Friday, 24 August 2012

A gentle stroll

I had a rather lovely surprise phone call the other day from my friend Laura. She’s recently returned from foreign climes and was in need of some company and a gentle stroll. I was only too pleased to oblige! We initially thought we might have a few difficulties getting together as Laura is currently unable to drive due to a recent injury and as David is now back at home but needs the car for work, I’m having my own minor transport issues. We decided we could make use of public transport and both came up with ideas that when cobbled together, became a plan.

Yesterday, David dropped me off at the station at a ridiculously early hour, as Laura was getting on a bus. I tried to kill a man with my water bottle as I put my daysack on the luggage shelf, but apart from that, it was an uneventful journey. After a little over two hours, I was greeting Laura at the bus station and we immediately hopped on a bus to Ellon to travel to the start of our walk.

The plan was to walk part of the Formartine and Buchan Way, a route along a disused railway from Dyce to Peterhead. After alighting the bus somewhere in Ellon, Viewranger was used to find our way to the Way and then head south west.

SDC13912 Heading through Ellon

SDC13914 Laura wandering aimlessly

This is an easy route to follow and the going underfoot was mostly good, there was the odd muddy patch and some of the gravel was more annoying than others, but we managed quite nicely.

SDC13915 River Ythan

The weather was pretty good, despite forecasts of heavy showers in the afternoon. There was  a pathetic shower as we left Ellon and a few more spots of rain at Udny Station, but it was mainly a lovely warm to hot day with a slight breeze and a few clouds.

The landscape was varied as is quite typical of disused railways. There were views over farmland to distant hills, viaducts, open woodland and deep sided cuttings.

SDC13917My best guess would be Bennachie in the distance

SDC13918 Perfect for a comfort break

SDC13920Through the trees

SDC13922  Laura rather unusually liked these steaks on legs, they were on the other side of a fence!

SDC13928 Deep cutting

We made it to Udny Station in good time and were directed by a little notice (that I omitted to photograph) to picnic tables and a pub. The picnic table was well hidden, so I think the notice may have been a ploy to get unsuspecting walkers into the pub! However, the bench was eventually spied tucked away in the corner of the play park and we commandeered it for our picnic. As Laura’s lunch box had leaked some of the vinegar dressing it contained, the wasps found her very interesting. I munched my Baby Bel, cherry tomatoes, Soreen and Nakd Coco Loco bar quite happily, the other side of the table.

SDC13926 Play park

SDC13925 Tucked in a corner (Ooo, the Tuck Inn, what a good name!!)

We saw very few people and only one to speak to through a fence (who didn’t like Laura ‘teasing’ her dogs!) but we had company on the telegraph wires overhead. Swallows are gathering before the journey to their summer holidays.

SDC13923 Just a few of the twittering swallows

We decided against the pub as it looked a little quiet and uninspiring, although this sort of behaviour is against all the rules. We hoped to put this right later.

Our initial intention had been to finish our stroll in Dyce, but Laura was beginning to feel a little tired and her arm was beginning to need a rest, so we both readily agreed to finish at Newmachar and catch a bus from there back to Aberdeen. It seemed like a good idea and would have worked brilliantly if only the 3.30pm bus had appeared! Luckily we only had to wait another 30 minutes for the 4pm bus which did eventually arrive. As we waited we were engaged in conversation by an elderly lady, bemoaning the efficiency of the buses and the heat of the sun. I wished she hadn’t mentioned it as all of a sudden, I began to feel quite unwell! I stepped out from under the shelter and crouched down by a wall where there was a hint of a breeze. Out of the heat I soon perked up again.

The bus whisked us off to Aberdeen and we soon found ourselves at a well known high street coffee chain enjoying coffee (strangely) and muffins (how did that happen?)

SDC13932 Muffins gone, just look at that smiley face!

We had a great day, the walk proved to be just perfect and we chatted and put the world to rights without getting lost once. Still managed plenty of faffing though!

Approximately 9.33 miles, total ascent 669ft, average speed 2.2 mph (apparently maximum 7.7 mph!!) and total time 4 hrs and 12 mins.

Absolutely brilliant. The question is, what next?

