Sunday, 6 September 2020

Adventures with Ellie - West Highlands 28th August 2020

Friday afternoon saw us driving west with the intention of parking at Kinlochewe. We arrived to find an old VW campervan, what turned out to be an associated car and several cyclists camping already and a lady wearing PPE cleaning the toilets. There were a few vehicles that came and went early in the evening, the occupants mainly using the facilities but some using the recycling and bins. Another couple arrived and we watched as they prepared their new Range Rover to sleep in and then visited the pub to get hot water in takeaway cups to make their Pot Noodles. Clever, I thought. We had a relatively quiet, comfortable night, once the traffic eased. In the morning, we were in no hurry as we were waiting for the local shop to open (we went to the wrong one in the end, who knew Kinlochewe was big enough to boast two shops) in order to purchase lunch and breakfast items for the next two days. then we were off for a walk. The young couple and ourselves appeared to be the only ones to leave a donation in the box.

We made our way to the car park further up the road in order to walk the Beinn Eighe Mountain Trail. We did this walk 14 years ago with young children (ranging 5 to 10 yrs old) and whilst we'd had a nice walk with good weather, fine views and a Palmate Newt, I had had a little trouble with a short section of the walk making me extremely anxious. David's plan was for me to do this walk again in the knowledge that, having done it before, I would know I could do it again... On arrival at the car park, it was quite busy with people that had obviously stayed over the night before, most of them having canoes or kayaks with them. Their vehicles seemed to be stuffed full of all manner of equipment.

We set off on a path that took us underneath the A832 and through pretty woodlands, making our way steadily uphill. Views were snatched through trees until we crossed a bridge and then broke through the treeline and the ground became steeper and more rocky.

On a bridge we crossed

Views towards Slioch

There were a few of these really useful, informative signs

Fionn Bheinn

Looking towards Beinn Eighe

The troublesome stretch was, in reality, relatively short, gaining around 800ft over half a mile, but I found the path to be somewhat exposed. Where David could walk up, maybe occasionally resting a hand on a rock to lever himself up a high step, I found myself making three points of contact on most of this section. Towards the top, I had to give myself a serious talking to, I'd done it before, I could do it again, that sort of thing, but I did not enjoy the experience. I was happy to pause and rest whilst the two couples walking together passed by, we had a brief chat. There were two separate couples and a family that also passed by as I rested further up, but they weren't being drawn into any kind of a conversation.

 It was over soon enough (seemed like an eternity...) and the walking became much easier again as we finally approached the viewpoint. Which was quite busy. It was also quite chilly in the wind, so I said I'd prefer to walk on a little further to drop down and perhaps find a little shelter, the group of four having nicked the best spot at the top. The path levels out for a while, winding around little lochans and with great views of the surrounding hills. At the first point we would have stopped, a young couple started to fly a drone. The whining was very irritating. We walked on. The group of four caught us up and passed us again, complimenting us on our shiny boots. I had cleaned and waxed mine the day before and did David's at the same time, I told them I don't normally and wouldn't be making a habit of it.

We found a place with enough shelter and somewhere to sit a little further on and stopped for lunch, enjoying the views, but we didn't stop long. I had been looking forward to heading downhill and returning to the warmth of Ellie, but the downhill became tedious and somewhat wearing. Nice views, but really went on a bit. We talked about how it might be a good route up, but I felt the scrambly bits would not be pleasant to go down. Shortly after, as we were getting closer to the Woodland Trail walk, we met a couple coming towards us, dressed for urban walking and carrying shoulder bags. They weren't chatty. Then a middle aged couple passed us, the next couple however joined the path ahead of us just passed the viewpoint (no view now the trees have grown) they sat on a convenient bench to let us pass, they spoke and we shared a joke. I looked back and the second couple had turned back and joined our path, I believe the first couple had also missed their turn and were making their way up hill further than they had intended, their tourist leaflet clutched in their hands. Oh dear. I hoped they realised in time.

Looking back

Loch Maree

We arrived at the car park to find it was very, very busy. Our friendly group were there and David managed to get into a conversation about Ellie. I had been sitting inside in the warm, but felt I should go out and join them. We chatted for quite some time, the women were travelling in a car, the two gents were riding Harley Davidsons. One of the women had never been in Scotland before. She was so curious about Ellie and how we managed with her, we persuaded her it's a fab life and I think she was sold!

