Friday 4 December 2009

Dales Ramble

Having been invited up to the Dales by a friend, I travelled up to Leeds on the coach where she picked me up. On our first night we stayed over at Grinton lodge YH, having the whole place to ourselves was novel experience and rather nice. The moon was riding high and shining bright tempting us out for a short walk, the night was frosty and ice covered much of the road and due to the fact we had little cold weather clothes on meant we did not linger for too long; if we had been dressed more appropriately it would have been a good night for a walk. When we returned Rachel made hot chocolate which was most welcome, especially being drunk in front of an open fire.
After a sumptuous breakfast the following morning we headed over to Garsdale, stopping at Hawes on the way. The small road leading up the valley was icy and the car struggled to get any grip. After some tricky juggling we eased the car back down to park at the side of the road and decided to walk up the valley instead of driving. Ice on the road further up made the decision a wise one. Several houses are still in use high up the fell, unfortunately most are now holiday lets. One such, now being refurbished was at one time occupied by relatives of Rachel's; so it was a nostalgic moment for her and possibly in some ways a sad one too. Beyond the last of the buildings an indistinct path led us higher up the hill to a saddle; Rachel proved very adept at finding the way ahead. By now the best of the day was gone and the light was starting to fade; also, it was obvious the weather was on the change. After some casting around we got the tents up and the stoves on for a brew. This was Rachel's first winter wild camp and later that evening, in increasingly bad weather with snow now being driven by strong winds, Rachel admitted her growing apprehension. Sitting with hot drinks and a snack in my tent we discussed the matter; I admired Rachel for her honesty; there is no point in false bravado and silently suffering. After talking things through we unanimously decided it better to pack and head back down the valley. Working swiftly by head torch we packed up camp and began to head back out. After a momentary few minutes of indecision we steered on a direct compass bearing; unfortunately directly in to the driving wind and snow, our head torches illuminating the swirling snow, lonely islands of light in the darkness. Keeping to a simple navigation technique I stayed at the rear with the compass with Rachel ahead of me. With great fortitude and patience she accepted my brief and somewhat terse commands; 'left Rachel, left, left, bear left, right a fraction, right, slow down a tad lass'. If anyone had been able to see and hear us they may well have thought I was teaching her to herd sheep, 'come by, come by, away, away, steady now, easssy'??? The one downside with steering on a direct bearing was the fact that we where negotiating some horrendous ground, bog, tussock, thick reed and small, meandering streams. A few time I plunged in to unseen bits of bog; at one point I slipped and went in to a stream. To cap it though I suddenly felt the ground quake beneath me and before I could react I sank rapidly up to my waist, yet more cold water finding its way down my trousers, struggling and unable to get a decent purchase of anything, I finally belly flopped out of the clutching ooze on to firmer ground, the bog reluctant to release its grip to the last. Staggering to my feet, Rachel and I exchanged wild and somewhat manic grins and after a couple of reassuring hugs we lurched onward. The bog monster had been deprived of its supper and we had now done the bog swim and dance, laughing at the absurdity of it all. Finally, a group of trees and the ruins of a building loomed out of the darkness confirming our position; even more important a footpath sign showed that our navigation had been correct. Shortly beyond the sign we stumbled on to a snow covered track which, although a slightly route led back down the valley and eventually back to the car. As we descended lower the snow turned to sleet and eventually driving, icy rain. Despite the late hour we knew of a pub not far back down the road and we headed straight for it. We had been thinking of trying to get a bed for the night there. The landlord though was away at a darts match and the lady behind the bar was unable to contact him. Despite our wet and disheveled appearance a somewhat inebriated local farmer propositioned us to a threesome if we went back to his farm. Rachel, with admirable aplomb, politely declined the offer; after all, this was hardly the time or the place for such things! Directed to a b&b next door we hesitantly knocked on the door and where promptly issued in and showered with kindness, mugs of hot tea being rapidly produced, no complaints as we struggled out of wet and muddy boots and foul weather gear, leaving pools of water all over the floor. A room was rapidly made ready for us and eventually, warm and dry we where able to relax and laugh and joke about the events of the day, an interesting and somewhat eventful one it had been too.

Monday 23 November 2009

Dawn's carving

Something else I do is wood carving. Although really a novice, there is something enjoyable in shaping and working wood. Often it is a case of trial and error. Working in the confines of a small flat bring added problems, fortunately I have no carpets, however, keeping on top of the dust and wood shavings and chippings involves a daily wash down of the flat. In the picture are a variety of Australian goldfield burls, very hard wood to work with, cutting out the actual bowl has seen wood chips flying in all directions. The chips are extremely hard and often draw blood, finding them in my mug of tea is another hazard. The large bowl was done for an acquaintance down in South Wales; she is doing a pre Christmas stall and I have provided a few bits. Getting it all down to Wales was interesting, involving a light sack barrow and a large holdall and lugging it on and off public transport. The spoons are treated with a food safe vegetable oil, mainly olive or walnut oil. The burls are treated with Danish oil to feed and enhance the wood, and given a final polish. The next project in the wings is another burl, possibly a red malee burl. These things are not cheap to produce, the wood itself is costly and because I carve by hand they involve many hours of labour. If anyone is interested they can drop me an e mail.

