Monday, 18 July 2016

Speyside - The Burma Road

The Burma Road is a name to capture your imagination,  if ever there was one. Rob and I biked it a few weekends back. Unsurprisingly it doesn't lead to Burma but acquired its name due to having been laid by prisoners of war. Today it's a rough track over the hills above Aviemore and a big  climb by bike.

We started our ride at Kincraig and headed north towards Aviemore on a new stretch of the Speyside Way, a delightful undulating track through summer birch woods that dovetails with the railway.

The climb then started at Lynwilg, easy to begin with but quickly steepening.  The midges made us not want to stop to rest or take advantage of the goodies in the trackside honesty box.

The road topped out above the grey hills of the Monadhliath and was flat briefly before the long descent on its north side.

At the bottom of the descent, we followed the River Dulnain downriver and made a beautiful wild camp in the pine woods. The eyecatching black and white of oystercatchers flying by contrasted with the rich greens of the forest.

Next day we biked on along empty tracks through the summer woods and down quiet winding back roads to the forests of Abernethy for a second night out in the tent. There were detours to the old Sluggan Bridge, part of General Wade's military road north, and the nesting ospreys at Loch Garten.

From Abernethy we biked over Ryvoan Pass with the high tops of the Cairngorms to our left and paused in the bothy to escape a rain shower. We made a fast descent to Aviemore on the fabulous Old Logging Way before returning to our start at Kincraig.

Fact File
Start/finish: Kincraig
Route: In Kincraig take the Speyside Way track to Aviemore - you can pick it up on the right as you climb up through the village passed the shop. Follow this to its end when it crosses the B9152. Turn left on this road and cycle south for approx 1.5km, taking the right turn signed for the A9. Cross the A9 to Lynwilg and follow the wee road through the hamlet to the right. The Burma Road is signed from here after the bridge. It's a stiff climb, steep in places, but the long decsent is more gradual. At the bottom, cross the wooden bridge over the River Dulnain and turn right. Follow this track until it emerges at the hamlet of Inverlaidnan and swing to the right, cross the bridge and follow the track right where it soon joins the tarmac road into Carrbridge. A little way down here is the worthwhile short detour to the Sluggan Bridge, signed for the national cycle network. From Carrbridge (nice cafe a few doors down from shop) we followed the national cycle network offroad route to Boat of Garten which was really nice through the woods. After Boat of Garten we truned left on the B970 and then took a right to the RSPB centre at Loch Garten to see the ospreys. We retraced our tire tracks a little way back down the Loch Garten road and picked up the Speyside Way in the direction of Nethy Bridge. When it crossed the C class road south out of Nethybridge we followed that road, took the next left hand split and then the forest track up to Forest Lodge. We crossed the bridge over the River Nethy a few hundred metres northeast of the lodge and followed this track a long way out to camp. Next morning we returned to Forest Lodge and then took the signed track west for Ryvoan Pass. At Glen More we took the Old Logging Way down to Aviemore and picked up the Speyside Way back to Kincraig.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Assynt - The summer walkers

In Scotland "summer" is a loose term that defines the time of year rather than the weather which is more often driech and cold than hot and sunny. And so it was when Rob and I had an early summer holiday walking some hills in the far north.

Our first peak was Quinag, the "milking pail" in Gaelic. Like the other Assynt hills, it rises from the landscape in splendid isolation from its neighbours with a certain degree of drama. All the Assynt peaks have their own unique mountain character but common features are steep, plunging sides and bizarre rock arrangements. We set out for Quinag on a firm path that crossed the moor. The sunshine and the blue sky above might have fooled us into thinking it was summer had it not been for a chill breeze that kept the temperature down and the jackets on.

As we approached Quinag, it struck me how it was a mountain of two halves, cut in the middle by a shallow bealach. To the right of the bealach we climbed the rounded, whaleback top of Sail Garbh where our view stretched over the other Assynt peaks rising from a land studded with sparkling lochans that fell away to the blue of the Atlantic. To the left of the bealach we continued over Spidean Coinich, a much narrower and shaplier peak. We focussed our view on our feet more as we crossed airy, rocky places that plunged to a blue-green lochan nestled in the corrie below.

We moved further north from Quinag and on a grey evening lit by the occasional late ray of sun, we walked into a mountain called Arkle. The track passed an old, boarded-up cottage and I loved how the greys and browns of the walls and roof mirrored the colours in the hills behind. It was as if the cottage had grown with the landscape. Beyond the cottage the trail passed right through the middle of a huge erratic boulder, split into two by primeval elements, and entered a wood filled with the call of a cuckoo. We pitched the tent and named the place Cuckoo Wood.