We left the car park heading back towards Kinlochewe and then headed off towards Torridon, the plan was to park beneath Beinn Eighe in order to walk to Loch Coire Mhic Fhearchair in the morning. The single track road was incredibly busy and I began to think we might be making a mistake. We arrived at a car park and drove in. It was nicely away from the road and would have been quiet, but it sloped quite badly. We thought we could wait a while and see if any of the cars left and we could get a flatter pitch, but this wasn't the car park for the start of our walk, so we moved on to the next one. It wasn't far a long the road, but as soon as it came into view, I knew we would not be stopping there. It was full, there were cars parked along the verge and in passing places, and there was a stag standing in the entrance, drawing quite a lot of attention (NB. I would not stand that close to a wild stag with large antlers) We passed by and managed to get turned, then returned the we way we had come. We returned to the first car park, but I was not happy. There were one or two spot we could have parked as we got neared to Kinlochewe, but they weren't far off the road and we decided we might just as well return to the previous night spot.

It was busy. There were motorbikers with tents, a couple of backpackers and the campervan and associated car were still there initially. We parked up and later were joined by a (hired) motorhome and at least two other cars and another old VW campervan. The first one and the car left and their places were taken. It was so busy!

We had already had a gin by this point, so had dinner, put the blinds up, pulled the boards over (it's warmer on a chilly night with the roof popped) and settled down.

Roughly 6.4 km 602 m total ascent

Most people left before us in the morning. Noone else had made a donation. They had, however, left the men's toilet in a state (David said) and someone had nicked all the toilet paper from the ladies toilets...and I only saw one other lady...(I don't think it was her)

I was not happy with the idea of adding to the problem at Beinn Eighe. It was crowded and it just seemed silly going there, the mountains aren't going anywhere, so we made another plan, heading first to Achnasheen, then north to Ullapool and on towards Knockan Crag. We stopped for lunch and to see the state of the toilets (one user at a time, lock yourself in at the main door, suited me!) which were good, so we decided after our walk we'd spend the night here again. After lunch we continued north, passing Elphin, Inchnadamph and onward to reach a walk to Britain's highest waterfall, Eas a Chual Aluinn.

There were a couple of vehicles at the overflow car park but only one motorhome in the main car park where we parked. It was midgey, so there was very little messing about as we got ready and set off, picking up the old A894 briefly before taking a vague, boggy path away from the road. We met and crossed the outflow from Loch nan Gainmich. Here we found another vague path, boggy in places, and followed it till we crossed Allt Loch Bealach a' Bhuirich. We soon realised we'd been on the wrong path, which explained the couple we'd seen shortly before walking above us on the hillside, and crossed it back to pick up the correct path heading up hill, following the burn. The path left the side of the burn just before reaching Loch Bealach a' Bhuirich, where we met another couple, before reaching the bealach and heading downhill. The landscape was rocky and almost lunar in nature. We followed the river that had a series of waterfalls before leading to the main one. The ground varied, there was mostly a clear, well made path, sometimes it was boggy, and there were some big steps to negotiate. Towards the end there were peat hags, where we met another couple and their dog.

Looking towards Quinag

Looking up towards Glas Bheinn

Striding towards the bealach

Sedum acre

Towards Quinag

Lunar landscape

Cliffs above Abhainn an Loch Bhig

View south east

Towards Glas Bheinn

Lovely waterfalls

It felt as if we were walking off a cliff edge. I did not like it. David tried to coax me further, I was less than happy, but eventually screwed up my courage and managed to clamber down a little further to a flat area where I felt safe enough to enjoy the views. I didn't want to stay long, however, and we had to make our way back. There seemed to be an unfair amount of climbing, but we reached the bealach in good time, passed the loch and headed downhill. This time, we had no intention of taking the wrong path and found it quite easily, it was a good path all the way. A bit boggy in places. Like the bit David plunged into up to his knees. Whoops! We walked on until we reached the outflow again where he took off his boots and socks to wash them out. Then his trousers.

River leading to Eas a Chual Aluinn

Loch Beag

David looking over the edge (he couldn't see the waterfall)

Abhainn an Loch Bhig, a long way down

David stepped into my panorama 

I think it was at this point I got bitten by midgies, although not as bad as two weeks previously the night we spent by Quinag. We made it back to Ellie, quickly sorted our boots and packs and then headed back to Knockan Crag. There were just three other vans when we arrived, one of which was parked in a very territorial fashion, side on and awning pitched. We were joined by at least two other vehicles overnight, one of which was a Volvo car and they made much noise with slamming of doors late at night and early in the morning, but we had another good night here before making our way home the next morning, without another walk as we had originally intended.

