Loch Lee: Who needs an air bridge when this is on your ‘doorstep’?

Freedom is Restored

So, this week the restrictions on travel were lifted for the majority of Scotland, allowing us once again to access the hills. It’s been a long wait, but today made it totally worth it!

Deliberation

The weather forecast, typically, was mixed. Stronger winds, the possibility of heavy rain (showers if lucky), you get the picture. After months indoors surely it’s not asking too much to have a clear, dry day?

We weighed up the pros and cons of the more local munros – too much wind? – and in the end, settled on Loch Lee. What a great decision that was!

Loch Lee

Turning up at the car park we were in luck with one space left for us. We’ve been here a few times but have never seen so many cars. Having spent the last few months trying to avoid people it was a little like rocking up to Asda on a busy weekend!

We figured most folks would be up Mount Keen so expected a quiet walk. The chap a couple of cars along was headed for Mount Keen and asked about directions (he did have a map but this was the lazy option). Advised that the turn off was signposted, we wished him well, and were then somewhat surprised to see him a mile along the good track as he headed back having missed the aforementioned large track to Mount Keen. Given the very clear path I’m trusting he got there in the end. On the upside, he got to see Invermark Castle, a sight missed if heading for the munro.

Invermark Castle

Reaching the loch, the excellent track continued all the way alongside.

Loch Lee

At the end of the loch we forked off to reach a bridge. This took us onto a smaller path, leaving the clear track behind.

Footbridge after Loch Lee
Falls of Unich

The path gently meandered along, not proving taxing, but pleasurable in that we were off the main track and into the wild a little bit more.

Gentle climb up to Falls of Damff

The heather in full bloom was stunning, lighting up the landscape with highlights of purple. True natural beauty!

Beautiful Scottish heather

After last night’s heavy rain, the Falls of Unich were in full flow, the torrents of water visible from some way back. With the steady wind, the fine spray of the water could also be felt from some way back. Up close it was hard to differentiate between the spray from the Falls and the spots of rain that were now coming from overhead. Thankfully the rain was short-lived.

Falls of Unich
Falls of Damff

The path then began to slowly climb, nothing too taxing but just enough to challenge the legs a little when having been confined largely to the city streets and local trails. We stopped and enjoyed a break, sheltered by the hillside.

The rocks here were beautifully shiny, looking polished on one side. As we progressed up we moved slightly away from the Falls of Damff. This was pleasing as there’s quite a drop from the path!

First Slip of the Day

The path got a wee bit muddy in places, and I found myself having my first slip of the day on a wet rock. No harm done aside from muddy trousers.

Heading up past the Falla of Damff
Cairn Lick

The boggy section of the path began after crossing another bridge. This led alongside a stream, at times unclear as to whether it was path or a tiny, minor tributary, becoming drier as we progressed. At some point along here I got a shock as my foot went right into a hole, thankfully although in to my knee the water wasn’t quite so deep!

Muddy boots!

We checked our navigation here as we reached a small cairn and it was unclear where we headed next. Compass confirming the route, more boggy path ensued, the upside being that the boot cleaned off very nicely.

Why Do We Walk?

This became obvious as we looked down onto Loch Lee once more. The views lowdown are lovely, but the views from above truly are exceptional, especially on a clear day with just the right amount of cloud in the sky!

Cairn Lick, views to Loch Lee

We stopped and started on the way down, drinking in the views, marvelling about how wonderful if was to return to the great outdoors, and double checking on the big black rain cloud behind. Spoiler alert: it didn’t get too close!

A wonderful way to get back out in the hills. This walk has everything you could want in Scotland – a Loch, views of the munros (Mount Keen), hills, heather, stunning views.

Thanks to Bruce as always, for his planning and inspiration, and of course for sharing his wonderful photos! Hopefully lots more to come over the summer months!

Final view of Loch Lee

Ballater Weekend featuring Hillgoers Winter Skills Training

Lazy Saturday in Ballater

The ideal Christmas gift, a Winter Skills Day with Hillgoers, led us to Ballater at the weekend. Not being ones for doing nothing, we enjoyed a gentle stroll around the Seven Bridges, my favourite being Polhollick.

Polhollick Suspension Bridge, Ballater

Aside from this the walk was gentle and easy, a fine stroll where we marvelled at nature and the water levels that had been seen in the horrendous flooding of 2015.

The Bothy once again drew us in for coffee and cake, delicious as always, mainly due our feeling that mid-afternoon was not an acceptable time to go to the pub!

Later, having checked into our B & B we did just that; a busy night in the Balmoral Bar in Ballater! A decent meal saw us ready for an early night, looking forward to the skills day ahead.

