Posts tagged ‘MLD Trailstar’

July 19, 2015

Stronelairg – 5 snowy days in the Monadhliath pt2

by backpackingbongos

Part one of this trip report was published a few months ago, unfortunately other trips got in the way and I never got round to writing part two. So cast your minds back to Easter this year……….

You can read part one here.

The contrast with the murk the day before could not be greater. The mist, low cloud and poor visibility had been replaced by blue skies and crisp visibility. The air was still and despite snow still laying on the ground it felt warm.

The upper reaches of Glen Tarff really is a gem, a place where no one really bothers to venture. I picked up the old stalkers path and climbed my way back onto the Monadhliath plateau, enjoying the retrospective views down the glen to distant snow-capped mountains.

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The plateau was reached just south of the dam for the newly built reservoir. The sense of space on that clear spring morning was exhilarating. Sometimes you don’t need high craggy mountains, the empty rolling moors often make me feel just as happy to be out.

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I was heading for the summit of the Corbett Gairbeinn. Normally this would be a straightforward affair of walking across the moors and climbing onto its long summit ridge. However with deep and rapidly melting snow on the ground it was not quite that easy. The various watercourses were covered in unstable snow bridges, banks ready to collapse either side. I spent a while linking up patches of snow free ground, often making detours when the snow became too deep and soft.

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The going was easier on the higher and steeper slopes, the snow still having a bit of bite which meant that I could kick steps up. With a heavy winter pack, warm sun and no wind I quickly felt exhausted. The high snow-covered plateau however was spellbinding and I did not need much excuse to just stand and drink it all in. I was sad with the knowledge that soon the whole area will be covered in wide roads and wind turbines.

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The ridge of Gairbeinn was snow free but the east side was heavily corniced. There had recently been an avalanche which is visible in the third photo below. Some of the blocks of snow were the size of a chest freezer, not something that you would want to get caught up in.

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I lingered at the summit for a long time, out of the wind the sun felt warm and the surroundings were majestic. Across the infant Spey the Creag Meagaidh hills towered high and snowy. Much of the high plateau of the Monadhliath was still draped in virgin white, so I decided against a planned long walk across the summit of the Corrieyairack to bag some more Corbetts. Even though it was only early afternoon and I had walked only a few kilometres I decided that I would look for a nearby high level pitch and just enjoy my surroundings.

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I backtracked along the ridge and then descended to the east to a good spot on the 780 metre contour. I pitched the Trailstar and spent a lazy afternoon and evening reading, brewing and eating. Taking time to walk around various vantage points above camp. The air soon became cold and crisp, the hills glowing in the setting sun.

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It was only a short walk back to the car the following morning so I decided on a small detour to climb Creag Mhor. It’s a small hill that does not feature on any lists but it was worth the effort for the views along the upper Spey and back to the plateau from which I had come.

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The often grassy banks of the Allt Gilbe eased progress back to Garva bridge. I passed a family picnicking next to the bridge over the Allt Coire Lain Oig, the first people who I had seen in five days. I could not think of a finer place in which to spend a busy Easter weekend than the lonely underrated Monadhliath.

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May 2, 2015

Stronelairg – 5 snowy days in the Monadhliath pt1

by backpackingbongos

I had spent a couple of weeks meticulously planning a route through the Monadhliath for the Easter weekend. Mileage and ascent had all been taken into account to give me some realistic TGO Challenge training. However whilst just south of Glasgow on the drive up I changed my mind. Instead of starting from Loch Killin to the east of Loch Ness I decided on the easy option of a Garva Bridge start. It cut out a large chunk of driving, however it did mean heading into the hills without much of a plan. The Monadhliath are perfectly suited to this sort of aimless wandering though. As it turned out the change of plan was a good one. The high plateau was buried under deep snow making walking slow and tough. The long days I had planned would have been almost impossible.

The reason for a visit to this underrated part of the Highlands was to see a large area of wild land before it is buried under tonnes of steel and miles of new roads. Time for a stravaig through the site of the proposed Stronelairg wind farm before it is too late.

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Map of whole route – a bit of a slackpack in the end!

