Sunday, 2 August 2009

Day 21 - Scotland West Coast - Kinlochleven - Climbing ice...and mysteries on Ben Nevis

Before leaving Kinlochleven, I dropped by Ice-Factor, the climbing facility where visitors can learn how to climb on traditional indoor walls, but also on the unique ice-wall, which is kept cool inside a massive refrigerator about the size of a mini-warehouse. I took some video – check it out (will upload as soon as I find a good Internet connection in the Highlands!). Very cool (bad pun I know!)

Climbing on the ice wall at Ice Factor in Kinlochleven...

I also bumped into the Knight family from Northern Ireland, who were trying out the ice-wall. I got talking, and they had walked up Ben Nevis the day before (they said it was very busy on the route up – peak season.) Anyway, father Steve had taken some photos of the very rare and mysterious Brocken Spectres. Essentially, when conditions are exactly right, a strange halo of rainbow colours surrounds the shadow of a person. Check out the photos they took...

A Brocken spectre, taken by the Knight family on Ben Nevis...

Day 21 - Scotland West Coast - Spean Bridge - The gathering of the clan

After dinner, I was sent on my way to the clan gathering of the Camerons. Bear with me for a moment, while I dish out a bit of history (which may well need a bit of fine-tuning!) the 1740s, the Cameron Clan sided with the exiled Scottish king, and when he returned to British shores, the Cameron clan immediately threw their support in his direction. For that, though, they paid a heavy price. The English and their Scottish allies routed the Scottish loyalists, and the Cameron clan was particularly hard hit.

So once very eight years, descendants of the original Cameron clan gather in Achnacarry at the estate of the Lochiel of the Camerons – essentially the modern-day chief of the clan. A few hundred people spend four days in activities, music, socialising and dining.

I was fortunate enough to listen to some of the Gaelic music on the last evening of the gathering. There is poor Internet access up here in the highlands, and it makes uploading my videos from last night difficult, but as soon as I find a WiFi hotspot, I'll upload the lot...they are great! The videos include excellent bagpipe and Gaelic music, as well as informal renditions of popular Gaelic folk songs by the son of the Lochiel of the well as a great joke by the Lochiel of Cameron, about a drunk Scotsman (You’ll have to listen to it for yourself!)

Day 21 - Scotland West Coast - Spean Bridge - Scottish summers! And warm people...

From Kinlochleven deep in the mountains, just south of Ben Nevis, I took a day's drive around the area to the west of Fort William, towards Mallaig. The scenery is the same - monotonously beautiful. After a while, you're so inured to it that you have to remind yourself that this is some of the most atmospheric landscape in Britain.

But you don't have to drive this route...rather take the steam train Jacobite, which was voted as one of the most beautiful train rides in the world. It takes you from Fort William to Mallaig on the west coast, and back again. It's about a two hour ride either direction.

And certainly the summer rain adds to the moodiness of things. It's been a bad spell of weather the last few days. If it’s not rainy, the mist smothers the mountain tops. But I think I’ve just been unlucky, because I have come across other visitors who say that they’ve had glorious weather elsewhere in the Highlands. But do be prepared for rain during a Scottish summer. As one weather presenter commented on BBC Scotland, when giving the dire forecast for the week ahead: “This is Scotland, ya know!” Check out the BBC's weather forecast for Scotland, and you'll get an idea.

But, so what if it was raining?! It's part of the deal. And the Scots are famous for their warm hospitality - I've found that they've been wonderful, and I met one of the most welcoming and warm Scottish people at Corriegour Lodge Hotel, just a few miles north of Fort William and Spean Bridge, and only about 50 metres from Loch Lochy. Owner Christian Drew - a true blue Scottish lady - is crazily enthusiastic about her Scottish heritage, and it’ll rub off on you to the extent that you’re ready to don a kilt and eat haggis for the rest of your life.

Corriegour used to be an old hunting lodge, now a laidback-luxury, family-run spot, locally renowned for its owners’ passion and award-winning food. It’s perfectly suited to keeping warm and cosy. There’s a smooth, silent feel inside Corriegour, except for the crackling fireplace in the lounge which warms up the hands and spirits of the most rain-drenched tourist.

I dumped my things, because Christian (her name is a mixture of her parents, Ian and Christa), wanted me to hurry up and head off to the gathering of the Cameron clan, just down the road in Achnacarry. (More on that in the next post...)

Before I left to see this uniquely Scottish occasion, she sat me down in the dining room, which has the best views in the building. The Lodge is elevated on a hill, and looks through a few trees, across the road and onto a wonderland of water, heather and mountains (and a fair bit of mist too!)

Christian’s son Ian is the expert chef (and co-owner), and the meals are certainly reason enough to stay at Corriegour. All ingredients are sourced locally. Along with my stay at Castle Cottage in Harlech, the food at Corriegour was the best I’ve had. Check out one of the sample menus...

Room at Corriegour Lodge Hotel...

Video of the comfiest lounge in Scotland...imagine getting warm here in the middle of winter, while looking over a loch and drinking whisky.