Thursday 18 December 2008

Paddling in the Lakes

Heading up toCrinkle Crags, Lakes
Last Friday saw me heading north once more. This time it was a trip to the Lake district. Unusually for me, I was actually meeting up with a few folk. The coach journey up was not good. There is a direct service up to the lakes from London. it is a long run though. As we boarded in London the driver announced that we would have to divert due to a serious accident on the M6 which had led to it being closed near Birmingham. After much switching back and forth across country with the driver trying to keep up to date with traffic reports and radio contact with control, we approached Birmingham, which was reported as grid locked. By means of going around the back doubles we finally made Birmingham. A ten minute loo break and we where off again. Unfortunately it took almost and hour to leave the city. In contact with his control once more, the driver was given permission to close part of his journey. Those points where he had no one to drop off or pick up. In this manner we arrived in Windermere only an hour late. Some nine hours of travel. The weather was foul when we arrived. Someone was picking me up from the station but he had also run in to trouble on black ice. Some nifty juggling saw me doing a quick change in the bus shelter out of travel clothes in to my hill clothes and foul weather gear. Shortly after my lift arrived and we headed up to Langdale. The road was flooding in many places. The wind was fairly strong and it was chucking it down with a mix of wet snow, sleet and rain. Arriving at the campsite, it quickly became obvious that many parts of it where either water logged or actually flooded. After a some casting about I found a raised bank at the top end of the campsite that had just about enough room to pitch a few small tents among the trees. The others arrived as we began setting up camp. Everyone nipped over to the nearby pub for a quick drink. Coming back the water level on the road was over a foot deep. The top car park had a river flowing through it. The water level was almost lapping at the car doors. The tents remained above the flood waters, just.

Saturday morning saw the flood levels dropping rapidly but it remained wet with low cloud level. Thus an amble around Ambleside. This was followed by a walk up Loughrigg fell. By then it was just damp with drizzle.

Sunday dawned dry, although low cloud still covered the fells. One or two folk where suffering with sore heads after a little? imbibing the evening before. It was a day for the hill though. Ice axes where strapped to rucksacks, crampons packed and we where away. A steepish ascent up to Red tarn and suddenly we where above any cloud and in clear air. An added bonus was that we now had reached the snow line. Lovely, hard packed snow that made for good walking. The views got better and better as we made our way over Long top and Crinkle crags. There was ice under the snow in places which, although we did not use them, made us glad we had taken ice axes and crampons. Time was getting on and any ideas of doing Bowfell where discarded. Coming down by three tarns conditions where a little slippy and care had to be taken. The light was fading fast as we descended The Band and by the time we made it down as far as Stool End it was dark. The others where heading back but I had until Tuesday. The only day I had managed to get a very cheap train ticket for. Monday saw me going for a stroll and a bit of scrambling up Hell gill. Busy watching where I was going, I did not realise how high I had gone until I paused and saw how steeply the ground fell away below me. Certainly hands where needed as well as careful positioning of the feet. Sleet and rain again on Monday night saw the campsite becoming soggy once more. By the time I packed up to catch the bus down to Ambleside, rain was come down the valley in great sweeping curtains and water was once again flowing over the road.

