Jessica and Chris’ TGO Challenge Part 5: Tarfside to Montrose

We were so close. Just two more days of walking and we would complete the challenge. I tried not to get ahead of myself though, as the walk from Tarfside to the North Water Bridge campsite was 27km. They were a very warm 27 km!

We went back to the church, were the TGO volunteers had based themselves, to fill up on bacon rolls and tea, before we headed off. Because the volunteers were all experienced challengers, they were able to give us some route suggestions for the last two days of our trip. They pointed out to us some new bridges that were not on the map but would take us through a more interesting part of the valley, rather than the long road we had originally planed.

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A beautiful morning in Tarfside

This route took us east on the road from Tarfside to a bridge near Millden Lodge. From there we followed the land rover track on the south of the river to a new bridge just before the Rocks of Solitude. It is not on the map but we were assured it was there. Happily the information was spot on, even if we did have to double back through a herd of cows to find the bridge we were looking for; it was a great walk.

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Land rover track can be beautiful

It had been incredibly hot and there were a number of “let’s get the boots off” stops and also “quick, let’s eat the chocolate raisins because they are melting” stops. Fortunately crossing the bridge meant we would soon be under cover of trees, which was very welcome indeed.

Throughout the day we had been in contact with our friend Steph, who after a few phone signal problems, found us just as we were taking a path marked Rocks of Solitude. She brought with her, her 6 month old son Callum, who is the most chilled out toddler ever, until you take him in a buggy over a rough path that is. This made for a short visit but it was lovely to see them both and share a part of our walk with them. Thanks Steph and Callum!

Walking past the Rocks of Solitude and on to the blue door walk just north of Edzell was really gorgeous, and we have to once again thank the TGO volunteers for the tip. However, despite the shade of the trees the heat was relentless, and when we arrived in Edzell we made a bee-line for an ice cream. It was here that we would do our last bit of food shopping, which included a litre of cider to drink at the camp site a little bit later on. It was apparently my job to carry this.

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Enjoying our last camp site

The last part of our day involved crossing the wobbly bridge out of Edzell and the long and exhausting road to the North Water Bridge campsite. It was a tremendous feeling knowing that we had reached the final campsite of our challenge, and we were able to share it with challengers that we had met at Tarfside, which really reinforced just how much we enjoyed the social aspect of the TGO Challenge. We enjoyed our last camping meal and we certainly enjoyed our cider before getting into our sleeping bags for the last time.

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Our last camping meal, we were joined by Callum (left) and Fred (centre)

We were woken up early by the sunshine on another stunning day. It was hard to believe that in 12 km it would all be over and we would be sitting in Montrose celebrating with the other challengers.

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#Tentlife

We had been given an adventurous route by the volunteers in Tarfside, which involved a lot of rough ground on the west side of the Esk river. However with Jessica’s blisters causing a sharp pain with every step, we decided that, “flat ground” pain was better than “rough and uneven ground” pain, so we opted for more land rover track and road to lead us to the beach at Kinnaber Links, just north of Montrose.

From the North Water Bridge camp site, we headed east to a railway bridge, where we followed a path on the west side of the Esk river to Logie Mill before heading west back to the main road.  A very short walk on the main road lead us back to our challenge friend, a landrover track, which took us to Hillside then east to a huge Maltings factory.

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The flat lands on the east

It’s incredible to think that when we started our challenge the only industry we came across were a couple of hotels, a very small cafe and some sheep. But now there were large towns, a massive factory, big restaurants complete with a children’s play area, but still there were sheep.

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One of the many stops on our last day

It had taken many a snack stop to get us to this point in the day and sadly the chocolate raisins in our home made trail mix were finished and we were left with only a small assortment of seeds. Not to worry though, we were so nearly finished and there was only a couple of kilometres between us and the finish point. “Boof, to the sea!” Jessica yelled (that classic mountaineering phrase) as we broke through the trees and onto the beach but not before checking out one more interesting and pretty flower, obviously.

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There is always time to stop and appreciate nature.

