We headed first to the Spar grocery store (a German chain, ironically) in Glencoe village to buy a few lunch items. Then we stopped at the
Our plan was to drive up the coast past Fort William to Glenfinnan, then on through Moidart and Sunart (traveling counterclockwise on the A861) and along the north shore of Loch Linnhe back to Fort William (with the option of taking the ferry across Loch Linnhe from Ardgour to Corran). When we reached
We continued along a lovely stretch of two-lane highway to Glenfinnan, where we stopped at the visitor center and walked out to the Jacobite Rebellion monument: a statue of a Highlander atop a tall stone column, erected by Alexander MacDonald in 1815, which stands lonely watch at the head of Loch Shiel. This is perhaps one of the most well-known vistas in
From Glenfinnan we continued west on the A830 to Lochailort, through a gorgeous landscape of sweeping mountains, deep green glens, and rippling lochs. We found ourselves leapfrogging a young German couple as we both kept stopping for pictures at every good turnout. At one point I got out of our car to take a picture of Loch Eilt. The German couple was already there and the woman walked up and asked me, in German of course, if I could take their picture. I said, “Natürlich!” and then “Bitte schön!” hoping that she wouldn’t realize that I wasn’t German!
The German couple was still with us as we headed down the south side of Loch Ailort on the A861, but we eventually left them behind. Loch Ailort is actually a long, narrow finger of the Sound of Arisaig, so it is tidal, and the rocky hillocks rising out of the water were ringed with bright rust-colored seaweed. When we finally reached the sea, we were treated to a spectacular view out to the hazy blue islands of Rum, Eigg, and Muck, which seemed to float on the horizon between the cloud-flecked sky and steel-gray waters of the Sound. (The photo of John at right was taken at the mouth of Loch Ailort.)
We followed the rugged coastline for a few miles. Somewhere along this stretch is a rock cairn marking the spot from which Bonnie Prince Charlie set sail on his final escape to
We felt very “out there,” although the landscape was dotted with plenty of B&Bs, self-catering cottages, and even an RV park to support what is obviously a significant tourist industry. Eventually we reached Inversanda and began the long, slow crawl along the northern
On our way back to
Part-way up the coire, John caught sight of a small bachelor herd of red deer grazing on the slope above us (I had been too focused on the rocks in front of me to notice them). They were gorgeous, with fuzzy coats and felt-covered antlers. The youngest of them (judging by his antlers), which was the closest to us, stopped and stared as we passed. He had a sort of wary, inquisitive look that indicated to me that he hadn’t seen too many humans in his life. We spotted two more deer grazing on the slope on the opposite side of the coire.
We made very good time and were perhaps half-way up the mountain after about 40 minutes, but we had set our turn-around time at one hour. As 6:30 approached, the last stretch of scree was still looming above us, topped by a near-vertical rock face. We thought we could make out a set of steps cut into the rock. I was really hoping we could make it all the way to the ridge, because the sun was coming out and I knew the views from up there must be incredible. I convinced John to continue for ten more minutes. Just as we reached a point where the trail seemed to peter out altogether, my ever-rational husband said we had to call it quits. We figured we were still about half an hour from the ridge and it would have been very rough going, picking our way straight up what was essentially a massive rockslide. I was incredibly disappointed, as I was really hoping that we could “bag a munro,” but I knew John was right. According to our Glencoe guidebook we were defying just about every rule of the mountains: we had no map or compass, no one knew where we were, we weren’t equipped for bad weather, we had no flashlight or first aid kit, we had started late, and our food and water supplies were minimal. Basically if anything happened to us up on the mountain or the weather turned for the worse, we were screwed, despite the fact that we were still within sight of our car. So we stopped where we were and sat on a rock, eating our candy bars and sharing an orange while taking in the gorgeous view across the glen. We could see the zigzag route of Devil’s Staircase distinctly, carved into the hillside across the valley (see photo of yesterday's hiking route, above), and beyond it the mountains faded away into the clouds in undulating waves of green and blue. We could even see the dam at the mouth of the Blackwater Reservoir. Somewhere out there was
We made it back to the car just before 7:00 p.m. We drove back to the hotel (John said he would only stop if I saw a UFO) and cleaned up for dinner in record time, as we knew they stopped serving food at 9:00 and we were really hungry! We sampled a couple more of the local ales – Crofter’s Pale Ale and Brewhouse Special. We sat at our “usual” table (#5); John had a wild boar burger and I had a chili beef burrito. For dessert we shared a hefty portion of apple and blackberry crumble (sadly they were all out of sticky toffee pudding). After dinner we still wanted to cool off from our hike so we went outside and sat at a picnic table to admire the view. A German couple we had seen in the pub came out and we saw them staring at our car. They went for a little stroll, during which time we went to our car to rearrange things for our departure tomorrow. The couple returned and approached us, addressing us in German, so we ended up having a nice chat with them, mostly in German. They had recognized that our car was from Böblingen and we spent a few minutes discussing Mercedes. It turns out the couple was on a tour, hiking portions of the West Highland Way, and we commented on the fact that we have seen quite a few Germans in Scotland but not in the rest of the U.K.
So what did we learn today? Life is about making choices. We could have chosen to climb Buachaille Etive Mòr earlier in the day, in which case we probably would have made it to the top and therefore been able to brag that we had “bagged a Munro.” Instead we enjoyed fabulous weather on the coast and experienced a relatively remote and gorgeous area of Scotland. For all we know, the top of Buachaille Etive Mòr was in the clouds most of the day. We did, however, get a good taste of real “hill-walking” and now we have a goal for our next trip to the