Posts tagged ‘bothy’

March 6, 2016

A solo mid Winter Borders / Kielder bothy trip (part two)

by backpackingbongos

Once the van had defrosted it was a short drive back to Newcastleton, the bakery providing some not very complex carbohydrates to take away for lunch. The destination was Kielder reservoir but I was keen to detour to deepest Liddesdale and the imposing Hermitage castle.

The castle sits in a wild and lonely spot, sombre moorland hills rising up around it. Unfortunately it does not open until April, so I was unable to explore inside. The low gate across the bridge that leads to is easy to hop over though and I spent a while walking around its forbidding exterior. The morning was cold and sunny, the grass still frosty in the shadows, with surrounding hills covered in a light mist. During the long bothy nights I was reading the fourth book in the Game of Thrones series, Hermitage castle conjured up the sights and sounds I had imagined in Kings Landing. More info on the castle can be found here. I look forward to returning in the summer when it is open.

IMG_0590

IMG_0596

I returned to Reuben who was waiting patiently inside the van. It was not too far to drive to Kielder and I parked up in a woodland car park to the south of the village. The ground and air were damp and fragrant,the smell of the forest filling my nostrils. Low winter sunshine was filtering through the trees at an angle, casting mysterious beams of light onto the mossy floor.

IMG_0599

IMG_0602

I decided that the car park was too secluded to leave the van so I drove into the village of Butteryhaugh and left it at the Village Library / School car park. There was a nearby sign stating that public nudity was an offence, with a request for people not to get changed in the car park! Luckily I was fully dressed when Reuben and I set off south, heading for the path along the north shores of Bakethin and Kielder Reservoirs.

The sky was becoming overcast as we walked along the Lakeside way, the forecast was for heavy snow to arrive later that evening. A mysterious shape in the woods beckoned us onwards, its empty eyes and gaping mouth looking over the large expanse of water. A large wooden sculpture called Silvis Capitalis invites you to explore inside its head but unfortunately the ladder that leads you upwards has been removed, to be replaced in the spring.

IMG_0603

IMG_0605

The reservoir was left behind, forest tracks taking us uphill towards Wainhope Bothy.

IMG_0607

The bothy sits in a large clearing, a pleasant space after being hemmed in by trees. I looked for the telltale smoke from the chimney or movement outside but it looked like I was going to have another bothy night with just Reuben for company.

IMG_0608

The bothy is a very attractive building with a lone tree outside and surrounded by a stone enclosure. Inside there are two main rooms, the one on the left being large with a stove and space to sleep lots of people on a wooden platform. I chose the smaller right hand room with its open fireplace. The bothy was tidy with no rubbish about but it looks like it receives a large amount of traffic, confirmed by the comments in the bothy book. I set about giving it a good sweep and then went to fetch water from as far away from the building as possible.

IMG_0610

As I was filling my bottles from a stream Reuben pulled off one of his poses on a handily placed moss-covered log.

IMG_0613

I was glad that I had carried in a bag of coal and kindling as the bothy was devoid of any fuel. It saved me a long trek into the woods with a rusty bow saw. With the fire lit and candles spread around the room, the bothy soon felt warm and cosy.

IMG_0617

IMG_0620

When I popped my head out of the door later that evening I saw that snow had started to fall, gradually settling after the earlier drizzle. At one point I noticed bright lights and the sound of machinery to the north as if there was a vehicle on one of the remote forestry tracks. It never passed my way and I assume that it was someone working in the forest.

I awoke to a white wonderland, the first time this winter that I had seen proper snow. I crunched around outside for a while, a big grin on my face as my hands got cold whilst throwing snowballs at Reuben.

IMG_0621

IMG_0626

I had planned to bag the remote Dewey of Monkside but a late start and the effort of walking through the snow would have meant I would not be able to get back to the van before dark. Instead I picked a series of high level forest tracks that eventually led down to a bridge over the kielder Burn. It was great walking through the virgin snow, with not a soul to be seen all day. Reuben especially enjoyed yomping along, seeking out all the best smells.

IMG_0627

IMG_0631

IMG_0632

IMG_0634

IMG_0640

When I got back to the van it was still plastered in snow which had frozen solid. It took ages to scrape it all off but at least the doors had not frozen shut this time. The set of winter tyres that have been next to useless this winter finally came into their own as I drove towards home on the snowy road along Kielder reservoir.

