Road trip through Scotland – Part 3

The leaving part of Applecross was surprisingly beautiful. We took the road, that follows the coast form Apple cross to the north, all the way around the peninsula. The views are again magnificent! A perfectly balanced combination of sea, beaches, hills and mountains, dotted with some beautiful, hairy highland cows. There the nature seemes to have had a particularly good eye on the colors, creating a landscape almost pretty enough to cry over. Later I found, that what we were looking at was Wester Ross, one of the National Scenic Areas in Britain.

We entered some tiny, cute seaside villages, explored some Wikiloc and eventually bought a map. We had found a very recommended hike up to Beinn Eighe, one of the peaks of the famous Torridon hills. That would be some 19 kilometers of hill walking. 

To get to the start of the hike, we drove from Torridon toward Kinlochewe and parked at the Beinn Eighe car park. Since it was already afternoon, we packed the camping gear with us. 19 kilometers in rough terrain would have been far too rough for us to do in just a few hours, so camping on the way was the plan.

The first part of the trail was beautifully maintained stone path, cleanly passing the dozens of small streams running down the mountain side, to the bigger river in the valley. We wobbled on for a few kilometers, through the glen next to Beinn Eighe. Already in those kilometers we got to see a herd of deer, grazing at the hillside. Then it started raining.

Luckily right there we happened upon a perfect looking camping spot. On closer inspection it turned out to be just that; perfect. There was a flat grassy spot for our tent, a small stream of fresh water right next to it and a superb view over to the neighboring peaks and the lake dotted valley to the west. All of it promising quite a spectacular sunset.

We huddled in our tent, waiting for the rain to pass. That gave us time to dive into the map and see where in the world we actually were. The trail on Beinn Eighe would actually climb three peaks; Ruadh-stac Mòr being the tallest at 1010 meters, the next one, under which we were sitting, called Còinneach Mhòr at 902 meters and  the last peak of 977 meters was Spidean Coire nan Clach. Should there be anybody out there who can guide me in pronouncing these names, I would be very grateful!

The rain was over and we started our evening routine. We filtered water form the stream and cooked. In the meanwhile the sun was preparing for the evening show; lighting up the lakes underneath us and the clouds above, casting playful shadows in the glen and changing the colors of the mountain peaks around us. Not a bad setting to have your evening meal in, I think.

We stayed out until quite late, looking at the landscape changing with the dimming light and listening to the rustling of the wild animals in the surrounding shrubbery. The darkness forced us to bed around 10 pm, so we had plenty of time to drool on our pillows before the hike on the following day.

We woke up fresh and started the hike with spring in our steps as we headed further to the north, in order to reach the approach trail to the peaks. The landscape continued being pretty, with small lakes dotting the glen. The actual climb started at the side of a beautiful water fall and then winding up to a bigger lake, nestled beneath the peaks. The skies were clear all the way, but the wind was quickly picking up in the higher ground. The gusts were beating down the sides of the mountain, and even throwing up water when they hit the lake surface.

With that wind in our backs, we commenced the first steep ascend, to the saddle between the Ruadh-stac Mòr and Còinneach Mhòr. The trail disappeared for a bit, and we found our own way between the small lakes on the way up to the rocky and gravely slope, which would bring us to the saddle. We were fist hopping from stone to stone, before reaching something like a serpentine trail up to the narrow gap between two boulders.

Up there in the ridge, the wind was downright violent. We made our way to the peak on all fours at times, while the gusts tried to beat us off of the hill. Slowly we made our way to the peak, took quick photos while desperately hanging onto rocks, before crawling back the same way to the saddle. The climb to the next peak was luckily sheltered from the worst of the wind, and although steep, we managed to move a little faster.

After the second climb, we faced a long grassy ridge walk, those lovely ones where you can imagine you are in the opening scene of  The Sound of Music and just want to go frolicking about. The wind was back again though, so much so, that it was difficult to breathe at times. I had to trap my hat to my head by otherwise needless sunglasses.

The ridge ended to yet another wind beaten and rocky climb. After all the climbing and frolicking I was getting pretty tired in my legs. And naggy, if you ask Waffle, bless him. But up was the only way forward, so that’s where we went. And a small hour or so later we were at the last cross point and on our last peak, looking at our final descent back to the road where we came from.

As often, the way down proved to be rougher than expected. It was brutally steep and for the large part, there was a river of melt water running on it. The descent itself took a good hour. The distance wasn’t great, but the steepness and wetness took its toll on our speed; it was tough going. I often dislike downhills. They tend to be painful, dreary and too long, but still, without them, there would be no climbs either.

