The Road goes ever on and on; Down from the door where it began;
Now far ahead the Road has gone; And I must follow, if I can;
Pursuing it with eager feet; Until it joins some larger way;
Where many paths and errands met; And whither then? I cannot say.

[JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings]

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Creag Ghiubhais (NO313955; 486m)

Saturday 21 May

With a need to try to find somewhere selling LPG (Autogas) on my way to take up my seat at TGO Challenge Control, I didn’t have an awful lot of time for a hill on Saturday morning but, rather conveniently, there’s a very little hill not too far away from Ballater.

Initially I was on a nice track through woodland – the same track as Mick and I had used on the TGO Challenge a few years ago when we walked around the back of this hill. It hadn’t occurred to me to go over the top of it back then.

20160521_090846

nice track through nice woodland

Then, after a bit of a yomp through heather (should have turned to face the hill when I was still in the woodland; I came down that way and it was much better going), I made my way towards the rock fields, thinking it would be easier walking up the rocks than through deep heather (these rocks were more car battery sized than car sized, so not really boulder fields). As it turned out, the shoes I’d chosen for this outing (boots, due to a need to re-tape the heels of my usual Terrocs) didn’t create any friction at all on those wet rocks (wet because it was raining quite convincingly on me for this one); it was a bit of a precarious ascent.

A bit more yomping through bilberry and heather got me to a cairn, where there was no more up to be seen…

20160521_085035

…so I went down, after taking the obligatory summit selfie:

20160521_085012

I chose a better line on the way down, largely avoiding the slippery rocks, completing this little outing having covered 1.3 miles with 600 feet of ascent.

Mona Gowan

Friday 22 May

Mona Gowan (NJ336058; 749m)

My kipping spot on Thursday night was perfect for my needs. Nice and level and, being 300m down a dirt track, gloriously quiet. I’d arrived there just after 1pm and tested it quite thoroughly, in that it was quite a cool afternoon and, being low on gas, I didn’t want to run the heating, so I curled up under a blanket with my book and promptly fell asleep for a few hours. Even when I did wake up, the weather wasn’t such that I was enticed out to explore my immediate surroundings.

Friday didn’t dawn too badly though, so by 7.30am I was pulling into a parking area for a quick walk up Mona Gowan. Then, briefly, it rained on me, which was a bit antisocial and certainly not in the forecast I’d seen.

20160520_094337

The best sort of track. Pity it only lasted for 50 yards before becoming more classically ‘tracklike’ again.

I’d been in two minds as to how to approach this hill and I’m glad I came from the south west as it proved to be unexpectedly easy, in that a new track has been built which took me above the 650m contour, leaving me with less than a kilometre to yomp to the top. On the way back down I found a decent trod joining the track to the top; pity I didn’t find it on my way up!

20160520_083256

Not a nice track, and quite an eyesore, but I was happy to make my ascent easy by walking on it

I’d just sent Mick a text to tell him where I was (I send him a dated and timed text from every summit so that if I do go missing then at least he’ll know where I was at a certain time) when my phone rang, and it was the man himself, so I sat myself down for a chat. It turned out that he’d got thoroughly wet through on Thursday and, not feeling inclined to pitch in the pouring rain, had walked on further than intended, which in turn meant he was a lot closer to Ballater than he was supposed to be, and as I was meeting him in Ballater (his first campsite of the trip – he was more than ready for a shower!), I thought I’d best get a wriggle on to make sure that I got there before him. I did, of course, take the time for a few summit photos…

20160520_085231

20160520_085333

An ascent powered by audiobook

before I turned and retraced my steps.

The stats for this one were 5.6 miles walked with 1300’ of ascent.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Cnap Chaochan Aitinn (NJ 146099; 715m)

Thursday 19 May

Let’s compare and contrast my speed/distance/ascent stats for a couple of this week's hills:

- Meall an Tarsaid in fine conditions on Monday 16 May: 1.3 miles with 700’ of ascent, taking 1 hour, averaging 1.3mph.

- Cnap Chaochan Aitinn in wind and rain on Thursday 19 May: 12.3 miles with 2400’ of ascent, taking 3 hours 50, averaging 3.2mph.

As you may deduce from those stats, whilst today’s hill was quite a distance from the nearest access point, it was a very easy walk.

