When Charlie Met Bella: The Cairnwell Trio

My husband has taken on a challenge … 50 munros in 150 days to raise money for Charlie House: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/bruce-russell5

As with all things Bruce, he’s not doing it by halves so I’m going to be spending much of June alone as he hits the heights on various expeditions! Should you wish to follow his progress you can do so here: https://m.facebook.com/groups/840910906256097?id=840910906256097&ref=content_filter&_rdr

Fair’s fair though, it should be said that he was very tolerant of my lack of presence during marathon training, so it’s time for retribution.

Today, we stayed local and were delighted to have the company of Nicola and Bella (a very cute Labrador) on our walk. I’m a real dog lover, Bruce however, is allergic, and I’m happy to get my doggy fix any way I can!

Parking up at the Glenshee Ski Centre we had a brief discussion as to whether to do the Glas Maol circuit or The Cairnwell trio. Opting for the trio, we concluded that the other four could wait for another day.

These munros provide easy walking with good paths. Having previously completed this circuit in the early days of hill walking, I’ve concluded I’d happily do them alone – usually I prefer to walk in company – but they really are a gift if you’re ticking a list. Starting high there’s no real test of strength and we completed our round in just outside four hours with a lengthy stop to watch a hang glider on The Cairnwell.

First up it’s Carn Aosda, a very short walk from the car park. Charlie posed here for the first photograph of the day, rescued ahead of too much attention from Bella as her interest piqued when he emerged.

Charlie dog: on top of Carn Aosda #50in150

Heading on, the longest walk of the day ensued and it passed quickly with all the chat.

The Cairnwell Trio: Bella takes a dip (Glenshee)

We reached Carn a’ Gheoidh, taking Charlie’s second photo. Stopping here for a snack, Bella again showed her pedigree and training by abstaining from stealing my oatcakes or mooching too much. Alternatively, it could be that she doesn’t like peanut butter! (However, I have it on good authority that the only two things she won’t eat are raspberries and lettuce, so I suspect she’s just been well brought up!)

Charlie Dog on Carn a’ Gheoidh #50in150 #charliehouse

Retracing our steps for a time, we met a walking group from Portsoy and exchanged pleasantries. This was the one and only time we heard Bella speak and we’re still none the wiser why.

The final summit of the day, The Cairnwell, was a slightly steeper pull in the overall scheme of the day but most definitely manageable. The most unfortunate thing of this munro is all the ‘furniture’ on top; sadly today this also included a collapsed unit that’s in the throes of being recovered from the hill. Things just aren’t built to last these days!

Debris on The Cairnwell

The highlight of this top was a hang glider. We waited for some time while he and his companion faffed around (even Bella got bored) but finally he was ready for takeoff! A very impressive sight it was too as he soared around like a giant wasp overhead!

Hang glider off The Cairnwell

We opted for the direct descent route, straight down the steep hillside for the cafe.

The cafe was very welcoming. Dog friendly, Bella was given water and a big dog biscuit while we enjoyed a cuppa and cake. Poor Charlie was relegated to the rucksack in the boot.

Hindsight is a great thing and we now realise that Charlie could have had an even more amazing adventure had Bella been permitted to show him the hills. He’d have experienced a host of new pleasures – swimming in the loch, paddling in burns and streams, digging in the heather, eating snow and rolling around in the heather. He’d have been a whole different dog as a result, not least due to being filthy and wet! Instead, Bella carried an old fence post from The Cairnwell down, impressively waiting until the burn widened at the back of the ski centre before her final dip as she couldn’t fit in with the fence post in her mouth prior to this!

A successful day out, that’s Charlie now clocked up 11 munros with many more to come. Maybe one day he’ll get to roam free!

Loch Lee

Too windy for big hills and too soon for running (I’m fully committed to two weeks complete rest post-marathon), we decided upon a low level walk today and went south for a change to Loch Lee.

