A Good Idea: A Quick Trip to Scotland
Writing and Photography by Pierre Guilbaud. Edited by Alain Guilbaud.
Supported by Quechua.
The plane carrying us pierces through the thick layer of clouds that had enveloped the cabin so far. In the distance, through the porthole, we can watch the powerful sun rays lighting the somber mountain scenery. Though our knowledge about the country was limited, we had imagined what it looked like thanks to the pictures of the photographers who had discovered it before us. No doubt we are in Scotland.
Still amazed of what we have just seen, the sound of the landing gear, as the Airbus touches the tarmac, helps us get back to reality. In November, the thermometer registers at 6 degrees celsius. The atmosphere is wet and cold in sharp contrast with the Indian summer France is enjoying at the moment, which to us seems but a distance memory. After waving goodbye to the car rental agent, we head for our first destination, the small town of Balmaha, on the shores of Loch Lomond, the biggest lake in Great-Britain. It is a 2 hour-drive, North-west of Edinburg. At only 4.30 PM, it is already dark, and as we are not used to driving on the left, we nearly end-up in the sodden ditch. Halfway, the surrounding countryside, shrouded in mist, reminds us of the darkest scenes of the famous Harry Potter saga. With unconcealed delight, we make out the sign indicating that we have reached our destination. We park the car and enter to the only local Pub around. The place is warm and cosy, with wooden tables and a thick tartan patterned carpet. A fire burning in the fireplace, provides us with a much-needed comfort. The 2 pints of the best local Ale, ordered at the bar, as well as the Beatles songs playing in the background makes us feel good.
The following morning, at 8 o’clock, under a cloudy sky, we leave the slowly awakening town, and make our way up to Conic Hill. The strong wind, whistling above our heads through the pine trees, breaks the silence. In early November, Scottish tourism is not in a full swing and our solitude brings us the joy and pleasure we expected by coming to this land. The forest past, the quiet autumn morning turns into violent gusts of wind, the shower of rain warns us of what the weather has in store. The path is muddy, we tread heavily and advance slowly. We are sheltered from the rain in our hooded soft shell jackets. Raindrops falling on my head oblige me to lipread what Mathilde is telling me. We both understand that it is reasonable to wait for a lull. On our way to the summit, about a few hundred yards away, we are accompanied by some of these emblematic Highland cows of the Scottish Hinterland. Then the sun rays struggle to appear through the clouds as they greet us. We take some time to make the most of the amazing view which meets our eyes. But after standing still for a few minutes, our limbs are starting to go numb, and we think we’d better make our way down the hill.
At 2PM, after eating beans on toast in front of the loch, we set off again and head toward Glencoe, the cradle of Scottish Mountaineering. Tomorrow’s objective is the famous Ben Nevis, the highest peak in the UK. As we drive across the valley the dark and threatening mountains cry their cascades down the steep slopes. Isolated cottages, scattered along the way, guide our journey. When we arrive in Glencoe, we have dinner in a little hotel, there are framed pictures of the achievements of local mountaineers on the wall. Then a warm shower makes us feel better and we both sleep like logs and recharge our batteries.
In the morning, we get up at dawn, wondering wether our eyes are really open as we cannot see the river hidden by the mist. It is only 3 degrees celsius outside and our host explains that the temperature at the summit is likely to be 10 degrees lower. The very idea of being frozen stiff up there lessens our enthusiasm. So we are compelled to give up our objective and we decide to choose the more accessible Glen Nevis mountain cirque despite the poor weather conditions. We drive for about 10 kilometres, through the copper colored autumn valleys. The winding road is so narrow it is impossible for two cars to pass each-other. We arrive at a cul-de-sac, synonymous with the starting point of our hike today. The weather is still miserable, although the wind has died down, it rains cats and dogs, we are happy anyway. We walk on a path along the precipice. Further down we can make out the brown and frothy river. We can hear it roar as if to show its strength to anyone who would dare to master it. We quickly reach the heart of the mountain cirque, amazed at the fact that it strangely looks like the African Savanna. We take out our cameras to capture this moment and we stay there for a while, listening the noise of silence, enjoying nature and its beauty to the full. It is chilly, the wind rises, our faces are lashed by the rain, and our hands and feet are frozen.
Yet going to Scotland was a good idea.
For more photography and stories from Pierre you can visit him at @pierre_glbd
Article also featuring @mathilde_guitton
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