A solo van adventure and Buchaille Etive Mor

A few weeks ago I decided I should take Bruce (our campervan) for a trip on my own; I haven’t done this before as I’ve only recently started driving it.

The Scottish forecast was best in the west on the Sunday, so I decided to attempt Buchaille Etive Mor. This is the magnificent mountain that dominates the entrance to Glencoe, where it looks virtually impregnable. However, there are two common (non-climbing) routes up: Curved Ridge, which is a wonderful 240m grade 3 scramble, and the walkers route up Coire na Tulaich.

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View from the van door: early morning mist over Loch Tulla

I had been looking for simple munros to try on my own, but I thought that although these munros have the potential to be challenging, I have climbed Stob Dearg twice (once via Curved Ridge and once in a blizzard), and with a good forecast it was likely to be busy so I wouldn’t be on my own up there.

On Saturday afternoon I drove up to the view point situated just before Rannoch Moor, where there are three large car parks. I spent a very pleasant evening reading and writing in the van, wrapped up in my down jacket and watching the sun go down behind the mountains.

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Buchaille Etive Mor in the sunshine

As night fell, it definitely felt autumnal and I had to get all the blankets out for the first time this year. It was a little strange being in there on my own and I had to tell myself a few times that the noises outside were really not likely to be axe-murderers creeping about!

I got up early and drove to the layby at Altnafeadh in Glencoe used by everyone heading up this mountain, but at 7.15am it was already packed! I always love the drive over Rannoch Moor and that morning it was the most beautiful I have ever seen it: mist was caught on the water and the rising sun was shining through it, turning everything pink.

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The route up Coire na Tulaich

I managed to get a spot in the next car park but that was also filling up fast. I had breakfast and set off at 8.30 feeling excited but a little nervous, as despite the sunshine in the valley, the ridge was shrouded in cloud. As I passed the main parking area, I was informed by people with bells that it was the Salomon Glencoe Skyline Race that day!

I headed off past the Lagangarbh hut and up the walkers route onto the ridge. It is a steep and fairly relentless climb up Coire na Tulaich, but a good path has been constructed and there were lots of people to say hello to. As I reached the ridge, the cloud was still clinging on, but through occasional breaks, the stunning views were revealed. The path to the summit of Stob Dearg was helpfully marked with little red flags for the runners. However, near the top I met the pair who had the job of removing them all.

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West to Buchaille Etive Beag (the Wee Buchaille) on the way up

I sat on the summit to have a few sandwiches (cheese and chilli jam), and was soon joined by a magnificent raven, who watched from a nearby rock. It has obviously learnt that walkers are a soft touch, as it soon hopped very close to me to take some sandwich crusts I threw down and, as the summit got busier, it moved from group to group, with it’s finest prize being half a ham sandwich from someone generous!

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North across Glencoe

Happily the cloud did lift a little more, permitting a few glimpses of Rannoch Moor to the east and Loch Leven down the valley to the west. I then returned back to the spot where I had joined the ridge, but rather than descending the same way, as we had done on a previous winter ascent, I continued west before turning south-west towards Stob na Doire. Despite being on my own, I was having a fabulous time!

The descent from Stob na Doire requires a little care as it is very rocky, then there is the final section of proper ascent up to Stob Coire Altruim. From here, it’s a simple walk along the ridge to the second munro, Stob na Broige. This summit was very busy, so I found a comfy seat among the rocks to the west of the cairn, to eat my final sandwiches and admire Loch Etive and Buchaille Etive Beag.

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Loch Leven through the clouds!

A misty drizzle settled on us, so I headed back to the path that descends the north side of the ridge between Stob Coire Altruim and Stob na Doire. It is mainly a steep grassy slope with a gravelly path worn into it, with a few badly eroded and steep sections. About halfway down, I also discovered some steep slabby areas that had to be crossed carefully. One section made me a little nervous looking at it, and had Chris been there, he would have gone first to “spot” me (stand below to catch me if I slip); as it was after a good look, I put my poles away and headed calmly down backwards. A few bum shuffles and careful foot placements were all that was required; I was pleased with myself as I really dislike down-climbing.

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My raven friend

There are stepping stones across the stream at the bottom and I paused for a last snack on the other side. It’s a great valley, surrounded as it is by such steep mountain sides, but the midges soon had me moving again, following the excellent path down the Lairig Gartain and back to the carpark.