IMG_0642

November 23, 2014

Sutherland – bongo and bothies in the far north part 1

by backpackingbongos

It was dark and raining when I arrived in Aviemore. After nearly nine hours in the Bongo I was tired and hungry and needed a good long break from driving. Reuben did not look very impressed when I left him and sat in the fish and chip shop for half an hour. Thankfully all the outdoor shops had closed which meant that no unnecessary damage was done to my wallet. Reuben had the glamour of his dinner in a lay-by and a wee on the side of the A9.

The lights on the Bongo are pretty poor which makes driving in the dark a bit of a chore. I was constantly being dazzled by high-powered halogen bulbs or people who left it late to dip their lights as we made our way north. Not much fun with tired eyes. Twelve hours after leaving home I finally pulled off the road near the summit of the single track road through Glen Loth. I would love to say that when I got out of the van I was mesmerised by the star filled sky. Instead I was greeted by drizzle and even Reuben was not that keen on a quick leg stretcher along the empty road.

 

Ben Griam Mor – 590 metres

Nothing beats opening the blinds of the Bongo in the morning when you have arrived in the dark the night before. The rain during the night had passed and the air felt fresh and clean, a weak sun shining through the remaining clouds. As I sat and ate breakfast in the van there was a mini rush hour on the single track mountain road. It’s an obvious short cut between Strath Kildonan and the busy A9.

It was a scenic drive north to the small village of Kinbrace, which boasts a railway station on the Inverness to Wick line. The place has a real frontier feel about it, surrounded in every direction by bleak open moorland. I continued west along the single track B871, parking just south of the Garvault Hotel, often touted as the remotest on the mainland. It truly is in a wild and woolly spot, miles from anywhere, only a narrow strip of tarmac linking it to the outside world. It took me a while to work out what was missing, there were no power lines or telegraph poles along the road. The only man-made intrusion being a block of commercial forestry.

A rough track led us uphill, Reuben relishing being off lead after spending the day before cooped up in the van. The weather forecast indicated that this would be the best day of the week, the usual sorry tale of wind and rain for the days after. However it was not quite good enough for the big hills due to the wind. The Griam’s were a worthy alternative. They are perfect pyramids rising from the otherwise flat moors, not reaching the magic 2000ft but dominating the area for miles. I thought that they would be great viewpoints over the Flow Country.

The track was soon left for a direct assault across boggy tussocky ground and then the final steep slopes. The view from the summit was as good as I had anticipated, one of the wildest areas of Scotland lay at my feet. It was the Flow Country that really caught my eye, its vast flatness is truly impressive.

A couple of showers rattled through on the strong wind, the sky alternating light and dark with rainbows providing colour. I had planned to climb Ben Griam Beg as well but I decided against it, giving an excuse to return to this magical place (actually more down to laziness). Instead I descended to the north down very steep grassy slopes to Loch Coire nan Mang, the rough track then gave easy walking back to the Bongo.

P1080432

P1080433

P1080434

P1080438

P1080440

P1080443

P1080447

P1080448

P1080450

P1080454

P1080457

A car park is marked on the OS map south of Dalvina Lodge in Strath Naver, along a track roughly a mile from the road. There was no actual sign indicating this when I turned the Bongo off the road later that afternoon and I was a little nervous as I drove down the track. The well hidden car park did actually exist, the starting point for a walk to the clearance village of Rosal. Unfortunately darkness was quickly approaching and I did not get time to explore. However it was a perfect spot to spend a peaceful night in the Bongo.

 

Loch Strathy Bothy

I last came to Sutherland in 2011 and walked into Loch Strathy bothy with Pete from Writes of Way. This wonderful bothy is located right at the edge of the Flows Nature Reserve, slap bang in the middle of one of the UK’s most unique landscapes. I wanted to visit once more before this area is industrialised, buried under miles of tracks and the concrete foundations of numerous giant wind turbines. Since I last visited the Strathy north power station has been consented and is under construction, although the turbines themselves have not gone up yet. The more damaging Strathy south is currently with the Scottish Government awaiting their decision. One more visit for me before the area is bristling with giant spinning machines.

I parked close to the access road to Rhifail, a track taking us past the numerous buildings and directly onto the moor behind. It was a bright and sunny morning but the wind was very strong, making walking difficult. A very wet argocat track went in our direction for a while before deserting us in the middle of some impossible bogs. Alone I was cautious as I slowly walked east towards the block of forestry in which the bothy sits. The final obstacle was a high ladder stile over a deer fence. This proved to be very tricky to get Reuben over on my own, luckily he just froze and let me do what needed to be done.