We made it to the car and started to figure out where to next. Some browsing of our beloved park4night -app happened. We weren’t extremely impressed by any of the spots close by, so we ended up driving to the east coast, to the town of Cromarty and up to the cliffs a little way out of town. We camped there, between some Germans and their vans, happily looking forward to the last bit of our trip, before leaving the island.

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Road Trip Through Scotland – Part 2

The day after conquering Ben Vorlich we headed further up north. First we held our breaths on the tiniest of roads through the Scottish countryside, before hitting a more relaxing road towards Glencoe. Soon we started to recognize the landscape of the famous glen and the flocks of tourists admiring the site from our previous trip. The Instagram selfies being born there that day were plentiful.

We didn’t bother to stop for too long. New sceneries in new parts of Scotland were waiting to be seen! We quickly passed the magnificent views to the sea and mountains as we turned towards Fort William.

The memories were rushing back on those roads. The three week road trip in 2015 had been our first real holiday together. Three weeks, stuffed with camping gear in one car. That can be quite a test for a young relationship. But Waffle and I pulled it through without major injuries. Now we were yelping at each other: “Do you remember this place!” “We had a rest here the last time!” “The sea was so calm then!” What a good feeling it was, revisiting the memories, looking back to where we had come from and how strong we have grown with the time.

We pushed through, towards Fort Augustus and then turning off to Dornie and the isle of Skye. This time we would skip the island and continue to Applecross, since a dear friend had told us it to be beautiful. We had also bought a Wild Scotland guide book and it had showed us the most amazing bothy at the shores of the peninsula; Uags. That would be our destination!

Further north we found ourselves on the tiny roads again, perched between the hills and the sea, leading us through picturesque villages and by the side of white sandy beaches. The last village with a shop was Lochcarron, there we bought some essentials, beer and water and considered some CDs of quality bagpipe music – those we left on the rack.

Then it was time to drive to Applecross. The small roads, winding around the calm waters of the lochs were fun to drive. Not a long way further, and we started to climb, very steeply up through a col, where a viewpoint opened up to the west, over the moor and sea. Quick pit stop for photos was needed, before moving on.

Applecross itself is a humble little collection of houses, sitting at a shallow bay, but the view they have to the Raasay island and the Isle of Skye behind it, is quite astonishing. When we passed, it was a mildly cloudy day, and the horizon was framed by the blue silhouettes of the islands. What a soothing sight!

We followed our Wild Guide, all the way to the pier in Toscaig, and from there we would head on by foot to the Uags bothy. Toscaig itself was already a very pleasant little community, with sheep, geese and chicken running all around and the sea washing down to the paddocks.  At the pier, we packed our backpacks with the gear we would need for the night, and then headed back up to the town, where the route should leave for the bothy.

There was signpost in the beginning of the trail and it pointed the trail to the hills, through the moor and into the middle of nowhere. The landscape was brown, dotted by small lakes and sheep, with a superb view to the islands. Before long, the trail disappeared somewhere and we were struggling to find our way forward.

The navigation app from Wikiloc came in handy at that point, it had the exact route to the hut, we just needed to follow the orange line on Waffle’s phone. It really was a life saver, it showed us a safe place to cross a river and the right spots to wobble over the boulders and swamps.

It was a hike of about 3 hours, until we finally had the bothy in our sights. There was a small oak wood at the back of the house and a calm bay at its foot, the bothy itself was a stone house, perched on a cliff, overlooking the magnificent view. We were happy to find the place empty and to have it as a home for the night.

We started cooking as the sun was setting over the Isle of Skye. The wind calmed down and the sea was laying still next to us. The colors of the sunset were magnificent! The clouds were soft pink and that was reflected on the rocks on our small bay. A profound happiness was warming my insides, as I was shoveling the bagged meal down my face. What would be a better place for a human to be?

There was one lone seal, who was very much of the opinion, he could make our evening even better. So he popped his head up right next to us, in the shallow waters of the bay.  We shared a moment with the creature. Both we and the seal seemed to be equally curious, until the hunger took him fishing. We took the cue and headed to shoot the magnificent sunset.

We left the nature be and crawled in to our bedroom as the darkness fell. There were plenty of sleeping places in the bothy, and we had selected one of the rooms upstairs. Our magnificent, super warm sleeping bags guaranteed a comfy night for us up there.

The next morning arrived with clouds but luckily no rain. The weather continued to be ridiculously good for Scotland. We would have loved to stay at the bothy for a day longer, but we had only packed food for the one night. So back on the trail we went. Through the same moor, swamps and rivers.

From there on, we didn’t really know, where we would like to end up, only that by the end of the holiday we would make a stop in Dundee, which is now a home to one of my dear dear friends. Before that, we needed to get off of the edge of the world, and back to the highlands. After quick googling the navigator was set to the town of Torridon, where we were hoping to find something to hike.

