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Wednesday, 30 September 2015

The 2015 Challenge, day 2: along Loch Mullardoch (8)

The path from this point goes up the Allt Taige for about a kilometer, gaining nearly 200 metres of height as it does so. I didn't feel like this pointless ascent, so I just followed the loch shore. It was a little rough at times, but none too difficult, and the little stand of trees at NH 194314 is charming. After a little over a kilometer, however, I came to what looked as though it might be the last viable pitch before the dam, at NH199315; so I stopped and I pitched my tent. I didn't feel remotely like cooking or eating, for some reason; so I just crawled into my sleeping bag without having any supper and was soon fast asleep.

The 2015 Challenge, day 2: along Loch Mullardoch (7)

Shortly before we reached the Allt Taighe I needed to attend to a call of nature, so I dropped back to be discrete about it; and by the time I caught up again with John and Norma, they were already across the Allt Taighe! They had only just crossed, but none the less!

John told me that they had crossed dry-shod, and pointed out the rocks they had used as stepping stones. They were the very last line of rocks before the river tumbled into the loch in a foaming torrent, and I didn't like the look of it. John assured me that they were good rocks and not at all slippy; but even so I was not comfortable making that crossing. Taking a tumble might be unlikely; but its consequences would be dire. So I told John that I would rather make a "wet" crossing a little further upstream, and he sportingly offered to stay and "spot" me across: an offer which I gratefully accepted.

So I went a little upstream, and found a place where I would be comfortable making the crossing. I took off my boots, socks and trousers, and put my sandals on. I put my rucksack back on, but without fastening the waist and chest straps; and I picked up my poles, but didn't put my wrists in the straps. Then I plunges into the chilly waters, and waded across.

Half way up I happened to look up at John, only to see that the swine had his camera out, and was busily collecting photographic evidence of my choice of walking underwear! They were a sky blue pair, and doubtless very photogenic; so I laughed it off and made John promise to e-mail me some copies so I could include the best one in this blog. Alas, my friends, he has not honoured his promise, so I shall just leave you to imagine the scene as best you can.

Safely on dry land once more, I put my trousers and boots back on (with a fresh pair of socks as a special treat), and we turned downstream. There is a little headland here, from which I took this photograph looking back to where the waters of the Allt Taige tumble into the loch. There was already one tent pitched here, and John and Norma decided to stop here as well. I decided to press on a little further, and so I bade them farewell and wished them well for the rest of their crossing.

The 2015 Challenge, day 2: along Loch Mullardoch (6)

I soon caught up with the couple I had spotted at the ruin, who turned out to be John and Norma Keohane. They were progressing slowly because Norma had rubbed some blisters, and they suggested that I should go on ahead of them. I was in no hurry, however, so I dropped my pace and walked with them for the next four kilometres or so to the Allt Taige. The views along the loch were pretty stunning, especially the Westward views. I took many photographs, of which this is just one.

The 2015 Challenge, day 2: along Loch Mullardoch (5)

I finished my lunch and left the ruin. The path now curved away from the loch as it crossed the headland below Meall Bac a' Chul-dhoire, and here it became indistinct and difficult to follow. Indeed, in the end I lost it altogether and despaired of ever finding it again, so I dropped down towards the loch shore and turned North, expecting to be able to collect it again at the bridge over the Allt Coire a' Mhaim (which is not shown on the map, but which definitely existed, or so I had been told). This route led me into some nasty marshy ground, but I eventually reached the allt and turned upstream. Just before I got to the bridge I found a lovely spot where I couldn't resist sitting in the sunshine for ten minutes or so. Then I refilled my water bottles, shouldered my pack, and used the two very sturdily built bridges to get myself across the Allt Coire a' Mhaim and the Allt Socrach.

