This is why we climb Scottish hills…..

If you needed reminding how beautiful Scotland is, a day like last Sunday would do it!

For us it started at 7am in the van above Loch Tulla, where we had tinned spaghetti and sausages for breakfast, with the sun shining on a frosty landscape, below a perfectly blue sky.

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Our breakfast view out of the van door: Loch Tulla and Beinn an Dothaidh 

We set off to climb Beinn Achaladair and Beinn a Chreachain at about 9am from the car park just off the A82. It was -3 degrees and we were wearing all of our layers! Having walked for 20 minutes and just passed Achallader farm, we realised neither of us had a compass, so Chris had a nice early jog back to the van while I sat and watched the lapwings in the sun, which was just starting to warm up.

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Morning sunshine feels good

The path continues through fields along the base of the glen until it crosses an old bridge just below a ruined farmhouse. Land rover tracks then take you above the Water of Tulla on the north side opposite a lovely remnant of old Caledonian forest.

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Chris checking out the collapsed bridge

A tiny cairn and a faint path mark the spot to leave the track and descend to the river. The bridge has been washed away so the river is not passable in spate. The water wasn’t high on Sunday, but it also wasn’t really warm enough for me to be very happy about taking my boots and socks off to wade across the river – the cold left me breathless and unable to speak for a minute or two when I reached the other side!

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The Water of Tulla and Beinn Achaladair

 

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Cold, cold, COLD!

The faint path continues up through the woods on the other side, gradually fading as you reach fenced areas. After a bit of meandering we found the tiny underpass (even I had to bend down!) under the railway and started to climb more steeply between the Allt Coire an Lochain and a deer fence. Behind the fence, the forest is regenerating well, demonstrating the impact high numbers of deer and sheep have on this landscape.

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To the right (west) Beinn Achaladair looked very impressive above the lovely old Scots pines, with snow still shining in the gullies. To our left the Allt Coire an Lochain bounced, sparkling down layers of flat rock steps. We picked one of these steps that was warm and dry for our first sandwich stop (cheese and chilli jam) before crossing to the other side.

 

 

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Allt Coire an Lochain

The climb up the grassy slopes on the left (east) of Coire an Lochain to the bealach is relentless, but was redeemed by the magnificent view across Rannoch Moor that was gradually revealed with each pause and, higher up, looking down on Lochain a’ Chreachain, which, still in the shade, retained it’s layer of ice.

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Lochain a’ Chreachain

Upon reaching the bealach we had the wonderful realisation that we were surrounded in every direction by mountains as far as we could see! It was fantastic and something that I have never experienced in England or Wales.

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The other side

It took about three hours to reach this point but once on the ridge, despite a few snow patches still clinging on, we sped up considerably.

The visibility was utterly amazing: beyond the empty expanse of Rannoch Moor, the bulk of Ben Nevis stood massively above the Mamores, but in front of yet more rows of distant snowcapped mountains.

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The emptiness that is Rannoch Moor. You can also make out the Buchaille and Ben Nevis (would’ve been clearer if my camera hadn’t had an empty battery and I hadn’t had to take all these on my phone…)

The summit of Beinn a Chreachain was easily visible and we paused to enjoy the views of endless mountains and the remoteness: we could see one house and no roads at all!

We dropped steeply off the summit and made our way across the slopes towards Meall Buidhe, where we could see north across the empty expanse of moor once again.

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Now you can definitely see the Ben 🙂

The climb up to Beinn Achaladair is steep and more rocky, but once at the top, we could have stayed there for hours admiring the landscape.

Then began the descent via the ridge south to the bealach above Coire Daingean.

We filled our bottles in the tumbling Allt Coire Achaladair (totally delicious water!), before navigating the long, boggy path back to the carpark.

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Getting a drink from Allt Coire Achaladair

We are so lucky that all this is only an hour and a half from home.

