Sunday 8 April 2012

And The Rain Came

Dusk at the First Camp

Following the sudden return to winter, (after which I went cross-country skiing from the front door for a few hours for only the second time this season), the weather forecast looked reasonable, predicting frosty nights and a mix of wintry showers and very clear air, especially in the west. Not having visited the North-West Highlands much since researching my book on the area (Guide to Walks in the North-West Highlands) I decided it was time to go back to this favourite area and in particular beautiful Loch Maree and the Letterewe hills.

Snow showers were still falling in Strathspey and some roads to the south and east were still blocked but the way west was open as I set off for Kinlochewe and the start of the walking. The western skies were bright too, luring me onwards away from the clouds and greyness. The hills around Loch Maree were snowy and shining in the late afternoon sun. The walk along on the northern shore of the loch, below the great walls of Slioch and with the sinking sun glowing on the water was magical. At the head of the loch the gorse was in brilliant flower, yellow and glorious. Wild goats browsed on the thorny bushes. I watched one large flock, noting how they munched for a few minutes, then lay chewing for a while and then ambled on to find another tasty-looking bush. Although I’d seen wild goats in this area before, most memorably high on Slioch when a pair had appeared ghost-like in the mist seconds after their pungent smell had warned me of their presence, I’d never seen this number before, some twenty-six in all.

Goats & Gorse

Wandering down the loch side I came upon several tempting camp sites. The evening was too wonderful to stop before dusk though and the sun was just touching the horizon when I finally pitched my shelter on a small knoll looking over the loch to the snowy crags of Meall Ghiubhais and the westernmost peaks of Beinn Eighe standing stark against the slowly darkening sky. An almost-full moon and the first stars were lighting the sky as I fell asleep, the temperature a touch below freezing.

Camp 1 Evening

Cold rain woke me about 4 a.m., blowing in the open tarp door. The wind had shifted 180 degrees. The temperature was +4°C. The hills were cloud-hidden. A brief excursion outside was needed to move the door to the other end of the shelter, away from the wind, then it was back to sleep, only to be woken after dawn by rain on my face again. The wind had moved back. The clouds were thicker and heavier, the rain stronger. I deliberated over a prolonged breakfast that ran into an early lunch. Walk out or walk on? I felt reluctant to depart. I was here now. I would continue, in the hope of better weather.

Camp 1 Morning

It was the afternoon of the next day when I arrived back at my car. It was still raining. I’d climbed one hill, camped in the remote wildness of the Letterewe Forest and hiked back over a pass to Loch Maree. And all the time it had rained. With rain and water all there was to see I noted the varieties of rain – fine and misty; thick, spattering globs; steady, driving sheets; insistent drizzle. New streams and waterfalls sprang up on the hillsides. Paths became rushing rivulets or long, muddy pools. Stream crossings became a problem. A couple of times I had to work a way upstream to find a safe-looking ford and then struggle knee-deep through the surging water. My second camp was near such a torrent, on slightly raised ground I hoped would be clear of any flooding. It was, just, with pools forming all around by dawn. 

View from the tent, Camp 2, morning

Whilst the sunshine, clear views and snowy summits I’d hoped for had disappeared in the storm the wet weather was in its own way invigorating and exciting. The constant roar of the streams and rivers, the thrashing white cascades, the constantly shifting clouds – all spoke of a mobile, impermanent world and the amazing power of water to carve and shape the landscape. 

The river in Srathan Buidhe


  1. Beautiful photos, Chris. I had no idea Scotland had gangs of roving goats. Despite the rain (or maybe because of it), it sounds like you had wonderful trip.

  2. Nice description of how the landscape ebbs and flows with the changing weather patterns Chris.

  3. Hi Chris,
    Lovely photos and writing again. Thanks. Have you tried RABs new infinity sleeping bags? They look very warm for the weight with 850 down filling.
    Any tests of sleeping bags (3 season) coming up??


  4. I haven't tried Rab's Infinity bags yet. They look good and I've always found Rab's bags excellent. The next sleeping bag review will be a summer synthetic one in the June TGO.

  5. How are you finding the pitching and footprint so far on the Trailstar, Chris?

    Nice pics too mate. Love the morning camp one from inside. Pics like that always shout "come and enjoy the great outdoors!"

  6. Thanks Terry.

    Now I've used it a few times I can pitch the Trailstar in a couple of minutes. There's far more room inside than I need - there seems to be a distant corner I never even approach! The big footprint hasn't been a problem. Not having a fixed shape means it can be adjusted to the terrain.

  7. Hi Chris,

    Just wanted to say how proud I am that you have made such good use of my Trailstar. You certainly have the pitch down to a t now. Mind you, you had it sussed first up pretty much.

    Great pitch here again. It seems even in this low configuration you appear to have plenty of room in there! I liked your comment about a distant corner lol.

    I know that you openly "prefer" the silnylon trailstar, but has this cuben version grown on you a bit over the 4 (?) nights you have had out in it? You seem very pleased with it with most if not all your comments. Even though you had to swap it around, that appeared a quick and easy job. I bet it took longer to get dressed and undressed to do that. It seems very flexible, despite being cuben. In your hands, at least, you seem to be able to make it sing. These pitches seem superb!


  8. What I like about the silnylon Trailstar is the ability to pitch it with a high centre pole for headroom and a low door to keep the weather out. That's the advantage over the cuben Trailstar as far as I can see - note that I've not actually used a silnylon one, just seen Colin Ibbotson pitch his.

  9. Thats a useful looking Tarp/tent Chris!? where can i get one?
    Rob Thornton.

  10. Rob it's a Mountain Laurel Designs Trailstar.

  11. Fantastic stuff Chris. Loch Maree and the Letterewe forest have to be one of the most beautiful spots on that side of the country. I did a through walk from Kinlochewe to Poolewe and thought to myself then that there were plenty of great wild camping spots. Such a shame that the weather didn't improve, but I did very much enjoy your description of its effect on the landscape and that feeling of reluctance to depart from a wonderful spot.