The 2015 Challenge, day 2: along Loch Mullardoch (4)

I stopped for lunch at the ruin just beyond Am Mam. When it first came into sight, there was another couple of walkers just leaving it. I thought about pressing on to catch them up, but what was the point? I would still need my lunch, and they would want to keep going. So I sat by myself at the ruin, wondering what it must have been like for the folk who had once lived here. The dam had not been built, of course, so there was no loch back then; just a river running through the valley, and this a lonely croft perched a little way up the hillside half way up the glen. What a spectacular, if remote, place to stay, scratching a living from the soil and maybe raising a few cattle on what little grazing was available. Would there have been trout in the river? And maybe the occasional deer or hare from the hills? How different their existence must have been from mine; and yet, although separated in time by maybe two hundred years, we were united by the place. I sat where they may have sat, trod where they must have trod. And we had both taken meals in this place - they very many, but I just the one.

The 2015 Challenge, day 2: along Loch Mullardoch (3)

Once I had the path it was easy enough to follow, and I was soon at the path junction where I turned left (although not before a slithery fall on the wet grass resulted in my bent pole becoming even more bent: it was going to need to be retired soon, I realized, and quite possibly straight after this Challenge).

The path from the junction to Loch Mullardoch was easy to follow and good going, and the loch soon came into view. According to the map, there is no path between the Allt Coire Lungard and Am Mam; but in reality there is a path of sorts pretty much the whole way, and it was only occasionally that I lost its line. Even then, I soon found it again. I had heard all sorts of horror stories about the North Shore of Mullardoch, but really it seemed to be fine to me. Perhaps, I mused, it was because most people reserve it as an FWA, and only find themselves walking this way if the weather is against them. I tried to imagine driving rain and a strong headwind, the ground getting soft and boggy underfoot, the streams getting full of water ... and I concluded that yes, in those conditions it might not be such an enjoyable stretch of walking.

The 2015 Challenge, day 2: along Loch Mullardoch (2)

The second tent which had arrived after I turned in was indeed Greg's. He insisted he had arrived at about 9; but it must have been later than that or he would have found me awake. He said that I was already asleep (or at least not answering from within my tent) when he arrived. He did indeed make it to the summit of Aonach Buidhe, and how I failed to spot him coming down off the hill as I sat eating my supper remains a mystery, but there it is. He WAS on that hillside (and had been as impressedas I was by the magnificent cornice of the snowfield to the right of the safe descent route), but for all my looking I simply failed to see him.

Greg was some way behind me in breaking camp. I offered to hang about and wait til he was ready, but he said I should go on alone as I was ready to hit the trail and he reckoned he'd be at least another half hour, possibly an hour. I could have waited, but I got the impression that maybe he was hankering after a bit of time to himself in this wonderful and otherwise lonely spot, so I headed along the shore of the loch and started to angle my way up towards the little bealach to the North of Coire na Breabaig.

The ascent was nowhere near as difficult as it had looked from the far side of the loch, and the run-off cuts did not cause any real problems. They were not as deep as they had looked, and by the time I reached the top of the slope I really was wondering why I had been so bothered about them. I was not feeling like any high level heroics, however, and the thought of turning left up Meall Shuas and then tackling the snow-cpeckled upper slopes of An Socach, just to come back down again with only the one Munro to show for it, did not hold much attraction for me this morning. So I just headed straight forward, admiring the distant views of the West Benula Forest (seen in the photograph), and descended through the Coire na Breabaig until I found the path down the Allt na Criche.

The 2015 Challenge, day 2: along Loch Mullardoch (1)

When I woke the following morning and looked out of my tent, the day was clear, the light excellent, and the views along Loch Mhoicean were simply sublime. Another tent had appeared overnight, which I hoped was Greg's. But there was no sign of life from its occupant just yet, and I didn't want to disturb whoever it was just yet as they had obviously had a long first day. So I ate some breakfast, struck my tent, packed my rucksack, and then settled down to enjoy the moment. After all, moments like this are rare and precious. If I stayed low, I didn't have too long a day ahead of me, so there was no real hurry about hitting the trail. So I just lazed for a while and enjoyed the time, the place, and the weather. If my nine successful crossings to date had taught me anything, it was not to waste and opportunity such as this to simply enjoy the stunning landscape I was walking through.

