By Sea and Land – Glen Coe and Lochaber in Summer 2010
Three women, one dog, a geology hammer and a long weekend
At the end of May I turned 32. No biggie (well, a bigger number than I am comfortable with!) but, in February, some friends and I thought it would be nice to get away for a few days. May is a good time to visit Glen Coe and, since the Open University Geological Society had organised a couple of days “geologizing” in Glen Coe, that’s where we headed.
So this is the story of 3 Women, 1 dog and a geology hammer on holiday in the Lochaber region of Scotland, just north of Glen Coe.
It took us 6 hours in total to drive up from Cheshire to the chalet we had booked in Inchree, Onich. (OK, we MAY have exceeded the speed limits at some point or other, but I am sure that this was evened out by the over cautious coach we followed snailing past the length of Loch Lomond….) We stopped off at the fantastically situated Tebay services – where amazing food and farm shop shopping is guaranteed.
The chalet was everything promised: Clean, comfortable and with spectacular panoramic views of overlooking Loch Linnhe and the Ardgour Mountains.
DAY 1: (Friday) Fort William & the Nevis Range Gondela
I awoke before the girls, and Poppy and I took a 20 minute walk behind the chalet to investigate the waterfall which was signposted down a footpath. Within just 10 minutes, we were gazing in awe at it cascading from the rocks above. The surrounding woodland was a paradise of bluebells and wild garlic.
After we spent a couple of hours browsing the shops and tourist office in Fort William, we enjoyed a satisfyingly large brunch of Scottish smoked salmon and scrambled eggs on some deliciously freshly baked bread.
We then drove the short distance to the Nevis Range, where we took a gondola up to the Nevis range. From there we walked 20 minutes (return) to Sgurr Finnisg Aig, and enjoyed views of the Leanachan Forest, the Great Glen and Lock Lochy, and
then a 40 minute (return) walk to Meall Beag, overlooking Lock Linnhe and Lock Eil.
We sat outside the cafe at the top, and watched the bikers hurdling down the steep slopes enjoying jumps that made us all hold our breath in anticipation!
Although none of us intended to join in the fun on this visit, it is important to note that, although we took the Gondela up for the walk and the views, in summer, it offers the visitor a wide range of activities, including Mountain Biking (home of the
Mountain Bike World Cup!), Walking, Friday evening Ceilidhs (Scottish dancing) or simply relaxing in the restaurant &
bar, or the Coffee Shop. The Nevis Bike School offers guided rides and coaching sessions on the full range of trails, from easy to world class. A bike can be hired on-site for this purpose.
In the winter, at Scotland’s highest snowsports area and right near to Ben Nevis in the midst of stunning highland scenery, it offers skiing and snowboarding from Christmas, late into the spring.
DAY 2: (Saturday) The Geology of Glen Coe
The sublime Glen Coe mountain scenery, with its famous history of clan rivalry and murder, leaves the visitor in awe: It is obviously a place of great natural beauty, but it is hard to miss either its rough wilderness appeal, nor the romance of the area.
For me, as a dedicated student of geology, it provides a geological history which precedes humankind by hundreds of thousands of years. It gives an insight into how the Earth came to look like it does today and how once an ancient volcano demonstrated its power and influence on the surrounding landscape before successions of glaciers played their part in making the breath taking scenery which we find there today.
After examining rocks in the Glen Coe valley (don’t worry, I will not bore you about that!) we started our ascent up the Devil’s Staircase – aptly named in my opinion, despite the prior reassurance that the name was a gross overreaction! It might not have been a Munroe, but it sure felt like one, as I scrambled up the pathway which felt like it might have been Mount Everest. It only illustrated my own lack of fitness and, to add insult to injury, there were people RUNNING past me. (another pastime – running up mountains – which I am not adding to my to-do list – after all I run like a constipated duck without even attempting this at a steep gradient!).
It is a rewarding climb, however, as the view from the “top” of the eastern end of Glencoe were spectacular. It was not our end destination though (a fact which had I have known in the beginning might have prompted me to give up earlier!) and we veered off left towards the north to reach the top of the mountain. Once again, “no pain, no gain”: At the top, the panoramic views of the whole of Glen Coe were magnificent and well worth the scrambling up the “path”, climbing over boulders and stumbling over the loose rocks beneath our feet to get there.
After a couple of hours examining the rock structures, we made our way back down again, and I took great pleasure in offering positive words of encouragement to the people I passed along the way making their way up…. Well, let’s face it, I felt like a pro at this point.
I returned to the chalet exhausted, sunburnt and filled with a sense of satisfaction and achievement but oh so hungry!
So my friends, my dog and I went the Inchree Centres very own restaurant, which is well renowned locally and uses locally sourced food such as game and seafood. The specials menu is changed here on a daily basis. Then, exhausted, I called it a night, and flopped painfully into my bed.
DAY 3: Exploring Inchree and surrounding area by foot
My friends arose early to tackle Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles, a challenge for the most experienced of walkers.
Poppy and I took the day off from strenuous walks, having exhausted our patience with our own small mountain the previous day. We made a lovely breakfast overlooking Loch Linnhe and the Ardgour Mountains and watched the world go by. Behind the chalet was a footpath which took us along the hillside giving lovely views of the waterfall. This took approximately an hour, however we stopped frequently at the strategically placed benches to enjoy and photograph the waterfall cascading over the rocks.
