Glenfinnan revisited4th May 2015
This is the last instalment in my report of walks around Glen Coe and Lochaber during a hot weekend in July 2013. My day spent around Beinn a’ Chrùlaiste has been recounted already and, on returning to Fort William that evening, I was pondering something easier for the next day. After all, it too was likely to be another hot one and some lower level walking was in order. What came to mind was reprising an out and back stroll along Loch Shiel that I had done under cloudy skies in January 2011. With blue skies and sun, more photos might be had and I headed over to Glenfinnan for some gentler Sunday afternoon strolling.
The train timetable allowed me a chance to attend to some needs in Fort William before I headed off for the afternoon. The train passed some alluring scenery on the way around Loch Eil, and took its time going over the world-famous Glenfinnan viaduct to give passengers a chance to have a look around them. Some may have made photos, though anything taken through a train window can be no substitute for being outside, especially with glare caused by bright sunshine.
On arriving at Glenfinnan train station, I did not hang about though its café was open and started on my way down the A830 towards my rendezvous with Loch Shiel. Folk were filing into the little Catholic church for 13:00 Sunday Mass as I passed, so life for locals was going on as ever. In contrast, my initial destination was the monument at the head of the loch that commemorates the raising of the standard that heralded the start of the Jacobite campaign that ended in defeat at Culloden. This was my first time seeing this in sunshine after the aforementioned winter visit in 2011 and a summertime encounter in 2001 while en route from Portree on the Isle of Skye to Oban, via Fort William and preceding a flying visit to Tobermory on the Isle of Mull.
Leaving that lonesome memorial to an ill-fated act of rebellion that caused the momentary outlawing of Highland culture, I went as if to return to the A830 but took a path shadowing it to reach the track along the southern shore of Loch Shiel. This was something that I found on the previous visit in 2011 and signs were in place showing that it was the work of the Forestry Commission, a then poignant note given the ongoing uncertainty about the future of publicly owned forestry land. Since that time, public protest materialised that made the U.K. government back down, so all is looking brighter than it once did. Not only is there a good path, but the handiwork also includes duck-boarding over soft ground and a bridge over the Callop River too. All this usefully negates the need for a long schlep along the A830 to reach the track leading from Callop to Loch Shiel.
The covering of forestry over the path from the monument to the track may have been sketchy in places but what was there offered some relief from the heat of the day. Increasingly from then on, the tree cover decreased and, soon enough, the oppressive heat was inescapable. Unlike my day around Beinn a’ Chrùlaiste, there was to be no puff of breeze to offer respite and the surrounding greenery along with any body of water looked a little delicate in the strong sunshine. Nevertheless, I made steady progress while relishing what lay about me.
The track down the side of Loch Shiel never is heaving with folk but I got the sense that it was less attractive to active folk than otherwise might have been for I had it to myself for most of the time. On that January visit, parties of cyclists had been out and about, but there were none to be seen this time around. In fact, the only person I remember seeing was a lone jogger and I marvelling at how she coped with the heat. Given that my spirit needed healing after the loss of my mother, solace from solitude was what I needed so I was not complaining at all in the still atmosphere.
For much of the way, I found that rocky topped hills ascended steeply from just beside the track, but things spread out a little around Guesachan where Allt Coire Ghiùbhsachain flowed into Loch Shiel after a short journey or two to three kilometres taking it on a steep descent from just under nearby Sgùrr Ghiùbhsachain and Sgorr Craobh a’ Chaorainn. It was the latter that took up more photography time and others doing the same included Meall a’ Bhainne, Sgorr nan Cearc and Meall na h-Airigh, all of which faced the right way away from the sun so lens flare could be avoided. The sight of each of these felt worth recording before I continued further along the loch.
Two factors might have me turning around prematurely to head back to Glenfinnan. One was how hot the day felt because the lack of any cooling breeze certainly made walking a little less pleasurable than it otherwise might have been. Then, covering steep untracked ground the preceding day had me wondering what my legs could manage. Even without either of these, I have a tendency for possible overcaution anyway because the return leg can be quicker than the outbound one. Sometimes, it is because height is being lost rather than gained and this was not one of those so it probably was down to seeing the same sights again and being able to leave the camera aside to continue onward.
In retrospect, this would make a good track for off-road cycling and the slightly faster pace would do it no disservice either. Then, I could travel further along before turning around and still enjoy the peaceful ambience. Interestingly, I saw some folk do something like that on my previous January visit so it remains a possibility for the folding bike that I have acquired since then.
After coming back from my stroll by the shore of Loch Shiel, I escaped out of the heat into the National Trust for Scotland visitor centre. Mainly, this was a café visit, but a few souvenirs were acquired in the shop too. After being indoors for a while, I pottered out again and found my way to the top of a hillock behind the visitor centre called Torr a’ Choit. From this spot, I suspect that many a photo of Loch Shiel has been taken but such an errand needs to be a morning one and the sun was obstructing any such designs for my afternoon visit so I satisfied myself with photos of scenes around Glen Finnan with its world-famous railway viaduct. Up close, this concrete structure is not such a thing of beauty, but the setting is gorgeous and, when viewed from a distance, it does nothing to diminish its location.
After lingering a good while around Torr a’ Choit, I made my way towards the railway station. Now that I recall this, I wonder why I did such a thing as early in the day as I did, for there was quite a while to go before the train was due to arrive. Maybe I thought that my speed of travel was not so speedy after strenuous exertions the day before. While at the train station, I noticed signs for waymarked walks and, with an increased sense of distance, I now chanced following one of these. It took me a little higher, but nothing like the sort of heights that I had scaled on the preceding day. Nevertheless, some of the views took the eye over greater distances with even the distinctive profile of Ben Nevis making an appearance. Mostly, the scenic delights were local to Glen Finnan as I dropped down towards the railway viaduct and made my way back towards the road again to retrace my steps. Temperatures were a little cooler than earlier, so there were others strolling about at lower levels and the sun worked its magic on the surrounding hills and glens.
Back at the train station for the last time of the day, I awaited that train back to Fort William. An easier day had not meant one with less mountain scenery to enjoy and being able to take things more slowly was something to relish too. Life in the preceding months had been a roller coaster ride and there was more to follow. Getting any respite immersed in glorious hill country only was going to help, and my visit has remained in my memory as much to coax a return as to bring a reminder of calm when life goes through one of its rough moments.
Return train journey from Fort William to Glenfinnan.
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