A Scottish Adventure – Assynt

 

Scotland…

It’s a place I look forward to visiting every year! This year was a little different to previous years, in more than one way.

 

• Firstly we were heading up in our T5 camper for it’s first voyage to Scotland
• Secondly we weren’t spending our entire week in Glencoe this time, we were heading up to Assynt and Inverpolly, a place we’ve both wanted to visit for some time…

Cue mini excited squeals 😀

So off we set on Friday evening, hoping to make it to at least Glasgow before we rested our heads for the night. We made it to just south of Glasgow and drove around for a while trying to find somewhere to park up (which was easier said than done)!

Day 1 – 6th Feb 2016

The following morning we packed up and hit the road again (knowing full well we were heading to Route 82 for breakfast, can’t break a habit of a lifetime). We arrived for breakfast and had a well needed brew in the T5 whilst demolishing our breakfast baps.

Danbo brew

A Scottish Adventure – Even Danbo enjoyed a well earned brew!

 

Next stop, Glen Coe!

I’m not going to lie, I was a little disappointed when we arrived in Glen Coe, I knew there wouldn’t be as much snow as previous years, but to find very minimal amounts on the mountain tops as well was a little deflating. We parked up in the lay-by in front of the three sisters for a bit of a rest before deciding what to have for tea.

Waiting for the snow

A Scottish Adventure – Waiting for the snow…

Our initial plan was to spend a few days in Glen Coe and Fort Willam and then head up towards Assynt.

Day 2 – 7th Feb 2016

Our first day in Glen Coe was pretty grim, low cloud and drizzling with rain. As the weather forecast wasn’t very promising, we decided to have a wander up Devil’s Staircase and towards Beinn Bheag. At about 500m the rain started to turn to snow and after another 50m of ascent, we agreed it was time for a lunch break.

I’ll take this opportunity to mention I was testing out Outdoor Research’s new Stormtracker Lucent heated gloves, unfortunately, my pair were faulty so have had to be sent back. Sadly Outdoor Research won’t be getting any more stock until September, so I am currently in search of some new gloves.

After lunch the snow started falling heavily, so we headed back down to the T5 to dry our gear off and decide what to do for the next few days. Both of us fancied a sunrise at Castle Stalker the following morning so in the hope of some nice light we set off with the intention of parking up there over night ready for sunrise.

Day 3 – 8th Feb 2016

The alarms went off and we pulled back the curtains with sleepy eyes hoping to see a break on the horizon for the sun to shine through… Optimistic thinking! You’d have thought that by now we’d be used to heading up to Scotland and being shrouded in cloud most of the time (with the exception of 2015 where we managed to get above the cloud on Càrn Mòr Dearg).

Càrn Mòr Dearg Cloud Inversion

Summit of Càrn Mòr Dearg above a cloud inversion, looking towards Ben Nevis – February 2015

Back to bed it was!
Although we had plenty of plans for photography on this trip, it was also a chance for us to both rest and relax too. After a year of producing James’ book and many other events in every day life we hadn’t spent a week off together since March when we went to Iceland!

The second alarm went off and it was time for breakfast 😀 after cooking, we got packed up and after looking at the forecast for the following few days, decided that we’d head up to Assynt a day early as the forecast was looking more promising up there! It was approximately 150 miles from Castle Stalker to the car park below Stac Pollaidh (where we had planned to park our T5), we stocked up on food and water in Fort William. had a quick browse in the outdoor shops and then set off.

 

We reached Ullapool as it got dark and nipped into their local Tesco to pick up a few bits before heading to the car park. Ullapool is the last town before Stac Pollaidh, which is around 22 miles away (of which 8 of them are along a single track road), so it gives you an idea of how remote the area is. Arriving at the car park it was so dark, we could just about make our the silhouette of Stac Pollaidh, but other than that, there was darkness, pure darkness. It was so peaceful!

