Qualifying

It was late when I left… Never has that been more accurate or applied so many times to just one trip.


My most recent ague has made a mockery of all my plans, leaving me much to and into negative figures of time to do it. I wasn’t going into Fisherfield unless the weather was half decent, one because I needed shots and two I wasn’t keen on covering all those miles just to look at drips of rain falling past my nose off the peak of my hood.
So would it be Friday, maybe Saturday? Sunday was a problem as I really had to be somewhere. I hummed and hawed, skipped from one foot to the other, had another cuppa, had a panic attack and flung my already packed rucksack into the motor and took the backroad over Flanders Moss to hit the fast road to all places north, the A9.
The road was kind, the weather was good and I swung into Pitlochry feeling the pressure slip away. Escape Route would be first for a coffee and a swatch at some gear and then I’d pick up some supplies in town. The coffee machine was broken, I was folorn. I rummaged the sale room upstairs and was tempted by stuff but left empty handed, not even a Stoats Porridge Bar for my efforts, they were out of them as well. As was the Scottish Deli up the road, however they made me up a beautiful wheaten roll with mozzarella, fancy chicken and plant stuff. I leisurely enjoyed that with a coffee and hit the road again feeling fresh and almost in holiday mode until the traffic stopped dead just after Bruar. Two hours to get to Dalwhinnie, it’s a busy road anyway, but add all the Rockness festival traffic (half of which was buses, and many of those were filling all the laybys, spraying teenagers into the bushes where they pissed relievedly and smoked desperately) and the timing for the 30 foot long carriageway repair that stopped all the traffic in both directions seemed a little wide of the mark.

I was now a little concerned as I looked at the clock and decided to look at the map to seee what my options were. The map was in the boot. Bollocks. I knew the road, I pressed on past Aviemore and Inverness, a town which now seems such a familiar sight, and into the wild country that I love. I passed the cut-off for Gairloch, which I should have taken and took a left later on at Braemore. Two junctions that lead back to each other around the edge of a huge peninsula, it’s just that the one that I chose took the long way around to my destination. I realised this as soon as reached the Aultguish Hotel, but what the hell, it’s a road of pure delight. The coast was bathed in sunlight, a deep blue sea stretched from my side to a jumble of islands and I found so many places I know and have neglected for too long. An Teallach looms and then is lost, there’s beaches where I’ve slept and lit fires that bring smiles and cottages where I’ve crashed on the floor that make me wince at the memory. Oh, there was a lifetime of Highland adventures before I ever started this place, and I’m writing about none of it.

Laide, Aultbea, Poolewe, thank Jimmy. I could have used a cuppa, but there was no time. I pulled on a waterproof as a shower had come in, and looked at shoes. I took my old favourites for when it’s looking wet underfoot, they haven’t actually been waterproof for a couple of years, but the grip’s still good and the mid-height ankle always helps with keeping ticks out. I hadn’t worn them since the Rannoch to Spean Bridge trek earlier in the year, but they’re always brilliant.
I left Poolewe at 1800 with 23km ahead to get to camp.

Tha rain stopped after a couple of km and I stopped to pack away my shell and found myself wriggling my toes as well. My shoes had been in the boot of the motor for months, they’re just settling in again I’m sure.
The walk by the River Ewe is lovely, trees line the road with water, rock and sky visible through all the gaps. It’s still tarmac though, and it feels like a long time til you’re pulling up the hillside and away from the tail of Loch Maree. It’s still farmland, and very neat farmland too. For somewhere that’s supposed to be a great wilderness etc, it’s well looked after. Kernsary estate looks like it should be on the urban fringes of a city rather than miles from anywhere, neat fences, painted buildings and happy animals. The setting is pure Highland though, add some wailing women and Redcoats setting fire to the thatch and it would be perfect.

The track onwards is very pleasant, I climbed through some forest and onto some high moorland where the sun beat down and the views of the ragged skyline of Torridon dominated to the south. I took a drink and padded onwards. I can see Torridon… I shouldn’t be able to see Torridon… I stopped and pulled my two sided laminate of the route from my pocket. Ah shite, I’d missed the track junction and wandered about a mile northeast. I should be in or by now right through that forest below me.