Wednesday 4 November 2009

Gangrel on the Minigaig

Allt Mharcaidh
Allt Mharcaidh

Heading up the Minigaig

Looking down Glen Bruar

Scheicheachan bothy
Thursday 28th October. OS Explorer map 394 835737 Allt Scheicheachan bothy.
Did the usual shuffle up last night; this time around though there was an extra twist. My intention was to head for Blair Athol, the one problem is that there is little in the way of direct public transport in. A local bus service runs from Pitlochry and a few trains stop there. Thus I got off the coach in Aviemore with the intention of heading back to Blair on the train. With some two hours to kill for my train connection I sauntered around Aviemore, had a couple cups of coffee and wandered in to Tesco for a few nibbles and lunch break food. It is peculiar and I wonder if others do the same sort of thing? After picking up a few bread rolls and some fillings, threw a couple bars of chocolate in the basket, then though things get silly, the 'just in case' bits that get picked up as well, that extra bar of chocolate, or, in my case a Selkirk bannock that weighed a ton; odd little snack things to stow away in obscure corners of the rucksack, just in case they may be needed? Train back down to Blair Athol and by now time was getting late; it being near three o clock when I left there. However, being very aware that my intended route for the following day was a long one I wanted to push on. The day was damp and grey but mild. Working my way around to Old Blair I found the track I wanted that would lead to the bothy It climbed up through the woods and everything was dank and dripping and my enthusiasm fizzled away like a damp squib. Once clear of the woods and on to open moorland things picked up as I settled in to a steady, slow plod following the track higher and higher up the rolling moor. Stags where roaring on the hill and I smiled to myself; it was good to hear their gutteral bellowing. A black grouse gave me momentary start as it as it exploded from almost under my feet, clattering away on stubby wings with it's manic 'go back, go back' cry; saw snipe as well. This, way back in the 18th century had been the route of a military road heading for Ruthven barracks before the lower Drumochter, which is now the main A9 road, came in to being. Today, this section is just an estate track. Darkness was coming in rapidly and the cloud base was settling lower and lower, sort of spooky! At first I resisted using the head torch in the growing murk and stuck with focusing on the outline of the track. Eventually though there was little option and the beam of light stabbed out in to the inky blackness. Drizzle and light rain was falling, rain drops glistening in the glare of the torch; wisps and tendrils of thick mist swirled around me, all very atmospheric. The track began to descend and eventually the outline of the tiny bothy loomed hazily ahead, a welcome haven on a dreich night and I was thrilled to find it. With a great sigh of relief I thrust open the door and stumbled wearily inside, letting the rucksack fall to the floor with a thud. A long haul of some eight to ten miles and after a night of travelling and a late start not an easy one; however, my intended route for the morrow dictated I needed to get these few miles out of the way first. No camping tonight, soup, supper and the sleeping bag.
Friday 29th October. Glen Feshie. OS map Explorer 403. Camped GR 848941.
A very hard and difficult day, certainly I was aware that with my lack of fitness that the day would not be easy but it proved more difficult than I wanted. Was away from the bothy before nine. The morning had a dampness to it but it was not raining. Underfoot though things where very wet and in many places greasy. Followed the path that contours around Druim Dubh and dropped down to Bruar lodge. Met a lady out walking from the lodge; she invited me in for tea and toast. Oh sacrilege, shame upon me, I had to refuse, time was against me, rain was forecast for early evening and I hoped to be in glen Feshie by then. Following the track up glen Bruar was a plod and I found it a tad uninspiring. Stopping for a quick break at the head of the glen where the track ended, I was well aware of the dark, bruised, blue, black clouds ominously building up from the west and edging ever closer. A stiffish climb up the hill by Uchd na h-Analach following a fairly discernible path; care map reading was still required and the white quartzite markers where an added aid to navigation. Obviously at one time there must have a well defined track, troop movement across such open moor would have demanded it. It is hard to imagine how it must have been for those soldiers laden with all their gear, intimidating at least. The question then arises as to who first began using this high level way across the hills? Glen Feshie was one of the old drove route through the hills, this route though went up and over, shorter, but a lot more exposed to bad weather. Possibly ancient tribes and local people used it as summer route? These regions, now a lot less populated, where home to many tribes and peoples and would have been very familiar to them. The wind was beginning to rise and the rain came with it. By the time I got to the Minigaig the wind was buffeting me and the rain was sluicing down. Estate buggies had been operating in the area and they had churned the ground to a muddy mess in places. What there was left of the path was a slick, slippery morass; and it became increasingly clear that much of the actual path had disappeared. Trying to follow the buggy tracks was not a real option as they ran every which way possible. With no certainty of where the actual path was the best option was to follow its rough line by map and compass. As I descended the hill the rougher the