Friday, 26 February 2016

17th February - Loch Ainort, Strathaird Peninsula & Loch Harport

Another morning and yet another completely different view when we woke up, there was snow on the distant mountain tops on the other side of the loch for the first time.

And then as if from nowhere the whole area was dusted with snow.

Today we were heading south towards Broadford, and then  south west out to the Strathaird Peninsula, but before we got there we decided to take a single track that loops around Loch Ainort.  The waters are sheltered here, and despite the fact that the water is a long way down from the road we were able to find some birds.  

There were the usual Shags diving, giving the impression that they might be something else, but eventually we did find something else, a diver, and it turned out to be a Black-throated Diver, of which I was able to get an acceptable shot.

The road follows the shore of the loch past a salmon farm, as we passed the pens out on the water we picked up a small group of Eider, two males and five females away in the distance.  

At one point we crossed a burn that appeared to be flowing from the distant mountain.

We stopped in Broadford to pick up provisions, and then took a wrong turn before finally heading off on the right road in a south westerly direction through the Cuillins in the direction of Elgol through the peninsula.

The weather was not so accommodating now the sun and blue sky replaced by clouds and the odd shower of rain.  We drove through the area of Loch Cill Chriosd which consists of shallow water and reeds, there had been reports of Goosander and geese from here lately but this morning the water was completely empty.

The drive took us through the Red and Black Cuillins, and  is one of the most popular on the island. There are a variety of habitats including native woodland, estuarine, open sea, and montane. 

The jagged peaks of the Red Cuillins were not something I was prepared for, the scene was like something from an Austrian or German road as it approached the foothills of the Alps.  We were actually approaching the small village of Torrin, in Scotland.

From Torrin the road continued around the next big expanse of water, Loch Slapin, the road follows the shore to the head of the loch where the feeding streams make their way along a beautiful “U” shaped valley.

The road continues to follow the loch shore and then climbs around the foothills of the Red Cuillins.  Then it took us out along the coast, then inland in the direction of the village of Elgol.

We drove into Elgol and made our way down the harbour and the pier.  He we parked for a while to take in the view across the loch to the distant mountains, the highest of which is Skurr Alasdair.

There were few birds about, we could see Shags flying out of the loch, and on the foreshore were a pair of Herring Gulls now almost in full breeding plumage.

Movement amongst the washed up bladder wrack caught my eye and revealed a Rock Pipit searching for sand hoppers and other insects in the sun warmed sea weed.

Looking towards the beach at the head of loch there was a small crofter's house on the beach that appeared dwarfed by the hills and snow-capped mountains.  For me this picture gives a very good perspective on the majesty of the surrounding landscape.

Leaving Elgol we decided we needed some exercise so we stopped at a car park at the foot of a trail leading up towards Camusanary.  The trail was good but in places was taken over by flowing water, and even more difficult were the number of Fording places across streams that were heading down the valley.  Yesterday’s rain had swelled the streams and getting across was a challenge.

There was hardly any wildlife about, we saw a pair of Hooded Crows when we set off, but apart from that it was silent.  After walking for about 45 minutes we decided this was not going to take us anywhere that we wanted to be, and not provide anything we hoped to see,so we turned around and made our way back down the slope to the car.  There were plenty of other areas we wanted to explore. 

On the way back down we were able to pick out a Grey heron on the loch at the bottom of the valley, and a Buzzard appeared on one of the fence posts watching us as we navigated yet another ford.  It flew off as I tried to get closer and ended up stumbling into a very boggy patch of ground.

The drive back around Loch Slapin was in much better weather conditions which only helped to reinforce the beauty of the landscape.  At the head of the loch, the valley where earlier it was appeared dull and moody due to thick dark cloud was lit up by the afternoon sun, the blue sky contrasting with the snow capped hills.

As we came around the head, and then looking back at the Red Cuillin range, they were again transformed by the better weather.

Leaving the loch we headed back towards Torrin where I stopped again to take a photograph of the same view we saw coming in.  What a difference a few hours make, it’s still “Alpine like”, but on a completely different day.

Passing through Loch Cill Chriosd again I noticed a white shape out on the water.  As we got close I stopped the car and could see it was a male Goosander and was accompanied by a red head female.  This impressive duck threatened to come closer to the road, but never really managed it.

Turning back onto the main road we headed north through Broadford and around Loch Ainort once again.  Squally showers were passing through the area and in the distance the cloud shapes were quite spectacular.

While as we looked towards  the head of the loch, the clouds and sun provided a completely different scene.

Once again we turned onto the A863 at Sligachan, which by now was becoming a well known road.  However this time we turned off onto the Carbost road that took over the river Drynoch and alongside the Loch Harport.

Where the river fed into the loch was a wide area of reeds and shallow water, but apart from a few Mallard there were very few birds.  The views though were quite stunning with the sun picking the colours out of the hill side, emphasising the deep rich colours of the bracken and grass, while the still water reflecting them amongst its deep blue colour.

Looking behind us the mountains of the Black Cuillins were covered in snow and contrast with the closer hill of the glen.

We drove the length of the road, past the Talisker Distillery.  The distillery has been on the site since 1831 when they acquired the lease from the Clan MacLeod.  Talisker now has an annual output of three and a half million litres of spirit. 

The distillery was closed as we passed by heading for the end of the road at Portnalong.  The scenery was spectacular all the way but stepped up a notch as we turned back, the views of the distant Cuillins, the hill side and clouds reflecting again in the deep blue of the loch waters.

Our drive back saw several Buzzards by the side of the road, the first time we had encountered them here.  As we came along the "B" road heading into Skinidin, we could see where were were staying on the side of the hill in the distance.

We were back early as we had a reservation tonight at the Three Chimneys restaurant, a change from the normal routine and it turned out to be a very enjoyable one.

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