The Best Views of the Week: Triple Buttress of Coire Mhic Fhearchair

There’s a saying often used within the sporting community … Go big or go home. I’m glad to say that we didn’t choose the latter despite staying lower and leaving the munros aside. Bruce has done the ‘Torridon Giants’ previously and I wasn’t particularly inclined, legs tired after all the other strenuous stuff this week. However, the route did most certainly did not disappoint and afforded spectacular views of the Torridon giants along the way.

Beinn Eighe Path

Starting the walk, we headed up the very good path between Beinn Eighe and Liathach. A sign of my weary legs lay in my stumbling a little on too many occasions, not lifting my feet enough when walking. This is a telltale sign at the end of a long training run when I’m needing a rest!

The path climbed gradually but we quickly worked up a sweat. Where did today’s heat come from? It was rather warm! There was a breeze as we got further up and this was a blessed relief.

The Wind Picks Up

Over the stream on the huge stepping stones, Bruce recalled there was another river crossing. There wasn’t – it’s just that the previous time he was on Beinn Eighe the rain was pouring down and the stream was huge and in spate. Thankfully not the case today.

We did feel the full effects of the wind though as we rounded past the cairn. It was gusting really strongly at times and I honestly felt like I was being lifted off my feet a couple of times. I’m glad we hadn’t planned on going high as this certainly would have deterred me.

All around, the views were amazing. So many big mountains and such clear skies. This is most definitely a walk for those who don’t want to be overly challenged but wish to appreciate the Scottish landscape in all it’s glory.

Loch Choire Mhic Fhearchair

Approaching the Coire from the side of Sail Mhor, I was impressed by the waterfall cascading down. We’d met a couple not long prior to our arrival who’d seen it blowing upwards in the wind. The gusts had subsided when we got there so everything was as it should be.

Climbing up, my knees were a little grumpy, feeling the effects of several days on the hills. The path stepped up with stones laying a staircase on which to plod. It was so worth the effort when the top was reached. What a view!

With the warmth of the day it was such a lovely experience to sit on the rocks enjoying the sunshine. The loch looked incredibly inviting but I bet it was cold.

Retracing Our Steps

This is an out and back route, so we about turned and headed back. There were quite a few others enjoying the same walk and we stopped and blethered to them along the way, also taking time to look around and appreciate the views again.

As we rounded towards the stream and into the shelter between the mountains any hint of a breeze died. The further we went, the greater the warmth, and by the time we were on the descent towards the car park it felt like we were walking in an oven! I know I shouldn’t complain, we don’t get many hot days in Scotland, but this was just so unexpected!

Overall verdict, we finished our holiday on a high. In terms of scenery this was definitely the best of the week! Great planning, Bruce! (Again)

The Two Sgurrs and a Wire Bridge

It was with great joy that I set a ridiculously early alarm for today. Seriously, who gets up just after 6 am on holiday? Yet again, we were being ruled by the weather. The forecast suggested the rain would be coming in late afternoon so we were keen to get home dry and hopefully catch a view along the way.

Sleep Envy

Waking early, I felt like I’d barely slept. Having eaten late last night it took me a while to settle. Meanwhile, Bruce had gone out like a light! I did initially ignore the alarm, but thought better of it and got up. Once on the go it wasn’t quite the hardship I’d perceived. Better get used to it as I’m back to work very soon!

Biking on Dead Legs

Setting off from the Achnashellach Forest car park again, we knew the way. However, a number of extra miles in the legs meant that the way felt far from easy! There was a substantial amount of pushing for much of the way out, quads burning with any exertion. We discussed this on the return leg and my feeling is with a long walk ahead you don’t want to tire yourself too much, where on the home leg it’s easier to push through any pain as you know you’re getting to rest later.

We took our time and stopped to admire the views back regularly.

Before long, we’d reached the small cairn that indicated the drop off point for the bikes and the path to the Sgurrs.

The Wire Bridge

The path led us down to the Allt a’Chonais burn with the wire bridge. This consists of two wires – top and bottom – the idea being that you somehow balance yourself as you work your way across. I was very happy that with Bruce’s excellent planning skills we’d postponed this walk until today to allow the waters to calm, as I don’t think there’s any way I’d have successfully crossed the burn. Having a go on the way back just for fun, I got so far before wobbling precariously and calling it a day. Good luck to anyone crossing if the burn is in spate! My advice would be to rig up something in your garden and practise ahead of time!

