The freezing spring

Sat, May 11, 2019

An Stac, Isle of Skye

The Misty Isle is feeling the effects of climate change I think, with practically no rain for the last six weeks, freezing north easterlies and to top it all, snow down to 400m a couple of days ago. It’s unusual to get snow down that low even in winter and it’s mid May. Where is the warmth of spring?

So I betook myself to An Stac, the wonderful little hill opposite Blaven with the grandstand views of The Queen of the Winged Isle’s giant east face and the Clach Glas ridge, the finest scramble in the known world, probably. But first I had to park the car. Normally at this time of year it’s pretty quiet, even on a Saturday but this morning it was chock solid with vehicles. A few campervans were taking up three of four spaces a piece with one crew preening themselves in the early morning sunshine, no doubt having spent the night there. I’m sure it’s a pleasant thing to do but not very sociable if you’re blocking access for everyone else. There seems to be a campervan invasion this year. Kyle of Lochalsh was full of them, the roads are clogging with them, weaving around looking at the views at 2mph and now the Blaven car park was infested with them. I did manage to squeeze in next to one, next to the muddy scar that indicates a toileting path to dump in the woods no doubt. The John Muir Trust have big plans for the car park but if they put in toilets it’ll only encourage more campervans to take up all the space. Anyway, ranting over, it was a superb bimble up the JMT improved path, into the coire, round past the lunch stone, encouraged to see a fair amount of water in the burn despite the lack of rain. I passed a huddle of clients being regaled by their mountain guide, who was resplendent in head buff, with a suitably enigmatic posture and gesticulating at the cliffs making them sound far more intimidating than they actually are. No time for Mr. Guide to say hello but a nice lady did acknowledge my lowly existence and we exchanged pleasantries. I hope she didn’t miss too much of the lecture. On round the coire, past the lochan and up to the top of An Stac with stunning clarity of views thanks to the bitingly cold north easterly.

Beinn Sgritheall and Knoydart from An Stac, Isle of Skye

I messed around with the ND filter for a long exposure but it was too bright and the clouds weren’t moving fast enough so just settled for snapping everything on the extensive horizon. In the north a craggy congregation of mountains ranged past Torridon to the far north west. Directly to the east Beinn Sgritheal, Ladhair Bheinn and the wilds of Knoydart were a stunning foreground to the Kintail mountains, all snow capped and sparkling in the sunshine. Ben More away down on Mull then past Ardnamurchan point and out onto the blue Atlantic for an ocular trip round Eigg, Muck and Rum with the pinnacle of Hyskeir lighthouse and the Dutchman’s Cap adding interest to the calm, hazy blue sea. What a grand day to be sat, sipping coffee from my ancient flask, contemplating the world from the top of a hill.

The Five Sisters of Kintail from An Stac, Isle of Skye

After an hour and a half or so it became just too cold to hang around any more so I bimbled down into the coire, past the lunch stone, across the burn, past the colourfully clad chap having a lively and loud conversation into his mobile phone about surveys and work sounding stuff and then on down the path. A kerfufflous cackling from above signalled the arrival of the Blaven ravens but what appeared round the cliffs wasn’t my old pals. It was a golden eagle. I stood, transfixed, as it pulled in its wings and stooped at a phenomenal speed across the mouth of the coire and shot round the An Stac buttress out of sight. A special moment indeed.

Ladhair Bheinn in Knoydart from An Stac, Isle of Skye

Back at the car park it was even more full with lots of cars spilling out onto the road. It really is becoming like the Lake District now. With all the ‘experience’ buses streaming out of Inverness, stripping the Broadford co-op bare before their breakneck circumnavigation of the island, occasionally ending up a ditch. It’s becoming almost impossible to get a loaf of bread in July. Fancy a day out on the ferry to Arisaig or Harris? No chance, fully booked! Instead, pull up a deckchair and watch the smashes on the Sligachan bend. It’s becoming a notorious blackspot for appalling driving and crashes.

Ranting over again, it was a grand day out, in grand surroundings, violets poking out from the dry heather, stonechats chasing each other above the lochan, the ravens seeing off a golden eagle and of course, the incomparable essence of being alive. Moving among mountains.

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