That I set out going very noticeably downhill wasn’t ideal, and there were quite a lot of minor undulations on the way, but what made me choose this hill today* was that the map showed there to be tracks leading to within about 300m of the summit. As it went, there is also an unmapped track, which took me to within 50m of the top.



I can’t report on the views, as I had none. I also got rained on for over half of the outing, although not so noticeably on the way back, as by then the wind was behind me.

I was all done by lunchtime, and whilst I did give passing thought to visiting a second hill this afternoon, I decided against. So, by quarter past one I was parked up for the night. I think I’ll spend the afternoon with Sherlock Holmes for company.

(*The other thing that brought this hill to my attention was that Mick was due up there today too. As it was a 6 mile walk from the NE for me, and a 14 mile walk from the NW for Mick, and as our respective routes had only the summit in common, it was always very unlikely we were going to meet. Having been up there, I very much hope Mick decided to take his Foul Weather Alternative. As he is not actively collecting Marilyns, there was no point him subjecting himself to head-on wind-driven rain along the ridge, without even a view by way of a reward, when he could just walk a perfectly good track down in the valley. I don’t expect he’ll have phone signal today, so I’ll probably not find out until tomorrow whether we did, in fact, both stand on the same top, a matter of an hour or so apart.)

Meall Mòr (NH737356; 492m)

Wednesday 18 May

I do wish I wouldn't look at little hills like this one (which sits less than 1km from layby 171 on the southbound A9, with around 150m of height difference between the two) and make ridiculous assumptions about how quick and easy they'll be. Setting out with the mindset of "a hop and a skip and barely any effort and I'll be there" isn't helpful, particularly when the objective is a tussocky, heather-clad, bouldery thing, with a very steep pull off the road, and where so few others are daft enough to go that there are few trodden lines going in the right direction (although there were some on this hill, unlike others I've done recently).

Even having started out with unrealistic expectations, I probably would have enjoyed the hill had the weather been dry and clear. Unfortunately, it was neither:


The fog had lifted since I'd first looked out of Colin's window at 5am, but not far enough to clear the top of this little lump. And the rain fell the whole time. It was the first walk of this trip on which I've worn anything waterproof (and today I wore everything waterproof; I even had boots on for the first time, although I have to concede that they're not as waterproof as they once were).

Having arrived, dripping, back at Colin it would have made sense to have sat with my book for the rest of the day. Somehow I didn't quite manage that and have taken another couple of walks in the rain, around Nethy Bridge (where there's a selection of marked routes, and I did find an information sign, but the Visitor Centre only displayed leaflets about walks in other nearby places) totalling around 7 miles.

I do hope it's dry tomorrow as the two hills I've got pencilled in as possibilities both involve quite a walk in.

(Incidentally, no hills were visited yesterday. I parked up on the B road by Dumnaglas Mains on the west side of the Monadhliath (in the same place as I did on the same day last year) and offered cups of tea and slices of cake to all passing Challengers. It was busier there this year. My first visitor came through at five past seven and when the final two came through eight hours later I had served 23 drinks and cakes. I came better prepared this time too - there is still cake left over for myself!)

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Meall an Tarsaid, Creag a'Chliabhain and Beinn Mheadhoin

Monday 16 May

When I said yesterday that I was having a rest day I was, in part, trying to convince myself of that fact, as there was a thought in my mind that I might just slip a little hill into my afternoon. Then I arrived in Fort Augustus, where I needed to pick up a couple of things from the shop, and the 350m walk from the free car park to the shop convinced me that no hill was going to make its way onto the agenda.

I did take my lochside stroll though. Having parked Colin up in this position at Loch Killin:

and after the minibus of half a dozen fishermen finally went home, I took a stroll along the loch and back.

By this morning I was feeling much more lively, even if some bits of my body were protesting, so bright and early I set off for:

Meall an Tarsaid (NH490132; 492m)
My journeys on Google StreetView had made me think there was nowhere to park along the tiny lane running to the north of the hill, but thanks to opting to spend the night at Loch Killin my drive along the road had revealed a suitable looking verge, behind a passing place, where I thought I could get Colin sufficiently off the road. That saved me a bit of a walk in, and thus without preamble off I set up the steepest and craggiest side of the hill.

Bogs (the first really wet bogs I've encountered in this trip; everywhere thus far has been incredibly dry), thigh high heather, crags, and sizeable boulders completely grown over with vegetation (thus hiding the holes) made this one a trickier walk than it had looked on the map. The downward leg was the worst, as that's where I kept encountering the hidden holes, causing me to proceed with much slowness and care.