ground became, quaking bog, peat hags, hidden hollows full of water; awful stuff to navigate through. my intention was to follow a path across and up to Cnapan Cuilce. If there was a path I never found it, the Alt na Cuilce was well up, its dark water swirling ominously. After much scouting back and forward I found a likely spot that might not be too difficult to get across, easing across to a few submerged boulders, I paused for a moment and then using the trekking poles to stabilise me I lunged for the far bank. Fortunately the water was only just above knee deep and the current not too strong, but oh my, it was cold. Following deer trails I headed up the hill and around the edge of the forestry, putting up a large stag and a few hinds that ambled off as I approached them. At least the track marked on the map above the forestry was there, however, there was no immediate sign of the lower path that led down through the forestry. By now it was getting late and darkness was not far away, the weather too was quite bad with driving rain and a strong wind. Taking stock of the situation I decided it would be quicker and easier to stick with the main track although it was longer, higher and more exposed. Following what may have been a fire break down through what looked a tangled mass of undergrowth was not really a viable option. Put up a mountain hare on the way down, it appeared to be in the transitional stage of changing from summer coat to winter; not yet white but a mottled grey. It was pitch black by the time I got down to glen Feshie; the beam of my head torch, a tiny shaft of light stabbing the darkness of the rain lashed night. By now I was running on auto pilot, one weary foot placed in front of the other, just plodding on. With the Carnachuin bridge gone it was obvious that there was no way I was going to make it down to the other bridge and back up the other side. In my mind I had a plan, being fairly familiar with the area, I had mentally marked an area suitable for an emergency camping place. Now was the time to make use of it; although not far below the houses, it was close down by the river and hidden by the trees. The tent was thrown up with no finesse and everything thrown inside. Wet gear off and in to a dry sleeping bag; just as I was about to light the stove though my legs severely cramped up. In agony I got back out of the tent and in a state of semi undress and shivering violently, I tried to ease the cramp out of my hurting legs. Tentatively easing bag in to the sleeping bag, still shivering, it is not easy to strike a match when one is shaking so; however, finally got the stove going, hot fluids, food and more hot fluids. Wearied, that is the hardest thing I have done for a while.
Saturday 30th October, camped OS explorer map 403 GR849019.
Not wanting to be hanging around too late in the morning, tiptoed quietly away from my overnight camp spot. The rain had stopped and the weather was not too bad but I was undecided as to what to do of the day. it had been in my mind to make my way back up toward the bothy and camp, allowing myself a rest day. Mulling it over I decided against it, with the amount of recent rain the possibility of yet more coming back out may have proven interesting getting out. Instead I wandered on down the glen. Followed a path around toward Allt Ruadh, everything very wet. With the rain starting again and wearied from yesterdays long day, it was an easy decision to stop early. This is not the best of places to stop, however, it will suffice for tonight. Rain is still falling, trousers and footwear still wet, wringing out wet socks and putting on wet trousers is never pleasant.
Sunday 1st November. Camped, OS explorer map 403. GR 878053.
Woke to thin, drizzly rain, insidious stuff that seems to creep in everywhere, one feels there is hardly any need for full waterproofs and yet and yet without them clothes would be soon soaked. Even though I had camped in a clear area, camping in forestry is not me favourite ideal and I was glad to be up and away. Once more a fairly easy day was in mind, making my way over to glen Mharcaidh, setting up camp and heading up Geall Charn. That had been the original plan anyway. By the time I got over to glen Mharcaidh the rain was getting steadily heavier; higher up the glen the hillside was running with water. Coming back down to the footbridge I decided to continue on lower down the glen. Although there is a path marked on the map I have never found it in the lower part of the glen. Normally I can pick my way down fairly ok, this time though the whole area was totally saturated and in places flooded. Trying to make my way over toward the trees meant wading knee deep through bog and it was actually easier to stick closer to the river, the water there only came up over my ankles and lower legs and also was not as boggy. As I was heading out in the morning I did not want to get too far in towards Aviemore. My coach was not until the early evening and I did not want to be in Aviemore much before mid afternoon. Despite all the bog and water I had a plan in mind, the big old Scots pines normally offer a haven of firm dry ground and so it proved this time. This afternoon I am comfortably camped on an island surrounded by bog and water with the rain now hammering down, curtains of it. It is colder too, I was glad to put on an extra layer when I stopped.
Was in Aviemore by mid afternoon, managed a hot shower in the public loo, oh my, the luxury of a hot shower and clean dry clothes, putting on saturated boots and trousers this morning was unpleasant. Now the long wait for the coach. One can only drink so many cups of coffee and spend so much time in the coffee shops. As it is I have snuck in to the rail station waiting room and hoping no one pays me any mind.

