Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Wild Camping

I don't usually repost but these are a couple of useful and well thought out articles from Dan Bailey in UKHillwalking that I thought were worth sharing (especially the second one on where you can do it)

Top Ten Tips for Wild Camping

Wild Nights Out - Responsible Camping and the Law

More mountain biking adventures in Scotland to follow soon...

Wild camp by R Nethy, on track to Fords of Avon, Cairngorms

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Mountain biking adventures in Scotland - Ardverikie

When I'd set off for the start of the Challenge, I'd been warned not to return injured because we had a trip around the Cairngorms with the bikes planned for mid-June.  Fortunately, cycling is kind to knees (ha ha) so on arriving back in Sheffield from Aviemore and after a quick trip to the minor injuries unit to get the knee checked over, I was soon back out into the Peak District on the bike.

We left Sheffield on the Friday afternoon before summer solstice week with the campervan, two bikes and trailers and drove to Berwick for a curry before parking up for the night by the side of the A1 on the English/Scottish border.  We made good time the following day and reached Blair Atholl by early afternoon, so we decided to call in at the Laggan Wolftrax MTB trail centre, just west of Laggan.  I'm not a huge fan of MTB trail centres.  They're for folk who like levels of danger and excitement that generally go beyond what I consider to be enjoyable.  They're artificial and they're nearly always in forests, so there is little to see apart from trees.  They're the equivalent of climbing walls - good places to hone your skills but somehow falling short of the real thing. 

On the Sunday, we drove to Kinloch Laggan to ride a route in the Vertebrate Scotland Mountain Biking guide around the Ardverikie Estate.  Ardverikie featured in the TV series, Monarch of The Glen.

From the road, the route crosses the R Pattack by the bridge at the gatehouse and follows the estate road, which runs by an inviting sandy beach at the eastern end of Loch Laggan before taking an LRT south to rejoin and follow the line of the River Pattack after about 4km. 

A steep uphill section leads to easy riding on land rover track to the R Pattack

The track passes through a narrow tree lined valley, with a small waterfall

River Pattack and waterfall

but soon opens out into broad, grassy flood plain with the hills of the Ben Alder Forest in the distance.

The midge net - 'a la mode' gear for Scottish mountain biking

Looking south down R Pattack towards Ben Alder

This felt like big country and it would be interesting to work it into a TGO Challenge route, from Corrour Station perhaps, over the Bealach Dubh and with an overnight wild camp on one of the large grassy areas by the river.  I feel a next year's plan taking shape already.

Bridge over the R Pattack

The LRT takes in two sides of Loch Pattack followed by one of those adorable Scottish wobbly bridges that prove so entertaining to cross, especially with a bike. 

Loch Pattack - we were heading through those hills

The wobbly bridge over the Allt a Chaoil-reidhe

From here, the LRT continued another 2km to the start of the big climb.  The guide book describes this as 3.25km of serious climbing involving some hike-a-bike.  But before that we had to ford the Allt Cam.  I was having so much fun that I nearly missed the crossing point, which was marked by a very small cairn and with a faint path showing through the heather on the far bank. More entertainment was had crossing the stream, followed by a wringing out of footwear and a light lunch.

Crossing the Allt Cam.
The stepping stones mentioned in the guidebook were noticeably absent

The hike-a-bike turned out to be quite extensive, about 3km in fact.  Where the track was flat enough to ride, it was generally too boggy.  Where it wasn't boggy, it was too steep or too brief before the next boggy section, to get enough momentum.  I think the longest stretch I managed to cycle was about 75m near the top.  A younger, fitter person would doubtless have made a better fist of it.  We climbed to 800m and from this lofty standpoint we could look down through the mist and light rain onto Loch a Bhealaich Leamhain

Topping out at 800m

Loch a Bhealaich Leamhain

I wasn't sure about the downhill section which was to follow.  The map showed the contours to be steeper than the ones we'd crossed on the way up but as we set off over the edge, I knew instantly that the next 15 or so minutes were going to be a huge amount of fun.  I could see the track disappear off into the distance, with almost 450m of descent in 3.5km in store, down to Lochan na h-Earba.  It was singletrack and steep but not too steep, technical without being too gnarly and with varying terrain, starting through heather, then some rocky stuff and finishing over grass.  We had to stop 2 or 3 times on the way down just to ease the burn in our thighs but any previous doubts about the quality of this route I'd been having on the push up, were all swept into a corner by this absolutely magnificent, fast and furious descent.

