Friday 25 October 2019

Adventures with Ellie - The First Van Meet - Cairngorms

The evening of Friday 11th October saw us heading to Uath Lochan in the Inshriach Forest, Cairngorm, after first attending the presentation by the Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award Group David had assessed at the beginning of September. The presentation was very good, one of the best we've seen (not The best, they were by our groups) but we had a really exciting weekend ahead of us, our first van meet with Ellie! We were due to meet Mick, Gayle and Bertie in a car park deep in the forest.
I had a quick panic just as we arrived at the entrance to the car park, what if there were many vans there? What if (to my shame) I didn't recognise Bertie?! Oh, the horror. Luckily, there were no other vehicles when we arrived, so that made it easy to find our friends. Plus, the step was out, so even before I saw Mick peeking out of the curtains at his new noisy neighbours arriving, I knew we had arrived before they had given up on us and gone to bed.
We were immediately welcomed into Bertie, ushered in to seats and had a blanket tucked around our knees. We had steaming mugs of peppermint tea pushed in to our hands and the conversation flowed.
Mick and Gayle are well known to retire at a reasonable time, so I was very aware I should not keep them up too late, but it wasn't until we were getting Ellie's bed sorted on returning to her that I realised the clock I'd been checking in Bertie was still showing European time. Whoops! Still, it was plenty late enough and meant we stood a reasonable chance of not being horrendously late in the morning.
Another vehicle arrived shortly after we went to bed, they obviously intended to stay.

We weren't too late getting up in the morning, coffee and a chocolate pastry twist was had in bed before getting up proper, having more coffee and porridge/breakfast bar then we went next door. When offered more coffee and croissant, we didn't say no, so we it was a while later before sandwiches and crisps were put in to daysacs and we headed off for a walk. It was only a short walk to bag a nearby trig, but as Gayle had done more planning than me, she was made Walk Leader and we followed here everywhere. Fortunately, there were very few extra steps taken in the wrong direction either time.
Gayle and I took the lead and raced up the hill, not a big hill, but we both soon warmed up and contemplated removing an outer layer. I preferred to slow down a little so I could breathe more easily, but in reality, we neither peeled a layer nor slowed down, we just continued, engrossed in our conversation. This also means that, although we were aware of our surroundings and enjoying them, I didn't stop to take many photographs at all.
We had been walking through fairly open forestry and some clear fell, but eventually the track entered the trees and we found the Vanessa trig in a small clearing with some convenient rocks on which to park ourselves and enjoy our sandwiches, supplemented with Jaffa Cakes from Gayle, my fave!
A cyclist and his dog passed through the clearing just as we were setting off again. We headed downhill on a steep, muddy, winding track. David and Mick heard another cyclist approaching from behind, we all stepped well off the track to let them pass and were all watching as he fell off his bike, claiming to be paying too much attention to us rather than where he was going. We all stifled our laughter.
We were soon back on familiar ground and retraced our steps around the loch to return to Bertie and Ellie, waiting patiently for us in what was now a very busy car park. We spent some time sorting Ellie and dressing for dinner before stepping over to Bertie where we once again enjoyed a very social evening and also a delicious curry, prepared by Gayle's own fair hand as we sat and chatted.
Approximately 5.48 miles and 781 feet total ascent

View to Uath Lochan

We planned to run together in the morning, I had a 50 minute run to do as part of my current running plan and it fitted in nicely to give a morning activity we could all take part in and still chat. So after another really lovely evening, we parted company in order to get some sleep and leave at a half decent time in the morning. As we sorted the bed, I asked David why we had left quite so early as we had, only for him to realise he had been fooled by the same clock I had been the night before. Oh well, we should now be rested enough.
In the morning, it appeared the car park had been busier overnight than the previous night, there were two cars and a VW van. The van was packed up and left early. We were away shortly after Bertie and before 9am. WE met Bertie again in the car park at Kingussie and after a small about of faffing and a visit to the public toilets, we set off for a gentle run along the cycle path to Newtonmore and back. It was without doubt one of the most enjoyable runs I've ever had. It was the first time in over fourteen years that I have run with anyone other than David or Ciara and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I would most definitely run with Gayle again!

Leaving Uath Lochan heading for Kingussie
On returning to Ellie and Bertie, we spent a little time powdering noses and changing into casual clothes before again nipping across to Bertie, this time to be offered coffee and bacon butties. I mean, who could refuse!
It was soon time to go our separate ways, we headed home and Bertie headed a little further south. We had a superb weekend and are really looking forward to many more van meets with Bertie, Mick and Gayle, thank you all!

Adventures with Ellie - NW Highlands

The middle of September presented another opportunity for an adventure with Ellie and as the nights were already beginning to draw in, we thought it might be the last chance for some good hill days, so we headed for the Fannichs.
David has been in these hills before, on at least three of them twice, but it was my first time. We were able to leave mid afternoon on the Friday and headed for a the first potential camp spot I'd looked at, but when we arrived I wasn't sure it was for us. Although it was off the road, it was below a dwelling and there were two cars already parked, probably waiting for their owners to return from the hills, so we thought it might be busy in the morning. As we decided to move on, we were able to see the nearby dwelling was in fact empty, but we were on our way by then so continued. The layby we found was away from the road and promised to be quiet.
We had a quiet evening with a nice sunset.

