19. November, 2010 ,

GORE-TEX Experience Tour: From Loch Heaven to Loch Hell

The GORE-TEX Experience Tour’s aim was to create a meeting of minds where knowledge and experiences could be openly shared.  The project that would take two young people to the UK’s most remote region – Knoydart, Scotland – hosted by outdoors expert Cameron McNeish and accomplished photographer Richard Else was set to be a perfect example of this.

During the selection process Cameron was quick to indentify the type of person he wanted to share his time with – someone who would grow through the experience but would also offer him a new perspective on his familiar environment.  James MacKeddie and Keith Ruffles were the eventual winners of the 2 places.  They were chosen because they each exhibited a genuine desire to learn more about how to connect with the landscape and had a determination to overcome whatever obstacle life presented them with.

The GORE-TEX Experience Tour: above Loch HournGiven the atrocious weather conditions that greeted the group at their ultimate destination, Cameron and his team chose well!  From Day 1 the weather was against the team.  From the Loch of Heaven (Loch Nevis) to the more aptly named Loch of Hell (Loch Hourn) the guys were tossed around by incredibly stormy seas that would have sent lesser souls back to dry land!

Eventually Cameron and the team reached their base camp in Barrisdale, a beautiful spot overlooked by two of the area’s three Munros, which are what Scotland calls mountains over 3000 feet.  The plan was to climb Ladhar Bheinn, the highest peak in Knoydart, but unfortunately the weather turned again and it was far too risky. Luckily the whole team was equipped with Mountain Equipment rain jackets and trousers and Brasher trekking boots that are engineered with the high-tech functionality of GORE-TEX product technology.

Instead the team chose Sgurr a’ Choire-bheithe, an awesome rock that at 913m ranks this Scottish mountain as a Corbett.

The rest of the week was also dominated by the weather, but despite this Keith, James, Cameron and Richard were still able to explore and discover much of what makes Knoydart so special.  On the deserted Island of Meeting, or Eilean Choinnich in the ancient Gaelic language, they found several graves made with a few simple rocks in the ground which Cameron explained were designed to stop wolves from “digging up the dead”.  This is just one example of how Cameron demonstrated the intrinsic connection between people and the land.

James and Keith also learnt about how the landscape has been scared by history.  During the Highland Clearances the agricultural population was removed from these areas, but the small ruined buildings dotted about throughout the landscape are stark reminders of their presence there.  It was this sense of the past and of the connection between people and the land that Cameron had been most enthusiastic for his team to understand and appreciate.

For the final part of the trek James and Keith undertook a solo trip along the shores of Loch Hourn making camp at Kinloch Hourn.  Camping alone was a new experience for both winners who were overwhelmed by the sounds and sights.  Stags and bird song gave a musical backdrop to the endless star filled night sky.  Both winners felt truly privileged to have been able to enjoy such a rare and amazing experience.

Undoubtedly the memories of Knoydart will be full of adverse weather.  Despite this and perhaps because of it all of the team feel really positive about their experience and has reawakened the spirit inside all of us to explore and persevere against whatever adversity faces us.  Knoydart is a very special place that they will remember for the rest of their lives.