Meall nan Tarmachan: Bruce Compleats the Munros!

Yet another early start saw us on the 8 am boat from Knoydart back to Mallaig. Meall nan Tarmachan was our target for the day. This munro had been on the back burner this week and was weather dependent. The forecast looking okayish, we opted for a detour on route home. Exciting times lay ahead as this would see Bruce compleat his munro round – all 282!

A Long Journey

Arriving in Mallaig we made the decision to stop in Fort William for a second breakfast. McDonald’s won!

Revived by coffee we continued down the road. This was a bit of a road of reminiscence for Bruce as we passed through Glencoe and he recalled the hills he’d summited throughout his journey.

The weather changed as we drove. At times the skies looked ominous, dark and brooding, at other times there were glints of sunlight and the promise of blue skies. By now we’d committed and pretty much decided that today was the day!

Meall nan Tarmachan

There’s not a lot to this munro, an easy up and down from the car park (which is around halfway up the hill) and this is one of the reasons why Bruce saved it for last. That and the fact that a day trip from home is do-able. Had various things not conspired to folly his efforts this year it may have been a different day, but he wanted to get it done and felt it right to go as a two as I’ve been his companion on many occasions over the years.

Reflecting on our journey on return, the reality is still setting in for him that his goal has been achieved, while I felt quite emotional on his behalf as we started out on our walk today.

There’s a path leading all the way from the car park to the summit so no navigational skill was required. The biggest challenge was the steps, again still wet from recent rains with mud on the paths too. The danger of a path like this is that people veer off it to avoid the mud and there were small sections of erosion and widening of the path, although not to the extent of the Ben Lomond motorway, thankfully!

Reaching a high point of just over 900 metres, we had a very short descent before heading around and up onto the summit. Bruce had been clear – no banging of sticks, no great fanfare. I did however tell the other chap at the summit cairn that Bruce was compleating though and he offered congratulations, raising his beer in a toast as we had a celebratory nip.

Summit shots taken, quiet celebrations over, we descended back the way we’d come. The Tarmachan Ridge is supposedly well worth doing, but it’s been left for another day. It was a little windy and I think Bruce was probably being kind to me also.

It transpired that the weather Gods were looking down on us as we had literally returned to the car and taken off our boots when the heavens opened for a heavy downpour. We were then blessed with a beautifully bright and full rainbow as we left.

Congratulations Bruce!

I’m super proud of Bruce for compleating the munros. It’s taken a lot of planning, time and effort over a few years and I’ve enjoyed sharing in some of his journey. He’s agreed to humour me by doing an ‘interview’ to reflect on the achievement, so watch this space – blog to follow.

Escape to Knoydart

Having left Mull on the first ferry on Monday morning, we later caught a boat from Mallaig to Inverie. As forecast, the rain was tipping down from the moment we awoke and I had a sense of deja vu. On this occasion it was Bruce’s goal at stake – his quest to complete the remaining few munros, three of which are in Knoydart – where previously it had been my trip to Aviemore for the virtual marathon.

The rain didn’t let up at all and we were somewhat dismayed to find that there was no need to ‘check in’ for the boat as we’d been advised, instead having to find a doorway in which to shelter before departure. Setting sail, we were on a smaller boat (Larven) rather than the scheduled Western Isles ferry; for reasons that escape me not many people were travelling!

Having settled into our accommodation, we found ourselves with an evening with little to do. No WiFi, no working television, an evening with some chat and a good book was enjoyed before an early night. Just what was needed after a 5:30 am start.

Waking a couple of times during the night the rain continued plopping against the Velux windows. In one sense that was good – it confirmed the forecast was right; in another sense it was bad – it confirmed the forecast was right. Glass half full or half empty?

Meall Bhuide and Luinne Bheinn

It was with a sense of foreboding that we got up and organised following the 6:00 am alarm clock. While we felt we should go, both of us were feeling a little trepidation at what lay ahead: potentially an 11 hour day, the possibility of rain until lunchtime (or worse) and the prospect of very water-logged ground following the substantial rainfall. However, we got ourselves in gear (finally) and headed out into the rain at first light, head torches stashed for the way home in anticipation of running out of daylight.

One positive was starting the day from the front door. A long walk in gave the opportunity to get the legs warmed up before beginning the ascent and although it was raining it really wasn’t that heavy. It appears that glass was half full after all.

The initial walk took us along a good track with a couple of gentle undulations. We passed some highland cows, very interested in what we were doing but happy to give way and move off the track to ‘protect’ their calf. Past the memorial, we turned and crossed the river via a good bridge. The route guide suggested that most streams had bridges and seeing this river in spate we sincerely hoped that was the case. The thought of getting stuck on the way home and having to retrace our steps did not appeal!

The rain, that had been light on starting out, petered out and although it was still cloudy the sun looked like it was trying to break through at times, the cloud was high on surrounding peaks.