There is room for several cars just before the historic Garva bridge. Strangely, although the Stronelairg wind farm has been consented SSE (the developer) have not done a great deal of thinking how they will connect it to the grid. A recent proposal is to build a large electricity substation close to this spot, right on the boundary of the Cairngorms National Park. Add this to the giant pylons for the Beauly Denny line plus new pylons to the wind farm and you have one ugly environmental fuck up.

If you ignore the towering pylons and the huge scar of the access track it is still a beautiful spot dominated by the towering snow-clad peaks of the Glenshirra Forest. Crossing the Spey I passed the last person I would see for five days. He was operating some sort of surveying equipment, no doubt a plan to build something else tall and monstrous.

I was glad to leave the industrialisation behind as I climbed alongside the Feith Talagain, the track soon becoming a narrow trod through the snow-covered heather.

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I had to continue up alongside the river for a while before I could find a suitable spot to cross dry-shod. It was then a case of putting my head down and gritting my teeth on a tough climb through soft snow. This was not made any easier by carrying a heavy winter pack. At least the scenery gave me plenty of opportunities to stop and gawp whilst I got my breath back.

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After the long drive and a slow ascent it was getting late by the time I reached the Corbett summit of Meall na h-Aisre. The air was crystal clear below a thick layer of cloud, the sun shining through in a halo of light. The snow was crisp to walk through at height, the cold wind nipping at bare skin. I looked down at the area I would be walking over the next few days. A vast high snow-covered plateau, the west coast Munro’s providing a jagged backdrop. It was sad to think that a wind farm the size of Inverness could soon be filling this wild land, the earth torn up for the many miles of access roads that will need to be built.

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I descended north into this vast bowl, keeping east of the snow-covered and invisible Loch nan Sidhean. As I got lower the snow got softer and I would often find a leg disappearing up to the knee and occasionally up to the groin. It takes a bit of effort to extricate a fully buried leg when one remains above ground and with a pack on your back. Swearing seems to be the best way of getting out. I gingerly crossed the outflow of the loch which was buried under a drift of snow, snow bridges would be a common feature of the following few days.

I began to lose hope of finding a patch of ground that was either not covered in snow or frozen so solid that pegs would not penetrate. Finally a lumpy patch the size of a Trailstar was discovered and I wasted no time in erecting my shelter, fetching water from a mostly frozen stream and diving inside to get out of the wind.

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I spent much of the night cursing the fact that I had brought the Trailstar, rather than a four season tent with a full solid inner. All started off well but after dark the wind picked up. This was initially ok as the wind was from behind and the Trailstar is bomb proof in wind, even when pitched high like I had it. The problem started when the snow began to fall. The snow came in the form of tiny sand like grains, the wind blowing it through the gap along the bottom edge. This would whip around and settle on the netting above my head, body heat melting it. I lay there dreaming of a nice cosy tent. There may be a Trailstar with Oookworks inner for sale soon.

Morning came with big fat wet flakes of snow as the temperature rose, this finally falling as rain. I had considered heading east to the headwaters of the Allt Cam nan Croc, a spot I had passed previously and which looked idyllic to camp. However with low cloud and deep soft snow the cross-country walk there would be more ordeal than pleasure. Instead I decided to head for the more sheltered confines of Glen Tarff.

The Allt Creag Chomaich was partially frozen in many places and completely covered in snow in others. I dismissed any thoughts of attempting to cross it, instead following the east bank to the security of the new hydro road.

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I had seen the scar of this road in a previous visit but this time it was covered in snow, the surrounding landscape hidden under cloud. At least it prevented me from lurching from snow filled hag to tussock and I made reasonable progress through the eerie landscape to the new reservoir. This was also half-frozen, the wind pushing the ice floes towards the eastern shore.

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I peeked through the windows of a building near the dam, the kettle, heater, table and chairs looking very inviting. The locked and very solid metal door prevented access and I had a snack shivering in the damp and cold instead.

The route down to the headwaters of the Tarff was as tricky as it looked on the map when you added in wet snow and low cloud. I slithered about for a while before finally picking up an old stalkers path into the shelter of the glen.