Father and son bonding

We’ve had some good weather at times recently, so we took advantage a couple of weekends ago to do some tent maintenance. Unfortunately our garden is not quite big enough to accommodate The Palace, so we had to be resourceful.
SDC13908 Over the fence. That’s a big tent and our boy on step ladders!
SDC13909 The hose will be long enough…
SDC13910 Giving it a good soaking
SDC13911But it was obviously going to take some time and I got bored

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Stuff and nonsense

I have to sing the praises of Fuizion Freeze Dried Meals. On Saturday 28th July I ordered two breakfasts from Fuizion, just for David to try. They arrived on Tuesday morning, 31st July. I was somewhat surprised to receive a duplicate order the following morning and being the good person that I am (naughty TTS said just keep it) I emailed Alison at Fuizion to explain and offer to return the meals for reimbursement of P & P. I was a bit chuffed to get an email to thank me for my honesty,  a suggestion that they may have been over efficient and that I might like to keep the duplicate order. What nice people at Fuizion! Their products and service are always excellent and I will be happy to keep ordering from them.

I haven’t been so pleased about having to visit A & E twice in three days, due to the careless men folk in my family.

Just before lunch on Monday, Aedan was summoned into the kitchen and the door firmly closed. This usually means someone is in trouble but I had no clue what he might have done.  A short while later, David emerged and I went to the back porch to do some chore or other, but he called to me to stop what I was doing and take him to hospital. (This is the second time in fourteen years that the day after returning from holiday I’ve had to make an emergency dash. It’s a habit I’m not liking.) Somehow, whilst clearing the draining board of washing up, he’d manage to stick a knife, new and extremely sharp, into his forearm. We had to wait about an hour and a quarter in the emergency department before he was stapled together and I could take him home. (Last time he was doing the same thing but manage to smash a Bodum cafetiere and slash his other arm. I’d left him ironing whilst I collected the dog from kennels.)

On Wednesday, I’d popped out for my brisk walk. As I was on my return journey, my mobile rang and Rhiannon informed me Aedan had got up too quickly (again) and passed out in the kitchen, whacking his head off the butcher’s block island and gashing his eyebrow. There was blood. I gave advice to stem the flow and speeded up a bit to get home. By the time I got there, the blood had stopped, but it was quite a gaping wound that needed attention, so David was summoned (eventually, he lives in a black hole for communication) and another trip to A & E ensued. This time it took only twenty minutes for his head to be glued back together.

Both appear to be making rather elaborate attempts to get out of kitchen work. NOT HAPPENING BOYS!!

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Blair Atholl to Kingussie

Saturday 4th August

Having returned from our family camping trip on the Friday, some mad packing ensued in readiness for an overnight backpack for two, from Blair Atholl to Kingussie via the Minigaig Pass.

We were ready to leave just after 9am on Saturday to drive to Kingussie and despite there being a lot of slow traffic on the way, we arrived in good time at the pretty railway station to park the car and buy our one way tickets to Blair Atholl.

SDC13827 A nice little ride and we were soon alighting the train right outside the pub. However, there was a wedding party and we decided two backpackers, all be it not too scruffy yet, would not look too good in the wedding photographs, so we went to find somewhere else to have coffee before setting off. This was supposed to be a leisurely weekend, after all! We found The Blair Atholl Watermill just over the railway crossing which I can heartily recommend should you ever be going this way. It looked suitably inviting and it would have been rude not to.


We enjoyed a latte and cheese scone with butter each, David also had some Tiffin and I forced down a piece of carrot cake. It was all rather lush! We paid a last visit to real porcelain before lathering up with sun cream and Bug Ger Off. As we set off, the crossing closed and we had to wait  another few minutes before we were on our way. After passing the pub, crossing the road and setting off down a little lane, we had a map faff and discussion, something about not being able to cut through the estate as access. Whoops. There was a way round this hiccup, by skirting the camp site and taking the track up to the Old Bridge of Tilt car park, which we did. There were lovely woodland paths and a little bit of road walking before we made it out on to the hillside on good tracks.