It was a fair bit in before we reached the initial dreaded ascent. The plan was to cut up onto the ridge after passing the crags of Druim Righeanaich. This is reportedly a real challenge in summer due to the bracken that hides any semblance of path. We were in luck today. Autumn had killed the bracken off substantially, withered and brown, and this made the going far easier. The rain being off by this point, we were much relieved. There was even a faint path to follow which definitely made for easier walking. The pull up was tough all the same and height gained was not quite as much as I’d hoped when Bruce gave the Garmin reading.

However, it wasn’t too challenging once the initial pull of the day had been completed and we easily found our way onto the first summit, Meall Buidhe. This made me happy, but I was also a little concerned about what lay ahead.

The descent from Meall Buidhe was very steep but there was a clear path that led us between the crags; one of those descents where you look back and think, ‘Wow, did I just come down there?’

That sealed it. No going back! The ridge was wide and grassy with rocky outcrops. The only concern was wet stone, so careful foot placement was require. My seasoned hill walking companion (Bruce) advised me to use my heel to anchor myself on descent, providing additional security.

We wound our way round to Bealach Ile Coire, stopping for some lunch in a sheltered area, admiring the intermittent views. The cloud was blowing finely, coming and going, giving tantalising glimpses of the lochs below and neighbouring hills. More ground was covered, up and down, round rocky areas, through slightly boggy parts, before skirting around Druim Leac a’Shith. By this time Luinne Bheinn was very much looming large and I wondered how on earth we were getting up and where the dreaded scramble would be!

The path continued, leading us round towards an easier slope approaching the eastern top of Luinne Bheinn. A little further up we encountered the scramble. The route guide described it as simple and it was – about the right level for me! Nothing too exposed, a wee bit of a challenge (for me) but again my guide came up trumps, coaching me up and giving tips on hand holds, maintaining points of contact etc. Dare I say it, I think I maybe enjoyed it.

On the first summit, the clouds drifted in and out offering great views including Beinn Sgritheall, one of Bruce’s more recent munros. I was happy to see that the west summit was in easy reach and there was nothing challenging between the two. Again, we paused to appreciate the beautiful views.

Leaving the tops behind, we had another steep descent, assisted by a path zig-zagging downwards. Again, care was needed to avoid slippery stones, but there was nothing too challenging to contend with. The ultimate aim was to reach the Mam Barrisdale pass and with the descent path becoming increasingly boggy we were very happy indeed to finally get there. We did conclude that in light o the recent rainfall we were getting off lightly as far as boggy paths go.

The pass was monotonous as we were beginning to tire and really just wanted to be back on a flat track. On the upside, the streams coming down were crossed by bridges and there was nothing tricky, only the weary knees complaining a little.

Reaching the Loch an Dubh-Lochain was a relief as the path then improved quite a bit. What was a greater relief was seeing the monument again and knowing from here we only had about 40 minutes of walking left. Even better still was reaching the road towards Inverie. By this point the rain was back on but we were beyond caring; the hard work was done.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable day out in the end; we were both so glad we dragged ourselves out in the rain first thing. Finished up just shy of 18 miles with 10 hrs 15 mins including breaks. Not too shoddy!

A Day of Rest

After a long day with a dodgy forecast, we opted for a day of rest. There’s not a lot to do in Inverie on a rainy day, so we had a walk down to the pier in the hope that we’d find someone to quiz about options for eating as the shop was closed and the pizza we’d hoped to partake of suggested pre-order, a bit of a challenge with no mobile reception or internet access.

As luck would have it, we met a lovely Swiss chap, the owner of a B & B along the road, and he gave us lots of useful information. Having recced the initial route for Ladhar Bheinn, we headed back to the village and as luck would have it, bumped into Kira, the lady that runs the Knoydart pizza oven, currently only operational on Wednesday evening. Pizza ordered for evening – result!

Our wanders took us up to The Lookout (at The Gathering) where we were warmly welcomed for lunch despite them being officially closed for the day. Options were limited as a result, but we had delicious toasties, homemade millionaires shortbread and coffee. Oh, I’ve missed my coffee!

The rest of the afternoon was spent reading, such a simple pleasure. It really has been good to disconnect from the world this week.

Evening took us down to collect our pizzas – such a tasty treat! Just a shame the shop was closed – no beer on offer.

Ladhar Bheinn

Hoping for a dry day, we set out with the jackets safely stowed in our packs. Boggy path ahead, the waterproof trousers were on. With temperatures mild, it wasn’t long before that delightful ‘boil in the bag’ feeling engulfed us.

That aside, the going was good with a very clear track to follow. This took us out for the first few miles of our journey, opting for an out and back from Inverie rather than the traditional loop. All the way out to a bridge crossing, the track was well-made and presented no challenge other than the odd big puddle.