My feet were hot. I sat on a rock and had some oatcakes and cheese. I couldn’t deny it was a brilliant view, but it was still a pointless extra two miles and the sun was definitely getting lower in the sky. I’d never get through the forest, so I headed back down. I found junction and the gate, it’s a little subtle looking I will say in my defence, and headed into the trees. The track has the soft edges and feel of an old forest track with the silence that tall trees keep on a windless day. It was warm too and I sipped as I walked. There’s some hellish erosion in a couple of places that means a diversion into the trees but the final stretch is a narrow track covered in brown pine needles that soothes any worries before the abrupt end of the forest throws you out onto the moorland. Now I was in the wilds and I knew it. Ahead a high, broken and unfamiliar skyline rising over miles of moor, patches of grey cloud shedding light rain drifted from peak to peak as the sun played on the slopes inbetween. Awesome.

The track is brilliant, not eroded, just well used and it flows across a landscape that would suck the life from your legs otherwise. It carries you by the rather intimidating Beinn Airigh Charr with it’s huge rockfall. Boulders the size of houses jam together under the pale, smooth rock faces where they once clung. That would have been something to see when it let go.
The track curves south to take you to Letterewe via Strathan Buidhe but also swings back, and there’s a more recently built shortcut over the river, all nicely gravel coated too. It passes a very odd little thing, like a well or a cell or something, built into the slope by the water, it’s very old indeed, not on the map and I wonder what it was? A track from it leads around to a ruined cottage also not on the map. Bless Ordnance Survey and their “ballpark” map making.

Now Fionn Loch flows in front of you, A’ Mhaighdean climbs darkly from the water below and the low sun warmed the scene though a veil of smirr that shot a rainbow from the waters of the loch skywards.
I looked at my watch and laughed out loud. If I was camping at the bealach as I’d planned I’d be climbing the hill until after midnight. I was too tired, too hungry and I could see a few spots around the head of the loch that looked as if they had shorter grass that I could pitch on. Tender feet tramped onwards and downwards to the lochside. So much rock here, Beinn lair just rears up at you, some of the finest cliffs I’ve seen and everywhere else you look there’s crags thrusting out of the earth, pushing each other, battling for space. But to my left the expansive quiet waters of Fionn Loch were the ultimate contrast, the sun was sinking into the ribbon of land many miles away at the tail on the loch. The sky was a patchwork of broken cloud catching and reflecting the ever changing colours, the grey rock to my right glowed deep orange and the landscape came together in a silent celebration of another day finished with a flourish.


I crunched around the beach and saw where I was stopping. I though the causeway might have been better, but that could wait until tomorrow, where I stopped was just perfect, huge crags guarding the rear, miles of loch outside my front door.
The tent was pitched in about 90 seconds and just emptied my rucksack inside and picked out my cook kit. I took the few steps onto the beach, set up the stove and left it to boil as I just sat. The stove seemed quiet and there was no wind, the sky was growing bluer and the air was growing colder. I snuggled into my jacket and pulled my beanie over my ears
as I ate my pasta with a mix of joy and relief.
Time just stopped dead, I had a cuppa and a danish pastry and sat some more. A tiny light breeze had rise, just enough to send a shimmer across the water and keep the midges away. Fish bobbed out of the water, tiny splashes that sent ripples into infinity.
I was so tired. Reluctantly I ambled back to the tent and got ready for bed. I looked at my feet, wiped them down with damp socks and decided to deal with it in the morning.
I slipped into my sleeping bag and checked the time, 23:34. I put my head down and went out like a light.

31 thoughts on “Qualifying

  1. I really enjoyed this post – more so than many I have read for some time – whether that’s down to the fantastic photography or the fact the words resonate with me right now, I don’t know. It’s been a hellish few months and for the first time in Far Too Long, I am getting out next week – it’s a short dart into the Brecon Beacons which will only stave off my malaise for a little while but hey – as I am sure you can understand, it’s a start. Cooking on the beach just warms the cockles of my jaded soul – I loved that. Thanks.