SDC13833 A very pleasant stroll, gentle ups, gentle downs. We saw raven as we climbed higher and plenty of flowers. After quite a while, and quite a few dead frogs later, it started to spot rain. Nothing much at first, so we walked on as it was a warm day and too hot for waterproofs. After a while the rain became a little more persistent  and we paused to don them after all, even though we weren’t far from Sheicheachan Bothy. Not long after that of course, the rain stopped. Just before the bothy, three walkers came towards us and barely managed to say hello, a bit odd for these parts. They probably thought the Paramos a little OTT, but they were walking into the rain, their turn would come.


We stopped at the bothy for a late lunch. It kind of sneaks up on you, it’s in a dip and the chimney is well camouflaged against the hillside. It’s a sweet little bothy with spare sleeping platforms stacked on one of the benches and a fire with some fuel. According to the bothy book, Marion and Graeme Dunsire had visited during the Challenge and a Jeremy Burrows had been there on 31st July, bagging a few hills. We ate ham rolls and someone may have had half of his Baby Bels and all his cherry tomatoes. There may have been some fudge. Boots were removed for a short while.

On leaving the bothy the Allt Sheicheachan is easily crossed and the path then becomes a little vague and boggy, but not lost. We were somewhat surprised to happen across a black highland coo with a very impressive, and sharp looking, set of horns, in the middle of nowhere, alone, and looking a little lost and confused. It had no friends. We gave it a wide berth as it was right on our path and continued on our way, occasionally (and slightly nervously) checking we weren’t being followed. Or pursued at speed. Shortly after Bruar Lodge hove into view, we were surprised again, this time by a pair of aerobatic planes that appeared from over the hill. They flew low over us, one releasing a trail, the other doing a roll, presumably for our benefit as there was no one else except the coo to impress!

SDC13866VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W

VLUU L310W L313 M310W / Samsung L310W L313 M310W The lodge seemed to take forever to reach and the clouds were once again beginning to look a little threatening. The path crosses right in front of the lodge and feels a little uncomfortable, but it would have been worse to make a dash across the front lawn to keep a bit of distance from the building, so we didn’t, despite the dogs going bananas from their kennels around the back.


SDC13873 We managed to tuck ourselves away round the corner before we had to have another waterproof faff and this time, it was the whole kit. It was early evening and the day had cooled, we were no longer going to overheat walking this easy, flattish track. I hadn’t studied the route perhaps as much as I normally would have, but I knew that at the end of this lovely track there was a steep climb, Carr Uchd a’ Chlarsair, and the path became more tricky. As pitches might become few and far between, we decided to stop short of my planned stop and take the next available. We’d just have to put in a slightly longer day on Sunday.

SDC13881 The pitch we eventually took was lovely, just over a bridge on a little piece of ground where two burns converged so there was plenty of water and that nice little background burbling to soothe us to sleep. The surprisingly loud call of the dipper was heard regularly as it flew up and down the burn. The only, somewhat major, drawback were the midgies. I have never, never seen so many! It didn’t get bad until the breeze dropped, just after the tent was up and we’d started emptying the contents of our packs. It was too late to move so we just had to endure it as best we could. We put on our head nets to enable us to complete our tasks, including fetching water and boiling it for dinner. As soon as we could, we dived into Sorlee and zipped up tight.

We both had curry from Fuizion Freeze Dried Food for dinner, David a Chicken Tikka Masala and I had Chicken Dhansak, both very yummy, but as usual, I just wasn’t hungry and picked at my dinner for a while before giving up. We did manage a few mini Jaffa Cakes and a dram before David popped out (the little love) to boil more water for horlicks.

The ensuite? I won’t mention that…

11.3 miles 2419 ft total ascent and around 6 hours.

Sunday 5th August

I woke around 6am after a somewhat restless night, dreaming of landrovers and fishermen. I lay next to David snoring for about an hour before there were any other signs of life. I have never before lain in a tent, praying for wind. However, it was not to be, we had to make a plan to avoid the marauding midgies. I could pack completely inside the tent, as we had stashed my pack at the foot of the tent overnight, rather than try to sneak it out to the porch. As I’d had the food, we could at least both eat and drink something in the tent, although there would be no coffee or hot Fuizion All Day Breakfast for David. David had unfortunately stashed all his dry bags in his pack which was in the porch. We reached a point when we had to leave the safety of the tent. There was not much faffing as water was fetched, Platypi filled and tent dropped and stashed.

