Naked and soiled, I stumble from the blood stained bed, pour myself a Martell and make my way to the window.
I’m still only in Leeds.
Every time I think I’m gonna wake up back in Gairloch….
So here we are again. Another year, another fishing holiday over. A year of controversy and change. I began writing about our annual fishing holidays for several reasons but the primary ones are that I like writing and wanted to record our missions for future reflection coupled with a desire to share our experiences with other anglers. This desire to share has proved to be quite divisive, particularly on the Wild Fishing Forum where (most) bloggers are ranked somewhere between Pol Pot and Adolf Hitler in the popularity stakes.
This is the first year since annual fishing holiday records began (1997) that Phil (the Little Corporal, Johan, Count von Tittenstien, whatever you chose to call him) has been absent from the lineup. He had selfishly decided to get married earlier in the year and then had the audacity to use up the Lion’s share of his annual leave on the subsequent honeymoon to New Zealand. We hastily drafted in an FNG in the shape of Tom who some of you may recognize from previous blog entries as a collection of pipe-cleaners crafted into some kind of unstoppable noodle powered mountain-machine and set about re-booking a week in our usual Lochinver cottage. However, realising we were functioning on autopilot I called a halt in proceedings and forced a rethink. Assynt needed to be left fallow so that we wouldn’t get complacent and that coincided nicely with a burgeoning desire within me to give Gairloch another stab as well as sample some of the walking to be had in the Torridons. So that is why, ladies and gentlemen, that this year it’s the 2013 Gairloch Blog
Friday 14th June
No Phil. No Sonderkraftfahrzeug Land Rover Discovery . No Assynt. No rules! We congregate outside Stu’s and set off to Glencoe in 2 cars although Steve isn’t joining us until the Saturday when his private jet is due to land at Inverness aerodrome. The familiar drive up to Glencoe is..well, familiar, and we’re soon pitching tents on an unusually quiet Red Squirrel campsite then piling into the Clachaig for a slap up meal and a rake of ale. Walking through the door into that bar is like coming home!
The weather was actually decent enough for us to round off the evening with a fire back at the campsite accompanied by lukewarm Export and “it’s the 1st day of our holiday” giddy drunken banter.
Saturday 15th June
Pissing down. Tents packed away and into Fort William we go for breakfast and a mooch. The High Street really needs some investment, there are so many empty shops it’s depressing – even the Rod and Gun Shop has gone. The highlight now is Nevisport down at the end of the road which sells a fair amount of decent kit although we did spend a surprising amount of time and money in Field & Trek. I finally succumbed to buying a buff, another nail in my ‘turning into a rambler’ coffin, but one that earned its keep later on in the holiday.
Although the plan had been for me to whore myself out between cars so that neither of the drivers got lonely or scared I ended up doing both days slouched in Stu’s car surrounded by empty packets of crisps. Despite keeping him company Stu did not however see fit to let me out to visit the aviation museum at Inverness when we got to the airport and instead ploughed on to the terminal. Steve eventually came bumbling out trailing his Louis Vitton suitcase behind him and piled in with Tom ready for a few hours of 80s love songs in the Audi. Of course, there was still the Dingbat Dingwall shop to negotiate. Without the Tesco Nazi to control our every purchase there was much indecision but eventually a comprehensive shop was performed which barely fit into the 2 cars and had pretty much denuded the store of sugary treats and booze.
Our route into Gairloch came past Loch Maree . 5 years ago we saw nothing of the area we were driving into, this year we were fortunate enough to get both barrels. As yet unidentified brutal towers of rock rose up out of the landscape either side of us and I knew right away I’d made the right call persuading everyone we should have another crack at Gairloch. Nothing seemed familiar; we had spent our last week here socked in with low cloud and rain oblivious to the spectacular scenery around us. As we pulled off the A832 past the biggest roadsign in the Highlands and headed towards Badachro I was however pleased to see the Sheildaig Hotel again. Who could forget that place with its no doubt long-gone loveable Jack Russell and cracking view out into the bay!
The cottage. Bearing in mind it was in essence my choice I was somewhat nervous in case it turned out to be an unpopular abode but this was not the case as our home for the week was a Goddamn palace! We all felt instantly at home in the upstairs lounge which had fantastic views, a verrry high ceiling and was right next to the well equipped kitchen. This is what happens when you’re sliding towards 40, domestic appliances and décor really do count and sinking into a sofa generates a Pavlovian “ooooooh that’s grand aaaaaah”. By the middle of the evening we’d filled the cupboards with all our goodies and were well underway with a BBQ feast albeit without the kebabs that had mysteriously vanished from our trolley, a crime I was wrongly accused of.
