Continuing our Summer tour of the UK...now on the west coast of Scotland. Another adventure in an area of the UK The EarthRoamers have not travelled to before.
The Bear - we had heeded all the warnings given to us about the west coast of Scotland and its "somewhat unpredictable weather patterns"...a euphonism for it being WET! When working through the excellent Scottish Walks Apps we had found in the Apps Store, (https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/scottish-walks-volume-1/id945158630?mt=8), the primary notation against all walks it seemed was "The Bog Factor", graded 1 to 5....five being an absolute quagmire! Undeterred, we had booked ourselves into The Dairy House, a cottage on the Lochmoidart Estate, near to Loch Shiel, for a full week, with the intention of hiking to as many places around this peninsula as possible.
For more details please see: http://www.scottish-country-cottages.co.uk/cottages/the-dairy-house-spg
Saturday 1st, July - Scotland here we come - The Blonde - my first time in West Scotland! Its early on a sunny Saturday morning and we arrive at Gretna Green (from a start point in The Lake District).... before it is open. It's nothing like I imagined it to be. I had this vision of a remote little chapel with a kissing gate in front and white picket fence. It's a shopping centre...with large Outlet Stores and huge car parks!!! We press on and call into motorway services just south of Glasgow. We sit in the sunshine with a cup of good tea, a good coffee and some breakfast...not all motorway services are bad. Off again, we're through Glasgow in no time. The skyline is full of church towers, clock towers and domes on big Victorian buildings. Perhaps Glasgow has more to it than I have pictured.
The weather was looking a little grey and overcast as we headed north from Glasgow....
Soon we're at Loch Lomond and then into the Trossachs National Park. The Loch is huge! We seem to be driving alongside it forever on the narrow, twisting A82. There are pull outs on the lakeshore where motorhomes dominate the parking lots and dotted all along the lakeshore are campgrounds. The views are lovely but this busy road is right alongside. It reminds me of the road running alongside Rydal Water in The Lake District, only a much bigger landscape and much longer of course. By midday we're driving into the Highlands. The hills start off rounded and relatively low, looking green and fresh in the sunshine. Funny how they all appear to be the same shape and size. The A82 continues to weave through them. There are turnoffs to places I know Dad has visited on some of his numerous trips up here.
On On... to the Muideart region where we will be staying for a week.
We can see people walking on a well made track. This turns out to be the "West Highland Way", which runs from Loch Lomond to Fort William. Much of what we see is well prepared and perhaps even "bluestoned". Then we start climbing into the Ben Nevis and Glencoe region. The road snakes ahead of us and both in front and behind, I can just see a continuous line of traffic. Occasionally brave cyclists slow up the traffic but mostly people are patient and there's time to take in the views. We reach Glencoe... the scenery is stunningly beautiful! The weather has closed in now and its drizzly and the clouds obscure the tops of the 1100m+ mountains but it's typically Scottish..and glorious. We drive past the overlooks where coaches full of foreign tourists are gawping and clicking their iPhones..with 100's of selfie sticks raised above their heads. We will return here one day and gawp and click and take on the numerous walking trails ourselves, but today we're on a mission to get to Kinlochmoidart and our cottage and we still have about three hours to go.
The view to Loch Shiel and the statue at Glenfinnan
We drop back down to Loch Linnhe and travel alongside to Fort William where we stop for fuel and lunch. It's drizzly now and I need to find my fleece. Fort William is very busy so we're in and out as quickly as we can turning westwards now to Glenfinnan, where the Mallaig railway viaduct made famous in the Harry Potter movies features. We'll come back and photograph the viaduct later in the week. The statue at the head of Loch Shiel is as photogenic as the viaduct especially with a sky like this!
We're now in the area of the Isles of Skye and Mull, Rum and Eigg. They were just names to me before, and now here they are in full view, with only Lochs and Sounds to separate us! We pootle down Glenuig where we note a good pub and a smokehouse that sells smoked meats, including Alligator from Louisiana and Kangaroo from Australia! What?!
Our local pub for the next week...just three miles from our cottage.
We're at The Dairy House on the Kinlochmoidart estate by 2.30pm. The impressive big house made from the distinctive local red stone is almost Harry Potterish with turrets, leaded bay windows and staircases and our little cottage is cosy and will make a comfortable home for our week here.
The Dairy House on Kinlochmoidart Estate...our home for the next week.
