Sue and Martin in Mallorca 2019

Sue and Martin in Mallorca 2019
On the Archduke's Path in Mallorca

Wednesday, 6 May 2020

'Pilgrimage to Portree' - 18 to 26 March 1994

This is a report on a rather wet week in Portree, for me (MB), Martin W (MW) Dave S (DS) and John M (RIP) (JM). It's triggered by my desire to get rid of some old photos. These were in a small album (see above) together with a few from the 1994 Bogle Stroll, on which I've already reported. 
Considering the report indicates new camera equipment was being used and 'lots of photos' is a recurring theme, the paucity and poor quality of said photos is somewhat disappointing. Maybe I'll come across some more photos or slides, but I doubt it.
The entry will be of little interest to most readers, so feel free to skip it, but it's 'quaint' as a personal record, and I hope that both DS and MW will gain a little amusement from reading it.
I've added a few explanatory comments in blue. 

Pilgrimage to Portree 

Friday 18 March 1994 (Author - MB)

Late arrival at South Drive of JM and MW - both delayed due to ("signalling failures") BR inefficiency - enabled packing to take place before rather than after a pleasant meal at the Tandoori Kitchen. Both MB and DS having been delayed at work (Arrows/hard disc failure).
Saturday 19 March (MB)

Set off from Dave's at 7 am, with plenty of space in new Mondeo motor. Uneventful journey with breakfast at Gretna, tea stop at Callendar and a 2-hour lunch/food shop stop at Fort William.

A lovely day with stunning views, especially of the Lakes from south of Preston onwards. Hit a shower beyond Glencoe, and there was thick cloud thereafter.

Arrived at Portree by 6 pm (430 miles/7½ hours driving) and soon found Portree House and got installed in a fairly luxurious cottage - an old outbuilding conversion rather than the commonly encountered prefab buildings.

Portree by Saturday night (D/M/M) was not an overwhelmingly thrilling experience but it did serve to walk off the effects of a large dose of spaghetti Bolognese.

Early night / good sleep.

Music shops abound in Portree - MW's mandolin may need attention? My old Philips tape recorder is rejuvenated following plug replacement (thanks to the cottage TV, which won't be turned on all week). New tapes used on the journey include DSM(PF), Bix Beiderbecke, Oscar Peterson, and some classical favourites, plus MW's old jazz favourites.
Sunday 20 March (MB)

Wake to clear blue sky and a cool breeze. Debate as to Cuillins, The Storr, or Quiraing. Cloud arrives and The Storr gets the vote. Cloud on top as we start, but we set off undeterred. Snow line is virtually sea level. Tramp up through soft snow before being hit by a snowy squall - with overtrousers on, a snowball fight ensues and DS loses. (Disputed.) On up to the Old Man of Storr - quite a slog in deep snow, where we enjoy a welcome break and coffee. Superb view and the weather has improved.
On to the Needle (down the steep slope) then contour around to Coire Scamadal, with the lochan some way below. Up to the ridge, which is split at this point. Poucher's route (P396) "...proceed carefully to the left ... climb ... skirt ... yawning gullies ...", etc. (Note that for many years we sought route advice from Walter Poucher, by way of his 'Scottish Peaks' and 'Welsh Peaks' books. My copies are very battered, as are the Wainwright guides that we used for inspiration in the Lake District.)

We take a direct route to the distant ridge which appears to be near the summit. Anyway, our route looked well trodden higher up. Off we went, the 'higher up' well trodden bit turned out to be avalanche debris. MW led the way over steepening ground, culminating in a near vertical haul up over a cornice onto the summit plateau. (A fall would have been easy, but not disastrous due to the copious amount of soft snow.) No one else around. Axes used for the final thrutch.
Spent about an hour on the top (719 metres). Pleasant lunch, no wind, stupendous views, Cuillins now clear, Torridon almost clear, Harris completely covered in snow. Lots of photos, including experiments - MB has a new mini tripod - seems to work well, if precarious looking (what if it's windy?).

Eventually stroll south down the Trotternish Ridge, elect not to descend by the steep gully used on previous occasions, and go some way down before reaching the burn described by Poucher. After a bit of trouble (JM) we go down this and stroll across the moorland back to the car by 2.45 (we left around 10 am.)
Here's the route - 9 km with 820 metres ascent.
Back to the cottage for a lazy afternoon, phone call attempts (MW is in love), Dave has invented 's-mail' - this involves the use of copious quantities of loo roll but does not affect his 'Michelin Man' physique.

