Four short days in N W Scotland is all Margaret would agree to. I didn’t press the issue, as the recent weather meant I hadn’t been particularly looking forward to our short break. I normally have maps printed and list of things to do prior to most holidays. This time I’d done a few half-hearted web searches and we’d agreed a vague plan of Torridon for a few days followed by a[n expensive] night in an Airstream caravan at Badrallach. A four hour drive included a quick pitstop at The Scottish Deli in Dunkeld for some posh takeaway lunch. We stopped just outside Contin to devour said lunch and arrived at Torridon mid afternoon.
The turn off at Kinlochewe almost immediately presented us with a stunning view of Beinn Eighe. Further on, Liathach came into view and I got all excited. We pitched up in curiously midge-free conditions at the free campsite at Torridon. We nipped into the small NTS visitor centre before driving out to Diabaig to get our bearings. As some of you know I used to work in this part of the world, but was not familiar with this particular corner. The road into Diabaig involves a steep descent with outstanding views across the Loch Diabaig, which in reality is just a bay with craggy hills rising above. A group of four French OAPs appear to have sailed their yacht into the bay and were exploring the village, a most civilised mode of touring the west coast.
We returned to camp after an excellent meal at The Torridon Inn and wandered down to the hide at the head of Loch Torridon for some wildlife watching. Not a great deal happened until I spotted a couple of young stags nearby and a male sparrow hawk landed right in front of the hide to pick and tear at the remains of a kill. I completely failed to take a decent photo of the latter, despite it spending around five minutes almost completely stationary, only metres away. Not even the kamikaze birds dive-bombing it could put if off it’s meal. The light eventually faded and we returned to the tent for the night.
Wednesday morning started warm and light drizzle turned to rain as we wandered around the low level walks at Beinn Eighe NNR, just by the Kinlochewe/Gairloch road. I had hoped the rain might cool us down, but it didn’t seem to make much difference. I persuaded Margaret to MTFU and do the Mountain Trail, a steep and rooty climb through the native forest, onto the open, rocky hillside to just over 560m. It doesn’t sound much, but in the stifling, muggy heat it seemed a slog, albeit one with amazing panoramas, punctuated by regular stops and prayers for even a faint breeze to cool us down. The rain had stopped and the skies brightened. A the sound of a small stream signalled an opportunity to refill our water bottles and splash our faces with cool mountain water.
The gradient eased eventually, and as we crested Leathad Buidhe the Beinn Eighe massif rose ahead to dominate the skyline south west of our viewpoint. The sun was shining overhead, but Beinn Eighe had it’s own little weather system, with cloud rolling over the summits. At that moment, I wanted to be in that scene, on those scree slopes rather than gazing over at them. We photographed and enjoyed 360° views including Slioch across Loch Maree. A perfect spot for some wild camping I thought, and made a mental note to return here to spend the night. Although at 200 miles from home, a longer route would be required, and looking at the map, I’m not sure stringing together a multi-day route would be easy or straightforward.
Further on, we spotted a damselfly orgy, with a number of couples bumping uglies and showing off by flying around mid-coitus like a sexy chinook, although logistically it was probably more akin an air-to-air refuelling operation. We considered this for a bit then moved on. The path wound past some lochans and then downward alongside a deep gorge and back into the forest on the lower slopes. Back in the woodland, I found myself jogging the last section back to the car. Jogging isn’t so bad now that I don’t have a spectacular pair of moobs bouncing around, but I wouldn’t want to make a habit of it. Unfortunately my undignified lope scared off a rather large, unidentified bird of prey as I approached the lochside. We drove back to the campsite for a much needed shower and some food.
After years of faffing with more convoluted meals, our camp menu is strongly biased toward the simplicity of rice and canned Stagg Chilli these days. Margaret was delighted to see a head net clad camper cutting an Aubergine, that’s dedication!
The following morning we decided on a lazy day and drove up to NTS Inverewe Garden and went on the guided tour. The gardens and woodland are rather nice [and at £9.50 entrance p.p. I should hope so!]. It was another bright and warm day, we sat in the sun and ate overpriced carrot cake. We drove out to Cove in the afternoon, stopping off at the beach on the way. We watched as yonder cumulo congestus erupted in slow-motion and spectral cumulus fractus shape-shifted overhead. I fell asleep in the sun.
At the memorial at Cove we watched as the skies darkened and thunder began over Loch Ewe. A cool breeze picked up but we made it back to the car still dry. We placed bets on when the rain would reach us. I was out by a minute. Lightning struck up ahead, but the storm cleared as quickly as it had appeared. We drove back to Torridon, stopping briefly at Slattadale/Loch Maree to photograph Slioch again. We passed a rather nice house by the loch.
Friday morning we packed up and drove up the coast to Badrallach by Little Loch Broom. Margaret has had a thing about Airstream caravans for a while, so we had booked up for a night at Badrallch campsite to see what the fuss is about. Frankly, I just don’t get it. Sure they look quite nice on the exterior, but the interior appears to be just like any other modern caravan. I certainly wouldn’t buy one, even if I could afford it. Margaret pretty much formed the same opinion. I thought the fit and finish was lacking, it just didn’t feel ‘special’. Also, whilst showering in it, I had visions of a Spinal Tap moment, cocooned in a cramped perspex tube.
The sun was out again and I was keen to get out and ride down to the track to the isolated community of Scoraig. As I was adjusting my seatpost I sheared the bolt, leaving my bike unridable. After a bit of an tantrum, I managed to acquire a bolt to bodge the seat clamp with from the site owner, who kindly rummaged around his toolshed until he found one. We set off down to the end of the road and carried on up the track which contours the hillside. Margaret was a bit unhappy with the drop to the left and pushed more than she rode. I was quite enjoying myself and rode onwards, getting off to push a couple of steep/loose sections that were a bit challenging on a rigid bike. The trail was strewn with baby head sized rocks, which threatened to direct you off the cliff edge in places. Not an overly difficult ride, particularly with front suspension, but the drops off the side of the trail upped the stakes somewhat, especially when clipped in!
Margaret turned back, but urged me to continue and catch her up later. So I rode on down to just outside Scoraig, before riding back the way I’d came. We took a stroll down by the shore after dinner and watched the light over the loch. A nice, quiet spot and the campsite itself looked nice, but I’d skip the Airstream if you plan on visiting.
The following morning we were up and off by 0930. The sky was overcast and it looked like we’d had the best of the weather. Passing the reservoir at Loch Glascarnoch, the water level was a clear indication of how dry the N W Highlands had been over the past seven weeks. The pier was completely out of the water. At the dam itself, it looked like the water was around half capacity. At the top of the loch, I think I saw remnants of an old road on the exposed loch bed, the sides of the loch devoid of vegetation. As we reached Inverness the rain started and didn’t stop until home. Actually, it didn’t stop even then. Normal service resumed.