One of the greatest joys of travel is not just seeing the world, but the people you meet along the way.
During my trip hiking the Atlas Mountains I met some amazing people, of all ages and backgrounds. Some I knew I would not likely see again, others I would keep in touch with via social media and then there were a few who were potential to be life long friends.
A small group of like minded ladies, with a love for all things outdoors, with similar life values branched away, to form a perfect adventure holiday group. The location for our break away – the Scottish Highlands.
When most people were spending their mid January weekends feeling blue and hibernating with Netflix on the sofa – we ventured to the freezing temperatures and stunning scenery of Glencoe.
Flying into Edinburgh on a cheap Easy Jet flight, we met with one of the group members who lives in the area, before venturing to our luxury cabin two hours away. Arriving at sundown meant that we could not appreciate the beauty of our surroundings. Therefore the evening was spent enjoying the warmth of our cabin, eating a hearty meal to fuel for the next day and catching up since our last adventure.
Pap of Glencoe
The first day of our trip saw us take to the Pap of Glencoe – modest in height compared to the neighbouring mountains. However the walk boasted to be short but steep and rough hill walk, with a “sensational view.” After combating the Atlas Mountains, the 742 metre height paled in comparison. Though this did not make the journey any easier.
The first stages of the trek saw us follow the main road from the village of Glencoe, up a gentle hill path and across the hillside – before meeting a rather challenging stream of water cascading down from the mountain top. Hardy, water resistant boots are a must to cross the terrain which, in the height of winter, is not just wet but rocky and boggy too.
From here we started a steady climb up stonier terrain that was testing to the seasoned walker, due to recent wintery showers in the region. To add to the challenging conditions, we experienced a sudden turn in weather. The bright blue skies shifted, turning a moody grey, the bitterly cold wind picked up and we were succumbed to a heavy snow shower. Waterproofs and extra layers were quickly donned to ensure we were protected against any conditions that would expect further up the mountain.
At 430 metres the path starts to curve left, up further rocky and boggy terrains, which at this point was covered in a fresh layer of snow. It is here you can really start to appreciate the views.
We followed this path for a short period before the dome of the Pap could be seen ahead. From here the challenge really started to become apparent, as in the distance we could see other walkers on the ascent, clearly scrambling to get to the summit.
Not only did the path not seem clear, but it was apparent that this was something we needed to take seriously. With the cold, wintery conditions one wrong step could be fatal so concentration was paramount.
We made our steady scramble to the top, taking care to ensure we were following the steps of the person in front, following the tracks of climbers before us and stopping regularly to keep together. Despite climbing numerous mountains before this one, the Pap is the one that terrified me the most.
Slowly we made our way to the summit and the views were just as promised – sensational. The snow storm, that had passed over just an hour or so before, had cleared offering picture perfect scenery.
The only issue? The dramatic temperature drop. The wind had picked up and whilst we had been protected climbing to the top, the summit provided no such protection. Exposed to the elements, we spent no longer than a couple of minutes taking in the view. The idea of a lunch picnic was out of the question.
We had to start our descent quickly to prevent us feeling the chill. Slowly we reversed our steps, at times using our back sides to aid our journey. Our lunch was spent munching on pre-made sandwiches (and left over lasagne for some) perched on the the rocks whilst other walkers passed us by.
It was, hands down, the best lunch view I have experienced to date.
Conscious of time and daylight hours, we didn’t linger and continued our downward climb. The snow fall quickly melting in the blazing sunshine made the descent just as difficult as the upward climb. Snow melt, turning the rocky paths into rivers and bogs. Thank heavens we were all prepared with sturdy boots and walking poles.
Soon enough we were back down to the start, in the village warming ourselves up with hot chocolate and coffee at the Glencoe Cafe.
Steall Falls and the Nevis Gorge
Our second day called for something of a more gentle terrain. Despite not being able to attempt Ben Nevis due to precarious weather conditions we headed to the vicinity to explore Nevis Gorge.
Boasted as one of the best short walks in Scotland our route promised dramatic and beautiful views of the gorge that leads to the stunning Steal Falls.
Though not as challenging as the previous days climb, the paths were still rocky and rough, therefore great care was needed.
The path through the gorge, maintained by the John Muir trust, was one of the most tranquil walks I have experienced to date. Starting early meant that we had the paths and gorge all to ourselves all the way to the waterfall.
We followed the path, where it opened out to grassy meadows, surrounded by the mountains and the Steal Falls directly ahead.
The waterfall is the third largest in Scotland, reaching 105 metres down the rock face. However, to get to Steall Falls itself and to see it close up, you will need to embrace the adventurer within you. The only way to get close to the rock face is to cross the wire bridge over the river.
Personally, I was unable to find the courage to cross what I could only describe as an accident waiting to happen. In my mind I was assessing all the things that could go wrong and came to the conclusion that I could not take the risk.
That said, I encouraged members of our group who found their daring side. With baited breath we watched as they made easy work of the wire bridge and cheered when they successfully reached the other side without incident.
Once returned safely, though not back across the wire bridge, we paused by the river banks for our lunch before making our way back to the start. Perfectly timed, as an influx of visitors had started to make their way up the path and through the gorge. We had successfully enjoyed uninterrupted views – something we would not have received had it been the height of summer.
After the adventures to get back from the waterfall, there was an array of soaked boots so further walking would require replacing footwear.
Therefore, after a short break for hot drinks in Fort William, we decided to head over to Glenfinnan to visit the infamous “Harry Potter Bridge.”
The railway viaduct overlooks both the Glenfinnan monument and the waters of Loch Shiel. Despite being mid January there were a number of tourist exploring the area, with the avid Harry Potter fans following the 15 minute trail up close to the bridge.
After the weekend hiking, we simply took on the short climb to the view point admiring the bridge from afar. Sadly we did not time it to see the steam trains passing by, but were pleased to fit in this attraction none the less.
With satisfied, yet tired legs we spent the evening relaxing again in the cabin before our return flight the following afternoon.
Time really does fly when you are having fun and the weekend had been just that!
Our small group had spent four active, yet relaxed days laughing and enjoying each others company – further cementing the fact that our adventures together had just begun!