School Boy Error No #99 “Wild camping in the hills”
from Peter Williams
After a miserable trip in 2017 where, ‘never again’ and ‘I don’t want to die of exposure’ were uttered, we were once again planning a trip up into the hills to our favourite loch not a million miles from Tongue. Preparations over the winter at home and prior to the walk to the loch had been meticulous and on a par with the planning for Buzz Aldrins moon walk. I filled my backpack and emptied it on the floor of my study, otherwise known as the nerve centre, and re-packed leaving a couple of items out.
Finally, the day in June had arrived and after a quick de-camp from Thurso campsite and the journey to the Tongue hotel, a quick pint and permits bought, we were off. The weather was mixed but not disastrous, and, with whatever weather website we had on our phones we were able to track the severity of prevailing rain and wind for the next twenty four hours or so. We found out later that, with no surprise to us, that the weather forecast in this part of the world can change often and dramatically.
I turned sixty two this year and maybe another year of abuse must have taken its toll as a note in my diary registers ‘tough walk’. After the two hour walk we set the tents up half way down the east side of the loch as a moderate south wind blew steadily that evening.
Our Belgium friend fished the west bank carefully and was rewarded with a nice 49cm trout caught close to the bank on a sedge pattern. Graham hooked a reasonable fish in the weeds at the southern end but failed to bring it in after a few challenging minutes.
My efforts were not rewarded and I figured with another evening up here there was always a chance of one of those balmy evenings when the fish are jumping and rising in a way that torments you as though they are saying ‘Well catch me if you can!’. But if you don’t then you have “only yourself to blame”. It was surprisingly cool but with a strengthening wind, so an early night was not a surprise for all three of us.
Overnight the wind began to steadily get worse and early the next morning there was rain according to my brother Graham who was predicting world cup scores at 12.30am. The early weather report indicated that they were going to get stronger and the winds were moving directly from the west.
By eight o’clock only the west bank was fishable as that bank had some calm water from the bank to about ten metres out. I spent most of the morning avoiding the rain by remaining in my tent whilst the other two fished. Graham had arranged to stay at the hotel that evening and as predicted, as the rain stopped the wind increased whipping the surface into a barrage of waves on a beach.
If there was one lesson from the previous year that we learned, it was use the topography for your comfort and even your survival. With help from my brother and a quick check on the weather, we moved my tent behind a ridge protecting from the now fierce westerly. Graham returned to the hotel.
Our Belgium friend did not embrace this idea of moving his living accommodation until the last minute when his tent was seconds away to being blown into the kyle, a distance of three miles away and no vegetation to stop its flight.
I had no excuse by three o clock but to go fishing so I clambered from my tent picked up my rod to join Michel on the west bank. My first attempt was halted half way up the knoll we were camped under by gusts that made climbing a danger. So I tried to approach the loch around the other side of our protective hill. This time waves were crashing into the bank threatening to sweep me into the water forever, I gave up. Fish zero due to zero effort. Now for the most irritating part of this story. Breakfast had been a long time ago and Spartan. Michel, I noticed waved to me in a triumphant manor from the far end of the loch signalling yet another success, this time 45cms. (despite Brexit we are metric).
The new site protected from the wind and 30 yards from where we started the night before.
One tent gone with Graham sipping coctails at the Ben Loyal Hotel Tee hee!
Finally, he came back to camp to find a very grumpy and hungry me. Actually I think those two feelings are somehow linked. I was also cold but after two barbequed burgers and a chocolate bar my spirits were raised just in time to go to bed with a gin and tonic night cap. Having spent most of the day in the tent I had a restless night and at around 3am a further night cap or two was required.
The wind had finally dropped in the early hours of the next morning but it took some time for the sun to warm things up a bit. I finally went fishing after thirty six hours of ‘what ifs’ and ‘why nots’ dreaming and fighting the cold in my tent in a sleeping bag that is to be demoted to a dog blanket. I strolled casually along the path which, the night before had water crashing onto it and proceeded to the far west bank from whence the wind was still blowing but considerably less than twelve hours before.
My go to fly is probably the sedgehog fished on an eighteen-foot leader (not sure how many cms that is). This one I had tied myself with a claret seal fur body and for once a decent amount of coastal deer hair on a barbless size 12 hook. This is going to sound somewhat familiar but there are times when, especially when the wind is behind you, the cast just straightens out perfectly and the fly sits there screaming ‘eat me, eat me’. And that is what happened at 8.15am as a slurp sucked down my offering and a trout was on. The trout was only half asleep but after the time in my tent I was the opposite and the fight was over after five minutes when 55cms lay briefly on the bank and was quickly returned.
The rest of the morning passed without any further of our finny friends being extracted from their watery world and we proceeded back to the hotel for a welcome pint and lunch.
Next year? Will we return? Will we pay any attention to the weather forecasts? What do you think? Of course we will.
Please note the trout I caught had one of those situations where the gill cover did not fully cover the gill on one side and should be easily recognise should someone catch it again. If you were holding the trout with its head pointing away from you then the damaged gill was on the left hand side.
This is Peter’s article for 2018 which has some familiar tones to others I have written. What he does not tell us is that 12 days before hand we also spent a night on the hill at “the best loch in Sutherland”. Maybe it was the four hour walk to get there, the howling wind that night and early morning or is it the fact he did very little fishing and caught nought? It was just another SBE but he has vowed to never return and I think he will never reach this loch again unless we fly him up there. I feel with our new Icross water transport we may well not need to camp out overnight in the future see www.icrossflyfish.com. Tight lines this autumn maybe some sewin or salmon next week if it rains?