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 31 May 2010

A Week of Uninterestingness

For three days after returning from Scotland we did very little.

On Monday (when the weather was still extraordinarily warm and I was exclaiming “Glad we’re not out backpacking in this” along with regular repetitions of “Isn’t everything green?”), I came to have a need for ice cream. That could have involved a just-under-2-miles walk into the village and back, but what’s the fun in walking 2 miles along a pavement when you can walk 7.5 miles, taking in paths, tracks and the canal, in order to visit The Ice Cream Maker? Jolly tasty ice cream it was too!

On Tuesday the only vaguely outdoor related activity was taking Mick’s sleeping bag to the cleaners.

On Wednesday I lost an entire day plotting our next Big Walk, an activity that I didn’t quite finish because there were a few bits I was struggling with in the absence of proper paper maps. In the midst of all of the plotting, I also took delivery of a Montane Venture Jacket (I blame Louise – she told me I’d made a mistake when I resisted buying it weeks ago!).

On Thursday we walked to the library to get the maps that I needed to finish the first-cut of the route for the next Big Walk. The library is 7.5 miles away. We possibly would have both crumpled before the 15 miles were through (we were both hurting far more from this flat, easy, unladen 15-miles than we did on any day of our K2CW), except that it was only a tiny detour to return home via The Ice Cream Maker (where the servings were far more generous than they had been on Monday).

On Friday I mailed back the Montane Venture Jacket. As much as I liked it, and as much as £90 was an excellent price, it didn’t fit me. Nowhere seems to have a bigger size available at a bargain price, so I won’t be getting a replacement.

On Saturday I went swimming. My legs have moved back and forth to the exclusion of any other movement for the last 2 months, as a result of which my hips were truly baffled by the breast-stroke movements!

On Sunday I did my ‘shuffle around the block’ walk, for the first time since February. About a third of the way down the overgrown track, I gave up trying to beat my way through, figuring that it was going to take me half an hour to cover its very short length. I didn’t give up on the walk though, instead trespassing through an adjacent field. The rest of the route involved a lot of long grass, but was perfectly pleasant.

Today would have been another 15 mile outing, but that plan was scuppered with a failure to get out of bed at anything approaching a reasonable time. Instead an 8.5-mile geocaching walk was hurriedly planned. We found all of the geocaches, but could sign none of them; we’d forgotten to take a pen. Tomorrow I will visit them all again (although likely taking a 4-mile route – today’s was intentionally made longer than it needed to be), properly equipped.

Thursday 27 May 2010


It didn’t escape our notice that we were very lucky with the weather on our walk. It may have been a touch on the parky side, but it was dry a lot more than it was wet. At one stage we went for 23 straight days without having to break out our waterproofs.

Having kept a note of the weather each day, I revisited it this week, whilst the walk was still fresh enough in my mind for me to remember which days required waterproofs. A spreadsheet was duly created.

If you count the walk-out to Durness, we walked on 58 days.

Incredibly, on 40 of those days our waterproofs stayed in our bags (on five of those days it did rain to some extent, but not enough to get us wet).

On 8 days it rained, requiring waterproofs for under 2 hours (2 hours in total that is; some days those waterproofs were on and off repeatedly).

On 10 days it rained requiring waterproofs for over 2 hours (of those 10 days, only on 2 days did it rain more or less all day).

Here’s the same information presented in a much more pretty style:


Chances of us having that level of luck again on an 8-week walk? Pretty slim, I’d think.

Tuesday 25 May 2010

1982, 2010

May 1982, I sit atop the trig point on Helvellyn


Twenty eight years later, in April this year, I adopted the same position:


The weather was a bit better when I was there in 1982! (I had much more hair in 1982 too; and much more interesting socks!)

Monday 24 May 2010

Post Walk (2) – Numbers

I have finished re-plotting the route, incorporating the changes that we made on the ground. The result is that, per Anquet, we walked 979 miles from St Margaret’s to Cape Wrath (the reality was probably a little bit further – some of our lines were far more wiggly than plotted on the map!), and 994.5 miles if you count the walk out to Durness.

Taking 57 walking days over our adventure, that comes out at an average of just over 17 miles per day.

Ascent was somewhere around 135,000 feet, per Anquet.

The longest day was the last one, via Cape Wrath to Kervaig, which came in at 24.5 miles. (Seems that a few days were longer than I estimated at the time; from a psychological point of view, it was probably best for me to think, at the time, that they’re shorter than they were!)

On arriving home Mick had lost a stone, whereas I had lost 5lbs (which is what I lost in the first two weeks).

Mick lost a bit more weight (and a good few years) a few hours later when the beard came off.

IMG_1555a Skinny beardy bloke stands at the fog-horn at Cape Wrath

Friday 21 May 2010

Post Walk (1)

It was a bit mind-boggling that at 6.45 yesterday morning we were standing in a stunning bay just to the side of Cape Wrath, and at 8.10 this morning we were walking through our front door.

What made it more mind-boggling was that we didn’t have a gentle transition of landscape. The light left the day as we rushed through the Cairngorms, and by the time we were awoken this morning we were already south of Preston, and in briefly lifting the blind all I saw was dense fog.

The first time I really noticed the outside world was when we were on the bus home (which takes a long and winding route through many a village; it was a bit more gentle than yesterday’s minibus from Durness, mind!). I was positively bewildered by the greenness of everything. In fact, I’ve spent most of the day expressing disbelief at the colour out there.

We really have been stuck in spring for the last eight weeks. Even four days ago, we were still seeing daffodils in full bloom, and although trees have been more in-leaf than not, they haven’t been in full foliage. And for the last few days, there haven’t even been any trees. Plenty of gorse in bloom, but not a tree to be seen.

On top of the only-just-coming-back-to-life stage of the plant-life during our walk, the areas of Scotland through which we have been walking aren’t areas that boast lush greenness. With the grey rocks, brown heather and muted gorse and grass, bright green is not a colour seen in great swathes.

By contrast our area of the Midlands is nothing but green. The roadside grass is a foot tall; the trees in our garden (and even the recently-denuded hawthorn hedgerow) are all vibrant, the grazing fields are looking like meadows, and we have one flower bed that is the most ridiculously crowded riot of sweet peas ever seen. I feel like I’ve never seen anything so green, but I’m sure that it is just a contrast issue; this landscape is not that to which I have become accustomed.

Day 56 - Newton to Achriesgill

(I noticed that I had two Days numbered 53, so I've corrected the numbering on this post; I'm quite annoyed, though, that I went to such trouble to squeeze the typing of this post into the last day, so that it would appear in order, and then completely failed to press 'send'!)

Tuesday 18 May
Distance: 23.25 miles (Tot: 955 miles)
Weather: glorious morning, clouding over in the afternoon, then clearing again; very warm
Number of times we aborted pitching the tent: 1

After an excellent breakfast at Newton Lodge we bade farewell to the people we had met there and off we went under the most amazingly blue sky which set the mountains off very nicely indeed.

We'd not got far before Mick started complaining that his pack felt far heavier than it should. It was only when he started asking whether I'd snuck in the television out of the room that I paid any real attention and spotted that his lid pocket had moved so that it had lifted the buckle of his load-lifter strap. With the problem easily sorted happiness was restored.

Three choices were before us as to route, all of which would take us to Loch Stack. Having made our decision (to take the route I'd plotted) we prevaricated at length. Then, having gained quite a bit of height quite quickly the views opened up and we were happy that the right choice had been made.

We were at the top of the pass (which I would name, except I've now thrown that map away, so this post is going to be a bit vague on names) when we caught up with a chap called Ian* with whom we stopped and chatted for a while, whilst enjoying a stunning view. Realising that, as we were headed the same way, we could walk and chat at the same time, downwards we went.