On the plus side, the top was a good viewpoint and the weather was reasonably fine. Here I am having a bad hair day at the top:


The whole outing was only 1.3 miles, with around 200m of ascent, but it took me an hour to complete. I think that may make it my slowest hill of the trip so far.

Creag a'Chliabhain (NH576206; 520m)and Beinn Mheadhoin (694215; 556m)

I was just about to step out the door for this one when along came a chap with a rucksack, so I invited him in for a cup of tea and some cake. He was Russ from Canada, a TGOC first-timer, who it turned out had met (and negotiated a bog with) Mick two days ago.

As Russ went on his way, so did I, into the construction site which is the Dumnaglas estate. Oh, it's so sad to see all the motorway-esque tracks which have been put in. Hopefully in a few decades they'll have blended in a bit (although by then there'll be wind turbines galore), as although the moment these lovely hills look like the access to a quarry, but with more traffic.

I opted to ignore the 'temporary diversion for pedestrians' route and stick to the tracks I had planned to use, working on the basis that if I'm capable of walking down a road without getting run over I should be equally capable of stepping out of the way of vehicles here. As it went, I soon left the windfarm roads behind.

Approaching Dumnaglas Lodge I opted to ignore another arrow which wanted me to take a detour around the back of the gardens and was just standing right in front of the front windows of the (clearly not in use) house when a car pulled up next to me and asked where I was going. Despite my immediate misgivings it was a friendly conversation and soon I was back on my way, to tromp through more bogs and heather to get to the top of the hill whose name looks too much like 'chillblain' for me to call it anything else.

Looking over to Beinn Mheadhoin from Chillblain Crag

Back down to Loch Conagleann I went, this time crossing the dam to head through an active bit of the construction site. From there I could have headed straight uphill, to my last summit of the day, but it would have been steep and very heathery, so instead I skirted around to another eyesore of a new track which seemed to be heading in the right direction. I joined it just as it went through a gate in a deer fence ... and stopped dead. It was a big track to have been put in going nowhere!

The lack of an onward track meant no gate or stile at the top of the woodland, so that deer fence had to be climbed - easier said than done in that the lower half was chicken wire, meaning my first step had to be over half way up. I'm not elegant at getting over deer fences at the best of times, and this was definitely not the best of times!

Fortuitously, I came out by a series of rock slabs which gave me easy passage to quite near the top, whereafter only a bit of yomping was needed to take me to the cairn.

Summit photos taken, including further evidence of the bad hair day (there's more than one reason why I usually wear a hat!)...

... I didn't retrace my steps as planned, as I could see yet another new monster of a track to the north, and a nice spur which would take me there. That cut some distance off my route and saved me walking through the most operational bit of the works. I got back to Colin with 8.75 miles walked and around 550m of ascent.

Incidentally, I forgot to pick up my walking poles on this one and didn't realise until I was, oooh, all of a 400 yards into the walk. Who knows why I didn't go back for them, but at least it saved my pulled tricep from any more stress.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

A Rest Day

I blame the weather! The last ten days have been so incredibly fine that I didn’t want to waste a single one of them, hence in that period I have visited the top of 22 hills, totalling over 28000’ of ascent.

The tendon behind my left knee has been protesting for days (yesterday was made possible by the power of ibuprofen) and today I have a nasty pull in my right tricep and two aching calf muscles.

There’s one last Corbett that’s calling my name before I leave this area, and I’m having a rest day in a couple of days anyway, so one part of my brain has been telling me to go and do it. For once, however, I’m going to try to do the sensible thing, to listen to my body’s protestations and have a day off.

Of course, I still have to go for some sort of a walk, because my Fitbit doesn’t allow me to have a day off (and my unbroken chain of achieving my step target currently stands at just over 500 days), but that doesn’t have to involve a hill. A gentle lochside stroll will do nicely.

20160514_122502

Panorama shot of The Saddle, taken from the lower (NW) top of Sgurr na Sgine yesterday, shoved in here just to pretty-up the post!

