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, 28 May 2018

Cairn-mon-earn (NO782919; 378m)

I'm going to have to cast my mind back a bit here. Somehow this* is the first time I've found since last Wednesday to pen a few words about what turned out to be the final hill of this trip. (*'this' is as we are driving past Stirling on our way south, with Mick just having taken the wheel.)

Wednesday 23 May
Distance: 1.4 miles
Ascent: around 140m
Weather: overcast but dry
Start: Large layby on A957 at NO 77914 91027

On paper, Cairn-mon-earn looked to me like one of those hills that someone would only visit if they were a hill bagger, which is, of course, exactly why I found myself there early last Wednesday morning.

Appearances can be deceptive and it turned out to be a nice little hill, if you overlook all of the communications masts and equipment on the summit and the line of power lines on the way up.

It was certainly a quick and easy one. Shunning the forest track that takes an indirect route from the A957 around to the back of the hill, before approaching the top from there, I opted to go straight up the break through the forest, which I accessed directly opposite the layby.

Initially it was a tiny bit boggy (I lost both feet in gloopy peat at one point, which was careless) and it occurred to me that in a few weeks the bracken would probably be an impediment...

...but I'd not ascended very far before picking up a well-trodden line that took me all the way to the top.

Standing at the trig point, which sits atop a pile of stones, the outlook to the north west and south were pleasant.

Looking west(ish)

It was to the east that it all became too industrial:

Returning via my ascent route, I got back to Bertie having spent 21 minutes going up and 11 minutes getting back down (plus and unknown length of time on the top). That left me plenty of time (or about 3 hours more than necessary) to drive to and through Aberdeen to pick Mick up at his TGO Challenge finish point...

...although I wasn't quite able to manage that as harbour extension works had the road at Girdle Ness closed, so he had to walk a short distance back out across the golf course. I joined him for that short return section and did offer to carry his bag once his Challenge was officially completed, but he declined.

There was one more hill I intended to visit on my way from Aberdeen to TGO Challenge Control at Montrose (Hill of Garvock). The only thing that potentially saves this middle-of-a-field from falling entirely within the 'pointless summits' category is the presence of a tower atop it. I'll have to reserve judgement, as having driven to my start point, which sits about 1 mile and 30m of ascent away from the top, and having attempted approaches via two different fields, I left it unbagged due to overly frisky cows, with young, and an overly interested bull. I'm not generally too fazed by cattle these days, but these exceeded my tolerance level for bovine behaviour. I shall have to return to this one in the winter months sometime.

The view on the way to Hill of Garvock

That's it for Marilyn bagging for the time being. I think my final tally for the trip was 46, bringing my overall total to over 440 (but under 450; I don't know the exact number off the top of my head).

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Kerloch (NO696878; 534m)

Distance (bike): 15 miles (around 450m ascent)
Distance (foot): 2.1 miles (265m ascent)
Weather: overcast with very light showers
Start Point: Silverbank Caravan Club Site, Banchory

When I planned this trip I thought I would be mainly sitting around this week, with a lack of easily accessible hills along the main roads along which I was going to be driving. Looking at the maps this afternoon, I’m now coming to the conclusion that I had gone map blind by that point in the planning. That’s a shame, as I now realise that there were three or four hills I could have visited yesterday afternoon on my way to Banchory.

I also didn’t have Kerloch on my radar until I looked at a map this morning. As Bertie had spent the night on a campsite at Banchory, it struck me that rather than driving out of my way somewhere, I could leave Bertie exactly where he was, take my bike and go and visit this hill.

