The Fara
May 1, 2019, 10:03 pm
Filed under: running

Thursday 25th April was my last day at work, I am now officially a pensioner. So that means we can go gallivanting any day we want, EVEN IN THE MIDDLE OF THE WEEK! I was desperate to head north and climb hills under big skies, so planning started on Friday, while I was still recovering from the fantastic send-off my colleagues gave me.

The train timetable has changed slightly, making an early start easier on the Inverness line (the tight change at Stirling has been replaced by a comfortable one at Perth), so Dalwhinnie and the Fara were chosen for what was forecast to be a clear day on Monday.

We got off the train at quarter past 9 and, with no cafes or shops to distract us, were walking along the track to Ben Alder Lodge within 5 minutes. The cloud had lifted from the peaks before we got off the train and the views along Loch Ericht were stunning, with the loch reflecting a perfect azure sky.

At the gatehouse for Ben Alder Lodge, we turned north-west to skirt the forest and start climbing up to Meall Cruaidh at the start of the ridge. The was no path to speak of but the ground was dry and the route clear across moss and grass. Walkhighlands describes this route in the opposite direction, but we wanted to get the trudge along the track out of the way at the start and keep the chilly breeze on our backs. So we took the excuse of having to turn round for the views to stop for elevenses. The views were definitely worth stopping for, with Ben Alder and
Geal-Chàrn still holding just enough snow to mark out gullies on their north slopes.

The ridge continued, with the panorama opening up to the west and north, and Loch Ericht sparkling to the east. It was a steady climb on dry grey moss crunching underfoot with the cairn on the Fara getting ever closer; just about the right effort for our first proper walk of the year.

When we crested the hill into Coire na Ceardaich there were a few unexpected patches of snow. And though the wind was quite chilly, we found a convenient nook in some crags for a sheltered lunch spot. Most of the moss looked grey and desiccated but there were little patches of staghorn clubmoss creeping across the ground, looking like flattened out pine trees.

It was a cracking day; the weather was perfect, we had the hill to ourselves, the wide pathless ridge was a delight to walk along, the views were amazing … and then to top it off we saw a pair of ptarmigan. Their camouflage is just right for the granite and lichen – there’s a bird in each of these photos, but you have to look quite hard to find one of them.

The summit of the Fara is marked by a cairn built across the end of a dyke, which makes it more interesting than it would otherwise be but there are some more photogenic crags on the rise to the south. But it’s the all-round views that make the Fara worthwhile, and as it turns out, fairly easy to fit in a day from Edinburgh by public transport.

At the 911 metre summit we realised, as we often do, that we could make an earlier bus than the one we had planned, if we put a bit of a shift on. The descent was steep, over peat hags and tussocky grass, giving me jelly legs by the time we reached the track but we didn’t have to run to the stop as we did on our previous trip to Dalwhinnie.

We travelled home gratis, courtesy of our old gits’ bus passes, and were home by 8pm. Public transport requires a bit more planning than jumping in a car, and generally takes a bit longer, but the 7 hours walking was definitely worth the same time spent travelling. I reckon we’ll be making good use of Traveline, the Met Office and Walkhighlands websites this summer. Retirement is where the fun begins.

Lairig Ghru
September 14, 2018, 4:59 pm
Filed under: running

The Lairig Ghru has been on my list of walks to walk for a very long time, but it’s either a very long but lightweight one day walk, with tricky logistics at the start and end, or a backpacking two-day walk, with tricky logistics at the start and end. There’s no easy way of getting between Braemar and Aviemore by public transport and if you drive to the start, you need some way of returning to your car after you finish. The easiest way is to have an obliging friend drop you off at one end and pick you up at the other, but we don’t know any of these.

Everywhere looked grim, wet and windy for the first weekend in September – except for a pocket of settled weather over the Cairngorms. We packed without checking everything three times, caught the Inverness train on Saturday morning, a bus to Coylumbridge and started walking just before noon.

Our Cairngorm map is just about as old as our tent, but we use the paper version to get a wider view and as a backup for the modern digital version on my phone. The forest paths were dotted with shrooms and we met loads of people walking, running and on bikes.