I returned home invigorated and full of excitement about my first proper solo mountain trip!

Details

A fabulous ridge walk in a stunning location!

Distance: 13km/8.25 miles

Time: 5.5 hours (Walkhighlands suggests 7-9 hours)

Ascent: 1110m

Munro summits: Stob Dearg (1021m) & Stob na Broige (956m)

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My 1st solo munro: Ben Chonzie

I climbed my very first solo munro on Saturday. This may not seem a particularly big achievement but it was a new experience for me to be out in the hills on my own, since almost all my hill walking and Scottish mountain adventuring has been done in Chris’ company.

I picked what I’d heard was a simple and boring munro to try on my own: Ben Chonzie is a lonely munro surrounded by heatherclad hills south of Loch Tay. It also isn’t too far to get there, as I have just started driving and this was just my third proper distance journey on my own in the car.

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The track up from Glen Lednock

The drive up Glen Lednock was lovely, although very slow and windy, and the walk, which starts from an obvious parking spot before the road becomes private access, was much more pleasant than I expected. I imagine that this might be the best time to climb this munro as the heather is in flower so the lower slopes are a mass of purple, which is beautiful. It’s quite a steep climb but also short! I reached the summit in 2 hours, despite sitting in the heather and blaeberry for a while (the blaeberries are also ripe and tasty now).

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Vast swathes of Ling heather (Calluna vulgaris)

Most of the route is on landrover tracks; there is short section of path that could possibly be hidden in poor visibility or snow, then there is a fence to follow to the summit, so route finding was ridiculously easy. The long string of people and dogs also meant it would have been hard to get lost!

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Relaxing in the warm heather

I would definitely recommend this as a good munro for anyone wanting to build up their hill walking confidence, as I was.

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Nice views west from near the summit

Details

Munro summit: Ben Chonzie (931m)

Distance: 12.5km / 7.75 miles

Ascent: 712m

Duration: 4 hours

Braeriach: Testing my limits

We climbed Braeriach in April and I will always remember it!

Braeriach is the third highest mountain in Britain, but also very remote and difficult to reach. It is situated in the Cairngorms, south-east of Aviemore and can be accessed a variety of ways: one is as part of the Cairn Toul – Braeriach traverse, which encompasses those two munros, in addition to The Devil’s Point and Sgor an Locahin Uaine; another is as a circular route from Whitewell. As we have already climbed the other three, we chose the latter route.

The forecast wasn’t too bad although MWIS advised that it might be quite windy (up to 40mph), but we wouldn’t be going over any particularly difficult terrain, so we thought it was worth a try. As a long route it would also be good practice for our TGO Challenge.

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At the Cairgorm Club footbridge in the forest

We parked at Whitewell and set off early through the Rothiemurchus Forest on excellent forest tracks. These Caledonian pine forests are wonderful; they are home to capercaillie, red squirrels and pine martin and definitely worth a visit themselves. We navigated the tracks to the Cairngorm Club Footbridge, then followed the path south-east towards the Lairig-Ghru. We continued gradually climbing upwards through the forest above the Allt Druidh. The forest thinned and we were no longer protected from the wind; Braeriach was hidden in cloud ahead of us.

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The Lairig-Ghru looking ominous ahead

The path eventually drops down to the burn and the path from the Chalamain gap comes in from the left. We crossed the burn and started to climb steeply up the ridge on the west side of the Lairig Ghru, still on a fairly good path. However, we soon hit snow, it was still windy and the visibility deteriorated; we could see down the steep cliffs into the Lairig Ghru but not much else. We pushed on but the wind got stronger and stronger; we decided it was time for a break and lunch in the red cafe (our group shelter). Finding a flat sheltered spot on the steep rocky ridge wasn’t easy, and keeping hold of and getting into the shelter was even less easy!

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At this point I couldn’t raise the camera above my waist….

