The uncomfortably high winds have passed and with them, we hoped, the lashing rain. It is still windy, though, just not gale force, and the temperatures remain pitifully low for a supposed summer, hovering around a daytime high of 13°C, if and when the sun is out. This is hardly odonata hunting weather; the little darlings require both a modicum of warmth and sun, just like me, but it was certainly fine enough for us to have a drive round scouting out locations discovered during my pre-trip research.
The eastern side of the country near Aviemore and Loch Garten was all about the endangered [Red Data List] Northern Damselfly (Coenagrion hastulatum). Our shift to the west coast is all about the vulnerable [Red Data List] Azure Hawker (Aeshna caerulea) – I like a challenge – the south-western shore of Loch Maree being, reportedly, something of a hotspot. [Don’t take hot too literally – this is Scotland.]
The main point of the Camping and Caravanning Club’s Inverewe Gardens campsite at Poolewe, facing west, is to give Francine a chance of some sunsets, assuming that the sun deigns to rise in the first place. That’s an evening affair, though, so during the daytime, both tourism and odo-hunting are fair game.
A couple of locations had come to light along the shore of Loch Maree. Starting from the north-western end, the first of these was a place called Slattadale, which our orchid friends from Aviemore had also mentioned. We found the car park and set off on foot.
We were soon heading up a not-too-strenuous hill beside a tumbling rocky river on one side and a tiny peaty stream on the other. The landscape a few feet beyond the stream resembled something destroyed by a falling meteorite. Splintered boughs and branches remained but hardly a tree stood. The Forestry Commission had been at it again. With the canopy gone, all the moss beneath had died. Mossy bog pools are just the kind of habitat I wanted to see.
The south-eastern end of Loch Maree is overlooked by the towering peaks of Beinn Eighe [pronounced Byn Ay, or so we think] at ~1000m. Here there is a visitor centre and, about a mile away are both a mountain trail and woodland trail, the latter sporting an area of bog pools. The woodland trail is a little misleading; the first thing it does is head up hill at an alarming rate. Up we went. Then it heads back down hill, which is considerably less strenuous. Down we went, Finally, almost back where we began and back at base level, we came across the bog pools. It was again overcast, still windy and once more, “not a creature stirred, not even a mouse”. At least we knew where some potentially useful habitat was, though, and could avoid a repeat of the pointless mountaineering next time, should conditions improve.
I’m so glad we used up space in the car carrying two picnic chairs and a portable gas barbecue, neither of which look like being of any use. Firstly, with evening temperatures dropping to the 10°C mark, I don’t think we’d regard sitting outside as an appealing option. Secondly, keeping either a match or, indeed, the barbecue itself alight given the winds that prevail are less than likely.
There were some cracks in the evening cloud cover back at Poolewe, so I wrapped up and stepped out to the loch-side, camera in hand, in case an opportunity arose. There weren’t any reds or oranges on offer but a few shafts of gold looked worth a few pixels. I was out earlier than Francine would have been – bloody amateurs. Rather than wait any longer, I retreated back to the safety of Guillaume when I began itching because a gang of marauding west coast midges had discovered me and were now regarding me as a useful evening snack.
OK, insect repellent next time.