Thursday 9 January 2020

2019 in Review

April 2019 saw us celebrating our Silver Wedding Anniversary, so we hired a campervan to have an adventure in Scotland. We spent a lovely few days on a whirl wind trip around Scotland.
 After the second half marathon distance in April
 Dornie Castle
 Silver Anniversary

 Stonehaven beach
 Cnoc Poll a' Mhurain

 The start of the Ghost Train Walk

 Loch Quoich
 From the first of three Munros, Carn Aosda

 Carn Leac Saighdeir
 Geallaig Hill
 Loch Muick
 Ben Alder Forest

 Warth Hill
 Free mackeral
 Creag Dhubh
 Meall a' Chrasgaidh
Tap o' Noth

 Mither Tap
 Cul Mor

 Meall an Fheadain
 Falls of Kerkaig

Little did we know that we would be the proud new owners of our own van, Ellie, the following month. David sealed the deal and collected her whilst I was completing my 7th Challenge in May and he came to meet me so we could spend our first night together with her just a little south of Corgarff.

I had a successful and enjoyable Challenge, partly because I am much fitter, we had completed half marathon training mid-April, in fact, we ran the distance twice in two weeks.

Since May, we have tried to get with Ellie about once a month and we have had great fun and climbed many more hills than we usually get to do together. We were very pleased to have Ellie when David agreed to Assess a Gold Duke of Edinburgh group in the Ben Alder Forest when the weather was utterly dreadful and camping would have been no fun whatsoever. We have also been tourists around Scotland and had our first van meet with Mick, Gayle and Bertie in Inshriach Forest. Ellie has been a wonderful addition to our lives.

In June, we took part in the Ghost Train Walk, an over night walk on the Summer Solstace following the Dava Way from Grantown-on-Spey to the Dallas Dhu Distillery. We have walked the route together before when it first opened in July 2007, and I did the first Ghost Train Walk in 2009 with friends, so this was our first long distance overnight walk together and we had a great time.

In August, we took Conall to the Junior International Air Pistol and Rifle competition at Bisley. He had a good time and is doing well and gaining confidence. It is very strange to be there with just Conall though. There will be many more and much bigger competitions for him in the near future.

In November we were treated to a two night stay at Fonab Castle for our anniversary, which was quite an experience, but the weather was not conducive to walking, so we sheltered at House of Bruar in between fancy meals.
 The view from our room at Fonab

So, we are really looking forward to many more Adventures with Ellie in 2020 and I am hoping for another successful crossing on the Challenge in May.

Wishing all of you the very best for 2020.

Due to having to edit this post in Blogger, the photographs are randomly placed.

Adventures with Ellie - NW Highlands (November 2019)

The end of November and our last weekend away with Ellie before the end of the year. We set off later than hoped and decided to stop for a takeaway pizza on our way to the NW Highlands. This meant we could drive until we were ready to stop for the night and not to have to cook. We found ourselves parked at the Knockan Crag car park, again, for convenience (pun intended) and we had one other van for company. It was a cold night, but we were prepared with extra layers and sleeping bags, so we weren't cold.

In the morning, we got ready to tackle Cul Mor once more, or at least to try, but as we packed our bags we realised neither of us had picked up a map. Whoops. We had a little discussion, both feeling a little uneasy to proceed without being fully equipped, but decided we both had Viewranger and that we would turn back if we started to lose visibility. Boots, jackets and hats on, we left Ellie and made our way to the footpath we had taken before. It was a nice day if cold, the going was good underfoot and we made good progress to the lochan, where we sheltered behind the rocks with another couple whilst they had lunch and we put on another layer. Soon we were on our way, the couple gave words of encouragement and we made our way back to the main path to make our way up the spur to Cul Mor. We met a photographer on his way down, he said the conditions were good and he'd had a good day. Onwards and upwards. As we reached the point I'd had to turn around last time, I put my head down and focused where I was putting my hands and feet (yes, I was more or less on all fours at this point) as I made my way up the little scramble. I paused every so often, but refused to look down, refused to think I couldn't go on, just took a breath and continued. There was the odd flurry of snow, but nothing more than that. I told David not to tell me he was nearing or at the top, not to tell me how far I had to go, just to let me get there, and I did just that. I eventually reached a point at which I realised I could stand up properly, so I did, and walked the short distance that remained to reach the trig. I was so chuffed with myself, I'd overcome my fears and powered to the top. The views were outstanding, this is an extraordinary part of the world.
We had a quick bite to eat, but were soon off again as it was quite cold and we were going to be short of light if we hung around too long. We made our way over frozen but not icy ground to the bealach, headed off SE and picked up a vague path, then lost it and made our own way across the coire, contoured around Meallan Diomhain, then reached the path that would take us back to Ellie.

