Posts tagged ‘Scotland’

April 3, 2016

Micro wild vanping in the Carsphairn hills (part two)

by backpackingbongos

Downgrading from the Bongo to a Doblo sized campervan has taken a little bit of adjustment. During bad weather it’s not quite as simple as shutting the door and being protected from the elements. Everything takes a bit of thinking about, there really is not much room, especially with a wet dog in tow!

It is designed so that the kitchen is outside under the tailgate, fine if it is not hammering it down with hail being thrown at you on thirty mile an hour winds. Therefore with much shifting about of gear I managed to bring the cooker inside which enabled breakfast to be made with a modicum of comfort. To avoid suffocating in the small space a couple of windows have to be left open, the hail and rain finding an easy way in.

After a few days living in it in¬†bad weather, things start to get a bit grubby inside, all sense of order is lost. You really can’t remember what has happened to your last pair of dry socks.¬†You wonder if you will ever get rid of all those dog hairs.

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Each evening just before it got dark I would stand outside Chrissie and Geoff’s van with my nose pressed up against the window. Next to me would be a shivering staffy, his face a picture of unhappiness. More often than not we would get an invite inside and Reuben would prostrate himself on the sofa, a big grin on his face.

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On the Easter Monday Geoff and Chrissie decided that they would start to make their way south, leaving me with a cream egg. The forecast for the day was reasonable so Reuben and I went back into the hills to bag some more Donald’s and tops (hills over 2000ft in this part of the world). The day started off cruelly with a lung busting climb up the steep slopes of Ewe hill.

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It was whilst descending from the summit en-route for Alwhat where I came across a rather sad sight in these lovely quiet hills. A wind monitoring mast had been erected, a sizeable structure when up close. There are plans for the massive Lorg windfarm here with turbines up to five hundred feet high. One thing I had noticed over the past couple of days was just how many of these things had sprouted up in the surrounding area. It looks like the wind rush in these parts is not yet over.

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The grassy slopes of Alwhat was easily gained and a short descent and re-ascent brought us to the summit of Alhang. In the col between Alhang and Windy Standard there was yet another wind monitoring mast.

It was on the ascent of Windy Standard that some of the wind turbines that make up Windy Standard wind farm came into view. By modern-day standards these turbines are tiny at 35 metres high, the blades spinning furiously rather than the slow whoosh you get these days.

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To the north and east the landscape remains relatively untouched, rolling hills filling the horizon all the way to the snow-capped Lowther hill.

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The summit of Windy Standard itself is dominated by turbines which march down the ridges to the north. As far as wind farms go it certainly is not the most offensive that I have come across. With such small turbines they were not really that noticeable from the surrounding hills the previous¬†couple of days. The roads that service them being no wider than landrover tracks. What was very noticeable however was the nearby construction of Windy Standard 2 wind farm. There massive wide highways had been constructed across the hillsides, banks of earth¬†piled at the side. Numerous diggers and trucks were at work clearing areas the size of football pitches to lay the foundations for the massive new turbines. The whole area was a horrible mess. Coming home and looking at the internet there are already plans for Windy Standard 3 ūüė¶

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Reuben and I quickly turned our backs on the whole sorry scene and hurried down the slopes to the south. This was also due to the black clouds piling in from the north. With all the recent stormy weather the last place I wanted to be was surrounded by turbines if there was a threat of lightning! This lead to the head of the Holm Burn with its numerous drumlins, a good place for Reuben to pull a pose.

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Down in the glen is an atmospheric ruin, this must have been a truly remote spot before the advent of the motor car. I sat on the low wall that surrounds an old stand of trees, soaking up the rare warm rays of the sun.

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The only difficulty of the day came at the end of the walk whilst trying to get back onto the public road. I ended up inadvertently trespassing through someones garden, luckily no one was at home. I felt guilty as I joined the track, sending up a chorus of barking from the nearby farm.

Back at the van I fancied a change from the hills and decided to drive to the Solway coast to spend the night. Dalbeattie provided some half decent fish and chips en-route for Powillimount. I arrived at the beach during the golden hour, the sun just beginning to descend behind the hills to the west. It is a lovely spot but I decided not to stay the night. There was too much coming and going and sadly the car park was full of blowing litter. Instead I sat on the rocks for a while as the last of the Easter bank holiday disappeared into a warm glow.

