Thursday, 13 May 2010


Fisherfield is a wilderness area in the north highlands of Scotland, southeast of Ullapool, and a landscape that Pauline has explored many times, but one which I had yet to discover.

Following election day on 6 May (and let's not talk about the hideous result here!) we set off for our destination of Kinlochewe, by train to Inverness, then Westerbus through to our start point. Our first night was a mere one hour walk into the hills from Kinlochewe, past fields of very cute new-born lambs, and our first camp was set up by 8pm.

We were woken the following morning by glorious sunshine and bus loads of day trekkers passing by on their way to Slioch, the neighbouring impressive-looking mountain. It never fails to amaze both Pauline and I how the female part of a couple often never carry a rucksack, leaving it all instead to the male. Lovely.

Even though I was still nursing a heel injury I couldn't get Pauline to carry my rucksack, and so we decided early on that each day would be a lazy late start and cover only small distances, the emphasis being on enjoying the area. Our route took us along the shore of Loch Maree, and remained more or less flat all day. Occasionally we would catch sight of the wild goats that populate the area, and I wondered if their presence dated back to the times of the old Highland settlements, and had been set free when the people were cleared from the land.

By 2.30 in the afternoon we had found our camp two spot, on a pebble beach on the shore of the loch, with a spectacular view to the north side of Torridon, and spent the afternoon lazing on the beach, drinking coffee in the warm sunshine. We had chosen the beach to camp due to the fact that finding a grassy spot that was tick free had proved impossible. Nearby in the woods we heard the first cuckoos of the season, and occasionally the iconic screech of a buzzard soaring nearby. During the night several owls hooted away.

The next day's route took us further along the shore of Loch Maree, and we could hear a woodpecker in the distance, knocking out it's signature sound on the trees. We passed by an isolated settlement called Letterewe, then turned north to ascend the path that would take us through the bealach to the valley beyond. By late afternoon we were descending toward Fionn Loch, facing into an icy north wind. The approach to where we were to establish camp three at the head of Fionn Loch, was quite spectacular, with a deep cauldron of rugged peaks forming a colossal amphitheatre of granite.

Camp established, we explored the area around, and as we walked across a nearby causeway, that links two sections of land across a narrow inlet of water, Pauline spotted a black-throated diver swoop down and land on the loch.

Our campsite was in a fairly exposed location, and the wind was bitter. It was going to be a cold night.

The next day we were battered by wind and rain, which turned to hail at times, and we decided to sit it out until early afternoon. We had only a short walk to the next place we were to camp, and so time was on our side.

By mid afternoon we were on our way, experiencing four seasons in the space of one hour. Mid-May and we were in a blizzard!

Camp four was literally only three or four miles from Poolewe, where we would finish the next day, but we wanted to spend one final night out in the hills. Our choice was on the edge of a small wood in a clearing. The weather remained wintery and by late evening I had a thin layer of snow around the tent.

Loch Ewe, at the south end of which is Poolewe, had an important part to play in the second world war, being a naval base from where supply ships to Russia would leave from. During the summer months they would sail north, out and around the northern side of Iceland before turning back east. Many convoys were lost, and at times only a third would make it through due to U-boats lying in wait out in the north sea. Security was so tight in the whole area at the time, that even the locals were issued with passes to be able to come and go.

Our final day trekking out of the hills was in very changeable weather once again, and the wind continued to be bitterly cold. No sooner had we emerged from the forest than we hit the outskirts of Poolewe and journey's end.

Camp five was rather luxurious an official campsite of the Camping & Caravaning Club, complete with showers and flushing toilets. Ahhh, the simple pleasures of the modern world! The very kind site helped us out with gas for our stoves as we had both almost run out over the past few days.

Wednesday, and it was time to go home. The bus sped it's way through the hills and past Loch Maree, where we had trekked on the opposite shore just a few days before. Summer had returned and it was a glorious day, with the hills looking majestic with their fresh dusting of snow on the summits.

After five days of rehydrated foods I decide on a bit of indulgence, and bought my lunch from McDonalds in Inverness. I'm at the counter asking a bemused assistant if the fries are gluten-free. This is met with a blank expression, so I ask again. This time I get a reply: "No, not free. 99p". I sigh, and try again, speaking more slowly and loudly, as if that would help in some way. "No, sorry. 99p. Not free" came the response once again from the Polish employee.

I think the bus had dropped me off in Warsaw by mistake.

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