But that will be another story…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Road Trip Through Scotland – Part 1

For once me and my dear Waffle had planned and prepared for our holiday.  We had taken the days off after Easter, we had bought maps and selected several GPS -routes in the Vercors national park in France. WE had gotten a new water filter to take along to the trail, car was packed and a spot to sleep at was selected on the go. I felt a nice buzz in the bottom of my belly. Finally, hiking some real mountains again!

Then came Friday morning. The day when we were meant to depart towards the south. As always we checked the last weather forecast of the destination… and the whole vision of mountains and kilometers and kilometers of cliffs crumbled. Vercors would be literally soaking in heavy rainfalls for two days and afterwards snowfall was forecasted. Not exactly the perfect conditions for hiking and camping.

So, original plan was scrapped and the browsing of weather maps began.

Ordesa has been one of those places we have been dreaming of for a long time. Soaked.

Corsica has also been tickling our travel nerves.  Soaked.

Normandy, meh, no hills.

Scotland? Well, who would have guessed. Sunshine all the way through, with temperatures around and even over 20 °C. I quickly checked the ferry prices to sail from France to Dover, they were only around 120 euros in total; the decision to go was quickly made.

On Saturday morning we were in Dunkirk, queuing up for the ferry to Dover, looking forward to a holiday of Scottish munros and lochs and bothies. Two hours later our tires touched the ground on the shores of England and our great road trip could start. Some brain cracking was needed to get us through the first roundabout, while driving on the left, and then we were safely on our way.

We were planning on soldiering through until the sunset. Hoping to be at the southern edge of Scotland by then, somewhere not too far from Loch Lomond. We took the eastern route, via Cambridge, Leeds and then crossing over to the west towards Carlisle and Glasgow.

As we got closer to the edge of the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park, we started a frantic search for a sleeping spot with Park4Night. We knew a good spot already from our previous trip to Scotland, but since there was a high chance for a pairs of legs appearing we opted for another spot in the woods not too far from there.

We found ourselves in a forest of ancient looking spruces where owls were hooting in the darkness, and a gentle community of midges teasing a lone human. There was also a pile of lone humans settled around a campfire. We threw out our popup tent, took a bottle of beer with us and joined the people, until the evening grew long with joking and laughter. Eventually the kilometers behind us forced us to give in to sleep.

We didn’t quite wake up with the sun, rather crawled out after the stiff mattress had caused us enough back pain little bit after 10am. Such a beautiful morning it was, full of sunshine and birdsong. We got water for our breakfast from a close by riverand enjoyed our hot coffees in the forest and soaked in the holiday feeling!

The morning turned into a beautiful day. We stayed in the same national park, since we had found a good walk for the day not too far from where we had been sleeping. We headed to the Loch Earn and from its shores we started the climb up to Ben Vorlich. A calm ascent of a generous 900 meters in total seemed like a good warm up for the days to come.

Quite a nice hike it was. We left fairly late, and the other hikers had already reached the summit and were returning back down, so we ended up going against the stream. We had thought that Vorlich would be a relatively calm peak to climb, but clearly we were wrong. The path was wide and at point quite eroded and there were quite some people wobbling around.

The weather was treating us well. In the lower slopes it was almost too hot for ascending but higher up the wind came into rescue, keeping us fresh and cool and the meters up went by lightly. I have finally matured as a hiker, and stopped rushing. I manage to keep the same sluggish rhythm from the bottom to the top, so we are now taking far fewer breaks. Yay!

It took about 2 – 3 hours for us to reach the peak. Up there the wind had turned from gentle refreshing breeze to a violently howling gale. Some quick photos were snapped of the great view over the national park before we headed down on the other side of the mountain. The wind was against us and it took quite some descending before we found shelter from the relentless gusts.

We were following a faint trail, down the southern ridge of Ben Vorlich, towards a swampy valley. We turned west, down towards a saddle as soon as the steepness of the slope allowed it. The dry grassy meadows started to slowly become more moist marsh, where small streams were hiding in deep cracks, making it fairly difficult to find a sure footing.

Slowly we made it to the bottom, following the tracks the sheep had made. there we turned back upward, following  the side of the stream, over the saddle, and down beside another stream. The sun was closing up its daily route across the sky as we got back to the Loch Earn.  And we were offered a beautiful sunset as we set up camp on the shore.

After the first day in Scotland, the last bits of the bitterness of not getting to the French mountains were gone. We settled for the night as the sun set and the outlines of the mountains were disappearing into the darkness.

I don’t think we could have selected a better alternative for the vacation. We still had the week ahead of us, with a loose outline of things we wanted to do. Such a wonderful feeling it was to leave the work behind and just roam free for a bit!