Karinsmiles


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 :).

 

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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.

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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.

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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.



Perfect Pitch
June 2, 2018, 6:40 pm
Filed under: running

We were keen walkers before we were runners and we loved to walk in the hills, with or without a view at the top. One of the things I loved about trail running was the fact that we could go further, travelling fast and light, and still take time to appreciate the wild and beautiful places. But our running has been greatly curtailed of late and we’ve donned our boots and backpacks again. While I used to trim every excess gram from my running pack, I generally carry far more than the essentials when I walk, and I probably look like I’m heading out for a week when we have a day in the Pentlands.

The last time we packed a tent was 10 years ago, and I wasn’t at all sure whether I could still walk with a full pack but I wanted to try. Being able to camp overnight opens up all sorts of walking possibilities, especially as we travel by public transport. So we planned a tiny trial adventure, walking from Callendar to Comrie, and camping overnight.  The route is described here in walkhighlands . It’s only 16 miles overall, so we would only be  carrying the packs 8 or 9 miles each day.

The path climbs quickly up past Callendar Crags to the Jubilee Cairn, with good views of Ben Ledi, and then follows a tarmac road up to Braeleny farm. It was a sunny Bank Holiday Monday and we met loads of folk on this bit.

After the farm, there’s a landrover track up to the lodge at Arivurichardich, which lies below the extended southern ridge of Stuc a’ Chroin. Even with plenty of man-made fixtures – bulldozed track, wooden bridges, a tiny  reservoir, deer stalking bothies – it felt wild and remote, and we met no other walkers.

We sat for an hour just taking in the place and watching buzzards wheeling above the ridge and then a herd of deer that zig-zagged across the hill, stringing out and swarming together by turns. It was hard to believe we were only about 5 miles from Callander where the town was bustling with visitors and the traffic was nose to tail.

The perfect campsite appeared about 7 miles into our journey and because it had been dry for weeks, we didn’t even get damp feet crossing what would normally be a bog.  Typically our camping used to involve walking too far and then making camp in the dark but today we had a brew going, had pitched the tent and were wondering what do do until sunset.

It was fantastic just to sit sit and watch and listen to nothing in particular.  There were wild horses on the hill, sand martins coming and going from the bank on the other side of the burn and little fish jumping for flies in a pool in the burn. And although there were some midges, they were  a nuisance rather than a misery.

 

The tent was facing due west, perfect for the sun going down between Stuc a’ Chroin and Ben Vorlich.

sunset_5

A cuckoo had been calling from the woods since we set up our tent and only grew quiet when the last light went. I think it must have been around 573 o’clock. In the dark I heard a fox bark and the screech of a barn owl but no stampeding deer herd or mad axe murderers. I can’t say I got a good night’s sleep but I slept OK. I set an alarm for 2 am in case there were clear skies but when we looked out there was already too much light for stars.

We had early morning sun at breakfast and our noisy cuckoo started up again. but then we saw him fly past our campsite with a partner, so he presumably found his mate. We took our time breaking camp and managed to roast everything out on the dry warm rocks before we packed up.

morning

I thought it might be a struggle walking with a load on the second day but it was fine. It’s amazing how quickly you get back into the balance of walking with a big pack. Glen Artney was lined with drumlins and was more managed than the other side of the watershed; prettier, less wild.

There were a few signs warning of the deer stalking season and at Auchinner there was an odd structure that might be a deer larder and  I’m not quite sure what the metal deer target was for, maybe it was in case you didn’t know what a stag looks like.

 

The landrover track stopped after  Auchinner, and the path was less distinct. I think it would normally be really boggy but not this week,  after the May drought.

It’s the best time of year for flowers. The ones I snapped were  blue bugle, an early purple orchid, butterwort, lady’s smock and lousewort.

 

The last part of the route takes to tarmac again, but there are still things to see – the Water of Ruchill has a beautiful ‘bathing’ pool, and there’s the earthquake house, but we were getting peckish and forged on to get to the bakers for coffee and buns before getting the bus to Crieff.

 

Just as we came into Comrie, a red kite flew above us, making it a practically perfect adventure. In fact it was so perfect that we probably can’t do it again, because it’s unlikely to live up to this one.

 



Blogging and Ben Ledi
May 20, 2018, 12:39 pm
Filed under: running

This is my fourth attempt at writing this post. I started a blog largely for myself, so that I would have a record of my runs and other stuff I did, with some words that might remind me how I felt when I did it. But each post took ages to write, with almost as much backspacing as typing. And when I couldn’t run any more I also stopped blogging – it’s a common story.

So I’ve resolved to ditch the blog-angst, just write a few words, insert some photos and hit post. Here goes….

Saturday, 19th May 2018. Elsewhere in the world there was a wedding.  We weren’t invited but if we had been we would have had to refuse because it looked like it would be a dry, sunny day and that meant a walk.  We took a train and a bus to Callander to walk up Ben Ledi because we got cloud the last time and missed the views from the top.