A group shelter gives tremendous relief from difficult conditions, and this was no exception, except that the material violently battering the back of our heads was a constant reminder of what was waiting outside. We were also sitting in a lot more snow than we had anticipated. We had already come a long way, but we started discussing our options: the strong wind and poor visibility wasn’t a good combination, so did we want to head back or carry on? We decided to continue a little further and see how we felt: we were well-equipped, we had lots of time and we could turn around at any point. So after a short but vigorous battle with the shelter which didn’t want to go back into a rucksack, we headed on up the ridge. The clouds had actually lifted somewhat while we were resting, which gave us more confidence, but as we approached Sron na Lairige, the wind roared down the valley pummeling us relentlessly. We had a further battle to get our waterproof trousers on, which stopped the wind biting our legs, but it was starting to become mentally challenging for me, as well as physically challenging. We began to walk for a few minutes, leaning heavily into the wind, then stop and turn our backs to the wind briefly, while I regained my breath, before continuing in this manner.

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View on the summit of Braeriach

As we got closer to the summit, we changed direction, the ridge narrowed considerably and we moved quite carefully. Suddenly the wind dropped. It was an incredible relief. My hair had been flying about my face, making it difficult to see, so I quickly took my hood and buff off ready to re-tie it in the calm, when a huge gust hit us and knocked us both onto the ground. I was shocked: I had never felt wind like this. Whenever I moved, the wind picked up the snow and shot it in sharp spikes into my face, while my hair whipped my eyes. It was awful, so I crouched on the floor with my eyes closed waiting for it to calm down. It did a little. We moved forward cautiously. Then there were more gusts; we tried to move down north off the ridge slightly but having been driven to the ground again, the wind pushed me across the snow even while I sitting down! This was terrifying, I had never felt so out of control. I rolled onto my side and dug my elbow into the snow to stop myself from sliding, unable to see much due to the snow in my eyes and face. Chris wasn’t struggling so much, possibly because, unlike him, I was wearing my large backpacking rucksack to get get used to it before the Challenge and it was acting like a sail; he came and crouched behind me. We couldn’t stay there, so we crawled forwards: the ridge was broader ahead. By this point I had had enough, I wanted to get down.

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How we’d been feeling a few minutes earlier!

I honestly have no idea how long we were in this wind but it suddenly disappeared again. We walked calmly but warily to the summit, where there was no wind at all and we could take our gloves off and have some food. However, we could hear the wind roaring like a massive waterfall around the corries just over the edge, it was very strange. Once again we discussed the options: earlier in the day, we had decided that we should return by the way we had come, rather than complete the circuit, as we knew the way and could follow our prints if necessary. Now, we looked at the map and decided the fastest way down and out of the wind was to continue east and descend into Gleann Eanaich as planned.

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As we left the summit, the wind hit us again, this time pushing us downhill from behind. It was difficult not to go too fast and to prevent my rucksack from coming round to my front! However, we descended quickly and soon it was just a surreal memory. The slope was steep, and we “skiied” in our boots down some gullies still full of snow. We lost the path and picked our way down the steep hillside to the track clearly visible below us, passing a couple of reindeer on the way. We didn’t even get too wet crossing the bog to get to the track. Then it was simply a trot in calm weather along landrover track all the way back to Whitewell, occasionally looking back and thinking “did that really just happen?!”

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Desending steeply down into Gleann Eanaich

Back at the van, we had tea and hobnobs before driving up to Glenmore Lodge for a delicious dinner to celebrate another successful adventure.

Once home, we checked the reports from the Cairngorm weather station, which had recorded gusts over 80mph at lunchtime and reaching 90mph by mid-afternoon.

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Proof we were actually fine despite a little too much excitement!

I think I tested my limits further than I ever have in the mountains that day. However, I didn’t panic, I didn’t cry, I didn’t freeze: we were fine, I was fine. I’m proud to know we can cope with difficult situations. Chris actually enjoyed himself!

However, when MWIS forecast 40mph winds two weeks ago, I changed our plan from climbing a ridge on Ben Nevis to rock climbing at Dunkeld…..

 

Munro summit: Braeriach (1296m)

Distance: 26km / 16.25 miles

Ascent: 1217m

Duration: 9h 15mins

 

Ring of Steall

The Ring of Steall: it just sounds amazing. It is a classic route and as such is one I heard about soon after entering the world of Scottish mountains and one I have been very keen to do ever since.

Chris had done it before, early in his mountain career but couldn’t remember it well, so with a break in the weather forecast and a free weekend we decided Bruce (our van) was well overdue an outing and that this was the ideal route.

