The road to Ben Nevis Nov 2009

The road to Ben Nevis Nov 2009
The road to Ben Nevis Nov 2009

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Thursday, 28 June 2018

TGO Challenge 2018 - Oban to Kinnabaer: #3 from Pitlochrie

The map shows the route tracked from 30 minute beacons sent by a Spot satellite tracker and captured by Phil Sorrell's Social Hiking site.

  Push and pull the map in the window below to see the route in blue.

Pitlochrie was planned as the first night indoors. I had tried to find somewhere earlier, but without luck. A room give a chance to regroup - to dry out, to wash, and check over gear. With fine weather however the 7 nights of wild camping did not generate much work and arriving in the early afternoon allowed me to enjoy the ambiance of the Backpackers Hotel and relax with some fruit;-)

Chris Townsend is my guide to Scotland and I think it was his book of this name that extolled the virtues of the riverside walk from Pitlochry towards Kilicrankie. It is a pleasant way to leave the town - on a path shared mostly with a few dog-walkers who makes way to families as you get closer to the Kilicrankie Visitors Centre.

Across the road there's a track into the hills.

In the middle of nowhere, beyond the end of the track there's groups of home-made picnic benches.
The slopes leading to Carn Liath are visible in the distance and navigation across to the main path up from Blair Atholl is easy; not visible on the map are the grazing sheep and cattle that provide an even sward for marching across.

The group of young people I follow are heading up the valley and I turn off to the beginning of the ridge. It's 1 o'clock and someone has just completed the 3 munro round having started at 5:30am. There's a good but steep path up and I am passed first by some runners, then a family with small children.

On the col before the path ascends the second munro there's 5 or 6 people in a conflab. Someone has gone missing. Friend Linda has been waiting for Maxine for a while. What should she do? Difficult to know really - the weather is fine and clear, the path is straight forward, and there's a number of people doing the round.

Its easy to dwell on this and, moving slowly, I decide to skip the third munro of the Beinn A'Ghlo group (where I might find Maxine) and head down to Glen Tilt to camp. Something, maybe my reflection on the lost walker, makes me a little careless in plotting my trajectory. What should have been easy turns into a nightmare as I scramble down a steep stream-bed - a recipe for double exhaustion not to mention some hours delay.
Scrambling down was not fun!
 Eventually I reach level ground by the river and a short walk leads to the bridge where I intended to descend. A small tent is already pitched and closed up for the night. I set up nearby and welcome some food and a good rest.

I was camping at the bottom of Luib Mhor, having descended Torran nan Caillach by mistake. The next morning I was soon opposite An Lochain where I would have ended if I had traversed the 3rd munro Carn nan Gabhar. As I pass, someone coming from that direction is preparing to cross the river towards me.
A walker preparing to cross River Tilt

The falls of Tarf, un-dramatic but pretty with the Bedford Bridge soon appear; and then the crossing which will take me to Fealar Lodge. Here a couple of campers observe that 'everyone except us' seems to be doing the TGO coast to coast walk. Where is everybody? I haven't seen a TGOer for days!
Bedford Bridge

Falls of Tarf

As I approach Fealar there are two walkers moving slowly, looking unsure of the path. This turns out to be TGOers John Arlington from Washington and his English companion. They are heading my way, but have a room booked at Spittal of Glenshee - some distance before I plan to stop, so after a chat I lead off.

Loch nan Eun
There are a couple of munros on my plan for today, but I demur. Although walking faster than the colleagues I have just passed, I am too slow to reach my target over the mountains so I follow my FWA along the glen. Today is cloudy and cooler and Loch nan Eun is grey and desolate.

I pass the 'Activity Centre' where I expect some TGOers to be staying tonight - the sign says 'Cafe Closed', 'No Vacancies'. A little later I explain to a local where I intend to camp - "its as good as anywhere if you don't want facilities!". This seemed an odd response, but I learned the next day that this was probably the manager of the Activity Centre, and actually there were vacancies that evening.

Spittal of Glenshee
The bowl-like valley is rich with livestock; it is a shame that there is also much black plastic - on the fences, in the soil, in the abandonded buildings.

The ground around Loch Beanie is rougher than I imagined but there's a fine spot by the boat hut. In the morning I see there are also possibilities by the beach at the east end of the loch.
The beach at the east end of Loch Beanie

It is a pleasant and quiet spot and I prepare my food to the 'plop' of fish jumping for insects. Birds are busy late into the night and I wonder if my presence has interupted their routine.

Most days I've been challenged by the distance planned, and I spend some time studying tomorrow's route, trying to shave off a few kilometers.

The gaelic names of hills in the west have given way to some quite odd sounding titles. Today I will navigate over Finalty Hill, Mayar, Driesh, and Hill of Strone.

I find a slight shortcut along a path attractively named Spying Hillock. This is pleasant walking out of Glen Isla - futher south and there'd be two other glens to cross, but here after a few hours I am high above Glen Clova.
Spying Hillock looking south
Spying Hillock looking north
 Near Driesh there are a few people on day walks coming from the visitors centre down below. The valley walk is long, on road and I planned to follow the hills until the Clova Hotel come in sight, then head down. This plan worked fine, although the route down was a bit rough and pathless.
Driesh viewed from summit of Mayar

The ridge above Glen Clova
The ridge above Glen Clova

Clova Hotel is strategically placed for TGOers, 2-3 days walk away from Montrose. They used to have a bunkhouse as well as normal hotel rooms, but this has been redeveloped to provide extra en suite rooms. These were in use for the first time - mine was large and comfortable.

Clova Hotel - better than a bunkhouse?
The bar meal was a comfort too, especially as I was one dinner short in the last parcel I picked up. Ther were also a few disappointments:-  very poor wireless, some snags in my room, and no breakfast before 8am. I was offered the alternative of a packed lunch to eat in my room.
Glen Clova from the path to Loch Brandy

For many there are 3 days left, with the next stop at Tarfside one of the most sociable points on the whole of the TGO. This would be followed by two short days to arrive at the coast. My plan is to continue walking beyond Tarfside to camp somewhere near Edzel on the River North Esk (this is the first time I noticed that at Clova is the River South Esk).
Navigation challenge with path markers

I was first to leave the hotel at 7 am and walked up the hill right into the wet cloud. I've been here before in these conditions and navigation is not easy. This time I notice small markers on the route, and with my compass out and regular checking it goes well. Eventually I recognise a place where previously I, and some other TGOers had trouble, walking back and forth in the mist. On the map  the path seems to follows the ridge, but on the ground the path is invisible, and the ridge splits in two. With only a few meters visibility it is a bit hard to grasp this.

Once on Wester Skuilley, however, it plain sailing - the cloud lifts, the path becomes a track and the sun begins to shine again. I keep high over Burnt Hill and Cairn Caidloch to descend at Gleneffock farm with the familiar view of Rowan Hill across the valley below.
The last hill, down to Glen Esk

The bridge at Gleneffock Farm

There's a track on the south side of the river which becomes more definitive beyond Gleneffock. As I look north towards Tarfside I can see a couple of small figures setting up tents up on the village green.
Tarfside village green
 This landscape looks friendly enough on the map, but it is monopolised by livestock and birds.
 Walking to the shrill cry of lapwings a few feet overhead it a novelty at first, but several hours of this is too much.  At least there's oyster catchers and curlews that occassionally relieve the monotony. The sheep and cattle in the fields make camping a bit difficult. I eventually find a spot a little before Keenie and set up camp in quieter corner.

The next morning - as track becomes road, a farmer pulls over on his tractor to ask if I am doing the 'coast to coast, because it is that time of year'! Before long I am in the friendly looking town of Edzel - I know several TGOers are staying at the hotel here - and then North Water Bridge where, at 10am the campsite is empty of TGO tents.
There's salmon in that water!

Two locals on the bridge explain that a lot passed by at about 7am.

The road walk to the coast is tolerable; the last 5km or so could have been on footpaths, but unfortunately I missed a turn-off. In compensation I find hot soup and sandwiches at the post office in Hillside.

The beach at Montrose is a little bit south of my planned destination. This is a fine location though and a fitting place to end a great walk!

Thursday, 21 June 2018

TGO Challenge 2018 - Oban to Kinnabaer: #2 from Glen Etive

The map shows the route tracked from 30 minute beacons sent by a Spot satellite tracker and captured by Phil Sorrell's Social Hiking site.

  Push and pull the map in the window below to see the route in blue.

This is day 3 - there is light rain, and clouds obscure the top of Ben Starav, but in the the 3 or 4 hours it takes to get there this disperses leaving clear views all the way the the hills of Mull in the West. Snow on the northern slopes glisten in the sunshine.

At the start of the day I was pleased to know that there was just 14 kilometers of ground to cover. Now, at one o'clock, I was dismayed by the realisation that I had only covered 3 km on the ground and 1000m in elevation in almost 4 hours. The ridge ahead twists and turns into the distance with the planned camp spot beyond the furthest mountain on the horizon seeming a challenging distance away.
Planning and resolve does not compensate for fitness and not for the first or last time do I regret my lack of preparation. A walk can be more enjoyable if it is relaxed and done at a level somewhat lower than capabilities allow.
Looking back to Ben Starav
The ridge heading eastwards with camp spot by the far horizon

There is always some up-and-down along a ridge and without much mountain walking practice I was finding this exhausting, so I was pleased to agree with myself to stop a bealach early. Below Stob Coire Albannaich is a wide area with plenty of water and some flat land.
Orientating of the tent can be difficult in a high pitch - the back should face the wind, but on a  bealach this often comes from all directions as it is deflected from nearby cliffs. Here was no exception, but fortunately the problem disappeared and the wind dropped as it became dark.

The dead grass has patterns - like runnels or routes between small holes in the ground. I've seen these before in Norway during a 'lemming year'. I wonder if they were made by this animal or another last year and now abandonded?

After a quiet night I resume my walk along the ridge disturbing a few ptarmigan on the way. The end is marked by Stob Ghabar with a scree run down to a corrie between this and Stob a'Choire Odhair from which there's a great path down to the valley.
From summit of Stob Ghabar
Stob a'Choire Odhair from Stob Ghabar
Having met a few people on the way up I'm in a reflective trance as I descend and, much too late, I realise I have gone a long way past the point at which the path heads down from the ridge, so I miss my last munro of the day. There's a rough but not difficult descent to join the path in the valley and then a long but easy walk to the Inveroran Hotel.

Victoria Bridge, a short way before the hotel, is a favourite camp spot for those walking the West Highland Way and at 4pm there are already a few tents pitched. More walkers are heading that way as I order my drink at the hotel and collect a food parcel. The hotel was fully booked when I contacted them earlier in the year and there's been no cancellations so I need to camp.
The WHW walkers is a mixed crowd, with different behaviours and expectations from 'wild camping' - for example the group I donated my extra food to had their bags carried for them from their previous stop and were loading up with beer and cocktails before investigating the campsite. Rather than move back to Victoria Bridge, I head on to find somewhere by the Loch Tulla. There's not many opportunities but I do find a spot where I can enjoy the bird life on the water in peace. 

A short distance along the road is Bridge of Orchy where I find more WHWers starting their day. As I pass under the railway the sleeper train from London draws in. My route goes into the hills behind the station and suddenly I am alone again on the trail.
WHW campers at Bridge of Orchy

Looking west over Bridge of Orchy to Stob Ghabar
My plan has a long contour around to the ridge upto Beinn Achaladair. It is so easy to plan, but often painful to walk on such a traverse.  Slow going, painful on the feet it was a long time before I got to the start of the ridge.

Day 4 Summit in the mist
The top was in cloud all day, so no views and the compass was needed to navigate down from Beinn a' Chreachain. I had determined to visit the ancient monument Tigh nam Bodach - but without knowing what I was looking for I needed the GPS to locate it - requiring a bit of backtracking.  "The house was the home of the Cailleach (Mother Goddess), the Bodach (old Man) and the smaller Nighean (the Daughter), while two smaller children remained inside the house. The Creator Goddess only lived in her house from May 1 to October 30, from Beltane to Halloween, the Celtic festivals that mark the beginning and end of summer."
Tigh nam Bodach

After 8 hours I have traveled just half the distance on my plan and some drastic countermeasure is required. Forgetting the rest of the hills for the afternoon and those on the plan for the next morning I follow the track along Loch Lyon and then the road to my FWA camp spot. The track is well made and busy with ewes and their and lambs which provide continuing interest.
At the east end of Loch Lyon - Pubil

It is evening when I reach Pubil and the road. Here I find Sandy Millar nodding off in his distictive tent, a red Laser Competition. A short chat reveals a couple of other TGOers on the far side of the river.  My planned camp spot is 3.5km further on and I head off down the Glen seemingly absent of people, but full of sheep. 