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There I set up a basecamp as I decided that I would leave most of my gear the following day and head for a nearby hill. It was a damp and gloomy evening with a fine drizzle in the air. However I spent a much more comfortable night without snow filling my shelter!

The following morning I just packed some spare warm clothing, food and maps and set off down the glen on a narrow but well engineered path. It is obvious that it is now little used and it won’t be long before much of it is reclaimed by nature. Much of the snow had melted at this lower level, the burns crashing noisily down the hillside. Glen Tarff is a magnificent place, hidden and well off the beaten track of the nearby Corrieyairack Pass.

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I climbed up the steep south western slopes of Carn Chuilinn, the summit being easy to find even in the snow and mist. A simple case of keep climbing until you get to the highest point. The walk east across the plateau however was anything but easy. With low cloud and the ground covered in snow my mind would play tricks, what I thought were towering cliffs would be a few boulders close by. It was difficult to judge distances and tell where the sky ended and the ground began. It did not help that the high plateau was dotted with numerous Lochans. All of them were completely frozen and most covered in snow. I was anxious not to accidentally walk across any of them. It was a very challenging hour or so and that was with the assistance of GPS mapping on my phone!

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It was with relief that I managed to locate the outflow from Loch Carn a Chuillin, nervously crossed by a snow bridge. The river was in spate and would have been difficult to cross otherwise. Walking down back into the glen the sun put in a welcome appearance, a good omen for the following day when I would set back off across the plateau and hopefully a high level wild camp.

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April 19, 2015

Newtondale – backpacking the North York Moors

by backpackingbongos

Navigating the steep hairpin bends between Lockton and Levisham made my stomach flutter with a bit of excitement. It wasn’t the angle of the road but the fact that I thought that a new series of the League of Gentlemen was being filmed. I’m almost certain that I passed Tubbs and Edward standing by the side of the road decked out in grubby Barbour. Sadly it turned out that they were just supporters of the local hunt, which was being led by a man with the reddest face imaginable.

Levisham turned out to be a delightful village, basically a long village green backed by beautiful stone buildings with a pub at the far end. The only road in and out is the aforementioned country lane which plunges down to Levisham beck before climbing out the other side. I bet it gets cut off a lot in winter.

We took a track to the right of the pub after Reuben was saddled up and the car abandoned on the main street. We were passed by several vehicles heading into the village. Where they came from I have no idea as the track ends on rough open moor. The occupants of every single vehicle pointed at Reuben as they passed, perhaps they have never seen a Staffie wear a pair of overstuffed panniers before?

I had read somewhere that the Hole of Horcum is the Grand Canyon of Yorkshire. I have never visited the Grand Canyon before but I feel that there may have been a bit of exaggerating about the Yorkshire version. It is a very nice spot though and I was glad of the shelter it provided from the strong and cold wind. I would give it a few more extra points if the busy road to Whitby did not run along its eastern edge.

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A steep climb to the north led us up to the lip of Yorkshire’s Grand Canyon. There we were able to turn our backs on the hustle and bustle and head across the moors towards Newtondale.

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It was only my third visit to the North York Moors and I am beginning to work out the parts of it that I enjoy. The moors themselves are dreadfully dull, a flat monoculture of heather criss crossed by land rover tracks. Nothing really to invigorate the senses or lift the soul. The word sterile comes to mind. The contrast with the various dales however could not be starker. These are full of life, trees clinging to steep slopes, lush vegetation and a feeling that they are somehow wilder. Quite the opposite to many other upland areas I find.

I enjoyed the walk down into Newtondale immensely.

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The North York Moors Railway runs its way through the dale, although the trains had not started running this early in the spring. All was quiet with not a soul to be seen in this reasonably isolated valley.

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After following a forestry track north for a while we struck directly up steep slopes once past the plantation. I’m glad that the bracken was still brown and crunchy underfoot. In summer our chosen route would be simply impossible. You would also probably end up covered head to toe in ticks.

