Belated new year wishes to you all. It’s been a bit of a damp squib thus far, but after the year that was 2020 I don’t think we could ask for much else! Here’s hoping that with vaccines on the horizon for our most vulnerable, we may be able to celebrate as the year goes on.
Reflections of 2020
I’m trying to start the year with a renewed focus. It was tricky to stay motivated last year with all the planned races disappearing off the calendar one by one. On the upside, we did manage to fit in a couple of great holidays and Bruce compleated the munros.
The virtual London Marathon, sandwiched between, was a relatively impromptu affair but I’m very glad I did it. Having a goal definitely renewed my focus and energy.
Focus on 2021
Looking ahead, it’s unclear at present what the racing year holds. My current ‘big’ goal is the October London Marathon. Whether or not we’ll be in a position to have mass events by then remains to be seen, but training will be done regardless.
Short Term Goals
My short term goal is to develop consistency in training. I have a tendency to go through phases of being very focused versus taking my foot off the gas and coasting. I know that consistency is probably the biggest gain available right now so that’s the priority. Sadly the gyms are closed, the treadmill (which I generally dislike) not an option, so I’m getting runs in where and when I can.
Today saw me complete a very enjoyable 8 miles on Aberdeen beach, as pavements around town were a little icy for my liking. I have in the past shied away from the sand as I don’t like the wet feet associated with the water jumps, but today it felt perfect. Just what was needed!
Let’s see what the year brings! Surely it can only get better. If nothing else, Spring isn’t too far off the horizon now. Stay strong!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
When I signed up to run the London Marathon virtually I decided against running at ‘home’. The thought of pounding the streets did not appeal, while running my local trails would require multiple loops of the dreaded Kingshill in order to make the distance. I’ve love Aviemore so decided to go there!
Throughout the lead up to race day, the forecast looked bleak. I swithered as to whether I should cancel and run locally, but having frequently biked the trails in Aviemore in years gone by I’m aware of they drain well and made the decision just to go.
Heading to Aviemore was not the most pleasant journey. Driving over the Lecht, there was a significant amount of surface water lying as the rain fell throughout the day; it was a relief to reach our destination.
Aviemore usually has a great buzz about it and it was a sad reflection of current times on Saturday night, the two household rule alongside restricted numbers sucking the life out of the evening, the usual buzz of the Cairngorm Hotel sadly lacking. That said, we were well fed and able to enjoy a nightcap before an early night.
Waking up during the night, I checked my phone a couple of times. Sadly it appeared that conditions were deteriorating rather than improving. Meanwhile Aberdeen looked to be getting better (or at least dryer). Happy for those that were running at home, I began to wish I’d stayed there!
I’d planned to set off around 9 am, so rose at 7 am for breakfast of a bun with banana and nut butter, and a couple of mugs of peppermint tea. Showered and dressed, I laid out another set of running kit in case I chose to stop off for a mid-marathon change, figuring this might be welcome if completely drookit!
Setting off as planned, it was drizzly but not dinging down as forecast. Cloud was hanging very low over the hills. I debated before leaving – jacket, no jacket. Feeling the relative warmth, I concluded it should be left. I knew I’d warm up quickly enough; even a decent jacket leaves you feeling like you’re being boiled in the bag!
If you’ve read previous blogs, you’ll be aware that when we go walking it’s not me that does the planning. In the same way, I had a vague notion of where I might run for my marathon but no definite plan and no real research done. I wouldn’t say this was a regret, but I did get some surprises later.
The Old Logging Way
Starting out, I headed towards the ski road and followed the Old Logging Way, my reasoning being that it would give a little shelter from the drizzle that was later to turn to rain. Along with not planning the route, I’d not planned a pace, deciding I’d just run by feel. I did however have 3 goals in mind:
A) Sub 4 hour marathon
B) Run all the way
C) Finish with something other than a personal worst!
I’ll let you into a secret – I achieved two of the three!
The Old Logging Way passes by Rothiemurchus and then gently meanders up towards Glenmore. The path was mainly dry with the odd puddle, one or two of which slowed me right down as I tried to step through on my heels rather than stomping through and getting wet feet. In my experience wet feet = blisters. Reaching a high point after about 3.5 miles, I decided to about turn rather than going downhill only to have to come back up.
This was so much easier! I hadn’t appreciated the incline until turning back.
Continuing through Aviemore, I headed all the way along the main street until the end of the village, taking up the trail of the Speyside Way. Initially, this was on a single track path, but quickly opened up onto a wide, hard packed track. I’d envisaged this being flat; in effect it was gently undulating and I did groan inwardly (maybe even outwardly) on a couple of occasions as I had to go up yet again.
The plan had been to continue along to Boat of Garten. I’m not sure if I lost the Way, but found myself further on the Red Squirrel Trail after a few miles. This, I believe, did continue to the Boat; however, a couple of huge puddles taking up the width of the fire track presented a challenge, and having tramped over the heather to avoid them I came upon a wee burn that was too big to jump across. The path was covered in water with lots of grass growing under it making it challenging to identify solid ground from grass under water, so at this point I bailed and about turned. I tried heading up the Roe Deer Trail but only made it about 50 metres before meeting yet more muddy puddles. Back to Aviemore it was.
Reaching the village, my Garmin showed I’d covered around 17 miles. In a way this delighted me; however, by this point I was aware of the discrepancy between the London Marathon app and my Garmin, the former being 0.6 miles shy. There was also the thought that nearly 10 miles is still a mighty long way! However, pace was still okay and I continued running by feel.
The Logging Way Revisited
I decided to head out the opposite end of the Speyside Way towards Kincraig. I very quickly realised that this was downhill, at least leaving Aviemore initially – I couldn’t see very far ahead – meaning an uphill finish, so a snap decision was made to stick with what I know and head back onto the Logging Way. This was hard going! Beyond 18 miles, my calves were beginning to tighten and emotions were running high. I did shed a few tears as I ran past the Fish Farm, quickly getting my focus back on the task in hand.
I slogged my way back up the track, slowing to a walk for a few steps on one ascent. Again, further up I walked 40 steps on the return leg before picking up the pace again. I knew I’d meet the 4 hour goal if I could just keep running!
Heading back alongside the road I received a friendly toot as Bruce drove past and this perked me up. The final challenge was having to run past the hotel after the Garmin said I’d finished, to make up the distance for the app to record an official time. While irritated by this, my rational brain countered that a race distance is never quite bang on with the GPS, nor would I have followed the blue line in London, so this extra distance was quite apt.
Finishing was pretty cool! I immediately received a ‘Congratulations’ text from London Marathon and the app registered my official time. That was welcome as there was absolutely no other fanfare.
Thanks to all the lovely people who commented on my run or wished me luck along the way. The kindness of strangers was appreciated. Toots from cars, thumbs up from behind the windows at junctions, all these things encouraged me along the way.
While it was a good experience, I don’t think I’d ever choose to run a solo marathon. It was hard work covering the distance alone with only my own thoughts for company.
I think this is partly what made it such an emotional experience; my thoughts often turned to someone that also loved the trails but sadly is no longer here to run them. I believe this helped me find the strength to go on as it made me realise how fortunate I am.
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)
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!