SDC13886 We were soon on our way up the immediate and steepest climb of the day. We hoped that at the top there’d be a midge busting breeze and we’d be able to grab a coffee and David could have his cooked breakfast. As we reached the top of the slope, we paused. There were no midgies. We dropped packs and fired up the Flash. No sooner was breakfast rehydrated than the breeze (somewhat predictably) dropped and midgies arrived, but nowhere near the same numbers as before and they were just about tolerable whilst we took on vital food to continue. Coffee could wait whilst we had a little coke and water to drink. Once all the kit was again stashed, we walked on.

SDC13888 The path was still good at this point, but a narrow hill path, boggy in places and occasionally indistinct. It took a while to reach my proposed pitch for the previous night, along Caochan Lub and I was glad of the decision we had made. We would have been very tired had we walked on and perhaps less well equipped to deal with the midge misery. It was a good call but it did mean a longer day and at this point, I had miscalculated and was expecting it to be a bit shorter than it turned out to be. The path had been washed out in places and it was easier to stay on the west bank before rejoining the path as it crossed to climb to the top of the pass.


We saw something orange bobbing in the distance and whipped out the binoculars to investigate. If they hadn’t have been so far away across the bog, I would have collected the orange and purple balloons that had somehow made their way onto the moor. Soon after, there was movement over the brow of the neighbouring hill. A large herd of deer paused briefly to assess the danger we posed and then popped back over the brow.


The descent of the Minigaig towards Allt na Cuilce is not too steep and wonderful views opened up to us towards the Monadliath Munros, absolutely glorious. The path however was increasingly boggy and patchy until, having briefly lost it on a couple of occasions, we finally lost it completely. As it had become quite heathery, gaiters were deemed a good idea, so we paused to zip them on. Whilst paused, we took a peek behind us to see heavy grey clouds approaching from the east. This might not be so good. A pair of kestrels were seen a few times over the heathery, boggy moor. We stopped for lunch where the Allt Coire Bhran meets the Allt na Cuilce on a rather comfy spot of grass. There were rolls, Baby Bel, cherry tomatoes (for those that hadn’t scoffed them yesterday) the rest of the jaffa cakes, coffee and fudge. As I felt a few spots of rain, I put my Paramo back on, but it didn’t really start to rain for a little while. When it did however, it really did.

SDC13904 In the meantime, there was map and GPS faffing. I knew I was a corner of map missing. A tiny corner, from the lunch stop to the weir before Bhran Cottage. I hadn’t, however, really studied it as I normally would have done. I was still confident that heading west, following the river and staying on the north bank would keep us right. David faffed with his GPS. I got impatient and snappy. When I politely asked what he was doing, he explained he was creating a way point for the GPS to navigate to. I huffed a bit. We eventually set off and stuck with my plan, crossed the river and headed west.

We never found the path, but a good deer trod for quite some time, climbing higher above the river than I liked, but forced to by the apparent lack of bank to walk along. There were boot and tyre tracks, always reassuring assuming they’re on the same route as you! A snipe flew up from just about under David’s feet, a bit of a treat for me as I had the better view from behind. Mind you, David saw the lizard that disappeared into the grass before he stepped on it, I missed it.

The river disappeared into a deep, tree lined ravine as we continued the interesting, precipitous contouring of the steep hill, Meallach Mhor and Bhran Cottage soon came into view. Somehow, we’d got this bit wrong, but we weren’t lost and we picked up a track that took us down the hill and onto the metalled road we should have met earlier. No bother.

We were soon being midged again and by this time, my humour was wearing a little thin. Three roe deer sprinted across our path, not too perturbed by the wildlife they encountered. The road is a bit of a slog, not helped by the smooth surface soon being replaced by a rough, stony surface which was even less kind to my feet. We plodded on and it rained heavily again for a while. The midgies didn’t return this time. Phew.

SDC13905 At Glentromie Lodge, we had yet another map faff. I had expected the path to go along the river bank more or less straight after the bridge, so paused to check. An elderly gentleman came out of the Keepers Cottage to offer help, quite dismissive of my map, “This is my land….” so he advised us to go through the gate and take the vague path that would lead us to Ruthven, “The old estate road.” We did as he said and it was a really lovely route through natural silver birch woodland, absolutely delightful and a welcome break from road walking. We appeared back on the road at Torcroy and continued on past Ruthven Barracks back to the car at the station.