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A squelch across the flat moors and an idyllic spot was found next to the infant Blawath Beck. It was flat, dry and covered in springy moss. Although early I did not hesitate in getting the Trailstar up, I’m someone who does not pass by a good pitch. Reuben seemed happy with the chosen spot, as soon as his panniers were removed he was pulling his best breakdancing moves.

It was a pleasant evening chilling out with my kindle, listening to the first snipe of the year drumming somewhere overhead.

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Despite a night camped next to a stream there was zero condensation when I woke up. The sun had finally come out and the air was alive with the sound of bird song. It was tempting to have a lazy morning enjoying camp but I’m sure that wild camping in the North York Moors is probably frowned upon.

The pastures around Wardle Green contrast nicely with the austere moors and regimented conifer plantations. The old farm is surrounded by Scotts Pine and broadleaf trees. An oasis buzzing with life on an early spring morning.

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A bridleway and forestry track led us to high above Newtondale, a fine path leading along the edge of Killing Nab Scar. It’s probably one of the finest paths in the country as it winds its way high above the dale giving splendid views down into the valley. It was a shame that a haze had built up.

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A bench had been handily placed in which to enjoy a rest in the sun and drink in the view. All morning I had heard the buzz of trail bikes somewhere in the forest. All of a sudden half a dozen came tearing down the path I had just walked. I had to hold Reuben tight as they passed in front of the bench, inches from us. In my head I challenged them, waving my fist until they saw the error of their ways. In reality I just sat there glumly and nodded my head as they passed.

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A steep path took us down into the valley and then past Newtondale Halt. Climbing once more up the steep southern slopes there was a section that involved the use of steps built into a rock face.

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Although not marked on the map there is a narrow trod that continues on past Yewtree Scar and all the way to Skelton Tower. Another grand promenade, equaling the path earlier along Killing Nab Scar.

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Skelton Tower occupies a spot close to the steep drop into the valley, feeling much higher than 170 metres. It provided a place to sit out of the wind and rest before the final mile or so back to the car.

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I think I am going to have to make more of an effort to visit the North York Moors. They are a much quieter alternative to the Peak District with not much further to travel.

July 2, 2014

A night at the Grinah Stones

by backpackingbongos

The road along the Derwent reservoirs to its terminus at Kings Tree is shut on Saturdays and Sundays during the summer. This makes this exceptionally popular area much more pleasant, especially for the cyclists doing a circuit of the reservoirs. A regular shuttle bus can however drop walkers off at various points along the way when the road is shut. The current timetable is here, if anyone is thinking of a weekend trip.

I had the good fortune to be off work on a Thursday and Friday which just happened to correspond with a spell of excellent weather. It was late afternoon when we arrived at Kings Tree and there were only a handful of cars left parked on the verge. Soon after setting off towards Slippery Stones we passed the last person we would see until late the following morning. That’s one of the greatest benefits of backpacking, you can have the hills to yourself when everyone else has gone home. You can then go home when everyone else arrives.

The walk to the head of the Derwent is an easy one along a land rover track. The surrounding hillsides and trees were almost a luminous green, the type you only get for a couple of weeks at the beginning of summer. The bracken which was only just starting to unfurl and cloak the hillsides added to the myriad of greenery.

Reuben happily trotted alongside, the warmth at the end of the day preventing him from racing about. In the summer I have to stop frequently and fill his bowl with water as he does not always think to have a drink out of a stream or puddle. Planning ahead for waterless stretches is not his best attribute.

The river was easy to cross and water bottles were filled. Five litres are heavy but I wanted plenty for myself and the dog to last until late the following morning. It would be unlikely there would be any flowing higher up on the moor. Unfortunately it had the colour and consistency of Newcastle Brown Ale, even down to a nice frothy head. I was glad of my water filter.

Climbing towards the Barrow Stones, two huge planes (no idea what as I’m not an aviation or military buff) flew over the ridge in front and down below me into the Derwent valley. It was an impressive sight and over all too quickly. I’m assuming that it was to do with the D Day commemorations that weekend.

The evening light was now as perfect as it can get, blue skies and endless views north across the South Pennines. It was warm with no wind and the midges had yet to wake up. It was only the constant air traffic going to and from Manchester airport that was a reminder of being sandwiched between two major cities.

