A forecast of warm, dry weather while work had temporarily slowed down provided the perfect opportunity for a short break away. Plan A was to go south to the Lake District but fully-booked campsites put pay to that idea. So for Plan B I set my sights set on the white sand beaches of Morar and the Corbetts near Glenfinnan.
It seemed that a lot of folk had a similar idea, however. A late Easter, unseasonably warm weather and Brexit-induced staycations meant that the roads were very busy. The A82 up past Rannoch and Glen Coe was as busy as I’ve ever seen it in the height of summer. And this is when you see some hair-raising sights: motorhomes trying to squeeze into laybys with their back ends still jutting out into the road, and buses pouring visitors out into a jam-packed Glen Coe car park to take a thousand selfies.
But fortunately, these busy bees were flocking only around a few popular honey pots. By the time I’d pitched up in Arisaig I was one of the few people on the white sandy beach and as I was to find out the following day, fewer still were on the mountains. Plan B was definitely preferable.
I stayed for the first time at Sunnyside Croft Campsite, just a stone’s throw from the beach at Arisaig. It’s a well-run, purpose-built campsite with modern facilities and eco-friendly credentials. It has everything you really need in a campsite and is well recommended. The only thing it seemed to lack though was a bit of atmosphere. Most pitches are hard-standing and so it mainly caters for motorhomes and campervans, with only a few tents and families.
Just a short walk to the beach gave superb views out towards Eigg and Rum, and a great place for pottering about on the sand and in rock pools.
After several weeks of dry weather the ground was tinder-dry, and I passed several wild fires along the A830 between Lochailort and Mallaig. Fire engines were in attendance but I suppose there was little they could do but watch. Away from the main road this area is pretty remote, with certainly no access for fire engines.
Streap’s been on my list for a while now. It sits at the head of the Gleann Dubh Lighe, just east of Glenfinnan, and gives a great, circular ridge walk. It was a peaceful walk up the glen with no one else around. Just blue sky, gushing waterfalls and the call of cuckoos in the distance. As the track left the forest I gained a first view of the ridge.
It was warm work and I made sure I drank as much as I could, stocking up in the stream, since there was little or no water up above. Directly ahead beyond a ruined cottage was the subsidiary top, Streap Comhlaidh, with Streap’s summit (909m) just visible behind. It looked a straightforward enough descent but with a drop of around 650m it was to prove punishing on my leg muscles, which hadn’t had much hillwalking practice over the winter.
First came a pretty relentless and steep ascent though, to the summit of Meall an Uillt Chaoil. At least I gained a bit of a breeze and met another solo walker. There’s an intermittent path that leads along the undulating ridge with great views west to the circuit of the Glenfinnan munros, Sgurr Thuilm and Sgurr nan Coireachan. There’s also a rare view of lonely Loch Beoraid, enclosed between steep-sided hills and cut off from any roads. The views became increasingly hazy during the day, particularly to the west, caused I think by the wild fires.
The view north from Streap’s summit towards Loch Arkaig and Knoydart gives a reminder that this is remote country. The map shows a network of stalker’s paths: a landscape of deer, precious few trees and even fewer people. Since I’d found no running water along the ridge my supplies had run out by this point, and I resorted to eating crunchy handfulls of snow from the last few snow patches. On a warm day this was not only refreshing but really satisfying.
I was glad that the descent from Stream Comhlaidh was down grassy slopes. The addition of heather and rocks would have made an already long and relentless descent even worse. (But my legs still felt this for some days afterwards). Once back at the track my legs soon recovered and I enjoyed the quiet 6km walk out. In spite of some steep slopes, this was a really enjoyable day out – and best of all, I pretty much had the hills to myself.