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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Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Gather up Them 'Erbs

Everything is growing like crazy. Oregano sprouting up all over the place. Rosemary waving in the wind. Chives clumping here and there, not to mention a bit of sage and thyme.

 Gather up a handful or, rather, and armful and add it to your favorite bread recipe.

Four loaves here made with a sourdough starter have 120gm of chopped herbs between them giving a mild flavour - good for savoury or sweet. For a real herb taste use around 75gm for a loaf!

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

TGOC 2015: diary notes #5 Lochcallater Lodge to Inverbervie and Montrose

note: you can click on a picture to enlarge it (because of the accident on day 3 pictures are from my MotoG phone and not the Sony RX100 - hence the lower quality)  ...

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

Sunday 16th May Loch Callater to Clova

Bacon rolls start the day at Lochcallater Lodge
By 7am the smell of bacon drifts up the stairs, and guests as they appears are supplied with mugs of tea and bacon rolls.

Lochcallater Lodge down below
I planned to walk over to Lochnagar and then double back to Cairn Bannoch and Broad Cairn. This caused consternation to everyone I confided in, and lots of advice for alternatives. The idea of doubling back seemed unthinkable!

Loch Callater with Jock's Road
In any event with a poor weather forecast I was easily persuaded from being too ambitious and set off with a shorter route. The path up from the lodge is easy going with good views down to the Loch. Jocks Road continues southwards along the valley below while the high path traverses eastwards to Carn Sagain Mor (1047m).
Carn Sagain Mor with Les and Issy in pursuit

The ridge south from here joins Cairn Bannoch (1012m) and Broad Cairn (998m) and leads to a wide flattish area where a small building known as the pony shed marks a dividing of the ways. Loch Muick is off to the north and my path to the glen with River South Esk heads south.

Loch Muick from Broad Cairn

Les and Issy caught me up on Broad Cairn and a brief shower of hail obscures them as they rock-hop down to the pony shed.

Les & Issy obscured by hail (Pony Shed below)
I follow a well-made path leading down eventually through a few trees to the River Esk.
Bridge over upper South Esk River
Broad Cairn from Upper South Esk Glen
Throughout the trip I have seen very few walkers away from the roads, so I was quite startled when I turn a corner to be confronted with more than 30 people. It turned out that they were a bird watching party, guided by national trust / forestry wardens. They were on the look-out for golden eagles, but none appeared  while I was with them.

I could see that my planned high-camp spot was not really viable, but once down on more level ground around Glendoll lodge there were several possibilities. My shortened route however gave me time to reach Glen Clova Hotel. The weather was now fine and there was a great temptation to dawdle in the afternoon sunshine. This is the only place I was offered a lift on the whole trip. 3 cars stopped or slowed down, but I resisted.

I was lucky to get the last room in this small hotel. After a long soak in the bath and a rearrangement of  of my pack I headed to the bar to be greeted  by Carburn Chamberlain. We shared a long table and gradually more TGOers arrived for food and drink.

Carburn was camping across the road. The hotel had several outbuildings used as bunkhouses, and a few TGOers were staying there including Frederick who travelled Jock's Road from Lochcallater Lodge and Les and Issy.

This proved a comfortable hotel with reasonable food, and a guest ale amongst the typical Scottish brews. A newly installed wireless network failed to work which was a disappointment, but batteries could be charged, and the hotel phone rates were not too high.

Monday 17th May Clova to Tarfside

At 8:30 we were 7 or 8 TGOers in the breakfast room.

I got away by 10:00 and headed up the slope behind the hotel. It remained clear just long enough for me to see Carburn disappear over the top of the ridge around Loch Brandy. By 10:30 it was raining and snowing. This was wet and miserable walking on an indistinct path over rounded hills Muckle Cairn, Sulley, Burnt Hill, with occasional views towards the valley on the north side.

With the exception of one figure spotted around 2pm I saw no-one else all day until arriving at St Drostans. This place was heaving with TGOers. Where had they all come from?

Wet gear was everywhere. And welcome faces in the kitchen with a range of temptations from tea and scones, to cakes and fruit, and even bottles of beer. I was surprised to be offered a place for dinner -  I declined having stocked up in Braemar. Eventually they had four sittings for a baked potato meal.