Monday, 28 September 2015

The 2015 Challenge, day 1: Dornie to Loch Mhoicean (16)

As I was descending I had half expected to find Greg waiting for me by the loch shore; but when I got down I was the only person there. So I made my way round the end of the loch, looking for a suitable pitch, and eventually found a suitable little patch of ground with the most stunning views along the loch. So that was where I pitched my tent.

I arrived at my pitch at almost exactly 8 pm and, having pitched my tent, I changed out of my walking clothes, lit my stove, heated up a lamb hot pot for supper. As I sat eating it, I kept scanning the hillside, looking for signs of Greg descending to the loch. But I could see no sign of him. It looked as though he may have been benighted on the hill.

It had been a long, hard day and I was tired; so I turned in at 9.15 - almost exactly 12 hours after I had set out from the Dornie hotel. One day down, one Corbett ticked off. All going to plan.

I was asleep almost as soon as my head hit the pillow, and I slept well that night.

The 2015 Challenge, day 1: Dornie to Loch Mhoicean (15)

The east ridge descent took me between some pretty impressive snowfields with awesome looking cornices; but the ridge itself was clear of snow and the descent quite straightforward. As I descended, I studied the hillside on the far side of Loch Mhoicean. Whether I went high for the sake of a solitary Munro, or simply opted for my Fowl Weather Alternative route along the north shore of Loch Mullardoch, I was going to have to start by angling up that hillside from the North East end of the loch to the head of Coire na Breabaig. And what I saw didn't look too friendly, I have to say. A peaty-looking hillside with lots of deep cuts into it where the water runs off the slopes above did not look ideal by any means. It was going to be a difficult little ascent, I thought. But then, it was only a kilometer or so, and a hundred metres of height gain. It might be unpleasant at the time, but it would soon be behind me ...

The 2015 Challenge, day 1: Dornie to Loch Mhoicean (14)

I topped out on Aonach Buidhe at 7 o'clock. It was cold up there and I didn't want to hang about for long; but I did want to take a good look at the first two Munros of my following day's route, which can be seen behind the summit cairn in the photograph. My assessment was that An Socach was snowbound but viable. An Riabhachan, behind it, was a different matter however. It looked snow-bound, and not suitable for attempting with no winter equipment and no winter skills. Which was a shame, as I had hoped to tackle four Munros, but would only be able to do one at most. Was it even worth putting in the effort for that sort of a height gain, if all I was going to have to show for it was a solitary Munro and a lot of downhill knee? That, I decided, was a quandary to ponder in the morning. For now, my concern was to get down to my camp site and get set up for the night and fed. So I took a bearing for the East Ridge, and wondered whether Greg had cut and run rather than following me up. I hoped he had. He would take at least an extra half an hour more to get up here, and possibly more. And how would he be in descent with that monster pack? Would he have enough daylight, or would he be benighted on the hill? Well, whatever his decision - it was HIDS decision. That's the joy of being solo, and joining up with other solo walkers. You still both make your own decisions and do your own thing, even if you end up doing the same things together.

The 2015 Challenge, day 1: Dornie to Loch Mhoicean (13)

The ascent was a steep one, and I took it slowly and steadily with plenty of stops; but even so, it was clear that I was much quicker in ascent than Greg was. I stayed with him, but at about 500 metres he told me to go on ahead at my own pace. Normally I would have been very reluctant to do this, but it was quite clear to me that Greg had the experience to look after himself in the mountains. He knew what he was doing and he knew how to call it; and he could make his own decisions about whether - and when - to push for the summit or turn and descend. So I agreed, and I cracked on without him.

The 2015 Challenge, day 1: Dornie to Loch Mhoicean (12)

Leaving Iron Lodge, we crossed the An Crom-allt, and then chose a good looking spot to turn left off the path and start climbing. As we climbed, we looked back over our shoulders from time to time, to admire the views over Iron Lodge and Srath Duilleach to Loch na Leitreach. They were, it had to be said, rather spectacular.