Next morning the tent was unzipped to a grey, cold day with a stiff northwesterly blowing through. We plodded up Arkle. Mist thickened as heathery slopes gave way to a bizarre feature where we found ourselves walking across a huge plateau covered with small, round pebbles. In the mist we could see nothing else to give us a frame of reference so it was a surreal experience crossing that place. On the far side of this plateau, the ridge narrowed and our route crossed a series of rocky slabs with drops either side, helpfully hidden in the mist. An easy, broad walk then took us onto to the summit. 

In the dense clag there was only the slightest suggestion of a view and in the cold and wind, only the merest hint of summer.

Fact File
Route for Quinag: We parked in a car park on the A894 at NC232273 and on the opposite side of the road followed an obvious path towards the bealach on Quinag. From the bealach a clear path led up to Sail Garbh. We returned to the bealach and continued east along Spidean Coinich, descending its east slabby ridge to pick up the outward route.
Route for Arkle: We parked off the A838 at NC297402, just south of Loch Stack. We followed the track to the cottage marked at Lone and on into the forestry beyond where we pitched the tent. We continued along the path beside the Allt Horn and turned off to climb Arkle's southeast flank to the point marked at 758m. We then followed the curving ridge round to the northwest top marked at 787m. We returned the same way.
Tip: You can hear "The Summer Walkers" by Runrig at this link - click here.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Wester Ross - Coco-nuttie

The old coffin road climbed steeply above Corrie Hallie in hot afternoon sunshine. It was a wonderful place to walk. One of those ancient paths that had been well built to stand the test of time and the passage of feet, hooves and the two fat-bikes that rolled passed me.

The colour scheme was yellow with pale primroses dotted around the woodland floor and rampant gorse in the open areas. I love the gorse at this time of year as it fills the early summer air with its heady, intense scent of coconuts. 

The old road climbed higher into the hills and as it did so the view opened up behind me to the jagged outline of An Teallach. I'd been up there earlier that day. Though my long walk had started the day before at Loch a Bhraoin after I'd wrestled my rucsack from a taxi driver who didn't want to give it up. Taxi? The Inverness train had been very, very late so the last Ullapool bus had left so Scotrail put me in a taxi to the start of my walk. It was well into the evening and a desolate spot so the taxi driver couldn't quite believe that somebody would walk out into the hills there and then.

A meandering walk from there had enabled me to eye up An Teallach on its gentler south side from a wild camp near Shenavall. A beautiful spot in golden evening sunshine as house martins swooped around the tent, cuckoos called in the hills and the warm evening air wafted the coconut scent from a large stand of gorse. The sun had sank behind the mountain on a peaceful evening but next day a blasting gale-force wind had forced me back from the second peak on the narrow ridge. 

As I pulled up and over the highest point of the coffin road that evening, the wind had subsided and I pitched the tent by Loch an Tiompain which reflected back An Teallach in its gently rippled water. The evening was balmy and caddis flies danced above the water, leaving behind on the rocks their beautifully crafted cases that protected them as larvae in the loch. It's a little wonder of nature.

Next day the coffin road dropped steeply to farmland at the head of Loch Broom. Further up the loch a Calmac ferry in its distinctive black, red and white livery slipped away from the cluster of white buildings on the shore that marked the town of Ullapool. It was heading for Stornoway in the Outer Hebrides. I was heading for a cluster of Munros at Beinn Dearg.

Plans to camp high were abandonned in the gale force winds and instead I made a lower basecamp in Glen Sguaib. It was a charming wee spot beside a ruined cottage. The house was surrounded by the drystone wall of a small enclosure and inside the gate the first of the bluebells poked up through rampant bracken. Two big old sycamores had grown through the wall in one corner and provided shade. A couple of wooden pallets made a table and chair for alfresco dining. I poked around the old place. The roof of the cottage had partially collapsed and there was little left of the interior except the old fire grate. It's decaying state contrasted with the new spring growth and bird activity all around in the woods.  Despite the state of the ruin, it wasn't a sad place but had a happy atmosphere, full of life and warmth.