Much sleeping (especially Dave, who manages to slot in two hours in bed between sh**s (or should that be sheets?).

JM's sleeping potion is in the form of Scientific American. MB stays awake by trying to work out how to cook the gammon from his Xmas hamper. (Succeeds.)
Monday 21 March (MW)

Rather overcast this morning. We are slow to start, partly impeded by the enormous breakfast preparations for D, J and MB. Porridge, followed by a fry-up of egg, leftover potatoes, bacon, sausages, toast and goodness knows what else. I opted for a simple line in muesli and toast. (MW was a vegetarian who enjoyed trips such as this one but ate separately from everyone else - it seems to have stood him in good stead.)

[Martin now tells me he is "pescatarian" and has been since a trip to Corfu with Julie when he got fed up eating omelettes and pizzas, while she had delicious looking fish dishes. He gave in. He, like me, now finds cans of mackerel a good backpacking meal with pasta.]

But really there is no great rush today as we decide that a walk to Loch Coruisk is a good bet, and set off at "the crack of 9.30" (one of JM's masterful "contrapuntal" statements) and drive to Kirkibost.
We take the path just to the south which is a good track Camasunary.
A sleety/drizzly sort of start with low cloud. MW discovers a hammock made from discarded fishing net and supported between scaffolding hoops that must at one time have formed a polythene covered nursery/greenhouse growing space.
Just past Camasunary is a bothy. An intriguingly attired couple ('hippies' for want of a better description) make their way towards it as we make for the ford across Abhainn Camas Fhionnairigh. Much hilarity as MB slips on the stones in front of the paparazzi. Chilly coffee stop.

Thence on to the coast path to Rubha Ban, where JM unaccountably turns back.

(JM was our resident Munro bagger, but he lost confidence after an accident in the Alps and some of us lost contact with him in the late 1990s. I don't think he ever managed to complete his Munro round, which is a great shame. Someone must have stayed in touch, as I recall seeing his obituary a few years ago.) [I've now appended it below.]

Decent if occasionally rocky path, intermittently wet - and still low cloud.

The 'Bad Step' is a large rocky, rounded and fairly smooth outcrop that forms an obstacle to progress along the coast. The major difficulty is climbing a 4 inch diagonal crack that leads up its face. Although fairly exposed (potential 20 foot fall into the sea) there are parallel cracks wide enough for fingers, and it presents no problems for MB and MW (though MW took a wrong turn and had to gingerly backtrack). Once at the other side we waited for DS who did not appear. Not wishing to go back to the crack any more than necessary we walked along the coast a little until he could be seen shining resplendent and blue in his waterproofs. Eyeing him through binoculars he made some incomprehensible gestures before turning his back and setting off down the track.
MW and MB continued to Loch Coruisk and sat by this isolated body of water for lunch and coffee.
Just a few seagulls watched us from the safety of an even more isolated island. Cloud was low, and the impression, I am sure, was not the best the place has to offer.

We returned after only a short stay, to the 'Bad Step' where MB favoured a 'sitting' descent of the crack, whilst MW preferred a 'reverse climb'.

Fairly speedy return to Camasunary, where there is no sign of DS and JM.

Several people inhabit the bothy, though since it's not marked as a bothy I am unsure whether to intrude. We catch sight of the others around about the track summit (Am Main) and return to the car for about 5 pm. Weather is unchanged, though perhaps it is drizzling more than sleeting now.

Home to supper while wet clothes adorn the cottage. Michelin Man adopts various couch potato poses (eg with hands resting on expanding girth) in armchair and settee but eventually finds even these too exhausting and takes up a prostrate position behind the sofa JM retires at 10 pm and MB now at 10.30 is asleep in an armchair.

Alas, middle age is upon us.
Here's our route - 17 km with760 metres ascent.
Tuesday 22 March (DS)

Usual preliminaries lead to a latish start - Portree for some more shopping, and Dave phoning work (hard disc crash etc). MB buys a fish slice that is heat friendly - he melted the plastic one supplied in the cottage. Weather variable - high cloud and heavy wind. Some sun, some rain.
Set off for the Quiraing, to the north. The road climbs quite high up a 1 in 7 / 15% hill. At the top where we park it's very windy. Opening the door is an effort - wrap up warm. Footpath engineers are in a van - we walk along their handiwork. J&D rapidly forge ahead.
The two Ms are soon 'lost' and can't be seen. After waiting for an age and going back to look for them, J and D carry on. Decide to go up a gully to the left and select a suitable one to try. Very slippery and steep, then eventually came across a scree slope with a path which was an easier way up. Then we can go no further, so go down scree and up into the near gully - again steep and slippery.