To this point, we’d gained very little height, staying around the 100 metre contour. Thereafter, we began to ascend up some very boggy ground. There was a path, but this was water logged. It was a real plowter and we took care of our footing to avoid slipping on the larger stones, greasy with the recent rainfall. As we progressed up Coire Garbh, the path became steeper and it was tough going, not particularly enjoyable. I battled with myself, part tempted just to head back, especially as the cloud lowered requiring us to stop and put jackets on as the mist engulfed us in a fine drizzle. Slow and steady, we plodded on. One thing I like about going second – I don’t like leading even though I’m slower – is that I can focus on Bruce’s heels in front of me, not requiring to look up too much; occasionally this brings a pleasant surprise on realising how far I’ve actually gone. Today though, there was the dread that the hardest part was yet to come!

As we reached the bealach the going eased and for a short time it was pleasant, flat walking, a welcome relief for the legs. I commented that my legs were feeling good in comparison with Sunday following Ben More when my quads were tight and sore; since then they’ve been brand new.

We expected the next section, the ridge leading up to Ladhar Bheinn, to be tough, but were pleasantly surprised! Rather than the rough path we’d experienced it was a grassy slope, the gradient feeling far easier than the lower slope. The only thing left to be wary of was the steep slope dropping off into the mist. We’d lost the path further down so I made sure to stay well away from the steep stuff at the edge.

In what felt like no time at all we could see the first summit. Marked with a broken trig point, this is not the true summit.

I found this rather disappointing as there was an obvious ridge leading along (with a steep drop on one side in particular; if you’ve read previous blogs you’ll know how much I ‘love’ exposure). However, Bruce coached me through a minor wobble where I suggested I might just not bother adding it to my list of summits. I was glad I made the effort as there really wasn’t anything tricky about it and the path remained good.

The second summit was marked by a cairn and having read the route guide, we felt pretty sure this was the true top. Bruce being on his penultimate munro wanted to be super safe so we continued along to the third top, and much to my delight I got to stop at various points along the ridge to take his photograph.

Retracing our steps, we were both in agreement that we should get out of the wet stuff (drizzle from the cloud, rather than rain) and down to a warmer level before eating. Bruce wanted to get dry and warmed up while my primary concern was getting back to the sanctuary of the first summit and off any semblance of ridge.

We found the path easily – no idea how we lost it on route up – and this led us back to the bealach. By this point it was apparent that the cloud had dropped significantly from our ascent as any limited views we’d had were gone. Descending back down the boggy path, it was some time before my eyes finally recognised the dark patch ahead as being the forestry plantation near the bridge. Happy days!

Once back over the bridge going was great and we hot footed it back to Inverie. The rain came on properly just as we were starting to dry out. Thankfully it remained fairly light, and it was literally as we took or boots off on the doorstep that it started dinging down! Result!

A shorter day in the grand scheme of things – only 7 hours and just over 13 miles. Ready for another early night as more adventure beckons.

No Cheesecake for Clare

Yesterday it rained – a lot. It definitely wasn’t a day for going out as not only was it raining, it was also very windy. The result was a day of imposed rest. We managed to do little or nothing for the morning, heading to the local cafe, The Midge Bite, for a coffee early afternoon. Then, to top it all off, we decided to practise for being old by heading for a drive!

The Stag of Beinn Eighe

Bruce was keen to head down to Torridon to show me the dramatic scenery that he’s enjoyed on some trips away. The cloud was coming and going, at times looking like it might clear, so we headed down to the car park for Beinn Eighe. Almost immediately on pulling into the car park, this handsome chap appeared.

He is seemingly a regular feature, mooching what he can from the walkers’ packed lunches. With the inclement weather and having realised he wasn’t getting anything from us, he appeared more inclined to try and shelter behind the car, ducking his head to escape the rain.

Heading back up the road, the sky did clear a little and we were able to get this stunning view back down Glen Docherty.

Lurg Mhor (& Bidein a’Choire Sheasgaich)

This was our longest day, the route guide suggesting 38 km. The plan was to bike in to Bendronaig Bothy, then walk from there.

The Long Ride In

Parking up on the Attadale Estate, initially we travelled along a good road. Sadly the tarmac ceased after a mile or so, but the track continuing onwards was hard packed and pretty even. The gist of it is that we rode, or pushed our bikes, for just over 8 miles. It was a tough slog with some steep climbs, but we knew they’d be fun on the return leg.

Summit on Foot

From the Bothy, which looks pretty amazing, sadly closed at present due to COVID, we continued along the track as it became tougher underfoot. Finally reaching Loch Calavie, we turned off at the signpost. It was very bizarre, a clear sign leading onto a route that lacks any clarity and was extremely boggy.

We ploughed onwards and made decent progress, crossing little burns and a couple of small streams, all the time headed for the bealach between the two munros. Sadly the weather wasn’t entirely in our favour. We’d set off wearing waterproofs, hoping that the mist and drizzle would clear, but we instead experienced heavier drizzle, with occasional dry spells. As soon as it looked likely to clear another band of cloud appeared.