Now came the part I had been dreading, having a shower! We had purchased a solar shower and a pop-up shower cubicle knowing that it would be needed on our longer trips away. I’ve got to be honest I was pleasantly surprised! Having a hot shower under the stars whilst it was drizzling with rain (I’m not sure how that was physically possible, either we were both so tired that we were hallucinating, or it genuinely did happen) was pretty refreshing to say the least. I had decided to leave washing my hair as there was no way it would dry before getting into bed and I knew trying to sleep with cold, wet hair wasn’t a great idea.

Day 4 – 9th Feb 2016

We slept reasonably well given our long drive up. As it started to get light, we got our first view of the area… Just wow! A view of Sgorr Tuath over Loch Lurgainn out of the back doors and Stac Pollaidh in front! The weather conditions this morning were a brief glimpse as to what we could have expected for the next few days.

T5 Sgorr Tuath

A Scottish Adventure – Our T5 parked up, looking towards Sgorr Tuath.

After having breakfast and packing our wild camping bags, we set off up Stac Pollaidh (pronounced Stack Polly) in hopes of camping on the bealach, unfortunately the weather took a turn and part way up we were caught in a snow storm. Knowing the forecast for the following morning wasn’t looking any more promising, we headed back down to the T5 with at least a better knowledge of the walk up. As it was still early in the day, I took this opportunity to wash my hair using water collected from the stream coming down from Stac Pollaidh. Now if you ever want soft hair that feels incredibly clean, I highly recommend washing it in stream water!

Day 5 – 10th Feb 2016

This day was our second attempt at heading up Stac Pollaidh. The weather was nice, a gentle breeze with blue skies and sunshine, perfect walking conditions 🙂 the forecast was looking promising too, which was an added bonus!

James on his way up Stac Polaidh.

A Scottish Adventure – James making his way up Stac Polaidh.

Walking up the final stretch to the bealach, there was a generous covering of snow underfoot. Whilst ordinarily I wouldn’t say it was a technical walk, with a big, heavy bag on my back and it being slightly slippy on the rocks, I did feel a bit exposed at times and I wished I had put my microspikes on sooner just for a bit of confidence.

The bealach was very rocky, much more than we expected to be truthful but the views were spectacular! For such a small ‘mountain’ the views did not disappoint. The light was really nice at this point, despite it still being fairly early on in the afternoon. We dumped our bags down and began exploring the area with our cameras and tripods at the ready. I’m not normally a panoramic shooter, being 5″4 I often feel I’m not tall enough to make the most of panoramas as I’m usually too low down. Up here was an exception though, how could I not make the most of the 360 degree views?!

The early light hitting the side of Stac Pollaidh, looking out towards Sgorr Tuath over Loch Lurgainn.

A Scottish Adventure – The early light hitting the side of Stac Pollaidh, looking out towards Sgorr Tuath over Loch Lurgainn.

The light stuck around for a little while so we made the most of it, taking in the beautiful views all around! Then that cloud rolled in and I mean really rolled in… Snow storm!!!

 

A Scottish Adventure – Slow motion snow, taken by James Grant Photography
(Double click to play)

“That was it” we thought, thick clouds and heavy snow shrouded the summit. We couldn’t see either side of the ridge and it didn’t show any signs of stopping, we hung around for a bit, trying to keep warm and just as we were about to give up all hope, the unexpected happened…

The most amazing light I have ever seen!

The sun forced its way through the cloud leaving the most incredible hazy light, thankfully I hadn’t packed my camera or tripod away at this point and I was able to quickly shoot the panoramic shot I’d had in mind. At this point I had no idea how it would turn out, little did I know it would produce a great image showing a distinctive warm/cold split either side of the summit.

Stac Pollaidh

A Scottish Adventure – Awesome light breaking through on Stac Pollaidh.

