Our Travel blog
Friday 13 May
On a crisp bright morning we took the ski lift to 'The Basin.' At 2,300 ft this forms the main ski area in season and although it had patchy snow left in the crags and higher slopes all the other ski lifts, pulleys and other paraphernalia were closed and the area looked rather shabby and neglected cleared of its icing of snow. We walked around the boggy patches, away from the detritus of the skiing business and onto fresh ground upwards to a ridge and prominence that forms part of the Clach Leathad mountain.
High clouds were now obscuring the higher peaks and at our altitude the wind whipped around us but we were rewarded with magnificent views across the bleak looking Rannoch Moor with its twinkling Lochs and the A82 slicing through it. The sharp bright smell of snow was in the air as we descended to the footpath and made our way down the very rocky, very steep slope with loose scree and rocks that you thought were solid but moved alarmingly when you put your weight on them. It was worth walking down though as we tracked alongside the stream tumbling over numerous waterfalls on one side and the mountain bike route on the other. Occasionally we were rewarded with the sight of heavily armoured bikers whizzing past and taking off over frightening jumps in their pursuit of the ultimate adrenaline rush. As fellow thrill seekers we went for the high octane option of lunch in the cafe before heading back to Ballachulish to get the wing mirror fitted.
With a bit of time to kill while the garage worked on Mavis we wandered into the visitors centre and cafe. We had seen signs for a Folk Museum at nearby Glencoe village but I vetoed this on account of far too many visits being dragged around by my father, looking gormlessly at displays of old farming implements, corn dollies and sinister looking mannequins who all seemed to looked like Eddie Izzard dressed up as Worzel Gummage. I doubt my father actually liked folk museums but they were very cheap, or free, and gave shelter from the rain. My father was firmly of the opinion that if you had to pay it wouldn't be worth the price of admission. He was born to accountancy in the same way fish are born to swim. Thus Canham family holidays were characterised by long walks, sandy picnics and on rare occasions when money reluctantly changed hands a round on the crazy golf course. As we'd inevitably be holidaying out of season in gale force winds you risked decapitation by the whirling blades of the windmill. On holes facing the wind your ball would be blown back to you as soon as it came to rest. I suspect this was a ploy by my dad to maximise value for money.
On one memorable occasions he received a small parking fine for marginally overstaying our time. So incensed was my father that the rest of the holiday was spend trekking from free parking spots out of town, in some cases in villages a few miles inland, carting a days supply of food, bucket and spade, wind break, waterproof clothing and suchlike. We'd then have to divert by a car park so he could tally up the amount saved in his notebook. Thus we spent a fortnight hiking through Norfolk until, on the last day he could triumphantly declare we'd re-crouped the fine amount and could return home with our heads held high. When I returned to school they sent a note home worried that I had lost so much weight and my mother had to explain I'd been 'on a walking holiday.'
Back to today and the garage did us, and Mavis, proud. They charged a bare minimum for labour and then gave us loads of helpful advice on where to go and what to do in Scotland. Charming, honest, helpful and cheap are not words we readily associate with garages so we are delighted to endorse Lochside Garage in Ballachulish in the unlikely event that you're passing and need mechanical assistance.
On the journey back Alison reflected on the accident and that apart from the shock and the expense she felt bitter that it had stolen some of the joy of driving from her. It was a knock to her confidence and she was wary of oncoming vehicles, especially on the busy road with lots of other motorhomes and lorries. She then shrugged, indicated right and swung Mavis into a parking space that the average Smart Car driver would bulk at, and brought us to a stop overlooking the Three Sisters range at Glencoe Gorge, the place we had briefly explored the day before. Having shown exactly how good a driver she is we set off to walk up a very steep path. Upon reflection, to use the word 'steep' is to miss an opportunity to use the words 'near vertical'. The route took us up towards the snow capped Bidean nam Bain mountain following the 'near vertical' rocky path that zigzagged to the left of a deep gorge carrying fresh snow melt waters to the river below, over waterfalls and through fresh green trees precariously lining the stream's route.
Heading up I immediately regretted the beans I had for lunch, but not as much as Alison who was following me. Pausing to recover our breath (from the climb...and beans) we spied 3 young male deer silently grazing below us. They were clearly aware of our presence but carried on eating with occasional glances in our direction. It was a privilege to share their territory and we climbed on with renewed vigour after our encounter.
The path lead on to an impressive waterfall and small hidden pools in a tiny high valley, but our shadows were lengthening and the sun was soon to fade from view as the paths steep walls obscured it for another day. Choosing a lone rock as our target we clambered up to it, exhausted but very happy. Here we looked up towards a majestic snow capped peak with its waterfall bleeding into a lean and noisy youthful stream and we watched its path down through its broader more sedate middle section to where it joined the main river in a stately meandering fashion.
And so we started the climb down. You may think it curious of someone who loves mountain walks and only today was on a ski lift, but I have a lifelong aversion to heights. It is a physical reaction and usually easily managed. Mostly I ignore it, occasionally I have to give myself a stern talking to and very occasionally I have to wrestle it into submission. Like today.
Coming down over the same, cliff hugging path, I carefully felt for each step and held on to anything more solid than air. Edging my way around I got to halfway when my foot slipped, only slightly but enough to cause me to pause. I felt a chill and the beginnings of involuntary spasms in my calf muscles that accompany rising panic; a characteristic of my dread of heights. I froze for what seemed like minutes but was only a few seconds, until Alison's calming words got through, expelling the intrusive fears, and with an internal cry of "fuck it, I'm insured" lurched forward for the next solid rock and continued crab like to more solid ground, where Alison gave me a hug and reminded me that I'm not insured any more.
The rest of the descent was characterised by us plodding carefully down more solid but uneven stones to level ground where secretly we knew our descent was akin to two graceful mountain goats skipping gaily from stone to stone with careless abandon, even if it looked plodding and ungainly to the untutored eye.
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