Mount in the background, taken from the hill above Bridge of Orchy. It started like this, and so it continued…
This young gentleman is my brother. Sub-zero temperatures and t-shirts are a thing in this part of the world. In the background, distracting from his epic pose, are Glen Dochard and the mountains around Ben Starav.
We hiked north through the afternoon, before setting up our tents under the Black Mount. The temperature swiftly dropped to minus 12; we secured ourselves in our thermals and went roaming through the darkness, sipping shots of Laphroaig whisky, and exploring the remains of the old military road. This highway was built in the 18th century to carry unionist troops north to suppress the highland clans; their punishment for rising in support of Bonnie Prince Charlie, and the beginning of the end for the free Celtic tribes of the north. Now it’s used only by hikers.
The next day started well. We woke by the River Ba, with the dawn light painting the frost with rose-petal tones. There were inches of ice upon the river, which had frozen fast during the night. It now seemed as mineral as the hills that rose behind, still and glacial.
We were very pleased with the view 🙂
As we were with that of the vast expanse of Rannoch Moor that unfolded before us as we set off. A great plain of bog and water, Rannoch Moor is a plateau difficult and treacherous to cross. We skirted its western edge, looking out over views that stretched well into the interior mountains.
Past Rannoch Moor we walked west into Glen Coe; one of Scotland’s most famous mountain landscapes. This particular example is Buachaille Etive Mor; “The Great Shepherd of Etive”. He’s a dramatic gentleman – here he is from another angle, further on;
Beyond the Buachaille, we turned into the mountains around Glen Coe, and headed up a pass named the Lairig Gartain. We spent the night there, dining on the finest of cuisine.
During the night, we played around with some long exposure photographs. This is me, and was actually taken in pitch darkness…
The next day we reached the crest of the pass, and descended an exceedingly steep, icy path into Glen Etive. The pass on the way down took us past the foothills of another famous mountain, named Bidean nam Bian.
Not all the animal life was of the tame sort, however;
As we descended the glen we eventually drew close to sea level; Loch Etive is loosely connected to the Atlantic by a set of tidal rapids called the Falls of Lora, and the temperatures at it’s edge benefit a little from the ameliorating influence of the maritime climate. We camped by the estuary, and for the first time watched clouds roll in.
Our evening meal was eaten in much more comfortable conditions than heretofore. It felt almost tropical 😉
The next morning we followed the shore of Loch Etive towards Taynuillt, and civilisation. The going was harder than we’d hoped; the path is broken by powerful streams coming out of the mountains, which require fording. Legs were swiftly wrapped in clingfilm, and we ploughed through.
The views across the water showed great sweeps of rock, studded with the remains of ancient oak-woods. Glen Etive holds some of Scotland’s last pockets of temperate rainforest, clinging to the edge of the land and the edge of oblivion.
We finished our trek that evening, collapsed in some woods just outside Taynuillt. The remainder of the whisky was drunk, and we were far too tired to take any concluding photographs; which is a shame, because it was a wonderful bivvy spot. Or perhaps just felt so, after such a long day’s walking. I’ll conclude instead with this, which was taken just as we were leaving Etive’s shore. I’ll return here one day in the summer, for a more relaxed sort of a journey. I doubt, however, if it will be anything near as good again…
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