A day and a night on Big Hill

Monday 7th March 2016

In the days leading up to this trip I was feeling more than a little apprehensive. I’ve done some big hills, usually with a bigger pack and normally in warmer months. The trip was organised by a guy I met on a Facebook group of like-minded individuals on Mr Chris Pinnell. I’ve wanted to do a big hill day and wild camp in Winter for a long while but I’ve never had the combination of timing and kit to follow up on this desire. So when Chris suggested the trip and offered the loan of a big puffy down jacket, winter boots suitable for crampons, the crampons themselves and an ice axe I agreed wholeheartedly, if not with a small sense of caution.

As the trip approached this sense of caution increased to a sense of anxiety. Was I fit enough? Did I have the necessary skills? Did Chris? After all though we had been conversing for the better part of a year we had yet to meet and despite his apparent experience of the hills in winter I didn’t really know the guy. It was a conversation with Chris that turned my misgivings to a proper sense of excitement and anticipation. Just as it should be before a wild camping trip at any time of year.

The choice of locale I left entirely up to Chris, though initially we had discussed Snowdonia as the favoured destination though this was obviously a decision that would ultimately be decided by the weather and ground conditions nearer the time. A week before going Chris sent me an image of the area he had in mind. Not Snowdonia but Ben More near Crianlarich in the Trossachs. Chris would pick me up after work on the Friday after I finished work and he’d drive us up there for a late start with a view to making camp on the bealach between Ben More and Stob Binnein.¬†As a destination for doing what I love doing – wild camping and hiking – the Highlands of Scotland are number one on my list of the best places in the UK.

I’d all but talked my self out of going the week before we were due to go. I have a tendency to overthink things, doubt myself and not face up to my demons. Chris was not fazed by my lack of commitment and when I told him that I wasn’t feeling capable or confident he more or less shrugged and told me it was up to me. A couple of brief paragraph exchanges later I had done a complete U-Turn and was getting excited about the trip.

So, two nights with a late start on the first day due to the long drive in and one big summit on the Saturday morning with a camp on the summit Saturday evening. The weather was looking more and more promising as the week went on. My excitement grew.

Friday 26th February 2016

The day arrived. I managed to wangle an hour off the end of my shift so was done for 1130 and cycling home in short order. My pack was packed already and I needed to get a quick shower, get dressed and wait for Chris. Halfway home I received a message telling me to get the kettle on and Chris was sat having a cuppa and chatting to the Mrs by the time I walked in the back door. Izzy had been a little apprehensive about the trip herself when she realised there was actual winter mountaineering gear in the offing thus an increased reality of danger. She wouldn’t have tried talking me out of going unless I’d given her reason but I think Chris’s manner helped put her at ease about some of her fears.

In no time we were on the road.

The long drive to Scotland flew by as we chatted animatedly about all manner of subjects from inane crap to our personal histories. Both of us were clearly hyped about the trip. My mood was only slightly dampened by the fact that it was a struggle to get the loan boots on my feet. The right foot in particular was nigh on impossible to get on until I removed the insoles and replaced them with those out of my Wildcats. These were a lot thinner and less insulated/cushioned but in a toss-up between frozen wet feet (I only had the Wildcat’s with me) and cold partially crippled feet what was I to choose? I wasn’t going to let the possibilities drag me down.

The crampons, ice axe and jacket were all eventually removed from the Disney Frozen bag Chris had packed them in and examined; this choice says a lot about Mr Pinnell’s sense of fun lol. The use of the crampons and axe were something I’d face tomorrow when they were more likely to be needed. The jacket – a Rab Summit – felt reassuringly substantial. Chris had also brought along a liquid fuel stove and enough petrol to last the trip. Liquid fuel stoves were another enigma I would lift the veil on this trip.

We arrived in Crianlarich a bit after 7pm and stopped off at the local for a couple of pints and a 2 course meal. Suitably fortified we went out into the chilly dark night and set about readying our gear before Chris dropped myself and the packs off at the foot of the path up into Benmore Glen whilst he drove a km or so along the road to park the car.

The path joined a a good track that wound it’s way steadily up into the glen. We were both feeling the long day, the food sitting heavily in our bellies and the weight of our packs. We set a slow pace and discussed our plan as we walked along the darkened track. It was overcast and chilly, a slight breeze doing little to disturb the relative stillness of the glen. I had a sense of the brooding peaks looming to either side of us but with our headtorches on we saw little beyond the immediate surroundings. The glowing eyes of an occasional sheep looking back at us. Frost glistened on the track and there was a sparse smattering of snow to the side of us.

Initially we had planned on making camp at the bealach between Ben More and Stob Binnein but only 2km in and with an ascent of 250m or so it was clear to us that that was an ambitious goal. It was gone 1030pm and neither of us were getting any less tired so we found a likely path upwards and found a half-decent place to pitch for the night at about 450m. Chris gave me a quick introduction to the liquid fuel stove and we had a quick cuppa before turning in. I set my alarm for a predawn wake-up so I could get some footage of the dawn along the glen.

 

Saturday 28th Februray 2016

As usual I slept like a baby but as seems to be becoming more common since my working shift pattern as gone from alternates to permanent days I woke a little before my alarm. The anticipation of the view from my shelter had something to do with my wakefulness too . Silencing the alarm before it could disturb Chris – who was still sound off, I unzipped the inner and looked out. With the temp being so close to freezing and very little wind it seemed wise to leave one door open all night.

The view was far from disappointing. Leaning out of the door I set the camera up to film the growing light of dawn along the glen and lay back down, staring at the slopes of Stob Gharb on the opposite side of the glen as I drifted off into a doze for a half-hour.

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Sunrise.

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Benmore Glen.

We were breakfasted and packed by 0830 and setting off shortly after. There was no great sense of urgency as we knew we’d reach the summit about dinner time and we had no plans to go any further unless the top proved to have nowhere to pitch, which seemed very unlikely. If there was room up top for only one shelter then we’d pitch Chris’s Voyager and dive in that. In retrospect I’m very glad that wasn’t the case as although it is a fantastic shelter, a spacious and stable palace for one, it would have been decidedly tight with the two of us inside.

The flanks of Ben more looming above us were coated in a thick coat of snow that made it difficult to get a sense of scale. With only minimal discussion of our route Chris set off up the path a good 10 minutes before me as I finished off the last bits of packing and downed my cup of coffee. He was out of sight by the time I set off after him. The way soon became steeper and the snow deeper.

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Chris leads the way.

The morning rapidly brightened and the air remained almost still. Perfect conditions. The whole experience was exhilarating. The views were just getting better and the mountain showed no signs of relenting but I felt good. Not just mentally and emotionally but physically.

We donned crampons at about 550m but I hung on to my trekking poles for a further 100m or so, until the way became deeper and the neve thicker above a deeper bed of snow, at which point I put them away and took the walking axe in hand. Chris gave me an instructional few minutes on the usage of both pieces of kit. At first I took my time, getting to grips with the feel of them but I soon was back up close behind Chris. Admittedly he had the harder job of leading and I followed his tracks, stepping directly in his footsteps for the most part, so that I had to pause for a minute or so at a time to allow him to stay safely far enough ahead. He took pains to remind me to stay back as the way became steeper and we navigated over sections of wind slab and neve that was a good couple of inches thick in places.

These were all terms of which I had little actual knowledge but which became evidently clear to me in definition as we ascended Ben More.

At first we had it in mind to make our way over to the right and onto the bealach as the route we were on was taking a more direct line to the summit. ¬†We could have done so but the way straight up was inviting and offered a more exciting proposition that Chris obviously felt was more appealing. I agreed by tacit acceptance of his greater experience. Later on the summit I recall him saying that he liked my quiet confidence and manner, so this may have aided him in his decision to lead us that way. I did feel good and confident though there were moments after the 900m mark when I had a ‘wobble’ echoing back to my doubts before the trip. One mistake or mistep here would mean a slide of hundreds of feet. I kept rehearsing the arresting actions with the axe so that it would come more naturally should it be needed. More than anything though I just kept positive and reveled in the beauty of the landscape around us and opening up into the distances the higher we went.

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The final 100m or so to the summit ridge were the worst as we both started to get leg cramps. I had one particularly bad bout in my right leg above my knee that meant I had to take a couple of short breaks and meant that Chris reached the ridge to the summit about 5 minutes ahead of me.

I topped the rise and stepped onto level ground for the first time in what seemed like an age. Chris’s pack lay discarded in the snow, a suspect mango coloured stain several feet beyond. Avoid eating yellow snow? Mango coloured may look more appetising but it isn’t in this case! Dehydration is possibly even harder to avoid at this time of year. We had made a point of drinking at each of our stops but clearly not enough.

What a view there was from that vantage. I felt a big grin plaster itself all over my face. A great sense of satisfaction and achievement. Okay it’s not the biggest peak but it was my first winter top.

Or it would be once Chris returned from his foray further up the ridge which was hidden beyond some snow and rime-frosted crags.

