Woohoo! I've discovered how to add a few little tick boxes at the bottom of each post, to enable readers to record their reactions. Do please use them. I think I've identified the four most likely responses ...

Sunday, 18 April 2010

The 2006 Challenge, Day 3: Luipmaldrig to Lovat Bridge

I had a nice, easy start to the day - taking my time over breakfast and enjoying the comforts of Luipmaldrig bothy. As a result the three challengers who had shared the bothy with me overnight were away first. Not by a huge margin, it is true. But by enough that I was nowhere near them when they stopped to take photos of one another crossing the little footbridge over the River Orrin at GR 306480. It was one of these photos which was destined to become the cover photo of the TGO magazine which contained the report on the 2006 Challenge!

From the footbridge I had planned to ascend Carn a' Bhainne and then contour my way across the open hillside before ascending Meall Cosach and descending to find the path heading East towards Gleann Goibhre. But it was early in the day, my leg muscles weren't yet warmed up, and I did not much feel like ascent, so I postponed the climb by following the River Orrin down towards the reservoir. The waters of the Orrin Reservoir were low, and obviously had been for some time. Along its southern shore there was a great expanse of flat, deer-cropped turf which made for delightful walking, and I was soon motoring! Go high? Why bother? This was just superb! There were a couple of difficult places where the burns running down from the Northern flank of Meallan Buidhe needed to be crossed; but these were not impassible, by any means.

My original plan, before I became aware that Luipmaldrig was a bothy, had been to camp by the lower reaches of the Allt na Criche; now, instead, this became my first rest stop of the day. It is an impressive wee burn which comes crashing down off the mountains to the South and has to be crossed with care; but the crossing places are there alright, and there is a nice little stretch of turf which would indeed have made a fine camp site. I refilled my water bottles, and as I sat waiting for the purification tablets to work their magic, my three overnight companions from the bothy came into view, following the allt down and looking for a safe place to cross. It seems that they had been advised by their route vetter that the southern shore of the Orrin Reservoir was steep and difficult to negotiate, and that they would be better finding a route across the open hillside a little to the South. So I told them about the great expanse of billiard table-like sward which I had been walking across for the last 3 km, and for some strange reason I seemed to be the only one who was laughing his socks off!

We tried to find the path together, but it was far from apparent on the ground. So micro-navigation gave way to macro-navigation. I lifted my head, pointed to the dip in the skyline marking the col between Creag Bhainne and Crean na-h-Iolaire, and said "it goes through there". So saying, I tramped off in that direction and, in due course, we did indeed come upon the remnants of a path. Presumably, before the Orrin dams were built to create the reservoir, this path connected with the path up the Allt a' Choir Aluinn, and its existence actually had some purpose. Now, however, it was little used and was slowly fading from sight and the memory of men. So much so, in fact, that from time to time we would lose it altogether, only to find it again after a little way; and at its Eastern end, where its course was not at all apparent on the ground, we ended up straying that far North that we met the made-up track at the junction at GR 386487.

We paused again at the building shown on the map at GR 393485. This is a little hut with a concrete floor, belonging to Scottish Water (or Scotish Hyro Power or some such ... I cannot now recall which). It is kept unlocked, and it has a few chairs and the like. There was a big wrap of bottled water and one or two other little treats sitting on a table, and an honesty box for payment along with an exercise book and pencil with which we noted our presence and passing. In an emergency you could certainly use this hut as an overnight shelter; although I would not suggest that you plan to treat it as a bothy.

After the hut, on the well-made track, we progressed at our own, separate paces. My plan was to follow the track until just past Loch Ballach, then aim off South-East across the open hillside and collect the path down to Farley.

Easily said, and easily charted on the map. But alas! I still had not learned the lessons of my first Crossing, and I did not slip into full micro-navigation mode anything like soon enough. The open hillside which I was attempting to cross was seriously, SERIOUSLY boggy; I was unable to lift my head for long enough to keep a firm fix on "the high bit". So, picking my way carefully, trying to find bits of soggy ground that would actually bear my weight, it seems (and this is my later reconstruction, from the map) that I ended up atop Buchaille Breige rather than the unnamed top at GR 452460. I had not seen the path on the way up, but my route had been carefully chosen so that if this should happen I could simply overshoot the top and try to collect the path on the way down. So this is what I did. Which would have been fine ... if only I had actually been on the correct hilltop at the time!

Now, when the ground under your feet does not do what the map says it should do, then you really ought to stop and take stock, and try to work out just where the devil you are! Maybe even retrace your steps to your last known location. However, all I wanted to do was to get off that hillside and out of that wretched bog: so I just kept buggering on, as the only British prime minister to have ridden in the British Army's last great cavalry charge at Omdurman would have said. It was only when, having passed (and noted, without realising its significance!) the Dun Garbhlaich fort, I reached some steep outcrops which I simply could not get down safely (presumably those at GR 467464) that I went into serious WTF? mode. I tried to figure out where I was ... but failed. Largely because I was trying to find a location in grid square 4545 which fitted the landforms, and did not think to look as far afield as grid square 4646. But the only fort in grid square 4545 was Dun Mor ... and I was quite sure that this was not the fort I had seen!!

In the end, I decided simply to follow the stream down. This would, sooner or later, see me safely off the boggy hillside, no matter which stream it turned out to be. So I followed the stream down, fighting my way through some pretty impressive undergrowth in the woods between GR 466457 and 464454, and eventually found the track to Farley. From there, it was roads all the way, very pleasant back roads past Torgormack, Platchaig, Craigscorrie and Altyre then into Balblair. Then a very short stretch on the main road brought me to the Lovat Bridge camp site, where I found my three companions from Luipmaldrig had already pitched their tents.

The camp site proprietors drove us to Beauly (or maybe it was Muir of Ord) where we got a rather disappointing Chinese takeaway, which we ate in the camp site's licensed bar, washed down with plenty of good beer, and watched the tail end of Braveheart which was playing on the television.

No comments:

Post a Comment