Biod an Fhithich, The Saddle and Sgurr na Sgine

(Note: I know I’ve wittered on far too much in this post. I was minded to write a short version for the blog and a long version for myself, but as I use my blog as my main resource to remember stuff that I’ve done, I’ve decided to post the long version. For those who want the short version, here’s a one sentence summary: A walk in which I thoroughly exhausted myself visiting the three Marilyns named above (two of which are also Munros) on the most perfect of mountain days.)

Saturday 14 May

Biod an Fhithich (NG951148; 644m), The Saddle (NG934131; 1010m), Sgurr na Sgine (NG946113; 946m)

Waking too early and peeking out of a window, it was immediately clear that my planned 3.5 hour outing up a nearby Corbett was going to be a waste of another fine day. A replan was had over breakfast with the decision that I would go up The Saddle (a very striking Munro which we had passed at close quarters on our Dover to Cape Wrath walk in 2011) and either the Marilyn of Biod an Fhithich (which we had also come very close to in 2011) or a second Munro (Sgurr na Sgine).

By twenty to eight, I was out walking, and took to the Loch Quoich path assuming that there would be a trodden line taking me over to the path I wanted, a few hundred yards distant. If there was such a trodden line then I missed it and thus what was already to be quite a demanding day was made more so when I found myself yomping uphill for half a mile, finally joining the path after half an hour/1 mile/230m of ascent.

At the col between Meall Odhar and my Marilyn of Biod an Fhithich, a decision had to be made as to which two hills out of the three I was going to do and as I was standing so close to this one it would have been silly to pass it by. I have no idea what the definition of a Graham is, but this hill is on that list as well, which perhaps explains why there was a surprisingly well trodden line leading up to its summit.

Up to this point, not a soul in the world knew where I was (and, in fact, as I type this they probably still don’t, because Mick doesn’t appear to have found any phone reception yet on his TGOC route), so I paused to text Mick with my plan for the day (assessing the chance of me going up Sgurr na Sgine as ‘probably won’t’), before heading down to rejoin the path up to The Saddle.

The Forcan Ridge is apparently a fine scrambling route with plenty of exposure. I don’t do exposure if I can help it, and I definitely don’t do it when I’m by myself and not a soul in the world knows where I am. So, past the Forcan Ridge turn I went and the long way round was taken to get me up The Saddle. With snow lying over the upper reaches of the path, it was a steep by-passing route in places, and I must have been using my walking poles too much to heave myself up, as I managed to pull my tricep. It was, and still is, quite sore in certain movements.

20160514_105606

Atop The Saddle, with part of the Forcan Ridge behind me.

My heart did fall a little on reaching the trig point at the top to realise that the pointy bit at the top of the Forcan Ridge looked higher (I’ve since checked and I was right), so over to it I had to go. It was easy enough, except for a couple of steps (one bypassing a snow patch) where the drop sent me all weak at the knees.

By the time I was on the descent (oooh, that was a bit of a knee-killer as I bypassed the snow again at the top), I was eyeing up Sgurr an Sgine and talking myself into it. It was only 250m of extra ascent, after all (ha! Completely overlooked the extra ascent which would be needed to get back to Colin from there!), and it was only just over a kilometre from the Bealach Coire Mhalagain (which lies between it and The Saddle). Lunch was had at the bealach, then upwards I plodded.

20160514_123434

Atop Sgurr na Sgine, with The Saddle behind me.

Reaching the top, I was really quite fatigued, and to get down I needed to go back over the hill’s NW summit then ascend the gorgeous looking Faochag ridge (which is actually a lovely gentle slope for most of its distance).

Five people were met at the top of Faochag. I’d seen various people up on the Forcan Ridge as I’d lunched at the bealach, and a whole group (who I think were probably TGO Challengers, and probably American by the way they were whooping about reaching the col) who reached my lunch spot about ten minutes after I’d vacated it, but these were the first people I’d seen close enough to talk to. The weather featured in conversation, and justifiably so on such a glorious afternoon.

20160514_131755

Squeezing The Saddle and Biod an Fhithich into one slightly elongated photo.

Somehow, I’d pictured the descent route as a nice gentle stroll, which was a bit naive of me considering it drops the best part of 900m in 2km. By half way down I was so fatigued that I just wanted to be teletransported back to Colin, moreover as I’d run out of water a while before (crossing a good stream on my way up The Saddle I’d thought ‘I’ll fill my water bottle on the way back down’. I forgot and didn’t pass another opportunity until ten minutes before Colin). In the absence of a handy teletransportation machine in my pack, I had to walk, promising my poor weary legs that their ordeal was almost over.

