With a decent forecast , we decided on the Sunday night that we would head off again next morning and make initially for Glencoe and a favourite short hike, then play it by ear for our next move.It’s not normally how we do our regular February break; we usually rent a cottage in Torridon, or Mull, or Ardnamurchan or Assynt.But we decided we’d chase the good weather this time and build the time away specific places we wanted to visit or hike in.
So 8.30am on Monday 30 Jan and we threw some extra clothes in the case and took off again.It had to be the west coast where the forecast was best, so we headed for Loch Lomond and Glencoe.It’s a superb drive, totally different to the more mundane A9.No matter how often we travel up that way – usually at least once every 4 weeks – it is a wow.It was a fine winter’s day, bitterly cold with a biting wind but with lots of blue sky and sunshine.
What walk to do? We still didn’t have the crampons sorted so with the snow cover, the biggies were out.As Glencoe approached it had to be the simple hike up to Creag Mhic Mhartainn – Macmartin’s Peak – around 700 metres in height and easily hiked up via the West Highland Way.The slopes are fairly benign so no risk of slipping and sliding on the snow two thousand feet down into the glen. And the views are stunning for relatively little effort.Oh, we are getting so lazy these days….age doesn’t come alone!
There was snow on the Glencoe hills but it was all looking amazing as we parked at Altnafeidh , opposite Buachaille Etive Mor and made our way up the long distance track.It was Baltic though , with a keen, hard wind billowing around us.I was glad of the thermal layers I had out on…leggings under my walking trousers, thermal vest, a high wicking long sleeved mid layer and light fleece top.Then my new duvet jacket on top of all that.Warm woolly hat and wind proof gloves.With windchill, we reckoned it would be closer to minus 15 higher up as the temperature was hovering below zero at the car park.
We met a man with a friendly collie half way up the snow and ice covered track, on his way down ( I always feel sorry for these dogs on winter walks, it must be freezing on their paws).We said hello and he shouted on the dog to stop jumping around our feet.’Cailean…down!’ Chris laughed, ‘I’ve got a brother called Cailean’ Turned out, this man was Chris’s brother’s radio show producer on Skye! Or used to be. Small world , Scotland.Had a nice chat then headed up the hill.We met another couple from Yorkshire who were astonished at the environment they’d found themselves in and planned to go up as high as the cairn, though the lady was struggling a bit already.
There’s a lot of bang for your buck on this short walk.
The views over Buachaille Etive Mor, the Great Herdsman of Etive as it translates from the Gaelic and Etive Beg (Little Herdsman) are just supérb. Crampons would have been needed to ascend the very steep corrie headwall of the former, too dangerous in boots alone.But we were happy today with where we were.At the cairn, the main track , which is called the Devil’s Staircase, winds its way down to Kinlochleven, but we branched off left following a less distinct route uphill towards our destination, a knobbly outcrop below the main ridge.
It was blowy up here , more like the Arctic with severe wind chill.We could see snow being blown off the summits opposite.
It’s only around an hour to Creag Mhic Mhartainn but oh, those views! Once at the top, we got some shelter behind rocks and had some water , crisps and oranges.(We ‘re never that hungry on a walk.)You really only could spend so long up there and we were soon battling our way back down.It was a slightly more difficult proposition walking into that wind.The temperature had also dropped again and conditions underfoot had turned quite icy.So easy to get caught out in this weather and time of year in the mountains, even on a hike like this.We could have done with goggles coming down but it was a short hike overall and we were soon in much kinder conditions.Amazing the difference a few hundred metres lower down makes.
Time for a coffee and soup in “Crafts and Things ‘ in Ballachulish and to think what we were going to do now for the next 36 hours.
Over good old lentil soup and coffee we mulled over the options.Head for Skye and stay in Chris’s Mum’s old house, where his older brother was now staying? Or head over to Cairngorm, where the weather looked best for tomorrow? Decisions, decisions.
Skye is always tempting but a phone call to Cailean on Skye revealed that Robbie wasn’t there and the house was in a bit of an upheaval with beds being changed around.Plus, Chris’s Mum had her much loved Gaelic group tomorrow….not fair for us just to turn up and whisk her away out for lunch.Hmmm…things weren’t really working out.But Skye was like a flea in our brains now, we couldn’t get rid of it. A quick look at booking.com and we found Kinloch Lodge, genuine 5 star luxury and a huge favourite and tonight, they were doing a dinner, bed and breakfast deal for 2 for £218 all in. Given their 5 course Michelin star evening meal was over £75 each, that made it only £34 each to stay overnight with a first class breakfast thrown in also.Too good to turn down! Ok, a bit of splurge but as Chris reminded me as I hummed and hawed about the expense, (oh, the extravagance!) – we’re only here once.A quick call on the mobile as we drove past Fort William and we were booked.Great excitement!
