Saturday 29 December 2007

Winter walk

As I used to do, I have returned to keeping a rough daily log of my walks on the hills. My own personal experiences, thoughts and views.
Wednesday/Thursday 19th/20th December. Have spent the best part of two days travelling by train and bus from London to Ullapool. left London on the 10 30 Aberdeen train. Changed at Edinburgh. Had been hoping to catch a direct service from there to Inverness. No joy, there is a very limited service to the north. Had to go via Stirling, with a 45 minute wait there. Arrived Inverness 1935hrs. This meant an overnight b&b. From Inverness there are only two daily buses to Ullapool. One at 0805am and the next at 1435Pm. The early one would have been too much of a rush to catch. Thus it was a case of the later option. Spent the morning in the local library reading. Nipped in to a local cafe for a cuppa and some food. Bad mistake, the tea was awful and the food worse, bland and tasteless.There have been heavy frosts in the region recently and on the run down the scenery was lovely. Trees frosted white and a landscape that looked as if it had been dusted with icing sugar, glistening in a late afternoon sun. It took my mind off the driver a bit as he continually gnawed at his fingernails, driving one handed along narrow roads. For an encore he blithefully picked his nose. Not for the squeamish! It had been crossing my mind to get off at Braemore Junction. However, I knew it would be almost dark when we got there and it left me with little option but to continue on to Ullapool. Knowing the area I was well aware that trying to wild camp around the junction would have been difficult. This in turn meant another b&b, something I can ill afford.

Friday21st. Took the bus back back up to the junction. If the ferry service across the loch had been running I would have opted for that and then walked up the back way. No way was I going to spend most of the day on a long, main road plod There are two bus services, a Rapsons and a Scottish city link. The Rapson driver, he of yesterday,s run down, was most off hand and surly. Muttering about booked places, ferry passengers etc. It was obvious, he did not want the hassle of having to stop just a few miles up the road. The other driver beckoned me over. " Pay him no mind lady, he's a miserable bugger. I'll get you a seat on my bus." My rucksack was deftly placed on the crew seat behind the driver. My ticket was was handed to me with a wink, "It's ok, I've seen your concession card!" As the bus dropped me off at the junction and roared off in to the distance reality bit. It was suddenly real, I was on my own and heading out for at least a week. There was still a longish plod along the Gairloch road before I turned off for loch a' Bhraoin. it's odd in a way. At one time, anyone walking down a lonely highland road would automatically have been offered a lift. No more, folk just drive by with sightless eyes. People on foot in such places are now considered an oddity. Coming down to the ruined lodge by the loch I was a bit undecided. Ought I have an easy day and camp or should I press on a bit further? It was still early, the few spots that looked ok where in deep shade and with loch frozen the area felt cold and exposed. Decided to push on up the hill a bit and finally stopped around 1400hrs. Not being fit and carrying a heavy sack, it was enough. There has been wonderful scenery all day. Hills standing out in a sharp clarity that comes with such cold. The river has great lumps of ice in it and is hardly flowing. Managed to get a trickle into my water container. However, that is now frozen solid. The ice axe comes in handy to get the tent pegs in a bit! As I write there is a beautiful moonrise just cresting the hill. Have just checked my baby thermometer, it indicates -10 degrees. Wow, is it chilly or what???
camped tonight at GR OS LR map 20 165719, roughly.

Saturday 22nd. A fairly easy day. With the temperature plummeting last night and then slowly rising again by the early morning. With it came a rising wind. Showers of sleet and snow began to rattle the tent as I packed up fairly late. Picked up the path again and slowly headed up the path towards the bealach. Nothing difficult, just a steady, slow pace. Some care was needed, there was much ice on the ground with water running over it. Had sleet, snow and hail showers all day. Wind is picking up and has swung to wnw. Dropped down to Nest of Fannich and have camped by the old stables at LR Map 20, 164678. Once more, temp. is dropping.

Sunday 23rd. Obviously there are a series of weather fronts coming through at the moment. This leads to some very unsettled weather. Once more, things settled down last night after a few more heavy showers of sleet and snow. later it began to freeze and by morning the tent was sheathed in ice. As I prepared for another day the wind began to rise, big boomimg gusts driving down the corries. The tent was coping well, despite half the pegs being barely in the frozen ground. Most where just weighted down with heavy stones. With the hex it is noticeable when it is pitched tightly, the tent drums in the wind. if it is pitched loosly it rattles and flaps. tried to be away a bit earlier but it was still 0930am before I was packed up and moving. Basically it was just a long haul down through Glen Fannich. Awesome scenery. Stark, sombre hills, rock, bleakness. Purple, bruised clouds lowering over the tops. Thick, scudding before a driving wind. Empty, desolate moorland, open, exposed. The wind was driving the water into a frenzy. Rolling waves, whitecaps, waves breaking on the shore. Spray rising high when they hit rock. Was met by a few small dogs when I got down to the lodge but not a human in site. It was afternoon by the time I turned down glen Grudie and I was starting to feel wearied. Enough was enough. There had been a pale, watery sun for part of the afternoon but by 1430pm it was setting fast. After much threshing around, searching for a spot for the tent I have managed snuck the tent in to a nice spot on the edge of the forestry. Here there are some old, gnarled scots pines and as is often then the case, they have areas of fairly dry and relatively flat ground around them. Am just off the main track but out of site and out of mind at gr, map 20 299636.

Monday 24th. Camped in same spot as last night. Heavy rain and stormy winds thashing through the trees during the night. Woke fairly late at around 8am. Time I sort out all my personal bits, which takes around an hour, it would have after 10am before I got under way. For what i have in mind I need to be away somewhat earlier than that. Thus had a rest day and just pottered about. Went through the trees picking dead grass by the armful. it makes a lovely soft mattress and provides insulation as well. Have been sorting out rations and deciding on which direction to take tomorrow. Had the mad idea of experimenting with pemmican from Expedition foods. Over the last couple of days I have been nibbling it on the go. Yes, it does what it is supposed to do, provides nourishment etc. My advice though is leave well alone, unless you want dire emergency cold weather rations???My main concern is gas. I brought along a larger cylinder, one of primus's so called four season ones. They have a funny sense of humour those people. These cylinders work no better than any other. When it is cold they need coaxing. and stoves tend to burn more fuel in low temperatures.

Tuesday 25th Dec. Strange noises in the night, nocturnal creatures going about their business. Owls screech and hoot. Scuffles in the undergrowth. Moonlight illuminating the tent in soft light. A dark shadow falls, momentarily blocking out the moonlight, a deer browsing outside, unaware, unconcerned. By early morning the temperature had once again dipped. It was now averaging -7. despite best efforts it was almost 0930am before i was underway. The water in my water container had turned to ice and slush. The tent had been rimed in ice. A heavy frost had left everything glistening and sparkling in early morning sunlight. Cold, but oh, such a beautiful morning. With gas being a bit low I had amended things a bit. This in turn meant a spot of road walking. Heading down through Lochluichart and straight on to Gorstan. Metrinome walking, switch brain off and go in to automatic mode, one foot in front of the other, tick tock, tick tock. From there around to Little Garve. The old bridge over the river is spectacular in itself. Solid, built of stone with great craftmanship. That alone would warrant a visit. The tumbling falls underneath are just as spectacular. Following the old trail down past Strathgarvie Lodge and alongside Loch Garvie. Finally I swung off the cycle trail and found a flattish spot on a wide ledge at the edge of the trees. Not the best of places to stop, I was very close to the trail. Spent a bit of time gathering dead bracken to make a cosy nest for the night. I am wearied, today had averaged some 12 miles.

Wednesday 26th December. Another long day. Strong winds caused the trees to creak and groan during the night. Sleet and rain lashed the tent. However I was warm and comfy and just snuggled down deep into the sleeping bag. The tent, situated just inside the trees was hardly affected by the nights stormy weather. Looking out at a grey early morning though was a bit daunting. Rain drifted over the lochan opposite and the temptation was to linger. finally I got packed up and moving. Continuing on down the forestry track toward Contin. Personally I am not a lover of forestry walking but there where plenty of wide open spaces and plentiful views. At the edge of Contin I swung off to pick up the track that led past Torahilty farm and round to the dam at loch Achonachie. The wind was wipping straight down the loch and crossing the high, exposed dam was intersting! Followed a much swollen river Conon down and then followed the tiny road that led up past Muirton Mains and through to Fairburn estate. It took some intricate map reading to get through the actual estate where all the main houses where. Apart from the big, main house, an imposing structure in itself. New buildings had been built too. It was really a small village in itself with little bits of track leading off in all directions. Logging operations did not help either. Managed to stay on course, taking a track that led down past and amazing gorge and past the falls of Orrin. Another minor road, another spectactular old stone bridge. The road led over yet another bridge, the Aultgowrie. These old bridges where built by craftsmen who knew their trade. Following the road past Faebait farm, it was next right and immediate left on to another track. here I hit a problem. An old farmer coming down the track in his landie stopped to chat. my first thought was that he was going ask why I was wandering up his track. He was an amiable old guy though, asking where I had come from. When I told him he grinned, "Ah lady, tha's a hardy woman." When I explained where I was aiming for, re a small track branching off the one I was on, he pushed his cap back on his head and frowned. " Iiihh, weel, I ken the track yis means lady, but nobbits ben doon that way for monny a year!" He pointed out roughly where it used to run. Basically its line following an old tumbled down dry stone wall running alongside thick overgrown woodland. he also warned me the wood was dense and most folks avoided it. Well he was right. The first part was not too bad. There was a distinct line that I could make out on the ground. Tricky, but not too difficult. Soon though I ran into trouble the line was swallowed up by thick tangles of undergrowth and gorse bushes.By some scrambling over barbwire topped fences I stuck with it by keeping to the edge of a couple of fields. Then it was back to the jungle. By careful study of map and the lie of the ground I could discern my line of travel. having picked up water from a small trickle I now had an extra three litres of water to add more weight to the sack. Over another tangle of barb wire and old fencing, deep bog under foot and a slope with yet more dense undergrowth. Finally I found a small trail, Which had been used. Probably people had diverted from the original route. This trail led me on to a well defined track. I have actually camped right on the track. it is little used and I am certain I will not be disturbed. I am right on the edge of the forest, again. I have camped at last light at around 1545hrs. At Gr OS map LR 26 508494. it has been a hard day.