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* All photos taken with iPhone 6s Plus.

March 30, 2016

Micro wild vanping in the Carsphairn hills (part one)

by backpackingbongos

The headlights on the van pierced the darkness as I steered a course along the bumpy track in the depths of the Galloway Forest Park. A small gravel car park overlooks the deserted settlement of Polmaddy, invisible under the inky black sky. I had been driving for seven hours, especially tiring after a day at work. The Easter weekend had given me a five day slot to escape into one of the quietest places I could think of. I was keen to use every moment of it.

Ten minutes of fumbling saw the Doblo being turned from a daily run around into a fully fledged micro camper, complete with a full length and very comfy bed. Reuben could be heard exploring the immediate surroundings, his name tag tinkling on his collar as he sniffed and pee’d his way along.

It’s always very exciting waking up in the morning after arriving somewhere¬†the night before in the dark. I removed the blinds to a sparkling morning, birdsong filling the crisp air. Coffee was brewed and breakfast eaten outside whilst Reuben once again sniffed at and pee’d on his surroundings.

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I was going to meet up with Chrissie and Geoff¬†later that evening, but first I wanted to make the best of the unexpectedly good weather window. The van was pointed in the direction of the Green Well of Scotland where it was deposited on a grassy verge. The plan for the day was the 797 metre summit of Cairnsmore of Carsphairn. This rises head and shoulder above the immediate hills, its grassy dome punctuated¬†by rocks piercing the earth. It’s a simple grassy walk, firstly along a track before breaking off to ascend Dunool and then contouring round to the summit of Beninner.

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Lunch was had sheltering behind a boulder that provided scant shelter, Reuben shivering until I put on his warm jacket. He did not turn down the crusts from my sandwiches. I kept close to the steep fractured western slopes on the way to the deserted summit of Cairnsmore of Carsphairn. The view was across miles of empty hills and on towards the Central Belt. The weather was on the turn, cloud building from the west and the wind gusting to gale force. The zip on my jacket got stuck and I managed to break it whilst battling the wind. This resulted in it being zipped to the neck but gaping in the middle. I like to think that it accentuated the fine curve of my belly.

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A drystone wall provides a steep but direct way back down to the track, on which I followed a short distance behind a couple. As a misanthropic hill walker this made me uneasy as I wanted the whole hill to myself with none of my fellow humans clogging up the view. There were also practical considerations such as do I quickly overtake or stop regularly so as not to get too close. You probably now understand why I rarely visit the Lake District.

The weather forecast for the following day was for wind and rain of Biblical proportions, apt really considering that it was the Easter weekend. A sheltered woodland site was therefore chosen to spend the night and meet up with Chrissie and Geoff and their very energetic hounds. No sooner had the van once again been turned into a camper they turned up. The dogs spent a good hour running after a ball, enough to ensure that they would be sensible during the evening.

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A top tip when wild vanping in a very small van is to invite along people with a very big van. This means that you have the benefits of something easy to drive with great fuel economy but also somewhere warm and comfy to spend the evening. Sadly Chrissie does not drink so Geoff and I had to finish a bottle of red and some beer all to ourselves. Nonsense was probably spoken and I later retired to the cold Doblo with a dog who would have much rather stayed in the big, warm and very comfy van.

The weather forecast duly delivered the next day, trees creaking in the wind, the continuous pounding of rain on the van roof. The planned four mile walk was quickly dismissed. A quick yomp was followed by lots of sitting in the big van, the heating creating a sauna from our wet clothing, steaming hot drinks and snoring dogs adding to the pleasant fug.

We later relocated to a much more remote spot, six miles up a dead-end valley, accessed by a single track road. The amount of water pouring off the hills and into the Water of Ken was an impressive sight. Fields had quickly become lakes and water was crashing down the steep rocky sections of river.

It was a night with the vans being rocked by increasingly strong winds, rain coming in violent squalls, punctuated by moments of calm. These moments of calm would often catch you out if you dared go outside without full waterproofs. Hail would be thrown at you without warning, sending you running and cursing.

The following day had promised improving weather and I was lulled into a false sense of security whilst climbing onto Colt Hill with Reuben. The sky quickly darkened and curtains of hail swept down the valley. The icy crystals were painful on exposed skin and Reuben quickly let his displeasure be known. We huddled together behind a stone wall as ragged clouds covered the hills. The storm departed as quickly as it came but it set up a regular pattern for the rest of the day.

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The reason I had chosen Colt Hill was because I wanted to see one of the Striding Arches, a collection of sculptures by Andy Goldsworthy. You can read about the project here. Large sandstone blocks make up this particular arch, perfect Reuben thought for giving his back a good rub.

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The way back to the vans was through a dark mossy forest, the trees draped in living curtains of green. Ideal¬†for making art work¬†of my own, although I’m not sure Reuben was very impressed.

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A mile or so further up the valley from the vans we passed the lonely cottage of Lorg. From what I can gather on the internet it has been deserted for years. It is a place that really appeals to me, an isolated cottage at the end of a remote glen in a little known part of the country. It even has telephone poles and an electricity supply. However things in this quiet glen could soon be changing, the men with machines are planning to industrialise the immediate surroundings. More of that in the next post.

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November 30, 2015

Battered days and bothy nights in the Ettrick Hills – pt1

by backpackingbongos

The hills that circle the lonely Ettrick water are some of my favourite in Southern Scotland. Rounded and grassy they remind me a little of the Howgills further south. However the Howgills are positively heaving with people in comparison. During this four day backpack at the end of October I did not see a single person on the hills.

The approach to the head of Ettrick water by car is long via the narrow winding road through Eskdalemuir, then the single track one up the valley. You do get a sense of remoteness when driving there, the prayer flags of the Tibetan Monastery at Samye Ling fitting in against the backdrop of hills.

Moffat provides a much more accessible jumping off point for these hills via the Southern Upland Way. I found a spot for the car a couple of miles outside of town and headed east on the waymarked long distance trail.

This is the first walk in a long time where I have left my camera at home, I decided to use just my mobile phone to take photographs to see how they would turn out.

Total distance – 47 kilometres with 2230 metres ascent

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The forecast for the weekend was not very promising, heavy rain and strong winds were to be a feature of this backpack. With this in mind I had planned the route so as to make use of a couple of the MBA bothies that are dotted around these hills. It was meant to be particularly wet and windy the first night so I hurried up the forestry track, keen to get some distance under my belt before the rain swept in.

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The Southern Upland Way as it makes its way towards Ettrick Head passes through a large forestry plantation, not exactly inspiring walking along the wide gravel tracks. I eventually managed to escape it on another vehicle track that ascended¬†south towards Scaw’d Law. This ended at a turning circle where I managed to locate an old grassy track that took me onto the heathery open hillside. The views once up high were typical Southern Uplands, rolling hills, forestry and the ubiquitous wind turbines.

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Scaw’d Law is designated a Marilyn which allowed me to add another tick to my list. I walked a short way from the true summit to a large cairn giving great views down Wamphray Water and beyond. The clouds were beginning to gather in the west, spits and spots of rain being carried on a strengthening wind.

From the summit of Scaw’d law I descended very¬†steep heather clad¬†slopes to the east, a real punishment for the knees. A barbed wire fence at the bottom caused a bit of difficulty as it was just above groin height and too wobbly to climb.

The ruined farm at Garrogill is located in an idyllic spot next to a rushing burn. It would have been a beautifully wild and remote place before the forestry came and blanketed the hillsides. Sometimes I wish that I could wind back time and have a glimpse at the life people led in these out of the way corners of the country. It must have been a harsh existence.

There is a good path that ascends onto the moors to the east of Garrogill that is not marked on the map. This I was thankful for as I had envisaged a battled through the trees. From the saddle between Cowan Fell and Ewelairs Hill it was a short descent to the landrover track than runs to the head of Dryfe Water. I glanced up to the summit of Loch Fell, its top being grazed by cloud, I would be climbing it the following day.

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The walk down Dryfe Water was a delight, autumn firmly in charge of the colour scheme.

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Dryfehead bothy was to be my home for the night and I approached it wondering if anyone would be there. You can usually tell if a bothy is occupied by the smell of wood smoke long before the bothy comes into view. There was no such smell as I approached the back of the bothy, the chimneys smoke free.

