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

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.

Nevis Gorge and Steall Falls

Following our day out with British Mountain Guide Andy Cave, we decided to take a wander up to the Steall Falls in Glen Nevis. It was raining and we had wanted to make the most of the hotel facilities in the morning, so this short walk was ideal. From Fort William, you take the road all the way to the end of Glen Nevis where there is a free car park. A good path leads away into the dramatic gorge, however it is rough and at times the ground drops away steeply, so care and good footwear is needed.

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View up the Water of Nevis from the path

After winding through the forest, with the river rushing over rocks below, you come out into an open valley. The huge Steall Falls are immediately visible pouring down the hillside ahead. The path leads off east down the valley, but you can turn right towards the river to get a bit closer. A wire bridge crosses the river, which is not for the faint-hearted. A hut is situated on the other side and a boggy walk to the base of the falls is possible, but according to Chris wasn’t worth the muddiness, as the views are actually better from the river.

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Steall Falls in the cloud

Harry Potter fans might recognise the landscape from the film Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, when Harry battles the dragon.

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This bridge requires a lot of concentration (it is also right at the end of the walk and it’s therefore not essential to cross it!)

This is a brilliant walk for groups of friends or families wanting quick access to some wilderness and spectacular scenery, the rocky path might add an extra little sense of adventure.

Distance: 3.5 km / 2.25 miles

Ascent: 220 m

Time: 1.5 hours

Turning back: Beinn Bhuidhe

The weather forecast was pretty bad for last weekend but we are aware that during the TGO Challenge in May, we will have to walk whatever the weather. We therefore decided to try to get out anyway. Not knowing many decent long circular low level walks (please send us suggestions if you know of any!), we decided to try for Beinn  Bhuide, which includes a very long walk-in along a flat track from the head of Loch Fyne. We were hoping that by the time we started ascending, the weather might have cleared up. We also knew there was easy parking for the campervan for both Friday and Saturday night.

It was an extremely dark and wet drive up on Friday night and sounded just as wet when we woke up on Saturday morning. Having finally beaten the struggle to get up, we headed off in all our waterproofs up the track towards the Fyne Ales brewery (Achadunan brewery on the OS maps). It is a long trudge along the bottom of Glen Fyne and many people cycle it. The river was very high and flowing seriously fast, as were all the channels coming off the hillside: it was an impressive sight through the mist.

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The River Fyne looking scary

Eventually, you come to a gate, where a sign asks bikes to be left, and you walk through some hazel woods. We passed a closed up lodge, Inverchorachan, and started to climb, following a path from just the other side of the second gate through the deer fence. The path was quite steep and muddy, but leads up the south side of a gorge, where the stream was raging just on our right. We could see the water tearing off pieces of the bank and throwing up the stones at the edges: it was pretty spectacular.

Before the gorge widened out, there was one particularly tricky but short section, that definitely requires hands on rock. It’s probably not too much trouble in the dry, but is definitely something to think about in the wet if you aren’t confident with that sort of thing.

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The stream above Inverchorachan was very impressive and we were pretty wet.

Beyond this, there was a big waterfall coming down the head of the valley, and the sun actually came out for a few minutes, allowing us to eat a sandwich in the dry and admire the scenery.

Having dried out ever so slightly we set off again, trying to follow the path that was occasionally visible between the snow patches. The sun didn’t last long and the drizzle soon had us putting our hoods and gloves back on. The ground was quite eroded by water and soon became steeper again as we moved up on the left of the large waterfall. The snow was slippery and the ground wasn’t frozen meaning progress was fairly slow.

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Once up onto the next flatter section, the path crossed several streams. The first just required a minor detour, but the next was definitely not possible at the usual crossing point, so we followed it upstream to try to find somewhere safer. The wind had picked up and it started raining heavily,  quickly soaking us again. Having seen the sunshine,  I felt more demoralised than I had before drying out. We struggled along the steep stream bank, passing a fork – meaning we now had two streams to cross rather than one – and eventually found a suitable spot. It was very fast and deep, preventing us being able to place our poles in it for balance, but was easily jumpable.

As we started back down the other side looking for the path and somewhere to cross the next one, we were both starting to think this was not going to be an easy summit. We were now walking away from our destination, which was totally in cloud, and all we could see were a lot of steep hillocks rising into the murk, which in poor visibility was going to be a nightmare to navigate. We managed to cross the next stream but we had lost a fair bit of time and it was now around 1.30pm. We sheltered behind a rocky outcrop, had some food and discussed our options. We were still 1.5km from the summit. There were more streams that might prove impossible to cross. There was a steep section ahead that would be tricky in the horrible melty snow. There wasn’t going to a be a view. We had a long walk out even from where we were, and importantly, if we headed back now we’d be down in time for a beer at the brewery! We had some hot squash and turned around.

 

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It took a while to get down the steep sections but we didn’t encounter any problems. The weather also continued to tease me into taking my waterproofs off before raining again 10 minutes later. The track out along the valley definitely feels long on the walk back but some dancing Highland cows and the biggest herd of deer I’ve ever seen provided some distraction.

And we did indeed make it to the brewery in time for a drink and a venison sausage roll.

 

Details

Distance: 21.5km if you make it to the summit (we walked about 18.5km)

Munro summit: Beinn Bhuidhe  (948m)

Region: Argyll

Time: 7 hours without reaching the summit in unpleasant conditions (7-8 hours usually)

Comments:

Don’t be afraid to turn around if you’re not having fun! Yes, it’s good to get to the top but you are also out there to have a good time! Also, take a bike.

Women’s Paramo Velez Light Smock

I do not like waterproofs; but I do like my Paramo!

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My Paramo and I having wintery fun in Glencoe early this year. It kept me snug in the wind and snow on the top of Stob Dearg and comfortable all the way down. Thanks to Isabel Jones for the photo!

I have always disliked waterproofs and have never found them to be very effective. As I started climbing and walking in the Scottish hills, I upgraded from my old Regatta jackets, through two Outdoor Research waterproof jackets, to a Rab Vidda jacket (which was a second-hand emergency buy when I needed a helmet compatible hood for a winter skills course). None of them have kept me dry: not in summer nor winter. So, I would avoid wearing them, often to the point of getting rather wet. I don’t believe that all these jackets can have leaked, which leads me to the conclusion that it is a condensation problem, particularly as I get very warm when on the move. So, finally having had enough of being damp and suffering the awful cold clamminess of wearing a hardshell over a t-shirt in summer, I decided to try something different: I bought a Paramo jacket.

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The peaked hood ensured I was still happy despite driving rain near Loch Lomond in August 2015. Chris is also wearing his Paramo Velez smock (not the light version).

The fabric and comfort

For their waterproof clothing Paramo use Nikwax Analogy waterproof fabric, which works differently to any hardshell fabric: as well as being breathable, Paramo claim the advantage that it isdirectional too. Their waterproofs are made up of two layers: an inner layer, the Nikwax Analogy Pump Liner, which is designed to push water away from your skin and protect your insulation, and an outer layer of directional microfibre that deflects wind and rain. As a wearer, the first obvious difference between this fabric and that of hardshells is the feel: it is very soft. In particular, the Velez light fabric is almost silky to the touch, more so than that of the Velez, which has a slightly tougher material. This means that it is extremely comfortable to wear, even next to my skin.

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It provides great windproofing and insulation in cold dry conditions too! And sheds snow nicely when you fall into a snow drift! Beinn Ghlas in Nov 2016.

Features

The Velez light smock is described as suitable for all outdoor activities; I use mine for walking, munro bagging, back packing, scrambling and winter hill walking and it has been wonderful for them all. The smock has a fully adjustable hood and high collar, which both pull in tight around your face for good protection against driving rain or snow. The large chest pocket is very useful as it isn’t compressed at all by the waist belt of my rucksack, as other pockets usually are. It can fit a lot of items in it, although it isn’t very flattering when full, but that isn’t my priority on the hills! There are two two-way venting zips that run from the bottom of the smock up to the pocket, which also allow access to the two inner zipped pockets; I haven’t used these pockets much as I usually have a pack on, but I use the vents a lot, even when it’s raining. The back of the smock is longer than the front, to keep your bottom warm and dry, without restricting leg movement, and there is a draw cord around the base for adjustment to your preferred fit. Finally, it also has adjustable, reinforced velcro cuffs to keep the weather out: these have a tough bit on them for biting if the need arises!

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Comfortable despite the warmth, drizzle and fog whilst climbing munros near, and including Lochnagar, in the summer of 2015. You can see how short the smock is at the front, the two-way venting zips and the size of the front pocket.

Warmth & Waterproofing

My main worries about buying a Paramo jacket were that it would be too hot for me, and that I heard conflicting reports on how waterproof they are. As mentioned earlier, I get very hot when on the move but I have happily worn this jacket in summer and winter. In warm weather I’ve worn it over a short-sleeved base layer and although I have been warm, I’ve also been much more comfortable than in my previous hardshells. In winter conditions, I wear a base layer, wind-proof gilet and soft-shell jacket underneath it: this keeps me plenty warm enough and the jacket also provides great protection from the wind. In the very coldest conditions (or when stopping for lunch), I can throw a synthetic down jacket over the top or underneath.

It has also been bomb-proof in terms of waterproofing; the only time I feel like it may have let in a little water, was on one side of my neck when we were in torrential rain and wind so strong it was knocking me off my feet in Wales. Otherwise, it has kept out lots of Scottish rain and sleet very reliably!

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Struggling to stand upright in North Wales in October 2015; the only time I’ve felt like it might have let in a little water (at the neck on the windward side)

Size

The sizing is quite generous: I wear a size 10/12 and needed the size small smock and there is still plenty of space for extra layers. It is also not the most flattering fit: my Rab jacket looks a  bit sleeker but it really doesn’t matter.

Durability

I was also a little worried about damaging the apparently delicate outer fabric, but it is now nearly two years old and, despite constant use in the Scottish hills, only has one mark that I have noticed on it, which happened when I caught it in the zip of my primaloft jacket; however it is only tiny and superficial, so I’m surprised and pleased with how durable it seems to be.

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Hours of rain and sleet in the Monadhliath hills after waking up to snow on the tent (spring 2016): only my feet got wet though….

Packing convenience

I also thought it might be bulky and heavy, but it folds up smaller than the Rab Vidda jacket as it is softer and doesn’t feel any heavier: I carry it happily in my rucksack whatever the weather.

Downsides

There are only two very small things that I’m not keen on, which are how cold and wet the cuffs get: the very ends seem to only consist of the outer fabric and it can sometimes get very cold on your wrists if they aren’t covered by something. The other is that when it is very windy, the material of the hood flaps a lot and is very noisy.

Conclusion = Great!

Overall, I absolutely love this jacket and I would recommend it for all the activities I use it for.v In it, I feel like I can take on anything Scotland can throw at me! I will also happily wear it all day even when it isn’t raining, which for me is a revelation: rather than hating my waterproof, it is now one my favourite pieces of kit!

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Still in the Monadhliath…still raining….but also still dry and happy!