Friday, 17 February 2017

A roaring fire on the shore of Loch Shiel

Moidart's Loch Shiel is a wild place with steep slopes falling to the straight to the water- a typical glacial form.  Native deciduous woods of Oak, Rowan, Birch, Alder, Aspen and Holly clothe the lower slopes on the western shore.  The eastern shore has dense conifer forests in the upper part of the loch and mixed woodland farther down.  We kept to the western side and enjoyed warm sunshine and rich autumnal colours as we made our way down the loch.

 Passing Glenaladale, the view extended through very clear air to the hills at the head of the glen.  It was near here that Douglas, Mike and I had camped on our late winter trip in 2014.  That had been a particularly cold evening and we all added camp chairs to our kit afterward - there's a lot to be said for getting one's beam end off the ground when winter camping!

We were passed by the Glenaladale estate launch near the mouth of the river as it set out to cross the loch carrying the estate stalkers.  October is the end of the Stag stalking season and a time for estates to realise much of their annual income from guided stalking.

Looking up, we caught sight of the distinctive shape of a Golden Eagle circling in a thermal above a patch of sunlit hillside.  Douglas caught a nice image of the bird as we watched it rise effortlessly, circling coil over coil until it crossed the summit of the hill.  We could clearly see the up-tilt of the wings and the tail "feeling" the air as the eagle soared.  For all the power and impressive size of a White Tailed Eagle, the grace and mastery of a Goldie in flight is a better spectacle, I think.  In all likelihood it was searching for the "gralloch" - the intestines and stomach of the deer which had been shot.  The carcasses are usually brought from the hill but the gralloch is left.

All afternoon there had been an almost stroboscopic effect as bright sunshine alternated with fast moving clouds and one such cloud bank obscured the sun as we approached the tiny Eileanan Comhlach (possibly Islands of the Council or Meeting-place, small islands were often used as neutral meeting points in places where friction existed between neighbouring clans as any attempt at ambush was limited). 

The lighting we experienced in this spot on our winter trip had been quite different; on that day the islands had appeared to float on the water in the exceptionally calm conditions. Today couldn't match those conditions....

...but as we watched, a gap in the clouds allowed the sun to light up the island - it seemed to glow against the darker background.

One possibility for our evening camp had been a bay on the western shore of Loch Shiel, but last time we'd passed there had been cattle grazing there.  We discussed the options and decided to head for a bay on the eastern shore.  Although we'd not previously been there we felt we'd find some suitable spot to pitch our tents.  Crossing the loch gave a long sight-line back up towards Glenfinnan from where we'd set out some hours previously.

The wind began to drop in the late afternoon and we slowed down to enjoy the colours of the trees, the sun warm on our backs.

With the breeze now gone, the sounds of rutting Red Deer stags became more noticeable; an atmospheric and wonderful autumn sound.  Despite the fact that evening was rapidly approaching we felt no need to rush and stopped frequently just to absorb the wonderful light and sound show all around - it was a great evening to be out on the water.

We reached the bay we'd seen on the map with an hour or so of daylight remaining.  We found the only difficulty in finding a camping spot was choosing between a number of possible options!  Decision made, we pulled the boats a little way out of the water (no tide here, though the level of the loch can change a bit) and pitched our tents. One of the advantages of  camping in October is that there are no midges - a still evening in July or August on this spot would be a much less comfortable experience!  Prior to dinner we spread out to collect firewood, which we added to some of the logs we'd stowed in our boats........ make a small but hot fire, around which we gathered to cook our dinner.

As we intended to be out on this trip for just two nights there was space in our boats for plenty of food options.  Dinner on this evening consisted of an aperitif (a beer or glass of wine according to preference), a main course of home-made venison casserole, then potatoes baked in the embers of the fire and served with butter and salt, followed a little later by a dessert of pears, poached in brandy and served with clotted cream.

Sat around our fire, we listened to the stags roaring from the hillsides above us and from across the loch - a roaring fire in one sense.  We enjoyed the warmth of the fire long into the evening before retiring to our tents as the temperature dropped.  I slept deeply, waking just once when a stag bellowed from the opposite shore.


  1. That was a great meal to end an obviously beautiful day.

    1. It really was of the pleasures of sea kayaking is being able to carry fresh food - and we do like our food and drink!


  2. Always nice to hear the stags roaring and that fire looks good. When I was around 18 years old a group of us on holiday found deer intestines and stomach lying out on a remote hillside but had no idea what it was at that age as it was a few days old and had turned a metallic grey colour all over with the rain falling on it. Guesses ranged from a stranded alien monster to something horrible that had crawled out the nearby stream then died. Puzzled me for months afterwards.

    1. I'll bet it did Bob! I think I'd have gone with the stranded alien theory :o)