Into the Wild, Ardnamurchan

I’ve been longing for a trip back up the west coast of Scotland for a while now. So when the opportunity arose to get away for a few nights camping, it was too good to resist! My girlfriend and I set off on the very familiar A82; bound for the west coast.

Ardnamurchan is a wild and beautiful peninsula in Lochaber with remote and mainly untouched beaches. It’s a long and arduous drive along 40 miles of single track road to enjoy such tranquillity, but once you’re there you are sure to be rewarded.

As this was a spur of the moment trip I knew of only two shots I wanted to try and capture. The first of which was the view over Sanna Bay with it’s stunning white beaches and tropical blue waters reaching out to the Small Isles of Rum, Eigg and Muck.

I have to admit; the 160 miles and 6 hours it took us to get there had really taken it out of me. Lugging all the camping stuff along the beach, only to fail to get the barbecue lit didn’t help. But what really tipped me over the edge was that after all that, tired, hungry and sweaty; I made the mad dash up the hill to the spot I had found when we first arrived only to miss the sunset by about 30 seconds.

Needless to say, it was a low moment for me. Especially as I’ve always tried to work with the belief that preparation prevents poor performance. I sat there, moping, in the knowledge that the forecast had told me that night was to be my best chance to get a decent picture of the beach. I trudged back down the hill towards the beach, feeling sorry for myself, to find my girlfriend had managed to get the campfire going. I thought back to one of the lessons from my last BLOG and did my best to clear my mind and appreciate the moment and idyllic setting.

At 5 o’clock the next morning I woke up grateful for the calm - and for the most part - dry night in the tent. I planned to poke my head out of the tent to inspect the sky and assess whether or not it was worth dragging myself out of bed and back to the spot above Sanna; but the moment I opened my eyes I could see a glow through the window of the tent beginning to appear on the horizon. I instantly got dressed, gathered my things and headed out - I wouldn’t make the same mistake twice. 

Above the bay I huddled into my jacket to stay warm and try to defend myself from the midges. I was contemplating the pros and cons of the wind picking up and keeping the midges at bay. Still haunted by my failings the night before, I was engrossed in my map, trying to identify all the places I could see; wondering if that really could be Knoydart in the distance.

Marching circles around my tripod, I felt like a sentry watching over the bay. It was a faint shaft of light over Rum that sprung me into action. It was only then that I noticed all midges on my lens!

The outline of Muck was picked out against the silhouette of Rum as light creeped its way towards me. Behind me, the village of Portuairk fast began to glow, coming to life in the light of day. I started to get excited as light reached the tips of the dunes on the beach. Beautiful fluffy clouds were being blown in from the sea. I knew that I was watching the beginning of something special. 

The light never quite found its way onto the beach, but as the colour faded and the sun was lost behind some clouds, I was able to saunter back down the hill, happy in the knowledge that I had been able to capture something ten times more special than I had missed the night before. 

Happily, as I knew the other shot I wanted to get was just a mile or so along the coast, we were able to spend all morning, and part of the afternoon, lazing around on the beach, enjoying the sun, the view, the colour of the sea, and yet, despite only being connected to the mainland by a windy single track road, we didn’t actually feel like we were in one of the most remote parts of the country.

The lighthouse at Ardnamurchan marks the most westerly point of the British Isles mainland. We spent the latter part of the afternoon exploring the lighthouse and befriending the resident goats. But once it was time to set up for the sunset, I found a spot on a group of rocks down by the water level, with waves swirling around to fill in the foreground to complete my picture. 

It was a beautiful afternoon; it was warm, the sky was blue, barely a cloud above me - sounds perfect. But I was already worried that it would end up being a flat colourless evening, lacking any drama or interest. I knew I was going to be in for a long wait – two and a half hour’s to be exact. I passed the time doing what I normally do when I’m waiting with my camera. I got my map out to try and identify the island I was staring at off the west coast. (It was coll)

I had a horrible feeling that the sun might disappear into the haze hanging over the horizon – the same thing that caught me out on the first night. Fortunately I could see that the cloud was breaking up so I decided to persevere in the hope that I might get a few colourful rays of sun right at the last minute.

When the sun sank into the hazy murk to the west I decided I had exhausted all the possibilities at my current position. The problem was that I was still shooting into the sun. None of the colour that I could see was being caught by my camera. The rocks in my foreground were a deep black, and from my angle I was unable to see the light catching the lighthouse.

I packed up my gear and set off further round the bay. It was hard going. The coast was made up completely of huge jaggy boulders. It took a long time to find the sort of composition I was looking for – an angle looking back towards the mainland to enable me to catch the colour of the sunset. By the time I found the shot I was looking for, I had to rush to get set up so as not to miss another sunset!

Just as I took my first exposure the sun reached a gap in the cloud. Light hit the rocks in my foreground and there was colour in the sky. I was able to take only half a dozen pictures before the sun completely disappeared.

After navigating the treacherous coastline of boulders and bogs back to the car, I arrived in a disgusting sweaty mess. It was definitely time to go back to the tent and go to sleep.

