Yellowcraigs beach in East Lothian must have set a Guinness World Record last summer. One night saw 180 tents camped on the beach, according to a couple of rangers we chatted to on our second day here. Thankfully, last weekend, it was much, much more peaceful.
Dave, Young Johnston and I shared the sights and sounds of this coastline with just a couple of others groups and although I’ve been here before, I’ve never brought the canvas.
Arriving at about 7pm on the Friday, we were pitched by half past and had the fire going and the salmon and burgers cooking. Although I had forgotten the tomato sauce, which my two companions were most unhappy about.
The fire created some beautiful shapes and shadows. Whatever was in the shadows watched us head to bed at about 11pm.
Sunrise the next morning was pretty lovely.
Breakfast, some hot chocolate and some paddling set us up for the return to the car.
According to a couple of rangers we chatted to, one night last summer saw 180 tents pitched on the beach. Don’t fancy that.
According to the LearnGaelic dictionary, Garbhlach apparently means rugged country. And this was where I was heading for a bluebird weekend with some of the boys, a roam around the rough corrie and the wider expanse of Glen Feshie, one of my favourite glens.
Coming from different parts of the country, we all converged on the car park at Achlean on Saturday morning. Our bags bursting with wood and coal, we planned a wander into the glen as far as Ruigh Aiteachain bothy. From there we dropped our stuff, set up camp and backtracked to the corrie, which we’d seen from a distance on the way past.
Coire Garbhlach starts out as a wide, rocky mess, the remnants of winter storms gone by (e.g. Storm Desmond). The Allt Garbhlach quickly narrows as it heads east but it’s clarity is obvious from its confluence with the River Feshie.
The going was quite hard, rock hopping and river riding towards the first big twist in the corrie. We could see some simple tracks uphill from the floor so we tramped towards the first of these tracks.
Onward towards the corrie head wall, we came across a really cool waterfall , un-named on the map, but definitely worthy of a title.
By now, time was getting on and we had a couple of choices. Either head back the way we came through the tight and rocky corrie, or we head out of the corrie (through Fionnar Choire) and walk around the top of the cliffs.
Deciding on the latter, we followed the fast flowing burn up out of Coire Garbhlach and then climbed up the steep side of Fionnar Choire onto the plateau.
The views in all directions make the sweat and tears of the climb, as well as the time pressures become momentarily forgotten about.
The snow was hard going in places but fine in others.
The walk around the rim of Coire Garbhlach was a fantastic end to a glorious day. We’d expected to be down and off the hill long before tea time, but this unexpected lateness (or poor prep!) gave us the finest mountain sunset I’ve seen in a long time.
Darkness fell and we reached the top of the road down towards Glen Feshie just in time. The walk down was quiet as we were all shattered from our days efforts. But the glow of the sunset reflected the glow in our minds from the amazing day we had just experienced.
Back at camp, our bellies were filled and beds were calling.
The next morning we heading back to our vehicles in the glorious sunshine.
When the chance came along to visit the abandoned island of Belnahua, on the west coast, my immediate response was an unambiguous YES as the exploring nerves in my body all went into overdrive. A friend is writing a book partly based on the island and she was chartering a boat to go over and do some research. Belnahua in Gaelic means “mouth of the cave” and is one of the Slate Islands. Slate was taken from the shores of these islands and slabs of the rock were used to cover buildings and as grave and hearthstones. There is surprisingly little online about the island but you can find out a little more about the islands here: https://slateislands.org.uk/belnahua/.
After speaking to Young Johnston about a possible boat trip, he was in. And Dave decided to come too. So along with Katie, who organised the boat, our merry band of adventurers were looking forward to stepping from 21st Century Mainland life to 19th Century island life.
We left early on Saturday morning and arrived in Ellenabeich, a gorgeous village about 20 miles south of Oban, from where our boat would depart.
From the village you can see the Slate Islands as they stretch south over the Firth of Lorne. We went higher to get a better look. If you look near the top left of the photo below, you can see two islands, one in front of the other. The one at the front, that looks a bit like a submarine, is Belnahua.
Getting our buoancy aids on.
Our boat arriving to take us out to sea.
The trip over only took about 10 minutes but in that short time we saw some stunning views of the surrounding islands as well as some porpoise. Young Johnston was on GoPro duty and took some cracking photos. In my head, the soundtrack to the trip was “The Island” by Skippinish.
Our tropical weather was probably showing us a side of the island that slate workers wouldn’t see in mid-Winter storms. The island still has the remains of some of the quarry workings as well as old machinery and some of the old housing.
Not only were the rocks on the island great for slate, but they were peppered with fools gold.
We’d come prepared to swim so before lunch we got our trunks on and tested out the water. The similarities to the Caribbean continued as the fairly warm water lapped our legs.
The water in the quarries was so clear and a pleasure to swim or even just float in.