SDC13906 17.1 miles 1915 ft total ascent

SDC13903 Happy hillwalking!

Family camping

TTS decided family time was required, so last minute leave was booked, The Palace was checked over and a few pole repairs made and plans made for a quick getaway on Tuesday. Of course, the weather forecast that had looked okay suddenly looked a little dodgy for the first night, but we made a dash for the north west regardless (minus our eldest, boo hoo) to our favourite spot at Gairloch.

On the way, we popped in to say hello to Sam and Ian and to book our annual wildlife boat trip for the Thursday afternoon. It was nice to have a chinwag and a good gossip with Sam.

The Sands Holiday Centre has barely changed since we were last there, two years ago, but we wisely chose not to jostle for our usual spot, up near the toilet and shower block, as it can be a little exposed. Instead, we found a more sheltered pitch in some dunes lower down with an electric hook up for those little creature comforts I rarely get enjoy whilst camping!

SG103682That’s an electric kettle that is, hiding behind the wine…

SG103683Two burners, a grill and a big pot

SG103689 Nice to have the space to be a little disorganised. Spot the electric heater and fridge!

SG103690 Happy campers

Not much else was achieved that evening, except to pop back into Strath for supplies and then cooking dinner and eating it, a yummy, substantial Meatball and Pasta Soup.

As ever in Gairloch, I lay in bed that night, praying for the wind to stop. I was quite glad when it started to rain, even though we’re not quite watertight. It drowned out the sound of the wind!

On Wednesday we planned to walk. We’d chosen not to do the boat trip because the weather looked iffy, so warm layers and waterproofs were packed into our day sacks for our little trundle from Poolewe around Loch Kernsary and back along the shortest river in the UK, River Ewe. This turned out to be a really lovely route along good paths with fabulous views. You really got the feeling of walking into the wilderness as we only saw one chap in the distance at the start of the walk and no one else until towards the end.

SG103694 Feeling a little artistic before the walk

SG103700 In my rightful place, bringing up the rear

SG103704 Still feeling a little artistic, Creag Cairneasair I believe

SG103709 It’s looking a little threatening over towards the Torridons

SG103719 Still a bit threatening, but more arty!

SG103720 Getting carried away now…

SG103733 Looking along River Ewe to Slioch on the shores of Loch Maree in the distance

SG103747 I believe this may be the tail of a grass snake, but there’s not much of it to help with identification!

Approximately 6.33 miles, 812 ft total ascent and around 3 hours.

 We had a much better night and woke on Thursday wishing for a little breeze, the midgies were out! Still, we were able to spend a pleasant morning doing a little gift shopping, having coffee and cake and a late lunch before joining Ian, his work experience lad, James, a French couple and five Spaniards on the MV Starquest to go out in search of wildlife.

We saw a seal, guillemots, gannets, skua, razor bill, cormorants, jelly fish and harbour porpoise before the main event, a pod of at least 30 common dolphin. Absolutely fantastic! As ever, we had a wonderful trip with Ian, in his usual informative and dry, Nottingham style. Brilliant. Once we were ashore again, the boys wanted to have a few casts off the pier, as is becoming family tradition. A few fish were caught, a couple got away and the others were all too small and allowed to go free. Phew.

SG103755 Moody Torridons

SG103772 Over the sea to Skye


SG103883edt-2 Two dolphins!

SG103899edt-3_edited-4 Three dolphins!! (A little tweaked…)

SG103905edt-5 Dolphins (A little tweaked again)

SG103959Wonderful casting action from the boy

SG103961  Still feeling artistic!

SG103968 Ian says this is a woman, lying on her back, head on the right. I think it’s Homer Simpson..

We had another pleasant evening and quiet night before a really easy decamp on Friday morning, no rush, no hassle, no stress. The children have all reached a size and ability to be given jobs and be useful, making family camping a real pleasure. As we left Gairloch, the dolphins appeared again to say goodbye, having a feeding frenzy in the bay. It was a short but wonderful trip to one of our favourite places.

SG103972 Getting packed up. Aedan (on the right) is getting ridiculously tall!