Time flew by, and at the point where our paths diverged Mick pointed out that it was 1pm, and that perhaps lunch was in order. It was lovely to have someone other than Mick for conversation as we walked along (which isn't intended as a slight on Mick, and I'm sure he wouldn't take it that way!) and equally nice to have company over lunch.

Back on our way after a good break my legs were feeling a bit lazy, but I reassured them that we didn't have that far to go and they agreed to just get on with it.

On a day when we didn't abide by our usual routine of breaks, the next pause was had to top up our drinking bladders at what looked like it would be the last stream to get good water (I'm less fussy for cups of tea and cooking, but for drinking water I like a good stream), running as it was down off the steep-sided and impressive Arkle.

Only a while later the easy walking was over for the day (or so we thought) as we left the track to yomp on over to the loch next to which we were due to camp.

We hadn't expected to find a path there, but almost as soon as we met the loch-shore a path appeared before us, and although narrow and through lots of heather it was good enough to help us along at a much higher speed than expected.

As it went, there was nowhere to camp alongside that loch, but we had already decided to push on just a short distance to cross the river part way along the next loch (again, the names are gone with the map, but the first one was 'Mor' and the second 'Bheag' ('big' and 'little')). With the weather forecast being for a night of persistent rain, it had seemed advisable to make the crossing, which we had been forewarned was a deep one, before the river swelled.

Where we crossed it wasn't deep and it was an easy crossing (very refreshing on the feet on the hottest day of the trip), and what should we find on the opposite bank but a perfect, level patch of short, dry grass in a sea of boggy tussocks and heather.

We pondered a while whether we should carry on, but although there was plenty of energy in the tank, it was gone 5.30 so (a bit half-heartedly) we started to pitch.

We'd only got two of the poles clipped in before the blight of the flies changed our minds about spending the night there. In particular there were trillions of midgey things (not the stripey winged biting bastards, but certainly midge shaped and sized). With the sun beating down, spending a few hours zipped up in the tent didn't sound like fun, so we resolved to carry on. Looking at the map we were struggling to identify a clear alternative night stop, as we were soon going to hit and follow a road, but something always shows up. It even crossed our minds that we could continue the whole way to Kinlochbervie, and thereby condense the last 3 days into 2, reaching Cape Wrath a day early (or 6 days early against the original plan).

In reality, the Kinlochbervie plan got scuppered when we got side-tracked by the Rhiconish Hotel. We popped in for a drink and to enquire about camping locally, but didn't like the location suggested. Having spent a pleasant half an hour there, chatting to another chap, by the name of Pete, also on the CW trail (who was also after a pitch for the night) we made a move to head further towards Kinlochbervie.

Had we resolved to continue on the extra hour and a half to Kinlochbervie that would have been fine. However, we hadn't resolved on that end to the day and so we started losing time by considering where we could get water and where there might be a camp spot, and as time ticked on (and tummies got hungrier) the need to pitch became more pressing.

Without a water source, we had to pass by a number of possible locations, and so when we came to a river we finally did the sensible thing and filled up our camp water bottles. Alas, there was nowhere to pitch by the river, it being in amongst houses, but it was only a kilometre up the road to a track where the lie of the land looked eminently suitable.

With 8pm approaching even a boulder field would have been considered for its pitching potential, but we didn't have to resort to desperation. Fifty metres of ascent brought us to a flat grassy area, which, being atop a knoll, would drain well in the heavy and persistent rain forecast to fall overnight.

By the time we had sorted our living quarters, rehydrated our tea and eaten pudding, 10pm had come and gone, so into our sleeping bags we got, and I was asleep before I'd even refound my place in my audiobook. It had been a long (but good) day!

(*incidentally, Ian told us that our route around the east side of Ben More Assynt is not on the CW Trail, which apparently goes via Inchnadamph. He had also taken that route and had trouble keeping the path, so it wasn't just us!)
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Day 57 - Achriesgill to Cape Wrath (to Kervaig)

Wednesday 19 May (0745-1630)
Distance: 18 miles (plus 5 to Kervaig) (Tot to CW: 975)
Weather: fair, except one drizzly interlude
Number of times one of us was alarmed by a grouse taking flight about 3 inches in front of us: 3

There had been a bit of discussion as to whether, after our late finish, we should have a lie-in and a short day, or whether we should get up at the usual time and see how close to Cape Wrath we could get.

The verdict was that, depending on the terrain beyond Sandwood Bay, it may be possible to reach CW within the day, and thus the earlier start would be had.

The day started better than expected. The band of heavy rain, which the BBC had forecast would hit overnight and last about 7 hours, didn't materialise. It did start to rain, quite lightly, about 5am, but by 6.30 it had stopped and it was looking pretty fine out by the time we emerged from the tent.

To make things better still, I was wearing a brand new pair of socks. I'd been carrying the things for weeks (having incorrectly thought 650 miles back that the previous pair were wearing out) so I figured I may as well wear them for what was possibly the last day. They felt positively luxurious!

Off we set, finding ourselves outside of the London Stores sooner than expected (the store being before, not in, Kinlochbervie). It's a well stocked place for passing backpackers, and on this morning they were coming thick and fast (kind of). As we left the store, up the road came Pete.

It wasn't the fastest start to the day, as after the interlude at the shop came an interlude at the Kinlochbervie Hotel. It was early for 2nd breakfast but seemed rude to pass by without giving the place some custom. Cups of tea and breakfast rolls were consumed whilst watching a group make lengthy preparations to leave. Outside there was a Lambourghini (sp?), a Ferrari, a TVR, three Porches, and a couple of other sporty little numbers. The owners spent a long time admiring each others' cars before throaty roars were heard and off they went.

Off we went too, coincidentally meeting Pete again at the end of the hotel drive, and with him we walked up to Sandwood Bay.

Sandwood Bay is renowned as being a spectacularly nice bay and so it was, with golden sand, dunes, rocks, a sea stack, and blue sky. Our lives would have been easier by walking straight across the dunes, but it seemed wrong not to pop down to the sea, even if walking across deep, soft sand with a backpack is far from easy going.

The Bay begs that you stay a while and we obliged. Lunch was had at its north end, as people milled around below us, then it was off into the unknown.

With six miles of yomping before we reached the road to the lighthouse, we had no idea what the terrain would be like, how arduous the walking would be and how long it would take.

As is so often the case, when you have it in your mind that something will be tremendously difficult, it turns out to be better than expected. Thanks to the recent dry weather, our passage was much easier than I had anticipated.

I imagine that it could be quite an arduous yomp in poor weather or when it has been wet, but aside from the drizzly spell, we could see all around and the going was, for the most part, pretty dry. Even the bits that looked like they should be bog-fests were only mildly wet really. They didn't even move me to don my over-socks and my feet only got damp around the edges every now and then.

There were a few incidents with grouse, mind. There have been several on this trip, in fact. The grouse is a bird with a special talent for startling people. On this day, Mick came within inches of treading on one and when it suddenly flew up immediately before him, the reason for its reluctance to move became clear: it was sitting on a nest full of eggs. Onwards we hurried, hoping that it would soon return to carry on the incubation process.

Popping over the last lump of the route, we could see the road ahead of us, but had to caution ourselves against thinking that we were home and dry. "There's bound to be a man-eating bog, just to catch us out" I said, and it was a touch damp and haggy, and it did slow us down, but it could have been far worse.

Oh, but that road was a magic-moving-road. Across the bogs and around the hags we picked our ways, but the road seemingly got no nearer.

