A Family Backpacking Adventure
The landscape of Coigach was placed out of bounds to car-based campers with the closure of the Achnahaird bay campsite in 2008. At the time I wrote a piece celebrating what it had been, and lamenting the loss of a national treasure. A new site opened up on the opposite side of the peninsula in 2010, overlooking the Summer Isles. It is decent enough, though not a patch on Achnahaird. It lacks the space for children to run about, the sandy beach, and crucially, that outstanding panorama of the peaks of the northwest. I stayed there once shortly after it opened, but haven’t felt inclined to return.
Both children are now capable of walking as far as I’m prepared to carry a family’s worth of kit, allowing a return to the world of wild camping, and with it the opportunity to linger in the landscape of Coigach. We camped on the southern shore of Enard bay, the exquisitely rough coastline of which stretches from Rhuba na Coigeach to the Point of Stoer. Our site was sublime, a patch of green grass overlooking a small sandy beach. A cascading burn drains the chain of lochs that extend through the heart of Coigach. A short distance from the sea, its waters are contained in a final lochan by a ridge of storm-bashed cannonballs of sandstone and gneiss. Only a few steps separate the still oasis of the loch from pounding surf and a stiff onshore breeze.
Five years had passed since I last savoured the view from Coigach. The complex ridges and coires of Ben Mor Coigach. Stac Pollaidh’s sharp wedge. Brooding Cul Mor. Suilven in profile. Canisp, with the white-streaked flanks of Ben Mor Assynt behind. The three arms of Quinaig. Snowy Fionaven. The bay’s great sweep culminated in the lighthouse on the Point of Stoer, its whitewashed walls resembling a distant, snowcapped peak. Storm clouds on the Atlantic gave the illusion of further peaks. Islands, green by day, black by night, lay between the mainland and me. Memories flooded back, of rock climbing, hillwalking, canoeing, of sleeping on the tops on warm summer nights.
We toasted marshmallows on a modest fire. The coast provided little wood and even less plastic rubbish. Once the family was tucked up in the tent I prowled my surroundings. Viewed from above, the gradation of colour on the low ridge separating sea from lochan was exquisite, a miniature rainbow. Dark brown heather, light orange bracken, a streak of green grass, bands of cobbles weathered to different extents depending on their proximity to the sea; grey, orange, salmon pink. Close to sea the final three colours, dark wet stones, surging white surf, then a great band of blue stretching out towards the Americas and the pole.
How many days might you have left?
It is incredible and gratifying that in a world of over 7 billion people it is still possible to jump in the car, drive for under 2 hours, and after a short walk arrive at place without people, where there is nothing but the crash of surf, where familiar peaks remind me of past triumphs and of future adventures, half-forgotten, the urgency of which becomes more pressing with every passing year, month, day.
How many days do we have? There are roughly 1,000 days in 3 years, 11,000 in 30 years. 30,000 days is a good innings. I am probably at least halfway through my allocation. A lot of things have been done and many more remain to be done. With summer almost here, we are well into the lightest quarter of the year. I reflected that Now was the time for doing, but it was also the time for sleep.
I nestled beneath my tarp just after 2200, glad to remain in contact with the landscape, free to piss where I lay without even parting a zip. Fiddling with my earphones conflicted me. Did I really want to drown out the melody of the waves? What could be more transitory than popular music? But even the seemingly eternal peaks of the Northwest are no more than an ephemeral pulsing of the landscape. These magical mountains that act as a repository for my memories and my ambitions are but a blip when considered in the context of the transit of the continents round the globe.
Yet it is ridiculous to place myself in the timescale of the universe. I am a man living in the timescale of men. It is sometimes soothing to consider these other, greater timescales but ultimately a distraction from living fully in the only timescale that I can ever experience.
Though I knew that I would awake to the logistical difficulties of striking a wet camp and shepherding my family through the rain back to the car, all was well with the world. Coigach is a place like no other. As I fell asleep my desk felt so remote it could have belonged to another time and another place.