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!

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?!

An Socach: Roaming Free

It feels like a long time since we’ve been in the hills and December has been a long month so far. Despite my best intentions to be active, the dark nights and life in general have conspired against me; a general feeling of malaise and a lack of motivation to get out at all. Thankfully, with the holidays now upon us I had a newfound desire to get out and was delighted to be met with a good forecast for the weekend.

After a little deliberation thanks to Bruce’s planning with various options of offer, but primarily due to the car parking area being full, we made the decision to park a few hundred metres further along and head up An Socach. I had a desire to get up high, and Loch Callater just didn’t hold the same appeal today. We were also in agreement that it’s a better option when the loch is frozen and it’s not cold enough for that as yet.

It did amuse me somewhat that Bruce made mention of the extra walk (all 300 metres of it, making a 600 metre addition in total). I sometimes think similar thoughts when parking in order to go for a run or walk; bizarre given the total distance you’d cover without thinking about it in order to achieve the planned route itself. Anyway, along the road we set, and within a very short time were on the correct route, a good track that leads to the path for ascending the munro.

The first obstacle in our path was a small stream crossing. This shouldn’t have presented any difficulty with a few small rocks and boulders paving the way, but on my crossing I managed to slip on one of the stones, thankfully only dipping my toes in and not getting wet feet, but still enough to make me wary of the others. This later led to us thinking perhaps we could head around and ascend via another route that we could see opposite us.

Heading up to An Socach

Continuing up, I was in a thoughtful mood and my mind wandered to a running friend who has recently passed away. He and I had talked hills on a few occasions and it seemed fitting to say a quiet goodbye as we reached the windshelter cairn on An Socach.

Windshelter cairn on An Socach

The wind on this broad plateau had picked up and it was beginning to get chilly. However, the sun came out and provided warmth as we moved off. We had decided not to go to the second windshelter (the true summit cairn) as we’ve done this munro previously, instead deciding to roam free and head off in another direction rather than retracing our steps. Heading down we followed a large snow patch and it was fun going over this. I have to admit that I did generally follow in Bruce’s footsteps making the going easier for myself. I decided that this was Type 1 fun. This was a topic of discussion at the Dundee Mountain Film Festival, and this is genuine fun where you’re enjoying the here and now. This changed to Type 2 fun, the type of thing that isn’t particularly fun at the time, being challenging or tough and involving mind over matter, when we realised that we were in fact heading into Glen Ey, not where we wanted to be at all!

On a positive note, this forced us into testing our navigational skills. With the help of the map, compass and OS Locate to give us very accurate grid references, we realised that we had to head back up towards Sgurr Mor in order to pick up the path back towards our track again. This proved to be quite a slog and involved both boggy ground and heather bashing. On the upside, we saw a herd of deer on the hillside and several mountain hares who made bounding up the hill look very effortless indeed!

Navigational skills being tested

Repeated checks of the map proved that we were on the right line, and reaching the flatter path on the approach to Sgurr Mor we could see where we were aiming for.

Strava elevation profile

Finally we made it onto the path down the opposite side of the stream and had views back to An Socach again looking clear in the late afternoon sun. It was a relief to be able to view the track on which we’d return to the car. Despite never being lost and always feeling confident in our navigational ability, there had been a moment where I’d wondered if we’d be needing our head torches for the return leg. As it transpired, we made good time and got back with daylight remaining.

Back on the correct path, descending from An Socach

All that was left to do was head to The Bothy in Braemar for coffee and cake. Today’s offering of Lemon Drizzle Cake was outstanding and really put the shine back into the day.

Three cheers for Hazel! Joining an awesome lady on her 10th compleation of the munros!

I love being out in the hills on a fine day, so was quite intrigued by Bruce’s suggestion that we join Hazel Strachan to complete her 10th round of the munros. Hazel is one amazing lady. We follow her on Twitter (@StrachanHazel) and she’d sent an open invitation to join her in the final munro of this circuit, Carn an Tuirc. As I learned from chatting today, not only has she completed the full round of munros ten times, she also manages to hold down a job as a Scientist and maintain a relationship with her lovely husband, Ian, who accompanies her in their camper van. Major kudos on managing all that!

The walk was initially scheduled for Saturday but was sensibly postponed due to a very wet and windy forecast. Checking the weather before setting out I’ll be honest; I was less than thrilled with the potential for 50-60 mph gusts on the top today (Sunday). Our only hope was that it would blow over earlier than planned as later in the afternoon was reportedly better. On the upside it was dry, albeit foggy.

Arriving at the car park, a few miles out of Braemar, we were greeted by the sight of a couple of cars and a camper van. Sincere thanks to both Hazel and Ian for the hospitality; we were warmly welcomed and invited in where we met Chris (@jepsonscotland) initially, swiftly joined by John (@KingGuiding), then Craig (@csa_adventure) all enjoying a chat, a few nibbles and the shelter from the wind. Others arrived over the next wee while and so we moved outdoors to get boots and rucksacks ready. All in all I think there were 20 people setting out. We had a quick round of introductions and one last offer of coffee in the van with a lorne sausage bap thrown in from Ian as an alternative to the walk; I was almost tempted.

Setting off, we established a comfortable walking pace and there was easy chatter among the group. It was really enjoyable being able to talk to different people, learning about their experiences in the hills with many compleatists among them, several more with less than a handful to go. Somewhat boggy, the path was clear making easy walking.

Heading up Carn an Tuirc
A wee procession up the hill toward Carn an Tuirc

The joy of being in such a large group was that time flew by in the best possible sense. There were lots of others to follow, an easy crossing of a small stream, and before long we were heading to the munro summit, clearly visible all the way – no fog!

The ascent fairly steady and gentle, the group spread out a little as people stopped to take photos, admire the views, or add extra layers as the wind picked up. The odd gust here and there knocked me a little bit but on the whole it was very tolerable and warmer than expected. We made it to the summit, touching the cairn before heading for the wee wind shelter.

Bruce & I on the summit of Carn an Tuirc
Bruce looking steady while I try to avoid blowing over!

More people joined us and then the lady herself appeared, having allowed others up ahead of her. We quickly assembled to form a guard of honour, Hazel walking under the clacking sticks to big cheers in order to reach the summit cairn.

Photographs were taken and further congratulations offered by the assembled friends; I retreated to the sanctuary of the wind shelter for a snack. Meanwhile, Alan (@MunroMoonwalker) was scouting around and had found a sheltered spot, dropping down off the summit slightly. Assembling here, Hazel kindly cracked open several bottles of champagne allowing us to toast her achievement in style.

Slowly people began to drift off back up and over the summit, down the hill as the chill began to set in. I’m not sure if it really was quite mild or if it was my new jacket, but I remained pleasantly warm throughout.

Heading down I enjoyed the company of John, chatting about his role as a Guide and our mutual enjoyment of running. Bruce followed in our wake, chatting with others, and before long we were back at the road, greeted by Ian who had enjoyed the peace, a good breakfast and his book. I’m now seeing more and more advantages in acquiring a camper van somewhere down the line!

Our final stop on the road was The Bothy, my favourite coffee shop in Braemar (and Ballater for that matter) where we gathered for coffee, cake and chat.

Many thanks to Hazel for extending the invitation. It was a joy to be part of such a momentous occasion! Thanks also to everyone that turned out; it was a pleasure meeting you all today. Look forward to hopefully doing it again in 2020 when Hazel aims to complete her 11th round. Maybe I’ll have passed 150 munros by then!

https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/www.bbc.co.uk/news/amp/uk-scotland-46071636

Drumnadrochit Holiday Part 2, featuring Bruce’s 200th munro!

Day 5: Sgurr a’Mhaoraich

Heading along the road by Loch Ness we started the day off well! Rosie & Jim’s barge was on Loch Ness! Not convinced I’d like to be on a flat bottomed barge on the loch on a breezy day but then again, Rosie and Jim may well balk at the idea of a munro! Perhaps they’re looking for Nessie!

Heading out the minor road to Loch Quoich, we came upon a herd of heilan’ coos. One of them had managed to navigate their way across the cattle grid so this alerted us to the fact there may be others. They were in no rush to move, standing majestically with either their whole self, head or bum in the road! We discovered the best way to get past them on this single track road was just to drive very slowly towards them, wait for the final haughty look, and then say a silent prayer that on shifting they’d not take their horns along the side of the car! Mercifully they were kind to us on this occasion.

We finally reached our parking spot, the car now covered in cow dung, just in time for a big black rain cloud to appear down the loch. Knowing there was a shower forecast we opted to sit it out in the car. It came to nothing, instead clinging to the loch, so we donned our waterproofs and headed out.

The walk headed up straight away, following the stalkers path. This was a fairly narrow path but provided a clear route which allowed us to gain height fairly quickly. As it steepened, the path began to zigzag easing the effort required and providing brief respite for the legs.