It was an illusion. We did reach it (and for future reference for anyone walking that last section in good and dry conditions, the six miles took us three hours almost exactly, including a couple of extended shoe-faffs (emptying half a beach out of my shoes, mainly)).

With a celebratory cheer that we had completed all of the pathless yomping of the trip, all we had left was an easy mile and a quarter along the road.

Reaching the far NW tip of Scotland, we grinned, patted each other on the backs, faffed at length with photos and, realising that we weren't going to be carried out on the backs of cheering elves, we made for the cafe at the lighthouse. With the weather having suddenly changed from lovely and warm to freezing, a cup of tea was in order.

"Are you closed?" Mick asked the girl mopping the floor.

"We're never closed" she said.

Having asked about the ferry and gleaned some very useful information, we were offered more tea, on the house. Apparently, the man-at-the-lighthouse hasn't met anyone who has walked so far to get there (of course, we know of quite a few people who have walked much further to get there, but as the cafe only opened last year I guess that talking to the lighthouse man hasn't been an option for most).

Two cups of tea down, it was time to make a move. Our vague plan was to walk about 3 miles or so, to the River Kervaig, and see if we could find a pitch. We had discounted going to the bothy in the bay, as it involved a 1.5 mile round trip detour from the road, not to mention a steep hill, which all seemed a bit unnecessary.

Fortunately, we caught sight of Kervaig bay before we looked for a pitch and our plans changed. What an absolutely magnificent place to spend a night. Absolutely stunning. Really, truly amazing place (I was quite taken with it!).

That the (excellent) bothy was full to bursting (fifteen school kids plus staff being the main occupants) was no issue. There's flat grass enough to pitch 100 tents.

We'd met Pete again on the road as we left the lighthouse, and not long after we arrived at Kervaig he got there too, by which time we had made the acquaintance of cycle-touring brother and sister Alice and Martin. An excellent evening was spent talking in the not-school-children-occupied bit of the bothy, as Mick and I ate and ate and ate (46 miles in 2 days tends to make me hungry!).

Eventually, with too few hours remaining before we had to get up, we toddled off to our tent, pausing on the way to admire the last glow of sunset.

It had been a cracking day. We'd finished what we'd set out to do. We'd enjoyed the scenery of Cape Wrath in fantastic conditions. We'd had a social evening. And we were camping in the most amazing spot. A good end to an excellent trip.

Except that wasn't the end, because we still had to get home (and despite requests, we weren't going to walk!!).

(For Much: Total number of crabs seen = lots. All of them were dead. Most of them were in the bay by Sourlies, but one was on someone's plate (does that count?).)

Thursday 20 May 2010

What a day!

We're sitting on the Caledonian Sleeper, rushing south at great speed, but it's not been an easy day to get here. Over the last two days we walked over 46 miles - but that was nothing compared to the epic that today has been!

It started with Mick having mis-set the time on his alarm, and then when it went off at 5am, rather than turning it off and rolling over he sprang up and put the kettle on.
We were walking at 6.45am, which was going to see us at the ferry far too early, but we had to wait somewhere, and at the slip-way seemed as good as place as any.

By 9 we were at the slipway.

Just after 11 the ferry came.

"Just got to nip back" said the ferryman as he sailed back off without us.

Ten minutes later we were on board.

The walk into Durness took a little time, but there was still plenty more time to kill before the bus to Inverness at 1520. Fortunately, for the forth time since last night, we'd bumped into Alice and Martin, who are excellent company, and a long lunch was had.

Waiting outside the Tourist Info Centre (which was unhelpfully closed) we met up with Ian again (who had timed his walk into Cape Wrath to perfection, arriving minutes before the minibus) and more time was pleasantly passed.

At the appropriate time, two women were joined at the bus stop and we all chatted together for an hour and a half. By the time the bus was half an hour late, we were suspecting that something was significantly amiss. When it was over an hour late, a message reached us that it had broken down, but that an alternative bus was being sought. After an hour and a half, a minibus arrived and ten minutes later it was filled to the rafters.

Being so late, the driver positively hurtled down those roads. Then we had to change to a different minibus, as the man who had filled in to help out us stranded tourists had to get back home to his children and could only take us so far. The second minibus was bigger, but already had some people on board; again, we were packed to the rafters, although the hurtling was less extreme.

For reasons that were not entirely clear, we were then thrown off the second bus and onto a third, but at least this one had luggage stowage and was more spacious and it wasn't any great bother to have to change (moreover as we weren't charged for the journey).

The problem that was before us was that we really wanted to try to catch the sleeper, which was due to leave Inverness an hour after our bus was due to arrive - and our bus was running an hour and a half late.

In a magnificent feat of hurtling and time saving, an hour was recovered, and we arrived in Inverness just half an hour late. We hotfooted it to the station, arriving just 25 minutes before the train was due to leave.

It was there that the (already-long) day turned to a farce. Someone, somewhere made an error in our ticketing (and it certainly wasn't us - we asked for a ticket, we were sold that ticket). The ScotRail chaps were not happy. There was to-ing and fro-ing as we ran to the ticket office, to the train, back to the ticket office and back to the train (where we were referred from person to person to person; we now know most of the staff by name), with minutes ticking away. Were we going to be allowed on the train (with our perfectly valid tickets)? Were we going to be granted a berth (per our tickets)?

For a while it looked like we were going to spend the night stood in a corridor, but eventually it was sorted. Two berths on the 'comletely full' train were found. The interconnecting door was open for us. We dumped our bags and made a bee-line for the lounge bar.
Tea has now been eaten, and I finally have a celebratory glass of wine in my hand. Tomorrow, we'll be home - four days before we were even due to walk into Cape Wrath.

(And I will get around to making a post about our last day. I have been trying to write it, but spent too much of the day chatting, reading other people's blogs and being thrown about on a minibus, where doing anything other than looking out of a window would have been unwise.)
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Photographic evidence

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At 1630 yesterday (Wednesday) we were standing at the foghorn just NW of Cape Wrath lighthouse, our journey complete...

...well, complete except for walking out of Cape Wrath, which is what we're doing right now.

More to follow.
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Wednesday 19 May 2010


Bit of an error in last night's blog title (I was a bit tired!).

I started typing the heading and stats about a mile before what should have been the end of the day, whilst Mick was having an extended gaiter-faff. At that time we were supposed to be camping by a loch (the name of which I couldn't remember then, and I can't remember now). So, the title accidentally said that we walked from "Newton to Loch".

We actually ended the day at Achriesgill, between Rhiconich and Kinlochbervie. Had we been an hour earlier, we likely would have walked straight on to Kinlochbervie, but the need for food and sleep ruled.

(Chris and Carol - glad you've enjoyed my witterings. Knowing people are reading makes all this tapping away on a little keyboard at the end of the day worthwhile.
Chris - your comment about walking home again did make us laugh! 'Fraid we'll be taking a rather faster (and far less interesting) method of getting back south, though.
Anonymous - I really am very sorry if I came across as sounding smug at the expense of others. About many things we are smug (the excellent weather we've been so lucky to enjoy, for example (it's raining as I type, mind)), however it was most certainly not my intention to belittle the activities of others in any way. It's the problem of the written word: if there are two ways something can be read, there's the danger of it being taken in the way least favourable.)

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Tuesday 18 May 2010

Day 55 - Newton to Loch

Tuesday 18 May (0830-2000)
Distance: 23.25 miles (Tot: 955 miles)
Weather: glorious morning, clouding over in the afternoon, then clearing again; very warm
Number of times we aborted pitching the tent: 1

A very short post tonight. We didn't get pitched till 8pm and there are more pressing things to be doing before collapsing into bed - like eating and drinking.

