Midges, mountains and more….(Midges!) Part One

Almost a year has passed since my last Blog Post. Its been a bit of a big year, what with selling our house and moving into a brand new one. I found that the inclusion of Moving Home in the top ten most stressful things a person can do is pretty damned accurate. So what with all that we’ve had to undertake I have found little time to get out and about on (or even off!) the trail and even less time to write about the 2 or 3 occasions when I actually did get out in the past 9 months or so. My big walk in the Cairngorms in May of this year coincided fairly closely with the date of our move so I had to forfeit the payment on the Advance train tickets I’d booked and told the wife it was merely postponed! So once we were into our new home and I’d earned enough brownie points by doing my Husbandly DIY Duty I once again paid for Advance tickets to Kingussie in the Central Highlands of Scotland. I’d more or less planned on going alone but I couldn’t keep it from my best mate Marcus and so the planning began in earnest and on the 18th September we got the early train from Grimsby and were on our way to the Cairngorms.

Thursday 18th September 2014

Barring a delay of 2 hours in Edinburgh – due to missing our connecting train when the train from York arrived 15mins late, our journey was fairly uneventful. The whole way up the skies had been murky and a low mist had hung over everything but as we passed Perth on the final leg of the train journey it began to lift.

Someone was finally smiling on us.

Now that might sound a bit dramatic but both Marcus and myself had been full of cold for the past week and the weather forecast was indifferent at best for our days away. I’d intended on doing a few preparation walks in the week leading up to the trip but as a result of my ill-timed cold I’d spent it doing as little as possible in the hopes of shaking it off. Whatever was to befall us we were determined to have a great few days away and make the most of it, even if that meant cutting short the route I’d planned and possibly having a rest day.

Anyway, it was gone 4pm by the time we arrived in Kingussie but we had time for a pint of local ale before we set off in good spirits along the road toward Ruthven Barracks.

Panoramic of Kingussie, Ruthven Barracks and the road toward Tromie Bridge

Panoramic of Kingussie, Ruthven Barracks and the road toward Tromie Bridge. Click to view full-sized photo.

It was a mild, calm afternoon and it felt good to be out in the open air after the long train journey. We hadn’t a care in the world and not even the nearby rush of traffic along the A9 or the prospect of a number of miles of road walking was enough to dampen our spirits. A flock of crows cawing and flapping above the ruined barracks gave the place an ominous air under the brooding skies and we didn’t stop to visit. A few hundred metres further on we spotted a Roe deer in a field beside the road but it was out of range before we got a chance to photograph it. Life already felt simple and carefree. We had basic and simple goals for the next few days and despite being 14km away from a decent pitch I’d heard of at Bhran Cottage we felt no great urgency. I don’t recall even feeling any chafing at the weight of a pack with 5 days food. It was certainly the heaviest load my Blaze had ever carried but a combination of my mood, the excellent carry of the pack itself and the most decent hiking attire I’d ever worn – particularly the excellent La Sportiva Wildcat 2.0 trail running shoes and Rab MeCo Boxers! – made the pack weight a non-issue. There was a time even as recently as 2 or 3 years ago when my pack, clothing and outlook would already have been an issue. The two greatest components to my mind were my change from traditional walking boots to trail runners and the addition of the Sawyer Mini Filter which allowed me to carry no more than a litre of water for the majority of a days walking, knowing there was a plentiful supply of water within a short distance.

We could hear the River Tromie a good 5 minutes before we stood over it on Tromie Bridge.

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River Tromie. Looking upstream from Tromie Bridge. Click to view the full-sized image.

Immediately after Tromie Bridge we took the single track road that wound the length of Glen Tromie to our goal for the evening. the weather continued mild and calm but with heavy overcast. the road provided easy walking and we covered a fair distance in a short time. About 3km along the road we saw our first ever sighting of a Red Squirrel in the wild but as we were getting our phones out to snap a shot the sole vehicle to have passed us on this road came bombing back around the bend and scared the lovely little creature off into the trees! Sods Law. We kept our eyes peeled thereafter but didnt see hide nor hair of another one.

The road along Glen Tromie.

Hazy shot of the road along Glen Tromie. Click to view full-sized image.

 

Brooding skies over Glen Tromie.

Grey skies over Meallach Bheag, Glen Tromie. Click to view full-sized photo.