Encompassing four munros in the Mamores, it represents a fairly long day, but we currently have plenty of daylight up here so that wasn’t a problem. Most route descriptions suggest starting this walk from the car park at the very end of the road up Glen Nevis to follow the path to the Steall Falls; however, this means a 3km walk along the road at the end of the day, which we decided we wouldn’t fancy. We therefore parked in the lower carpark (where you emerge from descending the final munro) and walked the road section at the start when it didn’t bother us at all: we were very happy with this decision at the end of the day! It is also possible to walk the route in the opposite direction and we saw many people doing both.

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Chris crossing the Wire Bridge. Dan Bailey in his book “Scotland’s Mountain Ridges describes this flood plain as a “perfect wild camp spot , were it not a sodden sponge beloved of midges”

From the Steall Falls carpark, it is a wonderful start to a walk, and definitely worthy in it’s own right (details of this walk here). The first obstacle of the day is the wire bridge across the Water of Nevis: a single wire for your feet, with two wires for your hands; it is even a challenge to get up onto it when you’re quite small!

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Steall Falls

Once across, you pass a private hut and head towards the falls; there isn’t much of a path and it is very muddy. We paused in admiration at the foot of this spectacular waterfall and then had to cross the water. This could have gone worse: the rocks were very slippery and I’m happy I put my gaiters on, otherwise I would have had rather wet legs.

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An Gearanach, the first munro summit

You then follow a faint path that meanders through the trees and boulders around the base of a steep slope, and brings you back out into the open before starting to climb steeply upwards. The path zigzags back and forth up the unrelenting slope as the views gradually reveal themselves. Eventually, after what feels like a never-ending ascent, you finally reach the summit of the first munro, An Gearanach.

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Brilliant ridge walking

A narrow rocky ridge leads to the another summit, An Garbhanach, and then the second munro, Stob Coire a’ Chairn, which was amazingly busy. The views are spectacular: to our north, on the other side of Glen Nevis, Ben Nevis was shrouded in cloud all day, whereas in all other directions layer upon layer of mountains stretched away into distance.

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Looking back at the route we had taken over An Gearanach and An Garbhanach, as we climbed the second munro

We moved east to a second cairn, away from the other walkers and had a bacon sandwich, before tackling the steep descent down to the bealach below Am Bodeach, the third munro of the day. As we descended, we looked ahead and I was slightly appalled by the size and steepness of the slope we had to climb next; when you’ve already climbed two munros, it’s quite a forbidding sight!

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“Really? Do I have to?!” Looking up at Am Bodeach

After a short break out of the wind on the south side of the bealach, we were ready to take on Am Bodach. It doesn’t start off too badly, but got progressively steeper and steeper, until we were almost scrambling up the path, which became loose, stony and rocky.

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It was worth it for the view!

Again the views are tremendous! From the summit, you can see down Loch Leven and away out to the sea and to Loch Eilde Mor to the south-east.

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Chris enjoying his bacon sandwich on top of An Bodach

A broad grassy ridge stretches between Am Bodach and Sgurr an lubhair (a munro-top, despite being higher than the first two munros). The route turns north at this point and some further descent and ascent takes you to Stob Choire a’Mhail.

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Walking over Stob Choire a’Mhail with Stob Ban behind….we want to go up Stob Ban now, it looked amazing.

From here you cross the ‘Devil’s Ridge’, a very narrow mostly grassy ridge that drops away spectacularly on either side. As we left Sgurr an lubhair, the wind picked up, which made the traverse of this ridge especially exciting! The buffeting was making me stagger and I therefore crossed some of the most exposed bits with a sort of half crouched gait, ready to brace myself against the gusts, which must have been quite amusing to watch.

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Looking back at the Devil’s Ridge

A last push then takes you to the top of the final munro, Sgurr a’ Mhaim. We had some final summit snacks, a last look across at the impressive Stob Ban and headed down the northwest shoulder, avoiding the risk of death that comes with going back to Steall Falls.

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Munro number four!

The descent was long, draining and quite tough on the knees; fortunately we had saved the chocolate raisins for exactly this situation! We reached the van at about 6pm, enjoyed a cup of tea and oatie biscuits, and reflected on a brilliant day out.

