Our Travel blog
Sunday 16 May
We're aware that this blog is becoming a bit of a love letter to Scotland. We have been spoilt by the glorious weather and spring air and today as we explored Glen Nevis was no exception. The Glen is a long L shaped valley that cuts through mountains including Ben Nevis and the tongue twisting Aonach Beag and Sgurr a'Mhaim. All of these peaks are well over 3500 ft, with Ben Nevis, as mentioned yesterday the mightiest of them all at 4406 ft. We considered climbing Ben Nevis by the easier of the two main routes but the toils of recent climbs dampened our spirits for such a challenge, so we contented ourselves by exploring the valley on a 12 mile hike with, because we are foolish people who should know better, more climbing than we anticipated.
We started along a logging road in the Nevis Forest, striding through crowded pines where sunlight peaked through the foliage. In the shade of the steep dense woods the air remained distinctly chilly but where logging had cleared the forest we walked in brilliant sunlight that seemed to wash the detail out of the mountains around us. In these cleared areas gorse had taken hold, glowing bright yellow and fragrant in the still air. Gorse, and in particular its sweet woody smell always reminds me of family holidays taken on the East Coast. My mother and father wandering on ahead with the dog in tow and me moping along behind. I was usually lost in my own little world, one that didn't include endless drizzle, dank holiday chalets and parents who thought sheets were an extravagance. From some unknown source my father requisitioned paper sheets for our holidays. These were advertised on the packet as strong enough to last for a fortnights holiday and ceremoniously distributed to me on the first night, when I was reminded that we only had one set each. By day two mine were inevitably ripped. After the third night it was like sleeping in ribbons of fibreglass. By the fourth night I'd dispensed with them altogether and slept under a course army-surplus blanket that was only marginally more comfortable than sleeping in a gorse bush and most certainly less fragrant. But I digress.
We followed the road down to the Glen floor at Achriabhach and had a picnic at the Lower Falls. This is a magnificent waterfall in the Waters of the Nevis River that splits around an orange rock into two gushing noisy courses, where they are joined by the gentler Achriabhach Falls in a steep sided gorge with deep, crystal clear waters and exposed smooth red rocks. While eating we were entranced by a small bird that took to landing on rocks in the stream, diving in and swimming around before fluttering out, having a good shake and then finding a new spot to dive again. In the clear waters we could watch it swim smoothly under the water, every bit as graceful as it was in the air.
As we were without Alison's books on wildlife we (well, in truth I) christened it the Lesser Spotted Marsh Tit Nibbler. Fortunately Alison can be relied upon to fall into conversation with anything more sentient than a tree and on this occasion it was a sprightly old lady who informed us the bird was a Dipper, because it dips into the water. Which just goes to show that Ornithologists have no imagination.
We struck out on the path to the south of the river, following its course through boggy fields, tree lined river banks and up and down the sides of a hill to emerge at Paddy's Bridge. Here the main path crosses the river and joins the small road up to the Glen's head. We however continued along the path we'd been walking on and picked our way across a soft watery plain that slowly grew narrower until the imposing rocks of Cathar na Seilge started to draw in. Here the path diverged again and we choose the right fork alongside an old rusting fence that quickly rose up to the point where we were picking our way hand over hand up tree roots, around gullies of weather exposed quartz and rocks standing proud of soft downy grass recovering from its winter under the snow. Higher up, the shadows danced in the light breeze, moss flowed over the rocks and we came upon old trees, wizened, twisted and hung with lichen, stark and sinister among the sparse pines. Here we chanced upon a plateau overlooking the Glen where we had only birds for company. We sat in stillness breathing in the sense of peace in our own secret place among the mountains.
Revived from the remains of our picnic we resolved to head back down and, as is the way of these things, we found ourselves back on the valley floor far quicker than expected and retraced our steps beside the river, at times deep and rapid between narrow rock walls and at others flowing broad and slow over pebbles. We crossed Paddy's Bridge and walked along the road to the Lower Falls. Occasionally we spied the distant bright colours of climbers high up on the cliffs, tiny figures clinging to the rocks, highlighting the immense scale of the mountains and, for all our achievements, just how tiny we are in this landscape.
We traced a route back along the road until a delighted squeal from Alison announced the presence of Highland Cattle. There were several long horned shaggy ginger beasts and a couple of pure black ones in a field and, slightly more worryingly, one on our side of the fence. We dallied a while with a couple from Arizona who like us recognised a bovine photo opportunity when they saw it. Alison chatted amiably to the cows and the Americans for a while. Ray took pictures and when we were both satisfied we walked back along the river, by now more genteel and stately as it drifted through the Glen. We wandered through lush green fields where sheep scattered as we passed and eventually up onto the road for the final trek to the site's restaurant where we refreshed ourselves with beer, food and, by way of a special treat a dram from their extensive whiskey menu.
Sadly we didn't see any more Lesser Spotted Marsh Tit Nibblers though.
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