A weekend in Scotland
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A weekend in Scotland

A Weekend in Scotland

July 2011, with Esther and James

Friday

We met at the Cafe@Ustinov at around 10 in the morning. A second breakfast is never wrong, and poached eggs on English Muffins a good choice (unless you know that between the three of us, there are 12 boiled eggs waiting to be eaten over the weekend). A cup of tea, hot chocolate, and cappuccino complete the meal. Then we stuff everything into the car, it's surprisingly spacey! First stop is Tesco, where we stock up on food supplies. Then we decide which way to go - via Consett towards the A69, Hexham, Carlisle. It is a nice drive, not much traffic, and cloudy but dry. First stop at a service station south of Glasgow, to refuel the car and ourselves. Lounging on a meadow in the sun, we finish lunch with some ice-cream, and then it's off again, towards THE NORTH. Though we circumnavigate Glasgow on it's south side, we still get caught in the evening rush hour. Finally we pass Erskine Bridge over the Firth of Clyde. Along Loch Lomond and through the Highlands, the drive is even more pleasant. We take another break — why are all the official parking sites in the shade? We stop at a side road instead — and enjoy the evening sun. Another egg anybody?

Campsite near Kinlochleven. The fire is supposed to keep the midges away, but I guess they do not know about this. Right photo (c) James Mellors Campsite near Kinlochleven. The fire is supposed to keep the midges away, but I guess they do not know about this. Right photo (c) James Mellors
Campsite near Kinlochleven. The fire is supposed to keep the midges away, but I guess they do not know about this. Right photo (c) James Mellors

And on goes the journey. Now we're driving parallel to the West Highland Way: Beinglass Farm, Tyndrum, Bridge of Orchy, King's House, Glencoe and finaly Kinlochleven. Another look on the map, on the northern side of the Loch Leven we should be able to find a nice spot for camping. And indeed right next to an official parking space, there is a good place with a view of the lake and a ready-made fireplace. But as soon as we start putting up the tents, the midges attack! Quick, get a fire going to produce smoke to keep them away. But it doesn't help, even though we put lots of green leaves on top. While we nearly suffocate, the midges feast. Wrapped in scarves and bandanas, we try to enjoy the fire, but only wait for the rice to boil. Then we retreat to James' and Esther's tent to eat rice with tomato sauce hand-made by Esther.

Breakfast in front of the Ice Factor.
Breakfast in front of the Ice Factor.

Saturday

At least the ground is soft and the tents midge-free. An early-morning expedition to the loo changes the latter, unfortunately. I can see the lake present itself at its best, not a single ripple disturbing the perfect mirror-image of the mountains. The army of midges between me and the camera, and between me and the lake, prevent this picture from being captured, however. Later, the lake is again covered with small ripples.

Looking back on our way up to the saddle.
Looking back on our way up to the saddle.
Apart from the midges, it is a wonderful morning, the sun is shining and it is already quite warm. Esther goes for a quick swim and claims the cold water dampens the itch. Breakfast is definitely best enjoyed somewhere midge-free, so we quickly pack our stuff and head for the centre of the village. We have breakfast on the lawn in front of the Ice Factor, where we also fill up our water supply. Then we leave the car on a public car park and head off!
On the saddle; Am Bodach lures us in the background. Photo (c) James Mellors
On the saddle; Am Bodach lures us in the background. Photo (c) James Mellors
View towards Stob Coire a
View towards Stob Coire a' Chàirn

At first, we walk on the West Highland way, but soon leave it to follow a steep mountain path along the Allt Coire na h-Eirghe (river). We aim for the saddle between Sgùrr an Iubhair (mountain) and Am Bodach (mountain). Around 1 o'clock we take our lunch break where the path crosses the small stream. It is wonderfully warm in the sun — is this really Scotland? And no midges anywhere. Finally we get going again, the next stop is on the saddle at an altitude of about 900m (we started at almost zero). Since there is ample time left, we decide to leave our backpacks here and go for a stroll onto the top of Am Bodach (1032m). All the time we have a wonderful view of Ben Nevis, the highest peak in Great Britain, to the North (as verified with Esther's high-tech compass), the Loch Leven (lake) to the South, and all the other mountains and valley around us.

Loch Leven lies far below us to the south, and Ben Nevis in the North. Meandering streams decorate the valleys in between. Right image (c) James Mellors. Loch Leven lies far below us to the south, and Ben Nevis in the North. Meandering streams decorate the valleys in between. Right image (c) James Mellors. Loch Leven lies far below us to the south, and Ben Nevis in the North. Meandering streams decorate the valleys in between. Right image (c) James Mellors.
Loch Leven lies far below us to the south, and Ben Nevis in the North. Meandering streams decorate the valleys in between. Right image (c) James Mellors.
Not a single cloud in sight (well, at least it feels that way). After consuming our summit cookies (Tesco's oat and raisin cookie monster, highly commendable), we head back down to our backpacks, and then along Am Bodach's north flank towards Stob Coire a' Chàirn (mountain). It looked less steep from the top of Am Brodach! But from it's peak we can already see our envisioned camp site. We hope that camping on high ground (around 800m) will keep the midges away. Esther heroically volunteers to fill up our water supplies at some small puddles further below, and to check for a better cam site, but comes back reporting that it's damp and midgy down there. Which James and I, already covered up to keep the mosquitoes at bay, don't find surprising at all. Our camp sites somehow looks less level than before, but we put up the tents nonetheless. Soon we get the water boiling for mushroom soup and tea.

