Glencoe to Loch Laggan

Car camping not snowboarding

Saturday 14 January 2017

Snow had swept across the country from Thursday and the media was full of all the usual apocalyptic snow stories. The winds that brought the snow had been particularly fierce on the high peaks, so I was already doubtful that there would be any uplift at Glencoe. Despite this, I decided on Friday night to pack a snowboard and clothing, along with full camera kit, my new laptop and my sleeping bag. If I couldn’t shred, I’d take snaps instead.
I woke early on Saturday, but still struggled to get out of bed. After a cup of tea and toast I was ready for the drive. So with car loaded I set off from sunny Glasgow. First stop, Braehead shopping centre to pick up a sleeve for my MacBook. All very efficient, I walked in, took two options off the wall and tried them on for size. As I was doing this a keen sales rep started quizzing me. “What do you do?”, “Graphics and a bit of photography” I replied. “Have you seen the northern lights?”, “Yes, last time in Arisaig”, “How do you spell that?”, and so on. Anyway, I need to be off…I pay using the app on my phone while he chats away, and leave with a polite “goodbye”.
Back on the road I head up the west side of Loch Lomond. The sun is shining and the mountains are looking resplendent in their winter attire. The roads were not too bad, but there were definitely quite a number of drivers with the same idea as me.
I made it to Glencoe Mountain Resort, where cosmetically everything looked great. Snow was on the ground, that carpark was busy and the lifts were running. But it was only for beginners and intermediate runs. So, I sat with a coffee, and attempted to use the poor wifi before driving down to the Kingshouse Hotel, where I knew I’d get a photo opportunity with some of the locals.

There is a resident deer herd at the the Kingshouse. They wait to accost visitors for stray biscuits and other treats. They also make great subjects for photographers. They are mostly hinds with some youngsters, and they looked great in the sunshine with a backdrop of snow.
I also took some shots of the surrounding mountain. The Buachaille, was looking stunning in the winter sun too. I then walked back up the icy road from the hotel, as I’d decided not to take the car down it, for fear of not being able to get it back up the hill.

Turning right towards Glencoe itself, I thought I’d take a jaunt down Glen Etive and attempt to get the last of the sun’s rays glancing off the face of Buachaille Etive Mor, However, it soon became apparent that the little car was not going to make it, so I bade a hasty retreat and back on to the main road. I opted instead for a lay by to pull into. I crossed the road and managed to get the sun as it disappeared behind the mountain.
Travelling north once more I aimed for Fort William where I stocked up on supplies. Once that was done I hunkered down in the ‘Grog & Gruel’ with a coffee and a chilli quesadilla. I also managed to do a bunch of edits from the Kingshouse herd photos and get them online using their wifi.
I then took a stroll further along the high street, taking some sneaky shots of the numerous outdoor stores, a little bit of extra curricular work. I popped in to the new Witherspoons for another coffee as an excuse to do more edits and charge up the MacBook.
The Buachaille shots were looking nice, so I published one of this while I was online.
It was now around 8:30 in the evening and I decided to park up beyond Loch Laggan as I knew of a nice waterfall that I’d like to explore in the morning.. The rain was persistent as I left Fort William, I knew things were going to warm up the next day, but as I climbed from Spean Bridge and onward, the snow and ice on the road became more apparent. It was about 50 minutes on a dark winding snowy road, but luckily I’d pinned the location pretty accurately, and as I approached I found my snowy sleeping spot for the night. On arrival, I took a little walk, the snow was turning to rain, but the dark forest and surroundings were covered in white. In the darkness I could hear tawny owls, twitting and twooing to each other through the trees. I was going to prepare a coffee before turning in, but I think, as I’m typing this now I’m going to have a snack and watch a movie in my sleeping bag. I wonder if the snow will still be here in the morning? Maybe there will be more and Ill be snowed in!

Sunday 15th January 2017

When I opened my bleary eyes around 5:45am I could just about see through the steamy windows of the car and make out that I had not indeed been snowed in. As expected there had been somewhat of a thaw, but it had not disappeared. All was still white.
I shivered a while in the passenger seat, wrapped in my down jacket and sleeping bag, listening to a few podcasts before I could bring myself the stretch my legs and face the day. It was still dark of course so I dozed in and out of consciousness for a few hours before sticking on my shoes and exiting the vehicle. I boiled up a small pot of water on my stove for a coffee to set myself up for the day. While wandering around the car, sipping coffee and munching on a granola bar, I noticed tyre tracks in the snow. Tracks made by another car. These tracks crossed over the tracks I had made the night before. Had someone driven in to the parking area and noticed my unconscious body snoring away? I’ll never know. I certainly didn’t hear anything myself.

carpark at Falls of Pattack
Once I’d organised my camera gear, I set off the short distance to the Pattack Falls I had come to see. The snow melt plopped off branches all around and small birds darted about amongst the conifers. The sound of rushing water grew in my ears and I walked up to a viewing platform which had before it a gorge in which the cataract bent ninety degrees round a dogleg before dropping down a short distance into a swirling pool. Above the gorge, large pines looked down from quite some height.

I left the river Pattack behind and continued around the forest path which took me up a high ridge and into a more open area of the hillside. I had no idea how far the trail continued and although it looked like it was a circular route, I decided to turn back when I found myself being led further away from the car. I had more pictures I wanted to take of the waterfall, so once I was back there I found some more angles and got down by the river for a fresh perspective. I had a small audience of Bullfinches twittering above me as I picked my way through the trees. Their excited chatter was led by the brightly coloured male who’s red belly looked resplendent against the leaden sky above.
Back at the car I made it safely out of the parking area and on to the now snow free road. It was around 11:30 by now and I had lunch in Fort William in mind. The scenery on the road home had other plans for me.
First stop was a short distance down the road where I found a quaint Hansel & Gretel style gatehouse with its pointy spire and patterned gables. I’d spotted this on a previous trip on this road and new I had to capture it on my next visit.

Back in the car and not even five minutes later I had pulled over to photograph Loch Laggan and the view across to the snow covered mountains. I found the trees on the banks were obstructing my view so decided to scramble down the snowy, muddy banking to the Loch shore, where to my amazement there were large slabs of ice floating on the loch. Combining these with the snowy vista beyond, made it look like a scene from Norway or Alaska.

The Loch-side road offers great views even in the dreary overcast conditions of the day and as I came to the end of the loch I was greeted by a final photo opportunity with a large dam holding the waters at bay. the scene was something akin to a WWII movie. The backdrop of stacked layers of trees upon trees faded to nothing, while the dam itself bisected the Valley. One side holding back the loch and the other a deep glen where water wanted to flow.

The rest of the journey took me down in altitude and I left the snow behind. The day before, the snow lay at all levels, but the thaw was taking hold and temperatures had risen substantially.
Once I was back in Fort William I settled myself in to the Witherspoons, ordered an all-day brunch, seated myself next to a power point then started to catalogue and edit some of the mornings shots. I easily spent around three hours in there tinkering in Lightroom and posting some of the shots from the weekend.
As the light faded, I made my way to the car and drove back to Glasgow through a misty and brown looking landscape.
It looks like it will be a while before winter returns with no cooler temperatures expected in the following week.
If you would like to visit the Pattack Falls you can find some more info on the area here: