Martin in Gatineau Park

Martin in Gatineau Park

Friday, 17 May 2013

Friday 17 May 2013 -TGO Challenge Day 8 - Wild camp near hut to Grantown-on-Spey

Route: as planned except that I continued to Kinross House B&B rather than stay on the campsite

See http:/www.topwalks.com/tgoc2013.html Day 8 for map

Distance: 26 km (Cum 201)

Ascent: 600 metres (Cum 6810)

Time taken: 8.4 hrs including 1.4 hrs stops

Weather: fine with sunny intervals

Challengers encountered: Ali O

Ali and I set out together at 7.30, as planned last night in the lunch hut, where Ali decided to spend the night inside and risk getting cold rather than soggy, rain having been forecast. 

This was new ground for both of us, and we didn't see a soul before the outskirts of Grantown. Wild country. 

We soon reached the second of three bothies, a fine wood panelled affair with a stable devoted to the storage of mink traps. This is serious grouse moor; their predators are ruthlessly eliminated.

We didn't visit the bothy at Knockdu, but it's pictured above. More alert readers will note that today Millie has been substituted by Ali. 

A pathless section found us utilising the planks on which the animal traps were located, to facilitate river crossings. Luckily the planks just about bore our weight. 

Lunch followed shortly after a mid morning break - by a large cairn on Carr Mor that must have a historical significance. Then Ali took a direct path to Grantown whilst I bimbled through beds of wood anemones to the 471 metre summit of Beinn Mhor. This minor peak enjoys wide ranging views towards the Cairngorms, where snow is still the dominant feature above 1000 metres or so. 

Here in the relative lowlands it must be much warmer.  Today I was distracted by my sunburnt nose and a lizard. Greylag Geese and Lapwings were busy in the skies in their differing ways, and it was Ali who nearly stood on a grouse's nest. 

Lovely countryside despite some new roads being built through these remote tracts of land. 

I followed Ali past a tame oyster catcher and some classic cars (including a stunning white 1971 Ford Capri) into Grantown shortly before 4pm and we took full advantage of our shared bathroom before adjourning to the Garth Hotel for an excellent meal, then to the Co-Op for supplies. 

In between all this 'Control' was informed of our survival thus far, albeit expressing concerns over our bathroom facilities, which for the avoidance of doubt are shared, but not at the same time. 

Goodnight. 

Sent from Kinross House, Grantown-on-Spey

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Thursday 16 May 2013 -TGO Challenge Day 7 - Wild camp at NH 787 413 to Wild camp at NH 888 363

Route: virtually as planned 

See http:/www.topwalks.com/tgoc2013.html Day 7 for map

Distance: 17 km (Cum 175)

Ascent: 580 metres (Cum 6210)

Time taken: 6.5 hrs including 1.4 hrs stops

Weather: fine with sunny intervals; hail showers in the afternoon

Challengers encountered: Ali Ogden arrived at 8pm and is camping nearby

This was my shortest day. I had in mind a semi rest day. 'Just as well', I thought, when I awoke at 8.45am this morning. I get my best sleeps in tents - I would never wake at that hour at home. 

Anyway, setting off at 10.20 I immediately had my one and only encounter of the day - with a very fit looking lady who was running down the hill. Apparently there are three hills, of which this (Beinn Bhuidhe Mhor) is one, used by the fell runners of Inverness for training. I heard quite a few of them pass by last night. 

My next encounter was on the summit of BBM, with Millie, pictured above in the centre of the picture to the left of the trig point. She or others of her family were to keep me company all day. They, and the grumpy grouse, one of whose nest of ten eggs I nearly stood on.

The 5km yomp to my 615 metre high point of the day (Carn nan Tri-tighearnan) took over two hours of hard graft. Picture the roughest parts of Bleaklow. Hard work for a 'semi rest day'! The continuation to Carn an Uillt Bhric wasn't much easier, but after that the extensive grouse moor road system of the Cawdor Estate came into play, making the going easy, but the eyesores of freshly built tracks rather spoiled the 'wilderness experience'.

The sandy waters of Allt Breac provided a most welcome brew stop in ideal conditions - my most enjoyable such stop of the trip. 

Down at Drynachan I passed fields of frolicking lambs before crossing the first of two bridges, beyond which lay the easy pull over Carn na Sguabaich to my planned camping spot. 

