Monday 23rd May, 2011
Allt-na-giubhsaich to Tarfside
15.4 miles 1837 ft
We could hear the wind during the night, but the woods were very sheltered and we had been able to enjoy the conversation between a pair of Tawny Owls as we’d nodded off to sleep. It began to rain lightly before we got up, but it was nothing compared to what we could see along the exposed track towards the Loch Muick visitor centre. Ah.
We broke camp in good time and made our way along the windswept track by 8am, only to take a break at the visitor centre. We enjoyed the use of the temporary loos and a hot orange drink before persuading ourselves we really had to get on with it and made our way up Allt Darrarie.
Oh my, talk about in spate, it was wild. There was much wet and plenty of bog. And there’s that flimsy, side-less bridge to cross. Deep joy. Onwards.
We knew we followed the stream until it split, then follow the right hand stream, negotiating the end of it (bog) through the gap and left again to find the Shielin of Mark. There it was! It was a bit wild getting there, the river was full to bursting and the rain came sideways. As we approached the bothy, there was a group of chaps across the river. They shouted to us, offering help to cross the raging torrent. This was a sensible option, but we needed shelter for lunch, of which there would be none until much further on and we needed to eat. It was before midday and we felt sure others would be along to help and if not, we would shelter at the bothy. We thanked them and reluctantly, they left us there.
We took shelter and had lunch. The bothy was dark and cold, not a place to linger. Soup was on the menu for both of us, along with oatcakes and anything else I could find! I took my jackets off and put on my down, bit daft but a sure way to warm up. We were soon joined by two chaps, Lee and Tony, who also brewed up, then Emily, John, Carrie and Dominique.
After a bit more faffing, we were outside, with Lee and Tony, pondering the raging torrent in front of us. After first going upstream heading in to the gales, we turned downstream to find a crossing point. I admitted my nerves, I’d never done a crossing like this before, but the boys were brilliant, finding a place they thought we could all cross, Laura and I with their help. They went first, followed by Laura, then me, fully dressed, no point in deploying the sandals this time. They encouraged my every step, constantly reassuring me. When I reached the opposite bank, there was one step into deep water, then I was hauled out by our heroes.
Laura and I poured water from our boots and wrung out our socks before continuing on.
Tony and Lee went on ahead, waving in the distance from time to time to show us the way. I carried on quite happily, even though it was uphill bogginess. Laura was flagging a little, but having a ball nevertheless. The weather was fun, apparently!
When we eventually caught up, we urged them to carry on at their own pace, but they refused to leave us until we had crossed the next burn at Stables of Lee. As we continued on up Muckle Cairn, the winds just got ridiculous. I have never been outside in anything like these conditions and I will never forget them. Laura was blown over, but managed to right herself and we continued up and then down the hill, being buffeted and blown and rained and hailed upon.
We reached the LRT and continued down the hill where we found the boys were right. We did indeed need help to cross the burn, but it was easier this time, narrower, so over more quickly and maybe not quite so deep. Confident we were safe, they left us and we had a brief break in the Stables. When we carried on, the wind was worse. It came from all directions, stopping us in our tracks, throwing us around, pushing us forward. We were soaked, had faces stinging from hail and were beginning to tire. I was glad to get to the road after Kirkton and the decision was made not take the footpath, despite being a mile shorter, as the road seemed to offer more shelter.
It felt like a long road to Tarfside. I began to worry about our condition and situation, we needed to find shelter and soon, but I did at least feel sure that if we just kept going, we could get there.
When we did, oh the relief. No matter that St Drostan’s was full, no matter there was no power, there was still hot food and friendly faces. Mike Knipe met us at the roadside and guided us inside, Mick, Gayle and Colin were soon at our sides, helping to unclip, remove gloves, coats, boots. A mug of hot soup was soon pressed into my hands by Gayle, horrified to find my hands replaced by lumps of ice. They’d also decided to share their tiny room with us, although in the end, Laura shared with Pat and Frank and I with Gayle and Mick.
The Fabulous Ladies of St Drostan’s conjured food and everyone that wanted was fed. We were reminded to be extra careful as the hostel was overfull, but there was an easy, friendly, relaxed atmosphere as we were all safe and well. There was some anxiety for others that we knew were still in the hills, we hoped they all had shelter.
Today was strangely exhilarating. The conditions and the way it affected the landscape was extraordinary. I’ve never been in such punishing conditions before and at times, I’m not afraid to admit, I was frightened, but at others, we laughed, “Pah to the wind!” we said. You had to laugh or you’d spend the whole day sobbing and distraught.
We took a risk and survived.
Surprisingly, there are no photographs of the days events…