Archive for November, 2012

November 25, 2012

24hrs on Kinder Scout

by backpackingbongos

The weather has been pretty apocalyptic recently, constant heavy rain making the short November days even more miserable.  At this time of year it is easy for outdoors lassitude to set in, especially with regards to backpacking.  It gets increasingly difficult to force yourself out of your warm bed to walk over a wet and windy hillside.  However this weekend there was a brief promising weather window, clear and calm conditions over the Peak District in between weather fronts.  It would be a shame not to take advantage of it.

Late Friday morning (after enjoying a lie-in) I collected Rich from his house, Reuben whining excitedly from the back seat of the car.  We arrived at Chrissie’s house in Hayfield a couple of hours later after a pasty stop in Baslow.  We sat in her kitchen for a while to consume even more food and enjoy a coffee.  By the time we set off there were less than three hours of daylight left.

Total distance 10.8 miles with 750 metres ascent

Chrissie led the way though the large but attractive village of Hayfield.  We were soon walking through open countryside along Kinder Road, which we left just past the car park.  A surfaced track then took us beneath the bulk of Mount Famine and South Head, two underrated and rather neglected hills that give a good ridge walk.  We then started the climb on the bridleway that leads to Edale via Edale Cross.

I had expected clear sunny skies but soon after starting our climb clouds started to build from the west, lines of showers drifting through the low sunlight.

The outcome of sunshine and rain at the same time was a rather spectacular rainbow, dark skies and the western flanks of Kinder giving a sombre backdrop.  One end of the rainbow appeared to be coming out of the ground just a few metres ahead of us, something I have not seen before.

We made swift progress up alongside Oaken Clough, finally reaching Edale Cross.  This is familiar ground for Chrissie and she led us up a path that contours around the steep slopes of Swine’s Back.

Ominous clouds were building above Rushop edge but thankfully the sky was beginning to clear once again towards the west.  Hopefully we would be treated to a clear star filled night.

The aim was to pitch our tents and then sit and hopefully enjoy a sunset.  We were still a way from our intended camp spot when we were treated to a brief fiery display.  It only lasted a couple of minutes before the sun was swallowed by the clouds, successive ridges were dark silhouettes against the orange glow.

Our chosen spot was exposed but relatively dry for Kinder Scout in late Autumn, especially considering all the rain that had fallen the day before.  Tents were quickly pitched and we soon dived into our respective shelters to escape from the freezing wind, my weather device measuring a wind chill of minus three celsius just after dark.

Usually when I wild camp I am in the middle of the countryside, as far away from civilisation as possible.  Here on the edge of Kinder Scout we were pretty much on the edge of a city, the huge sprawl of Manchester beneath our feet.  The twinkling orange lights stretched as far as the eye could see, dirty jewels in the dark night.  It was like being at the edge of two worlds.  It was strange being up there, feeling so distant but at the same time close to those lights.  Standing on that airy perch whilst the Friday rush hour was taking place below.

We were all in our tents when I first spotted a torch light in the distance coming from the direction of Edale rocks.  Ten minutes later a figure emerged from the dark, sporting a head torch and an accent.  It was Yuri who had walked up from Edale railway station in the dark to meet and camp with us.  We managed to stand around chatting for about half an hour before the chill sent us to our tents for the rest of the night.

I slept remarkably well, both mine and Reuben’s body heat keeping the temperature just above freezing in the tent.  My alarm woke me just after 7.00am and I unzipped an ice encrusted flysheet to peer into a monochrome world.  The sun had yet to rise and the landscape had a soft milky texture to it, frost coating the grass and our tents.  I fired up my stove to make a coffee and we were soon gathered outside in the frigid air to await what would hopefully be a spectacular sunrise.  Reuben however thought better of this and remained curled up on his blanket.

It was evident that there was a cracking inversion over the Derwent valley far to the east.  Unfortunately there was slightly higher ground in the way of the rising sun.  Therefore after waking Reuben I set off with Rich and Yuri to climb the rocky tor of Edale Rocks in the hope of a better view.  Reuben obliged by pulling his ‘dog on the mountain’ pose.

From our vantage point it was evident that anyone on the summit of Win Hill that morning would have been in for a treat.  The upper Derwent was nearly full to the top with fog, higher peaks rising above it like islands.  In contrast the Edale valley below us was almost fog free.

To the south much of the white Peak was fog bound.  We noticed a couple of figures on the top of Swine’s back waiting for the sun to rise.

Edale Rocks is a great place to hang out in the pre-dawn light.

Unfortunately the sunrise never materialised, it was like sitting and watching a cheap firework display in a grand setting.  There was a brief fizzle before it was extinguished by a bank of cloud.  Time to head back to the tents for more coffee and a hot breakfast.

Packing up was a slow and rather painful affair for me.  A couple of days previous I had managed to shut a finger in a door at work.  The nail had turned black and my whole hand was still throbbing, any contact with that finger causing a lot of discomfort.  Stuffing gear into my rucksack proved to be rather tricky.  Actually the whole act of packing was made even more difficult by a dog that was more keen on being inside the tent than out!

Due to the age of Dixie (Chrissie’s 11 year old boxer) Chrissie thought it best to head back to Hayfield the way we had come.  Myself, Rich and Yuri decided to have a wander over to Kinder Downfall to see what it looked like after all the rain we have had.  En-route we stopped at the trig on Kinder Low which is an island surrounded by bare eroded peat.  The inversion over the upper Derwent was still there, its residents probably having a dank murky morning.

