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!

Restoring Reasons for Visiting

20th February 2011

A few weekends ago, Scotland drew me north for a weekend around Fort William. As it happened, the overnight journey had me leaving a very foggy Crewe to go to an equally foggy Fort William. Though I am well aware of temperature and cloud inversions, the lack of visibility was sufficient to get me questioning my plan to go to Glenfinnan for another look around its surroundings. After all, a previous visit to Morar showed me how fog can linger in glens around there.

Stob a' Choire Mheadhoin & Loch Treig, Lochaber, Scotland

Adding to the confusion was what I saw out the train window on the way to Fort William. On arising north of Bridge of Orchy, I lifted the blind to be greeted by a stirring view over Loch Tulla towards the Black Mount. Last time I travelled on the Caledonian Sleeper, I was looking the other way, but this was what was on offer on my first-ever Sleeper journey more than five years ago. This time, the loch was still and the white-capped hills utterly majestic. If I had thought of cranking up the ISO rating on my Pentax DSLR, I might have tried to record what lay before me like I did with Loch Treig later on as you can see above. It was this clarity of air that caused my quandary in Fort William on my arrival there.

In the event, all that was needed was patience because the fog eventually cleared as the time came for me to head to Glenfinnan. The reward for my perseverance came in the form of a sunny start to my second ever visit to the place. Unfortunately, I was to find that cloud cover was to snuff out those rays of sun all too soon. Nevertheless, I was decided on enjoying my wandering regardless of that development.

The sun stayed long enough for me to get from Glenfinnan’s train station to Loch Shiel. My first visit to these parts came on a cloudy day in August 2001, in times preceding any vestige of hill walking in my outings, and it brought home to me the distance between the train station and the loch. While I was more laden back then, I still didn’t hurry along the roadside footway on this year’s trip either. A few walkers passed me in the opposite direction, but that was the limit of human incursion into my reverie until I got beyond the Jacobite memorial.

It was as I neared that monument that I got my only rain of the day and it was far from being a deluge. There was a final decision to be made at this point in the day: either exploring the glens to the north or going along the track along Loch Shiel. An unexpected discovery that steered me towards the latter was a walk through woodlands over duckboards that included a bridge crossing over the Callop River. The well-kept state of the path had me asking if anyone else had found this but two developments changed my mind. First, there was a child’s red glove dropped on the ground and there was a group of relaxed cyclists coming after me while out on a loch-side bimble. The fact that I was saved a round trip involving road walking was very welcome.

Beinn an Tuim from Torran Giubhais, Glenfinnan, Scotland

Those cyclists were to go ahead in front of me and I took the chance to hop up on a hump in the name of adding to my views of what surrounded me. Tree cover meant that what lay across the A830 from me was easier to see than any sights down along Loch Shiel. On retracing my steps to rejoin the vehicle track, I inspected the signpost that had been erected. Callop was one option and I would have passed by there if that welcome path hadn’t been put in place. Polloch was the other and I was to set in that direction, though time meant that I never was to cover all the distance to that place. Looking at a map while setting down these words, I spotted a hilly single track road leading from Polloch to Strontian and has caused my mind to ponder cycle touring around Ardgour, a prospect that excites me a little so long as I could get a bike around there. Could I hire out a bicycle for a few days rather than having to take my own that far north? It certainly would be handy if I could, but some investigation is in order beforehand, methinks.

That pondering is for the future and never came to mind at the time, though I could have wondered where those cyclists were going. My being intent on savouring my surroundings to a stop to that. The sun may have been staunched by the clouds but I have out among Scotland’s hills often enough to see the possibilities. They almost demand a return on longer days with even the ca. 19:00 train back to Fort William having its place in my deliberations. Now that I think of it, later departures to Mallaig are beginning to feature in my thinking. There was nothing wrong with the brown hillsides that surrounded me and magic came in the form of wisps of low cloud that appeared for all the world to be affixed to those too. As if that were insufficient, I also came across a deer eating silage from a creep feeder. There was no move in this antlered beast as I stopped to gaze on a normally elusive creature at relatively close quarters. Maybe hunger during a lean winter dispelled any fear momentarily.

While the weather constrained any photographic opportunities, I still sensed that this was a special part of the world. Well, the lack of a breeze brought a stillness that soothed the spirit. As with all out and back loch-side walks, the tricky part was deciding when to turn back. Similar trots beside Loch Eilde Mor near Kinlochleven come to mind here. The first one saw me needing to await a later bus to Fort William on a murky midge-infested August evening after missing an earlier departure. In contrast, my second trip there saw me leave too early and left some spare time in Kinlochleven. In the event, I got it about right with Loch Shiel. As it happened, the cycling party themselves had turned earlier and were coming back against me before I reached my pre-appointed turning point. Even so, my return was relaxed and steady rather than frantic and rushed though light was starting to fade on me.

Loch Shiel at Sunset, Glenfinnan, Scotland

Knowing exactly you are going stops any panic if you find the end of a day approaching and so it was with me beside Loch Shiel. So relaxed was I that I popped up onto another elevated vantage point for one last peek around me rather than rushing ahead. What was to be spotted was a streak of light in the sky with spouts of sunlight lighting part of the loch as the sun dropped towards the horizon. While light really was failing on my reaching the A830 again, I shared a few words with a fellow Irishman going to see a monument that drew his curiosity. By this point in the day, it had been lit up though it was difficult to make such lighting apparent in any photos. Even with an eye on the time to catch a train back again to Fort William, there was no way that I would not pass a polite Asian asking me of the whereabouts of the “Harry Potter bridge” (the Glenfinnan viaduct, of course). Suitably directed, he turned his car to get a glimpse of the movie icon. Glenfinnan’s train station had more human activity than I had met during my whole walk with some folk awaiting trains to Mallaig and to Glasgow. The words “Haste Ye Back” seem to sum up my afternoon around Glenfinnan and I hope that they ring true.

That Scottish saying was to crop up again in spirit if not in mind before I left Fort William to return home. There was a brainwave regarding a circuit around by Cow Hill that would have taken me into Glen Nevis before reaching the bus stances where my southbound journey was to begin in earnest. My reason saw to it that I wasn’t to try rushing about before leaving Lochaber. What I did was to gain height by going up Lundavra Road and looking out over Loch Linnhe and towards Ben Nevis and Meall an t-Suidhe too. A reprise of the circuit was left for another time and the weekend reminded me that there are plenty of reasons to return to these parts. Even retracing old steps has its appeal and memories of old escapades are flooding into my head now. Who knows what could come from them?

Travel Arrangements:

Bus service 38 from Macclesfield to Crewe, Caledonian Sleeper from Crewe to Fort William. Return train ride from Fort William to Glenfinnan. Scottish Citylink service from Fort William to Glasgow, National Express service 538 from Glasgow to Manchester, train from Manchester to Macclesfield.

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