Thursday 31 December 2015

Gales, mud and flood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday 20 December 2015

Cateran Hole and Blawearie. Northumberland

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

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

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

Friday 11 December 2015

Darden Rigg

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

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

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

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

Friday 27 November 2015


Mike and I, after due consultation via the interweb, had settled for a wander in the Otterburn area. The village is surprisingly large, with pubs, shop and cafe. Passing the farm by West Townhead and attempting to avoid the worst of the gloopy mud in the farmyard, we ambled across fields toward a minor road. This in turn took us up in the direction of Blakeman's Law. A nice wee hill complete with its own flagpole.

With hill duly bagged, we continued on following the road upwards to Potts Durtrees farm. For a moment or two I had a navigational bemusement. What was marked on the map as a track morphed in to a fully tarmaced road. All to do with the military and the nearby Otterburn camp.
Pausing by Fiddlers Wood for lunch, more time was spent double checking the map. The bridleway marked on the map was in fact a broad,  well maintained road, disconcerting!

The bridleway??

In many respects it made for a faster pace of walking.  Leighton Hill was visited and then it was on to a much more vague bridleway which led us back to Otterburn.
A pleasant day's walking with a distance of roughly ten and a quarter miles.

Monday 16 November 2015

Warkworth potter

With the way the weather has been, backpacking trips have been a tad limited. Thus it was a pleasure to get out for a day walk with Mike and Lucky.
The forecast had been for rain in the morning. Fortunately it missed us. we had nothing strenuous in mind, just a gentle walk.

Setting out from Warkworth, we basically followed part of St Oswald's Way  across toward Felton. Conditions underfoot were generally clarty. Deep puddles that resembled small swimming pools, gooey mud further churned up by moto cross bikes.

Pleasant walking though. It was surprisingly mild for the time of the year. We stopped for a bite of lunch by Thirston Burn which was swollen with flood water. A bridge was discovered further upstream. However, we decided to retrace our footsteps. A convivial and gentle days walking. Surprisingly we covered a goodly eleven and a half to twelve miles/

Spot the heron!

Wednesday 4 November 2015


A glorious day, superb weather, dry, sunny and mild. This was a walk with Mike He was doing one of his regular reccies and had invited me along. However, being mapless as I was and with a camera that had a dead battery, I have little idea of where we wandered. Mind, Mike assures me we went via Gibraltar? More frustrating was the lack of a working camera. The autumn colours were still vivid, also there was a wide variety of interesting fungi
So folks, apologies, you will have to wait until Mike does his write up. Mind, I am certain he will be putting up some cracking photos too.
We covered an average of eleven and a half miles.

Wednesday 14 October 2015

Scottish wanderings

It was raining when I left Newcastle on the Monday morning. The tent was duly delivered to me at Dunblane and Mike was there to kindly drive me up to Killin. With heavy rain all the way up, it was an easy call to stop over in Killin for the night. One downside, the bunkhouse had closed down. Serendipity. I managed a b&b at a knockdown price.
Rain had continued all night and it was still raining steadily when I left in the morning. It was one of those mild, almost muggy days when, despite wearing waterproofs, or because of, one gets damp and clammy inside as well as out. Carrying a pack with a full seven days food, spare clothing and tent added to the sweaty conditions.
Heading up Glen Lochay, it very quickly became apparent that I may experience problems. Water was cascading off the hillsides in great foaming torrents. Further up the glen, the river, in roaring spate, had burst its banks in places. The tributary burns overflowed their normal channels.

Roads and fields became lakes and rivers. trying to negotiate around the floods was nigh on impossible. Above, a photo of the road ahead. At one point I was wading half way up to my knees. Even on the flooded road the current was, at times strong. Trying to divert around one deep looking bit of flood by scrambling around the bank I went knee deep down a hole. With a heavy pack, I was, at times struggling.