Hillgoers Winter Skills

Meeting at The Bothy, this time in Braemar rather than Ballater, my fears were confounded when the other four participants in the group (husband included) were all male. Instructor Bill, however, very quickly allayed said concerns without even trying, introducing himself, getting the teas and coffees in, and settling us into a relaxed chat about the day ahead. Key to this was that the focus was on learning and support for one another.

After our initial chat, covering the planning and preparation stages of our walks including need to check the weather and avalanche forecasts for a few days prior, we headed out. Originally planned for Glenshee and postponed due to ridiculously strong winds last weekend – you’d have struggled to be upright, let alone hear anyone – again, the weather forecast was mixed and due to get windier, albeit not on the same scale, so we headed out to Glen Callater instead.

Loch Callater Bothy

The walk out to Loch Callater Bothy takes around an hour. It’s pretty much flat, along a good landrover track, and today had a decent covering of snow. This had fallen overnight and was reportedly better than the slushy conditions encountered by yesterday’s Hillgoers group.

Despite this, the snow made it a wee bit of a slog so it was a relief to come upon the bothy. As we approached, the snow began to fall lightly. This was especially welcome as Braemar was likely encountering rain if the aforementioned forecast was correct.

Into the bothy it was time for a snack, some hot chocolate, and the opportunity for Bill to check that we all knew how to put our crampons on and ensure they fitted our boots properly.

Loch Callater Bothy tucked into the slope

As is often the case, the world proved to be extremely small. Bill, having recognised me from running circles, transpired not to be the only runner. Others in the group also had links to friends through work and running interests, and it was entertaining establishing how we were all connected through mutual friends and interests throughout the course of the day.

The Fun Begins: Onto the hill

Refreshed, we headed out onto the hill. As we went up, Bill took the lead and did the hard work allowing the rest of us to follow behind, demonstrating energy saving techniques used when volunteering with Braemar Mountain Rescue Team. Second in line then also did some work, treading on the backs of Bill’s footsteps and creating a bit more of a channel, and so on. Being second last (or back of the pack)I enjoyed a stroll up the hill with minimal effort. I did feel somewhat guilty about this, but not guilty enough to move forward, the others seeming quite content and the distance to be covered relatively short.

I did appreciate Bill’s honesty and humour; when stopping for a mini lecture on conditions or technique, he admitted this was more due to the need for a rest after the exertions than urgency to impart information at this particular moment.

Boots as Tools

The first thing we practised was using our boots as tools, winter boots having harder soles with less flexibility making them better for kicking. We practised using the edges of our boots to gain stability while traversing across the hill, developing confidence in our movements. Quick movement downhill was also demonstrated and practised, including a technique for scree. I’m still not convinced I particularly wish to use this, but I may try it one day – I do ‘love’ a scree slope! Perhaps I should practise a bit more on snow first.

During this time the weather began to change, snow falling and, as the afternoon progressed, wind picking up. Having swithered this morning about my thermal leggings I was quite delighted to have put them on, at no point during the day feeling cold, and glad that I’d put up with overheating a little on the walk out.

The Real Fun: Ice Axes

Initially we practised the self belay, the idea being that this becomes instinctive and can effectively prevent a slip turning bad. Although the snow was pretty soft, this was an ‘easy’ technique to get my head around in the grand scheme of the day.

My initial attempts at self belay

The Inner Child

It doesn’t take much for me to find my inner 5 year old, so I was in my glory when it was suggested that we should all have some fun rolling down the hill in order to flatten the snow, creating an icy slide. One roly poly made me realise that my brain doesn’t work in quite the same way as it apparently used to; it was amazing how disoriented I felt, not sure which way was up and struggling to walk in a straight line! I found sliding down on my belly, head first, to be equally (if not more) satisfying!

Slide made, Bill then clearly demonstrated the techniques required to use our ice axes to arrest should we slip when walking. Previously for Bruce and I, these arrests had been taught through falling onto our fronts with legs pointing downhill.

Bruce in the act of arrest

Today was a whole new experience! Not many falls are graceful and easy; we therefore had to learn techniques for falling backwards and forwards, with both involving a headfirst slide.

The supportive environment and the group dynamic allowed us to have a lot of fun with this. Coordination is key – I’m not blessed on this front – but I do have an awareness of teaching physical skills and was quite comfortable practising the movements while upright and waiting my turn, aware that it will take lots of practise before this is in any way ‘unconscious’. Ultimately, the key skill was to master the initial control, getting the axe into position and the pick into the ground, thus allowing momentum to turn the body to the right direction before then stopping properly. It’s amazing how easy it can look when done by some accomplished! That wasn’t me!

I have a feeling I’ll be rolling around on the living room rug a bit over the coming week – here’s hoping I don’t impale my axe on the sofa!

Cutting Steps and Crampons

Lastly, our learning involved how to use our crampons effectively, the hope being that if we master this art we won’t need to do an ice axe arrest for real. Although using the ice axes was great fun in practise, all the other techniques should be the priority for safety on the hills.

I liked Bill’s analogy for using crampons: walk like a puppet, essentially trying to make contact with as much of the ground as possible, using all points on the crampon to increase grip and stability.

We learned to cut steps, using the ice axe as a pendulum, flattening a small step before moving onto it, thus theoretically allowing others to follow up or down in our footsteps. This is a useful technique if the weather conditions have changed the ground cover.

Back to the Bothy

Heading back down to the bothy, we kept the crampons on. Chat was very easy among the group by this point and it was a pleasurable short descent.

Safely ensconced in the bothy once again, it was time for more hot chocolate (still hot, courtesy of the Stanley flask) and another bite to eat. We were joined by a couple of students who had biked out – good effort – and a couple of lads who’d been out walking.

Finally, the walk back to the car. This passed quickly as we blethered, snow turning more slushy as we approached the car park again.

All in all, a great day out! I’m delighted to have had the opportunity to join Hillgoers on this excellent day, and sincerely thank Bill for his time and efforts. Here’s hoping if I see him again it’ll be a random bumping into at a race, or in the Bothy at Braemar, rather than on a dark hillside when he’s with the Braemar MRT! Thanks to everyone that joined us today – a pleasure sharing your company. Happy walking!

@Hillgoers Winter Skills Training Group

Sgor Mor: Blowin’ A Hoolie

Taking advantage of a decent forecast we decided to head for the hills. Driving out to Braemar the skies looked clearer than expected. Despite being winter there also appeared to be very little snow on the horizon.

After a quick pitstop in Braemar conditions did change as we drove out to Linn of Dee, the road having a light covering of snow and a few icy puddles, just enough for the driver to rein it in as you’re never quite sure of the skid risk.

Arriving at the car park we were greeted by a very friendly robin! He’d just been in the boot of the car next to us and hopped onto my rucksack, perching there proudly. Sadly we didn’t have a camera to hand to capture this lovely moment. He continued to dot around for some time before realising we didn’t have any food for him, leaving to visit the next arrival in the car park.

Setting off, we headed back along the road towards the bridge before following the track alongside the river for a short distance. It wasn’t long before we branched off, beginning our climb (heather bash) up the hillside. This was easy enough in terms of ascent, but a little bit of a slog for the legs due to the lift required with every footstep.

Reaching the deer fence, we headed for the gate, then traversing the hillside a little to reach the flatter ridge. Again, this took time and was hard work. On reaching the flatter ground the heather bashing lessened, the ground becoming more grassy, the grassy tussocks now providing the challenge as they squished underfoot, sinking a little with each step.

As we went up, the wind picked up, the windchill causing the temperature to drop. Having begun with two pairs of thinner gloves, it wasn’t long before the Tuff Bags went on, warming me up nicely and taking the wind away. My freebie Gore neckwarmer (courtesy of a Gore rep at one of the Tiso open evenings) also came up trumps. Pulled up over my mouth, sunglasses on to protect my eyes, hood up for extra warmth, and what was exposed still felt the cold, a wee flurry of snow adding to the wintry feel.

We sheltered near the top of the first minor peak for a snack stop. It was a different world, just dropping a few feet down and totally losing the wind. Refreshed, we battled on into the wind. It really was tough going! The wind was definitely trying to sweep away my walking poles, at times also knocking me off my stride. Bruce later shared that after the second top he’d wondered about just cutting down. I had very similar thoughts, having decided if we’d had any more height to gain I’d have bailed.

As it was we were close to the summit and after a short time we were there. Again, we dropped out of the wind, sheltering to enjoy our lunch before soaking up the views of the neighbouring munros. These had a little more sign of winter but snow cover is still pretty light for the time of year.

Retracing our steps, wind at our backs, we were blown back down towards the stream where we cut down, initially following the stream and then heading for White Bridge. This provided a more gradual descent although it was a tiny bit boggy due to the flatter terrain. The high point of the descent came in the form of a large herd of deer. Impressive in number, we got close enough to see some large antlers before they took flight.

Reaching the path, there was a really wet section. I only realised this as I sank into it, soaking my waterproofs to just below the knee! A slight detour took us back towards the Chest of Dee, some very fast water pouring down; you’d never guess seeing the River Dee meandering along gently further down the path that this was just upstream.

A good track saw us yomp back along to Linn of Dee, making decent time. It was a relief to have some easy terrain after a fairly taxing day. As always, no day out in Braemar is complete without a trip to The Bothy for coffee, and so things were rounded off perfectly.