We could not have asked for a better day: it was simply beautiful and just reinforced how much we love exploring Scotland.

Munros: Beinn a Chreachain (1081m) and Beinn Achaladair (1038m)

Distance: 21.5km / 13.5 miles

Duration: 8 hours

Comments: Do it on a clear day!

 

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Goggles: a late but fabulous discovery

Before I started walking in Scotland I didn’t understand the point of gaiters, now I rarely go out without them.

I think the same thing has just happened with goggles: after our day on Ben Ledi yesterday I don’t know why I have walked in winter without wearing them!

Heading up Ben Ledi

I have always carried a pair in my bag for emergencies, but until last year they were an extremely old battered pair, which, on the one occasion I had to use them, steamed up so badly I literally had my nose on the snow slope trying to see the steps kicked ahead of me. Panic led me to give up and endure the pain of wind-blown snow being driven into my eyes.

Lots of snow

Last year I decided to buy a new pair of basic ski goggles, and have carried the new ones with me on winter days since. Two weeks ago in the Cairngorms, I finally got them out but too late (by the time we stopped at the summit the conditions had eased) and they sat in my pocket rather than my bag. But yesterday, I actually put them on and what a revelation! I could see! Pain free! I had so much more confidence! I felt invincible!

Heading into the cloud once again

Why haven’t I used them before?? It feels like it might be a complete game-changer on winter days for me! I no longer need to get upset and panicky in driving snow!

Happy and comfortable in our goggles!

Perhaps I am the the only person to take so long to realise the difference this little piece of kit makes, but I wanted to share just in case I’m not 😊

Recipe for a weekend to remember

Have a lie-in.

Pack the campervan.

Stop driving in Glencoe because it is dark and the weather is awful.

Go for a drink and mince pies by the fire in the Clachaig.

Cook a delicious dinner in the van

Sleep wonderfully.

Bacon sandwiches for breakfast.

Go for a beautiful cycle along Loch Shiel.

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Loch Shiel

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Find a stunning spot to park the van overlooking the beach near Portnaluchaig (Mallaig) in the afternoon.

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It would have to be a very expensive hotel to get a view that good and beach access!

Pack snacks and hot chocolate for a walk on the beach.

Receive a wonderful and unexpected marriage proposal from your partner of seven years on the deserted beach!

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Drink celebratory beers.

Eat another delicious dinner and drink whiskey before bed.

Eat french toast for breakfast with a sea view.

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Nice view for breakfast

Go for a chilly swim and look for hermit crabs.

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Chris says it is very cold! And we didn’t find any hermit crabs 😦

Have hot chocolate in Mallaig by a fire to warm your feet up.

Happily drink champagne in your down jackets as the sun sets .

Go for another cycle along Loch Morlich.

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Sunshine on Loch Morlich. We didn’t get very far as the path soon became too steep and rocky.

Explore the beautiful beaches at Cambusdarach in the sunshine.

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Drive home very happy!

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Finding alternatives

Sadly this year, I’ve suffered from a few injuries that have considerably limited the activities that I and consequently, we, have been able to do. Last autumn, I developed Achilles tendonitis, which took months to improve enough to go back to vigorous activity. Then early in the summer, as I was trying to regain my lost fitness, I started doing a little trail running, which I was really enjoying, until I sprained my ankle in the woods – the same ankle that had suffered with the tendonitis.

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On our trip to North West Scotland we found we could still immerse ourselves in incredible Scottish scenery without spending lots of long days hiking in the hills

I am aware that neither of these were particularly serious injuries compared to many, but they were enough to have a fairly large impact on our life. As a result, we have had quite a different year to previous years and have had to adapt our adventures accordingly.
I was very upset about spraining my ankle: I had finally been recovering from the tendonitis, I was running again, climbing well and had climbed my first munro in six months when it happened, and so I felt extremely frustrated and angry. I knew that the next six months were not going to be as I had imagined and our summer climbing ambitions were ruined.