Turning to the right, the path was clear to lead us to the summit of Lurg Mhor. The mist was now hanging in the air, shrouding the summit ahead and preventing any sort of view. It was also a little chilly, both of us putting on our gloves for warmth.

We followed the path, heading upwards, and went steeply up at times. There were a couple of more rocky sections to negotiate, but it became apparent on the descent that there was more than one path and the route could be varied.

The summit cleared as we approached, allowing us to clearly see where we were headed. The crags on the northern edge could be seen and I’m sure on a clear day there would be great views. On reaching the summit there was little shelter so we turned around and headed off, retracing our steps.

Heading down to the bealach, I decided I’d had enough of being in the mist. I was no longer feeling happy outdoors, so announced that I’d be missing out Bidein a’Choire Sheasgaich (aka ‘Cheesecake’) and would meet Bruce back at the bikes. This was a tick box munro with no real pleasure due to the conditions, the route guide described it as having an ‘airy summit’ and for me that’s not rewarding at all.

As soon as I got out of the cloud my mood lifted and I felt happy to be back among brighter skies, the loch below my target. Reaching the Bothy I had intended to relax and wait for Bruce. Sadly, the midges were desperate to disturb this plan so I ended up walking back up the road a bit to gain a little height and a breeze before settling down.

I didn’t have to wait too long before Bruce appeared, very happy with himself for having completed these two remote munros and getting ever closer to his target of finishing the lot!

Blasting Back

The return leg, as we thought, was so much easier! There was a tiny bit of pushing but we soon realised that despite weary legs we could grind out most of the ups. Looking back we got the views, the mist finally having cleared. The two summits could clearly be seen, Lurg Mhor on the right, Bidean on the left.

The steep sections heading down were a little challenging for the brakes at times and I was very glad to be riding my faithful old Stumpjumper, enjoying the bounce of the suspension. What a relief it was to finally reach the car. 25 miles, one very long day!

Visiting Old Friends: The Glas Maol Munros

Neither of us can quite remember when we last did this circuit, our guess being around 2012. We’ve since done Carn an Tuirc individually, but not the whole round. Today, being yet another forecast of clear skies and sunshine, seemed the perfect opportunity!

Glenshee

Parking in the big car park by Glenshee, sadly the cafe remaining closed, we set off around midday, later than usual; however, I am on holiday and the forecast looked like the afternoon into evening was set to be the best part of the day.

The initial warm up involved walking along the roadside verge to head back downhill to the parking area at Carn an Tuirc. We had to do this at either end of the day, so figured the start would be the best option. It’s always a little soul destroying finishing a hill day with a slog along the road.

Walking from Glen Shee with Carn an Tuirc in view

Carn an Tuirc

I’d forgotten what a boggy mess parts of this path are. Wearing my old comfy boots seemed a good idea on a dry day. However, as we made our way up the path and hit the boggy section I began to question my judgement. Nothing too serious though and the feet stayed dry so all was well.

The path up is pretty clear, becoming steeper as you progress. Towards the upper section the option of going straight up or veering right and then taking an easier stroll up the ridge was offered. My legs ruled and opted for easy. Hindsight is a great thing. I’m not convinced this was the best option as we ended up crossing stones and boulders to reach the summit.

Summit of Carn an Tuirc

However, we made it safely and found that the shelter cairn was large enough to accommodate physical distancing while sharing with fellow walkers. The first lunch of the day was consumed.

Cairn of Claise

Leaving Carn an Tuirc, the next munro was visible in the distance, across a grassy plateau. There was no significant change in altitude, making for an easy ‘bag’ of completing the circuit for the first time.

We barely paused for breath here, such was the ease of passing from one to the other.

Cairn of Claise

Glas Maol

Again, the terrain was grassy and easy allowing good pace between the second and third munros of the day.

Walking between Cairn of Claise and Glas Maol

A second lunch was enjoyed on Glas Maol, taking in the fine views ahead, Creag Leacach looking large and impressive on the horizon (despite being the smallest of the four munros on the circuit).

Creag Leacach

The final stop of the day looked a little intimidating until getting up close. The path between Glas Maol and Creag Leacach followed a dyke, passing a cairn at Bathach Beag that indicated our descent route for the return.

Drystone dyke leading to Creag Leacach

We veered away from the dyke slightly, crossing stony, bouldery ground. On the way back we chose to stay closer to it and found the path easier. The hill proved much less intimidating up close, instead appearing like the easy walk it is, and we quickly found our way to the summit cairn, meeting again the folks we’d met on the first munro of the day.

Summit cairn on Creag Leacach

Returning today we were able to retrace our steps before descending from the cairn at Bathach Beag to skirt around Glas Maol. Previously when we did this route there was snow so we had to take an alternative route which led to a long slog back up the road.

Today though, we initially retraced our steps taking the line along the dyke.