Thursday 27th December. yet another storm during the night. High winds and rain. Woke to hear the wind roaring in the trees and rain drumming on the tent. There was plenty of protection where I was pitched though. As expected, the gas ran out this morning. That really had been the clincher. it had been flitting through my mind to continue walking in to Inverness. It would have been easy enough but would have involved mainly road walking. Strolled down to Beauly to catch a local bus instead. Maybe I am growing more cynical in my old age but it really struck me how many cottages I passed all done up and prettyfied. Houses and bungalows too. Manicured Lawns and gardens. Gravel drives and neat wooden fences with metal gates complete with 'private' signs and 'beware of dog'. It is not the dogs that worry me, just the people. The other noticeable factor is the almost obligatory farm impliments. Single furrow, horse drawn ploughs seemed to be a favourite in this part of the world. It looked like the whole county must have been scoured for them. It makes me wonder, do folk really realise what those ploughs meant. The graft, the labour. People excisting on a pittance, poorly clothed often wet and cold? The amount of work involved just to get a team of horses prepared for a days labour. When the day's ploughing was over another couple of hours at least to get the tackle off the horses, get them fed, bedded down etc? Probably not. It was easy to see the actual farm workers houses. Nothing grand, often unkempt,muddy four fours outside the door. In all probability a battered quad bike and often a tractor conveniently parked outside the front door. A kennel full of excited, barking dogs. Maybe the psuedo country folk ought to try a tractor or two on the drive. Or, for one upmanship maybe a combine harvester??? Had to book in for another b&b for tonight. Nipped out for a bite of fish and chips and then came back to sort things out before travelling tomorrow. Ah the sheer bliss of a toilet I can actually sit on. The sensuous pleasures of a hot shower and clean clothes. There is one slight fly in the ointment. Emptying the sack to haul out wet tent and stuff, bits of twiggy bits, grass and leaves where deposited all over the carpet. The room is immaculate, panic! Thus I was busy down on my hands and knees busily picking up all the bits of debri. Even more consternation as the tent dripped all over the place. My towel from the shower swiftly came in to play as I hastily mopped up water and dabbed off the tent. My muddy footwear was swiftly wrapped in a spare tesco bag. Maybe in many peoples eyes this has just been a pleasant amble over the last week. However, being unfit and not having been out for some months I am quietly pleased. my mileage avearages at roughly fifty miles with a couple of long days that covered in the region of about 11 or 12 miles each.

Ok, for folks who are interested such things, gear. As much as I am keen on going light, my lighter rucksacks where not comfortable under the load I was carrying. This was heightened by the fact of recent surgery. So it was I fell back on my old Macpac ascent. Also, I find that being on the hill in winter does require a more rugged sack. The macpac is heavier, surprisingly not much more than, say, for example the OMM mountain mover. It is fairly bombproof and I am comfortable with it. Inside it has a Sea to Summit waterproof liner. Looking at it does make me wonder if the lighter sacks would take the same abuse. it is muddy and grubby, a workhorse of a rucksack.

Tent, Golite Hex. Ok, it possibly means camping low. it is surprising how much weather it can take though if pitched properly. Tent pegs are a mix, mainly easton alloy because of their extra length. Oddly I had a couple of heavier plastic ones and have bent them.
For a ground cloth I am currently using A heavy duty type space blanket, cut down. That is a draw back with the hex. The floor that can be added is heavy and has to be laid out before the hex is put up. No good in bad conditions. It is very roomy for one and easy to pitch. it can be pitched with the trek poles but I prefer it's own pole.