First Hill of 2020: Pressendye

The original plan for the first hill of the year was to head out on New Year’s Day. However, best laid plans and all that …

The reality of NYD was that we stayed out later than planned on Hogmanay, and when the 8 am alarm clock sounded I felt way too tired to get up. The resulting effect? Waking at 10:55 am, thus missing both the best part of a beautiful hill walking day and the opportunity to do parkrun. A walk along the golf course it was then.

Having not been out for a hill ‘fix’ since Christmas, one of us needed to get out today – it wasn’t me, although I’m glad that we did. The days are all merging into one at present and before I know it we’ll be back to the daily grind.

Due to a very blustery forecast with fog on the high tops we opted for Pressendye, a Graham that’s accessed from Tarland. We’ve done this before and I’ve blogged about it before so I’ll not go into too much detail.

Starting the walk in the main square, it’s a brisk walk along the road for the first wee while before the slog of the day begins, slowly ascending up through the fields and trees.

Pressendye: the first of the gates

Through a few gates – these were sent to try us, and were likened to a Krypton Factor Challenge – we reached the very broad ridge. This was where the wind really picked up and we were glad to be going in the ‘right’ direction, the wind at our backs. Reaching the large windshelter cairn at the summit was a welcome relief and gave a great spot to stop and have some lunch, very much protected from the wind that was howling around us.

Down we then went, dropping out of the wind pretty quickly, following good tracks along the way.

Very randomly, we bumped into a friend of the husband – small world!! After a chat with them we continued, finally descending through the lovely avenue of tall trees.

Tree lined ‘avenue’, Pressendye, Tarland

Coming out just as you approach Tarland from the Aberdeen side there were some very impressive bails, a bail ‘castle’, and a huge white plastic wrapped thing that looked like an enormous slug! Google’s a great thing: I’ve now learned that this is silage wrapped in a Budissa Bag. There are even YouTube videos showing the process, so if you’re bored (or a geek like me) have a watch! I’m well impressed- easy pleased!

Back in Tarland we stopped at Angie’s Cafe for a bacon butty and tea. A perfect end to the first day in the hills. Here’s to many more!

Looking back up to Pressendye

Reflections on 2019: Dreams, Goals and Injury

Goals (and Dreams)

This year I set myself 2 goals:

A marathon PB and a 1st club standard.

I achieved one of them.

A dream came true when I ran the London Marathon, loving every minute of it (despite prior nerves that it might just all be too much).

The plan thereafter had been to recover and then have a strong Autumn season, hopefully chasing down the coveted club standard. Sadly it didn’t happen due to injury, but I did have a rather awesome summer prior to that running the Fife Coastal Path.

We managed a few hills together (and Bruce did quite a few solo) before embarking on the West Highland Way as a wee ‘rest’ in October.

Injuries

Finally after a few months of very little or no running (a whole 10 weeks off) I had my own Christmas miracle in the form of a cortisone injection and, touch wood, will continue running pain free into the new year. I’m four runs in and it’s feeling good so far.

New Goals

There’s a lot of fitness to build back up. For now, I’m loving being able to run once again and enjoying it for what it is. My GFA for London 2020 has been deferred and my goal is to get back to consistent mileage before targeting times.

First up, my parkrun goals: 200 separate volunteer days and 200 parkruns; in that order.

Happy New Year

Here’s hoping that 2020 brings you the opportunity to pursue you dreams and just enough challenge to keep it interesting!

Merry Christmas!

What a stunning winter’s day for a Christmas walk! We decided to take full advantage, heading up Lochnagar.

White Christmas

When we were out this way a couple of weeks ago it looked like there was a fair covering of snow; not so much today. The path at car park level was clear, but once ascending through the trees it got a bit icy underfoot. This was a nuisance as we progressed further as it wasn’t clear until stepping on the boulders whether they’d be icy or not. Thankfully none of us came a cropper despite a couple of near misses!

Christmas Tidings

I was amazed by the number of people we met on the hill today. Everyone was in good cheer, exchanging Christmas joy and chat. The memorable exchange of the day was with four gents, one of whom had come from Milan to enjoy Christmas in Scotland with his hill walking friends (met when doing the Coast to Coast). He told us that God was happy for us to be on the hills today, rather than in church, hence the beautiful day.

Kahtoola Microspikes

When the ‘proper’ ice came it was a pleasure to don the microspikes, finally gaining some confidence and traction. These really are an outstanding piece of kit, perfect for times when there’s not enough for a crampon but boots just aren’t cutting it. They stayed on from hereon in until we came off the snow at the other side.

Winter Sun

The low sun was lovely, warming up the chilly day and making it a truly wonderful day to be out. Onto the proper snow, the slow pull up began. We stopped off overlooking the loch, enjoying some soup and a wee rest.

The Ladder

Up the ladder we went, following the footsteps of many others. As we continued we moved into the mist; sadly it didn’t clear until we’d come off the top.