At the bottom, and after a few minutes to compose ourselves and let the adrenalin rush subside, we picked up the LRT along the side of Lochan na h-Earba and followed this for a fast 6 km to the locked deer gate back into the main estate grounds.
Lochan na h-Earba

Here we had a faff in the rain and midges to lift the bikes over an 8' stile before dropping down through the forest to Ardverikie House, which could almost have been modelled on Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast Castle*.  As we cycled past the house, I thought I could hear Flay's cracking knee joints as he skulked along the dark corridors, then I realised that it was my knees that were making the noise.  We retraced out route back over the gatehouse bridge to the road and stowed the bikes onto the back of the campervan with a feeling of smugness and satisfaction.  What a fabulous ride!
Distance: 34km  (21miles)
Ascent: 870m (2850')

* Ok so Arverikie predates Gormenghast but allow me some poetic licence here.

Friday, 6 July 2012

TGO Challenge 2012: Day 6 - The plan unravels

The day didn't start well. A car drove past the tents at around 5 in the morning and the driver decided to give us a wake up call with the horn.  (Tit!).  And then another (or maybe the same one coming back) did it again an hour later (oh how we larfed at these japes).

But the weather wasn't bad : a bit cool, a bit of a breeze, a bit of moisture in the air and the tent not too wet.  Having been blown off course by Jean's invitation to join her on The Trail of the 7 Lochs (I am so easily led at times), the obvious line to a crossing point on the R Findhorn, and thence to Aviemore was to continue a few more miles with her by a new track above Loch Ceo Glais and then by road round the southern end of Loch Duntelchaig and along the north side of Loch Ruthven.  After that, Jean was heading north to Culloden and I had 13 miles of road walking to reach the Findhorn at Dalmigavie Lodge.

Trail of the 7 Lochs near Loch Ceo Glais

This section of the T7L which runs above Loch Ceo Glais is, what shall we say... 'undeveloped'.  It starts off as heather bashing and continues over what appears to be some heather bashed cynically into a poor excuse for a path. 

Cynically bashed heather on the T7L

 Having said that, it does have some nice views.

Loch Ceo Glais and Loch Duntelchaig from TL7

After a couple of km of this, the T7L crossed the stream linking the two lochs.  There was no bridge.  We pondered what the Sunday afternoon strollers would make of this.

The stream - no bridge

and once across, our efforts were rewarded by this sign...

So we'd thrashed through heather and got wet feet to be told we couldn't go any further.  Grrr. We still had two thirds of Scotland to walk across and someone had put up a bloody sign telling us we couldn't go any further!!!  We made a beeline up the hill to the road, climbed over a barbed wire fence and got back to the main event, having taken about 1.5 hrs to traverse 2km. Jean had a very nicely produced A4 leaflet about the trail but sadly the product (or at least our expectations of it, as informed by the brochure) did not live up to the marketing*.

Looking back on the T7L

Putting that debacle behind us (or at least to our right hand side), we romped (hah) along the B862 and headed east (about bloody time) along the north edge of Loch Ruthven to where Jean turned towards Culloden to re-enact the sword through the heart of the Jacobite uprising at a quarter to six (ok, 1745). 

Meanwhile, the pain in my left big toe was competing with the pain in my right knee and it started to rain (a lot) and I was feeling miserable.  I carried on manfully (!) for another 5 miles, at which point I started to clutch at straws and wasted half an hour trying to cut off a corner to save half a mile.  It was futile.

Loch Ruthven

Then I unpacked the first aid kit and gave my big toe nail some further attention but it was a lost cause really.  Another couple of increasingly slow miles and I sat on a rock by the roadside, ate some chocolate, looked at the map and considered my options.  I was 25 miles from Aviemore, it was already 2pm and I was limping along at about 1mph.  I didn't know what damage I might be doing to my knee.  If I carried on this route I was pretty much committed to getting to Aviemore.  If I got that far I would be at least half a day behind schedule and would  have lost my planned rest day.  If things carried on getting worse, I could be stuck in the back of beyond, away from any roads or in a forest. Sometimes you just have to recognise when a plan is beyond salvaging.