Tom is off on a mission, the general consensus is that he’s using us like cheap whores (but in a bad way) – we are merely enablers in his mission to climb as much as he possibly can during the time we’re up here. If any of us slow him down, we are to stay behind with a revolver and do the decent thing. The rest of us drive to the Sheildaig Hotel to get our £10 permits to go fish the Fairey lochs (real name Na Lochan Sgeireach). Myself, Phil and Stu fished these back in 2008 but I really do struggle to remember anything of that holiday so much of it seemed surprisingly fresh. We head out on the track and quickly diverted SSE to take the path directly up to ‘Aeroplane Loch’, so called because it is the site of a fatal crash just after the war in Europe had ended. All 15 men died when their B24 Liberator caught fire and lost control whilst en route to Iceland as a staging post to getting back home to America.
There’s a lot of wreckage here, including bits of fuselage, wing, undercarriage et and there is even an engine out in the loch. If you go here, don’t take any bits home. Leave them where they are. There’s also a memorial that seems to get looked after and regularly visited which is nice.
We didn’t fish this loch, preferring instead to go back onto the bigger one above it. The fishing was hard work though and I caught nothing whilst working the Northern shore. I spied a trig point on top of Sithean Mor and decided to chip up there and see what the view was like. Very nice, I have to say!
I scampered back down and continued working round the loch, even diverting over to a tiny lochan behind it (NG 81253 71151) but not a single bite was had. We then descended onto the most Southerly of the Fairey lochs and I immediately sensed this would be more productive. Initially I was proved wrong but a rather inspired selection of a Kingfisher Butcher landed me this little beauty
Later followed by a smaller but no less attractive relation
Monday 17th June
Big day. Today myself and Tom are to climb ‘The Forge’, a mountain that has a fearsome reputation and one that has been gnawing away at me for some time. I’d downloaded the digital map for it a long time ago, and planned my route, mentally tackled the obstacles etc but deep down acknowledged I’d probably never do it. And yet here we were, packing our bags for a day on Tealach despite the rather gash weather which we hoped against hope would clear and give us a window of opportunity. It’s about an hour’s drive on the A832 from Gairloch to just past the Dundonnel Hotel where our route was to begin and much of it was spent desperately willing the rain to stop and the cloud base to lift. When we got there however the weather had, if anything, deteriorated and it quickly became clear there was little point in tackling one of Scotland’s most dramatic mountains without being able to see any of it. Back in the car, let’s go home.
Unsurprisingly, by the time we got back to our cottage the weather was great, the sun was shining and the other 2 couldn’t work out why we’d turned tail. The undignified RTB did however facilitate a hearty second breakfast which allowed us time to formulate a plan B. I’d always had Beinn Eighe on my list of possible missions for this holiday and its proximity to base now made it an ideal candidate. Back in the car, off we go again, this time down past Loch Maree and onto the A896 to get to a small car park South of Spidean Coire nan Clach, one of the Munroes on the Beinn Eighe massif. For the love of God, if only I lived in Torridon and had a gang, because for sure it would be called the Beinn Eighe Massif and lo it would come to pass that no-one would f*** with us.
We worked our way up the path which eventually leads up into a steep corrie (Coire an Laoigh) which in turn deposits you up on a saddle just below the trig point and the views are already starting to get good
Next stop, the trig point and onto the actual summit of Spidean Corie nan Clach which is further on and involves a very gentle scramble
Boom, one Munro bagged! From the top of Spidean Corie nan Clach we then worked along a fine looking ridge via a charming photo opportunity I have named in Tom’s honour! I think the mountain just behind him is Ruadh-stac Beag, which I think is part of the Beinn Eighe massif.
The next port of call is out onto Ruadh stac Mor, another sticky out bit of the massif and this is actually the second and last Munro of the day.
Meanwhile, behind us was another Torridon beast, Liathach. These sandstone monsters don’t half make an impression on you!
After bagging Munro number 2 we backtracked again to get back to the main ridge then descended off Coinneach Mhor which ended up being spicier than I’d anticipated but we needed to do it to get out to the last ‘sticky out bit’, Sail Mhor. It took a while to pick out a reasonable route down through all that shattered rock and I wouldn’t have fancied doing it in the wet!
I clocked a piece of armour plating off the pilot’s seat which looked very familiar then saw a big chunk of undercarriage and quickly came to the conclusion it was a Lancaster. Later research proved me right, but it makes for sad reading. http://www.yorkshire-aircraft.co.uk/aircraft/tx264.html. This is the most brutal crash site I’ve ever seen and I picked up on a feeling of the hopeless devastation.
