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]

Monday, 17 May 2010

Day 53 - Duag Bridge to east of Ben More Assynt

Sunday 16 May (0720-1545)
Distance: 19 miles (Tot: 918.75 miles)
Weather: fine start then sunshine and showers, turning more persistent after pitching.
Number of mountain hares: 1

It's a good bothy at Duag Bridge. Aside from being very nice inside, it's quiet. There are no trees scraping against the roof and no creaks and groans. A comfortable night was had, and although it was a tad nippy when we awoke this morning, based on the sight of ground frost outside we agreed that it was warmer than it would have been in the tent.

The walk down to Oykel Bridge isn't the most inspiring, being rather lacking in views, and once we got going we marched along, covering the 4.5 miles in under an hour and a half.

That put us outside the Oykel Bridge hotel at a time that seemed reasonable to pop in and enquire about a pot of tea and we were soon sinking into the comfy sofas as we poured our first cups. The tea break also gave the opportunity to have a wash and brush up, and to dispose of last night's soup cans, which was a bonus to having to carry them for 2 more days.

On leaving the hotel we had options (upon which we had made a decision last night). The route I had plotted took us along the road, thence up the track to Benmore Lodge. The reason for that route choice (from the comfort of my armchair several months ago) had been some comment (in the Cape Wrath Trail book, I think) about having a half kilometre pathless bash through the forest if you take the forest tracks to that point (there being no other way to link the lower track with the higher one through the forest). Having been scarred by previous experiences of bashing pathlessly through dense pine plantations, it wasn't an option that appealed, and hence the road was the chosen route.

Last night, however, we reconsidered and weighed up the pros and cons. As well as being off-road, the forest route was a mile shorter. We decided that a bash through the forest was worthwhile.
On the other hand, the sensible option from the point of view of the poorly achilles was to ignore the pleasing parts of the route entirely and go for a road walk for the next two days, all the way up to Kylesku. The thing is, the achilles always feels fine first thing in the morning and so I knew that at the early hour when we had to either go left or straight on, I wouldn't want to forego the fun of the off-road route in favour of 2 solid days on tarmac.

So, as we left the hotel, we didn't turn down the road as plotted and as considered as being the sensible option, but instead turned up the track.

And that's where we found our names scratched into the earth. Actually, I walked straight past (I tend to look around when I'm walking rather than down; it does lead to me walking into puddles and tripping over rocks quite often!). It was Mick who called me back and we then continued in deep discussion as to who it could have been.

The mystery was solved not dreadfully long later when I pointed out the mobile phone mast across the valley and said that Mick should finally have a signal (I'd had one most of the morning). Turning his phone on, he found he had a message from friends Willie and Fiona to say that they had tried to intercept us last night. A telephone conversation ensued and we were positively kicking ourselves for stopping short. Not only would it have been great to see them, but they'd come with a picnic *and* cake.

Had we had any inkling of the meet, we would of course have shunned the bothy (or at least run up the hill high enough to get a signal to give Willie & Fiona directions to the bothy!). Such a shame to have missed them (sorry W&F; hope you had a good outing anyway!).

With the mystery solved on we went along the track for another hour and a half, until, with some trepidation, we got to the bit where we needed to climb up 70 metres to meet the higher track.

Well, what a simple walk up a lovely grassy-sided stream it was! Nothing difficult about it at all, and the bashing amounted to a very short distance of silver birches - no grabbing pine branches or having to crawl under obstacles. We were glad indeed that we had taken that route.

Along the upper track (which contrary to the map does intersect the stream, and continues some way to the east of it), the first couple of showers hit us, the second being sufficiently heavy to have us scurrying into our waterproofs, which then stayed on for the rest of the day, as at no point did we get sufficiently confident (justifiably so) that dryness would prevail.

Having passed the enviably situated (not to mention sizeable) Benmore Lodge and forked up the right hand valley, a clear track was to lead us around Meall an Aonaich and onwards to our intended night stop at Loch Carn-unpronouncable.
It was somewhere up that track that I suffered a poor foot placement on a slanting stone, and turned my ankle quite nastily.

Mick, hearing my cry, positively flung down his poles and leapt back towards me, by which time I had not just turned my ankle, but done so sufficiently to tip me over. Down I went with such vigour that I rolled and by the time Mick reached me I was lying on top of my backpack like an upturned turtle.

He looked on concernedly as I gave a tentative wiggle of the ankle, and then hauled me back to my feet pointing out how disappointed I would be if one ill-judged step at this stage was to scupper the last few days of the trip.

Fortunately, my ankles seem to be quite flexible and although I undoubtedly stretched the soft stuff more than it wanted to be stretched, I had no problem carrying on up the rough track (and I'm a girl with a low pain threshold, so I can assure you that I wasn't just putting a brave face on it!).

We were just 2 miles short of our intended night stop when we paused for lunch and within the hour, with a track that had turned from 'good' to 'rough and wet going', we reached Loch Carn-unpronounceable.

Had we been lacking in time or energy, I'm sure that we could have sought out somewhere to put the tent, but no pitch opportunities leapt out of the bog and hags at us, and we only half-heartedly thought about investigating a couple of areas more closely. It was still early, and although we'd already walked over 18 miles we weren't feeling the need to stop.

The map told us that there wasn't likely to be anywhere better to pitch in the next 5 miles, but it also told us that the area around a stream a mile or so further on shouldn't be any worse. As the going got much slower over that mile, it was no bad thing to be walking part of tomorrow's walk; I've a feeling the first eight miles of it are going to be similarly slow.

Arriving at the stream (a good one, and not peat coloured!) with rain clouds imminently threatening again, we resolved to find something that would pass as a pitch nearby. And so we did, just down the stream. It's not going to go down as the best pitch of all time, but it's got a view, and we did manage to get the tent up before the rain hit.

Having booked accommodation a mile and a half short of tomorrow's intended end-point, and having walked over a mile of the day already, it's going to be a short day miles-wise tomorrow - and it's going to end with a comfy bed. They're coming thick and fast at the moment, but this one was necessary if we were to avoid a string of six wild-camps.
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