A Path Uphill

Once safely across with barely more than a toe dipped in, we began to follow a good stalkers path. After the bogs of the last few days this felt amazing! There was very little water lying and we made good time up the track as the condition improved and the path widened, reaching the first bealach quickly.

The path continued up to the second, higher bealach, again in good time. The legs were a little grumbly but in the grand scheme of things, bearing up okay. The beautiful blue skies with little cloud were also positively contributing towards my good feelings about the day.

The Ridge Walk

The ridge from the distance looked good. There was nothing to suggest it was overly exposed and I was happy to see grassy slopes on one side – think rolling rather than bouncing if you slip!

The initial pull up the Streangan nan Aon Pacan-deug ridge, to give it’s proper title, was not too taxing. There were a couple of rockier sections but these were very brief with good foot placements available. The most challenging thing was that every time we appeared to be reaching the top, another bit would appear. The wind had picked up a little and we stopped to put gloves on, feeling a wee bit of a chill.

It felt like we were never going to reach the summit of the first munro, Sgurr Choinnich, although in reality it didn’t take long at all. Bruce was disappointed that the cloud closed in prior to us reaching the summit; me less so, my reasoning being that if you can’t see the drop it doesn’t exist!

Before I knew it, we’d summited and were heading sharply down the other side onto the continuing ridge. At this point I did wish the cloud would clear a little as aside from following the path it would have been good to know where we were going. The descent led us back into the ridge and we then followed the stony path up to the second munro of the day, Sgurr a’ Chaorachain. It wasn’t overly taxing, but again went up and up, then up some more, into the thicker clouds. The wind direction meant that we were sheltered by the hill for much of the time, occasionally getting a blast of chilly air. I decided to put my poles away, concerned I might need my hands free for rocks; in effect, I’d have been better hanging onto them as this challenge never came.

The cairn on Sgurr a’ Chaorachain was mighty impressive with a broken trig point in the middle. It provided us with good shelter to have a snack and a breather before tackling the descent.

Steeply Down

Heading off the summit with the intention of heading north and going downhill across grass for 700 metres, we paused a couple of times to check our bearings. The cloud was thick and having seen crags earlier, the last thing we needed was to find ourselves precariously balanced or worse, walking off anything precipitous!

It was a long way down but we made it safely. Our pace was very similar to going uphill and we debated whether this was a positive or not. I felt it was positive given the terrain we were covering. Ultimately, we got there safely so that’s all that’s important.

Midway down the grassy slope we spotted a herd of deer grazing. They appeared not to notice us for a while, but moved away as we got closer. Unsure where they went, my money’s on them having run uphill by the stream, then watching us from above!

Reaching the flatter ground, we opted to head across towards the good path we’d taken on route up. This involved crossing an extra stream. It was my turn to dip a leg in, not quite managing the hop between stones.

Safely back across the main burn via the stones, we reached the bikes and congratulated ourselves on a job well done.

Biking Out: The Easy Leg

Wow, it felt great to be back on the bike! We motored along, relishing the downhill sections, any uphill short and grinded out in a lower gear. After reaching the gate it was a real fun blast back to the railway crossing, again enjoying the bounce and comfort of my Stumpjumper.

Us 1: Rain 0

Planned to perfection (thanks Bruce, I forgive you for making me get up early), we made it home ahead of the rain. As per the forecast from the Met Office, it pretty much starts bang on time!

A successful day out. Two summits in the bag and a lot of fun!

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!

Achnasheen: Amazing what’s on the doorstep!

After a fair soaking yesterday, I went to put the boots outdoors (having removed the newspaper that had been absorbing the water overnight) to experience two joys of nature.

One, the Scottish midge. Out in force, they were keen to make my acquaintance. They tend not to be bothersome if there’s any sort of breeze. Sadly today, all wind had died!

The second was the deer making their way into the garden. Along the road, up the drive and over the fence they went. They paused to look but continued on their way when finding I meant no harm.

Fionn Bheinn

Staying in an Airbnb in Achnasheen, Fionn Bheinn literally involves going out the gate and turning right. Bruce has previously done this munro, albeit he didn’t get views, so I put my trust in him to lead the way.

The reason we went up here is not because Bruce is ‘banking’ in preparation for his second round of munros, but due to the weather forecast – a little bleak for today. We had, according to our friends at the Met Office, until 1 pm before the light rain would commence, after which it would be on for the day.

Sealskinz Rock!