Finally the road was before me, and Colin awaited just a minute away. Reaching him with my legs shaking with muscle fatigue, my first priority preparing myself a litre of electrolyte drink, followed swiftly by the inhalation of half a bag of jelly babies.

The distance for this outing wasn’t that far – 10.2 miles. It was the 5600’ of ascent, on top of the efforts of the preceding 9 days which put it into the ‘quite tiring’ category. However, I have no regrets about tiring myself out so. The conditions I enjoyed really were perfect for that outing.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Carn nan Iomairean and Sgurr an Airgid

Friday 13 May

What a change in the weather from the last week! It did dawn bright, but by the time Mick was setting out from the Dornie Hotel clouds were building and it was very noticeably cooler than the rest of the week had been.

20160513_075013

Off he goes, for his seventh TGO Challenge

Carn nan Iomairean (NG914352; 486m)

I didn’t hang around for long once he’d gone, so I pointed Colin’s nose in a direction with which he is becoming familiar and took myself back up to Gleann Udulain. I knew from Wednesday’s walk that it would be possible to drive Colin a mile and a half along the forest track into the glen, but as I only had one hill on the agenda today I thought I may as well have a longer walk and save Colin the ‘Shake, Rattle and Roll’ test by leaving him in the same parking area as we’d used two days prior.

The information I’d read about the path through the last kilometre of the forest no longer existing matched my experience; I found no sign of it. That could have led to the outing being aborted, as I’ve (surely, by now) learnt my lesson about trying to bash through commercial plantations, but happily my punt on following a stream came good. It came incredibly good, in fact, as almost the whole way to the edge of the forest I was on firm, cropped grass alongside the rock-bedded stream, and where the good surface switched side, it was a simple hop across on rocks to get to the other side.

20160513_112233

A deer fence at the top of the forest was the only fly in the ointment, and once on the other side I checked the map and reset my altimeter accordingly – or as it turned out when the summit came into view and I checked again, I’d accidentally set it 100m too high(if I’d put any thought into the matter, I would have realised that having left the forest track at 250m and ascended constantly upstream, I couldn’t still be at 250m at the top of the forest!). Always a boost when you think you’ve got 200m left to climb and it turns out it’s only 100m Smile.

As you may gather from the summit photo, it was a bit nippy up there. Twenty four hours earlier I’d been overheating in just a t-shirt, and now I managed not to overheat whilst wearing three layers, a hat and gloves:

 

20160513_105407

Retracing my steps (the majority of which were along those forest tracks again; pleasant but not the most inspiring walking ever), I arrived back at Colin with 10.4 miles walked and 1800’ of ascent.

Sgurr an Airgid (NG940227, 841m)

This Corbett something of an accidental hill. Remember what I said a few paragraphs ago about only doing one hill today? Well, after that hill I returned to Dornie and frittered away a couple of hours, then I moved down the road to the parking area for Sgurr an Airgid, intending to spend the night there ready to go up it on Saturday morning.

That intention persisted a while, but I couldn’t help but notice that the heavily overcast and cold morning had become an increasingly sunny and warm afternoon, and it seemed silly to leave the hill until the morning, when it might be cloudy, when I could just go out and do it immediately … even though it was now knocking on for 3pm.

20160513_154645

It might have been the biggest hill of the trip so far (841m, from a start point at 9m), but a good path took me up so gently that it was easier than any of the smaller hills I’ve done in this area.

20160513_162110

The path was equally good in descent, being of such a nice gradient (yep, lots of switchbacks) that I fair trotted down some of it.

The stats for this one were 6.2 miles walked with 2800’ of ascent.

Auchtertyre Hill and Beinn a’Mheadhain

Thursday 12 May 2016

Auchtertyre Hill (NG832289; 452m)

Despite Mick having declared himself to be ‘resting’ in preparation for the start of the TGO Challenge tomorrow, he might have joined me on this short outing, if our journeys up and down the A890 hadn’t established that whilst the ‘P’ sign still exists alongside what would once have been a convenient car park, there now sits a crash barrier and a deep drainage ditch between the road and that ex-parking area. So, Mick sat this one out and to save him waiting around in a gateway, on high alert in case anyone wanted access, I opted for a U shaped route, starting from 856296 and ending back at the car park where we’d spent the night, at 849277.