I turned towards Inverness and walked back along the road.  After about 10 minutes, I heard a car and stuck my thumb out.  The driver stopped.  He was an ornitholoigist surveying birds nesting sites up on one of the wind farms.  He gave me a lift to Inverness where we stopped in Tescos and while he did some shopping, I had a mug of tea and a plate of chips.  Then he drove me to the centre of Aviemore and I checked into the Cairngorm Hotel because it was closest.  I looked a mess but the girl on reception found me a room and in no time at all, I was lying on a comfy bed in a warm room and feeling very pissed off.  I called John Manning to give him the news.  It was little comfort to learn that there had already been a higher than usual number of folk dropping out.
The next morning I got the first train home.  I didn't feel like hanging around to meet other Challengers coming off the Burma road.  There was snow on cars and the hills were white.  It would have been a cold night up where I'd planned to camp and I would have given anything to have spent it there rather than in the hotel.

I'd walked 66 miles from Strathcarron.  Before I set off, unsure how the shin pains would go, I'd said that if I made it to Drum I would be happy.  So on one level it was a success.  And I'd met and walked with some great people on the way.  But it's just wasn't enough - I didn't get to Johnshaven.  Oh well, next year.

 * I've been onto the website since and there are some caveats about  long heather and sections closed for lambing/calving.  This is sort of fair enough but it would be more useful if this information was in the trail brochure.  Also I get the impression that it's a trail that's been set up by horse riders primarilly for riding along on a horse.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

TGO Challenge 2012: Day 5 - Drumnadrochit to Loch Ceo Glais

...to where?  You might well ask.  Today was the day when things began to fall apart.

Over breakfast I shared my knee anxieties with PeterfromHolland and he suggested that instead of ploughing through the middle of those hills that shall not be named I detour round to the north, which would avoid a lot of bogs and height.  Brilliant!  I'd been fixated on either sticking to the original plan or throwing in the towel.  There was a third alternative (although I distinctly remember  my Latin master saying you could only have two of those things).  I needed to catch Gordon's 9.30 ferry but I also needed to get to the chemist to stock up on ibuprofen and a knee support thingy.  By the time I arrived at Temple Pier there was no boat to be seen.  I did waste 5 minutes at the other pier asking some Germans if there had been viele mensche mit grosser rucksacken bei hier heute morgan, a question which was met with some blank looks.  They probably didn't understand me because under pressure and an interval of 40+ years since I did the O level,  I'd forgotten that the proper sentance construction is time before place.

I rang Gordon and ascertained that the next ferry would be at 4pm or 3.30, if I could find Harry from Newcastle (who I'd met on the train up) and Jean Turner (who I knew only by name) to pass on the message.  This meant I had half a day to kill.  Back to Drum to sit in a tea shop.  It wasn't a great tea shop and I wasn't feeling great.  Everyone who was in town the previous day, we now across Loch Ness and heading east and I was stuck here with a swollen knee and losing time.  I spent a couple of hours designing a new route on the GPS, which isn't easy if you want to cover more than 2km x 3km on a MemoryMap 2800 screen.  It was going to add a bit of distance but I could still be in Aviemore on the day I'd originally planned - just rather later.  I phoned the route into John Manning and went to explore Drum some more.  I bumped into Harry and then I bumped into Jean and we all met up in Fiddlers cafe, which is much to be preferred to the other place by the green.  More coffee and comfort food and eventually the time came to walk back to Temple Pier.  Not a boat or a Gordon was to be seen.  Harry called him on the phone and he said he was on his way.  Phew.

Jean, Harry and me (looking slighly demented)

The boat ride was fun and Gordon was a goldmine of local knowledge.  Inverfarigaig can't really be said to have a pier.  Getting ashore is really quite sporting.