First good view of where I’m going, and the top is just in the cloud

As is often turning out to be the case, I was able to bike further than expected. I knew (from logs on that the initial section of track after leaving the road was good, but that somewhere in the forest it became horribly eroded. The somewhere transpired to be from the junction just after the wooden building marked on the map as Glenskinnan. There I dumped my bicycle, and took to a track that had large sections that Mick (who does not enjoy loose rocky/stony surfaces) would not have liked:

It had been raining on me off and on all the way, never quite to the extent of me donning waterproofs (although I did stop a couple of times with that intention, before deciding against), but as I approached my turn from the track onto the path that would lead me to the summit, the cloud base had risen:

Alas, it didn’t stay that way for long, and by the time I had covered those few hundred metres, I had not a single view of my surroundings. With windblown rain hitting me, I didn’t hang around beyond taking a few photos. Such a contrast to 24 hours earlier when I had sat in warm sunshine enjoying the views from The Coyles of Muick. Yesterday I had been in a short-sleeved t-shirt for most of the outing; today I was in three long-sleeved layers and only overheated on the latter stages of the ride in.

The sun briefly came out (for maybe 30 seconds) as I re-entered the forest. If only I'd hit the top during that short window!

A pleasant interlude in my ride back was meeting TGO Challenger Humphrey on my way down. We talked Norway, Spain, Scotland and heat maps before we each went our separate ways.

I opted to take the A93 for the final mile and a half back to the campsite, rather than the Deeside Way. It wasn’t nice, but it did take me via a supermarket, which was my aim. What did impress and please me about the outing was that until I hit the main roads through the town, in 13.5 miles of cycling I had been passed (in either direction) by only three vehicles, two of which were tractors. If I’m going to cycle on roads, those are the sort I prefer!

Monday, 21 May 2018

The Coyles of Muick (NO328910; 601m)

Distance (bike): 8.7 miles
Distance (foot): 2 miles (180m ascent)
Weather: Glorious, although with cloud approaching by the time I descended.
Start point: Ballater main car park

Intentions of doing nothing today were quickly modified this morning when I saw the cloudless sky. Options were considered: it was either to be The Coyles of Muick, which I had lightly pencilled in as a possibility whilst I was in Ballater, or Mount Keen. The weather was perfect for the latter, but I also knew it would be busy up there and I had already missed the opportunity for an early start. So, The Coyles of Muick it was.

With the need to have vacated the campsite by 11.30, I relocated Bertie to the town car park, got my bike out and cycled over to the south side of the river, from where I got my first view of my objective:

My intention to cycle to the point where my chosen forest track left the road, then walk from there, was modified when I saw the track and decided to cycle up it a little way. 'A little way' turned into 'right the way to its highest point', leaving me not a great deal of walking to do.

Aerial photos had suggested that there was a clear way through the forest from here, up to the dip between Meall Dubh and The Coyles of Muick. What aerial photos didn't show was that this was an old cleared bit of forest, with a certain number of obstacles still lying on the ground:

There was no clambering and crawling today. The obstacles were easily bypassed or stepped over and there was nothing difficult about the terrain either, so before long I was at the top edge of the forest. There I found two handy reference points to make sure I knew where to re-enter the trees on my way back down:

Two boundary markers, right at the point where I left the trees.

I must have followed the forest edge for over 100m before I noticed that there was a path a few yards to my right. It was a well trodden one...

...that led me all the way to the summit.

More interesting than the highest point was the slightly-lower top bearing two big cairns:

It was over to that top that I headed for elevenses as the wind was blowing too much to pause without shelter.

I'm not sure whether my snaps convey what a really superb hill and viewpoint this was. To one side was Lochnagar, ahead was Loch Muick, to the other side Mount Keen was poking its head over the intervening hill. I was a happy walker as I sat there eating my butteries and admiring the view (albeit, to be out of the wind, my view was in the fourth direction, which contained no notable landmarks, but was still very pleasing).

The descent was as straightforward as the ascent had been, although I did lose concentration about twenty paces before rejoining my bike, resulting in me plunging my right foot down a hole and into a stream. My feet had been completely dry until that point - as they have been for the last few days' walks. The ground certainly has dried out in this ongoing fine spell of weather.

