Wednesday 18 June 2008

Gone Bush.

Well sort of, using the bushbuddy stove, sourcing fuel, making frying pan bread and getting well smoked.

Tuesday 10th June. camped GR mapLR 48. 264246.

Travelled up yesterday. because of the amount of time it takes to make Oban I miss the last ferry to Mull. Thus have to stop over. Managed to book in to a backpackers hostel for the night. This morning caught the mid morning ferry to Mull. The return fare was very reasonable at just over eight pounds and the ticket is valid for a full month. There is something exciting about heading off to islands with no fixed itinery. The service bus down to Fhionnphort was not due for almost two hours. Somehow though I managed to wangle a lift with a tour bus. Lots of pensioners and pilgrims, I got a few bemused looks, everyone so neatly dressed and me scruffy dressed and snuggling up to a well worn rucksack on the seat next to me. Another short hop on another ferry over to Iona. The place was heaving with folk all making pilgrimages. Me, well I am sorry to report but I headed the other way. Firstly up and around to loch Staoineig. By the looks of it the only water source for the whole island. Had to clamber over barbwire fencing to get water. Three litres of water added to an already heavy rucksack meant just having a gentle amble. Really though it was a lovely walk over to where I am now camped. Tent up and then an explore. Deserted coves, beaches that are oh so white. Watched seals through the binoculars. This trip, being more of a stravaig, has seen me carrying more gear than normal. Binoculars, my baby axe and small knife. The wind is quite blustery which does mean having to sheild the bush buddy.

Wednesday 11th June. OS Map LR48. Gr 321187.

A windy night with the tent being buffeted a bit. Also rain, which had eased by morning with just a heavy shower as I finished packing up. By the time I had walked over to the village I was able to shed the waterproofs. Had a wander around, visited some of the ruins. Even early morning the abbey was getting busy thus did no visit it. Caught the ferry back over to Mull. There was a local shop so took the opportunity to pick up a few bits and a soft drink. A fresh baked wholewheat baguette and a block of cheese promised a good second breakfast later in the morning. Turned on to a tiny road that would lead up to Knockvologan. The campsite at Fidden was predominately caravans, all five of them. Not that I intended to stop there. Despite the northerly wind, the sun was hot, which had me shedding layers. Stopping for my mid morning break saw me basking in the shelter of a large boulder. The sunscreen had to be liberally applied. Reaching the farm at the road end I sat for a while trying to figure the best way across country. As the crow flies it was only a few miles. However, from a high point I could see a deer fence further inland, which I wanted to avoid. Cattle had been turned loose along the coast and I attempted to stick to their trails. What had been marked on the map as deciduous woodland was in fact dense scrub. The whole area was akin to Dartmoor, with many rocky tors and deep hollows. The major difference being the gullies and deep hollows where chocked in this dense scrub which reached to over twelve foot high. Predominately mountain willow and hazel. In the clearer areas it was heather and bracken. Detour after detour was required to pick my way through. At time I found myself teetering on the edge of steep, rocky ravines, choked with dense growth. Following one faint cattle trail I found myself descending in to something akin to a large chamber. A heavily vegetated rock walled hollow, the canopy forming a perfectly domed ceiling. It was a dark, almost gloomy place, daylight only filtering through very dimly. One could disappear in such places and never be seen again. Finally a meandering cattle trail led me down towards the cove. Ground conditions are very dry otherwise much of what I had come through would have been boggy. The downside is that water is scarce. I have sourced a trickle that forms a pool. care is needed to gently skim off water from near the surface. Dip too deep and sediment will be stirred up. There is a wide, flat ledge close to the beach which makes an ideal spot to camp. What more could one ask for? A seclude white beach all to myself, fantastic views and to cap it all there are a whole group of seals on the rocks just offshore. A family of geese, two adults and four chicks paddle in the cove. Oyster catchers patrol the tide line. Buzzards pass by overhead. Sitting here in the evening breeze which keeps the midges at bay the only sounds I hear are the natural life that is going on around me. My first attempts at frying pan bread where a bit hit and miss. A tad too wet and too much in the pan at once. Yes, I am also carrying a frying pan and olive oil for cooking . The lightweight ideal is lacking on this trip. Maybe a few folk, when reading this will be rolling their eyes in horror. Whatsoever, there is a time and a place for all things. This was never intended as a fast and light trip.

Thursday 12th June.