As I ascended, a woodpecker drummed in the nearby wood whilst a cuckoo unmistakably announced its presence and two fishermen tried their luck in the river below.

On Carn na Sguabaich there was a strange enclosure, and further down, next to the track, a beautifully constructed enclosure and outlet for a well. There's a history to this place. 

Arriving at my planned camping spot at about 5pm, I managed to whizz up the tent just before a hailstorm arrived, so I didn't perhaps choose the best spot. As I write, at 8pm, Ali O has just appeared, having come all the way from Inverness today. She's gone down to the nearby lunch hut to pitch her tent.

Sent en route to Grantown or near to wild camp if I can find a signal

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Wednesday 15 May 2013 -TGO Challenge Day 6 - Dochgarroch Lock to Wild camp beyond Dalroy

Route: as planned, but passing through the centre of Inverness for provisions

See http:/www.topwalks.com/tgoc2013.html Day 6 for map

Distance: 28 km (Cum 158)

Ascent: 650 metres (Cum 5630)

Time taken: 9.25 hrs including 3.25 hrs stops

Weather: dry but cool into Inverness, then showery, becoming fairly constant rain and hail, easing to showers in the evening

Challengers encountered: none

Recapping from yesterday:

The photo is of Ali and Charles outside the Cnoc Hotel.

My enthusiasm for amending my route to avoid the rough ascent of Cnoc na Gaoithe was misguided. I should on reflection have gone up the hill and wild camped by the burn to its south. But I didn't realise that the woods above Dochgarroch were private, easy to enter, and hard to escape from. Nor did I realise I'd made a mistake with the campsite - I had sfter all found it on the Internet. It must be somewhere else - perhaps at Scaniport?

Finally, the fire. I was lighting my stove using my new fire steel. I haven't mastered the technique. After several strikes I managed to light the stove and knock it over all in one action, resulting in an inferno in the enclosed porch of the tent. How I managed to open the door and chuck the fireball out with no damage to anything will forever be a mystery. A lesson has been learned.

On to today. I was on the canal towpath soon after 8, having again borrowed the key to the toilet from the friendly Air Cadets. The alternative may have surprised a few dog walkers. 

This was the best bit of the day weather wise - you may guess that from today's picture. 

The heavens opened as I passed through Inverness. I could tell that from the windows of the supermarket. And from the windows of the coffee shop. 

Once out of Inverness, the path to Culloden was very pleasant. Bullfinches greeted me as I approached the impressive gates and buildings of Culloden House. I later noticed that the building looks the same as it was in some of the pictures that are contemporary to 1745.

More paths and cycleways led onto Culloden Moor, where I paid a visit to the Prisoner Stone, though I'm still not sure of its history. 

A visit to the Battle of Culloden Visitor Centre was perhaps the day's highlight. I wish I'd had more time to appreciate it. Let's just say it's not your average visitor centre. 

Whilst I was being impressed, and taking advantage of the café facilities, clods of hail were bombarding the building. Waterproofs were needed for the rest of my walk up to some boggy moorland to this surprisingly comfortable pitch. En route I have to admit to having weakened during a short pause in the deluge - I booked a B&B in Grantown for Friday. 

Finally - hello Tim, I'm delighted to hear you are following my progress, and look forward to seeing you soon. 

That's enough for one day, albeit an easy one. It's time to let the rain lull me to sleep. 

Sent from a hill south of Inverness - NH 787 413

Healthy Eating?

For the curious, here's an example of Challenge fayre, following my recent restocking for a couple of days. 

The fruit was eaten before I took this picture, as it was a bit heavy.


Sent from Culloden

Tuesday 14 May 2013 -TGO Challenge Day 5 - Struy to Dochgarroch Loch

Route: as planned,  with some adjustments

See http:/www.topwalks.com/tgoc2013.html Day 5 for map

Distance: 34 km (Cum 130)

Ascent: 900 metres (Cum 4980)

Time taken:  9.6 hrs including 1.5 hrs stops

Weather: fine with long sunny periods, rainy evening

Challengers encountered: none

A sunny morning greeted us through the curtains. The tent was soon down (think I'm joking? - no, but I slept in the bed) and a brew was on.

Breakfast was excellent. Then Ali and Charles set off in one direction and I took the low road. We had spent last night with Charles, who is tackling the Cape Wrath Trail. Good luck Charles, if you read this. 

The day was bright and clear - excellent walking weather. 

