North West Scotland [Part 1]
With a week to cover Caithness in May 2017 I felt a trip up the west side of Scotland first would cover many areas I had never seen before. So on a dull wet start I drove the van up the A74 heading for Fort William via Loch Lomond. The early start still left me with a delay at Hamilton but soon the open road had me wheeling off in search of new pasture.
I had seen the Glen Finnan viaduct from the train before but now was my chance to see the monument instead from the ground and low and behold I had found yet another walk to cover in Bird watching magazine. A walk was sign posted off to the left of the monument to an island full of Caledonian Pine home to Pine Martens and Crested Tits. What a start. The sun was now shinning. In fact it was getting too hot for walking this early in May! The walk had potential especially with a track leading along Loch Shiel and the river entering it.
A great start but the goal was a much longer walk which I had been planning for some months thanks to a book on Scottish bothies. Peanmeanach had been described for its beautiful coast/beach and even romantic setting with an old village only abandoned after the railway came to Malaig. The village itself had been built first by the Vikings with all movement by boat and still today there are no roads to it.
I parked up in a large lay by and at first found 2 paths but soon found the right one. A Cuckoo was still belting out at 1pm while a Garden Warbler was the only one of the trip. The path soon became a real mess which rain had washed away large sections making it a hard slog up and down to start with. A sea loch came into view [Loch Beag] with a viaduct for the train in the background. A ruined croft looked beautiful looking out to the sea. Birch woodland was along the path to start but soon the landscape opened out to moorland with Meadow Pipit and Skylarks the main birds with Willow Warblers and Redpoll left behind. The area had had a very long drought so even the sphagnums were struggling to hold water.
My late lunch was had overlooking the loch but drink was certainly the main reason to stop with the heat amazing for May. Red Deer were on the hill side and a blue sky is hard to spot a distant eagle! Soon I was starting to descend and a fresh water loch came into view [Loch Doire a Ghearrain]. This looked good for both Greenshank and divers especially Red throated Diver as they feed at sea which was so close while Black throated Diver needs to feed on the loch itself. Slowly Birch woodland came into view as mentioned in the book but it was even better as hanging Sessile Oak woodland was also there and my first Wood Warbler of the year was singing along with several Tree Pipits.
The woodland was also on a rocky promontory heading towards the sea as well as on the hillside. This gave way to a super marsh around ½ mile long and 1/4 wide heading towards the village. Small Reed [calamagrostis ] and soft rush [juncus] dominated offering home to species like Snipe, water rail and may be even Corncrake. It would be a great hunting area for Hen Harrier especially in the winter. This area would have been drained land and used as hay fields. The path to the village was still boggy in places here but the village itself was on a raised beach with short turf ideal for Wheatears hunting insects spotted from the ruins. A lovely male was the first bird I saw along with a pair of Twite and a Pied Wagtail.
The beach itself has breeding Ringed Plover and Oystercatchers along with a few Sanderling still on their way north to breed in the Arctic. The village had been built in an arch giving everyone ample space from one another. The bothy was built into the best preserved of these and at one time acted as the post office even with no mail man to collect mail! Sadly it was soon time for me to head back leaving several young folk to enjoy the night passing several heading out on my way back.
This was a slog for my first walk and although 7 miles is supposed to be the distance there and back it was more like 10 miles with the times you went up and down. I arrived back at the van around 7pm desperate for a drink and some food. A nearby quarry was my night stop viewed from the walk. The night was very quiet until that Cuckoo woke me up around 4.30am! An early start meant after breakfast I was soon back on the road heading towards my next stop!