Red tarn, lakes, partially frozen



Monday 8 December 2008

Sleeping with ponies

Cabin fever had been setting in. Having barely stepped out of the flat for over a week, I was restless. Finances being tight the New Forest was the cheapest option. Also, it gave me a chance to spend a couple of days to work on my bush craft skills. Once more I headed down to Ringwood on the Friday. John H. kindly took time off from a very busy work schedule to meet me at the bus stop, get me a cup of coffee and then drop me off at a convenient starting point just outside Burley. Many thanks John, appreciated. Headed up the main track by Burley Outer Rails. The day was quite pleasant with a low, winter sun. Crossing the Bolderwood ornamental drive, I left the main tracks and made my on rather obscure footpaths. John had warned me conditions underfoot where wet. How right he was. Some places where total bog. At times, just following my nose, I headed up to Bolderwood cottage. Deer where quite numerous but with the density of the trees, I was unable to photo them. At the cottage I took to the drive up to the car park and picnic area. From there, aware that there was not too much daylight left, I made my way up to the Canadian memorial and then picked up the track. Headed across by Fritham cross and around to the underpass. Something else John had warned me about, the horrendous noise of traffic on the A31. It was a ghastly din that battered ones senses. Easing my way past a group of large red cattle with equally large horns that had no intention of moving off the track, I headed over to Cadman's pool. Here I was faced with a bit of a quandary, light was fading fast, I wanted to stay up on the ridge but somehow be far enough away from the car park that still had people driving in even though it was dusk. Managed it in the end, although I could hear cars arriving and departing at different times during the night. This time around I was using another wood burning stove, the Kunzi Magic Flame. In design it is simplistic. Basically it is hinged in such a way that it folds flats, like a large postcard. Open it up and drop the inside base plate and one has a fire box. my initial findings where that it burns hot. Water boiled incredibly quickly. The only down side possibly is the weight. It is the heaviest wood stove I have used. However, it is an ideal bush craft tool. My bivi was set up between a large fallen branch and an old rotten, tumbled down holly tree. Even in death though, there was life. A new holly tree was growing up through the hollowed out centre of the old one. Young holly trees where sprouting up nearby. The chain of life continuing. Read for a short time by the light of a guttering candle until the cold caused me to burrow deep in to my sleeping bag. A clear night sky and bright moonlight promised a cold night. As is my want I woke during the night for a loo break. As I wriggled out of the bivi bag I noticed dark forms all around me. A group of ponies had bedded down very close by. Heads turned in my direction but they where totally unfazed by me. Just before first light they began to stir, rising to their feet and wandering off. Something I had decided to experiment with was a tin of green heat. Supposedly the green alternative to meths. The idea was to use it for a quick breakfast brew instead of firing up the stove. After ten minutes of waiting for a pint of water to boil I decided enough was enough. Getting the stove lit was a lot easier and quicker. Breakfast was a mug of tea and a roll. it was shared with a friendly robin who made short work of the bits of bread offered to him. There had been a frost during the night and the morning was crisp and clear. There was a frost on the ground as I started off. The air was clear and still. the leaf litter underfoot gave off a deep, heady, fecund scent as it was disturbed. Following a defined footpath, I could see it was not going in the direction I wanted. However, across the other side of a boggy hollow I could see a gate that would lead me in to Holly hatch enclosure and a track through the wood. It was pleasant walking through the woods. Deer flitted through the trees. At one point a stag with a magnificent set of antlers ambled out on to the track. He was camera shy though and legged it as soon as I got the camera out. A bird caught my attention and I froze, trying to make out what is was. A spotted wood pecker. Once past Holly Hatch cottage the track got busier. At first a few serious looking walkers, big boots and trekking poles. Nearer to Fritham and the car park a series of dog walkers. Barbour jackets and hunter wellie boots. Most replied when I said good morning to them. Upper class accents to the fore. One or two looked askance at my scruffy appearance and swiftly hurried on. Well, I refuse to curtsy to them. At least their dogs where friendly. One chap looked a tad surprised when I commented on his Labrador. It was one of the older breed, deep chocolate brown and much larger and stockier than today's normal lab. The guy thawed a little and told me he was working on a breeding programme to bring up the numbers of these dogs. There was a track marked around the outer perimeter of Fritham. However. it was signed up as private and a man standing there was rather indignant that I had been considering heading down it. Took to a very muddy footpath instead. Out on to Salisbury Trench and then back across Longcross plain. Picked up the track that led across to Irons Well and back to Fritham. From there made my across Amberwood enclosure, Alderwood enclosure to Hasley hill. Saw a couple of woodpeckers and more deer. In one of the photos taken on the Hasley Hill ridge deer can just about be made out. Double click for a clearer view. Set up a bivi on the ridge. It was still quite early but I had the beginnings of a migraine. Took a migraine tablet and just curled up in the sleeping bag for a few hours. It was fairly late when I surfaced and I still felt non too good. However, I decided that it was essential to get some form of food down. Got the stove going. The warmth it threw out was most welcome. Made a mug of soup and managed most of it. Lay back against an old log as the stove died down. The sky was bejeweled with a star studded arena. A dark shape silently drifted across the night sky. An owl landed high on a tree beside me. In the distance another owl hooted. The owl in the tree replied. A dialogue ensued between the two until eventually on wide spread wings it drifted away effortlessly from its perch, hooting as it went. In the early hours of the morning a stag barked very close to me. Deer where quietly passing by, walking within a foot or so of my bivi bag. A dark shape paused, checking me over, deciding I was no threat it continued on its way. There had been a heavy frost during the night and by morning my water bottle was partially frozen. A cup of tea and I was soon packed up and on my way. Making my around to pick up a track that would lead me over to Ogdens. Two horse riders where heading for the gate that I was going through. To save them dismounting I swung it open to let them pass. One of the horses baulked though. The rider sighed in resignation, explaining to me that for some reason this was one gate the horse did not like. The horse seemed amiable enough and made no protest when I took the bridal and gently led him through the gate. Equine logic is sometimes a little difficult to fathom out! Over at Ogdens, dog walkers where struggling to get their cars down to the car park. Black ice made the going tricky. It was a succession of footpaths from there and eventually followed the Avon path back to Ringwood. Saw another spotted woodpecker as well as a couple of green ones. A quick nip in to the less than salubrious ladies loo, to change out of very muddy footwear and equally muddy trousers. That is why I carry a spare set of clothing. A final remark in my defence. There are a few folk who will read this and roll their eyes in horror at the though of me being tentless. However, apart from the fact that wild camping in the New Forest is illegal. Where I stopped overnight where in areas not suitable for a tent. Certainly it was not done from a lightweight aspect. My bivi bag is an old ex military surplus goretex bag. It is not light, but it is robust. A poncho overhead is there to keep any rain off. Mind, I would love a dd hammock and tarp. At present I am looking for a second hand one, money being tight.