Wednesday 30 September 2009

A gentle stroll.

Wednesday Sept. 23rd.
It is 2100hrs, 9pm and the long wait begins. All around me is hustle and bustle; voices, excited, sad, resigned and in many tongues. We are all fellow travellers congregating in that great temple of travel, Victoria coach station; a hub that reaches out to the far corners of the UK and Europe. It always the same, I arrive early, my journey does not begin for another two hours and there are seats for everyone on the coach. Like many who travel on a regular basis, there is that regular seat one always aims for. A strange foible maybe but for me I prefer travelling towards the front of the coach; not the very front seats, there is often little leg room in them, the next seat back on the left hand side is good. The back seats are anathema to me, more bumpy and the swaying motion of the coach is more accentuated. It is over two months since I was away and the pack feels heavy although I know that I will once more become accustomed to carrying it. Being Autumn means carrying more weight, my winter sleeping bag, an extra layer of clothing, gloves, woolly hat and so forth. A sudden burst of activity as a group of people make a frantic dash for a coach that is about to pull out. The driver just gives a wry grin and a shake of his head as he ushers them on board; he has seen it all before. A young couple hug and kiss in an amorous embrace, oblivious to folk around them. It is time for her to board though and she enters the coach brushing away tears; the sadness of parting shows on the young lads face as he turns away. Tonight we are lucky, the coach pulls in at 22 30hrs and the drivers promptly let us on board. Occasionally passengers have to wait until ten minutes or so before departure time. One of the drivers, a regular on this particular route, recognises me and friendly banter is exchanged. Early, 02 35am and we have stopped at one of the motorway service stations for our designated break and we stumble bleary eyed off the coach to shamble off to the loos or visit the restaurant or shop. Amazingly the coach is not full and somehow I have managed a seat to myself. Usually I manage to doze a little on the night runs but even that has proved illusive so far. Much of the journey up has been watching the endless succession of lorries that travel the motorway at night. A recent craze that seems to have swept the haulage companies are the many and varied lights that decorate the trucks. it is quite amazing and some resemble gaudy Christmas trees trundling through the night. Attempting to doze I reverted to counting Eddie Stobart lorries, after twenty or so the mind just shuts down.
Thursday 24th Sept. Camped GR OS Explorer map 386, 946628.Loch a' Choice.
Not having been away for a while and knowing that my levels of fitness where minimal my preference was for an easy trip. My first choice had been Wales but it was cheaper to travel direct to Scotland. Pitlochry was a designated National Express coach stop and there was a wide range of easy walking in the area. Hence this morning I arrived at 0945am. My first priority was breakfast; overnight travel usually leaves me a wee bit dehydrated and in the need of substance. Finding the public loo allowed me to change in to my hill going gear. Sadly though breakfast was not to be. Oh there where establishments serving breakfast; scary places though. I tentatively wandered in to one, set menu, luxurious padded chairs, pristine white linen tablecloths and matching serviettes. Equally scary where the elderly couple partaking of coffee; dressed in matching tweeds, she with carefully blue rinse coiffured hair do, make up laid on somewhat heavily; he wearing brogues to match his tweeds. Honestly I swear his military, toothbrush white moustache bristled as the pair paused, mid sip of daintily help cups and two pairs of glazed eyes at the apparition at the door. Sorry folks I am not keen on doing battle with dragons and I may be an inverted snob but I do not do posh either. Taking to the hills after picking up a few bits. Breakfast was taken just outside of Pitlochry, bread and cheese and water, sustaining enough but poor fair when one fancies bacon and eggs and mugs of tea. It was leisurely stroll up to where I am now camped. Although still early this is just a trip to get out of doors and do nothing in particular.
Friday 25th. Camped same location a yesterday.
A blustery night but dry; time was spent busy doing little over a mug of tea and a bite of breakfast sat in the doorway of the tent. Finally stirring myself, I took the path up to Ben Vackrie. A steady plod up a well manicured path, pausing every so often, just to admire the view of course! The hill is obviously a popular walk, two groups of people in front of me touched the top and fled because of the strong wind that was blowing. Lingered for a short time but noticing more people heading up and not feeling that sociable, headed back down. A brew and spot of lunch back at the tent and I set off for a wander. Keeping fairly high I picked my way over toward Creag Oisinnidh. My meandering led me up and down and around little rocky outcrops, hidden hollows and little secret places. There was no goal or specific purpose and that is what made it fun, an enjoyable explore. The wind is buffeting the tent a tad but it is no problem. Evening early this evening people are still heading up the ben; tomorrow I am out of here.Sat.26th. Camped, same map GR 937634
Was woken early by the bark of a deer feeding close by. Dozed off again for a while and then put a brew on while I dithered over the map. Something I had been contemplating was to drop down to Killieckrankie and then make my way over towards Loch Tummel. Route finding though looked problematical and getting back to Pitlochry for early next week might be awkward. Instead in a bout of laziness I packed up and wandered over to the track that leads down toward Killieckrankie and then turned off. On the map there is a track that leads up and around by Meall na Moine. Fantastic, the track is very indistinct and has fallen out of use which suited me just fine. Following a spur of this old track it led me around the back of Meall na Moine and to the most lovely camp spot. It was early but that was of little consequence. Have spent the afternoon just wandering willy nilly around the area, exploring around the rocky outcrops and doing little. Having managed to pick up the local hill forecast the weather does not look too bad at all, wind speeds of thirty to forty miles an hour, stronger on the tops, overcast but remaining dry. Well the tent is tucked is out of the way and well snugged down and I am comfy.
Sunday 27th. Same spot as last night.
An easy day once more. When I nipped out in the grey light of early morning, the sky appeared dark and ominous with the cloud down low and scudding across the tops. However, by the time I had a brew and some breakfast things had brightened up.Yesterday, in my meanderings I had noticed a faint path that went over the bealach close to where I am camped.Today I went back across, skirting around two tiny lochans and decided to follow the path. It soon became apparent though that it angled across the hill below the ridge line and headed up toward Ben Vackrie. Instead I turned off and picked my way up the hill heading more directly for the ridge. Deer and sheep have a habit of contouring diagonally across hill sides as they graze. Over time they leave tiny trails which can make life easier when picking ones way up steep ground. Surprisingly up on the ridge I noticed substantial mole hills; hardy, hill going moles, interesting! Made my way over to Meall an' Daimh and hunkered down out of the wind. Further north the Cairngorms where shrouded in dark storm clouds, but here it was not too bad at all. Originally my intention had been to do the whole ridge line. Ben Vackrie had fairly large crowds milling around its top which I wanted to avoid. Instead I dropped off the northern side of of the hill aiming for the line of the old track. It was a steep descent but once more I made use of sheep and deer trails. Close up the old trail is now nothing more than a well worn sheep trod but makes for good walking and it had obviously been finely engineered following the lie of the land. Once more I was back quite early, the sun had made a brief appearance but the weather soon turned overcast once more. It was not cold though and I was content to spend to spend and hour with a mug of tea and a book reclining on a soft mossy couch outside the tent.Have quite a selection of beasties wandering through the tent. Various types of spiders; it is amazing to watch a spider nonchalantly picking its way across the midge netting totally unfazed as the tent shifts and billows in the rising wind. Have managed to pick up the hill forecast for tomorrow and it is not so good. Further north it going to be stormy with high winds and heavy rain; in this area wind speeds are set to rise to around forty to fifty miles an hour. The tent is well snugged down and I am heading out tomorrow.
Monday 28th. Pitlochry
The end of a few lazy days in the hills, mainly just to shake the cobwebs away. Niggling health problems have continued as have a few bad migraines. This morning saw me heading for the heady delights of Pitlochry? Woke to a blustery with lowering dark skies and low cloud scudding across the tops. Looking at the weather prospects was the clincher; I had been contemplating the idea of stopping just outside of Pitlochry and heading down early to catch the morning bus. However, the prospects of a bath in the tent and an early morning start in the dark with the possibility of rain was daunting. What I craved was a hot shower and clean clothes. B&b would have been darned pricey but there was a backpackers hostel which would be much cheaper. Thus packed up this morning and headed over towards the track leading up to Bealach na Searmoin. Swung off to pick my way up to Meall na h-Aodainn Moire and Stac an Fheidh . Thin wisps of cloud drifted around me and the ben opposite looked dark and brooding. Skeins of geese flying overhead, heading north; their cries haunting, evocative, goose talk. Picked my way down off the hill to pick up the bealach path again and then meandered on down to Pitlochry. Managed to book in to the backpackers hostel; an old hotel that has seen better times, it is cheap and cheerful though. Am lucky in having a small dorm to myself by the looks of it. The sheer bliss of a hot shower and a fresh change of clothes, wonderful. Tomorrow morning I am catching the eight twenty am bus south. Not a bad trip, even if it was a lazy one.

