Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Scotland in November

Glencoe is my favourite car journey on earth.

Last week I was able to make the journey for the first time in several years, on a crisp November day that blended blinding winter sunshine with thick blankets of fog.

It was an unusual route for me, not starting from Edinburgh or Glasgow. Instead it was north from Fife, cutting west at Perth on the Loch Earn road. Socked in fog all the way down the valley with nothing but the babbling stream for company, we finally emerged after St Fillans down the side of Loch Earn itself into the blazing sunshine.

Looking south across Loch Earn, with the late morning sun lighting up trailing wisps of fog.

Turning back the way we came, this is east down Loch Earn with St Fillans eclipsed, and a think finger of fog floating west over the loch.

Back in the car, and further on we’re back into the fog, and then north through Crianlarich with the amazing scenery hidden behind an impenetrable veil. A few miles on at Tyndrum, the perishingly cold car park at the obligatory Green Welly Stop is just starting to hint that there are hills around.

The edge of Tyndrum sees the weather break again, and up here it turns out to be freezing fog, with all the trees within eyesight encased in a dense layer of frost.

Plants closer to the ground have really been getting the treatment.

Free of the fog and making the turn for Glencoe, there’s time for one last look back at Tyndrum, sitting encased in the cold.

Here, nearly three hours in, the proper journey begins. Dragging up the endless hill from Tyndrum, you immediately feel tiny skirting the immense wall that is Beinn Dorain. Then it’s on to a crest, cruising past Loch Tulla, and the train line departs on a massive detour (it can’t make the grades to come) – clanking across the little bridge, a sweeping bend, and now we’re really clambering hard up the side of a slope, until we reach the viewpoint short of the top.

Jumping out here (seriously windy, but not as cold as it was), the view is epic back towards Beinn Dorain and the loch.

This view always reminds me that I had the motorbike through Glencoe once – I remember driving back towards Tyndrum, waiting forever to get past a long line of cars and carvans, and finally making it past the last of them on the hill further down from this viewpoint – sweeping around the bend at the bottom, and then charging out ahead of everyone, thudding across the bridge (lower left in the picture above), and whistling away across the moor alone. Still the three best minutes of my motorcycling life.

Back in the car and beyond the viewpoint, the top of the hill takes you on to Rannoch Moor. No matter how many times I come over that rise, it is always like landing on the moon – one of the most desolate, bleak and awe-inspiring places I know.

A few miles across the moor and Buachaille Etive Mòr rears up - a heaving cone of rock marking the start of Glencoe proper.

The road skates around Buachaille Etive Mòr, and into the glen.

Glencoe itself is the most monstrous sweeping glen with the road taking cars like toys through it, hemmed in by mountains that become closer and more claustrophobic the further you head west. It’s a daunting and imposing place.

As you come to the most narrow section (the actual pass of Glencoe), you tread carefully down the hairpins and then you are out, easing down across the valley floor to the Atlantic and on to the shore of Loch Leven. Here’s Loch Leven as the sun comes up on a beautiful November morning, the mountains of Glencoe simmering in the clouds.

Often, we stop here – but this time it's pastures further west on our mind, so on we went. A few miles further on, the Corran Ferry plies endlessly forwards and backwards, bridging Loch Linnhe for those that want to head to Ardnamurchan.

If you ever get the chance, you do want to head to the empty and mighty spaces of Ardnamurchan. Here’s the Corran lighthouse at sunset, with the mountains of Ardnamurchan behind.

Past Fort William and the brooding hulk of Ben Nevis, the Road to the Isles begins properly, darting west to Glenfinnan at the ridiculously scenic head of Loch Sheil.

Further on, you move up and over hills again, passing Loch Eilt – which was so still on our mid-day return trip, it was like polished glass.

A few miles further on, we’re finally descending out of the hills for the last time to the sea again, where rough and wild rocky countryside meet several miles of the most amazing tiny silver sandy beaches, and the small islands of Eigg and Rùm peeking out of the rain offshore offset the brooding cloud-shrouded presence in the distance of the Cuillin on Skye.

And here, finally, is where my new favourite hotel is.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

what a lovely commentary. scotland looks great.