“Daddy only stares into the distance
There’s only so much more that he can take
Many miles away something crawls from the slime
At the bottom of a dark Scottish lake“
Another year another solo escape from the soul destroying, chest-tightening, time-sucking grind of a late 40s desk wallah. As each year passes I begin to ponder the bigger questions of life which include why on earth is it right and proper that I have to spend so much time doing things I don’t like in order to earn a few quid to get by and spend a small amount of time doing the things I do like. You never question shit like that in your 20s because you are immortal at that age and you just accept it whereas now, maybe only 20 or 30 years away from Tena pants and repeats of Heartbeat, time suddenly seems a lot more precious. Of course the additional challenge of mid life angst is the dichotomy of wanting to spend that precious free time at home with family whilst also craving solitude. When you do find yourself hundreds of miles from home it’s no longer guilt free knowing your partner is left to manage all aspects of parenting whilst you’re skipping through the heather with your rod in your hand.
And yet it came to be that, guilt be damned, I once again found myself behind the wheel heading up to Gairloch for a few nights away. It’s a long way to drive on your own but I enjoy the solitude and hit the audio books to keep myself entertained. This year I also managed to inject some drama into the drive by finding out how many miles I could squeeze out once the warning light comes on. I pulled into
Dingbat Dingwall Tesco on vapours – I’m usually a cautious man when it comes to such things so the tension was unbearable watching the miles tick down to single figures! I also had a quick wander around the excellent little Sports & Model shop in Dingwall that sells model kits, train sets, toys and fishing gear . What more could a man want!
Upon arrival at good ol’ Big Sand I pitched my basecamp tent (a Wild Country Trisar 2d) and set about relaxing with a campfire and a few beers whilst the waves lapped against the shore a few yards away. The perfect end to a long day of driving with anticipation, I could literally feel my shoulders lightening as I managed to truly relax for the first time in a long while.
Friday morning I awoke to some fairly decent weather so took a stroll along the beach before beginning the intense admin required for my overnighter.
My plan was to walk in to fish a large loch South East of Gruinard Bay before ascending to fish and camp at some smaller lochans in the hills above. After picking up a mountain of provisions in Gairloch I drove out along the coast, passing WW2 gun emplacements and a NATO submarine refuelling station along the way before getting to the car park which was my starting point. As always my pack weighed a bastard tonne as I set off on the walk in which initially follows a very scenic river. There appeared to be 2 paths, one which struck away form the river and one which closely hugged the banks – clearly it made sense to not veer away from the river I should be following. In actual fact this path was hideous with proper hands and feet ascent of steep muddy banks and every time I put my hand down onto bracken it came away wick with ticks. Now I understood why a bypass path had been added!
It’s an awkward path for much of the way when you are carrying a really heavy pack and suffering with plantar fasciitis for good measure – every footfall brings a certain amount of pain.
I was pretty bushed by the time I got to the loch, and behind schedule but also disappointed to discover a couple of Range Rovers parked up fishing the river which drains out of the loch that had come in via the track which I would take on my return leg. It immediately detracted from the remoteness vibe! As I followed the river to the loch I began looking for the fords marked on the map which I would need to cross later on if I was to head up to the smaller lochs to camp. Nowhere did it look fordable! Hmmm. I carried on to the loch and wearily put up my rod. In terms of scenery this location will knock your socks off but on a windy day like this it actually feels pretty dour for fishing. I fished for a couple of hours and landed precisely nothing which was a touch disappointing considering the long walk in. I looked around me for a decent place to pitch my tent but there was nowhere really suitable so I retraced my steps back to the river where I again explored the fords but nowhere was I going to get across without getting 2 solid bootfulls! The more I picked up on the vibe of the day the more I felt the urge to change my plan and head back to the car rather than try and persevere with the original mission.
The walk back along the river was rather reminiscent of the ‘long walk’ back from Suilven to Glencanisp lodge and beyond. A seemingly endless track where your destination never seems to get any closer.
By the time I got back to the car my footsies were killing me, between the plantar fasciitis and the ridiculous half size orthotics I was prescribed which are meant to cure the problem but instead cause exquisite discomfort after a few miles.
Not sad to be waking up to a certain degree of creature comfort at the campsite and some sparkling views over to Skye and Raasay.
I need an easy day but I want to get my string pulled. I settle on a roadside loch out on the Aultbea peninsular, let’s call it Loch Beasty. The weather was fine and dry but not really conducive to catching fish and although a I did see a couple of rises and had some attention to my flies I never connected with anything.
After an hour or so I decided to switch to another loch on the peninsular which I’ve fished a couple of times before. Let’s call it Loch of the Ruined Crofts. You have to trundle along an for a couple of miles on an access track that is probably best tackled in a proper 4 x 4 so I was a little twitchy taking my SUV along it and a couple of times had to get out and do a recce on some of the muddier/waterlogged stretches to make sure I wasn’t going to end up performing the knock of shame on a local crofter’s door. By the time I got to the water’s edge though the conditions were just right and my confidence rose considerably.
I think it’s when the overcast clouds diffuse the light that reflects back off the surface that things just scream brown trout goodness.
It didn’t take long before I started catching fish – nothing big but perfection as always.
After a while I’d basically filled up my fun cup and didn’t need anymore action so decided to call it a day and make my way back to the campsite to put my feet up with a beer and a pot noodle. But not before stopping to take a quick photo of the cottage myself, Stu and Phil stayed in all the way back in 2008! That was our first visit to Gairloch and its environs and unfortunately it siled it down all week so we missed most of the views and came away thinking it wasn’t a patch on Assynt in terms of scenery! This was also the cottage where after drawing lots for rooms I ended up sleeping in what became known as ‘The Scullery’, the shittest excuse for a room I ever did see!
A fairly leisurely morning before facing the inevitable and performing the glum task of loading everything back into the car and packing my tent away followed by a good 8 or 9 hours on the road. The drive home although tinged with sadness starts off with a sweeping drive by on Loch Maree which has Slioch watching over it . This is a Munro that looks like someone got one of those fancy seaside buckets in the shape of a castle, filled it with Torridonian sand in dumped it out on a hill behind the loch. I can’t fail to enjoy that bit, and many of the ensuing miles but those warm fuzzy feelings start to fall away the further down South you get until finally you hit the Welcome to England sign and let out that familiar sigh of despair and open another bag of fucking crisps.
So, another year another Highland solo done and dusted. It wasn’t a classic, I didn’t get to fish or camp at the the hill lochs I’d planned to visit and nor did I have a huge amount of luck with fishing full stop. And yet I valued every minute of being up there, even the driving for it is a selfish but much needed block of solitude! Besides I’d had a really good wild camp and walk back in July in the Borders – without that in the ‘bank’ I think I’d’ve been more inclined to stick to my original mission. What I also may have to do is buy some Crocs to lash onto the outside of my rucksack for these sort of river-crossing eventualities. If I buy the Crocs I may as well invest in a nice, comfy pair of slacks to go with them as well and then make sure said slacks are positioned correctly by pulling them as far up my torso as humanly possible. Maybe some driving gloves as well!