Information gleaned online had told me of a feint path leading up the Coire Bhuide, and it had been my intention to try to find that line, until I saw ahead of me a newish track, associated with hydroelectric scheme. After a spot of dithering as to which would be the best option (a question I pondered fruitlessly for much of the walk, as I often on these ‘choose your own adventure’ routes), the track won out, on the basis that it would allow me to gain height easily up to a col, from where I could follow the ridge across to my target.

The wind put me off pursuing the top of the ridge (in hindsight, maybe not the best decision), causing me instead to stick at 300m around the first lump on the ridge, whereafter ‘up’ was the only option if I was going to make it to the top.

20160512_094102

From the summit, looking past the trig point to the Isle of Skye (partially hiding in the haze)

The top proved to be another fine viewpoint, but the wind was getting noticeably cooler than of late, so I didn’t tarry beyond about 5 minutes before I dropped down to skirt Maol Mor (I was definitely liking the 300m contour on this outing, as that’s where I found myself again) then popping over the side of Maol Beag, where I saw Mick standing below in the car park, waving up to me.

Following the track had added extra distance, but the outing still only came in at 3.5 miles with 1200’ of ascent.

Beinn a’Mheadhain (NG918288; 414m)

Back in Colin for elevenses, I pored over the map considering what I do to make use of another couple of hours. The only sensible option looked to be Beinn a’Mheadhain, so that’s where I went, leaving Mick at the end of the little road that runs up the south side of Loch Long (where, happily, there turned out to be perfectly adequate parking for a Colin-sized vehicle, with full amenities of a bin and a BT wifi hotspot).

The going, which started out seeming like it was going to be reasonably hard-going (lots of heather) became much easier when a good trod appeared before me. It made the going so much easier that I wished I’d picked it up lower down.

20160512_124551

Tussocks, heather, a lochan and me on the summit

Meanwhile, though, there was plenty more up and for a good while the obvious trod continued. It even boasted boot prints, something of which I’ve not seen many on these hills. Eventually, I either lost the good line, or it petered out, but by then the terrain was friendlier (tussocks and squidgyness, rather than knee-deep heather) so it wasn’t too difficult a task to make it to the summit, where I looked over at the hills I’d visited yesterday. Most people tackle those hills from the side I was now looking at, but I remain unconvinced that the south side is any easier than my north-side approach.

My return journey established that I had actually found the trod on my way up just as it materialised. Strange how a path that obvious can suddenly spring out of nowhere. So, I pretty well followed my outward line back down, returning to Colin with 3.6 miles walked an 1400’ of ascent.

Returning to Dornie, and parking up outside the hotel (we took the ‘no overnight parking of caravans’ to be consent for us to park there) we soon tracked down some other Challengers, with whom the evening flashed by. It was dark by the time we returned to Colin, with an early alarm set for Mick for Friday morning.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Creag Mhor and Beinn Conchra

Creag Mhor (NG903315; 407m) and Beinn Conchra (NG887291; 453m)

My chosen route for these two hills, which I opted to visit in a single lollipop-shaped outing, was not one that I’d seen anyone else report that they’d taken. In hindsight, I can see why it’s not the popular choice – it was hard, and would have been an awful slog in poor visibility and/or wetter underfoot conditions (look at the map; the lie of the land shouts “bog!”).

Happily, I had excellent visibility and the dried-out bogs which I’ve experienced over the last few days continued to prevail today. There were a few incidents where I plunged my foot into water, but half a dozen times was nothing compared with the ‘with every step’ expectation.

Having opted to start my walk from a parking area just up the forest track in Gleann Udalain (NG86478 30469), the first couple of miles were fast and straightforward (and also featured me being caught with my trousers down, quite literally; oops). It was when I got to the point where I needed to leave the track that, for the first time in all of my outings to date, I really questioned my sanity in pursuing these hills. No matter how much I looked at what lay ahead of me I couldn’t see a line that looked like it would be anything other than very hard work, initially through tussocks then through deep heather.

As it went, it wasn’t as hard as it looked, and an hour and a quarter after setting off I was on my first top, which was a fantastic place to be (incidentally, I had thought that the current hot and sunny weather was countrywide, but having seen the TV weather forecast this morning I now know that we’re being exceptionally lucky and are currently enjoying the hottest temperatures in the whole of the UK).

