Summer in the Scottish Highlands, 19 – 23 July 2018

At about 5.30pm on a fine and sunny Thursday evening, our younger son and I left Edinburgh, the fairly lengthy drive to Invergarry in the North West Highlands ahead of us. Negotiating the rush hour traffic with relative ease, we were soon crossing the new Forth road bridge, passing Perth and then on to the A9 and into Pitlochry for fish and chips. Our appetites sated, we carried on through the pass of Drumochter, past the attractive distillery at Dalwhinnie, then across to Loch Laggan and through Spean Bridge to arrive at our destination at about 9.15pm. This was the excellent Saddle Mountain Hostel, our base for the next four nights and where for two of those nights we had the shared dorm to ourselves.

Friday dawned wet, but by the time we’d had breakfast the rain had become a light drizzle. As the forecast was unpromising, we decided to abandon thoughts of hillwalking and concentrate on photography instead. We made first for Glenfinnan, as I wished to see one of the Jacobite steam trains crossing the famous viaduct. This made a splendid sight, particularly as the driver opened the regulator on the viaduct creating a satisfying exhaust beat sound and lots of steam!

The Jacobite steam train crosses Glenfinnan viaduct; Stanier class 5 no.45212

Afterwards, we visited the monument to Bonnie Prince Charlie and admired the view down Loch Shiel, mingling with the many other tourists at this tourist hot spot, which seemed to be a little overwhelmed. We then drove two miles east and walked up the Glean Dubh Lighe seeking out opportunities to photograph some of the attractive cascades and waterfalls. After about 3km, we turned round and walked back to the car; the weather occasionally showing signs of fining up a bit.

The Glean Dubh Lighe, about two miles east of Glenfinnan

Our next port of call was the end of the Caledonian Canal at Corpach to see and photograph the view looking across to Ben Nevis. Conveniently, there was an old boat lying on the shore to provide some foreground interest. Ben Nevis itself was well and truly cloud covered.

A cloud covered Ben Nevis from Corpach

Dinner was at the nearby Invergarry Hotel fuelling a determination to get out into the hills the next day, come what may.

Saturday dawned overcast but knowing that the weather further east was likely to be better we had decided to climb the 3701 feet high Creag Megaidh from Aberardair along Loch Laggan. The drive to the start of the climb didn’t inspire confidence but on reaching the car park the cloud was starting to lift and break. We started the long walk up to Coire Ardair on a good path through delightful birch woods with wild flowers in profusion. Coire Ardair presents a scene of spectacular mountain grandeur backed as it is by high cliffs.

Approaching Corrie Ardair, Creag Meagaidh

The route avoiding the cliffs was up a steep boulder slope to a prominent notch in the skyline called the window. After this, easy slopes led up onto the unusual plateau-like summit and we soon reached the summit cairn. By this time, the mountain was clear of cloud whereas all those around appeared to have cloud on them.

Corrie Ardair and the notch known as the window giving access to the summit of Creag Meagaidh

We continued the route over Puiste Coire Ardair, Creag Mhor and Sròn a’Choire, then down steep slopes of rough ground back to the start. The descent turned out to be tedious and knee jarring. Once back at the hostel, we decided to eat at the Invergarry Hotel once again.

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The route up Creag Meagaidh starting from Aberardair, Loch Laggan

Sunday dawned grey and damp and having seen the forecast the previous evening, we’d already decided to forego any ideas of hillwalking and concentrate on photography instead. Following breakfast, we made for Fort Augustus, an appealing place, where the Caledonian Canal joins Loch Ness. We spent a good couple of hours there doing photography and capturing some very moody views of Loch Ness, but no views of Nessie, disappointingly.

The point at which the Caledonian Canal meets Loch Ness at Fort Augustus

We then took the the ‘B’ road east of Loch Ness and stopped at Loch Tarff, but decided it lacked much photo potential. We therefore carried on to Foyers to visit and photograph the impressive Falls of Foyers, which plunge 62m on their way to Loch Ness.

The impressive Falls of Foyers

We enjoyed following the paths down through the woods, which eventually brought us out on the shore of Loch Ness. By this time, the weather had brightened up and was quite pleasant. We walked back up the hill and decided a stop for tea and cake was called for. Cameron’s Tearooms just outside Foyers had been recommended to us. For the remainder of the afternoon, we decided to do some photography along the river Garry, a few miles west of Invergarry. This is a beautiful stretch of river and I managed to get some good photographs using a slow shutter speed.

The river Garry near Invergarry

We followed the path at the side of the river intending to reach Loch Garry, but it petered out just before the dam at a very dodgy looking suspension bridge carrying an old notice stating no more than two people to use it at a time. The deck timbers seemed in poor condition but we got across ok; it was like something out of an Indiana Jones movie. Slightly bizarrely, this brought us out in a semi derelict council works depot so we retraced our steps, including back across the swaying bridge high above the river Garry. Then it was back to the hostel and dinner at the Glengarry Castle hotel for a change, quite a grand place offering fine dining.

For our final day in the Highlands and with a reasonably promising forecast, we decided to climb a couple of Munros before heading back to Edinburgh. We chose the round of Stob Coire Sgriodain and Chno Dearg, south of Tulloch and immediately east of Loch Treig; a route that should take 5/6 hours. At the start, most of the tops were in low cloud, but the sun was breaking through and we had high hopes the cloud would clear off the two we were climbing. We followed a delightful but pathless route, following a stream up and then onto the ridge leading to Stob Coire Sgriodain. The ground was a profusion of purple heather and other wild flowers; scabious, bog asphodel and hare bells amongst them. The low cloud was proving stubborn, but just as we reached the summit, one of those magical moments in the mountains occurred when it all suddenly cleared away revealing Loch Treig far below and mountains around as far as we could see.

Loch Treig from the summit of Stob Coire Sgriodain
The final stages of the ridge to the summit of Stob Coire Sgriodain
The summit of Stob Coire Sgriodain

We followed the broad ridge on, and climbed the slopes to the summit of Chno Dearg, unfortunately now swathed in cloud, so no views from it. We weren’t tempted to linger and headed down easy slopes back to our starting point. We hadn’t seen a soul all day and had had the mountains to ourselves. Then, it was time for the long drive back to Edinburgh and to be reunited with our wives.

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The route to Stob Coire Sgriodain and Chno Dearg from Fersit

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