The 2015 Challenge, day 1: Dornie to Loch Mhoicean (11)

We reached Iron Lodge (pictured) at 4 o'clock.

What's that, you say? We? Wasn't Greg going to turn off before then, to go to the Falls of Glomach?

Well, yes, that's right: he was. Only, we were so busy nattering while we walked, that he plain failed to notice his turning. (I noticed a bridge over the river off to our right, and vaguely wondered whether that mightn't be where he was meant to be going - but since he showed no sign whatever of being in any hurry to go there, I assumed not.) It was only when we reached Carnach that we realized Greg has missed the Falls of Glomach path - and when we realized that, I persuaded him to stick with me and bag a Corbett instead. He didn't take all that much persuading, and so we stuck together.

We took the opportunity to have a quick poke around at Iron Lodge, finding the couple who had left the hotel at 8.30 that morning already nicely ensconced for the night. We wished them well, and pressed on. We had a mountain to climb - and although we still had plenty of daylight, I did want to get back down in good time to make camp, have my supper, and wash up before the light began to fail.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

The 2015 Challenge, day 1: Dornie to Loch Mhoicean (10)

Soon even the sheep were scarce, and it was just the two of us and the track up the glen. I knew that Greg would be turning off soon for the Falls of Glomach, and I began to think about the way ahead. In particular, I began to wonder about the viability of the four Munros I was intending to attempt the following day. Looking to the distant mountains ahead of me, there seemed to be a lot of snow in evidence ... but today was a good day for going high, and hopefully from the top of Aonach Buidhe I would be able to get a good look at the ridge (or at least the start of it) and take a more informed view as to its viability.

The 2015 Challenge, day 1: Dornie to Loch Mhoicean (9)

Beyond the woods, the glen was still agricultural and the new spring lambs were very much in evidence.

The 2015 Challenge, day 1: Dornie to Loch Mhoicean (8)

Once we were across the fence (by whatever means) the path took us through the woods. There were one or two wet bits, but by and large it was a well made and easy track, and we made good progress.

The 2015 Challenge, day 1: Dornie to Loch Mhoicean (7)

We passed Faddoch on the far side of the river, and then we came to a wood. And at the edge of the wood was a fence ... and a gate. And the gate was too tight to get through with our packs on our backs. So I said "Ah, sod it!" and I climbed over the gate. And Greg watched me climbing over the gate, and he thought that looked a bit energetice for him, so he said "I'm not going to do that. I'm just going to pass my pack over this bit at the side, where the fence is down, and then I'll step over the fence in the same place."

And I looked at the fence, and I looked at Greg, and I looked back at the fence again. And I thought "Now why didn't I notice that???"

And then I thought ... and why hasn't Greg thought this through properly, either??

And then I said "Um ... if you're just going to step over the fence where it's down, why are you going to bother taking your pack off at all?"

And then we both laughed our socks off, and continued on our way ...

The 2015 Challenge, day 1: Dornie to Loch Mhoicean (6)

Eventually we reached the head of the glen, and the view down to Camas-luinie was just AWESOME. This is what the Challenge is all about. This is what Scotland is all about. This is just a little bit of heaven!!!

The descent to Camas-luinie, on the other hand, was the other side of what the Challenge is all about. There is a path shown on the map ... but is there a path on the ground?? Picking our way down through the heather, it didn't seem so! But, one way or another, we got down to the valley floor, where we stopped for lunch. Then we pressed on into Glen Elchaig; and Greg was grateful to be with an experienced Scottish hillwalker. He was, at times, a little anxious that it looked as though we were heading into private land. But hell, there's a right of access, there's a path shown on the map, and there's only one track on the ground heading up the glen. So that's what I took ... and Greg followed ... and we talked about history, and genealogy, and numismatics ...

The 2015 Challenge, day 1: Dornie to Loch Mhoicean (5)

... and Greg took a picture of me, which I now use as my LinkedIn profile picture.

The 2015 Challenge, day 1: Dornie to Loch Mhoicean (4)

As we progressed up the Glen, and it became clear that we would probably be walking together for some time, I took a picture of Greg ...