Tuesday 22 September 2009


workshop corner

Ok, just a brief write up. Recently, due to a variety of reasons I have not managed to get away. More minor surgery, the sheer cost of travelling and a few other things have seen me somewhat hampered. With cabin fever setting in I began perusing the maps; with my fitness levels low I wanted to just get away and potter. Wales was my first choice but in fact it turned out more expensive and meant more hassle than a straight forward run up to Scotland. It was the same with the lake district. Now though I am travelling tomorrow night, heading north once more; so, watch this space.

On a totally different theme, someone that I know down in South Wales is putting up a craft stall and I am contributing wooden spoons, pendants and bowls. Hand carving bowls was a new venture for me but it has turned out to be an interesting idea. A couple of bowls are shown above, the latest one, which is special; a goldfield burl, I will post up after I return from Scotland.

Wednesday 22 July 2009


My tiny balcony, yes, Iam on the 6th floor but it still floods.
Spoons, the one on the left has yet to be oiled, usually with olive oil. Left hand one cherry, the other two olive.

It has been over a week now since surgery. only a fairly minor op but it took a while to settle down. Knowing I was going to be stuck in the flat for a week or two,I went on the net to search for some cheap wood suitable for spoon carving. Found a couple of nice bits going cheap; however, the sizes where in metric which I did not really take in. Poor postie, he was a bit out of breath when he called with the package. It was little wonder really, the wood was a tad bigger than I realised; a piece of rough cut lime board, some three foot long and over a foot wide, plus an inch and a half thick; the other bit was smaller, a piece of cherry. Working in my tiny flat presents a few difficulties, I have no other work space apart from a small balcony, which floods when wet . The first job, after cutting a length of wood to the appropriate size, is roughing it out, hewing it somewhere close to the shape I want. This is done sitting on the floor with the wood on a chopping board and using an axe to shape the wood. To be honest, I am not too happy using an axe for this; it gets kind of close to the fingers at times. What I want is an adze, a short handled small one; so folks here is quick appeal, if anyone knows of a fairly decent adze that needs a new home and is willing to let it go fairly cheap, please contact me, I would really appreciate it. After the rough work comes hours of work with the knives, shaping, cutting, shaving until finally a spoon takes shape. This is carried out either with the rough work clamped to a shelf, for example when I am using a draw knife, or sitting on a chair with wood chipping piling up around my feet. Finally the wood is ready to be oiled, sanded again and oiled once more. All this work is done by hand, I have a variety of knives, again I need a special spoon knife, a left handed one because I work left handed mainly and also because it easier to work with both left handed a right handed knives. An added headache is that I am constantly having to clean the flat; it is just as well I have no carpets. These spoons are quirky, working spoons, nothing fancy.

Friday 10 July 2009

On the hill

Recently I have been watching the hooha over the Ramblers Association and find it in many ways sad but also an indication of the times in which we live. The RA's roots where working class and was considered quite radical for its time. Folks did not have money in the years it was formed; rambling was cheap and there was fairly extensive public transport system, also many people hitched, it was an accepted norm and lifts where often readily available. Remember too, many people still worked five and half day weeks and the annual holidays where the statuary two weeks. Kit was makeshift, there was none of the high tech stuff we have today. A lot was army surplus or old clothing modified for use on the hill; old gabardine macs cut down, suit trousers long past their prime; heavy woolen pullovers, getting wet was the norm, many women still wore skirts, there was no special women's clothing, they had to adapt. Boots where heavy leather and nailed, again, often army surplus because they where reasonably cheap; decent mountain boots where astronomical in price. Tents where canvas and normally leaked, for many, tents where beyond their price range. That is where the close companion to the RA came in, the YHA, basic, simple cheap accommodation. Probably I am showing my age here, however, I can still remember being on the fringes of those times. My first ever boots where a pair of hand me downs and had nails and weighed a ton; when I up graded to vibrams it was something special, my first anorak was a ventile one bought cheap because it was shop soiled; it was murder when it froze, I had an awful job taking it off. The hostels themselves although often basic, sometimes very, where welcomed and well used by the rambling classes. The wardens where often eccentric, a few draconian and one or two mad. Certainly I have encountered a few peculiar ones such as one kilted, heavily bearded guy, complete with dirk and a broadsword that he kept in his office and well remember the Scottish hostels, all self catering, and one provided their own cutlery plate and mug.
In many respects the RA has lost touch with its roots and has become soft and genteel, everything it seems, boils down to being cost effective. Possibly we could argue for a new movement, more radical and out spoken and willing to fight for the rights of outdoor folk. but; cynic that I am, I cannot see it happening. As for me, well, I will wander and ramble as and where my feet may take me, will camp in wild and out of the way spots, leaving no trace of my passing and defy any who may challenge me.