Out of the forest, the views open up, only to be enclosed again as you enter the glen. For all that there were loads of people out on the trail, it felt really wild and remote. The cloud was well down over the tops adding to the feeling of  isolation.

The slopes become craggier as you climb up to the moraine wall across the pass. Negotiating the boulders isn’t hard but needs a little bit of caution with a heavy pack, and you have to alternate between looking out for the little cairns which mark the route and watching where your next step will land.

Over the high point, the vista is wider and more open. We passed the Pools of Dee, greatly reduced after the dry summer, and continued downhill in the shadow of Braeriach to the right and Ben Macdui to the left with Devil’s Point dominating the view. We caught up with a group of girls, backpacking the Lairig Ghru as part of a 4-day walk for their Duke of Edinburgh gold award. They seemed pretty tired but were still smiling and cheerful.

While the Braerich corries and the cliffs of Devil’s Point drew the eye, we also stopped to look at the Tailors’ Stone, the remains of ancient forest in the peat,  and a little frog that jumped into a puddle infront of me.

There was still a patch of snow high up on the cliffs of Braeriach, though it’s shrinking fast.


We caught drizzly rain from time to time but nothing that needed our heavy waterproofs, and there were snatches of sunshine as  well. We had wondered about camping at Corrour bothy, but there were already several tents near it, and it looked there were some volunteers carrying out work there as well, so we walked on down the valley. Every mile walked before camping was a mile less on the second day and since we hadn’t started until mid-day we were keen to keep moving while we could.


In truth we were getting tired and hungry and wondering whether we should have camped higher up when we reached Glen Lui. We camped on a broad track beside the river and had just started to eat our dinner when the wind dropped and the midges rose. We ate up, pretty well threw everything in the bell end of the tent, got in and zipped it up. Unfortunately hundreds of the blighters joined us – that’s the first time I’ve got into my sleeping bag with a midge net on. We carry a dram with us and I refused to let Bill open the tent to get it out of the rucksack. But it wasn’t nearly as bad as it had been on the Lairig Mor where every inch of skin itched like blazes with cleg bites.

It was cool with a slight breeze in the morning and the plague wasn’t so relentless. We packed up and started down the track in the soft early light.


At Derry Lodge we came across a host of other campers, including some more of the DofE girls and as we walked downhill, we began to meet hikers and cyclists coming up from the Linn of Dee and we learned that it was the weekend of the Braemar Gathering. Further on dozens of cars passed us on our way down the road, but whether they were heading to Crathie Kirk to see the queen or just going into the village for their Sunday papers, it was impossible to tell.


Getting home from Braemar  is a much longer journey than you might expect. There are few buses from Braemar to Aberdeen on a Sunday (and none that go anywhere more convenient) and the journey takes over 5 hours (you can get from Edinburgh to London more quickly). I had expected to get the 16:20 bus but since we had walked further than we expected on Saturday, the 14:20 was now a real possibility and there was an outside chance of catching the 12:20. So having stopped to admire the Linn of Dee from the bridge, we yomped down the road for a bit.

Fast hiking on hard tarmac with a big pack, tired legs and aching feet is no fun though, and after a bit we stopped for some snackage, and decided to enjoy the last couple of miles into Braemar, even if it meant we missed a bus. The views across the valley were pictureque and quite different from those at the Rothiemurchus end.

We got to Braemar with enough time for a delicious coffee and a sandwich in  taste cafe , fortuitously open on a Sunday because of the Gathering, and still made the 12:20 bus. This was the most taxing overnight we’ve done so far, but our legs, hips and shoulders have strengthened with every trip and the Lairig Ghru is a classic that I’m glad to have finally hiked.


Cliffs and coves
September 12, 2018, 12:09 pm
Filed under: running

Our choice of route for a weekend camping trip generally starts with a look at the various weather forecasts and all of them were predicting dismal, dreich conditions for the 25th-26th August. The south east of Scotland offered the best chance of fair weather, so we opted to walk the 48km Berwickshire Coastal Path from Cockburnspath to Berwick-upon-Tweed, which is about as far east as we could go without swimming.