Christmas Lunch

Reaching the summit we posed for a picture before sheltering from what little breeze there was, joining another three walkers, then being joined by another couple. Throw in a few more scattered around and quite the gathering there was!

Glas Allt

Rather than retracing our steps, we opted for a circular walk, heading down via Glas Allt Falls. As with the route up, it was excellent with the spikes on, not so good when there wasn’t sufficient coverage, again running the risk of slipping on the rock. This slowed me down significantly as the last thing I wanted for Christmas was a fall.

Loch Muick

Completing the descent, we reached the path alongside Loch Muick and made good time, yomping back to the car park. A truly wonderful Christmas walk, we were very much in our happy place!

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Merry Christmas

Hope you’ve all had a wonderful day however you’ve chosen to spend it!

Creag nan Gabhar and Loch Callater

Having bailed earlier than I’d intended on my work’s Christmas ‘do’, I was home and bedded way before pumpkin time, thus waking bright eyed and bushy tailed (or as close to that as I ever get!), and happy enough to hear that golf (his) was off as the course would be on winter greens. Winter greens = no eclectic competition and playing off mats, so I’m reliably informed there’s not much point. Thus the decision was made that I’d accompany him on Plan B, a trip to the hills.

Rucksack packed, breakfast thrown down my throat, showered and out within the hour, I was pretty impressed by myself.

Out the road we went, spotting the hill tops appearing further out towards Ballater, and discussion was had about where to head. We opted for Braemar as the skies were looking clear, a positive contrast to the forecast of foggy tops, and came upon a light dusting of snow on the roadside from around Crathie. Passing the snowgates at Braemar, the road suggested there had been snow this morning. Thankfully we didn’t have to go much further.

Parking up, it took about 10 minutes to get winter ready. Ice axe fastened to the rucksack, winter boots on (and off – too loose – and on again), waterproofs and gaiters on. It was pretty chilly feeling, even with my 4 layers on top and 2 pairs of gloves! Thankfully this feeling didn’t last once I was moving.

Heading along the track towards Loch Callater, we walked for just over a mile before heading up onto the ridge that meanders along and up to Creag nan Gabhar. I became significantly warmer as we headed upwards but in time the wind picked up and the temperature did feel cooler due to the wind chill.

The snow higher up was patchy with tiny drifts on the path, the heather still peeping through in most places, although there were some deeper sections here and there.

We opted to skirt around Creag nan Gabhar, nearly at the top, as the wind was quite strong, the snow blowing across us and the chill biting our faces. We took a wee cross country diversion here, making our own way down towards the main path.

Heading down from Creag nan Gabhar

Ahead, we saw another couple who appeared to be going a very different direction. Talking to them later, they’d avoided a more icy section by taking a detour. Meanwhile, we opted to practise our ice axe arrests, sliding down a steeper, more compacted section on our fronts and using the ice axe to slow down and stop repeatedly. It was rather good fun and definitely a good place to practise, safe in the knowledge that we weren’t going anywhere dangerous. The only unpleasant part was when my jacket rode up – I’m sure I could feel the coldness of the snow through my many layers!

Continuing downwards we finally reached the track and stopped for a bite to eat with the other couple. My soup was very tasty, and having learned from last time I found that shaking the flask before each serving meant I never got to the point of needing to eat it by the handful! There’s nothing like homemade soup for being a meal in itself!

The wee cairn marking the path down to the bridge was either missed or missing – not sure which. Again, we moved cross country with the notion of where we wanted to go from previous experience. Skies were clear so we didn’t bother taking a bearing knowing we’d happen upon the bridge soon. This bridge isn’t visible from the path and on previous occasions we have wondered if we’ve missed it, suddenly stumbling upon it.

Safely across, we wandered a little further before reaching Loch Callater, not yet frozen for the winter. Another stop was had outside the Bothy, another snack. This Bothy is really well maintained and very comfortable with composting toilets on site. Well worth a visit.

Back along the track, it’s about 3 miles to the car park. This was easy walking with just the odd patch of ice today, most of it covered by a thin dusting of snow. Last stop of the day, The Bothy in Braemar for a well deserved coffee and cake.

Mayar and The Pied Piper of Corrie Fee

Fed up with being stuck indoors – the foot injury niggles on, but that’s a whole other story – we decided to head out and into the hills to see some of winter. Various options on offer, we decided to go big and head for the Angus munros, Mayar and Driesh.

Glen Doll Visitor Centre

Parking at Glen Doll, we availed ourselves of the facilities at the Visitor Centre before heading on our way. It’s amazing how much longer it takes to get ready for a winter walk, faffing around with winter boots, out for the first time this season, a bigger rucksack to carry, gloves on from the off, and of course the obligatory ice axe along with hope that you’ll not be required to use it!

