Monday, 30 April 2012

A spectacular day worth the wait

David came home for a long weekend this weekend, so that we could celebrate his Significant Birthday as a family. On Friday, the Big Day, we had intended to enjoy a dram at the top of Bynack More (while the children were at school, shame) but in case you didn’t see the forecast, it was grim. We decided, wisely as it turned out, to walk to the pub for lunch. As we walked back home again, we could see that we couldn’t see the hills, so it was a Good Decision.

Saturday was a lovely day, but two of the offspring had things on and needed transport, so Sunday was the day for our adventure. We decided we would make this attempt without children, which turned out to be exactly the right decision.

I woke early in time for a quick getaway, or perhaps my sleep had been disturbed by the hoards of butterflies wearing hobnailed boots, doing Riverdance in my tummy. As we drove south to Grantown-on-Spey and then south-westish to Aviemore, the views towards the Cairngorms were stunning. Didn’t do much to quieten those butterflies though. We stopped at the powder room by the cop shop on our way through Aviemore before neatly abandoning the car by Glenmore Lodge. Another walker was preparing to leave as David put on his boots, the chap was apparently staying at the lodge and had borrowed crampons and an ice axe for his day out. Hmmm, butterflies re-doubled their efforts to unsettle me. We set off by 9.20 am, a remarkable achievement.

We set off on this very familiar part of the route towards Ryvoan Bothy as another car was parked in front of ours. As we walked, we encountered a small group of grumpy walkers obviously on a circuit back to the Lodge, they barely acknowledged us. As we passed the Green Lochan, we caught up with the chap again.

“I’ve just seen a crossbill!” he said.

“Ooo, how lovely!” says I, “I’ve never seen one. I have seen short-eared owls recently, just  a mile from home. I get to watch osprey fishing too, that’s wonderful.”

“You’re lucky,” says the chap, “I saw a snowy owl yesterday!”

“Really?” I thought. Maybe at a wildlife park…

We walked on and the chap slowly drew away from us.  After an hour we arrived at what was Bynack Stables and the chap was having a break. We engaged in conversation again, he was a teacher  from Edinburgh up for a first aid course as he takes pupils from his school to Inchnadamph for regular outdoor bound type trips. He’d spent Saturday up Ben Rinnes, (so I’m a little sceptical as to the snowy owl) killing time. As we chatted, I spotted a golden eagle soaring above Mam Suim and pointed upwards. Seconds after I saw it, it dived into a stoop and disappeared against the heather.  Nice.

SDC12415 South along Strath Nethy

After he left, we didn’t see the chap again. Before we moved on, we were joined by a couple of young women. Well, I say young, a little younger than me maybe, equipped with ice axes, although they weren’t safely stowed on their packs. They managed to say hello. This part of the track after the bridge goes forever upwards, steadily and unendingly. I tend to find it hard going to start with, my legs become leaden as they become accustomed to the sudden demand. I may have indulged in a spot of whinging. We were passed by a cyclist shortly before we entered the snow line, just as we started to play a game of leap frog with the two girls. They managed to say a word or two more each time we passed each other but they managed to strike up a full blown conversation with the young male runner that popped up out of nowhere. Running! Madness.

SDC12420Over the bridge and the path zig-zags ahead

We crossed the snow field up to about the 818m point with little incident, although it was fairly tough going as every few steps a foot would disappear into unexpectedly deep snow, risking a ripped Achilles. I do fret about my Achilles more these days.

SDC12424 A pause in Achilles ripping, with Bynack over my left shoulder

We continued to the foot of the steep section, where we paused for a snack and to don my microspikes. Now, I know they are not really intended for this sort of use and are not the best equipment, but actually, I found them useful and certainly of no hindrance.  As we set off, zigzagging our way upwards, David informed me we could turn back at anytime if I was unhappy or uncomfortable. I did not know why, at the time.

We went up. Slowly, but up.

There are some rocky outcrops at the top that we circumnavigated and we passed another couple here on their way off the hill. You cannot immediately see where the top is, but we eventually found it with the girls huddled on one side of what I presume was the cairn, snacking. We said hello, again, took some photographs, enjoyed the view, then turned around and headed off. When we found some shelter, we too stopped for a snack, but no sooner had we removed mitts and found our squashed sandwiches than the wind blew up from nowhere, showering us with blown snow. I shoved half a sandwich in my mouth, the rest back into my pack, on with the mitts and overmitts (Tuff Bags, excellent!!) and off we went.


SDC12428 Yes!!

SDC12431 Endless views, with a snow-topped Meall a Bhuachaille on the right

SDC12437Our lunch stop with wonderful ice sculptors

I had thought that the going down would be as usual, easier than going up. Er, no. Not if you take a slightly unintended different route through the rocky bits. Then, as we got further on, there was the Steep Slope. Ah. Now I know why he’d made the kind offer that we could turn back. How on earth I got up that bit without flinching is beyond me. I must have been so focussed on our target (and my feet) that I didn’t look around myself and see the steepness. I took a deep breath and followed in David’s kicked in steps, which was when my left knee started to complain. This is obviously descent related, it’s the only time I have problems with it. Then my right hip got in on the action, but I knew that too would probably wear off on the level. Shame it took quite so long to get there. The girls, meantime, had leap frogged us whilst we messed about in the crags and we didn’t see them again.

The snow field seemed never ending. The surface had thawed slightly even in the relatively short time since we’d been the other way and made it even harder to walk across. Downhill was not going to be quicker today.

We did eventually leave the snow behind, but the path is still very steep at this point and it wasn’t really until we reached the stables again that my joints decided to play ball. We soon picked up speed again, passing another four walkers as we made our way to the car.