Sleeping mat is a three quarter thermarest three. Oddly, the same weight as the closed foam mats.

Sleeping bag was the Valandre la fayette. A down bag. Made in France, not China. Just under a kilo in weight. It is lined with a very light silk liner. A tad more warmth and keeps the bag cleaner. That is packed in to a exped waterpoof bag. Also, I used a Rab survival zone bag. Once more it provides extra warmth and protection and doubles as a dire emergency bag.

Stove, primus gravity. Taken because it sits low to the ground. A mistake. It appears to burn more gas than my other gas stoves. Mind, it was operating in sub zero temperatures. The gas cylynder was a primus 220g power gas, supposedly 4 season rated. That is questionable. it constantly had to be warmed to coax gas out of it. The only pot I took was a titanium mug. basically because weight was critical. A mistake, a pot would have been better. A plastic spoon suffices for eating impliments.
Food wise. Expedition ready meals, just add hot water to bag. More expensive but convient and fuel saving. Tea bags and powered milk. Cuppa soups. During the day I got by on jerky and water. (Do not ask about the pemmican!) Chocolate was discarded as too heavy except for a couple of kitkats. Took loose drinking chocolate. Too heavy and messy. Stick to sachets.

Black Diamond trek poles. handy on rough ground and icy bits, also when crossing tricky burns in spate.

Black DIAMOND ice axe and Camp xlc 490 crampons. They are very light. If I was doing anything serious I would have taken heavier stuff.. Not needed but it was a case of, better to have and not need rather than to need and not have.?

Clothing. Three sets underwear, one worn. One set kept in reserve for when travelling back. B&b meant it was possible to wash and dry smalls overnight. 2 light thermal vests. One medium weight patagonia thermal top. 3 pair socks, medium. A pair of thermal bottoms are handy in the tent at night, make a handy pair of pjs if it is very cold and can be worn on outer trousers if needed. A PHd down vest, again, handy if nights get very cold, for extra warmth in the sleeping bag.Boots where a pair of Scarp Nitro's. A low boot , heavier than shoes but good for the condtions. A pair of Outdoor design gaiters. I prefer gaiters when it is wet and mucky. Paramo cascada trousers. very good given the weather. Meant to be worn not carried. They are warm, comfortable and dry. Paramo Alta 2 jkt. A good jkt, for winter and cold conditions. too warm for anything else.
As a spare top I carried a Rab vapour rise smock.
A pair of waterproof, fleece lined Marmot gloves and a spair fleece pair. 2 fleece hats and a fleece scarf.
One of my strange quirks is that I have to travel on public transport. I hate travelling in boots. In winter I travel in a pair of light flats. Also, a pair of light trousers. One clean set of clothing, undies and top, is kept for return travel. Ditto a smidgen of make up. it is a bit of added weight but I accept that.
my wash kit/med bits comes to almost lb weight. However, I have no real choice there.
A tiny radio and usually a book are luxuries packed in.
A petzel head torch and an e lite backup.
First aid kit, maps, compass, whisle etc. A small ortleb document pouch does as a map case. Spare pair glasses. knife, again a tad heavier than required but I have carried my old single blade opinel for many years. Spare cord, biodegradable loo paper. The mobile was in the bag but remained there for emergency only. Water bag was a Nalgene 3 ltr folding canteen.That roughly sums up my kit on this trip. Overall weight on average, 38lb.


  1. Fantastic - both the trip and the details that you've shared about it.

    Desperately trying not to sound like a gear-head - but given the weather, I'm going to have to ask - what tent and sleeping bag did you use?

  2. sounds like a really good trip.real adventure.its been a while since i got out onto the hills and you have made that itch even stronger.hope you have a good new year and may see you on the hills in 2008
    mike[puppy] pitt

  3. Coincidentally, I was kipping at Loch Glascarnoch on Friday 21st/Saturday 22nd. The car windscreen washers didn't defrost until I reached Ullapool on the Saturday morning.

    A cracking report, Dawn, and a nice Yuletide adventure.

  4. Hat's off to you Dawn - this is wildcamping in extremis although I'm not too sure whether to be envious at your escape over the Xmas madtimes, or worry over your penchant for sub zero camping.
    But it works for you

    Now about "I've seen your concession card" Does that mean OAP status already

  5. There is the chance of another trip in the offing. Am really hoping the weather will settle a bit. John, it is an absolut pain packing my zimmer frame. The thing is clumsy and awkward on the hill. Am looking for a titanium folding one???????????????

  6. I'm back home again, Dawn, checking your blog as promised, and VERY impressed. What a Christmas adventure! No wonder the water in your Nalgene froze!

    I'll be adding your blog to my roll.


  7. Great post, I am almost 100% in agreement with you