Leaving Creag Leacach behind on the Glas Maol circuit

We then followed a narrow single track path along the side of Glas Maol, finally leading us onto the Meall Ohdar ridge and down into the ski area where we encountered the ski tows and slowly zig zagged and traversed the ski area until we descended back to the car park. The final descent reminded me of coming off Cairngorm some years ago where I slipped on the grit, landed on my bum and sat on my walking pole, bending it out of shape! I was therefore glad to come off the path onto the grassy side and arrive at the car with poles intact!

Although not necessarily the most scenic of munros, on a gorgeous day they gave us what we needed.

 

 

 

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

Be Grateful of the Small Things

Biking

Today was a stunning day. We’ve been truly blessed with the weather thus far during our ‘confinement’, and it was a joy to be out on the trails again today.

Riding out from home, it’s not long before we reach Hazlehead. I love being able to ride across to Countesswells, a favourite running route ordinarily. I’ve managed to the old ‘stables’ but the full route is a step or two (several miles) too far.

On our social Sunday runs we have regular stops to allow everyone the opportunity to regroup. One such stop is our ‘selfie spot’, so in keeping with tradition Bruce and I have taken pictures there on the couple of occasions we’ve been out.

The solitude of the trails is remarkable with so few people out. The car park closed, people are welcome only if they can get there under their own steam.

Reflections

Home and showered I reflected upon the day thus far and decided to look back on previous years to see what I’d been doing then. Way back in December 2014 I decided to start keeping a journal of things I’m grateful for, noting three positives each day. These are often small, relatively insignificant things but the reflection provides some clear light at the end of each day, all the more so during life’s tough times.

Here they are with some annotations along the way:

15th April 2015

1. Relaxed morning in Keswick (Easter holidays – I wonder if it was raining; ‘relaxed mornings’ don’t usually figure in our hols!)

2. Lovely walk with Bruce & Rob (Rob is one of Bruce’s friends and I recall he’d driven some way to join us for a walk)

3. Post walk beers and chat

15th April 2016

1. Last 3 Wainwrights: Ling Fell, Sale Fell, then on to Binsey! (I should clarify that these were the last 3 Wainwrights of OUR holiday; still a long way to go overall!)

2. Home – although I enjoy being away I’m always happy to be home again.

3. Chat with Mum & Dad

15th April 2017

1. parkrun fun as Run Director

2. Nuart walk around Aberdeen with Bruce followed by a visit to CASC

3. Dinner catch up at Dizzy’s with Elaine, Heidi & Jacq – we need to get together when this is all over, although with one in USA and Dizzy’s sadly no longer standing we’ll need a new venue.

15th April 2018

1. Social run (Quite possibly around the trails we did today)

2. Coffee at Cognito – a post run tradition and a place I’m missing very much right now!

3. Trip to Stonehaven for ice cream – probably Aunty Betty’s; I’ve since discovered E Giulianotti (up the hill from the Square) that does equally good ice cream and has less of a queue!)

15th April 2019

1. Happy boys after the holidays – Easter holidays are a moveable feast. One of the joys of working as a teacher is that the kids are generally happy to return; you can’t fail to be swept up in their enthusiasm.

2. More fudge sold – this was part of my fundraising efforts for the London Marathon last year.

3. Sarah – home to a clean house. I work full-time and am a part-time ‘athlete’. What more can I say?

Have you found any small pleasures during the ‘lockdown’? What are you grateful for?

Tyndrum, Days 4-6 (‘Spring’ holiday)

Day 4: Tyndrum to Bridge of Orchy
Having very much enjoyed the last few days but feeling somewhat tired, I’d resolved last night that today would be a day off. The original plan had been to have breakfast, read my book (Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine) and go for a run along the West Highland Way. The weather forecast went in my favour though as with high winds and rain to come, Bruce opted to have a ‘rest’ day too so I had company for a walk instead.

Thus, after another excellent breakfast (freshly baked trout for him & porridge, fruit, scones and yogurt for me, no chance of starving when staying with Heather at Tigh-Na-Fraoch, we headed off along the West Highland Way to Bridge of Orchy. This is a fine easy walk, all the more so when the legs are weary, and we made good time.

At Auch we diverted to recce the river crossings for Beinn Mhanach, a potential walk for the coming days. Our concern was that the river may be in spate due to the rise in temperatures, and while it wasn’t excessively high it was quite fast flowing. The decision was made to leave this for a summer day instead.

West Highland Way: Tyndrum to Bridge of Orchy
WHW Tyndrum to Bridge of Orchy

Heading back onto the trail, we passed the Bridge of Orchy Hotel and continued up the WHW to get to the viewpoint, stopping for photos before heading back to the bar.

As always along the way, there were some friendly folks to chat to – these three turned out to be in the same boat as us, walking the hills and staying lower because of the weather.

