Rain clattered into the windscreen as another wintery shower pushed through the mountains. Much of the weekend was spent like this, sat inside waiting for a brief moment of respite in the hope that the scenery would reveal itself. The Scottish Highlands are notoriously fickle. The weather can turn in an instant and luck was always going to be required when we had such a small window to explore.
Words & photography by Daniel Sharpe | @cheersthegone
We had driven up this way in the hope of taking in some of the scenery. The road running from the northern tip of Loch Lomond through the crossroad towns of Crianlarich and Tyndrum, up to Fort William is one of the most beautiful in the country. Towering peaks yield to narrow Glens and clear, fast-flowing rivers. When the ground is swollen with rain, veins of white cascading water flow down every mountainside and, being early spring, the peaks still lay covered in snow.
We had bypassed the turnoff for the ski resort of Glencoe, every other car turning in to take advantage of the recent snowfall. Left alone on the road, we turned off onto an empty track. In front of us, masked behind a thick wall of cloud was the unmistakable peak of Etive Mor. Rain squalls raced up the valley ahead giving us a few minutes notice before the next wave of rain and sleet hit. It appeared as if the rain was defying gravity. Thickened and partly frozen in the wind, translucent sheets of precipitation raced parallel to the ground. We could see a clearing, so grabbing our backpacks and racing out of the car we immersed ourselves in the enormity of the landscape. There was no one else around, the only noise was the wind whipping at our ears and the gentle patter of rain on our coats. Fraser the Rucksack is a saviour in changeable conditions. The main compartment has no awkward zips or ties, accessed by a single buckle and draw-string. It makes reaching for your waterproofs simple and quick and, as another shower appeared on the horizon, it was time to test it again.
As the rain lessened, we began to see the enormity of the mountain. Like an image from a children’s tale, a seemingly symmetrical triangle of a mountain rises straight from the boggy valley below. White snow filled the cracks and crevices in the purple-grey rock before fading into the brown heath at its base. As quickly as Etive Mor came into view, however, it disappeared once more. We raced back to the car, not quite avoiding the next squall and continued our venture up the unnamed road. We drove alongside one of the numerous rivers, riding up and down the landscape in synchrony. A herd of deer led by a proud stag grazed on the far bank and we paused to take in the most Scottish of scenes. Water drained off the surroundings in a myriad of rapids and waterfalls. It was perfect. It was wild and empty, yet there seemed so much life.
Over the coming days, the weather continued to remain changeable. Sunshine, wind, showers, and a whole day of heavy snow showed just how much the elements impact the landscape. We took our moments and made the most of what we had. Bundling layers into our Fraser and running from the weather, we sought out hidden waterfalls that gave us just enough opportunity to snap a quick photo before returning the camera to the safety of the waterproof backpack.
It was a memorable trip, a glimpse into just how raw and wild the Scottish Highlands can be. It pays to stick it out, too. Unlike the peak of the summer, taking our chances with the weather meant we were often alone, having the landscape to ourselves to enjoy. Very few people venture up this way, even fewer exploring the numerous side roads that disappear off into the hills. So, pack that rucksack, take a waterproof, and get out there and explore. Be patient, and when that weather finally blows through, I guarantee you it is every bit worth the effort.