The setting is idyllic, it has a grassy lawn and some well established trees surrounding it, the burn a short distance away.

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It took a while for my eyes to adjust to the gloom inside. There is a room either side, one with a stove the other with an open fire. There is a small room in the middle just big enough for one person. I decided to stay in there, just in case a group of people turned up later that evening.

Water was fetched from the burn and wood sawed into useable lengths. The stove was soon roaring and water boiling for a coffee. I had packed some tea lights, so as night fell the room was bathed in a warm glow. With it being a Friday night I expected other people to turn up but no one came. The rain soon started and the wind picked up. I love being in front of a warm bothy fire when the weather is bad.

I only managed to stay up until 9pm before retiring to the single room to get comfy in my sleeping bag. All night the rain lashed the window and wind rattled the front door. This was loud enough to wake me up a couple of times, thinking that someone had come in. The downside to bothies on your own is your mind can play tricks, ghosts prowl lonely buildings.

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It is rare for bothies to have toilets (although there are a few that do) so my first ‘job’ in the morning was to take a long walk with the bothy spade………..

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The rain had cleared to a thick drizzle as I set off with the spade down the track. The burn was raging, foaming with brown peaty water. There was a constant drip of water from the trees, the long grass soaking my trousers. Back at the bothy I quickly packed up, no wet tent to contend with. Breakfast when backpacking is always bacon Super noodles and coffee, even better when you have a bothy table to sit at and a window to look out of.

The bothy was swept, the door closed and bolted and I set back up the way I had come the day before.

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The track climbs high onto the shoulder of Loch Fell which meant only a short pathless climb to the summit. The weather quickly closed in, a wall of cloud bringing stinging hail and gusty winds. Wrapped up in winter Paramo I was well protected from the elements.

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The route was along a high grassy ridge linking Loch Fell with Ettrick Pen. The weather was changing by the minute, clear blue skies would be followed by punishing showers of rain and hail. It was both exhilarating and hard work.

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The last shower of the day was the worst, a natural version of waterboarding leaving it hard to breathe when facing the weather.

As quickly as it came it was gone, leaving a few ragged clouds under blue skies.

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I had wanted to camp high to take advantage of the views, but the wind was far too strong for a quiet and comfortable night. I dropped down to the head of the Muckle Cauldren Burn hoping to find a dry flat patch, but everywhere was very wet. I followed the burn down its boggy course failing to find a suitable spot. In the end I descended all the way to where it intersects Glendearg Burn. There below a tin hut was a flat spot sheltered from the wind. The Enan was pitched in the fading light, stars appearing in the clearing sky.

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December 6, 2014

Sutherland ‚Äď bongo and bothies in the far north part 2

by backpackingbongos

I got up a couple of times in the night to add coal to the fire. It was snug in my sleeping bag, Reuben snoozing close by and the sound of wind and rain outside. The candles burned for hours giving the room a cozy flickering glow, driving the bothy ghosts into another room.

The room was dark and gloomy when I woke in the morning, grey leaden skies preventing much light getting through the bothy window. I got up and shuffled to my stove, my breath hanging on the cold air. The stove roared into life and within a couple of minutes I had a cup of hot coffee in my hands. I was dismayed to see that the rain was still falling, I once again began to worry about crossing the river and getting back to the van. Apart from my usual breakfast bacon noodles my food bag was empty. I think I would have to be trapped for a few days however before I considered eating the dog.

The buckets of water for the loo needed filling so I took a walk down to the river, my boots still soaking wet from the crossing the day before. Thankfully the river had reduced to half the size so I immediately felt much more relaxed. An enjoyable couple of hours was then spent in the bothy, eating noodles and drinking coffee before finally packing and heading off into improving weather.

The walk back to the Bongo was much easier that the day before, streams were once again confined to their banks and the surrounding mountains were revealing themselves.

 

Durness and beaches

Traigh allt Chailgeag was a worthy stopping point on the road to Durness. After a few days in the bleak Sutherland hinterland it felt like I was in different country. The wind had dropped, the sun shone and waves lapped gently at the shore.

I was going to pay Smoo cave a visit but as I passed I was put off by the general hustle and bustle. Ok it was hardly Keswick on a bank holiday Monday but after days without seeing a soul it all seemed too much. I did not feel ready to join the great washed. I still had bits of Sutherland dirtying my clothes and I was long overdue a shower.

