Yesterday, at long last, I was presented with a day of good weather for walking, so off I went!
I drove down through Nethy Bridge and parked up near Dorback Lodge. After some last minute faffing whilst I listened to a tawny owl calling in the nearby trees, I finally set off just past 10 o’clock whilst munching a Nature Valley bar. It had been a couple of hours since breakfast and I was peckish.
I passed a couple of friendly estate workers with their Landrovers and dogs and chose to take the left hand path after the kennels, striding off purposefully, full of confidence. About a couple hundred feet later, having passed through some trees, I consulted the map. I had a few moments of uncertainty and puzzlement until I decided I should have taken the right hand path, so backtracked through the trees until I found a slight track that cut diagonally across to the correct path. I don’t think anyone noticed…
I strode on confidently, again, this time more certain I was on the right track!
There were plenty of red grouse around, frequently giving me heart failure as they took flight over the heather, scolding me for causing a disturbance. I had researched this route before setting out and although the recommended route headed counter-clockwise through Upper Dell and followed Allt nan Garmhuinn, I decided to take a clockwise route, following a clear estate track on a more gentle incline all the way past Carn Ruadh-bhreac and almost all the way up Geal Charn Beag. This was easy and uneventful (apart from the heart failures). The estate workers passed me in their Landrovers with their dogs as I forded Allt Dearcaige on their way to do some hearther burning, exchanging a few more cheerful words as they drove by. I paused soon after for an early lunch to refuel for the last push up to Geal Charn Beag. After setting off again I soon came across a smart shooting hut. I didn’t check to see if it was open, but I suppose the veranda could have given some shelter if necessary. Luckily it was turning out to be a beautiful day.
I made my way up the slightly steeper track from here, pausing regularly to enjoy the views (ahem). I came across a stone structure that obviously has some significance but with no signage, I have no clue what that might be.
Onwards and upwards, until, as expected, the track ran out. There was, however, on the other side of a boggy bit, faint signs of an ATV track. It’s not always the best thing to follow these, but it was headed in the right general direction and made the going a little easier for a while. After short time, I became uncertain again. I was worried that I was being led into a false sense of security, so I struck off north towards the higher ground that I could see. I probably missed reaching Geal Charn Beag by about 160 metres.
I spent some time floundering over peat hags and boggy bits. I spooked two mountain hares, still in their winter coats. They took off across the heather and hags from just about under my feet. More heart failure. Nearly treading on a rather large frog didn’t help. I began to lose confidence, questioning my ability and state of mind. Whatever possessed me to think I could find my own way up a pathless hill, let alone across Scotland? Eventually, I came a cross some water. Some reasonably sized pools. If I’d had my beloved 1:25,000, I would have known almost exactly where I was. Using my 1:50,000, I knew there was water up there and this gave me a lift, maybe I wasn’t so displaced. Soon, some fence posts hove into view. I had a sudden flash, I remembered reading somewhere about a line of fence posts, useful for navigating. Yes! Then noticed a second, parallel line of posts. Hmm. I followed the line of older posts northwards. The going was much easier at last, a mix of rock and crispy lichen covered ground and I strode along making excellent progress, but still pausing to enjoy the surrounding vista.
In the middle of nowhere, I found a footprint in the mud. How strangely reassuring! They may not have been up here, doing the same things as me, but they had at least been there. If there’s a way up, there’s a way down. Shortly after, I found something else I vaguely remembered reading about, also very reassuring. I munched my second Nature Valley bar here.
It’s interesting rock up here, white and sparkly and I could see quite a pile of it in the distance, so headed straight for it. Could this be the cairn?
But once I got there, I could see the cairn a little way ahead.
Now to get off this damn hill.
Again, I knew this would be trackless and was beginning to think it might have been easier to find a way up than down, but strode off confidently, again, starting my way down the slope. I paused a while to consult the map (there’s a theme here) and decided I was perhaps heading for Coire an Uillt Mhoir rather than Coire an Allt Gamhuinn, which would take me more directly to the track, so I contoured round a bit and then headed down the rather steep, heathery slope. I had in fact made the right decision. I would not have liked this going up! As if by magic, the track I was after came into view much sooner than I’d expected and I dropped down onto it with relief. Following the track round a bend, I found another hut. This one had a bolt rather than a lock, so was possibly open, but I didn’t like the creaking and was keen to get back to the car now, so took a photograph and moved off.
I had a few more fords on the way back, but I didn’t think twice about any of them, quite a change for me. I used to hate them and cause quite a fuss, but now I pick my route and go. As I approached Upper Dell, I made another executive decision. There was, according to the map, a track almost directly to where the car was parked, but I had a feeling it might be another hard to find path, so when I reached that point, if it wasn’t staring me in the face, I’d simply take the track up to the main route and return that way. Which I did.
As we all know, it’s not a walk with me unless I fall and true to style, yards before the kennels, I tripped over my own feet and ended up in a small, cursing heap. Almost leaping back up to my feet, I brushed myself off (the ground was really dry and dusty here, so I just spread it around a bit and added some handprints) and sneaked past the estate cottage, hoping no one was home. The car was right where I left it and after whipping off my boots and socks, replacing them with dry socks and shoes, I relaxed in the driver’s seat for a few moments before making my way home.
This was a strange one. I set off quite happily but found I had a crisis of confidence when faced with no obvious path. This is not good! However, I made decisions and continued, eventually finding each time I’d made the right one. This is good. I need a bit more practice to gain confidence. In the end however, I finished feeling quite chuffed with myself. I hadn’t really strayed from my intended route by much and I’d finished feeling not too knackered. Result!
As the GPS is currently on holiday south of the border, my best guess would be 17.5 km, 616m at roughly 4.5kmh average, 5 hours and 25 minutes total, including pauses.
Worth the wait.
To top it off, when I managed to drag my sorry carcass to the car to take eldest son to archery, it turns out he’s been talent spotted! He shot his first Plymouth on the club’s Compound bow last night and scored 534/600. It’s only the third time he’s ever shot it. Chap on the national squad is going to arrange for the national coach to come along and see him shoot, but first, he needs a new bow. Excellent news though!
Happy, happy, happy.