As lovely as it was up there, I didn’t linger for two reasons: 1) the wind was quite strong, again; and 2) Mick had said that he would start to worry about me when I’d been gone for 4 hours, and it had now become apparent to me that four hours was going to be pushing it for this outing.

The question of whether it would be easier to descend all the way back to the forest track to reascend to my second hill, or whether I should walk the undulating top was one that I had pondered at length, and one which now needed an answer. “Keep up high” was the conclusion I reached, and I think it was probably the right one, although at times during that rough, uppy-downy two miles I did feel like I was barely making progress. I must have been, as eventually the second summit was beneath me – another fine place to be and, if I wasn’t mistaken, that wind speed was dropping.

My thought that it would be plain sailing, downhill all the way, from there wasn’t quite true, and much more lift-feet-up-to-knee-level-on-every-step yomping ensued, made psychologically easier by the gorgeousness of the surrounds. The loch I passed almost had me popping my ‘swim in a mountain lake’ cherry too, except I didn’t have enough time if I wasn’t going to cause Mick to worry.

Arriving back at Colin almost at a trot, I’d completed the outing in 3 hours 40 minutes (4.5 hours would have been a better time period, I would say). At 7.6 miles the route had been about a mile longer than expected (unsurprisingly – there was no way a straight line between the two summits, two miles apart, was going to be feasible). I’ve not calculated the ascent yet, but it felt like quite a lot!


There was no doubt in my mind at that point that the third intended hill of the day was not going to happen. Instead I proposed a trip to Eilean Donan castle, and half an hour later that's where we were, doing the tourist thing.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Beinn a’Chrulaiste

Tuesday 10 May

Beinn a’Chrulaiste (NN246567; 857m)

There was just one hill on the agenda today, and it was the biggest of the trip so far. Indeed, a Corbett as well as a Marilyn.

Early intentions of following the route given in the Cicerone Corbett guidebook were soon forgotten, as we forged a cross-country line easily over dried-out bog, finally taking to a feint ATV track which seemed to be going in our direction. It was at the point when the coire came into sight ahead of us (which we were supposed to cross to gain the ridge, before coming back on ourselves to the summit) that we had a little discussion and found that we’d both been thinking that a far more direct line looked feasible.

Our sometimes-steep route would likely be hideous for most months of the year, but today we had the current dry conditions to thank for it being relatively dry and grippy.

20160510_095530

The final approach to the top boasted a hint of a trodden line, and also featured a sprinkling of water hitting us. The latter was a bit confusing to start with, what with the blue skies surrounding  us. It took me a few seconds to realise from where it was coming: the strong wind was whipping up the steep east side of the hill, and depositing snow melt off the remaining cornice onto us as if it was rain.

Having taken the short route up, we opted for a longer descent, following what should have been our ascent route – or, at least, something similar to it. As it went, we dropped off the ridge as soon as was practicable, to skirt just under it, so as to take ourselves out of the worst of the wind. Gosh, it was a bit breezy up there (the forecast for Kinlochloeven had said 35mph today, so it wasn’t a great surprise).

20160510_110538

Arriving back at Colin having walked 5.1 miles with 2000’ of ascent, off we headed northwards on the A82 (where the surrounding hills all looked so enticing in today’s conditions), with the intention of spending the night at Glen Nevis campsite – a place where we have stayed many times before.

After a stop in Fort William to sort out the need for groceries, gloves and diesel, off to the campsite we went and whilst I filled in the check-in card, Mick looked at the price list and did some sums. Then we checked with the receptionist that we were doing our sums right. Then we opted to go elsewhere. Immediately before the TGOC last year, the fee at that campsite was £20.50. This year it’s £24 – an increase that we weren’t prepared to accept.

It was probably a blessing in disguise, as there was no real point in us staying near Fort William, as I have no hills planned in that area. Instead, we came out to Morvich, where the continuing summer conditions are so incredible that the washing that I did upon arrival, which didn’t get hung out until 6pm, was completely dry before 7.30! If only this could last for another couple of weeks.

Marilyning around Dumfries

We have electricity this evening, so the laptop has been charged and now I can publish this delayed post, about the first couple of days of this trip.

Thursday 5 May 2016

Woodhead Hill (NX927713)

Having left home in wall-to-wall sunshine, and having driven north in similar, gloriously warm, conditions, we hit the Scottish border to be greeted by low cloud and drizzle. My enthusiasm for the afternoon’s hill started to wain and a good hour was killed in Tesco’s car park in Dumfries.