Sgurr a’Mhaoraich, first glimpse from the path up

Heading for the summit of Sgurr a’Mhaoraich, two summits of Sgurr Coire nan Eirichean are crossed. We met ‘Dad and the loon’ coming back as the wind began to pick up a little, and Dad said they’d turned back on the ridge as the loon was getting blasted by the wind too much. Being relatively small he’d ended up on all fours as he was being buffeted. Further on we met a solo walker who told us the ridge was quite exposed and the descent was ‘interesting’. I wonder retrospectively if this was some sort of manly attempt to psych us out as he and Bruce had just shared their munro counts, both due to hit 200 soon, Bruce being one ahead. The rain began, quickly turning to sleet, and we were advised that there was a wee drop we could shelter in a few minutes away.

A ‘pleasure’ of the hills is feeling the elements. There’s nothing that makes you feel closer to the earth than your face being battered by cold rain, sleet, or even hailstones as we enjoyed briefly. This bout was mercifully short-lived as we didn’t really find any real respite from it.

Continuing onwards the summit path, although clear, did look a little daunting with a steep gradient towards the top. Again Bruce assured me I’ve done worse and I declined the car key (in order to walk back slowly if it got too much), instead saying I’d yell if I needed it. Sometimes it is best to avoid temptation!

In the event, the ridge was very short, the drops off were not too dramatic – it would have been more of a roly poly down rather than anything else as the banks were grassy – and the rocky sections were negotiable by following the path around. The only steep bit was at the top and it had foot prints in the muck to guide the way.

All good, we arrived at the summit unscathed. The weather was in our favour once again and we were able to drink in the beautiful views from cairn before heading back the way we’d come.

Summit of Sgurr a’Mhaoraich

Summit view from Sgurr a’Mhaoraich

Similar to the route up, we were between the summits of Sgurr Coire nan Eirichean when the heavens opened once again. This time the shower was prolonged and as we dropped downwards we transitioned from a wee flurry of snow to sleet, hail and rain. Funnily enough, it doesn’t feel so bad when it’s at your back!

Looking back to Gleouraich

In good spirits, happy to have successfully completed another munro and having enjoyed the stunning scenery once again, we made our way back to the car. Chatting to a couple of guys headed for an overnight camp before kayaking over to one of their second last munro summits, we once again timed things to perfection, getting into the car just as another downpour came along.

Passed the coos safely – no less enthusiastic about moving off the road – kit hung up to dry (thanks to our lovely landlady at Greenlea B & B), time for a wee glass of something before dinner calls.

Day 6: Beinn Fhada and A’Ghlas-beinn

Rosie & Jim’s barge was at the end of the loch. It appeared to be anchored there so I’m thinking perhaps they’re either still hot in pursuit of Nessie, or having an adventure at Urquhart Castle.

That aside, today we headed out with a mission ourselves – to claim Bruce’s 200th munro! We headed into Kintail once again, the intention being to combine two single munros into one. This was set to be a long day!

Our first issue came in the form of a road closure. We pulled off at Morvich and found we had to add a mile and a half by walking up the road. Later we realised we could have gotten further by continuing along the main road; hind sight is a great thing! The path up to the first munro was good, albeit it was a few miles in before we started to gain any real height. We had no issues crossing the stream, a welcome relief, and it was a straightforward gradual ascent to the fork in the path leading the way to the two respective summits. Sadly this was only around 400 metres and we’d started pretty much at sea level.

The first munro, Beinn Fhada, saw us head up a zig zagging path before a long walk straight across the plateau to the top. This was boggy in places but there were enough stones to hop across the dubs relatively clean and, more importantly, dry. It was a shame that the cloud thickened at this point as this was Bruce’s 200th munro and he didn’t really get much of a view. A couple of others (and their dog) had reached the summit ahead of us so we had a brief chat, and a wee nip in celebration, before making our way back to the junction.

We were aware that we were on the clock as we’d started after 10:30 am and were likely to run out of daylight. Our headtorches were packed but we hoped to get most of the way without them. We made good time on the descent, passing a couple who had just come from our next target, A’Ghlas-beinn. However, on chatting their timings confirmed our thinking; we weren’t getting back to the car in daylight no matter how much we wished for it!

The temptation had been to head straight across the plateau as it looked like the two munros were connected by a ridge, but the route guides Bruce had read and the contours on the map suggested this may not be the best idea. In the event when we’d made it back to the split in the paths and up to the cairn at the bealach we realised we’d done the right thing. The drop between the two, albeit probably manageable certainly wasn’t for the faint hearted and would necessitate very dry underfoot conditions!

The second munro again had a good path up and this climbed quite steeply through the zig zags. We were happy with this as it meant we were gaining height more quickly. We’d been advised by the couple we’d met that there were a few false summits. The Garmin also kept us up to speed with the altitude which was a blessing as there were a few summits and what felt like a long way between them! The second last of these had an interesting scrambly little bit followed by a steep up (I’m advised this was a ‘chimney’) that was interesting on the way down. We also had a jet thunder past below us in celebration of Bruce having completed munro 200. Not quite the same as the American Thunderbirds flying in formation for my 100th, but we’ll take it all the same.

