Thursday, 31 December 2015

Gales, mud and flood

The Christmas period is never a good time for me.This, in many respects probably was the driving force in my desire to get away for a winter trip. Why I opted for the Fisherfield Forest area is unclear, even to myself. Having been there before and knowing that conditions could turn nasty very quickly in the winter months, ought to have deterred me. Common sense, it seems, went out of the window.
The Monday prior to Christmas saw me heading north. The change of trains at Edinburgh went fairly well. With time being limited, there was no time to pick up a bite to eat. It was a case of small train, large crowd with a high degree of chaos. A lady trying to squeeze her way on board finally announced in a loud voice " ladies and gents, I have to get on board, I am the train guard!" Luggage space being minimal folk struggled to find a space for the many heavy and large suitcases. My rucksack looked compact in comparison to some!
Well aware I had no chance of an evening meal, a sandwich and hot drink from the onboard trolley service had to suffice. The so called cheese was bland, the bread, low grade cardboard and the coffee was dire.
The train arrived late in to Inverness causing a few anxious moments. The Gairloch bus only runs a  three day a week service. It travels up in the morning and returns in the evening. Missing the bus would have meant a wait until Wednesday evening for the next one. Made it with minutes to spare.

Heavy rain and wind on the way up gave some indication of the prevailing conditions. The bus driver very kindly dropped me directly outside of the B&B I had booked for the night. Supper was a cup of tea and a shortbread biscuit.
A good cooked breakfast was enjoyed in the morning. The landlady was most concerned about me setting off in the current weather conditions. Politeness meant I refrained from mentioning the fact that I simply could not afford the luxury of a week in B&B.
With high winds blowing and heavy, squally showers blasting through, I opted to head down toward Cove. One such squall blasted me off the road in to the ditch. Loch Ewe looked quite awesome as the wind and rain  churned the water up in to a frothing fury. In between the rain, conditions actually brightened for short periods.

It was obvious that finding a place to set up camp for the night was going to be difficult. After a particularly bad squall, complete with thunder and lightning, I backtracked a bit and managed to squeeze the tent in out of the way of the worst of the weather.

Torrential rain and gales through the night was unsettling. Worse was the thunder and lightning. Great jagged streaks of light illuminating the night sky and deafening claps of thunder. At one point directly overhead, scary stuff.
Things had eased by morning although taking down the fly sheet involved a spot of wrestling. Retracing my footsteps back to Poolewe and then onwards inland toward Kernsary. Fortunately it remained dry if windy.
With a heavy pack and no rush I was content to take it easy.

The river Ewe, one of the shortest rivers in the UK, was well in spate.

The wind was gaining in strength as I came by Kernsary and with it came more rain. The ground was waterlogged which made finding a place to camp difficult. Fortunately I spotted some old stone pens nearby. The one down side was they had been heavily churned up by horses hooves. There was little option though, the wind was working itself up in to a grand old tizzy.
.The tent was pitched in the driest part of the soggy ground.. It was a night of tumult, filled with the roar of gale force winds and the drumming of torrential rain on the fly. Rocks were placed on all the pegs. Every so often, above the howling of the wind, came an an even deeper rumble as a particularly strong blast of wind came blasting through. Most of my stuff remained packed in case  I had to bail out during the night. Somehow the tent remained standing. Another difficulty I had was another spate of stomach problems. Something that has been ongoing for a while now. It took five imodium to settle things down.
By morning the wind had eased but the heavy rain continued. After a sleepless night it was an easy call to snuggle down and get some sleep. For a short period of time in the afternoon, the rain stopped, giving a brief respite.

The rain was back later on the Thursday afternoon and continued on though until early Friday morning. Surface water was covering the whole of the sodden ground where I was camped and I was glad to be out of there. It was amazingly mild for the time of the year.
Initially I pushed on toward Carnmore. Conditions underfoot were abysmal though and the going arduous. All was bog and wetness, twice I sank up to my knees. Finally I gave it best and turned back.. Coming around by the track running up by Kernsary I was met by a group of garrons. These highland ponies are big stocky animals, bred for their toughness. Obviously pleased to see me and probably looking to be fed, they pranced around me like excited teenagers. At one point I was flanked on all sides by them. A black stallion was standing with his back to me a little further down the track. One thing one must never do is approach a horse from the rear without them being aware of it. They do not take kindly to it, so I made sure he knew I was there. He was quite an amiable chappy though.