The view to the south was dominated by Ben More’s sister peak Stob Binnein, her fine almost pyramidal shape dominated by a long cornice-laden ridge. There were tiny people on her summit. But the eyes were drawn to the distance, to the dozens of snow-covered lesser peaks. No peak south of Ben More stands higher in the UK, the 15 greater peaks on the table of highest tops lying further north.

Chris returned and we shared some self-congratulatory grins and remarks before packing up and making our way the last 75m or so to the summit. The views just kept growing, opening up 360 degrees for 40 or 50 miles. To the north the Nevis Range and the Ben herself were clearly visible 30 odd miles away. It’s for the views like this that we go to the hills and keep going back. But days like this were too few and far between.

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The Man Himself. Nobody You Would Know.

It was shortly after midday and there were a few people about. Yet we had all day to enjoy the top. These few people would be missing out on the best times to enjoy the views. They had to be down off the mountain in short order to make it back to their cars and hotels before dark. It is one of the greatest joys of wild camping to share the solitude of the mountain with nothing and no-one other than ourselves and the little wildlife she sheltered.

We idled about for a short while, conversing with a particularly nice guy from Perth who glided up onto the summit on ski’s. It was he who kindly pointed out the distant landmarks to our unschooled eyes. There were a few people about skiing. It must be a fantastic way to get about in those conditions. The fellow from Perth disabused me of the notion that it must be quite hard work to gain such height. I am a complete stranger to skiing. It must be great fun to tackle routes that you wouldn’t dream of taking at any other time of year on foot. Just as there are routes you would tackle on foot at no other time of year.

Chris pitched his tent long before the last person had moved off. Several people approached with a keen interest in our intention to camp there and the cuben fiber goodness of Chris’s tent. A couple of older gent’s approached separately and seemed drawn to touch the fabric which I found quite bizarre. It is a cracking material and a brilliant shelter though.

As Chris predicted the majority of summiteers were gone by 2pm and we had the summit to ourselves.

Bliss.

The afternoon continued much as the morning had: still and beautifully clear above the mountain. There were signs of increasing cloud to the south but it never reached us. We spent the time wandering about from viewpoint to viewpoint, taking photos and filming with out action cams. I familiarised myself with the petrol stove beast melting snow for brews. Never before have I taken such a casual approach to setting camp, performing camp admin with such a piecemeal, unhurried manner. We talked some but we also soaked in the sublime peace in our own space. We drank several cups of tea and snacked.

Chris took out his big boys toy: the DJI Phantom drone. It was his plan to film me as I set up the Stratospire but as it happened the ground I chose to pitch on was far too rocky for several of my tie-out pegs and the filming was a write-off. Not that he didn’t get some fine footage of the summit for his film of the trip. Check out his video on YouTube (Nobody You Would Know is his username).

Sundown came about all too soon and the temperature began to drop so I donned my ‘Aldi Special’ merino wool longjohns. Combined with my Terra Pants and overtrousers these kept my legs warm all evening. The Rab jacket Chris loaned me kept me equally toasty and the only thing to feel the cold were my toes later on that night. A stomp about the peak soon warmed them up.

The sunset was class. The first stars began to appear and we were hopeful that the small amount of haze in the air wouldn’t spoil the Milky Way.

Whilst the stars appeared by the dozens and the hundreds Chris started our evening meal. The vacuum packed fillet of steak he had passed me back at the car the previous evening and I took to be a piece to share between us turned out to be all mine! It was about the best bit of steak I had had in a long time, served up with crispy fried potatoes and onion. We ate sheltered from the growing cold in my tent. The readout on his Skywatch anenometer registered a low of almost -8 hanging in the lee of his tent. Things would not have been so much fun had there been a wind to mention.

When we emerged the Milky Way was putting on a show the like of which isn’t seen often enough. Certainly not in the neighbourhoods in which we live. The lights of Perth, Stirling and Glasgow impacted on the horizons away in their direction but to the north and directly overhead the vast multitude of stars was awe-inspiring.

We drank Bailey’s Coffee flavoured liqueur and craned our necks into the small hours, identifying stars and constellations we recognised. I saw a couple of shooting stars that Chris missed. He took a great timelapse of the night sky that can be seen on his YouTube film of the trip. As with the drone footage that he shot it is fantastic but falls short of actually experiencing it.

When I¬†retired to my shelter I was soon asleep. Chris later said that no sooner had I zipped up the fly than it seemed he could hear my snores from where he sat in his porch melting snow for a late night brew. They must have been good snores to be heard from forty feet away over the roaring of his stove! ūüėÄ

Sunday 28th February 2016

I woke once at around 3am for a necessary act of nature. I won’t go into any details but I couldn’t force myself to leave the relative warmth of the tent. There was frost on the inside of the inner as well as on the outer so I’ll let you imagine how cold it must’ve been OUTSIDE the shelter! I managed to avoid getting the frost brushed off the inner on to my hat into my bag and was back asleep in moments.

I woke again to find the tent lit from without by the rising sun and hurriedly unzipped the layers between me and the outside to set up the action cam for a timelapse of the sunrise. I wouldn’t realise until the following afternoon that the footage wasn;t on the camera so I had either failed to set up the camera to shoot or there was a technical failure with the equipment ūüė¶ The sun had yet to appear and I felt no urgency to be up and about so I snapped some photos and fired up the stove for water for a coffee, breakfast and water for the day.

Chris was awake shortly after me and was out and about sooner, taking shots of the impressive frost twinkling like diamonds on the outer of the Stratospire.

Today looked to be even finer than yesterday with hardly a cloud in the sky and still not more than a hint of a breeze.

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What a camp.

Chris was ready and off down off the northern side of the summit a good 20 minutes before me again. This repetition makes me sound shoddy but that’s just his way. It didn’t bother me though once I got going I realised I could see him and couldn’t find his footfalls amongst the trails left by the people of the previous afternoon so I set off in the direction that looked best.

As it turned out we took entirely different routes down and though his was longer in length he was still down a good 40 minutes before me. I was a bit hesitant at first on my first crampon-shod descent and picked my way slowly down some very steep sections of frozen snow, ice and rock following the footfalls of some other summiteers ascent. There were points of doubt for me and sections where I had to get a grip on my overactive brain and just get on with it. The appearance of several guys ascending that way in crampons and bearing axes was reassuring in it’s own way. Talking to them helped to calm my nerves as I told them what a fabulous night it had been on the mountain. None of them had seen Chris or anyone else since starting their ascent.

I hate descents more than ascents. They play havok with my knees and thighs. By the time I’d hit the 450m mark my legs were shaky with exhaustion.

My lack of hill fitness was showing itself.

By the 300m mark with less than a km of horizontal distance to the car my knees were giving way and without the aid of my poles I’d have been unable to continue without a good rest but I was aware that Chris was likely waiting as he’d sent me a message a half-hour before saying he was only 30 mins away from the car. I also wanted to get back home at a decent hour to see my family before it was time for bed as I had work the following morning. As it was I had to stop every 100 paces or so for a minute at a time. I’ve had shaky legs before but nothing like that. I felt fine in myself but my legs were refusing to cooperate after 3500ft of downhill pounding.

I arrived back at the road just as Chris pulled up at the base of the path in the car. He’d had time to change and get a tea from a butty van up the road. He had a very welcome cup of tea waiting for me too.

Boy was I glad to be sat down in the comfort of the car.

It had been a fantastic trip. One of the best.

Here is a link to my film of the trip (due to Copyright on the audio you may not be able to watch the film on a Mobile/tablet device): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sTK3frMFPSg

 

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3 Day Solo in the Peak District: Part 3/Finale

Day Three – Friday May 28th 2015

Wind and a little rain blustered outside my shelter for most of the night. The showers were sporadic and short-lived and gone by dawn. The gusts were a fair test of the Stratospire and I am glad to say it passed with flying colours. These gusts were in the region of 30-40mph according to the forecast I read. An anemometer is on my list of Wanted Kit… Knowing the speed of wind and current air pressure can be very helpful when choosing a spot for a camp and to help predict conditions. Particularly useful on a multi-day trip when reception is poor or the forecast unreliable.

Despite the wind I’d had a good nights kip safe in the knowledge that my shelter was going nowhere and would keep me dry short of a drastic change of conditions. I woke shortly after sunup and set about packing up. I wanted to be moving asap to get the earliest possible train home from Bamford.

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I took a few moments to video the effect of the wind on the Stratospire before packing it up.¬†A nearby rock offered the perfect table and spot to sit and enjoy my Jordan’s Superberry Granola whilst looking at the great views.

The day looked to be starting where the previous afternoon left off: lots of blue sky and sun, a strong cool breeze blowing clouds in a steady stream to the eastern horizon.

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As always on the 3rd day of any trip out in the hills I felt like I was just getting into my stride. The first day of any trip is always the most taxing and the second starts off slightly stiff, getting rapidly easier as the morning progresses. On the morning of the 3rd day you feel like you can keep going for days. This is helped by a lighter pack weight but that is not the sole reason. For those who are more or less active than me this may not hold true.

