Friday, January 22, 2010

West Highland Way, Day 7: Crossing the Rannoch Moor

The mist rose and died away, and showed us that country lying as waste as the sea; only the moor fowl and the pewees crying upon it, and far over to the east, a herd of deer, moving like dots. Much of it was red with heather; much of the rest broken up with bogs and hags and peaty pools; some had been burnt black in a heath fire; and in another place there was quite a forest of dead firs, standing like skeletons. A wearier-looking desert man never saw; but at least it was clear of troops, which was our point.

- David Balfour and Alan Brech crossing the Rannoch Moor, 1751, in Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped

What a difference a day makes with this moody Scottish weather. Yesterday was dry, this morning cold, rainy, and windy, and I am excited. I have been looking forward to crossing the Rannoch ever since the kilted Mr. Montgomery in the Glasgow cathedral told me about this boggy moor with remnants of an ice age forest. Today we get to cross ten miles of this wild and desolate moor in the rain and wind, what more could a person want in life? Our guide books warn there is "no help or shelter" in the Moor. My mind's eye envisions Colin Firth riding toward us from the distance, black great coat billowing out behind, offering a hand up on his mount.

We left the comfort of our inn and skirted the west end of Lake Tulla, past campers who spent the night in a sloggy field, silently feeling grateful for our warm, dry bed the night before. We ascended on drove track through forest to the saddle in the Black Mount, that stretch of mountains that edges the moor from Glen Orchy to Glen Coe in the north, and onto the high plateau of the Rannoch Moor.

We were in one of the wildest places in Scotland, created 20,000 years ago by a glacier moving toward the east and on retreat leaving behind boulders, lochs,

hundreds of these little lochans, and a region inhospitable to humans.

Strange rivers seemed to flow from nowhere to nowhere.

I could understand why Sir Walter Scott called the MacGregors of this area "children of the mist".

It was off and on driving rain, mostly on, and only occasionally could I pull my camera out of my jacket. The reader will recall my Gore Tex boots were history left behind in Tyndrum, and my light hikers were soaked through to the metatarsals. I wore only a light hiking shirt under my rain jacket. Where was my brain when I got up this morning? Probably on Colin Firth. During one break in the rain, I turned to snap a shot of Kathleen with that ever present smile and her comments when passing by of "lovin' it".

Finding a lunch spot was not easy task. We had a choice between one exposed spot or another exposed spot, finally settling on one of those gigantic boulders dropped off by the glacier. We had walked separately most of the day. The isolation of the moor and the brooding weather were conducive to introspection and I was overwhelmed with this experience of walking one of the wonders of the earth in this perfect weather.

A couple miles from our destination Buachaille Etive Mor ("the great herdsman of Etive"), the most photographed mountain in Scotland, loomed into view.

For a short time, the weather cleared and the beautiful colors of the moor and mountain shone through.

Here is an incredible picture of the Buachaille (pronounced "Boochall", the 'ch' as in Loch) in winter.

The mountain stands guard at the junction of Glen Etive and Glen Coe and our Inn for the night sits close to the base. Kingshouse was built in the 1600's and got its name from the days after Culloden when the Duke of Cumberland used the building as barracks for his soldiers while they captured or killed any remaining Jacobites in the Highlands. I definitely did not get good vibes from this place even though the view from a lounge window is listed as one of the ten most beautiful in the world, up there with Victoria Falls.

Glen Coe extends east from our inn and I had hoped to make a visit to the beautiful valley and walk the land of the Glen Coe massacre in 1692. Thirty eight MacDonald clansmen were murdered by government soldiers under the command of a Campbell after extending their Highlander hospitality.

The visit to Glencoe would have to come another time. The weather wasn't going to let us have more sunshine and by the time we reached the Kingshouse we were in another downpour. Even so, Sally went out and walked another 2-3 miles after Jan, Kathleen and I settled in, content to take in the view out the window. That woman was on another level from us mortal walkers. Just as a warm up for the trip she had walked a 36 mile day hike - yes, day hike - in Washington mountains.

Tomorrow, we climb the Devil's Staircase.

1 comment:

Pat said...

There's something therapeutic about walking in the rain, isn't there - unless, of course, you never see the sun...

I love the pic of the inn, sitting all by itself out in the wild, a haven for miles around. Cool.