Moidart was the historical homeland of the chiefs of Clanranald and the Macdonalds of Kinlochmoidart, who played an important role in the 1745 Jacobite Rising. The current Kinlochmoidart House was built in 1882-4 as a Baronial shooting lodge built for the distiller Robert Stewart of Ingliston in the Scots Baronial style and comprises three storeys with a basement and attic, towers with grey-slated conical caps, prominent "crow-step" gables and large chimney stacks. It is described in the Buildings of Scotland as a "tautly vertical apparition"!
Sunday, 2 Jul 2017 - Mallaig and plans for Lake Morar - The Blonde - a gentle day today - yeah, I’ve said that before! We explored the road between Kinlochmoidart and Mallaig calling in at the beaches at the Back of Keppoch. There are many B&B’s here and houses that offer accommodation during the summer months. The sandy beaches are pretty but as I wandered across one the tide was coming in at quite a pace. There’s horse riding and golf here too and several tents pitched just at the side of the road! It starts to drizzle and so we decide to head into Mallaig. We manage to find parking by the port and then start to explore.... just in time for the arrival of "The Jacobite" steam train featured in the Harry Potter films.
"The Jacobite"...better known to many as "The Hogwarts Express".
It’s very popular. The Bear has tried to make a booking and found the whole of July and August was booked out every day, with only standby available. I hope to be catching a photo of it on the famous viaduct at Glenfinnan later in the week.
"All aboard"....The Harry Potter Express at Mallaig
We wander down to Knoydart Ferries office and chat with Jane, who is super helpful. Together we manage to put together a hiking day with a taxi from Mallaig to Bracora, a half day hike along the banks of Loch Morar and a finish over the peninsula to the small village of Tarbet on Loch Nevis, where Knoydart Ferries will collect us. Sounds great! And the forecast for Tuesday when we plan to go, is looking really good.
Jane waves us off but hears us saying "lunch"....“try The Steamboat. It’s just up the street". So we call in to find roaring open fires, every table busy and staff welcoming and helpful. A table has just become available right by the fire - perfect for a chilly damp day. Even better there’s steamed mussels on the menu for David and GF seafood chowder for me. Both are super delicious. *Note to self - find a great recipe for chowder Amanda... and learn how to make it!
A roaring fire and a pint of ale on a damp grey day helps to lift the spirits....
....as does a great pot filled to the brim with local grown mussels cooked in garlic and white wine sauce....YUM!
As we are leaving Mallaig heading back to our cottage we realise our timing has been perfect as "The Jacobite" train is also making its way back to Fort William at the same time. As The Bear pulls alongside I am able to get some good shots from the roadside and a few waves as well from the passengers and the Stoker on the engine.
The "Hogwarts Express"....
....heading back to Fort William.
Monday, 3 Jul 2017 - Lochs, Sounds, a Castle, Ruins and a Lighthouse - The Blonde - we are surrounded by water. We drive alongside it, cross it and paddle through it! It's hard to know without a good map if we're on a Loch or a Sound... but whatever it's all very beautiful. Today we head for Tioram Castle on Ardnamurchun Peninsula. It's perched on a mound surrounded by water and a great spot to capture that iconic Scottish Castle photo. We've both got our big cameras out today. David has invested in a new camera backpack which means his camera holster has now come my way and I want to see if I can hike with it as well as my backpack.
Castle Tioram is a ruined castle that sits on the tidal island Eilean Tioram in Loch Moidart and is a former fortress of Clann Ruaidhrí and the Clanranald branch of Clan Donald. Though hidden from the sea, the castle controls access to Loch Shiel. It is also known to the locals as "Dorlin Castle".
Access to the castle can only be gained at low tide.......
The Blonde could not wait to get across and start photographing....
From the beach we take the Silver Walk which runs along the shore and "cliffs" of Loch Moidart. It weaves along the edge of the Loch through trees, up and over rocks and under ledges. The sun is playing on the little islands in the middle of the Loch and we take our time to enjoy this beautiful morning.
Time to start today's hike......
Looking back to Castle Tioram from the Silver Walk...as the tide starts to creep in.
Two black labradors come around a corner with big smiling faces and happy waggy tails! Their owner follows, he's wearing shorts and t-shirt! We're still in layers and fleeces looking very overdressed!!! We chat for a while. He has holidayed in this area many times (the same as many of the visitors to The Dairy House, according to their long entries in the Visitors Book). He mentions a few other walks including Smirisary beach near Glenuig...noted.