River Lochay.
By the time I reached the road end at Kenknock, the rain had eased, giving way to frequent heavy showers and brief spells of sunshine.
To my surprise, the track that runs up to Learg nan Lunn turned out to be a metalled road. On the map it is clearly marked as only a track. badly potholed in places but still tarmacked. The tracks running up through the upper reaches of the glen were totally inundated. Also, there were shooting parties supposed to be operating in the region at periods over the week.
.It was a steady climb as the track, come road, zigzagged upwards. Already I was tiring, having covered some eight miles plus from Killin. To my amazement, I saw a car heading down. The guy and his wife were sight seeing and stopped to confirm that they where heading down to the village. They seemed very nonchalant about the flooding in the glen.. Over the course of the next couple of hours three more cars came through. How they managed the floods I have no idea?
This was worrying, my intention had been to camp somewhere on the bealach, leave the tent the following day and head for one or two of the surrounding tops. Leaving the tent in full view of the road was not something I was prepared to do. With everything waterlogged, my options where very limited. In the end I was faced with little choice and descended down toward Loch Lyon, a mini bus passing me on the way. Camp for the night was beside a small dam above the main one. It had been a long hard  day. Too many miles with a full pack.
It rained again during the night. Wednesday morning started off damp but not actually raining. My camp spot though was heavily infested with slugs and the midges ensured I did not linger long. Worryingly the tops were sheathed in shrouds of leaden gray. Plan C was now in motion. The intention was to move around to Glen Lyon, pitch the tent and head up the hill. One more I was thwarted. The rain returned and only a few miles up the glen I pitched up, put the kettle on and waited out the weather. The rain eased off sometime after three in the afternoon, frustrating!
Thursday was an easier day, sort of. Vehicles over on the other side of the loch had been on the move very early and I had heard an engine running further down the track on my side. Thus I upped sticks and moved on. There was still an awful amount of water coming down off the hills and getting across several fords was tricky. Rocks and boulders at times proved lethal, they were incredibly slippery.
A shoogly bridge, Glen Lyon.

Something I had noticed further up the glen was the proliferation of brand new fences and large metal gates. The fences criss crossed much of the upper glen. There was evidence too that cattle had recently been in the area. Another thing that had been constantly niggling me was the track itself. Some years back I had been in the upper reaches of the glen and I had no recollection of there being any form of track on either side. Coming around by the Abhainn Ghlas, there was a large sheep shed and heavily padlocked bothy with signs warning of 'private property, keep out'! Cattle roamed the upper glen which was dissected by yet more fences.
The track around the head of the loch had recently been built. A bulldozed scar on the area. Finding a spot to camp proved difficult.

It being the rutting season, the stags were in fine voice, their roaring echoing through the hills.Friday morning broke dry and I was keen to get out and head for one of the tops. My suspicion was confirmed. Where once a vague path had wandered up the Strath Tarabhan, it was now a stone roadway. My goal was Beinn Mhanach. As far as I could remember, there was a way up via  Coire a' Chuirn. Well that was the plan and I almost made it as far as the top of the track. The growl of four fours heading up from  Gleann Achadh-Innis Challein had me hesitating. Scrambling up above the track, I sat and watched the posse heading past. The stopped a bit further down. Men all decked out in camouflage gear gathered around, spying out the hills with telescopes. They obviously were looking for the stags. Earlier I had been watching the beasts and had a fair idea where they where. However, I was saying nothing.
To be honest, I was in a dither. It was obvious stalking was taking place somewhere round about. Part of me wanted to push on, but I felt uncomfortable and uneasy. Not helped by the fact that the tent was close to the track. The cavalcade moved further down the north side of the loch and away from the tent.

Ok, so I worry too much, but as things stood, it was a return to the tent and a cup of tea. Working on the basis no one would attempt stalking in the proximity of a herd of cows, I went for an amble following the Abhainn Ghlas. The cows were pleased to see me but were no problem. The glen was all bog. Hard going trying to pick a dryish way up through. The remains of a few ancient shielings were to be seen and old dry stone walls were gradually being absorbed back in to the boggy landscape. At one time women and children would bring the cattle up here from the glens, pasturing them through the summer months. It looks very much that it is quite possible to continue on around and down Glen Corolan. The Allt Mhic Bhaiden also offers a viable route up over the bealach of the same name and in to Glen Lochay.

