Saturday, 1 August 2009

Day 19 – Scotland West Coast – Kinlochleven – Into the dark light of the lochs

After Oban, my destination was Kinlochleven, a tiny village at the dead-end of Loch Leven, deep in the mountains just south of Fort William. The mountains lord over the narrow sliver of water below. To the south is the peak of Bidean nam Bian, to the north is Ben Nevis, at 1344 metres the highest mountain in the UK.

These Scottish "peaks" - most of which are under 1000 metres - aren’t that high in world terms (the Himalayas hosts several over 8 000 metres), but they seem big. When you’re at the water’s edge of the loch, and look up, they look ominous and intimidating. The steep gradient is perhaps the trick – the ground rises quickly from Loch Leven – it would be very difficult to hike straight up these slopes. But there are great walking routes which follow the streams and valleys...check out this excellent site for walks in the area.

There's a strange light in The Highlands that I've never seen before - bewitching but also beguiling. It's hard to explain, but it's a kind of "dark" light, if you know what I mean?! These photos are of Loch Leven, where the movie Rob Roy was filmed.

Click on the image for a full screen version...

Waterfalls abound, and because it’s been raining now for two days, they sound like a symphony of bass drums. And the loch is very narrow, only a couple of hundred metres at its widest, so you feel like you’re wedged in. It’s dramatic. Don’t miss it.

What’s peculiar about the coast in Scotland is that you can be seemingly entrenched in the mountains, twenty miles from the “sea” and still be on the coast...Loch Leven, for instance, flows into the bigger Loch Linnhe, which in turn flows into the Firth of Lorn, which in turn eventually becomes the Atlantic Ocean. So even though Loch Leven is probably 90% fresh water (I'm guessing here), technically, I could jump onto a yacht, and sail 40 miles through lochs and firths, until I reach the “ocean”. It’s all connected.

The village of Kinlochleven isn’t particularly pretty itself – it’s definitely not ugly either. It used to host an aluminium smelter, closed in 2000, and it was powered by a hydro electric plant further up the valley. But you'd never guess there was any type of industrial activity. The area has been completely restored to an eye-poppingly beautiful and pristine state.

The south road along the loch to Kinlochleven undulates up and down the side of the mountain, while the north road hugs the waterline. A round trip will be 20 miles – it’s the most beautiful drive yet on my trip. Look out for the turnoff on the A82 about fifteen miles south of Fort William.

I am staying at MacDonald Hotel, a country and family hotel on the north east end of the loch. It’s just outside the village, and is an ideal spot from which to go exploring. There’s no fussing over guests – you can be left alone to your own devices, and come and go as you please as if it is your own home.

But you don’t really want to be indoors in a place like this. Outside is spectacular Scottish scenery – make the most of it. There are plenty of walks which are signposted, and the village is on the route for the West Highland Way, one of the iconic treks through the Ben Nevis range, and 153 km long.

If the weather really is that bad, and you can't get outside for fear of death, there are two good reasons to stay indoors.

First, Kinlochleven is home to the world’s biggest indoor ice-climbing wall at The Ice Factor, in the middle of the village, and just a three minute walk from MacDonald Hotel. It’s won a few awards for its innovative development, and is a very slick operation, with shop, cafe and climbing lessons. When I was there, kids and adults of all ages were giving it a go under supervision of the climbing instructors. There are also three or four normal climbing walls, with varying degrees of difficulty. It’s reason enough to check out Kinlochleven.

Then, if you're a beer fundi, then there's another reason to visit the village. Atlas Brewery is based right next door to Ice Factor. They are a small microbrewery, making real cask ale for the local pubs. It's right on the river, and they offer free tours every evening.

1 comment:

  1. Howzit bru (from a zimbo!).Here's a random fact about Kinlochleven- its where Snow Patrol's bassist comes from.Have a good trip and take more pictures