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.

Mull: Brocken Spectres and cloud inversions on Ben More

Initially planned for April, our trip to Mull was postponed due to lockdown. Having lead relatively quiet, sheltered lives over the last few months, it was a bit of a shock to bear witness to the bustle of Oban. It was thankfully short-lived as we were merely passing through on route to Mull, courtesy of the Calmac ferry to Craignure.

Arriving at the ferry port early we were offered the option of an imminent sailing but declined as current restrictions on the smaller boat meant staying in the car for the duration of the journey – not something that held great appeal. We opted instead to have a coffee and wait for the big ferry.

The journey to Mull was great with very smooth sailing conditions. Good weather allowed us to stay outside for much of the journey, enjoying the views as we progressed.

Arriving in Craignure it’s a relatively short drive to reach Tobermory, the colourful wee town of Balamory fame. Staying at the end of the village we’ve yet to see Josie Jump or Miss Hoolie. I’m pretty certain, however, that it was PC Plum we saw as we returned from our walk today. He really needs to have a word with some of the drivers – I’m assuming they’re locals given the speed they hare along the single-track roads! Quite alarming when meeting them head on at a bend!

Up bright and early(ish), we drove along to Ben More. The map and route guide suggested a large parking area just past a bridge. There were several bridges in the vicinity and a large track heading upwards from the roadside with a couple of vehicles already parked, without neighbouring tents, heralded our arrival at the starting point. Boots and rucksacks on, we set off on our merry way.

Ben More

The downside of this island munro is that although small in stature, 966 metres, pretty much all of these are gained from sea level. A good path all the way up eases the pain and it’s a short out and back route coming in at around 6 miles in total.

Initially we followed the track towards a house. On reaching (and passing through) a gate we followed a stream (Abhainn Dhiseig) for a short distance. Ahead, the path splits – the route guide suggests taking either branch as both converge further up. For reasons unknown, we opted for the one suggested as being more boggy – it didn’t seem too bad overall, although there was the odd dubby section to circumnavigate.

Gaining height steadily, Bruce commented that we were moving at a fine, slow pace. Easy to see who’s spent the last month or so playing catch up, away most weekends, as this was my happy pace; not too fast and not too slow, just trundling along.

As height was gained, the cloud shrouded the summit of Ben More and it could only just be seen in the shadows. This caused some excitement; the thick cloud, then the full sun melting through as we headed up the zig-zagging path. We realised we may be in for an inversion; Bruce suggested that the right conditions could also give us a Brocken Spectre, something I had a vague notion of but further explanation was required: BBC Brocken Spectre

As if by magic a circular rainbow then appeared! It was amazing! My delight was childlike, total glee at seeing these amazing colours! The photos don’t do it justice at all, colours becoming more vivid and fading in and out in the sunlight.

This may be why the final pull up to the summit seemed effortless. The slope steepened, the zigzagging path continued meandering up and before we knew it we’d reached the second last cairn – there were many on route – the summit cairn visible across an almost flat plateau. We were now high above the cloud. Through the inversion we could see some of the higher peaks peeping through – Ben Nevis and Ben Cruachan particularly standing out. This also gave great joy and made up for the lack of other views.

Reaching the summit we stopped for some time to drink in the surroundings and enjoy the sunshine. We chatted to a few other walkers, waiting to see if the cloud would clear further.

As we descended, the cloud did indeed start to break. Heading off the summit, I was surprised by the incline of the initial descent, not having noticed it being particularly steep on route up. Slowly and steadily we made our way off this slope and onto the easier paths below.

There were other walkers on route up and we stopped to chat to them (from a distance), hearing their stories and exchanging information on hills and routes. One individual was compleating and while he was on his last munro, others in the group were doing their first.

The clearing cloud gave great views of the small islands nearby.

Further down, we took the path to the left (closest to the stream); this was definitely better than that we’d followed up, drier underfoot with less bog to negotiate. Despite this, I still managed to get both feet covered in mud at different points and subsequently used the stream (twice) to clean my feet.

Finally reaching the car, we met the parents of today’s compleatist, eagerly awaiting the return of the masses. Having blethered to them for a bit, we were back on the road in plenty of time to catch a coffee and a pint before the evening chill set in completely. Another successful day out!

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.

 

 

 

Carn a’ Choire Bhoidheach: A Quiet Munro

Trying to stay away from the crowds but keen to gain some height, ‘we’ decided to head for Carn a’ Choire Bhoidheach, a neighbour of Lochnagar (Cac Carn Beag) accessed from Keiloch rather than Loch Muick, which we’d envisaged would be rather hoaching, all the more so with such a fine forecast.

Heading out the road there was a little dissent, one of us having done outstanding preparation, the other not even bothering to read the route guide (again). No prizes for guessing which role I had! Not having a map for the section through the forest, we needed to know where we were headed. In my defence, even if I had read it I’d have forgotten it by the time we arrived!

Parking at Keiloch and finding that there were still around half the parking spaces free the mood lifted. We were onto a winner! That and the toilets being open, what more can you ask for?

To begin, we retraced the route back to the main road. On finishing the day we realised that there was a wee path immediately across the road that would have avoided walking along the road itself. Thankfully it’s a slower stretch with the traffic lights ahead. Across the Invercauld Bridge, we left the traffic behind and headed along a good track into the woodland.

A couple of gates and a few junctions later, we had gradually climbed and were rewarded with the falls of Garbh Allt. A very short detour took us to a lovely viewpoint.

Falls of Garbh Allt

The good track continued and we left the trees, now onto the map. The path ran alongside the Feindallacher Burn and further up we had to cross this. It was very easy with lots of big boulders, for once spoilt for choice with crossing points. Prior to this, we met a couple that had biked in, our paths then set to cross several times despite following different routes.

As we progressed the heat built and layers were shed. The day was perfect for being on the hills, clear skies and lovely views. Lochnagar was clearly visible and it was interesting to see such a familiar hill from an alternative angle.

To reach our destination, we passed between two familiar hills: Carn an t-Sagairt Mor and Carn an t-Sagairt Beag. As we skirted around the latter, we debated whether we’d be better heading back over it on the reverse.

The last pull up to the summit was a long slog. Nothing challenging underfoot, no great ascent, just a slow pull. It was with relish that we reached the final path junction leading the way to the top of Carn a’ Choire Bhoidheach. Being my first time up here, I was given the privilege of leading the way to the summit cairn. Here we met a couple with Wallace, a very friendly dog, keen to try and scrounge a treat or two.

We also met more people on this section (doing a round of several munros) than we did during the rest of the walk! As we’d thought, they shared that Loch Muick was extremely busy. Despite this, lunch at the summit was peaceful and topped up the energy levels for the return leg.

Summit cairn, Carn a’ Choire Bhoidheach

Leaving the top we headed for The Stuic, a scrambly section of rocks that some like to ascend. This rewarded us with views to Loch nan Eun.

Loch nan Eun

To avoid the long walk back, we opted to go straight across to Carn an t-Sagairt Beag. As we progressed across the grassy hillside, I spotted a large herd of deer. Sensing our presence, they took off in the direction of the masses so I’m sure there were many walkers rewarded by the sight.

Further down we crossed some small, bouldery outcrops, all the time heading directly for the return path.

As always, it’s faster (or certainly seems that way) on the descent. We made fine time, stopping at the far side of the burn to top up on snacks before the yomp down through the trees.

All in all, a great day out. Another ‘pin’ on my munro map, a successful day of largely avoiding people, and great views! What’s not to like?