The 2015 Challenge, day 1: Dornie to Loch Mhoicean (3)

As we climbed the glen, I turned and took one last look back towards Loch Long. This was it! The 2015 Challenge: game on.

There were quite a few of us heading up the glen, but I found myself falling in with a first-time Challenger from the US, Greg Linstrom. Our paces were well matched, and we found we had a number of interests in common: genealogy, numismatics, mediaeval history, American history. We therefore walked together for kilometer after kilometer, discussing this, discussing that, discussing the other. As one does. We discussed our routes, and found that whilst our routes for today diverged, tomorrow they would converge again. For today, Greg was going to head off to the Falls of Glomach, whereas I was going to continue to Iron Lodge and then off to the left over Aonach Buidhe. But tomorrow, we both had our eyes set on the four Munros of the ridge to the North of Loch Mullardoch.

I worried about Greg, though - I really did. He was carrying 7 days' worth of food with him, and his pack was - well, massive. I mean, OK, so on my first Challenge I carried something like 22 kg on my back, all the way across. And this was Greg's first Challenge too, so perhaps he could be forgiven for not having the advantage of 9 crossings' experience ot guide him. But all the same ... 7 days' supplies??

The 2015 Challenge, day 1: Dornie to Loch Mhoicean (2)

As I said ... the weather on that first day was amazing, and the photos we took looking across Loch Long towards Camuslongart were simply sublime! All too soon, however, the road came to an end and the path continued inland, beside the River Glennan, gaining height the whole way.

The 2015 Challenge, day 1: Dornie to Loch Mhoicean (1)

After a very nice breakfast of kippers, I paid my bill and was away from the hotel shortly after 9. Most of the Thursday Dornie starters left at much the same time as me, although one eager couple had been away by 8.30. The rest of us took a few photographs of one another, as one does (and, obviously, although this one was taken on my camera, I did not take it), and then we headed North up Loch Long. It was a glorious day, really it was. The sky was clear and the sun shone down, and we all hoped that this weather would continue for the entire crossing. If only it would do that, I thought, then this would surely rate as the finest Challenge of all time. And what a thing to be able to say of my 10th crossing!!!

The 2015 Challenge: Getting to the Start (8)

Of course, there is only really one thing to see in Dornie, and that is Eilean Donan castle. So I went and saw that. I didn't attempt to gain admission (I think it was probably closed, in any event, by that hour) but just poked around the outside. And it was while I was thus poking that I had my first ever encounter with a peculiar device which may yet, I fear, come to be seen as the defining invention of the 21st century. I refer, of course, to that utter abomination: the "selfie stick"!!! As I returned from the castle I watched, totally bemused, as two Japanese tourists used this device to try to take a photograph of themselves in front of the castle (why didn't they just ask me to take it for them???)

Leaving the Japanese tourists to their own devices, I wandered off shaking my head in bewilderment at the peculiar things that some people will do, and found a nice place where I could wander down to the water's edge and ceremonially dip a finger in the water to signify the start of my 10th TGO Challenge. (I normally use a pole; but I had left them in my hotel room, so a finger would have to do instead. But at least this time I DID remember!!!) I then returned to the hotel in search of supper.

Supper was a langoustine starter, which was not particularly great, followed by an absolutely EXCELLENT rack of lamb. (I had not, you will note, learned the lesson of Acharacle 2011; and just as well too, for this rack of lamb more than made amends!!) As ever in small hotels in remote places, however, there was not much they could do in the way of providing me with a dessert that I both could eat and actually wanted to eat; so I settled for two courses and retired to my room. There had been a general election that day; but I was really just far too tired to want to try to follow the coverage of the results; and with a hard day tomorrow, I didn't relish the idea of sitting up late. The television, even when it was switched off, made an irritating noise and filled the room with a dull red glow; so I unplugged it and went to sleep.

