The Road to the Wild West


We could have been in South Africa by now! How much further is it?’ We left Glasgow four hours ago, and on this July evening we’re still miles from our destination, a remote spot on the west coast of Scotland. The rented house is on the Morvern Peninsula, across the water from the Isle of Mull. Turning from a narrow road onto an unpaved track, and then onto little more than a trail, that it strikes me that there are still parts of Britain which are truly wild.

To my teenage son’s horror neither satnav nor mobile phones work here, so we rely on the OS map and the dubious logic that with so few roads crossing the mountains and glens, it should be difficult to get lost.
‘Turn left here.’
‘Lochaline is that way.’ My husband stops the car at the junction.
‘It’s this way.’ The house is 14 miles from the nearest village.

We carry on, avoiding skinny, muscular sheep. They scamper on agile hooves among rocks and ferns, turning horned heads to watch as we negotiate a tight bend. This is the most westerly point of Britain, as far north as Stockholm, sharing the same extended hours of summer daylight. It’s a fine evening, and beyond the tree line, above the bare crags, the sky is still a benevolent blue. Yet it’s not hard to imagine the bleakness of the landscape in winter months. Today the moorland is threaded with heather and swaying grasses, but in winter it could be feet deep in snow.

A black speck wheels over the hills, a peregrine falcon, or a sea eagle? There are golden eagles here too, comfortable in a place with sparse human population. I’m too slow to grab binoculars for a better look. We swerve to avoid a boulder, and then Loch Teacuis swings into view – turquoise water, edged with cool grey rock. A tiny beach is tucked against the shore, pine trees fringing the pale sand, but without a boat, the only access is across a patch of bog.

Bouncing over a cattle grid, we enter the shade of ancient woodland. Densely packed rowan, ash, hazel and gnarled oak trees line the track. This is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, managed by the Scottish Wildlife Trust, where the grazing of sheep and highland cattle is strictly controlled.

Emerging into fading sunshine, we find our house at last. Stumbling inside on cramped legs, we’re thrilled to find that our home for the next week looks directly onto the water. A pair of dinghies, anchored in the gentle waves, bob cheerfully, and beside them, on a crumbling post, perches a heron. In repose between fishing expeditions, its grey feathers flutter in the evening breeze. The light is dwindling, the sky flecked with pink. There are bags to unpack, a meal to be cooked, but I’m drawn back to the window to watch the loch. Then I see it, down in the shallows, where rafts of ochre-coloured seaweed offer shelter to crabs and other sea-food. It’s an otter, clearly visible through the huge living room window, even without binoculars. It dabbles in the water, inspecting its surroundings with little concern for intruding humans. After a glance in my direction, it dives beneath the water and makes for the opposite shore.

‘Look!’ My husband points through another window, looking over open hillside at the rear of the house. It’s a red deer stag – a handsome one, with striking 12 point antlers. He stands, like a film star humouring the paparazzi, then swaggers off through the bracken. I need to get on with supper, but the show isn’t over yet. Our teenager rushes from sofa to window. The glass stretches from floor to ceiling, and low down, pressing its small nose against the pane, is a startlingly confident creature with chocolate brown fur and a yellow throat.
‘Is it a weasel?’
‘No, a pine marten. Look, its going for those slugs on the path!’
‘It says here she likes peanut butter and comes down every night to get some.’ My husband reads from the guest-book.

The pine marten snuffles, sniffing the slugs with disdain, then she slinks away into the undergrowth, sweet tooth unsatisfied.
‘Still wish you’d gone to South Africa?’ I ask.
‘No way!’ my husband says, dragging himself from the window. ‘It’s quite wild enough here for me.’

Written by Claire Thurlow