Here is the second part of our week exploring the Lochmoidart area of the west coast of Scotland. More hikes, more wonderful scenery and more surprises are in store.
Wednesday, 5 Jul 2017 - The Blonde - I’m told “you rarely see the water this still”...the reflections in the loch and the sounds offer us a great photo opportunity.
Loch Ailort early in the morning before a breath of air has time to make ripples.
Loch Moidart at low tide with clear blue skies and not a breath of wind.
We have woken up to the most beautiful day. Let's see if we can get on the ferry to Eigg. So picnics made and rucksacks packed, off we go. The reflections on Loch Ailort were almost as beautiful as yesterday so we snapped a few shots before getting to Arisaig and the ferry terminal. We knew we would be on the standby list as the ferry was fully booked when we had called in the previous evening...but this morning the wait list has 20 names ahead of us. Okey donkey. No problems. Plan B. Let's do the Peanmeanach walk.
Peanmeanach Hike featured in blue, on the Ardnish Peninsula.
It's only 7 miles return, reads quite well, just a bit of mud (Bog Factor 3), and a few rock scrambles and a beach at the end of it..what could be better? (Actually I've just reread the guide and it says "a demanding walk"!!! Oops!).
The Blonde ready for our hike out to Peanmeanach.
The Bear - the start of our hike was easy enough to find, just off the main drag from Mallaig to Fort William... and there was a big layby to park in... but then the track which had been clearly signed from the layby disappeared behind a small quarry. Strange....no signs at all!
Eventually we find the new gravel surface of the track that the trees and shrubs had been allowed to grow over and cover. Once we are sure it is the right track, then the rest of the trail proves easy to follow. Negotiating bogs, rocks and streams is going to be the order of the day. Thank goodness for Gortex boots!
The first third of the walk is mostly uphill. Gentle uphill, not a "rude" climb like the cliffs in Cornwall and Wales, but all the time we are rock hopping through the numerous bogs! Then we get our first "WOW" views over Loch nan Uamh and way in to the distance the islands of Rum, Muck and that unmistakable wedge shape of Eigg with An Sgurr making the crescent shape at the 'thick' end.
The first of many "Wow Views"!
We would have been climbing An Sgurr today had we managed to get on the ferry...but this hike would NOT turn out to be a poor substitute...in fact anything but! This for me would turn out to be one of the most amazing hikes for scenery we have done anywhere in the world...in many ways it reminded me of hiking in the South Island of New Zealand...and in particular parts of the Queen Charlotte and Abel Tasman Tracks.
The Blonde on track..(bottom left of photo)..as we start out.
The Blonde - the Loch, the islands and this Ardnish Peninsula all look spectacular in the early morning sunshine. Absolutely no need to rush this walk! The guide book said "about 4/5 hours return". Hmmm, maybe nearer 6 hours I think! I say no need to rush but in fact you really can't. You need to think about every step and stop when you want to look around...... if not, you're either in deep over the top of your boots, or, in a bog, or, you're wobbling off a rock...and you just have to stop and gawp at this wonderful scenery...again and again and again.
The Bear getting to grips with another boggy stream crossing. "Bog Factor 2"
Just after the start we cross the railway line over a humpback bridge that has a very curious "Unsuitable for vehicles" sign!!! Yeah, right!! Just try getting a vehicle down here in the first place!!!
A bridge too far?
Then it's up, up, up until we reach the little Loch Doir a'Ghearrain. At this point there's an unmarked track to scramble to the summit of Cruach an Fhearnainn which promises all round views. We miss the track going up to a large cairn at the top...but I intend to get it on the return.
After passing the lochan we have elevated views for almost a mile or maybe more across the peninsula and then we descend a long steep stoney staircase. This would have been the original stone track put in here 150 years ago for the residents at Peanmeanach to access the main route back to Glenfinnan and Fort William. Half way down we cross over a very pretty stream with the water a deep tannin brown from the peat bog on either side...and then into an almost mystical woodland of birch and oak, with mossy boulders dotted around the understory. Photo opportunity...and a very nice tranquil place to play for 15 minutes.
Part of the "stone staircase", leading down to Peanmeanach Beach, which you can just make out in the far distance.
The Blonde looking for just the right angle and light to get that photo in the "Fairy Woodland Dell".