Thursday 20 November 2008

Stealth camp New Forest

Having recieved Bob and Rose's new design Honey Stove from BackPacking Light for trialling, it was a case of getting out there and actually putting it to use. After a bit of pondering I decided to take it down to the New Forest for anover night stealth camp. The area is close to London and is fairly cheap on the bus. A quick shout to John H, who lives in the areas, time and day set up, gear packed and I was away. John met me off the bus and over a cup of coffee in a rather posh coffee shop, we perused maps and discussed best options for a walk and overnight bivi. John suggested a few ideas and drove me out to a starting place. It had been mizzling and damp all morning but the afternoon cleared and we saw a spot of sunshine. John walked with me up to Hasley Hill where we sat and had a five minute natter. On the way up we saw four stags and a small group of deer. Surprisingly they where not that concerned about us. Thanks John for the coffee, lift and reccomendations, appreciated. Parting company with John, I ambled over towards Sloden enclosure and on to Amberwood Enclosure. Coming back up the track by Ashley Cross a forest ranger, driving the other way slowed down to look me over. Trying to look the picture of innocence (?) I smiled and waved. He raised his hand in acknowledgment and drove on. By now the light was starting to fade and I swung off to set up a bivi in woodland by Gaze Hill. From what John had told me, several days of rain had left everything fairly wet. Certainly underfoot conditions where boggy in places. This was going to be an interesting test of the Honey Stove. All the kindling and small bits of wood I gathered where at least damp. Fortunately I had my knife which allowed me to make feather sticks and split wood, allowing me access to dryer material. John must have wondered what I was up to when I took my belt out of my rucksack and hung my knife and camera on it. Wearing the belt loose, it does not interfere with the rucksack hip belt. to On these occasions I carry a fire starting pouch anyway and this allows me to actually start a fire without any hassle. Once started, although a tad smokey, the Honey Stove proved itself as an efficient stove. In comparison to the bushbuddy, this stove holds more wood. In turn it requires less stoking. Although recommendations suggest finger thick wood, I deliberately added stuff that was around the thickness of a thumb once the fire had got going well. The stove coped fine with it. This stove draws well once going, it burns hot and due to its larger capacity its embers remain lit for longer. A pint of water brewed in under ten minutes. It was pleasant sitting in the gloom of early twilight with a hot drink and a small, glowing fire for warmth. The fire burnt to fine ash and with foil underneath the bottom ring there was no environmental impact whatever. The cold ash was scattered in the forest litter, leaving no trace. A fairly pleasant night, a clear sky with brilliant starlight and a half moon. Owls called back and forward through the woods. Night creatures scurried through the undergrowth and deer grazed quietly close by. Rather than light a fire early in the morning I used esbit type fuel tablets. Dropping the top ring down to the middle, it was simply a case of lighting the fuel tablets and within minutes I had a brew. The stove initially warped a bit but soon flattened again. First impressions where that it was a bit fiddly to assemble. However, setting it and getting it lit proved fairly straight forward. My suggestion would be to have a little hand cleaning gel in ones kit. As with any form of fire lighting, hands can get sooty. An added bonus is the if an alcohol hand gel is used it is also inflammable. Poly bags are a must. The morning was clear with sunshine. There had been a heavy dew overnight but I had been comfortable. Coming around the track by Hampton Ridge I managed to walk fairly close to two stags. This is the advantage of having the camera to hand.The photo has almost managed to capture them in detail. If the photo is enlarged by clicking the mouse they can be seen fairly well. Came around by Abbots Well, getting a few glances from a covey of dog walkers. A couple of ladies with very polished accents wished me 'good morning' with a quizzical raised eyebrow at my rather shabby appearance and rucksack. Returning their greetings, making a fuss of their muddy red setters, who where clearly enjoying themselves, I strolled on. Came around by Ogdens, ambling up the lane with a group of ponies heading in the same direction. Headed over Ibsley Common, wet and muddy underfoot and then dropped down to to pick up the Avon Valley path back to Ringwood. An interesting overnight stop. The Honey stove worked well despite damp tinder. A pleasant walk and a welcome break. The one downside was that I was in Ringwood by early afternoon and had a few hours to wait for my bus. A cup of coffee and a insipid pasty, a wander around town, after which I twiddled thumbs for a couple of hours.

Wednesday 12 November 2008

The honey has landed

Well, Rose and Bob over at Backpacking Light.Com have done it again. The postman has delivered me a package. It is the new Honey stove designed by Bob and Rose . They have chosen me as one of the lucky ones to try it out, give it a trial and present my verdict. On first impressions, it appears a little fiddly to first assemble. It is constructed out of light steel. As yet I have not weighed it. My first impression is that this is a stove for the outdoor person but possibly not for the minimalist. Where this one differs from any other wood burning stove out there is the adaptability it offers. Careful thought has been applied and by use of a central tray a trangia meths burner can be used. A trangia gas conversion is also a viable option. The central fitting has been designed so that these burners drop straight in to a central ring. Meths stoves are also a viable option. Ditto esbit solid fuel blocks. The stove is designed in a diamond shape to allow for a variety of pans to be used. The whole unit folds flat for easy storage. Differing trays and a front fuel door can be used or left out as required. Now I need to get out and use it and then will do a proper write up of it.

Monday 10 November 2008

Tuesday 14 October 2008

Found on E bay

Flicking through e bay I came across a section that shipped ex Russian military equipment from the Ukraine. Curious, I ventured further. Most of it was clothing, some nice military headwear, furry hats for the hill in winter? However, the crowning glory was a fully working main T72 battle tank. A snip at fifteen thousand pounds. Shipping can be arranged. Beats the Chelsea tractor any day. Sort of tempting in a way??????????

Thursday 9 October 2008

Winter comes early.

Tuesday 30th September. Camped OS map LR 36 GR 974091 Approx.Came up on the night coach to Aviemore. A long run, road works at Milton Keynes meant a 14 mile detour. An artic lorry rearranging the central reservation and demolishing a lamp post on the motorway meant further delays and then a further accident on the M8 caused yet more problems. By the time we made Aviemore the coach was almost two hours late. Thus fourteen hours of travel with one 15 minute comfort stop. Oh the joys of travel! My first goal was the loo and a few cups of tea. A pot of tea and a scone later and I headed for the fish and chip shop. The last time I used the one in the centre of town, the chips had left much to be desired. There was another chippie further down the road and I headed for that. Horror, it was closed. Disappointed and hungry I cut my losses and headed out. Time was getting on and with the weather being good I wanted to walk a few miles at least. Took to the woods and made my way through the Rothiemurchus forest on paths and tracks. It was fairly late evening by the time I stopped just the other side of Loch Morlich. Tired, the tent was put up in a small clearing among the trees. Damp moss underneath, however, it will suffice for tonight. Strange noises in the wood as darkness cloaks the trees. Roe deer bark close by. Creatures rustle through the undergrowth. An eery, wailing cry echoes across the loch, a loon. Ducks, possibly disturbed by a fox, quack loudly.
Wednesday 1st October. Camped OS map LR36 GR 020105
Slept late this and so made a later start than normal. A few showers of rain during the night but the morning started off dry. Dark, sombre clouds moving rapidly on the tops indicated bad weather further up. Lacy tendrils of thin cloud drifted down the slopes. Made my way through the forestry toward Ryvoan bothy. Gathered a few bits of kindling on the way. Also, found a few pine trees that had exuded drops of resin. Good for glue but also an aid to fire lighting.The path up to the bothy has been much improved since I last walked in this area. Went up to the bothy but it was still early in the day and so continued on to Bynack stable. For a few moments I was thrown. The old stable has totally gone. It had always been a ramshackle of a place but quite a few folk over the years had used it as a rough doss. Also, there was now a footbridge over the river Nethy and the path had been much improved. The river crossing had often been tricky in bad weather and the surrounding ground boggy. By now it was raining and the wind was rising. The temperature was dropping too. Taking stock of the situation I knew that if I headed up Strath Nethy there where few places to camp. Heading around to the Fords of Avon offered much the same choice. Also, it would have meant a high and exposed pitch. With the rain increasing in intensity it was not a difficult decision to camp where I was. Gusts of wind coming in from the north, north east snatched at the tent material as I pegged it out. Out of curiosity I wanted to find out if it was possible to use the bush buddy in bad weather. With the rain lashing down, complimented by sleet and hail, I was doubtful. It was tricky but I managed it. Basically set up the stove with kindling, some fat wood shavings and pine resin, under the opening of the tent, lit it and and then popped the cooking pot on top. It had to be shielded from the wind as Tonight is cold and here down low it is sleeting so probably it will be snowing higher up.
Thursday 2nd October. Camped OS map LR36 GR044936.
The weather eased during the night but the temperature plummeted. Woke to a frozen tent this morning. The tops have a fine dusting of snow. Mulling over what to do, it was obvious that more bad weather was on the way. The sky was a bruised blue black. Looking up Strath Nethy the glen looked ominous, dark, brooding, hemmed in by steep crags. Already the cloud base was dropping. One of the options I had been considering was to nip up the glen to the saddle. Another was to nip over the Barns of Bynack. That would have meant a long day in poor weather. Not really viable. In the end I opted for the straight forward route, following the path that comes around below the Barns. Not a difficult proposition but oh my, it was boggy, much mud and water. As I climbed up the hill away from the river cold rain was already drifting across. As I came around to the Fords of Avon it was more sleet and wet snow than rain. The idea of camping in the region where scrapped. There was little choice but to continue over the Lairig an Laoigh and down towards Glen Derry. Hail, sleet and snow continued to harry me as I came over the bealach. It was obvious a storm was brewing. Heading down the glen hail beat a tattoo on my waterproofs. Curtains of rain sweeping down off the tops chivied me. What a relief to get down to the trees near the old lodge. Tomorrow evening Duncan, one of the blogging community is coming up from Aberdeen. He requested that I camp near the lodge on the east side of the river. Have managed to find a nice spot among the trees. Tonight all is noise and tumult. There is a great roaring in the trees as the storm rages all about me. The wind is actually coming from two directions. This part of the glen is obviously a confluence for the wind. Driving down Glen Derry and sweeping down from upper Glen Luibeg. The tent is well snugged down but it is a tad daunting as strong gusts buffet both the rear and side. Rain and ice add to the clamour. Natures orchestra at full volume.
Friday 3rd October. Same location as last night.Spent the day pottering. The worst of the storm blew itself out by this morning. The snow line has dropped and flurries of snow where actually falling down here in the glen. Stags have been roaring. An ancient primordial sound, there bellowing echoing around the hills. Went for a wander but did little all day. Duncan is due in tonight. He will arrive well after dark. Initially I was a little unsure how he would locate me. Even in the daytime the tent, being a dark green, is difficult to spot. However, I brought with me a tiny, but bright red flashing led light. With a couple of old tree limbs I rigged up a point to hang the light on. It feels surprisingly vulnerable to have this little light flashing away. At one point while waiting for Duncan I heard a strange sound. Looking out I could see nothing in the Stygian darkness. A quick flash of the head torch, a grunt and a pair of eyes staring back at me. A stag, he had been curious about the flashing led and had come to investigate. Duncan came in at around 22oohrs. He was laden with food. Unfortunately I had already decided to head out on Sunday. My original plan had been to head up on to the tops for a few days. With the current weather conditions that idea had to be shelved. Getting through the Lairig Ghru probably would have been no problem. However, I do not find the west side of the Cairngorms as interesting. It would have meant a few days just doing low level stuff and marking time. best to quit while still enjoying myself.