The field in Tarfside was filling with tents making a good opportunity to see what is new, and what is recommended for these trips. The star for 2015 was a custom built tent / tarp from Colin Ibbotson (who appeared on my route exactly 1 week ago following the Scotland National Trail). Gordon Green was one of the first owners and was very enthusiastic. As he is an ex- Trailstar owner I felt I should list to him.

Another TGO institution is the 'club' at Tarfside. An anonymous building just across from the camping field is said to be owned by the Masons. At 7pm we passed through the door into a large room with a fire at one end and a bar in the corner. After signing-in we proceeded to buy and drink cans of beer and talk loudly to each other.

Along with Mike Akin-Smith I heard about the frustrations of a young runner - "we must walk so slowly and carry so much!". Sarah Morton was looking forward to some long mountain runs in the Alps this summer, and would not be doing the TGO again soon!

Tuesday 18th May Tarfside to Clatterin' Brig

Although it was busy last night, Tuesday is peak time and Tarfside would probably have even more TGOers today. After a freezing night I get away before most at around 7:30. The track north heads into the hills straight from the middle of the village.
View over Glen Esk from Craig Soales

After a kilometre or so a path takes off to the east up to Craig Soales, the first of several low tops on the ridge up to Mount Battock (778m). Someone ahead of me is walking a little faster and after an hour he has disappeared from view.

The hills here are reminiscent of the Monadliath - brown rounded terrain with land rover tracks heading along the valleys or ridges. There's a few sheep roaming free here which I've not seen in the Monadliath, and before long the barren hills give way to farmland.

I've made a route which heads north, then east, then south to maximise my time away from civilisation. There's two other TGOers with a similar idea. I see them ahead of me for a large part of the afternoon and I meet them briefly after they miss a turning allowing me to overtake.

First view of the sea east of Mount Battock
The last of the ridges pointing eastwards drops down steeply to a road junction and a cafe at Clatterin' Brig. Here the two TGOers are the last customers at closing time 4pm.

The Drumtochty Forest across the river to the east is my target for a camp. Skirting the woodland to the South I find the tracks different from my map, and after retracing my steps several times I end up beside a farm track into the forest at 7pm.
Camp Drumtochty Forest

In the field nearby I can see sheep with lambs and some feed supplement, which means a likely visit by the farmer. Sure enough as I'm eating in my tent an ATV goes past.

Wednesday 18th May Drumtochty Forest to Inverbervie

Camp Drumtochty Forest looking south
I determine to move off early to avoid another visit and start getting up at 5:30am. Before 6, as I am eating breakfast the farmer arrives again. We have a conversation through the tent wall. He has noticed walkers doing the 'coast to coast' around this time in other years and wonders if that's what I'm doing.

I strike off skirting the woods following the field edges until I eventually get close to the road. It is difficult to avoid much road walking on the last day, and my efforts lead to some unexpected diversions when I find the way blocked by a new industrial estate, and when I find the air misted by a chemical spray recklessly applied on a windy day by a farmer.

Angus Farmland: Daffodils for market
Angus Farmland: Strawberry planting
My target of Inverbervie is at the mouth of the Bervie river and, although there are no riverside paths marked, I determine to try to follow the bank for the last 7 or 8 kilometres. Although it is mostly agricultural land here, this mostly ends at a wooded escarpment which rises above the south bank of the river.
Secret paths above the Bervie Waters
Allerdice Castle

The weather is fine and although the going is easy, this is a great way to turn a two hour walk into a five hour adventure. In places there is the makings of a ancient track not shown on my map.

East coast is reached!
Eventually I come to the town where friendly locals offer cups of tea and a chat. I head straight for the beach to complete my journey before looking for the 'award winning' fish and chip shop. This is closed, and so I go to the Crown Hotel which a local has mentioned as somewhere I might find a room. This is a quiet place, uninviting as far as accommodation is concerned. While supping a drink I use their wireless internet and find that Gourdon just down the coast is more promising with an 'award winning' restaurant and a highly rated B and B.
Gourdon harbour

30 minutes later I enter the quiet town of Gourdon, looking for some guidance to the B and B. The first person I meet is TGOer Mike Akin-Smith who is looking for a bus to Montrose. He advises me to consult in the local museum and before long I'm established in a large and comfortable room at Lilybank Guesthouse B and B.