Strangely the popular western edge of Kinder Scout was almost deserted that morning.  Perhaps the weather forecast for the afternoon had put people off venturing out.  Already the sky had clouded over making the light dull, flat and uninteresting.  Above Manchester there was a long dirty skid-mark in the air, smog had formed above the city.  We continued walking north along the sandy path through interesting collections of gritstone boulders.

Due to the cold Reuben was sporting his snazzy new jacket underneath his backpack.  I was worried that he may feel a bit overburdened but once off the lead he was running about being his usual happy self, enjoying the freedom of the moors.

Kinder Downfall had reverted back to its usual trickle, which was a shame as I have always wanted to see it in full flow.  However it is always a grand spot, a deep rocky canyon making it one of the more impressive spots in the Peaks.  In summer this often means it can be an immensely busy lunch spot.  A worthy destination for a day out.

Rich had childcare commitments and needed to be back in Nottingham by two so we soon set off along the edge, the weather appearing murkier by the minute.

We had planned to descend via William Clough but spotted a path heading directly to Kinder Reservoir from Sandy Heys.  This gave a rapid knee jarring descent into the valley where a brisk walk along Kinder Road led us easily back to Hayfield.

It had been almost exactly twenty four hours since we had left but it felt like we had been out for much longer.  We had not walked great distances but a camp on the summit of Kinder had added to the adventure.  An enjoyable hill experience in good company.

November 19, 2012

A long night on Fountains Fell

by backpackingbongos

Arncliffe was deserted as I drove through the picturesque village huddled around its green.  I parked the car just past the bridge over Cowside Beck where there is space for a couple of vehicles.  It was planned to be a sociable weekend in the hills, but as the week progressed people pulled out and I headed out alone.  I had even planned to take Reuben but the forecast for the first afternoon was for heavy hail showers and there were dry stone walls to cross on the second.  Reuben loves the hills but is a bit of a fair weather camper.

Day 1 – 8.4 miles with 500 metres ascent

A walled track led me away from the village, its surface hidden under water.  It was a soggy trudge to the first field where I was nearly swallowed by a cunningly disguised bog.  The bog looked like any other patch of cropped grass but it was just a ploy to fill my boots with water and muddy my trousers.

The walk though the fields towards Litton was pleasant in the early afternoon sun.  As usual I had underestimated the time it would take to drive to the Dales, I now had less than four hours before the sun started to set.  Daylight is in short supply in November.

Litton appeared on the other side of the River Skirfare, huddled below the steep slopes of Middle Moor, two deeply incised side valleys cutting into the hillside above.  I followed a walled track, heading further up Littondale.

The track soon departed from the right of way and started to climb up the hillside, giving good views back down the Dale.  Ahead of me the walled track climbed steeply towards the horizon.

I was passed by a lone man on a scrambler bike, coasting down with his engine off.  I’m not sure of what the legality of riding on this track is so waved my hand in a greeting.  He ignored me.  Throughout the length of the track there was no evidence of any other vehicles having used it, his tyre marks being the only imprints on the softer parts of its surface.

Once height had been gained the going was easy and the view down Pen-y-ghent Gill and across the moors was excellent.  As I stopped for a quick snack the clouds started amassing above Pen-y-ghent itself, the threat of rain hanging in the air.  For once my decision not to put on the waterproofs paid off and the clouds quickly cleared.  The late afternoon sun was beginning to promise a good sunset.

After a quick walk along an unfenced lane I took to the Pennine way as it climbs up and across Fountains Fell.  Shortly after leaving the road I passed the only people I had and would see out walking all day.  Stopping to chat I was asked where I was heading, seeing as it was getting late in the day.  Continuing my climb, I got an unusual view of Pen-y-ghent, a hill I am much more used to viewing from the west.  Its steep flanks were being highlighted by light and shadow.

After an initial boggy stretch the path up Fountains Fell was a joy to walk.  It’s firm underfoot and climbs at a comfortable angle diagonally up the hillside.  I imagine that it was originally engineered to service the now disused mines that are located on the summit of the hill.  I took my time on this section, enjoying it immensely.  I found myself stopping frequently to look behind me and the setting sun slowly changed the surrounding hillsides.  A dark bank of cloud over Ingleborough signalling weather that looked like it would be heading my way.  It really was one of those half hours that make the effort of getting into the hills worthwhile.

As I crested the steep northern flanks of Fountains Fell I found myself blinded by the low sun, a huge orange ball dipping below the moorland horizon.  There were lots of signs warning of deep mine shafts in the area, some of which I had peered down with nervous fascination on a previous visit.  I walked over to a fenced off area which was protecting a narrow and very deep shaft.  Without the fence I would imagine that it would be difficult to spot it before it was too late.  A huddle of cairns invited me over where I enjoyed the last of the sun before it set behind the bulk of the hill.

I had an idea of where I wanted to camp, although I was unsure if it would be suitable for pitching a tent.  The Pennine way gave a good firm surface as I descended.  I noticed that above me the sky was beginning to quickly cloud over, this sped me up as I was keen to pitch before it started to rain.  Just past Tennant Gill I spotted a patch of flattish rough grassland, much more preferable than the surrounding moorland.  With the last of the light quickly fading I got my tent up and went to fetch some water from the nearby stream.

I had brought with me my old faithful Voyager tent, something which I have neglected recently due to its weight.  Its geodesic design provides loads of room which is perfect for long winter nights.  It’s good to be able to sit up without touching the sides and even to be able to cook in the porch with the door almost fully zipped up.  I find it a really nice space to spend a long long night in, when you are camping for fifteen hours it can be worthwhile carrying an extra kilo’s worth of shelter.