By 9am I was striding loose and easy along the well trodden path along Derwent Edge. I’d already espied a few runners when I had been enjoying my breakfast. Not long after setting out along the path southward I passed the first of a number of day hikers I was to see today. This is a popular part of the High Peak.

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Whether it was the number of people about putting me off, the sense of flowing rhythm in my stride or the vague need to get to Bamford¬†for the 1243pm train to Sheffield – I didn’t take any photos¬†between the Wheel Stones and the far side of Cutthroat Bridge.

It was a cool day and most of the folk I’d seen were wearing jackets and hats if not gloves too. At Cutthroat Bridge i was greeted my a middle-aged lady who remarked: ‘Oh your brave! Its very cold!’ Having been out since 2 days previously I had become acclimatised to conditions. I responded briefly with something along those lines as I carried on my way. She, her husband and their two friends had no doubt just gotten out of their warm cars. They were wrapped up in ¬†hats, gloves and heavy Goretex jackets. I wore only my summer-weight Merino top and cap and had been striding energetically for close to 2 hours by this point.

The views across Ladybower to Winhill were inspiring: its good to see where you were on the landscape a day or two before. When walking the South West Coast Path from Bude to Newquay 15yrs ago I remember being able to see a stretch of coast I had walked along 4-5days previously.

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Jarvis Clough proved to be an ideal spot to stop for a quick lunch break. Down there the wind was minimal and the suns rays stronger.

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The stiff short clamber up onto Bamford Moor and Bamford Edge was soon over. Views of the whole southern section of Ladybower Reservoir, Win Hill and  a large portion of the Hope Valley opened up before me. The conditions were near perfect for a walk.

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A well-spoken fellow in well-worn hiking gear of indeterminate age but definite quality (the clothing that is, not the fellow himself) stopped to speak for a minute or two. I was conscious of the time but civil. He gave me a fairly pertinent piece of information Рapparently the main footpath down into Bamford along Bamford Clough was closed due to a fallen power line or some such and had been for some time apparently. Looking at the map as I went on my way I reckoned it was likely the same path I wanted.

Damn. It could mean between making the 1243 service to Sheffield or having to wait an hour for the next one. Looking at it philosophically if I missed the first at least I could get a pint or two in the local whilst awaiting the next one. Still, I was on the home straight now and ready for home so I kept the bit between my teeth. I put away my camera and marched on.

From the road it was plain that the path the friendly fellow had spoken of was definitely the one I wanted – the most direct route into Bamford. The workaround route was an extra kilometre. Still do-able but it would be very close.

Into Bamford and regretably passed the pubs there – though I might yet be back for a visit very soon…

It was not to be however.

I made it to the Station with 5 minutess to spare, slightly footsore but light of spirit after a few good days in the hills.

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Thanks for reading.

If you fancy watching the Video log of this trip click here and please Subscribe and Like it – if you do like it that is of course! If not then please Comment as to why. After all how will I learn where I might be going wrong… ūüėČ

3 Day Solo in the Peak District: Part 1

18TH DECEMBER 2015

Thought I would at least try to catch up with my Blog as I’ve been out several times this year and I haven’t written a thing since my January trip report. Funnily enough it seems that last blog entry was also the first occasion I made a video diary of a trip – which I have since done for every trip, and these video logs can be found on my YouTube channel if you are interested. I will post a link to the video log for this particular trip at the end of this blog entry.

Excuses? Yeah I always have excuses, just ask the wife… As another blogger said to me today you have to be in the mood for writing and making a video diary of each trip has been fun, somewhat easier and less time consuming than writing an account of each one. In recent months I’ve also been working a lot. Even so I’ve managed several trips, two of which were 2 nighters – one solo and one with Marcus in tow. This account will be of the former trip. Some of the recollections are hazy but luckily I have the VLog to help flesh it out somewhat and jog the old brain.

DAY ONE – WEDNESDAY MAY 27TH 2015

Peak District bound once again, on the train direct to Bamford this time. The day was a fine one for walking. A bit breezy but there was plenty of blue sky and fluffy white clouds with little sign of the rain/sleet that was forecast later in the day. It felt wonderful to be out again with a sack on my back and 2 nights of sleeping in the hills to look forward to.

As soon as I left the main road halfway between the train station and the village of Bamford itself the mild tension of travelling and anticipation drained from me at first sight of the countryside ahead of me.

I was here. At last. Deep breath. Big smile.

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I got the camera out and attached it to the pole, feeling a mite self-conscious as I walked along filming myself. For this trip I had borrowed a friends super little camera which I used almost exclusively for videoing. The majority of the photos shown here were taken with my new phone the Sony Xperia Z3. I will one day have a camera worthy of the name rather than one merely equal to my meager photographic skills.

I was feeling good. The path leading along to Yorkshire Bridge was wide and well signposted, its part of the hitherto unknown (to me that is) Derwent Valley Heritage Way. Surprisingly there were few people about considering it was half-term. I saw one family in casual gear and a pair of older couples with the look of veteran Ramblers sat having packed lunch in the sun on the footpath up to Win Hill. I exchanged brief words of greeting with the latter group before moving along. The former group gave me odd looks if they acknowledged me at all.

There were a good few miles to cover yet if I was to reach my goal on the Kinder Plateau which would then put me on course for my planned route along the northern edge of the plateau and across to Bleaklow the following morning.  I like to have a plan but it pays to be flexible and have a backup. More and more of late I have found that the most satisfying trips are those where I follow my whims guided by conditions underfoot or by how I am feeling.

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The views of the Derwent valley opened up as I gained height. So too did the wind slowly strengthen. The air was fresh and there was a hint of summer in the sunny spells. On the steady pull up to the summit of Win Hill I saw only 3 or 4 more people. The wind was fairly strong on top and I was blowing ever so slightly with exertion – I just don’t get out enough.

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From the rocky summit I headed west toward Hope Brink where I wanted a path down to Edale End. The path either didn’t exist on the ground or it was so faint I missed it. Either way I ended up taking a rough descent on steep tussocky¬†ground to the path along the valley toward Jaggers Clough. Down here the wind was lessened and it felt truly summery. Apart from the occasional birdcall and baa-ing sheep the peace was complete. I didn’t see another soul until just above the ford at the base of Jaggers Clough when a lone runner scared the living crap out of me. I was so absorbed in my peaceful aloneness that when he ran up from behind and passed me by I was too startled to respond to his ‘Hi!’ He wouldn’t have heard me anyway – he didn’t hear my startled expletive – as he had earphones in.

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Jaggers Clough held a bubbling stream that soon became a gushing brook the further up the rapidly narrowing defile I walked. I do love a good ascent by clough to a hill top. It makes for a more interesting walk – skipping from bank to bank following the path that appear to carry you more smoothly. Sometimes the path is well-defined for stretches and faint and broken for further stretches, especially the higher you proceed, until more often than not you are over the watercourse rather than beside it.

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It was a lot cooler in there too and the clouds above me were growing thicker and the wind had picked up. The forecast was pretty much spot on with timing. About 60m below the plateau I pulled off my pack, donned my waterproof shell top and bottom and filled my water bottles from a fast flowing flow. No sooner had I secured the 3kgs of peaty brown water to my pack than the sleet began to fall. Steadily at first but soon it was chucking down. Thankfully the wet spell lasted only long enough to welcome me to the top of the clough before a break in the clouds brought a brief spell of sunshine and a rainbow away in the valley to the south. Several more short bursts of rain and sleet passed over as I walked along the path toward Crookstone Knoll. It had turned decidedly chilly and that combined with the driven sleet made me glad of my shell.

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The sky had brightened as I reached Crookstone knoll but remained threatening away to the west from whence the wind was blowing. It was late in the day by now and I had a couple of hours daylight at best.

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I wanted to be setup somewhere with a bit of light left so I could enjoy a view.¬†Unfortunately the ground was fairly sodden from all the recent rain – as it invariably is at the best of times so I fannied about for a good 45 mins near Madwoman’s Stones before settling for the better of several poor options. By the time I had pitched it was nearing dusk and my energy levels were low. ¬†Within no time the cloud had descended, filling the air with a damp chill. My desire for a view disappeared as quickly as the view itself as hunger and the drop in temp made up my mind.

Time to dive in the Stratospire and get warm, fed and watered.

To be continued…

 

Here is a link to the Video Log of this trip: https://youtu.be/eEzGJ4_1gSU

 

 

 

Midges, mountains and more… (Midges!) Part Three

Sunday 21st September

Apart from one urgent venture out into the thick clag for a pee in the night (bringing along two large plastic bags to use as vapour barriers over¬†my dry bed socks was a great decision! Putting my damp trail shoes on would’ve been a lot less pleasant)¬†I slept like a baby on my first and only night under the TrailStar for this trip; it was also to be my final night under this great but limited shelter. I slept relatively undisturbed by the often frantic flapping of Marcus’ tent and Marcus’ huffing sighs and wheezing as he laboured several times to inflate his malfunctioning sleeping mat… the poor sod! I just have to add here that I love the Exped Synmat UL 7. It may not be the lightest but its damned comfortable and as I’ve since said to Marcus: ‘What price do you place on a good nights sleep?’ ¬†Okay so I could’ve paid a higher cash price for the lighter and seemingly superior NeoAir Xlite, so I guess I did place a limit on the price I would pay for a good nights kip but I certainly don’t notice the extra 140g difference.