We took the Borders Buses 253 to Cockburnspath, bought provisions from the busy local shop and set off. The route initially follows the tail-end of the Southern Upland Way, with the blue BCP roundels being fixed to the SUW posts. The skies were blue and we were diverted by brambles and butterflies before we even reached Cove, a delightful sandstone harbour, all but hidden until you’re almost right above it.

All along the route there are sculptures and stones to remember the Eyemouth fishing disaster of 1881 when 189 men from the Berwickshire coast were lost in a great storm, 11 of them from Cove.

From Cove, the path pretty well hugs the coast, mostly going along the clifftops with views of wide sandy beaches, reefs, rocky headlands and cliffs, natural arches and the occasional massive caravan park. The path is well-maintained and is punctuated with many kissing gates, our pecks getting sweatier with each one we negotiated.

We diverted to Siccar Point, where the geologist James Hutton observed what is now known as Hutton’s unconformity  (the wikipedia article explains it), and the horizontal sandstone layers overlaying the vertical greywacke is clearly visible from above. I’ve often wished I had a greater understanding of the geology of the areas we walk over, and on the back of this trip I’ve decided I’ll devote some time to study when I retire next year.

The paths winds up and down between coves and headlands, with many interesting rock formations.

But from time to time it wandered a little bit inland from the cliffs, where the points of interest included an old threshing machine, inquisitive cows, admiralty distance poles and a Jet2 refrigerated trailer.

St Abbs was our destination for the Saturday night, but first we passed round the promotory of St Abbs head, with its light and foghorn.


St Abbs village is very pretty, but everything (one cafe, one small shop) was already shut at 5pm on Saturday evening although  there were still loads of visitors enjoying the sun by the harbour, and even more as we passed round the bay to Coldingham Sands.

The one thing that was missing from this walk was water. Most of the water courses we passed were dry or down to a tiny trickle, and though we carry plenty of water for drinking, we expected to be able to pick up water for cooking nearer to our campsite. The BCP is also a bit short on suitable places to camp, since it’s mostly along the edges of agricultural land. We had planned to camp at Linkim Shore, but when we got there, the stream running down to the beach was still and green, and barely had any flow on it higher up. So we backtracked to the previous cove where the Milldown Burn is still flowing fast through a deep gorge as it meets the sea. There was a suitable flat green patch for our tent, and it was obvious people had camped there before, but it was very close to the crowds of beachlovers at Coldingham Sands.

It wasn’t the best campsite, and we were disturbed by a crowd of teenagers having a beach party and attempting to get a bonfire going, but they dispersed before midnight and we were up and away early next morning.

Sunday wasn’t nearly as bright as Saturday but the slight drizzle wasn’t unpleasant for walking. The day’s route took us past more rugged cliffs, through the busy harbour at Eyemouth, and down to the cove at Burnmouth with more memorials for the fishing disaster.

From Burnmouth, both the A1 and the railway line hug the coastline, and the footpath runs hard up against the fence line, but the reward was that the most delicious, ripe and juicy brambles were to be found here. The railway offers the most prominent sign for the Scotland-England border at Marshall Meadows.

This stretch of coastline is my favourite part of the east coast rail journey to London and it was really good to see it close up at and at walking pace. The cliffs continue all the way to Berwick-upon-Tweed, with caves and stacks and many different colours from the rocks, yellow lichens and birds.

We made very good time on the Sunday, partly because we were determined to reach Berwick-upon-Tweed before the rain reached us, but also because the path was clear and the climbs were sometimes steep but never prolonged. The last mile or two took us past yet another mega caravan city, around a golf course and then we were in Berwick-upon-Tweed, where we caught an LNER train at 3pm back along the route, taking less than an hour to travel what we had taken two days to complete.

And we beat the rain by the time it took to have a coffee and a sandwich before the train 🙂

National Trail – one step at a time
August 12, 2018, 2:31 pm
Filed under: running

Our first return to camping back in June was part of the Scottish National Trail and we chose another section for our latest adventurette, this time from Comrie to Aberfeldy. To reach Comrie from Edinburgh requires a train and two buses, and takes almost two a half hours, so our 7am start got us there in time for coffee and fantastic bacon rolls from the very busy and highly recommended Cafe Comrie.