Being a Saturday I was pleased to get the bothy to myself, although I could not imagine what sort of person would want to trudge out there at the end of October! It was evident from the bothy book that some of the contractors from the wind farm had been living there over the summer months. Not really the intended use of bothies and it was clear that the Maintenance Organiser was not very happy about the fact. The MO is none other than Ralph MacGregor, he has a cracking column in the Caithness Courier and some lovely books on the area. A big pile of those books kept me occupied during the long night in front of a roaring fire. Bothy bliss.

It was interesting to note in the bothy book that it was three years to the day when I had visited with Pete. Further reading made me nervous about going out to the loo in the dark. There had been several recent sightings of a large black cat in the forest. Scare stories or not, the vast remote plantations could easily hide such a creature.

I had carried 5kg of coal over the moors with me, typically there was enough fuel already at the bothy for several nights. I left my contribution to the fire when I set off back to the Bongo the following morning. I wondered to myself if I would ever return, Ralph had made comments to the effect that the bothy would be abandoned if Strathy South gets the go ahead.

P1080462

P1080464

P1080466

P1080467

P1080470

P1080475

My unlined leather boots had due to some miracle got me to the bothy with dry feet. They totally gave up on the way back to the van. I was totally saturated from the knees down. Reuben also did not look too impressed with his walk across the flow country. With night coming early in the far north there was not much time for any more outdoor activities that day. I drove the Bongo into the Borgie forest following a signpost for the ‘Unknown’ and a night of wind and rain.

 

Strabeg bothy

The plan for the following day had been to walk to and spend a couple of nights in a very remote non MBA bothy on the north coast. I pointed the Bongo in the direction of the village of Tongue where I purchased what is possibly the worlds most expensive diesel. The fuel gauge on the Bongo gave up working a couple of years ago which means that I am over-cautious in an attempt not to run out in remote places.

Half an hour later I parked on a high pass, the starting point for the walk to a bothy that has long been on my ‘must visit’ list. The van was rocking alarmingly, rain sheeting down with even the lowest hills being hidden in a world of murk. My map showed a few rivers that needed to be forded along with a cliff top walk. Reuben gave me a nervous glance from the passenger seat. I drove off in search of alternative adventures.

The MBA Strabeg bothy is located a couple of miles south of Loch Eriboll, looking like a perfect alternative to my original plan. Opening the van door it was torn from my hands and nearly ripped from its hinges. I had to exit from the other side, the wind being so strong. I got my pack together and added a bag of coal and kindling. Nights are long and I did not want to spend one without a fire. Reuben was coaxed out from his warm and comfortable spot during a brief break in the weather. He had earlier refused to even go out for the toilet.

What I thought would be an easy straightforward walk turned into a nightmare. The good track soon turned into a boggy ride across very wet ground. The first stream on the map was totally flooded, I could not even get within twenty metres of the crossing point. I sloshed upstream and found a knee-deep calm section which I crossed carrying Reuben. I really should have turned back at the stream just before the bothy itself. It was a foaming torrent of white water. I found the widest point, dumped my pack and set off with Reuben in my arms. The water was just below my knee at its deepest but a combination of the force and an uneven stream bed made the going very difficult. I deposited Reuben and returned to collect my pack, then made a third crossing. My boots made squelching noises as I climbed the last few metres to our home for the night.

I quickly made myself comfortable, changing out of wet clothes and lighting the fire and some candles. I was very impressed to find that the bothy has a proper flushing loo. A warm and relaxed night was had, wind and rain battering and shaking the bothy. As the rain continued to fall all night I would be lying if I said that I was not worried about getting back to the van the following day.

P1080477

P1080479

P1080482

P1080485

P1080489

P1080490

November 2, 2014

Video diary – wet and wild in the far north

by backpackingbongos

I have just got back from a ten day trip to Sutherland in the far north of Scotland. To be honest the weather was rubbish and I did not get to climb many big hills. Thankfully I had my faithful Bongo to provide shelter and I made use of a couple of superb MBA bothies. I recorded a few video clips in which I babble into the camera whilst the wind does its best to drown me out.

