Tuesday, 16 February 2010


Our intrepid trio, myself, Pauline and Andrew, left the noise and bustle of the city, and headed for the Highlands of Scotland over the Valentines weekend just past. Our accommodation for the weekend was to be at a camping site that offered shelter in what they called Wigwams.

Wigwam is a strange name, and I came upon its origin in a quick search. Two documents from New England in 1628 record wigwam, the Eastern Abenaki Indian name for an Indian house or tent, or indeed any kind of similarly constructed shelter. So I suppose these triangular wooden huts could well be called such. Contrary to my expectation these were not wigwams in the traditional sense, that is, a conical shaped tall canvas tent, supported by long tree branches tied together at the top. No, these were more triangular shaped wooden huts, with an access door more akin to a small child as opposed to tall adults. That said they were perfect for Pauline.

The weather was glorious, and the surrounding mountains of Ben Lui, Ben More and Beinn Dorian, were all capped in snow. Without doubt the Scottish mountains look their best when half covered in white, and give a sense of them being far higher, almost Himalayan, than they actually are.

On the way from the train station in Tyndrum to the wigwam site, we passed by the historic site of the battle of Dalrigh, where, in June 1306, Robert Bruce and what was left of his army, were retreating westwards, towards the mountains of Argyll.

When they reached Strathfillan they found their path blocked at Tyndrum by a large force of Macdougalls, said to have numbered 1000 men. Unable to retreat Bruce's little army was forced into battle in disadvantageous circumstances. Bruce was so heavily involved in action with the rearguard, that he found himself at one point alone, and under attack, between a hill and the lochside, a pass so narrow that he could not turn his horse.

The enemy was fought off and the army retreated to safety; but not long after, it ceased to exist as an organised military force.

After Dalrigh Bruce was little better than a fugitive, closely pursued by his many enemies, both domestic and foreign. For a time his party took refuge in the mountains of Atholl, not fully reappearing on the stage of history until the early spring of 1307. The recovery of his cause from this point counts as one of the most remarkable episodes in the history of warfare. Two years after Dalrigh the Macdougalls were destroyed at the battle of Pass of Brander.

We had wanted to stay in a particular wigwam at the site, but due to the incompetence of the site owners we had been moved to a less than ideal alternative, without any consideration or apology whatsoever. Though we were all disappointed I particularly felt aggrieved, and superbly managed to show as much throughout the entire three days.

Inside, the huts are pretty small, with four, narrow foam mattresses on the floor up both sides.

Just big enough for four adults. We were only three, and struggled for space to put our gear, so heaven help a party of four, tall adults! Each has its own heater which keeps it very cosy, but a little too hot in the evenings. Nearby was the toliet and kitchen cabin, with toilets heated to a tropical 95°, but in sharp contrast the kitchen and sitting room were open plan chest freezers! Hot water supply in the kitchen was also in short supply, or should I say, no supply.

Our first day consisted of trekking toward the mighty and rugged Ben Lui along a very easy dirt track, past the remnants of the Caledonian pine forest, then turning south to tackle a hill called Fiarach.

The first part of the ascent was steep, but thankfully we had left behind the majority of out heavy kit. I hadn't had much sleep the previous night, and by the time I got to the top of the first hard pull, I was exhausted.

However, this proved to be the hardest part over, and now we were up, the vistas started to open up before us. We were in an altogether quite different landscape, other worldly in look. There was a distinct lack of colour as everywhere was covered in snow. It was as if we had stepped through some sort of portal into a different icy planet. The sun was starting to disappear behind clouds, with just the odd distant hill being illuminated in bright light.

We stopped for a bit of lunch next to a small round lochan, roughly seventy metres in diameter, called Lochan Fiarach. It was completely frozen over, and the surface looked to be fairly thick. We had only been sat for a brief few minutes when we heard loud booming noises coming from the lochan. It sounded as if some great monster had been awoken from it's sleep and was pushing up against the underside of the ice to escape. I imagine these are the kind of noises polar explorers hear all the time as the water freezes and expands, with nowhere to go, and so it pushes against the ice that has sealed it and makes these tremendous booming and cracking noises.

It was a short distance to the top of the hill, and from there we spotted fellow walkers in the far distance on their final approach along the craggy and exposed ridge of Ben Lui. The way down was steep but quick, and hot buttered toasted crumpets, and lashings of tea awaited us back at camp, which we consumed at speed next to a small waterfall.

The night sky was clear, and the temperature plummeted, and we retreated inside to the warmth of our wigwams, but not before witnessing a glorious star speckled sky.

Our final day was a very easy chilled out day and we sauntered up behind the wigwam site to the remains of shielings, which date back to the 1600's and the time of the Highland clearances. Not much remained, and you had to use your imagination to picture what it must have been like, but it was a nice gentle walk to end our weekend. In the afternoon we took a slightly longer path back to Tyndrum to catch the evening train home.

That was after myself and Andrew gorged on pizza of course.

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