. . . into the midst of the Flowerdale Forest

'. . . a summer foray into the hinterland of the Flowerdale Forest'

I USED to think I was organised. My office colleagues poked fun at one or two files in which I kept a random assortment of cuttings and papers.  My wife still looks at the shelves of box files containing various insurance policies, mortgage documents and car repair receipts with that wonderful feminine gaze which displays a melange of curiosity, bewilderment and disdain.

I do have a toolbox. I do keep all my socks in pairs. And when I open the cutlery drawer, yes, I do like to know that there is a better than evens chance it will contain the garlic press, my favourite cooking spoon and the corkscrew.

And yes, yes of course, I have a large and commodious tackle bag, the contents of which are stirred on each outing and decanted at regular periods throughout the season into other wee bags for wading, hill loch excursions or simply into a waistcoat pocket for that “just in case” moment.

Probably down to potty training at too early an age  if the psychoanalysts were allowed a comment.

But it is all something of a façade, behind which mad chaos generally reigns. At organisation I am really a mere amateur.  For in-depth expertise and planning skill you need to understand my chum Neil.

Neil has turned neat and tidy into an art form at which hopeless beginners such as I can only marvel. Fishing expeditions are planned with the precision of the landings in Falkland Sound. The entire contents of Cafaro’s window is neatly packed into cantilevered boxes and giant rucksacks holding different pairs of waders, jackets, rods (several), nets (various), spare underwear, flasks, food boxes, cameras, binoculars, torch. And spare toilet paper.  Maps are downloaded, weather reports recorded, websites trawled for scraps of local knowledge.  Where there are stones, they are overturned.

Nothing can go wrong. Nor was it expected to when we met up for a few beers and discussed our summer foray  into the hinterland of the Flowerdale Forest to the remote and mysterious Loch na h-Oiche, Loch of the Night.

Bruce Sandison has much to answer for, prompting witless souls like us to strike out into  the wilderness of the  north-west highlands in search of dream fishing. His encyclopaedic guide to the trout lochs of Scotland always promises untold riches and excitement, each entry suggesting El Dorado, no matter how barren the previous expedition.

Loch na h-Oiche is remote, a good five miles from the nearest road. It lies 2 miles long and half a mile wide, lonely and serene between Baosbheinn and Beinn an Eoin. A reasonable off-roader track initially, degenerates into a pony-sized, rubble strewn line that vanishes into the distance over first one hill and then another like the yellow brick road.

Just the terrain for a spot of mountain biking, or so we thought. We’d do it in a day comfortably, dropping the bikes at the end of the loch by the boathouse and fishing our way around according to the wind.

Neil’s equipment certainly looked impressive, a rugged  21-speed machine sturdily attached to the commodious bike rack fitted to the towbar of his car. My last serious trip on a pedal cycle was 25 years previously on a 10-day youth hostelling tour of the central Lowlands.

But my wife’s pseudo-mountain bike had all the right gizmos and had never done more than a dozen miles since being handed over as a Christmas present some  years earlier.

We drove up from Gairloch to the track-end and lifted our bikes and equipment over the deer fence. It was a perfect day with a steady warm breeze and a occasional bursts of sun between the cloud. Anticipation injected adrenalin into every sinew. Ready? Go.

Less then a dozen turns of the pedals later, there was sharp crack and  my legs spun freely like some circus clown.  The chain had snapped. A torrent of sweary  words echoed round the hills as we assessed the situation.

Collectively we had puncture repair outfits, pumps, Leatherman toolkits, a selection of  knives, spanners and tyre levers. A primus stove, enough food for about three days as well as the contents of Cafaro’s window. But no chain repair tool.

We abandoned the useless bike and struck out.  One mountain bike, became push-bike as we sweated our way up first one hill, then another and another to the loch.  The bike was jettisoned at the boatshed and we resisted the temptation to help  ourselves to the boat and engine and take to  the water.

The wind was against us, so to fish the loch was going to mean walking up at least one side and getting it at our backs.  Another mile or so later we reached Poca Buidhe, the yellow bothy. It was  empty but showed signs of current habitation. Climbers were surmised.

Finally, about three hours after setting off, we fished.  It took some time to find a pattern that the  trout found entertaining and as the hours passed with only a couple of wee tugs to show for our efforts, my mind was starting to turn dismally to the very, very long journey home.

I rummaged around and found a tiny fly box at the bottom of my bag.  I had thought it had gone missing when I fell down a gully in the hills above Kilmelford the previous season. Inside were some very small flies. I attached a size 16 Loch Ordie to the top dropper, with a  teeny black nymph on the point. I also move up the bank a bit so I could cast a little farther out across the wind.

Whack! First cast. A sprightly trout of about 10 ozs took off with the Loch Ordie. I beamed inwardly.  The change had also coincided with the sun starting to dip  behind one of the surrounding mountains, casting a long shadow on the  bankside. Evening was approaching. Not the Loch of the Night for nothing, it seemed.

In the  hour or so that followed as we worked our way back down the loch I netted about eight or nine fish and returned several more.  The best was a pound and half.  And as we tucked into bacon rolls produced from Neil’s primus we concluded that a boat in the gloaming would be worth the return journey and a few nights in the bothy. Wonderful.

The scenery was breathtaking. Loch na h-Oidche sits in a bowl surrounded by a majestic skyline of Wester Ross peaks south of Loch Maree.  We both fancied we heard eerie voices close by at different times during afternoon. Maybe it was just the wind and the wave. Maybe it was a trick of the hills, throwing echoes from climbers high up on the tops. Maybe.

The return journey would have impressed a tri-athlete.  Ok, much of it was downhill.  But we still had only one bike between us and riding pillion while laden with tackle wasn’t in my repertoire.  So we took it in  turns: first one would cycle about half a mile, then drop the  bike and walk on while the other picked up the bike, caught up and overtook.  We walked, jogged, cycled and ran.

With the lure of closing time in The Old Inn at Gairloch we were back at the roadside in a little over  an hour. Tired, but quite satisfied.

I have a new mountain bike. It takes long rests in the shed. You can’t catch fish with a cycle repair kit.  But that extra flybox can sometimes come in handy.

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