Heading off we went out early to catch the bus. Having successfully hitchhiked from this point previously I suggested that we should try to thumb a lift ahead of the bus to save a few bob! In the ten minutes we had two cars stop – the first, a mountain biker who was willing to rearrange his car (and bike) to fit us in – we declined as with the bus being imminent it seemed rather unfair on him; the second was two ice climbers who’d been on Ben Nevis and were heading back down South. We were delighted, simple pleasures, and enjoyed the chat on the road back to Tyndrum. As we walked back towards our B & B the bus passed. Thankfully their car was long gone!

To complete the circle, I can now add retrospectively that we came home via Bridge of Orchy in order to return the favour, giving a lift along to a lovely young American couple who had decided to knock a few miles off their long day. Balance is restored!

Day 5: Beinn Achaladair & Beinn a’Chreachain
It was one of those perfect hill days according to the weather forecasters (Met Office, I hasten to add, not MWIS) – not too windy, foggy for starting out but due to clear with the prospect of sun. It was therefore a no-brainer for us. We needed to do something scenic and may as well go for a big day out!

Off once agaain the first challenge of the day was to be the river crossing at the Water of Tulla. We walked up and down for a bit trying to find a good crossing place.

Heading out to Beinn Achaladair (in search of a crossing place)

Options were limited, with deeper water in places and a lack of stones within jumping distance; I can run but I’m not blessed with the ability to jump or throw! Bruce eventually bit the bullet and crossed, only dipping one leg in to the knee which with his gaiters on wasn’t too bad. Me, being a bit more cautious and accident prone, walked further upstream, walked some more, and finally had to strip off more of my clothes than I’d like in order to don a spare pair of liner socks and wade across, very grateful that there was nobody else around for all our sakes. It wasn’t as cold as anticipated but seeing the supportive husband capturing the moment on camera tipped me over the edge and provoked an impressive array of colourful language!

Safely across, I dried off and dressed. We proceeded to follow the path around, eventually starting to gain some height. The path went on to climb pretty relentlessly and unfortunately there was no sign of the fog burning off.

Eventually reaching the ridge of Beinn a’Chreachain, still in the fog and with tricky underfoot conditions – lots of snow which was a little slidey in places – we opted for the precautionary measure of both the ice axe and crampons. This should have been spectacular but instead was somewhat scary; the ridge narrowed, the wind got up and it wasn’t clear how far the drop was due to the lack of visibility. Once again I was venturing out with my comfort zone.

Heading up Beinn a'Chreachain

The ridge soon widened and we made it up to the first munro summit of the day. The wind was still strong so we chose not to linger here, instead just pausing for a quick photo before battling on.

Summit of Beinn a'Chreachain

Dropping down was easy enough, the snow assisting with a quick descent before the steep climb to our second summit, Beinn Achaladair began. This was really daunting, appearing just to keep going up into the fog. The fact that the drops were again not visible, combined with a gradient that would challenge me on a fine day, never mind a day like this with snow covering the slopes, again led me to feel a little less than delighted to be here. Ultimately there wasn’t a whole lot of option but to keep going as the prospect of trying to retrace our steps did not appeal either!

Tricky navigation between Beinn a'Chreachain and Beinn Achaladair in snow & fog

Climbing into the cloud we did finally reach a flatter plateau and found the summit. Again, only time for a quick photo stop. Shortly after we paused to put on our waterproof trousers to try and combat the windchill. It really was getting quite bitter and any pause led to slight shivering and feelings of cold seeping in. Top tip for putting your waterproofs on a windy summit: sit on your rucksack; that way nothing’s blowing away, even if there is the danger of squishing any remaining food!

The hard part over, the crampons came off. The snow had softened again which meant that going downhill our feet sunk in well. I felt comforted by this as I figured that worse case scenario I could sit down and stall myself by sinking in should I slip, hopefully not going too far. Thankfully this wasn’t required.

Very snowy descent from Beinn Achaladair

The descent was fairly quick with regular checks of the bearings to ensure we were headed in the right direction. Finally we dropped out of the fog and could see the path ahead which was very refreshing indeed! By this point we only had a few miles left and I was no longer phased by anything! Stream crossing? Wade through it! Snow covering a burn? I’ll take my chances, fall through it and sink in to my knees. What’s the worst that can happen?

Coming off Beinn a'Chreachain

I can’t begin to express how happy I was to see the road appear in the distance and to know that the end was in sight. The day, according to Walk Highlands, should have taken around 7 hours. They’re usually pretty accurate and we finish within their forecasted times, but today was an 8.5 hour day for us.

In all honesty, it’s probably one of the toughest days I’ve done in the hills and again one that pushed me to my limits. Am I glad I did it though? Definitely yes, especially when safely home reflecting on the day with a glass of wine in hand. Amazing how a couple of hours can change perspective on things!

Day 6: Beinn Fhionnlaidh
We headed for Beinn Fhionnlaidh as it was an ‘easy’ munro – relatively short distance and not too long.

