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 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.




Saturday 26 August 2023

Cnoc Ceislein (NH589706; 523m)

Saturday 26 August

Start Point: Fyrish Car Park (NH627715)

Distance and Ascent: 10.3k, 380m

Weather: Rain, mainly light, but with two downpours

My intention had been to take in a hill by Carrbridge today, on our way back from Alness parkrun. Then, as we sat in Erica-the-Campervan in a secluded car park on the Black Isle last night, with the rain drumming down, it occurred to me that I pass by Carrbridge far more frequently than I pass by Alness (in fact, to the best of my knowledge the only other time I’ve been on that bit of the A9 was in 2008 on a bus from John o’Groats), and thus it made sense to take in a hill up there instead.

parkrun was damp but not as wet as forecast, but as we sat in Morrison’s cafĂ© afterwards it started teeming down. It was still coming down when we reached the Fyrish car park, but an amount of faffing meant it had eased by the time I set out.

I even took my jacket off at one point on the ascent, only to put it back on within two minutes.

Even in the rain, I could appreciate that the surroundings were rather pleasant, through an old, non-commercial forest on a track that is narrower than it once would have been, with greenery taking over its edges.


Looks like someone thought it appropriate to take a car up there

Goodness, the ground was soggy, though, with the track soon resembling a burn more than solid ground, and with all low points having filled with water.

The most extreme water obstacle. Long and deep.

All of the puddles were easily bypassed; stepping through the wet heather got plenty of water into the shoes, but not as much as wading through the puddles would have done.

The point where I left the track to find the trodden line up the final reaches of the hill was also masquerading as a watercourse. My summit is under the cloud on the left of the shot.

Continuing the theme, the trodden line up the hill was running with water, with the bare peat threatening to be slippery on the way down.

Being in the cloud by the time I reached the trig point, there wasn’t much reason to linger … 

...until suddenly a hole appeared and I got a view down to the Cromarty Firth and a pier that I thought might be the one I’d run along earlier (I’ve since checked and it wasn’t; there are two relatively close to each other). Alas, by the time I got my camera out of its Ziplock bag, the view had become slightly obscured again, and was soon gone completely.

The descent would have been a straightforward retracing of steps, except that…

…see that track? The reason I didn’t take it on the way up was because I’d read reports that it no longer exists on the ground. I didn’t doubt those reports, but when I saw that there was a clear track at each end, I couldn’t resist taking a closer look. Whilst the track only exists for short distances at either end, its course is still reasonably clear, and there’s a trod along much of its length, but it’s so overgrown with trees that it wasn’t possible to stick to the original line for the entire distance. It probably goes without saying that the going was also excessively wet.

Looking back the way I’d just come

Looking forward

On this occasion it probably would have been faster to take the longer route, as I could happily have jogged back down the entire track, rather than meandering and fighting my way along the shorter route.

The next heavy shower hit as I made my way along there, but it eased off as I did the easy final distance down to the car park, where I arrived in a decidedly soggy state. A good time had been had, though, and another hill ticked off.


Tuesday 22 August 2023

Creag na Doire Duibhe (NN615905; 571m)

Tuesday 22 August
Start Point: informal, deep layby by track end at NN635909.
Distance and ascent: 5.7km, 275m
Weather: rather damp on the way up, fine on the way down.

It’s been a while since I accidentally revisited a hill in ignorance of my previous visit, but that’s exactly what I did today. With my two visits having approached from opposite directions, the first I became aware of the inadvertent repetition was when I just went to save today’s gpx file to find that I already had two files for this hill, one labelled ‘bike’ and one ‘walk’. My previous visit was on 17 May 2018, and now that I’ve refreshed my memory by reading my blog post, I remember it well.

Other than a waste of fuel, I’m amused, but in no way annoyed at the repetition, as despite the terrain being decidedly soggy on this pathless hill, and notwithstanding the horizontal drizzle that hit me for most of my ascent, I had a really good outing. Somehow yomping through (relatively easy, in the grand scheme of these things) heather and bog on this hill was more pleasing than another march up an engineered path or track.

The rain drifted away as I completed the final bit of the ascent, so I had a view to the south from the summit…

whereas the rain that had recently left me was curtailing visibility to the north.

Obligatory summit selfie.

As can be seen from the map snippet, I didn’t exactly retrace my steps on the way back. Some bits of my descent route were better than what I’d chosen on the way up, others weren’t. The key tip that I’d read on* was to turn right at the fork in the track that leads the first few hundred metres towards the hill; it’s just a pity that I’d forgotten that tip until I reached that very point on my return.

