Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Falling over on a Stag night

I recently did an overnight kayak trip in Outer Loch Torridon, setting out from Shieldaig on a bright afternoon.  Cloudbanks away to the northwest looked a bit ominous, but the weather in Loch Shieldaig (from the Norse Sild Vik - Herring Bay) was fine.  As things were to turn out, I should have made the most of the sunshine.....  Some days or trips just end up being a succession of challenges, and this was one of those occasions.

My destination was the former Youth Hostel at Craig, which was turned over to the Mountain Bothies Association in 2006 having been decommissioned as a Youth Hostel in 2003.  Having arrived at Shieldaig later than I'd planned I hurried through loading the boat which resulted in it feeling a little "down by the head" and made for hard work paddling the two hours or so towards the bothy.  As I headed out from the shelter of Loch Shieldaig (which is actually the middle part of Loch Torridon) the sea got up a bit but nothing too concerning.  The wind had swung to the northwest and the clouds had become very dark looking and heading towards me.

All the photographs below were taken on the following morning.


This is the boulder beach below Craig at near high water approximately mid way through the neap/spring cycle.  When I arrived (30 minutes prior to sunset) it was near to low water and a small swell of about 0.5 metres was washing directly onto the beach. I also arrived at the same time as a torrential rainstorm. The landing with a heavy boat was a little tricky and I struggled a bit to stop the boat from broaching as I tried to minimise the amount of banging on the boulders.

Having dragged the boat clear of the water on barnacle covered boulders I started to unload the contents into bags to get my kit above the HW line before moving the boat.  The rain was absolutely lashing down at this point which probably contributed to the next mishap.

I moved up the beach to a point where the barnacle covered rocks gave way to smooth and rounded sandstone boulders about the size of melons.  Immediately I stepped onto this part of the beach I took a crashing fall, my feet competely whipped from under me by the lethally slippery boulders which were covered in a green sheen of weed.  It was several minutes before I could move, such was the impact of the fall and I consider that I was pretty lucky to have escaped with just a bruised forearm.  The rain had now reached a real intensity and my kit was scattered about on the rocks.  I gathered everything (including, sadly, a broken bottle of wine...) and moved carefully up the beach before returning to move the boat.  This was a really frustrating job; I didn't dare pick it up to go across the slippery zone of the beach and ended up dragging it whilst sitting on the ground.  Eventually everything was above the HW mark and I could set off to find the bothy.

In hillwalking lore, bothy doors rank as some of the most difficult targets to navigate to, and Craig proved no exception.  I'd taken so long to sort out the mess on the beach that it was now fairly dark and still raining, though thankfully not as heavily.  The ground had become very flooded and I set off up the hill to try to locate the bothy which was about a kilometre away.  The building lies in a a dip above a river, which is itself in a bit of a gorge.  Below the bothy and stretching almost to the beach is a straggling wood of birch and willow.  It all made for an interesting navigational exercise!  Eventually the door was located and unsurprisingly I was the only occupant.

I quickly got my stove sorted and made a cup of tea, then got the woodburner lit, mentally thanking the previous occupants for leaving some dry wood.  Candles were lit and as the downstairs room warmed up I took off my paddling kit and went upstairs to get a sleeping spot chosen.  At this point I realised that I'd left my sleeping bag and Thermarest back at the boat, a kilometre down the wet and dark hillside - it really was one of those days!

Back into wet kit, a log onto the woodburner to keep it going, candles in every window to aid my return and off I went back down the hill.  Half way down I smelled burning and my headtorch went out.  A wiggle of the wires and it came back on; fortunately I had a small reserve headtorch in my pocket.  Having retrieved the missing kit I slogged back up to the bothy and back out of the wet kit.  An examination of the headtorch revealed that the cable insulation had broken down allowing a short circuit.  After seven years heavy use, I suppose I can hardly complain.


The main room of Craig has an impressive celtic mural, echoed on the door and window lintels.  It's a real 5 star bothy with real bedframes upstairs and a bucket flush loo at the back.  I got a meal cooked and was able to chuckle at the day's events.  No wine, but a warm room and a hot chocolate drink made a good nightcap.

 After the rain stopped, it became obvious that the Red Deer rut was in full swing; several stags were roaring on the hillside beyond the bothy.  Late in the evening the rain started again and things quietened down.  I bedded down in the smallest of the upstairs rooms (the small rooflight window in this picure) and dropped into a sound sleep.

Sleep was shattered about 3am when a very large stag (the deepest one of several I'd heard earlier)  roared just a few feet from the bothy door.  Although I knew instantly what it was, it's fair to say it gave me a start - at a distance the roar is impressive, this close it was a primal shockwave of a sound.  After I'd gone to the window with a torch he moved away a little and all the roaring subsided a bit.  It took a little longer for my heart-rate to subside and sleep to return though!


  1. Sounds like it could have turned into a REAL epic Ian. Glad to hear that you came away reasonably intact. Annie and I paddled into Craig a few years ago from Lower Diabaig. I was also supprised at how difficult it was to locate from the sea. It really is a beautiful part of the world. The following day we stood for half an hour in Shieldaig watching an otter feeding on shellfish.

    - Andy

  2. Hi Andy, it could have been an awful lot worse! It was a good reminder of how thin the dividing line between a straightforward trip and an epic really is. It was a good trip though!

    Kind regards

  3. What a night - great read, Ian. I must admit, I like my
    "dividing lines" a whole lot thicker! Duncan.

  4. Hi Duncan, I prefer them somewhat thicker too, but I've long since accepted that going solo ether on the hill or the water means the division gets a bit thinner automatically, then it's up to me to not make it thinner again! :o)

    Kind Regards