I will write a full report of the day when I get a chance - which given where we are may not be until we're on our way home, but that should only be in a few days time.

Features of the day involved stunning weather, stunning views, meeting a nice chap called Ian with whom we walked until our routes diverged, wading a river, nearly pitching the tent, being attacked by flying insects and walking 5 miles further than intended.

Pretty good day, all in all!

(Today's photo is of Arkle, taken across Loch Stack; a mighty fine looking hill)
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Oh what a beautiful morning!

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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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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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Sunday 16 May 2010


Don't know how clear the photo is, but rounding a bend just after the Oykel Bridge Hotel just now we found our names very clearly (and apparently freshly) written in the dirt.

Who wrote it? That's the question.

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Day 53 - Inverlael to Duag Bridge

Saturday 15 May (0745-1415)
Distance: 14.5 miles (Tot: 899.75 miles)
Weather: sunshine and showers
Number of otters seen: 1 (but it was carved out of a tree; we did see a real one on the day we walked into Tyndrum, mind)

Oooh, the rain came down last night! It was the talk of the campsite (or at least of the Westfield convention that came and pitched next to us); particularly noted was the very heavy shower that started at quarter to four.

We managed to pack away between showers this morning, and with the brisk wind the tent was drier than one might have expected - good news for Mick, who carries the flysheet.

Within thirty seconds of packing the tent away, along came the next shower and off we scurried to the Laundry for shelter.

A short while later, we arrived at the front entrance to the campsite at the same time as our taxi (bang on time) and within fifteen minutes we were back at Inverlael, walking up the track to the forest.

"Will the zig zag track be more obvious" was the question on our minds. We know that we weren't the only people to have trouble locating it before, but now that the End-to-End Trail has become so popular (and we're told the Cape Wrath trail is getting more people on it too), we did wonder whether the track would now be well trodden.

I thought it was less obvious two years on; Mick thought it was more so, thanks to the lack of bracken at this time of year. Whether or not its line is still easily discernable to someone who doesn't know where it is, the trees that form a line across the point where it leaves the forestry track are bigger and completely mask the junction. For us, it was such a memorable bit of our LEJOG that we had no trouble, and went straight to it, albeit we did then have to battle along past the trees that are growing ever bigger along its path. In the unlikely event that I ever find myself with half a spare day in the area, I must remember to pop back with some pruning shears and make the going easier for everyone.

'Up' was the trend for quite a while once we left the main forestry track. From near sea-level, up to 1700 feet we went, where, on the plateau (at the edge of which the track expired) we found quite an impressive amount of boginess.

Even more impressive was the boginess in descending to the River Douchary, and once there we made a bit of a meal of deciding where to cross. Last night's rain had swollen it just enough to cover over many of the rocks across which one would ordinarily hop.

We did pick a suitable point, after no small amount of faffing, and then the real boginess began as we made our way across the valley floor (the final 2 miles out of 4 miles of wet yomping) to pick up the track on the other side.

The track varies greatly in quality of walking surface and degree of eyesoreness (it is on places horribly bulldozed, which doesn't sit well in the surroundings), as it undulates to and down Strath Mulzie. As we made our way down the glen, the gap between the showers (which had been frequent early on) became greater until we decided to risk removing our waterproof trousers. Almost immediately the edge of a shower hit us, but it wasn't until we were almost at Duag Bridge that we saw a big lump of rain approaching.

I had already earmarked the bothy at Duag Bridge for our lunch location, and it became a bit of a race as to whether the rain would reach us before we reached shelter. The rain won, but only just. By the time it was lashing down, we were inside this very pleasant (light and airy) bothy.

We lunched here in 2008 as well, but it was a week or two before the upgrade works took place, so we sat outside of what was, at the time, a tin shack in poor repair. It's hard to believe the transformation that has taken place, and it's very neat and tidy. The main room now bears a very great resemblance to a sauna, being pine clad (and Mick has made more than one reference to the Swedish netball team popping by!)

Per the itinerary, what we should have done after lunch was to continue down the track to Oykel Bridge. It's not like me to stop so far short on a day, unless the following day is a very short one - I generally prefer to walk further today and shorter tomorrow.

However, the bothy here is so nice that it was begging us to stay. Moreover, the weather forecast we saw yesterday evening suggested that tomorrow's weather will be better than today's. The wind should be lower (it's fair howling out there) and the showers lighter. So, the decision has been made: it's a short one today and a long one tomorrow.

1800 - I must have dropped off (only for an hour or so!) and the next thing I know I'm jolted back awake as Mick says "A Landrover's just pulled up". A head pops through the door, and we're warned that there are going to be a lot of people through here tonight. Our immediate fears that we're going to be joined by a whole crowd in the bothy are ill-founded, and whilst chatting a convoy of Landrovers builds up outside. It's the COTAG (Communities Offroad Target Action Group) sponsored walk in support of Macmillan Cancer Support, with 100 walkers crossing Scotland tomorrow from Ullapool to Bonar Bridge. These chaps are off up the valley to set up a support marquee. After a brief chat, Mick pops outside with them, and returns a few minutes later with two cans of soup and six bread rolls! That was an unexpected supplement to our rations.
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Friday 14 May 2010

Day 52 - after Loch an Nid to Inverlael

Friday 14 May (0650-1230)
Distance: 11.25 miles (Tot: 885.25 miles)
Ascent: 2500' (the 1300 stated on the itinerary was clearly wrong in that the second pass of the day was that high in itself)
Weather: Warm sunny intervals, one violent shower (and quite a few more violent showers after we pitched, but they don't count)

It was raining as we retired from the dining room to the bedroom last night (which, in our tent translates to getting into our sleeping bags). I'm not sure for how long it continued, as I was soon asleep, but the river was certainly carrying more water this morning.

With the cloud cover it was also a very warm night, until about 4am, which must have been when the skies cleared, allowing the temperature to drop remarkably. The skies were still pretty clear when we set off, just before 7 this morning. In lieu of the sun having made it over the hill to reach us, we warmed up by attacking the pony track which starts off rather steeply before taking us gently up and over to Dundonnell.

The views of An Teallach were superb (we met a few people on their way up, the first of whom were impressed at how early we must have started to be on our way down already; perhaps they hadn't considered that there are other places to walk nearby?), and just kept getting better as we headed up the hillside opposite.

Mick found the walk up the track which took us over the pass and down to Inverlael rather unremarkable. I found it all rather nice, with the spectacular view of An Teallach being replaced with snow-topped peaks to the east as we popped over the top, not to mention the pretty waterfall we passed on the way.

Mick had commented a couple of days ago that, for a south-to-north walk, we seem to be heading east or west an awful lot. The route certainly does wiggle around a bit (understandably), and today we found ourselves heading south-east for a few miles, which is something of a counterintuitive direction, given the aim of our walk! We did get back onto a northerly heading with a horrible descent featuring fallen trees and dense gorse (ouch, ouch, prickle), and with a little bit of a walk along the main road we had finished our day's walking and needed to get into Ullapool to resupply.

It was laughable - the very moment we got to the point from where we needed a lift, all traffic heading to Ullapool disappeared. Minutes and minutes went by, with no sign of a vehicle.

Eventually some cars did come, and lots sped straight past the two scruffy backpackers ("They're missing out on meeting two people on an interesting adventure" we said).

As dispair was starting to set in, a battered landrover came along. "This will stop for us" said Mick, and so it did.

Contrary to laws about passengers being seated with seatbelts, we hopped into the back with a length of cast iron drainpipe, two wooden oars and a very nice dog. The very nice lady farmer gave us a lift the whole way to Tesco.