 

January 28, 2014

The world’s end – winter backpacking around the Elan Valley

by backpackingbongos

By the fourth day the only people who I had seen were a couple on a quad bike.  The mind starts playing games under these circumstances and I began to wonder if the apocalypse had finally arrived.

If your idea of a tough backpack involves the manicured paths of the Lake District with its attendant hoards, I advise that you leave this part of Mid-Wales well alone.  However if you regularly backpack with a snorkel and flippers and have the resolve to be truly alone, pop on down to these lonely moors.  To ensure that they are at their wettest come in winter when the days are also at their shortest.  You can be as miserable as you want and no one will know.

Day 1 – 10 kilometres with 330 metres ascent

The car park below the Claerwen dam size wise would not look out of place outside Sheffield’s Meadowhall.  There was only one other car there when I arrived.  Even on the hottest bank holiday weekend I can’t imagine it ever getting busy enough to fill up.

With myself and Reuben sporting packs with enough food and clothing for four days we set off up the bridleway alongside the Afon Arban.

There is nothing more irritating than within minutes of setting off you find yourself arse down on soggy ground.  A wet boulder and my boots provided zero friction.  Therefore my feet shot off from under me like a cartoon character slipping on a banana.  Reuben paid no attention to my sorry state as he was too busy eating sheep poo.

The bridleway up the Afon Arban soon becomes little more than the fantasy of the map makers.  However by contouring along the hillside a series of sheep trods led easily up the valley, avoiding the worst of the bog and tussocks.  Towards the headwaters a well-defined quad bike track led the way across a reasonably well-drained ridge.  We arrived at the edge of the forest with minimum fuss.  I was feeling rather pleased with myself with how we had so far managed to avoid being swallowed whole by a man eating bog.

P1060472

P1060473

P1060476

At the point where the bridleway meets the forest on the map there is simply a fence topped by barbed wire.  Thankfully I had done a bit of research before setting off on Geograph and discovered that there was a gate a few hundred metres to the north.  This led to a boggy ride through the forest, no sign of a bridleway at all on the ground.  I was glad when we finally reached the security of a forest track which we followed south for a couple of kilometres.

The marked bridleway to the bothy also did not exist on the ground.  I had been here before and found the hidden path that descends to the river though the trees.  It was eerie in their confines with mist drifting though the branches, the air becoming colder as we descended.

I had the usual sense of trepidation as we approached the bothy.  Who would be there and what would they be like?  However as we got closer to the building it became evident that no one was in residence.

P1060480

P1060484

This is probably the remotest and certainly the most difficult of all the Welsh bothies to reach on foot.  A quick read through the bothy book confirmed that although well used it is not visited by the bothy vandals or party goers.  There had been no entries in the book so far this year, almost three weeks.

I sorted my gear, fetched water and then spent a couple of hours sawing rather wet wood.  Thankfully I had brought in some kindling and fire lighters with me.  Therefore with darkness falling a fire was soon blazing within the stove.  With boots already saturated I was very glad I had brought along a pair of down slippers.  Bothy luxury.  At one point the fire was so hot that the temperature in the room raised from 5C to 7C, so tropical that I could barely see my breath anymore!

I had a moment of alarm at around 9.00pm when whilst popping out for the loo I spotted headlights coming up the valley.  There is a knackered Byeway open to all traffic that runs quite close to the bothy.  Along it I could see three 4X4’s slowly moving.  I therefore feared that I was just about to be invaded by a large group.  Thankfully they soon disappeared and I spent a long but uneventful night with just the dog for company.

Day 2 – 13 kilometres with 400 metres ascent

Rain had come by the early hours as promised and it looked totally miserable outside.  I knew the weather was going to be less than favourable so had planned the first full day of the backpack to be short.  Therefore I lounged in my sleeping bag until about 9.00am, none to eager to get up in the cold damp bothy.

A couple of hours was spent drinking loads of coffee and sawing some wood for the next visitors.  At around 11.00am I decided that if I put off the inevitable any longer I could end up finishing the day in the dark.

It was a steep climb behind the bothy to the forestry track above.  This I followed before picking up the Byeway open to all traffic. This is a bit of a waterlogged mud fest.  The main problem was the several fords that have to be crossed.  Although only knee-deep it meant that my boots were soon full of cold water, there was no way I was going to take them off every five minutes.  Reuben had to be carried across the larger ones.

It was on this track that I saw the only people before close to the end of the fourth day.  Two quad bikers working their way across one of the fords.  The track got a bit too much hard work for me in the end, a parallel forestry track a more attractive option.