I was a little (or a lot, depending who you ask!) grumpy as we began our walk. Grumbling about my feet feeling sore (I think they need sorted out post West Highland Way), being too hot, and any other number of things, I was a sheer joy to walk with, so much so that it was even suggested at one point we should return to the car and do our own thing! I was assured when my mood lightened a little that I’d be happier on reaching …

Corrie Fee

I don’t often remember the hills that I’ve walked, more remembering the people that we meet. I did remember being very impressed the first time we did these munros, around 6 years ago, by the beauty of Corrie Fee. A glacial corrie, in summer it was lush and green. Today the colours were muted but the landscape was beautiful nonetheless with a dusting of snow to highlight the impressive bowl formation.

We followed the path through the corrie, gently undulating along the way. It never ceases to amaze that ice could have such an impact on the landscape and very much reinforces the small part that each of us plays in a much bigger universe.

As we started to ascend, the odd bits of slush and snow began to get a little more icy. This didn’t thrill me. Snow is good, hard packed snow and a crampon is even better. Not sure whether you’re going to slip on ice or stand on dry rock is never great.

However, this was swiftly forgotten as ahead was intrigue! A piper? Surely not!

The Pied Piper of Corrie Fee (aka Glen Kelly Bagpiper)

I do love to hear the bagpipes and have loved being piped up a hill during a race. Never before have I ever seen a piper randomly standing halfway up a hillside. Bruce, as intrigued as I, reached him and his merry band first, enquiring as to what they were up to. It transpires they were shooting an advert for Dundee Gin! A real class effort. Glen was even persuaded (it didn’t take much) to play us a tune. A lovely young man, should you need a bagpiper for any occasion, look Glen Kelly Bagpiper up on Facebook.

Sadly, nobody was persuaded to let me sample the Dundee Gin, despite my best efforts! It’s now on my hit list of things to try.

Onwards and Upwards

Leaving Glen and his wee entourage, we continued up heading into the mist as we moved onto the plateau. This was a more gentle ascent and the snow proper had begun, the snow line being around 700 metres.

Everything looked the same with the sky and snow almost merging into one. Before long we were at the summit cairn. Here we enjoyed the company of three other walkers and their dog, taking time to admire the views. It was a decent day at this point and despite the cold air I was still surprisingly warm.

As someone who suffers from Raynauds, I tend to chill very quickly. True winter conditions have yet to arrive – my down jacket, additional mid layer and several extra pairs of gloves remained firmly in the rucksack!

Driesh in the Fog

Initially it looked promising, the sun shining low through the clouds. Sadly this didn’t last too long.

The footprints of those that had gone before us led the way, as did the fence posts that we encountered further along as we made our way towards Driesh. With the mist low it was good to have these clear signs in addition to the map as visibility was not the best ever.

Approaching the bealach that we had to slightly descend to in order to summit Driesh we chatted to some younger folks enjoying lunch on the rocks. The fog enclosed the hill further still and the folks with the dog we’d been behind drifted in and out of visibility as they began their ascent, the top of the hill now very firmly enshrouded in thick cloud.

The Big Question

Bruce asked the question: continue in order to see nothing or head down? This was a revelation for him. I’ve decided on prior occasions not to bother with a summit, being too tired or conditions not being great. I’ve said all along I’m not ‘bagging’ munros. He, meanwhile, is, and has not done this (except in atrocious winter conditions when I’ve not been stupid enough to leave the sofa in the first place), and so it was a very novel concept for him, realising that he’s already ‘bagged’ this munro he didn’t need to bother.

Hence we found ourselves heading homeward, back to the car.

Following the Deer Fence

Unsure quite where the path was, but knowing we were there or thereabouts, I suggested we follow the deer fence (and footsteps of others) rather than heading lower which appeared to be steep and potentially off the face of the hill.

This provided a clear route; checking the map partway with a Garmin bearing we definitely had steep contours dropping off at either side. Continuing on we began to descend, Bruce then throwing himself full length just for fun – he tripped over an old fence wire in the snow.

Further down the slushy snow was frustrating. Slippery and very patchy, it resulted in me hopping between grassy tufts and muttering discontentedly. As we reached the bottom of this initial descent we could clearly see the path along the hillside. Conditions on this path I suspect may have been similar to the slushy stuff we’d just crossed so I was happy enough that we’d missed it higher up.

Back to the Forest

Descending still, we reached slush free ground and finally the forest. Somewhat decimated by forestry works this provided a clear route back.

Highlight of the Day

Most definitely Glen Kelly and his bagpipes. I might even put a Tripadvisor review on about this wonderful attraction to see how long it is before the first complaint that he wasn’t there!!