Monday 6 July 2009


Well, the best laid plans etc,as Rabbie Burns would say. Originally I had plans for an extended trip over July; however, after another trip to see the surgeon those have been scrapped. basically I have to go back in to hospital for yet another fairly minor op next Monday. However, I have been warned that for three or four weeks afterwards things can get rather unpleasant. So thus, July is a no go month for getting away. Hopefully I may get a few days in August, it will be a case of wait and see. Provisionally I did consider a trip this week but with the weather non too good I decided against it.

Friday 26 June 2009

Night on a bare plateau

upper glen Feshie
Lochan nam Bo


hare, is there somewhere

above river Eidart

view from camp, river Eidart

cloud inversion
promise of a hot day


plateau weather

high level camp

mist on the plateau

A stony place

Cairngorm plateau

Looking toward Braeriach
Looking down from Sgor Gaoith

Glen Mharcaidh
Thursday 18th June. Camped GR OS explorer map 403 884043, roughly.

Well, what a day, managed to excel myself totally. After the normal night run up and getting off at Aviemore feeling a Little green around the gills; nipped in to the public loo and did a quick change in to my hill going gear. Needing fluids, it was a case of a cup of coffee and a scone, which was a rip off at some £4. Picked up a few nibbles in Tesco and headed out. Before I started I had been feeling sick and had a pounding headache; just to cap things off an on going bladder problem also flared up. Walked up to Inverdruie in a very heavy rain squall which eased for a short time as I entered the woods. Managed to be sick as I headed over to Loch an Eilein and then got severe stomach cramps as well. By the time I reached the tiny Inshriach bothy I had had to dive in to the woods twice; not a pleasant or easy experience in waterproofs. Took some medication at the bothy and downed plenty of fluids and carried on. My goal was upper Glen Mharcaidh. In theory there is a path all the way up, however, when I have attempted it before I find the first and upper sections but never the bit that cuts around the lower rough ground. This was the case once more and I pushed on more or less direct through thick heather, occasionally following meandering deer tracks and avoiding the worst of the boggy bits. Once up by the bridge I kept to the left hand path knowing of a spot that would give me enough space to camp just before the last of the trees. However, that plan was dashed when I found the spot was now dominated by large a fallen tree. There is little in the way of places to camp on that side of the glen. Finally, needing to stop and knowing that the path is not that often used I pitched on a more or less level, grassy spot right on the path itself. Being tired it will suffice for the night, I am sure no one will fall over me! As yet it is steadily raining; although not the heavy, driving squalls experienced earlier and I am much wearied.

Friday 19th June. Same map. GR 886037.
Today turned out to be a mixed sort of day. The overnight rain eased off early this morning. It was not the earliest of starts but I was in no rush. The ongoing path can be a tad indistinct in one or two places. There are two that head off up the hill, the one that continues on across the hill needs a careful eye kept on it. There is in fact a couple of paths and the lower of the two leads in to bog which I found out the first time I ever came this way. The path proper is in fact higher up the hill. Coming across one of the burns which was fairly high with all the earlier rain, I managed to slip and fall in. No injuries except for scrapes and bruises; however, I did lose my glasses, fortunately I carry spares. Higher up I crossed over to join the other path which leads up to the bealach below Meall Buidhe. Wandered up towards the top but showers of sleet and hail harried me and rather than press on I turned back although there are a few spots to camp once over the hill and down to the next bealach. However, having run out of steam and feeling a little chilly my footsteps led me back down the hill. There is place by the remains of the old hut just below the bealach that offers a nice spot but water is only available further down the hill. Another spot a bit lower is by a small pool, however the area is tiny and the ground was saturated. Following the other, more defined path, I came down lower to the spot where I am now camped. A lovely place for a wild camp with a few old pine trees for company; who could ask for more? The wind has picked up a bit and is driving showers from the west before it. To be honest I am a little concerned, much of last night was spent popping in out of the tent answering the call of nature; tedious and annoying. As yet the problem continues despite of the fact that I am continually drinking water, which is a necessity.
Saturday 20th June. Same place.
woke early to the gentle patter of light rain on the tent; when I nipped out thick, dark blue/black clouds where covering the tops. It was an easy call really and I snuggled back down in the sleeping bag deciding to rest up for a day. Most of the day was spent pottering. By early afternoon the sun had come out and a breeze was keeping the midges at bay. It was an opportunity to get things dry as well; even my boots are almost dry, yeeha!

