Karinsmiles


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.

12_braeriach_snow

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.

 

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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_light_rsz

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.

 

crieff



Corrour to Dalwhinnie
July 23, 2018, 6:18 pm
Filed under: running

I never did get round to uploading the photos for our second adventure and we’ve had another two since then, so this is a catch-up. Over the weekend of the 23rd-24th June, we got the train to Corrour, expecting there to be very few other people alighting there. But about 50 people got off the train, most of them heading for Ossian Youth Hostel, a few being picked up in cars for Corrour Estate and the rest of us shouldering packs and heading off in various directions.

The most direct route from to Corrour to Dalwhinnie starts in the bottom left hand corner of the Harvey’s Ben Alder map, and finishes in the top right corner and there’s a certain appeal in walking right across the map. After a couple of flat miles on good track along Loch Ossian, we started climbing just after Corrour Lodge. The lodge is a modern building, which blends in fairly well from the south and is hidden by trees on the north. Unfortunately they’re in the process of building a system of mini hydro power stations, and the newly bulldozed miles of track and concrete dams are not nearly so inobtrusive.

But the path reverts to Scottish bogginess soon after the ‘weir’ and the bealach we were aiming for was in sight all the way up (and getting closer only very slowly, the two photos of Bill’s back were taken half an hour apart); the path wasn’t always so visible, but you just keep following the burn. There were dunlins flying up and down the water and often stopping to chatter at us from stones.

The path became rougher as it climbed and was punctuated by the roots of ancient bleached trees sticking out of the peat hags. There was some cloud, keeping it pleasant to walk, and while there was a buzz of insects, none of them seemed to be biting kinds.

Just before the bealach, we had to climb up the steep grassy slope from the Uisge Labhair burn to the hard-packed track, which leads all the way from Loch Ericht almost to the popular, and reputedly haunted, bothy of Ben Alder cottage. Right up at the col, there is wreckage from an RAF Wellington which crashed in poor weather in 1942 with one survivor, and it was a bit of a shock encountering the wreckage so close to the path. The seriously injured gunner sought help by descending on the route we had just come up, and in poor weather, and it reminded me how remote this area is, despite the modern estate tracks.

I’m not sure how often the route is done as a through-hike sticking to the glen, but we’re still taking baby steps with our return to backpacking, and didn’t want to think about any of the tops along the route while carrying big packs, so we went over the pass and found a campsite high up in the glen between Gael Charn and Ben Alder. It was cool enough to need our puffy jackets while we set up camp but not cold. It was a beautiful spot to camp, right beside the Allt a’ Bealach Dubh, with patches of snow still high on the mountain, and waterfalls splashing down the rock face.

After the tent was up and we had eaten, we sat just basking in the surroundings and as the sun disappeared behind Gael Charn we noticed a rainbow patch of light in the sky and realised we were seeing sun dogs. We could only see one, but there may well have been a mirror one hidden behind the mountain. The photos aren’t very good, but it was magical to observe.

Because there was a breeze and it was quite cool at 500m, there were NO MIDGES and we kept the tent open most of the night until the mist came down in the early hours, so we both got a good night’s sleep. Wisps of cloud were hanging over the tops in the morning, but we had a leisurely breakfast and took our time packing everything away.

We felt quite fresh setting off and before we got too far down the track we met a runner coming up (there’s always one), and then some more walkers coming up from Culra. The sun came out and burnt off all the cloud and it got warmer and warmer, but since we were going downhill it didn’t seem that uncomfortable.

We got down to Culra bothy at about 20 past 11 (closed because there’s asbestos inside), then lingered around Loch Pattack at noon, still thinking we had plenty of time to idle, and it was getting very, very hot. We watched horses down on the lochside and a family of black-throated divers and then we had to cross the rickety bridge over the Allt a’ Chaoil-rédhe. Apart from the missing planks, it tilted quite severely in the middle and some of the boards creaked and bowed disconcertingly.

We reached Loch Ericht just after 1 o’clock. Ben Alder Lodge is a modern, crenellated monstrosity of a building, the hideousness of the lodge itself being surpassed only by the gatehouse further down the loch, but by the time we reached the gatehouse I was digging in and had stopped taking photos. I had it in mind that we were almost done when we reached Loch Ericht, but there was still over 5 miles to go.