The route starts along the woodland path to the Deil’s Cauldron, and even after several months of low rainfall the falls were quite impressive. The path winds on up close to a minor road before it diverts across the River Lednock by way of a shaky bridge resting on two trees. (We last crossed this with the kids about 20 years ago and I had forgotten all about it until I was halfway over – I’ve had a thing about bridges since I was a kid and I still take a deep breath before crossing anything less substantial than the Forth rail bridge).

Off the bridge we turned left on an obvious path which skirted the river, edged by sloes which got increasingly intrusive and I only stopped to check the route after my water bottle was pierced by a thorn. We should have gone right, but when we backtracked I wasn’t sure the right path was much of an improvement, in fact we may have cursed a few times fighting through bracken and jumping over burns with a full pack. Eventually the route returned to the tarmac and then followed the busy path up towards Ben Chonzie, fondly revisiting our campsite from two weeks before. A less used track to the left took us off the main drag and alongside the Invergeldie Burn to the watershed, where the track stopped quite abruptly.

I love that change of view you get when you reach a summit or cross a pass and we joked that we might find a post-apocalyptic wasteland over the rise, or a robot empire. What we did see was Glen Almond below us, Lawers range to the north and a track through the valley running off towards Loch Tay. While our packs meant we didn’t exactly bound down through the pathless heather, it wasn’t hard going either and we soon reached the bridge. As bridges go it was far from the worst (see the bridge at Loch Pattack on our Corrour to Dalwhinnie walk), but the broken metalwork below it was a bit off-putting.

The National Trail joins the Rob Roy Way here, on clear track again. We met only one other traveller on this track, though the empty buildings and the memorial cairn point to it being much more populous in the past. We followed the River Almond all the way to Auchnafree estate, where astonishingly there is a GOLF COURSE of sorts (seriously, there was mowed grass and at least 6 red flags at holes scattered between the knolls and drumlins).

Just above Auchnafree we stopped for a brew and I discovered that I had put some glueless tyre patches in my first aid kit and I managed to repair my water bottle (so proud of myself!). There was a pretty good camping spot on the Glenshervie Burn, but we felt it was too close to habitation, so we headed on up into Glen Lochan on a faint path that appeared to be seldom trod.

The highest lochan in the glen had no water at all, and the peaty ground was dry and broken. It was less parched further down, but still not very promising for campsites and there was a bit of a breeze blowing up so we wanted a sheltered spot. Fortunately, Bill found us a tiny patch of grass beside  the Allt a’ Mhuillin, a bit tussocky but just flat enough, and we got the tent up without it blowing away.

We ate the best dinner we’ve made so far (it wasn’t couscous!) and since it was cold and windy, we were in our sleeping bags soon after  9pm.

We got moving fairly early next morning; some nuisance midges appeared in the morning after the wind dropped. We were soon down at Loch Freuchie and followed the road to the farm at Auchnacloich where we headed up to a parallel track past Shian old schoolhouse. A helicopter was flying around low onto the hillside just beyond us, and we saw it circle back over us a few times before we realised it was spraying, presumably to keep the bracken down.

Back to tarmac again, this time on a steep windy single-track road, and passed by a dozen cyclists at the start of a long, relentless climb. I’d rather not walk on tarmac, but it got us up to the pass fairly easily and the view over the hill was fantastic. A little fishing loch with a picturesque boathouse stood as a foreground to Schiehallion, whose top was intermittently shrouded in cloud.

The route was a lot less scenic from here to the outskirts of Aberfeldy, marred by pylons on the Beaully to Denny transmission line, a windfarm, bulldozed tracks, high fences and locked gates. In fact many of the hillsides in this area are scarred by landrover track and much of it seems to be recent.

The route approaches the town through the Birks o’ Aberfeldy, and it seemed fitting that the 30-mile walk was bookended by waterfalls. We stopped where Burns had been inspired to write the song, but I’m afraid I was only inspired to think about what I might blog about. We were in Aberfeldy by half past one, but travelling back at least 70 years.