I was soon unpacked and comfortably ensconced in my tent, the stove on for the first brew of the night.  A light rain started to fall, a cosy and comforting sound when you are warm and dry in your tent.  This became heavier during the early evening, a change to how the rain was falling on the nylon above indicating that it had turned sleety.  During a lull in the rain I got out to wash my only pot so that I could make another hot drink.  I had an alarming moment when I turned around to walk back to the tent and it had vanished, swirling mist proving disorienting against the beam of my torch.  Dressed in just a pair of leggings and a base layer I would not have lasted very long on the open moor.  Thankfully the tent which was only a few metres away reappeared once again.

The evening passed remarkably quickly once I was drawn into the book that I had brought along on my Kindle.  It was late by the time I turned off my torch and closed my eyes.  I slept well that night.

Day 2 – 12.7 miles with 470 metres ascent

I had set my alarm for 7.00am, time to be up and about for the sunrise at 7.30am.  It was an effort to get myself up as I was particularly warm and comfy.  With a cup of coffee in my hand I got out of my tent wrapped in a down jacket to witness a splendid sunrise.

I stood around for half an hour watching the light change around me.  To the south of Malham Tarn there was a solid wall of cloud which appeared to have stalled in front of the hills.  Gradually it rolled like a giant wave over the tarn and drifted up over the limestone plateau above before dispersing.  Rye Loaf hill suddenly became an island above the clouds before becoming engulfed once again.  Above me wisps of mist were drifting across Fountains fell.  Cloud wise there was loads going on, yet I remained under clear skies.

I quickly packed after breakfast and had another cup of coffee before setting off down the Pennine way.

I descended to the road, the Pennine way leading me towards Malham Tarn.  Looking back, the summit of Fountains Fell was still flirting with the mist under an unblemished blue sky.

I was walking directly into the low sun, cursing the fact that I had not brought my sunglasses.  I usually bring a baseball cap but had replaced it on this trip for my warm mountain cap.  It was far too warm that morning and I walked half blinded into the sun, the beginnings of a headache forming.  Note to self, sunglasses in the low light of winter are just as important as in mid-summer.

The Pennine way led me on a track around the north of Malham Tarn and through the field centre at Malham Tarn House.  I peered through a window to see a lesson taking place and walked though a group of students doing some field work.  A rather splendid location to do a course.

I left the Pennine way and took an unmarked track below Great Close Hill which is fringed with a band of low limestone cliffs.

I passed the first hikers of the day on the long drive that leads to Middle House farm.  They were walking with a loud radio playing bagpipe music.  It was approaching 11am on remembrance Sunday so I could only assume they were listening to the ceremony.  Music filled the air as they climbed Great Close Hill, I wondered if they had ever heard of headphones?

Turning onto Mastilles Lane I passed a herd of what I assume were Belted Galloway, calm beasts that hardly batted an eyelid as I walked though them (although I was glad I had not got Reuben with me).

Mastilles Lane goes all the way to Kilnsey in Wharfedale and is thankfully free of traffic these days.  It was a pleasant walk though Dales scenery, a footpath sign putting a childish smile on my face.

The lane was deserted apart from a farmer having a cup of tea in his Land Rover, having gathered sheep into a pen.  I continued past him for a few hundred metres to a gate that I had planned to use to get onto Access land.  It was firmly padlocked.  I checked the map again, yep I was heading onto access land.  I debated what to do seeing that I was in clear view of the farmer.  The gate was the only way through a high dry stone wall that stretches for miles.  The only option was to quickly hop over the gate and walk briskly up the hill, not looking back.

My destination was the summit of Proctor High Mark, a limestone summit in a large unfrequented area called the High Marks.  The views are extensive from the rather impressive lower cairn.  The grassy slope behind it was sheltered from the wind and I took the opportunity to sit down for a while and make coffee and cook lunch.  It was rather pleasant in the sun.

The actual summit is marked by a much smaller cairn sitting on an extensive limestone plateau.  There is a real feeling of space and I guarantee that you will get the summit to yourself if you venture up there.

My aim was to pick up the Monk’s Road which is a right of way, via another summit called Parson’s Pulpit.  The only issue is that the area is criss-crossed by a network of high dry stone walls, most of which are topped with wire.  A challenge, even though the area is all open access.  Thankfully the first wall had a stile built into it in the form of large cross stones which are invisible until the very last minute.  I then skirted a huge bull before cutting back on myself onto a bridleway which took me through another wall.  I managed to get onto the summit of Parson’s Pulpit by climbing a further locked gate, chuffed that my route had not involved any risky manoeuvres over large walls.

I then found myself trapped behind a rather tricky obstacle, a high wall which was topped by even higher wobbly fencing.  With another farmer out on the fells with his two Border collies I did not want to start attempting to clamber over them.  Therefore I walked for a while looking for a gap /gate neither of which were forthcoming.  In the end I managed to step over a low fence which was situated above a line of crags.  I managed to scramble safely down after letting gravity help my pack descend to the grass below.

Dusk was on its way as I made my way down the Monk’s Road, a great path that contours its way high above Cowside Beck.  It was this section that I was looking forward to walking the most.  However with daylight quickly fading and tiredness setting in I did not get to savour it.  I did however notice some promising wild camping spots next to the river and hidden deep in the valley.

By the time I reached the car in Arncliffe it was properly dark.  What surprised me during the two day backpack (with the exception of the area around Malham Tarn), was just how few people I had seen.  Once again even Arncliffe appeared deserted.