The track was mostly white stone and the sun reflected off it mercilessly, my pack felt like it weighed about 40kgs and my boots were uncomfortable and heavy. We still had 3 hours to get to Dalwhinnie in time for the 16:12 bus to Edinburgh, but we were getting slower and we weren’t at all sure where the bus stop was.

It wasn’t the best ending to what had been a fabulous weekend up to that point, but there was no choice – I dug in and kept plodding and we reached Dalwhinnie Station at 5 past 3. Phew! I relaxed and got the camera out again to take pictures of a paraglider and a lapwing, and then we discovered it was over a mile out of Dalwhinnie to the bus stop so we still had to yomp the last bit. But the joys and trials of travelling by public transport are for another blog. This was still an ace adventure.



A midge too far
July 9, 2018, 10:13 pm
Filed under: running

Saturday 7th July, 2018.

Another early start, another trip to the west highlands. It had only been a fortnight since we last got off a train at Corrour, and here we were again, only we had already suffered a number of glitches :

  • when I tried to collect train tickets from Haymarket on Friday night, I didn’t have my debit card, and there was a brief panic while I phoned Bill to search a number of places before he found it
  • I inadvertently moved the clock on by an hour while setting the alarm for 5:15, which would have been a very early start, but luckily Bill noticed
  • worst of all, we were on the bus when I realised I had forgotten to pick up the gym bag containing my purse, phone, keys and other things I needed at hand for the journey, and I had to get off, run home and dive back down to catch the only other bus with a chance of making it to the station in time
  • then Bill threw his train ticket in the bin at Queen St, forgetting he needed it for the next part of the journey as well.

Corrour is surprisingly busy for a station in the middle of nowhere, but as everyone else headed towards Loch Ossian, we crossed the line and headed west along the historic ‘Road to the Isles’.

Corrour is installing a number of hydro stations across their estate, which means that the burns now have concrete dams across them and the landscape is scarred by miles of bulldozed track but it made for easy walking down to Loch Treig. I don’t imagine it usually has such huge beaches.

 

The main inflow to Loch Treig is from the Abhainn Rath, and it can be impassable in spate. But the water was running shallow  under the bridge at the abandoned Creaguaineach Lodge. There’s a choice  between the easier paths on the north at the expense of fording the river later on, or staying south on rough and very boggy terrain. We opted to stay on the south, reckoning that the bog would be dry, and it was mostly dry but it’s still quite rough going.

It didn’t help that we were surrounded by swarms of vicious clegs with sharpened teeth. Bill gained some protection from his running tights and still got  bites, but I was very unwisely wearing shorts. As well as drawing blood, a couple of bites left bruises and there are a few where I have no idea how the cleg got access. But the panoramas were spectacular and we managed to hide from the beasts in Staoineag Bothy to enjoy our lunch. The summit of Ben Nevis seemed to be in the cloud but I imagine most people on the Munro tops on Saturday got a clear day.

At Luibeilt we could see Meanach Bothy across the river and it looked like we would barely have got our feet wet if we had to cross, but here we left the Abhainn Rath and headed south west towards Kinlochleven. The house at Luibelt has been derelict for some years, but finding a rowan archway in the ‘garden’ reminded us that this used to be someone’s home.

 

After the rough and intermittent paths over the moor, the track down to Loch Eilde Beag and Loch Eilde Mor was like a highway and we made very good progress. Surprisingly to me, the lochs were full and there were a few guys fly-fishing who gave us a cheery wave as we passed.

By the time we got a view of Loch Leven I was beginning to tire and  my feet, shoulders and hips all ached but we wanted to head on to the  Lairig Mor to get a head start on Sunday’s walk. We needed to catch the bus from Fort William at 5pm and  we didn’t want to have to yomp the whole way there. Just beyond Mamores Lodge I was horrified to find yet more new bulldozed track being labelled eco-friendly, and we looked out for a campsite as we trudged past it but unfortunately there was a shortage of flat ground and I thought we might have to press on to the ruined Lairigmor Cottage.

When we saw a flat patch of grass beside a quick-flowing burn we were delighted, but it had very hard-packed earth that meant we had to hammer the pegs in with a stone and THERE WERE MANY, MANY, MANY MIDGES!!!!! I hate, hate, hate, hate midges! I hate them even more than clegs, but this is the West Highlands, and midges are the price you pay for the scenery. Dinner was a rushed and joyless affair, scrabbling between the stove and the relative comfort of the tent.