Our excellent high pitch was still shrouded in thick hill fog when we roused ourselves. Following yet another breakfast of Belgian chocolate granola washed down with a cuppa I quickly loaded up my pack. it never ceases to give me a little buzz of pleasure as I fit the entirety of my ‘home’ for the night into my pack. The routine becomes smoother and more practiced as the days go by so that by the time its time to go home everything has its place and the pack feels ever more comfortable and tidy.

 

 

Marcus waits while I make a call to the family.

Marcus waits while I make a call to the family. Please click to view the full-sized image. 

¬†It was damp, breezy and chilly. It felt good to get going. Refreshed after a good nights sleep, getting the blood circulating, we started¬†westward downhill over rough tussocky ground and into the ravine of¬†the Allt a’Chrom-alltain. We would follow this lively little watercourse down to the Stalkers track from Glen Feshie which forded the burn a couple of kilometers and a thousand feet below us. We’d dropped less than a hundred metres and been walking for less than 45mins when the clag lifted and the sun came out. Again we couldn’t believe our luck with the weather. We soon stopped to remove layers and take in the views. It was a beautiful morning, the hazy sunshine lending the day a soft almost mystical air.

There’s a lot to be said for going ‘Off Piste’. Sure there were signs in places that we weren’t the only people to have used this route – no great surprise when you consider that Man has been walking all over these mountains for millenia – but it was clearly infrequently used and was a joyful little challenge to descend. Following a clearly delineated path can become too safe, boring and predictable. Sure they are very welcome at times, particularly in bad conditions or poor terrain but making your own route can be a lot more satisfying and rewarding.

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Descending beside the Allt a’Chrom-alltain, the skies clearing above.¬†Please click to view the full-sized image.

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Time to take some layers off. Please click to view the full-sized image.

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The abundance of mosses, lichens and other plant life is far greater than initial impressions portray. I wish I had the knowledge to identify even a fraction of them.  Please click to view the full-sized image.

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Looking down into the Coire Gorm a’Chrom-alltain. Marcus is going the wrong way!¬†Please click to view the full-sized image.

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Much of the descent was like this. Please click to view the full-sized image.

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A whole strange world beneath our feet. Please click to view the full-sized image.

We crisscrossed the burn at least a score of times before reaching the stalkers path, skipping over rocks, negotiating numerous boggy stretches and steep heather tussocked banks. I remember how Marcus and I would quietly mock the seemingly older hikers and backpackers we saw with Walking Poles once upon a time but oh how I love my Black Diamond Trail Compacts now! Particularly when going over terrain such as this. Without them I’d have been down on my arse more than once. My new shoes were also proving their worth, grippy, light and allowing the freedom of natural movement for positioning my feet. My boots will only ever be worn in deep winter conditions from now on.

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The burn reappears from beneath the tussocks. Please click to view the full-sized image.

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The Allt a’Chrom-alltain. Please click to view the full-sized image.

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Marcus takes the High Road and realises its not the quickest… Please click to view the full-sized image.

This was the first descent that I can ever recall not feeling glad to reach level ground. My knees and thighs are usually screaming out for relief on reaching level ground after a steep and long descent. Not this time however, due in the main I think to my footwear. It wouldn’t have made much difference to my knees in this instance anyhow as the ground was a mass of tussocks and required a fair bit of bog-hopping to get to the Stalkers path where it forded the burn. It was just before this that we saw our first folk of the day: a group of day hikers ascending the Stalkers path upon the shoulder of Sgor Gaoith. In fact they were the first fellow humans we’d seen so closely since the Land Rover full of shooters had passed us the morning before. These people had spotted us and whether they’d stopped for a break or simply to stare and wonder at our unorthodox route I couldn’t tell you as they were too far away to see that clearly.

No sooner had we lost them to view behind us than we were tersely greeted by a swiftly striding young couple also heading up the Stalkers path. This place was positively buzzing.

On the Stalkers path.

On the Stalkers path. Please click to view the full-sized image.

The path was pleasant and welcome despite my just having waxed lyrical about and having fully enjoyed the ‘Off Piste’ route of the morning. We covered the ground at a steady pace, having found our walking legs on our last full day in the hills. Yet the day was far too pleasant and the setting far too peaceful and beautiful to simply speed through, so we stopped at our first proper burn to fill our water bottles, sit for a while and eat our dinner. I hadn’t felt so chilled out and relaxed in a long time.

It could have been High Summer rather than the last days before Autumn with the buzzing of busy bees, other insects and the gloriously warm sunshine.

I could have sat there all day.

It wasn’t the urgency of a timetable that was drawing me on but the desire to see what lie around the next bend in the trail, to find a fine spot to camp for the night. That urgency would come later on in the afternoon when I realized that it truly was our final day and there really was a timetable to keep to.

This next section of the trail led through what would turn out to be my favorite setting of the whole trip.

The remnants of ancient Caledonian pine forest here could have been transported wholesale from the Sierra Nevada in the States. This particular species of tree and the scale may have been all wrong but it was as near as I’ve personally come to it. The path wound around gnarly old roots and trees above steep-sloped, wooded hillsides over a lively burn in the valley a hundred and more feet below. To top it all off the lighting was exceptional and the temperature positively balmy for Scotland at any time of year in my experience. The air was filled with the sounds of birdsong and buzzing insects, the contrast to the airy mountains of the last day and a half a welcome and pleasant evolution of our journey.

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Looking over the Inschriach Forest. Please click to view the full-sized image.

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Please click to view the full-sized image.

 

The path wound down steadily until we reached a fork at the bottom of the valley. We took the left fork to a bridge over the Allt Ruadh and took a few moments to top up our water. I washed my head in the frigid waters and felt invigorated.  The woods here were cooler and denser. Sunlight dappled the grassy glades, the freshly scented forest air a cool respite after the sunbathed hillside. We joined the road that runs along Glen Feshie and followed it back along towards Achlean, passing by Balachroick and Balnascriten, our destination the bridge over the Feshie near Stronetoper.

Road walking is never very exciting and is often positively horrid. It wears on the feet and offers very little break from the monotony. We were both so chilled out and ‘In the Zone’ that we stomped those 4 or 5km with barely a grumble or missed stride. The afternoon continued with beautiful sunshine and barely a cloud in the sky. We passed a family group returning to their cars after a hike down the road and stopped just past Achlean so I could ring the wife whilst I had a signal, as looking at our route and possible campsites for tonight I may not get a signal later on in the evening. This turned out not to be the case but I like to stay in touch.

Inschriach Forest.

Inschriach Forest. Please click to view the full-sized image.

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Glen Feshie. Meall Dubhag dominates the background. Please click to view the full-sized image.

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The sun washed out panorama looking down Glen Feshie. Please click to view the full-sized image. 

A nice couple on mountain bikes passed us with friendly greetings as we forded the burn just after the gate through the Deer Fence near Achleum. They didn’t stop, the fella leading the way, sweaty and red-faced he bombed straight into the burn and we heard his curses as he came off his bike. He appeared to be ok so we went on our way and soon came to the bridge over the Feshie.

The River Feshie from the bridge at Stronetoper. Please click to view the full-sized image.

The River Feshie from the bridge at Stronetoper. Please click to view the full-sized image.

It was at this point that Marcus suggested a dip in the river. I knew that he meant a dip to get cleaned up as he’s a bit of a clean freak (have I mentioned that already?) At first I was afraid, I was petrified… (Sorry couldn’t resist!)

I don’t think he expected me to agree but I thought: What the hell! I had been wearing the same clothes for 4 days and tomorrow morning we would be back among the masses of Humanity with all their prejudices and sensitivities. A bath and change of undies might be the least service I could do for them.

I certainly dont think Marcus expected me to dive headlong into the river but thats what I did.

Christ was it bloody cold. The day had been warm, in the upper teens if not higher so I though the water would be nice and refreshing. Well, i had just recently spent 10 days in the heat of the Canaries, diving headlong into pools to cool off… I neglected to allow for the fact that the water of the Feshie had been flowing off of mountains above 3000ft and was likely to be a good deal colder than a pool on an Equatorial island with a nighttime temperature of 20+ and daytime highs in the 30’s.

The pier-like rock in the lower centre of the river was my diving platform into the deepest part of the river. It looks so inviting. Please click to view the full-sized image.

The pier-like rock in the lower centre of the river was my diving platform into the deepest part of the river. It looked so inviting. Please click to view the full-sized image.

When I hit the water I nearly died. I thought my muscles would seize and my heart stop.

Ignoring my advice to leave the inner of his tent at home was not the least or last good decision Marcus made on this trip.He wisely and gently lowered himself into a shallower and sheltered part of the river.

‘Jesus, Elt! I didnt think you were actually going to dive in!’