Saturday 4th October. Camped OS map LR 43 GR 052895
Rain was pattering on the tent early this morning. Bacon butties for breakfast. Looking at the weather we decided on a low level route. A pause at Luibeg bridge for photos. it gave us a moment to catch our breath. Starting off this morning I had not felt that good. Rain, which had been threatening, now began to fall steadily. Coming over the shoulder of the hill the view ahead was atmospheric. Thick cloud in the Lairig, Corrour bothy, low and squat below the high crags. It was a wet and slippery descent to pick up the path down Glen Dee. Much of the upper path was waterlogged with wet, boggy conditions underfoot. Looking back we saw a wonderful rainbow arching right across the glen. A waterfall on the other side of the river tumbled down the hill in a cascade of foaming water. At one point I managed to drop in to a hidden hole. No damage done just wet feet. Further down, slipping on a patch of mud I took a tumble, the weight of the rucksack pushing me forward. Duncan, being the gentleman, was kind and helpful. He did not even take a photo. As we descended the weather began to clear. Looking back we where treated to an awesome of steep crags, snow on the tops and even a glimpse of the sun, wonderful. We paused for a quick break at White Bridge and then strolled down to where we are now camped. This is Duncan's home turf and he certainly knows some good camping spots. Fired up the bush buddy in the last light. Duncan was treated (?) to fried pitta bread with cheese inside. A good day and a pleasant evening.
Sunday. We headed out this morning.Duncan has kindly put me up for the night and I am heading down on the night coach tomorrow evening. Thank you Duncan, much appreciated.

