Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Post number 21 Worst Munro experience

Bidein a Choire Sheasgaich and Lurg Mhor
15.5 miles. 7078 ft. of ascent – climbed in 2002

Lurg Mhor is another competitor for the most remote Munro. I think this was perhaps my longest ever Munro day. I seem to remember it was well over 12 hours and although it included an unpleasant start and finish the rest of it was a magnificent walk with the knowledge of being a long way from civilisation.

Looking at the map I decided that I could save about two and a half kilometres each way (five kilometres in all) by starting from a lay-by on the road well to the west of the official start, and going directly south to join the path leading to the territory of the two Munros. I reckoned the only problem would be crossing the river and I decided to take some trainers thereby keeping my boots dry. All this turned out to be a monumental error of judgement.

First of all, from the road I had to climb a fence, cross the railway (illegally I suppose) then climb another fence. It was now several hundred yards to the river and this turned out to be an area of total swamp so my feet were wet before I even got to the river, but in denial I donned the trainers and waded across the river and hid the trainers for my return. Looking back on the event I don’t think anybody else would have been coming that way to find the trainers! What the map did not tell me was that an impenetrable gorse thicket about thirty yards in width bordered the riverbank on the other side. There was no option but to force my way through which was excruciating. Believing the worst to be over I now found myself faced with a deer fence – these fences are about nine feet high and quite demanding to climb, especially with a rucksack. Overcoming this obstacle I was now in a mature wood where a large number of trees had fallen horizontally against my desired route, and with everything overgrown it was impossible to avoid descending into holes and dead branches and climbing over the fallen trunks. This was the most difficult three hundred yards I have ever negotiated, and of course to get out of the wood I had to climb another deer fence.

I had now joined the path and the correct route leading into wild country, crossing a high bealach followed by a long descent then crossing a sort of river delta. From here there was a steep ascent to the first Munro. The second Munro, Lurg Mhor, was a continuation of the same massif, but with a substantial loss of height in between. Somewhere along this stretch I met a fellow Munroist who was surprised at how quickly I had got to this point from my start. We carried on to the summit of Lurg Mhor where the sense of isolation was quite marked. We returned together as far as the col between the two summits (my return was by the same route as the outward journey), and I remember seeing my acquaintance disappearing far below as a small speck in the distance along his own route as I neared the summit of Munro number one for the second time.

On arriving at a point on the path within a few hundred yards from where I had joined it after my river crossing I felt the most violent pain in my knee, and I think this was the start of the whole of my knee problems – I could hardly walk. By some inexplicable prescience, the day before, I had bought a single walking pole from an outdoor shop (now defunct) in Kinlochewe. I had never used these aids before and I can’t remember why I bought this one, except that I had seen a picture of Alan Hinkes using poles during his unbelievable feet of conquering all the fourteen peaks over 8,000m which reversed my previous opinion of poles from one of disdain to one of undoubted macho connotation. The pole was indispensable. I managed to reverse all the horrors of the outward journey in much pain. I think that fortunately that was the last planned day of this trip to Scotland.

However good we think our 1:50000 OS maps are they do not tell the whole story and even the shortest distance can turn into a nightmare. Cameron McNeish says in his guide to the Munros “By the time you have completed the round you will be well prepared for almost every eventuality you can encounter in the British hills”. I’m not so sure about that.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Post number 20-The Best Munro

At the suggestion of Barrett Bonden I now plan to do a few posts singling out particular Munros. No doubt The Worst Munro will shortly follow, but this needs a sort of map drawing and I have now done an experiment proving that I can do this in Photoshop then save it as a JPG and then get it into Blogger like a normal photo.

The knee is still painful and a recent visit to the surgeon who did the arthroscopy did not give me much hope of being able to do serious walking in the future and there was very little he seemed to be able to offer. He said that a replacement knee joint would not be any good for me at the moment and it would not stand up to the kind of walking I want to do. Yesterday I had an appointment with the physio which was more constructive and I have been given exercises to do so we shall just have to see.

The Best Munro Day

Eidh nan Clach Geala and Seana Bhraig
17.8 miles 5624 ft. of ascent

The latter of these two has a claim to being the most remote Munro, but this is debatable, although that aspect certainly contributed to its high place in my memory. These Munros are situated in the huge wilderness of Easter Ross to the east of Ullapool, and the walk starts from near the southern end of Loch Broom at Inverlael.