Parking at Invermark (Glen Esk), we headed off along the road for a short distance before veering onto the track that took us to Loch Lee. This reservoir appeared popular with fisherman, catch of the day being brown trout. The walk along the loch was quite scenic, easy walking terrain, looking ahead to Craig Maskeldie and Cairn Lick.

Rain showers blew over occasionally and as we gradually gained height these became hail and even a light flurry of snow.

We left the track to cross a good bridge, then taking a narrower path to continue on, crossing some boggy, marshy ground. There were some lovely waterfalls, Falls of Unich and Falls of Damff higher up.

Continuing, we followed a rough track to climb gently to reach Cairn Lick. The views here of Loch Lee were beautiful and we were fortunate to have clear skies at this point. The day was greatly varied with periods of sun and warmth interspersed with dark skies, increased wind and precipitation in various forms.

Picking up a rough road we dropped back down to the loch in good time, then beginning to retrace our steps back to Invermark. It’s funny how the road back never seems to take as long. Passing Invermark Castle we knew we were almost done.

Invermark Castle

Stopped off at Tarfside to buy some freshly laid eggs, our next stop was Stonehaven for a chippy tea. Lovely day out, legs still quite happy to walk rather than run!

Part 2: Spring Holiday in Achnasheen

Day 4: Slioch

At night we retired to bed with a forecast of overnight snow. I’d suggested we should take a photo from the living room window so that we’d have an idea how much snow had fallen to gauge potential conditions for morning. In the event, it was very apparent there had been a significant dump of snow, the dusting of the tops now increased to a real covering!

Slioch, despite the long walk in, fitted the bill for us as other potential routes had river crossings, never ideal after heavy rain or snow, but especially when temperatures have been good with a fairly quick thaw in recent days.

Parking up we met a couple of men (father and son) and their dog, Bowie. We were all headed the same way so ended up walking quite a bit with them when it became apparent our paces were similar.

The first couple of miles were along a track that didn’t gain any height. I was quite happy with this as it meant an easy walk out later. We soon reached Loch Maree; it looked rather inviting on the return, as did the river that we crossed!

We then began our ascent, heading gradually upwards over some stony, boggy ground. The pull was steady and we finally reached the col where we had a brief reprieve, gentler walking that led us to Coire na Sleaghaich. Continuing on, we headed up to a ridge that enveloped the small lochans.

Slioch, viewed on the ascent

The real challenging climb then began. Ordinarily I don’t think this would have phased me, but the snow was lying in places. It was soft and wet; this meant it was more slippery than we’d have liked. The path was a little eroded and we had to be mindful of the conditions as the path rose quite steeply and, as the snow lay slightly thicker, it was not always clear which way the path meandered next. I was relieved to reach the top of this section, seeing the trig point ahead, but slightly less thrilled at the prospect of returning by the same route.

Heading up to Slioch

From the trig point the true summit cairn can be seen; this was just a short distance away. Having reached this together, we were all in agreement that the best route of descent would be down the gentler slope from the ridge further along. It certainly had appeared easier when viewed on the ascent.

Continuing along the ridge we initially thought there may be snow heading our direction; thankfully it appeared just to be cloud! The ridge, An t-Aon Cheum, was only about half a kilometre in length, but the snow again made it a little more challenging for me. It narrowed, there was a snowy cornice, and also a small rocky outcrop to navigate my way around. Here Bruce’s calming words were appreciated again as I had a bit of a wobble and questioned whether I was able to go any further; bear in mind I wasn’t that enthused about the route down should the decision be made to head back, so my options were limited.

Fortunately for all the ridge opened up again. On this wider section I fell, bashing my finger on a rock. It hurt but I didn’t think much of it until I realised my glove was wet as I was bleeding. Being less than comfortable overall I opted to get up the final pull to Sgurr an Tuill Bhain before seeking first aid in the form of a plaster. The final small ascent had as many rocky patches as it did snow and it was with relief that I reached the top of this peak. First aid administered by the ever patient husband, it was agreed that evacuation by helicopter would not be necessary on this occasion.