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The shop in Durness was an Aladdins cave of treasure. They even had Arran Blonde which is one of my favourite beers. I hauled my bounty back to the Bongo and drove the short distance to Balnakeil bay.

A hefty shower meant that lunch was eaten in the van. An almighty bang suddenly rattled the windows and Reuben cowered in the passenger seat. I initially thought that it was thunder but noticed a group of people staring out to sea. I got out of the van just in time to see a low flying jet, then a plume of smoke on an island to the north of the Cape Wrath peninsular. Seconds later there was another mighty boom. The military were playing with their weapons.

It was too late in the day for a big walk so I spent a pleasant hour with Reuben walking the coast path leading to Keodale. The weather was ever-changing. Bright sunshine, white clouds, black skies, sun, hail and rainbows. The grass in the dunes rippled in the wind sending patterns into the distance. Reuben got the wind in his sails and sped across the dunes with a grin on his face.

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I later checked into the Sango Sands campsite in Durness, time for a shower and to top up the Bongo’s water supply. By then there was barely a cloud in the sky and I picked a grassy spot right on the cliff top. I double checked that the handbrake was on, otherwise it would be a very quick trip to the beach below. There was only a handful of other vans on the site, braving the weather in the far north during the school holidays.

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In the last of the afternoon light I had the beach pretty much to myself bar a couple of surfers. Reuben loves being on sand and raced around in huge circles, ripping up any seaweed that he could find.

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Later that evening after reviving myself under a hot shower I paid a visit to the ‘pub’ next door. I was looking forward to a pint and a good bar meal. I was bitterly disappointed, for some reason the Highlands don’t really do cosy country pubs. The best I could find in the land of Tennents pish was a pint of Guinness. My meal consisted of frozen chips, frozen scampi, tinned peas and some strangely artificial looking carrots. It was also not very cheap. I could not bring myself to stay for a second pint.

 

Beinn Spionnaidh 773 metres and Cranstackie 801 metres

With the best weather of the week forecast I was up and away early. With sunshine promised along with much lighter winds I was determined to get up a mountain. Beinn Spionnaidh is the most northern bit of significant high ground on the mainland and from looking at the map I thought it should give good views of the north coast. Adding its higher neighbour Cranstackie would give a short outing in terms of mileage but plenty of ascent and descent.

There is parking for a few cars a couple of hundred metres from the cottage at Carbreck. We took to the track that leads to the isolated farm at Rhigolter, almost reaching it before I realised that I had left my water bottle back at the van. I decided against the nearly two mile round trip to go back and collect it, I reasoned that water should be easy to find on the hill. We picked up the track round the back of the farm, setting off the dogs barking.

The track has been extended further than the map suggests, an ugly scar on the hillside I would imagine is too steep for most vehicles. We soon left it and climbed very steep grass slopes to Cioch Mhor and finally onto the plateau of Beinn Spionnaidh itself.

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The summit plateau is one of the rockiest that I have visited, acres of flat boulders which needed care to cross. It would be a real ankle breaker under a covering of snow. Even Reuben took his time, worried as they wobbled under his paws.

The view from the summit was even better than expected. The whole of the north coast was spread out beneath my feet, the mountains of Ben Loyal and Ben Hope rising from the flat moors. The wilderness of the Parph, a huge area of low hills south of Cape Wrath looked especially inviting under the low Autumn sun. I sat for a long time enjoying the views and solitude whilst I ate my lunch, cursing the fact that I had nothing to drink.

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With both hills being Corbetts there was a long descent and ascent to reach the summit of Cranstackie. The views from that cairn were more about the mountainous Sutherland hinterland than the coast. Foinaven dominated the view to the south, the hills to the south-east being comprised more of rock and boulder than vegetation.

We descended back to the bealach between the two hills and picked a way down very steep grass into Calbhach Coire, herds of deer scattering as we approached. It took a while to pick a way through the boggy coire and down to the farm at Rhigolter. With wood smoke coming from the chimney and lights from the living room it looked very cosy. By the time we had walked back along the track and back to the van it was pitch black. Time to find a good spot in which to spend another long dark night.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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