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]

Saturday 9 September 2023

Gairbeinn (896m; NN460985), Geal Charn and Corrieyairack Hill

Thursday 7 September
Start Point: Small parking area at road end by Melgarve (which is some 5km beyond the road end as shown on current OS maps, but only around 1.3km beyond the road end shown on my 2011 map)
Distance and ascent: 16.1km, 854m
Weather: Glorious!

Another excellent weather forecast and my final opportunity for a hill on this trip. I opted for Gairbeinn, from Melgarve, to be tackled as a circuit with (yet another) Geal Charn and Corrieyairack Hill. Corrieyairack Hill is shown on the map as being the same height as Gairbeinn, and they used to be listed as a twin Corbetts, but more modern surveying has shown Gairbeinn to be the higher of the two.

For the second time this week, MWIS got the wind forecast wrong. There was a breeze today but not enough to be really noticeable.

Early mist at low level again

My main objective (Gairbeinn) viewed from the Corrieyairack track.

If there’s any sort of a trodden line up the hill from this side, I didn’t find it. The going up to the 600m contour was rough; the going from there to around 850m was rough and steep. The rough, plus the steep, plus the temperature meant I took longer to get to the top than I’d expected, and by the time I got there it was clear that I’d not taken enough water with me. Even so, I opted to continue on to do the full circuit, choosing to enjoy the conditions up high (and get thirsty), even if it would leave me rushing later to fit in the rest of my task list for the day.

Summit selfie

It doesn’t come across on the photo, but the sun was setting off the colours of the hillsides nicely.

Crossing peat hags in the dip to my next objective wasn’t too bad after a dry week; I’ll wager they would have been soupy a week prior.

Not much need for navigation on such a fine day, particularly with two lines of (largely) parallel fence posts marking the way

After ascending on the right hand side of the shot, I’m going to end up at the top of the zigzags, to the right of the pylons, on the left side.

I’d seen a couple of large herds of deer, but didn’t expect to see sheep on the top of Corrieyairack Hill.

Looking up the Corrieyairack track (not the direction I’m going). I’d just joined it and had to race to take this snap before an ATV came past me.

Looking down in my direction of travel

At the top of the zigzags I came across a gaggle of mountain bikers, sweating profusely, sitting at the sides of the track. They’re cycling LEJOG (and certainly not via the easiest route!), one week per year, and were nearly at the end of this year’s final day, with their destination being Fort Augustus.

Looking back up the zigzags. If this snap was a better resolution, you’d be able to zoom in and see the cyclists.

A short while after that photo, I found a peaked cap sitting on the edge of a burn. It’s been a long while since we last found a hat out in the wilds, and even though this one was a bit muddy and had maybe been there a while, I picked it up (as litter, if nothing else; I also came back from this trip with a pair of glasses for the same reason). Later in the day I threw it in the machine with my laundry and it came out good enough to go into our hat collection.

The rest of the trot down the track was entirely straightforward, but by the bottom I was starting to feel like I had climbed into an oven. Once the car’s thermometer settled on the drive back to Newtonmore, it read 27 degrees. No wonder the 1 litre of water I’d taken with me had been inadequate! I consumed another litre between getting back to the car and leaving the glen.


Erica-the-Campervan patiently waiting for me, all on her lonesome

Sgor Gaoith (1118m) Repeat

Tuesday 5 September
Start point: Allt Rhuadh car park, Glen Feshie (approx NH853012)
Distance and ascent: 15.4km, 930m
Weather: Sunny, soon warm, barely any wind on the ascent, and none on the summit.

An intentional repeat this time. Just a couple of weeks previously, on 17 August, I was robbed of the reputedly fantastic views from the top by low cloud, and also omitted to do the lollipop route. I said that I would happily revisit it.

When I saw Tuesday's forecast, I clearly had to go up a hill, and preferably a big one. However, I also had a lack of time, needing to be back in Newtonmore by 11am. Having already been up this one so recently, I knew how long it would take me and that I could fit it in.