 Just before we started the climb
 Made it!

 Crossing interesting ground as we contoured

 We were back just before the rain came

It was quite a wonderful day.
Back at Ellie, we packed up and headed back towards Ullapool before turning off towards Stac Pollaidh. We continued along the road to Polbain and then on to Altandhu and the campsite. This is the first winter this campsite has stayed open and we had it to ourselves for the first night. The showers were not the warmest place to be, but the facilities are nice and at least I had hot water, the mens' were cold, apparently. We had a lovely quiet evening and a good meal, afterwards using the sinks at the pot wash to do our dishes (we have no waster water tank and draining on to the pitch would be frowned upon) and visiting the facilities before turning in for what was going to be a freezing night.

Roughly 12 km and 727 m total ascent

I was woken in the early hours with a dreadful headache. I lay for about an hour, turning restlessly from time to time trying to get comfortable and relieve the pain, worried about disturbing David. I really should have taken painkillers straight away, but I doubt it would have helped. May have speeded up the inevitable though. I fidgeted trying to find relief, but even the slightest movement began to make me feel nauseous until suddenly I knew I was going to be sick. I had to move, fast, not easy in a campervan I might tell you! How I got to the end of the bed and the toilet in the dark I don’t know, managed to unplug the charger David had plugged in, so I could lift the lid, considering how fuddled my brain was. I was so ill and felt dreadful, I crawled back to bed. I was hot from being ill, I didn’t want covers on, but it was freezing and I needed to fight my way back into my sleeping bag. It hurt to cry, but silent tears wet my face and I tried again to get comfortable. Not for long, however, as I had to make another dive off the bed to be violently sick again. Unsurprisingly, David was awake now, and he did his best to comfort and look after me in my quite distressed state. We both tried to get comfortable again and get some rest before morning.

We had a slow start to the day. We had intended to spend time exploring locally and to stay at the campsite for a second night, so once I felt well enough, we ventured to the little shop on site and had a chat with the lady at the counter. This is a small family run site on what was originally a croft and they’d had to diversify. The shop and the pub are owned and run by the family and the lady offered to book us a table at the pub for dinner when we enquired about eating there. We made our purchases for lunch and breakfast, took them back to put away in Ellie then put on our boots and coats to go for a little stroll. There was a small hill with a mast at the back of the site that happened to have a trig at the top, so we decided to head up there, the track most of the way would mean it wasn’t a strenuous walk.

It was cold, but dry and we had a lovely walk. The track took us to the mast then there was a well used path all the way to the little knobble with the trig on top. The path actually continued beyond the knobble, but we didn’t want to venture that far. For some reason I found it really pleasing that this trig is obviously visited regularly by somebody quite local and I daydreamed and romanticised about their reasons for doing so. We stayed for quite some time, enjoying the views, marvelling at the landscape, naming hills and practicing my scrambling skills. Then we made our way back to the track and to Ellie.

We had a nice meal at the pub, even if the barman “Andrew” seemed a little uncomfortable and unsure as to how to serve meals to the only two occupied tables. The food was basic pub grub but was very nice and reasonably priced, we enjoyed it.
When we headed back to Ellie, we noticed we were now sharing the campsite with a much larger motor home, turn out to be a couple and their two small children (they left in the morning) but we didn’t really see them, they were mainly using the waste and fresh water facilities, which was actually good to see.
We settled down, hoping for a more restful night. Bar from feeling a little bruised and groggy, I didn’t feel too bad after my early morning ordeal.