Wow…Kinloch Lodge, home of the Chief of Clan Macdonald and a luxury small hotel for many decades now.Lady Claire Macdonald is a well known Scottish cookery writer with countless books to her name.And very good they are too.
If we thought the day had started off well it had just got even better.I love Kinloch, ultra special.We could justify it as a sort of very early Valentine’s Day, couldn’t we? Chris told me not to be so daft, why did we have to justify it at all? My Masters in guilt was kicking in, as usual.
Made a quick call to Calmac to see if we could get over to Skye via the Mallaig ferry, saving ourselves 70-80 road miles but they were fully booked!
“On a Monday? On 30 January? ” I must have sounded incredulous to the girl who answered the phone.
” It’s only the small ferry that’s on just now, it only takes 12 cars,’ she explained. Groan.I was slightly surprised there were even as many as that on a Monday evening in late January.
Ah well, no hardship to continue up past Loch Garry, which I love and lonely Loch Loyne and Loch Cluanie, another wonderful stretch of water and then ethereal and wild Glen Shiel.It’s still the most scenic route to Skye but we sometimes enjoy the change and a chance to stroll the Camus Darach beaches and Morar’s Silver Sands.
And it takes the same time to reach Skye , whether you drive to the Bridge or take the ferry.
The late afternoon colours were just incredible as we wound our way north and west.With any luck we’d reach Kinloch before sunset and enjoy the view there before it got dark.
At 4.30pm the tyres crunched on the gravel as we drove into the parking area outside this beautiful old Highland Lodge, sitting all on its own beside the sea in one of Skye’s loveliest locations.Woodsmoke curled up from the chimneys, always a welcoming sight. What a joy to get inside with the case and rucksacks and be welcomed with a glass of Prosecco beside the roaring fire in the cosy bar.
Being in Kinloch is like arriving not in a hotel, but in the Clan Chief’s own home (which it essentially is.) It is so far removed from any normal hotel and a bit like stepping back into another era.Old family photographs and portraits line the walls and antique furniture, giving it a homely feel as well as being country house luxury.It’s a true delight.
Our room was gorgeous, very stylish and with a nice settee and a big picture window which looked out to the sea and the mountains.It was on the ground floor, very spacious with a beautiful, en suite bathroom and our own small hallway and great storage.It was a dream given the cost too.
Prosecco polished off, we popped open our own champagne and drank – again – to another night of high living.We were getting a bit too used to this – it was going to be hard to return to ‘auld claes and porridge’ as the saying goes.
Showered and did my hair (I had managed my usual of arriving looking as if I’d been dragged through a hedge backwards.At least I’d been allowed in.) Squished on some Opium perfume and changed into a newish outfit I’d bought from a local boutique.Ready at last to grace Kinloch’s impressive but quite formal dining room, with its oil paintings of Macdonald ancestors gazing down on us hoi polloi.
Classical music played softly in the background, Bach and Beethoven mostly, nothing too Russian and passionate.
Well, what a meal. Canapes initially in the beautiful drawing room.A sweet sherry for me and dry sherry for Chris.Then into the dining area and an amuse bouche comprising of a wondérful pea puree soupcon and olives , with a truly superb taste.It was so good, I asked for the recipe and it was actually given to me at the table. Seared wild pigeon breast, Stornoway black pudding, beetroot and creme fraiche with citrus jus starter for me. Pigeon is not usually appealing, (they are vermin in my mind) but if it was alright for Marcello Tully, the hotel’s top chef…..in fact, the dish was exquisite. Scallops with chorizo for Chris.Both of us had the Aberdeen Angus beef fillet with Strathdon Blue Cheese mousse, celeriac and confit shallot, all served with a rich brandy sauce.Gorgeous. Then passionfruit parfait with yoghurt sorbet.Chris had the selection of Scottish and French cheeses.Finally…..whew…coffee, tea , petit fours and tablet in the drawing room.Stuffed!
There was a large group booked in that night.We were told they were 12 distillery reps or some such and it struck me that this dozen or so may well have resulted in the ferry being fully booked!
It was 9.30pm by the time we got back to our room, after checking the sky outside for stars.Orion was high in the sky , always a fine sight.No Northern Lights though…not really clear enough to the east.There have been many showings of the Lights during the past two years all over Scotland and very frequently in Skye.
Party animals that we are, we were in bed not too long after that, bit of reading, me boring the boys with What’s App messages and photos of the day then….. zonk…..we were both out for the count.A fantastic day, nothing else I would rather have done and nowhere else I would rather have been but Kinloch.A life affirming place.
Previous day:Walking with Reindeer in Cairngorm
Next day: across country to Cairngorm , a hike to the Green Lochan and an attempt on icy Cairn Gorm itself.