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Ben Newe (NJ381142; 565m)

Sunday 20 May

Distance: 2.6 miles
Ascent: around 310m
Weather: Overcast and breezy with a couple of showers
Start Point: end of forestry track at NJ 39678 13966 (there is a car park up the track, but a) I was thwarted in reaching it in Bertie due to overhanging branches; and b) even if I had, it's currently got signs saying it's closed due to forestry operations).

A closed road, a lengthy diversion, a little, easily accessible hill just a mile or so from the diversion route; who needs a rest day in the face of facts like that? Moreover, I needed to get some sort of exercise today, and why take a nice level walk along the Dee when I could nip up a hill?

There were signs that tried to put me off...

...and they made me quite cross for their apparent denial of lawful access rights, without giving any useful information whatsoever. Clearly, I ignored them and (unsurprisingly at just after 7am on a Sunday morning) the only evidence of work I encountered was churned up tracks:

I knew there was a path leading from the nearest forest track to the summit, but with so much disruption to the earth, due to felling, near the top, I wasn't sure whether it would be obvious when I met it, so as the track started to contour the summit, I headed straight up the hillside, soon popping out on the top:

It's a nice pointy hill, with extensive views, although today wasn't the best possible weather to enjoy them. At least the next shower held off until I was on my way down.

I didn't retrace my steps off the summit, nor did I follow the trodden path. Instead I followed the fenceline to the east. With the summit being heavily protected by deep heather and juniper, it perhaps wouldn't be everyone's choice of a good descent route, but it worked fine and I managed not to lose myself down any concealed holes.

I was back at my start point only a little over an hour after setting off, giving me the whole of the rest of the day to be lazy.

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Brown Cow Hill (NJ221044; 829m)

Distance (bike): 7.2 miles (4.1 out; 3.1 back)
Distance (foot): 5.1 miles
Ascent: 450m-ish?
Weather: lovely, although if I was picky I'd have preferred less of a breeze
Start point: Corgarff Castle Car Park (NJ 25423 08956)

Corgarff Castle

I was torn over whether to use the bike this morning. The argument against was that it would give me more flexibility as to route; without it I could opt for either a circular route or a lollipop, as the fancy took me. The thing that swung it was that 2.5 miles of paved estate road lay between me and my objective.

As you'll see from the stats above, my outward cycle leg was longer than the return. That was because when I got to Inchmore I suffered a navigational blip and merrily cycled onwards and upwards towards what I thought was my hill. Seeing a line of shooting butts heading up that hill, I figured there would be a path or track leading up nearby, so that's where I headed. Then I looked at the map, realised I'd taken the wrong track and this wasn't my hill at all. I duly backtracked (at least it was downhill on the way back!) and got myself to where I should have been.

Once the bike was ditched, much dithering was had as to whether to head up via Sron Bhuic and Cairn Sawvie, or whether to take the more direct route I'd originally planned. I made the wrong decision, and stuck with my plan. There then ensued a mental revolt that I can only compare with a child on a long journey constandly saying 'Are we there yet?'. Ordinarily on a hillside like this I'll just plod steadily upwards until the top is reached, maybe pausing once or twice to check I'm still on the right bearing. Today my mind was coming up with any number of excuses to stop, and I succumbed to most of them, constantly checking the map in some ridiculous hope that the top had magically moved nearer. The headwind (which was in the realm of 'breezy' rather than 'blowy'; yes, those are the technical terms...) probably didn't help.

Of course, the top did eventually appear in front of me, and what should I find up there but an ATV track, which cemented what I'd already thought: the walk via Sron Bhuic would not only have been more pleasing, but probably easier too.

The easy thing to do from the top would have been to retrace my steps (or to go down via Sron Bhuic - but that, rather obvious, option has only just occurred to me), but instead I decided to go via Clach Choutsaich, a rocky outcrop that sits atop one of the shoulders of this hill:

As far as the 823m top of Brown Cow Hill the going was a breeze (ATV track, then firm ground and stunted heather), but beyond there it wasn't the most hospitable terrain, with quite a few peat hags thrown into the mix. It was, however, worthwhile, as it gave more extensive views than were available from the summit.