November 13, 2012

A wander on the wild west coast of Jura pt2

by backpackingbongos

Considering the weather I had one of my most enjoyable nights camping for a long time.  Warm and dry and with the wind and rain battering the tent I felt extra cozy and comfortable.  It had been worth the extra weight of taking my full length down mat with me, nearly as good as being in a bed.  The sound of the waves only a few metres away added a hypnotic quality to the camping experience.  It’s not very often that I get to hear the sounds of the sea when wild camping.

Day 3 – 7 miles with 240 metres ascent

I woke just after dawn and just had to get out to do what I had been putting off for most of the night.  You can never describe the experience of putting on wet waterproofs and boots first thing in the morning as pleasant.  Especially when you are exiting straight into wind and rain.  Once out of the tent the rain was not as heavy as it had sounded whilst laying in my sleeping bag, tents always managing to amplify the sound.  The first thing that I noticed was various deer and goats running away as fast as they could, human presence once again causing panic.  Although they must have know that we were there all night, simply hidden under technical nylon.

With business concluded I went and chatted to Rich and set a rendezvous time to synchronise taking down our tents.  Back at mine I went thought the slow process of taking off waterproofs and getting back inside without getting anything wet.  This I managed but a quantity of sand had hitched upon my person and was deposited within my inner tent.  That gave me something to grumble about whilst eating breakfast.

I had my tent all packed away at the rendezvous time but Rich was still ensconced in his so I legged it up to a shallow cave to seek shelter from the elements.  This gave me a great view of a pillar of rock that was towering above the middle of the bay.  It looked like a giant drill bit that had emerged from the bowels of the earth, spiraling out rock and sand as it punctured the surface.

With both of us packed and ready we set off up over a sandy rise where we were faced with another perfect bay, backed by a giant sand dune.  Once again the wild camping possibilities were pretty much endless.  We both discussed returning one day to spend a warm and dry evening in front of a driftwood fire, watching the sun set.

At the end of this bay was a huge rock arch, a tempting place to have a fire during a wet night.  A pile of driftwood and a fire circle showed that previous visitors had done just that.

We were tempted to try to stick as close to the coast as possible, both to remain sheltered from the elements and because the rock architecture was stunning.  However the way ahead looked like it was blocked at the far end of another bay, the possibility of a difficult scramble directly above the water.  With heavy packs and greasy rocks this was not very appealing so we climbed onto the hillside above.  This was also not very appealing in a different way as we were soon walking directly into intermittent wind-driven rain.  My camera remained safely inside my rucksack for much of the day, managing only a few snatched shots when the rain became lighter.

There was a period of about half an hour when the rain became rather intense and the wind picked up even more.  It really was a miserable experience walking directly into it, a matter of simply putting our heads down and thinking of a nice dry bothy later that afternoon.  When rain is being blown directly into your face you realise that waterproofs have a real design flaw.  This being the huge great hole for your face to stick out of.  I soon had the familiar sensation of cold water dripping down my chest, soaking my base layer.  My rucksack started to feel heavier with every passing minute.

We spotted a long section of coast below us that looked navigable, a narrow rocky arête leading us back down to sea level.  The arête turned out to be the roof of large arch / cave that provided some welcome shelter from the weather.  The cave had an old wooden structure built into it, including shelving and that may have been an enclosed room.  I wondered if this was the cave in which the artist Julie Brook had spent three years living in.  An article from the Independent describing her time on Jura can be found here.  I can say that after only spending four days on the wild west coast she must have been incredibly tough and resilient to spend so much time alone in such an inhospitable spot.

Standing around in our sodden clothing we soon began to feel chilled so set off once more into the rain.  We followed the shoreline for a while, tough going on the large slippery pebbles.  We found this rather tiring so once again took to the line of low cliffs, passing under a small rock arch some distance from the sea.

I had heard that Shian bay is one of the jewels of Jura and suddenly it was stretched out in front of us.  As we started the descent from a low hill the coastline was a flurry of movement as numerous deer and goats ran away as fast as they could.  It was an impressive sight, I have never seen so many wild beasts all in one place in the UK before.  A little while earlier we had spooked a stag from a short distance.  As usual he immediately galloped away but managed to lose his footing.  It is not often that you get to see a large stag complete with an impressive set of antlers do a forward roll.  He continued on his way unharmed, leaving behind two very wet backpackers with smiles on their bearded faces.

It had to be said that Shian bay and its surroundings smelt bad, really bad.  We kept expecting to find something very dead and very large washed up on the beach.  It really was unpleasant.  There was a lull in the rain so we had a break behind a grassy bank, soon getting chilled in our damp clothing.  With the rain returning we trudged on round the bay, not managing a photo as my camera was once again back in my rucksack.  I don’t know if my expectations were too high, the weather was too rubbish, or the smell too bad but Shian bay was an anticlimax.  I think that it is the sort of beach that may look its best under sunny skies and without rain water dripping down your chest.

Climbing south out of the bay we walked though probably my favourite section of the coast so far.  The moors were covered in some huge and spectacular raised beaches.  These reflect the changes in relative sea levels as ice sheets advanced and retreated during the ice age.  Some of these massive beaches are up to a kilometre inland.  They are composed of large pebbles and are almost devoid of any vegetation.  From a high vantage point we were able to see just how extensive they are.  They are also very hard to walk across and we picked our way between them, following animal tracks whenever possible.

Throughout our journey along the west coast we had gauged our progress by watching the flat outline of Colonsay in the west.  The weather had started to improve, the wind dropping and the rain becoming lighter.  As the first small patches of blue appeared in the sky above we could feel our spirits rise.  The weather probably had not been ‘that’ bad but after spending twenty four hours exposed to the rainy elements the chance to unzip our waterproofs was exceptionally welcome.  Visibility even improved enough so that the Isle of Mull became visible once again, previously hidden in the murk to the north.