As a reward, we stopped at the Winking Owl in Aviemore for a pint apiece of Cairngorm Brewery’s Wildcat, rather lovely it was too and well deserved. A hard day, but so glad I’ve done it, I’ll be able to walk passed it on my Challenge without feeling remotely guilty!

Roughly (as ever)

12.2 miles

2.1 mph moving average

2678 ft ascent

5 hours 56 mins moving, 1 hour 55 mins resting.

Oh and we forgot the hipflask after all.

Monday, 16 April 2012


For those of you of a nervous disposition who may not like to see a grown woman throwing a paddy, you may want to look away now.

For the rest of you, you are going to be sorely disappointed. This is a major whinge about me.

I had a bad night last night, unsettled. I could have been worried about getting up in time to turf the offspring out to school, but it’s not something that would usually worry me.

I’d been up a while this morning, emptied the dishwasher, made a cup of tea and was relaxing in front of the news before the three eldest sloped off to catch the bus. I was feeling a little grotty, my neck and jaw were sore and uncomfortable, so I had a peer down my throat, like you do.

Unbelievable! My left tonsil (it’s always the left!) is red, inflamed and covered in white spots. Again!

This is not fair.

I had intended to stroll into town this morning and lengthen the circuit slightly for a bit of variety, especially as the forecast for the rest of the week does not look enticing. Today is a beautiful day, with fabulous views over the bay towards snow-capped hills, Ben Wyvis, the Strathfarrar hills and the northern Monadhliath.

Sensible head said no, don’t walk.

Grumpy head said compromise, do the usual brisk, daily stroll and take a couple of days off while the weather is grim.

Moan, groan, grumble…

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Happiness is…

…seeing my first osprey of the year fishing in the bay.

…completing my tick list. Well, except for posting my re-supply parcels.

…decanting lotions and potions into tiny bottles in readiness for packing a rucksack.

…solving a little boot/gaiter issue, with a little help from A Very Clever Person.

The lacing on my boots goes through a loop centre bottom. This means that when I’m wearing my gaiters which hook onto the laces, it’s a little crooked at the bottom, putting stress onto the laces. I don’t want them to snap as I wade my way across Scotland, so I needed a plan.

“Mini split-ring,” he said.

“Wa?” I said.

“You need a mini split-ring on the bottom loop that you can hook the gaiter to,” he said.

“Genius,” I said, “I’ve got a pair of those!”


I have yet to try this out, but it looks convincing so far. (And yes, I am aware there are no insoles in my boots, they’re in my shoes at the moment!)

Happiness is…

…the little treasures going back to school tomorrow.


Thursday, 12 April 2012

Magic! But next time, I’ll take a camera…

Aedan had a Duke of Edinburgh meeting tonight, so Ciara and I had a couple of hours to kill after we’d dropped him off. I did consider going for a stroll to see if the osprey are back yet, but then there was quite a lot of hail and heavy rain and I decided not. Instead, we went for a drive along the back road at the end of the bay and parked up with a view over the whole of the marshes and estuary. It would have been a good idea to have planned this, so that I could have taken the binoculars, but I hadn’t, it was spur of the moment.

I could barely contain my excitement when we spotted a short-eared owl, quartering along one of the burns that runs into the bay. I was beside myself when we spotted the second! We watched them for an hour and half, they both came close passed the car on a couple of occasions and gave us fantastic views of their markings and amazing eyes. We think they were a pair, they had contact that, whilst it wasn’t obviously friendly, they didn’t make any real effort for one to see the other off and were at times quite close together.

I loved it! An amazing experience. But next time, I’ll go prepared.

(Some Guide Leader I am…)

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Natural remedy

I possibly shouldn’t have changed my winter tyres last week (ok, got TTS to change the winter tyres last week) or whinged about my hayfever. Maybe I deserved to wake up this morning to over four inches of snow. Whoops! Cured the hayfever overnight though.
But today I was due to go for my weekly Beagle Boot Camp walk with The Other Louise and Ailsa, the Independently Minded Beagle. So off we went!
There had been such a sudden, heavy, wet snowfall, the trees had suffered. There were a lot of branches and trees that had been brought down by the sudden weight, including a large bough from the beautiful willow tree in Louise’s front garden. We encountered a lot of fallen branches on our usual circuit and moved the ones that weren’t too heavy for a couple of weedy Louises. There were some smaller trees bent over under the weight that we were able to release, surprisingly satisfying it was too. We were also under constant threat of being flattened by vast amounts of snow as it slid from the trees and branches above us.
SDC12401All together now, “Mint Sauce!!”
SDC12402  Lots of snow overhead
SDC12403 Lots
SDC12405 No, I haven’t put it upside down
It was actually quite tough going in places, but then, I’m not known for enjoying a walk in deep snow. It’s like walking through sand dunes and I really don’t like that, it’s hard work! So it was slow steady progress around the estate, dodging snowfall, climbing obstacles and controlling the dog as we went. We went for a peek at my osprey nest and were completely taken by surprise to find half a tree across the bridge, actually putting a fair part of it into the burn below. Ooops! So surprised, I didn’t take a photograph. I think I was almost relieved to find the osprey don’t appear to be back yet, the snow might be a bit of a shock.
We turned back onto the track home and just ahead of us, something caught my eye. I paused, a small bird was perched in a tree ahead of us, I wasn’t sure what it was. Then I caught a glimpse of its black head. A Bullfinch!! No, wait, two!! A male and female, how wonderful!
VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W You beauty!
VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W Mrs and Mr
I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed our walk today. It doesn’t matter that we do this identical walk every week, there is always something to see. I haven’t seen bullfinches for a long time, the last little flock I saw were in Glen Affric and I had no idea there were any on this estate and it was wonderful to have such a good view and watched for quite a while. They made my day.