First of all, some years before I climbed these two Munros, my friend and neighbour Dan in Preston, with whom I have shared various outdoor adventures on land and water, invited me to go and search for Dotterels. Dan had heard that these rare birds stop off on the summit of Pendle Hill in Lancashire only for a day or so within a small time frame as they are returning north from their migration. They stop to feed on the specialised vegetation on this hill before continuing to Scotland where they breed. Although I said to myself we would have little hope of seeing the birds I humoured Dan and off we went. On approaching the summit of Pendle Hill we saw a group of half a dozen people with tripods and other ornithological gear, and as we came close we saw that there were several pairs of Dotterels only a few yards in front of these spectators unconcernedly nibbling at whatever it is that they like up there – they were quite tame, and I was somewhat confounded by our easy good fortune.

The two Munros in question were ascended on 21st May 2002. It is a long hard march to the summit of the first one and it was a cloudless and hot day of extraordinary visibility, which I have often found at that time of year in Scotland.

Just after the summit on Eidh nan Clach Geala I noticed some birds in the heather a few yards ahead, and of course they were Dotterels, so not counting seeing these birds wintering in Africa or wherever, I had now completed a sort of circle from my previous viewing several years before, and I found this particularly satisfying.

This was a very long day, and I was still six kilometres or so from Seana Bhraig, which is located on the far side of a U shaped glen with very long sides reminiscent of High Cup Nick and the route follows the rim of this feature. The views from Seana Bhraig were stunning – I could see The Summer Isles about thirty miles away, and the feeling of remoteness was heightened by not seeing another person all day.

Last year my Land's End John 'oGroats walk took me through Inverlael along part of the route for these Munros then further to the north. I could not say this was nostalgic because I saw nothing. I walked all day in the most apalling wind and rain relying mainly on the compass before finally arriving at the very welcome Knockdamph bothy.

I saw Dotterels again on Beinn Bhreac in the southern Cairngorms on 9th June 2006.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Post number 19 (salmon fishing)


On the evening of my celebratory meal after completing my last Munro I overheard bits of conversation from a table to my rear.

There were two men talking about salmon fishing. They were well spoken and probably fairly highly placed business executives (just guessing) and very serious enthusiasts of their sport talking with an intensity appropriate to a multi billion pound takeover deal. After a while they were joined by two other gents who were again well spoken country types and from ensuing talk I deduced that they were probably agents or very senior keepers for the estate where the other two intended to pursue Salmo salar at vast expense, and there was no doubt the keeper types were operating on a very smooth p.r. basis, going along with and humouring the others.

The original two, it transpired had come from fishing The Tweed where they had had little success. They were complaining about trout fishermen who had been catching sea trout and having good sport at far less expense. They then started name dropping to the two smoothie keepers mentioning well known personalities in the exclusive world of Scottish game fishing, and a fair amount of dirt dishing followed from both factions of this quartet. I got the impression that the keepers were not confident that our two heroes would have any more success on their water than on The Tweed, and they were making veiled preparatory statements naming weather and lack of water and other phenomena as culprits that may provide them with some excuse on the day of reckoning.

What amused me about all this was that I could imagine a similar future scenario with two new “heroes” and the same keepers where the keepers were telling the new guys about the two pains in the bum that they had to nanny a couple of weeks ago.

By the way, I had smoked salmon as a starter.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Post number 18 (Roy Bridge – Glen Spean)








Sunday 28th June 2009 – Sgurr Mor – Glen Kingie- 11.4 miles – 4482 ft of ascent (my last Munro)


The big question was whether the knee would let me finish my last Munro or leave me stranded in the middle of nowhere, but inspiration was to hand from the old Ballad of Chevey Chase (Anon), commemorating The Battle of Otterburn, 1388:

For Witherington needs must I wail
As one in doleful dumps
For when his legs were smitten off
He fought upon his sumps.

What a great day! I set off at 7:00 am from the end of Loch Arkaig. The last time I was there was in 1984 when I did Sgurr na Ciche and its two neighbours with Tom. Weather then was appalling and we retreated immediately after the walk instead of staying in the tent because of the worst midge plague I can ever remember. What a contrast today with blue sky and sunshine. It was all very nostalgic walking up to Glendessary, and then into unknown territory over the pass to Glen Kingie. I went straight up the steep south face to the eastern col of Sgurr Mor. I was attacked a bit by normal flies and some biting horseflies, but not enough to spoil things.

