West Coast Wander

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Slioch by Loch Maree

Forgive me, but this is a rather rough account of my road trip up the west coast of Scotland. Since I never really got away for a summer holiday, October offered a brief window of pleasant weather and the chance to meet up with friends at the same time.

Saturday was a late start as I’d been out the night before to try deep fried cheesecake and drinks. The Great Scottish Run was taking place and it took me a few tries to get on to the motorway to head north up the A82 through Glencoe and up to Corran ferry. Just made it with seconds to spare and I was crossing the short stretch of water to Ardnamurchan. The drive through Morvern to the Loch Alainne to Fishnish ferry was long and winding but a great little journey in itself. Once on Mull it was only a short distance to stay with friends who had booked a house for a short stay to watch the Mull Rally. The following Sunday we took a drive around the island to Ulva then Tobermory. We watched the sombre parade through town for a driver that died in rally. Everyone on the island had turned out.

Monday morning I went to see the wrecked boats in Salen then left the others as I headed to the southern tip of the island. There, I had a great drive under Creag Mhor cliffs and the fabulous glens in late sunshine.

I made the ferry back to mainland about 4:00. Then another stunning drive towards Arisaig. Through Loch Ailort and autumnal evening sunshine. Too many stops on the way to catch the stunning scenery. This meant it was dark by the time I reached Arisaig, and I wasn’t sure where to camp, and I hadn’t eaten yet. So, I drive right through and went on to Mallaig. Had more chips, the. Decided to rive back to Traigh beaches in Arisaig, where I pulled up for the night in a lay-by. I was going to pitch my tent, but the area is protected as it consists of delicate machair and anywhere else nearby seems to be taken up by large campsites. I had camped here about 15 years ago with friends, camping right on the shore line. This time I thought I’d just kip in the car.

After a coffee and some podcast listening I had a nap in the car, then I went down on to the beach around 1:30am. I managed to capture the Milky Way as it was a pristine night. Shooting towards the north I noticed a pink and lemon glow. Sure enough it was an aurora.

I kept shooting in the dark till just after 2:00.

Dawn broke after some more sleep and gorgeous pink hues lit up the waters with Rum and Eigg in the distance.

A morning coffee and a wander in the sun (though nippy) lifted the soul. And when I realised I could just make out the hills of the Uists beyond Rum, this sent a smile across my face.

Around lunch time I’d arranged to meet friends for a boat trip to Knoydart. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect. Glassy water and clear blue skies. The mountains around us made you feel like you were in Norway.

We had lunch then a short walk in the sun before we had to come back. You can view a short video of the Knoydart trip here.

We finished off the day with a lovely Thai meal we picked up in Morar. I then returned to a beach side location and pulled up in the car to settle down for the night. I remained tucked up in my sleeping bag for the night, temperatures were low although there was slight cloud cover. As dawn rose I brewed a coffee and fired off a few shots of the sunrise, but it wasn’t quite as appealing as the previous morning.

I went into Mallaig to use the facilities before returning to the village of Arisaig to meet Gareth who had dropped his family off at the train station. We met for a bacon roll and decided to head up to Torridon. I’d never been before and the weather looked great for the next day or two.

I followed the camper van as we took the road east to Spean Bridge before heading north again.

From the turn off at Loch Carron the mountains and landscape suddenly changes. Taking on an other worldly look. The horizontal striations of the Liatach lead on to Beinn Eigh and wonderful native pine groves before Slioch next to Loch Maree rises up as if planted from the Canadian Rockies. The evening light on this drive up was stunning and I planned to capture them on the way back as we just kept moving to get ourselves north.

Passing Gairloch and picking up some food we started looking for places to stop for the night.

I was so impressed with this landscape we were passing through.

We turned a corner and descended down a steep approach to a quiet bay at Little Gruinard. I set up a fire on the beach and Gareth knocked up dinner on the stove in the van. As the sun set we had a few drinks and fed the fire before turning in for the night.

I woke up during the night to hear the stags on the hills rutting. Gareth was quick to tell me the next morning that he could hear me snoring in my tent from inside his van. Allegedly competing with the roar of the stags!

We packed up and drove up the hill to catch the sunrise over Little Loch Broom and fried up some bacon sandwiches for breakfast. After breakfast we parted ways, as Gareth drove home, while I was going to wander down at a slower pace, stopping to take photos.

The weather was magnificent for October and I spent a good hour or so just wandering the shoe once I got back down to Loch Maree, photographing Slioch in all its glory.

I had thought of returning via Applecross, but took a wrong turn and missed a good chunk of the coastal road, taking the faster and slightly less interesting road back to Strathcarron. It’s was all good though. More photo opportunities were had as I passed Eilean Donan castle and the sights on the way to Fort William.

It was now a Friday, and it seemed like Fort William could have been Glasgow as the traffic slowed and intensified. I was in no rush though and through Glencoe still had enough light to take shots of those magnificent mountains. It’s funny how distance is all relative as I felt I was almost home and, while still two hours away! I stopped a few more times on the banks of Loch Lomond to capture the fading light. The weather had been fantastic all week and almost made up for the fact I hadn’t managed to do a Wester Isles Wild Camp this summer.

I’ll definitely have to head back up to Wester Ross in spring or summer. Maybe do a mountain or two, but definitely need to stop a bit longer at each spot just to take it all in.

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