I had planned to take a bridleway through the forest and across the moors.  However at that spot on the map I was greeted with a dense barrier of newly planted spruce.  I backtracked a few hundred metres to a gate I had spotted, before an easy climb to the summit cairn of Pen-y-bwlch.  It was a grey and wild panorama that greeted us along with a face full of wind.

P1060490

P1060494

We arrived at the abandoned farm and shearing sheds of Garreglwyd just as a violent squall swept down from the moors.  Shelter was taken in a barn whilst rain battered the rusty tin roof.

The traverse of Dibyn Du was less than pleasant in the rain and I was glad to finally reach the security of the track along Llyn Egnant. The bothy was reached during the last of the grey light.  Once again it was dark and deserted inside, surprising in such an accessible bothy on a Saturday.  There are no trees in the vicinity and the woodshed was empty, a great disappointment as I dripped into the main room.  My rucksack when taken off soon sat within a widening pool of water.  Paramo is often given a bad press with regards to its waterproofness but I am glad to say I was totally dry under my Cascada.  On the other hand my eVent clad legs were soaked.

The downstairs was cold and uninviting without a fire, so we quickly retired to one of the wood panelled bedrooms upstairs.  With candles burning and dinner on it felt reasonable cosy (although it was only 4C up there).  However I do wish that I had not read someones ghostly experiences in the bothy book.  Thankfully the ‘Beware of the ghost’ graffiti on the stairs had been removed since my last visit!

I can report that nothing went bump in the night.

P1060498

Day 3 – 16 kilometres with 320 metres ascent

The world was transformed the following morning, sunny skies and a slight touch of frost.  It is much easier to get up, packed and going when the weather is fine.  I enjoyed a couple of cups of coffee in the sun outside the bothy before setting off.  It really is a lovely little building in a fine setting.

P1060501

I’m glad that the weather had turned for the best as the plan for the day was a long high level tramp across the moors.  The minor road gradually transforms itself into a track that deteriorates the further you go.  I wanted to walk the full length of the Monk’s Trod which on my map starts in the middle of nowhere on the banks of the River Claerwen.  A marked track on the map cuts a corner between the Claerddu and the Claerwen rivers before unceremoniously dumping you right in the middle of a bog.  A word of warning about the Elan bogs.  They are among the few that I actually consider to be dangerous.  Take your time, carry walking poles and check the ground in front of you if it looks dodgy.  Either that or take a dog and let him go first.

P1060508

P1060509

P1060513

Bog safely crossed and the next major obstacle was the Afon Claerwen itself.  This is a pretty big river and it has been raining for what feels like months.  Due to the crossing of the bog my boots were already full of water so there was no point in removing them to keep my feet dry.  I just picked a spot and waded, using poles for balance.  The water was cold, especially as it splashed over my knees, soaking my trousers from just below the line of my undies.  I was pleased that I got to the other side without mishap.

Reuben decided that he did not want to follow.  Instead he made unhappy dog noises and ran up and down the river bank.  In the end I had to cross back and then make a third crossing with 23kg of unhappy Staffy in my arms.  A very wet backpacker then found a rock to sit on for half an hour to steam in the sun.

I crossed this very spot one April, sitting down to put my boots back on.  I looked up to see three red kites circling overhead.  As I looked down a large otter popped out of the water a couple of feet away and ran into the nearby rushes. Possibly the best wildlife encounter of my life (with the exception of seeing a rhino whilst going out for a bike ride in Nepal).

Crossing the Monk’s Trod was much more pleasant than it was all those years ago.  Vehicles have since been banned and it appears that people have been respecting that ban.  I remember a horrid boggy struggle for a few miles.  There were still a few unpleasant stretches but in the whole the going was easy, giving the opportunity to enjoy the views along the way.

P1060520

P1060522

P1060527

P1060530

As the track dropped from the moors and crossed pastures the low winter sun lit up the surrounding hills.  A fantastic moment and well worth the unpleasant rainy slog the day before.

P1060537

I could make out my bothy accommodation on the other side of the reservoir, close in distance but still a long distance on foot.

P1060543

An hour later and it was nearly dark when I arrived at the door.  For the third night in a row I entered an empty bothy.  This one had been recently re-built which meant that there was plenty of off-cuts of wood to fire up the large stove.  A really enjoyable evening was spent with Reuben on a newly built bench, the fire warming our bodies.  Reuben was much happier than he appears in this photo, honest!