We had made it! We had just walked across Scotland! With our feet in the sea and huge smiles on our faces, it made for an incredible moment and one which we will remember forever. It was only a short walk along the beach and into Montrose to the official signing out point where we would later have a celebratory dinner and drinks with all the other challengers that had also finished on the Friday.

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Boof to the Sea!!!!

It was fantastic to see everyone there, many of whom we had met along the way or had spent the last few days with. The social aspect of the challenge was incredible and a real pleasure to be a part of. Thank you to all of you for your encouragement and friendship. A special thanks to Fred and Callum who we spent the last two nights camping with and met up with us on the beach as we walked into Montrose.

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WE DID IT!!!

Writing this now, its hard to believe that we actually walked across Scotland! It was such a special journey for us both and one that we would love to take on again in the future, and despite leg and blister drama we both had a fantastic time together away from busy everyday life. We thoroughly enjoyed, the simple life of the TGO Challenge.

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Walking down to Montrose

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We will always have great memories from our challenge

Thank you:

A huge thank you to Jen and Ade who came to our rescue in Braemar, and your chat was amazing as always; to Steph and her son Callum for keeping us going towards the end; and finally to my Dad and Cath who drove us to our start point and were there to welcome us into Montrose. The support from both of our families and friends throughout the challenge was fantastic. We are also very proud to have raised £818.11 to split between Bliss and Scottish Mountain Rescue, two charities we are proud to support (you can still donate by clicking the links in the text or here: Jessica & Chris’ Justgiving pages).

Day 13 – Tarfside to North Water Bridge (27km 10 hours)

Day 14 – North water Bridge to Kinnaber links and Montrose (12ish km 5.5 hours)

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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.

Isles of Lewis and Harris: beaches and eagles

Lewis

Having had a fantastic day on Liathach in Torridon on Sunday, our plan was to spend the rest of the week getting a taste of the Isles of Lewis and Harris on our very first trip to the Outer Hebrides.

So, on Monday morning we caught the 9.30am ferry out of Ullapool to Stornoway. The water was incredibly calm and remained so for the entire crossing. We saw gannets for the first time, skimming just above the sea, identifiable by their large pale beaks and black wing tips contrasting strongly with their white bodies. We also caught a glimpse of two small fins side-by-side behind the ferry, but we couldn’t tell whether they were dolphins or porpoise. We spent some time during the crossing with all our guide books, climbing guides and maps (of which we had many!) out, constructing a plan of action for the next few days.

The ferry arrived in Stornoway in the early afternoon; we had read that this was by far the largest settlement on the islands, so we went for a wander around. Unfortunately we were rather underwhelmed and soon headed off for wilder areas.

Our first destination was the beach, Traigh Uige, at Timsgearraidh on the west of the island, which I think we read was the nicest on Lewis. The drive lasted about an hour, mostly through empty low-lying bog, containing very little but short brown grass and lots of lochans. This doesn’t sound very appealing but in the sunshine it was surprisingly attractive, with the golden brown contrasting with the bright blue of the sky and water.

We drove to a spot marked on the OS map with parking and a picnic area, just north of Eader Dah Fhadhail, and found it to be a designated camping area with toilets, showers and a utility room, run by a crofting association. The beach is just behind a small band of sand dunes and is lovely: beautiful white sand and sea so clear and blue, we quickly decided that we had to have a swim!

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Sunny Traigh Uige

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Eventually, feeling invigorated, we headed back to the van for dinner. The following morning, the sun was still shining and we drove up to Aird Uig to look for some sea cliff climbs. We parked at the end of the road opposite a house that is being run as a cafe and craft shop, or “open house” when the cafe is closed: a lovely idea. Aird Uig looked like a very unusual place, full of long low buildings with flat roofs. Some of them were nicely done up as holiday accommodation, others appeared to be in the process of renovation and quite a few were in very poor condition, lacking windows and surrounded by broken cars and engines. Apparently it is an old RAF base and the community are now doing lots of work to bring in visitors and provide jobs and business for locals.

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So where are these cliffs?

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We headed west from the centre of the village along a track and then down towards the north side of a lochan and the cliffs. The views were great but we weren’t very successful at finding the climbs; unfortunately, this seems to be a regular occurrence for us with sea cliffs. In the early afternoon we headed back to the van for the drive down to North Harris.

Harris

As you head south from Stornoway, the landscape changes: it starts to get hilly, and we drove along a really beautiful valley, with Loch Aireasort in the bottom, before reaching much more rocky terrain. We were looking for a shop to stock up on milk but didn’t actually find one until Tarbert the following day, so make sure you plan food shopping carefully!

We turned off the main road just north of Tarbert and drove west along a narrow, single track, windy and humpy road.The next day’s walk was to start from this road and I had spotted a small beach and a parking area at the end of it, which I thought might be somewhere nice to stay for the night. This road gives easy access to the Forest of Harris and part of the way along it we spotted a sign for a Golden Eagle observatory, which was very exciting: Golden Eagles were one of the things I was particularly hoping to see. At the end of the road, we did indeed find a lovely beach, parking, a wild campsite and a toilet, again run by the local crofting association. Be prepared to have to get out and chivvy the Highland cows out of the road though, they really weren’t bothered by the van at all. That evening we were able to have dinner with van doors open looking right down onto the beach.

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Traffic jam

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Dinner with a view at Huisinis

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Breakfast in the sunshine

After a sunny breakfast on the picnic benches above the beach, we headed off to start our walk; this time the cows were lying in the road and wouldn’t move until I went and stood over them. The walk starts at the access road to a power station about 3/4 of the way along the road, just before a little castle (Abhainn Suidhe) if you’re coming from the west. It follows a tarmac track up past the power station, but before we had even walked 1 km, we heard a raven making a lot of noise and realised that it was mobbing something very large indeed: my first Golden Eagle sighting! The eagle dwarfed the raven, which chased it round the valley before we lost sight of them over the hills. I couldn’t believe it and was so excited as I hadn’t really expected to see one. However, the Forest of Harris reportedly has some of the highest nesting density of Golden Eagles in Europe, so it’s a good place to spot them.

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Glen Ulladale

Once past the power station, the track gets steeper and climbs up to a small dam at the end of Loch Chliostair. Here, a path follows the west side of the loch; there is steep hillside on both sides and I spotted another eagle come over the top and slowly circle it’s way around to our left. Then we heard a strange yapping sound and another came into sight near the first and they circled together for a while before splitting up. The one that was yapping made a sudden drop towards the hillside at one point and we could see flashes of white on its underside, suggesting that it was a juvenile.

The path continues to another smaller loch before dropping down into Glen Ulladale (Gleann Uladail). As you descend, Sron Ulladale starts to come into view on the right. This is a massive fist of rock that bursts out of the hillside and towers over the valley as a magnificent overhanging cliff. It has been described as the finest inland precipice in the UK, and if you are a climber, it hosts some famous long hard climbs. Great big boulders litter the grass below, which are quite fun to climb around, and stags were roaring just the other side of the valley.

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Photos just can’t do justice to Sron Ulladale

We returned by the same path, and nearly bumped into three red deer, fortunately without a stag. We also saw two Golden Eagles above Creagan Leathan, soaring close together and occasionally diving towards each other, whereupon one would flip upside down and they would clash talons. It was amazing to watch. Our last sighting of one was a juvenile again, with white patches under its wings flying low over Lag MacCodruim.

Once back at the van we made for Tarbert, which isn’t very big but there was a shop, so we stocked up on milk, bread, and the real essentials: hobnobs, twix and twirls. We also had hot drinks and cheesecake in the hotel next to the ferry port. Then we carried on towards West Harris, making for Luskentyre (Losgaintir). Right at the end of the road, there is parking, more toilets and a beautiful beach (Traigh Rosamol), where we watched the sun set; the calm sea only broken by a cluster of fins crossing the bay. Then we drove back along the road a short way and camped at one of the designated spots.

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Traigh Rosamol

When we woke up in the morning, the tide was out, leaving a vast expanse of sand, upon which we made dams and drew giant penguins as we waited for it to warm up a bit.

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Traigh Losgaintir: where’s the sea?

Then we moved on to explore some of the other beaches, which were all absolutely stunning: probably some of the nicest beaches I have seen.

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Traigh Lar

For lunch, we parked at the end of the road beyond Northton (Taobh Tuath) and ate overlooking another beautiful beach, before taking the track through the gate, which leads to a string of small pretty beaches. The sea looked so gorgeous that we braved the cold again and went for another swim!

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Traigh na Cleabhaig

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We couldn’t resist a final dip

We had to head back to Tarbert that night as our ferry was very early the next morning, so we began to make our way northwards again. The very large beach of Traigh Scarasta looked very inviting for a final walk, but we could not find an obvious way to get onto it from the A859, so we carried on a little further to a parking/camping and picnic area just north of the golf course. From there, if you walk north along the road a little way, there is a gate into a field with information about the standing stone, and from there you can walk down to a more hidden beach behind the dunes. There was no-one else there, so we tucked ourselves into the edge of the dunes and made ourselves hot chocolate, with just a seal and a dolphin/porpoise for company.

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Hot chocolate and hobnobs on the beach….what more could you want?

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Comments

These islands are a wonderful place to explore, with some absolutely stunning beaches and they are ideal for campervan trips. Just make sure that you have plenty of food with you as there aren’t many shops open out of season except in Stornoway and Tarbert.

CalMac Ferries: Ullapool – Stornoway £67.90 ; Tarbert – Uig £42.20 for two people and a 6m-long van.

Liathach

In April 2015 Jessica and I travelled to the beautifully wild Torridon to walk, climb and scramble over as much as we could in the time we had. There was one great challenge that had eluded us on that trip and now we had the chance to go back to that amazing place and see if we could conquer it: the Liathach ridge!

I had first set eyes on the great mountain on that trip a year and a half ago and I remember being completely awe struck when I saw that immense fin of rock sticking out of the ground. It had an intimidating presence and looking up at the Am Fasarinen pinnacles in the middle of the ridge, I knew it would be a great adventure. So when planning our October holidays to head to the Isle of Lewis and the Isle of Harris (blogs to come) we could not resist taking the opportunity to sneak over to Torridon on the way.

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Wonderful rock layers on the way up

We parked at the car park about 800m east of Glen Cottage on the Glen Torridon road (A896). We had spent the night there in the van but we did notice that it filled up quickly. Knowing it was going to be a tough day, we set off early, and with plenty of sandwiches, to tackle the ridge from east to west. The initial ascent looked impossible but from the car park there is a steep and hidden path that follows the river, Allt an Doire Ghairbh and passes over some blocks to gain the ridge just east of the first munro, Spidean a’ Choire Leith. The path was good all the way and for your efforts you get some stunning views of Beinn Eighe and beyond.

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First breathtaking view as you reach the ridge

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The ridge to the first munro (the distant summit)

Now that we had gained the ridge, it was still hard going to gain the summit of Stob a’ Choire Liath Mhor and on to Spidean a’ Choire Leith, but the views in all directions were breathtaking and once perched on the top of the munro you get your first look at the impressive Am Fasarinen pinnacles.

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First view of the pinnacles

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Looking back along the ridge and over to Beinn Eighe

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First munro summit

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A steep scree slope led us off the top and down on to a platform just before the pinnacles. We put our helmets on and had the rope ready for deployment as we moved on to the scramble with tremendous excitement. It does not break you in gently. The first moves are traversing knife-edged rock with the kind of drops beneath you that give you butterflies in your tummy. There is no letting up as we continued weaving through blocks and going up and over some very exposed spikes. It was thrilling and at times a bit scary but the scrambling was never too hard making the traverse a lot of fun for the experienced scrambler.

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Coming over the pinnacles

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Don’t look down!

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Happy Jessica

As we reached the end of the pinnacles, the scrambling eased off, so we stopped for a bit of food and to marvel at the terrain we had just covered and the beautiful weather.

With the thrill of the Am Fasarinen pinnacles behind us, we began the lovely walk up to Mullach an Rathain, the second of the munros on the ridge, taking in the fantastic views of Loch Torridon, Beinn Alligin, the Northern pinnacles and also taking a look back to admire the view of the great journey we had just had.

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Looking back at our day

We munched down some more food, took the obligatory summit selfies and descended south into a huge scree chute before picking up a good but steep path that would eventually lead us to the road and back to the van.

Progress was held up however by three rutting stags having a good old shouting match, which we were able monitor with Jessica’s monocular.  It was great to see this huge show of strength and to see them do so on such steep ground was very impressive and made a fine end to the day.

Details

Distance: 11.2km

Ascent: 1311m (ooft!)

Time: 8 hours

Munro summits: Spidean a’ Choire Leith (1055m) and Mullach an Rathain (1023m)

Comments

The Liathach is a tremendous day out and one I will remember for a long time. It is one to save for good weather as some of the scrambling would become treacherous in poor conditions.

Camping in the Cairngorms

Walk report

Last week I created my “munro map” on the Walkhighlands website, which showed me just how few I have climbed and filled me with motivation to get up some more at the weekend. Chris also had his new MSR Wind Burner stove to try out and our tent hadn’t had an airing for a while, as we’ve been using the van for our trips (eg. Kintyre, Cairngorms and Galloway and Dumfries), so I suggested that we go for a two day walk with a wild camp. On Thursday evening, we got the OS maps out and Chris showed me all the multi-day walks he has done in the Cairngorms, and I proposed a trip that combined two routes from the Munros book (Cameron McNeish) and included five new munros for me and four for Chris, with an obvious area for a camp (the first time I have come up with a route for us!).

We left on Friday night and drove up to Braemar with our usual lunch boxes of pizza for dinner; it such a bright night, the moon was casting shadows on the mountains. We had a fairly laid back start on Saturday, not leaving from the Lin of Dee until about 9.20am. We set off following the signs up the track through Glen Lui, towards Derry Lodge, as we had done a month or so ago. We stopped for snack but our break was cut rather short by the large number of midges, many of which were hiding in Chris’ rucksack. Rather than heading north into Glen Derry, we continued east to the Luibeg Bridge. This whole section is fairly flat with excellent paths and lovely scenery: we spotted lots of male bumblebees on the Devil’s-bit scabious and a red squirrel near to Derry lodge.

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After the bridge, there is a little bit of ascent that gives you good views down Glen Dee and Glen Geusachen, and then as the path curves around the bottom of Carn a’Mhaim, you get the first sight of the Devil’s Point and the Lairig Ghru.

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View from the Luibeg Bridge

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The Devil’s Point

We left the main path up the Lairig Ghru and crossed the river Dee at the bridge, heading up to Corrour Bothy. It was actually the first time that I had been inside a bothy and I honestly think that in summer I’d rather camp, although I can see that it would be much nicer in there if the weather was bad!

I actually found this long flat first stage the most difficult of the day; we left the bothy and attacked our first real ascent at 2pm and I found it much more enjoyable, perhaps due to the effort distracting me from aching feet and shoulders! Once onto the plateau, we nipped up to the Devil’s Point, where I looked up from chatting to sudden and absolutely amazing views that makes it feel really remote. There were also a couple of ptarmigan that waddled along ahead of us for a while: seeing them always makes me happy.

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From the top of the Devil’s Point

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Having taken in the endless landscape as best we could, we retraced our steps back to the top of the path above the bothy and then followed the edge of the plateau over one summit and on to the summit of Cairn Toul.

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Happy summit selfie (Cairn Toul)

Both of these summits are made up mainly of boulder fields, which isn’t too bad for the ascent but makes descending a bit trickier. At the top of Cairn Toul there are two cairns, the more northerly one (the second you reach from this direction) is the highest but the first is worth going to as the views are better, and they are pretty spectacular.

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On the way to Angel’s Peak

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Admiring the view

It didn’t take us long to follow the top of the cliffs down and then climb up to the top of the Angel’s Peak (Sgor an Lochain Uaine), which was our final munro of the day.