Our descent then began, heading across a rocky, snowy ridge. We bore left here, trying to avoid dropping too soon as there appeared to be some steeper ground below and the snow again was making things more slippery due to the lack of substance. It was here that Bruce took an impressive slide.

Descent from Slioch

Our companions took more of a straight down the hillside route, while we veered towards the edge of the ridge, then sweeping around on reacher more gentle terrain. We met once again on the main path, neither route having been any quicker.

The trudge back down the boggy stony path then began; the legs (hello quads) were feeling it by this point, although lacking the tremor of yesterday. Finally reaching Loch Maree again I celebrated by eating a Mars.

Loch Maree on the descent from Slioch

The final couple of miles back from here seemed to take an eternity, the rest of the day having flown past. There seemed to be so many little burns to hop across that I’d not registered on the way out, and by the end I was pretty much plowtering straight through everything!

A quarter of a mile away from the car, suddenly the breeze picked up a little, the sky going from stunningly clear to dark very rapidly. We picked up the pace, clearly seeing a rainstorm moving in ahead, just catching the edge of it as we hot-footed it back into the car park. The heavens then opened as we drove home, temperature rapidly dropping and another sleety snow-shower passing by.

Great timing (almost), and another memorable hill day.

Day 5: Inverness

A day of rain (at road level), sleet and snow on the hills. No walking, day of rest, and a wee wander around the shops.

Top recommendation: Cafe Artysans
A great independent cafe (close to the bus and train stations) with a social enterprise focus; great coffee and very good scones!
http://www.cafeartysans.org.uk/about-us/

Day 6: Mission aborted

Spent the latter part of yesterday swithering as to whether or not we should bomb up Fionn Bhein in the evening. Bands of rain kept moving across so in the end we decided against it, hoping that today would be better.

Sadly, on waking this morning it was snowing, pretty much at sea level, and with heavy snow predicted for much of the day we abandoned the plan of ascending anything. Coverage very quickly progressed from the odd white fleck on the road outside to a fairly thick covering of snow. While it had the potential to be an exciting adventure, there was also a forecast for fog. In combination with the boggy terrain we decided that Fionn Bhein is meant for another day.

Snow in Achnasheen

A quick whizz around saw us packed up and on the road. Stopped off for an impromptu lunch with my Mum and Dad on route home so all things considered not the day we’d planned but not entirely wasted either.

Attempted a run on the Deeside line later. Fail! Managed just short of 10 miles instead of the planned 15 miles. Schedule called for: 2 mile warm up, 2 x 5 miles @ tempo pace with 1 mile recovery, 2 mile cool down. I managed: 2 mile warm up, 4 miles @ tempo pace before my stomach knocked fast running on the head, then a 4 mile shuffle (which on reflection was at easy pace) home. Let’s chalk that one up to experience, call it character building as I ran all the way home (despite my brain calling for me to walk from mile 6), and refocus the energy tomorrow.

Spring Holiday in Achnasheen

Day 1: Maol Chean-dearg

Starting our journey on Friday evening with a stop off in Inverness – we’d recommend the pizzas at the Black Isle Brewery – the morning was only a short drive to Coulags where our walk began.

The weather was definitely in our favour. Skies were clear and it was a balmy 8C at the car park! We met another couple of lads there and exchanged pleasantries before heading on our way. We met them at various points again on the route up and down, and I’m delighted that it was third time lucky indeed for one of them, succeeding in reaching the top today.

The path was signposted from the car park and the path was good on the easy walk out to the Coire Fionnaraich Bothy. A fine bothy this was, upstairs and downstairs, and I enjoyed reading some of the comments in the Visitors Book.

Coire Fionnaraich Bothy

Further on the path started to climb upwards, zig zagging as it went. Reaching the bealach I was less than impressed by the sight that looked ahead: a rather steep looking scree slope!

Bealach at Maol Chean-dearg with the nearby Corbett in the background

As always, sometimes these things look worse than they are, and for the most part it didn’t present any real challenge. There was only one point at which I felt slightly uncomfortable as the path was pretty steep and the scree cover was loose. However, we were soon over this and reaching the top of this section.

