A weekend in the Highlands

Glen Coe
The unconquered Buachaille Etive Mor, pictured from the car on the way home

For weeks I had been looking forward to it, thinking of the sweeping mountain landscapes, of challenging hikes followed by rewarding drinks, of campfires and camaraderie. Even the occasional stag or golden eagle would pop up in the film that was forming in my mind, as if to remind me that this was no central belt getaway but the real, great outdoors.

But as our weekend trip to Glen Coe drew nearer, a great big cloud drifted over this idyllic vision in the form of the BBC weather forecast, which, of course, predicted heavy rain.

Undeterred, our group of nine (it’s amazing how appealing the chance to get out of Edinburgh during festival-time can be) sets off in two cars on Saturday morning, heading north-west, through Stirling, Crianlarich, Tyndrum, over Rannoch Moor and eventually into the great curve of Glen Coe itself, passing the rocky sentinel that is Buachille Etive Mor.

This mountain was meant to be our main challenge, but as we don’t reach the campsite near the Clachaig Inn until after two o’clock in the afternoon, we decide that the six-hour walk isn’t achievable today and we half-heartedly postpone the ascent till tomorrow.

Instead, we pitch our tents and wander along the single-track road towards Glen Coe village, stopping for a picnic at a wee loch as the sun threatens to make an appearance. Along with a gang of ducks, who end up fighting over the scraps of bread we throw at their webbed feet.

Back at the campsite, we now attempt to build a fire. It seems like the obvious thing to do. Us males sense our caveman gene kicking in and so we go off to gather the logs, while the females of the species whisper doubtfully about our plan. With the help of a neighbouring camper who has come prepared with firelighters and kindling, we get it lit. But keeping it lit is the problem, and one which defeats us when the only timber to hand is absolutely sodden through.

Feeling slightly emasculated, there’s only one thing for it: to the pub! We make it to the Clachaig Inn just before the kitchen shuts and sit down to a decent, meaty meal. The lounge bar is spacious but nothing more than a dining room, so we head through to the proper bar to catch the last few songs of a local bluegrass band called The Ballachulish Hellhounds.

They’re great, but tragically the place calls last orders at half eleven, when we’re only just getting into the spirit of the night.

Ach well, back to the campsite we trudge, in the pitch black and pouring rain. There we have a few more swigs of whisky before reluctantly testing whether the cheap, hastily procured tents will guard us against the Highland elements.

They don’t, or at least mine doesn’t, and the next morning I wake to feel my feet in a puddle, with the whole front section of the tent under a layer of water. This is the part of camping I don’t enjoy, and instead of getting up and moving on, I decide that dozing is a better option.

It doesn’t really matter by this point, because the group consensus is that it’s still too wet to take on Buachaille Etive Mor. There are other factors, such as some pretty unsuitable footwear and several mid-level hangovers.

As we drive off, the cloud-covered peak of Stob Dearg, our initial target, looms dramatically up away to our right, and it’s difficult to see how nine of us would have made it up there on a day like today. We carry on south, on the slow descent to the lowlands, the scenery gradually becoming less magnificent, more humdrum, until eventually we’re back in traffic-clogged Edinburgh.

And by now, of course, the sun is shining.

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