We were due to wild camp this evening, but a failed pair of gloves and an painful hip dictated the outcome and it was better for me to head back down the to T5. It’s safe to say we headed back down feeling rather awe inspired and pleased to have witnessed such great conditions.

Day 6 – 11th Feb 2016

James’ birthday 🙂

Unfortunately another cloudy morning, another sunrise we didn’t bother to get up for. However, another walk up Stac Pollaidh for sunset was in order, hoping to get some shots from higher up with a little more snow on the ground 🙂

By this point my hip was rather sore, I’d been managing it with Ibuprofen throughout the trip but it seemed that no matter what, the pain was going to niggle and irritate me for the majority of the day! I’d said to James to walk ahead without me on the way up, I didn’t want him missing a sunset if I was slow going or had to turn back. Thankfully I made it to the bealach in one piece and not only that, in time for sunset. The light was nice but there weren’t too many clouds in the sky and I felt like I didn’t capture much more in the way of unique shots to the day before.

Stac Pollaidh Bealach

A Scottish Adventure – Phone shot taken just after the sun had set.

Day 7 – 12th Feb 2016

A reasonable morning and the weather for the day was looking promising. We had decided to take a drive around to explore other areas, we attempted to find some form of route near Suilven, but a lack of preparation prior to our trip and limited signal on our phones meant we were unsuccessful. We did however find a lovely waterfall in which I had earmarked for the next day. We decided to head back towards Stac Pollaidh as sunset was drawing in and we didn’t want to have wasted the day driving round. We headed across the moors in search for some of the random stones that were darted throughout, though still early in the day, the light was sublime, with a rainbow constantly sitting across the sky as the rain passed.

Aird of Coigach

A Scottish Adventure – Aird of Coigach.

After wandering the moors for a while, my hips told me they’d had enough, so I headed back tot he T5 whilst James headed off for the final light, which I must add was pretty spectacular!

Day 8 – 13th Feb 2016

Our second to last day saw us heading back to the waterfall that we had spotted the previous day, the clouds teased us as the sun drifted in and out of them, producing some fleeting light.

 

At sunset we headed back towards Aird of Coigach, namely to a random boulder which was positioned lopsided within it’s own little puddle. The views that surrounded were pretty spectacular, Suilven to the left, Stac Pollaidh in the centre and various other ranges to the right. Although a reasonably clear sky, the light didn’t disappoint, providing a lovely red glow to the rocks. It has become pretty standard for us to have at least one selfie on our adventures and it only seemed right to have it here with the impressive Stac Pollaidh behind.

Stac Pollaidh Selfie

A Scottish Adventure – Stac Pollaidh Selfie – James and myself.

Once the sun had dipped below the horizon, we headed back to Ullapool for some well earned grub and then proceeded to travel back to Glen Coe. We had heard the forecast had given some snow, but mainly for the Cairngorms so we presumed we’d be alright on our route. However, we didn’t expect to get just a few miles from Loch Ness and be greeted with a complete white over. There were a few hairy moments on one of the passes, but thankfully James kept his cool and all was fine 🙂 we eventually reached Glen Coe, parked up below Buachaille Etive Mòr and got our heads down.

Day 9 – 14th Feb 2016

I can’t think of many other places I’d want to wake up on Valentines day! Each year James and myself have been together, we’ve spent Valentines day either camped out in the snow or wandering around the Glen Coe/Fort William area. This year was no exception! Sunrise was pretty miserable, which was a shame given it was our last morning, though the tripod holes were aplenty at the foot of Buachaille Etive Mòr so we felt we weren’t missing out on much. After a quick breakfast we decided it was time to leave the higlands for a short while and head back home. The sunset upon our return was a beauty.

Return Sunset

A Scottish Adventure – Return Sunset

I felt sad to be leaving Scotland, but at the same time excited, knowing I would be returning again in just a few short weeks! 😀

Until next time

A Scottish Adventure – Until next time…

 

 

Thanks for reading 🙂

Sarah

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