The summit this time was clear and we got great views, both agreeing that of the two A’Ghlas-beinn was the finest today. We didn’t linger too long, again conscious of the time for getting down, keen to be over the stream and on the flatter path before the fall of darkness.

As previously mentioned, there were a couple of interesting bits to contend with, but on the whole the path was good and we made decent time. We got back across the stream with plenty of light left and it was only in the trees that we started to feel the evening draw in. Headtorches donned, we hot footed it back to the road, delighted to be back in the vicinity of the car.

Finally back, we were so grateful of the chance to sit down! 18.5 miles done, 2 munros, and a very enjoyable week away.

Drumnadrochit Holiday Part 1: Kintail munros and the Caledonian Canal

Day 2: Carn Ghluasaid, Sgurr nan Conbhairean & Sail Chaorainn

Day 1 was a day of ‘nothing’ really. The original plan was that Bruce would meet me in Inverness on Friday evening having done another couple of Skye munros. The reality was that he went to work and we went up together as their Skye guide had cancelled the walk, the horrible rain and wind of Friday continuing into Saturday and putting paid to the first day’s walking. On the upside, we had a leisurely day and rested for once!

You can therefore imagine our delight to wake up to a dry morning with low cloud, no rain, and a forecast suggesting the sun would break through later in the day. A hearty breakfast at our B & B, Greenlea, following a solid night’s sleep set us up for the day ahead.

Despite my lack of appreciation at times for Bruce’s forward planning (usually when he’s talking hills late of a weekday evening when all I want to do is get to bed), he pulled an ace today! Having read the route guides and studied the maps carefully he had chosen a route that had good paths and would avoid water crossings, ideal for a day when the steams could be in spate.

Heading out, the parking area at Lundie was easily found and we then had a clear path, following the old military road, to begin our climb. This route quickly turned off onto a very good hill path which led us all the way up to Carn Ghluasaid. Despite the rain this was relatively dry and towards the top there was little evidence of yesterday’s downpours at all as the path zig-zagged and pulled us upwards at a good steady pace. The weather was stunning and it was one of those days where you truly appreciate being outdoors. The scenery all around was beautiful with the hills of Kintail opening up an amazing panorama. It really doesn’t get better than this!

Despite the sunny day, as we’d approached the summit it clouded over a little and it was amazing how quickly we chilled on stopping. Extra layers and more gloves were added and after a quick snack stop we were raring to go again and slowly warmed up.

The second munro, shrouded in cloud, was somewhat intimidating from the distance as is often the case (or so Bruce reminded me). We made good time on the descent to the bealach and before long we were making our ascent towards the second summit of the day, Sgurr nan Conbhairean. Ahead of us we could see another walker and meeting him at the impressive summit cairn we enjoyed a good chat over another snack break. Always great to chat and talk hills, we headed off ahead of him knowing our paths would probably cross later.

Sail Chaorainn

Sgurr nan Conbhairean was rather impressive from the far side with a short steep descent to the bealach and yet more impressive views to the surrounding hills.

Coming off Sgurr nan Conbhairean

It’s funny how distances can be skewed when out in the hills. The third munro of the day appeared a fair hike away but we covered ground quickly and reached the final short pull up to Sail Chaorainn. It was hard to comprehend that this was a munro being quite indistict with a tiny cairn marking the highest point. As this first cairn marks the highest point we decided against continuing to the furthest cairn. Bruce then wondered whether he’ll live to regret this decision – should they remeasure the tops at any point there’s only a metre between them! Not an issue for me as I’ve always said I’ve no intention of completing; I also argued that as of the date we summitted this was the true top.

Sail Chaorainn, the third summit of the day, an easy walk

To descend we had to retrace our steps and head back towards Sgurr nan Conbhairean. Mistakenly, I remembered the small cairn indicating the path off to descend the ridge was within easy reach. While it wasn’t too far I was somewhat disappointed to realise that I had to reascend a fair way first, only missing the last pull back up to the second munro.

Walking back from Sail Chaorainn, view towards Sgurr nan Conbhairean

The descent took us along a ridge, again offering views of the layers of hills around us. This made for an initial easy descent before becoming rougher and steeper further down. The light was spectacular however, with the sun highlighting the tops and truly showing the summits at their best with the beautiful autumn colour all around.