The return journey over the pass was very sapping (nearly on my stumps)in great heat and humidity. I was back at the car for 4:00 pm, so 9 hours in all.

I went for a meal at the pub across the road from the caravan site which was quite decent. Draught Theakstons as an aperitif (I was a bit thirsty), followed by smoked salmon, then battered haddock etc accompanied by a couple of glasses of sauvignon blanc, and then some orange treacle tart and ice cream – not haute cuisine but as this was Hobson’s choice it was fortunately satisfactory.




Post number 17 (Roy Bridge – Glen Spean)

Saturday 27th June 2009- rest day.

Despite the forecast of a perfect sunny day it was raining this morning, and at midday it is totally overcast.

Post number 16 (Roy Bridge – Glen Spean)






Friday 26th June 2009 – Meall na Teanga and Sron a Choire Ghaibrh – 18.5km – 1190m ascent.

3.5 km each way are cycled. A long climb up to a col on an excellent path is followed by ascent of these two Munros in turn from the col, and again on very good paths. The weather was perfect and I reckon the views are as good as from any Munro. In particular you can see the whole length of The Great Glen, and the view of the north face of Ben Nevis must be the best available short of a helicopter ride.

Post number 15 (Roy Bridge – Glen Spean)

Thursday 25th June 2009 – rest day

During this trip I had developed a strange problem. On both ankles I had sustained circular horizontal scratch marks resembling the broad threads on a screw-top bottle. This must be something to do with my boots, but despite detailed investigation I could not analyse the cause, and thereafter resorted to fixing large bits of Elastoplast for protection, and this has generally been successful. The boots are well past their best and really need replacing – they have been resoled and one of the soles had become detached which I had fixed with No Nails, screws and staples (very satisfactorily). I had a similar problem on the LEJOG walk which is detailed in the journal. All in all I have had bad experience with resoling boots which is bad news because the soles seem to wear out long before the uppers. Anyway on this rest day I decided to go into Fort William and look for new boots. Ellis Brighams had only one pair of all leather, Gortex lined lightish boots – they were Scarpa GTX and looked ok but I felt I wanted to have some choice so I declined these and went to Nevis Sport: I think that is what they are called, but they didn’t seem to have a sign up. There was nothing worth considering there, and nobody came to ask if I wanted any help so I gave it all up as a bad job. On return to Cumbria I will go to Ambleside where there are more gear shops than people, and I know I will have plenty of choice (I bet I end up with the Scarpa GTX).

Post number 14 (Roy Bridge – Glen Spean)


Wednesday 24th June 2009. Carn Dearg and Sgor Gaibrhe – 22km – 790m of ascent.




The caravan site is about 300 yds. from Roy Bridge Station on the West Highland Line, which in turn is only two stops away from the Corrour Halt. Corrour is remote in the middle of Rannoch Moor with no vehicular access and exists only to service the Corrour Estate and its visiting deer stalkers and the like as well as Munroists. There are three Munros available here, one of which I did last summer (Ben na Lap) during my Land’s End to John ‘o Groats walk after which I stayed at the very good bed and breakfast located in the old station house.
Today I was doing the remaining two Munros. On boarding the train with my bike I was told by an officious guard to go to a particular end of the train. When the ticket man came round he told me I would not be able to disembark from that end of the train at Corrour so I then had to wheel my bike down the whole length of the train (two or three carriages) with people moving dogs and themselves out of my path.

The train deposited me at 8:30am and the return train was at 3:20pm, the next one being after 9:00pm, so I was under some pressure to complete the round in time. It was hot and sunny and having to hurry promoted a good deal of perspiration. I was able to use my bike on about four km each way of pleasant Land Rover track along the shore of Loch Ossian. This was an enjoyable trip and somewhat nostalgic with views of my route on LEJOG walk last summer.

In the end I got back with forty minutes to spare.

Post number 13 (Roy Bridge – Glen Spean)

Tuesday 23rd June 2009

The Caravan Club site at Bunree could not accommodate me any longer so today I moved to a very good, previously visited private site at Roy Bridge in Glen Spean which in any case is more conveniently situated for my remaining Munros. I reckon you could tick off more Munros from this site than any other in Scotland. Of course the weather was brilliant on a day when I was not going into the hills.