Monday 14 May 2012

Loch Ossian, a U-shaped valley & overhead an eagle

Our last full day at Loch Ossian youth hostel we did another walk that would be suitable for a day trip by train. The whole route was on substantial gravelled tracks and took six or seven hours which included plenty of stopping time.

First coffee-break of the day. The first of many...

We started by walking from hostel along the south shore of Loch Ossian. At one point we saw a black-throated diver close in to the shore. It was half hidden by trees but binoculars removed the branchy distraction and revealed stunning markings - streaks and spots of pure white against pure black. The next morning I saw it (or another?) fly along the loch from west to east. It was already quite high above the water when it began an upwards clockwise curve. As it circled higher and higher each lap took it directly over my head. Eventually it became no more than a white-black cross shimmering against the summer-blue sky.

sketchbook notes, black-throated diver

At the far east end of the loch is a shooting lodge, an interesting private building with tall triangle windows that blend well with surrounding conifers. The rear is less sympathetic, more sinister. A sculpture in the grounds looked very much like one of Antony Gormley's solitary standing men. 

Immediately beyond the lodge we turned north and walked three kilometres up the length of a wide U-shaped valley. A perfect example from a school geography textbook - flat bottom, steep sides, meandering river. Think of the massive power of that glacier gouging out the valley so many thousands of years ago.

valley of the River Ossian

Approaching the end of the valley we heard then saw two peregrine falcons fly from cliffs above us. They came together in the sky in courtship or mid-air food exchange (Peregrines are known for this. See an amazing video of it here on the BBC website). Immediately afterwards four ravens with thick rough necks were there down in the valley. Wise and wily they looked beside a ruined cottage, conversing ominiously in cronking voices. 

We walked down towards the ruin and crossed the River Ossian by a bridge with missing slats. There was a dipper on the rocks - the first seen on our trip. A wheatear flitted away to alight on a rock and then high, high above us a golden eagle appeared over a curve-topped hillside. A row of deer stood silhouetted on the rise and above them came the eagle. It flew a straight line east to west, gliding effortlessly, wingtips fingering. A smallish white patch towards the end of each underwing showed it to be a juvenile. What a huge creature. I realise now that every distant bird I've ever thought may have been an eagle (but was probably just a buzzard) was definitely just a buzzard!

deer above the River Ossian

a ruin at the head of the valley of the River Ossian
lunchtime sketching spot

Our turnaround point was the ruin where the ravens had been. Down by the river were bleached tree stumps and roots, preserved remains of the ancient Caledonian forest emerging slowly from the peat where some will have lain buried for thousands of years. 

We decided lunch would be here although I couldn't bear to be in such an amazing place and not get something of it captured on paper. Drawing can be like an addiction - sometimes it's a necessity rather than an option. I did two quick watercolours here and ate my food as we walked back. Peanut-butter, thickly sliced beetroot, & rosemary - my favourite sandwich but not many people seem to agree.

lunchtime sketch - 5 minute watercolour in sketchbook, 14.5x41cm

lunchtime sketch, ruin by the River Ossian, watercolour in sketchbook, 14.5x41cm

Arriving back at Loch Ossian we walked the north shore through fairytale moss forests. An uprooted pine gaped like a dragon rising from its underground slumber. Its tree-root mouth was open wide to receive and devour any unwary walkers. At least the now-drenching drizzle would douse its fire. 

Loch Ossian moss-dragon

Down on the edge of the loch a dipper perched on a boulder, chittering and chattering loudly as if the story it told was the most important thing in all the world.

dipper on Loch Ossian


  1. Your blog is great! Really makes me feel inspired to go out and enjoy nature and beautiful scenery. I like the way you informally put accross info and notes about things you've seen and done, kind of like a diary. Could make people realise how easily they could do things like that themselves? You have some nice writing and pictures...they'd make a good book!

    1. Thanks for these comments. I'm delighted if my experiences encourage you to get out and explore.

      My railway landscapes project has two main purposes:
      1 - to draw attention to how many amazing places we can reach by rail.
      2 - to allow me to continue exploring Scotland..!
      (And not necessarily always in that order!)

      Regarding publications - there's Sketches from Canada which is a limited edition book published after my journey there in 2010. There's a link to it on the left-hand side of this blog.

      And there may well be another book in the pipeline ... but it's not about Canada...


  2. Hey Leo, heard you on Radio Scotland on my way back from Skye. Very impressed, great idea for project! Looking forward to your future blog entries

    1. As in THE John Shelton... from school?

      Great to hear from you! Can you email me at and I'll add you to my mailing list?

      Hope you're really well.