Sunday. 21stJune. Same map, camped GR 910959.
A much better day, what little cloud there was brushed only the highest tops. The early hours of the morning had been chilly enough for me to throw my jacket over the sleeping bag. There was promise of a good day though and I was eager to be on my way. One more following the path up to Meall Buidhe the initial pull up the path up was warm enough to see me walking in just my light thermal base layer. This time I carried on over the two bare, rocky tops, dropped to the bealach and then climbed directly up to the main ridge. That was a fairly hard push up and I took it slow. One on the ridge though, it is an easy stroll up to Sgor Gaoith with spectacular views down into Loch Eanaich.. There is little to hinder the wind on the high tops and it sweeps across unchecked, making things feel distinctly chilly. My maternity smock in the guise of light windproof was rapidly donned. Lunch was a hurried affair, huddled low behind a small rock for a smidgen of shelter. Passing over Carn Ban Mor, I barely paused, the top has little to offer as such, a cairn and a vista of rock. Although still quite early, my intention was not to camp late, having it in mind to take things fairly easy. Also, the plateau is not a place to be hurried through, it needs to savoured and explored, time is required to get the full flavour of these high places. Showers of rain, wet enough to warrant the waterproofs, scudded across in the afternoon. Coming down to the track I swung left and followed it to its end and then wandered a bit further up the hill. Finding a pleasant little spot with panoramic views and a busy, bustling burn what more could a body ask for?

Monday 22nd June. Camped.same map, GR 908929
As normal I woke early and had to nip out which was chilly and damp; Thick cloud and drizzle swirled around the tent. Took the hill walkers normal and standard procedure of making a brew and returning to the sleeping bag for another hour's doze. Gradually the clag lifted, originally I had been considering nipping over to Beinn Bhrottain, but I dithered a bit and eventually decided on an easier option. Mullach Clach a Bhlair was a Munro that I had never bothered with before and so I opted for a wander in that direction. Walked over to a small top only marked as 937 on the map and then back to the track for a short spell and then back on to the moss. Keeping to a general direction and avoiding the boggy bits and gullies where possible I fetched up on Mullach Clach a Bhlair. It was an uninspiring little lump although I suppose for the ardent Munro bagger it must be one of the easiest. Heading easterly and generally following the line of the track I meandered over Diollaid Coire Eindert and back across a cairn only marked as such on the map and a spot height of 974. On the plateau height has little significance as such; it is a wide open place riven in places by deep gullies and corries. Bands of thick clouds had been moving across all day; occasionally they had brought a smattering of rain but had posed no real problem. Coming over to Cluas na Creige I found the most awesome place for a wild camp. Rain was falling heavy enough for me to need the waterproofs as I put the tent up, but I did not care, the views where stunning , the pitch was comfy and I was content to laze in the front of the tent in peace and quiet. The showers that where passing through where not heavy driving rain and it was fine to leave the whole of the front of the tent open. One thing that strikes me and that is the clarity of the water, normally the water from burns up on the hill is often brown with peat, high up here though there is no peat and the water filters through the granite leaving it clear.

Tuesday June 24th. Ruig Aiteachain Bothy in upper Glen Feshie.
Something woke me during the night, it took a moment to realise what had made me wake with a start. Silence, utter quietude, there was not a sound accept for the pounding of my own heartbeat. No deer talk, no wind or breeze, no tinkling of water, absolutely nothing and I lay still hardly daring to breath; it may sound strange but there was something that was near deafening in that silence, it almost spooked me and I lay still rather awestruck and feeling quite emotional, eventually I drifted back in to sleep.When I woke again, the early dawn light was just brushing the eastern horizon and it was something special to to lay in the sleeping bag with the whole of the tent wide open and watch the birth of a new day. Reaching for the camera I attempted to photo the fiery sunrise as the sun rose framed beautifully by two tops over towards Cairn Toul; photos though do very little justice to the beauty of that moment. A cloud inversion had me reaching for the camera yet again. Unable to settle back to sleep, I stretched out in front of the tent for a mug of tea and an early breakfast. One advantage of being up high is that it appears to be above the midge line. There was a strong temptation to remain up there for another night, however, it would entail a long push out tomorrow. Taking my time I wandered around the rocks of Cluas na Creige, gazing down at the river Eidart far below; even from up high the noise of the river was quite audible. Packing up I walked around the rim of Coire Mharconaich, a great scoop out of the hillside. Went as far as Cnap nan Laogh and then turned west once more. Deer grazed all around, moving off in a that brown, fluid, flowing movement that deer have when on the move. Coming by a small rocky outcrop, I was content to sit down for a while and just gaze about me. Yet another group of hinds had seen me, the matriarch giving her warning bark; heads came up, wary, however, as I settled back against a rock they cautiously began grazing once more, content to allow me to remain close by. Although the day was still quite early, already a heat haze was shimmering off the ground; it was obvious that the day was going to be hot. The chink of stones being disturbed on the other side of the rocks alerted me to the presence of something. Freezing, I tried to just swivel my head to see what it was, at the same moment a hind peered around the corner. She gave a startled bark as our eyes met and then sprang away, pausing for a moment to look back at me. Sitting absolutely still I waited to see what she would do. Obviously curious, she took a few tentative steps back toward me and then ambled off. Surprisingly the group of deer close by had observed this interchange but remained unfazed. With the heat of the day steadily building I knew I had to move on and reluctantly got to my feet and once more made my way across the plateau. There is no heather up in those regions, only mosses, tundra and rock. Ptarmigan where numerous , scuttling off whenever I approached too close; their long necks give them an almost reptilian look. Large numbers of dotterel where present too and snow buntings; very trusting busy hopping around my feet when I stopped for a quick break. Coming back over Bhlair I headed down over Druim nam Bo. A slight movement by a cairn caught my eye, a rock with pointy ears? It was a hare and I was surprised to to see how close it allowed me to approach. Black grouse startled me as they exploded from almost under my feet; taking off with their mad cackling and cries of 'go back, go back', crazy birds. The surrounding scenery was stunning but by the time I reached Lochan nam Bo I was feeling a tad dwam and was glad to rest for a few moments and replenish much needed water. A lovely spot for a wild camp, something I have filed away in the back of my mind. According to the map there is a regular stalkers path a little further down. My advice would be to forget it and stick to a track made by the estate's all terrain buggies. The zig zags where obscure in places and once in the trees it was a wearisome task attempting to find the faint semblance of any path. It was still quite early in the afternoon when I reached the bothy but I was glad to stop. Wandering over to the river, I slipped my boots off and still dressed in shorts and top, sat down in the cool water; the heat of the sun soon had me dry again.The upper glen is showing signs of good regeneration many young trees, especially Scots pine and juniper are much in evidence. Bird life is much more prominent, crested tit, wrens, finches and so on. Bumble bees droned their way from plant to plant, ants scurried in frenetic haste among the fallen needles. There was no one else in the bothy, my worry was that it may have been taken over by one of the many groups that frequent the area. My preference would have been for the tent but because I am heading out in the morning I opted for the bothy for convenience.