I don't recall having ever seen a MWIS forecast as good as this before.
Stepping out the front door at 0640, there was low-level mist visible just up the road, but I knew from the forecast that it would be confined to the glens
4 degrees said the car as I set out. As soon as I entered the mist it dropped to 3 and that’s where it still was when I parked in Glen Feshie.
That’s better! My version of this photo on 17 August had the tops in cloud
The mist really was confined to the lowest spots of the glens
The motorway of a path that I paralleled on my way up last time
The view from the summit is stunning, with the hillside suddenly dropping away to Loch Eanaich below, but the sun wasn’t in the most convenient place for me to capture it (my photographic equipment and skills didn’t help either). I’ve bent it out of shape here in a panoramic shot
Summit selfie, complete with photo-bombing fly. There wasn’t a breath of wind.
Looking north along the ridge gives an idea as to how steeply the ground drops away…
…and looking back to the summit shows that those with vertigo will probably not be keen to stand on the highest point.

I dithered for just a few moments on the summit. Given my lack of time, I’d thought I was going to be forced into another out-and-back, but I’d set out 15 minutes earlier than planned and had been 15 minutes faster ascending than previously, which gave me 30 minutes in hand, so I decided to go for the lollipop. On reflection, I reckon the out-and-back might just have more merit. The lie of the land going over Meall Buidhe and Geal-charn means you don’t get the best of the views, and the ground is so rocky for much of the way that there’s more staring at the ground than the surroundings. Last time I ran back down the way I’d come; this time I picked my way carefully and more slowly. The final bit of the descent was the slowest going, through deep heather and long grass that concealed the holes.

Just a sample of the stony terrain.

Heading down, before it got steep

Even with the slow-going, I got back to the car park comfortably inside my deadline, whereupon I retrieved my missing bun from under the next-but-one car (I’d realised soon after setting off that one of my two buns was missing, but went on without it, not having time to go back. When it wasn’t in the car on my return, I had a little hunt around and found that it must have dropped out of my pocket within three paces of me setting off.). With clouds of midges in the now-busy car park*, I curtailed my stretching efforts and freed up my parking space for someone else. 

(*There was one van in the car park when I arrived, that I would guess had been slept in (misted-up windows), but I didn’t see the occupant. Thanks to my early start, I didn’t see anyone out on the hill until the final 1km back to the car, when I passed three couples and a singleton.)

Cluny Castle to Newtonmore

Sunday 3 September

16.1km, 230m ascent

Mini-post, just for my records.

Mick dropped me off on the A86, just east of Cluny Castle so that I could do a linear route up to Glen Banchor, then along the Glen to Newtonmore (adding on a bit of the Wild Cat Trail at the end, just to make up the distance).

It was lovey!

Heading up from Cluny Castle to Strath an Eilich

Lumps and bumps and lots of them(Looking SW-ish from Strath an Eilich)

Dalnashallac (estate bothy) just before the track meets the River Calder

A narrow trodden line ran along Glen Banchor, but not following the line of the old RoW shown on the map

The fords (x3) were all benign on this day. The only place I got wet feet was in a bog, maybe 200m long, at 7km through the route.

Ummm, maybe I won’t go that way! (This is part of the old route of the wildcat trail that I’ve followed before; I suspect it was rerouted because of the fallen trees)

Thursday 31 August 2023

Dirc Bheag

31 August

I had two objectives today: 1) to visit a possible bridge; and 2) to walk through the Dirc Bheag (a magnificent natural feature in the landscape). It was an excellent and most enjoyable route, albeit slow-going through the Dirc Bheag.

After Mick dropped me off on the A86, N of the Falls of Pattack, I first made my way along a track through forest that, from the map, had the potential to be uninteresting, but once beyond the buildings at Gallovie, this one was surprisingly nice, with the river running alongside. I didn’t take the small diversion to get a view of the Falls of Pattack, but the river was particularly attractive and tumbling along the entire section I saw.

A poor illustration of my point.

Hills just poking their heads above the cloud filling the glen
Cobwebs a-go-go

My 12 year old maps on my preferred mobile mapping App shows a single dotted line leading away from the River Pattack as far as the River Mashie, but the most recent OS maps show a double-dotted-line, which I assumed would be a scar-on-the-landscape of a new track.