  2. The sentiment above almost had me in tears. I’ve not been getting out much for several shitty years now and I’m only starting to realise how much of an effect it’s having on me. Found this blog just toying around the net looking at gear, but the more I look at the photos and read about the trips the more I feel my “comeback” becomimg a reality.

    My priorities are starting to re-organize themselves and I’ve actually managed to get a couple of trips in, which have been far more uplifting than I would ever have thought possible.

    Hope I’m not being too heavy Pete but the site’s more than just kit reviews. It helps remind us all how important the mountains are, and that getting out in them isn’t just a selfish luxury, but rather something that all souls – especially the jaded ones – need.

    Journeyman, I wish you a great trip, and many more.

  3. This brought back memories. I camped around the same spot on my one and only trip to the Fisherfield.
    And I’ve just realised it was nearly 20 years ago.
    I’ll need to get the map out…..
    Inspiring photos and writing as usual.

  4. I can’t really stand sycophants but as I’m about to become one I might have to revise my feelings! Bejaisus boy you certainly have a way with words. I’m more the realistic been there….done that but your prose leans towards the poetic. I can only go with the flow above & say that it really does make you want to get out there and do it.

    It makes you, of course, a very dangerous man……..if you ever take up politics then we’re lost. How about the great just get out there and do it party……….midges excepted :o)

  5. Gypsymac – glad to hear you’ve been able to do something about your position and improve it by getting out. I think it’s true that for some, us clearly included, the outdoors has a hugely restorative effect. Sadly, the UK values work above life and it has become increasingly hard to exist happily without working hard and setting to one side those matters which have a positive impact on our psyche like family, hobby, exercise, living. Most of Europe has it right, we don’t. However, we should make the time and enjoy the sorts of experiences the bloggers writing about the outdoors are talking about. Sometimes, that involves a little bit of improvisation and will.

  6. Those are all such kind words.

    It’s a joy to share this stuff, my little dashes into the Highlands.

    The pressures of life can be such a barrier, time, costs, commitments and simply how you feel in yourself that day.

    We’re all in the same boat and if we can inspire and encourage each other to get out there and find a happy place in the hills and in ourselves then that’s a beautiful thing.

    Here’s to the next trip for each one of us, the next trip is always the best one.

  7. Fantastic piece of writing Pete really brought a smile to my face.

    I find I am checking your blog more and more.
    Such a shame the hills are so far from me but I get out often as I am able.

  8. You’re very kind.

    Distance is always a difficult one, must make every trip a bit of an occasion though?
    The ones like the trip in the post are still a big deal for me, being so far away from home, definitely adds something to the mix.

  9. Brilliant piece, poetry without the rhyming bit.

    On a very practical note, it shows what you can do and how much you can do even with a late start at this time of year, there really is no excuse but to get out there.

  10. Oh and one other quick thought – do you know what made it so refreshingly different, not a single a mention of brands and kit (except generically). Love the kit reviews, mind you, but there is a time and place to leave all that behind and explore.

  11. Cheers!

    It was light all night, I could have kept walking. It really is the time of year to explore.

    Says me with the rain battering off the window and stopping me getting to Greggs :o)

  12. Nooooo Nooooo gypsymac polly ticks is a minefield. Don’t go there.

    Mind you hows about a vote for the reintroduction of the wolf & the brown bear. That would save the mountain rescue teams from a lot of callouts. If you get lost or break a leg then you don’t get rescued………just eaten! That’ll sort out the grockles.

  13. At the risk of introducing politics…..Journeyman Traveller’s comments.
    I believe that rising house prices is a disaster and the driving force behind the work first attitude.
    Though we are wealthier than ever (in general terms) and now the highest paid employees in Europe we spend so much on climbing the propety ladder and servicing ever larger mortgages that we feel pressurised in our careers/jobs and spend far too much of our disposal income on housing.
    And the media still go into a frenzy of despair when prices fall. A slow long term decline (to mitigate negative equity) would benefit everybody in the long term

  14. The car? There’s a wee car park next to the bridge in the middle of Poolewe, several cars there overnight, no trouble at all.