We passed an unpleasant night, too hot but too many MIDGES to open the door, skin ablaze with bites, my feet hammered from the walking and, as it turns out, also covered in bites. When the rain started pattering on the tent I thought we might be able to open the zips, but the MIDGES were still waiting. As soon as the sun rose I was tempted to pack up and start walking, but we held out for an hour or two.

We packed up the soaking tent in record time and fled the MIDGES at 7:30, OK as long as we kept moving. It’s 7 years since I last set foot on the Lairig Mor and I think that was the lowest ebb of my West Highland Way race so I don’t remember much other than it went on for ever. This time we managed to keep up a good pace despite our  heavy packs. I barely recognised the ex-forest after Lundavra, though I noticed the set of treacherous steps leading to the burn had now been bypassed by a  deluxe track.

We got into Fort William in time to catch the  1 o’clock bus. In Glasgow we discovered the mainline trains were only going as far as Linlithgow, so we took the scenic route via Airdrie and Bathgate, which got us home in time to dry our gear in the Edinburgh sunshine and talk about what we would do differently next time.

Bill was surprised I was already talking about a possible next time  … but I think we need the practice :).

 



Stùc a’Chroin from Callander
June 9, 2018, 9:30 am
Filed under: running

I enjoy planning for adventures but sometimes I spend more time on the prep than the trip. We intended to get the tent out again this week and after almost two days staring at route descriptions, maps and railway timetables  I was down to a short list of two possible destinations. But I wasn’t hugely enthusiastic about either of them and they both involved a lot of travelling time for a relatively short time walking.

In the end, we decided to head back to Callander to climb Stùc a’Chroin from the south. The long walk out followed the same landrover track as we walked a week ago and it was quite pleasant with meadows in full flower, dotted with these pretty pink orchids.

orchid_crop_2

We reached the estate bothy at Arivurichardich after an hour and a half of steady walking. We had assumed that this route wasn’t much used and wondered how easily we would find a path, but another chap was setting off from the bothy just as we got there.

The little reservoir was almost dry. That may be more to do with the current hydro scheme works than the recent drought, but the two new bridges spanned burns running very low, though both are unfordable torrents in the winter.

empty_reservoir

The path tracks diagonally up to an obvious bealach, and I think it would normally be boggy since we encountered some muddy patches, but it was good going with the bracken still low and a cool south east wind on our backs.

towards_bealach_3

There’s nothing tricky on this approach to Stùc a’Chroin at this time of year, it’s just a bit of a slog up a long hill; the busier walk is from Loch Earn, taking in Ben Vorlich as well and involving a little bit of a scramble at the end. This route can be done in a day using public transport, which is a big plus for us, nonetheless we were surprised to see three people ahead of us on a weekday. It must get more use than I had reckoned and the path was clear on the ground although not worn to an obvious  scar.

The wide grassy saddle gave views into the next valley, which channels the burn we had camped beside a week ago, and we could see the forest plantation and the sandbank that has marked our campsite.

view_of_campsite_2

The ground falls away steeply to the east from here and  Ben Vorlich came into view. There were still  a couple of steeper climbs along the long ridge but nothing too taxing, and the summit still looked a while away. Then we saw someone standing on the top and realised we had misjudged the scale and we were almost there.

The panorama from the top was beautiful though very hazy and we sat for quite a long time trying to figure out which mountains we could see in the distance. It’s amazing how much snow had disappeared over the course of a week and now there were only tiny patches visible on the highest slopes.

The descent was easy over the dry slopes and we were back at the bothy much earlier than we had allowed.

It was a bit of a grind going back down the track but it made for a quick return journey and as we got lower down I realised we could see the Abbey Craig and Stirling Castle across the flat carselands. I guess they’re not that far away as the crow flies, though the bus journey to Callander makes it seem much further.

stirling

 

As we got into Callander, I checked the bus times, and realised we had probably just missed one. If there had been anyone at the stop near Bracklinn Road we would have waited, but we walked on towards the shops debating whether we would have ice-cream or a pint. But about 150 metres away from the war memorial, I realised the Stirling bus, running a little late, was waiting at the stop. In truth it’s more usual than not for us to end a long day with a sprint for the bus, and we made it. I’ll save a review of our public transport misadventures for a future post.