A still morning in the Highlands

Possibly because I was so cold, or possibly because I usually wake up early, I was up and about before 7am. The Loch was a mirror, reflecting fluffy clouds in a blue sky, with the sun not yet above the tops. The silence, broken only by the sound of the stream, a gentle breeze and occasional bird call, was delicious.

After a while though, there were more prosaic concerns to deal with.

As noted previously, bothies are extremely basic — which means no plumbing. When you need to use the toilet, you go outside, away from the water source, and do what needs to be done. They even provide a shovel to dig a latrine.

This counts as another new experience for me.

We’d brought our own trowel and toilet paper as we’d expected to be camping wild rather than in a bothy, so I collected it and set off to find a quiet spot in which to have a new experience. Having found a spot and spent a good five minutes hacking through the tangled roots of the grass (it’s hardy stuff, that Highland vegetation!) I had a suitable hole in the ground… and found I no longer felt the need for it. Dammit! I sometimes think my digestive tract has a (perverse) mind of its own!

Back in the bothy I got the stove going for a morning coffee. We’d brought coffee grounds, but really should have brought coffee bags as we had no way of filtering the grounds. Anyway, they still made serviceable coffee, if drunk carefully.

People began to stir, the dried milk was reconstituted with sterilised water from the stream and we all had a bowl of granola, supplemented with bits from our lunch stashes – cheese, chocolate and Soreen Malt Loaf in my case.

For all that I was constantly cold and had slept really badly, I felt in remarkably good condition this morning. I hadn’t expected that; usually I’m a bear with a sore head if I don’t get a good night’s sleep. Even before breakfast I was functioning normally. Maybe there’s something in the air!

Once breakfast was done with, we repacked our backpacks and set off southwest. Ben stayed back at the bothy, aiming to have a quiet day, but as we were leaving a couple of guys on scrambler bikes came by to lay out a course up the stream beside the bothy for the Scottish Six Day Trials. I don’t think the day is going to be so quiet for him after all!

Scotland in the sunshine is just beautiful and this was Lee’s first visit, both to the Highlands and to the country, so he was loving it. The sun did plenty to put a spring in our step as we set out. This morning we were contouring around a couple of hills, aiming to drop down into Kinlochleven for lunch.

Chris tackling the boulder

We spotted a largeish boulder off the trail at one point and took a break to conquer it. Mine was the most perfunctory attempt; taking an easy route and then sitting, enjoying the sun on top. The others were a bit more serious, working out how scale the longest height, Chris badly skinning his knuckles in the process. A reckless misstep as we approached the boulder also left me with a bog-soaked sock, which meant I spent the rest of the morning looking like some wannabe Mason, one trouser leg rolled up to speed the drying!

Beginning the descent into Kinlochleven

As we set off again we talked of what would be the perfect lunch choice. It was mostly hearty fare and I think the winning option, the one that kept us going, was the thought of a thick venison stew. After a long morning’s walk, we finally completed the arduous descent into Kinlochleven and settled in to the Tailrace Inn for lunch.

Alas, there was no venison stew to be had, but at that point we would have eaten anything, so the thick lentil soup and steak and Guinness pie were most welcome. Also welcome was the opportunity to change my socks and have a ‘wet-wipe shower’ in the privacy of the disabled toilet!

With the civilisation of a village, came the mobile signal so we all spent a while updating Facebook and texting loved ones to let them know our progress. Ironically the TVs were also showing the Saints vs. Wigan derby, so for a while it was like being back home! A strange discontinuity from the isolation of this morning.

After a couple of hours of food, phones and pool it was time to move on. The plan was to follow the West Highland Way – a reasonably well maintained, reasonably low-level trail – on towards Fort William, overnighting somewhere along the route.

The climb out of Kinlochleven was strenuous and steep, although not as bad as the descent had been on arrival. That was also the time that the weather chose to change; the intermittent sunshine gave way to heavy grey clouds and increasingly persistent rain. We were well fortified by the lunchbreak though and while the scree paths were not ideal they were better than dodging marshland.

According to the map there were a couple of potential bothies along the old military road that the path follows but neither of them turned out to be usable – basically they were ruins. We took brief refuge in one of them for a food and drink break and it was obvious that this path was well travelled by tourists; while our previous trails had been pristine apart from the tracks worn into the hillside, here there was litter everywhere and evidence aplenty of groups of people with less care about those who would come after them.

Given the lack of bothies, the decision was to push on to a forested area ahead and look for a space to camp. Lee had picked up a weather forecast while in Kinlochleven which suggested the evening would dry up but there would be a storm overnight before a brief dry spell in the morning, so we were hoping to find some sheltering trees. In due course we found an ideal spot and began pitching the tents pretty much as the rain stopped. Excellent timing.

Huw and Lee by the camp fire

We camped along the edge of the trees, but just under their cover there was some ashes surrounded by rocks so we hunted up fallen branches and got our own fire going. Dinner was more Beanfeast, but tonight served with couscous. After eating, we sat around the fire and dried such kit as needed it. Lee and Huw both had wet socks and, with their feet up in front of the fire, they steamed so much it looked they were burning too.

As we’d covered quite a distance today, it was already late by the time we’d finished eating so, as the fire burned low, we turned in for the night.
After last night’s discomfort, I wore my insulated trousers over my longjohns but in the end I could probably have gotten away without. While the bothy was unrelentingly chilly, the tent was a lot smaller and warmed up comfortably with two of us in there. With more serendipitous timing, the rain held off long enough for us to get to bed before the storm came. There is something delicious about lying in a warm sleeping bag, feeling secure inside your tent, listening to the rain and wind outside and I shortly drifted off to sleep.
See the photo album for this trip HERE.