The Bear negotiating part of the rocky coast path....
....and The Blonde likewise.
We turn off the Silver Trail and start climbing. It's quite boggy (Bog Factor 3!) but there are often well placed rocks in the boggy bits to help us hop across. We walk through several crofter's house ruins. These would all have had thatched roofs and so the walls are relatively low and David needs to duck under the door lintels.
Bog Factor 3!!
We keep on climbing up and up until the views open out and there are two lochans in front of us. We sit and have our sandwiches watching the clouds, the reflections on the water and the water lilies moving in the breeze, absolutely idyllic.
The Bear taking in the view back to Loch Moidart
The tiny booklet we've used as a guide has been very accurate in its directions so far. Bigger books haven't been as good as this! "At the hawthorn tree, turn right uphill to a small reservoir" - spot on. And there was no doubting the hawthorn tree as it was the only one!!! Good landmark!
Nice place to stop for a picnic and take in the view
We skirt the edge of the reservoir and follow its outlet pipe down to the road and back to the carpark at Castle Tioram. A good hike.
Hiking back down to Castle Tioram via the reservoir.
I look at the map. It's too early to quit for the day and so I suggest we use the rest of the afternoon to drive to the Egyptian style lighthouse - the most western lighthouse on mainland Britain??? It turns out to be a very, very LONG drive to Ardnamurchun Point. The gazetted 25 miles seems to take forever on the narrow road with us constantly pulling into passing lanes for other cars. But the sun is shining and the route is pretty through Salen and Kilchoan out to the point.
The Blonde posing in front of Ardnamurchun Point.
There's a lot of accommodation around here and some cafes and restaurants too. We stop at a lookout point and read about the volcanic activity here and how the landscape was formed some 100.000 years ago....eventually we get to the lighthouse.
As far as lighthouses go it's not a whoopity doo model, but the 36-metre-tall pink granite tower is the only lighthouse in the UK built in the "Egyptian style". It was completed in 1849 to a design by Alan Stevenson and it keeps ships safe from the rocks around the headland with its air powered fog horn.
The sea mists and fog here are a constant danger for shipping going through the straits to The Mull of Kintyre.
This is a place to spot whales and dolphins and there are tours available up to the top of the lighthouse for a "grand panoramic view". Perhaps if I'd taken this I might have learned more and felt more whoopity doo about it!!! I felt sorry for a German family who arrived just seven minutes too late for a tour. Three disappointed kids drove away with their parents having taken over an hour to get here. I felt the guide could perhaps have climbed back up and given them a tour....!
Back home we feel pooped and slump for the night in front of the fire...and Wimbledon's started!! It's years since we watched it live on the telly...nice way to end the day.
Wimbledon on the telly and the fire nicely stoked up.....do you like the china dogs?
Tuesday, 4 Jul 2017 - Loch Morar to Loch Nevis on foot and back by ferry - The Blonde - the forecast for today....sunny and hot! Last night's sky was deep pink - we saw it from bed. I almost pulled my clothes on top of my pj's and went out to photograph...almost. I keep saying our portfolios are lacking sunrise and sunset photos. Our days are long enough and we seem to struggle with late nights - especially this far north...the sun sets at 10.20pm tonight and "civil twilight" ended at almost 11.30pm. One day!
We've booked a taxi from Mallaig, to get us to the tiny village of Bracora to start a hike along the banks of Loch Morar, Scotland's deepest Loch and Europe's deepest freshwater lake according to Mary our lovely taxista!
Our hike today from Bracora to Tarbet
Mary fills us in with all sorts of local info and tales on our 20 minute journey from Mallaig...she barely comes up for air. We start to appreciate just how little privacy you get when you live in small communities like this. But what comes with lack of privacy is perhaps the care and friendship of others. Everyone needs help from time to time when you live as remotely as some of these folk.
Mallaig Port...once the herring fishing capital of the west coast of Scotland.
The Bear - we're on the banks of the Loch by 10am, bid our fond farewells to Mary and hit the trail. We are not due at Tarbet, on the bank of Loch Nevis, to meet the ferry until 3.15pm. So for once we have hours to saunter, take photos and enjoy this wonderful countryside. And we do just that.
Start.......seven and a half miles to saunter...
...The Bear "sauntering" up the first climb around the Loch.
