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]

Thursday 30 October 2014

GT Day 4: Creag Bheag from Kingussie

Thursday 30 October

I found myself stuck in a rut last night, although I don’t mean that in any negative sort of a way. The bellowing of the red deer stags started gently at around 6pm, as a large herd made their way down off the hill to graze the land adjacent to Colin. By 8pm they were really going for it, and I got a brief peak at them too, as a truck bearing a big spot-light came up the road. When I happened to wake at 4am, there was still some bellowing and counter-bellowing going on. Whilst I don’t usually like noisy neighbours, I quite liked these.

As dawn approached and (no doubt) the deer sidled away back up the hill, the weather changed. A pitter-pattering was heard and it didn’t seem like it was a good day for a fair-weather-walker. Nevertheless, I donned walking gear and re-positioned Colin into the car park at Kingussie from where, after more tea and a few ‘let the rain stop’ dances, I set off for a quick jaunt up the little hill which is Creag Bheag (my Gaelic isn’t up to much, but that’s ‘Little Rock’ isn’t it? Or am I confusing my Welsh ‘craig’ with an unrelated Gaelic ‘creag’?).

The initial walk through the woodland was nothing short of gloomy, and even out in the open on the summit the day was so dull that it was like it was dusk, rather than a good couple of hours after sunrise. On the plus side, I hadn’t yet been rained on, and the autumn colours (which I have been enjoying immensely during my drive north) were splendid. A lack of ability and adequate equipment meant that I failed to capture a good representation of their true colours, but here’s the best of a bad bunch of snaps:


Looking to the east, there was far more water in view than there should be, with the Spey in flood:


As tempted as I was to call it a very short walk, I reasoned that the weather was at least dry, even if not entirely inspiring, so I dropped off the north side of the hill and headed along the side of Loch Gynack. It was just along there that it started to rain, but I resisted the urge to turn back for a more direct return, and on I went.

Beyond the end of the Loch, the rain got the better of me, and I did decide to cut short, although at this point ‘cutting short’ mean climbing pathlessly over a shoulder, rather than taking a path around the base of the hill, so it’s debateable how much quicker my route was. It did, however, give me more interesting terrain on which to concentrate, and the reality was that it wasn’t hard going.

Almost back at Kingussie, I found myself climbing again (that path definitely didn’t follow the line shown on the map!), such that by the time I arrived (thoroughly dripping) back in the car park, I had walked a very modest 4.75 miles, with a surprising 1500’ of ascent. The second and third lumps on this elevation profile hadn’t featured at all in the intended route:


The day was still very young indeed by the time I arrived back, and after a brief tour of Kingussie in search of some postcards, Colin’s nose was again pointed north and the afternoon was reserved for total laziness. If I wasn’t being so lazy, I would probably go and explore Culloden Woods, adjacent to which I am parked, to go back to where our TGOC route went briefly awry, to see whether selecting the left fork at a particular junction would have made a difference.

Wednesday 29 October 2014

GT Day 3: A’Challeach

Wednesday 29 October

Leaving Tillicoultry yesterday afternoon, I didn’t head to my intended night stop. The clear skies combined with a good forecast for today convinced me that it would be a day to go high, and having chosen a suitably positioned Munro I decided that I needed to make it further north before parking up for the night. Dunkeld was where I decided to head, and my race to get there to find a parking spot before full darkness fell was only won by the smallest whisker. 

The moon shining down, as I manoeuvred into the car park, told me that it was going to be a cold night. In fact, even by just gone 5, the temperature was collapsing. This is the frosty view across the fields opposite the car park, taken at first light this morning (which also turned out to be the only photo I took today of any merit for sharing!):


Pointing Colin’s nose north once again at 7am, I arrived in the car park at the road-end above Newtonmore before 8.30, and after an unreasonable amount of faffing (not to mention a little tea drinking) off I set with the intention of a quick out-and-back bag of A’Chailleach.

The Garmin Gadget had been turned on ready to go, but I forgot to pick it up, and I missed the updates it gives me on progress (it trills every mile). Its absence (and my failure to look at my watch) also means I have no idea exactly what time I set off, nor what time I reached the summit, but neither fact is really important. The key fact is that I did reach the top (albeit not necessarily via the usual path), and that it was in cloud when I got there.

It probably would have been in cloud when I left too, if it hadn’t been for a chap from Elgin who reached the top about 30 seconds after me, as on my lonesome I would have just had a quick drink of tea and headed back down. With company, I sat and chatted for what was probably at least 20 minutes and maybe half an hour, such that by the time we parted ways, the views were opening up. Pity that I failed to take a single photo that does them justice!

The other benefit of the chatting was that I was now aware that if I had taken the cairned path I had passed early in my route (the one where I’d thought ‘I wonder if that’s the baggers’ path?’), then I would have benefited from a bridge to cross the Allt a Chaorainn, albeit with the warning that the path from there was ‘a bit boggy’. Given that my route had been rather boggy too, I decided to return via Elgin Chap’s ascent route, and nearly came a cropper as I stepped onto the slick wood surface of the bridge. The stones I’d used to hop across the river on the outward leg had been far grippier!

I was back at Colin in good time to be punctual in arriving for tea with Ali and Sue (TGO Challenge Co-ordinators, and owners of Newtonmore Hostel) and a very pleasant few hours were spent drinking tea and walking their dogs.

I’ve now moved on to another night-stop and as I type this with my fingers feeling the chill, I think it may be another cold night. If only that meant it was going to be another fine day tomorrow, but I understand that’s not to be the case :-(

GT Day 2: Ben Cleuch

Tuesday 28 October 2014

The weather forecast told me that as I drove north this morning, the band of heavy rain, which has been plaguing Northern Ireland and Scotland for the last couple of days, would move south, such that by the time I arrived in Tillicoultry (good place name!), the sun would be beating down on me.