Same camp spot as previous evening. Loitering over breakfast this morning I saw no reason to be pushing on. Decided to stay another night and spend time just exploring. Wandered over to an enjoining cove. Barefooted, the sand firm beneath my feet, it was so pleasant with the sea lapping softly, alone and wearing the minimal of clothing. There was fun too, scrambling over rocks and boulders along the base of the cliffs to yet another inlet. So many fascinating nooks and crannies to explore. Spotted a white tailed eagle overhead, unfortunately it was moving fast, obviously heading somewhere. The seals spent a lot of time hauled out on the rocks close to shore. The problem was that they where just too far away to photo. Their colour meant that they blended in completely with the rocks on witch they where basking. After a few futile attempts to stalk closer, it would have meant wading out to the rocks, I gave up. The seals that where in the water bobbed up and watched my efforts with great tolerance. How though does one photo just a small blob in the water? Finally I just sat down on the beach and watched them through the binoculars. As the tide turned it obviously was bringing in fish with it. The seals became very active, porpoising through kelp beds, diving repeatedly. The continuing north wind has masked how hot the sun has been. Despite the appliance of sun screen my shoulders have caught the sun. My footwear this trip has been my Inov8s. maybe a mistake, one of them has split right across the sole. Originally I had been toying with the idea of heading for Ben More. With iffy footwear maybe not! Have been doing my Ray Mears stuff, collecting kindling, making feather sticks and so forth. Experimenting with the stove, I have found that dry cattle dropping burns well, hot too. Sheep droppings are a bit more smokey but also burn hot. Once the sun goes down it gets noticeably chilly.

Friday 13th. Camped OS mapLR 48. 395188.

After a very unsettled night, not sleeping well and waking a couple of times with a start, though what dreams had caused me to do so I cannot remember. So, this morning, feeling lethargic I was tardy in getting away. Knowing there was a deer fence running down to a cove further up the coast, I headed inland a bit. Hidden in the brush was yet another. Fighting my through the shrubs that had enveloped the fence and clambering over all eight foot of it was difficult. A machete would not have gone amiss as I wound my way through dense bracken, deep heather and yet more dense scrub. Coming out on to the rocks that protruded on the summit of Torr Fada was like coming up for air after a deep dive. Taking a fix on Glac Roineach, it was a case of plunging in once more. Even avoiding the worst areas of scrub by being inland a bit did not mean that I avoided the knee deep heather. Underfoot too the ground was potholed. Obviously much of it was dried up bog, with holes and channels that demanded constant vigilance. Proper ankle twisting, leg breaking stuff. Sitting on one rocky outcrop, scouting the way ahead with binoculars, map and compass, I pondered on how many people had passed that way? Not many, I am sure, certainly very few in recent times. Even the animal tracks had long since vanished. Loch an Scalain was just a marshy, reed infested hollow with little water. Getting down to it was a struggle. Steep ground thick with scrub, bracken and brambles. Dense with no visibility, a seemingly lost world, ducking under low branches, the rucksack constantly snagging, gnarled, spindly dwarf hazel and moss covered boulders. To cap it all at the bottom I ran in to another deer fence. Once over though things improved. Black shapes on the hill to one side of me explained why. A large flock of Soay sheep had obviously grazed the area extensively. Cattle had been let loose there too and I was glad to pick up their meandering trails. Came over the bealach by loch More Ardalanish. A large grey heron flew lazily over the water. Picked my way over to a track marked on the map and then dropped down to Ardalanish bay. How pleasant it was just to wander along the wide curving beach. Just another couple of people walking their dog, quiet, peaceful. A track that led down to Ardchiavaig farm took me up to the road that led to Uisken. On the map a camp site was marked, thought of a hot shower where tempting. A sign indicated where to enquire. Looking around all I could see where a few caravans scattered about. By then it was too late, the lady of the house had spotted me. She confirmed there was camping and it would cost me £1 for the night and did I have water? Taking my water container she filled it for me in the house and then pointed down the hill to the beach, telling me to camp anywhere down there. Basically I have paid one pound for what amounts to a wild camp in a public area. it is not that I have any objection to paying the lady a pound, after all, quite a few farmers will make a nominal charge to pitch in their fields. What is annoying is the misleading campsite symbol on the map. There is, for example, camping, according to the Backpackers guide, at Knockvologan. That is not marked though. Anyway, this evening I have a nice spot at the far end of the bay. A few folk have been out for an evening stroll and seemed a little surprised to see me tucked away here. Maybe I am a novelty item for them? My pan fry bread is improving. A sprinkle of garlic salt in it, a mug of soup and a comfy place to sit, nice.