With plans yet again revised I now took the path that runs along the banks of Loch Kernsary. A lovely walk and it is part of a popular circular walk from Poolewe Indeed I met a couple folk out doing the round to walk off their Christmas dinner. For the last hour or so I had been feeling out of sorts. A bit light headed and wobbly. Just before Poolewe I found a spot to camp in a wood below the path. It was fairly well out of sight too.. Supper was a mug of soup and a cup of tea. Later that evening I was sick. The next morning I wanted to press on but, still not feeling right I finally opted to stay put, which was a bit frustrating.

Sunday morning I pushed on. A tedious road walk, at least enhanced by lovely views out over Loch Ewe.
By now I was working on plan C, or was it plan D? At least I was was working on a plan of sorts, I think? Having lost a day had meant a few more alterations to a loose idea I had been working on.
Spot the stag!

It was with a sigh of relief when I finally turned off the road to follow the track that leads up toward Loch na Moine Buige. There are actually a chain of lochs all the way up. Cattle had been turned out on the hill and oh my, what a mess. They had churned the sodden ground in to a gloopy morass. Trying to pick a way through the glaur was difficult.

The map had depicted areas of woodland. This proved to be misleading. In actual fact, on the ground were areas of recently planted spindly little specimens. Some obviously nibbled by cattle and probably deer too. A tad frustrating too. Woods offered a degree of shelter from the wind. It now meant I had to find somewhere out of the way of what was promising to be another wet and windy night. Pushing on higher, I finally found a drier bit of ground among a jumble of rocks and boulders to pitch the tent. It was a tight squeeze and the tent was not pitched too pretty but it had to suffice.
 High winds and rain during the night. Rocks on the tent pegs ensured they stayed put.  Packing up in the morning was interesting. The flysheet was keen to be off in the gale and I had to kneel on it as I pulled out the pegs. Once underway I pushed on but by the time I reached Loch Mhic Ille  Riabhach though, it was obvious things were becoming untenable. The wind was head on and I was struggling to make any headway. Finally admitting defeat I was forced to turn back.
What followed was a lengthy road plod around to Little Gruinard. The wind still harried me but it was not so bad down on the coast. Cars were scarce on the road and despite sticking my thumb out a few times nobody stopped. It was just as I was going to head down on to the beach to camp that a young lad stopped to ask if I was ok!
Events of the following couple of days will be written up in a part two.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Cateran Hole and Blawearie. Northumberland

Another one of Mike's delightful walks. With the car parked in the village of Eglingham, we headed down a lane toward a farm by the name of Tarry, which we did not. Steady walking brought us on to Cateran Hill.

 After a wee spot of heather bashing, Mike brought us to the Cateran Hole. A natural fissure or cave in the millstone grit. Reputedly used at one time by smugglers to hide their wares. Steps lead down in to the opening. Mike, donning head torch, disappeared rapidly inside. Lucky though was not so enthusiastic. It is a fascinating feature and worth a visit.
A spot of lunch out of the blustery wind and then we proceeded onward and around to Blawearie. Now a ruin but at one time quite a substantial, well built farm.
 Nearby is an old iron age hill fort. In its day it obviously must have been a fair size. It sits above the Harehope burn which flows down through  Corbie Crag and Grey Mare's Crag. Quite impressive rock features.

From there it was a somewhat boggy walk to Harehope farm and back to Eglingham. A dry day, windy but exceptionally mild. A good days walking covering nine miles.

Friday, 11 December 2015

Darden Rigg

A nice wee walk proposed by Mike. Parking the car a couple of miles the other side Hepple there was a noticeable chill in the air. Descending down to cross the valley bottom there was much evidence of flooding. The ground underfoot was extremely wet. The well marked footpath skirts around Cloven Crag and ascends gradually upwards leading to a cairn and a trig point. The going was not the easiest. The narrow path made its way through thick heather and in many places was slick with running water and mud.

. From the trig point things became a tad more interesting. We picked ( floundered?) our way though deep heather and boggy ground toward  Dough Crag. There was a semblance of a track heading toward Little Lough. It is my suspicion Mike takes some delight in tip toeing through tussocks and and bog? We certainly had plenty of boggy stuff. Lucky is never too keen on the wet stuff..

Once we reached Darden Rigg  it was a matter of backtracking. A cairn marked on the map provided welcome shelter out of the nithering wind for a welcome spot of lunch. Picking our way over toward Darden Lough I manage to attempt a disappearing act by falling awkwardly in to a concealed hole. Fortunately, apart from a ricked ankle, there was no real damage.

The descent down by Millers Moss was a wee bit tricky in places. A case of slip sliding away?  Due to the very wet and boggy conditions care had to taken to avoid falls.
A pleasant day out though, with a distance covered of eight and a half miles.