After lunch it was time to explore further north. The Corran ferry crosses Loch Linnhe, a few miles north of Fort William, at the “Corran Narrows”. From the Inchree side, we waited with childlike anticipation to board – boat trips are always fun, even short ones like this! The ferry is free to foot passengers (and dogs), and offers beautiful views in all directions. I took a photo of Poppy at this point, and put it up on Facebook – shockingly CD-Travellers’ Clive commented on it almost immediately with “That looks suspiciously like the Corran Ferry crossing Loch Linnhe from Nether Lochaber to Ardgour (or vice versa). The Inn at Ardgour makes for an excellent watering hole”. Turns out that Clive frequents the area often with his family, and knows all the best places to go! Don’t you just hate seasoned travellers?
Poppy and I arrived on the side of the picturesque Corran Lighthouse. which is conveniently placed immediately above the ferry slipway. I noted its location for future reference, and Poppy and I strolled along the beach past the light house.There was a lone canoeist zigzagging his way along the Loch. (you can just about make this out on the picture)
Having read about whales occasionally turning up in Lochs, I spent a good deal of time scanning the water for such activity, to be rewarded by some strange shape moving along the water against the current!
My excitement was in vain, however, as I zoomed in on a picture taken on my camera to find that in fact it was a rogue clump of seaweed (I can only assume it was motorised seaweed, based on the speed with which it cut through the water! Trust the Scots for developing such scams to excite gullible tourists!). Oh well, no Loch Linnhe monsters to tell the girls about – in fact I am only sharing this as I find it amusing – I was far too embarrassed to share the 57 (!) photos I took of the seaweed with my friends! Anonymity is a wonderful thing! (As are digital cameras – the evidence of my stupidity has since been “destroyed”!).
It was a very pleasant relaxed afternoon, and after some banter with Clive on Facebook (the joys of technologically advanced mobile phones) I was provided with a tip for Monday nights dinner….
DAY 4: (Monday) The road to Skye
Excited about the ferry ride the day before, my friends and I decided to take a scenic journey to Skye, starting off at Inchree, crossing Loch Linnhe on the ferry, and driving the length of it to meet the A830, the famous road to Skye (missing Fort William).
The road to Skye is a must because every corner you turn the landscape changes. Past mountains, glittering rock faces cut into the road. (I kept asking the girls to pull over so that I could get rock specimens – the rocks here are beautiful even if you are not a geologist. Mostly schist – a rock which looks suspiciously like it consists of compacted glitter!)
We stopped off at the Glenfinnan Monument Visitors Centre, and climbed the footpath up the hill behind it, to enjoy the views.
On one side, there is the Glenfinnan Monument itself: Built at the head of Loch Shiel in 1815 to commemorate the Jacobites who fought and fell during the 1745 uprising.On the other side, there is a spectacular view of the Glenfinnan Viaduct, a railway viaduct on the West Highland Line in Glenfinnan completed in 1901. You may recognise this as various films plus several films and television series, including Monarch of the Glen and most famously some of the Harry Potter films where the Hogwarts Express crosses the viaduct (please see the article on The Wizarding World of Harry Potter which opened 18th June) have used it as a backdrop..
Finally we reached the Atlantic Ocean. On the horizon, the Islands of the Hebrides stand strong against the endless sky.
After a hearty lunch of fish and chips near the ferry port at Mallaig, we wended our way back slowly, making my necessary rock stops. Finally we spotted a beach which looked like it should have been in the Caribbean – so white against the clear turquoise waters which crept over in rhythm with the wind. We left the A380 and after 5 minutes drive reached a car park near the beach we had seen.
Poppy was in paradise, and took a great deal of pleasure in running the length of the beach with us all in persuit!
And so after an hour of the silvery sands and clear waters, we set off back to the chalet.
The previous day, Clive sent me the following message on Facebook “If you like sea food, I can recommend the Loch Leven Seafood Centre and Restaurant at North Ballachulish. And their vegetarian options are superb too”. As, by this point, I trusted his advice implicitly, I had booked us in for dinner.This was a good tip. I have not eaten seafood this amazing in years! This small restaurant (booking advised) in a secluded area in North Ballachulish between Inchree and Glen Coe, turned out to be a little known secret: I can only recommend that you try it out if you are in the area, but Shhhhh! Keep it to yourselves please!
My only regret is that it also had a shop, which by the time of our arrival had closed. I would have very much liked to have stocked my freezer with the delights that must have been there.
An incredibly tasty end to a great holiday, and the following day we arose, still satisfied from those culinary delights, and unfortunately began our journey home.
- Glen Coe visitors centre: http://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/Glen Coe/visitorcentre/
- The National Trust for Scotland: http://www.nts.org.uk
- Lochaber GeoPark: http://www.lochabergeopark.org.uk/
- Fort William Ben Nevis & Glen Nevis: http://www.visit-fortwilliam.co.uk/
- Loch Leven Seafood Cafe: http://www.lochlevenseafoodcafe.co.uk/