Years ago I had picked out a potential wild camping spot close to the Grinah Stones. I remembered it as being flat, well-drained and with impressive views. My memory must be failing me as when we got there it was lumpy, sloping and very boggy. The view was good though. I spent at least half an hour walking around searching for somewhere suitable for the Trailstar. Everywhere was either deep heather and bilberry or soaking wet bog. In the end I found somewhere that would just have to do. It was very squelchy underfoot and hard to get the pegs to hold sufficiently to stop the shelter from collapsing. Luckily I had brought a Tyvek groundsheet which was put under the Oooknest to stop the bog seeping through. It was pretty much dark when I had finished with there just being time to watch the sun as it dipped below the main bulk of Bleaklow.

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Soft bogs are comfortable to sleep on, although getting in and out of the Trailstar without getting my trousers wet was difficult. I ended up doing a manoeuvre that resembled a badly performed Cossack dance. This was performed at speed once the sun hit the shelter in the morning as the temperature suddenly shot up from comfortable to boiling. It was during this exit that I realised Reuben’s sleeping pad had been placed at the edge of a red ants nest. Despite his often sad looking face he is a stoical dog.

A nearby rock doubled up as a breakfast bar and I sat watching the distant rush hour traffic move silently across the Snake Pass. Coffee and noodles cooked with dark brown water. Reuben’s meaty pouch was served straight on the grass.

Packed up we headed down steep slopes on a narrow path to the head of Grinah Grain, where I found clear and cold running water. It was good to drink deeply without the metallic taste peaty water brings.

Surprisingly for a National Park the surrounding ground had been trashed by vehicles driving directly over the soft peat. This headed in the direction of a set of newly built grouse butts. It branches off from the well established track that serves the shooting cabins in Lower Small Clough. This is a hellish eyesore as it gouges its way through deep peat on the plateau. Why can’t grouse shooters walk?

An old ditch called Black Dike gave a handrail along the top of the moor which was left at the head of Linch Clough. Here a narrow trod was picked up and followed along the top as the ground dropped steeply away. Before the final descent back to the car a handy outcrop was in a good position for Reuben to do one of his mountain poses. The breeze wafting from the valley below was welcome before I joined the throngs at the snack kiosk at Fairholmes.

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May 2, 2014

Four nights alone in the magnificent Monadhliath pt3

by backpackingbongos

Day 4 – 23 kilometres with 590 metres ascent

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It was probably one of the worst nights that I have ever had for condensation. No wind, next to a stream and temperatures around freezing meant the walls were dripping by morning. That was in a huge drafty shelter with no door, my Scarp would have turned into a chilly sauna. Rather than start moving about and get everything wet with drips I decided to lay in my sleeping bag until the sun hit and dried everything out. Therefore it was once again gone 9.00am by the time I got up, no great hardship. I was spoilt by another alfresco breakfast, stretched out on a groundsheet in the warm sun. I wish that everyday could start like that.

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It was yet another morning where the blue sky looked unreal such was its brilliance.

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I followed the River Eskin for a while until it met a series of streams flowing down from Coire Seilich. Once again I used a series of grassy rides alongside the streams to guide me through the peat and heather on the climb to the north. Along one such stream I came across a large lurid green bog. A prod with my Pacerpole failed to reach solid ground. Not a spot to unwittingly stumble into, especially with no one to pull you out.

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The last couple of kilometres to the summit of Carn na Saobhaidhe was particularly unpleasant, height did little to tame the vegetation. Time was spent lurching and cursing under the hot sun, feeling like the summit was not getting any closer. Height however did increase the views and I could look east and see my route for later in the day.

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As I was approaching the summit I kept spotting a bright yellow object, this would move about and then disappear. It was difficult to work out what it was from a distance. As I eventually reached the summit plateau I could see it was a man in a high-vis tabard taking 360 degree photos on a large camera. For me there could only be one reason he would be there and I asked him if he was taking photos for a wind farm. He confirmed that he was. There then took place a short and polite conversation about wind farms. He said that he liked them for their beauty and they give him employment. I asked him a series of questions and he obliged by answering them.

