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 September 2021

Carn Faire nan Con, Torr Achilty and Cnoc Mor

Carn Faire nan Con (370m; NH395591)
Starting Point: Layby on A835, 400m north of the obvious access track for this hill.
Distance and Ascent: 5.5km; 330m
Weather: Dry but mainly overcast

The first of three out-and-back hills today. Mick, scarred from yesterday's experience, opted to sit this one out so I was on my lonesome as I huffed and puffed my way up the pylon-maintenance track that was to lead me a good distance towards my hill. On reaching the high point of the track I was heartened to see a faint ATV track leading through the heather and tussocks that lay between me and my hill. It didn't remain helpful for very long, then it was a slog through pretty rough terrain, during which I wondered whether I'd accidentally dropped my hill fitness somewhere on my way up. Or maybe I just lost it over the last couple of months. Either way, it was a harder ascent than it ought to have been.

The fine viewpoint of the summit was, however, worth the effort:

Excuse the fact that I'm obscuring the view in the first snap.

A retracing of steps (more or less) had me back at Bertie ready for elevenses, but as the layby didn't have any separation from the fast-moving traffic, I put a pause on coffee and butteries, and we headed off to a forestry car park near Contin.

Torr Achilty (252m; NH447550)
Starting Point: Forestry car park N of Contin.
Distance and Ascent: 5.5km, 250m
Weather: Some sunny intervals, and the edge of a shower right near the end.

By the time we'd moved to this car park and had elevenses, it was lunchtime, but thinking this would be a quick 1-hour job*, I postponed lunch until my return.

Mick came with me as we walked back to the main road, across to the track-end where most people park for this hill, and up the farm track to the point where I stepped over a fence to attack the hillside. Mick then turned back, as I headed off into the bracken.

Thanks to cattle, there were easy routes to be found through the bracken, and the initial going once I reached the natural woodland wasn't bad either. It was only as I was reaching the top edge of the woods that the going became really rough. Routing myself such that I had to negotiate a couple of very small crags didn't help, nor did the fact that I was stopping far too often to flick a dozen or so ticks (each time) off my trousers. Definitely the biggest tickfest I've ever encountered!

The easy-going bit of the woodland

It was only once I was on the small plateau that the heather was short enough to make the going easy, but by then it was just a hop, a skip and a jump to the cairn marking the high point.

What views! I'm not sure Mick would have appreciated the roughness of the upper reaches of the woods, but he certainly would have enjoyed the views from up there.

I wondered as I set off back down whether any of the showers I could see would hit me. Obviously, I hoped they wouldn't, but at the same time, given the forecast, I couldn't believe I'd stayed dry thus far.

The descent seemed as slow as the ascent had been, as I picked my way carefully down, until finally I was able to hop a fence back onto the track.

About half way along that track the rain finally hit me and although not heavy it looked like it was going to last long enough to warrant some waterproofing. I opted for my 'disposable' (allegedly; I've had it since 2008!) poncho. An underrated item, I reckon, as it kept both me and my pack dry, even if I undoubtedly looked a bit silly wearing it. 

(*1hr36 was what it took. Surprisingly over 15 minutes slower than the first hill, even though it was the same distance.) 

Cnoc Mor (269m; NH490569)
Starting Point: Forestry car park at Blackmuir Wood, at the S end of Strathpeffer.
Distance and Ascent: 3.25km; 170m
Weather: Dry with some sunny intervals

I could happily have left this hill until tomorrow, but having decided to comply with Forestry Scotland's polite requests not to park in their car parks overnight, and with the absence of other overnight options nearby (that we knew of, at least), it made sense to do this hill today.

It was by far the easiest of the trip. Aside from the short distance and small amount of ascent, there was a path the whole way (even if I did initially walk about ten paces past it as it left the forest track).

Alas, there wasn't a view from the top...

I reckon this was the highest point, although I did also visit the trig point, which is a bit bleached out, but just visible on the other side of the fence.

...but I didn't have to detour far to be able to see beyond the trees:

Another retracing of the steps took me back to Bertie, although not without pausing for a few snaps of the wood carvings outside one of the houses alongside the forest track:

Just a small representation of the collection; I would guess that the owner has a chainsaw and an artistic bent.