P1060549

Day 4 – 14 kilometres with 450 metres ascent

There was a weird moment in the middle of the night when I woke with a start thinking that someone was banging loudly on the door. No one was and I think (or hope) that it was the remnants of a dream.

Reuben was very happy that morning as I discovered the ball I had carried for him in the bottom of my pack, perfect for a game of bothy fetch.

P1060555

There was not a breath of wind that morning, the reservoir without a single ripple to disturb its surface.  Rare calm after a tempestuous few weeks.  A superb location for a bothy.

P1060557

Our route along the reservoir was trackless, thankfully on a steep slope of cropped grass rather than through bog and tussocks.   I stopped many times to watch the reflections of the sky on the surface of the water.

P1060560

P1060562

P1060563

All of the dams in the valley were overflowing, huge man-made waterfalls with a powerful roar.  A magnificent sight.

P1060566

I had planned to cross the moors on a direct route back to the car.  However I was feeling a bit lazy that morning.  Instead I went for a slightly longer but much easier day.  The disused railway bed provided swift and pleasant walking down the valley.

P1060568

Whilst stopping for a snack break the clouds that had been increasing all morning finally deposited a steady rain.  Reuben hid under the bench and gave me a look that suggested that it was all my fault.

A final climb up through the forest and past a collection of telecoms related paraphernalia brought me back to the car.  The sun even came back to pay a visit before I drove home.

P1060573

The Mountain Bothies Association (MBA) is a fine organisation.  I have purposely not mentioned the names of where I stayed, or where they are located.  My usual route maps are also missing.  Planning a bothy adventure?  Consider joining the MBA and check out their website here.

October 9, 2013

Across the Great Moss – backpacking the Cairngorms

by backpackingbongos

It has been a while since I have driven in the dark.  The journey north after work was a tough one and I was convinced that my night vision had made a turn for the worse over the summer.  Stopping for fuel just north of Carlisle and the attendant informed me that one of my headlights was out.  I can confirm that it’s much easier to drive with two.

I stopped for the night in one of those Alan Partridge style motorway hotels at Abington, a 400 mile journey far too ambitious after a day at work.  My room smelt of damp bathroom and lonely businessman.

The A9 on the way to Kingussie is a combination of tractors and suicidal Audi drivers.  Now when one whooshes past I say to myself, ‘Audi do that’.  There was an alarming moment when one tried to enter my boot whilst I was overtaking a lorry.  I’m not sure what he was trying to achieve whilst flashing his lights and beeping his horn at me.  He must have been very important.

My destination was Glen Feshie, usually a pleasant drive via Feshiebridge.  Unfortunately the road to Feshiebridge was closed and a 17 mile detour did little to add to my happiness.  Getting away for a stress free weekend in the hills can sometimes prove to be a little stressful.

Day 1 – 11 kilometres with 910 metres ascent

Day 1

I left the car in a small off-road car park a short distance from the Glen Feshie hostel.  I set off up the forest track, this soon turning into a delightfully maintained footpath.  The going was easy and I soon had great views back across the Spey valley towards the Monadhliath.  The air was surprisingly still and warm, perfect for the midges that started biting the minute I stopped.

P1050697

The path climbed steadily across the hillside up to the Allt a’ Chrom-alltainn on the six hundred metre contour.  Although sweaty and a little bit wheezy I felt the stress of a week at work, followed by a long drive all melt away.  All I had to worry about for the next three nights was putting one foot in front of another.  Actually that is a bit of a lie as the first big storm of the autumn was due to roll in the following night.  I had not yet planned where I would be when it arrived.  Strangely I was sort of looking forward to it, in a nagging worrying sort of way.

The perfectly manicured path petered out at the stream and I followed the thousands of footsteps before me up steep peaty slopes.  It was a bit of a slog with food for four days, a case of stop every few steps to enjoy the view.

P1050706

Higher up the slopes I found another path that eased the gradient somewhat as it contoured round to deliver me at the col between Carn Ban Mor and Sgor Gaoith.  I was soon approaching the latter which is a Munro, its location making my skin tingle with excitement.

P1050708

A rocky prow sits at the top of a two thousand foot drop straight down into the dark depths of Loch Einich.  The summit cairn had sat right at the edge, but it looked like some eejit had pushed it into the void below.  The views are one of the best that I have seen in the Cairngorms and I had a great sense of height.  The coires of Braeriach looked magnificent in the early evening light, like a giant had taken spoons and scooped out the hillside.