As I am an Independent Advocate in my professional life I am aware that you need to talk to the right person if you want to influence change. I have my personal feelings about building wind farms in such places but it was not really appropriate to inflict them on this guy. At the end of the day he was a very small cog in a huge machine. I did think of various uses for his tripod though.

I decided to shuffle off and seek some shelter in which to have lunch. A mound of peat with grouse grit on top was the only such shelter on the exposed hill. I could also turn my back on the man in the fluorescent tabard and enjoy the view to the north. Ben Wyvis was clearly seen and I could just make out the Kessock bridge near Inverness. My phone even received a signal when I turned it on giving me the opportunity to call my wife.

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It really was rather pleasant in the sun and I had to resist the temptation to have a bit of a snooze. Back on my feet I once again passed the guy taking his panoramic photos, this time without his bright jacket. I had mentioned to him earlier that he was visible from miles away, perhaps he decided he did not want to draw attention to himself again. As I left the hill I registered my protest by ensuring that I walked into shot.

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I have heard about the track that leads to the summit of Carn na Saobhaidhe from the north. However nothing could have prepared me for just how destructive it was. A deep gash bulldozed through the soft peat, mounds piled up to ten feet high on either side. It really was spectacular in its hideousness. What made me chuckle however was that the chap doing the wind farm panoramas could not get his vehicle up it as it was full of snow. Once away from the monstrosity, the cairn on Carn Mhic Lamhair was a nice place to sit down again.

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Rough ground was crossed before dropping down to Allt Odhar and an easy track to the cottage at Dalbeg. This occupies a prime spot on the upper reaches of the River Findhorn. If the owners are reading this and fancy letting me stay please get in touch!

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This part of the Findhorn is simply lovely, an area where I enjoyed a wild camp during the 2011 TGO Challenge. A good track led me rapidly towards Coignafearn lodge, my pack feeling heavy and feet hot under the cloudless skies.

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I took a track that branched off up the Elrick burn and I was now at the lowest spot since the beginning of the trip, a lowly 450 metres. There was then a long steady climb ahead as I wanted to cross the watershed into the upper Dulnain before the end of the day. The track gave easy progress up the scenic glen, the river a lively companion to my left.

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I had planned to cross the burn at a footbridge but this was now in pieces beside the track, only steel girders remaining. I continued to the ford further upstream where boots and socks were removed. The ford was wide but reasonably smooth bottomed meaning it was not too painful on bare feet, the freezing water on the other hand initially made me gasp. With it reaching my knees there was no way to cross dry-shod whilst wearing boots.

The track soon started to zig zag up the hillside to the left, I climbed up this for a while before branching off on an unmarked track that just happened to be going in my direction above the stream. This contrasted hugely with the great scar I had witnessed near Carn na Saobhaidhe, with a little effort hill tracks don’t have to be huge monstrosities.

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When the track petered out it was a simple case of following grassy banks along the infant stream to its watershed, this being hidden under lingering snow banks. It was like a game of Russian roulette as I gingerly crossed them, aware of the sound of running water. Once again it was a glorious evening, the low sun casting warmth and shadow across the heather clad hillsides.

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I was tired when I finally reached the wooden bothy, so decided to spend the night inside rather than pitch the Trailstar. The hard wooden floor was unforgiving but it would enable an easy getaway the following morning.

Day 5 – 11 kilometres with 160 metres

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After spending nights on beds of moss and grassy river banks, a hard floor meant I did not sleep very well. I had a long drive ahead of me later that day so I was off and away before the sun cast away the shadows around the bothy. The track that would lead me directly back to Kingussie was at an easy gradient. I felt a bit sad as I had a final look over my shoulders into the wild heart of the Monadhliath before the trudge back to the car.

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The final stretch of tarmac between Pitmain Lodge and Kingussie was a bit of a bore, especially with a rumbling belly. I had eaten the last of my food for breakfast, supplies being rationed the previous day. The Coop was raided for carbohydrate and sugar based foods to set me on my way for the 400 mile drive south.

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