Thursday February 11th 2021 was one that proved to be very eventful day in Wester Ross.
Just a mile or so North of Gruinard Bay there is a well formed estate path which enables you to follow the Gruinard River to the beautifully scenic & very remote Loch na Sealga, which is deep in the heart of the Great Wilderness. At just shy of 11 miles it’s an easy going linear walk with some great views & the prospects of stumbling across at least one of the highlands iconic animals.
We’ve walked alongside the Gruinard River so many times that we’ve started to loose count. But in the past we’ve been lucky enough to see grazing Red Deer, White Tailed Eagles sat patiently in trees, Golden Eagle’s flying high in the sky riding the thermals, Dippers diving for lunch & Sand Martins helping to control the local influx of midges (which at certain times of the year can be plentiful). It’s a great spot to catch a glimpse of the local wildlife & on 11th February we weren’t to be disappointed.
The local estate put feed out for the deer over winter & this young stag wasn’t the least bit bothered by us passing close by.
His mate however was a different proposition & he kept a beady eye on us all the way often posturing & giving the impression that we weren’t entirely welcome. We gave him a wide berth…..
In the middle of February we were in the midst of a cold spell. Quite unusually cold at these times with global warming, etc, but it was a breath of fresh air to have a proper winter in the Highlands. Even the peat hags were frozen fast.
In the heart of the Fisherfield Forest Beinn Dearg Bheag (820m) & Beinn Dearg Mor (906m) dominate the South side of Loch na Sealga & well over halfway along the estate path they give a tantalizing view of what lies ahead.
Loch na Sealga with An Teallach (1062m) to the left of the photo & covered in snow. In the very far distance is Meall a Chlaiginn which at the foot (& with some imagination & a pair of binoculars) sits the bothy at Shenavall. To the right of the photo & also snow capped are the slopes of Beinn a Chlaidheimh (914m)
At some stage a boat house was present at the end of the Loch but this hasn’t been the case for some years now. The foundations of the boat house still remain & these can prove to be a very handy wind break for lunch in an exposed spot, especially in February!!
The cold dry spelt meant that the terrain wasn’t great when away from the main trail. Frozen ground & just a pair of walking boots meant that it wasn’t a day for venturing too far but by climbing to just 200 meters a cracking viewpoint was reached without doing too many impressions of bambi on ice!!!
Allt Loch Ghuibhsachain a tributary that runs into the Gruinard river with it’s surface largely frozen. In the distance is Creag na Sgoinne (628m). A bridge crosses the stream otherwise it might really have been time to try out the bambi impersonation!
Another customary snap with the Beinn’s in the far distance, the Gruinard River in the foreground & from the trail.
Ice, Ice baby (& thankfully not the 90’s musical version). Some of the reflections & colours emanating from the ice were fantastic but quite difficult to capture on camera.
After a crisp winters day you can imagine our surprise when the evening of 11th & into 12th brought this to Laide & Aultbea………..
A moorland fire that quickly gathered momentum. Thankfully for all concerned no damage was done but this was largely due to a combination of a slice of luck (the wind direction changing just at the right time) & the skills of the Fire Service. It just goes to show that even in the depths of winter, if the conditions are right & the heather tinder dry that it doesn’t take much for a fire (or multiple moorland fires) to get out of control.
A little worrying at 4.30 am ….