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]

Tuesday 8 October 2019

Creag Liath (NH663007; 743m)

I've mentioned before on this blog that my shin muscles have very short memories. I only have to take my eye off the hills for five minutes and the next time I go up (or, more accurately, come down) a hill, they'll spend the next few days sorely protesting.

We thus found ourselves at the road end above Newtonmore yesterday afternoon, with the hill I wanted to go up looking like this...

The one under the orange arrow

...but with my shins too sore to contemplate the outing. Probably a good thing as not long after I took this photo one heck of a squall came through (one of a succession, interspersed with sunshine), battering Bertie with wind and rain. I was glad not to be out in that. The drowned rats who returned to the vehicle next to us later in the day probably wished they hadn't been either.

Today's forecast was generally worse than yesterday's, but there was a window of 'not too bad' due between 8 and 11am. I set the alarm for 6.30.

The alarm sounded and Mick groaned. It was early, dark and raining (as it had been all night). I quickly reassured him that he didn't have to come with me if he didn't want to and he didn't take any persuading to stay in bed whilst I breakfasted and threw some things into a bag.

The sun was a long way from making it over the hills to the east as I made my way along the River Calder.

I went anticlockwise

You can see from the map snippet above that I'd not gone far along the track when I took a detour. This was the obstacle:

A poor snap of an unexpected ford (taken on the way back)

There's been a lot of rain since Saturday afternoon and what would otherwise be an innocuous trickle down the hillside had created a sizeable ford. In hindsight, I should have just splashed straight through, as I ended up wading further upstream anyway. Or maybe I should have tippy-toed across a couple of rocks just downstream of the ford, as I did on my way back.

As I approached the fork in the track a while later, I conteplated my options: out and back via the shortest route, or to walk significantly further to make a lollipop of it? Surveying the hill from that vantage point, I opted for the easier (but further) ascent route so splashed my way up a rough track that was doing a good impression of a river.

I'd not gone very far when I started doubting my belief that there was a bridge at the far end of the track. With so much water in such a tearing hurry to reach the sea, in the absence of a bridge I would be turning back with my hill unbagged.

I was thus happy when this came into sight...

...although in my efforts not to get my phone wet (a light shower was passing at this point) I completely failed to capture the roiling water directly underneath the bridge.

Leaving a sodden ATV track at a point that was probably a couple of hundred yards later than the optimum point, the going up to the summit was pretty easy. However, this was the point where I started to wonder whether mesh trail runners had been the right choice, as my toes temporarily turned into blocks of ice following their plunging into so many pools of cold water. (Hindsight: yep, they were a perfectly good choice. The cold toes only lasted a few minutes before they warmed back up).

A few wisps of cloud were tickling the summit when I got there and I could see rain approaching. I stayed long enough to snap photos...

Summit selfie

Summit view

... and have a quick text message chat with Mick (who could see me atop my summit without having to move from his seat in Bertie), then I popped my waterproof gloves back on and set off down the more direct descent route.

It was rough, steep* and sodden, confirming that although it probably would have been faster to go up that way, it wouldn't have been as enjoyable. (*A slightly different line would have made it less steep, but with the rain coming down and my hands encased in chunky mittens, and with visibility being good, I opted not to navigate from the map but to just go in the right direction, which put me on steeper ground than was strictly necessary.)

Making my way back along the track towards Bertie I thought I was going to be able to dry off a little in the final half-mile, but the pause in the rain was brief. I couldn't complain too much - I'd had rain for maybe a third of the time I'd been out and the vast majority had been on my descent, when it had been on my back. The wind had been nowhere near as fierce as predicted either.

I made it back to Bertie at 10.35 and, as forecast, at around 11 the pattering on the roof increased noticeably. It hasn't yet stopped and isn't forecast to let up until midnight.

The stats were:
- 7.6 miles walked with around 460m ascent (2hrs45)
- Number of deer seen: dozens, all in small groups
- Number of stags heard bellowing: lots, including one standing on a prominent rock on the skyline and one at relatively close quarters as it chased three hinds.
- Number of hare seen: 7
- Number of frogs nearly trodden on: 1
- Number of frogs actually trodden on: none, I hope.


  1. Good to know two of the hills I have my eye on are perfectly do-able, thank you.

  2. In Scotland exposed paths, fords and other dramas hardly get a mention in guides (especially with the SMC) they reckon you should be able to take them all in your stride - if in The Lakes they would be well publicised and notorious. However with your pedigree such obstacles are capably sorted.