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Loch Ruthven

In the Shadow Of Loch Ness

An empty back road leads to a landscape overlooked in tourist guides,
where every turn takes you further from the 21st century.

BY TERRY WILLIAMS

I wonder whatís down there?

Just a handful of miles south of Inverness and west of the A9 dual carriageway, my map showed a loop of single track road that skirted three lochs on the east side of the Great Glen. Thatís the side without the traffic-infested A82 squeezed between rock face and Loch Ness...without the coach parties of Urquhart Castle, the Nessie mania of Drumnadrochit or the boat trips and ice cream of Fort Augustus.

Lochs Duntelchaig, Ashie and Ruthven are part of a Highland Special Landscape Area, designated in 2011 by Scottish Natural Heritage in partnership with the Highland Council. I set out to explore, and discovered a rumpled, intimate landscape of wee witches-hat summits of around 1,200 feet, bearing mountainous names like Stac an Fhithich (raven peak) and Creag na h-Iolaire (eagle crag). Pinewoods filtered the sun and freckled my windscreen with light. A red squirrel sat on a fence to watch me go past. Roe deer bounced away into the trees. And there were stones: heaps and scatterings of stones across the slopes; stony fists and knuckles poking through a thin skin of fertile green; great stone fingers standing proud or lying exhausted in stonewalled fields full of cattle and sheep.

According to the HSLA report, the area was a focus of "intensive prehistoric activity"numerous roundhouses and field systems, interspersed with ritual and burial monuments...a highly significant area in prehistory, supporting a large population." That explained some of the stones. The cattle and sheep suggested there were still people living and working here, many thousands of years after the end of prehistory.

My little road was in no hurry, hopping up and down close-packed contours, dipping through farmland, strolling beside the lochs. If I met another vehicle, one of us might have to reverse. A sign warned that the speed limit was 30 miles an hour -- as if I would dream of reaching such a speed on such an uncompromising little highway. I negotiated a blind summit, twisted round a couple of miniature hairpin bends and came to a sudden halt. A farmer had stopped his tractor beside the road. He was busy feeding a large group of muscular bulls. I drew up behind him.

The full text of this article is available in the Autumn 2016 issue of Scottish Life.

Click here to preview our feature article on Fair Isle by Kevin Pilley.

Click here to preview our feature article on The Remarkable Survivor, Edinburgh's 250-year-old Botanic Cottage, by Jim Gilchrist.

Click here to preview our column on Scottish Music by Edward Scott Pearlman.

Click here to preview our reviews of Scottish Books.

Photos © Terry Williams