Happily, the miserable weather didn’t persist and by the time we were parked up and setting out the cloud was lifting and it was dry. Such was my enthusiasm now that I didn’t even baulk (too much) at having to pay for parking (even though our start point had been a last-minute change of plan; the original plan would have seen us start from a free layby on the other side of the hill, for a much shorter walk).

A bit of a navigational blip at the start (should have looked at the map, rather than following the ‘all walking trails’ signs in the car park!) gave us a bit of a circuitous start, but it was on good trails through nice woodland, and we were in no rush, so no harm was done.

The information I’d gleaned from hill-bagging.co.uk, as to the location of a narrow mountain bike trail which winds through the trees and comes out within 40 metres of the summit, was spot on and before long we were thrashing around in a newly replanted scene of devastation, with the detritis of the felling of the previous trees still very evident. Presumably it was because of the replanting (which seemed very recent) that the cairn marking the top has disappeared, as I couldn’t find it, even though I visited every possible high point.

A bit of variety was had by following a slightly different route back (via an enormous dress, made out of marble, deep in the woodland) and we returned to Colin with 5.3 miles walked with 700’(ish) of ascent.

Friday 6 May

See Morris Hill (NX902779)

A good start to the day: the parking spot which looked a bit tight for Colin when I viewed it on StreetView turned out to be perfectly sized in reality and thus rather than having to leave Mick behind, to move Colin if access was needed, he was able to join me for this early outing. A nice easy one it was too, with a track up to a mast providing access to within spitting distance of the summit.

By 9am we were back down at Colin for second breakfast, having covered 2.3 miles with around 600’ of ascent.

Killyleoch Hill (NX878820)

The parking for this one was exactly as it looked on StreetView – probably big enough for a car not to cause an obstruction, but not so for a 6m van, so Mick was left reclining on the sofa with his book as I set off upwards.

It would have been a lovely walk, if not marred by a ‘Private – No Public Right of Way’ sign on a gate through which I had to pass. I knew the sign to have no legal standing, but still find such notices off-putting by the implication that the landowner didn’t want me there. So, I strode up the track as fast as my little legs could carry me, and met no-one until my descent (and they didn’t bat an eyelid at my presence).

The top provided an excellent 180 degree viewpoint (the other direction being forested), but it was protected by bogs such that my socks were wrung out when I got back to patiently-waiting Mick. I’d covered 3 miles with 700’ of up.

Bennan (NX821769)

I couldn’t find a single other log on hill-bagging.co.uk which took my intended approach for this hill, but aerial photos suggested it was viable, so rather than spending time and diesel driving around tiny lanes, we used the same start point for both this and the next hill: the car park at the NW end of Glenkiln Reservoir.

It did give a longer walk in, but forest tracks are easy going, and when we got to the point where I’d identified a break through which we could exit the trees, we could see a potentially better route ahead of us. It worked nicely, even depositing us close to a place where we could cross a barbed wire fence and a wall without any need for clambering. With only a bit of yomping through heather left ahead of us, we were soon at the big monument (a memorial to a John Turner) which sits atop this hill.

A rather more direct route was taken to descend, and ‘rough’ would be the best word to describe it. Bogs and tussocks a-go-go. This one was a round trip of 4.5 miles (2.9 miles up, 1.6 down) with 850’ of ascent. 

Bishop Forest Hill (NX849796)

Being pathless, I’d feared that our passage up Bishop Forest Hill would be as rough as our descent of Bennan had been, and in places it was, but those areas were few and relatively small. Moreover, the summit, which had looked such a long way away when viewed from Bennan, didn’t seem so distant once we got high enough for it to come into view.

What a fine viewpoint it was when we got there! All of the previous three hills were within sight (possibly yesterday’s too – I didn’t look for it at the time and I’m not going back to check!), and lots of empty lumpiness surrounded us. Lovely!

With a carelesss amount of wandering into bogs on the way down (on my part anyway), I arrived back at Colin (with just over 2 miles walked, and 700’ of ascent) with shoes, socks and lower trousers in such a state that a visit to the nearby stream was in order to get the worst off (oooh, that reminds me: must go and get my shoes in before dark, or we’ll be driving off without them in the morning).