Gordon's boat leaving Inverfarigaig Pier

We walked up the hill with Harry and then Jean and I headed north along the road which roughly follows the line of the R Farigaig.  This was already a deviation from the route I'd phoned into TGO Control - oops.

We were following the Trail of the Seven Lochs, which Jean had picked up a leaflet for in her researches for what became her award TGO Challenge winning route.  It is a new trail, which seems to have been devised by someone sitting in an office in Inverness who'd probably never set foot on a hill in his or her life but I'm getting ahead of myself- we didn't find that out until the following day.  At this point all was splendid, walking in the warm, late afternoon sun, watching the curlew and chewing the fat about all sorts of stuff without making any attempt to set the world to right (Leave that to those that feel the urge, I say.  The world has a habit of doing what it wants over a long enough time span anyway).

We walked till about 7pm and found a half decent place to pitch a couple of tents, with a stream for fresh water, just at the southern end of Loch Ceo Glais .

Camp by the side of the B872
Jean lent me her Sony wind up, long wave radio and I caught an episode of The Archers (things weren't good with Ruth and David).  We were camped under a hill with a mast on it and I was able to exchange a few texts with the kids and friends.  The knee was bearable but I had a bit of a problem with a big toe nail, which had started to lift a little and was looking a bit of a menacing shade of blue/black.

Rainbow over Loch Ceo Glais

We'd walked about 5 miles from Inverfarigaig but with the new route, I was now probably 10 miles further from Jonshaven than I'd been at the start of the day. 

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

TGO Challenge 2012 - Day 4: Bearnock to Drumnadrochit

I slept the sleep of a tired person in the steaming and slightly fettid atmosphere of a room with the central heating on full.  When I walked into the dining room at about 8 the next morning, I found Peter from Holland deep into a heavy counselling session with two Italians.  It seemed there had been some sort of falling out between them and their Scottish partner the previous night in the pub in Cannich. 

I only had 7 miles to walk on this day, with the promise of another comfy bed in a hotel, so it was a leisurely start and by the time I set off it had stopped raining.  I stupidly asked some workmen at the roadside for directions into the forest, instead of believing the map, and ended up doing another 2 miles along the road but if I had gone the other way I would probably have missed the sign on a gate which read, 'Highland Cattle - Cows with Horns'.  It made me think of this...

 It started to rain again as I picked up the forest track but it was a brief shower and the sun came out and all was well with the world.  That is all was well apart from the nagging pain in my right knee. Loch Ness came into view. Woohoo.

Loch Ness from the forest above Drumnadrochit

As I descended down through the woods looking for the shortcut past the fort I'd been told about, I realised I was being followed by a couple I recognised as fellow bloggers.  It was Mick and Gayle - going for a walk.  So we continued together to locate the illusive path and with my GPS loaded with OS maps and Gayle's superior tracking skills we managed to find a barbed wirte fence to climb over onto a very muddy track heading in the general direction of Drum.  It wasn't actually the right track, as we realised when we got to the bottom and saw a far less muddy one running parallel to it.

I parted company with M&G as they turned in the direction of the Co-op and I headed into 'town' to the hotel, my right knee now hurting quite a bit more from the descent.  I didn't make it to the hotel in one go.  I bumped into PeterFromHolland who despite leaving Bearnock after me had arrived first.  He had just booked himself into the same hotel, having blagged some cheap deal on a room because their bunkhouse had closed three years earleir (or something like that).  Next, I spotted the three Scotsman sitting in a pub and since it was lunchtime and I was in no rush, it seemed unfriendly not to go and join them.  And it was a good call as the barman was handing out free whisky to Challengers so it seemed uncharitable not to stay and sample the steak and ale pie they served (purely by way of a market analysis).  I can report that it was a fine pie but perhaps not quite as good as the one in Cannich.

The rest of the day was spent lying on the bed in the hotel, popping ibuprofen and blathering my knee in biofreeze gel to reduce the swelling.  This didn't seem like a good state to be in before heading off onto the next section of the walk (into the mountains that shall not be named) and 118 miles still to be walked.

Monday, 2 July 2012

TGO Challenge 2012 - Day 3: Glen Cannich to Bearnock

Apologies for long intermission.  I've been back to Scotland in the meantime.  So, where was I? 