Irene explains that their 'award winning' fish and chip restaurant is closed for holidays and, taking pity on me, proposes that I share her husband's meal of place goujons, chips, and peas. How could I refuse? 5 minutes down the hill the Harbour bar provides some liquid refreshment.
Great hospitality at Lilybank B&B

Thursday 19th May Gourdon to Montrose

The coastal path is well signed at Inverbervie and follows a dismantled railway line. As you get further south, beyond Johnshaven, things are less clear. I hadn't seen a map of this area for a few months and this trail was not on my plan, so I was happy when I identified Montrose Lighthouse on the horizon.

Coastal path with Gourdon
 Although I start off in rain this soon stops and it becomes quite a pleasant walk. There are not many features of special interest until St Cyrus where the spectacular beach backed by high cliffs is breathtaking.
Coastal path near Johnshavon

This place is all the more curious to approach from the south because as you get closer you can see a steady stream a people popping out from the bottom of the cliff in the middle distance. They are all heading to the sea, then they turn about and head back to the cliff from where they came.
TGOer of course!
St Cyrus

Crossing their path seemed anti-social, but each one of them could also have headed north on the beach towards Montrose instead of up the cliff to the pub / bus / cafe.
Remains of salmon fishing St Cyrus beach

At the top end of the beach are the remnants of a fishery where the salmon were trapped in a system of nets as they headed towards their spawning grounds in the river Esk. Here also is the St Cyrus nature reserve with an area that has been reserved for nesting birds for many years. There is an information centre with coffee machine and toilets.

It is necessary to divert away from the coast to get across the river. The old railway bridge has be turned into a footway / cycleway. By keeping on this track it is possible to avoid the roads until reaching the town side of the golf links.

Once here it is just a matter of following any old blokes with backpacks or ladies to arrive at the Park Hotel where the TGO Controllers sit.

The Controllers get their say!

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

TGOC 2015:diary notes #4 Great Glen to Lochcallater Lodge

Wednesday 13th May Laggan Locks to Garva Bridge

(note1: click on a picture to enlarge it  ...

Push and pull the map in the window below to see the route (days 5-9) in blue. The route walked was slightly different from plan!
The hospitality at the Great Glen Hostel provided a welcome respite. Year by year they implement improvements to set it apart from the old youth hostel that is used to be. Most of the TGOers coming this way were here one or two days before me and a photocopied route is available showing the quickest way back into The Wilderness.

Across the road from the hostel is the South Laggan Forest which rises up the hills protecting Glen Turret. I ziz-zag up the forest track, then follow a path onto the open hillside until I reach a deer fence. I didn't find a crossing point but climbing over was not too difficult.

A couple of kilometres of open hillside leads to Glen Turret, with a track on the NE side of the river. I find myself on the opposite side expecting to use a bridge shown on my OS map - unfortunately this does not exist. Near to Brae Roy Lodge there is a high bridge across the gorge and then lower down a bridge carrying the road to the Lodge.

From here I take a track to Annat, a small house with a well protected garden and some new animal pens. Across the glen to the north are clearly visible the "parallel roads" - a phenomena created during glacial times, but from a distance looking like tracks contouring high up on the hillside.

Here there's a wonderful stalkers paths which traverses the hillside, eventually turning south following the Burn of Agie.The path reaches Dog Falls, a striking channel of smooth inclined rock which takes the river on a ziz-zag path over 100 metres or so. Here I wade across the stream following the route to the NE side and as I dry my feet I see, just a little higher upstream, a bridge.

The sun is now shining and this delightful and deserted valley inclines gently over 4 or 5 kilometres all the way up to munro territory. My original plan included a high camp here beside a couple of small lochans and a side trip up Creag Meagaidh. Today the lochans are just patches of snow and I am a day behind. The impressive view triggers my memory - that I can take pictures with my 'phone, as long as I can conserve the battery.
There's a lochan here, somewhere! Looking back towards Glen Tilt from the bealach below Creag Magaidh
 It is 4pm, not too late, and maybe this is an opportunity to catch up. I cut out the first munro and passing The Window head up to Stob Poite Coire Ardair. This is the top of a long ridge leading eastwards over 13 kilometres to the road that joins with Laggan Stores.
The Window

Stob Poite Coire Ardair summit

The crags below Creag Magaidh from Stob Poite Coire Ardair

This is pleasant walking, with firm ground underfoot and good views across the surrounding countryside. There have been two sets of footprints in the patches of snow on the route and I imagine I might catch sight of someone in the distance once I'm on the ridge, but I see noone. Probably the prints are from an earlier day.