    More politics? A tunnel built from Glasgow to Ft Bill for locals only!

    Economics? Limit mortgages to twice your salary. If only they’d thought of something like that, oh wait…

  15. Fatwalker – I have spent 12 years in public service at the peak of my profession doing work which has left me emotionally frazzled, short-tempered and bitter. What do I have to show for it? Not much – the public is less than impressed with the effectiveness of the arena I work in (and rightly so) and it will only get worse – my point is a simple one. We either spend our time at work pushed to achieve by a society that doesn’t realise how unnecessary it all is. Leave home at 6.45am, get in at 7pm, bed at 10pm. Dear God – I have a fiancee? Really – where’s she at then? I never see her. I now have a son and let me tell you – that changes things – now I make it my priority to be home for him. That grief I get because of it! We as a nation have our priorities wrong and have for decades. When we’re outdoors, grass under our bare feet and wind in our faces, all that 9-5 (or 7-7) stuff means so very little – that’s why we do it (at least in part). Long may it continue and long may I read of people brave enough to jack it all in to do something that pays less money but pays more in other ways.

  16. I hear you Journeyman. I’m a self employed music teacher and I don’t have a bean, BUT, I can take time off whenever I want for the hills. Or at least that was the plan. These days I have negative beans and I’m facing the prospect of getting a real job! I’m quite seriously not sure that I can do it and if the shit really hits the fan I’ll genuinely consider renting my flat and disappearing into the hills for a year.

    We all really have strayed way too far from the path and for most people it’s simply imossible to break the cycle.

    Oh God I need cheering up now. Quick, somebody say something funny.

  17. Self employed here too, living from one contract to the next with the heady mix of stress and freedom it brings with it.
    I don’t think there’s any style of living that’s perfect, everything has compromises, even sacrifices. Joycee works for The Man and I see her stresses are no lesser than mine, just different.

    I worked myself into the ground a few years back, taking every job on I could, I had guys working for me and I ended up doing 16 and 18 hour days when my bubble just burst.
    After that I went to regular hours, went mostly solo and my turnover halved, physically less stressful, but more so mentally probably. Now economics bring fresh challenges and I’m trying to change things again to make the best of it that I can.

    Through it all I still find my happy places, times with family and friends, music and time in the hills.
    The hills are a shutdown, it’s rarely I carry my worries with me. It’s a precious time, and one I’m ever more appreciative of.

    There’s no perfect answers, and thinking about that can be like a net of inertia thown over you, I know this only too well.
    Trying is the thing, it always makes me feel better, even if it’s a walk in The Kilpatricks. Doing something, anything, to make the day better is always positive, it means that bastards haven’t ground you down yet.

  18. Wise words.

    As soon as I get my Copier I’m spending a night out in The Pentlands even though it’s only 15 minutes away. I’ll maybe take some maps and plan trips to file away for later.

    It could all be much, much worse.

  19. Journeyman, having spent 15 years in the public sector I can sympathise. I’ve now spent nearly as long in the private sector and vigorously defend the public sector when I hear a lot of negative comments about it from my colleagues. There’s a lot of dedicated people there doing difficult jobs for not much money..
    I’m in IT and 55-60 hour weeks (excluding commuting) are not unusual sometimes lasting for many months. In recent years though my attitude has hardened and my ‘flexibilty’, as it is euphemistically described,is diminishing. As they say,on your death bed nobody ever said that they wished they’d worked longer.

  20. Nice hills up that part of the world. Been many years since I walked there. What can I say to the post and photos init. Magic to see the photos and read that PTC. Thanks for picking a good weather window and doing that. More importantly thanks for sharing.

  21. gypsymac, that would a good night out. City lights are alway nice from camp, Ben Lomond and the Arrochar Alps always have that orange glow from Glasgow.

    Fatwalker, good sentiment at the end. Also. never work through illness, you get no thanks and you set a precedent for yourself.

    Thanks Martin, always a joy to go and come back with a story.

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