A fine easy start, we began by heading along a road towards the estate houses. From here it was quite a steady ascent which felt steep, but this could be due to the miles already in the legs. Mercifully, and for reasons unknown, this was incredibly dry! This was a real treat after all the boggy ground we’ve had.

Progressing upwards, we were slow and steady. It was around 500 m before we started to get cold as it was very windy indeed! The jackets went on here and the hood went up as it’s a struggle to see with hair all over your face! It’s one of the rare times I envy my follically challenged husband!

Heading up to Beinn Fhionnlaidh, decent paths for a munro

The route continued climbing steadily, we passed a couple of wee lochans, and the ground became stonier. The surprising thing was that there was very little snow. Thus, we’d carried our crampons and ice axes for nothing – this was in itself a pleasant surprise.

Beinn Fhionnlaidh, summit cairn approaching

Continuing to the summit, the views were absolutely stunning! We saw Ben Nevis, Mull, and so many mountains around the Glencoe area. Beautiful! While Bruce captured the views I sat down having been blasted against the trig point by the wind, increasing my sense of vulnerability.

Amazingly enough, as we turned and made our way down the wind completely died. It was quite surreal having been buffeted all the way up. This allowed us to progress at a leisurely pace and stop to enjoy lunch in the sunshine. Beyond this it was a fairly easy walk, quickly descending back towards the estate houses.

Beinn Fhionnlaidh, descent from the plateau

What a way to finish the holidays! A truly spectacular day!

Arrochar Weekend: A Tale of Two Parts

Keen to get some more hills in his legs, Bruce had been watching the weather forecast during the week, and off the back of this we booked an impromptu weekend away. Heading off on Saturday, earlier than planned due to big winds putting paid to his golf, we enjoyed a leisurely drive down the road with a lovely coffee stop in Crieff (I’d recommend Cafe Rhubarb if ever you’re passing through). As with all good walking weekends, food features strongly, and we very much enjoyed a couple of evenings in Ben Arthur’s Bothy – the chicken pakora is highly recommended!

Arriving in Arrochar we settled into a lovely B & B (Two Stones) and marvelled at the glorious view of The Cobbler (Ben Arthur) from the window. This is not a hill that either of us have climbed but I’d put money on there having been hoards of walkers up it on Sunday due to the magnificence of the day.

I’m going to record the weekend back to front, as Monday was not my best hill day ever! In line with finally reaching the holidays my body decided it was time to shut down and I succumbed to yet another sore throat. This didn’t impede me on Sunday due to so many other positives, but on Monday I really couldn’t be bothered! The forecast 40 mph winds for Ben Vane with 50 mph gusts did nothing to whet my appetite for walking, and after a lovely breakfast (waffles with bacon and maple syrup) we headed off. In fairness to Bruce, I had been given the option of going home, but the nature of our relationship is that we like to give one another the freedom to pursue what they wish, and as such I felt it would be unfair of me to stop him enjoying the walk. I therefore set off with a caveat in place that I may or may not go all the way up, wind dependent.

Parking up at Inveruglas I failed to see the coffee shop; probably just as well, as had I seen it I may not have gone any further! We set off, Bruce delighted to be out again, me trying to summon up some energy and enthusiasm for what lay ahead. I resolved to enjoy the walk, whatever it ended up being. While Bruce has completed 164 munros, I have ‘only’ (including Sunday) done 110. Running is my first love and while I do very much enjoy getting out in the hills for me it’s about the freedom and the enjoyment of the outdoor environment first and foremost. I tick off my list on Walk Highlands for interest, but have no inclination to complete all the munros at present.

The walk started off well, a good road leading up followed by firm tracks. The only downside was the wind. In contrast to Sunday, full waterproofs were on to keep the chill off, along with hat and gloves. It can at times be the case that the wind blows up the valley and once the ridge is reached it’s not as bad. Sadly I didn’t make it far enough to find out. I bailed when we still had around 400 m of climbing to go as I’d reached the top of the first big climb and just wasn’t feeling the love. Bruce continued solo and got these amazing views.

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Retracing my steps back down to the bridge, I felt bad about leaving him alone, but comforted by the fact that I met a few others heading up the way. I had intended to go back to the car to wait, but the realisation dawned that he was less than a mile to the summit and would get there and back pretty quickly, so I decided just to have a walk up and down whilst waiting (also having a cheeky wee pause to eat a Snickers: mental note for future, on cold days these are in danger of breaking your teeth!)

Before long Bruce came back into view. I was happy to see him return safely, then enjoying the walk back together. Despite not completing the munro I’d still clocked up 8 miles so I was happy.