We soon found a good argocat track which appeared to be heading in the direction of Ruantallain, our planned destination for the night.  With the going underfoot now easy and the rain finally stopped we sat and snacked for a while, finally relaxing after a challenging day.  Remarkably for such a remote spot we had full mobile signal, various texts being pinged back home.

The bothy at Ruantallain remained hidden until the very last moment as we picked our way down though a low band of crags.  If we had not known it was there we probably would have passed by without spotting it.  I like how its weather beaten exterior blends in against the surrounding hillside.  It is a row of two cottages owned by the estate, a single room at the end being kept as an open shelter for weary travellers.  I have to admit that I was very excited to have finally reached this spot, it is a place that I have wanted to visit for years.  Two previous planned visits had been thwarted by illness and bad weather.

We dumped our rucksacks inside the bothy and set straight off in search of driftwood, initially heading north, sticking to the water’s edge.  Passing a large cave we entered a fascinating world of rock, finally culminating in a tiny rocky cove, access further up the coast being blocked by cliffs.  There was a strange noise and then we spotted two baby seals close to the water’s edge, one white and fluffy and the other the colour of one of the surrounding boulders.  They were pretty damn cute to be honest, their large eyes watching us.  It was tempting to creep up close to get a photo, but this may have alarmed them so we kept our distance.

With no driftwood found we wandered back to the bothy and headed south to see if there was any there.  There is a small lochan in front of the bothy with the Paps of Jura across the waters of Loch Tarbert.  The environs of Ruantallain are simply magical with the view of mountains, sea and a long sinuous loch.  The light was constantly changing as we walked to the water’s edge, our quest for driftwood quickly forgotten.  The air was full of the noise of baby seals, invisible at first our eyes slowly picked then out along the shore.  They are really well camouflaged and hard to see until they move.  A couple of adults bobbed away close by.

I have to say that this area is one of the most stunning I have ever visited.  It was more than worth the long walk to get there.  I reckon that it could be the spot to ask for my ashes to be scattered when the time comes.  Not only is the place spectacular but it is awkward to get to.  I quite like the idea of making those carrying out my wishes slog through bog for about seven hours from the nearest road.

We eventually returned to the bothy empty-handed.  The open room is cosy with its wood-paneled walls and floorboards. Rich decided that he was going to pitch his tent and sleep in the garden, whilst I decided to stay in the bothy.  There are three ancient rusted beds in there which all looked remarkably uncomfortable and like they would quickly burst an airbed and wreck a sleeping bag.  I made a nest on the floor on a dusty old carpet in the fading light.  I went outside to see how Rich was getting on and was stopped in my tracks by the spectacle going on towards the west.  The sun was setting below a boiling mass of heavy clouds across the northern tip of Islay, bands of rain moving across the island.  It was like a giant spotlight was being beamed through holes in the clouds.  We both stood and watched until the sun finally sank below the horizon.

A most enjoyable evening was then spent in the bothy, a tiny fire with few scraps of wood burning more for effect that warmth.  Before bed we spent a while wandering about outside under a bright moon, the hills silhouetted against the dark sky.  Rich retired to his tent and I went back to the bothy to get another excellent nights sleep.

Day 4 – 10.5 miles with 600 metres ascent

With the aim of starting walking at 7.30am, we were both up at 6.00am.  It was still totally dark outside whilst I made my first cup of coffee.  I went out to watch the moon which was just beginning to set towards the west.  At the same time the sky to the east was beginning to brighten.  The Paps of Jura across Loch Tarbert were still silhouettes against the clear sky, a few wisps of mist hanging over their summits.

As it had been such a clear windless night Rich’s tent was dripping with condensation, making me feel glad that I had spent the night in the bothy.  It was good to be able to pack all my gear away dry for once.  Back outside I was transfixed by the light show to the east as the sun made its slow journey above the horizon.  I need to make an effort to see more sunrises as under the right conditions they are rather special.

We left the bothy more or less on schedule, an early start necessary as we had a lot of rough mileage to cover and a ferry to catch back to Islay.  We climbed the slopes above the bothy and picked up an argocat track eastwards, climbing above and away from the shore.  It would have been good to explore this section of coastline  but were aware that it would add a lot more time and effort to the day.  Our climb however was rewarded by some spectacular views over large raised beaches and across Loch Tarbert.

Despite numerous ups and downs the argocat track gave good easy progress through the rugged terrain.  Then it suddenly deserted us.  One minute we were marching happily along, the next floundering through boggy tussocks.  We had no idea where it had disappeared to and we resorted back to following indistinct animal tracks.  On the ground the landscape was much more complex than appears on the map, I had to really concentrate to locate our exact location each time I got it out to check.

The Garbh Uisge proved too tricky to cross higher up so we descended to the coast where it became wider and shallower.  Although now on our fourth day walking across Jura our boots could not get much wetter or heavier.  An extra boot full of water was no longer a trip breaker.

We were heading for Cruib lodge, somewhere to sit for a while and have a rest and an early lunch.  It was only a short distance away on the map, but it seemed to take an age to get there.  The pebbles on the beach were slippery and extremely difficult to walk on.  We once again found ourselves cutting across small headlands, grateful that the bracken had died down.  Coastal walking on Jura during the summer months would be hard going through the tall jungle like bracken, no doubt dripping with hungry ticks ready to latch on to your intimate parts.  We had actually been really lucky with ticks on this trip.  I had found one crawling across my hand near Ruantallain bothy and Rich had a couple on his trousers near Cruib.  Nothing managed to latch on to us, a welcome contrast to my previous visit to the island at the same time of year.

