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Sandaig and the Ring of Bright W'otter
by DonnyW » Wed Sep 08, 2010 7:56 pm
Route description: Sandaig (Camusfearna)
Date walked: 08/09/2010
Distance: 4 km7 people think this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
Half a centaury later I still remember the book and the author’s name, even if the chapters have faded in my memory with the passage of time. It was a book about the author living alone at a place called Camusfearna on the west coast of Scotland with his pet otters. Ever since I discovered that Camusfearna was at Sandaig near Glenelg, I had wanted to visit the place for myself.
I achieved that personal ambition this month by spending a week wild camping alone, near the place Gavin Maxwell wrote his book. It was a little along the coast so that I could experience the beauty and solitude of the area he must have known, and not be disturbed by the many visitors to his memorial site. I tried to live off the land as much as possible by eating the fish that I caught in the sea, the mussels collected from the shores and the wild berries found in the forests.
The weather was a mixed bag the first day I parked my car at the start of the forest road that leads to Sandaig. For me, it suited the atmosphere of the area. The forest commission are cutting trees in the area so perhaps they have temporary removed any sign posts to Sandaig as the start was not very clear but I found it easily by referring to the OS map. It was Sunday so there was no workers to be seen. The route follows the well made forestry road for the first half mile.
At the only junction on the forestry road, I saw a little sign pointing saying Sandaig so I knew I was on the right track. A few hundred yards later another little sign pointed down this track through the trees. The path steepened as it started to descend.
Less than a mile from the main road I caught my first glimpse of Sandaig Islands and the sandy beach of Sandaig. I could feel the appeal of the area and its surroundings already.
After a final steep descent the path reaches sea level at the river that Gavin’s otters played in. To cross the river to the memorial site involved crossing by a primitive rope bridge. It looked worse than it was to cross. By taking things slowly and keeping a loose hold on the top rope, the bottom rope was thick enough to hold my weight, not stretch to water level and be wide enough to balance on.
Once across the river I found the memorial to Edal, one of his three otters. It sits under a huge tree which would have been there when the otter was alive.
Fifty yards away is another memorial where Gavin Maxwell himself is buried. Its on the site where his cottage stood
Following the river into the woods I found the waterfall where the otters used to swim and slide down the falls.
A couple of hundred yards away is another old cottage but it was is Maxwells which was destroyed in a fire.
Re-crossing the rope bridge I then made my way to the Sandaig Islands at the end of the bay. I climbed the rocks were Maxwell used to sit and watch his world go by. The tide was almost full in.
The water looked almost tropical in colour with the sandy bottom giving the sea a green sheen.
If the tide is out as in this photo.. be careful not to get stuck on the various islands and rocks if the tide comes in while you are exploring.
Although I didn’t have my own pet otter, I had high hopes of seeing a wild one in the area. In a small bay near wher I stayed and not too far from the site of Gavin Maxwell’s house, I found the first signs of otter life. A collection of broken crab shells piled on a rock. Crab is a favourite food of the otter.
Although Scottish otters often hunt in the sea, they are not true sea otters. They like to live beside a source of fresh water so they can wash the salt from their fur. Not far from the broken crab shells I found a small stream running to the sea. Sure enough, there were more signs of otter life, one had scratched the sand, perhaps while having a long stretch after preening in the stream. It looked fresh so I didn’t think it was too far away.
I launched my inflatable boat and sat at sea watching for more signs of the otter. I have found that wildlife don’t seem to notice my presence so much when Im in the boat on the water. Perhaps its because Im low down.. sitting at almost water level that they don’t associate the shape with a human ? I didn’t have long to wait until some movement caught my eye. What is it ? Yup..looks like my luck was in. Now ..just turn around a bit and smile for the camera
Then in a flash ..the otter was gone again. Something had spooked it. Perhaps it caught a scent of my fishy breath ? Regardless.. I was happy.. I had just glimpsed what I came to see. A wild Camusfearna otter.
I must confess that although I read Ring of Bright water many years ago..I didn’t really enjoy the book. However I thoroughly enjoyed my week at Camusfearna living much like Maxwell would have done and the experience has added a new dimension to my memories of reading the book almost 50 years ago.
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by gammy leg walker » Wed Sep 08, 2010 8:17 pm
by graeme84 » Wed Sep 08, 2010 8:27 pm
gammy leg walker wrote:What a brilliant report and pictures,glad this report has been moved to walk reports Scotland so more people on this form can read,must be an early contender for walk report of the month
it would be more of a contender for "inspirational, getting away from it all, report of the month" or something a bit more catchier .Anyway agreed that was a brilliant read
by fedupofuserids » Wed Sep 08, 2010 8:29 pm
gammy leg walker wrote:must be an early contender for walk report of the month
Fab report & photos
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by DonnyW » Wed Sep 08, 2010 8:38 pm
- Posts: 478
- Joined: Dec 18, 2009
by Merry-walker » Wed Sep 08, 2010 9:21 pm
by petejkenny » Fri Sep 10, 2010 11:20 pm
I do know one or two people in the general area and I'm afraid Gavin Maxwell evokes mixed responses there!Have a read of his biography for more details.
I guess like most iconic/charismatic/driven people he was also a bit of a ... well fill it in for yourself!
Anyway I think the lack of signs etc is pretty deliberate -otherwise there'd be a "Ring of Bright water" trail and a tea room/gift shop at sandaig selling model otters!
by Essan » Sat Sep 11, 2010 2:31 pm
petejkenny wrote:I guess like most iconic/charismatic/driven people he was also a bit of a ... well fill it in for yourself!
Aye, I hear Mike Tomkies was like that too.
Excellent account and great photos Donny
by 2dalmatians » Sat Sep 11, 2010 10:24 pm
by kerrera » Sat Sep 11, 2010 10:54 pm
DonnyW wrote:Thanks for your kind comments folk..but wow..when I re read it..Im not surprised I failed my English Higher..my grammer and spelling is terrible.. oh...and the book I had to read for it was even worse... Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon..funny ..but I never wanted to visit that area
I went to Sandaig in 1980, the cottage looks the same. It's an amazing place. I read Highland River by Gunn.
by gammy leg walker » Sun Sep 30, 2012 1:04 pm
by electricfly » Tue Feb 26, 2013 3:39 pm
...get yer hankies at the ready.
so always remember, if nobody else can... ...Doonican!