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]

Friday 21 May 2010

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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