Alas, as I arrived the cloud was still shrouding the tops and the windscreen wipers were still in action. A bit of time was killed in rejigging my walk and finding somewhere to park when it transpired that my intended parking spot was inaccessible due to a 3-day road closure that started yesterday, and a bit more time was killed with a cup of tea. By the time I set out at just gone noon, the tops were clear and the rain had stopped. Not quite the glorious blue skies I’d been hoping for, but I was more than happy to take the compromise.

Unrelentingly upwards went the path until, a shade after lunchtime (or at least, a short while after I paused out of the cool wind for lunch), I came to the top of The Law. That top gave stunning views, and the real treat was seeing what was to the north-west: a clear line of cloud marking the tail end of the weather front, behind which was clear blue skies, heading in my direction. I was also very taken with all of the lumps and bumps stretching out into the distance northwards, not to mention the various hues of green and brown of the landscape. Glorious!


Blue skies are on their way!

Scant pause was had a The Law, as I now had Ben Cleuch in my sights, and that promised ever more superb (superberer?) views.

I’ve probably made that sound like a hop, skip and a jump, but it had taken me longer to get up  there than I had anticipated and a quick review of the hours of daylight remaining suggested that completing the full circuit I had intended wasn’t wise. Instead, I opted for the ridge I had been eyeing up on my ascent – over Ben Ever, and down towards Wood Hill, before veering off to the east.

The ridge was good and the initial descent to the burn was fine, but that’s where things got ‘interesting’. The little (engineered, in the manner of big slabs of concrete, concrete steps and guard-rails) path took an excellent burn-side route (made more spectacular by the burn being full and in a hurry), but it clearly hadn’t been maintained for a very long time (since the 1970s, perhaps?!), and aside from evidence of a number of rock-falls littering the path, one of the many bridges was a bit dubious (although I’ve been over far worse) and there was one slab of concrete that had been undercut and now boasted a large hole in its centre. I was amazed that there were no health and safety warning signs on display at the start of the path.

All evidence suggests that one is only expected to take that path in an upwards direction, as when I got to the bottom, a firmly padlocked gate met me, beyond which were some large barricades, prohibiting access. Clearly, I wasn’t going to retrace my steps back up the hazardous path and thus a way had to be found past the barricades. A sign on the other side, when I got there, explained that the path had been closed for safety reasons, pending funding being found to make it safe. In what way is it acceptable to only mark a linear path as being closed at one end?

Anyways, all is well that ends well, and it ended very well indeed, as I returned to Colin under the promised clear blue skies, allowing me to look back and admire where I had been.


Taken from Colin just as I finished the walk. Lovely!

A simply glorious walk, with stats of 6.75 miles walked with 2700’ of ascent.

Monday 27 October 2014

The shoreline around Arnside

I’ll start with a very quick explanation as to the premise of this trip: Mick (still failing to get to grips with the concept of retirement) has gone back to work for a few weeks, and I’ve just come to the end of a project on which I have been working, so rather than spending the next couple of weeks repeating walks along our local paths, I decided to go on a bit of a tour (Gayle’s Tour, as I’m dubbing it). It’s not really a walking tour. I’m on my way up to Morayshire, to see Louise and David, visiting other friends on the way there and back, with the aim of also taking a little walk each day (provided the weather isn’t too horrible!).

The tour started early this morning; I was on the road at just gone 6.30, and after a few hours of driving and a bit of faffing over deciding where to park Colin, off I set for a walk around Arnside.

People were out aplenty as I set off from a few paces away from the railway bridge. Within the mile, I was on my lonesome, as I left behind the view of the bridge…IMG_7644

…and made my way along the shore line south-west to Blackstone Point:


Under heavy grey skies, which suggested that the forecast rain was going to soak me through before the morning was out, the views weren’t as they might have been, but it was it was still a mightily nice walk. (As it went, only a few spots of drizzle hit me and they were so innocuous as to justify me describing the walk as ‘dry’.)

Rounding Blackstone Point, the wind hit me, but it proved not to be an impediment for more than 10 minutes, as I then opted to leave the shore and make my way up to the path which runs a little higher up, through the woods.

Past Far Arnside, I ignored the line I had plotted on the map, partly because I’m lazy and wasn’t moved to walk the distance I had plotted, and partly because I’d spotted Arnside Tower and decided to go and take a look at it (it’s possible I’ve been there before, but if I have, I don’t recall the visit). In the absence of an information sign, Wikipedia has filled in a little of the detail of its history for me.


Ankle-deep slurry was the order of the day through the farmyard below where I followed the two-sides-of-a-triangle along which the footpath runs. I could easily have just trespassed along the third edge of the triangle and kept my boots clean.

Once through Middlebarrow Wood, farmland took me back to Arnside where Colin was sitting patiently where I’d left him. I swiftly pointed him in the direction of Conrad’s house, and a few hours were enjoyed supping tea, eating cake and talking maps, walks, plans and photos.

I’m glad that I made tracks as darkness approached (I’m a bit miffed that the clocks changed just before my tour; it would be much more useful to me to have the light in the evening rather than the morning) as tonight’s campsite is extremely dark and I would have struggled with the solo manoeuvre onto my original pitch had it been much later (as it went, I didn’t much like my original neighbours, so after dark I moved – but to a pitch with much better access).

Today’s stats: 6.6 miles with just 400’(ish) of ascent.

Sunday 12 October 2014