Loch Morar is 11.7 miles long and is the deepest freshwater body in the British Isles with a recorded maximum depth of 1,017 ft. Nessie's monster cousin, Morag, is supposed to live here, although sightings have been rare! The skies are still a little overcast to the east but clearing from the west, so we hope to be in sunshine very soon.
Looking west along the loch...no sign of Morag though.
And then as the sun starts to catch us up,the scenery just becomes more head turning and jaw dropping...
....and whilst we had read that this is a very popular hike we only encounter one other group of three hikers. There are rocks to scramble over, ferns, numerous waterfalls and creeks, several tempting pebble beaches,
One of several pebble beaches on the loch, with old fishing boat huts...now abandoned.
The Blonde in an "attempt" to skim stones.....
....and an ever increasingly sunny sky from the west where we can now see see back towards the small islands of Eigg, Rum, Muck and the mountainous Isle of Skye. They are all bathed in cloudless skies and bright sunshine and it's coming our way.
The islands of Eigg, Rum and Isle of Skye in the distant west.
This track we are hiking on is an ancient route built to serve the settlements, now mostly abandoned, along the loch. The old Chapel of Inverbeg which served people from all around the Loch from 1780’s until 1836 when a slated chapel opened in Bracarina, is now a ruin. The grass roof is missing but it would have been built at about a 45’ angle to facilitate rain runoff and as we’ll find out, the corners of these buildings in the area are often rounded. We find a vantage point to watch that finer weather coming in and eat our sandwiches.
Inverberg Chapel...many of the local folk would come here by boat for the weekly service and to trade.
The path now climbs up from the beach and starts to wind around the rocky hillside. There are mini waterfalls and some very muddy, boggy patches (Bog Factor 4) which take a bit of picking around. It takes us until early afternoon to complete our five and a half mile dawdle along Loch Morar. After passing a shed at a small beach, the path then climbs to the cottage at Western Swordland. Soon after, we're leaving Loch Morar and climbing over a small hill through Glen Tarbet and into the valley towards Loch Nevis. At the saddle there’s a large cairn where we take photos of the Lochs behind us.
The Blonde @ Tarbet Cairn
The descent into Tarbet is steep but on a good track, and eventually winds its way down to the beach and the small harbour, with a handful of buildings, the jetty and a view across Loch Nevis to Knoydart Peninsula.
Tarbet village and Loch Nevis..the end of today's hike.
Once a bustling fishing village, Tarbet is now home to just six residents, numerous sheep, and visitors from the ferry which can be used for the return journey to Mallaig, and a dog!
The Blonde - we're a couple of hours early for our ferry pickup. I play with a local farm dog who makes me laugh with her antics. She's determined to KILL the stick I throw for her and even perches on a rock to do it!
The Blonde's new best friend...plus stick!
There’s lots of yelling and shouting. We hear someone calling for "Alisdair" and a faint voice from the hillside responding. At first I think it’s for the owner of a yacht that’s wandering around and who seems to have some local knowledge - especially about Knoydart and The Forge. But then a man appears from the undergrowth and starts to chat to us. He has a number of interesting stories to tell us about the area and turns out to be an author who is researching his second book on strange stories from the Loch Morar region. Later "Googling" tells me - "Alasdair Roberts has worked extensively in Gaelic education, history and research. He studied history at Edinburgh University and was a lecturer in teacher training at the Northern College in Aberdeen. Now retired, he lives with his wife beside Loch Morar. His first book, Tales of the Morar Highlands is "a book packed with extraordinary incident and remarkable characters, from mysterious loch monsters and fugitive princes, to lords, priests and smugglers, as well as the ordinary people who have made this fascinating part of Scotland their home for thousands of years".
"The Big Dipper"...our taxi ride back to Mallaig
Jane from Knoydart Ferries comes for us on "The Big Dipper" and we perch astride padded 'horses' for the ride back to Mallaig. Alisdair knows we should be dropped off at Knoydart but Jane forgets that we’d booked to go to there for another walk followed by dinner at The Forge. She has the ferry heading directly for Mallaig. I whisper to David that I’m actually quite relieved.
At speed across Loch Nevis...flat calm on a gorgeous afternoon
Once we’re back in Mallaig, Jane realizes her mistake and offers to sail us back over but we decline and take a refund instead, happy to be on our way back home to The Dairy House for a rest and a cosy fire with just a little detour for refreshments at the Glenuig pub on the way!
Part 2 to follow.....