Ben Ledi was quite busy, but the path has been improved recently so and there’s plenty of room to pass and it’s a big flattish top for all those summit picnics, ours included. Ben Ledi has enough effort to feel you’ve earned the view on the top, but not so much as to make it a long day. It isn’t a Munro, but some of the nicest hills are Corbetts.

We found a few patches of snow, which is always a plus point and a little sea-plane flew along Loch Venachar.  I’ve never done a walk anywhere yet without something of interest on the way.

 

It was a bit hazy for distant views but there were lochs and hills all around, and we could make out Ben More in the north.

 

We found a  bar on the way down (unfortunately it was an iron bar) and then descended via Stank Glen, to the sound of ravens kronking above us and around the nearby crags. I recall it being a complete bog-fest the last time we were here, so since we  had both opted for shoes yesterday, I was glad it was relatively dry.

It felt like a good outing – not too far, or too steep, or too windy, or too boggy. Because we travel by public transport, we had an extra 3 miles each way to Callander along the old railway line, but that gave us an opportunity to eat the last of our provisions at the Falls of Leny. They’re not that impressive after the recent dry spell, in truth a bit underwhelming after walking through Glent Tilt last week, but a pretty spot for a picnic.

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We swore we weren’t going to do this, but with two miles to go we realised we had a chance of making an earlier bus if we put a bit of a spurt on. But the yomp back to Callander actually felt quite good and we made the bus with about 4 minutes to spare.

I’m not going to fret about a suitable ending, just gonna post…



I did this walk so you don’t have to
May 25, 2015, 10:06 am
Filed under: running

It seems to be three years since I last posted. Oops.

A couple of years ago, while still very much broken, I endeavoured to get out walking most weekends, albeit painfully. On one trip I intended to head for Leithead Farm but went horribly astray and ended up  heading in entirely the wrong direction across boggy and tussocky moorland to a little house I could see in the distance. The house turned out to be a water house above the Dean Burn and I followed the burn up  and over Mid Hill back to Listonshiels. It was a dismal, claggy day with cloud down at ground level and I did think a few times that it was stupid to be there when walking was stiff and slow, no-one knew where I was and I was unlikely to meet anyone (and without a map). But I survived.

So I’m not sure why I thought I should have a second shot at the route, but I thought that it would be possible to continue up the Dean Burn, through Thrashiedean and up onto East Cairn Hill from the gentler slopes on the North-East. Fortunately Bill came with me this time, though I’m pretty sure he regretted it quickly because it was an afternoon bedevilled by obstacles.

Obstacle #1 – fire breathing bullocks

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As soon as we went through the gate at the derelict steadings, about a dozen frisky-looking stirks got up and started moving towards us. I decided I wasn’t going to walk through them so we backtracked. The only way round them was to cross a barbed wire fence into the woodland,  and then another on the other side of the woods, negotiating hawthorn on the way.

Obstacles #2 to 13 – pointy, jaggy things

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To get past the bullocks, we had to get through a thicket of waist-high gorse and the moorland is now criss-crossed by miles of fence, each one topped with barbed wire. I wished I didn’t have cropped tights on. We discovered the fencing was to protect new forestry planting, but we had to cross that too. It was scored by deep drainage ditches, two of them bridged with dodgy-looking pallets, but mostly we either had to jump them or drop into the ditch and climb out. After 5 fences, 7 ditches, 20 yards of gorse and scary cows, we finally got to the water house, taking twice as long as it took when my legs would barely flex.

Obstacle #14 Thrashiedean and lots of heather

The next bit was actually quite pleasant, walking above the burn along sheep trods, with a ruined cottage nestling in the trees.

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But then we found ourselves at the head of the burn with a very rickety bridge above it and still about an hour of heather climbing up to East Cairn Hill. Looking back I could see the quad bike tracks I had followed last time, so we headed back down and followed them until they petered out. It was still quite slow going through thick heather but eventually we made it down to the path to Listonshiels and took the gamekeepers’ track back to Bavelaw.

Despite it being a buggeration of a walk, we both stayed good-humoured (mostly), but I won’t be attempting it again. I have no idea at all how I managed it when I was broken, though I think the heather was lower and there were definitely no fences to cross.

I only took one photo but WordPress tells me that blogs are better when illustrated, so I’ve added some very poor drawings to compensate 🙂  And the last of them is this impression of my legs, that look more like they’ve been attacked by tiger cubs than out for a walk.

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WHW groupies
June 25, 2012, 9:49 pm
Filed under: running | Tags: , ,

Inversnaid
Brenda and I weren’t running nor supporting not marshalling, but we realised close to the WHW race that we wanted somehow to be involved. We didn’t want to take up a valuable parking space or get in the way of support teams so we hatched a plan to head for Inversnaid on Saturday morning. 5:30am is stupid o’clock to get up, and even at that we knew it wouldn’t get us there in time for the fast kids, but we hoped to see most of the runners and take some photos. And that’s what we did.

Inversnaid Hotel

Marti Pellow
Yes, it was wet, wet, wet. It’s the sort of rain my mother used to describe as stair-rods. On occasion it was so heavy that the autofocus on our cameras chose to focus on it rather than the person we were pointing at.