Then suddenly we exit the wood and find ourselves in marshland, a flat section of reed bed and tussock grass, where in the distance we can see the ruins of Peanmeanach village and the beach.The Bear relaxes here after the rock hopping on the "staircase", which had taken a bit of a toll on his knees...but then wishes he hadn't. As he is negotiating a particularly boggy patch he manages to rolls his ankle jumping to another stone and lets out a real yelp.
The offending boggy bit, that led to The Bears demise!
If The Bear yelps...then I know this has hurt. S#*t!! We're as far away from the car as we can be on this hike and we know the terrain is quite arduous and that we have no choice other than to retrace our steps. Damn! He hobbles on to the Bothy by the beach and we sit down to take stock. First thing is meds... which I never allow on an empty stomach. So actually first thing is to eat. Then the meds. I have really strong pain killers and as always I'm never without anti inflammatories. So a handful of each. Then I want to tape his foot but he feels the rest and the meds are easing it already and feels leaving the boot on and tightly laced is better for now.
We chat to three young guys who are staying at the Bothy (this camping hut is run by the Mountain Bothies Association). They are overnighting here and have just put out a folding lobster pot in the hope of a tastier supper than the tinned Co-op chicken curry they just unpacked!
The Blonde @ The Bothy...it has two large rooms with six bunk beds downstairs, a cooking area and a loft.
Before the Highland Clearances of the nineteenth century, upwards of 80 people lived around Peanmeanach; tending black cattle and sturdy sheep, cultivating, in the acid soil by the shore, sparse crops of barley and vital potato plots. There are other ruined houses to the north of the bay at Glasnacardoch but the largest settlement was at Peanmeanach. The population was evicted by those who should have protected them, their own lairds. The ruins of their homes stand on a raised plateau overlooking the beach close to the outlet stream from Loch Doir a'Ghearrain. One dwelling has been renovated and is the one being used as a Bothy for hikers.
At high tide the beach is a mixture of sand and shingle. However, at low tide, the beach is particularly lovely, with an abundance of brown seaweeds, barnacle and mussel encrusted rocks and small salt marsh islands. We take some photos on the beach and of the ruins of the seven crofter's houses before starting on our journey back. The Bear has both his poles in use now which give him better balance. I've been walking with both of mine all day and I'm grateful for them.
The Blonde on Peanmeanach Beach...and she forgot to bring her bikini!
We start our return journey across the grassland and then pick our way back uphill, through the "enchanted" wood, across the ford and make it to the summit of the stone staicase quite easily. The Bear claims all is well, but this is not the time to take the rough track to the cairn, with The Bear obviously in some discomfort, so we press on across the boggy, flatter section.
The Blonde leading the way to the "stone staicase".
Then I realise that "The Jacobite" (Hogwarts Express) steam train will be on its way back from Mallaig to Fort William...and we could get a shot of it crossing a viaduct. It's not "THE" viaduct, as in the Harry Potter movies viaduct - that's further down the valley at Glenfinnan. However, from up here with the Loch in front it promises to make for a great photo op. I take The Bear's big boy camera and decide to sit and wait while he picks his way carefully on...rock hopping not on the menu now, he has to paddle through each and every bog.
Eventually I can hear the train on the tracks but it's a while later before I see the first plume of steam.... then it disappears into a cutting for what seems like ages. When it reappears to cross the viaduct I realise it has been coming downhill so that means only one thing. NO STEAM!!!!! I now know that steam trains don't steam all the time! What!
The Harry Potter Train....minus steam!
So I pick up my poles and get a wriggle on to catch up with The Bear. When I find him thirty minutes later... he's sitting, seemingly quite relaxed, at the first lookout point we had stopped at this morning...he has found phone reception and has managed to download todays edition of The Times...has his earphones plugged in listening to music, reading and enjoying the view...maybe it is helping take his mind off the pain in his foot??
A nice place to stop...take in the view...read The Times...and listen to some good tunes.
The final push gets us back to the car a little over 6 hours after we had set out. It's a shame that The Bear has suffered so much on the return...but he still says it was just a great hike...and it really was. I'm happy we did this and not disappointed at all that we missed out on our ferry trip to Eigg.
Thursday, 6 Jul 2017 - The Blonde - well....The Bear's foot is still very sore this morning. He's not going to be able to hike for a few days at least it seems. Mr iMuscle App shows me the problem area. It's going to need rest and anti-inflammatories. And to cap that, it's wet and cloudy outside. I had planned to walk up the hill at the back of The Dairy House today. Lots of people have written about it in the visitor's book but alas, by the time I have done my morning stuff the cloud is swirling low and it would be silly to go up in this weather.