Heading up the bouldery path at Maol Chean-dearg

Continuing on, we had a brief reprisal in the form of a grassy plateau before climbing again for the final 200 metres. This final section was bouldery, with small stones. Not challenging but quite slow, trying to pick the path through. Reaching the top we saw the summit cairn and thankfully the very short flurries of snow stopped in order for us to gain stunning views when the cloud cleared. The windshelters at the cairn provided sanctuary for a snack stop, the direction of the slope determining whether there was a slight dusting of snow or clear ground. At this point we concluded the ice axes and crampons may remain at home for the next couple of days.

Heading back down the way we’d come steady progress was made. We discovered a better path through the lower scree slopes and before long had reached the bottom of this section leaving only the trudge back along the good path.

Reaching our accommodation for the week at ‘The Old Checkpoint’, we were welcomed by our host, Barry. A great find, a cosy, comfortable wee house booked through Airbnb, I may just be a convert!

Day 2: Beinn Liath Mhor & Sgurr Ruadh

Another stunning day on the hills! We woke to a slight ground frost but the skies were beautifully clear, the sun was out and the forecast suggested a 90% chance of cloud free munros. It doesn’t get much better.

Heading out, our plan (or certainly Bruce’s plan) was to do two munros. I was a little less sure of this given the mention of ‘scramble’ in the route guide, but decided I’d make a decision on the move. The hills were listed separately on Walk Highlands, but the suggestion was they’d make a good pairing for a longer day.

Beinn Liath Mhor & Sgorr Ruadh circuit: view to Fuar Tholl

We began with Beinn Liath Mhor, parking on the verge as the parking area was already full of others with similar ideas. This took us up through the woods, across the railway line – quite literally: look both directions and listen out for trains – and followed a well maintained track steadily upwards.

As the views opened up we could see the very impressive ridge along which we’d walk to reach the first summit of the day, also seeing Sgorr Ruadh, our second peak. A couple of small cairns confirmed directions, and before long we were making our ascent steadily, and steeply, up the zig zagging path. This path was a little intimidating – the gradient did not make me wish to return this way, but there were some ‘easy’ scrambles ahead (subjective judgement) and I had a very small fear I might end up stuck! By this time we’d gotten in tow with another walker, Charlie. He’d gotten into conversation with us, we’d given him a spare copy of a map as he didn’t have one, and having caught him again he’d just kind of stuck with us.

Part way up we met another couple of walkers and a dog. Chatting to them for a bit, Bruce recognised the man as none other than the legendary Heavy Whalley. Lovely to make his acquaintance.

Gaining height there was a bouldery section that climbed to reach the ridge. Then the fun began! The ridge dropped a little, then rose again before descending and here was the first scramble. It wasn’t anything particularly challenging, just a little bit narrow, and the next scary looking section that we thought we needed to go over was actually just a skirt around.

The summit itself was glorious. A sizeable cairn marked it clearly and the views were amazing in all directions. A better picnic stop you’d be hard pressed to find!

Continuing onwards, the descent started to get interesting. Initially the path was clear and easy, then leading to a scramble down a rocky gully. I found myself surprised in that I actually enjoyed it! Looking back it was quite an impressive way down. Had I thought I had to go up it I’d probably have been less than impressed.

Descending from Beinn Liath Mhor on route to Sgorr Ruadh

Being in my happy place when the decision time came, I opted to continue up Sgorr Ruadh, bouyed by the fact that I’d managed to scramble and with a little more belief that I might do it again.

The hill ahead looked impressive but also not too far away, and we didn’t have too much more work to do before beginning to ascend again. The path flanked the hill and headed up fairly gradually, weaving a way through the boulders. Towards the upper reaches we met with another scramble. Charlie led the way and I was encouraged by Bruce who followed behind.

I really appreciated the calming words he repeated if I was hesitant, ‘three points of contact,’ as I navigated my way up, conscious of the light dusting of snow and the proximity to the edge of the ridge. I was quite delighted with myself to reach the summit cairn!

