Video + Photos - Derek // Text - Micky
Our first Survivor Paddy trip outside Ireland took us across the Irish Sea to Scotland on the May Bank Holiday weekend 2013. On a sunny Friday morning, four of us arrived into Glasgow airport fully packed for a three-day wild camping and hiking adventure into the relative unknown of the Scottish Highlands. From Glasgow, we took a train north and then a minibus to our starting point in the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park, picking up a map in Drynam village on the way.
The first stage of our adventure took us up Ben Lomond (990m asl) via a well-worn rocky path. In the sunshine, we were greeted by a couple of inches of snow underfoot as we approached the summit. After a short break admiring the spectacular vista in the valley and surrounds below, we decided to go 'off piste' and descend northwards off the back of the monroe into the relative wilderness to get our first real taste of the Highlands.
It was quite a long day of enthusiastic slog thereafter. The hiking was hampered by endless humps of tussocks strewn over undulating peatland interspersed by the occasional two metre high deer fence which had to be surmounted with some effort. Eventually, as the light declined, thoughts turned as to where to set up camp for the night, the 5am start in Dublin finally beginning to take its toll on energy levels. We settled on a spot overlooking a small lake called Lochan Mhaim nan Carn. This was not an ideal wild campsite by any stretch but we made it our own, collecting some wood, (a rare commodity in the immediate vicinity) and then settling in to cook up on the fire, sup a whiskey or two and bant the night away.
The next morning we descended from our camp, hiking past the east of Loch Arklet towards Stronachlachar and Loch Katrine. At the lakeshore, we were very surprised to encounter a café. However, this certainly worked out in our favour as the fishery manager there agreed to take the four of us to the opposite side of the lake by boat. This saved us what would otherwise have been an arduously long road-walk around the lake. He dropped us off on the far shore at an isolated location near a headland with an old graveyard.
We regrouped in a dilapidated farmyard shed nearby as the weather turned for the worse. From there we hiked up the sodden valley of the Allt a Choin River, continually battered by heavy winds and driving rain all the way. Thereafter, we descended into the isolated upper reaches of the spectacular River Lairg valley under a low ceiling of rolling dark grey clouds. After tentatively crossing the swollen, fast-flowing main river channel below, we followed a track downstream in search of a suitable campsite to rest for the night and get out of the elements. And what a campsite we found! Home for the night was a small, sheltered clearing under some birch tress right on a raised bank of the river. A brief stint of fly-fishing before dinner didn't produce. Nevertheless, we ate well, the grub washed down with a little Pinot Grigio serendipitously picked up at the café earlier in the day. With the fire ablaze we were all very comfortable for the night tucked in under a tarp humouring ourselves with numerous renditions of "Flower of Scotland" being belted out.
Leaving our camp the next morning, we hiked uphill north out of the River Lairg valley following a tributary up to a mountain pass, only stopping briefly to take a refreshing dip in the cool mountainous water. We emerging through the pass to meet the headwaters of the Fallach River, and began a long descent through a steep valley. As our legs increasingly wearied, we followed the path of the river towards a road leading to our final destination, Crianlarich village. Our first encounter with civilisation was meeting a local Scot just after reaching the road. To our surprise, he informed us that the village was only metres away (we had thought we were at least 3 km out). A moment of jubilation erupted, hilariously followed by a spontaneous cathartic welling of the eyes by definitely one, if not two of the group, as congratulations were exchanged for successfully finishing the adventure. By that stage we were looking forward to a well deserved wash, feed and customary pint or two of Guinness. The trip was capped by a great night out in the village later on too.
This was a thoroughly enjoyable SP for us all. The Scottish Highlands are a great place to wild camp and hike for a few days and there was a strong sense of wilderness, freedom and rugged beauty there. Wild camping is also permitted in Scotland with only reasonable exceptions. Thankfully, we avoided the midges and black fly which can be a nuisance later in the summer months. Thank you Scotland.