The newly renovated Cruib lodge bothy suddenly appeared below us as we crossed a final headland.  The MBA has done a fantastic job at rebuilding the place.  I had heard that previously it had been pretty much uninhabitable and in a bit of a ruinous state.  It’s in a prime location right on the shore of a bay on Loch Tarbert.  The two rooms inside fresh and welcoming, large windows making the place light and airy.  Somewhere to return in future to spend a few days picking fluff out of my belly.

Rich pitched his tent in the garden to try to dry it off a bit and I got my stove on for a coffee and hot lunch.  The bothy book showed that the place is already well used despite its remote location.  Hopefully visitors will continue to look after the place.

I think that we could both happily have pottered around there for the rest of the day, we even had enough food between us to last a couple more days.  Unfortunately we had ferries to catch and jobs to go to.  I wonder if there is any paid work to become a full-time bothy bum?

The map shows a track leading from the bothy in a north-easterly direction but after much searching we failed to locate it.  We walked the perimeter of a wooded enclosure and finally picked it up on the other side.  It then set off with purpose below the steep slopes of the mini mountain Cruib.  Once again it became indistinct and patchy before we finally lost it, perhaps confusing it with some animal tracks leading off in another direction.  Somehow we found ourselves on the wrong side of Torr an Lochain, I’m not sure how that happened giving such clear visibility.

We relocated the track which was visible as two grooves on the opposite hillside but when actually walking it was non-existent.  Just like a footbridge that the Ordnance Survey had confidently marked on the map.  Luckily the water levels were low as the rocks in the river were as slippery as ice, good fun though watching Rich do his Bambi impression, a video for you to enjoy at the end.

We sheltered behind a hillock above Loch an t-sidhean Tarsuinn from a cold wind, a few raindrops in the air getting us to pull on waterproofs.  The weather had changed dramatically in the space of an hour.  We stood at the top of steep slopes and surveyed the boggy bowl below us, a mass of streams on the map.  Thankfully we could make out a network of distinct tracks, one of which led us confidently down hill.

We were pleased to find a couple of bridges that were unmarked on the map to take us across the streams.  A trudge up to and then along a forest boundary took us across the boggiest ground of the whole trip.  It was like walking across breakfast cereal that had been left to soak for far too long.

Reaching the thin ribbon of tarmac was like getting onto dry land after being on a boat for far too long.  It was strange not to have the ground wobbling below your feet.  The walk back to the car felt like it went on forever, the day being long and arduous.  Although only ten and a half miles, we had walked ‘Jura miles’, a solid seven hours of walking with the exception of the break in the bothy.  I had taken on the gait of John Wayne, chaffage having taken hold in an unfortunate spot.

A fantastic four days in the wild with great company courtesy of Rich.

As promised here is Bambi on ice.

November 12, 2012

A place on the 2013 TGO Challenge

by backpackingbongos

A big brown envelope containing some good news landed on my doormat this morning.  Confirmation that I have got a place on next years Challenge.  I suppose that I had better get planning, there is a country to cross.

So far I am thinking about a Knoydart start, been many years since I visited.  I already have a nice section planned for the Monadhliath, a must see before they are trashed.

Camped by the river Dulnain on the 2011 Challenge.

November 4, 2012

A wander on the wild west coast of Jura pt1

by backpackingbongos

There is something rather dispiriting about driving three hundred miles north to then find yourself heading back in a southerly direction.  The Kintyre peninsular demonstrates just how convoluted the west coast of Scotland is.  The ferry terminal of Kennacraig is over a hundred miles by road from Glasgow, yet a short hop by crow over the Clyde.

With a booked ferry and four hundred miles to drive Rich and I set off from Nottingham before dawn.  We both marvelled at just how early rush hour starts on the M1, relieved that the traffic madness is not part of our daily ritual.  We ended up making excellent progress, so with time to spare we had a wander around the attractive town of Lochgilphead and stocked up with travel sickness tablets for the ferry crossing.  We were then first in line at Kennacraig and spent a pleasant couple of hours sitting by the smooth glassy waters edge.  Without even a hint of a breeze the sun felt warm, hopefully a good omen for both the ferry crossing and our four day backpack.

The ferry crossing was as smooth as can be, which meant that we were able to enjoy Calmac haddock and chips.  You get proper cooked food on Calmac ferries and at a reasonable price to boot.  We were soon snoozing in comfy chairs, the ferry almost empty of other passengers.

Early in the planning stage for this trip I had managed to get Port Ellen (where the ferry arrives) mixed up with Port Charlotte (where the campsite is).  I had not realised that I would have to drive across the Island to the campsite, something I did not enjoy after a very long day.  It is disorienting arriving at a campsite in the dark, especially when you have not visited before.  We were unsure if where we pitched our tents was part of the campsite or the local football ground.  However being right next to Loch Indaal and with a nearly full moon shining on the water it was a perfect spot to spend our first night on an Island.

The day before the clocks went back, it was still dark when we got up at 8.00am the following morning.  We packed as the sky gradually lightened and the clouds that had formed overnight slowly melted away.  The campsite at Port Charlotte occupies a great location and with tip-top facilities it comes highly recommended.  It’s a community project and there is a link to it here.