Snack stop near the summit of Sgorr Ruadh overlooking Maol Chean-dearg

After another brief stop we began our descent. Again this was mixed with some steeper sections and a lack of clarity on where the path went, disappearing into nothing.

Just off the summit of Sgorr Ruadh

We navigated our way across the bouldery terrain that held a few patches of snow, finally ending on a more grassy rake. From here we managed to find our way back onto the path that would take us all the way back to complete the loop.

At this point Charlie decided to pick up the pace, and we said our farewells, Bruce and I happy to amble back gently.

The river crossing was reached and Bruce effortlessly boulder hopped across. I followed in his footsteps (more or less) with only a short dip of one foot, not enough to get wet feet with my gaiters.

Reaching the path by which we’d originally ascended we made our way steadily back down. Looking back, the sunlight was highlighting the hills and the panorama was simple amazing! We were both firmly in agreement firmly that this truly had been a great day out.

Panoramic view of Sgorr Ruadh and Beinn Liath Mhor

Day 3: Moruisg

The forecast had suggested heavy snow would be coming early afternoon so we decided to go for a shorter walk, hopefully missing it. Moruisg seemed ideal, a short walk with a big pull up from the road.

Renowned for being boggy and very wet underfoot we figured having had a couple of dry days it might not be too bad. I think we probably did get off lightly in the grand scheme of things. Apart from a near slip on the way up we came off unscathed.

The bog eases as the path rises after the railway line and before long a stonier section is reached. This is where the big pull begins and it is pretty relentless from here until the ridge. Zig zagging back and forth a little helps on the upper grassy sections where the legs are weary and the terrain is softer underfoot.

Steep ascent from the road to Moruisg

On the ridge, a big cairn is soon reached. Although impressive, this is not the true summit. Another cairn lies a short distance along the ridge. We didn’t loiter here as the wind has picked up a little and the chill was noticeable.

Summit cairn: Moruisg

The initial descent was quick and easy before slowing for the steeper section. The path was easy to find and we continued to make decent progress, before long dropping down onto the flatter boggy terrain at the bottom.

View from Moruisg

A wee burn provided enough water to clean the muddy boots, and we reached the car dry. Aside from a tiny flurry of hail near the top the forecast snow is yet to materialise. Today is 1st April – surely MWIS and the Met Office aren’t conspiring together for April Fools?!

Hill of Rowan

Racing tomorrow, miles in my legs this week, and a husband keen to get up a hill, thankfully the routes he offered were easy. I opted for the shortest of two, Hill of Rowan.

Down Glen Esk, we headed for Tarfside where we parked. Along this road is a Folk Museum with a fine tearoom. Sadly this is seasonal so we couldn’t partake of their offerings at the end of the walk today. The toilets at the Tarfside car park, thankfully are not, although the opening hours are. Outdoorsy types welcome!

Warm welcome for campers at Tarfside

Leaving the car park we had a very short walk along the road before heading onto a good track. This headed upwards, climbing gently, and was good underfoot.

Looking around we could see evidence of estate management, the heather having been burned recently and other areas smoking away in the distance.

Burning heather in the distance, looking back from Hill of Rowan

As we lost sight of the very impressively sized monument as we rounded the hill, a large post marked the track that led up to the top. This continued a very gentle climb up.

Approaching the monument, Hill of Rowan

The monument, when reached was sadly locked.

Hill of Rowan monument

Very blustery at the top, we realised how sheltered we’d been on the side of the hill. The unseasonably mild weather, however, meant that although windy it was far from cold. We took in the views, then headed back down via another track that took a longer route back.

Rain forecast, our luck was in. A little spot or two started to fall but we made it back to the car before the heavens opened – only just!

A tea stop on route home saw us find the wonderful homebakes at Castleton Farm Shop. I have a feeling this won’t be our last time there!