Sunday, as previously mentioned, was the polar opposite in terms of weather. It was forecast to be the perfect hill day – clear skies, no wind and cloud free munros. We met with Bruce’s friend, Davie, as they’d bailed on an attempt to tackle Beinn Bhuidhe a couple of weeks prior due to the poor, deteriorating conditions. This was the first time I’d had the pleasure of walking with Davie, and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it. As with the friendly community that is running, it’s rare to meet someone unpleasant in the hills, and with the love of outdoors in common the chat flowed easily throughout the day. My fears of not being able to keep up with them both were unfounded (except maybe on the downhills where Davie showed an ability to descend like a mountain goat!) but he had the good manners to wait for the rest of us (me!) to catch up.

There are no words to describe the spectacular day that we experienced on Beinn Bhuidhe so on this occasion I’m going to let the photos do much of the talking. The panoramic views were truly amazing, with Ben Nevis (I recognised this myself), Mull, and so many other hills (named by Davie who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the area, similar to walking with Bruce in the Cairngorms) visible to the naked eye. If every day in the hills was like this I’d defy anyone not to get out there and enjoy it.

The snow added to the experience without impeding our movement. As we reached the ascent towards the ridge we opted to get the crampons on as there was no longer any option but to walk through the snow. Ice axe at the ready, the poles were stashed away on the rucksack and off we went up the broad ridge, afforded yet more amazing views.

The summit reached we stopped for quite some time to admire the spectacular scenery and views all around. Lots of photos were taken, I was thoroughly fascinated by the beautiful snow and ice that had gathered on the cairn, and our hot chocolate tasted better than ever before!

This is why we walk!

Finding Sandy’s Hut: A Surprising Test of Winter Navigation

The hill forecast today was excellent. Following a day of wind and snow, the skies were due to be clear for most of the afternoon with no wind; no better opportunity to get out. Our initial hope had been to head south to the Angus Glens to walk Mayar and Driesh; however, the latest dump of snow gave concerns about how backed up Corrie Fee would be, so instead we opted to head out towards Ballater again.

Various options under consideration we parked up at Glen Muick. Toying with the idea of Conachcraig, a lovely corbett up the Lochnagar path, we finally settled upon heading along Loch Muick with a view to going to Sandy’s Hut before cutting across and going down Corrie Chash or skirting Broad Cairn to head back towards Glas-allt-Shiel.

The purpose of the walk was twofold: making the most of such a cracking and trying out our new winter boots. Following our training day with Braemar MRT we’d become aware of the need to get proper winter boots if planning on using crampons as although the old Meindls can take a crampon, ultimately the soles are too flexible and could lead us into danger.

A trip to Tiso Aberdeen last weekend (and a lengthy boot fitting with Kyle who had the patience of a saint) saw me sporting a rather awesome pair of Salewa Ravens. I’m most delighted with them having walked ten miles today (over 6 hours walking) my feet feel great! They also look pretty cool and I love the colours which is an added bonus!

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Back to the walk … Setting out from Glen Muick it was a little cloudy but soon started to clear as per the forecast. We walked along the south side of the loch following the path until we reached the bridge over the Black Burn. The underfoot conditions weren’t quite as good as we’d hoped for (no need for the crampons as the snow was a little soft) and this made it slow going.

We continued up the zig zags after the bridge and from this point onwards took turns breaking trail. The snow was on average about a foot deep (at times knee deep) so this was pretty tough. On the upside, the skies were clear and the views back down to a Loch Muick and around the White Mounth were stunning! It truly was one of those days where you can’t imagine being anywhere better!

Stunning blue skies stayed with us as we moved across the plateau. However, on stopping for the obligatory Baxter’s tomato soup it started to get a little foggy ahead of us. Conditions very quickly deteriorated after this and it truly did become a test of our winter navigation skills. With everything around us white and with very little variation in the terrain there was nothing by which we could navigate. The OS Locate app proved its worth here and allowed us to take grid references in order to try and find our way to Sandy’s Hut.

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It was during this part of the walk that Bruce took a tumble. A small drop of about 3-4 feet was completely unseen by us both until he stepped off it and went flying! This very much drew our awareness to how easy it would be to step off a cornice in these conditions with no realisation at all!

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Finally reaching the hut we stopped to consider our options. The snow had really slowed us down and we’d only covered 5 miles in 3.5 hours. The decision was therefore to bail and retrace our steps. Logic dictated that going back would be far easier, and the risk of trying to find a snow covered path down the Streak of Lightning (Corrie Chash) outweighed the benefits on this occasion.

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Typically the weather then appeared to clear, the views opening up once again. On looking back though it could be seen that the fog was still clinging to the tops and the decision was the right one.

Back down the zig zags and across the Black Burn we started to notice the thaw. One saving grace today was that temperatures were good, above freezing, and if anything we were running hot. A bit of a plouter at times, we followed the south side path again back to the sanctuary of the car.

All in all not a bad day on the hills, even if it wasn’t what we’d hoped for. Biggest low of the day? Getting to Ballater to discover the coffee shop closes at 5!!! Next time!