Tarmac was to feature quite a bit on my route. My first attempt to leave it failed due to my planned route being blocked by the new Beauly - Denny power line. But that left me a better alternative, albeit featuring a runnel of deep bog.

My first encounter of the day was with a very friendly chap who was mowing grass outside Beaufort Castle. He told me where to see ospreys nearby. So I went to the spot for lunch,  but the birds eluded me.

I pottered on to Cabrich, for a good natter with a complete stranger, Donald West. He was going to the Struy Hotel tonight. "Great food" he enthused. I agreed. He recalled that the hotel used to be the estate office  for the Chisholm estate, when the Chisholms had a pub by the river near Inchmore. Apparently the drovers used to get their cattle to that point and say 'not an inch more' as they headed for the pub. It was shut by the Chisholms the day after as drunken customer drowned in the river. It never reopened. 

After the beautiful woodland of Moniack came the ascent to An Leacainn, my high point of the day. First I took the wrong track for a kilometre and reached a half built house with a grass roof. Then after retracing to find it, the correct path, when located, turned out to be very rough, boggy and hard to follow. It was quite late when I finally reached the trig point, which informed me that this was 'The Place of Flagstones'. It also had good views and a cold wind.

Readers may expect mention of Ben Wyvis, of which I should have seen much today. It was hidden from the world, present only by virtue of houses named 'Wyvis View'. A postman's nightmare. 

Descending from An Leacainn, I came across the irresistible track of the Great Glen Way. As it was late, with rain in the air, I abandoned my planned route over Cnoc na Gaoithe in favour of the pristine highway. This led to a more direct path into Dochgarroch, or so I thought. I was wrong. Private tracks forced a 3km detour. It was 7pm by the time I finally reached my destination.  But there was no sign of a campsite.  A planning error on my part.

Luckily there were some Air Force cadets camped by the lock, and they kindly lent me a key to the Waterways toilets. My pitch beside picnic benches was flat and comfy. After nearly setting fire to my tent I enjoyed a pleasant evening with an excellent dinner,  followed by a long sleep.

More about the route issue tomorrow, and I may mention the fire...

Sent from beside the Caledonian Canal

Monday, 13 May 2013

Monday 13 May 2013 -TGO Challenge Day 4 - Wild Camp by waterfall to Struy

Route: FWA as planned, plus a diversion - basically descent to Glen Strathfarrar and a long road walk to Struy, plus an exploratory diversion

See http:/www.topwalks.com/tgoc2013.html Day 4 for map of where I should have been

Distance: 26km (Cum 96)

Ascent: 500 metres (Cum 4080)

Time taken: 6.75 hrs including 0.75 hrs stops

Weather: overnight slithering sounds revealed snow at dawn; cold rain showers and a brisk westerly all day

Challenger encountered: Ali Ogden, hence the brevity and lateness of this posting

Overnight snow, though it didn't stay for long where I was at 350 metres, may have surprised some Challengers. It certainly surprised me, as it had seemed quite a warm night. 

After a lie in I packed up and headed down to the road, for the twenty plus km stroll to Struy down beautiful Glen Strathfarrar. 

A diversion into the Struy Forest to find an alternative to the road proved futile when I couldn't find the path, but at least it made a change  from the road for an hour and a half. 

Then much washing and eating and socialising at this fine establishment, and great to catch up with Ali.

I forgot to get the phone out today except when I was about to strike camp, so I'm afraid it's another TNSC2 picture. 

There are lots of deer down in the valley,  even strolling past the restaurant window.  Bewick Swans, Pied Wagtails and lots of LBJs, as well as Wrens and Oyster Catchers,  Dippers, etc were also spotted. 

That's all for now.  Thanks again for your comments. 

Sent from the very hospitable Cnoc Hotel

Sunday 12 May 2013 -TGO Challenge Day 3 - Wild Camp near Lurg Mor to Wild Camp below Beinn na Muice

Route: FWA more or less as planned

See http:/www.topwalks.com/tgoc2013.html Day 3 for map - FWA (foul weather alternative) continues beside Loch Monar to Monar Lodge then goes west over Beinn na Muice to a wild camp near a waterfall

Distance: 22km (Cum 70)

Ascent: 980 metres (Cum 3580)

Time taken: 9.75 hrs including 1.4 hrs stops

Weather: overnight rain (it was raining on the couple of occasions I woke up) then fine but grey, with rain from the south west obviously going to arrive, which it duly did around 3pm

Challengers encountered: Sue Moore, by Loch Monar, the only person I saw all day

The familiar sound of raindrops on nylon was no encouragement for an early start. But eventually a brew was on and the familiar morning routine was under way. 