The 2015 Challenge: Getting to the Start (7)

On the afternoon bus I met up with some other Dornie starters: Martin & Sue Banfield, and Byron Davies. The bus sped us rapidly along Loch Duich to Dornie, and before long I was checking in to the DOrnie Hotel, where I was to spend the night. Then, formalities out of the way, I headed out to poke around Dornie and see what there was to see.

The 2015 Challenge: Getting to the Start (6)

After viewing the museum, I went out onto the quay and took a photo of that bridge thing (over which, of course, I had walked the year I started at Glenelg ... ); and then I went to find some lunch and do a bit more shopping, before catching the afternoon bus to Dornie. The shopping I needed were all the things which I hadn't thought to buy while I was in Inverness, including tooth brush and tooth paste, some soap and a disposable razor ... because the sleeper overnight pack had not included any of this, and I wanted to be clean-shaven and presentable when I set off from Dornie the next morning. But at least I wasn't tryin gto buy a set of replacement maps ...

The 2015 Challenge: Getting to the Start (5)

In Kyle, of course, I took the photograph which absolutely HAS to be taken - looking down on the station from the road bridge, with the kyle and Skye in the background. This photograph (or one very similar to it) has, of course, been taken many thousands of times over the years, and no book on the railways of Scotland, or the Highland Railway, or great railway journeys of the world, or remote railways, or ... you get the idea, is complete without it. In earlier days the port was much busier, the track layout more complicated, the trains rather longer, and an immense fish traffic very much in evidence. Nowadays it is, perhaps, somewhat forlorn by comparison ... but at least the line is still there. This was far from certain back in the 1970s because, although the line escaped the "Beeching Axe", there was nevertheless talk of its closure and a tremendous fight was required to keep it open.

But keep it open they did, and now the Friends of the Kyle Line do all they can to make sure it stays that way. They have opened a wonderful little museum in the station buildings, too; and having taken my photograph, I returned and spent some time looking around this.

The 2015 Challenge: Getting to the Start (4)

I shared the journey with two other Challengers: Ken Macleod, who was travelling all the way to Kyle and then on to Sheil Bridge by bus (as I had done the year I started at Sheil Bridge) and Kirsten Paterson, who was travelling only as far as Plockton. (Really ... I can't help thinking that if you're going to start at Plockton, you should travel all the way to Kyle and then ride back to your start point ... but maybe that's just me and my love of trains!) The two of them were splendid company, and the journey seemed to pass in a flash. Which is a shame, in many ways, because the Kyle line is one of the great railway journeys of the world, and you really want to it take its time ...

The 2015 Challenge: Getting to the Start (3)

I teamed up with Dave Skipp for the Great Inverness Shopping Expedition and, naturally, our first port of call was Artysans café, where we enjoyed another breakfast. Hobbits have nothing on us, I can tell you!! Then we headed off around Inverness, to see what we could buy.

Well, I had several little things on my shopping list ... and I was able to get them all. All, that is, except for the Yeti Gaiters. Nobody had them. But in view of the likelihood of snow fields to contend with at some point or another, I thought I really ought to have some gaiters (I long since decided I could live without them in normal summer walking conditions), so I bought a pair that was available, and settled for that.

Then it was back to Inverness station, for the 11 a.m. train to Kyle of Lochalsh ...

The 2015 Challenge: Getting to the Start (2)

Well, as a new operator had taken over responsibility for the Caledonian Sleeper operation, I'm guessing you'll all want to know how it went? Overall, I think they're getting there - but there are a few things they've not got quite right. The bed linen was better, and they give you two pillows not one (at least, they do if you're travelling first class), and that's really great. But the overnight pack - well, that needs a bit of a rethink! It contained a wash cloth, a pair of bed socks, a pair of ear plugs, an eye cover, a little bottle of Arran Aromatics hand & body lotion, a little bottle of Arran Aromatics hair & body wash, and a little bottle of Arran Aromatics pillow spray (what????). No tooth paste, no tooth brush, and nothing that appeared to recognize that many travelers would be men, who might wish to shave in the morning. Give them time, though, and I'm sure they'll get it right ...

