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
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. Letterewe
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