Details

Distance: 16km / 10 miles

Duration: 9h45min

Munro summits: An Gearanach (982m); Stob Coire a’ Chairn (981m); Am Bodach (1032m); Sgurr a’ Mhaim (1099m)

Ascent: 1676m

Ben Vane

Having been busy for a few weeks, the first Sunday we had free, we headed out. The forecast wasn’t too bad particularly for Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, so we decided on Ben Vane: a little munro that was new for us both.

Situated just the east towards the top of Loch Lomond, it ought to have nice view and isn’t too much of a trek from the Central Belt. However we didn’t get to see those views: constant heavy drizzle and low cloud accompanied us the whole way!

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Sustained ascent that gets increasingly rocky towards the top

For a hill that only just makes munro status, it packs a punch. We started from Inveruglas on the banks of Loch Lomond and followed a gently ascending road surrounded by pylons, into the hills. Then you just have to go up, steeply, right the way to the top. There are a few especially steep and rocky sections, where we needed to use our hands,  to keep it interesting though.

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Wet but happy in a cloud at the top

The summit was a large flat area with two cairns so we went to both to be sure, but nearly froze in the process, as the wind was howling across it, so we beat a hasty retreat to a drippy sheltered area just below the summit.

Sadly we didn’t even have hot chocolate to warm us up because I’d decided we didn’t need to carry a hot flask in summer….

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The views must be great when you can see them!

We did enjoy it though, it felt great to out in the hills again and I only got one midge bite.

Munro: Ben Vane (915m)

Distance: 11km

Duration: 4.5 hours

Ascent:  930m

Jessica and Chris’ TGO Challenge Part 3: Aviemore to Braemar

After a relaxed afternoon and evening in Aviemore, we set off on our 7th day of walking just after 8am towards Freshiebridge via the B970. My leg was hurting quite badly so we were fairly slow as we made our way along the roads. However, there was little wind and it was very calm and peaceful walking along under the trees. The deciduous woodland was full of birds and the verges were humming with bumblebees. We made several stops and as I warmed up, walking became easier.

At Feshiebridge we turned off the B970 and took a smaller road past the landing strip and gliding club. The birch and beech trees gave way to larch and Scot’s pine. Chris spotted a stoat; a red squirrel watched us from the branches of a roadsid tree and the blaeberry (bilberry) flowers were attracting lots of blueberry bumblebees (Bombus monticola). This is my favourite species: with a bright red bottom and yellow stripe, it’s very beautiful and quite rare in much of the UK.

Eventually, at the end of the road, there is a car park with some information about Glen Feshie and a track that leads down the glen. Beyond a house and a couple of sheds, this track turns into a path taking you towards the river. We passed through a gate, where a sign asked us if we had a tent with us because the bothy is closed for refurbishment, and stopped to cool our feet in the stream just beyond.

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The pine forest in Glen Feshie. Look at all the new baby Scots pine trees; it’s great to see so much regeneration.

The river Feshie is highly braided, winding its way through shallow channels in a wide gravel bed. The outer banks of the meanders are highly eroded and at one point the path is completely cut off by the remains of a large landslide that has ripped away the river bank either side of a stream flowing into the river. The resulting cliffs of gravel require care to descend and once across you can see that the remaining cliff is also being heavily eroded and probably won’t last long.

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Landslide! The path was just to the right of the gorse bush on the far side!

The path then took us into proper Caledonian pine forest where the forest floor was illuminated by an amazingly bright lime green by the thick covering of blaeberry. The Cairngorms are home to some of the largest remaining areas of native Caledonian pine forest: it has been stripped from much of the Scottish hills and only patches remain and overgrazing by sheep and deer prevent regeneration. Here, there are no sheep and deer numbers are tightly controlled; the results are clear with young trees much in evidence: a rare sight on the majority of our walks in Scotland.

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I love these forests. The blaeberry is so beautiful.

We made our way through more beautiful forest before the track disappeared into the river! This river changes its course across the gravelly valley bottom regularly, resulting in the loss of tracks and bridges. A new path has been created that skirts the steep slope above the river before re-joining the track further down the glen.

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The landrover track just falls into the river! The huge tree in the channel demonstrates just how strong this river must be in spate!