By 7pm I am getting tired and try to avoid ascending yet another small top by traversing around on an imagined path. This diversion leads me to a small outcrop on the wrong side of the ridge, and the promise of rough and steep craggy ground to regain the top. At this stage in the day I succumb to the temptation to head downwards to find a camp spot.

With judgement impaired by tiredness I eventually pitch at 8pm on a 'flat' spot that was actually sloping. With Garva bridge in sight in the distance, the map shows that my misadventure will add 3km or so to my journey tomorrow.

Thursday 14th May Garva Bridge to Nuide

On sloping ground the problem with a Trailstar and a silnylon groundsheet that you spend the night trying to recover from sliding under the walls of the tent. Although cold the weather remained fair fortunately night.

As I decamped in the morning I could see some figures in the distance walking down the track to Garva Bridge. This was day 7 and I have seen no TGOers since day 1! Was this about to change?

With a new spring in my step I traversed the hillside across to the road and, after about 3 kilometres I caught up with two female first timers. By scanning the lists I think this must have been Elaine and Linda Duncan. They started on Sunday at Shiel Bridge and planned a short day meeting friends who would deliver their tent.
The road to Garva bridge with ridge to Stob Poite Coire Ardair

I moved ahead with breakfast in mind for Laggan Stores, just 7 km further on. I later found Tony and Jackie Ford famous for their honeymoon TGO trip a couple of years before. They were breaking camp with Sue Foss and Robert McKay. Two of them would follow me down to Laggan Stores while the Fords were keeping south of the River Spey.

I reached Laggan about midday to find the Stores still under renovation. A temporary operation was set up in a hut across the road, but with no running water and limited space all they could offer was drinks.

The shop was manned by 4 children who were all anxious to help an old walker. I had sent a parcel there with some food and maps. And they made me tea and found some cold orange drink, and some snacks. They explained that although they had spent eight years in Scotland they had kept their Canadian accent because of home schooling, which limited their contact with the local dialects.

Their mother was helpful too, and anxious to take note of what we might like to purchase next time when they are fully operational. It was comfortable to sit here and see to locals come and go, but I had to press on. A local bridge was closed to traffic which created a bit of a jam at this road junction. I'd been told it was no problem for walkers and I found that a large drainage ditch had collapsed, but I could just walk across an adjacent field to avoid the problem.

Following my vetter's counsel I took a road and track route towards Ruthven (Kingussie). My feet were sore from my boots and the road walking was a good opportunity for respite by using trainers. Because of this I skipped the plan to head down to Falls of Trium and Etteridge and took a slightly shorter option keeping on the road until it joins the A9.
Memorial at Glentrium

The small road from Catlodge was too busy with traffic and despite the pleasant surroundings it was good to get over (actually under!) the A9 and onto the track on the other side.
Path under A9 near Phones

This was sunny and pleasant walking with views of the Monadliath across the Spey valley to the left. By 6pm I was ready to camp and a field within sight of Kingussie provided an ideal spot. Shortly later Colin Tock came by on a repeat of his aborted trip from last year; he and Robert McKay - both deep in conversation, found time to stop and say hello before pressing on to their respective destinations for the evening.
Gen. Wade's Military Road between Phones and Luibleathann

It was a still and very cold night with ice forming on the surface of the tent. In the early morning I was surrounded by a great variety of different bird calls, and hares played in the field down below.

Friday 15th May Nuide to White Bridge

Camping at Nuide beside Gen. Wade's Military Road
This morning, within a short while, I am on familiar territory from a previous crossing - on the road passing Ruthven Barracks heading for Stronetoper bridge over the Feshie. Once across the river I stopped for a snack firm in the knowledge that I would not be taking the planned high route. I was still some hours behind schedule and felt tired and footsore.