Even on the summit the air was perfectly still and warm enough to sit in a t-shirt.  It was at least half an hour before I could tear myself away.

P1050713

P1050715

P1050717

P1050719

The reason why I had travelled all the way to the Cairngorms was to wild camp right in the middle of the Moine Mhor, otherwise known as the Great Moss.  This large high altitude plateau has held my imagination for years now, a place I have only ever visited on a map.  I have always wanted to wild camp slap bang in the middle of its high level contours.

I took a narrow path north from the summit along the edge of the plateau, steep slopes dropping into Coire na Caillich.

P1050724

The spring Fuaran Diotach tempted me with an idyllic looking wild camp but it just did not feel wild enough, even though the view was stupendous.  I followed the edge of the plateau downwards, the ground becoming rougher as height was lost.  It was now carpeted in wet moss sprinkled with small boulders.  Not the easiest of terrain to walk across.  There however was a real feeling of space as the high plateau rolled away to the bigger hills.  I was in my element.

P1050725

P1050726

P1050729

The rocky, mossy ground was not ideal to pitch a tent so I continued on towards Loch nan Cnapan, finding a patch of grass bang on the nine hundred metre contour.  I put up the tent on one of the most exposed spots I have ever camped, somewhere that would be difficult to retreat from if the weather turned bad overnight.  However the forecast was for it to remain fair and I revelled in such a wild spot.  After walking to fill up my water bottles I stood outside and watched as shafts of sunlight drifted across the giants on the other side of Loch nan Cnapan.  It really does not get much better.

P1050732

P1050734

Day 2 – 23 Kilometres with 790 metres ascent

Day 2

It rained for most of the night but thankfully the wind did not pick up.  The highest hills were shrouded in mist when I first stuck my head out of the tent.  My wind chill measuring thingymajobbie said that it was minus 0.5 celcius when I got up and packed away.  Gloves were deployed for the first time this autumn.  As I set off towards Tom Dubh I was struck by the autumn colours of the grasses, the season was already underway even though it was only September 14th.

P1050735

The walk to the summit of Tom Dubh and down to the Allt Luineag reminded me of parts of Arctic Sweden which I visited last year.  It’s a shame that the Cairngorm reindeer did not put in an appearance as that would have truly fired up my imagination.

P1050736

P1050737

P1050738

The climb to Monadh Mor was up easy grassy slopes but the modest climb of only two hundred metres felt much higher.  I stood for a while and watched a large herd of deer on Leth-chreag.  I felt that they were also watching me, surely I was too far away to be noticed.  Thankfully I would probably make a rubbish deer stalker.  The view to the west was across the whole of the Moine Mhor, culminating in the Munro Mullach Clach a Bhlair.  One to save for another day.  The plateau was split by the deep trench of the River Eidart, its secret hidden depths a place I would like to explore.

P1050747

The summit cairn was quickly gained and then left as I wandered eastwards, first for the view towards Beinn Bhrotain and then the huge bulk of Cairn Toul.

P1050750

P1050751

A little further and I was right at the edge of the plateau, Glen Geusachan snaking away beneath my feet.  It was one of those ‘Wow’ moments, the scale of the landscape enough to get the heart racing.  A photo really can’t do the view justice.  Instead I request that you go and take a look for yourself.

P1050752

A joyful yomp to the south and I was descending the steep slopes to the 975 metre col below Beinn Bhrotain.  Although the day was a little murky shafts of sunlight kept highlighting the rocks on The Devil’s Point.  Although one of the smaller summits in the area it packs a punch in terms of character.

P1050759

I passed a solo hiker and then a separate group who were doing big days from the Linn of Dee.  Even with taking a bicycle as far as White bridge these hills are pretty remote.

The path up Beinn Bhrotain starts off easily enough and the view back towards Cairn Toul and Braeriach gave plenty of opportunities to stop and gawp.

P1050760

The path is soon lost in a jumble of boulders which guard this side of the mountain.  It’s not my favourite sort of terrain, especially with a heavy pack.  Many of the boulders are wobbly and it is easy to lose your balance.  Thankfully the weather was clear as navigation could be tricky in mist, especially in descent.