Ready to drop, I reach the bridge across to where I hope to camp - to be confronted by a sign "Strictly No Camping". Too knackered to take notice I sneak over and put my tent up. I am on the edge of a small plantation which looks in poor condition and with a large dead deer lying just by the fence, it seems far from the nature reserve implied by the sign.
The fine weather continues the next day and I set off around 8, following another TGOer who I saw powering down the road across the river as I ate my breakfast. I dislike road walking, but this is pleasant in the sunshine and at one point I imagine I see an otter running along the road ahead of me before turning off to the river bank.

I miss a small diversion past Meggernie Castle which might have been interesting and after almost 3 hours on the road I reach Innerwick where to my delight is 'The Glen Lyon Tearoom and Post Office". I'm not on my planned route, so this was quite unexpected and I stop for a cold drink and a large sandwich. Strangely, although I was short of food, it didn't occur to me to buy something here until I was well on the way again! 
 There's a well-made track leading up over the hills to Loch Rannoch on the other side. I follow to the highest point, then rejoin my planned ridge route, heading for the top of Carn Gorm. I had been afraid these rounded hilltops would be wet and tuffety and make difficult walking, but this was far from the case. Although there is some heather to overcome on the sides, the tops are firm and carpeted with a mixture of stunted heather and moss - rather like deep pile doormat.

A hundred or more deer move across my path in three large groups as I work my way up to the ridge. When the first top comes in sight I see a human figure; good visibility means easy navigation and allows me to keep him in sight as we both move eastwards towards Schiehallion. There's 4 munros here in a group and I'm happy to traverse 3 of them, the last being Cairn Mairg. 

From here I hope to reach the shielings below Schiehallion for a camp. My 1:50000 OS map does not have enough information however to guide me properly, and by the time I get out my mini Harvey Ultra map of this area with its excellent detail it is too late (incidentally the similar Glen Coe map covered my earlier ridge walk at 1:40000 too).

Ben Lawers & Schiehallion
 I am already desperate to stop and find a stream bed with some flat areas between the heather. 

In the morning I quite quickly reach the wide flat area that was my original target for a camp spot. I expected to find others here but it was deserted - except for a fox trotting purposefully across my line of sight. I didn't see the cave shown on the map, and the route to the western end of Schiehallion seemed pathless. Gaining the rocky top I could see to the east some early starters coming towards me.
Shielings below Schiehallion

Back towards Cairn Mairg
Schiehallion summit looking east

Schiehallion contributed to the World's understanding of Newton's Universal Gravitational Constant
 This would prove to be the busiest mountain I have ever seen in Scotland despite not being weekend. On the long way down I passed 30 or more people of many nationalities on their way up. The top is very rocky and the first km or so is slow going, then there is a very well made path down to the carpark at the road.
looking back to Schehallion

There's a line of hills reaching towards Pitlochry and the gateway track takes a bit of road walking to reach. The weather is hot and the legs are weak. A rare (for me) brew is just what's needed to get me along to the lime quarry at the end of the track and Farragon hill which provided the revised target for tonight.
Below the hill are a couple of lochans which in reality are not as inviting for a campsite as the might appear on the map. As usual something works out - a flatter bit of ground appears with slighty less heather, and before long I'm cooking up the second half of my last dried meal. 

I'm happy in the knowledge that I have adjusted my route enough to allow a few hours break in Pitlochry before evening time. The weather so far has been fine, so drying and adjust gear will not be necessary. Just a little bit of washing and procuring some gas are the only chores on the menu.

A few metres away is the next track and I am on the way at 8 o'clock. Within minutes I am caught up by Dean from Devon. He walked the hills south of Loch Lyon (the Ben Lawers) and started walking a few hours earlier than me. We spent a pleasant few minutes together before our paths diverges - he on the track towards Blair Atholl, me pathless toward Pitlochry. These lower hills provide fertile ground for heather everywhere, so 'heather bashing' it is for the next couple of hours.
The first view of Pitlochry

The approach to Pitlochry is plesant down grassy slopes yellow with primulas and giant trees in Clunie woods.
Backpackers' Hotel Pitlochry
I had a room booked in the Backpackers' Hotel which is usefully central in the small town. Arriving before reception closed at 1pm I got my room early with plenty of space to sort through my food parcel and time to do a bit of local shopping too. I expected the streets to be thronged with TGOers, but no, there were plenty of tourists but of the more conventional variety.