I'm not sure this snap conveys the dimensions. At least the ground was dry and firm, so I could wander around on the bare peat without fearing losing a leg.

Nearby there was a large scarecrow holding a flag. In view of the location, I have no idea why.

I was back at Bertie plenty early enough to go and do another hill, but laziness prevailed. I want to enjoy my hills (and usually do!), so there was no point pushing on to another if it was going to see a repeat of the 'Are we there yet?' syndrome.

As it stands, I've visited 41 summits so far on this trip, of which 40 have been Marilyns. Without tomorrow's intended hill, I've only 2 more to go.

Creag Mhor (NJ057047; 895m)

Friday 18 May

Distance (bike): 7.5 miles
Distance (foot): 9.7 miles
Ascent: including bike, not far short of 1000m
Weather: An increasing layer of high cloud
Start point: Just up the road from Glenmore Lodge. I could have parked closer.

I'd intended having a nice lie-in this morning, having had a later-than-intended night yesterday, and a poor night's sleep the night before. Then I awoke at 0450 and when I was still awake at 0615 I thought I may as well get up and get on with it.

'It' was a hill that wasn't originally on the plan for this trip (neither was yesterday's for that matter), but I was in the area and it seemed particularly suitable weather for a summit that sits nestled well within the Cairngorms.

My bike-in to the bridge at the end of Strath Nethy was harder than expected (it was my expectation at fault; objectively it wasn't difficult), and at the bridge I found a whole troop of Duke of Edinburgh Scheme (Bronze) participants just breaking camp. They watched on as I dumped my bike and continued on foot up the good path that led me up and over the shoulder of Bynack More, then over a few undulations before dropping down to the Allt Dearg which runs through the next glen.

The perspective from this viewpoint had me doubting what the map was telling me: that the apparently tiny pimple I've marked with '2' was my objective. The hill marked with '1' is Bynack More, which stands less than 200m higher (1090m vs 895m)

Having ascended the shoulder of Bynack More in my shirtsleeves, the headwind I encountered on the other side had me in jacket, hat and gloves by the time I hauled myself up onto Creag Mhor ('hauled' is a particularly accurate description today. My lack of sleep was catching up with me and my mind was screaming at me to take a little break about every twenty paces. I ignored my mind as much as possible and promised it little breaks based on the altitude shown on my watch instead.)

On the top, suddenly I found myself in the Peak District...

...or I could have been with a lump of rock like that.

After standing atop the tor (no scrambling required - an easy walk up around the back), it proved surprisingly difficult to find somewhere sheltered to have lunch. That wind was getting everywhere! I ended up squeezing myself into an unattractive corner. I'm calling this break lunch, because it involved tuna sandwiches and cake, which are lunch substances; it was, however, only 10.30am!

The mountainous view from the summit to the SW (and me, because I failed to take a snap in this direction without me in it).

In the other direction is a barren, scoured landscape.

My return route would have involved slightly less ascent, but more miles, and less good path, had I returned via The Saddle and Strath Nethy. I really ought to have done that, just because I've not been to Fords of Avon before. But, such was my weariness that I opted for more ascent, less distance and better paths. On my way I met again the same TGO Challenger with whom I had walked a short way during my bike ride in, and also a mountain biker who had riden up and over the shoulder of Bynack More and was checking out the feasibility of a route over to Corgarff.

The path back over the shoulder of Bynack More is visible in this snap. In reality the gradient is gentle enough most of the time that the effort of ascending is barely noticeable.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Geal-Charn Mor (NH836123; 824m)

Thursday 17 May
Distance: 7.5 miles
Ascent: around 580m
Weather: glorious!
Start point: At the bridge at Lynwilg (around NH 88228 10720)

There can't be many hills of this height in Scotland that are as easy as this one, with the hill track known as 'the Burma Road' giving speedy access up to a pass that sits about 1km horizontally and 130m vertically from the top of this Corbett.

