The Hidden Gorges of Loch Broom [Garbh Allt]

From the living room window I grew up watching a distant waterfall rise and fall with the passing of the rain. As a child I barely noticed it; it was too far away care or think about. we occasionally sailed past it or gazed at it through binoculars but for years it seemed little more than a useful rain gauge.

It wasn’t until in my early teens when I and two friends ventured 2km across the water on a ‘survival camp’ that exploring the fall became an idea. We three were obsessed with ‘Ray Mears and with admirable encouragement from our parents had been allowed a night alone to try it for ourselves. My father had sailed us across with a box of emergency food ‘just in case’ and left us alone; 2km of water now lay between home and us.  Our aim had been to live wild on limpets and fish, to build our shelters and then return in the morning smelling of woodsmoke feeling triumphant as men.

However any parent will know, if you arm three teenage boys with hatchets then sail leaving them to their own accord, chaos will shortly follow. Within half an hour we had hacked down more trees than i’d care to mention (something even 10 years on I feel quite guilty about), badly built our huts on top of an ant nest and proceeded to eat the entire contents of the ‘survival rations’ while burning what was left of the butchered wood.

It wasn’t by any means survival but we were proud of our huts and the small pile of limpets left uneaten beside the empty wrappers of bacon. The importance of having been trusted and allowed to take our own risks was more rewarding than real survival ever could be.

As morning came we devised a mission to reach the waterfall where we could all look across to see our homes. To reach somewhere so recognisable and yet out of reach seemed a tantalising proposition. Despite wearing my only dry set of spare clothes and getting extremely wet and cold in the process, it was the triumph of the adventure. To our surprise the stream we had expected was in-fact a deep hidden gorge. This tiny river I had looked at so often hid a secret world of ferns, mosses and waterfalls – The discovery sparked a lifelong love of gorge walking which continues today.

When my father sailed back and we returned we were wet, cold and bouncing with a new wanderlust enthusiasm of the outdoors. Our lessons had been.

1. Survival is actually quite hard

2. Mum actually know best (We couldn’t admit this of course. We did need the food / tent after all)

3. Spare dry clothes are for spares and not for gorge walking.

4. There is adventure to be had on your doorstep.

10 years on my best friend Seumas and I set back across to re-explore in the aftermath of Hurricane Bertha. Our campsite now lay scoured under tonnes of rock debris – our river polished clean of moss and ferns. As soon as we touched the water however everything seemed just as before – we were two friends setting out on a new adventure.

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