Towards the end of the walk, Carn Ghluasaid, Sgurr nan Conbhairean & Sail Chaorainn in the bag

The one water crossing of the day, Allt Coire nan Clach, was thankfully easy as were the further small streams. The ground got boggy as we descended and it was with relief that we saw the transmitter mast, knowing that the car park was very close by.

The day ended well, a wee jaunt along the road taking us to the Cluanie Inn where we once again rendezvoused with our fellow walker from the second top, enjoying yet more hill chat and a very well earned supper!

Fish & chips at the Clunaie Inn

Day 3: Spidean Mialach & Gleouraich

Another dry day forecast, we decided to tackle Spidean Mialach and Gleouraich, hoping that the fog and heavy cloud might lift from the tops to afford the stunning views to the surrounding munros and the currently untouched (for us) Knoydart. The thinking was that even if we didn’t get views from the tops, we’d hopefully get some views on the way down. As the photos (kindly shared by @AbBruce) will show, once again the mountain weather went in our favour and we had an amazing day out!

The road out to these munros was single track with passing places. My concern that I wouldn’t be able to find the parking spot due to a lack of features on the map were unfounded (thanks Garmin eTrex) and we were soon headed up the path. Going was good despite being a little boggy underfoot. It was a pleasant surprise to find that although the stalkers path petered our slightly there was still a muddy track to follow. As we gained height the views below were stunning and this made the effort worthwhile!

Heading up to Spidean Mialach

Summits around could be seen in cloud, but there were also occasional breaks. We continued our upward slog, gaining height at a decent rate, and passing another couple along the way. The wind picked up a little; just stopping to chat alongside this and the cloud coming over was enough to chill me quickly. Several layers were added at this point to keep my bodyheat up.

Reaching the summit we found a cairn on the edge of the cliffs. Poles were left outside the cairn due to my clumsiness; you really wouldn’t want to trip on the way out! An ideal lunch spot, the cairn provided us with shelter and as we sat the cloud cleared and the views opened up to reveal the South Glenshiel Ridge opposite.

Continuing onwards we had a fine ridge to cross which revealed the path up to Creag Coire na Fiar Bhealaich. This for me was extremely intimidating! All I could see was a bit of a path going upwards with what appeared to be steep rocky drops on both sides. Bruce was thankfully in his best carer / mountain guide mode, and offered words of reassurance and a reminder I’ve conquered worse than this before. He even offered to carry a pole for me to hold should I wish to be lead. It turns out he was right (on this occasion; there have also been others!) There was a pretty good path once we got going and I have done more challenging hills than this! Had I been alone I’d probably have bailed and would have missed the amazing views!

Looking towards Gleouraich

The summit of Gleouraich was reached after another brief descent and ascent, and with the sun still out this provided the perfect spot to take in the views again. Truly spectacular I could have sat there all day!

Summit of Gleouraich

Dragging ourselves away, we descended via a good stalkers path again which was mercifully dry. Quads felt suitably mashed after yesterday’s endeavours and it was a delight to finally see the car.

A fabulous day out, even better than yesterday!

Day 4: Fort Augustus and Drumnadrochit

Yesterday I tweeted that the day couldn’t get much better. I was wrong! Today we went to Fort Augustus as the hill forecast was too windy to get out with much pleasure being such that it would impede our movement. Our plan had been to go for a walk around Fort Augustus, but having popped into the Caledonian Canal Visitor Centre I had to have a peek to see if there were any boats coming through the locks before I could leave.

How excited was I? Rosie & Jim’s barge (officially known as part of the Caledonian Discovery fleet) was coming!

Fort Augustus: Rosie & Jim’s barge approaches the locks on the Caledonian Canal (Caledonian Cruises)

We spent quite a while watching the barge (and a smaller boat) go through all the locks. Thanks to Bruce for allowing me the time to do this. He’d probably just have watched one gate had he been alone! When the barge finally sailed through the final lock complete with the road opening up, we headed for a cuppa, morning successfully passed!

Afternoon, following yet another power nap in the car (me, not him – this is why he drives longer distances), we had a wee jaunt around Drumnadrochit. Heading for Craigmonie woodland we both agreed that a woodland walk can be quite pleasurable, just not 70 miles of it, which was the feeling we had when we walked the Great Glen Way.

The autumnal trees were beautiful with their changing colours and the silver birches were lit up in the afternoon sunshine. A couple of lovely viewpoints showed us the local villages of Milton and Drumnadrochit.

Continuing on we took a minor road to walk up to the Falls of Divach, the only regret being that we couldn’t get up close for photos due to the fence and the drop; that and my refusal to get onto Bruce’s shoulders to take a photo!!

Falls of Divach