Speedy walking! The Cicerone Corbett guide suggests that it would be possible to cycle up to the pass. The thought of gaining that much height in that little distance sounded like a form of torture to me, so I walked.

It's such a shame that there are so many wind turbines visible in the Monadhliath these days, but by positioning myself in the windbreak, behind the trig point they, and the multitude of tracks that now crisscross this otherwise barren landscape, weren't intrusive on my view as I scoffed down a substantial second breakfast.

Thoughts of making this outing into a circuit were negated by hundreds of sheep being driven up the path I would have taken down, so I repeated the speed and ease of the Burma Road, stopping for a chat with a couple of Challengers on my way.

I was in Aviemore well before lunchtime, where I've been sitting ever since (bar a couple of forays to the shops, for essentials such as ice cream and gear fondling) with a good view of the Cairngorms. Soon I'm going to have to decide what I want to do tomorrow, as at some point soon I'm going to have to decide where to spend tonight.

Creag Ruadh and Creag na Doire Duibhe after a Creag Meagaidh Abortion

Wednesday 16 May

Having spent Tuesday night in the car park below Creag Meagaidh, it occurred to me over breakfast on Wednesday morning that, with a glorious blue sky above, instead of my two little Marilyns, I could go Munro bagging instead. My Munro guide and a map was consulted and in the blink of an eye the decision was made. The contents of my pack were swiftly modified from 'quick little hills' to 'Big Day Out', and off I went in the direction of Creag Meagaidh and its two Munro (but not Marilyn) neighbours.

I was probably just over a mile in when it occurred to me that I hadn't picked up my spikes. That was annoying, considering that I've been well aware of the snow on the higher tops for some weeks now, but I clung onto the hope that any I met would be bypassable, and onwards I went.

Some big patches of snow on my route

At 1.9 miles in, I could clearly see the snow on the climb up to the 'window' (the notch of a col that I was to ascend) and it looked like it was quite possibly bypassable. But I couldn't shake the thought that it was going to be an awful lot of effort to get up there and either find that it wasn't feasible to go around it, or that just around the corner there was an even worse obstacle of a snowfield. Moreover, there was no good reason why I should go up this hill today - I could call these miles an early morning warm-up and just go off and do the originally planned tops instead. So, with an about turn, that's what I did.

Creag Ruadh (NN558913; 622m)
Distance: 2.6 miles
Ascent: just over 300m
Weather: glorious!
Start point: Layby on A86 at NN 56521 90325

I had expected to have to start this walk with an unpleasant walk along the A86, but seeing the deer fence was down at one end of the layby, and that the trees were sparse beyond, I went to explore. There I found ridiculous quantities of toilet paper, but also a clear way up to a line of power lines, and following them took me to a cottage, behind which I wanted to ascend.

I suspect that, even under Scotland's liberal access laws, I committed a few yards of trespass in getting to where I needed to be, so I put all hope in the occupants of the cottage either being out or not looking out of a window at that moment and hurried on.

Once through a gate in a deer fence on the far side of their garden, I was out of the forest and on lovely slopes of firm, cropped grass. That lasted a good way up and even once the pasture got a bit rougher it was still easy going.

Looking back on my way up

After visiting the summit...

...I had good intentions of going over the lower (560m) top and making my way back on forest tracks. Indeed, I started out in that direction, but as I did so I assessed my choices as:
1) cross a soggy dip to get to tracks that would either be entirely enclosed by trees in a commercial forest, or be in a wasteland of harvested forest; or
2) return down the open grassy slopes I had ascended.

Looked at in those terms, the retracing of my steps seemed like by far the most enjoyable option.