Oh yes, I'd just been woken up by something cold and hard in my ear and the sound of a Whooper Swan.  How did a swan get in the tent and why was it sticking its beak in my ear?  OK, so it was the toggle on my sleeping bag.

Having now abandoned the delicious and largely nutrition free meal of soup and noodles to start the day, getting up and going was a somewhat quicker affair.  The outside world was rather grey and drizzley and the first thing I needed to do was get across the River Cannich.  I was under the impression that the 1:50k showed a bridge just upstream from where I was camped.  Actually looking at it now on the computer screen, blown up to something that an old bloke with increasingly crap eyesight can focus on, it is bloody obvious that it's a ford and not a bridge. 

River Cannich - to be crossed

So the day got off to a start with an unplanned paddle.  Then I  had to do battle with another gate fastener but after that the track though the forest was nothing short of really quite pleasant.  There were views of mist clung hills and birds of many varieties flitting around and about.  I crossed back over the river by a road bridge and took a track which should have avoided 2 km of road walking but after 1km I reached a gate supporting a fairly uncompromising, 'keep out' message.  Some rude words were uttered.  Then I spotted what looked like a fairly wide and braided bit of river just beyond and decided another paddle was the better part of discretion.  So back on the road and a brief photo stop above the falls of Eas an Fhithich and I was walking into Cannich before midday, half a day ahead of schedule. 

Eas An Fhithach

I wandered up and down the main street, checking out the facilities, which took about three minutes and went into a throughly run down looking cafe/bar/hotelly sort of place and had a thoroughly splendid steak and ale pie and a cup of hot coffee.  Peter from Holland came in as I was doing my Desperate Dan impersonation and we held a broken conversation between mouthfuls of cow and chips.  Peter mentioned that he was booked into a bunkhouse at Bearknock that night - or was it a bear house at bunk knock - I was only half listening. 

After settling the bill I set out into the rain and went in a generally westerly direction to turn onto the track into Kerrow Wood.  This turned out to look like a stage set for a re-enactment of the Battle of the Somme, made all the more convincing by the sheeting rain predicted by Mr Gloom and Doom 24 hours earlier (damn the man).  What I had expected to be a pleasant forest trail was in fact a new access road, bordered by large drainage ditches and fences, for use by both logging and pylon construction traffic.

Logging Road in Kerrow Wood

What a pleasant scene!

Cut down trees, put up a pylon

I completely missed the track to Loch Rhiabhachain and as I sat on a log scoffing some comfort food and pondering the map, a red squirrel ran past my feet.  The last time I'd seen one of these I was about three years old.  I was so excited I tweeted.  And then a bloke in a huge logging wagon stopped to ask if I was ok, which was nice of him, the more so because I'd half expected he was going to tell me I shouldn't be there.  Anyway, it was too far to go back to the junction, even assuming I could find it amongst the ditches and bomb holes, so I carried on down the logging road to the Cannich - Drum road.  I'd succeeded in covering just over two road miles in just under four and half.  If I carried on like this, it was going to take consideranly longer than planned to reach the coast.  My earlier euphoria was starting to ebb.

I plodded along the grass verge for a couple of miles, getting sprayed by every passing vehicle and musing on how much wetter, very wet feet could get.  I came across some road kill in the form of a small deer, which led me to consider if was possible to prepare venison stew with a very small swiss army penknife and a pocket rocket.  Well how hard could it be, for goodness sake?  And then Peter from Holland popped out of a side road muttering stuff about chambered cairns and bear pits in bunkers, so I followed him and ended up at a knocking shop with Bear Grylls.  One of us must have been hallucinating.  It had been a funny old day but I had a room to myself, large enough to accommodate a wet tent and wet clothes and a radiator to dry wet boots (oh there's nothing quite like the smell of incipient mildew) and a shower.  And that was when I discovered that instead of packing a small bottle of liquid soap from Rose at Backpackinglight, I had in fact packed a small bottle of Avon Skin So Soft cut with lavendar oil, which someone told me was just the thing for midgies when we did Knoydart two years ago.  As indeed it was - they'd loved it.

And that left just 125 miles to go.