The bothy, Ruigh Aiteachain, is situated in a large flat area dotted with large trees and although it is closed at the moment, it is a lovely place to camp: I think it was one of my favourites of the whole trip. Although, I love the mountains, I find there is something very special about these forests. We were spoilt for choice of where to pitch the tent and eventually decided on a spot under a huge beech tree beside an old stone chimney.

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Such a lovely relaxed camping spot

As a wild camping spot it even has a few luxuries: water is piped out of the hill ready to drink and there is a toilet (very basic but functional, although you have to collect your own water to flush it).

We had a leisurely dinner as a few other people arrived and also set up camp; we lay and looked up through the leaves and I watched the bees and loads of voles scuttling through the undergrowth behind the tent: it was a really lovely evening. We went to bed just before it started to rain.

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Setting off in the rain on day eight

In the morning it was still raining so we had breakfast in the tent. Full waterproofs were required for packing up camp and the little “challenge city” of tiny tents gradually disappeared as everyone headed off down the glen. Despite the light rain, the morning walk started beautifully again as we were still in the forest and able to  admire the huge old granny pines. At our first snack stop several challengers caught up with us and stopped for a chat before carrying on, and that pretty much continued for the rest of the day. There were more signs of river erosions and the huge trees lying on the gravel beds between the river channels are evidence of the power that this trickling river must sometimes show.

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Leaving the forest behind us

We emerged into the heart of the Cairngorms: a huge expanse of undulating brown heather and tough grass as far as we could see, with little to measure our progress against and made even bleaker by the unceasing rain. We met up with three challengers (including Ali, one of the Challenge organisers) in a building shown on the map that was actually half a shed with about three quarters of a wooden wall remaining.

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Rain and heather just about sums up our 8th day of walking

The only features that broke up this bleak landscape for the rest of the day were a bridge over a nice waterfall and another collapsing stone building that we sheltered in for a while late in the day. Also lots and lots of slugs. When we turned uphill towards the waterfall we left the river Feshie, before we started to follow Geldie Burn further on.

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A lot of wet, boggy emptiness…..

We had planned to camp at White Bridge but it was still raining when we got there and was quite exposed and unappealing, so we carried on a little further. However, my leg had had enough soon after so we stopped and pitched the tent on a random patch of flattish grass beside the landrover track. Unfortunately as he was laying out his bed, Chris discovered that we had pitched it over a very large rock, hidden in the grass, so we had to undo everything and move it in the rain. This wet day demonstrated just how lucky we had been with the weather and how much tougher the challenge would be if the weather was poor.

By the morning, the rain had reduced to the odd shower, so we managed to pack up in the dry. We found our first ever deer antler in the heather, which was very exciting and Chris carried it to Braemar. We set early at 7.20am to make our slow way (my leg was definitely not improving) towards the Linn of Dee.

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Linn of Dee

There we had a pause and went to look at the amazing gorge, then continued along the road on the northern side of the river towards Mar Lodge. Eventually we saw a very welcome sign directing TGOers to a cup of tea, biscuits and a chat with some other challengers! A board covered in messages and a tally of visitors, showed that 115 challengers had passed through! It was then a fairly short walk into Braemar for our first bacon roll of the trip!

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Woohoo!

Feeling revived, we made our way to the hostel, where we did some kit admin before our friends, Jen and Ade, came to visit us, bearing wonderful gifts of chocolate, a spork for Chris (he left his at the bunkhouse in Aviemore, so we’d been sharing a single spork for 3 days – disaster!) and physio tape. We had a lovely afternoon, with lots of tea, cake and chat followed by a delicious meal at Gordon’s tea room to prepare us for the next day, which was the longest of the trip and had been worrying us for a while.

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On the road into Braemar

Day 7

Aviemore – Ruigh-aiteachan: 22.5 km /14 miles (8 hours)

Day 8

Ruigh-aiteachan – White Bridge: 21.9km / 13.6 miles (8 h 40m) – we actually walked an extra 1km so 22.9km

Day 9 

White Bridge – Braemar: 16.2 km / 10 miles (6 hours)

Knoydart: beautiful and wild

From the moment when I first heard that the Knoydart Penninsula is the most remote area on the UK mainland, I have wanted to visit. At Easter, we finally made the trip.

