We are joined again by the awesome Sarah Leighton, an adventurer and outdoor challenge enthusiast, for part 2 of her recent solo road trip in Scotland. If you missed part 1 of this series, be sure to go back and read it.
I woke early on my second morning in Scotland, eager to see my surroundings after selecting a stopover location in the dark again. I jumped out of the camper van, it was around 06:30am, and the air was chilly. It was perfect. I was right on the edge of Loch Leven, a 14km long loch, which extends from Loch Linnhe. The mountains surrounding the loch looked spectacular with their snowy caps. Although only a few kilometres from Kinlochleven, I felt in complete wilderness. So much so, that despite never doing it in winter temperatures before, I decided a quick skinny dip was the best way to wake up.
It certainly woke me up. I’ve drank frozen cocktails that were warmer than the temperature of that loch. Wim Hof would have been proud. There was no one around but some geese on the small island that lies close to the North shore, and some smaller long-beaked birds at the loch’s edge. I managed to stay in the water for what I’d like to think was around 5-6 minutes, but was probably more like 3. Hobbling back to the van with feet so frozen they barely functioned, I was very thankful that pre-swim Sarah had left the engine running and the heaters on, so that post-swim Sarah didn’t die of hypothermia. Once the brain freeze and toe trauma had subsided, I felt amazing! Hot coffee and porridge revived me, and I was ready for the day’s adventure. I planned to take my paddle board out onto the loch, and see how far along its length I could explore. But the Scottish weather had other ideas. Within the space of about 15 minutes, it went from light winds and drizzle, to raging winds and lashing rain. I sat back, made another coffee, and came up with a new plan.
I decided to find my own hiking route. I left the van by the loch and cut away from the road, heading North West into the trees. I really enjoyed having no path to follow, clambering between tree branches, taking in my surroundings. There was such a mixture of colours to entertain my eyes. I spotted a deer bounding across the hill in front of me. I steadily found my way up toward Beinn ne Caillich. The higher I got, the heavier the snow became. I was again met by the crazy Scottish wind tearing across the top, blasting snow into my face, and leaving me questioning whether I still had lips. On my descent, the snowfall subsided and the clouds began to open up. The incredible views overwhelmed me a little, and it was once again timed as if I was being rewarded for my efforts. I arrived back at the van, hungry, tired, but satisfied with my day’s exploration. I chose not to move the camper van that night, and instead pondered over what to do the next day, and got an early night ready to make an early start the next morning.
Driving back through the Glencoe mountains at the crack of dawn was a spectacular sight. The heavy snow that had fallen the day before lay everywhere but the road, and the bluebird skies were to die for. I headed south to Loch Awe. Kilchurn Castle had been on my list for a while. I pictured the perfect paddling adventure - paddle boarding across a loch to explore a castle. There was only one problem. Being a well-known tourist spot, I wanted to find a way to have it to myself. Hence, I skipped breakfast and coffee to arrive at the edge of the loch by 07:30. A short walk from the road took me down to the loch shore.
It was so worth the early start. Despite not being able to enter the castle, arriving by paddle board and exploring it’s exterior was as cool as I wanted it to be. The shallow waters at the edge of the loch held sand that shimmered like particles of gold. I peered through the bars of the castle windows, and wondered around the castle walls. Time flew by and before I knew it I could see 2 or 3 people on the other side of the loch, and a minibus pulling up behind the camper van. With my coffee craving strong, more people arriving, and an urge to cram more adventure into the day, I paddled back across the loch and packed away my board.
Despite having no plan for this trip, things just seemed to fall into place. The mountains just North of the Castle looked stunning. The afternoon’s adventure was practically starring me in the face. It was almost lunch time by this point, so I sat scoffing some noodles, drinking coffee, and watching more tourist buses arrive. Few of the tourists actually walked down to the loch’s edge. Other than the roadside, the castle and loch themselves didn’t turn out to be as busy as I’d thought. However, I’d still advise arriving early if you want a peaceful adventure, particularly in summer months when I can imagine it would be much busier.
A five minute drive from the loch, I parked the camper on a single track road, before heading off on foot along a gravel track, to the foot of Beinn Eunaich and Beinn a Chochuill. The weather had been glorious for my paddle, but the afternoon forecast predicted rain on lower ground. I presumed this would fall as snow on higher terrain, and if the wind picked up I would yet again be in for a battering. To be continued…
That’s the end of part 2. Look out for part 3, the final part of this blog series next week. Find out how I squeezed adventure into every last second of my road trip, before heading home.
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