Never had I felt so glad to scrape my shins and nails on rock as I clung precariously to the closest available shelf above the water. It took me a few moments to get my breath back and what I said I shall not repeat here. Needless to say I felt VERY refreshed and invigorated. I was also in clean boxers and fully-clothed before Marc had even finished washing his hair such was my need to get warmed up again.

Panoramic of our bathing spot by the Feshie. Please click to view the full-sized image.

Panoramic of our bathing spot by the Feshie. Please click to view the full-sized image.

Glen Feshie, the River Feshie. Please click to view the full-sized image.

Glen Feshie, the River Feshie. Please click to view the full-sized image.

We cracked on soon after, heading up the road past Stronetoper and into the forest, taking the left fork a half-kilometer beyond the empty house. We soon came out of the woods near the ruins of an old sheep pen named Corarnstilmore.

This huge clearing between the stretches of forest was an impressive open space in the hazy afternoon sun. The views back showed the rounded humps of the Cairngorms as dim, shadowy giants, their edges and slopes softened. We slowed up a little to take in this idyllic space and we came close to making our evening’s camp on a lovely flat pitch not far from the footbridge close to Baileguish. Only the fact that it was still quite early and the mosquitoes were out in force drove us on.

Looking back to the Caringorms. Please click to view the full-sized image.

Looking back to the Caringorms. Please click to view the full-sized image.

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Baileguish. Please click to view the full-sized image.

Although we both enjoy the woods – both walking through them and camping in them – neither of us was keen to set up camp for the night in the stretch of forest ahead of us. For a start there were hordes of mosquitoes. For another I was feeling decidedly energetic still and felt there were a few more miles left in my legs. Plus Marcus had planted the seed of an idea in my head. He had mentioned the ruins of the Ruthven Barracks. He had even ventured on the first afternoon when we’d passed by the place that he’d like to camp there. It wasn’t the sort of place or illicit spot we’d usually choose to make camp but it had a certain appeal. There were few choice or clearly evident areas between us and Kingussie that would place us in a good position for a short walk-in tomorrow morning. I certainly didn’t fancy having to rush about and stomp at speed into the town to catch the train first thing in the morning. Especially after having had such a relaxed few days on the trail.

So we pushed on along the wide, clear dirt tracks through the forest, stopping as little as possible. We had an almost constant escort platoon of mosquitoes that would bombard us at even the slightest hint of a pause. I didn’t even stop to take any photos – not that there was much more to see than the trees and one huge Red Ants nest. We passed through the tiny, attractive village of Drumguish where we glimpsed only one other person and made Tromie Bridge in an hour. The final stretch of tarmac leading to Ruthven barracks was a bit of a drag but the thoughts of a nice meal and a hopefully decent pitch kept my legs pumping. When Ruthven Barracks finally came into sight it was nearing sundown and the place looked very appealing in the lovely light of the setting sun. Marcus likened it to Camelot.

Ruthven Barracks. Please click to view the full-sized image.

Ruthven Barracks between the trees. Please click to view the full-sized image.

Of course it certainly wasn’t anywhere near as romantic a setting as that mystical castle. In fact it was quite sinister with its attendant flock of cawing and cackling crows, the gaping empty sockets of its ruined windows and¬†darkened doorways. Luckily the separate stables were a better option for pitching as I don’t think either of us fancied sleeping in the courtyard between the two main buildings of the barracks. We opted to wait until it was fully dark before pitching the ShangriLa just in case there were any late evening tourists attracted to the place. We would get an early start and go into Kingussie for breakfast before catching the train, leaving the ruins before its earliest visitors. There weren’t any midges or mozzies about but I thought for the sake of a quick exit in the morning we’d share the ShangriLa for the night.

It was an odd place to spend out last night in Scotland. It was definitely one of the strangest places we’ve ever camped, particularly when shortly before it was fully dark a number of spotlights came on to illuminate the walls of the building! We had to dodge these lights or else have our giant shadows proclaim our presence to anyone passing or living within sight of the ruins. It didn’t feel to exposed or as though we were trespassing. Nor did the nearby rumbling of traffic along the busy A9 bother or disturb us much.

The ruins of Ruthven Barracks.

The ruins of Ruthven Barracks. Please click to view the full-sized image.

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Information board. Please click to view the full-sized image.

One of the two nearly identical main blocks.

One of the two nearly identical main blocks. Please click to view the full-sized image.

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Rear of the courtyard. The stables were through that gate. There is a blocked-up well in the right-hand corner. Please click to view the full-sized image.

The Stables where we spent the night.

The Stables where we spent the night. Please click to view the full-sized image.

 

We were tired and we’d had the best trip we’d shared in a long time, if not the best we’d ever had. It was certainly freer of minor calamities and stress. I’d had less problems with energy levels, tired feet and dehydration. These were due to better preparation, planning and gear choice.

As always we left little¬†other than our footprints and the outlines of our sleeping mats to tell that we’d ever been there.

 

 

Midges, mountains and more… (Midges!) Part Two

Saturday 20th September

I had an excellent nights sleep again, waking up only two or three times – once for the loo (damned midges swarmed me instantly), once for a drink and once to the sound of Marcus blowing up his airbed as it appeared to have developed a slow puncture. So Marc didn’t have a very good nights sleep, which is par for the course whenever we go wild camping it seems. I get eaten alive but sleep like a baby and Marc gets Scot free of bites but generally doesn’t get a good nights sleep. I reckon I can put up with a few insect bites so long as i get a good nights sleep… This trip was only the second time I’d used my relatively new sleeping mat (Exped Synmat UL 7) and Down sleeping bag (Mountain Hardwear Ratio 32) and boy do they do the job. I’m looking forward to testing them in colder climes this coming autumn/winter.

Anyway, after breakfast and another less than early start we set off northward along Glen Feshie. ¬†The weather was as fine today as it had been yesterday with maybe a few more clouds about but still quite calm and very mild. We wandered past the bothy with barely a scant glance in its direction and continued on our way. I chanced to look at my phone and found I actually had a signal, a weak one but a signal nevertheless. So once we had stopped and filled up with a little water to carry us up the steep climb ahead i rang the wife. Despite having spoken to them the afternoon before my boy had been crying when he couldn’t get to speak to me the previous evening. Bless him. He was out at the time so I rang him on his own little mobile and spoke to him but he seemed fine. The wife was having a girls night that night and my boy was staying at friends for a birthday sleepover so i knew i had to put his mind at rest. Being away from the family even for only a few short days is hard but I love doing what I do and wouldn’t change it, other than to get him into it and bring the family along when he’s a little bigger and able to cope with it.

Ahead of us lay our hardest ascent of the whole trip, though it was on an LRT (Land Rover Track) and not over rough ground or on a poor path. The climb was 2000ft over 4km but the day was glorious and there was a little bit of a cooling breeze as we climbed to take the edge of the heat. It didn’t stop me from sweating like a pig but it helped! The lower reaches of the LRT wound through the lovely Caledonian pinewoods alongside the bubbling burn Allt Coire Chaoil, the sun gaining a stronger presence in the sky as the cloud grew more scattered.

Looking back on Glen Feshie.

Looking back on Glen Feshie. Click to view the full-sized image.

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Gnarly Scots Pine. Click to view the full-sized image.

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The Allt Coire Chaoil. Click to view the full-sized image.

We were passed about halfway to the top by 4 guys in a Land Rover towing a trailer bearing an 8-wheeled Argocat. Even the powerful 4×4 was moving slowly up the steep incline, clearly bearing its occupants to some shooting up on the Moine Mhor, the Great Moss plateau at the top of the track. It was a place I had been looking forward to visiting for a long time, a great open heather moorland situated mostly 3000ft above sea level.

The higher we climbed the more fantastic the views became.

A view back down the LRT with the Slochd Mor track down which we had come the previous afternoon. Click to view the full-sized image.

A view back down the LRT with the Slochd Mor track down which we had come the previous afternoon. Click to view the full-sized image.

Meall Dubhag. Click to view the full-sized image.

Meall Dubhag. Click to view the full-sized image.

Meall Dubhag again. in this one, a few figures can be made out of the ridgeline just to the right of the mountains highest point. This mountain is 998m tall or just over 3200ft. Click to view the full-sized image.

Meall Dubhag again. in this one, a few figures can be made out of the ridgeline just to the right of the mountains highest point. This mountain is 998m tall or just over 3200ft. Click to view the full-sized image.

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The Allt Garbhlach and the northern end of Glen Feshie. Click to view the full-sized image.

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Meall nan Sleac. Click to view the full-sized image.

As always the last part was the hardets and we reached the top of the LRT at about dinner time which was a very fortuitous and timely thing!

Marcus on the last stretch. Click to view the full-sized image.

Marcus on the last stretch. Click to view the full-sized image.

View from the top of the LRT looking westward. Click to view the full-sized image.

View from the top of the LRT looking westward. Click to view the full-sized image.