Stair-rods

Hugging not choking
I’m not generally a huggy sort of person but a number of people got my arms flung round them whether they wanted it or not. Hopefully it didn’t affect anyone’s race too badly. I presume Colin did manage to breathe again before he left Inversnaid.

Not strangling, just friendly

Who was that masked man?
I posted both my and Brenda’s photos on picasa. Click here to see them.
There are a few decent snaps in there but some of the shots are out of focus, too far away or only show someone from the rear and there’s at least one with missing body parts.

???


What can I say? I’ve never claimed to be David Bailey. Help yourself to any photos you like. I uploaded them all at minimum resolution but if you want a higher-res copy then please email me at karinsmiles0atgmaildotcom and I’ll be happy to send it on.

This is my favourite photo:

Jumping for joy

Look about you
I noticed almost everyone stopped for a second to look at the waterfall. There was an incredible amount of water pouring down it but the best view was from down at the jetty.

Arklet in spate

This is not madness…
We know there a touch of insanity in the WHW race family, but I’m not at all sure what to make of the few lonely souls on the Loch Lomond cruise that passed the hotel.

Nice day for a cruise

Trossachs SAR
The guys and gals from Trossachs Search and Rescue were amazing – welcoming runners in, smiling all the way through heavy rain and midges, finding everyone’s bags quickly and dishing out banter. They mention their support of the race in their June newsletter and it’s a lovely read.

Trossachs Search and Rescue

Boat crew – no wetter than anyone else

I even got a 20-yard jog in myself.

One man and his dog

Congratulations to everyone in the race, whether or not you made it to Fort Bill. It was great to share your day. Same time, same place next year?



How to Run the WHW Race Very Slowly
June 17, 2012, 9:02 am
Filed under: running

…or what I learned from running at the back of the WHW race 2011.

  • Soak up the atmosphere at Milngavie. You may recognise some faces and wonder what on earth you are doing in that company but you have done the training and you have every right to be there.  Enjoy it and ignore the fact your stomach is turning somersaults.
  • Milngavie

  • Don’t miss the chance to pass time with people you meet on the way (some of them are whw race legends)  – but be mindful of the checkpoint cutoffs if you slow down for a chat, you don’t want to end up charging down the hill to Auchtertyre worrying if you’ll make it in time.
  • Don’t rely on keeping in touch with your support team by phone. My team worried when they got a very late text from me saying I had just left ‘Invrsnfn’, in fact I had passed through Inversnaid hours before and the text was hovering in a black hole somewhere.
  • Look around you – you’re travelling a long way through stunning country and there are always things to see, even when it’s pouring rain. I still have images of bats flitting round my head, rainbows at Rowardennan, early morning mist over Loch Leven.
  • Don’t fear the sweeper – there’s no shame in being at the back, though the spectre of being caught can help get those legs moving again when you’re flagging.
  • Dario’s Point

  • Stop and look back when you get to Dario’s post. I never met Dario, I wish I had, but the fact that you’re running the race at all owes a lot to him – and the view back along the loch is special.
  • Believe in yourself – it’s been said before:  running 95 miles is  simple, but it certainly isn’t easy. Never doubt  that  you’ll finish, pick off the miles one checkpoint at a time and keep moving forward.
  • You’ll be running in the dark for a second night – one good point of this is that the headtorches show more people round about you than you may be aware of in daylight. It’s a short night – I expected to get a boost when the sun came up but FW  suddenly seemed a long way away. Just be prepared for a drop in spirits at any time. It will pass.  
  • Don’t hang around too long in the checkpoints but make sure you pick up everything you need. Kinlochleven is a safe haven that’s particularly difficult to leave, but the quicker you get going on that last stretch the quicker you will be in Fort William.
  • Inspiration

  • Smile. Think of the people you love. I pinned  a ribbon of photos on my rucksack strap – photos of family and people who inspire me – and I touched it  many, many times  throughout the race. It sounds cheesey but it helped whenever my mood was falling.
  • You won’t get time to sleep between touching the leisure centre doors and the prize giving, but although you’ll be tired (!) you’ll probably be buzzing too much to sleep right now anyway. Plenty of time for sleep later.
  • You can’t do it without them

  • Make sure your support team  have an opportunity to rest – they won’t get any sleep before Sunday afternoon either. They have to suffer the torment of midges and they worry about  what’s happening to you between checkpoints. And they don’t even get a goblet. Make sure they know how much you appreciate what they’re doing for you. It’s a big deal, a really big deal.
  • Say thank you to everyone you can – it still astonishes me how many people give up their time to help you complete this one, ultimately selfish, challenge.
  • Collect your goblet with your head high and a massive grin on your face. Savour the moment, you deserve the applause.
  • Rest and recover

  • Take time to recover after the race. You may feel superhuman but your body has taken a hammering and needs time to repair. Remember you were out there for a lot longer than the actual supermen and superwomen at the front. Eat, sleep, rest and then eat and rest some more.

Good luck to everyone running next week whether at the front, the back or somewhere in the middle. May the weather be kind and everything go to plan. Above all enjoy it.