The two Ms are seen again and start coming up - they have been to The Prison - a rock formation on the other side of the valley. Very steep and unpleasant grass seems to have featured a lot.

After coffee in a precarious position, J and D don't make much further progress. So we follow the Ms up another path which eventually leads to The Table, a lovely plateau. Snowball cricket is tried but it doesn't seem to work.


Off down a steep slope to rejoin the lower path, then set off around the back and up the ridge to find the summit - Meall na Suiramach (543 metres). Very windy. Lots of photos. Good views. Walk downhill to car. Dave gets bum wet falling down - no overtrousers. Coffee in car, then back to base listening to Classical Experience ll tapes. Jigsaw started in cottage.
Here's our route - 8 km with 700 metres ascent.
Wednesday 23 March (MB)

"Hut" breakfast of tea in bed courtesy of DS, 7.30 am, with NO BISCUITS, heralded another wet and windy, not to put too fine a point on it, day.

There was no sense of urgency in breakfast, and consequently no skimping either. By 10 am the work on the 'Cluedo - Mystery Jigsaw Puzzle' had recommenced. Soon it found a more hospitable venue on the table, as middle-aged backs and knees were beginning to stiffen from unaccustomed awkward positions.

By 4 pm significant progress had been made, so the Ms decided to take a short walk to Portree Heritage Centre, the other side of town. We achieved this between squalls, encountering many coach loads of kids on their way home from school to various parts of the island.

The Heritage Centre comprises a gift shop, restaurant and exhibition. It was surprisingly busy, except for the exhibition which was being renovated and would not open until 28 March.

On leaving, the squall which had started soon after we arrived, afforded us the luxury of a bright double rainbow over Portree. MW left in favour of the music shop, which he found to be closed. MB braved the woodland walk - a 40 minutes or so stroll with an excellent viewpoint about 150 metres up. Lots of dark woods - see walk 37 in Mary Welsh's book imaginatively titled 'Walks on the Isle of Skye'.

Returned via the Presto (Safeway) supermarket for more food and booze, then back to find the denouement had taken place in my absence - it was Colonel Mustard with the electric drill and the piece of chain 'what crushed the Doctor's head like a melon'!

That challenge over, Dave set about Super Monaco GP on the Game Gear, but failed to score, that after JM had fenced for a while with the machine at Chess.

Due to the low level of exercise today, tea was another non-urgent affair. MW ate early and left the rest of us to nosh a botched up mixture based on the remains of Grant Thornton's Xmas hamper gammon.

MW then decided to go swimming but delayed his departure 'as it is wet outside'! He returned later, only to leave again for the phone box - no excuses about wetness for this trip.

JM resorts in desperation to reading the reel-to-reel tape index, but fails to find anything of interest. He then fails to work out how to use the dishwasher* and washes by hand (only one hand as the other was burnt in a minor accident).

Dave and MW have an interesting session comparing attributes (Walkmen). Dave has an extra socket and a digital readout. MW clearly has better headphones - this is obvious as he talks louder than Dave (in comparison with their respective normal decibel counts) when kitted out with headphones. Or is it because he has the volume higher and the speech adjusts to this higher volume. Perhaps a technical memo is required.
* (MW) This cottage is our first ever equipped with a dishwasher - a technical mystery to most of us, but MB did work out how to use it! (I had one at home!)
Thursday 24 March (DS)

Usual latish start - uncertainty about the weather leads to a decision to go coastal walking. Martin (the garden ornament) has a walking book of the area and we set off to do two walks nearby. ('Walks on the Isle of Skye' - Mary Welsh, walks 12 and 18).
We drove to Dunvegan Castle, decided not to pay £4 to go in, and went up the road to the coast on Coral Beach.
Pleasant if short coastal walk. Quite windy, but good views and interesting beach. Dave attempted to skim stones, but not easy in the sea.
Here's our route - 5 km with 60 metres ascent.
Back to car and on to the next walk to Ullinish Point and Oronsay. To get between the two we have to cross a causeway to reach Oronsay, which is an island - the tide was out. Climb to the top the other side. John turns back early with a purposeful gait. The others lounge about, drink coffee, etc. On the way back we notice that the causeway is starting to get covered by the sea. John had anticipated this. We run down and splash across. Dave and MB get wet feet. MW stopped to put on gaiters which appeared to work. John laughs at us. Lots of photos.
Here's our route - 5 km with 130 metres ascent.
Next stop the Dun Beag Brock at Bracadale. Fascinating - just the dome remains but there's a thick drystone wall and the entrance tunnel, guard room and staircase were all visited. Lots more photos.
Back to cottage - Dave plays Columns and Grand Prix games on the Game Gear. Go out for meal in veggie bistro, with a nice view on the way.
Food so so. Lots of foreign tourists.