The breeze was a bit stronger up here and we had occasion to use our new insulated jackets for the first time, Marc in his Montane Featherlite Down jacket and me in my Rab Generator. We were both happy to don the much needed warmth over our sweaty forms whilst we sat down and ate a dinner of cheese and crackers, jelly babies and blackcurrant juice! A couple of day hikers strode past with a cheery hello. They were bound up the track for the fairly nondescript summit of the Munro (a mountain over 3000ft high) Mullach Clach a’ Bhlair. Again I wasn’t particularly drawn to gaining that summit despite it being within an easy kilometer with very little uphill. It was in the opposite direction to the Munro I truly wanted to summit: Sgor Gaoith, which means ‘The Windy Peak’ in Gaelic. I would have loved to have gained the summit of Braeriach – the third highest peak in the UK – but it appeared to be heavily shrouded in cloud (and indeed it remained so for all but 10 minutes all day) so I settled for Sgor Gaoith which had been prominent in my mind from the earliest days of planning this trip, simply because of the views down into the depths below it and something about the shape of its pinnacle.

Fed, watered and rested we removed our heavier insulation but kept our lighter outer layers on against the cool breeze and set off across the Moine Mhor. It is a truly barren, mostly featureless and beautiful space, often in the cloud and not a place to become lost without a compass, map or a clue of how to use either in poor visiblity. Despite the heavier cloud cover the peak of our destination remained visible ahead of us. The LRT made for easy going on the first few kilometers across the Great Moss. We stopped where the track forded a burn and refilled our water bottles. We left the track at a footpath heading directly toward Sgor Gaoith across the moor and left the footpath after a short while as I wanted to head directly for the overlook at the head of the valley that ran between Sgor Gaoith and Braeriach: Gleann Eanaich. Marcus was soon cursing me with ‘Elton leads us into the Bog of Doom!’ like we were in some region of Middle Earth. Well, he does bear a passing resemblance to a certain grey-bearded wizard…

The ground went from crisp mosses, lichens and grasses (with some spectacularly good pitch spots that would have been perfect if hadn’t been so early in the aftrnoon) to a largely boggy network through which we had to thread our way carefully. Again I think I was maybe feeling a little less concerned with footing on this ground in my trail runners than Marcus was and I do genuinely enjoy walking across such terrain. Guess I’m a masochist at heart! If you have read any of my other trip reports you will maybe recall that Marcus and I have crossed a number of bogs in the Peak District and Marc has a tendency to find the deepest sections in short order and spectacular fashion. Ok maybe only once or twice but… Luckily this time we crossed the bogs mostly unscathed.

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The LRT crossing the Moine Mhor. The cloud in the distance hides Monadh Mor, one of the five Munro’s in this relatively small area. Click to view the full-sized image.

Our first sighting of our goal: Sgor Gaoith, 'The Windy Peak'. Click to view the full-sized image.

Our first sighting of our goal: Sgor Gaoith, ‘The Windy Peak’. Click to view the full-sized image.

The view back to Mullach Clach a' Bhlair. Click to view the full-sized image.

The view back to Mullach Clach a’ Bhlair. Click to view the full-sized image.

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Looking across the Great Moss toward Monadh Mor and the Devils Point. The bulk of Braeriach to the left still heavily cloaked in cloud. Click to view the full-sized image.

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Startling green moss in the bogs of the Moine Mhor. Click to view the full-sized image.

Startling green moss in the bogs of the Moine Mhor. Click to view the full-sized image.

You have to watch where your standing in this kind of terrain and not least to avoid sinking up to the knees in mud-soup... Click to view the full-sized image.

You have to watch where your standing in this kind of terrain and not least to avoid sinking up to the knees in mud-soup… Click to view the full-sized image.

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Braeriach. Click to view the full-sized image.

Mossy stone on the Great Moss. Click to view the full-sized image.

Grasses, mosses and mossy stones on the Great Moss. Oh and don’t forget the lichens. Odd stuff lichen. Click to view the full-sized image.

 

Sgor Gaoith. Click to view the full-sized image.

Sgor Gaoith. Click to view the full-sized image.

I’d been looking forward to the views from the head of Gleann Eanaich and from the ascent up toward Sgor Gaoith’s summit and I wasn’t disappointed. The breeze was fairly strong now and despite the brooding clouds we had only a few minor showers. There were distant promising patches of sunshine on the landscape and occasionally passing over us. We were in our element. The ascent was fairly straightforward with a good number of stoppages to simply take in the views. In places the path came fairly close to some huge drops (over 1000ft in places) so concentraion was required.

Marcus on the path up Sgor Gaoith. Click to view the full-sized image.

Marcus on the path up Sgor Gaoith. Click to view the full-sized image.

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Loch Eanaich below and Breariach almost free of cloud. Click to view the full-sized image.

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Looking back toward the Great Moss and distant Monadh Mor. Click to view the full-sized image.

Sunshine on Gleann Eanaich. Click to view the full-sized image.

Sunshine on Gleann Eanaich. Click to view the full-sized image.

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Mountain man Marcus. Click to view the full-sized image.

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Braeriach in full view for the first time, however briefly. Click to view the full-sized image.

Almost at the summit. Click to view the full-sized image.

Almost at the summit. Click to view the full-sized image.

The mountain was living up to its name ‘The Windy Peak’, sending clouds scudding over within reach and around us as we reached the summit and the highest point of the mountain disappeared for only the second time since we’d first sighted it! Typical. We lingered long enough to congratulate ourselves and take a few photos (I think Marc tried to ring his mum with mixed success if I¬†recall correctly), before we set off down into the dip in the ridge between Sgor Gaoith and its lesser top of Sgoran Dubh Mor. We donned waterproofs as the rain got steadily heavier but we could see sunshine in the distance from where the clouds were rolling toward us. Sure enough the skies brightened as we reached level ground in the dip between the two peaks and I spotted several promising looking spots to pitch up. Marcus was a bit less certain but I talked him around. It was about 530pm and I was getting hungry. Besides which it was a really good spot, with fantastic views and I had high hopes of waking up to a fantastic sunrise and maybe even a cloud inversion. More importantly THERE WERE ABSOLUTELY NO FLAMING BITING LITTLE B*¬£^$RDS¬†ANYWHERE TO BE SEEN!

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Selfie on the summit. Click to view the full-sized image.

A last look back toward the Moine Mhor. Click to view the full-sized image.

A last look back toward the Moine Mhor. Click to view the full-sized image.

I didn’t waste any time and quickly drew out the TrailStar and pitched her taut and low within several minutes, before Marcus could escalate his misgivings to open rebellion. His main concerns were with the ShangriLa 3 at that altitude in such an exposed spot and its ability to cope with what might get thrown at it, but the forecast wasn’t that bad and its a proven shelter in fairly bad conditions. I was more confident of it than he was and let it show by being brusque and confident. Plus I was buzzing at the setting!

A fantastic place to pitch. Click to view the full-sized image.

A fantastic place to pitch. Click to view the full-sized image.

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Marc’s lack of confidence showed in the initial pitch of his tent (though he blamed it on the conditions), so I lent a hand. That’s when things went slightly wrong… I was tensioning one of the inner tie-out points when the whole tie-out ripped free of the shelter in my hands. Now I’m no superman so I’m guessing there was a fault or a weakness in the construction. That thought didn’t make me feel any less guilty or Marcus feel any more settled about the situation. In the end though the shelters were set and we dived into our respective abodes – after a few photos – to cook up some food and warm up.

It was at this point I began to have a few misgiving of my own about my own shelter. The Trailstar is one of the most – if not THE most – wind and weather proof lightweight shelters available on the market. It has a large footprint with a very large amount of space for one person and weighs in at a little over 600g without pegs – you don’t use tent poles, you use your walking poles to hold it up which is one of the reasons i like it so much. However… it doesn’t have a lot of headroom and of all that space only a small portion is usable whilst sitting upright and that’s if you have it pitched high enough; if the weather is bad enough you have to pitch it low which makes the usable space even smaller. I considered this on top of the fact that I absolutely had to obtain an inner for the Trailstar after the midge episodes and was slowly coming to the conclusion that despite my short and mostly happy dalliance with the shelter I was going to have seriously look for an alternative.

After tea I wandered off to find a decent signal to ring my family and found one within a hundred yards of the tents, which was just as well as the cloud had descended upon the mountain and I couldn’t see further than twenty or thirty feet in front of my face. The family were fine – the wife was all set for her girly night in and Josh was happily playing at his friends house for the sleepover party.The wife did drop a bit of a bombshell though. She and Josh were missing me that badly that she didn’t think she could bear me being away for the TGO Challenge next May. To be fair I was missing them like mad too and the TGO is 2wks from the west coast to the east coast of Scotland. You walk the whole way unsupported living out of your rucksack and mostly wild camping the whole way. I was going to apply on my return home but it didn’t look as though i would be now. Aww well I’d just have to have 1 or 2 more shorter multi-day trips in between now and September next year when the application for the 2016 Event would be available. That would hopefully help to prepare my family and myself for being apart for longer.

By the time I returned to the tents I was pretty chilly and was looking forward to a hot drink to warm myself up. Marc was finished with his meal so I quickly boiled up some water for a hot chocolate, grabbed the last 200ml or so of Jamesons and carefully dived into the ShangriLa with him for a couple of hours to wile away the evening with some music and drinking.

