Early November 2016, technically already winter, but still with plenty of autumn colour in the landscape, and some warmth to the sun when it came out. But over recent days, there had been extensive snowfall on the tops, and even some lying in the valley down at Cannich. The sky today seemed leaden, the air sharply cold with a greyness to the light that hinted of the darker months coming.
This morning had started with scatterings of wet sleety snow, but as that passed conditions looked to be brightening up, so I decided to explore the upper part of Loch Beinn a’Mheadhoin. Parking at the car park by the end of the narrows, I had a longer than expected portage to the water, the levels being very much lower than the usual water line. Despite the dank start to the day, there was plenty of colour around in the trees, this birch glowing in the soft overcast light.
The wind was quite light, nothing more than a gentle breeze, and in sheltered spots the reflections were a perfect echo of the surrounding landscape.
Along this stretch of the north shore, there are extensive areas of Scots pines, mixed with decidous trees, principally birch though with a few rowan and oak as well. The contrast between the dense green of the pines and the vibrant yellows of the birch delighted my photographic eye, so I paused to make an image or two.
Further along the shore, the low water levels had exposed areas of felled stumps. Their roots still cleaved to the rubble left as the waters rose with the creation of the reservoir, appearing alive, almost animal in their fluid curves.
So powerful was this impression that I almost expected them to move. These three looked poised to leap. Thoughts of the Arabic ‘afrit’, demons sometimes likened to a medusa or the multi-headed lamia, entered my head. Maybe these ‘Affrics’ were similar creatures…
Passing by unscathed, my small odyssey continued as I travelled further west into the farthest reaches of the loch. Here the River Affric entered the loch, and I had to pick my way between just-submerged boulders lurking to tip my hull.
Surviving with nothing more than a few scrapes on the gel coat, I entered the narrow gorge heading upstream towards Loch Affric. Last year, walking this stretch, the water levels had been substantially higher, obliterating the small rapids that soon blocked my path. It would be hard work climbing the additional six or eight feet or so exposed by the falling water levels of Loch Beinn a’Mheadhoin, so I had a play in the currents and eddies for a short time then turned for home.
Clouds were building up again in the western sky, though the breeze remained gentle. The slow end to an early winter’s day got underway as I settled into a steady rhythm that carried me towards my embarkation point. Pausing for a rest, I turned the boat to look back on my tracks. A sky pregnant with the promise of winter weather was reflected in the evening calm of the loch. There was the possibility for a moody finish to the day in those clouds, so I consulted the map to find a shoreline view point for sunset, and picked up the pace a bit to give myself a few minutes to get the camera set up and the composition settled.
The unnamed island opposite Beinn nan Sparra fitted the bill, so I made haste to a landfall in time to watch the sky develop. As I hoped, an atmospheric stillness fell over the landscape, and I was able to make an image of the approaching winter.
With a little over a kilometre to go, and the temperature dropping quite rapidly, I didnt linger long in the twilight, but was soon back on the water. The cold blue light of early evening filled the scene, and I took one last look through the lens before I turned towards the shore.
With the increasing cloud came a quickly rising darkness, so it was with the aid of my torch that I identified my landing, although I had marked the spot on my GPS when setting out. A stretch of cold limbs on stepping ashore, then the boat was stowed on the car and I was away for a hot meal and a drink. Another unexpectedly good day on the water, taken under the wings of the new winter.