Saturday 20 September 2008

Island wandering


19th September. Camped Coll. OS map LR46 GR 219555.
Did the long run up last night and continued on today. By the time I got off the ferry at 1745 I was bone weary. My one goal was just to find somewhere to camp as quickly as possible. Even before I left last night I was feeling out of sorts. Recent personal events taking their toll. In the last week or two I had not been sleeping that well.It is quite noticeable on the coach, how, when we stop for a break, the smokers dash out of the coach, gasping for that fag. Some will remain, puffing away until the last moment to get the maximum nicotine fix. Quite a few folks, we women in particular, make a beeline for the loo.Conversation on the ferry with a guy, supposedly an instructor with some outdoor group. He asked where where was going and so forth. His main concern was that I was travelling solo. "Humhp! do you think that's a good idea?" As far as I am concerned then yes and I told him so. "I assume you've left route cards, gps and fixed points where you will be camping?" Nope, nothing like that. He was shocked. "That is totally irresponsible, you could die out there and how would anyone find you?" Not being in the frame of mind for his attitude my reply was brief and to the point. In a few short words I told him in no uncertain manner that having no next of kin or family there was no worry of family missing me. If I died on the hill, well, so be it. In all probability no one would be aware of it for many weeks. He stormed off in high dudgeon. A lady who had overheard our conversation grinned at me. "Idiot, who does he think he is? Glad you put him in his place."Once the ferry cleared Mull we ran in to quite a heavy swell. Most odd, sitting on the loo with the water in the pan sloshing from side to side.There is some drizzle tonight and the grassy bit I have thrown the tent up on is fairly wet but it will suffice for tonight.
Wednesday 10th September. Camped Coll. OS map LR 46. GR182533.
Was late away this morning. If there had been water I would most likely have stayed put for the day. however, the water I picked up last night was a bit thick and looked a tad unhealthy. So I moved on. Strolled up to Arinagour, picked up a couple of bits in the village shop and head back out on to the coast again. Fairly rough going for a mile or two but not too bad if I stayed inland a wee a bit and tried to keep to slightly higher ground. The wind had been gradually picking up during the day and I had one eye on the weather. By the looks of it a storm was coming in. The waves breaking on the rocks. By mid afternoon a light rain was also falling and I decided it was time to stop. Passed up on a few lovely places to pitch. considering them too exposed to the prevailing wind. Opted instead for a wide grassy ledge snugged in by a large rock. Tent just fitted in. By this evening a storm is now blowing, strong winds buffeting the tent. rain lashing down and in the background the booming of waves breaking on the rocks. Have been seeing flocks of grey geese all day. Also oyster catchers, what I am fairly certain are dunlin and snipe.
Thursday 11th September. same place as last night.

Unable to settle during the night. Slept badly. Too much on my mind. Pottered during the day. Rough seas meant no chance to attempt fishing. Found mussels but they are all tiny. All around this area are the remains of lazy beds and crumbling dry stone walls. Evidence of much human endeavour. Managed to get a fire going despite everything being wet or least damp. Rain showers on off during the day. raining again tonight.

Friday 12th September Coll. Camped OS map LR 46. GR171579Once again, heavy rain during the night but the wind had dropped. Fairly dry by morning. Tent was packed away wet though. Was away fairly early this morning. Listless and as yet, not settling down to this trip. Violent headaches are more frequent than normal. Picked my way up the coast. As I came around the bay at the head of Loch Gorten a group of young highland beasts came galloping along. Typical young cattle, just generally curious. Though it did cross my mind how the farmer would react if he saw me walking along the beach flanked by his beasts! The ground underfoot was wet and in places decidedly boggy. Keeping to higher ground the going was not too bad but each time I had to cross lower ground things got decidedly wet. This was very much the case as I made my way around to the bay at the head of Loch Breachacha. It meant wading through thick almost waist high marsh grass. We, wet, wet, my trousers where soaking. The bay was lovely, a wide, curving open sandy beach. Geese everywhere, loads of wading birds, peewits, more oyster catchers and curlews. There are two castles by Loch Breachaca, one rather crudely restored, slathered in cement. The other, although lived in, looked in a poor way. two wings of it where derelict. The farm at Carpach was in similar condition. The majority of its buildings in a state of collapse. Came over by Hogh bay, which is a RSPB reserve. A heavy surf breaking on the beach. The water was cold too as I paddled bare footed up the tide line. It is noticeable how free these beaches are of flotsam and jetsam. Picking up odd bits of wood for a fire was hard work. At the other end of the bay found some crystal clear running water. An opportunity not to be missed. As I went to fill up with water a middle aged couple who had wandered up from the car park, came hurrying across. "Oh dear, you musn't drink that water, cattle have been drinking it!" In fact I was filling up above where the cattle had been drinking. Giving them a smile I answered. "It's ok, I am sure the cattle won't mind." The guy looked a bit put out by that. Giving me a look he went on. "Anyway cattle are dangerous and those are very dangerous, there is a huge bull with them! He looked at me in horror and stalked off with his wife in tow when I mentioned that I had no problem with the cattle or the bull and had passed them as I came up the beach. It was an early camp, with fresh water and a lovely spot on a wide, grassy shelf on the cliff, out of site and mind of anyone passing by. With a heavy sea running, large waves are rolling. Their crests smoking, with a booming, thudding crash they explode on the rocks across from where I am camped. Fountains of spray are sent shooting high in to the air. Awesome to watch. Quite mesmerising. Got a small fire going to cook supper on. One or two folks have criticised me for lighting open fires. In my defense I would say any fires I light are not lit where they can cause damage or get out of control. On this occasion, I moved a small boulder, dug a fire pit underneath. Once the fire was finished with I ensure everything was burnt, no lumps of charred wood, just ash. Also made sure it was totally extinguished, back filled the fire pit and replaced the rock. Thus leaving no trace whatever. That is the way it should be.