Looking at the hill on my way out

Looking back at the hill on my way back

(*Oh dear! I now realise that one of the logs I saw on hill-bagging was my own. I only got as far as ‘from Wolftrax’ and stopped reading as that start point was irrelevant to me today. If I’d just skimmed the second line I would have seen my blog address.)  

Sunday 20 August 2023

Meallach Mhor (NN776908; 769m)

Sunday 20 August
Start Point: Nature Reserve car park at NN776998
Distance and Ascent: 23.3km, 695m
Weather: Overcast and breezy, but dry save for one short, light shower

Couldn't fit it all on one screen grab

I’d intended to do the head of the lollipop of this outing in the opposite direction (i.e. along the ridge to my objective, then back along the glen), but having parked in the Nature Reserve car park for the second time this week, and made my way along the Speyside Way off-road route and into Glen Tromie, the wind direction and speed suggested that a reversal would be more comfortable. Heading generally SW along the ridge for just shy of 7km, against a SW wind of between 20 and 25mph didn’t sound like the most fun approach.

As it goes, I’m not sure I picked the most fun approach in any case, although I suppose it depends on one’s definition of ‘fun’! The usual approach to this hill seems to continue along Glen Tromie (often on a bike, which makes perfect sense if you have one at your disposal) and approach it from the east. That route is 3.25km further than doing what I did: going via Coire Bhealaich.

Initial indications were promising, when I found an excellent grassy track exactly where I wanted to head up.

That it went straight through a large collection of beehives was unfortunate, but I made it through (with bees bouncing off me) unscathed.

View back down Glen Tromie from the midst of a big patch of bracken. This route would be easier in winter. 

The initial grassy track soon became a rough ATV track, but it had been used recently enough for the bracken in between the tyre tracks to still be semi-flattened. It veered off at the 440m contour, so from there I was yomping through heather and long grass, with some boggy bits. Had this been an obscure Marilyn, I would have considered it reasonably good going, but as it’s a Corbett, I had the nagging thought that there was probably a trodden line on the usual route. That seemed to be borne out when I finally reached the low point between Meallach Mhor and Meallach Bheag and picked up a good trod that I could see coming up from the glen. Looking now at my kilometre splits, I see that my pace per kilometre during that rough climb was 16, 19.5 and 18 minutes, so even if going the more usual route would have been easier, due to the extra distance, it wouldn’t have been quicker (the good old ‘distance versus ease’ conundrum).

The views from the top were magnificent. Alas, my snaps don’t even start to do justice to the reality of the vista (and whilst the air clarity wasn’t first class, I’m sure it wasn’t as bad as my photos make it look):

Whilst I was curious to see if the baggers’ trod did go the whole way down to the glen, my desire to do the ridge route (and avoid the glen track) was greater. Happily, the going along there was far easier than my ascent route, and ATV tracks and narrow trods took me the whole way with ease, and the views in every direction were superb.

Spot the path

Dressed to match the heather.

Eventually I reached the path I’d ascended on Tuesday (on an outing to visit a bridge that doesn’t exist), which took me back down into the glen, from where it was just a simple 3km back to the car park.

It’s probable that other people did visit this hill today (surely? On a Sunday in August with a good weather forecast?) but I saw not a single person, even from a distance.  

What were the planners thinking?! 

4 minutes after the snap above. That's better! 

Friday 18 August 2023

Sgor Gaoith (NN903989; 1118m)

Thursday 17 August
Start Point: car parking area just before Allt Rhuadh bridge in Glen Feshie (approx NH853012)
Distance and Ascent: 15.5km, 880m
Weather: Sunny intervals, but with the effect of laminar flow, breezier than expected.

It’s always a risk setting out early up a big hill as to whether the morning cloud will clear before you get to the top, and this was one of those days. There were some big clear patches of sky as I drove towards Glen Feshie, with cloud just sitting over the higher summits, and with a forecast that said it would lift.

A big bank of cloud over the ridge to which I was heading

Initial signs were positive, as the cloud seemed to be rising at about the same rate as I was – a fact that I discussed with a group of five I passed not far before the ridge. We also agreed that the wind was far breezier than the forecast had suggested it should be – particularly noticeable as it was dead in our faces as we made our way up the well-trodden path.

Alas, the cloud got stuck at 980m, but with glimpses of brightness I was still optimistic that it would suddenly clear.