Oldshoremore: one of our favourite beaches on our North West Scotland trip. We had the shortest coldest swim ever, amusing some other tourists, and warmed up with hot chocolates and this view!

It made me realise how much these outdoor activities have become a part of my life, a part of our relationship, and how much of an impact it would have, were that to change. I have read about people who can lose their positivity, their sense of purpose and even their sense of self after injury, and that worried me: I hadn’t had to think about that before.

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We found less strenuous walking routes, like this walk to the stunning Sandwood Bay, which was quiet in March. We had soup on the beach and Chris did some bouldering

Fortunately for me though, we adapted, and since I wasn’t completely out of action, we have actually ended up broadening the range of activities we do.
So although we haven’t had such a typically adventurous year as usual, by adjusting our aims and expectations and finding alternatives, we have still been able to enjoy ourselves. At Easter, when we went to the North-West of Scotland, rather than do all the classic mountain walks, we climbed Stac Pollaidh (short but steep!), did a tiny bit of climbing, a tiny bit of icy sea swimming but mostly explored, and drank hot chocolate or beer on stunning, chilly beaches in our down jackets.

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A very chilled trip to Argyll included finding evidence of beaver activity at the Knapdale release site

Our summer climbing holiday to Snowdonia, turned into an afternoon of climbing, a swim in Llyn Idwal and lots of hanging out on Gower beaches, swimming and bodyboarding (which seemed to work wonders on my recovering ankle!).

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When sickness and injury prevent you climbing mountains, why not swim instead?! Like here in Llyn Idwal in Snowdonia

Exercising makes me feel good, so I was worried that my mood would drop when I wasn’t able to do my usual things. However, I had started a little weight training to help my climbing before any of this happened and although it’s not an outdoor activity, it was something that I was able to continue doing throughout, simply by adjusting my routine as necessary, which kept my moral up and has meant that, surprisingly, my climbing hasn’t deteriorated badly as I worried it might.

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We learnt to relax on the beautiful Gower beaches

I also found that cycling was, after the sprain, much easier than walking, so getting around to see friends wasn’t too problematic. Importantly though, the acquisition of two second-hand mountain bikes has provided a whole new dimension to our adventures and a fantastic way to get out into the hills and woods when walking wasn’t an option. This has meant that during the last few months, I’ve still been able to get out into the environment that I love, explore areas we wouldn’t have gone to otherwise, work hard and feel adventurous! We love it and definitely won’t be giving it up anytime soon!

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We discovered that mountain bikes are a fantatstic way to travel in the Cairngorms!

And last weekend, I climbed my first mini mountain, the Pap of Glencoe – much steeper than we imagined – without too much difficulty, so hopefully I’m back to being mountain-worthy again!

My first night out alone

It was very sunny in Scotland! But I work 9-5 (7.30-6 if you include the commute). The solution was a microadventure: an overnight bivvy, but Chris had been away most of the week, which meant I would have to go by myself!

I’ve never even camped by myself before so that was a pretty scary idea, but also quite exciting.

I decided to go somewhere I was very familiar with, ie. Dumyat, which is our local little hill.

I got home at 6pm, had dinner, packed and left on my bike in the sunshine at 8pm. I left my bike at the foot of the hill and walked up through the woods, which were a beautiful sea of bluebells – I didn’t realise there were so many up here, I mistakenly thought they were an English thing.

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Sitting on a hump above the trees, I watched the sun set behind the mountains in the distance and read my book, enjoying the peace.

By 10pm the sun had gone and I was cold despite my insulated jacket and gloves. As I was nervous, I thought very carefully while choosing where to sleep: I had decided I would prefer to be out in the open rather than in the trees. I eventually picked a spot on the exposed side of the hill, but a slight shelf meant I was protected from some of the wind by a small lip. I had a view of Stirling and the Wallace Monument, which meant that if I woke up disoriented in the dark, I would be able to focus on the lights. I also get freaked out by noises in a very quiet tent, so I knew I’d be comforted by the road sounds, which, although less peaceful, would cover any scary (sheep) noises close by.