Jura is the only large Hebridean island that does not have a direct ferry to the mainland (apart from a small passenger ferry during the summer months).  We travelled across Islay to Port Askaig where a small open decked car ferry plies the five minute crossing to Feolin on Jura.  We then drove the twenty five miles to the end of the A846 at the north of the island.  This took about an hour and is one of my favourite drives.  The road is single tracked, badly potholed in places and often has a nice grassy strip down the middle.  It’s rare to get a main road all to yourself, the traffic was almost non-existent.  The Paps of Jura looked stunning under the clear blue skies, their summits appearing unattainable above almost vertical scree.

Day 1 – 9.5 miles with 640 metres ascent

I parked just before the A846 becomes a minor road on the ordnance survey map, although on the ground there is no distinguishing between them.  I always get a flutter of nervous excitement before setting off on a proper wild backpack, leaving the comfort and security of a familiar vehicle.  Both of our packs were heavy with winter kit and four days food as we set off north to walk the final few miles to the end of the public road.

We could not believe just how amazing the weather was, the sky a deep blue and pretty much cloudless.  However the northerly wind had a bite to it, making us zip our jackets against its icy blast.

Passing through the few scattered buildings at Ardlussa we stopped to ask a guy if they were planning on stalking in the hills over the next few days.  Although the stag stalking season had finished the hind season lasts until February.  Stalking is big business on Jura, helped by the absolutely huge numbers of deer.  He asked if we were doing the ‘Peter Edwards walk’, which we confirmed we were.  He told us that there had been lots of people attempting and failing it this summer, not realising just how tough the west coast can be.  Peter Edwards is the author of the Cicerone guide to the Island and has a blog called ‘Writes of way‘ I suggest you visit and give him loads of hassle for not keeping it up to date this year.  If you ever plan to visit Jura he has done a few excellent blog posts describing various epic backpacks across the island.  Anyway, we were informed that no stalking would be taking place until Monday, by then we would be walking across another estate.

The lane led us past the rather impressive Ardlussa house where we descended to Ardlussa bay.  With the calm sea and blue skies it almost looked Mediterranean.  The chill air however indicated otherwise.

For a couple of miles the road climbed up and down through a beautiful wooded landscape.  Autumn was at its peak, the canopy above and the bracken below every shade of yellow and brown imaginable.  The low sun shining through the branches just added to the magic.

A bridge just before the house at Lealt gave a satisfactory perch on which to eat our lunch.  The house which we passed is idyllic, sheltered from the elements and like a posh version of the Good Life.  A small wind turbine and a bank of solar panels looked like they were doing a good job at supplying power, greenhouses supplying vegetable goodness.  I think I could manage to be rather happy living there.

Past the house the landscape began to open up, the shelter of the trees left behind.  The road began to deteriorate further, becoming little more than a gravel track for the last mile or so.

There was a solitary car parked at the small disused quarry at ‘Road end’.  I did not expect to see any vehicles there on a Friday afternoon at this time of year.  I immediately assumed that they had headed for Glengarrisdale bothy which we had planned to call home for the night.  We were both a bit disappointed as we had assumed that we would get it to ourselves for the night.  We left the road before the quarry and dropped down to a bridge that had seen better days and crossed the Lealt burn.  The sunlight on the extensive autumn grasses was spectacular, although there was the knowledge that those brown tussocks could well be causing us some difficulties later.

The plan was to climb Ben Garrisdale before dropping down to its namesake bothy.  On my last visit to Jura the 371 metre peak managed to defeat me as I was unable to find its true summit, which sits a kilometer away from the trig point.  I had descended via a wet argocat track which gave good progress across the sodden tussocks.  The same argocat track meant that we were able to gain height quickly and cross the shoulder of Carn nan Gillean.

The air was crystal clear giving extensive views across the Sound of Jura and the mainland.  Sadly this beautiful part of the Argyll coast appears to be sprouting large industrial windfarms at an alarming pace.  We spotted three on the hills above the coast, from a distance looking like giant pin cushions.  A huge contrast to the small solitary turbine at Lealt providing local power.

We turned our backs on the industrialised mainland and headed deeper into the wilds of Jura.  The distant Paps looked impressive in the late afternoon light, rising up above row after row of low rugged hills.

After a long day of travelling and another early start we were both beginning to flag, the small peak of Ben Garrisdale appearing to take on gargantuan proportions.  In reality we only had to climb 150 metres but this took a large amount of effort with heavy packs and wobbly legs.

The wind was getting stronger with height, the temperature dropping enough for the ground to be partially frozen underfoot.  Close to the summit we found a sheltered spot out of the wind, a place to refuel and take in the huge views, trying to guess the large conical mountain in the distance.  My money was on Ben Cruachan.

The summit itself was marked by a surprisingly large cairn sitting proud on a rocky outcrop.  The views were extensive for such a low summit, being on an island close to the sea does that.  It’s height makes it a hill, although when standing on its craggy summit it is definitely a mountain.  Mountain or hill it was perishingly cold, my Kestrel 3000 device measured a wind chill of minus six celsius.  It would have been good to linger but the light was beginning to fade so we set off towards the west coast.

The original plan was to head across to the trig point and follow the ridge down to the bothy.  However at Loch Fada Ben Garrisdale lassitude began to set in and we could not be bothered to do any more climbing.  In retrospect this ended up making the rest of the day much harder.  Instead we started a contouring descent into Coire Gorm.

The bothy appeared far below us spurring us on, but the terrain meant that the going was slow through bog and tussocks.  We would find a deer trail and follow it for a while, the groove worn by hooves making walking much easier.  However the deer rarely went where we were heading and it was soon back to a descending lurch through deep vegetation.

