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

Bennachie and it’s neighbours – lazy Sunday afternoon

Deciding to make the most of the comparatively fine afternoon we decided to head for Bennachie. It’s been a long time since we’ve been here, usually favouring munros or the smaller hills out Deeside way. However, a change can be good and this meant we’d get both an afternoon walk and an evening at home.

There are many routes up Bennachie, as is very evident from the multiple signposts now adorning the hillside! We chose to start our walk at the Rowantree Car Park today which gives a relatively gentle pull up the hill.

Approaching Mither Tap (Bennachie) from Rowantree Car Park

It was a great day for it. The rain from this morning had cleared and there was barely a breath of wind. It’s amazing how quickly you find yourself on the summit when doing a smaller hill!

We sat chatting with another couple for a good while before heading off, then making the decision to do the neighbouring summits of Oxen Craig, higher than Bennachie, but less visited. While looking quite far off there’s a very good path (as there is on all these hills) and it’s a very short hop between them.

We then retraced our steps a little to branch off onto Craig Shannoch before heading back down to join the path back to the Rowantree car park.

A fine afternoon out. The only disappointing thing was the amount of discarded litter we encountered. I wonder if people who leave their water bottles and other junk believe that there’s a refuse collection mid-week? We did out bit for the environment though and in true Womble style carried quite a few pieces off the hill.

Recovery Walk: Meall a’ Bhuachaille

Stopping off in Aviemore for a couple of days post-marathon, having done very little yesterday, aside from going to Kincraig to see Hamish, the very cute and playful baby polar bear, I decided to stretch my legs today. (The marathon blog will follow later this week – just waiting for the race pics).

The wind was up and the thought of munros didn’t hold any great appeal. There was also the issue of Bruce having completed the Cairngorms meaning driving back towards Fort William for the two he wanted, and the less than favourable forecast in addition to the prospect of a long day knocked this on the head.

So, Meall a’ Bhuachaille it was, an easy corbett we’ve previously done with good paths and decent views. The first stop after parking up near the Glenmore Visitor Centre was the green loch, Lochan Uaine. This beautiful loch is worthy of a visit in itself – local legend says it’s green as the pixies wash their clothes here. I like that better than the other potential explanations.

Carrying on, we continued along a good track which gently pulled us up to the Ryvoan Bothy. The bothy now has a wood burning stove; I’m sure this would be a welcome sight if spending a night here! We stopped off for a snack and enjoyed the shelter.

It was then onwards and up to the summit of Meall a’ Bhuachaille. Having started at a decent height this does not appear particularly daunting and indeed is an easy walk up. The path has been built up well and there are steps on eroded sections, making for good progress. I carried my walking poles in case my legs felt tired but although aware that they’d worked hard (tight calves) the poles stayed on my rucksack for the duration.

The higher we got the windier it got, and on reaching the summit it was blowing quite strongly. Having stopped at the summit cairn / wind shelter for another snack I realised why the folks coming down were wearing jackets and hats! It’s amazing how quickly the wind chills you when you stop at height.

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We headed down the back of the hill after a chat at the summit with a few other walkers, deciding against going over the two other tops as we’d only be buffeted by the wind and aside from adding distance would be unlikely to gain much in views.

Dropping down it was fine to have the wind ease and eventually I was able to remove my hood and see! One of the hazards of hair that Bruce is blissfully unaware of is that it’s dangerous when blown across your face unexpectedly, cutting off all visibility!

Back down to the lower paths in Glenmore, we continued along past the very impressive ant hills. Quite how they get so spectacularly large is beyond me – a real feat of nature! They were massive!

Returning to the Glenmore Visitor Centre we picked up the car and headed up to the Cairngorm Mountain Cafe for a relaxing afternoon. That’s what holidays are for!

Weekend Away

In contrast to my usual hectic weekends, for once I totally relaxed! Heading away straight from work on Friday, we (Mum, big sister, cousin, two Aunties & I) spent two nights at the Golf View Hotel & Spa in Nairn.

The hotel has mixed reviews on Tripadvisor but we loved it. The staff were great, very welcoming, and the food was amazing! Six course taster menu each night and a few glasses of wine … what more can you ask for?

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Breakfast was amazing …

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Fantastic company, no running (packed the kit but decide against it after a bracing walk along the beachfront), and so much laughter. Looking forward to the next one already!