 On our way

A nice view for the evening

The new bolster cushions on the seats for comfort

The bolster cushions placed for comfort and insulation

After a good night, we left a little later than intended to start our walk from the car park situated on the A832 at the start of the walk. We were hoping to bag a couple of Munros, given the good conditions. We were waylaid slightly before we set off by a couple of gentleman that had previously driven through the layby, then continued only to return and get out of their vehicle. They appeared to be lost and indicated to David they wanted to speak to him. It transpired they were heading for the same hills, but they only had a tourist leaflet for directions to the start of their walk which gave somewhat limited details. David did check they had a map with them, I know not why they were not using that to find the parking.
Once on our way, we soon discovered that the parking area was full! The two previously lost gentlemen had just nabbed the last space except for one small gap, due to some interesting parking. We did two drive pasts, looking for other parking opportunities, before deciding David was a very skilled driver and Ellie a very nimble vehicle, she could be neatly tucked in to the available space. She fitted perfectly.
There may have been a small amount of faffing before we eventually set off on our way. It was a warm, sunny day with a bit of a stiff breeze, I was expecting it to be windy and cool on the hill. We walked briefly along the road before taking a track through a gate that headed towards Loch a' Bhraoin. We took a small path weaving through woodland and then crossed the bridge over the outflow of the loch before heading along the glen and gradually up hill. We could see walkers heading up Druim Reidh, possibly the two gentlemen, but I hoped not as it wasn't the hill they were after.

Morning view

Fancy gate

After about a kilometre, we had to ford the Allt Breabaig and as I had not planned this route, I did not have my fording shoes with me. The water wasn't too deep, but the rocks beneath were slimy and slippery and I didn't fancy my chances of teetering across, especially as last time David had ended up taking a dunk. After some thought and consideration and a little bit of pacing up and down the river, I decided I would have to boots and socks off. I was not thrilled.
The water was shallow but icy cold and caused me serious pain in my ankles, but we both crossed safely and put our shoes and boots back on to continue along the lovely stalkers path heading up the glen. David had previously headed up to the bealach further along the glen, the route I had headed up shortly after the ford, we did neither and made our own way, probably actually lengthening the climb unnecessarily. We could clearly see two people and a dog ahead of us taking a break, we continued and passed them by and made it to the summit of Meall a' Chrasgaidh ahead of them eventually. I was briefly confused as I caught sight of two other walkers that appeared to be leaving the summit ahead of us and heading south for the second Munro, but we were joined by two ladies and their dog as we sheltered for lunch and it transpired they were the couple we had passed. We shuffled up to give them room to shelter along with us from the strong winds, along with their small but very friendly collie. We didn't share our food, much it his disgust. They were interesting ladies and we chatted a while, we talked about our local area and reassured them Moray is beautiful and that the noisy jets based close by are no problem. Another walker appeared and continued north along the ridge, barely acknowledging our presence. I started to chill despite having donned extra clothing, so it was soon time to leave the ladies in peace and head for the second Munro.

 My feet do not look as cold as they felt

The summit is up there, somewhere

 Big me, little David!

As we made our way to the bealach, I voiced my fears of what lay ahead. We could see two walkers making there way along the ridge ahead of us and it looked quite exposed to me. The strong winds were also concerning me and we soon decided to cut our losses and make our way off the hill. I was bitterly disappointed, despite knowing this was the best option. I must find away to deal with my feelings of exposure. My worst fear is of making the effort to be brave and getting stuck unable to go forwards or backwards.
The way downhill was not difficult, but it was steep, wet and tussocky and I managed to take a tumble before reaching the bottom of the glen, falling and landing head first downhill. In a fit of giggles, I struggled to get up and David was too far ahead to help me. I checked to see noone was watching and then continued downhill more carefully. We had to cross the river again, but I was pleased to take my boots off briefly as I had obviously not put my socks on well the last time and because my feet had been so cold I had not noticed until they'd finally started to warm up again on the downhill return. After crossing safely I was more careful replacing my socks this time. It was not long before we were back with Ellie. Well, after I took another tumble on the roadside.
I didn't get more than one Munro on this outing, but it was still a success as I am now more than satisfied my fitness has and is continuing to be improved by my running plan and this is enhancing my experience on the hills and making my hillwalking trips with David more enjoyable for both of us. Just need to deal with the exposure thing.

Approximately 8.32 miles and 2514 feet total ascent

On returning to Ellie, we had a brief discussion of our plans for the following day, which essentially, were none. So we had to make some. The weather wasn't overly promising for a walk, perhaps a tad breezy. We knew we needed some supplies, so we popped to Ullapool and once there, after stocking up, decided we would continue further north, perhaps to Knockan Crag to spend the night.
We arrived at the car park to find two Belgian registered vehicles with roof tents parked around the back of the toilet block and two young boys putting up a tent near the entrance to the car park. I wasn't sure what the state the toilets would be in as last time we were here they had been abused and were a state. This time, I was pleased to find they were in good order. We enjoyed the sunset, watched Strictly, had a nice dinner with some sloe gin and prosecco and relaxed for the evening.

Cul mor, I need to come back to that hill

We had a really, really windy night, I didn't sleep brilliantly, so the lesson is we need to find a more sheltered spot when we think it's going to be windy! Also, there were a few vans that came and went during the night that disturbed us, particularly the one that drove around the car park several times, obviously looking for the best spot.
After a leisurely breakfast, we decided to take a slow drive home, stopping off for coffee and lunch somewhere along the way.

A good start to the day

Looking along the Strath Oykel to Canisp


We stopped off to clean our teeth, I cannot remember why we hadn't already? Then we happened across a super little car park, with a shelter filled with posters and seating and a table, it was a lovely place I'm sure we'll be back. We eventually arrived at Loch Fleet and decided to park with a view over the loch and have lunch. There were a lot of birdwatchers there and I felt we were slightly out of place, but I got the big binoculars out so we fitted in better. We then continued along the quiet road to Dornoch to investigate the local toilets, which were open and clean. There looks to be plenty things of interest here if we are on a touristy trip again, but it's not somewhere I'd be likely to stay.
It wasn't too long before we were crossing the Kessock Bridge and on the final stretch home after another fantastic weekend away with Ellie.