Incidentally, we would have gone up Ben Wyvis (Munro) today, if it hadn't been for such an unfavourable forecast. I know I didn't go high today, but based on my observations, the weather would have been perfectly acceptable to head up above 1000m. Harrumph.

Wednesday 29 September 2021

Mount Eagle (Black Isle; NH648590; 256m)

Start Point: Car Park on the A832 just E of Munlochy.
Distance: 17.2km
Weather: Mainly fine and sunny, but with a few drops of rain from a nearby shower when we reached the trig point.

I've put some navigational notes at the bottom of this post. Whatever you do, don't follow out outward route to the summit. The return route is definitely the way to approach this hill!

We contemplated driving up the little yellow roads to reach the car park nearest to this hill, but my brief look on StreetView suggested that might be a bit stressful in a Bertie-sized vehicle, and anyway, we were happy to make a longer outing of it, starting at the main road. (Having now travelled those roads on foot: they're perfectly wide enough, with plentiful passing places and we would have had no issue taking Bertie up there).

The amount and speed of traffic on the main road was off-putting, but a small section of what was once, according to the map, a railway bed, allowed us to avoid all but a little bit along the busy road, before we turned off onto the minor roads (which were surprisingly well used, but not problematically so). We jogged the flats and downs and walked the ups, until eventually we reached the big mast and the entrance to the forest.

Once on the forest track, left at the first junction, then right at the T-junction were the directions I'd noted, but on reaching the T-junction it looked like maybe the muddy track opposite us, recently made by heavy felling machinery, may be of use. I had a little look and decided against, continuing instead to the small masts.

There we made (in hindsight) a bad decision, opting to follow a trodden line, then another forestry-works track, to skirt the hill to approach the summit from the NE. Here's a more detailed map snippet of that section of the outing, showing quite how circuitous a route we took:

The trig point was our objective. 

We were within 100m of the trig point when we left the fire break and headed into the trees... 

Trying to find our way through the trees, picking our way over the monster lumps and troughs of the old stumps, all nicely disguised by a bed of heather. 

...I think that it then took us (incredibly and ridiculously!) over 30 minutes of thrashing around to get within 20m. At that point I did something I've never done on a hill before: I'd carried my jeans with me and now I put them on (on top of my running tights). We'd reached the dense gorse I'd read about, which turned out to be head-high in places. The jeans (and in Mick's case his walking trousers) provided valuable protection to the legs.

Fortunately we didn't do any more walking around in circles, but managed to dead-head to the clearing in which the trig point sits. 

The 'clearing' was clear of trees, but not from out-of-control gorse. 

Summit Selfie. No photo of the view, because this is a Marilyn without a view.

We weren't daft enough to go back the way we'd come. Instead we followed the trodden line, which was faint in the extreme, but brought us out without any prickling, thrashing, ducking or clambering, on the mud track, from recent forestry works, that I'd discounted on our way up (although even if we had gone that way there's no chance at all that we'd have spotted the faint line and cut off into the trees in the right place).

There we stopped to remove our extra trousers and jogged back down to Bertie, taking a slightly shorter route having decided that the track opposite which he was parked (which looks on the map like a farm track, that heads straight through a farmyard, and thus would be excluded from Scottish access rights) is actually a public road. Whether or not that assessment was correct, we made it through without being accosted by person or animal.

With the complete lack of a view from the summit and the issues with reaching it in the first place (admittedly we didn't make the job easy for ourselves with our approach choices), this hill has the distinction of going straight into my "Top 10 Worst Hills Ever".

(Navigational notes: At the T-junction SW of the summit (at NH64759 58739) go straight on, following the righthand edge of the felled area. With trees again on both sides, at a tree-stump (ha! Good luck with identifying the right one!) at about 64873 58936 head off left into the trees. The line on the ground is really faint, but it leads to, and continues through, the gorse-hell clearing. If taking this line extra trousers aren't currently required, as the trodden line continues through the gorse reducing the prickling potential.)