The only spanner in the works was that I had made absolutely no mental note of my surroundings as I had joined the power lines and thus I had no idea where I needed to re-enter the trees to get back to the layby. The guess I made was wrong and there ensued a bash through a dense forest (again!). When Mick got a phone signal after a three days of silence, and called me, he caught me about 5m horizontally from the road, but about 10m too high, at the top of a vertical piece of rock.

He was standing atop a Munro at the time, which was by far the better place to be.

With a bit more clambering over and crawling under blowdowns, I was exceptionally pleased to come across the first clump of used toilet paper - if passing motorists had come here to relieve themselves, I must be but a few easy paces away from the layby, and so I was.

Creag na Doire Duibhe (NN615905; 571m)
Distance (bike): 2.3 miles
Distance (foot) 3.8 miles
Ascent: around 400m
Weather: Glorious!
Start point: Wolftrax (mountain biking centre) car park at NN593349 (£1.50 for 3 hours, £3 all day)

I had hoped to be able to cycle up to a track end at an elevation of around 450m at the start of this outing, but only made it just over a mile when the track deteriorated to this:

In my world that is not cyclable, so the bike was ditched and onwards I went on foot. It hardly seemed worth having got the bike out for such a short ride (although I did enjoy wooshing back down effortlessly on my return).

Getting to the top of the track, crossing the deer fence where a tree had conveniently fallen across it and following the outer edge of that deer fence to a crossing point over a joining barbed-wire-topped fence, the going was all remarkably easy. Then I had to cross a wide bowl and ascend to my objective, where suddenly the going was rough, although I did note that for the first time on any hill in four weeks, the bogs were squishy rather than squelchy or sodden.

Looking towards my top from the upper edge of the bowl. I opted to take a more indirect line in order to reduce the amount of height I lost

Having visited both high points at the top...

Summit view

...and paused to remove a tick from my leg (second one I've found embedded in two days), off I toddled back down. Rough stuff is always easier in descent, but even so I'm pretty sure the line I took on the way back was better than the one I took on the way up. The tussocks seemed smaller, the ground firmer and the heather less prevalent.

Just before reaching my bike, a TGO Challenger was met, so we stopped for a chat before I had a brief thought that I was going to stride straight past my bike without seeing it (nope - it was perfectly visible as I rounded the next corner).

Three hours parking turned out to be plenty; I wasn't gone much longer than two, giving me plenty of time to avail myself of the cafe's wifi before I moved on, having spent a couple of days without any phone signal on my internet phone (plenty of signal on my 'calls only' phone, but that doesn't get the blog sent).

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Binnein Shios, Binnein Shuas and Meall Luidh Mòr

Tuesday 15 May

As I looked at today's map yesterday afternoon, I spotted that there was an extra little hill, that I had completely missed when I was planning, that was easily baggable from the same start point as today's hills. For a short while I was tempted to go and do it yesterday afternoon, but the car park into which I had pulled for elevenses was a rather nice place to stay, so I ignored the draw of the hill, reasoning that it was small enough that I could fit it in today, together with the two intended tops. As staying put gave me a bit of a drive to do this morning, I was uncommonly organised for an early start: before I went to bed I had the kettle filled for breakfast, my oats already measured out in my bowl, lunch prepared and my bag all packed.

Binnein Shios (NN492857; 667m) and Binnein Shuas (NN463826; 747m)

Distance (bike):12.5 miles
Distance (foot): 6.4 miles
Ascent: around 700m
Weather: Fine start, clouding over later, bit of a breeze
Start Point: Layby by Laggan Dam at NN4332083060 (altitude: about 250m - after starting so many hills from around sea level recently, this was a notable fact!).

With an early start I had breakfasted and driven to my start point for these hills by just a few minutes past 7am. With all of last night's preparations, this was looking good for getting up my hills and being back before the forecast rain and increased winds came in soon after noon. Then things started to go awry...