The weather came in for a while whilst I sat in the summit shelter chatting to a couple of guys from Glasgow.  They were having a long day having walked all the way from Auchlean to bag a couple of Munros.  They were going to return the same way.  With only the remotest Munros left to do they had conceded that they may have to take up backpacking to bag them.

I retraced my steps to the col and then descended south-west into the upper reaches of the Allt Dhaidh Mor.

P1050763

Without losing too much height I contoured along the side to reach the saddle to the north of Cnapan Mor, a peak that I imagine sees very little foot traffic.  I often feel that lower summits can be better viewpoints and this is definitely the case here, especially along the length of the Geldie.

P1050767

I imagined that the going underfoot on the descent to the Eidart would be tough going.  Thankfully I managed to link together areas of short vegetation on stony ground.  A final cairn before dropping into the glen gave a good view towards Carn a Fhidhleir and An Sgarsoch, possibly the remotest Munros in the Cairngorms.

P1050773

The ground reverted to the usual tangle of heather and tussocks on the final descent to the River Eidart.  I think that on my next visit to the Moine Mhor I will approach by following the river to its source.

P1050775

The bridge above the waterfall is a good spot to sit in the sun, the spray floating like tiny crystals in the air.

P1050777

I passed the old pony hut and deliberated whether or not I should pitch there for the night as planned.  With the weather forecast being absolutely dire in terms of wind and rain I decided to press on.  If it was going to be as bad as predicted then I did not want to be in an exposed spot.  I also did not fancy crossing the landslip area during strong winds and after heavy rain.  I thought it would be best to head for the bothy.  With the weather being so calm it was hard to imagine weather fronts sweeping in.

P1050779

It felt a bit of a slog walking down the Upper Feshie, however the scenery is about as good as it gets.  I had walked the same route the opposite way in May, I’m not sure that I could ever get bored with it.  For me its all about the many splendid trees.

P1050785

A lot of work had been done on the landslip area since earlier in the year and the path was easy to follow with no difficulties.  I later read in the bothy book that the MO was often seen fixing the path.  He has done a cracking job.

I reached Ruigh-aiteachain just as darkness was falling.  With it being a Saturday night I expected to see lights in the windows and smoke drifting from the chimney.  The place was dark and deserted.  With it being late and not being too fussed about spending time chopping wood I pitched the tent on the grass outside.  It had felt like a long hard day and I was soon asleep after dinner.

Day 3 – Bothy fester day

The wind and rain arrived in the night.  I had fixed the crossing poles to the Scarp when pitching, but the bothy provided shelter from the wind whistling down the glen.  They were hardly needed.  I managed to fester in the tent until about midday, reading and drinking coffee.  The weather down in the glen was not half as bad as expected, although I imagine it would have been tough on the summits.  The rain came in the form of sudden short downpours, the noise deafening under Silnylon.  I used a lull after one such downpour to make a dash to the loo.  Yep this bothy comes equipped with somewhere to squat in dry comfort.  All very civilised.

During the afternoon the sun came out and I used the opportunity to have a short wander.  It felt a bit odd that no one was around, I had that last man on earth feeling, especially since this is a very popular bothy.

P1050794

P1050797

P1050798

The rest of the afternoon was spent sawing wood, an increasing pile of logs being stacked next to the stove.  It was hard work with arms not used to manual labour, but at the same time very satisfying.  Time ticked by slowly and I was happy just to fester with a book.  Finally an hour before dark I got the stove roaring.  It was soon t-shirt time inside.

An evening spent with my feet up by the fire, a dram in my hand and candlelight flickering on the walls was pretty good.  By 10pm I was reticent to go back out side and sleep in the tent.  I quickly dashed out, packed and then spread my mat and sleeping bag out on the wooden floor.  Bothy nights can be damn good.

Day 4 – 9 kilometres with 120 metres ascent

Day 4

I was up and packed early as it was a few miles to the car followed by a four hundred mile drive home.  I made sure that there were a few logs and kindling left by the stove and swept the floor.  A night camping outside followed by a night inside had made it feel rather homely.  I was a bit sad to leave.

The paths on the way to Auchleen have been greatly improved and currently appear very manicured.  I hope that they soon blend into their surroundings.  The River Feshie kept me company on the way out, the only person I saw being a fisherman dressed for the part in tweed.

P1050811

It was a bit of a shock to be on tarmac once more for the final section back to the car.  On the road I could see the tops of the Monadhliath to the west with a dusting of snow.  It felt like winter was on its way.