Ambling the Annandale Way

Two days walking and camping the fantastic Annandale Way from Moffat to Hoddom Castle with Adventure Man and Gav.

The weather was glorious and the scenery was even better. People forget the south of Scotland, assuming the North is where the WOW moments occur. But the south has the x factor if you know where to look.

https://youtu.be/cNQFP2HoFT0

History v Progress?

I love a bridge. And this walk was full of bridges, large and small. Some of historical note (as in you can find info on the internet), others not…… Starting with this beauty.

My wander started in Tomatin, just under the Findhorn Viaduct. And I was aiming for Boat of Garten, following one of General Wade’s old military roads. As I climbed higher and looked back, the road was clear to see although it more resembled a river after the recent snows than a road. I saw a weasel and a deer and a buzzard. This was looking back toward Tomatin.

I left the moor behind and dropped down to the Slochd, a high point on the A9 I’ve passed hundreds of times by car, but never in foot. Below is the old A9 (foreground) and the newer A9. Plans for the future duelled A9 we’re being looked at higher up the hill on the left.

After passing an abandoned cottage at Ortunan and forest plantations I reached Insharn and after crossing another lovely old bridge, the view opened up ahead.

I reached Sluggan Bridge, an impressive structure which crossed the River Dulnain, and another ruin. The bridge was one of General Caulfield’s.

It’s hard to tell from the picture but the bridge is huge and makes a lovely gateway from the moors to the Carrbridge forestry, and the final few kilometres of walking through sun kissed trees down passed Kinveachy and into Boat of Garten.

The history of the bridges and paths and the progress of the later roads and future A9 are a contemporary headache which everyone shares. What’s more important, the history or the progress?

Our history helps us to learn, often from our mistakes. But history, in the form of one of General Wade’s roads, won’t allow 21st century communications to seamlessly stride on. This struck me in its most blunt form as I passed Ortunan. Over the top of Wade’s old path, a tipper lorry and road roller were filling in the past with new stone to improve the road, allowing modern day road vehicles to rumble conveniently over them, presumably for access by geological teams planning the progression of the new A9 dual carriageway.

I was left feeling a bit shameful of my fellow man as the historic old right of way was turned into little more than a forest road. But I appreciate the need to make A9 journeys safer and quicker, especially as it’s a road I use often.

Appreciate the history while it’s there I think is the answer. Walk over those old bridges and follow the line of the old roads and take pictures and films of how they looked on the day you were there. So you can appreciate how different they become later. Check out the film below:

https://youtu.be/WBdn72gWRfA

Coasting Along

With Brexit and Ecksit dominating the headlines, Neil, Dave, Tony and I headed to St. Andrews for some escapism and a weekend adventure. On the Saturday Neil and I decided to walk some of the Fife Coastal Trail from Lower Largo to Anstruther. That was the escapism from Barnier and May. The adventure came in the form of the Elie Chain Walk, a tide level section that involves much rock hopping and dangling from metal chains over fear inducing heights and white, bubbly seas.

Dumbarnie Links was blowy but looked lovely in the warmth of the morning sun. Old WW2 barriers were dotted around the sand like chocolate squares. We walked past Ruddon’s Point and Shell Bay and reached Kincraig Hill, where the adventure really got going.

Caves and strange rock formations were admired and explored as the sea cliffs rose up above us. From here, we worked our way around the rocky peninsula using the chains and good balance.

It took us about 45 minutes to get from the start to the end of the chain walk where we reached the next beach.

As well as the basalt columns we saw buzzards, kestrels and even a peregrine falcon.

When we finally came out onto the beach, we found a top spot and lunched with sushi and rolls and fruit pastilles. Sitting, we quickly cooled after our scrambling so got moving again and passed St. Monan’s and Pittenweem and some old buildings on the way.

By this point we were getting close to our destination at Anstruther. Our prize was going to be some Anstruther chips so onward we strode past the rising tide.

The chips we ate while sat at the harbour were the tastiest I’ve ever had. Crunchy and dipped in brown sauce. Although we were so tired that I could have been eating a raw tattie and considered it a delicacy.

It is worth pointing out that if Theresa May scrambled her way over the Elie Chain Walk in the same way she has scrambled through the Brexit process, she would have gotten pretty wet. Anyway…

I’m keen on further adventures in Fife and its coastal trail. But a week away to Boat of Garten is coming up fast. Back to the mountains.

A Straight Line from Laggan to Newtonmore

I’ve been meaning to get a proper bike rack for a while. I’d tried a few of ways of attaching the bike to the car and most would involve regular resprays. The £25 I spent was far less than expected and this trip was the fantastic first foray into what my brain already calls “bike and hikes”, a phrase the rest of me feels a bit embarrassed by….

The idea was akin to my time kayaking at uni. We’d take the minibus packed with gear, and on top of our boats and paddles we’d attach a bike so that someone could cycle back upstream and get the bus. Why we didn’t take a car I’m unclear about now, my memory being all the poorer after a lifetime writing lists.

But the bike was part of the adventure and I felt that access to a bike now would allow me to reach remote hills and areas more quickly and mean some of my walking trips could be more linear. I love a circuit, to avoid walking to a particular point and back, the back being the bit that for me can be a bit dispiriting on a day out. I’ve never particularly enjoyed the walk back as much as the powering ever onward, and this trip demonstrated the power of always moving forward.

The East Highland Way has interested me on and off for years and particularly the section between Laggan and Newtonmore. The bike made this simple. Park at Newtonmore, pedal to Laggan, and walk back to the car, a 13km cycle along the A86 followed by a 15km walk via Strath an Eilich, Dalnashallag bothy and Glen Banchor.

The old bridge up the track to Strath an Eilich from Balgowan. Yes I crossed it. No it didn’t break.

img_2908Looking down Strath an Eilich towards the Monadh Liath.

img_2918Almost at Dalnashallag bothy.

The view back down Strath an Eilich from Dalnashallag bothy.

Looking back at Dalnashallag bothy from Glen Banchor.

img_2951A ruined cottage at Dalballoch in Glen Banchor, looking back towards the bothy.

The warm weather and sunshine was amazing and the autumn colours on show were brighter and more natural than any Instagram filter could provide.

I’ve now got my eye on completing the EHW over the next few months. The bike rack will definitely help. As will the bike. And always forward. I don’t fancy cycling backwards. Check out the film.

https://youtu.be/Ue5OGx8EyIY

Cottaging on Dava Moor

I have a dream. To live in an old cottage far away from civilisation. And every now and then I travel over Dava Moor (between Nairn and Grantown on Spey) and I can see the remains of what must have been a well populated area in days gone by. Old and derelict cottages, tracks and bridges can be seen in amongst the heather and peat of the moor.

A holiday in Carrbridge presented itself as a great opportunity to take a closer look. An early start meant I caught the sun rising over the moor and some of the abandoned buildings.

My route around the cottages at Easter Crannich, Wester Crannich, Anaboard and Rychorrach totalled about 7km and the warm air and lack of breeze were really noticeable, even at 5am. A breakfast of wild raspberries was pretty tasty and more refreshing than the nutrigrain bars I’d packed.

Anaboard Cottage – The fireplace gives an idea of when the lintel was put in.

Wester Crannich Cottage – The most ruined of the four buildings with no roof or internal fittings but lovely stonework.

The last two cottages were the most interesting. Quite snazzy if you like your history.

Easter Crannich Cottage – Very steep steps and horrendous contemporary wallpaper downstairs. But upstairs I found a wall plastered in old newspaper, the newspaper in question being The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News. Not one you’ll see in the stands today as the last day of publication was in 1970. And it reported on just what the title suggests, sports and theatre.

I’m assuming the newspaper was used as an insulator, as I imagine winters in Dava would be pretty chilly. The date on the paper was pretty interesting, Saturday 25th March 1905. 1905!!!!….

Rychorrach Cottage – A beautiful setting higher up with views for miles, including the Cairngorms. The occupants of this house had followed the lead of the Easter Crannich residents and put extra insulation on the wall, but had taken the idea a step further, thicker cardboard boxes this time instead of newsprint.

They were tacked to the walls incredibly neatly and looked almost artistic as the collage of brands wouldn’t look out of place in a gallery. Corn Flakes, Vim and Scott’s Oats, which are still going strong today. Others I’d never heard of such as Smedley’s carrots and Oxydol washing powder.

The most interesting box was one labelled dried eggs and “For European Recovery” and was part of the post-WW2 Marshall Plan to revitalise Western Europe. A fascinating discovery and quite something to see the item in real life and how it was used after.

I found a calendar at the house from the year 1950. And after a bit of research I think the last occupier was a man called James McDonald. Maybe he was the decorator but I can’t be certain, there isn’t much online about Rychorrach to be sure.

On the one hand what a lucky man to have lived in such a beautiful place, especially in summertime. But what a harsh existence it must have been for James, his family and the previous generations of McDonald’s who farmed there and at other cottages on the moor in winter conditions

Would I live there? Probably. 21st century heating is a wonderful thing.

Ben Nevis and the CMD Arete

IMG_1192This trip took place on 30th June, so exactly half way through my atempt to walk 1000 miles in a full year.  At the end of the day, I was sitting on 473.7 miles, a little under where I need to be, but not much.

I considered myself very lucky on this trip.  I’d wanted to do this walk for a number of years, a definite “wishlist” walk and the continuation of the recent clear and warm weather conditions made me feel my chance was here.  The first day of the summer holidays looked like hill heaven so I made my plans.  I was also lucky as a mile into the walk I realised I’d left my sunglasses in the car.  This wasn’t the lucky bit of course.  The lucky bit was I hadn’t realised I’d left the glasses until I came across another pair, hung up on a tree just next to the path.  Thanks to whoever left them there.  I intend on leaving them elsewhere, in a kind of pay it forward donation.

On a less happy note, the body of Marcin Bialas was also found on the 30th June (the same day as my trip) in Observatory Gully, which you can see on the picture above.  He had been missing since January after falling through a snow cornice and although I didn’t find this out until I got home, it’s a sobering reminder of how mountain dwellers need to take care and hope luck stays on our side when we are out.

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The sun was strong and the heat was high, even on the highest top on The Ben.  My route also involved a detour via the CIC Hut, before climbing the steep slopes of Carn Mor Dearg, which was pretty tough.  The views at the top were worth it though.

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The Arete isn’t as exposed as you might think but the rock hopping and views over to Ben Nevis and the rest of the Mamores were more than I could have dreamed of.  The outlook even helped me forget about that steep climb.

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Better than a toblerone?

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The last push up to Ben Nevis reminded me of the CMD climb, just more bouldery.

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The top and the old observatory.  I think I saw about six people all the way round to the peak.  On the peak were an entire village.

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I wanted to take the quiet route home to the North Face car park so headed off by the rougher, north shoulder, rather than the tourist path.

An awesome walk.  And with a last lucky touch to the day, I got the last box of ice lollies from Tesco on the High Street (since a single lolly just wasn’t enough) and had finished them by the time I got to my bed for the night.  I also made a wee film of the trip.  Take a look below.

What I Did in 2018

img_8824-1Don’t let the title fool you, it’s not 2019! Happy new year to one and all. 2018 is here and it’s a good looking number. Much more attractive than 2017. More curvy? Bigger? More contemporary?

I’ve got a few resolutions. Take on the challenge of a new job (that I start in 7 short days). Spend more time with my wife and family. Lose a bit of weight and get a bit fitter (a daily box of salt and vinegar Pringles has added a few rolls). More outdoor adventures in my boots, on my snowboard and in my tent.

I’ve got one more resolution or plan which is going to be tricky but fits in with my love of the outdoors. This year, I’m going to walk 1000 miles. By New Year’s Eve, I’ll have walked at least 1610km in 365 days. In everyday life as well as in the hills. Easy? Well, I’ve managed a solitary, single kilometre on day one. So I’d better get a move on!

And the post title? Let’s just say I’m an optimist.

Whatever you’re planning this year, good luck and happy adventuring!