Holiday in the highlands

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During the week, Katy and I went on an emergency, last minute holiday to Ballachulish, a small village, built on either shore of Loch Leven in the Scottish Highlands. It's surrounded by mountains, particularly Beinn a' Bheithir to the south, which has three peaks with elevation around 1,000m: about level with Carrauntoohil, the highest peak in Ireland. Ballachulish is just a couple of miles from Glen Coe, a jawdroppingly beautiful volcanic glen which must have some of the most spectacular scenery in Europe in clear weather.

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We stayed in Rowanbrae, a self-catering studio apartment. It was comfortable, quiet and convenient. The owners were very friendly and had lots of helpful tips about the area and there were great views from the patio and balcony. The Loch Leven hotel is just a few minutes walk away, serves good food and has a nice pub attached (even has a pool table). Perhaps the best thing about the accomodation was the family of pine martens living in the woods behind the house. One evening, after sitting down to read with the patio door open, to my amazement a pine marten jumped down onto the balcony and stuck its nose into the room. We had a good look at each other before it leapt onto the bannister of the balcony, clambering along it before jumping up into the trees. I definitely recommend staying there.

Two of the walks we went on were particularly enjoyable:

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The first was from the lighthouse at the westernmost point of the the Ardnamurchan peninsula. Ardnamurchan is remarkably wild and unspoilt. There are very obviously volcanic mountains, deciduous forests growing on the hills, rugged coastlines, nature reserves and plenty of deer. I'm not sure how this area escaped the deforestation and sheep farming that has blighted most of the wilderness areas of Great Britain and Ireland, but it was great to see. Ardnamurchan is very remote. The only road into it is a single track, making for a long and difficult car journey. We were extremely lucky to have sunny weather and enjoyed the drive, as well as the walk we went on. First we drove to Kilchoan where we filled up with petrol. The pumps were of a style that was last common when I was a small child (a long time ago). They belonged to a combined grocery store, hardware store, post-office and petrol station. Very efficient! After asking about getting some food, we were directed to the Kilchoan community centre which provides soup, sandwiches and cakes as well as an internet cafe, a library, a tourist information centre and a vet clinic. Pretty impressive facilities for such a tiny village. Such a self-sufficient, practical setup reminded me of some of the remote villages on New Zealand's south island. Driving to the lighthouse, we parked the car, scrambled over a ridge and ambled along the coast, where we sat and watched a colony of common seals and paddled in the sea. On Sgurr nam Meann, we watched a pair of golden eagles teaching a juvenile how to fly (or driving it out of the nest!). From Portuairk, we walked back along the road, past some pretty spectacular holiday houses and saw hundreds of greylag geese on and around Loch Grigadale. Maps and waymarks here.

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The second walk was along the much smaller Ardnish peninsula. We walked out to the abandoned village of Peanmeanach. No roads were ever built to Peanmeanach (like Adrnamurchan, Ardnish is also very wild), though there is a good, old stone path and the village is on the shore, so there would have been access from the sea. The last building to be built there was a post-office and that is the only one which is not ruined. The former post office is now a comfortable-looking bothy. It would be a great place to sail to or visit by kayak, spending the night in the bothy before heading back. It could be worth bringing a small amount of firewood. The way to Peanmeanach is extremely pleasant, great views over the coast. The path takes you alongside a lake (Loch Doire a' Ghearrain) at the top of a hill (Cruach an Fhearainn Duibh) and along a stream coming from the lake into some deciduous woodland and through some reclaimed bog before reaching the village. A herd of deer kindly chose to walk along a ridge so that we could have a good look at them, and there was evidence of otters in the stream we crossed. We also found a small toad and, unfortunately, a few ticks as well. Maps and waymarks here.

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On the last day, we went on a half-day sea kayaking trip in Loch Leven with Paddle Lochaber. We were visited by a curious seal, hauled up a rope full of mussels from a mussel farm, watched metre-long salmon jumping in a fish farm pen, visited a tiny island that was home to 18 grey herons (before this, I had always thought that herons were solitary). We also visited some other islands that were shared between three highland clans and used for burials and settlement of disputes in the past. After that, we had an excellent lunch in the Clachaig Inn in Glen Coe, before heading homeward.

There are more photos from the trip on flickr.

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