She even offered us a lift back out again, and was prepared to wait a little while for us to finish our shopping, if we were going to longer than her errands would take. We were very tempted to accept so as to make our lives easier.

In the end though, we opted to spend the night in Ullapool, and so are now pitched on the campsite, right on the loch-side with stunning views. Pity that the wind direction (and that's quite a keen breeze!) has dictated that we pitch in the other direction to the views.

At the moment we have no way (other than standing at the roadside and praying for a ride) to get back out to Inverlael in the morning, and tomorrow's a long day for which an early start would be welcome...

(Richard - with the ticks I didn't go clockwise or anti, I merely pulled gently. It's still quite early for midges, and hopefully the cold weather will have retarded their usual march towards world domination. We haven't seen any yet at any rate (and it'd be good if they could stay wherever they hide for winter for another week!)
Chris - so many superb hills around here, and so lucky that we've mainly had weather such that we can see them.
Sophie - how's Patch's noise phobia doing? Our fast-jet count for the trip stands at 4 so far - a Tornado somewhere back in England, 2 Hawks together just outside Ft Bill and another Tornado today. Seems remarkably few.
Ken - I recall Moby the Haddock, but hadn't recalled that it was at Kintail Lodge. We only had the soup at lunchtime (having already lunched once), but would willingly have gone back in the evening had a lift been available.
Conrad - it had occurred to us a week or so ago, passing by all these magnificent Munros, that you must have been in all of these places. All the best for France; we look forward to hearing about it, and I assume that you'll be blogging it?)

Post blog note: transport for the morning is sorted, so I don't need to spend the night fretting about that.

Post-post Blog Note: I just laundered all of our clothes with a proper dose of whatever powdered detergent was in the machine in the laundry. I'm now sitting here in a pub and all I can smell is 'clean'. That's not something to which I have been accustomed!
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Day 51 - Kinlochewe to beyond Loch an Nid

Thursday 13 May (0920-1530)
Distance: 14.5 miles (Tot: 874 miles)
Weather: mainly grey with a few drops of light rain

It probably goes without saying that the weather has a big impact on my perception of how good a day's walking has been. Generally, when I make an exclamation about what a good day we've had, it's on a day when the weather has been fine. Give the hills a shroud of cloud, or force our heads into our hoods, and suddenly the surroundings become a lot less stupendous.

To counter that generalisation, today's walk was a mighty fine one even though it was a bit of a grey day, with cloud often shrouding the higher tops.

It was a day of comparisons, what with it being the same route that we walked on our way to John O'Groats. If you look at my blog for the previous rendition of this walk you'll see that it was rather a wet one, with the streams in spate and the waterfalls being shown in all of their glory.

Today, it was a completely different walk. The first notable thing was that the waterfall at the Heights of Kinlochewe was more of a trickle than a fall, and so continued the day, with all of the falls I recall, today being absent.

It made the going even easier than previously too (unsurprisingly). Having ambled our way on the good track and then good path to the significant body of water that is Lochan Fada, up to Loch Meallan an Fhudair we headed.

I'd paused to put my over-socks on before we headed up there, but the going was reasonably dry. I felt sure, however, that we would be tackling man-eating bogs as we flattened out and then on the way down to Loch an Nid, in between which there were two stream crossings.

We didn't exactly skip across the plateau of the spur, past the little loch, as hags tend to rule out skipping, but no legs were lost in the wet stuff and soon we were approaching the two streams. Easy-peasy. Without any need to ferret around for a suitable crossing point we stepped from one stone to another and were across.

The descent down the stream from the bealach to the loch stuck in our minds as being quite awful and very boggy indeed. Obviously that was a result of the previous two and a half week's rain in 2008, as today we merrily crossed back and forth across the stream where the fancy took us and with speed faster than I could comprehend to have been possible we were at the bottom. We didn't even bother to seek out the path which was slightly to the west of our line. There certainly was extensive squelchiness on the line we took, but all avoidable if you picked your way carefully, such that even in my mesh-topped Terrocs, I didn't get a shoe full of water at any point.

Loch an Nid is a stunning loch, with the massive slate slabs on its west side, and I commented in 2008 that I'd like to see the sight in good weather. Better though it was today, the cloud was quite low as we reached there, so I'd still like to return on a sunny day. For the avoidance of doubt, and contrary to my record to date, I don't intend to walk another end-to-end in order to pass this way again!

The path alongside the loch and beyond was far wetter than I recall. (Mick points out that by that point two years ago our feet were so wet that we weren't bothering to try to avoid any wet bits.) Even with the dampness of that path today, I did manage to avoid a shoe-full of water, right until our pitch for the night was within view.

With the prize within my view I, rather foolishly, headed the direct route towards it, which involved wading through a very sizeable bog. Ooops.

Arriving so early at the end of the day, and without being taxed on the way here, we could easily have carried on, but the pitch here is so lovely that it couldn't be passed by.
So, up we popped the tent, on a lovely area of short grass, right on the edge of the stream, and facing An Teallach. There are far worse places to spend the night, I'm sure!

It's going to be an early night tonight, with the aim of an early start tomorrow, not because we have a long walk, but because it would be nice to reach Ullapool at an early hour so that the re-stocking and chores don't have to be rushed.

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Wednesday 12 May 2010

Day 50 - Attadale to Kinlochewe

Wednesday 12 May (0720-1640)
Distance: 23 miles (Tot: 859.5 miles)
Weather: glorious. V cold night; daytime warm only when in sun and out of wind.
Number of people seen out walking/cycling in vicinity of Coulin: 18
Number of people we saw out walking in 7 day period last time we passed through Coulin: 0

Last night I looked at the map for today and pointed out that we had an easy day ahead of us, particularly as we had already walked 1.5 miles of it and the rest was mainly on roads and tracks. I suggested that if we ran two days together we could reach Kinlochewe and reward ourselves with a B&B.

Mick gave me one of his 'what's up with this woman constantly trying to push us ahead of schedule' looks and declined to commit to any change in plan until we had achieved the planned end point of the day. Fair enough, I said.

There was not a cloud in the sky as we set out this morning, which made Lochcarron, across the other side of the mirror-still Loch Carron, look absolutely idyllic.

Along the road we marched, past the restaurant in Carron which wasn't open to serve us second breakfast, and onwards to Strathcarron, where the tea room was equally shut. That was unfortunate because I'm permanently hungry at the moment (another reason for pushing on to Kinlochewe tonight - a big meal tonight and a cooked breakfast in the morning).

For a while then we were off-road, along the river and through a forest, before joining another A road - this one of the single-track with passing places variety, which at least made most of the cars drive more sedately than you might expect on an A road.

Having positively steamed along (best to get the road walking over with, we thought), we arrived at the turn for Achnashellach and decided that it would be appropriate to have elevenses, even though our food breaks seemed to be coming close together today.

They then got ridiculously often when, not five minutes later, we saw the sign saying 'Teas' outside the Station House.

A sojourn was had drinking tea, eating hot, buttered crumpets and chatting to the very nice owners, until finally we concluded that if we were going to make it to Kinlochewe then we ought to get on with it.

A change of route had been decided at some point in the morning (in a definite move towards the long-day option), as we decided that our progress would be faster if we popped over the Coulin Pass. The distance looked about the same, but tracks would speed us along, whereas the going on our planned route was unknown.

The distance became a little longer thanks to forestry works closing a section of the track up to the pass, but that simply meant taking the lower track until we hit the old pony path (which we followed 2 years ago) - a nicer, if slightly longer route through the forest.

Things got busy with walkers and cyclists once we were over the pass, and as we levelled out in the glen, next to the river Coulin, we couldn't believe how the raging torrent next to which we had camped in 2008 was just a trickle of a stream today.