After walking around the scene of impact for a short while we got back on track and took in the summit of Sail Mhor before descending. The popular and accepted route off this Beinn Eighe circular involves backtracking to the scree gully before the triple buttress, it descends from the saddle between Coinneach Mhor and Ruadh-stac Mor I think. Instead, Tom found a cheeky route directly off the NE side of Sail Mhor which was very steep. I would not recommend it. The terrain was dry so it didn’t feel dangerous or anything but it was just very hard going. It was also baking hot and halfway down this daft route I was most unhappy to discover I’d ran out of water. The rest of the 4 or 5 mile walk back to the car was tortuous! I dare not drink from the stream we were walking alongside for fear of picking up some nasty lurgi that could jeopardize the rest of my holiday so all I could do was soak my new buff in the lovely cold water and wrap it round my frazzled head whilst dreaming of ice cold beverages. That walk took far too long but thank God Tom had some emergency Lucobastard in his boot, as well as a couple of litres of water.
Back at the ranch, we settled down to watch Book of Eli whilst Tom had some kind of post walk mental breakdown and cooked up a week’s worth of pizzas in one go then we all kinda sat there looking at them. Also, another disturbing development. In the absence of Phil myself and Stu have naturally turned our vindictive and hurtful humour against Steve but he now has the audacity to stick up for himself and try give back as good as he gets. Unacceptable.
Tom went off to do Liathach but it was time I did some fishing, and to be honest I was pretty tired after yesterday’s adventure. It was clearly always gonna be a lazy day for myself, Stu and Steve. We minced around all morning drinking cups of tea and staring out of the window at the rain, reluctant to leave. We eventually drove out to the Shieling bar/restaurant/trinket shop/cafe/gallery and had a cheeky pint of Beinn Dearg before heading up to the Shieldaig Hotel to get a permit for Loch Clair. We were delighted to see that the Jack Russel was still there, albeit a bit older and greyer – no doubt he was thinking the same about us.
We parked up near Badachro Farm and trundled over to our loch, it wasn’t far although looking at my GPX file we still managed to cover nearly 5 miles walking to it, around, and back.
My trusty Wychwood 6 piece goes up and I settle for a Bob’s Bob fly and a Black Pennel on point. Meanwhile Stu gets a nice little fish quite early on so at least we haven’t blanked.
I decided to fish my way around all the loch to to try get out of the wind which proved to be more difficult than I’d imagined as the terrain was surprisingly awkward. However, the more I got to see of the loch the more I liked it, it just seemed to throw out some nicely framed vistas despite originally looking like a ‘run-of-the-mill’ bit of water. I found a nice bank where I could get the wind behind me and finally got into some fish myself, all about half a pound or so. Pressure off, relax, trot on to next bit of fishable bank. I had another couple of fish then the three of us reformed and the decision was made to retire for the day and perhaps have a meal at the local pub (seeing as Tom had cooked all our food)and a cheeky pint or two. The Badachro Inn is a great little boozer with nice views out to sea and we quickly settled in after some good fodder and the An Teallach brewery ales went down verrry well. Too well. By the time Tom came to join us in the pub after his hair-raising mission on Liathach we were on a slippery slope indeed. Stu’s volume knob had been snapped off at 11 and Steve was talking rambling nonsense to strangers. The rest of the night is a bit of a blur, but I remember enough to realise that without Phil to keep us in check we sailed close to the wind with our increasingly outrageous and dark humour.
Today is the day myself and Tom have decided to have another crack at An Teallach, whilst Steve and Stu fish Loch Tollaidh. Fittingly, I have a hangover from drinking all that An Teallach ale and my sleep was sprinkled with terrifying nightmares about bad things happening on Scottish mountains. Endless perusal of various forums on the web and outdoorsy magazines left me with a healthy respect for this hill. If you want to traverse the full mashings you have to either scramble over some gnarly pinnacles or take a path below them that has been described as ‘dangerously exposed ‘ and ‘worse than the pinnacles’ . Great. Nervous tension kept me nice and edgy as we drove back out to the Dundonnel Mountain Rescue centre (again) and parked up at the layby. The pull up to the first Munro was pleasant enough to begin with but just before we crested onto the Sron a Choire plataeu it went from t-shirt and sweating to every single item of clothing on as fast as possible before core temp drops. The change in conditions was unbelievable, and within a couple of minutes we were very firmly socked in with low cloud, rain and strong winds. When we finally did go over the parapet and got our first look at what we had to traverse I felt my stomach roil again. The sight will stay with me for some time. All I could see was sharp, black, evil fingers of rock poking out of dirty grey cloud. Ugh!