It was with relief that we reached the boggy floor of Glen Garrisdale.  The river was easy to cross and we managed to pick up a well-defined track to the final ford just before the bothy.  We expected in the gathering gloom to see smoke drifting from the chimney but there was none.  It was a pleasant surprise to find no one at home after expecting to find the place occupied.  We were both so knackered that we could barely speak, so were relieved that we would not have to make small talk with a stranger.  It was too late to go off in search of driftwood so we made a fire using a small amount of the wood that was already there.  Bothy karma after leaving fuel in previous bothies.  After dinner we retired to our sleeping bags, each of us having one of the downstairs rooms for a snore free night.  It did not take me long to drift off.

Day 2 – 7.5 miles with 550 metres ascent

Dawn came late once again and we had breakfast by torchlight.  As the sun came over the hills and warmed the bothy Rich set off to explore the bay whilst I shuffled around the bothy, enjoying the surroundings.  The bothy occupies a lovely spot and is very well cared for.  It’s whitewashed walls and red roof give it a homely atmosphere in such bleak and rugged surroundings.

We set off at about 10am under clear blue sunny skies.  In retrospect it would have been better to have set off at dawn to beat the wet weather that quickly enveloped us later that afternoon.  There was a real feeling of the calm before the storm, the wind had totally dropped and we were soon down to base layers as we climbed to a low boggy col before dropping down to Bagh Gleann Speireig.  It was nice to be walking close to the water’s edge, the smell of the sea in the air, rocks crunching underfoot.

At the end of the small bay we started climbing through a tangle of dead bracken as we were not sure if the coastline ahead was navigable or not.  The climb was worth it for the views across the bay.

The going underfoot was easy so we ended up climbing higher than originally planned.  My eyes kept on being drawn to the island of Scarba across the Gulf of Corryvreckan.  It is pretty much just a single hill rising from the sea and is uninhabited for much of the time.  I dream of chartering a boat to drop me off there, returning a few days later to pick me up.  An open bothy could provide shelter if the weather turned bad.  Maybe next year.  Maybe.

Walking across the grassy plateau we noticed that the cliffs on the other side of Glendebadel bay became higher, the hills above those cliffs bigger.

From an airy perch above the bay it looked like it would be possible to follow the coastline to the headland.  From our position we could not tell what was beyond.  With pathless coastal walking you never really know what is round the corner.  A map often only tells half a story.  Is the flat area next to the sea going to be easy grass or greasy rocks at a difficult angle?

As we descended down to the bay we noticed that the weather was beginning to change dramatically.  The clear blue sky had been chased away by a wall of grey and a breeze had started to pick up.  Although early we decided that the sheltered bay would be a good place to stop and sit for lunch.  The beach itself was made up of large smooth rounded pebbles, the sort that would make a great feature stacked next to a slate fireplace.  They look lovely but are a real bugger to walk across, they’re also not that comfy to sit on.

A few early spots of rain got us pulling on our waterproofs as we headed round the bay.  What had looked like easy walking from above turned out to be slow going and awkward as we boulder hopped above the shore line.  It was with relief that we found a section of grass to walk along, even tussocks are easier than slippery rock.

Our luck soon ran out and the coastline looked like it was going to become increasingly difficult.  By sticking religiously to the water’s edge we realised that it would take us hours to get to our planned camp spot for the night.  We were also aware that the weather was going to start deteriorating.

We therefore climbed onto the hills above, following a succession of deer and goat tracks.  Both of these mammals are numerous along this stretch of coastline.  Wherever you look there is often a stag staring at you from a lofty perch.  Suddenly it will become spooked and you will see it running nimbly across the hills, hinds in tow.  Occasionally we would pass a patch of bracken with a pair of antlers sticking out.  Then all of a sudden a herd of well camouflaged beasts will be scattering up the hillside.  The goats often tend to stick closer to the coast, lines of them walking precipitous paths above the cliffs.  Once we got a good whiff of them, not a pleasant smell and one of the reasons I no longer eat goats cheese!

At one point we found ourselves nearly a kilometre inland and one hundred and fifty metres above the sea.  We ended up ignoring the map and simply picked our way across the moors, determined to avoid as much climbing as possible.  This was difficult as a series of ill-defined ridges fall towards the coast.  Therefore it feels that you are always going up hill, level ground being in short supply.

The end of the day was spent walking in persistent rain, the wind picking up.  It was forecast to get worse through the evening and night so we decided that we would find as sheltered a campsite as possible.

A line of cliffs finally gave way to Corpach bay below us.  As we approached the cliff edge we spotted a mass of goats and deer legging it to safety.  I suppose that they have a reason to be fearful of humans as there is the likelihood of being a target of a gun.  Even the goats are hunted on Jura.  There was no way directly down to the beach so we contoured inland above the cliffs, before finally picking a way down to sea level.  Corpach bay had some great grassy pitches right next to the beach but they were not sheltered from the now strong wind.  About a kilometre down the coast was marked another bay Traigh a Mhiadair, which had looked a much better proposition from above.

A section of raised beach between the two bays made the going difficult.  However once we reached the other bay we were glad we had made the effort.  It was a splendid spot with large flat grassy areas above a lovely sandy beach.  We wandered around for a while, trying to find a spot that provided shelter from the wind.  I quickly pitched and was glad that I had brought the Scarp1, which stood up fantastically to the constant battering.  Rich’s Laser Comp however caused him a little bother and proved difficult to pitch in the wind.  I collected water from a nearby waterfall and bade Rich a good night.  Although still early it was not an evening to be sitting around outside.  The original plan of having a driftwood fire in a cave had diminished in its appeal.  It was with relief that I got into my tent and stripped off my wet clothing.