Taking advantage of the fine weather we made our way south, driving past Poolewe and Gairloch to the shores of Loch Maree where we entered the Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve. Parking at a the lochside carpark at Coille na Glas-Leitire we had chosen a relatively straightforward but deceptively named Woodland Trail for our trek having decided the Mountain Trail was a bit too much for my troublesome lower back (this courtesy of a slip downstairs at Lower Towie Steading and then repeated steep climbs adding strain).
Woodland Trail suggests an easy stroll through a wood but in Scotland there are only two directions - up and down! At any given time you are either toiling up a hill (of varying steepness) or picking your way down a slope (also of varying steepness). If there is any level ground in the highlands I have yet to find it.
The trail advice should have been a give-away but I confess I was expecting something of a more gentle nature. At 1.5km this is a short hike but the track rises to 100 metres so the inbound trail was quite steep and has the usual mix of rocky path underfoot with occasional stretches of mud.
The trail is clear and marked at intervals with numbers which correspond to sections in the Woodland Trail booklet (which is available free at the start of the trail). At each "station" the booklet gives information about key features of that particular area. There is plenty of opportunity to take a rest at any of the benches dotted along the trail, often at scenic points with opportunities for photos.
Once again the midges were a nuisance and I had forgotten to bring the Smidge but fortunately the little pests seemed to reduce in number as we climbed higher up the slope. (I did find out when we finally returned to the car that the Smidge was in the glove box not in my backpack as I'd thought).
Scots pines feature strongly but rowan and birch are found on the lower slopes; heather is the main shrub and shares the ground with mosses, grasses, sedges and blaeberry. The woods are home to pine martens and a variety of birds.
At the end of the trail the path crosses a bog, although there is little chance of getting your feet muddy as the path here is elevated, and here several types of sphagnum moss grow.
Returning to our starting point we then walked to the edge of Loch Maree and took some photographs of the impressive expanse of water and surrounding mountains under a beautiful blue sky. I'm never comfortable being close to the edge of large bodies of water and knowing that this loch quickly goes from 10 metres to 110 metres in the middle did nothing to make me feel any more well disposed towards this loch however pretty it looked sparkling in the sun. For me there is always something sinister about still water but, with my feet on solid ground and at least ten feet of shingle between me and the water, I was content to take pictures of the mountains mirrored in its glassy surface.
Next stop was the Visitor Centre a little further down the road where we made a comfort stop before checking out the unattended centre. Only in Highland Scotland would you find a note on the door to say that the staff were out conducting a survey (actually we had passed them on our Woodland Trail hike) and for people to go in anyway and look around at their leisure. We accepted the invitation and spent some time looking at the information screens and 3D model of the reserve.
Moving on, we drove a little further to Kinlochewe, a village at the south end of Loch Maree (formerly Loch Ewe), but it was a "blink-and-you'll-miss-it" kind of experience so we turned around and drove back to Mellon Charles, not wishing to end up in Dingwall or, the other choice on that road, Inverness!
We stopped briefly at the Isle of Ewe Smokehouse in Aultbea, which is a tiny shop attached to a house, where Alex bought some smoked cheese and I picked up some Torta de Aceite - one almond, one orange. We then stopped at the Aultbea Stores; I went in for some double cream and came out with a boxful of groceries. We had a nice chat with the lovely ladies behind the counter before reaching home again and completing our outing for the day.