After lunch we take a little ride down to Glenuig for phone/internet reception at the community store. While The Bear caught up on the mail and stuff I decided to take a short gentle hike out to the “lost village” of Smirisary and its beautiful white sandy beach beyond Glenuig.
The community store @ Glenuig...offering internet for a "small donation"...and cheap beer!
As lost villages go, Smirisary isn’t actually all that lost. The ruins of this old crofting community are a popular spot for walkers to hike to, and there's a whole bunch of converted crofter's houses here overlooking Eigg. Very basic though. I somehow manage to lose my way on the muddy trail (Bog Factor 4) and end up at one of these cottages. An older couple living there redirect me. They're from Yorkshire and live here 4-5 months of the year. No electricity. Definitely no internet. They can get out by boat on calm days (not often) otherwise it's a hike in and out carrying everything they need from wood and coal to food and drink...probably around 3 miles. I started to think that maybe our EarthRoaming was just a bit cushy by comparison!
The very desrted and remote beach at Smirisary.
I press on though the boggy paths, (Bog Factor 3), cross a waterfall, pick my way over rocks and mud until I spot the beach. It looked beautiful. I wanted to go and walk on the sand but it was starting to rain and the walk had already taken longer than I had negotiated with The Bear and I didn't want to worry him. There was no phone reception to let him know I would be a bit longer. So reluctantly I turn around and head back. It was still a 90 minute jaunt so better than nothing! Back home we settle down for some tennis from Wimbledon - the temperature on court are about 15'C hotter than here in Scotland!
The remote cottage at Smirisary...walk in or by boat.
Friday, 7 Jul 2017 - The Blonde - the Bear’s foot is still not up to hiking today. We play indoors until lunchtime and then have a plan to be in Glenfinnan for the arrival of the afternoon Jacobite steam train from Mallaig and get that Harry Potter viaduct photo. It’s only 15 miles away but these Scottish miles are so much longer than anywhere else in the world it seems!
When we get to Glenfinnan car park we realise our rather secluded existence this week has caused us to forget it’s now the start of peak holiday season. School holidays have now started in Scotland for some AND we are in Harry Potter country. It’s a complete nightmare; the carparks are overflowing, the attractions are overflowing, the paths are overflowing........I ask a lady at the National Trust information desk about the best spot to photograph the viaduct and the train and get directed to the overlook which is overflowing - but it’s not the shot of the viaduct I have in mind at all. With time to spare I am about to leave The Bear and hike to another spot, when, in a rare moment of phone reception, we get a call we can’t postpone from OZ and all the while we’re talking we’re being nudged and pushed by TOURISTS!!! I mean, how rude of them to be there to see the train at the same time as us! We decided this is not an environment for us and sacrifice the shot and head home.
We do cross the road to take a couple of shots of the stately Glenfinnan Monument. Framed by spectacular Highland scenery at the head of Loch Shiel, the Glenfinnan Monument is a striking tribute to those who fought in the Jacobite Risings. Less than a year before the Battle of Culloden, Prince Charles Edward Stuart raised his father’s Standard at Glenfinnan, marking the start of the 1745 Jacobite campaign. An army of 1,500 rallied to join Bonnie Prince Charlie – and they marched as far south as Derby before the retreat began that would eventually seal their fate.
Of course by the time we’re back at The Dairy House, I’m in need of fresh air and exercise and David shoe-horns me out of the door with a “Go! And come back a nicer person”! Well there is a track I really feel we can’t leave without attempting and that’s the climb through Kinlochmoidart Estate to the Loch nam Paitean - which was stocked with brown trout, back in the 1800’s. I won’t be fishing though. This is a jaunt for me only. I’ve been gazing at this hilltop all week from our cottage and it has been calling me to go and climb it. There it is right above us.
Back at The Dairy House...The Bear grabs a beer...and I set off for a much needed leg stretch..up that hill behind!
From The Dairy House, I head past the ornamental ponds in the Estate grounds and through the gate leading up through pretty woods, a creek, which is fast flowing after the night’s torrential rain, and a dam. I wonder if this is the source of the Estate’s water which tastes good but is very brown. The path is dry despite the creek - in fact, this is almost the driest part of this walk because now it gets very boggy and very squishy (Bog Factor 4). I’m hopping from one clump of grass here to a random stone there and tiptoeing around the edges of the boggy path.