The path up was boggy from the outset. Bruce mentioned having walked up the clearly visible track on the previous occasion; we decided against crossing the bridge sitting at a very jaunty angle, instead opting to continue along the path. Hindsight is a great thing – it appears we probably should have crossed the bridge. Our boggy path continued up the hill, climbing gradually, then petering out to nothing. I was extremely grateful of Bruce’s suggestion to wear my Sealskinz. These wonderful socks saw my boots get soaked (again) while keeping my feet themselves dry and happy.

On reaching a boggy plateau with lots of lovely peat hags between two hills, we realised we’d veered off course a little. Our target required us to cross the bogs, so we hopped across as best we could, largely managing to stay out of anything too deep. 

Be Who You Want To Be

As we made our ascent, I spotted a small herd of deer. They were standing on the hillside grazing, but on catching a whiff of us or hearing our voices, they stood to attention. The leader then broke into a run, pursued by the rest of the herd. They paused, assessed the situation and saw we were still headed in their direction and ran again.

So, nothing unusual in this. However, what amused me greatly was that they were followed by two sheep. The sheep, mirroring the movements of the deer would pause, then run again as the herd moved. I like to think that although they maybe couldn’t quite hack the pace they’d been accepted as part of the group.

Head for the Trig Point

The clear skies allowed us to see the trig point in the distance. Not having a path to follow, we opted to cross the hillside diagonally, following a line to the summit. This, while providing a direct line of ascent, also put pressure on one leg, so I opted to zig zag a little, heading upwards towards the path that we could see leading down from the top.

Pretty soon we reached the path we’d been targeting from afar, and being on more solid terrain again it was an easy pull to the trig point and the summit. It was well worth the effort. The views were amazing! Bruce, with his encyclopaedic knowledge of hills was able to point out the highlights.

We also spotted a larger herd of deer, around two dozen, grazing on the lower slopes. Sadly, they didn’t have any others in their midst – no sheep, cows, goats or others apparent.

Finding the Path on Descent

One of the frustrations, or pleasures, of hill walking can be finding a good path on the descent having slogged up the hard way. Going down, we knew we wanted to aim for the small dam as this was the top of the track, so took a direct route to get there, picking up a path along the way.

Again, it was very wet and muddy underfoot as we happily squelched along. The bog was visible in all it’s glory and we were happy to have a target in mind for a dry descent thereafter.

Weather Forecasting

The Met Office were pretty much spot on. As we came towards Achnasheen, making good time down the track, we felt the first fine drops of rain. True to forecast, we reached our door just ahead of 1 pm, the proper rain starting pretty much as we crossed the threshold.

A worthwhile outing, I’m now just keeping everything crossed that the Met Office have got it wrong for the next couple of days as they’re not looking the best!

Maoile Lunndaidh: A Hard Earned Munro!

Look out for passing trains!

One of the more remote munros in the Glen Carron area, Maoile Lunndaidh required a bike in to make life a little easier. Best laid plans, we parked up at the Forestry Commission car park at Craig before crossing the road and then the railway line. It never ceases to amaze me when in rural Scotland how you can just cross the railway line with nothing more than a sign reminding you to look out and listen for trains!

Biking in

Safely across, we then followed a good track for our ‘bike in’. This was 5.4 miles in total and required a fair amount of pushing, my legs not being that used to being on the bike, especially with the added weight of a rucksack on my back, hiking boots, and flat pedals rather than SPDs.

Despite the walk breaks, we managed to reach the forestry plantation where we’d leave our bikes within the hour, this confirming it was quicker than walking all the way in. We stopped to chat to a family who were heading for some neighbouring munros, subject to the dogs getting across the river. I told them about Munro Moonwalker’s exploits with his friend’s dog, Scoop, and left them to ponder this further. If you’ve no idea what I’m talking about you’ll need to read the book!

Going up: steeply!

Our route guide had suggested a steep, pathless climb, but I’m not sure either of us fully appreciated what lay ahead. Thanks to the earlier rain leading us to set off late morning, the ground was rather boggy, and we plowtered through the mud, squelching as we went.

Having crossed the An Crom-allt, the real ‘fun’ began. The route guide suggested heading straight up over the heather, the gradient easing around 800 metres. This meant climbing around 400 metres. To add insult to injury, part way up the climb the heavens opened and the rain came on. Fantastic! A nice chilly downpour just to complete the experience. Thankfully it was relatively short-lived!

