In 2006, on Itinerary 5, we stopped our car on the side of the A82. We love this road which leads to Glencoe, the place where, in 2000, on Itinerary 1, we definitely fell in love with Scotland in front of one of the most striking and beautiful landscapes we ever saw. There were already a number of cars parked here.The weather was fine though wintry and cloudy and the point of view we discovered up a little hill which dominates the area, would have been worth a painting with its blue, green and brown colours.
People seemed to be energized in the clear and fresh atmosphere of the place and everybody looked happy and cheerful, not to say euphoric. It’s one of our best travel memories. But beware of the appearances! The weather is very changing in Scotland and Rannoch Moor may suddenly offer a gloomier face to its visitors and even prove to be dangerous for unprepared walkers …
Some seven hours’ incessant, hard travelling brought us early in the morning to the end of a range of mountains. In front of us there lay a piece of low, broken, desert land, which we must now cross. The sun was not long up, and shone straight in our eyes; a little, thin mist went up from the face of the moorland like a smoke; so that (as Alan said) there might have been twenty squadron of dragoons there and we none the wiser. (…) The mist rose and died away, and showed us that country lying as waste as the sea; only the moorfowl and the pewees crying upon it, and far over to the east, a herd of deer, moving like dots. Much of it was red with heather; much of the rest broken up with bogs and hags and peaty pools; some had been burnt black in a heath fire; and in another place there was quite a forest of dead firs, standing like skeletons. A wearier-looking desert man never saw; but at least it was clear of troops, which was our point. (…) We went down accordingly into the waste, and began to make our toilsome and devious travel towards the eastern verge. There were the tops of mountains all round (you are to remember) from whence we might be spied at any moment; (…) (Kidnapped Chapter XXII The Flight in the Heather: The Moor Robert Louis Stevenson 1886)
Rannoch Moor covers an area of around 50 square miles (130 square kilometres) between Loch Rannoch, Glencoe and the Bridge of Orchy.
At an altitude of about 300 metres, Rannoch Moor is covered with a “blanket bog” or “blanket mire”, the kind of vegetation forming on acidic soils in upland areas situated above 200 m and submitted to heavy rainfall and low temperature. One must remember that the uplands of Scotland are covering almost two thirds of the country and that around 14 per cent of that land can be classified as blanket bog. The blanket bogs and lochans of Rannoch Moor drain into Loch Tummel, via Loch Rannoch. Thanks to its very specific fauna and flora, quite typical of peatland areas, the Moor has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest, SSSI. It has also been declared a National Nature Reserve, NNR. Rannoch Moor is also a proposed SAC, Special Area of Conservation and a part of it has been listed as Ramsar site of worldwide wetland importance. As a Natura 2000 SAC site it is of European importance.
Vast and desolate, surrounded by mountains that rise to over 3000ft to the south-east and the west and to over 2000ft in the north, Rannoch Moor opens to you like a changing mosaic composed of lochs, lochans, streams and peat bogs. It is never the same, its atmosphere being as contrasted as the Scottish weather. Rannoch Moor can only be crossed on foot along more or less difficult walking paths or by train, following the lonely 16 kilometres of the West Highland Line rail track which crosses it.
I’ve crossed the Moor several times and have always been thrilled by its lonely emptiness. In 1792 The Revd John Lettice, later chaplain to the Duke of Hamilton, wrote of the Moor : ‘An immense vacuity, with nothing in it to contemplate, unless numberless mis-shapen blocks of stone rising hideously above the surface of the earth would be said to contradict the inanity of our prospects’. Lettice’s sentiments convey his enmity with such a landscape. I find it immensely appealing, an empty quarter where the spirit can soar in unfettered abandon. I find it moving and I find it humbling. (…) Can a moor share the same attributes as our highest mountains? The Moor of Rannoch can. (Cameron McNeish Scotland’s 100 Best Walks Lomond Books 1999)
Given the very specific atmosphere associated with moorland, no wonder it has inspired so many writers. I have just given an extract of Stevenson’s Kidnapped, which takes place in Rannoch Moor. But who could have forgotten the Yorkshire Moors which serve as a background in Emily Brontë’s masterpiece Wuthering Heights or, along the same lines, the lonely and gloomy setting given by Conan Doyle to The Hound of the Baskervilles which happens to be situated in Dartmoor, one of the most desolate places to be found in Britain.
Even though Conan Doyle did give an English background to one of his most famous stories he would certainly not have forgotten his Scottish roots…
By the way, and to end this post on a note of humour, did you know that Uncle Scrooge, one of the most famous characters of the American cartoon, had Scottish origins? Yes he has ! He is a member of the Clan McDuck and Castle McDuck, his ancestral home, happens to be situated in Dismal Downs, somewhere on Rannoch Moor.
Bonne lecture ! A bientôt ! Mairiuna