Saturday, 31 October 2015
I reached Dalbeg by 6.30. Alas, it was a locked cottage, not a bothy. There was already a tent pitched in the lee of the cottage, occupied by another Challenger, Dave Williams. He kindly shared his Tobermory with me - a welcome dram at the end of a hard day.
It was raining, and I didn't fancy pitching my tent in the rain. So I sat in the lee of Dalbeg cottage for a while, waiting to see if the rain would abate. It showed no sign of doing so, however, and eventually I decided that I must pitch in the rain or sit out in the rain all night. When you put it like that, there's no real contest, is there?
I was feeling a bit weary, so I stopped for a nap in a grouse butt. There is always something wonderful, I think, about snoozing in the outdoors, in your waterproofs, with the rain pitter-pattering onto you but not really bothering you. I was in no hurry. I had planned this day upon the assumption that I might not get across Loch Ness until noon. The plan was to get to the top of Carn na Saobhaidhe, then drop down to the south east and camp by the upper reaches of the Allt Odhar. But it was early afternoon, and I only had 5 km or so to go - so no hurry here at all.
Now construction tracks are laid with plenty of aggregate to give a hard footing for the construction vehicles, but the top surface tends to get chewed up a bit by those very vehicles and is not all that walker-friendly. The vehicles also tend to put down a lot of mud and clay, which makes it a little slithery at times. With care, however, I was able to make good progress.
As I gained height I was able to stop and take this photograph looking into Conaglenn, with Creag a' Chliabhain to the left. Shortly after I took it, a land rover came up the track, and the construction worker who had assured me I was fine to use the track stopped and asked if I'd like a lift up to the top. I smiled and told him that no, that was fine, I needed to walk the whole way, and off he went. Then I resumed my steady trudge, onwards and upwards.
Now, if the farmer had tried telling me where I could and couldn't go, then I should have told him about the Land Reform (Scotland) Act. But he didn't. He asked: and that makes all the difference, as far as I am concerned. I am not into messing with anybody's livelihood, and those ground nesting birds are important to him. So I agreed to go via Easter Aberchalder. This was my FWA in any event - through Conaglen and on the track up the Allt Uisg an-t Sidhein. It was a few kilometres further, but the going would be easier, and I had oodles of time in hand as I had had to take the early morning boat. So I turned around and headed to Easter Aberchalder.
The road along Loch Mhor is small and narrow - but it is the only road available to the contruction crews building the two new wind farms in this corner of the Monadhliath. As I headed away from Errogie, I was passed by a convoy of vehicles including an enormous lorry carrying a single wind turbine blade. There's going to have to be a lot of those convoys to get all the turbine blades into place!
According to my route card, I was supposed to turn right onto the Gleann Liath road; but Louise and the Keohanes were heading up to Errogie, and so I decided to stick with them and turn right there. As we passed Ault-na-goire, we met some Challengers who had taken the late afternoon boat the day before and spent the night there. They were full of tales of venison stew the night before, and a wonderful cooked breakfast this morning. Compared to my donner and chips in the Drum takeaway, and cereal with powdered goat's milk sitting in the rain at Temple Pier, I think they had definitely found the better alternative. On the other hand, though, nobody MADE me have donner and chips for supper ... I COULD have walked straight on by and had a much better supper at the Loch Ness Inn. And booking onto an afternoon boat means guaranteeing that you'll be there in time to catch it ... which might have been an interesting challenge, given the fun and games that Alan and I had had coming down through the woods into Drumnadrochit. All things considered, therefore, I think that the morning boat, which gives you the freedom to arrive in Drum as late as you like (or circumstances dictate) has much to be said for it.
I packed everything away and headed out to the pier. On the way, I encountered Greg again. He too was on the early boat, and so we walked together. We were the first to arrive at the pier, and we settled down to wait. I pulled out a breakfast pack, mixed up some powdered goat's milk, and had some cereal (I'd rather have had kippers ... ). Then we poked around a bit, and got to debating the purpose of this gate (pictured).
Well, after a while, we concluded that as gates of this kind are usually used to keep livestock in (or out), it was obviously necessary to close the gate after using the slipway, in order that the monster shouldn't escape ...