Notwithstanding having had breakfast, second breakfast, elevenses and second elevenses, we felt that a pause for lunch was still called for, so next to the river we parked ourselves for a while.

Considering the map over lunch (the map not being required as a table today, as rocks performed the job nicely), we thought about our route into Kinlochewe. Mick recalled that our previous route was a lot of hard work for little reward (I'd blanked that out, but having this evening looked at my blog for that day, I see that Mick's recollection was correct). Then we noted that the alternative route, to follow a track down to the road, and then the road into Kinlochewe was only a mile longer.

We took the easy route (for which my rather sore achilles was very grateful; it's not quite back to where it was in week 2, but it's not liking hills just now). The easy route turned out to have its own rewards - namely a spectacular close-up view of Beinn Eighe and an equally impressive view of the impenetrable-looking Liatach.

With less than a mile to go, I was starting to feel the effects of a lengthy day of hard surfaces, and called for a five minute break to air my pounding feet.

Into Kinlochewe we went, noticing that both of the B&B's on the way in, the details of which I had noted on the itinerary, were full. The one we'd called the other side of the village was full too. It was looking like we might end up in the bunkhouse, although first we went and batted our eyelids at the caravan site which so kindly let us stay in 2008. This year's warden is not as accommodating as the one we'd met before. She was shaking her head before the batting of eyelids was done.

There was just one other B&B, and to it we went. The landlady (she's definitely a landlady, rather than a host) looked us up and down and I really thought that she was going to deny the truth of the 'vacancies' sign. She did let us in, on condition that we take off our 'boots' (which after a few miles on road were almost sparkling with cleanliness). Not an unreasonable request, so into our room we were shown. A few minutes later we were being served with tea and warm Scotch pancakes (with jam and cream) in the living room and a dinner reservation was being made for us at the hotel.

A very fine three courses of dinner have been had, and now we shall go to bed for a comfortable (warm!) night, looking forward to a lie in and a big breakfast in the morning.

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Reasons to walk the same path twice

We walked over the Coulin Pass to Kinlochewe on our LEJOG. Walking it today we both agreed that we hadn't seen this view before.

It was raining on that day, which may explain why. Today conditions were a little more favourable.
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Coldest night yet

Thought it was a bit nippy! Just had a battle to get the lid off the iced-up water bottle to put the kettle on.

With not a cloud in the sky, the sun will soon hit us and thaw us out.

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Tuesday 11 May 2010

Day 49 - Morvich to Attadale

Tuesday 11 May (0830-1745)
Distance: 18.5 miles (Tot: 836.5 miles)
Weather: showers (rain, snow, hail, snow, hail, hail, snow, sun!, rain, sun!, rain); cold
Number of really spectacular waterfalls: 1

It was a later than intended start today. The alarm went off at the usual hour, but after snoozing it three times I decided that I didn't much fancy getting up, and so turned it off and snuggled down.

An hour later I managed to drag myself away from down-heaven and out into the big wide world I crawled - to find that above 200m the world had turned monochrome, in contrast to the green of the valley.

The smattering of snow was already melting as we set out (and we would have been away 10 minutes earlier except that having put our packs on we noticed the rain heading our way and paused to don waterproof trousers).

Our first objective of the day was the Falls of Glomach, 5.5 miles away, and we soon gathered by the sign-posting and the very well trodden path that it's a popular walk from Morvich.

It's no easy stroll though, topping out at around 1700 feet (and made a bit tricker today by snow and hail being hurled at us by a head-wind as we reached the pass).

The falls are impressive, and so big and located such that I couldn't get the whole thing in one photo. In fact, the only way to see the bottom of the fall was to go to the lowest viewing area and stand perilously close to the edge. With the wind coming from behind, I didn't pause in that position long enough to take a photo.

Having admired the falls over elevenses, the task of finding our route down was before us, and it seemed likely that it would be equally well trodden. So it was, but it took us a short while to find it; perhaps looking at the map would have been a good idea, rather than working on the basis of 'well we should be able to see it'!

That path down to Glen Elchaig from the falls was not for vertigo sufferers, and Mick repeatedly reminded me to be careful. He obviously didn't think I was heeding him when I stood on a wet stone and my leg shot out from under me. It wasn't at one of the perilous points in the path, and I did spring back up, but sporting a rather wet seat and with cold water dripping down my leg - never pleasant.

In the glen we took advantage of one of the rare sunny periods and hid behind a wall for lunch, and found that when in the sun and out of the wind it was quite warm. Ten minutes after setting off again, I had everything back on as the temperature plummetted as more rain hit us (overtrousers on, overtrousers off, repeat - a bit of a theme of the day).

After chatting to an Australian shepherd in Killilan, who is looking forward to going back home to a more agreeable climate in a few weeks time, we veered off the road again for our last climb of the day.

Approaching the top Mick seemed to put something of a sprint on and it was all I could do to huff and puff and keep up with him. Finally slowing as the terrain flattened at the top I asked if there was some sort of race, as he doesn't usually go that fast even on the flat.

He grinned and said there was a race. Looking at his watch he said "I wanted to get to the top by 5pm and it's now 5 exactly".

A rather more sedate stroll was had through some neglected-looking forestry, and then we had reached the end of our day. We had already decided, however, looking at the map earlier, that it looked like the camping would be much nicer if we continued on down to Attadale, so that's what we did.

We're pitched by the river, in a place that I'm not convinced is entirely proper, being in a lush, enclosed field. It's not being used for anything else though, so hopefully no-one will mind us occupying the corner overnight.

(News of the new shoes: I didn't carry my old ones beyond Morvich, but put all of my faith in the new ones. I did put the old ones in my pack, but with all the food in there they didn't fit too well, so in the bin they went. Happily, the new ones have been just fine today.)

(Stephen/Mike: well done on your K2B performances and glad the weather wasn't unkind to you this year.
Dawn/Martin R: it is indeed a splendid area, and enjoying it we are.
Odyssee: re. following the train line on the Ft Bill day - I have no idea and that map is now long gone!)
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Monday 10 May 2010

Day 48 - Kinloch Hourn to Morvich

Monday 10 May (0720-1545)
Distance: 13 miles (Tot: 818 miles)
Weather: snow showers and cold
Number of llama seen: 6

After our comfortable night in the 'annex', we were off this morning in search of a bit more uphillness.

We found it quickly. The track up from Kinloch Hourn being probably the most continuously steep vehicle track up which I've ever walked. It helped us to gain some height quickly, and after 800 feet had been gained it all became much more gentle.

The track lasted until exactly where the map said it would expire, then it was a yomp up to the pass, but thanks to the dry conditions prevailing, it wasn't too bad - and at first it was still reasonably gentle.

Then it all became much more steep, but I excelled myself again in my refrain from whinging and by and by up to the top we got. In fact, we landed on the col a bit higher than its lowest point.

Two options were then in front of us. We could descend to re-ascend to get to the right valley, or we could contour around. My vote of contouring prevailed and away I skipped across the rocks with Mick (unusually) trailing in my wake (he usually trots along whilst I plod behind).

Contouring turned out to be a good choice, as what should we find, hiding behind a ruin of a dry-stone wall, but a path - and going in the right direction too.

With a northerly wind, the day had been rather nippy right from the start, but up at over 2000', as we were, it was bitter. Freezing, said the thermometer on the back of my pack.

Then the snow, which had been falling very very lightly on us for most of the morning, became a proper snow/hail shower, obliterating most of the view.

It was just as the shower had almost blown through (and just as I finally got a phone signal - I nearly froze my hand off sending those last 3 blog posts) that a chap happened along the path.