I left the fine site at 8am and took a circuitous route to Loch Monar to avoid any tricky river crossings. The plan worked - there were no 'incidents' today. 

Loch Monar (pictured this morning in the brightest part of the day) is quite long. It took me 6 hours to walk the 14 km to Monar Lodge. Any semblance of a path was occasional and vague. The whole day was like that, hence a rather slow pace.

Sue Moore was standing on the path waiting for me.  We chatted briefly. She was doing the Challenge  to chill out from work, etc for a couple of weeks. Quite a few do that, I think. I left her to her contemplations and continued my traipse on along the path, punctuated by a couple of brew stops and some easy river crossings on slippery rocks. Walking poles came in handy. 

From the south and the west some very ominous weather seemed to be approaching us at little more than walking pace. Waterproofs went on and off. It soon became apparent that my planned fine weather route was not a sensible option. 

Monar Lodge was surrounded by road building equipment,  and a road leading nowhere. I suspect previous residents of these parts may not have approved.  Much has changed since Iain R Thompson (Isolation Shepherd) was here. 

The little hill I chose for my FWA turned out to be a bit of a brute. Very steep up and down, with a nice little summit ridge that seemed longer and narrower than it actually was due to the debilitating gusts of wind.

I thought it would be easy to find a good spot to camp, but the terrain below was a medley of stones and heather in a sea of bog. I'm currently at NH 234 401, near a waterfall. The best I could manage.

The rain eased for a while and the weather cleared to reveal fresh snow on the summits. It's raining again as I conclude this latest episode.  It's a shame I've had to duck out of the main Strathfarrar ridge, as my route from now on could be regarded as a gentle amble.

Sent from a rare place in Scotland - one with a phone signal

Saturday 11 May 2013 - TGO Challenge Day 2 - Loch nan Gillean to Camp near col

Route: More or less as planned, wild camping at NH 057 412 (630 metres) 

See http:/www.topwalks.com/tgoc2013.html Day 2 for map

Distance: 25km (Cum 48)

Ascent: 1450 metres (Cum 2600)

Time taken:  9.25hrs including 1.7hrs stops

Weather: rain,  gradually brightening, with the rain finally pausing around 11am. We then enjoyed a couple of hours of 'not rain' before it started again. As I chose my camping spot at 5.15pm the rain miraculously stopped, the sun came out, and the hills I'd just climbed in thick cloud and heavy rain grinned at me as the sun's rays warmed their rocks.

Challengers encountered: none, the only people I saw today were two walkers coming down from Lurg Mor and 'Cheesecake'.

It was a good night to test a new tent.  Constant rain, blustery at times.  I slept well.  Enough said. 

I woke today in the same cloud that I went to sleep in last night. However, it was easy enough to make my way across the trackless bog and around the edge of some forestry to gain a path that was even more boggy. This soon got me to a better track that led me to the main estate track up to Bendronaig Lodge. It wouldn't have been so soon if I'd slipped on the tree trunk I used as a river crossing at one point. A film of that, as branches snapped and poles went flying, may have been hilarious. 

For an hour or so I was free from waterproofs, but given the cool breeze I lunched in Bendronaig  Lodge's bothy. When I emerged 40 minutes later it was raining again. 

Three people a few minutes ahead of me may have been John, Sue and Jane, but I didn't find out as they continued beside Loch Calavie whilst I headed up to the col between Lurg Mor and 'Cheesecake'.

That thrutch was rewarded with the pleasure of a couple of hours without my rucksack.  Whilst it was raining, the benign conditions didn't merit even contemplating my FWA (foul weather alternative).

I think the weather was the same as when Sue and I were last here. 

My camp site (pictured) is one of the best. After the sun came out the wind changed, so as soon as I'd put the tent up I found myself  repositioning it. Then the wind dropped completely and hasn't returned, though cloud has returned to the summits. The weather looks unsettled - but at least it has provided a glorious evening. 

Flora and fauna: lots of deer on both days so far, a variety of plovers and unidentified birds, and a fine clump of purple saxifrage just near the tent. 

Alan R - S3 notepad? ★

Composed at NH 057 412, sent when a signal appeared