The forecast promised an overcast but brightening day and the Highlands were calling.Not in the mood to slog up a mountain, we had a notion to re-visit a loch which few ever reach or even know exists: Loch Dochard. It sits nestled more than 700 feet up in the Black Mount, a favourite area of mine just beyond Bridge of Orchy.
It’s only a 90 min highly scenic drive from our home, up past Loch Lomond and into the West Highlands just south of more famous Glencoe.The Black Mount is a lonely, unfrequented place though the West Highland Way long distance hiking route does go through a section of it.Throughout most of it, you could walk for days and not meet another soul.
We set off late, around 10am, my fault as I just couldn’t get myself going that Sunday morning.I love browsing the papers, having milky coffees, had a good book on the go too (The Forsyte Saga – enthralling, beautiful writing for which Galsworthy received a Nobel Prize.) Too many excuses to laze about and stay put.But Chris had already got sandwiches made up from last night’s chicken; the Trangia stove was packed in his rucksack for brewing up a cuppa and he was busying about determinedly as I lounged on the sofa, trying to make up my mind – should I go or should I stay? (hmm..reminds me of a song…) I knew if I stayed I’d regret not making more of the day so forced myself to my feet and started getting my gear sorted out and my own rucksack packed.My heart wasn’t truly in the day out which was quite ridiculous as already, blue sky was breaking through the gloom.
Off we set and as the great scenery began to unfold at Loch Lomond, my spirits lifted – the mountains were looking good, every shade of green, their rocky outcrops a dusky pink.By the time we reached the Black Mount and pulled into the tiny single track road to Inveroran, the day had turned quite brilliant – puffy white clouds, barely a breath of wind and wow…the heat! As we stepped out of the car, it was stifling. Unusual conditions for the Highlands even in mid-summer.There were 10 other cars in the small , rough parking area – almost full – so the good weather had drawn a lot of wilderness loving folks out.
I must admit that the mountains nearby – Stob Ghabhar and Stob a’ Choire Odhar – looked mildly tempting but we’ve been onto their summits before; plus, we’d already clocked up around 50 miles of local walking this week and the auld pins were needing a rest.So a flat walk of barely 4 miles each way to the loch ticked the right boxes.We really do have to be psyched up to do a mountain hike – it’s hard work and especially in this heat.
Off we set at 11.20am, on a good if rubbly track, astonished at how low the river was; barely any water in places, just the river bed of orange/pink boulders, testament to how dry the year had been since March.
The Red Deer are all high up at this time of year with their new born fawns ; in autumn the area we were walking in is full of stags, their antlers poking up out of their resting place in the high grasses.
Ahead was the mountain range above Glen Etive and secret Loch Dochard. I like breaking up a walk in my head into timed sections and noted that after 30 mins we had arrived at the section where the path becomes a narrow little deer track bordering the river.It was dry as a bone today but it can be horrendously boggy and slow going.We now caught up with a couple of families with very young children who were obviously looking for some nice spots to play by the river and have a picnic.
We said hello and marched on, a bit more mileage to get under our belts before our picnic spot was reached.Then 25 mins along the river bank and we reached a crossing point with deeper water and with boulders to hop onto , to avoid wet feet.A couple were a bit TOO sloped and high for me, so I put up with wading in at one point; my light walking shoes, now soaked, would soon dry in this heat.
In fact the air was stifling; a glen tends to be sheltered from any breeze and this was just the day it would have been welcome.At least there were none of the dreaded midges because they hate bright sunny days; lots of butterflies – Common Blues and Red Admirals mostly, very beautiful.My biggest delight however was the Bog Myrtle that was now cloaking the moorland in extensive thickets – it’s an evocative scent, the smell of summer in the Highlands, a resiny, rosemary/pine smell which is so fresh and sharp.I always pick a few leaves, rub them together, then take a deep breath.It reminds me too of a few simple lines, memories of summer days on Skye, by the great Gaelic poet Sorley Maclean (Chris’s Uncle)
I do not remember your words
Even a thing you said
But Aros Burn in the smell of honeysuckle
And the smell of bog myrtle on Suishnish
Ten minutes later and we crossed the riverbed – dry again – and joined the big track to the loch, a mere 25 minutes walk away now.A Cuckoo was calling insistently , its call echoing across the empty glen. We caught sight of it a couple of times, coming to rest on a fence post.I wondered what poor little bird was now incubating its large egg – probably a Meadow Pipit, a small brown -streaked bird which haunts the moors; it’s own little offspring would soon be devoured but – such is Nature. I love watching them in Spring when their territorial display includes singing at the top of their voices as they rise into the air, then floating down to the ground from a great height, like a little parachute twirling round and round, trilling melodiously as they fall.
And suddenly we were at the loch, as lonely and lovely a spot as I remembered.Tea time! Chris got the Trangia going, our faithful stove and soon a brew was on the go.But first, I downed most of the little bottle of Sparkling Water I’d brought, as I was absolutely parched.Two Sandpipers flitted across the shallows, with their distinctive, high pitched wheet- wheet -wheet.We had watched Red Throated Divers here once but no sign of them today.
We spent about an hour just sitting with our sandwiches, having tea (somehow, still enjoyable in the heat), some fruit.Utter peace all around, just the call of the Cuckoo and the Sandpipers.
The heat was quite something so nothing for it but to sit with with my feet in the peaty water.Wish I had brought some swimming things, though you have to be careful with these lochs, they get deep very quickly, can be weedy and are incredibly cold.
I didn’t think there was another soul about, but a lone fisherman was ahead of us on the path as we made our way back.A sweltering 29C was registered by the car, roasting in its little hollow – a bit too hot for our cold Northern blood! But ridiculous to complain; what a gorgeous day in this lonely backwater, overlooked by the mountains.A commune with wild Nature and so good for the soul.