He was a very nice man by the name of Robert (the only person we saw out today; he was headed up The Saddle), with whom we chatted for a while, as the sun briefly came out and the Five Sisters revealed themselves to us in all their glory.

The chat established that one option we had was to keep on the path, which would lead us down to the road, but with the downside that it would have been a walk down the nasty main road into Shiel Bridge. The option we took was the plotted route: to veer off the path and follow the burn down to the valley. It's a lovely burn, with falls and pools, so it made a good walking companion as we made our way down.

Once all of the burns converged, a path was picked up which sped us pleasantly along to Shiel Bridge where the man who served us in Shiel Stores behaved like he doesn't like having customers (he should walk from Sourlies to Kinloch Hourn, that'd cheer him up!).

By contrast, the lady who served us in Kintail Lodge was as friendly as they come. The soup we had there was so good that compliments were sent to the chef, and the pot of tea was endless. And what did we do after enjoying the hospitality there, but do a runner without paying the bill <blush>!

It was a complete accident. Mick thought I'd paid when I ordered. I thought he'd paid when I'd been in the toilet.

Having not realised until we were nearly at the campsite we made it a priority on arriving to phone them with our credit card details. They were very grateful for our honesty, particularly as they'd not noticed our omission!

Rain and hail came in persistently as early evening came, but that's okay because the tent was already up and we discovered that the campsite has a heated lounge with garden chairs and a TV. We're ensconced there, about to tuck into our tea - always nice to be able to eat without being hunched over in the tent (I'll have to go back to the tent soon, mind and sort out the unfortunate rupture of a bag of muesli which has occurred rather messily in my food bag...)

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New Shoes!

If you cast your minds back 450 miles, when we were in Halifax, I switched from my Salomon XA Pros, which had aggravated my achilles, to a pair of Inov8 Terrocs, which were the only shoes I could find that were sufficiently low cut to avoid the swollen bit of tendon.

My past experience with the durability of Inov8 has not been good, and the problem is always the same: I wear through the inside of the heels.

This pair was no exception, except that they lasted much longer before they holed (and when they did hole those holes didn't cause any rubbing, as has been a problem in the past).

With those holes having appeared, a week ago I decided that they wouldn't last the distance (although I wouldn't be surprised if I could have got another 50 or 100 miles out of them - the uppers are fine and there's still some sole left). Vic came to the rescue and ordered a new pair for me, to meet me here in Morvich.

Today I picked up my new shoes, and horror of horrors, I've found that the design has changed!

On further inspection, it looks like the changes will be for the better. In particular, the stiff bit at the side of the ankle, which I've always found to dig into my ankle bone when side on to a hill, has been lowered, with extra padding making up the rest of the height.

Just to be sure, I'll carry my old pair for a couple of days before I bin them. In the meantime I'll try not to obsess about how stiff and new the new pair feel. The old pair were worn in so nicely that they really were like slippers.
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Day 47 - Sourlies to Kinloch Hourn

Sunday 9 May (0700-1645)
Distance: 16 miles (Tot: 805 miles)
Weather: fair/fine; some sun, some showers.
Number of ticks found crawling over me: dozens
Number of ticks found embedded: 2

If I thought that yesterday was a good day - well, today was good enough to make even the glummest of hillwalkers smile.

And to think it was a day that I thought would be monstrously difficult and on which we would find ourselves stopping short (actually, we have stopped short, but out of choice and circumstance, not due to lack of time or energy).

So, how did this magnificent day pan out?

Well, it started early. As difficult as I believed the day would be, an early start seemed wise, so it was before 6 when I first emerged from the tent. Numbers at Sourlies had swollen after we had gone to bed, so there were 9 tents dotted around, but it was all quiet at that hour and the view out into the loch, with the sun on the furthest hills, was stupendous.

By 7am we were walking, just as the edge of the first shower of the day passed through, and a couple of hours later we found a path (trods had been followed to that point). It seemed likely that we could have joined the path sooner, but although a touch squelchy underfoot, the way we had taken wasn't overly taxing.

Even when we did find the path, we kept losing it, only to rejoin it, look back and see that it had been there all along. By the footprints, we weren't the only ones to have had the same issue!

The real delight came when we climbed out of the valley and hit the path running up to Mam Unndalain.

As is always the case in Scotland, there's no way of knowing whether the black dotted line on the map really will translate to a path on the ground and today I had assumed that we would be pathless for most of the day.

Not only was there a path running up over the pass and into Gleann Unndalain, but it was one of the nicest paths imaginable. The impression I got was that it was an old packhorse road, but it was certainly old and blended very well into its surroundings.

Often clinging to the edge of the hill, it wended its way oh so gently up to our high point of the day of just under 550m.

I already had a grin on my face, and was skipping along, but didn't expect the path to continue down the other side.

It did, and with stunning views opening out over Barrisdale Bay we made our way down to Barrisdale, where we unexpectledly found a bothy (a private one with electric, running water and a toilet!). Mick was all for having lunch there; I thought with such stunning surroundings it would be nice to sit out. Mick pointed out that sitting on a chair at a table would be rather comfortable, so that's what we did. We even brewed up a cup of tea.

By this time our accumulated ascent for the day was standing at 2500' and it was difficult to see how an 8-miles loch-side stroll could add the best part of 1500 more feet to that to take us to Anquet's stats for the day.

The answer was that it was an undulating loch-side path, but once again an absolute delight to walk (even if towards the end I was wondering if the end of the loch would ever come into view!).

The icing on the cake appeared in the shape of a sign saying 'Tea Room' outside of the building opposite the car park at the road-end at Kinloch Hourn. Even better was the sign that said 'Open'.

Little did we know at that point that our day, which had already been magnificent, was going to get a great big, juicy cherry to go on top of the icing.

Sipping our cups of tea, we got chatting to the owner, Joe. We mentioned that we were going to camp somewhere nearby and were told where the local camping spot was and that a £1 charge would be collected by the Stalker. Ideal, we thought, and with our camping area only 100 yards away we tarried quite a while chatting, during which time details of what we were up to came out.

Finally standing up to leave, Joe made us an incredibly kind offer. His B&B was full, but if we wanted, he had a disused annex where we could spend the night.

Oh, big grins all around! The 'annex' is massive (in fact, it's a house) and although long disused (there are gas lights on the walls and an Aga in the kitchen) it will serve us nicely for the night.

The generosity didn't end there. As well as tea and cakes, we were plentifully fed with an evening meal, and in a final act of thoughtful kindness before we turned in for the night, two steaming mugs of hot chocolate were delivered to us. I don't know whether Joe and Isabelle (hope I've got that name right!) can know quite how much their generosity and kindness has touched Mick and I. In return for everything we will be making an appropriate donation to Help for Heroes.

A truly magnificently superb day.

(You may have noted I've added weather and walking times to the stats at the top. On previous walks I've always written the blog and also hand-written a more detailed journal, the latter containing the additional details of start and end times and weather conditions. On this walk the length of our days made me abandon the detailed journal within the first week, but I've still been keeping a note of times and weather each today. It's taken until today for me to realise that rather than noting those items on paper separately, I could just put them on here. The timings are pretty meaningless, as they don't disclose whether faffs and breaks amounted to half an hour in the day or 3 hours, so don't read anything into them.)
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Day 46 - Glen Finnan to Sourlies

Saturday 8 May
Distance: 15.25 miles (Tot: 789 miles)
Audio accompaniment to the day: cuckoo, cuckoo, cuckoo, cuckoo (if it was chiming the hour it'd be 862 o'clock by now)

What an absolutely splendid day! I don't think there are superlatives enough to do it justice.