Off to the Loch I go....strange the sign here is in kilometers??!!
Once through the gate in the dry-stone wall, the bogs become wider and deeper. Over a little bridge and then the real steep climb begins as I weave and zigzag up a stony path. I’m on my way to the Loch at 1,116 feet. Very quickly the trickle of water coming down the track becomes much faster flowing and the stones are slippy and quite unstable. Entering silver birch woodland the ferns get thicker and thicker and are now obscuring the path in places, as well as hiding the ankle twisting rocks and the disappearing track edges. Careful now!
Through the gate ...and into the bracken...pathfinding!
I’m so pleased I brought my hiking poles. This would be impossible without them. It’s one step at a time placing feet on clean dry stones and avoiding anything black or wet - those rocks are like sheet ice. I think of my lovely friend Chris Perkins who once said to me, “Amanda, it’s all well and good while we’re going up but what happens when we want to come back down!”. I remember saying to her on that occasion, and several others too, "don't worry, we’ll figure that one out when the time comes"!!!
For 30 minutes I am climbing continuously. I stop and realise this is not making me breathless or fatiguing my legs - boy, my fitness level must have improved with the last few weeks of the coastal cliffs in Cornwall and Pembrokeshire and hill hiking in the Lakes and Yorkshire. Woohoo! Eventually I emerge out of the woodland and am rewarded with a superb view of the estate, our little home and the magnificent Kinlochmoidart House.
Lochmoidart Estate and the main house laid out before me....
And a bit further along I get a stunning view over Loch Moidart and the area we’ve been exploring this past week. But I’m not at the top and there is no sign of any hilltop loch yet.
The path, while not well trodden is discernible and I make sure to keep looking behind me to make sure that it’s going to be just as visible for my return. I’m very conscious that this is quite a risky hike for me alone. Whilst The Bear knows where I have gone it would be a tricky if I rolled an ankle here or got lost if cloud came down. So I’m super careful and I’m watching the weather.
I have some sunshine and until I get right onto the hilltop and hit a brisk cool breeze I am warm enough. But I don’t have backup - no first aid kit, no extra warm clothes, no phone (not that there’s reception anyway), no water and no food. But the climb has been soooooo good and now I’m breathing clean, fresh air. In fact, I’m gulping it in. It tastes so good! Another 30 minutes of boggy heathland (Bog Factor 3) with a waterfall and underground streams and open creeks.
I follow the faint track reassured to see an occasional footprint. Lower down some idiot had laid a trail of toilet tissue. Gosh, I hate to see toilet tissue on trails but for someone to mark their trail with it and not pick up afterwards is inexcusable . Why not use crossed sticks, pink tape that can be removed, or even white flour??? Finally I crest a ridge and there it is! Loch nam Paitean. And it is beautiful. Oh boy, to have hiked here on a sunny day with The Bear and friends and a picnic! And maybe a fishing rod, a licence and a BBQ to cook a big fat juicy trout! Mmmmm!
Loch nam Paitean..now I understand why so many people made this hike.
It has taken just over an hour to get here and I think the descent will take me longer. I can’t loiter so I snatch some photos and get started. I lengthen my poles and they are such a great support. I want to recommend poles to everyone..there was a time I know that they were viewed as just another fancy accessory...but truly they make such a difference. I start to think about writing this hike up in the Visitor’s Book at The Dairy House with my two key recommendations - NO TOILET PAPER and take your poles!
The Blonde @ Loch nam Paitean
Coming down does take longer as I chose my steps even more carefully. Even so, I dive into a couple of bogs and the water is up and over the top of my boots and my feet are wet (Bog Factor 5). Who cares? It has been a wonderful hike and I have come back a much “nicer person”!
The Bear greets me at the door, pours a glass of cider and puts my boots out to dry. He has enjoyed a Nadal match from Wimbledon and I think he has hardly missed me. What I should have done is stretch and drink more water before I slumped on the sofa to join him to watch the next match! Tomorrow my hip flexors will tell me they had a grand workout!
It has been a great week. The lochs and inlets and straits have been a real change in scenery for us. I’ve loved the hiking but I’m so sorry The Bear is now suffering. I hope we can get him fixed soon. Tomorrow we’re off to Perthshire and The Cairngorms beckon. We will definitely return to the west coast...we have barely scratched the surface of what's available to us here...and there are still all the Western Isles to explore!