 

We stopped at a burn crossing the road shortly after Lynaberack and filled our water bottles. Withing moments of stopping we saw our first midges of the day. Previous to our journey I’d asked a couple of people who’d been in the region about the midge situation and was told that they were about but didn’t appear to be biting. They obviously hadn’t been along Glen Tromie then, as within a minute I’d already been bitten several times, so we quickly moved on and tried not to stop for any longer than necessary before we reached Bhran Cottage. We reached the derelict old building as dusk was descending. I didn’t waste any time but quickly whipped out the Midge headnet and put on my long-sleeved wind shirt as the midge hordes appeared en masse. Even wearing the headnet and all but completely covered the wee blighters drove me to distraction as I pitched the TrailStar. In the back of my mind I knew this was a bad idea as I didn’t have an inner to hide in. Once I’d gotten inside and laid out on my Exped I took despairing stock of the literal thousands of midges and a score or more mosquitos bouncing mindlessly off the interior surface of the silnylon shelter. When Marcus called out from within the sanctum of his ShangriLa 3 ‘Elt, you can’t stay out there mate, you’ll get eaten alive!’ I jumped up and stashed the TrailStar and dived into his blessedly cleg-free palace. I vowed then that I’d never come back to Scotland without an inner outside of winter or take notice of the words of any man who said that the midges weren’t biting. I’m like a bloody magnet for all manner of biting little blighters. Marcus had barely been bitten (as usual!) though they had swarmed him and driven him quickly into the interior of his tent. Prior to our trip I’d almost talked him out of bringing the inner on the grounds that it was an unnecessary weight and in light of the fact the midges weren’t biting. Ha! Thankfully he didn’t listen to me on this occasion. It took us a while to rid the interior of the tent of those that had gained entry and by this time we were both tired and hungry but neither of us could be bothered to cook and invite the wrath of the waiting clegs in the porch. I ate the cheese and pickle sarnies and a Polish Slaska spiced pork sausage I’d brought for that days dinner but hadn’t eaten due to the McDonalds we’d consumed during our unplanned excursion in Edinburgh.  Not long after we were both settled down and off to the land of nod. We each had to get up for a pee in the night and on each occasion we had to wage a minor war on the midge and mosquito horde as they tried to gain entry.

The Midge Haven in Midge Hell! ShangriLa3 pitched at Bhran Cottage.

The Midge Haven in Midge Hell! ShangriLa3 pitched at Bhran Cottage. Click to view full-sized photo.

Friday 19th September 2014

 

The horde were still awaiting us outside and between the inner and outer of the ShangriLa, so after a quick breakfast we packed up and made quick our escape. Although I didn’t escape unscathed as whilst making a toilet stop I was bitten on the unmentionables by a particularly enterprising midge!

That didn’t dampen my spirits however as the sun was out! There was a fair bit of cloud about and the crown of the Corbett Leathad an Taobhain at the head of the glen was completely shrouded in the wispy white stuff. After a brief discussion before leaving the sanctum of Marcus’ tent we’d decided on taking the shorter of the two routes I’d planned for today. Not only was it shorter but looking at the cloud base that didn’t appear to be shifting or lifting at all we would gain the summit of the aforementioned Corbett and not be able to see a bloody thing. Whereas the nearby summit of Meallach Mhor was clear and within easy reach. It too is a Corbett (a mountain over 2500ft) but at 769m it is a good 143m shorter than Leathad an Taobhain. So we set off along the dirt road and after a bit of a backtrack after missing the faint beginnings of the track leading up into the bealach between Meallach Bheag and Meallach Mhor we undertook a bit of bog-hopping before passing through a gate in the deer fence and onto the flanks of Meallach Bheag.

The cloud shrouded Leathad an Taobhain.

The cloud shrouded Leathad an Taobhain. Click to view full-sized photo.

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Panoramic view of Glen Tromie. Click to view full-sized photo.

The climb up to the bealach and then onto Meallach Mhor wasn’t particularly large or arduous but it certainly seemed it to us. at the time. We were still not 100% over our colds and we’d not done any serious hill walking in about the past year. None of that mattered however as the morning was lovely, the scenery beautiful and we had several more days of this to look forward to! We stopped just before reaching the bealach and had a snack and took a few moments to use our phones as we had a signal for the first time since leaving Tromie Bridge. Then we pushed on to the summit, with the views opening up all around us. On the last stretch we startled a Mountain Hare which proceeded to run and stop directly ahead of us for a hundred yards before disappearing again. It reminded us of the time we were seemingly led through the clag on top of Bleaklow by another Mountain Hare a few years back. We’d been stumbling through the peat hags for over an hour looking for the Bleaklow Stones when the Hare had appeared and led us to the Stones where we found a great camp for the night. I now consider them a fortuitous omen 🙂

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Marcus on Meallach Mhor. Carn Dearg Mor in the distance. Click to view the full-sized image.

