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]

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Day 54 - East of Ben More Assynt to Newton

Monday 17 May (0740-1545)
Distance: 13 miles (Tot: 931.75 miles)
Weather: morning heavily overcast, afternoon fine
Ascent (per altimeter): 6300'; max altitude reached just under 1500'
Number of times path misplaced: 11
Number of times path re-found: 11

That was a hard day - as you may note by the fact that we spent longer walking today (no convenient tea-shop in which to while away half an hour) than yesterday but covered six miles fewer.

It was a bit of a blustery night, but the rain died out sometime after lights-out. By morning it looked like it could rain at any moment, with a sky full of grey cloud. Happily, it stayed dry (from above, at any rate!).

Having settled on a less-than-ideal pitch last night, we weren't half an hour into our day when a lovely spot presented itself. It's always the case when we settle on something not entirely flat/level/dry/pretty that we wonder whether there's something better a little further on. Last night it seemed highly unlikely; we had been walking for miles through haggy bogginess and every indication was that the next ten miles would be the same (which it turned out they were). But, for the future reference of anyone walking the Cape Wrath Trail from Oykel Bridge to Kylesku and wanting a pitch for the night, the Alltan Aonghais is the stream to head to.

We first misplaced the path in a patch of particular bogginess just before the first loch of the day, but thanks to Mick having a sense of direction (sack the navigator; she was doing a less than adequate job!) we soon picked it back up. A few minutes later, per the map, the path expired in any case. The next two miles took us two hours, halving our pace to that point.

The map showed a path a while further on, and we did manage to find it. Keeping to it proved a little harder. I'm not sure whether we were just having a bad day for paying attention, or whether it was particularly difficult to keep to the trodden line.

Why not just follow a bearing, you may think. Well, the terrain over which we were passing was not overly friendly, so trying to maintain the trodden line was always going to be quicker, easier and altogether happier than just yomping.

Near disaster came just after elevenses, when Mick and I lost each other. Mick had headed up the hill to see if we were slightly below where we should have been (which we were). I continued slightly further down. When Mick shouted that we needed to be higher, I shouted back that I was on my way up. It later transpired that Mick hadn't heard my response, and seeing my head still bobbing along below him he figured that I was going to meet him further along.

Meanwhile, I thought Mick was just above me, so up I clambered, only to arrive to find no sign of him. Panic ensued for both of us. My panic was delayed because my first thought was that we both had maps and compasses and at the worst case we would meet later in the day. Then I realised that I had both sets of maps. PANIC!

I shouted myself hoarse, and blew my whistle, to no avail. I ran up and down the hillside hoping to find a good vantage point (but it's all so lumpy that there is no good vantage point). Then I heard Mick whistle. I whistled back. He didn't hear, but by then I was on my way in the right direction.

Re-united, onwards we went, up, up and up some more. By that point of the day we had already accumulated a lot of ascent, but without doing more than walking over dozens of undulations in the landscape. This was our first uphillness of the day which was actually going to see us maintain a higher altitude for a while, which gave us stunning views over the incredibly wild and desolate land over which we had just trodden. Being fundamentally one huge lumpy rock bed, with some vegetation clinging to the top, it doesn't drain well, so as well as the lochs there were dozens of pools in every direction.

Lunch was had earlier than usual. The sun had come out and we took advantage, not knowing whether it was going to go back in again. Finding shelter from the wind we basked in the warmth, with our sardines and oatcakes (we've re-learnt that it's not a good taste combination to follow such a lunch immediately with chocolate. Fish and chocolate don't go well together!).

A decision then needed to be made: was it worth one mile extra for an out-and-back detour to look at Eas a Chual Aluinn (Britain's highest waterfall, apparently)? Having spent our lunchbreak looking at the point where the stream fell off the edge, we concluded that the only view we would have would be looking down the cliff, which is not the most advantageous angle from which to view a fall, so we omitted the detour.

"Only 2 miles until we reach the road" I said to Mick, and that was something of a relief after our hard morning. It wasn't an easy 2 miles though, even though by now we were on a very well trodden, unloseable path. The climb up to the bealach wasn't too bad, but the descent was slow (it's the aging knees, you know), and then when it looked like it should all get easy, along the loch just before the road, it was mud and bog through which we had to pick our way.

It was with tired legs that the road was reached, but we only had a mile and a half to go to Newton Lodge, our overnight accommodation.

Just a few paces off the road down to Kylesku, the Lodge is in a stunning setting, and having received a very warm welcome (we were greeted first with the good news that we would be given a lift down to the hotel for dinner) we were taken into the conservatory. Wow! The views from both the lounge (sumpuous leather sofas) and the consevatory are such that you could spent weeks looking at them. And the owner is as friendly and helpful as you could wish for. I confess that we only found ourselves staying here because the Kylesku Hotel was full, but what a good choice it is (better than the hotel, I'll wager; certainly better views).

With the friendly owner (Freda), amazing setting and well presented rooms (well, ours is, and I can only assume the others are the same), Newton Lodge would certainly get my recommendation for anyone walking the Cape Wrath Trail, or if you juist happen to be in the area and needing accommdation.

As for the evening meal at the hotel, we enjoyed some excellent food in good company, sitting with two other chaps (Doug and Jim) walking the Cape Wrath Trail who are also staying at Newton Lodge. They were the first other CWT walkers we had encountered, but were followed swiftly by another group in the hotel, perhaps we've just been staging our days oddly, hence not meeting others until now? It didn't take much chatting to find that our dinner companions were previous TGO Challengers, and that we have acquaintances in common. Small world!

Having stayed up far later than I'm accustomed to last night (there was the red light of sunset, and a dram or two with Doug and Jim, to be enjoyed from the conservatory), I ran out of time for typing the blog last night, so this has been hurredly rattled out over breakfast. Now there's a cloudless day calling, so we'd best pop out for a walk...

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