 

 

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 ūüôā

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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 ūüôā 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…

Hopping groughs, swopping Cloughs!

This trip to the Peak District (most often referred to with fond familiarity as just ‘The Peaks’) was pretty special despite my familiarity with this area of the country. It was special because a) I was taking my Trailstar on its trial run, b) I was making my first solo trip in many years and c) because it will most likely be my last wild camp of the year.

The fact that this was the first time I had gone on a solo trip since my wife Issy and I had met had her a little worried and so I was even more meticulous in planning than usual. This was due mainly to the fact that I had written a fairly detailed set of Route plans and possible contingencies for her in case something bad befell me. Always a wise decision, particularly when going out alone but it also helped to set Issy’s mind at rest.

I got off to an early start on Saturday morning yet still managed to miss my bus into the town centre and the train station. Damn! The next bus wasn’t going to get me to the train on time and I’d have to wait another hour or more for the next one, which would mean not being able to go to Go Outdoors as I’d planned. It would also mean missing the bus from Sheffield to Fairholmes that I wanted to catch. ¬†Switching on my phone to ring the wife I read a text she had sent me several minutes before informing me that someone had broken into our shed! I quickly marched home, set the shed to rights as best I could (luckily the thieving scum didn’t manage to make off with our bikes because I always double shackle them even though there is a substantial lock on the shed door) and then the wife drove me to the station in her pyjamas. Bless her she does look after me!

The journey to Sheffield was uneventful. The walk to Go Outdoors was a little more interesting but only because I had only ever been there once before and that was when it was still CCC. I still possess the GoreTex bivi bag and Berghaus microfleece that I’d bought there some 12 years before and in fact I was wearing the microfleece on Saturday morning. Its an old favourite and despite the broken zip toggle its just as good as when I bought it new. I went to Go Outdoors in the hopes of buying myself a Montane Featherlite smock but it was out of stock so I came away with a Rab MeCo long-sleeved Tee which performed brilliantly over the weekend (obviously not as a windshirt!). Its my first piece of Merino kit and also my first purchase of anything Rab. It certainly does all it said on the tags: kept me warm when it was damp with sweat and mist, kept me cooler for longer when I was exerting myself on a long climb and dried fairly rapidly. Not to mention that it is very comfortable to wear.

Luckily I didn’t have long to spend browsing the store otherwise I might have spent long hours poring and pawing over the large selection of goodies to be had in there and made myself sick with not having the cash to buy those things I’d like to try out on the hills and in camp. Its all very well browsing online as I often do but there is no substitute for actually getting your hands on the kit in person. Millets is the best, no the¬†only¬†outdoor shop in Grimsby and all I buy from there are my gas canisters.

The bus to Fairholmes only runs once a day and on this occasion it was rammed full of Chinese students (most of whom were inappropriately dressed or equipped in my opinion for an outing in the Peaks) so I had to stand up for the 25 minutes it took to get there.

Bus stop at Fairholmes

Bus stop at Fairholmes

I grabbed my dinner from my pack, watching a rather bemused group of colourfully attired teenage Chinese boys and girls wander aimlessly off toward the Visitor Center and then I headed for the track up through Lockerbrook Coppice, onto Lockerbrook Farm and Rowlee Pasture.

Ladybower Resrvoir from Lockerbrook Coppice

Ladybower Resrvoir from Lockerbrook Coppice

 

Great views and lovely surroundings.

Great views and lovely surroundings.

 

Lockerbrook Farm.

Lockerbrook Farm.

The sky was overcast but bright and cool with decent visibilty for the majority of the early afternoon. Lockerbrook Coppice was wonderfully peaceful and scenic. A welcome relief and taste of the outdoors that I had been craving for the previous few weeks. Stopping half way up I sat down to have my lunch, a ham, cheese and olive filled tortilla wrap washed down with good old Council Pop. On the walk up to Rowlee Pasture I saw a solo cyclist and a bunch of friendly guys doing surface repairs on the track beyond Lockerbrook Farm but no other walkers. There were plenty of cars parked at the Farm however from where could be heard the buzz of voices, so I assumed the farm was a shop or cafe or something; I didnt stop to find out. There were still plenty of miles to cover. When I got onto the path heading for Alport Castles I rang the wife to let her know I’d made the bus to Fairholmes and was heading for Bleaklow Stones so she would know which Route plan to look up.

The slabbed footpath to Alport Castles.

The slabbed footpath to Alport Castles.

There were expansive and good views all around today, the overcast broken intermittently by bright sun giving great depth to the scenery and bringing out the lovely colours of late autumn on the surrounding hills and valleys. Again there were very few people about and only one couple going the same way as I was toward Alport Castles. Striding along the slabbed footpath which forms a section of this stretch of path I was reminded of the last time I was there with my mate Marcus. Then as now there were plenty of puddles covering the slabs and Marcus stepped in one thinking it was as shallow as all the others but which happened to be at least knee deep judging by the muddy water reaching up to that point on his cream trail trousers. Of course I found it highly amusing and now it also served as a reminder to not trust appearances out there. Marcus has a tendency to find the least solid footing out on the moors and I was determined to avoid such an unfortunate incident as he was not there to act as an unwilling detection aid!

Sunken/subsided ground at Alport Castles.

Sunken/subsided ground at Alport Castles.

Alport Castles.

Alport Castles.

Shortly after bypassing Alport Castles I felt a hot spot on my right heel so i stopped and took a few moments to air my feet and put some tape over the hot spot. Looking more closely at my socks I saw a small know of material that had formed right where the hot spot had appeared. Its about time I had some new hiking socks but this christmas will likely be unusual in that I wont be receiving any! Not with the Trailstar being Santas gift this year.

My trusty Blaze. A very autumnal pack.

My trusty Blaze. A very autumnal pack.

The couple who had been strolling on ahead of me since Bellhag Tor came back along the path as I was getting my pack back on. The wind had picked up slightly and the temperature had dropped a couple of degrees as a result. The couple were well-equipped day hikers but they had their hard shells on and thick hats and to me looked to be fleeing back to civilisation… With a wry grin i carried on along the mucky path toward the Trig point on West End Moor.

River Alport and Alport Dale.

River Alport and Alport Dale.

The overloaded sponge of West End Moor.

The overloaded sponge of West End Moor.

Somewhere shortly after Alport castles I missed the direct path to the Trig Point and found myself wandering along the steeper contours above Alport Dale, traversing the higher moors on a narrow winding trail. The wind turned suddenly fierce and cold. Keeping my footing steady and myself upright was proving to be a bit of a challenge in this errant wind. Where had it sprung from? The forecast was for slight winds, not this battering gale. Even removing my pack and donning my waterproof jacket (as my sole windproof layer against the chilly wind) proved to be a task as the wind tried to knock me off balance and rip the jacket out of my hands. I frequently had to untangle the twisted straps of my map case as they threatened to strangle me. Maybe it was the spirit of my poor deceased mother trying to make me turn back, away from the haunted mooorland of Bleaklow, my over-active imagination whispered to me. Or perhaps the spirits of Bleaklow wanted to keep me away. Laughing to myself, shouting defiance like a madman into the wind, I stepped off the vague trail I’d been following and set off across the open moor on a bearing that led me eventually to the Trig Point. Once there I stopped to remove some packets of dried fruit and nut snacks from my pack, transferring them to the belt pouch on my hip belt, and setting my compass on a bearing for the 535m summit that lay between the TP and ‘The Ridge’ which was my chosen route up on to Bleaklow hill. It was shortly after 3pm so I had a little over an hour and a half daylight left. I was prepared to walk in the dark but I’d rather not have to do so, so i picked up my pace. The grough’s at this point got deeper, wider and sloppier so my progress wasn’t forward so much as it was from side to side. Still, I cant remember enjoying myself quite so much as I navigated through the boggy landscape as I did today. I could see my destination and I was determined to get there before the light faded and finding a decent pitch became more difficult. Trotting through the bogs requires a certain amount of experience at recognising the different tones, apparent textures and types of growth in and around the groughs and bogs and carefully choosing a path through them, whilst always remaining aware of your desired direction. It can be frustrating or great fun depending on your disposition. I was ‘in the zone’, happily grough hopping.

Bleaklow from West End Moor

Bleaklow from West End Moor

The wind had died down a fair bit but was still blowing chilly with a fine mist of precipitation that wasn’t quite bad enough to warrant stopping to don my Precip over-trousers. I only had one unfortunate incident on the way up to Bleaklow. I’d not long before cheerfully congratulated myself on avoiding much more than sinking halfway up the side of my boots when I carelessly put my foot down on a fresh green patch of mossy type foliage that I’d identified as being uncertain footing. Sinking up to midcalf I cursed myself heartily but chuckled at what Marcus would have to say when he found out after all the ribbing I’ve given him over the years!
Soon after, I was up on the Hill. No sooner had I done so than I spotted my first mountain hare of the trip closely followed by a second. both were far too skittishly quick for me to get my camera or phone out to get a shot though. The first time I ever saw a live hare was up on Bleaklow about 7 or 8 years before. On that occasion this particular animal appeared directly in front of me and Marcus when we were trying to find our way through the deep groughs to Bleaklow Stones and it led us all the way, disappearing only to reappear directly ahead every few moments for atleast a kilometre. We convinced ourselves that the lovely creature was guiding us. So seeing those two hares brought a smile to my face.