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Down into the Lairig Ghru

We then left the views of the coires, the Lairig Ghru and Ben Macdui behind us and descended south east down the ridge. There was no path here and we just picked our way down the patches of grass and boulders aiming to camp somewhere near the bottom of the saddle above Loch nan Stuirteag. As we wanted to be near some water and the flatter areas at the bottom looked boggy, we moved onto the north eastern side of the ridge and found a flattish patch near the streams that become Allt Luineag: it turns out slightly damp grass and moss makes a very nice tent base: easy to put the pegs in and very soft to sleep on.

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A lovely evening

The tent was up in minutes; we love our tent, it’s so sturdy and easy to put up and down. A herd of about 20 red deer watched us as the sun dropped. Dinner was also ready in minutes, which was a vast improvement to our last camping trip when we froze waiting to eat half crunchy, barely-warm noodles. So we were very impressed with the MSR stove performance, although conditions were very benign: there was almost not enough wind to keep the midges at bay.

We both had a lovely sleep: decent camping mats and sleeping bags have made a world of difference to our camping experiences! We woke up in a cloud as usual but the sun was trying to break through as we left camp at about 8.40am.

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Misty morning

Once we were up the steepest section of Monadh Mor, visibility became pretty poor and as the slope flattened off we started navigating properly and I got some great practice walking on bearings and timing distances. There was no obvious path and we walked to a bearing all the way to the saddle between Monadh Mor and Beinn Bhrotain, where the cloud lessened a little and clear path led up to the trig point.

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Chilly on top of Monadh Mor; not much of a view either.

All we needed to do from there was find our way down onto the track beside the river Dee to the White Bridge: easier said than done. We didn’t really want to climb the steep looking Cairn Cloch-mhuilinn and there was a lot of bog between us and it, so we tried a short-cut down beside the Allt Garbh straight to the track. No luck. Once around the shoulder of Cairn Cloch-mhuilinn, it became steep and there were other streams and gullies to cross, so we bashed through the heather all around the shoulder, under some slabby cliffs, back to the flatter ground leading to Carn Fiaclach. Short cuts never work and we had to break out the chocolate raisins! There was still no sign of a path and the ground wasn’t very easy as we made our way towards Carn Fiaclach. Don’t go right up this: it’s steep down the other side! We had to go down the south side and stomp through the heather and lumpy, holey ground right down to the track.

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The Allt Garbh is very pretty

I have to say, these last two munros were not much fun to get off and wouldn’t be much fun to get up either, so this route is a great way to get them done, without making a special trip for them. We had a paddle in the stream and ate our last rolls before marching along the path to the bridge. Here we had a little lie-down in the sun and some more chocolate raisins. From this point there is only the 5km or so to walk back along the track to the Lin of Dee, which didn’t take too long; we were back at the van by 4.30pm and ready for a meal in Blairgowrie on the way home.

A superb weekend!

Details

Distance: ~42 km

Time: 2 days (9 hrs + 7 hrs)

Summits: 5 munros, the Devil’s Point, Cairn Toul, the Angel’s Peak (Sgor an Lochain Uaine), Monadh Mor and Beinn Bhrotain

Comments:

Two good length days with a long flat walk-in and out. Excellent first day! Lots of  good paths but also some sections with no paths, so good navigation required in poor visibility. Good area to camp halfway with access to water. Not too boggy except for some patches on descent on the second day.

 

Most useful piece of kit/advice:

Jessica says: Make sure you know how to use a map and compass and take midge repellent. Chocolate raisins were also essential for this walk.

Chris says: For long distance walks it is important to conserve your energy. Using walking poles is a great way to do this: it saves the knees on the down hill a bit too.

Exploring the West Coast: Northern Kintyre and our first otters!

Last week it was our birthday (we have our birthday on the same day!), so we planned to go away for a trip in the van over the weekend. Originally we were going to leave on Friday evening, but one of our gifts was two MASSIVE steaks, which we really wanted to eat, so Friday night became steak (they were so big we had to share one) and wine night and we set off on Saturday morning instead.

The forecast wasn’t great and we had been so busy we decided to explore the West coast rather than climb mountains. Our planning consisted of checking Google Earth for nice looking beaches and driving to them! I decided we should aim for Kintyre, but with just two days we weren’t going to be able to drive far south so we decided on a route that stayed north with some nice beach options.

We set off around 10.30am on Saturday, and drove around the bottom of Loch Lomond to Arrochar. We have been to Arrochar a good few times to walk or climb in the Arrochar Alps, but I had never been any further than than, and Chris has only been as far as the Rest and Be Thankful pass: a nice view point that looks down Glen Croe. From then on we were in new territory for both of us.

We carried on along the A83 to the tip of Loch Fyne, where we stopped to check out a brewery (Fyne Ales) that we had heard good things about in Achadunan. It seems very nice and we bought a few bottles to try; it definitely looks like the perfect place to stop off on the way down from Beinn Buiddhe one day.

Further on, Inverary looked nice and the castle is very impressive. We stopped for a wander at Port Ann and followed the marked trails down to the abandoned Otter Ferry (we didn’t see any otters there).

We then carried on until the turning right approx. 3km beyond Ardrishaig, where we took the B8024 across to the west coast and the edge of Loch Caolisport. We paused for a cup of tea and biscuits just beyond Tighnahoran, but the beach I had been hoping for didn’t look as inspiring as I had imagined; it was a very calm place though (all the beaches were disappointing on Saturday, but we later discovered it was simply because the tide was in!).

We carried on going, whilst starting to think of finding somewhere to stay for the night. There is really very little in that area: there were hardly any cars on the roads and just a few scattered houses and farms.  Kilberry has a shop (I think I remember one) and a café/restaurant/pub but there’s not much anywhere else, except a campsite about 2km before you reach Kilberry.

We drove right down to Loch Stornoway, where we got out to have a look. The water was amazingly still and came right up to the grass, which I had never seen before; we didn’t stay long as the midges quickly found us!

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Loch Stornoway at high tide

We parked for the night in a layby above Port Mor and from the time we arrived to our departure around 11am, we only saw about 4 cars! The beer from the brewery was very good.

In the morning the sun was shining and we could see the sand at Port Mor, so we found a gate and a muddy path down to the little bay. It was perfect, nobody around, nice white sand, clear blue water and just enough sunshine.

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Our private beach, Port Mor

Two seals were watching us from some rocks just off the beach along with a collection of shags or cormorants (I’m not very good at distinguishing them).

p1050349The sea was too inviting to resist and not as cold as we expected! We spent a good while swimming, wading, finding beautiful shells and introducing Chris to hermit crabs (which are very cool!), before drying off and finishing our birthday cake (thank you Kirstie!).

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We then moved on to Ardpatrick: there is hardly anywhere suitable to park but we managed to tuck the van in, and followed a track past Ardpatrick House to another small bay. Seaweed and layers of massive shells lined the top of the beach but beyond that was a large expansive of beautiful sand.

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Is this really Scotland? Who needs to go abroad!

As we climbed over the rocks to see what was around the corner, I spotted something in the water ahead of us. After a couple of seconds I realised it was an otter, and, amazed, we stopped to watch. We quickly realised that there appeared to be another on the rocks: in fact, there were three, a mother and two youngsters, who she was fishing for. It was incredible; I have always wanted to see otters but had never found any before. We were about 25m away and watched them for nearly an hour; the mother fished almost constantly, and made an unexpected amount of noise when she found something suitable for the young ones, which would promptly leap into the water. Otherwise they would just swim around the shore and roll about on the rocks. Eventually we left them and moved on but ended up just above them. The mum eventually noticed us and dashed back, making a very peculiar huffing noise and led them away tucked in either side of her. They weren’t that bothered though as we saw them again all curled up together on some rocks just around the corner!

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Otter family!

On the way back up the beach, we couldn’t resist another swim, the water was too nice. Then we headed home, following the road to Tarbet and then the A83 back to Arrochar again, via another tea break in Inverary. Overall, it was an absolutely wonderful weekend and we felt like we’d been away for much longer than the two days.