We awoke to a clear sky (and only a tiny touch of frost on the tent), which was setting off the surrounding hills nicely, albeit those hills were preventing the sun from reaching us.

Away up the glen we were striding before 7.30, trying to re-gain a little of the heat that we had lost in taking the tent down. We were soon warm from the effort, but it was over an hour later, as we reached the top of the glen, that we finally got the sun.

We may not have taken the most obvious line through the bogginess to drop down to Strathan, but our route worked as well as any. It was slow going though, and combined with numerous faffs (including a few "look at all those deer" pauses) it was looking like our short-mileage day was going to be long on hours.

The good track up Glen Dessarry sped us along, though, and when it ended the path was still perfectly obvious, even if it was a touch damp as much as it was dry. Much dancing around the worst bits was done to ensure that no legs were lost.

Still in awe of the views as we approached the top, an unexpected sight was seen - a vehicle coming towards us. It was one of those eight-wheeled all-terrain jobs and the occupants waved cheerily as they passed by.

By this time we had another person in our sights. A chap with an enormous backpack and with a carrier bag in each hand. It didn't strike us as the most comfortable way to carry an excess load, but it didn't seem to be bothering him and we never did catch up with him.

The ascent to the top of Glen Dessarry is a gentle (but wet - did I mention that it was wet?) one and the flat bit on the top goes on for ages. Then there was the descent (for part of which we took an 'interesting' route, and not one that I would necessarily recommend). My knees were grumbling and it seemed to me to be far more awkward than any other part of the day.

"Are you okay?" asked Mick, as usually I bound down hills. Perhaps my age is catching up with my knees? Or maybe it was the heavy bag ... must eat more food to lighten it!

Even if the knees were complaining and the nose feeling a little sunburnt, the day was still magnificent and it got even better when we got our first view down to Sourlies. What a special place it is.

The bothy was already full when we reached it, but with so many options for good pitches in the surrounding area that wasn't a problem.

A good chat has been had with some of the occupants, and a couple of other tents are now pitched (and nowhere near to us).

If someone could just shoot that damned cuckoo which was been following us all day, then all would be perfect!
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Day 45 - Fort William to Glen Finnan

Friday 7 May
Distance: 16.25 miles (Tot: 773.75 miles)
Number of ticks found on me: 1
Highest altitude reached today: a dizzying 52 metres.

I went on a ferry this morning!

That may not seem like an extraordinary declaration to anyone unaware of my intense dislike of boats.

It was quite horrible. It smelt like a ferry and it bobbed up and down like a ferry, even if it was only a tiny craft that took 10 minutes to cross Loch Eil from Fort William.

With the time of the first ferry (7.45) not being achievable if we wanted breakfast at our B&B (and we did want breakfast; most definitely), it was another leisurely start as the next ferry wasn't until 10am.

By quarter past we were walking; a 9.5 mile walk along the A821. As road walks go, it was rather nice. It may be an A road, but it's single track with passing places and not what I would call busy. Following the loch shore, it's as flat as a flat thing and the views really were quite something. Looking behind us, Ben Nevis was in view - even the top. I don't think that I've seen the top before.

From the end of Loch Eil I had plotted one of those routes that makes Mick ask "what made you think that this route would be possible?". On this occasion I had us going straight through a forest, without any path or track marked on the map, and as we all know, conifer plantations are not something that you can just bash through.

This wasn't one of my plotted-whilst-drunk routes (where I suddenly think that it is a good idea to bash through a conifer plantation). I recall having spent a while poring over aerial photos which told me that there was a break in the trees that ran the whole way through, and through that break we were going to walk.

The problem was always going to be locating the start of that break, and we were sidetracked by a track, which led us too high in the forest before stopping abruptly. Fortunately it stopped by a stream so it was a simple case of following that (quite delightful) stream down until the break was found.

With deer all over and the break featuring great knots of tall grass the issue of ticks sprang to mind and it wasn't a difficult decision to go for the always-attractive look of trousers tucked into socks. Standing back up from the tucking activity was when I spotted the tick crawling up my arm.

Our way through the forest turned out to be perfectly feasible. It was a bit of a bog-fest at times, but the deer had helped us by leaving some good trods, which often led us to the best way through.

Reaching a clearing much sooner than expected (we were making good time) I declared that we only had a third of a mile to go. It was a hard-won third of a mile, though, as the reason for that clearing became apparent: it hadn't been planted as it was a huge bog. Often a walking pole was lost a foot and a half down as we tried to pick a route through that wouldn't see either of us disappear to the waist.

After an interesting interlude in what would otherwise be a day of road walking, we were back on tarmac, this time on the big, proper A road. It later became apparent that the road walking (only a mile and a half) could have been avoided, but again it wasn't busy and there was a good verge.

The walk up Glen Finnan was done with my jaw on the floor. What an absolutely stunning place it is.

We walked so far up the glen and spotted another tent. "That looks like a good place to pitch" we thought, so we went an pitched next to it.

No, really, we did!

But, being outside of a bothy, I don't think that's an unacceptable thing to do (and by 'next to' I actually mean as far away as we could get whilst still being on the flat grassy bit).

It's Corryhully bothy we're at, which has electric lights and a kettle, and I'm typing this sitting outside in the late afternoon sunshine with the most tremendous blue-skied views all around. It's not a bad place to be, you know...

(Just looking through the bothy book I see that Phil & Tini were here last November. Coming through on the Challenge, eh?)
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Thursday 6 May 2010

Day 44a - Glen Nevis to Fort William

Thursday 6 May
Distance: 2.5 miles (Tot: 757.5 miles*)

I'm not actually counting this as a day of the walk. It's a rest day. However, because tonight we're treating ourselves to a B&B, we did make a whole 2.5 miles forwards progress down the road to Ft William.

With under an hour of walking required, a lie-in was in order, which made it rather annoying that I was wide awake at 5.30! I lay listening to the rain on the tent; rain that I suspect had been falling all night. Rain was okay though, as we didn't have to venture out into it.

A couple of hours later, just as I was thinking about performing the laundry chores, a hint of blue sky appeared. It turned out to be a fine day.

We managed to vacate the campsite just a few minutes before the noon expiry time on our pitch and it wasn't long later that we were in the town having lunch.

"We're doing a lot of walking for a rest day" pointed out Mick as we did several rounds of Fort William on various errands, before eventually settling down into the comfort of our B&B.

Housekeeping has since been performed, trying to book some beds further north so as to break up some long strings of wild camps. It's not been easy, and the end result of what we were able to book means that I'm going to have to forego a meal at the Kylesku Hotel (which is already fully booked for the day we'll be passing), which has been on the schedule from the outset. :-(

Talking of food (it's much on our minds), we'll be setting out with heavy bags in the morning. We are now at the point where we could happily eat a horse and still be hungry, and so with four days worth of food on board (which seems to feature more muesli bars than can be reasonable) we'll be groaning as we don the packs in the morning.

(Karen - I'll check out your blog when we get back into the land of computers and internet access. Hope you had a good time though, and that everything went well.
Robin - it's going equally fast from our point of view! It only seems like a couple of days ago that we crossed the border into Scotland.
Richard - alas, no. I was so busy organising the logistics of the walk that I fell at the last hurdle of organising a postal vote. Wonder if we'll have a phone signal tomorrow to find out the outcome (assuming there's not going to be a clear result by early morning).)

* I've a feeling I might have gone slightly awry with my cumulative mileage calculation somewhere. Never was much good at simple sums! I also looked in a WHW guidebook today, which suggested that yesterday's walk was 21 miles rather than my 19 miles estimate. Didn't feel that long to me, so I'm sticking with the smaller mileage for now.
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