Roughly 10.4 km and 531 m total ascent

Sunday, 23 August 2020

Adventures with Ellie - NE Cairngorms August 2020

We set off on Tuesday morning and headed for The Cabrach on the way to The Buck, a little hill we'd intended to do last autumn, but hadn't been able to park because of snow. We headed back and were the only ones there when we arrived, apart from the guys in tractors in the field opposite making hay whilst the sun shone. We both decided to use the outdoor facilities, one at a time. David got away with it, no sooner did I find my spot than another car drew up! I waited for them to leave. 

Eventually we were ready and we too headed for the little hill. Having climbed a gate, we followed a vague path until it was no longer any use to us, then cut across wet, boggy, tussocky ground to the fence line where there was another path that would take us all the way up hill. We could see the couple ahead of us, we gained on them slightly the whole way up. It's a steep little hill, goes on a bit, but you're soon at the top and there are good views. The couple were hogging the easy route up to the trig, so we had to scramble up the back of the trig, whereupon they promptly left.

It was quite breezy up there and a bit chilly, so we didn't hang around long, another one of those days when you pack your lunch with you, but take it all the way back again to eat. We followed the couple down and it soon became obvious that the young lady was not a seasoned walker and was being a little girly in her technique. She may have sat down a bit smartish on a couple of occasions. Not something I ever do, obviously...

Typical kind of ground


Going up

Trig on top of a rocky bit

Looking east

Looking south

Looking west

Possibly looking north west-ish

Looking over the trig north

We soon caught them up but as they chose to cross the fence line we continued straight on for a while further and in doing so over took them. On reaching the point where we had intended to cross, we had a conflab and decided the ground straight ahead was just as rough but took a more direct line to the road, so off we went. It was mostly fine, but the heather did get a bit long at one point which I'm not a fan of, I do like to able to see where I am plunging my feet, deep holes are a nasty surprise. Much to our amusement, the young couple decided to follow us, we must have seemed to know what we are doing. How we laughed. Especially when we veered away from the fence line on a slightly high bank and had to scramble down to reach the road. I don't think the young lady will have liked that. Ooops. Still, a lesson learned at some point by all walkers, never follow someone because they look as if they know what they are doing... Once at the road, we legged it uphill, passed the gate and back to Ellie, where we changed our footwear, ate lunch and checked our route to where we'd decided to stop for the night. We wanted an open spot with a bit of height, in the hope of avoiding a million trillion midgies, having just about got rid of the mass of dead ones from Assynt trapped inside the air conditioning. Yuk.

Roughly 4.86 km and 321 m total ascent

We were headed for Our Layby above Ballater which we approached from Kildrummy and Stathdon. We were delighted to arrive and find that, once more, we would have the layby to ourselves. This is the only place we have ever been beeped as people speed by, this time by two vehicles, one of them an estate vehicle *sigh*

We had a lovely evening and a quiet night followed by a lazy start to the day, we had a walk planned but with no time pressures can really take our time and chill. David did another deliberately visible litter pick, although again, there was actually very little. Eventually we made our way to the car park at Corgarff Castle (currently closed due to Covid-19) We made lunch, changed into our walking boots and set off on a circular route to do a little hillbagging. Not long after we left we could hear a shoot in progress, but fairly confident it was in the hills opposite our intended target, we continued uphill. There was a momentary confusion as to which of hills visible to us was our intended target, but I was pretty certain it was ahead of us and not to our left. I was right.

Our route took us up towards the bealach between Carn Oighreag and the west top of Brown Cow Hill. Not surprisingly, it was a fairly continuous climb up hill, initially on a good track, but then off to follow a vague path across open ground. A bit wet in places, but not as rough as a lot of hills we walk. We made steady progress and soon reached spot height 823 m, followed by 829 m and then Cairn Sawvie where we decided to just drop slightly off the top and pick a soft mound to sit on for our lunch. There were ravens again, we've seen quite a few on our travels so far this year. We had wonderful views of Ben Avon, Beinn a/ Bhuird, the hills above the Lecht and towards Lochnagar. We lingered a while before heading off again, down to the bealach and then up again to reach Meikle Geal Charn, following an electrified fence all the way, down to the next bealach then up to Little Geal Charn where we crossed the fence to reach the spot height, returned to the correct side of the fence, when we spotted two people walking off the hill behind us, but they disappeared from view, presumably heading for the track beside Meoir Veannaich. We think they may have cycled in, stashed their bikes along the track and just made a quick out and back to bag the Corbett. Then we were off down and uphill again to reach the Well of Don on the way to Cairn Culchavie, the last high point. We disturbed a small group of young red deer stags, being downwind of them, they were aware of us but couldn't quite decide what we were. They dithered a while before making off over the side of the hill.

