Sunday 20 September 2009

The First Hills of Autumn

Hoping to catch the last of the sunny weather of mid-September, the first settled spell since June, I headed out to the hills at the end of last week. Not having been there for a few years I went to the big hills that rise dramatically above the West Highland Railway as it starts the crossing of Rannoch Moor. Arriving late I walked along the track by the Water of Tulla in the dark. There was no moon and bright stars shone in the black sky. I needed a headlamp to avoid the holes and rocks on the rough track. Shining the light across the surrounding moorland I caught many pairs of bright eyes staring back at me, followed by the sound of animals moving away. Then came the guttural roaring of a rutting red deer stag, one of the thrilling sounds of a Highland autumn and the first I’ve heard this year. The air was chilly and every so often a band of damp mist drifted over me, making the beam of light from the headlamp bounce back at me and the world look hazy and unsharp. By the time I reached the little bothy where I would spend the rest of that night the mist had dampened my clothing. But the stars spoke of clear skies and sunshine.

It was not to be however and I woke to a grey day with a high sweep of cloud covering the sky. A chill wind swept down the glen. There were hints of yellow and red in the leaves of the trees lining the Water of Tulla and the rowans were heavy with red berries. I climbed hillsides of purple heather and grasses fading to pale yellow and red. On the tops the wind was bitter and I wore a warm hat and gloves for the first time in many months. The summits came and went in the clouds, giving brief views over the watery expanse of Rannoch Moor and of the dark shapes of other hills hanging in the moving air. I camped just below a col in the shelter of a small knoll. Or at least it was sheltered with only the occasional gust of wind when I pitched the tent, just as the first rain began to fall. In the early hours of morning I was woken by the wind shaking the tent. I dozed on and off until dawn, listening to the rain increasing in strength and feeling the wind moving the tent against me. Back on the col I felt the full force of the wind with gusts that were hard to walk against. I climbed one quick summit then decided the weather was too bad to be worth continuing. I was back at camp in an hour and heading down the hill half an hour after that. The first storms of autumn had arrived. On the descent I met a few parties of day walkers heading up, all clad in waterproofs and warm clothing. “Rain’s supposed to get heavier”, said the first. “Supposed to clear up this afternoon”, said the second. “Why does it always rain?”, said the third. I sloshed down the muddy trench of a path and drove north across an invisible Rannoch Moor, just grey sheets of rain sweeping over the road all that was in sight. Summer is over.

Photo info: A wet and windy camp below Beinn an Dothaidh. Canon EOS 450D, Canon EF-S 18-55 IS@20mm, 1/40 @ f5.6, ISO 400, raw file converted to JPEG in Lightroom 2.4.

1 comment: