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!

Team Deliverance Take on the Tay

IMG_7394Team Deliverance consists of Kirsty, Paul, Sas, Gav, Erin and my good self and there wasn’t a sign of a banjo or a squealing pig all weekend.

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Two days spent canoeing the waters of the River Tay in blazing sunshine and driving rain were a perfect way to welcome the coming autumnal changes.  I’ll let the film speak for itself.

Sharing Suilven

Leaving the house at 4.30am, the murky morning mist poked some tiny holes in my enthusiasm and, for a second, made me question the wisdom of driving four and a half hours north. The forecast looked good. Yet the fog became thicker as I passed Pitlochry and even from the roadside near Elphin, Suilven was nowhere to be seen.  A mountain with a distinctive shape, recognisable from all angles, rising from the relative flatness of the Assynt estates all around, it was elusive. Parking up near Glencanisp Lodge, Suilven had decided to show its skirt and the mist was beginning to clear. It was warm as I passed the honesty shop at the lodge and the road turned to track, but progress was still quick and with every turn in the track, the mountain became clearer.

I reached the bothy after an hour and a quarter. Suileag has two rooms, each with a working fireplace and sleeping platforms. My overnight gear dropped and laid out, I was ready to fall into my sleeping bag when I returned that night.

On I went through the treeless Glencanisp forest and after crossing the footbridge over the Abhainn na Clach Airigh, I turned off the track and found myself on the first section of a newly created path leading up towards Loch a’ Choire Dubh. By this stage I could see the full Suilven profile and I have to say I was a bit excited. I’d wanted to climb Suilven for as long as I’d been a walker. A hill walker mind, not a toddler. And here I was. Completely in awe. Why hadn’t I come up before? The final steep scramble to the Bealach Mor was tough. But the rewards were huge as the top of the pass was reached with views south across Stac Pollaidh, Cul Mor, Ben More Assynt. And more.

The final push to the top at Caistel Liath was short but glorious. I could see for miles, blue sky and sea surrounding the rough coastline and mountain landscape. A paraglider lugged his 15kg of machine parts just behind me and since he looked shattered from the effort, I headed off towards the other, more pointed end of the ridge. A footstep here, a scramble there. I didn’t make the peak of Meall Meadhonach. I value my various body parts.

One curious point about the day was the wall. A wall that cuts Suilven in half and runs down both sides as far as the terrain will allow. A stunning piece of work. And whether built as a joke between neighbouring estates, or for a labour creation scheme, the splitting in half of the hill adds a sense of symmetry to the view and a neat human-made addition to nature’s Scottish sugarloaf mountain.

Back to the bothy and the company of T and C, a fire in the grate and a bottle of Highland Park. More sharing. Company. Whisky. Heat. Suilven looked glorious in the evening sunshine, the breeze meaning I didn’t need to share the view with the midges. Later at dusk, as the sun went down, the mountain was ablaze, the red a major contrast compared to earlier in the day, the red rainbow a bonus touch.

And click the link below to see more…

https://youtu.be/SsTbmsCA8oE