A thin layer of frost had formed on the tents by sunrise, the night had been cold enough to warrant making a hot drink in the small hours to warm up again. Personally, I love a cold night in a tent, with the right gear you can usually wrap up and get cosy, unzipping the door to reveal a carpet of frost as dawn comes and making a cup of tea without leaving the warmth of your bag is one of life’s simple pleasures. One by one we shook the frost from our tents and shuffled up past the burn to our ramshackle bothy. Stoves were ignited to make breakfasts ranging from healthy porridge to instant noodles and copious amounts of caffeine.
Our plan for the day was to reach the summit of the island, Cruach Scarba, it was a clear day and we were hopeful to enjoy views back to the mainland and the surrounding islands. With a few snacks stowed away we left the glen by making a steep ascent in the direction of Loch Airigh a Cruidh. A shallow stream had given life to some hardy lichen covered trees, their height probably belied their age. Within an hour we had gained a few hundred metres in height and reached the loch, our view of the mainland became more expansive, the jagged snow capped summit of Ben Cruachan stood out in the sunlight.
A vague path skirted to the south of the island providing a striking yet familiar view of the north western coast line of Jura, the paps were visible poking into the distant skyline. The naked eye could make out Glengarrisdale bothy as a faint white dot nestling on an inlet, using binoculars we could make out its orangey red roof but we could see no curls of smoke from the chimney.
We continued along the track before making our own way to approach the summit, a brief dip to a bealach before the final ascent gave a nicely framed view of Mull, it’s grander peaks covered in snow.
The summit was a treat, the cylindrical trig point playing host to stunning views in all directions, the conditions gave good visibility, we were lucky as the rest of our trip would have only given grey misty views. James had obviously ordered good weather when planning his stag party. Dougal kindly photobombed the final shot.
As if things couldn’t get any better, whilst taking in the summit view we noticed some large birds circling in the blue sky above us, Rob and Pete’s fancy binoculars showed them to be three golden eagles and a white tailed eagle. I apologise for a photo which is essentially some black dots on a blue background, but here you go. When I was 6 I became obsessed with birdwatching and regularly claimed to see golden eagles and vultures on the outskirts of Leeds, my family still reminds me of this on a regular basis. So just for the record, these were actually there, they weren’t pigeons alright?
At this point our party split, James, Rob and Reuben opted to head to the north of the island to make their way back to the bothy by picking up the main track. Myself, Pete and Dougal descended west to find some adventures along the jagged rocky coastline. A steep heathery descent required at times all fours, which of course was easy for Dougal.
A near vertical descent to sea level was made just about passable by using the narrow contouring goat tracks which zig zagged alongside a stream to sea level, it required concentration any misplaced footing or loose rocks would have meant a long fall. It was a risk worth taking, we found ourselves at the base of a gorge looking out to sea, steep cliffs and waterfalls and a rocky coastline knitted together with coarse craggy outcrops. As is often the case with trying to capture a true sense of your surroundings, photos rarely do the scene justice, the next photo looks a bit like a wonky jigsaw as I merged a few shots together to create a better sense of scale.
We made decent progress along much of the western coast, the terrain was hard going but by no means impassable, we made our way on foot past caves and rock arches, the corryvreckan and western tips of Jura soon became visible as we came to the south side of the island.
As the afternoon began to give way to dusk we ran into a few obstacles, large impassable rock shaped obstacles. Up to this point our coastal amble had been relatively easy going but we were now faced with having to scramble and climb over a seemingly endless course of rocky outcrops which appeared to become increasingly steep and challenging. My morale was boosted by finding an three pointed antler, unchewed with one previous owner. Seeing Pete’s flat in Glasgow which was adorned with all manner of antlers, skulls and horns reminded me to be on the lookout, my wish was fulfilled.
The scrambling was all good fun for myself and Pete, sadly it was less so for young Dougal who put in some impressive leaps and lunges around some daunting precipes At times though his wee doggy nerves got the better of him and he made it quite clear that he wasn’t game, and objected by looking at us with a sad face. This left us with the rather dubious task of hoisting Dougal up and over some of the steeper sections of the coast. We soon settled into a pragmatic (but possibly humiliating for Dougal) routine of me climbing ahead and Pete lifting Dougal up to me so I could grab him by the collar and shove him on to the ground above. This charade continued until we reached an imposing escarpment of black rock which we may have managed ‘sans pooch’, we had no option but to seek higher ground. A climb of 100m gave some opportune views of Jura and the Corryvreckan under a milky sky and sunset.
We later made the mistake of thinking we were further on than we were and falsely recognised the bay below us as familiar ground and ventured down to pick our way back to the bothy. Oops.
Our mistake was now fully realised, we had a way to go…. in fading light…. over unknown ground….with a dog. At one point, Pete had a near miss whilst crossing a stream and lost his footing, he was okay but it was a sobering reminder that we were in the middle of nowhere and a long way from help. We remained stoic and pushed on, it was a relief when Pete recognised a quartzite cross on a boulder as something he had seen on the first night out. We weren’t going to die, lovely stuff!
It was pitch black by the time we got to the bothy, its probably fair to say that nobody was more relieved to be back than Dougal who had curled up in front of the fire next to four sodden pairs of boots. Once again we pulled chairs round a roaring fireplace and talked and drank into the night.