You start the day off a few hundred paces into a a walk and before you know it there’s a common lizard enjoying the first Spring weather, almost under your feet.
Focussing in on the pattern on his (or her – how can you tell?) body he (or she) is a beautiful patterns of chocolate, bronze and cream scales that form a chequer board of tiny counters; soft earthy colours that blend this little lizard perfectly into the winter grasses and stems. It’s breathtaking enough walking in the Scottish Mountains, and yet there are small worlds and landscapes existing beneath our feet that are just as magical.
We are spending the day walking up Alt Coire a’Mhusgain to the waterfall just below the col that leads onto Stob Ban. Looking back as we start the walk we can see the sweeping lines and strongly sculpted glacial valley that is Glen Nevis.
It is in this grassy turf that we come across a Common Lizard curled up in the winter grasses.
It’s not a typically sunny day with blue skies; the morning being more dull and overcast but it’s great to be outdoors and the mountain tops look promisingly atmospheric the higher we hike up the valley. Further up the interlocking V’s will get steeper and more characteristic of numerous geography lessons detailing the upland hills and mountains of the UK and which always seemed to me a gateway leading to a land of a different kind, where the everyday cares and worries of the population fall away allowing instead, a welcome period of calm and peace, where one might hear only the call of a buzzard or the more guttural throaty honk of a raven.
We’ve not gone too far before the footpath becomes a saturated splashy walk with deep puddles every few metres or so. One small rock under David’s descending boot sprouts legs and dives off the rocky step below; and then every puddle on the footpath is full of frogs and frogspawn.
Every other patch of water we come across is a roiling mass of froggy bodies which suddenly becomes comedically still apart from the surprised frogs which get lifted up out of the water as their companions try frantically to burrow down through the mud and hide unchivalrously under their recent conquest.
One particular frog allows us to get close enough to see the amazing webbing of his feet, whilst another two pretend we’re not there. Frogs expressions are very clear at times.
The footpath gets steeper and higher, and the atmosphere of the valley changes again. No more puddles of water and frog spawn. Now there are steeper lines and the first proper sight of the snow still definitely present and not melting away just yet.
Now we are into a different world, one of exposed hillsides and twisted tree shapes, trunks and branches formed in part by the tornadic gusts that can rip down through the Glen in Winter.
Exposed boulders mark the steep terraces and show off their own geological formation in perfect symmetrical patterns. My geology is woefully rusty but I still love the subject and research biotite and quartzite afterwards to learn more about the slice of rock that seems like a painting to me in it’s composition and appearance. I tuck it away mentally – one for the Linhof later on.
This area was originally a region of violent geological activity which can be seen today in stunning relief where the folds and uplifts are helpfully contrasted by the snows.
At this height, the wind suddenly picks up as we switchback up the path and the familiar icy knife hits my face. The northerly chilled wind is refreshing and exhilarating. Instinctively I want to recoil and stay warm and comfortable but stronger is the joy of that bracing freshness on the skin that only comes from being up in the snow line of the mountains wherever you are in the world. Here it is, Stob Ban, and that is just perfect.
This is the waterfall we’ve come to check out, and it’s also an appropriate place for a tea stop.
There’s so much to do here whether it’s photographing, wildlife watching, mountain biking and so on; it seems like we’ve only just scratched the surface. There are already primroses out down at Loch Linnhe, but up here Winter is not quite over yet.
In one walk there is to be found so much natural beauty, landscapes within landscapes, if only we will take the time to look.
In this vast Highland Glen we have enjoyed so much in one day’s walk. We’ve explored the minerals, colours and lichens in rocks at our feet, and marvelled at the fantastic shapes and uplifted rock strata over on the buttress whilst a snow cornice sags and threatens to detach on the ridge thankfully far opposite and above us.
Later that week I catch a sighting of my first sea otter near the shore of Loch Linnhe as I’m driving into Fort William. I couldn’t stop but he was there happily diving for shore crabs and surfacing with his head out of the water looking towards my direction, joyfully chomping on his lunch. One day I might even get the chance to stop and watch him for longer. And just maybe be lucky enough to get a photograph.