Hundreds of dead midges on the tarpaulin, and millions still buzzing round our heads. Hundreds of dead midges on the tarpaulin, and millions still buzzing round our heads.
Hundreds of dead midges on the tarpaulin, and millions still buzzing round our heads.

It's quite difficult to get anything done with at least one hand constantly wagging at the mosquitoes. Where's the wind that's supposed to be here near the ridge? Neither pleading nor offering to sacrifice an egg and a musli bar brings more than a slight breeze every now and then. The midges just wait on our leeward side until it dies down again. Do we dare remove the scarves to get the food into our mouths? Moving seems to help, so James finishes the soup while walking around. Hastily we shove a few pieces of chocolate into our mouths, sitting in the evening sun on the ridge,looking towards Ben Nevis.

When we retreat to the tents, the ground looks even less level, and we prepare to sleep on what now seems to be a slide dipping at least 45 degrees.

Sunday

Just a small gust... Just a small gust...
Just a small gust...
Be careful what you wish for! After we were safely tucked away in our tents, the wind picked up and increased in strength during the night, making our tents flap quite a bit. I barely found sleep, and then I dreamed of the tent ripping apart, and me, spread out on my belly, holding it down at the edges with hand and feet.

This video was taken by James. It shows how the wind presses the tent wall against my body inside.

And there's another video from inside my tent.

Breakfast break with egg. (c) James Mellors.
Breakfast break with egg. (c) James Mellors.
At around eight in the morning we rose to a windy but midge-free morning. Heavy cloud, but no rain. We packed all our stuff into the backpacks inside the tents, then the three of us took down one tent at a time. Apart from one broken pole on my tent, everything was still in one piece. I'm quite impressed with my low-budget 7-year-old Nordisk tent — I wouldn't have thought that it could withstand this. It is no longer on offer, unfortunately. James' tent survived without problems, and he himself slept like a baby, I was told.

We decided to have breakfast in a less windy environment. First we headed down to the small lakes, then we crossed the ridge between Stob Coire a' Chàirn (mountain) and Na Gruagaichean (mountain). From then on it was downhill only. We took a break next to a small lake, prepared tea and ate the last eggs. We used up the last of the fuel in the bottle, so we had spent about 300ml for 2 days and three people (James had brought a second bottle just in case).

Cascades of the Allt Coire a
Cascades of the Allt Coire a' Chàirn.
A female blindworm, too stuffed with food to escape quickly.
A female blindworm, too stuffed with food to escape quickly.
The path now followed the ravine of the Allt Coire a' Chàirn (river) to some sheep pens, and from there we continued along the dirt road towards the Mamore Lodge. From the many roads and paths leading to Kinlochleven here, we decided to take a small path that looked on the map as if it would lead to some waterfalls. There were indeed some rapids, but not really a waterfall. Only later, when Esther and I ignored James suggestion to go uphill again to reach Kinlochleven, we stumbled across the Grey Mares Tail Waterfall which was indeed a spectacular sight. Unfortunately, in this woodland area, the midges were already waiting for us, and after I had taken the obligatory pictures, we hurried back to where we took a wrong turn and crossed the little hill that separated us from the village. In no time we were back at the car park, where Florentine and the car were waiting for us. It was about lunch time. To shield us from a few raindrops, we settled under the only tree in sight, not having considered that the midges might do the same thing. Not that it mattered any more, there being few un-bitten spots left on our faces anyway.

Grey Mare Tail waterfall.
Grey Mare Tail waterfall.
Ah, some more eggs had been deposited in the car,so we could all indulge ourselves again! Then it was back on the road, homeward bound. Somehow, on the map there had appeared a motorway right through Glasgow, so now we could pass it much faster than on our way up. The next stop was for fuel and chocolate-and-mint ice-cream an hour before Carlisle. On the A69 parallel to the Hadrian's wall, we were on the lookout for a pub, which was quite difficult: the first was one closed, the second one had only Sunday roast, but no vegetarian meal. Then we found The Boatside Inn, which looked very promising. And it was good indeed! We stuffed ourselves on Mexican Fajitas and Vegetarian Harlequin. Another hour's drive brought us back to Durham and Ustinov college. What a wonderful weekend! Let's do that again some time.


GPS track and link to Google Maps