The ascent was very steep and I was less than comfortable, conscious that although grassy it was a long way down if I slipped. There was little choice but to keep slogging on, gaining height bit by bit. When Bruce finally stated that we had reached 770 metres, I burst into tears! Thankfully he missed this as he’d have had no idea what was ado with me, not sharing my trepidation of height. It’s irrational, I know!

Maoile Lunndaidh: the summit ridge

Approaching the ridge, having dried out nicely in the wind, another rain shower approached. A quick decision was made not to don the waterproofs as the previous one had passed over without too much discomfort. This was a big mistake! The spots of rain very quickly turned to hail, blasting us from the side and stinging greatly as they pelted our legs and faces. The shower also lasted a little longer, long enough to ensure that the trousers were completely soaked through and my feet also suitably squelchy!

With no great desire to linger, we crossed the summit ridge, passing the cairns, and pausing only for photographs of the surrounding area. I didn’t even bother looking into the coire, mainly due to the strong gusting wind, afraid I might end up in it if I stepped too close, instead allowing Bruce to be my eyes with his camera.

I’d started to chill following the soaking, so stopped to put on a cosy layer under my jacket, swapping wet gloves for dry, and adding my Tuffbags to keep me really cosy. We managed to dry out in the gusting wind, so waterproof trousers were added for extra insulation too. One thing that did so well today was my new jacket, a Mountain Hardwear bargain from Wiggle. I was very happy with the way it performed in the rain.

Going down: boggy underfoot

Heading off the ridge, we followed a slight path to begin. It was unclear and disappeared at times, leaving us following the Garmin route and our noses to get back to the plantation.

As it transpired, we took our own route, heading more directly towards Glenuaig Lodge and Bothy than we should have. This incurred an extra couple of water crossings, one where we created our own stepping stones to avoid getting too wet as the water was flowing well, another where Bruce decided to lie down (ok, he slipped); there’s a reason why he’s made to go first!

Snack Stop at Glenuaig Bothy

This Bothy is tiny! It may be like a tardis inside, but from the outside it appears like a wee shed! Not one to bank on having space if ever in these parts.

We stopped outside briefly to get rid of the waterproofs before the bike out, and have a quick energy boost. A Mars always tastes so much better outdoors.

A short walk back to the plantation and we reached the bikes. Bruce rode off enthusiastically, leaving me in his wake. My legs took a wee bit of time to warm up, less than impressed with any effort requiring me to stand and pedal, so I got off and walked up the first tiny incline.

Thankfully they eased back into it and despite riding into the headwind it became easier as we went on. Seeing the average mph on my watch and knowing that I was faster on the bike than walking gave me the momentum required.

Typically though, yet another shower appeared. We had just reached some conifer trees so stopped to allow the worst of it to pass, the wind strengthening as the rain blew through. Moving again as it eased off it was hard to determine whether I was getting wet by spray off the trail or rain from above.

It was with great delight that we reached the level crossing once again, signalling our return leg complete. If I’m honest, this is not a munro I’d rush to do again. It was hard won, definitely Type 2 fun, and a tough 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.

 

 

 

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

Freedom is Restored

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

Deliberation

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

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

Loch Lee

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

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

Invermark Castle

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

Loch Lee

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

Footbridge after Loch Lee

Falls of Unich

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

Gentle climb up to Falls of Damff

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

Beautiful Scottish heather

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

Falls of Unich

Falls of Damff

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

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

First Slip of the Day

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

Heading up past the Falla of Damff

Cairn Lick

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

Muddy boots!

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

Why Do We Walk?

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

Cairn Lick, views to Loch Lee

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

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

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

Final view of Loch Lee

Ballater Weekend featuring Hillgoers Winter Skills Training

Lazy Saturday in Ballater

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

Polhollick Suspension Bridge, Ballater

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

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

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

Hillgoers Winter Skills

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

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

Loch Callater Bothy

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

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

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

Loch Callater Bothy tucked into the slope

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

The Fun Begins: Onto the hill

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

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

Boots as Tools

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

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

The Real Fun: Ice Axes

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

My initial attempts at self belay

The Inner Child

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

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

Bruce in the act of arrest

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

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

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

Cutting Steps and Crampons

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

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

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

Back to the Bothy

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

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

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

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

@Hillgoers Winter Skills Training Group

Sgor Mor: Blowin’ A Hoolie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Hill of 2020: Pressendye

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

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

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

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

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

Pressendye: the first of the gates

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

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

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

Tree lined ‘avenue’, Pressendye, Tarland

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

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

Looking back up to Pressendye