A Hole Lot of Wonder

Q. What equipment do you need to go caving?

I only ask because if a Trivial Pursuit victory depended on my knowledge of potholing, I would be left floundering with 5/6s of a pie. The very idea of exploring the depths of middle earth excites me but scares the bejesus out of me, probably because I saw The Descent. I’m no caver, not for me the dark, creepy and ever decreasing holes in the ground where my larger frame would be constantly screaming “diet!”. But I do like the idea of natural howffs or shelters, which give you a genuine sense of protection from the wind, rain and snow, cut into or made of rock such as Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Cave near Elgol on Skye.

I recently heard about a cave in Glen Almond near Amulree. Not a deep cave. And no evil creatures apparently. Thieves Cave (Thiefs Cave on OS maps) can be found at the back-wall of Coire Chultrain. There isn’t much information online, but it’s link to reivers and catarans (and no mention of Neil Marshall) made it sound worthy of a expedition.

As it turned out, the cave has mostly collapsed, leaving a pile of particularly large, slabby boulders. It was at least a lovely, snowy walk up from the bridge at Sma Glen, but what really made the trip was that some enterprising soul has placed a geocache on the site. And a well stocked one at that.

I swapped trinkets. However, my new helicopter wasn’t quite big enough to fly me out of the corrie.

Continuing my search for dark places, yesterday I went looking for Cave number two of the week. Balnamoon’s Cave can be found in Glen Mark, near Edzell. The hiding place of a Jacobean laird on the run, I was hoping for better luck this time, something I could clamber inside and get a sense of protection from the wilderness.

After a mornings walking through light snow and then an hours rock hopping around the hillside looking for the tell-tale vertical slit, I was in luck.

Water streaming down the back wall like a fountain, but roomy and with two heather single beds already created by some expert howffers, it inspired some  mixed thoughts along the lines of “Who last slept here?” and “I’d like to give that springy bed a shot”, which I duly did.

But actually, I was well chuffed with my find. More than big enough to hold a crowd, lots of protection from the elements and a feeling of stepping back in time, the cave was just deep enough to be a shelter, but close enough to the sunshine to escape any strange predators that Hollywood might create.

Sitting under one 500 tonne rock was scary. So to ask my initial question again, what equipment to you need to go caving deep under ground? The answer is simple. You don’t need ropes, rucksack or even a helmet. You need balls. Big ones.

The Skye Cuillin

In July 2015 , we went on our second big walk of the year.  It was definitely big, although more of a scramble than a walk.

The Cuillin is the closest we have in Britain to the Alps and it’s a challenge in every way.  To walk in the Cuillin is to walk, scramble, climb, abseil and test your ability to deal with the toughest exposure imaginable.

We spent four days in the Cuillin exploring mountains and corries and it was probably the finest walking/mountain trip I’ve ever been on.  With the considerable assistance of Rich Parker, a mountain guide with Skye Guides, we experienced and achieved so much more than any of us could have imagined.

From Sgurr nan Gillean to the Inaccessible Pinnacle of Sgurr Dearg, we saw so much of what Skye and the Cuillin has to offer.  On the last day we were also first on scene of a fall from the In Pinn which reminded us just how dangerous these mountains can be.

Despite this the trip was truly awe-inspiring.  And this film hopefully gives you some idea just how amazing it was.

Ledi Me Tell You About The Rob Roy Way

The first of this years big hikes in April 2015, we set out to complete a section of the Rob Roy Way from Aberfoyle to Killin over three days.

And since we were feeling fit, on day two we also took on Ben Ledi, which is a Corbett nestling on the edge of Callander.  We’re tough like that.

Our 7 Days of the West Highland Way – April 2014

This is the story of our West Highland Way trip. We walked the Way from Milngavie to Fort William in 7 days (Thank god we didn’t try for 5…). Those 7 days were some of the best days I’ve ever experienced with a mix of fun, adventure, banter, wildlife, gorgeous views and a great feeling of achievement. I’m genuinely sad it’s over (although my legs and I have been forced to disagree on this point). Thanks to all those who were involved, whether walker, supporter or feral animal.

1 long distance trail
10 mountain enthusiasts
96 miles walked
117 compeed used
141 litres of water consumed
1000’s of Scottish mountain views
Infinite memories…

Fossil Watch

The West Highland Way.  The phonics that blend to give this short phrase its meaning are a source of huge excitement in our house at the moment.  Many have walked this 96 mile snake of a walk, rounding its neighbouring high peaks and rivers through some of the most gorgeous bits of Scotland.  Many have walked into Fort William or Milngavie with blistered heels and heavy shoulders wondering why they put their bodies through it.  But in a few short weeks I will be able to stand proudly and happily and say that I’ve walked the West Highland Way.  That is, I hope I can still stand.

The walks and trails we follow in the hills of Scotland and elsewhere are like fossils or remains of our past, both recent and ancient.  The West Highland Way was only opened in 1980.  However the old drovers and military roads that it is built on and around have existed for hundreds of years, long before the first “man in a berghaus” made it look easy.  I like looking down at the different path surfaces and imagining who once walked there before me.  Their footprints are so deep in places it seems hard to imagine the scars could ever be removed from the earth.

Over the last few months our training miles have steadily grown, as has our fitness and confidence.  Last weekend we decided to do 2 days walking, roughly 10 miles each day.  Saturday saw us venture up to Cairn William.  Our walk on Sunday was in the Correen Hills near Alford, a circuit with views of Bennachie, Tap o’ Noth and, most pleasingly, an old abandoned farm called Hillock of Terpersie.  I’ve become a bit obsessed recently with dilapidated structures and urban exploration and the sight of the grey granite set against the greens of the surrounding hills was one of many highlights.  It might just have been its age, but the building looked so organic, as if it had always been there, not a man-made construction at all.

I was further reminded of how exciting our hills are when passing an old quarry and wooden workers hut.  Kirsty found something lying on the ground.  She thought she had found a fossil, a clay pot perhaps.  It turned out to be a gorgeous rock.  No less marvellous but I immediately thought back to the farm at Terpersie and was in genuine awe at the things you can find on a simple walk in the Scottish hills.  Each one a remnant of a bygone age, whether millions of years ago in geological terms or 200 years in human history.  If only they could tell their tales like clyping children.

We didn’t have time to stop in at Terpersie for a look.  That possibly increased my sense of wonder as I wasn’t quite close enough to get the best view of it.  The old abandoned farm, and a thousand others scattered across the country like the seeds farmers sow, are part of our historic record.  Through clearance, failure or death, these old homes have been left to nature and reclaimed by her with glee.  There is something hauntingly beautiful about a building being overrun by nature.  A few of them dotted around the West Highland Way would make the painful blisters and pulled calf muscles worth the effort.  Even if I need the services of a wheelchair, a bottle of whisky and a nurse by Fort William.

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Kirsty, Gordon and Tilly on Cairn William.  Lunch being munched.