One of the Bleaklow Stones, this one reminds me of a Gorilla or one of Tolkien's trolls.

One of the Bleaklow Stones, this one reminds me of a Gorilla or one of Tolkien’s trolls.

More of the Bleaklow Stones.

More of the Bleaklow Stones.

This one for me is definitely an Anvil, although for others its a whales tail.

This one for me is definitely an Anvil, although for others its a whales tail.

I had a half-hour of daylight remaining when i got to Bleaklow Stones and found the perfect spot right in amongst them. The wind was stronger up here after having died off a little back down on the moors below and there was a fine spray of gathering mist as the sun set and the temperature dropped. It was with great satisfaction that I pulled out the Trailstar from the mesh pocket on the back of my pack and in short order pitched it almost perfectly on my first attempt. Although I had to double peg the guy-line for the door due to the ground where this line fell being made up of the ‘sandy’ grey-white soil found amongst the rocks in the Peaks. This stuff doesn’t make for a good strong hold on a taut guy-line. This meant that one midpoint tie-out didn’t have a peg but this was on the side of the TS sheltered from the wind by a sizeable boulder so I considered it a minimal risk. I’ll pack a Y-peg or two for next time out in the Trailstar or possibly purchase a Clamcleat titanium spear.

Trailstar amidst Bleaklow Stones. Misty morning.

Trailstar amidst Bleaklow Stones. Misty morning.

I swiftly setup my bed and got the stove on for a brew, daring to fire up the Primus Express Spider inside the shelter to heat up some water for a brew. Again the size of the Trailstar impressed me. It really is a palace for one person. Even with two there would be ample room for sleeping and all our gear but to be honest I really like having all the extra room. Whilst the stove roared away I got out of my damp trousers, t-shirt and socks, and put on my nice new Rab Tee, spare socks and got into my sleeping bag to warm up.
The wind was still blowing quite strongly outside but I barely felt a draft of it inside the Trailstar, although I did have to sort out one side of the door due to a lack of tension causing it to flap a bit and tighten all the guy-lines as the evening got damper and the silnylon stretched. Once that was done however the TS was drum-tight and barely moved. I passed the rest of the evening reading from the Kindle app on my phone and with a large bowl of pasta, ham, chopped pieces of Roast Chicken Fridge Raiders and pimento stuffed olives mixed with a sachet of tomato and basil soup. Nom nom. Taking a nice bit of advice from Chris Townsend in his Backpackers Handbook I’d taken a candle with me; placing it on a piece of foil and surrounding three sides of it with my currently redundant wind-shield provided a nice bit of light and a touch of additional warmth. By the time I had supped a mug of Maltesers hot chocolate drink and was ready to settle down for the night the wind had died down sufficiently for me to hear the approach of a couple of guys out walking. Mindful of my recent trip to the North Yor Moors when we’d been accosted in the early hours by a Park Ranger/busybody yokel I quickly blew out the candle and waited until they’d passed by. They neither paused in there conversation or even appeared to notice the Trailstar.
Shortly before settling down I had an irresistible call of nature. Moving some way away from camp to go about my business I heard a large chorus of grouse down below me on the moorland. Usually you hear one or two of the little blighters (most often as they fly out from almost underfoot, scaring the living daylights out of you don’t they!) but on this night there were atleast a dozen calling and cooing to one another. It was a privilege to hear i felt.

I had a good nights sleep, waking once to find the whole tent alight with the glow of the full moon which was nice. Apart from slightly chilled legs I was toastie warm in just socks, boxers and my Rab long-sleeved t-shirt. I’d set my alarm to rise with the sun and though calm it was far too misty outside to see much of anything, so i turned over and had another hour and a half kip.

Murky morning. Spot the Trailstar.

Murky morning. Spot the Trailstar.

Fuelled by a breakfast of Jordan’s Super Berry Granola (great stuff, I highly recommend it for a healthy, calorific start) camp was broken relatively quickly by my usual leisurely standard. The Trailtar was pretty thoroughly soaked and on a whim I picked it up by the reinforced peak and whirred it around my head like I was wringing some washing. It whipped around with a very satisfactory noise, spraying most of the water over a large area.
Having decided on heading back down The Ridge and down into Alport Dale I set off steadily into the murk. A mountain hare did a grouse impression and shot out from almost directly underfoot into the mist like it had been shot from a catapult, seeming to glide across the tussocky ground in the incredibly agile way that they do. Despite taking a bearing on my compass and sighting on brief glimpses of the grey landscape I managed to miss the head of Alport Dale. So the clough I found myself in was not Alport Dale but was instead Westend Clough. Aww well atleast I wasn’t lost. I just found myself a little off track! It was one of several routes back from Bleaklow that I’d looked at and as it turned out it was a very attractive little river gorge. The whole day stayed grey and misty but that was fine with me. Atleast it didnt rain and the wind stayed gentle.

West End Clough.

West End Clough.

 

The mist clung to the higher elevations all day. West End Clough.

The mist clung to the higher elevations all day. West End Clough.

 

One of the many small falls along the West End.

One of the many small falls along the West End.

 

A flat bit!

A flat bit!

Few people had gone this way. There was certainly no marked footpath, though there were a couple of stiles provided. There were sheep trails or maybe trails made by the few shooters, farmers or odd misplaced hiker but these were vague at best in places. The clough was narrow and rocky in places, wider and boggier in others. It made for a more interesting walk than I’d imagined it would and I was glad of my Trail Compact poles on the damp steep grassy banks. They were also a godsend when I had to ford the river several times farther down when I found myself crisscrossing from one side to the other in order to make progress.

River Westend.

River Westend.

It was midday when I reached the track down into Fagney Plantation. My feet were soggy despite having worn my overtrousers and GoreTex boots. The fact that I’d started out with wet boots that morning and had been backwards and forwards across the river through knee high wet grass the whole time along the river made this inevitable. Having damp feet didn’t bother me at all for which I am glad. I shall have to get accustomed to it for when I buy my Trail Runners in March.

The track down to Fagney Plantation.

The track down to Fagney Plantation.

 

Fagney Plantation.

Fagney Plantation.

The Westend running through Fagney Plantation.

The Westend running through Fagney Plantation.

It was nice to be amongst the trees after the bleak moorland and confines of the river valley. The woods, even a plantation such as this, are always a place I enjoy being. They engender within me a sense of peace unequalled in any other environment in the great outdoors. Shortly after I spotted the first humans I’d seen since the previous afternoon. Right then I felt back in touch with ‘civilisation’, as though the wilderness had been left behind.

Beautiful autumn colours in Fagney Plantation.

Beautiful autumn colours in Fagney Plantation.


Turning off the track a short distance from where the Westend ran into Howden Reservoir I mounted the footpath up to Alport Castles. Halfway up this track I stopped for a breather and to refill my belt pouch with trail munchies. A nice middle-aged couple from Doncaster who were descending from the mist up on the hill stopped to chat for a while. They expressed some surprised interest in my camping out and we chatted about that and there interest in night walking (after my mentioning of the guys who’d passed me by last night) before they went off to finish there circular from the reservoir. It was really murky up on Birchinlee and Rowlee Pastures so I didnt hang about. I bypassed a bunch of friendly young people stood about staring at maps and compasses (on an orienteering/navigation course i thought?). A young couple with dogs were stopped on top of the moorland looking indecisive as though they were considering a retreat to more welcoming conditions. With a cheerful hello I didn’t pause to chat. I had a bus to catch. More importantly I heard the calling of the ale pump in the Ladybower Inn!

Woodlands Valley (and Lose Hill hiding behind) from near Hagg Side.

Woodlands Valley (and Lose Hill hiding behind) from near Hagg Side.

That last couple with the dogs were the last walkers I saw from that point on. There were several groups of bikers who though friendly in the main I still cursed silently. The bridleways up there are a terrible mess from there fat tread tyres and it rather cheesed me off to be honest.

Crook Hill.

Crook Hill.

Bamford Edge in the background. Lady bower Reservoir and the white bridge.

Bamford Edge in the background. Lady bower Reservoir and the white bridge.

Looking northward up Ladybower Reservoir.

Looking northward up Ladybower Reservoir.

The last part of the walk was easy and apart from the views pretty uninteresting. Maybe because I was on a mission to get to the pub for a pint before catching the bus ūüôā

The pub!

The pub!

As it was I managed to get to Ladybower Inn with 50 minutes until my bus but only enough spare cash for a single delicious pint of Ruddles County that went down a treat. What a great weekend it had been. I loved being out alone for a change. There’s a lot to be said for the freedom of solo wild camping and hiking. Cant wait to get out and do it again.