Roughly 5.61 km and 216 m total ascent

After a good nights sleep we had breakfast of frozen yogurt (it was cold overnight!) and we were up and away early in the morning, stopping at the *shop for lunch, dinner and breakfast supplies, before enjoying the drive to Inverkerkaig where we planned to stop and take a short walk. We didn’t rush our journey and arrived at the car park just before lunch. We parked Ellie and made up a picnic to take with us on our planned walk to Kerkaig Falls. There was a car parked already, we didn’t see the occupants, another van arrived before we left and they parked in a very territorial manner, after parking in front of us they moved to take the space directly adjacent to the picnic bench before opening their doors just to allow the dog out for a roam. They remained inside the van.

We left for our stroll, taking the path that follows the River Kirkaig towards the Falls of Kirkaig. There is a good path all the way, albeit it gets more rocky and boggy the further you go, but it was largely frozen so the bogginess wasn’t too much of an issue. It didn’t take us long and we were soon admiring the falls from a safe distance (some safer than others…) before choosing our rocks to sit on and enjoy our picnic.
We soon on our back to Ellie, returning the way we had arrived. We met a man with his dog off lead, oblivious of other walkers. We think he was the Territorial Van Man. We met two young men on an adventure, clad in city clothes, they asked if the falls were much further. It was going to be getting dark soon and they were not half way, so had about another two and a half kilometres before making the return walk. At least they would have torches on their mobile phones to find the path on their way back.

On our return to Ellie, we packed away and set off again, heading for Lochinver then further on to find somewhere to camp overnight. We eventually stopped at a car park and took a look around. We had parked at the Leitir Easaidh Walk Car Park and the signage was very welcoming. There were details of the easy access routes from the car park and there are two toilets within easy reach of the car park. It is a very busy car park, but we decided most visitors were actually local dogwalkers, so we knew there would be less activity once darkness fell, but that it could possibly be busy again in the morning (although, it would be Sunday and there is usually a strong church going community on the west coast, perhaps the dogs would have to wait until after Chapel! I was saddened to find some fly tipping at the opposite end of the car park, but we were happy with the views where we had parked Ellie, we even had a visit from the local wildlife and the traffic quietened down quite early.

We had a pleasant evening, a good signal allowed us to watch some evening entertainment on iPlayer.

Roughly 6.82 km and 289 m total ascent

Late in the previous afternoon, my good friend Vanessa had messaged to say she was home if we would like to visit and as we were so close, I couldn’t resist, she is lucky enough to live in such beautiful surroundings, I was only too pleased to have the excuse. We were up quite early and were keen to make use of the facilities, as we had left a donation in the box provided, so we went for an early morning walk. The first toilet is only about 500 m along the path, but these toilets were closed for maintenance, so we walked to the second toilet a little further along. These are composting toilets and were kept to a really high standard, plenty of toilet roll, hand sanitiser and a floor brush. We decided to follow the footpath, it is really well maintained, but we had no clue as to its route. I wasn’t tracking on Viewranger, but these paths are not marked on the maps anyway. I was expecting a simple circular route, but we walked on and on as day dawned and the drizzle set in. We were not dressed for this, both of us wearing warm but not waterproof jackets and jeans, so eventually I had to admit the best option was to turn around and return the way we had come. On our return to Ellie, I read the leaflet I had picked up the night before and realised we had missed the turning for the simple circuit and were in fact heading to a second car park. That could have complicated things! However, we know for next time…

It’s a very scenic drive to Vanessa’s house, and what a stunning setting! (I imagine, clouds!) We had coffee and cake and a really lovely chat, the dog adored me, and I adored the dog (but I did have to do a complete strip once we had driven away, as I am very allergic *) and the cat also seemed very fond of David (…who is not known for his fondness of cats *laughs like a drain*)
All too soon  we had to leave, with a promise to return, and we set off to find a quiet corner for my quick change and to have lunch before setting off to drive home.

Roughly no idea how long or what ascent, but it was a nice walk. Or at least, it would be if it’s dry and no low clouds to spoil the views.

* I often see the complaint that campervan and motorhome users don’t use local shops, businesses and facilities, but we deliberately try to do so.