Saturday 13th September. Coll. camped OS Map LR46 GR226629.
Rain during the night and then a heavy dew leaving everything soaked. Woke to a still, grey morning. The midges where out as I packed up. Started off in a thin drizzle which soon gave way to steady rain. Headed over to the Hebridean centre and then up the road for a mile or two. Had two cars on the road. Obviously rush hour! Came around by Clabhach to be confronted by a wild looking pony on the road. He snorted and rolled his eyeballs at me. Spoke to him gently and he finally settled down and we parted on more amiable terms. Came back on the coast to wander up miles of rocky outcrops, rolling sand dunes and expanses of pristine sandy beaches. Saw a few tracks on some of the beaches but they where quite old and smudged. A couple though sparked my interest. Turned back down the coast and sure enough, there where some fresh distinctive tracks leading from a small stream down the beach and out towards the sea. Now, I am far from an expert tracker, but I was fairly certain these where otter tracks. The location was right too. Fresh water which otters like to bathe in and plenty of seclusion. Decided to stop and focus on that particular area. Got the tent up and with the rain having eased off, sat outside with the binoculars. With the tent behind me my silhouette does not stand out at all. For a couple of hours I sat scouring the offshore rocks. Seal, seal, diving birds, (shag and gannet), lump of kelp, seal. Suddenly something caught my eye. A small dark shape moving swiftly, not seal. Voila, otter. It dived and re emerged. Otters move very differently from seals and the rudder like tail is distinctive. For quite a while I managed to track it. The otter then vanished and I thought I had lost it. But no, it had clambered on to a long fin of offshore rock and scampered along the spine of the rock. It had started to rain again, too bad, I was not going to miss this by putting my waterproofs back on. This otter was big and very dark coloured. Suddenly it was joined by a second otter. Slightly smaller and a bit lighter in colour. This one also had a pale cream coloured bib under its chin. The pair obviously knew each. They rolled over and where soon busy playing on a patch of seaweed. Rolling and writhing around each other and having fun. Too soon it ended and they both took to the water together swimming off side by side. A mother and almost adult cub? Possibly a mating pair. By the size of the dark coloured otter, I would suggest an adult male and the lighter, slightly smaller a female. It has been a long time since I last spotted otters so I am feeling pretty pleased.
Sunday 14th September. Coll. Camped Arinagour.
A lazy day. Woke to a slightly chilly, blustery day. It had rained on and off for most of the night. Managed to pack up in fairly dry conditions. My intention was to wander back up the coast a bit and then cut across a golf course marked on the map back to the road. Had not seen the course on the way up but I had not been looking for it. When I did spot it I was totally confused. According to the os map, the course it was located on the other side of a t junction from where I was. However, unless my map reading had thrown a total wobbly, I found the course down by Gallanach. over a mile from where the map said it was. Ok, I can accept the map people making the odd mistake, but how can they misplace a whole golf course? For a Sunday the road was awfully busy, one car, one tractor and a herd of cows. In the morning I am catching the ferry to Tiree and my intention had been to camp close to the village. On a hill at the back of the village, close to the church I spotted a couple of tents. Making a few enquiries I found it was an official camping area. Not a camp site, but an area where camping was permitted. Water could be had from outside the public loo by the pier at the other end of the village.It had been threatening to start raining again and sure enough, as I put up the tent on a nice heather clad ledge on the side of the hill, it began to pour down. Rain continued through the rest of the afternoon. At times heavy. A break in the weather later this evening had me scouring the inlet directly below me. The tide was almost fully in. Once more a multitude of birds where feeding. Suddenly, and only too briefly I spotted an otter swimming across the inlet to quickly disappear again.