The reality was rather more pleasing:

Had I been an hour ahead of myself, Dirc Bheag would still have been full of cloud…

…but it lifted long before I got there (Dirc Bheag sits in the cleft, middle of shot, between the notable pimple on the landscape and the long shoulder to its right).
Bridge spotting success!

A couple of weeks ago I visited a bridge that doesn’t exist in Gleann Chomhraig. Today’s mission came about for the same reason: a bridge had been seen on aerial photos where none is shown on OS mapping, but where one may be rather handy for TGO Challengers. The one in Gleann Chomhraig turned out not to exist (no evidence of it at all). Today’s did exist, but I couldn’t see from where I took the snap above whether it was permanent or temporary, as I know there are quite a few bridges nearby that are usually laid alongside, rather than over the water.

Yep, definitely a sturdy, permanent bridge

The bogginess of the ground to get over to the bridge was such that my feet would not have got any wetter if I’d forded the water at the end of the track that had led me that far, but a worthwhile diversion just for future reference.

Once over the water, the pathless land was at the friendlier end of rough terrain: No tussocks, no deep heather, and even the grass wasn’t long enough to be any significant impediment. It was, however, rather waterlogged.

Getting my first view of Lochan an Doire-uaine, I was unsure whether my best bet was to drop down to walk along the stony shore exposed by the low water level, or whether to stay on the good animal trod I was following. I opted for the former, until the 500m contour, where it looked like I might end up heading right up to the top of the pimple that lies to the north of the Dirc Bheag, and that wasn’t my objective today.

Whilst my photos don’t do it justice, I shall tell the story of the terrain I then encountered in photos.

Steep enough that a fall could ruin your day.
My fastest kilometre of this outing was 6:36. Most of my paces were in the 8-10 minute range. Passing through the Dirc Bheag my kilometre pace dropped to 27:30 (and the hard terrain was only half a kilometre long).
The boulder field comprised a vast array of different sizes of rocks, some of which were fantastically grippy; others were as slippery as they come, then there was the fact that not all were stable – even some pretty big ones. Knowing that a misplaced foot could end in disaster, slow and steady was my approach.
At the head of the cleft, a heap of rocks forms the col, and until I reached that point I had no idea what lay the other side – more rocks, or friendlier terrain.
Looking back the way I’d come, along the length of Lochan an Doire-uaine
Looking the way I’m going

What I really hadn’t expected along that next section was to meet a chap coming the other way! There are surely days on end when this feature of the landscape doesn’t see a visitor, yet here were two of us at the same time, although I think he was already regretting not having joined his friend in bypassing the cleft.

It wasn’t far down the other side before the expanses of easy grassy terrain started to increase and gradually become the prominent feature. Whilst the surroundings were lovely, I then suffered a highly unpleasant ten minutes when I couldn’t move fast enough to outpace the insects. I’ve no idea what they were (post draft note: I finally got around to Googling them and they were keds - nasty little deer flies that grip onto your skin so if you don't brush them off within seconds, you have to pick them off), but would describe them as flies that had the body shape of large ticks. They seemed particularly to like landing on the back of my neck and arms, and as soon as I'd got them off one part of me, another expanse of skin was crawling with them. It was such a relief to burst out of the end of the cleft and get into the breeze.

It was only another kilometre or so from there before I joined the route we had taken when we visited Meall nan Eagan a few years ago. The ground here was also a touch soggy, but not to the extent the contour lines would suggest could be the case, and once again, the going was at the friendly end of rough.

Whereas on our previous visit we stayed on the north side of the water when the track fords, today I walked through the first two fords, so as to take advantage of the good track. The second two fords are so close together that it wasn’t worth filling my shoes with water again.

Bypassing the buildings at Allt an’t Sluic Lodge is easy – just before the big boulder that lies immediately before the house, a relatively smooth grassy bank leads to the lower track, from where it’s only another 1km out to the road. There I found Mick waiting for me, having been able to summon him from the Apiary Tearoom in Dalwhinnie when I’d got a phone signal ten minutes earlier.