I was pleased with each of the pictures I’d taken so far, but I have no idea when I’ll next be able to go all the way to Ardnamurchan again. So on the last morning of our trip I went back to Sanna.

The cloud cover was heavier than the day before, but nevertheless I went up the hill and began the wait for the sunrise. The clouds were covering Rum and Eigg in the distance, but I was rewarded for my early morning efforts with some spectacular colour in the sky.

After a short snooze when I returned to the tent we got up and began packing away the tent. Thankfully we were able to pack everything into the car before the rain started. And when the rain started it was torrential. The whole of the journey home it poured. There’s at least something satisfying about ending a trip in the rain instead of leaving just when things are improving.

Wild Camping in Glen Etive

It really is typical… all week I had been stuck inside working, looking out the window at the clear skies and sunshine, wishing I could be outside in the hills. Then came my only chance to get away for a few nights in my tent, and I consulted my various weather apps only to find that every single one predicted the likelihood of rain, sleet and snow! Being a complete beginner at camping in the wild, and not knowing quite what to expect, I was understandably unnerved by that development. Nevertheless, my bags were already packed, I had my camping spot picked out, and I was determined to finally take the dive head first into wild camping. After all, the first night I ever spent in a tent was during a hurricane and I tried to repair a broken pole with a chop stick….but that’s another story.

A tad over the top?

A tad over the top?

In the morning I packed the last few items into my bags (mainly extra layers and even more food) loaded up the car, finalised my playlist, and just before I left, I went online to check the Glencoe Mountain webcam. No matter adamantly you tune into the forecasts, the webcams are the only way of really knowing what the weather is currently doing at any given moment, and much to my relief they showed me that there was no snow lying on the ground where I planned to stay the night. So with my mind at ease I set off up North!

I had already come up with a few potential camping spots on my last trip up the glen, so all I had to do this time was pick one which was the least waterlogged and free of other campers. I soon found a nice spot not far from the road, down by the river.

After 15 minutes or so, I had my site all set up and ready to withstand all that Mother Nature could throw at me (I hoped), so I didn't waste any time and headed off to find a suitable place to get some shots the next morning. 

One of the spots I discovered was this view, just below the Ballachulish Bridge looking west towards the Morvern Hills. I liked the way the rain was passing over the peaks and the light was breaking through the clouds in patches.  

With the incoming rain, I made my way back along the road to try and escape it, stopping off in Ballachulish to scout out a view of the Pap of Glencoe but from there I looked back toward the bridge and was able to capture this silhouette view with the rain still moving towards me.

From there I decided to drive around Loch Leven where it's fair to say the weather was somewhat changeable. I stopped to catch the light on the Pap across the loch, but there was something about the clouds above Kinlochleven, this tree sticking out over the water, and the absence of colour that really drew me to this scene. 

Every time I stopped the car to rush to the shore to grab whatever shot was unfolding in front of me, I promised myself that it would be the last, and that I would head back to the tent to settle in, sort some dinner and just enjoy where I was. And every single time I found another shot that I couldn't pass up!

When I finally arrived back at my tent to start dinner, I passed a group of about 8 or 9 deer down by the river only 100 yards from my tent. This is the sort of thing I've always dreamed of when I think about camping out in the wild. As I began settling in for the night I was treated to these views from my tent of the sun going down and creating some magnificent sights in the sky.

Once I was fed and the sun was down, I decided to turn in for the night: content with stunning views, a small fire and a good book, I called it a day at 10pm ready for a trip out in the morning.

After a thankfully calm and not too cold night, my alarm went off at 4:30am. I stumbled out my tent and staggered up the slope to my car. I made the drive back along the Glen Etive road, carefully avoiding what seemed like every deer in the highlands, I joined the A82, and was soon at the spot in Ballachulish looking towards the Pap of Glencoe that I had scouted out the day before.

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As I stood next to Loch Leven, waiting for the sun to make an appearance, there was a point where I thought that the solid cloud wasn't going to shift and that the whole morning would be a bust. But just 5 minutes before the sun was due to rise, the clouds began to break up which created some great reflections on the loch.

Despite the break in the clouds, I didn't get the pre dawn colours that I was hoping for, however, as I wandered around the beach where I had set up, something to the west caught my eye.

Much to my delight, clouds had rolled in over the Morvern hills, which were now catching glorious pink light. The still morning meant that the water of the loch was calm and made perfect reflections of the shapes and colours filling the sky

Once the clouds began to close in and the sun disappeared again, I started to make the drive back through Glen Coe to find myself some breakfast, but I just couldn't resist stopping to catch some photos of the morning light up the glen.

When I arrived back at my tent in Glen Etive, and got the stove on to make some porridge, the clouds that were hanging around Loch Leven earlier had clearly found my camping stop. On the whole I consider myself lucky that the only poor weather I experienced was nothing worse than a little light drizzle after my successful morning, and was able to hunker down in my tent with a hot cup of tea and some porridge.

As for my first ever wild camping trip, it was a great experience and something I have wanted to tick off my bucket list for a long time. I’ve learned a lot from this trip that I hope to be able to put to use this summer.