We continue to travel north and west this week into a landscape which becomes steadily wilder and more dramatic. The mountain peaks hunch ever higher into a lowering grey sky which brings squalls of rain and colder temperatures. The bluebells of spring have given way to fuschia spikes of native foxgloves and great drifts of yellow iris, buttercups and ox-eye daisies.
We start the week with a hike through the Pass of Glencoe and partway along the old military road which drops down from Kinlochleven. The weather has closed in and we watch coach loads of damp tourists come and go as we fortify ourselves for the walk ahead with bitter dark chocolate and sips of fiery-sweet Jura whisky. Once on foot again, the sheer scale of this glaciated landscape fills the senses. Standing next to the cascading waters of the river Coe I have to crane upwards to try and get a glimpse of the summits. After passing the Three Sisters and Buachaille Etive Beag, the floor of the glen opens out into a wide plain and the great sweeping slopes of Buachaille Etive Mòr rise up to your right to well over 3000ft. Today the peak is shrouded in shifting grey cloud with the occasional flicker of snow capped crags.
The weather has closed in and we watch coach loads of damp tourists come and go as we fortify ourselves for the walk ahead with bitter dark chocolate and sips of fiery-sweet Jura whisky.
From Glencoe we head onwards to the town of Fort William, gateway to Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles. I had nurtured hopes of Fort William being another Keswick, but it was not to be. The high street is a friendly run of mismatched shops, including a lovely book shop and a vegan cafe, but it’s cut off from the lochside beach by a four lane road and railings. A strange moment in town planning in my opinion. Beyond that is a suburban sprawl of slightly depressing streets which seem determined to defy their magnificent surroundings. Nevertheless, Fort William was a good place to restock our supplies and to ride the mountain gondola, a cable car that takes you half way up Ben Nevis to the winter ski slopes for a cheats eye view of Loch Linnhe.
From Fort William we headed north again along the A87 as it winds it’s way past Loch Cluanie and through the infamous Glen Shiel. The landscape is spectacular, one of the best stretches of road for really getting a high speed eye full of the mountains west of the Great Glen. Our final destination that day was Skye, but for me, the highlight was our stop at Eilean Donan castle. (Eilean meaning island in Gaelic). This fairytale castle on a loch was used as the location for the home of clan MacLeod in the 80’s film Highlander, a film which made a lasting impression on my teenage mind. When I discovered the castle was real I was determined to visit one day, if only to stand on the bridge and cry theatrically into the wind, ‘there will be only one!’
…it is a dream of Scotland distilled into the heart of a romantic.
In reality, the castle today has a crowded gift shop, cafe and a large carpark, but none of that takes away from the sheer drama of it’s setting. Built on a small island at the meeting of three lochs and surrounded by mountains, it is a dream of Scotland distilled into the heart of a romantic. Much like Iona Abbey it has also been restored, so now you can wander through an impressive banqueting hall and a series of rooms and quirky spaces created by Lt. Col. John MacRae-Gilstrap, a descendant of clan MacCrae, who set out to breath life back into his ancestral home in 1919.