Saturday 14th June. Camped OS Map48 gr. 404188.
Some rain during the night but dry again by morning. Still not feeling right, tired, listless, lethargic. Rather than stay for another night in my £1 wild camp spot, I moved a bit further up the coast. Ok, it was only a couple of bays up. However, getting there was interesting. Knowing there was a path behind where I was camped, that led up to a cairn on the hill above, I followed it up. For a short time I managed to avoid the worst of the bracken and heather. Soon though I had to take the plunge. A faint sheep track led me down to a narrow valley. It disappeared though as I ascended a small hill on the other side. It is so tempting to thrash one's way through the dense bracken but in fact it is easier to take it slowly and ease a way through. To get down again to the shoreline meant a steep scramble down a rocky gully. Due to the density of the bracken it was difficult to actually see where I was going. Using a trekking pole to part the undergrowth I would peer down, trying to make sure I was not about to stumble into any deep holes. A case of shuffle, feel with the feet, make sure one foot is firmly place before committing the other foot. it was with a sigh of relief when I finally made it on to the boulders that lined that particular bit of shoreline. Ok, it was still a scramble over massive boulders and rough rock, but at least I could pick my route and the rock was not at all greasy. A fun bit of easy scrambling. Port an t-Slaoichain, where I came down, is a rocky little inlet. There is an isthmus, with a slipway on the other side and then a wide, curving beach. On the beach, a boat pulled up high above the tide line. An outboard motor still attached. A petrol can in the boat. Also in the boat, fishing tackle, rods, lines and other bits and bobs. There is a rough track that leads down to the beach but obviously not many people come down here. At the far side of the bay another rocky promontory. On it I found, among a jumble of shattered rock, boulder and stone a beautiful grassy patch. Thus I am camped with sea in front of me and sea behind me. Yes, it has been a lazy day,but sometimes though those sort of days are just as interesting. A lone seal briefly breaks the surface in the bay in front of me, breathes and vanishes. Once more water is scarce, again it has come from an almost dried up stream. Sheep obviously use it, so boiling all water is really a necessity. It is time to consider my next move from here. Originally I had been considering working my way further down the coast. However, the lady I spoke to yesterday warned me that much of the area had recently been extensively criss crossed with new deer fencing. Looking at things as they currently stand I think tomorrow I will stay here and head out on Monday. The wind is still due north. It buffets the tents and raises white caps out on the ocean.
Sunday 15th June. Same location as previous.
Just about to light the stove this morning when I looked up to a hill above the bay. There a large tumble of rocks, according to the map a 'Dun'. From below it looks like a huge cairn. Movement caught my eye. Focusing the binoculars I saw that it was a golden eagle. Unfortunately it did not stay long but took off to fly inland. A mug of tea and the last of the frying pan bread for breakfast. Lingered for a while and then set off to explore. The tide was dropping, rock pools, clear with tiny things swimming in them. A crab, a baby starfish, crustaceans. Sheep where grazing among the seaweed. In among a massive jumble of rocks, the remains of an engine. Obviously by its size, a marine engine, possibly a small coaster, too big for a fishing boat. The question immediately comes to mind, what happened? How did it end up where it was ? It is well in among the rocks. Was the boat driven ashore in a storm? The storm must have been a violent one. What happened to the crew? Did they survive? Where was she from, where was she heading? It is sobering. Black shag are plentiful here. It is amazing to sit and watch them diving for fish. Often the will perch on a rocky outcrop, wings outstretched as they dry off. Gaunt sentinels standing sentry. As I write I can hear the rhythmic, gentle pulsing of the waves on the rocks and shore. There is something quite soporific to it.
Monday 16th June. Oban.
Headed out today. There was no rush. My aim was to catch the bus from Bunessan back to the ferry. It did not come through until 11 35. Strolled up the track, just a slow amble. Saw grey herons. Oddly there where a pair together. Maybe a mating pair? Normally they are quite solitary. Not having had any breakfast, bought a sandwich at the village shop. It was tempting to have taken it back. Fresh it was not. Was back in Oban by early afternoon. Desperate for a shower I finally booked in to b&b. Serendipity, £25 for the night. It looks like I have booked in to a b&b that caters for workers off to other areas and needing a place to stay overnight.. The landlady, a no nonsense sort of woman, but quite pleasant really asked for cash in advance. No cheques or credit cards, strictly cash. Breakfast was between 0700 and 08 30. A basic sort of place, no frills or anything fancy but none the worse for that.
Tuesday. Heading out. An early breakfast at seven has allowed me to catch the 0810 train to Glasgow. As I suspected, most folk who book in to the b&b are probably trades people. At breakfast, breakfast for one, no choice in menu, egg, bacon sausage tomato and beans, tea and toast. All the guys at breakfast where in work clothes. They seemed a tad surprised to have me in their midst but where polite enough and said good morning to me. Looking at the weather forecast I have made the right move in heading out.
A few thoughts on the bush buddy. Using it constantly over the last week has proved an interesting experience. On a trip such as this one, where time is not been of any importance then it has proved to be fine. However, if I was travelling any distance then I probably would stick with gas. It is the time factor. Foraging for fuel is not difficult, but, if I had been on the go all day then just for the sheer convenience of a quick brew and a meal I would use gas. The bush buddy is more time consuming. Boiling a pint of water and cooking a meal requires the stove to be refueled a few times. it burns hot, but also consumes a steady amount of twiggy stuff. As an experiment I did try larger bits of wood, they did not do so well. Wind is another problem, the stove does not like drafts. One way around this is to use a windshield. Bob over at Backpacking Light does some very light and quite large ones. It may well be more beneficial for two or more. One person having the job of being in charge of the stove. Other points to consider are the facts that it is more messy. Think grubby hands, blackened pots and so forth. Not thinking and picking up my cook pot with my hand, rather than a pot grab meant very dirty fingers. After a week I reeked of woodsmoke. Plastic bags are essential to stow pots and stove in. Another factor to consider is the aspect of naked flame, keep well away from tents and remember, most outdoor clothing is nylon, it melts. What it performs like in the rain as yet I do not know. Having said that, yes, I like my bush buddy and would consider using for weekend breaks or short trips where I was just pottering.