We reached the summit shortly before midday and decided seeing as the sun was beaming down on us and we were on holiday we may as well stop for an early lunch. We were at 769m and it was as warm and calm as it had been down in the valley. We couldn’t believe our luck! Was this Scotland?! Still, the view toward the head of Glen Tromie and Leathad an Taobhain showed dense haze and lingering cloud. How lucky and what a great call it had been to choose this route rather than the one that would’ve seen us heading into that not so distant clag.

I removed my shoes and socks to let them air and dry out after being submerged and soaked more than a few times in boggy ground on the ascent. Digging out my stove I made us a brew to go with our lunch and it was one of the most pleasant lunch breaks I’ve ever had on a trip. Here we were in mid September in the Central Highlands of Scotland wearing short-sleeves, sunglasses and airing our (my) feet!

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The view from the summit looking back toward Kingussie. Click to view the full-size image.

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Meallach Mhor summit cairn with Loch an t-Seilich in the distance. Click to view the full-sized image.

After lunch I rubbed some of the wonderful Gehwol Extra Footcream into my feet. This stuff deoderises, disinfects and helps to protect against wet and cold feet amongst other things. I’d bought it with the Gehwol Foot Balm to help combat having wet feet as this was my first long trip wearing Trail Running shoes rather than my usual Salomon full Goretex efforts. I’d made this decision after a lot of research and reading the blogs and accounts of numerous long-distance walkers who swore by wearing non-waterproof, quick drying and light trail running shoes. The slogan I’d picked up from the account of one particularly famous long-distance walker was: ‘Embrace wet feet!’ And I had. No more clomping great sweaty boots for me outside of bitter, snowy winter conditions. Never have my feet felt so good after walking so many miles with a weighty pack on. Never had my footing felt so sure and secure on some of the rough terrain we were to cross. I extolled the benefits to Marcus who, though wearing the ‘Lightest fully-lined Goretex Boot in the World’ which he swore were like trainers, still wore sweaty ruddy boots!

Anyway we digress…

We headed eastward off the summit down a fairly steep flank of the Corbett negotiating rocks and thick heather to reach the soggy bealach between Meallach Mhor and the Graham (a Graham is another classification of mountain – one over 2000ft) top of Meal an Dubh-chadha. My feet were wet again in short order but I took it in my stride (yawn). No sooner had we gained the nondescript summit, accompanied by the occasional laughing call of grouse, than we saw our first herd of Red Deer! The magnificent open, rolling heather moorland here was obviously perfect ground for them. Marcus counted them as they ran along a deer trail a hundred yards or so away. There were 73 of them! There weren’t any obvious places for them to hide in the direction they ran but by the time we’d crossed near the trail they were following they were nowhere in sight. We did see plenty of fresh tracks and droppings but nothing more. How fleet and agile they must be, as the ground was rough going in places. Hummocks of grass and heather interspersed with boggy patches and pools of water. We saw dragonflies flying lazily in the sunshine around one such pool and a couple of frogs on our trek down to the burn Allt an Dubh-chadha. We slogged up a rough and ready track that was more stream and bog than track to reach the woods below Carn Dearg where we joined the slightly better track running parallel to the woods and all the way to our destination in Glen Feshie. By this time were were both hot and thirsty and we drank the last of our water before reaching the foot of the Corbett of Carn Dearg Mor. There were only a couple of dry burns along this stretch but I knew we’d get some further down. However, I wanted to ring my family as I knew school would be finishing shortly and I might not be able to get a signal further down the valley, particularly once we were into Glen Feshie. I reckoned I’d likely get a signal from up on Carn Dearg Mor. Marcus was pooped but I had enough will and energy to climb up onto the saddle between Carn Dearg and Carn Dearg Mor, from where I got not only a fantastic view but a Mobile signal! Result! I was only just over half a kilometre and 100m of ascent at most from the summit of the Corbett but I didn’t have the energy or desire to climb it so I went back down to Marcus and we continued on our way. Never had any illusions that I was a Peak Bagger and this confirmed it!

Panoramic view looking south from the bealach between Carn Dearg and Carn Dearg Mor.