As I munched my biscuits along came the first challenger of the day - Andrew Partington. I expected to see him again further down the valley.

A little distance along the path I found a mystery man repairing a bridge. He advised me to go into the bothy further down the valley and help myself to tea with fresh milk. I arrived to find hot water and tea and coffee and bananas. Already partaking was Andrew P. and Barbara Sanders from Burnley. I later learned that our mystery man stayed nearby in a tent and entertained challengers at the bothy in the evening with drinks and chocolates, turning a camp meal into a proper dining experience.

A couple of mountain bikers arrived soon after me but were in too much of a hurry to drink tea. I was to have them in sight for most of the day as they struggled to push their machines and a trailer over the path.

After a short break I headed off soon to be surprised by a number of people wading across the river towards me. Challengers of course! Apparently following the 'normal' route from Dalwhinnie.

I caught up with Barbara and we walked together for several hours. After 7 days with just my own thoughts to accompany me this made a nice change. I lost her when we stopped for a snack, for me a ten minute job whereas B. needed a brew and a chat with the Frenchman Cyril Huart who had pitched camp early near the bridge marking the highpoint and the transition from Feshie to Geldie Burn.

In spite of my stops the bikers were still just a few hundred metres ahead and this continued downhill until we reached the track along Geldie Burn; then they got on their saddles and peddled away.

As the slope started to head downwards I saw a figure following a few hundred metres behind me. I slowed to allow them to catch up, but they got no closer. So I speeded up again, and they seemed to speed up too. After 30 minutes of this caper I decided to stop and wait to ensure there was no misunderstanding. Along came not Barbara Sanders but a new actor Alan Jordan. He was on his 15th challenge and was looking for his camp site which soon appeared below the path.

My planned camp spot was by a ruined building designated Ruigh nan Clach on the map. Here my high route would have deliver me down to the river side. At 7 o'clock there were already 7 or 8 tents mostly Atkos here already zipped up against the wind. Two challengers were finishing food they had cooked in the ruined barn. I recognised Humphrey Weightman, half in and half out of his tent full of praise for some new German dehydrated meals.

By the time I was eating everyone else was zipped up (this is something you can't do in a Trailstar). They didn't see the snowy owl that almost landed on a tent before having second thoughts; or the heads of the deer that appeared above the rising ground a few yards away sensing that something was different here tonight.

Saturday 16th May White Bridge to Callater Lodge

I was first to leave at 7am along with Mike who was was starting ahead of his two companions on account his sore feet making him slow.

From here almost every flat piece of ground had one or more tents with TGOers.

For many TGOers the first bit of civilisation after the Cairngorms is Mar Lodge, run be the National Trust. Traditionally they welcome TGOers with accommodation, camping, and even meals. This year however there were other events taking place. Hospitality was limited to the use of a meeting room in a corner of the estate with a tea urn and some water biscuits. Best of all though was the use of a toilet and washbasin with hot water!

The room gave an opportunity to swap notes with Challengers from several directions, and to take stock before the road walk to Braemar. This was a convivial affair with Mick Croydon and David William with a few other people weaving their paths in and out of ours.

With the Fife Arms hotel closed for refurbishment there less reason to stay in Braemar. After a fried meal, an injection of fresh fruit, and a small resupply shop I found the road to golf course which eventually leads towards Glen Callater.

Traditionally the crowd gathers in Braemar on Saturday and part moves on to Lochcallater Lodge on Sunday evening. I had the path to myself that afternoon. It was so quiet that I began to doubt that the place was open and functioning.
Lochcallater Lodge

Biagio P. tests out his new hips at Lochcallater Lodge

But I didn't need to worry. On opening the door I was greeted warmly with a mug of tea. Would I be camping? or in the bunkhouse? or did I want a bed? We were 7 walkers there that evening, outnumbered by the helpers and visitors included the famous artist Denis Pidgeon. Also present was Biagio Pellegrini who was all set to take part in the challenge when, with only weeks to go he was called-in for a hip operation.

Plates of pasta were handed out. And some beers. Whiskies were tasted and savoured.

President in residence was the host Bill with a supporting cast of Mike, George, Ian, Ali, & Janine; walkers included Issy & Les Silkovski, Frederic Maillard from France, Maggie Herns and Vickie Allen.