West Highland Way Adventures: Part 1

Day 1: Milngavie to Balmaha
Starting in Milngavie, having met the friendly chap from ‘Go Haggis’ baggage carriers at the Premier Inn, we managed to successfully navigate our way out of the town centre, although not before accosting a local for the obligatory photograph.

Start of the West Highland Way, Milngavie

Heading through Mugdock Park we were among the Sunday runners and bikers. This was different to my previous recollection of the start and was very enjoyable. There were new little sculptures that caught my eye.

Mugdock Park

Continuing on we left the park behind. It was a beautiful day and as the sun rose higher in the sky we were slowly warmed up, losing the chill of the morning air. Both sun and moon were visible in the clear blue sky. Not sure my photographic attempts captured either particularly well …

The trails were in good shape, clearly posted, and good underfoot conditions saw us making decent time. We were pleasantly surprised to bump into some others who were also starting out on the Way today. Being late, end of season, and starting on a Sunday, we had wondered if we’d meet any other walkers or be driving one another insane by the end of the week!

A succession of gates led the way …

There were also some interesting signs with references to the Shire, some very colourful gardens, and we also met another couple of walkers. They were headed for the distillery as their next stop.

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Before long we reached the Beech Tree Inn. This provided a welcome break (and a cup of tea). Like true Aberdonians, we opted to sit at a table outside and consume our own snacks rather than purchase the extortionate offerings in-house. Our final pair of WHW walkers were met here.

Beech Tree Inn

On moving away from the Beech Tree, it initially appeared that this decision might have been the worst of the day. My foot felt like it had seized up and was really painful, each step hurting to bear weight. This was reminiscent of post-run feelings and I sincerely hope it wasn’t going to get worse later!

The trails were again good and after the initial discomfort we settled into a comfortable pace again.

Getting closer to Drymen we were onto minor roads and we passed a small settlement. How disappointed were we to discover that the freezer was locked! No honesty box ice lollies for us!

Honesty box before Drymen, West Highland Way

The road was brightened up by some quirky signs. Sadly the trolls appeared to be hiding today!

Finally we were in reach of Drymen. The final pull up the grassy field was made easier by the prospect of a stop ahead.

Having looked at the West Highland Way website (rather Bruce has checked and I had listened attentively) we were anticipating a diversion through Drymen. All set for a detour and opportunity to stop for a refreshing beverage, we were somewhat underwhelmed to find that the route continued without the need to pass through the village. I may have temporarily donned my grumpy pants here!

Seed planted, when we reached the forest we were on a mission to find a stop for a snack break. Having almost given up – Bruce suggested a standing break – we happened upon a clearing with a few logs. Boost! It felt amazing to sit and rest our weary legs for a bit. The opportunity to tighten my boots didn’t go amiss, and the foot felt a little calmer on setting off again.

Snack stop on West Highland Way

We began to see the first glimpses of Loch Lomond, our nemesis(?) for the next couple of days, and Conic Hill grew closer, the last pull of the day. Both looked impressive and again we remarked on how fortunate we’ve been with the weather today.

Before long we were at the foot of the hill and I’m delighted to report that the climb felt easy.

Bridge before Conic Hill, West Highland Way

We headed for the top, along with many locals out for their Sunday stroll. It was weird being in ‘civilisation’ again, some walkers looking at us like we had three heads when we said a friendly, ‘hello’. The sun was getting low, not quite setting, just low enough to ruin any chance of a good photo.

Sun beginning to set, coming off Conic Hill to Balmaha

The wind had picked up and there was a fair chill, so a quick nip and off we went, down towards Balmaha. Knowing we had enough light and feeling our legs getting weary, the pace dropped off quite significantly.

Arriving at our accommodation, The Oak Tree Inn, we were delighted to find ourselves in a beautiful annexe (Corrie Vern) a couple of doors along. Very cosy and luxurious, all the more so for having mistaken the receptionist initially when we thought she said we were staying in a caravan!!

A decent meal set us up for the night and we headed for an early bed, shattered after a long day. Outside, we enjoyed some good banter with a couple of kayakers, all set to conquer the islands on the loch in the morning. We were chatting about our plans, Ben Lomond being on the cards if the weather was good, Plan B being to sit in the bar at Rowardennan. These guys shared that their Plan B was to go home!

Day 2: Balmaha to Rowardennan
A great sleep saw us raring to go again, and while I was finishing getting ready for the day Bruce was out taking some early morning photos. A good breakfast – the best porridge I’ve had in a long time – sated my appetite and fuelled me well for the day ahead.

Our day on the Way was short, purposefully planned, to allow time for Ben Lomond. The weather had come up trumps, with low cloud that would hopefully burn off as the day progressed. A stunning start to the day.

From the outset, the route followed the edge of the loch or even the beach itself.

The path continued to hug the lochside, sometimes heading through the beautiful autumnal trees, at other times furnishing is with more open views.