As I reached the low point on the ridge coated with springy moss, I opted for a minor short cut, heading on the diagonal to intersect the baggers’ path that I assumed would branch off in my direction. What I managed to do was parallel that path, not far distant, for around a kilometre, but the going was easy enough.

I followed the trodden line on the way back, so you can see how closely I paralleled it on the way out.

There had been two cars in the car park when I arrived, and I surmised that the group of five had been in the one with UK plates. The other vehicle was on NL plates, and my assessment (based on accents) is that its occupants were the two bejeaned chaps that I met within 100m of the summit.

Summit selfie

I sat at the summit for a few minutes for three reasons: 1) having battled the wind on the way up, it was calm up there (turbulent air flow caused by the crag, as opposed to the laminar flow I’d experienced up to that point was the assessment made with Mick in discussion later); 2) I was hoping the periods of brightness would develop into a sudden hole in the cloud, giving me the spectacular view down to Loch Eanaich; 3) I had some dithering to do as to my return route.

The cloud didn’t oblige my desires for a view, and that had a bearing on my decision as to whether to continue to do a circuit along the ridge to the north (another factor was speed, as I had things to do in the afternoon). It was probably fifteen minutes after I set out to retrace that I realised that I had made the wrong decision.

Had I continued along the ridge, I would have dropped below the cloud (that was still sitting at 980m), and almost certainly have had these lovely-looking sunny tops to myself.

Nowt to be done about it by then, so on I went. I can’t describe the number of people I passed ascending whilst I went down as a constant stream, but many greetings were exchanged. By the time I got back to the car park there were 15 vehicles in and around it.

The colours on my ascent/descent route were glorious

It was comforting that my last glimpse of the ridge on my descent showed it still to be in cloud, not that I would have kicked myself for the early start in any case; I’d rather have the solitude than the view. That said, if there should be a clear blue skied day whilst we’re here, I wouldn’t write off the possibility of me repeating this one, not just for the summit view but to put right my failure to do the circuit.


Sunday 13 August 2023

Meall na h-Aisre (NH515000; 862m)

Sunday 13 August 2023

Start Point: Garva Bridge
Distance and Ascent: 17.5km, 660m
Weather: Sunny intervals, a few showers (and rainbows) around, but only a handful of light raindrops hit me. 15 degrees at start.

I looked at combining this hill with Gairbeinn, even though that would involve what the map suggests would be a reasonably arduous 6km boggy yomp between them, but I wasn’t in the market for an outing that long today. With the weather forecast looking pretty good this morning, I decided instead to split them, and go for Meall na h-Aisre today and, at the cost of some efficiency, tackle Gairbeinn another day.

Mick came with me, not to accompany me on my hill, but for his first little jogette post-L100 (result: some soft tissue behind his knee is still too disgruntled). Our routes coincided as we crossed Garva Bridge, then diverged, as I veered off to join the new track to the relatively newly installed substation.

I’m not sure what the purpose is of the motorway-esque track that leads from the substation to within 0.5km of Meall na h-Aisre’s summit. I can only assume it was related to the laying of the underground cables that run adjacent, and maybe continues to exist for their maintenance? Whatever its purpose, it simultaneously creates a scar on the landscape, and gives remarkably quick and easy passage up this hill.

From the end of the track a section of bogginess led to nice, firm, short grass and soon the summit was before me.

Once past the substation, most of my ascent had been sheltered, but (obviously) I was fully exposed on the summit and the breeze was uncomfortably cool. I could have put another layer on, but it didn’t seem worth it when I knew I’d need to take it off as soon as I got back to the track. So I just wandered around the contenders for high point, took a few snaps, had a quick snackette and headed back down the way I’d come.

By the time I got back to Erica-the-Campervan the parking area was full, but I’d not seen a single other person, even at a distance, on my hill. 

 I've superimposed my route onto a dated map. The track I followed is shown on more recent maps.

This would have been a nice walk before the installation of the infrastructure related to electricity transmission (including the track).

The track from sub-station to nearly-summit was more pleasant, with flowering heather to look at, rather than pylons and telegraph poles.

Summit selfie, but neither the trig nor the slightly-higher boulder behind are the summit – that’s a few paces away to my right.

Mick walked through that windfarm when it was still under construction, camping in amongst it at Chalybeate Spring.

Had I continued on to Gairbeinn, I would have aimed for the lochan on the upper right of this shot.