Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Autumn in Ardgour

I needed to gasp some lung-fulls of the clear autumn air that the last few days suddenly gifted us, and grasp at some of that scoured-sharp light before the clocks changed. Ardgour was my target - the diamond shaped piece of land more or less bounded by Lochs Shiel, Eil, Linnhe and Sunart.

The area first demanded my attention from Strontian at its south-western corner when I was walking through the territory of my radio play 'The Three Knots', about the anchoring of a floating church in Loch Sunart in the 1840s. I walked the coffin path between Strontian and Polloch, and looked east, admiring the rough crags, wondering.

The great sharp spear of Garbh Bheinn, and the M-shaped peaks of Sgurr Dhomhnuill and Sgurr na h-Ighinn draw the eye from many directions in Lochaber, characterising Ardgour's rocky and precipitous nature. In complex twists of peak and ridge and bealach, where no summit exceeds 3000 feet, there is a sense of remoteness exactly because it attracts few walkers and because of the rugged punch of the summits above their height.

I'd spent many hours staring at the map, at its dense and contorted contours, its web of old paths. I was seeking a solution to the puzzle of a route across Ardgour. This week I finally set out on a journey from Loch Eil across the heart of that interior. I always thought it would need to be broken with a night in a tent. But my day was stolen between the coldest October night for 17 years and the first of the season's hurricanes - not so conducive to camping. I just had to press on through the daylit hours.

As I set out a full moon still hung low in the sky while mists hung over the loch, blurring its edges with the land. It was an exciting start striding west with numb hands along Glen Scaddle, cleaved between russet ridges still hard with frost, amongst the roaring stags.

The weather began to change as I left the Glen and climbed the steep nose of Sgurr Dhomhnuill, thick cloud lowering over nearby peaks, billowing apart to allow views back to the pretty blues of Loch Linnhe, the clarity of eastern skies behind me. The two tops were exhilarating and unforgiving - steep, not offering obvious routes between raised knuckles of rock. But the cloud stayed off and my views opened west to the far end of Loch Sheil, the Rum Cuillin, and beyond.

Then the gnarled ridge took me down to the old lead mines at Bellgrove. And there, starting to tire after at least six hours of walking, I was happy with the certainty of a route ahead, the old mine road laying a steady way towards Strontian, through an oak forest hung with gorgeous green velvet robes of moss. It was here in the Ariundle oakwoods that I'd located one of the 'Three Knots' characters in a woodland croft. Having written about it, a wonderful familiarity greeted me, from the time I'd spent here in my imagination.

And just as dusk fell, the quiet embrace of the trees released me to the incipient edges of the strung-out village. The Ariundle centre appeared, a perfectly timed refuge of food and sleep and instant comfort as the windows darkened outside and the rain and wind set in.


Frank (Caraisla) said...

Superb piece on Ardgour. I absolutely love the place. The feeling of total isolation when you are on the hills over there is fantastic. Thank you for sharing this piece.

Linda Cracknell said...

Thanks Frank. I've a whim to go back and find a route between Strontian and Glenfinnan next but I think I'll need more daylight!

Frank (Caraisla) said...

I am sure there is a walk from Polloch (The only place that i have seen a live in the wild, Wild Cat)to Glenfinnan. A lot of walks seem to stem from Polloch. I had my eye on one from Polloch to Ardgour. Maybe one year.

Wigeon said...

Stunning photos and lovely writing too Linda. Sounds and looks like you had a great time with all that fresh air in your lungs.

Steve PP said...

Stunning photos,Linda ! Thanks for sharing!