Monday. 15th September. Tiree Camped OS map LR 46. GR016472 Rain for most of the night but just drizzle by this morning. Sort of grey and driech. Was down at the ferry terminal fairly early. It is only an hours run from Coll to Tiree. Had a cup of tea in the cafeteria. it had been my hope that I could have had a plate of chips. CalMac do nice chips. No luck though, too early.The first that strikes you is how flat Tiree is. The houses are quite uniquely designed too. Some with walls several feet thick. Low and squat. Wind being an obvious problem on the island. Heading up the road towards Gott and it was case of back in waterproofs again. My aim was for a track that led across the island. There is a road that leads up to Gott farm and the track continues on from there. As I was heading up towards the farm buildings an old farmer pulled up in his car. He thought I had made the wrong turn off. There is a road close by that heads in the same general direction. The guy was obviously curious but I reassured him I was ok and heading in the direction I wanted. As I approached the farm buildings he was waiting for me. Bless him, he was concerned for my well being. "Tha'll be fair drookit time tha gans across the island. Onyway, thon wee bitty track'll be awfie wet and flooded too!" He beckoned me towards a big old barn and led me inside with a flourish. The chap was delighted I could relate to things concerning farming and we nattered for a bit about cows and milking and lifting tatties, thinning neeps and such. Well I sat for a while listening to the rain drumming ever heavier on the tin roof. Finally though, I made a move. Now this may seem perverse and odd, but I could not settle. To be honest, I felt closed in and I wanted to be out and walking despite the wet weather. With a sigh I put on the waterproofs and headed out again. The track was indeed flooded in places but I was happy enough. When the track ran out I just continued on up the coast towards Vaul and then doubled back. A rugged coastline this, storm battered. Briefly saw an otter swimming out among the rocks. With the rain coming down though the binoculars had to remain in the rucksack. Finally decided to stop for the day. it was case of finding the driest bit of wet ground to get the tent up on. Most of the ground was saturated and boggy. Do I regret passing up on the nice comfy, dry barn, with straw to put my sleeping on? Oddly enough, no. Ok, everything is either wet or damp and it is still raining but that really goes with the territory. When I took my boots off this evening steam rose steadily from my socks.

Tuesday 16th September. Tiree. camped OS map LR 46. GR 049451.
Rain finally died out last night to be replaced by a strong northerly wind. Made my way further up the coast turning back by Cornaigmore and the heading along the road past the airport. There was a tea room along the way. Sadly it was closed. Further down by Crossapol I found a village shop. Having only had a cup of tea for breakfast meant that I was in need of an early brunch. As can be the way of island shops, they had no rolls in. No delivery for another couple of days. All the lady had was a couple of fresh baked farmhouse loaves. Ah well, as needs must. Bread and cheese it was going to be. Uncivilised woman that I am, I found a sheltered spot on the beach and settled down for a break. Slicing off a couple of thick slices of fresh bread and a few chunks of cheese. All washed down with fresh orange juice. Actually saw a couple of dog walkers on Traigh Bhagh. Meandered on up the coast to Scaranish. There where a couple of folk camped on the grass by the beach. For me it felt too open and exposed to the public. Filled up with water from the tap by the loos and came on around to where I am now camped. Very close to the ferry terminal but sufficiently out of sight not to get noticed. Saw a few hares today. Quite distinctive with black tips on their ears. Also saw a vole. Today has been mainly dry and I have actually managed to air things out a tad.
Wednesday 17th September. Oban.
Drizzle this morning with a spot of heavier rain. Was packed up and down at the ferry terminal not long after nine. On the ferry I joined the queue for a cup of tea. The lady behind me stank of perfume. Sorry folks but strong perfume is not my thing. Also, after being out and about for a few days my sense of smell becomes more attuned to what is around me. She was all prim and proper, blue rinse and everything. She shot me a scathing glance as she took in my rather shabby and dishevelled appearance. As I sat down with cup of tea she joined her two companions seated just a few tables down from me. It very quickly became apparent I was being discussed. Snatches of conversation drifted my way. "Did you see that woman? How disgusting. Her trousers where utterly filthy." Ok, fine, my trousers are old, stained and showing signs of wear. After over a week of wearing them through wet grass, bog, sheep muck and everything else they are not going to look all nice and pristine. The three of them continued on with surreptitious glances in my direction. "She looks awfully butch doesn't she! I'm surprised they tolerate that sort of thing out on the islands. She looks as if she needs to see a good hairdresser too." It makes me angry. Unfortunately I find that sort of attitude difficult to handle. For me, it is safer just to walk away rather than head towards confrontation. Fine, I do not have good looks, maybe I am all lumpen and not nicely shaped. Possibly if I slapped on loads of make up and did my hair and everything it may make a slight difference. Carrying a hairdryer and a full make up bag on the hill though is not really on. A smidgen is carried in a small pouch but it is bare essentials only. Besides, I doubt it would make a major difference. Sometimes I wonder why I bother. Anyway, an overnight stop in Oban in a hostel. Cheap and cheerful, it provides me with all I need. Tomorrow heading out on the first bus and will be travelling for the rest of the day.