Wednesday 25th June.
Woke this morning to some thick cloud drifting over the tops but it was still warm. Someone had come in late yesterday evening and had slept in the other room. Sleep had been difficult for me, I had felt shut in by the bothy and the hard platform was not that comfortable. Managed to make a pint of tea and cook a bit of porridge on the last of the gas, also made sure I drank a couple pints of water before starting out. It was a case of having to head for Aviemore to catch the night bus back south. As I headed down the glen the cloud cleared and it was obvious the day was going to become a hot one. With a good few miles to cover and the heat it was a case of picking the simplest route. Thus I headed down toward Achlean and continued on toward Feshie Bridge before heading off through the forestry to Loch Gamhna. The heat was relentless and there was little shade from it on my route. Wherever possible I continually topped up my water supply and kept drinking. Stopping for a break on the way under a nice shady tree, I found that a kit kat I had been carrying had totally melted. Do not carry chocolate in hot weather, it is messy, very. By the time I was over by Loch an Eilein I was running on auto pilot metronome like, placing one foot in front of the other and keeping on the move. Nipping in to the visitor centre at Inverdruie for a couple of cold drinks,tired, sweaty and a tad dishevelled, I overheard a small girl saying to her mum, "Wow mummy, look at that lady, she looks like a really wild woman!" Yep, that is me, mad, bad and dangerous. It was noticeable as I walked in to Aviemore that the tarmac on the road was very soft from the heat. The day had not been the easiest with a distance covered of some fifteen miles. A few more cold drinks in Aviemore and deep joy, the shower in the public loo was open. Utter bliss, a refreshing shower and clean clothes to put on. Once I had recovered a bit I wandered in to the local chippie for fish and chips. Noticing someone buying a a glass of something very cold looking I asked the chap serving me, "What is that?" He grinned, "Ice crush ma'am." So I asked him for one. "Blue or red?" "Oh I'll have one of each please." it is now the long haul back south.
Gear carried. Osprey Atmos 50 ltre. Tent Golite Shangri 1 and inner nest and tent pegs. Western mountaineering light sleeping bag and a four and half ounce Bozeman bivi bag.. Thermarest prolite three. trekking poles Varga gas stove and primus windshield. One 350 gas cylinder, it was enough, just. Food for six days, heat in the bag main meals. Some where awful, especially a chicken and veg mix. Tea bags, powdered milk, drinking chocolate sachets and cup a soups, porridge mix, mainly the sachet type, all thrown in to one poly bag, a spoon and pot grab. A one pint titanium mug which I used as my main mug for boiling water in, a titanium dish for cooking porridge and occasionally washing in. Matches and in my emergency kit I carry a striker in case the matches get damp. Nibbles, kit kats, a block of cheese, I should have grabbed some pitta bread but for reasons unknown I picked up tortilla wraps, they are non too good uncooked. Water, picked up when I stopped for the day was in a 3ltre ortleb water bag. Slightly heavier than the platty but have a couple of them leak I prefer the ruggedness of the ortleb. First aid kit and small emergency kit, which includes the striker and 2 tampons which make excellent fire starters, saftey pins, button compass and some basic sewing stuff and duct tape and spare dyneema cord. Clothing wise, I travel in summer in a very light travel skirt, for on the hill I have an old pair of craghoppers very trousers, they are now becoming a little frayed at the edges and travel stained. Also carried are my shorts. A very light smartwool t shirt, a tank top and light t shirt for travelling back in. Spare pair of socks and light travel shoes, boots where my old scarpa midis, they need to be replaced but it a question of cost, smart wool socks on my feet. 2 sets of underwear, in winter I use a couple of sports bras but find them too warm in summer. This time I used 2 Sloggi very light, non wired bras. Undies, 2 pairs of light Rohans, easy to rinse out and rapidly drying. Wash kit and another kit of personal bits I need to carry, which, because I need to spend the best part of an hour doing nothing, warrants carrying a book. Camera, Nikon Coolpix, I want to upgrade but it is cost. Map, compass and whistle, knife, my old Opinel, slightly heavier than some but it has travelled many miles with me over the years. jacket, a paramo soft shell reversible,a Montane wind shirt which I liken to a maternity top, it is too big for me but tucks in nicely under the hip belt, also carried a light mountain Hardware fleece waistcoat, not really needed. Waterproofs, Berghaus paclite trousers, excellent, they have been much used and abused, Rab Neutrino jacket, and ankle gaiters to keep trouser bottoms from the mud etc. Buff and sun hat. Spare gloves and glasses, petzel head torch.Small toilet kit, trowel, plastic, cut down, hand gel, paper and lighter All the usual assortment of poli bags, essential equipment. An intial overall weight of roughly 27/28lb, 11 kilo