Corgarff Castle

We followed a vehicle track to cross an inconvenient crop field, probably for animal fodder

Purple heather clad hillsides. The little notch on the skyline is probably between Carn Leac Saighdeir and The Ca, made by the Delavine Burn

Checking we're heading the right way, after a little discussion

The peat hags were remarkably dry, soft and spongy to walk on, lovely walking!

Determined to visit the highest point

Remarkably featureless hilltop

Lots of berryless cloudberry

A little rocky atop Meikle Geal Charn

Oh, deer!

We were following another vague track as we headed down via Carn Leitir na Cloiche towards a small reservoir, then hit the main track to pass Inchmore and on to meet the tarmac road back to the castle car park where Ellie was waiting patiently for us.

Roughly 18.5 km and 661 m total ascent

I had thoroughly enjoyed our walk, I'm so used to climbing a hill and straight back down again, I rarely stay high and take in several high points on one route, this was a revelation and I loved it. Helped, I think, by the perfect weather and good going underfoot. Loved it!

The forecast for the next 24 hours was of rain and high winds, so as there were no signs to indicate we couldn't stop here, we decided it was a good place to be and we settled down for the evening. There were a few vehicles that passed us, one or two estate vehicles, but nobody bothered us. A few cars and a campervan visited whilst we had our dinner, but they only stopped briefly, got out to photograph the castle, then left again. At some point during the evening a vehicle parked up across the glen, facing Ellie, with their headlights on. A bit odd. Nothing came of it. We had a quiet evening followed by a wet and windy night, as expected. We heard a vehicle draw up in the night, but it wasn't until the morning we discovered it had been a car, the occupants of which had slept in their vehicle. They were no bother. More cars and a motorhome drew up, but again, just briefly to take photographs, before leaving again.

David did another deliberately visible litter pick, again there was barely anything, then we left, heading for a Graham to save me detouring my next Challenge route to bag it. We parked by the road where I had met Ian for coffee and second breakfast on last year's Challenge, donned our boots and an extra layer due to the breezy and cool conditions, then set off up the track. As we looked back, another car arrived and parked with Ellie and two walkers set out after as. This was another walk where most of the height is gained at the start of the walk on good tracks, before heading off to follow the fence line and vague trods to the first named hill, Scraulac. A short downhill to the broad bealach, then up to the next high point, Cairnagour Hill. This was followed by a steep downhill to a peaty bealach, then a short sharp uphill to Mona Gowan. Here we were greeted by the most unnecessarily huge cairn, we rested a while taking photographs before being joined by the first of the two walkers that had left after us. We chatted a while to the young man who was from Huntly and was intending to walk the entire ridge to take in Morven, along with his walking partner (his father we think). It was really nice to meet cheerful, chatty, friendly folk on the hill.

Making our way up hill


View from Cairnagour Hill

Morven on the right

Massive cairn on Mona Gowan

We retraced our steps to return to Ellie, but it was much quicker without all the stops to take photographs and seemed much easier. We were soon back with Ellie where we decided to have lunch when we'd reached our overnight destination, Ballater community campsite. We knew the facilities were not available other than the grey and black water disposal and fresh water, but that was all we wanted and were quite happy to support the local business. We also popped to the Co-op for a few fresh items before relaxing with Ellie and just chilling.

After an uneventful evening people watching and feeling like the poor relation amongst all the caravans and motorhomes, we had a good night before another relaxed start to the day. We planned to stay until it was time to leave the campsite, then be tourists on the way home via Tomintoul. The weather was a little grey, damp and uninspiring, so we didn't stop until we reached The Well of the Lecht, where we pulled in to visit the iron ore mine. It's a popular stop off, I've seen big family tents pitched by the side of cars here and was not surprised to find fresh tent shaped flattened areas of grass by the river, but disappointed to find lots of litter, mainly wet wipes, discarded by the path all the way to the mine and back. David collected everything we found in a Mountaineering Scotland Tak it Hame bag, again in a very deliberately visible way, which he was able to put in almost empty bin in the car park. This time, he had a large audience, as although we arrived to an empty car park, four vehicles soon joined Ellie. Most were friendly, the old lady with her dog stopped dead, in the middle of the track, apparently fearful to move. Very odd. And awkward to get passed. A couple at the car park seemed to be having a photo shoot, in the rain, she was sitting amongst the purple heather and he had a very long lens on his camera. I do hope she did a thorough tick check.

Then mine, nestled in the heather clad hills

Roughly 1.45 km and 71.6 m total ascent

We continued on a bit further to Tomintoul where we stopped for lunch before reaching the end of our journey. We had a fabulous trip, loved it.