With water sloshing around in my boots, I finally headed back. Not the sort of day I had planned but it turned out ok.

Just after I returned to the tent, a shot rang out on the hill opposite and an hour or so later the traffic returned the way it had come. That night there was an unsettling incident. Around eleven I could hear an engine running and spotlights illuminating the hillsides. In all probability the estate stalkers trying to work out where the stags were located. However, the searchlight illuminated the tent, it paused, moved on and then swung back. This time the tent was lit up for a couple of minutes. That made me extremely uneasy. The pickup truck continued on down one side of the glen and eventually, over an hour later, returned up the other side.
Needless to say but I was up and away early Saturday morning. Possibly the memory plays tricks, however, as I came over on the stone road that had once been a vague path to the head of Strath Tarabhan, it was all very different. Certainly I can recall following an old  grassy track that meandered upwards following the river up through the glen from the railway viaduct. It had petered out at the bealach. There had been a nice grassy patch making an ideal spot for a wild camp.. There is no recollection of the pipelines and dams that now funnel all the water down the Alt Tarabahn and in to Lock Lyon. The ancient track is gone, now replaced by a bulldozed stone road that runs down the glen. For me, it feels as if something has been lost. The land somehow altered and tamed to suit those driven by the needs of commerce. It saddens me to see it so.
Later, checking earlier maps, it corroborates my suspicions, the track Lock Lyon is fairly recent. Older maps show no indication of tracks running up the glen.

 In a mad moment, rather than follow the track down and back up, I chose to follow roughly the course of the pipeline that contours around the hill. An interesting bit of fun! My aim was for the corrie that follow the Allt an Loin. An older track runs a fair way up the corrie. From there I continued on up to Lon na  Cailliche. Some lovely camping spots on the bealach. It was also evidently used a fair bit by the deer. Mindful of the rut, I dropped down a tad and off to one side out of the way.  A wander further down to where the infant burn had formed a few pools. Shallow, only knee deep but enough for a sluice off and a dunk.
Sunday morning was dry with low clouds drifting lazily across the tops. Working now on plan Y, or was it Z? My aim was to head up to Beinn Mhanach and Beinn a' Chuirn. There was nothing difficult as such heading upwards but, possibly due to the health issues, it was not that easy going for me. Mind, I had a big grin when I finally made the cairn. It transpires that Beinn Mhanach is actually a munro.' Beinn a' Chuirn was an easy wee top to wander up to. It was fun taking it easy and picking my way back down to the tent. The best bit of the trip really. It was early afternoon but Tyndrum was still a fair distance away and I had to be there by the evening.

A spot of bog trotting and then back down Corrie an Loin. The main glen did nothing for me. Gleann Achadh inis Challein has changed drastically. Stepping out a steady pace, I was in Tyndrum by late afternoon. Checked in to the hostel, a shower and a treat of fish and chips from the cafe.

Something that has got me rather enthusiastic about is the new Trekker tent. The Stealth 1.5. It is an enlarged version of the original Stealth. Marc has really hit a winner on this tent. It weighs in at approximately 800gms, has loads of room and  more height. Using it over five days I can honestly say I am happy with it. Marc was a little apologetic about the light green fabric inner but I have no problem with it. The inner sits quite taut and is ideal for the cooler months. Give it a few months and I will do a more comprehensive write up. In the short term I will say first impressions are good. A good, lightweight, UK made tent at a very reasonable price. No frills, knobs bells or whistles, a nice tent.
Mileage wise, not a lot, approximately sixty over the week. Tuesday was roughly fourteen miles and the Sunday a good fourteen and a half.

A few more photos .