Further on we climbed gently and there was a fair bit of gentle undulation throughout the day.

Undulations on the West Highland Way, Balmaha to Rowardennan

It was exciting to see Ben Lomond appearing on the horizon, although at one point I was less than enthusiastic at the prospect of going up, my legs feeling a little tired. I may even have been a little ratty! (I know you probably won’t believe this, although I’m sure my Mum and Dad will!)

We were happy to arrive in Rowardennan around midday. Having plenty of time we opted to stop for a cuppa. This was a good move as we met the local barman – his craic is truly the best!! We both remembered him from previous visits here. He kindly reserved us a table for evening, right by the fire. Boost!

Setting off, we followed a good hard packed path on the initial ascent up Ben Lomond. Unfortunately the path, although clear, did become slightly tougher underfoot as we progressed. Feeling renewed though, we weren’t phased, and continued quite happily, climbing gently all the way.

As we gained height the temperature began to drop and the gloves went on. Continuing, the wind began to pick up and the jackets also went on. I also began to feel a little weary, legs tiring, so food was required to perk me up a bit. It’s amazing what a Mars bar can do for your mood!

More climbing, more food, and before we knew it, the final pull up the ridge was in sight. We met so many people, either passing them on their way up or down. It appears that quite a few of them bailed as we didn’t see them again.

Ben Lomond, looking back to Loch Lomond

Reaching the summit, it got really quite blustery – never go 100% on weather forecast; there shouldn’t have been any wind!! We didn’t linger as the wind chill was quite significant, and I donned my ‘Tuff Bags’ on top of my gloves – just the thing to cut out the wind and warm me up a little!

Heading off the summit, I was encouraged to head over the smaller top for a good photo. I’m sure there was an ulterior motive here as Bruce was quite some distance away, encouraging me to step this way or that, look over towards the view, all the while knowing that I’m a little terrified of big drops and struggle to look down – and it was windy! Tough luck! I live to see another day.

Coming off Ben Lomond

Heading down we were rewarded with fantastic views of Loch Lomond. This was some recompense for the fact that it took quite a while to drop out of the wind. It’s amazing how much quicker the descent can be!

View from Ben Lomond

As we reached the lower slopes the sunlight was starting to fade a little, showcasing the view to perfection. A wonderful end to a great day, so glad we allowed ourselves the time to do this. A very different story to the day we got drookit on this hill back in 2016!

View coming off Ben Lomond

Arriving back at the hotel we had a thoroughly enjoyable evening, meeting fellow walkers from Brazil, Holland and Switzerland. A roaring fire, a tasty meal and some good craic. Life is good.

Ben Klibreck

Relaxing in Altnacarra B & B after Ben Hope we had a thoroughly enjoyable evening; always a good sign when you’re welcomed with a pot of tea and biscuits! An added bonus was that the neighbouring pub was friendly with good craic from the locals, so it’s just as well we’d booked our dinner at Mandy’s B & B. A hearty meal was enjoyed with fellow residents. This is definitely THE place to stay in Altnacarra!

Fresh after a good night’s sleep and a wholesome breakfast, we headed along the road to Ben Klibreck. The track up was right across from the parking area – always a good start!

The day was good again, skies clear if a little misty in the distance. The wind was blustery again although not quite to the extent of yesterday.

Initially marshy underfoot, it continued in this way as it climbed. This path would be a real plowter should there be a lot of rain! Thankfully it did dry out as we climbed higher, the track initially good, then fading out. We could see where we were headed so no great navigational challenges.

Heading to Ben Kilbreck

We climbed to the cairns on Cnoc Sgriodain admiring the views, then continuing on to a bealach. This didn’t lose too much of the height gained so that was a relief, as was the fact that the peat bogs were pretty much dry and easily crossed. Again, in wet conditions this could present different challenges, none of them pleasant!

We opted to traverse the side of Creag an Lochain rather than going over the top, and a clear path took us along. This again was dry but had the potential to be boggy; I think on a wet day I’d opt for heading up and over.

Traverse back from Ben Kilbreck

Continuing along the hillside, we finally reached the bealach that led up the final steep ascent of Ben Klibreck. This was an easy enough climb despite it’s intimidating size and a couple of hundred metres of ascent to go. The good path zig-zagging up the steep flank, and made for a far easier descent. The summit cairn was easily reached, the trig point in bits, according to Mandy having been struck by lightning a few years ago.

We stopped briefly before heading back the way we’d come, enjoying the scenery on the way back down, despite the views being obscured by my hair constantly blowing over my face, the wind now behind us.

Going back felt far quicker, and the long traverse of the hillside flew past. The only slog was back down the slightly less marked path at the bottom where I was frustrated by the slippery conditions.

Another good hill day, but we concluded that Ben Hope is the winner.