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I settled into my bivvy bag, quickly warmed up and watched the lights of Stirling come on. Cloud was creeping over Dumyat behind me. I felt surprisingly relaxed and it only took me a while to fall asleep because I was so curious to look around and kept opening my eyes to watch the landscape change as night fell.

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With my bivvy bag (Alpkit), sleeping mat (Robens), down sleeping bag (Alpkit), silk liner (Rab), fluffy socks and thin jacket (Rab Vapour-rise) I was soon super snuggly and surprisingly didn’t get cold at all during the night.

I did wake up a few times but overall I slept much better than I expected. I woke up and checked for a sunrise at around 5am, but seeing only cloud, fell back to sleep until my alarm woke me at 7!

Opening my eyes to a lovely view meant I couldn’t help but wake up in a good mood. A cup of tea from my flask before getting up made it even better!

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Good morning!

 

What better way to start a working day?! And doing it solo made it extra special: I would definitely recommend it to anyone who is considering it!

Sadly, I’ll now have to wait until the autumn to do it again as I’m definitely not bivvying in midge season!

Rewards

We were trudging through warm, wet cloud, sliding on slushy snow, mud and grass. We were hot, we couldn’t see anything and we were asking ourselves why were we doing this.

I had even climbed this munro before!

But was the cloud brightening? Why did I feel like I wanted to put my sunglasses on when visibility was so low? Could we see blue above us or was it a trick of the light?P1020919-COLLAGE

Yes, that was definitely a glimpse of blue sky…. And of a snowy mountain side….oh, but it vanished back into the cloud again.

Our trudge was definitely more hopeful and expectant now!

Then quite suddenly it happened: we popped out above the cloud into a fantastic world of sunshine, blue sky and sparkling snow and ice.

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The sun was actually warm and there was little wind, so we had to strip down to our t-shirts. And the views……they were incredible…..mountain tops poking out of a fluffy white sea as far as we could see in all directions.

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Often, summiting a munro involves dashing to the top, looking around for half a minute while being blasted by wind, and being blown back down to find some shelter before having a sandwich, with all your layers on. Not on this day though: on this day we spent 40 minutes on the summit, enjoying our lunch and gazing around in wonder – without even having to put gloves on – before descending back to the damp, grey world, everyone else was spending their day in.

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Just occasionally, we experience an extra special reward for our uphill struggles.

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A Ptarmigan: spending all year high up on Scottish mountains, it must be one of Britain’s hardiest birds?!

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Winter wonderland

On Saturday we wanted to go and look at the ice falls on Ben Udlaidh near Bridge of Orchy, but the road was waaaay to snowy; so, after driving into a little snow drift, rather than down the snowy road and then digging ourselves out, we carried on along the A82 to just beyond Achallader. Here we stopped and decided to go and play.

There was a ridiculous amount of powdery snow: we were wading in it, it came over my knees! The red deer that we could see from the car were chest deep in it! Walking was HARD. Why doesn’t anyone in Scotland use snow shoes?!

It was also totally, absurdly beautiful.

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We mostly spent the next few hours, wading a few metres, stopping to gaze in wonder, wading a few more metres, stopping for tea and biscuits and gazing some more.

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The pole disappeared entirely

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We also made out first attempt to build a snow cave: we had an entrance each, joined them up and it was very successful until Chris collapsed it on us. This led to snow wrestling, which I definitely won.

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Our snow cave!

Then we waded back to the car while still stopping to gaze disbelievingly at the spectacular scenery every few minutes.

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We went home via Callander for a pie….however, there was a mini disaster – the pie shop was closed – but we found some chips to have by the river.

We probably walked 2km at most, but what a day!? Scotland, you beauty!

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