Back to cottage, where Dave and MB tackle a 1000 piece jigsaw, finishing it at 1.15 am.
Friday 25 March (MW)

7.30 reveille with tea courtesy of Dave. Changeable sort of day outside. Breakfast ritual commenced around 8.30 and was rather quicker in running its course today. Dave engulfs and absorbs his quota at the usual prodigious rate - this includes half a can of beans (warning!) although today there is only half a potato to divide between three since we ate out last night.

Decide that the Cuillins are not a good prospect today (meaning a whole week without a Munro) and opt for a walk to Beinn Edra (611 metres), starting from Uig. We park outside the 'tower', a latter-day brock, and cross the river to start up Gleann Conain - the idea (MB's) being to do the ridge from north to south since the wind was approximately northerly. This turned out to be a jolly good idea.

The geology of Balnaknock was interesting, looking as if it had contained a lake at some time. There were moraine bumps to the south. It is a space enclosed by steep walls and in fact probably a glacial feature, but curious and unusual.
Alternate showers and sunshine caused much overtrousering and deovertrousering on the way up. As we reached the view (above Bealach Uige) we stopped for a coffee break and enjoyed a pleasant interval between showers. These showers became hail on the way up to Beinn Edra, but fortunately the wind was behind us (good thinking MB) and the abrasive little blighters bounced harmlessly off our backs. Very cold and windy at the trig point - not a place to hang around.
Most of the snow has gone now, but some of the cornices survive along the north facing crags.

Down to Bealach Mhoramhain, where MB, MW and DS elect to continue along the ridge back to Uig, while JM prefers to take the 'path' down via Balnaknock.

Two very weary looking souls pass us going north against the wind. Between showers (of decreasing frequency) the views from the ridge are worthwhile and it's a good route though at some points the wind attacked viciously, from the side now.

After Beinn Fhuar the way becomes increasingly boggy, with eroded peat channels impeding progress. Fortunately not too wet and most of the ground fairly solid. We reach the patch of forest and have some coffee and admire the view of Uig and over the Hebrides, which can just be made out. Then down the southwest side of the forest* to return to the car, where JM has been waiting for 20 minutes. Back to 'Hut' (the words 'chalet' and hut' have been used consistently by the diarists on this trip, but the place was really a 'cottage' to which I've amended most references to avoid confusion - Ed)  (the word 'Hut' used by others this week hardly describes a rather comfortable little place with dishwasher and central heating) for cheese on toast followed by a big meal to use up our remaining food. A good walk which made the best of the day.
* Unusual dog or maybe fox skeleton (inc skull with canine teeth) seen here.
Here's our route - 18 km with 840 metres ascent.
Here's a 'map' of our week.
Saturday 26 March (MB)

Uneventful return to Manchester, leaving 7 am, arriving 4.30 pm, after stops at Fort William (breakfast), M74, M6 (tea stops). L623 HBA now well and truly run in. Beautiful calm, sunny day - the best of the year yet - but we had to drive 430 miles!
Cost of trip, including cottage (£155), food, fuel, etc = £503, split between the four of us.
Here's what Dave came up with concerning the demise of our old pal, JM:
John Mansell
MANSELL John, of Hurworth, passed away suddenly on December 3, aged 64 years. Much loved son of the late Tim and the late Betty, loving brother of Peter, sadly missed by his colleagues at Whessoe and friends at the Fox And Hounds. Would family and friends please meet for a service at Darlington Crematorium on Friday, December 16, at 9:00am.

Published in The Northern Echo on 14th December 2016

John was a very clever person. After graduating, he carried out research at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology into how the weave of a material affected the retardation of a projectile i.e. bullet proof materials. He published scientific papers on this and was awarded a Ph.D. On leaving Manchester he joined Whessoe in Darlington - where he spent all his working life. During this time he specialised in developing software that ensured the safety of plant (mainly the high integrity pipework) where failure could potentially lead to a catastrophic loss of life. This work covered nuclear, chemical and power plants throughout the UK and abroad. The excellent safety record of these industries in the UK is in part down to John's efforts. Thanks for keeping us safe and may you rest in peace.

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