Sunday, 4 October 2015
On reaching the Loch Ness Inn (pictured) I was shown to my room, and I phoned Gordon Menzies to confirm my place on the boat for tomorrow. I spoke to his wife, who told me to be there for the 8 o'clock boat. Curses! I had been hoping for the second boat of the day, not the first, as I was hoping to have a decent breakfast first. Oh well !
I then phoned Challenge Control, and asked what the weather forecast was looking like. They said not good for tomorrow, but getting better thereafter. That was sounding promising. My main concern was whether the weather would be good enough for tackling the Lairig Ghru, or whether I was going to be linking the Feshie and the Geldie yet again!
I examined my feet. I had some small blisters under my toes, and a little bit of raw skin on top of a couple of my toes, but nothing too bad. This was OK. I hung all my wet things to dry, booked a 6 a.m. alarm call for the following day, and then went and paid a short visit to the bar. Before turning in for the night I paid my bill, and told them that I would be away before breakfast.
On the map, the way we were to take was perfectly clear. Follow the track round a long sweeping right-hand curve, then take a path off to the left and down to the back end of Lewiston, then into Drum (or not, in fact, in my case - as I had a room for the night at the Loch Ness Inn in Lewsiton). The problem was, the paths didn't actually do what is shown on the map! Or they might ... but if they do, we didn't find the right paths!
What we DID find, however, was a path junction with a great big sign pointing off to the left and saying "Drumnadrochit". This didn't look like the path junction on the map, but it did look like a newly built path. So we thought "how kind of them - they've built a new path to make our lives easier". And so we followed that sign.
The signposted path went down, and down, and down. Quite steeply down, in fact, and we had to take care in the descent. And as it descended, it seemed to swing away from Drumnadrochit, not towards it. And then we came to a junction where there were no signs at all to indicate which way we should go for Drumnadrochit. I suppose we could have taken a GPS fix, and taken the bearings of the paths, and used that to make a (semi-) intelligent guess. But we opted for the straightforward option - downhill. Wes this a wise choice, or a poor choice? I don't really know! What I do know is that we ended up on a path which seemed to lead us allround the houses (well, OK, trees) and back uphill again and allsorts (not, alas, liquorice) until we finally found a way down to the road below the fort, and we followed this to the main road. At the main road junction Alan turned left, and I turned right. So we wished one another well for the rest of the crossing, and went our separate ways.
Beyond Corrimony, we came to the "bus shelter" where we stopped for lunch. The sun came out as we sat there eating, so we took our waterproofs off; but the rain returned just as we were ready to depart, so we put them back on again. Between here and Shenval, an otter ran across the track and disappeared into the woods again. It was too quick for me to deploy my camera and get a photograph of it; but at least I saw it. Alan, who had not been looking ahead at the time, saw only the movement as it disappeared into the woods, but professed that he had been unable to identify what manner of creature it was. There was no doubt in my mind, however, that this was an otter - only the second I have seen in the wild. My first otter (which, again, was too quick for me to photograph) had been in Shetland the previous summer. (Ah! The summer of 2014: when we took holidays at opposite extremes of the British isles: the Shetland Islands, and the Isles of Scilly!)
As I descended from the woods to the River Enrick, I saw another solo Challenger ahead of me, and I quickened my pace a little to catch up with him at the bridge over the Abhainn na Ruighe Duibhe (or perhaps, by then, it has become the River Enrick: the map is completely unspecific as to where the watercourse changes its name). The map shows it as a ford: but it is definitely a bridge! I hailed him, he turned, and we immediately recognized one another: it was Alan Wormald. Solo this year, of course, because Lucy was off doing her teacher training. He too was heading for Drumnadrochit by essentially the same route as me; and as we had discovered last year that our paces are well matched, and we each find the other's company congenial, we decided to walk together for the rest of the day.
When I mentioned the bothy ahead, Alan cursed! He had not know of its existence (I wonder why his route vetter hadn't mentioned it?? Mine did!) and he had just spent a none-too-comfortable night bivouacked in the woods. Had he known of the bothy, he would certainly have headed for it.