One of the 4 buses from Aberfeldy that runs on a Sunday was at 14:05, which took us to Pitlochry in time for the direct 15:00 hours train to Edinburgh. To be honest, this was the only thing to mar the weekend, since the train had apparently been overcrowded since it left Inverness. Bill unfortunately leant heavily on his rucksack to take the weight off his feet and broke the frame. Fortunately it’s an Osprey rucksack, and although 9 years old and clearly his own fault, they are sending spares free of charge.  As I write this, it’s a rainy Sunday in festival Edinburgh, and I’m quite glad I’m not backpacking, but hopefully we’ll still get a few more weekend in before the autumn.

Clouds and Cloudberries
July 28, 2018, 8:53 pm
Filed under: running

We had tickets to see Natalie Merchant at the Queen’s Hall on Friday 20th July, so we loaded our packs during the day. We’re getting more relaxed about packing and it only takes half a day now, but inevitably we’re going to forget something vital sooner or later.

The concert was great, and we were still buzzing when we got home. Fortunately this weekend’s destination was Crieff, so we didn’t have a particularly early start. Train to Stirling and then bus to Crieff and we were ready to start walking about 11am. Downhill to the appealing Macrosty Park then uphill all the way to Ben Chonzie, passing Glenturret distillery on the way before the long  road up to the dam, tarmac all the way. Along the road we stopped to look at the tiny powerhouse which supplies electricity to the waterworks above it. The waterworks are unsightly but the powerhouse was hidden in the glen at the foot of a set of interesting steps.

The dam isn’t that intrusive in the landscape but the building to its east is architecturally unusual and I couldn’t find anything to suggest what it’s used for or when it was built.

The tarmac gives way to a well-used track along the east of the reservoir and we headed along it, stopping at a pretty waterfall to have a brew. We were heading for Lochan Uaine, the green lochan, where I was hoping we could find somewhere to camp.

As the path climbed up from the reservoir, there was a swarm of pretty drumlins, heather bedecked on one side and bracken covered on the other. But it was clear that despite a couple of waterfalls coming down from Ben Chonzie, the area above Loch Turret was dry. We were carrying enough water to see us through to Sunday but Lochan Uaine and the slopes around it didn’t offer anywhere to pitch a tent. After some minutes of not particularly good-natured discussion (!), we decided that we would lug our packs on the steep and scrambly-looking path up towards the summit  and head over Ben Chonzie down into Glen Lednock.

The path was steep and a bit awkward with a load, but it wasn’t as tricky as it had looked from below, there were fantastic views  towards Lawers range to the north and we could even pick out the Lomond Hills in the south. We had some thoughts about camping high, but a stiff breeze was beginning to blow up so we followed the long line of hefty marker cairns down towards Glen Lednock where we could hopefully camp beside the burn.

Before we left the broad plateau however, the sky started to change and there were the most incredible cloudscapes in every direction, changing by the minute. It was magical, and I was so glad we had pressed on up the hill.

The photos don’t begin to convey just how awesome the clouds were, and best of all were these ones, with a row of peaks looking a bit like the cover of Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures.


We met a few more people as we walked down, including a chap running up the hill with his dogs (there’s always one). We were still looking for a place to camp much further down the track when he passed us again. Eventually we found a flattish piece of ground next to a sheep shelter – not the best campsite but it was a good windbreak for the stove. The midges were annoying rather than torturous, the air was cool and mist stayed above us, so we had a decent night’s sleep. Stoats porridge for breakfast, and coffee in a Mr Boom mug 🙂

The mist was well down over the tops in the morning, but we knew we could follow the old fenceline all the way when we got back up to the ridge. The peat hags were dry and easy to negotiate and held  treasure in the shape of cloudberries – sweet, juicy and delicious. As we descended, we fell below the clag, and then the sun started to burn it off, so when we reached the rocky top at Càrn Chòis, it seemed more rewarding than the summit had, with a dyke climbing up to the peak, the continuing ancient fence and a trig pillar.

We followed indistinct paths down towards the loch where we picked up a track that took us all the way back to the dam. The continuing drought had worked for us again, making the bogs easy going and forcing us into the next valley to camp, giving us a much better weekend than the one we had planned.  The tarmac made the walk back down to the town a hot and sweaty trudge but a quick one. We had time for a very welcome ice-cream from Gordon and Durwards  and caught the bus back to Dunblane at quarter to 3. Sometimes the best trips are those that don’t go to plan.