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 13 May 2019

TGO Challenge Day 3 - Cougie to NE of Loch Aslaich (Balmacaan Forest)

Sunday 12 May (0820-1750)
Distance: just short of 17 miles
Ascent: no idea
Weather: high level cloud coming and going but otherwise sunny.

Surprisingly, considering how closely pitched the eight tents were last night (guy lines crossing), it was quiet. I only heard one snorer and they were of the 'gentle' not the 'chainsaw' variety. We also only had a little bit of ice in our water this morning and no frozen socks or shoes.

Not wanting to risk disturbing anyone as we packed away we got a later start than usual, and it was a straight forward start to the day. The road (shown on the map as a public road, but giving all appearances of a track on the ground) from Cougie was supposed to take us the first two miles, but we didn't like the look of our intended route up through the forest from Garve Bridge so decided to take a flyer and risk being able to take a straight line through the forest opposite the Plodda Falls car park, to pick up a track 500m distant. Whilst the line we took in reality couldn't be described as straight, it did get us efficiently up to the track (i.e. quicker and with less effort than going the long way round to pick it up at Hilton Lodge, to then come back on ourselves).

As forest bashing goes, it was easy going. 

Some four or so miles later came our next "hope this works" section, as when the forest track dead-ended, we needed to continue another few hundred yards through the trees to exit the forest. Aerial photos made it look doable, and it was. We even made short work in scaling the deer fence that lay in our way (no swearing required for once!).

It said it was dangerous and we weren't to use it. Seemed fine to me. 

We were now in the Balmacaan Forest - a treeless area of largely unspoilt wild land, from most parts of which few man-made things can be seen. The big exceptions are two windfarms. The first one was only 5 turbines and pained us mainly because those turbines were the only things that marred the 180 degree view between NE and SW until we approached the summit of Meall a'Chràthaich. Aside from marring such a fabulous, otherwise unspoilt area, the wind farm track also lulled us away from our intended route. As we'd joined it we took a bearing and noted that it needed to swing right if it was going to be useful to us; we then completely forgot that and by the time we noticed we'd strayed significantly off route it was easier to continue on track than to put ourselves right across country. It added well over a mile to our day (albeit on easy tracks).

The track that lulled us waaaaay off course. 

Later we cut a mile off the distance when we decided it was too early to stop at the night-stop cited on our route sheet (an intended pitch that we later saw, from up high, would have been idyllic) so instead of going all the way to Loch ma Stac, we took a more direct line to the top of the Marilyn of Meall a'Chràthaich.

Gah! Wrong photo but this App doesn't allow me to delete. Still a reasonable illustration of this fabulous area. 

The wild nature of the next four miles of our route was superb, but hard and slow going, with a lack of any sort of trodden line through the heather, tussock and bog. By a mile and a half after the Marilyn we were ready to stop for the day and hoped for somewhere campable by the next lochan (there are so many lochs and lochans in this area - so attractive under the blue sky).

Of course, ungrazed, unmanaged land of this nature doesn't tend to be littered with suitable camping spots and over the next couple of miles we didn't find any patch of ground even vaguely suitable for pitching.

Between Loch nam Meur and Loch Aslaich an ATV track which made the going significantly easier, but by the latter body of water we were starting to get a bit desperate and our definition of 'campable' altered accordingly.

Leaving the track, we took to walking down the edge of the outflow burn, on the basis that the best pitches are usually found on the edge of a stream. Here all we could find were solid tussocks all crammed together. The options we considered were laughable, until finally I threw my poles down and said "here!". I had found a patch that would only result in one solid tussock and a few squishier ones, under the tent. I'm not sure it's the worst pitch we've ever had, but it's close. On the plus side, the location is nice, running water is conveniently close and we should get the sun early in the morning.

Lumpety bumpety


  1. Did you post three at once. I've just found them altogether?

    After all we've said about shortcuts through forests... Anyway it looks as though the gamble paid off. I'm looking forward to more. Experience shines through.

  2. The first time I had a good enough phone signal to post the blogs was in Drumnadrochit, hence three went up at once. I'm just about to post the next batch.

    I was surprised that Mick agreed to try the shortcut through the forest. Based on past experience he's always dubious when I suggest such things.