Glencoe is an area that’s long been in my consciousness (much like Skye and for similar reasons). There’s Campbell history here, both personal and Clan. Villainy and vindictiveness, though I like to focus on the victorious. I doubt I’m the only Campbell child who grew up with taunts about being murderous and traitorous. Certainly it helped drive my interest in Scottish history, if only to defend oneself against historically inaccurate bullies …
But Glencoe was always a part of my growing up because it was a place my parents climbed and camped in, where they walked and ventured, where the drank and dined on campfire cooking. Stories of their adventurous youth took root so that this wild, wild place holds a deep and very personal appeal.
It’s a playground for adventurous souls, though it gets hell of a busy. And it seemed the obvious place for my brother’s stag. A few beers, couple of drams, a wee walk. Nothing too outrageous …
Loch Lubnaig looked lovely, again, as we passed it, again, on the drive north to a couple of nights of responsible and moderate drinking, and sensible high jinks. Just two weeks before I’d done the same drive on a mission to climb Agag’s Groove on Buachaille Etive Mór.
First night was a blast, but no one died so that was a bonus. The next day we climbed the Pap of Glencoe with hangovers. In my head, Sgorr na Ciche was a wee hill. Well, it didn’t feel wee or easy or enjoyable as we heaved ourselves up it the morning after. And the legendary view from the top was missing as the cloud descended just as we scrambled through the last and rather rocky section.
The descent hurt, but not as much as Buachaille had a couple of weeks before. All in all, it was a world away from the joyous and restorative early morning dip we’d had just a few hours earlier. I’d clocked this wee pond the day before, after an online tip-off, a wee bit past the Clachaig and just before the Red Squirrel campsite.
The water of this wee pond was warm and fresh, with enough run-off from the various streams coming down from the Aonach Eagach to keep any algae at bay. Weeds there were aplenty, and it wasn’t very deep. I dived down to a very muddy bed about eight foot below. But we were surrounded by trees, with the mighty Aonach Dubh, coated in cloud, peaking through the oak and pine and elm. It felt intimate and secluded, gentle and friendly; the great mountains around us reminding us where we were. For the first time in a long time I swam without cap and goggles, enjoying a purity I hadn’t even considered before but which I now want to explore more. It was pure magic, and rightly so given we were a stone’s throw from where they filmed Hagrid’s Hut in the Harry Potter flicks.
The next day another hungover walk and another wee dip. This time at Glencoe Lochan, a man-made attraction that dates back to the late 19th century when Donald Alexander Smith, aka Lord Strathcona, did a bit of landscape gardening to impress his homesick Canadian wife. This was a lovely woodland walk, the imported North American trees stretching tall into the blue sky, and I think all the Pap veterans from the day before had wished we’d done this walk instead. Then, as the sun beat down, a pal and I swam and splashed about a bit in the lochan itself.
When we got out and started to dry off we realised we were coated in a clear slime, a transparent gloop. No idea what it was. It wasn’t smelly, so hopefully not toxic. Pity, because it was a lovely pond to play about it, but I doubt I’ll swim there again.
Third dip that weekend was only a few hours later when we stopped at Doune to rendezvous with wife, weans and wider family.
Under the shadow of Doune Castle – itself used in Game of Thrones, Outlander and Monty Python’s Holy Grail – and just downstream from where Arya cast Prince Joffrey’s sword into the water, myself and my two youngest kids splashed around in the Castle Pool, in the glorious River Teith. One at a time they’d swim to me in the river, as I stood perched on a large rock.
I’d swum here as a kid of course, and as we paddled in the water, my sister recounted the times when we’d plunged into the water from a rope swing, tied to a tree now long fallen.
This time I wore goggles as I wanted to be able to see any hidden obstacles – and there were a few – and of course it was much safer with two children in the water. We swam over to the other side, let the current take us down, before crossing back to the eastern bank.
They were captivated, and even the next day and the day after that were asking when we can go back to swim in the river, a place where me and my friends all swam and splashed as wee boys and girls. It was, though we didn’t know it then, our own wee playground. Not as wild as Glencoe perhaps, but hopefully it’ll have the same resonance to my own kids as they grow older.