The Knoydart Penninsula sits between Loch Nevis and Loch Hourn on the west coast of Scotland. It has no road links and can therefore only be accessed by boat or by foot. We decided that several days walking here would represent great training for our TGO Challenge, which is now only a few weeks away!

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The stags were waiting to welcome us into Knoydart

We decided to start our walk from Kinlochourn, which is reached via a long drive down a very bumpy single track road off the A87. We encountered a lot of red deer in the road so drive carefully. There are two car parks at the end of this road: one for day parking and one for overnight with a £1 charge per night. We left the van there on Thursday morning and set off along the path on the south side of Loch Hourn.

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Setting off along Loch Hourn

It is instantly beautiful. The loch was peaceful with just a pair of grebes floating nearby and the surrounding hills dropping steeply to the shores. The path was muddier than we had anticipated and we had to stop after just 10 mins to put our gaiters on: an early sign of what was to come!

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Barrisdale Bay

The path follows the loch shore for about 8 km before it turns south and heads inland as a landrover track to Barisdale. This area is relatively bustling compared to much of the rest of the penninsula, presumably because it can be accessed by boat and there is a path linking it to Inverie. Camping here is restricted to the campsite opposite the bothy; there is a £3 charge per night for both. Also, if your gear is wet, there is no longer a fireplace in the bothy, but there is running water and a toilet.

Once past Ambraigh the route towards Inverie starts to climb. The intermittent showers also became more persistent. By this stage we had seen more deer than I have ever seen and the effect that they have on this environment was clearly illustrated by a large area on the opposite side of the valley from which they have been excluded. The deer fence marked an extraordinarily well-defined line between the short brown grass on our side and the deep heather and young trees or saplings on the other side.

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The first Bridge of Doom in Gleann an Dubh-Lochain

It felt like a long ascent to the bealach (saddle), where the wind caught us. We could now see Loch an Dubh-Lochain ahead where we intended to camp. The descent was simple enough, we just had to avoid the boggy sections: there were many! There were also numerous streams running down, crossing the path and we encountered the first Bridge of Doom (falling apart!). The ground on this part of the valley was unexpectedly and beautifully covered in primroses.

 

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Unexpectedly pretty among the wilderness

We also came across a lone highland calf which Chris announced was dead, before it got up and trotted off.

 

Our camping spot was right beside the lochan and I was very happy to reach it; I felt amazingly light and floaty when I took my rucksack off.

 

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First pitch beside Loch an Dubh-Lochain

Unfortunately it rained on and off constantly while we set up camp and made dinner, so that by bedtime we were soaked again, which didn’t make getting into the tent easier or more comfortable. By the time we were inside we were effectively barricaded in by the piles of wet boots, gloves and waterproofs in the tent porch. We did have a lovely 12 hour sleep though!

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Gleann Meadail

It was nicer in the morning so we set off wearing all our wet outer-layers to dry them out. We turned off the main path to Inverie and headed east up Gleann Meadail. This was a lovely valley and we found a wonderful spot for a camp, where we had our first snack stop, before starting the long climb up to Mam Meadail. Part of the way up, we stopped for lunch and I had just taken my boots and socks off to freshen my feet in the stream, when a big burst of heavy rain hit us. By the time we had scrambled to get our waterproofs on and everything was wet again, it had stopped; this was to be the course of the day.

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A long slow ascent up to Mam Meadail

From the highest point we could see the pointed summit of Sgurr na Ciche shrouded in cloud; we even glimpsed a golden eagle before it disappeared into the mist on the upper slopes. We were slow on the descent down to Carnoch and the marshy land around the River Carnach didn’t look very inviting.

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The mouth of the river Carnach and the BOG

We followed a track up the north side of the river, without crossing it as is shown on the map, but this soon turned into deep mud before disappearing. We weaved our way through the boggy ground, trying to avoid the wettest areas, which was extremely hard going and made for very slow progress. Tracks and paths were occasionally visible but they didn’t help much as we just ended up ankle deep in mud rather than water.

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Down the river Carnach as the valley begins to narrow

Eventually we reached a wooded area that redeemed the afternoon by being absolutely stunning! The valley here narrowed and became steeper, the river also narrowed and ran over rocks, forming waterfalls and cascades, more streams gurgled down through the trees on our left. The bank became steep and we had to climb through trees and rocks but at least it wasn’t so wet.