My bike had a flat tyre. I have once changed tyres on a bike, but never in my life have I mended a puncture. Fortunately, I remember watching my gran perform the operation sometime between 1981 and 1985 and I obviously paid attention, because I remember the process well. Her technique involved the use of the handles of two forks; I substituted tyre levers for that bit. And she used chalk both to mark the puncture and to cover the excess glue. My repair kit had no chalk. Half an hour or so later, after having the tyre off twice and employing a bowl of water (unsuccessfully), I finally located the hole, patched it, and had absolutely no faith that it would hold. Spoiler alert: it held! I cycled 18 miles, including some pretty rough tracks, and finished without any need for further use of my pump.

The next thing to go a little awry occurred only about a kilometre into my ride, when an oncoming dumper truck, for whom I had stopped, insisted that I went first across a bridge. Coming off the other side, I needed to change gear, but would my front cog change down? Nope, it had become awfully fond of the big cog and was going nowhere. Turns out that when I said I needed to clean my bike after my last outing on it, I was right - the mechanism had become clogged with mud.

A few metres later I caught up with a couple of female Munro baggers with whom I had spoken briefly in the layby. They were just pondering where they would find the turn they needed to take, whereupon I looked at my map and realised that we had all sailed straight past it. For a few moments, I thought I would change the order of my hills, as I was now on my way to this afternoon's objective, but we'd not overshot by far, so around we all turned and back past all the workmen we went, to locate the correct track.

Cycling alongside Carolyn, we chatted away until she ground to a halt on a hill and I carried on. I shouted good wishes as I pushed on, not expecting to bump into her and her friend Shona again.

Shios on the right, Shuas on the left, as viewed from the other side of Lochan na h-Earba (which is actually two separately lochs)

Once up at Lochan na h-Earba the going was flat and almost enjoyable. Alas, as I got off my bike at the SW end of the second loch, I realise why: there was a fair wind blowing, and it had been behind me. Immediately I started to dread the return ride, as I was sure that wind wasn't going to drop as the day went on.

There's not a lot to say about Binnein Shios (thank goodness; I'm rattling on enough as it is!). I hauled myself up to the ridge and walked along it to the summit. On the way back down to the pass between it and Binnein Shuas, I paused briefly (so briefly that I didn't sit down) to shove some food into my mouth, then I made my way over to my second objective.

Binnein Shuas worried me slightly (worried is probably too strong a word, as I knew I could always turn back leaving it unbagged), because I couldn't see an obvious way to get up it from the direction of my approach. Vertical slabs of rock and significant crags protect its summit and my usual optimism of 'that line looks doable' was lacking. In fact, even when I was a couple of hundred metres before the crags, I was still doubtful, but there was one gully that looked like it might be possible, so as I was there I thought I would give it a go. It was eminently possible, with reasonably grippy grass which had become stepped by the passage of people, animals and water.

The dots mark the route I took. Looking at this photo, I think it looks perfectly doable. Standing in the position from which I took the photo, to the naked eye, it looked far steeper and I was still dubious.

I noted my surroundings carefully to ensure I returned by the same route and thus the second top was successfully visited and back to my bike I went.

View back to Shios

The ride back into the wind wasn't quite as bad as expected. I even threw in a bit of an adventure by avoiding a rollercoaster section of the track I'd ridden in on by taking an old, abandoned track alongside the loch. Bits of that track had fallen into the water, some of it was unrideable quagmire, and other bits involved riding that was far more technical than I'm used to. The rollercoaster probably would have been easier. A little while later I had a pause to chat to a TGO Challenger, who was rather surprised to realise who had stopped to say hello to her.

Is that an old plough? Why would an old plough be in this location?! A good view of the crag defences of Shuas too.

My intention had been to go straight on to my next hill, but it was nearly 2pm, I was out of water, hadn't had my lunch and the out-and-back detour to Bertie was negligable.

