We had been at the mercy of the weather for a few days but, on the plus side, the enforced relaxation of the past couple of days had been a nice change of pace and had the added benefit of finally allowing my lower back to rest and heal. The forecast for Friday however was much improved with promises of sunny intervals. That was enough! Time to go walking.
We chose a hike starting near the harbour in Gairloch and following a marked trail through Flowerdale Glen and up to the waterfalls then returning via a slightly different route to make a circuit.
It was still grey and unsettled, the initial blue skies of the day having evaporated in the time it took Alex to get organised and be ready, but we headed for Gairloch anyway trusting in the forecast for a fine day. So, at around 11am we zig-zagged our way from Shore Croft cottage down the tiny laneways and single-track road, through the village of Ormiscaig and a couple of other miniscule settlements to finally pass through Aultbea and reach the main road.
We arrived in the designated car park opposite Gairloch harbour to be greeted by a few spots of rain but the clouds were moving east and we could see blue sky to the west, so we pressed on regardless. I had my weatherproof jacket in the car and a lightweight fold-away rain jacket in my backpack so at least one of us was prepared but Alex had not brought any rain gear so I ended up wearing my heavier jacket and kept the one in the backpack for Alex - just in case. In truth, I was quite glad of the jacket over my fleece as the wind was very chilly with a distinct bite as we started from the carpark to follow the marked trail.
Our guidebook mentioned two sets of falls; lower and upper. The text suggested that the path to the upper falls was quite tricky and we debated the wisdom of tackling it given the recent rains, opting instead to settle for the lower falls.
The path was gravel and easy to follow as red markers and signposts showed us the way, up hills and across bridges with the sound of the burn running beside the path always with us. Gradually the going became a bit more challenging as the path became a track winding up hill as it snaked towards the falls but it was never really difficult even when it became alternately rocky and steep, or muddy and soft. We paused along the route to take photos and finally, after a short section of narrow steepish path, emerged into a small clearing with a good view of the falls. Here we stopped briefly for a snack and to appreciated the magnificent views around us; looking back towards Gairloch (which now seemed very far away to the west) and ahead of us to the east where the mountains stood rugged and impressive - the sentinels of Wester Ross. After consulting our guidebook again we realised that we were aleady at the upper falls and although the track leading further up the hill looked dubious the guide assured us that just ahead was a bridge across the river leading to the downward path. Then it rained.
Fortunately it was a light shower that lasted only five minutes so we stood in the shelter of a tree before pressing on and crossing the bridge to the other side of the river.
As always, it was nice to be going downhill rather than up but the path was very wet and boggy with intermittent pools of standing water to be navigated. Although wearing hiking boots of durable yak leather I make it a point never to get my feet muddier or wetter than necessary, while Alex tends to tramp through mud and splash through puddles with the attitude that no serious hiker has clean boots! This same attitude means that she often ends up with mud up to her ankles whereas I choose my path more carefully even it means a more complicated hop, step and jump along the path.
With blue skies now above us we made our way along the path, consulting the somewhat vague directions in the guidebook from time to time, and finally reached a point of uncertainty when ahead of us seemed to be nothing more than head-high bracken. The path lead us into this and, as there was no other way to go, we followed.
Our guidebook described this area as "meadowland which in summer is often covered in bluebells". This was no meadow and a machete would not have gone amiss as we pushed our way through the bracken on the boggy track that was barely visible through the tall bracken. We were supposed to be following the trail with blue markers but if there were any markers they were well hidden! Although we were beginning to doubt that we were heading in the right direction there was no other way to go and we doggedly continued fighting through the bracken and following the barely visible path, often booby-trapped with mud, rocks and roots that had to be carefully avoided.
At last, we came upon a lone pole with a blue disk attached to it in a seeemingly endless sea of bracken. We were definitely going the right way but ahead was simply more bracken!
Around us we could hear rustling in the foliage and a pheasant suddenly burst out of the bracken and took flight. The rustlings and noises we could hear were the pheasant and grouse. At this point we hoped that no one was out shooting but as we had heard no gunfire so far we felt fairly safe from being peppered with bird shot.
We arrived at a break in the bracken where the path suddenly dipped down a steep, muddy slope that had to be tackled with care and with the welcome aid of some nearby saplings and bracken stalks to hold on to. Having negotiated that obstacle without incident we pressed on. Still trusting that the path we were on was the right one by virtue of the fact that there really was no other way to go, we at least saw a landmark that we recognised from the outward trek - a farmhouse.
Slowly winding our way in the general direction of the farm while sticking to the track we thankfully arrived at a small clearing, albeit a boggy one, that we quickly crossed to arrive at a stone wall near the farm. Here we faced a dilemma. We could either go right or left; either way was boggy. I started to go left, which was very wet underfoot but Alex thought that going right would be easier. We turned right and followed the wall, happy to be walking on grass at last.
We seemed to be in the farmer's paddock and there were feeding bins dotted around which we realised were to attract grouse. All around were elevated platforms and we saw several discharged shotgun cartridges on the ground. To one side was an enclosure with an electrified fence and we could see grouse inside as well as one running around outside it trying to get away from us. This was a farm for capturing and shooting grouse!
The only way out that we could see was a boardwalk over a stream and a wide track across an empty paddock. We took this and exited the farm as quickly as we could to finally arrive on the paved track that we knew we were supposed to be on. From here we could see that if we had taken the left turn at the stone wall we would have arrived at this point sooner and would have avoided the trek through the farmer's field. Still, it was another adventure to add to our travels.
Back onto solid ground and gravel path we quickly joined the same path we had started on and retraced our steps back to the car park to complete the circuit. We had walked 6km and after having started in overcast conditions ended the walk with blue sky and sunshine.
As we were just across the road from the harbour, we left the car and walked over to explore. Unfortunately it was too late for us to have lunch at the cafe as they stopped serving lunch at 3pm, so we checked out the souvenir shop and had a walk around the harbour.
Finally we turned for home, making a leisurely tour along the coast and stopping off at various viewpoints on the way, then it was back to Mellon Charles with another adventure completed.