As regular readers of this blog will know, the highlights of my angling calendar were always the annual week’s fishing in either Assynt or Wester Ross in June with mates, followed by a long weekend later in the year in that area on my own. Neither of these events took place last year due to fatherhood and this year was looking like a write off on the Highland fishing front as well due to fatherhood, illness and general Covid 19 lockdown bullshit. However, August 2020 found me with a scheduled pass out for the weekend due to a very understanding girlfriend, manageable health issues and a relaxation of the rules both North and South of the border. Game on! Out came the iPad, maps and books. Looking at my allotted window of opportunity, the radius of operations had to be reeled in a little. Assynt (10 hour drive with a couple of piss stops) and Gairloch (9 hour drive with a couple of piss stops) were out of the question but I wanted that remote hill loch vibe with proper Highland scenery to tickle my fancy again. After much scouring I settled on a location not too far from Tyndrum which myself and Stu visited several years ago. There is a fairly large loch which we fished but further West there are some smaller lochans which we didn’t get to which looked pretty appealing. To paraphrase my favourite movie somewhat, it was going to be a “simple setup. 2 day operation. Pick up the trail, go fish and camp then bounce back across the border before anyone knows I was there.”
Another impediment to fishing is work, that curse of the drinking class. I had to work Wednesday morning which delayed my departure until about 1:30 which meant a very late arrival at my hotel for the evening. So late in fact that after my 6 hour drive up (including a £33 food and booze stop at Booths in Kirkby Lonsdale) I missed dinner but they were very kind in sorting me out an evening meal. My room had somehow been double booked so they gave me the keys to a palatial family room which lacked for nothing, apart from curtains?! I supped a few pints in the hotel bar and had an interesting and very good hearted discussion with a few of the locals around Scotland leaving the Union. I still think it would be a great loss to all concerned but at least the conversation was friendly unlike the rabid vitriol on this subject you get on social media.
Next morning I loaded up my Fjallraven Kajka 65 with what later transpired to be at least 60lbs of stuff. Most people who wild camp aim to have no more than about 30-40lbs! In fact, I’m going to list what I had now just for the hell of it.
Self inflating matt Synmat 7 HL LW (445g)
Mountain Equipment Dewline down jacket (450g)
Nordisk Svalbard Si tent (1.6kg)
Reel & case (226g)
Whisky and wine inc hip flask and glass bottle (1kg)
Rod and travel tube (600g)
Sleeping bag and its dry bag (900g)
Tin of beans and sausages (400g)
2 x 500ml lucozade (1kg)
2.5l of water (2.5kg)
2 headtorches and spare batteries (400g?)
first aid kit (200g)
Kettle and pan (400g?)
Mug and spoon (100g)
Hat and gloves (300g?)
Waistcoat, leader and flies 750g
Map and map case (250g?)
Piss bottle (150g?)
Leatherman Wave (250g)
Bog roll (10g?!)
Pot noodle (10g?!)
Packed lunch box (pork pie, Cornish pasty, 4 Tunnocks, 3 bags of crisps, banana) (500g)
Stove and gas (500g?)
Insect repellent (100g)
Bivvy bag 250g
16.5Kg so far, that is no where near 60lbs! Where did the rest of the weight come from?! Maybe my maths was wrong
The walk in follows the course of the river that drains out of the ‘chain’ of lochs. It is a very scenic walk and today I was being blessed with nice weather (so far), in contrast to the 50mph winds and that had rattled the hotel the night before and wreaked havoc on its planters outside.
Only now did the true benefits of a mission of this nature really start to kick in, the complete de-stress brought about by that feeling of separation. Separation from the city, separation from work and isolation from myriad worries and concerns. I swear I can feel the yoke being lifted from my shoulders despite carrying a fully loaded pack. Here instead my thoughts are around more basic matters. Have I got enough food, how long until I will allow myself a snack stop, when can I brew up some tea, how bad will the midges be, will I catch any fish. These are simple matters for consideration. Furthermore there are no sounds of traffic, or indeed people and the heady scent of bog myrtle and heather are on the air. As Louis Balfour would say…nice.
I briefly cut through a plantation before rejoining the river which needs to be crossed on a delightfully springy suspension bridge and back on to the proper path.
A couple of hours after leaving the hotel I am back at the loch which I can barely remember even though it was only a few years ago. It is a fine looking bit of water and I am tempted to wet a line in again but decide to ‘stay on target’ and concentrate on fishing the smaller lochans. I do however plot up on a small sandy beach to mount a sustained attack on my provisions.
