Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Close Encounters

The distant sight I’d had of the village of Inverie and its bay as I walked in from Kinlochourn, through to Barrisdale Bay and Sourlies on a previous trip to Knoydart, provided my excuse for a long weekend away for a closer look.  Inverie can only be accessed on foot or by sea and I opted for the “Western Isles” ferry from Mallaig.  A 45 minute crossing, in choppy waters and heavy rain showers, added to the air of outdoor adventure I was ready for after being city bound for the past few weeks.  

Arriving at Inverie mid-afternoon on Friday, I found the Knoydart Foundation bunkhouse and set out for a wander along the beach where the campsite is located. As I was heading back something caught my eye in the sky. Fifteen metres from the shore and the same above the waves, was a sea eagle! I was transfixed by the bird’s beauty and its sheer size amazed me, being so much larger than any golden eagle I’ve seen.  No photo or TV clip I’ve ever seen prepared me for my first sight of this mighty bird of prey. I can only describe its size as that of a flying door! It was unmistakably a sea eagle.

As I wandered back to the bunkhouse, I passed a newly built log cabin structure and I could see a small robin inside banging up against the window, trying to get out. I opened the door but it kept hitting the window. It was a simple joy to then be able to gently pick it up in my hand and after staring at each other for a short while, releasing it back outside.

That evening I shared my news of the sea eagle at the lively local pub, where I enjoyed a locally made venison burger.

The first part of my route on Saturday took me through Glen Meadail and up and over the bealach that would take me down to the river Carnach, then south toward Sourlies. There was not a breath of wind nor a cloud in the sky as I walked the thirteen kilometres, and for the middle of October I was surprised that it was hot enough to be down to a t-shirt.

Alone I may have been but quiet it certainly wasn’t.  The surrounding hills form a natural amphitheatre for rutting stags to strut their stuff.  Majestic and haunting, the sound of stags bellowing echoed around the valley walls.  The short video below, although low resolution, provides a flavour of their unique sound.  

As the sun set in the distance the last of the days heat melted away and the stags seemed to become even more vocal.  Not the best night’s sleep I’ve ever had.  Venturing outside my tent late on, I saw an enormous stag just 4 or 5 metres away.  He had a good look at me and, realising I was neither stag nor hind, quickly lost interest.  But he stayed close by all night bellowing and I finally had to resort to earplugs to get some sleep.  I must have camped on his favourite rutting spot.   

Sunday could not have been more different weather wise. The cloud was low and a steady drizzle had started as I set out from Sourlies to pass over into Glen Dessary. Two hours later I was on the long crest of the pass and thoroughly soaked. My waterproofs by this point were anything but. The wet summer meant the path was not in great shape and made for a muddy slow crossing.  A colourful frog, which I just managed to avoid stepping on, was making the most of the conditions.  

Wet through, I stopped at A'quil bothy in Glen Dessary to recover and shelter in the hope the rain would pass.  One hour on I noted a slight improvement and headed back out through a forest before turning south west up Glen Chagrain.  A level piece of ground halfway up the glen persuaded me I’d found my campsite for the night so I cooked dinner and settled down for some much needed sleep.  But it wasn’t to be.  A wild night of rain and wind followed, topped by my stumbling around at 3am looking for large rocks to replace the tent pegs ripped out by the elements that threatened to blow the tent away.  The stags incessant bellowing now sounded more like laughter at my predicament.  

Sunday morning broke and the wind had eased slightly. I knew it was under four hours from the end of my planned route at Glenfinnan, but decided to set off early. Every river was swollen and each crossing was a challenge, once again making progress slow. There were frequent, but brief, heavy showers as I approached the bealach, until that was, I rose the last few metres onto it. To say it was wet and windy is like saying the Atacama is slighty dry and sunny. The only way I can describe it to you is it was like sticking your head out of a car window at 100mph and being hit in the face by the full force of water from a firemans hose! I could feel at one point that I was walking at a steep angle, leaning into the wind, the rain driving down the inside of my jacket and soaking me through.  Battered by the elements and dripping wet I just stood for a while in a slight state of shock before going on.  The Rough Bounds is a term used for Knoydart and I certainly attest to the rough part.  

The final part of the route passes down Glen Finnan on good landrover track, then under the famous viaduct. As a welcome relief and a appropriate end to my four days the sun broke through and the dark rain clouds subsided to leave a picturesque blue sky looking back up the glen.

Journeys end was the Dining Car tea room at Glenfinnan station, which is an actual piece of running stock from the west highland line, rescued and converted into a tea room. As I tucked into soup and toasties the Jacobite steam train pulled into the station on its way from Mallaig to Fort William filled with tourists enjoying the beauty that the west highland line has to offer.

Part of the joy for me in these adventures is the journey home on the train. You sit there in the warmth and comfort of the train, reading your book and enjoying a hot cup of tea, and no one around you is aware of the great adventure you have just had.

Only I knew of the close encounters I had experienced of sea eagles, stags and robins.

Photos of my adventure can be found on my Flickr site

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