TNT goes on a wilderness micro adventure in the Scottish Highlands
Adventure doesn’t always need to take you halfway around the world or take months of planning and saving. What if I told you that there is a place where you can be immersed in the wild with no roads or other people to share it with, just a few hours away from Central London?
I decided I had had enough of the madness in London and the bullshit of the general election and decided to pack my bag and get the hell out of town for a few days to get away from it all.
I jumped on the Caledonian sleeper train in Euston and after a few drinks in the well stocked on-board bar I settled into my cabin for the night. The sleeper train has various options for travellers ranging from seated accommodation, shared berths and single occupancy cabins. I went for the latter as nobody needed to share with me after a weekend of wilderness exploration! The accommodation is basic but adequate for a good night’s sleep with a bunk and a sink and just enough space to swing a small rodent. The hypnotic repetition of the clickety clack as we trundled along had me asleep in no time, and before I knew it I was awoken with the arrival of a pot of coffee and breakfast at around 7:00am the following morning. I opened my blind to be greeted by wonderful highland landscapes zipping past as we made our way through the mountains. I lay on my bunk and watched the world go by for a bit and in no time at all we were pulling up in Fort William up in the highlands of Scotland.
This was a rather spontaneous trip and apart from getting on the train and ending up in Fort William I had made very few provisions for the weekend ahead. I knew that the weather wasn’t going to be great having checked the forecast before I left London, so I hot footed it to one of the many outdoor shops in the town to get kitted out for the next few days. Ellis Brigham have a huge store just outside the train station where you can get anything you need for any expedition in the mountains, after stocking up on a few bits missing from by kit, I set off to find my first adventure.
Anyone who is into mountain biking will have known that the world downhill championships had been going on the week before and I couldn’t resist the chance to go and check out some of the cycle trails on offer at the Nevis Range where the pro’s had been competing. I had seen enough of the coverage of the competition to know that my skill grade was far below the requirement to hit the competition trail safely, so I headed to the hire shop to get kitted out and find out the best places for me to explore. The centre is well catered for all abilities from the absolute beginner to the more ambitious rider like myself. I set off into the hills for a quick 10km loop to warm up before hitting some of the more technical features. Unless you were born on the side of a mountain there will be little to prepare you for the steep inclines and lung burning ascents, but after a bit of climatisation I was soon making good progress. The trails are simply some of the best I’ve ridden and I could have spent the whole weekend blatting around the Nevis Range, but the realisation that I had yet to do any walking nor fully work out where I was going to walk soon hit, and I dragged myself away from the adrenalin fuelled bike trails and went off to the cafe to have my last proper feed and work out a plan for the rest of the weekend.
It was soon apparent that what might look like a cracking camping site on the map doesn’t always transpire into a suitable spot in reality. The ground was particularly wet and totally unsuitable for pitching a tent on, so I carried on ambling along trying to find a good spot. Even the places that looked good in reality turned out to be mostly unsuitable and the high of spotting a clearing in the distance soon turned into disappointment as my boot squelched into the boggy moss upon arrival. Eventually after a few more miles than I had intended to walk, I found a perfect place to setup for the night. It was worth the extra effort as by this time I was in quite literally the middle of nowhere. I couldn’t believe my luck, it wasn’t raining, there was at least two more hours of light left to setup camp, and the only sign of life was a herd of deer on a distant hillside and the comforting sound of the stream burbling beside my camp. I was unsure how this solitude would feel at first, as there was some sense of exposure being so far from anywhere with no lifeline of mobile phone signals or reassurance of other people around. I soon realised that there had been nothing to fear and settled into my first night in the wild.
I can’t fully articulate the sense of calm and peace I discovered out there in the wilderness, there was no feeling of danger even as the light faded, just calm and tranquility and the feeling of disbelief that I had such a huge area of land all to myself. This was truly one of the most beautiful places I had seen with huge mountains surrounding me, including the biggest mountain in the UK nestled in with the clouds drifting over the summit. This place was way beyond idyllic, this was jaw dropping, mind boggling beauty and I had it all to myself! After a few more moments of smugness and being in awe of the location I found myself in, I settled down for the night and cooked up some much needed dinner. The evening stayed light until well after 10:00pm and by the time the darkness drew in, I was well on my way to a peaceful night’s sleep.
I woke up at dawn to the sound of splats of rain hitting the tent which is never the sound you want to hear first thing. Having ventured outside for a morning piss, I quickly returned to the sanctuary of the tent and my warm sleeping bag and enjoyed a rather decadent extra hour lie-in as there was no point going out into the rain quite yet. The rain came and passed in scattered showers, and I timed my exit to give me enough chance to get the tent down and pack up for the day ahead.
The tent was too wet to packup properly, so I strapped it to the outside of my pack and slung the raincover over to keep the elements out. I had come up with two options for the day whilst waiting out a rain shower in the tent earlier that morning. Head up and over the Mamores via Binnein Beag (a 900m ascent) or to carry on down the valley and head towards Corrour station which is a particularly remote train station which the sleeper train happens to stop at. I felt the allure of the hills and decided to hit my first peak of the weekend and set off up the slopes of Binnein Beag. Thankfully things started off gradually so I was able to acclimatise to the pack weight before things got too serious.
I made my way up and before not too long had arrived at the first plateau. It was a lovely Lochain with views overlooking Ben Nevis in the distance, it would have been another great place to setup camp. I carried on and made my way up higher, until finally reaching the summit via a rather scrabbly scree slope. The descent was short and sweet and I moved on between the mountains heading towards Binnein Mor and the Loch beyond. The valley I traversed looked far less gruelling on the map, but after the realisation that I had a 600m descent, and a similar climb up the other side I cracked on and made it over to another Lochain on the other side of the mountain. It was rather windy by this point, so after soaking up the view I started to make my descent down to Loch Eilde Mor and then on further down to the village of Kinlochleven where I hoped I could grab a bus back to civilisation in Fort William.
It was a pretty steep climb down into the village and by this time my legs were starting to advertise for new owners that weren’t going to put them through such torment. I made it down and despite the rather long wait for the Sunday bus service, I was soon enough heading back to Fort William with plenty of spare time to catch the sleeper train home. I had spent 24 hours with only myself for company, but was pleased to find like minded souls to converse with on the bus, and back in Fort William. There was great pleasure in the solitude I found out on the hills, but it was comforting to find other people out doing similar trips and sharing tales from the mountains they had explored. I settled back into my bunk on the sleeper train and before I knew it I was sleeping my way peacefully back to London ready for the week ahead.