Highlands: A day of lochs

The best thing about the Highlands scenery — at least the part of it that we saw — is the interaction of water, mountain, sky, and plants. These elements are varied and ever-changing: water can be freshwater, seawater, rainwater, mist, or dew; mountains include big Ben Nevis as well as smaller rolling hills; the sky can be everything from completely clouded over to so sunny and bright you have to shade your eyes; and you’ve seen the plants in my earlier posts. The palette is all shades of green and blue and white and grey and brown, with splashes of pink and yellow from the flowers. And that’s just my impression from six days in August — imagine what it looks like the rest of the year!

Birds flying through the air at Caol waterfront

{as always, click to enlarge or mouse over for description}

Last Tuesday, after our two days of hiking around the hills, we decided to take a more leisurely day. As before, we didn’t really have a plan (amazing how much our usual planning depends on having internet access!), but when the landscape is this beautiful, the  easiest thing to do is just get in the car and drive in any direction. We ended up in the neighboring town of Caol, where we found a convenient car park along a waterfront.

Caol waterfront, with hills in the distance

Caol waterfront, with hills in the distance

Tufty green grass on the rocky beach on Caol waterfront

There were a couple of playgrounds next to the water, with kids swinging, and we saw a few backpackers and a sweet older lady walking her dog (frankly, the dog looked like it was walking her, but she didn’t seem to mind; it was, appropriately for the setting, a Westie). But there weren’t too many other people around. We weren’t going to walk that long but once we stepped off the path and onto the rocky beach, we got so excited about everything we saw underfoot, we stayed for almost two hours.

Green seaweed on rocky beach

Brown oblong rock with barnacles covering one surface

Spiraling small seashell with some of its sides worn away, revealing the center spire

Roundish white marks on a brown stone, from barnacles

Erik holding a round rock with seaweed hanging down from it

Lisa holding up a wand-like stick

Tiny white flowers in a cluster, maybe yarrow

Tiny spiraling shell among brown and tan rocks

We were particularly fascinated by the rocks we saw on the beaches that day, because there were so many interesting ones. They came in all different colors and textures, and some sparkled in the sun like mica. We’d heard there was quartzite and granite in the area, and we found some shale too. Most amazing of all were the rocks with patterns or stripes in them. It’s a good thing we weren’t just going back to California after this or I’d have been tempted to take many of them home.

Oblong grey rock with a white stripe through it

Granite-looking rock

A multicolored rock held in Erik's hand

A flat stone with a funny-shaped hole in it, held up in Lisa's hand so you can see the sky through the hole

Erik squatting by a little stream on the beach at Caol waterfront

After Caol we drove further south, following Loch Linnhe. It was well past lunchtime but we’d seen a sign for Loch Leven, and I remembered reading that there was a good seafood restaurant along there. Mileage-wise it wasn’t a long drive, but it was a small road and it took us about half an hour, maybe more. Along the way we saw sheep and a seafood farm, and a big fluffy white dog wandering the roadside by himself. (I had sheep on the brain, and at first that’s what I thought he was!)

When we got to the restaurant it was too late for lunch, but they were serving an afternoon menu, and we ordered mussels and the first langoustines we’d ever eaten. They came with good crusty bread and olive oil. It was a light, delicious meal and we ate with our hands, sitting on the patio, looking out at the loch, with the green hills to our other side. The sun had come out properly and everything was brilliant. It felt like the best place on earth.

Chilled langoustines with lemon and mayoAfter our food we parked along the roadside and climbed down the bank to the loch, where we found ourselves alone with the sunshine and many more rocks, shells, and seaweeds.

Cars parked along roadside

Loch Leven

Loch Leven

Brown seaweed all over the shore at Loch Leven

It was a slightly different landscape than in Caol: different seaweeds, more limpets. Different colors. More brown, less grey.

Barnacles, limpet, seaweed, and rock

Tiny orange snail shells inside a mussel shell

Half cockle shell

Collection of mussel and snail shellsThe sun was very strong and the afternoon was getting on, so we left Loch Leven (after first toying with the idea of sticking around till the restaurant’s dinner hour!) and returned along Loch Linnhe toward Fort William.

Along the road next to Loch Linnhe

View of Loch Linnhe through the car window

Boats in Loch Linnhe

About two-thirds of the way back, we saw a Forestry Commission car park, so we turned in, thinking there would be trails we could walk. There weren’t, but there were tables and a beach, and it was altogether a very pretty place (though I was very sad to see some trash strewn along the beach. One empty wrapper is nothing, but when it’s several bent cans and potato-chip bags — I should say crisps! — stuffed into a hollow among the rocks, that’s clearly deliberate. Come on, people).

Loch Linnhe framed with mountains behind and pink flowers in front

Picnic table on Loch Linnhe

Lisa standing on a boulder next to Loch Linnhe

Loch Linnhe

Evergreens on the mountain next to Loch Linnhe

Seaweed covering the beach at Loch Linnhe

Erik walking Loch Linnhe and looking like the Chinese character for "person"

At this point, my camera ran out of batteries, and I noticed some darker clouds overhead. So we headed back to town, where we settled ourselves in a Thai-Indian restaurant and devoured big plates of vegetables while I plugged in my laptop to charge (no electricity in the yurt, remember). There was some kind of festival going on in the town square, with food vendors (no Scottish food, though there was paella, chorizo, bratwurst, and frikadellen). After we left the restaurant we found a local youth (bag)pipe band gathered nearby, but they were taking a break so we moved on.

Youth bagpiping group

Before we returned to the yurt for the night, we went to the supermarket and bought a box of shortbread. We ate half of it that night. Scottish shortbread really is better (and I liked pretty much every brand I tried better than Walker’s). That was a lovely, relaxing day.

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