The breakfast menu, as ever, was not designed with the needs of a gluten-and-cow's milk intolerant grump like myself in mind and, inevitably, I was struggling. However, the steward agreed that they could do me the smoked salmon and scrambled egg without the scrambled egg and - get this! - it's not all pre-prepared and packaged so what was delivered to me in the morning actually WAS smoked salmon and scrambled eggs without the scrambled eggs! There was a CHOICE of fruit juices, too - so I asked for, and got, apple juice. So the catering operation is certainly getting things right, too.

Well, we arrived in Inverness, as you do, and a few of us Challengers stood around taking one another's photographs to celebrate our achievement in making it this far, and then I headed off to do a bit of shopping. In particular, I wanted to try to find some of those gaiters which cover the whole boot (Yeti Gaiters, I think they're called), as I had a feeling I might be wanting them this year. I hadn't been able to find them in London (or rather, I had managed to find them ... but the pair that said it was Extra Large, suitable for sizes 9 - 12, was clearly nothing like; and as I tried to cram my modest size 10 foot into them, with no joy whatever, I had really begun to feel a certain empathy for the Ugly Sisters as they tried to shoe-horn their feet into that glass slipper ...). I hoped, however, that in Inverness I might have a somewhat greater chance of finding some.

The 2015 Challenge: Getting to the Start (1)

So ... 7 p.m. came, and I shut down my computer and set my e-mail out-of-office message. Or perhaps I did it in the other order. But you know what it's like with an evening in the Bree Louise ... by the time you come out, you cannot always remember everything that happened before you went in! But anyway ... I locked all my confidential papers away, shouldered my pack, hung my map cases around my neck, picked up my poles, and strolled up to Euston. Or perhaps I took a taxi. Like I said, after an evening in the Bree Louise ...

All the usual suspects were there; but I managed to drop my pack, prop my poles in the corner, put my map cases on a window sill somewhere, and enjoy a really good supper of gammon egg & chips, and a pint or three. Or perhaps it was four. Or five. Like I said, after an evening in the Bree Louise ...

Well, the time for the Sleeper to depart drew near, so I shouldered my pack, picked up my poles, and headed off to Euston. I got settled into my berth, then made my way to the lounge car to spend my vouchers on a wee dram. Or two. or three. (OK ... so the vouchers wouldn't stretch to three drams ... but I had some money with me too, and wasn't averse to spending it). I found Sloman already there, and Lambert (or was it Walker? Or perhaps all three? Like I said, after an evening in the Bree Louise ...) and, he being a companionable sort, we were soon deep in conversation as the appointed hour for the train to depart drew near.

About five minutes before departure time, Sloman looked out of the window and said "Is that your maps?" For there was a demented madman, running up and down the platform, frantically waving three map cases in his hand.

"Oh no," said I. "My maps are in my berth, with the rest of my kit."

But, just to be sure, I returned to my berth to check everything was as it should be and ... no maps! So I hurried to the door, retrieved my maps, and thanked the madman profusely with about three minutes to go to the train's departure. I then returned to the lounge car, where, naturally, nobody cracked a single joke about it. At least, not one that I remember. Like I say, after an evening in the Bree Louise ...

Not that it would have been that much of a disaster if I had arrived without my maps, in any event. All that was in there was my maps from Dornie to Tomich, and my route card. My next set of maps were waiting for me in my resupply parcel which, even then, was winging its way to Tomich. It would undoubtedly be possible to buy replacement maps in Kyle of Lochalsh. And, if the worst really did come to the worst, I was sure that I should probably be able to find my way from Dornie to Tomich without the aid of a map. I would probably have had to miss out all the mountains I'd planned to do along the way, of course ... but with all the snow we had been warned about, it was in any event far from certain that I would be doing any of those mountains anyway.

And so the train pulled out of Euston, complete with me, my pack, my poles AND my maps. And after a pleasant evening and a few drams in the lounge car, I retired to my berth and enjoyed a pleasant snooze as the train hurtled north through the night.