Panoramic view looking south from the saddle between Carn Dearg and Carn Dearg Mor. Click to view the full-sized image.

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Track leading down through the Slochd Mor and our first view of Glen Feshie. Click to view the full-sized image.

The route down through the narrow pass Slochd Mor was easy going. We stopped at the small Lochan an t-Sluic to fill our water bottles and bellies with the gloriously clear, cold water from one of the two burns that fed the lochan. Refreshed we set off again. The cloud was getting thicker and the sun less evident but there was no threat of rain and it remained warm and calm as we descended into Glen Feshie.

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Slightly greyer skies as we get our first view of the River Feshie. Click to view the full-sized image.

Glen Feshie, one of Scotlands finest glens. Click to view the full-sized image.

Glen Feshie, one of Scotlands finest glens. Click to view the full-sized image.

I knew we would have to cross to the other side of the river but I also was uncertain beforehand whether we’d be safely able to ford it or if we’d have to go further down river to the one foot bridge that I knew was still usable. The river hear was prone to flooding and it had flooded quite badly back in August when it had taken out atleast one of the bridges. We were set on getting to the bothy of Ruigh-aiteachain early and having a night under a solid roof and taking the route over the foot bridge down river would have added 8-9km to the day and we were tired as it was. If we’d been fully fit then it would’ve been a more palatable choice. As it was the river was low and looked an easy crossing.

Marcus approached the river first and I could see he was a little reluctant but feeling the liberation of not having to worry about getting waterproof boots wet I just steamed in and crossed easily, the water coming up to no higher than mid-shin. The cold water felt wonderfully refreshing on my warm and slightly tired feet. I stood on the far bank and waited patiently whilst Marcus removed his boots and socks. i took photographs of the recent flood detritus and rocks and even took a video of my friend as he made his way gingerly across the river. He was not impressed by the cold water, sharp rocks or my filming his trial! I felt absurdly and uncharitably smug. Sorry Marcus!

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Marcus contemplates the best place to cross the River Feshie. Click to view the full-sized image.

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Signs of the recent flooding. Click to view the full-sized image.

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More flood detritus. Click to view the full-sized image.

Once Marcus had cleaned, dried and re-shod his giant, tender hooves we set off along the river bank heading north and soon found the footpath that led to the bothy. Here we saw our first Caledonian pinewoods (predominantly Scots Pine), wonderful gnarly old trees that are quite abundant in Glen Feshie, though we would see much more of these on Sunday. The wonderful fresh smell and lovely scenery were spoilt slightly by the presence of mosquitos and midges and we were ever more keen to get into the protection of the bothy where we could have a fire and relax.

But it was not to be.

Someone had beaten us to it and such was our disappointment that we couldn’t bring ourselves to even pitch on the relatively flat ground nearby. We moseyed about for a half-hour until we settled on a spot a few hundred yards further back upstream. We were actually a hundred yards from the river and it was still. perfect conditions for the invasion of the Horde of Midgedom and Mozzies to descend upon us for the second night running. So no Trailstar pitch again for me. After the disappointment of the bothy this was adding insult to injury. Marcus got his wash bag out and disappeared off to the river for a full-on bath. He does like to keep clean does our Marc, he gets right miserable and tetchy if he’s feeling mucky and so it brightened his mood somewhat. For myself I just need food and to get out of the damned midge and mosquito fest. I persisted with my stove outside of the tent as I didn’t fancy eating cold food again. With headnet, merino buff, gloves and windshirt on they still managed to bite me but I didn’t care. Hot food was  a great spur and luckily I only needed to boil 350ml of water and then put the pasta, dried veg, soup mix, Polish sausage and olives into the pan and placed the pan in my pot cosy. 15 minutes later, safely ensconced inside the ShangriLa, I fed my face and was happy again 🙂 When Marcus returned from the river he was smiling too, although that lasted only until he almost spilled the contents of his pan all over the inside of his tent and came close to burning his tent down whilst I was off on toilet patrol. Cooking inside a tent is not recommended even with a meths stove, which is more reliable than a gas stove, but is still high dangerous.

Thats how bad the midges were.

Fed and watered we cracked out the whisky and played some music whilst the midges head-banged away on the tent and the stars shone brightly outside. It was wonderfully clear but there was no way i was going outside without a headnet on even for such a clear night sky. Few things are as awe inspiring as the stars and the Milkyway in proper dark skies but the whisky helped to numb the disappointment…

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