Sunday, 11 January 2015

Loch Ard Forest - Light and shadow

The winter sun is at its lowest in Scotland at the moment. In mountain areas it barely climbs clear of the lower ridges before it suddenly realises it’s needed elsewhere in the world and promptly leaves. Some people don’t like it, the 4pm night. But the trade-off is the ethereal quality to the light as the sun’s low arc creates contrasts and rich textures. It’s magical. 

The winter light was gorgeous in the Loch Ard Forest last weekend for a short overnight biking trip with my friend, Graham. On a frosty morning early beams of sunshine burst through the trees, backlighting me with a Readybrek outer glow. Showing my age! How long has it been since those adverts were on TV? 

The reflections on Loch Ard were perfectly sharp such that the line was blurred between real and unreal and the colours were on fire. The foxes blurred reality even more. Their mirror surfaces caught what little light there was in the shadow of the canopy and reflected back the forest. Like the real fox, they melted into the trees. 

Eventually we biked clear of the forest and into sunshine that illuminated the snow-covered slopes of Ben Lomond. Another trick of the light - sunlight on snow peak - made the Ben look Himalayan in character. 

We cycled north, working hard on a wet track with the consistency of porridge. As the sun sank, we made a high camp in the shadow of the mountain. It was a wet, lumpy, sloping spot but the panoramas across the Arrochar Alps and Ben Lomond in a setting sun were stunning. 

It was a still, calm evening in the Glen of Wind as a nearly full moon rose, casting shadows of tents and silvery light on the mountain.

Fact File

More photos on flickr - click HERE.
Start/finish: Aberfoyle. We used Graham's van for this trip and parked in the main car park at the visitor centre.
Maps: OS Landranger 56 and 57
Route: From Aberfoyle head west along the B829 and turn into the forest by crossing the bridge at Milton to pick up the forest tracks. Follow waymarkers at the first split to the right to keep to the loch shore and keep following them to Couligartan. At this junction, take the left hand track uphill, then another left track signed for Aberfoyle and then a right at the next junction. You'll shortly go under a bridge. Keep straight on this track now up into Gleann Dubh. Cycling this track is very enjoyable with open forest, views to Ben Lomond and a "big country" kind of feel to the landscape. At the cottage at remote Comer Farm, take the very steep track through a gate and up to the right to cycle up through Gleann Gaoithe. We camped up here, though it was really difficult to find a good spot. Next day we returned to the junction just before the bridge we'd passed under yesterday and followed waymarkers back to Aberfoyle via Blairvaich and Duchray House, popping out of the forest at Kirkton. 
Information: All of this route is on good quality forest tracks and is quite easy apart from the steep climb at Comer. Though much of Loch Ard Forest is commercial plantation, there are also beautiful areas of natural woodland.

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