Desperate for HP brown sauce to accompany my Cornish pasty and pork pie but unwilling to carry in a full glass bottle of the stuff I came up with one of my better workarounds – a pilfered hotel marmalade jar filled to the brim with saucy goodness.
Encouragingly, when I leave the main path and make a beeline for the lochans the path becomes a lot fainter and almost impossible to spot in places. Clearly less riff raff have been here! I start getting that ‘mmm fresh new loch’ feeling as I approach lochan number one, what treasures will it yield to me? Oh dear, it’s a shallow reedy wee thing, really not filling me with confidence there’s any point trying to fish it. Never mind, on to the next one. Hmm, another unfishable little lochan. I pin all my hopes on number 3 which, when I get there is thankfully perfect. Beautiful backdrop, deep in places, not a soul to be seen and plenty of potential places to pitch my one man tent, the plucky little Nordisk Svalbard Si.
First things first, I knock up a brew on the stove using loch water (2 minute rolling boil to be safe) and have a nice cup of tea taking in my surroundings. Fucking splendid! I have brief pangs for a smoke, very old habits die hard. I often have such feelings on these missions, my brain tables the motion that it would be okay to sling a cigar in the pack for these moments but the bitter truth is that one cigar could set me up on the slipperiest of all slopes.
Finally I get the rod out and tackle up for some fishing. Within a few casts I get the reassuring dagadagadaga feeling of a Highland brownie clobbering my fly. A brief but determined battle ensues before I bring the fish to hand for a quick photo or 2 before returning him to the loch. As always, the pressure is now off, I’ve come to a new loch and not blanked so going forward now, anything else is a bonus.
More bonuses follow. As expected, no glass case jobs but who cares, who cares one jot? They’re all magnificent specimens in my book, even the ones that are not keen to appear in my blog!
I am pretty tired after the walk in but decide to make the most of being here and fish all the way round the loch, which is hardly Rutland water! At the South West corner I come across some interesting Geology, you find these all over the place and I’m not entirely sure what causes them. My Geological map of GB tells me this area is igneous bedrock formed approx 419 to 444 million years ago in the Silurian period. I think the lines might be what’s called an igneous intrusion but then again they might be formed by dinosaurs riding unicycles through lava for all I know.
My potter around the loch is most enjoyable as I pick up fish here and there whilst enjoying the scenery although I notice the weather is definitely starting to close in
I notice two figures descending off the slopes opposite the loch, my gut feeling was that they had been out stalking deer but that’s a total guess. I decided to remove my antler hat, plastic red nose and deerskin jacket lest I be mistaken for their quarry and killed to death.
Back at base camp I decide it’s time to put the tent up. I spend far too long trying to work out which direction the wind is coming from. When I finally do get the job done, it doesn’t take long before I realise the wind has changed direction and knowing there is supposed to be some serious wind tonight I unpeg and repitch. This strikes me as one of the most mature and sensible things I’ve ever done, managing to overcome my inherent laziness when it comes to such things! In another stunning volte face I decide to switch my carefully thought out menu and have Pot Noodle for tea so I can have my beans & sausages for breakfast. Such things occupy the mind when wild camping. A bonus to the omni-present wind this weekend is that I can just about eat my food outside the tent without being gnawed to the bone by savage Highland midges, a rare treat indeed.
The evening was a pretty quiet affair, consisting of one last brew before retiring to the tent with some wine and a book about Second World War commandos. One soldier recounted how his pack weighed 108 pounds before a mission, plus weapon and that getting off the floor with this load was very difficult. I bet it was! The wind and rain did pick up through the night and give the tent a good rattle but I was never in doubt about it’s ability to hold up.
Morning was proper dreich with scudding low clouds, rain and wind. I am starving and the Heinz Beans & Sausages are manna from Heaven, washed down with a 3 in one coffee. I do a little bit more fishing but after half an hour question what I am actually achieving here when I should actually be tackling the unpleasant task of packing everything away. Sisyphus was made to spend eternity pushing a giant rock up a hill only for it to roll back down again, if I were to offend the Gods they would have me pack a tent away only for it to immediately unpack, ad infinitum.
Rather than retrace my route from yesterday where I was eager to explore the other small lochs, this time I took a direct line back up to the main (stalkers?) path which would be much easier underfoot once I got there. The 6.5 mile walk back seemed to take ages but the scenery is just such a very ‘benevolent Scotland’ it didn’t matter.
Sadly, I did also find evidence of fly campers beside the river, including a complete air bed pump, which I took back to the car with me. What absolute chavmaster scum bags. These kind of human filth are giving true LNT (leave no trace) wild campers a bad name.