Outdoor Discoveries

What originally was a news section for the rest of the website soon became a place for me to write about human-powered wanderings in the countryside. Photography inspires me to get out there, mostly on foot these days, though cycling got me started. Musings on the wider context of outdoor activity complete the picture, so I hope that there is something of interest in all that you find here. Thank you for coming!

A frosty start can give way to cloudy skies

9th December 2009

A freezing drenching is the last thing that’s going to put you in the mood for a trip away but, when plans have been set in place and you feel the need for a getaway, train tickets do tend to get collected from ticket machines at local train stations. Those tickets were for an overnight ride on the Caledonian Sleeper from Crewe to Fort William and I booked a berth this time around to increase the chances of getting some sleep; I needed a lie down after my overnight return journey from Aviemore in August, so the matter was higher up my list of priorities than it otherwise might have been.

After an imperfect night’s sleep, I arose just north of Bridge of Orchy and opened the window to be greeted by the sight of snow-topped hills and clear skies. In that respect, it was to be very different to a similar journey that I made in January 2006 when snow was a very rare sight. With the sun struggling to get over the tops this time around, there was little scope for photography from a moving train, though I did try some experiments when things got brighter, more for my own information than anything else.

Though a change in the weather was forecast, my arrival in Fort William was greeted by a certain chill in the air. It was a classic frosty morning with clear blue skies and the unmistakable signs of an overnight ground frost. The plan for the day was to pop over to Morar for a brief visit, but there was some time to go before the midday train and I used it to stock up on necessities and to make use of the photographic opportunities offered by the well lit hills surrounding Loch Linnhe.

Corpach & Loch Linnhe, Lochaber, Scotland

Mist and low cloud did fill some of the glens and a bank of grey cloud approached from the south-west until it was on the point of blocking out the sun when I got on the train that was bound for Mallaig. Before I got to Morar, that train was to pass through fog as it passed Loch Eil before gaining height to allow views over Glenfinnan and Loch Shiel under cloudy skies. After that, it was onto the empty wilds surrounding Loch Eilt before meeting the coast again at Lochailort and shadowing it loosely until my stopping point. This wasn’t countryside through which I never had passed before but it’s enough years ago that my memory of travelling from Mallaig to Fort William with a stop in Glenfinnan on a grey August day. The experience of the smokiness of the Jacobite steam train that took the first part of the way is ingrained in my mind, but the continuation on a ScotRail diesel must have been unremarkable because I haven’t much recollection of that at all.

There were some remnants of blue sky remaining when I alighted at Morar’s train station, but the breaks weren’t sufficient to allow for anything more than hazy sunshine and the cloudy barrage was to be completely effective within an hour of my arrival. In the month of December, it is difficult to see how the village could be anything other than a quiet backwater, even if there is a hotel here that was closed for the winter. Having limited time, I constrained my ambitions to an out and back stroll by Loch Morar. Before that, I popped upon a minor summit possessing a cross as well as fine panoramic views over both Morar Bay and Loch Morar. On the day, I might not have seen either at their best, yet what I saw was good enough to bring me back again should a suitable opportunity arise.

Morar Bay, North Morar, Scotland

Loch Morar, North Morar, Scotland

Eventually, I brought myself down from that unnamed hummock to continue my way to Bracara on the northern shore of Loch Morar. Though it would not be my usual choice, road walking was to be how I was going to spend those few hours around Morar. There was a tempting track that would have taken me away from tarmac and on to Loch a’ Bhada Dharaich by the banks of Allt an Loin but cursory investigation had me stymied by an old Land Rover Discovery dumped on the track next to a dwelling house and on what seemed an appealing route up to that point. A winter’s afternoon might not have made the best timing for further poking and I stuck with following the banks of Loch Morar as far as the mood would take me. One of the necessities acquired in Fort William was a Petzl head torch and the possibility of extending the walk with a return in darkness did entertain me, but sense took hold (saying that, thoughts of encountering Morag, the monster reputedly dwelling in Britain’s second-deepest loch, weren’t the deciding factor, but thoughts of rain needn’t have deterred me) and I was back in Morar for the 16:11 train to Fort William, where I was to be based for the weekend. That was after taking a deviation from the outward route that took me around by the River Morar, Britain’s shortest river.

While awaiting that train, a spot of sign reading was doable in the declining light and walking ideas are shared like this too. All that I did on my short outing was to make my acquaintance with the area and there’s much more to explore. Less adventurous wandering is on offer by the lochs between Morar and Mallaig with deeper immersion available beyond Brecorina on the shores of Loch Morar. All in all, it makes a fertile hunting ground for walking ideas without recourse to day outings to places further afield.

While I was mulling over the option of a week based in Mallaig this past summer, my mind was fanning out to such spots as Knoydart, Glenfinnan and the Small Isles. After my short outing to Morar, I see no need to spread myself far and wide like that and it might be better too because spreading yourself too thin can dissatisfy too. Even if the future is impossible to predict, I cannot rule out the possibility of a return. Who knows where that longer summer break that tends to happen every year might take me?

Travel details:

Arriva service 38 from Macclesfield to Crewe and ScotRail Caledonian Sleeper from there to Fort William. Return train journey from Fort William to Morar.

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