We worked our way up to the trig point on the 1st Munro itself, Bidein a Ghlas Thuill and by now could see bugger all and the weather really was concerning me but the “meh, fek it” attitude prevailed and we pushed on to Sgurr Fiona via a very steep ascent that thankfully looked worse than it was. Once there, because of the abysmal visibility, we nearly set off out on Sgurr Creag an Eich before a quick map/gps check put us back on track and it was now we decided that tackling the pinnacles in such lousy weather was unwise, to say the least so we took the bypass path. It is exposed, and of you did slip you probably would be in mortal danger but to be honest you just have to be careful and you’ll be fine if you’re not too freaked out by heights.
I think we stayed below Corrag Bhuidhe then crested back on the tops here, not sure if this feature has a name but my word, look at all that weathered Torridon sandstone!
From here we could see the route up to Stob Cadha Gobhlach which although steep looked easy enough and I suddenly realised I’d covered the difficult bits (as difficult as it could get without tackling the pinnacles anyway!) and things were definitely plain sailing from now onwards. I could really relax now and just appreciate the views that we were now getting through occasional breaks in the cloud.
Once on Stob Cadha Gobhlach it was a simple walk up onto Sail Liath. It was a touch windy on here and Tom was in danger of being blown away!
We took a route directly off the end of Sail Liath down through all the shattered rock then picked up the stalkers path back to the road. It was during the last leg of this walk that I noticed it was a lot easier keeping pace with Tom, and even getting ahead of him. “What’s this?” thinks I “Am I getting fitter?”. Nope, it later transpired that consecutive days of mountain adventure had finally caught up on him and he was all walked out!
Well this is weird, I didn’t write anything up in my trusty blog notebook for Thursday so I’m running purely on memory here – yikes. I know it was a dour day and motivation was lacking – Tom had no intention of leaving the cottage for the day, and I was pretty knackered from yesterday. We drove out to the Drumchork Lodge Hotel at Aultbea so we could get permits to fish Loch a Bhaid Luachraich. Whilst there we had a cheeky pint and got chatting to the owners who told us all about the whisky distillery there which made whisky in the traditional way. Personally, I would’ve been happier to stay in the hotel and get blutoed on his various whiskies but I realised this was still supposed to be a fishing holiday and found some motivation. The walk to the loch is only short and takes you past a semi discreet oil storage installation(!). Upon arrival I was a bit underwhelmed to be honest. I can tell now how underwhelmed I was by the fact that I only took 4 pictures of the place, most unlike me!
To be fair, it’s hardly ugly and we were mostly not really full of enthusiasm today. I think we all blanked. Christ, I can’t even remember. What year is this? Who is the president?
The weather was hopeless in the morning and hardly conducive to outdoor activities. Tom was still worn out from mountain madness and my get up and go and got up and gone. Eventually, we mustered out of our cosy abode to go get a slap up breakfast in the Shieling. Rather than sit in the car with us, Steve decided to don his wifebeater vest and run the 6 miles into Gairloch! I enjoyed this relaxing little sojourn and it is staring to worry me just how much I like to ‘potter’, it must be an age thing. Pottering into shops and cafes, sitting down (with an aaaah) to drink tea and maybe eat a scone then getting out of the comfy chair (with an ooooh) to go potter into another shop.
Returning to the cottage after breakfast was followed up with phenomenal mincing and endless cups of tea before myself and Stu finally got motivated to go fishing. I keep forgetting this was meant to be a fishing holiday! We didn’t venture far. Every day we had driven past anglers out on loch Bad a Crotha which was a stone’s throw from where we were staying in Badachro and now it was our turn. Despite being next to the road, it was very peaceful and actually rather picturesque. You just have to setup a drift that doesn’t go over the shallow weedy bits. Lovely spot though.
What’s more, it has a healthy population of brownies and I really enjoyed a relaxing afternoon session catching plenty of fish. I cannot hide the fact that my interest in fishing has diminished somewhat since I stopped smoking and went mad trying to keep fit by going out hillwalking. I am now just as likely to be found drooling over tent reviews in Trail magazine as I am over fishing rods in Trout & Salmon. But the point is, this little session was another reminder that you simply cannot beat fishing for wild brown trout in the Highlands of Scotland.
The last fishing session of the holiday, it was back to the cottage for a SSS then down to the Badachro for another boozy session. The highlight of the evening had to be Steve’s mangled Franglais whilst talking to some Swiss-French types sat next to us in the pub.