IT was one of those perfect autumn days you often get between storms, a calmness that appears as if the weather is holding its breath.
Three days of heavy rain, high winds and all the mayhem associated with these conditions had passed and it was time for a brief bit of respite while the rains regrouped for another assault.
My original plans had been washed and blown off course so my ambitions were kept closer to home and a visit to an old favourite, Creag Meagaidh.
It’s one of our more iconic mountains, the centrepiece to the nature reserve of the same name, and it attracts a wide variety of nature lovers. You can’t help wonder if it would see fewer visitors if the English translation of its name, bogland rock, was used.
Wisps of cloud were hanging around just below the ridges, seemingly in no hurry to move on. There was an autumnal bite in the air but the lack of any significant breeze negated its impact. A 360 degree panorama of yellow, orange and brown and every shade in between filled the landscape, a sepia wash as far as the eye could see.
I caught sight of a red flash among the silver birches out the corner of my eye, a male bullfinch boldly flitting from branch to branch, loudly announcing its presence. Hairy brown caterpillars were everywhere, wriggling their way across the path in search of refuge for the coming winter while black beetles hurried around them in a business-like manner.
The Coire Ardair path climbs gradually lifting your line of sight above the trees. The river, still boiling away from the recent rains, is a series of zig-zags from this lofty position, a jagged white lightning bolt carving its way through the contours.
And then the view changes again as the path curves round to the left. The massive cliffs of Creag Meagaidh make an appearance, reeling you in with the promise of more delights to come. This includes the little lochan tucked in a bowl beneath these faces, an oasis of tranquillity and a perfect reflecting pool in which to catch another image of these snow-dusted heights.
On the right is the long wall running from Carn Liath to the wonderfully monikered Stob Poite Coire Ardair, the peak of the pot of the high corrie. And in the midst of it all is the Window, the V-shaped nick on the skyline which affords easy passage to these mountains.
You always work up a sweat on the push up through this boulder and scree filled gap, and although progress can be frustrating at times it is never difficult. The view from the end of the climb is almost primeval, an empty landscape dotted with little lochs and boggy ground which reduces any human intruders to mere specks.
A quick walk on a scree path up to the left and you are at the top of the cliffs, the vast plateau of the mountain stretching out ahead. The light covering of snow added to the feeling of wilderness as I headed past the huge cairn on to the final rise to the summit, passing a few other walkers on the way.
As so often on a hill with a plateau summit, the depth of field was somewhat curtailed, the slopes mostly hidden from view. But today the almost static cloud was providing a slow-motion change of view that was breathtaking in every direction.
The high descent route which goes east along the top of the cliffs is magnificent but it involves having to cross the river at the end and with the waters in full flow it seemed better to retreat the way I came. On a previous visit I managed to slip while boulder hopping across in a storm and ended up taking a good soaking. Bad enough on a hot summer’s day, no fun at all in late October.
A short skip up to the summit of Stob Poite Coire Ardair to watch the cloud rolling lazily in and then it was out the Window and back down to the lochan. The cliffs here were now covered by a gossamer-thin layer of cloud which seemed to be seeping into every crevice with the lightest of touches.
One notable omission from this nature walk - deer. With the colder bite in the air, I had expected to at least catch a glimpse of some on the lower slopes.
But maybe their absence was no surprise when you consider that among the literature on display at the info point was a series of full-colour recipe cards for venison dishes. If I had seen a stag at that point I would have found hard not to picture him being served up with a variety of Thai spices.