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Passing  around the foot of Beinn Aodainn

Then, as the river turns east around the foot of Beinn an Aodainn, we came out under a dark cliff that dropped into a gorgeous pool of clear green water. Trees hung over one end and at the other the bank sloped down gently forming a little beach. It would make a perfect campsite and a superb swimming spot in warmer weather. This section was so calm, unexpected and wonderful, I found myself thinking that it could be one of my favourite places in Scotland – on the otherhand, it could just have been the relief of getting out of the endless flat bog!

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Why can’t we camp here?

More waterfalls appeared as we climbed higher and then we were back in the bog again. Here the path on the map disappears; we followed the river, planning to ascend up to reach another path that would take us east to Loch Cuaich, where we intended to camp. However, we came to an apparent dead end when the valley narrowed again and steep crags blocked the route. My feet were tired, absolutely soaked and after such a difficult day I definitely didn’t fancy scrambling about, then walking another hard four km, so I suggested we stopped at the one small patch of dry grass beside the river.

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Waterfalls below Beinn Aodain

 We had dinner – instant custard makes quite a nice dessert – and made it into the tent just a few minutes before torrential rain started to fall. Heavy rain and hail rattled on the tent all night, interspersed with violent gusts of wind that I could hear rushing up the valley before they buffeted us and it was much colder. I didn’t have a good sleep imagining the tent blowing down and the water that was all around us rising up to flood the tent.

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Dinner preparations after a hail shower

However, everything was absolutely fine (I feel bad to have doubted our little tent!) and in the morning the hill tops were all covered in snow. It was dry for breakfast and we set off eastwards to follow the north side of the river to Lochan nam Breac as described in the hill tracks book. Five minutes later and that route was clearly impassable without getting into the river, so we back tracked and scrambled north up the steep slope, aiming to hit the track somewhere above us. This worked and gave us some fantastic views of the whole valley in both directions, before making our way east again. This valley feels seriously wild and committing, it’s a very dramatic, craggy and remote landscape.

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View back down the River Carnach on the last morning

By 11am we were north of Lochan nam Breac and stopped to look at the map; it had taken us nearly 2 hours to walk about 2.5 km. We were astonished! It had felt like we were moving well, but the boggy ground was clearly slowing us down and it was still raining. We had intended to head back to Barisdale along the Abhainn Chosaidh and then through Glen Barrisdale but those valleys were riddled with streams and were not recommended for wet days! Adding that to our slow progress and a big potential river crossing, we decided it was safer to turn back and return via Gleann Unndalain instead.

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Lochan nam Breac

Once we started climbing Mam Unndalain, the bog reduced dramatically and we made much better distance. Glenn Unndalain is a lovely valley but felt much greener and friendlier; the sun even came out for a while, making the numerous streams and waterfalls sparkle.

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Out of the worst of the bog at last and climbing Mam Unndalain

By 3pm our progress had improved so much, we were back at the Barisdale campsite, where we had a hot chocolate before carrying on, intending to camp on the tip of land pointing out to Fraoch Eilean. Howewer, it was only about 4.30pm when we got near and we decided that it would be good training to do a longer day, so we pushed on back to the van. It turned into a beautiful evening as we marched back along Loch Hourn, with the evening sun coming out between showers to light up the moss, dead bracken and granny pines on the shore.

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Granny pines after ANOTHER shower

We got back to the van at about 7pm, sorted out our kit and made an excellent dinner with all our remaining food!

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Evening on the shore of Loch Hourn

Details

Distances: Day 1 – Kinlochourn to via Brisdale Loch an Dubh-Lochain ~ 18km; Day 2 –  via Gleann Meadail and up the River Carnach to the most northerly bend ~ 18km; Day 3 – back to Kinlochourn via Glean Unndalain and Barisdale ~21km

Total: 57km

Comments:

Knoydart is an absolutely incredible place, I would highly recommend going! However, good care and planning is required as the terrain can be difficult, weather forecasts are unreliable and it is very inaccessible and remote: in three days we saw 7 people between Kinlochhourn and Barisdale, and only 1 other person beyond that. Ensure you have plenty of supplies, escape options prepared and enjoy the heart of Scottish wilderness.