We paused a while at the bothy. Alan made a brew, I think, and I changed my socks. I also noted another problem. When selecting my gear for this crossing, I had decided that warmth was going to be a key consideration. I normally only bring two micro-fellces on Challenge, but this year I had also packed my big thick C25 fleece. And I decided to revert to an older, thicker Berghaus coat which I had retired from regular use several years ago. I was now reminded exactly WHY I had retired it: the sleeves were no longer terribly waterproof, and the sleeves of my walking fleece were now decidedly damp! Oh well ... nothing much I could do about it now. My arms would stay warm, at least, and I had hard shelter tonight. So I should be able to dry it overnight, and start off tomorrow with three dry fleeces. I then had three days to Aviemore, and with three fleeces, even if my walking fleece got soaked every day, I should never have to put on a cold, wet fleece in the morning. I could live with this, and if needs be I could always buy myself a new waterproof coat in Aviemore. It's what credit cards were invented for, after all ...
Now, down in Tomich, the "local intelligence" had been that with all the rain they'd had of late, the track through the woods was looking to be a problem. Nearly three kilometres of probolematic forest track can seriously slow you down, and I was anxious to put this part of the day's walk behind me. When I got there, however, I found that it was no real problem at all - just a bit wet underfoot. However, this was easily remedied. The Tomich hotel had done my laundry for me, so when I got down to the bothy I would change into a dry pair of socks.
Saturday, 3 October 2015
I arrived just before 4.30, and in normal circumstances I should probably have wanted to go and sit in the garden. Possibly even have gone to the very bottom of the garden, where you can cool your feet in the icy waters of the Abhainn Deabhag. But today it was raining, and neither of those seemed particularly attractive options. So I signed in and went to my room, where my resupply parcel was waiting for me. I attempted to take a bath, but there was no hot water (a bit disappointing, that, considering how expensive this hotel is ... ) so I took a shower instead. Then I phoned Challenge Control, phoned home, had a shave to make myself presentable, and wandered down to explore the bar and have my evening meal.
There were a number of Challengers in the bar that evening. I remember Sloman stumbling in, looking like a drowned rat, only to stumble out again and continue to Cannich. And I remember Judith (how can anyone forget Judith??). And there were others, whose names I did not record and cannot now recall. If any of them were hoping for a mention in my blog, I'm sorry ... Supper was Lamb casserole, and very fine it was too. Accompanied, no doubt, by one or more pints of cider, and probably chased down by a dram or two. As for the details, however ... well, just use your collective imaginations ...
And then, at the end of the 300 metres with no footway, I had to laugh even more. Because what do you suppose you find after 300 metres without a footway? A footway, perhaps?? Well, you might suppose that ... but no. After 300 metres without a footway, you come to ANOTHER sign, saying "No Footway For 350 Metres". Hmmmmmm ... perhaps they had a sign writer who was good at painting 3s and 5s, but struggled with 6s ...
At the junction with the road coming out of Glen Affric, I met JJ. He, like me, was on his tenth crossing; so we naturally stopped for a bit of a blether and to share a nip from my hip flask, and to take one another's photographs. I was rather tickled by the banner in the background, which will I am sure strike a chord with many Challengers. Then we both continued on our respective and differing ways - he to Cannich, I to Tomich.
I only had another five kilometres or so to walk today, and it was raining, so I really wasn't in any hurry to leave the warm embrace of the Slater's Arms. But eventually, at 2.30, I figured I ought to hit the road once more. SO I put my waterproofs back on, and stepped out into the weather ...
The cloud was low, and this meant I was not going to be going high today. My intended route had been to head South, and then back West a bit to pick up Toll Creagach before dropping down into Glen Affric and out to Tomich. My FWA was just to follow the road to Cannich. This was unfortunate, because having missed all four of yesterday's Munros, I now needed every single mountain on my card to make it a High Level crossing. Without Toll Creagach, I was going to be one mountain short. So as I walked that road, I really began to rue the decision not to take the one Munro I thought would be viable on my second day!