A group of friends had booked a cottage for new year in Strontian on the West coast of Scotland and invited us along too. A week away over new year sounded ideal but in reality both of us getting time off work and arranging a cat(s) sitter at that time of year could be problematic, so we agreed to bring the inflatable bed and stay over Hogmanay and new year’s day.
The mountain forecast for the West Highlands was looking decent, so I hatched a plan to get up seriously early on new year’s day and attempt to first foot Ben Nevis, but I also wanted to enjoy a few libations with friends without worrying about being over the limit for the drive to Fort William. Not to mention the fact, that the Corran ferry wasn’t operating on new year’s day.
My plan never came to fruition, so in the morning Plan B was organised over breakfast to visit Castle Tioram, somewhere I’ve always wanted to go, but bagging Corbetts had always got in the way.
We left around midday, and enjoyed the leisurely drive around to Acharacle before crossing Shiel Bridge over the still swollen River Shiel, the aftermath from Storm Frank still very much visible in most parts.
After Shiel Bridge there is almost an immediate left hand turnoff, leaving you with a short 4 kilometre drive down to Castle Tioram.
Castle Tioram (pronounced Cheerum) is a ruined castle sitting on a small tidal island, which you can cross at low tides. The castle is steeped in the usual Scottish history you’d expect with various raids and power struggles.
Castle Tioram was reportedly locked and access was denied to the general public. We approached the gate and it looked locked at first glance, however the gate was not padlocked and we gained access to the castle. The usual disclaimer sign is visible, ‘enter at your own risk due to falling masonry etc’. Hard hats are available, but whoever used them last had left them facing up, so the hats had filed up with water. We opted to take a risk and go without.
I’ve always enjoyed visiting ruined castles ever since I was a kid. But when there are no health and safety railings and fencing, it makes it somewhat more interesting.
We wandered around the different sections of the castle from room to room. Fireplaces and old spiral stair cases still visible, nature however is slowly reclaiming the castle, with ivy and even a Holly tree growing from one of the interior walls.
It was tempting to try and climb up to other nooks and crannies of the castle, but it probably wouldn’t be very safe, plus I already slipped outside the castle and got myself covered in mud. I didn’t want to ruin my good hillwalking gear that I had decided to wear.
After our recce inside the castle, we wandered around the back of the island.
I spotted some nice spots to set up a tent, although I looked above and realised maybe it wouldn’t be so good if some masonry fell off and tumbled down towards your pitch!
Afterwards we decided to do some of the coastal route around the Silver Walk circuit. On first sight, you wouldn’t expect a path of any sort to exist but there is a path that hugs the coast up and down cliffs, with a couple of narrow sections.
Oyster catchers loitered around the beach with their trademark call. You see Oyster catchers well inland these days. But I’ve always been fond of these sea birds.
As we began on the Silver Walk, crowds were arriving at the castle, we left at the right time!
The coastal walk is fantastic, but it’s a path that requires care in quite a few places.
After a while we decided to turn back rather than complete the circuit. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
We got back to the start of the walk and decided to have some lunch by the beach. I rigged up the GoPro to shoot a timelapse video. Berating a couple who decided to walk passed my GoPro at least three times.
It was nice and relaxing, just taking it all in. Two golden eagles soared above us and disappeared before I had a chance to photograph them but the real wildlife treat was just about to unfold. We could hear a lot of squawking above the water but it didn’t really register with me, I thought it was a couple of ravens. But Nicola spotted something with a huge wing span and alerted this to me.
I finally looked up and witnessed a heron challenging what looked like a white tailed eagle! I then spied the eagle’s white tail and quickly got excited running down to the shore for a closer glimpse.
By the time I reached the shore, the eagle was well off and I just managed to get a photo before it disappeared behind the trees on Riska Island.
We decided to hang around for a bit longer to see if the eagle would reappear. We found a sheltered spot closer to the castle. My hands were getting cold, and typically my gloves were in the car. But I wanted one more glimpse of this great bird, I’d never seen a sea eagle before!
Whilst sitting, waiting patiently I spotted two herons on the shore of Riska Island. I zoomed in on my camera and they were standing so still, I thought they were plastic herons you could buy from the tackle shop. They did eventually move!
We sat tight, but nothing materialised and we gave up. I was happy to at least have one photo for evidence.
We headed back along the beach but stopped to speak to a couple of dog walkers and mentioned about our sighting.
I happened to look up and the eagle was back in flight, it was getting seriously close to us. But trying to get a decent photograph with a compact digital camera was difficult, particularly when one of the herons was once again in hot pursuit of the white tailed eagle… brave heron!
The eagle swooped down to the water, and then headed off into the distance. I managed to get a couple more photos but my camera zoom was stretched to it’s full capacity. So the photos are a bit blurred.
The eagle’s white tail can be spotted above the boat, but with a bit of extra zooming on Photoshop, you can just make out the fish in the eagle’s claws!
We were absolutely thrilled to see a sea eagle, especially when we didn’t even expect to see one in the first place, not to mention a heron going after the eagle on two occasions. Quite possibly one of the best wildlife displays I’ve ever seen since the time two vultures flew just above me on a mountain in Mallorca.
More than happy with the experience, we decided to call it a day and head back to our digs for dinner.
I think giving Ben Nevis a miss on this occasion worked out well.