Meall Luidh Mòr (NN417797; 514m)
Distance (bike): 5.6 miles
Distance (foot): 1.5 miles
Weather: drizzly with low cloud and still breezy
Start point: as above

As I sat and had lunch, the clouds started leaking drizzle on the world and they descended to cover even the stumpy height of this hill. I seriously contemplated deferring it until tomorrow, but to do that would either require me to put my bike away and get it out again in the morning (which involves emptying most of the garage and taking a wheel off my bike*), or to spend the night where I was parked, which wasn't an appealling option either. Hence, I headed back out.

I was now very glad I hadn't reversed the order of my hills. Shuas was now under a veil of cloud and there was no way I would have gone up there in anything other than good visibility

About half an hour on forest tracks, including passing through a building site (hydro works) and forestry operations, I located the break in the trees I was after, dumped the bike, negotiated my way past a blow down, negotiated my way through the remaining band of trees between me and the summit and ascended into the cloud.

Not my most successful selfie ever! I was standing on the summit, but did also wander over to the trig point, for no good reason, really.

Then I reversed my route and enjoyed the fact that my ride in had been predominantly uphill, and thus my ride out was delightfully downhill for most of the way.

With incredible timing, I reached the junction with the track I'd taken this morning at the exact same moment as Carolyn and Shona. They came and joined me in Bertie for tea and cake before they headed back home to Edinburgh, and told of a frustrating day that saw them only conquer one of their three intended Munros, due to snow blocking their way. In the small world way of these things, we had already quickly established this morning that we have an acquaintance in common.

So, all in all, rather a full day about which I fear that I have singularly failed to be succinct.

(*Putting my bike away always feels like a long winded process. In reality it takes under 5 minutes to either load or unload, which is about five times faster than I witnessed for the loading of two bikes onto a car bike rack today.)

Monday, 14 May 2018

Meall nan Damh and Glas Bheinn

Meall nan Damh (NM919744; 723m) and Glas Bheinn (NM939757; 636m)

Sunday 13 May
Distance: 9.25 miles
Ascent: around 1000m
Weather: mainly drizzle but with some light to moderate rain too. About 10 minutes dry at the end.
Start point: Car park at Callop Bridge (NM 92377 79252)

What a fantastic ridge walk! My favourite walk of this trip so far. What a shame that the weather wasn't quite as good as forecast. What a shame I didn't do these tops in yesterday's fine conditions!

The red dots are a vaguely-successful attempt at showing my ridge route

When I woke to rain at 0530, I thought it would just be a passing shower. It may indeed have been so, but in the lack of wind it wasn't moving, and so it sat over me in varying degrees of wetness from when I set out at 0630 until about ten minutes before I got back.

The views were far better than these snaps suggest, but would have been even better under a blue sky and without my hood up!

Fortunately, in spite of the wetness, the cloud base was high as I set off and it remained so as I climbed up onto the ridge and followed it all the way over the tops of Meall nan Damh. Alas, as I descended to the pass, on my way to Glas Bheinn the cloud drifted in, first at the level of the pass, then climbing about the same speed as me, to cover the summit.

Surely that wisp of cloud is just going to pass through?

Nope, it's going to settle on the summit. Harrumph!

Often low cloud has me regretting an early start, but not today. By the time I was back in the glen, all of the tops were smothered:

That said, by the time I left the supermarket in Fort William, about an hour later, the sun was shining. But an afternoon outing would not have been feasible, as I was delivering food parcels to two Challengers, and overnight accommodation to one, so there was a certain imperative to make it to the campsite at Faichem at an early hour. As it went, I was still an hour behind Mick, who was sitting with his tent up by the time I arrived at just gone 1pm.

Post Blog Note (Monday): It was a very sociable night in Bertie last night, with five for dinner and another joining for a pre-bed cup of tea. Should have taken a photo of the impromptu dinner party really! It's now Monday lunchtime, the weather is fine and I'm parked within easy reach of Ben Tee. I'm really not sure I feel like it today though, so I think I may just go for a short woodland amble, do a bit of knitting/reading/crosswording and have a quiet afternoon.