After a last walk around some of the old buildings and another swim, this time in the sea, waiting for the boat to come back, we took our last selfie and headed back across the water into 21st century Ellenabeich. We booked into the Aire/Airidh, walked up the hills behind the village and ate fish and chips and ice cream, enjoying the sunset and talking about the day we had just enjoyed.
If you’ve never visited the island of Belnahua, or any of the Slate Islands, I’d absolutely suggest you should. Whether for the walking, history, swimming or to see a different part of the country, this won’t disappoint.
I’ve driven along the A82 through Glencoe many times. The road is an outdoor addicts dream as you pass mountain after river after ridge after yet more stunning views. Despite the many drive-throughs, I had no idea the Lost Valley (or Coire Gabbail) existed until about 4 years ago when I walked the Bidean Nan Bian circuit and my return was through the Lost Valley. The promise was made to return and properly enjoy the atmosphere of this magnificent amphitheatre, something I wasn’t properly able to do that day 4 years ago after 8 hours walking in the summer heat.
Along with Paul, James and Gav, I found myself in the big car park opposite the Three Sisters, a phenomenal viewpoint even if going no further than the low wall that surrounds the car park. But we were ready to go further. Four big kids full of excitement at where we were heading with our tents and our whisky.
The good path headed east and then quickly turned south into the gorge at the bottom of the corrie and then steeply up into the corrie itself.
As we climbed higher and the breathing became deeper the flat valley floor, famous from a thousand images, came into view.
As a venue for a camp, the valley is beautiful. High mountain cliffs on three sides and a flat floor with a mix of stones and grass. The Allt Coire Gabhail flows clear and fast at either end, although curiously disappears in the valley itself. Camp was set up and we ate lunch.
Despite being only a few short miles from the main road, you get the real feeling of being far removed from civilisation in the Lost Valley, something all four of us were craving.
With no real plan other than to explore, we headed up the path that leads to the Bealach Dearg, the pass between the two Munro’s, Bidean and Stob Coire Sgreamhach.
At a ford and crossroads, we headed up the side of the Gearr Aonach ridge but went in different directions, each seeking our own mini adventure and solitude.
For me that included a foot dip and some snowman building.
We came together again later at the bottom of the path where the valley flattens.
A meal was cooked and a fire was created. As we admired our surroundings it was clear how small we really were compared to the huge mountain theatre we found ourselves in.
A breeze kept the worst of the midgies at bay and we had a really fab evening.
The next day was very wet with an extra large dose of midgies. We quickly ate some breakfast (our first), decamped and headed back the now much slippier stone path towards the bottom of the corrie and the car park.
When we reached the car park, it was agreed that a second breakfast was necessary so we headed for Tyndrum and the rolls and hot drinks were a fitting end to an amazing trip.
As I left my house this morning, I was dreaming of a Texas sun. Or at least that was the song I was listening to, by Khruangbin, as I drove south to pick up Dave and then on to the car park at the Grey Mare’s Tail, near Moffat.
Our packs laden with food and wood, our mood and spirits were high as we climbed the initially steep path past the numerous waterfalls and up towards Loch Skeen, our final destination for the night.
After a sedate couple of hours and a gradually reducing gradient we reached the loch that would be our bed buddy for the night. We set up our tents and settled for a cuppa and to check out the surroundings.
The Loch Skeen sun was replaced for a while by the Loch Skeen snow, although nothing could take away the beauty of our resting spot. I went on an explore and headed uphill from the waters edge.
As the fire was lit, so the sun gave us a wave.
The combined warmth of my wander and the fire meant time to cool off in the Loch. The water was chilly but I was in pretty quickly and swam across to the island.
Another cuppa was waiting as I pulled my shivering shorts out of the loch and dried myself off in front of the flames.
With our steps and strokes for the day completed, we settled into our chairs and chatted, mostly about when and what we would eat. Steak and tatties were on the menu. The weather continued to change regularly although with no real extremity. After tea we went to the loch outlet and some of the little bays further around this gorgeous loch.
The evening started to close in. Drops of snow coming and going and a growing breeze made us consider retreating to our tents. The water on the loch took on the look of the sea with the waters lapping the stony edge with increasing noise and power.
And then, the clouds slowly took flight, the water calmed to almost a mirror and the wind eventually vanished. Calm was restored and we celebrated with a whisky and some gentle political discussion and debate.
There are no trees around the loch. Just two small trees on a couple of little islands. And with the temperature forecast to be freezing, we’d come up with a whole trees worth of wood. We were glad of the warmth the fire gave us as the night went on.
Even the local ghost came close for a heat.
The next day started bright and warmed quickly. The light on the hills opposite quickly filled the giant bowl that the loch sits in.
Bacon for breakfast and The King flexed his cookery muscles once more.
Eventually we packed up, sad to leave our camp but refreshed by our time in the outdoors. After numerous “hi”s and “hello”s from the dozens of others coming up as we headed down, we reached the valley floor, resplendent in the Loch Skeen sun, and the van.
The snow arrived again just as we were about to drive off. We definitely weren’t in Texas, but then again, why would we want to be anywhere else?