Long Run & Clachnaben Walk

After yesterday’s wind we woke to a calm day today. Unfortunately this also meant ground frost and disappointment for the golfer of the house (no winter eclectic competition due to winter greens). Thus, he fancied a hill day instead. The runner of the house had other ideas though, in the shape of the first 16 miler of the marathon plan.

Off I set, a fraction later than planned – the only thing I’m ever on time for is work – and the planned four miles before meeting the Social Sunday gang turned into three and a bit instead. I made it up to the gate and all the way back down to the car park unfortunately. Picking them up part way would have made things a little easier on the legs!

Alan had amassed a fair crowd, twenty runners he said. I was glad of not having to stop and just kept on back up the side of the golf course at Hazlehead. Chat was good, pace was comfortable, and before I knew it we were at the road crossing for Countesswells. I must apologise to my fellow social Sunday runners as this was where I became antisocial. We generally regroup at this point, but my logical head was thinking along the lines of, ‘if sixteen miles is the furthest you go on this plan and you want to stand on the start line believing you can run twenty six miles, you’d better just keep your body going!’ So I muttered something about being antisocial and headed on solo.

Twice around the lovely Kingshill, I felt comfortable in the pace and ran steady, finishing back at Hazlehead under the sixteen miles which meant bimbling up and down the reps lane briefly.

Timed well, the hard core of the Sunday gang (Graham, Alan and George) then arrived, having completed their miles, and the most important part of the run, coffee, was had in the warmth of Cafe Cognito alongside some other reprobates who had knocked out their miles and headed down a little earlier.

The legs felt good, thankfully, as the golfer of the house messaged suggesting an afternoon walk. Headed out to Clachnaben for a lovely walk in the afternoon sunshine.

The view towards Clachnaben

Prepared for snowy conditions we were pleasantly surprised to find the hill clear. A fairly gentle climb, the wind picked up towards the top necessitating both down jacket and shell. We encountered only one small section of hard packed snow / ice, and being rather precious about my legs at the moment the Kahtoola spikes went on for me; Bruce managed fine without his.

Soup at the top was tasty, turned around and headed back the way we’d come. Legs felt good; it was only when we stopped off at Asda to pick up pizza I felt the efforts of the day. Hopefully short lived, another week of the plan completed.

Last Outing of the Year: Pressendye

In an ideal world we’d have finished the year as we started – on a munro. However, the weather had other ideas, and with the prospect of blustery tops and cloud we decided to stay lower instead. The plan was therefore to head for Ballater to do the Seven Bridges Walk. No arrangements had been made with regards to timing and one of us (me!) decided to stay in bed late, the upshot being that we were then left questioning the wisdom of this decision given the journey time and length of walk. Hence, we happened upon Pressendye instead.

Pressendye’s a fine wee hill (a Graham) and is easily accessed on a circular route from Tarland. The initial walk out on the road is about 2 miles and is the least enjoyable part. After that you reach the track that heads upwards, leading to fields, then up towards the summit of the hill. There’s nothing overly strenuous about it, navigation is easy – we’ve done it a few times so didn’t bother with route guides or maps today – and before you know it you’re up, with views to Mount Keen in one direction and Bennachie in the other.

As we walked today we chatted and had our own review of the year, sharing our thoughts on what we felt had been our personal achievements and best moments, alongside our goals for next year – London Marathon for me and quite a number of new munros for Bruce.

Heading up it did get blustery, although with temperatures unseasonably high it was far from unpleasant. Heading off the summit it’s an easy track descent with signposts for the circular route further down to guide you back in the direction of Tarland. There are two routes; admittedly we forgot to check where they go on our return to the village!

One of my favourite parts of the walk is the beautiful tree lined path as you get lower. For old times sake I stopped to hug a tree, then remembered how good this feels so hugged another few on the way down. I think this is on a par with being in the mountains; it makes you realise that you really are just a small part of a much bigger picture!

Hug a tree!

On that note, I hope you’re feeling positive should you be reflecting on the year or thinking about the next one. However small, there’s always something to be grateful for.