With the tent and heavy kit left below, I climbed Beinn Dearg and its adjacent neighbours, barely able to stand at times in the gales. Beinn Dearg has a bizarre drystone wall all along its summit ridge. It's a blot on the landscape but I was grateful for its shelter. The sun shone but higher up the lochans still held floating blocks of ice. There was some lingering snow which melted as the day passed, making the stream crossings on the descent tricky.

On my final day the winds eased and I made the long trek to an outlying mountain called Seanna Bhraigh, the "old height". My route skirted the Cadha Dearg, a huge bite out of the hillside with deep crags and cliffs. Then it climbed up the broad flank of Seanna Bhraigh before revealing the sudden, plunging cliffs on the north side. Westwards the view stretched to the isolated peaks of Assynt, hazy in the summer shimmer, while northwards was an empty place of mile after mile of moor.

I turned my back on the old height and trekked out to Inverlael. At the hillwalkers' car park, I scrounged a lift into Ullapool. Strange to be moving so quickly and easily after a week on foot. The miles passed fast with chat of the hills but the whole while stuck in the car, I missed the smell of coconuts.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Glen Shee - Ne'er cast a clout til the month of May be oot

We were minded of that old saying when in the hills by Glen Shee at the end of April. Just when we thought winter had passed, we were out again in snow and duvet jackets, packing ice axes and crampons and crossing drifts up to our thighs. Well my thighs at least, which isn't so high.

The late evening walk-in up Glen Taitneach was a dream as golden sunlight drenched the snow-streaked lower slopes and illuminated the higher snow-capped peaks. The tent was pitched by the river with time for a brew before bed and a slab of Rob's homemade banana loaf.

The Saturday forecast was sublime. The Sunday one less than prime. So we set off to do our three peaks in one day. We picked our way up the river gully at the head of the glen in snow that was soft and deep in places. The sky was azure and the atmosphere Alpine with the air as crystal dear as the mountain stream. Loch nan Eun was idyllic as a giant amoeba of sapphire blue in the white. The hills all around were a spectacular medley of snow and light.

Beinn lutharn Mhor provided an unusual and breathtaking panorama north to the Cairngorms, sliced in two by the u-shaped cut of the Laing Ghru. Across the Beinn's plateau raised, frozen footprints were surreal evidence of another's passage. Carn an Righ provided another odd encounter with a stranger who knew us ... he asked us how our new tent was working out. Turned out he'd passed us in the Drumochter hills a few weeks back and, like Rob, was from the Borders where everybody seems to know everybody. Funny old world.

Glas Tulaichean was the last and grandest of our trio. We crossed steeper snow slopes and followed its sweeping corniced rim to a top that gave us wide reaching views of winter hills. Another grand day to be out and to be alive. We followed a gentle ridge back down into the glen for another slab of Rob's cake at the not-so-new tent.

Fact File
All the photos on Flickr - click here.
Start/finish: Spittal of Glenshee
Route: Follow the track from the old bridge at Spittal of Glenshee up the east side of Glen Taitneach. Where the track peters out continue on the footpath climbing up to Loch nan Eun. Ascend the bealach between Beinn Iutharn Beag and Mam nan Carn, turning west to Mam nan Carn and contouring round to the bealach between it and Beinn Iutharn Mhor. Climb north up the south flank of the hill. Retrace steps to the bealach and countour round the lower slopes of Mam nan Carn to the bealach between it and Carn an Righ. Pick up a path to the top its southeasterly flank. We decsended to the bealach then crossed the river at the head of Gleann Mor to ascend Glas Tulaichean, heading east  and then ascending its north ridge, approx from the spot height at 930m. We descended to the glen via its southeasterly ridge and crossed easily the river to pick up the outward track.

Friday, 6 May 2016

Stuc a'Chroin - The long approach

Stuc a'Chroin is a shapely Munro to the north of Callander. Despite the rolling hills around and the genteel atmosphere of town, the long approach to the hill and it's surprisingly rugged profile, give it a wilder feel than you might expect. I headed there on a spring morning.

The back road out of Callander climbed the hills to Braeleny Farm then became a track across the moor, opening up the views to Stuc a'Chroin.

The old buildings at Arivurichardich were a place to rest against stone walls warmed by the morning sun.

The broad ridge of Meall Odhar was an airy, pleasant place to be as the view opened up to the rugged crags of the Stuc ahead.

A short, steep pull took me to the top for views across to its near neighbour, Ben Vorlich.

Further north the view stretched to the Crianlarich hills and the Ben Lawers range, while a line of snow-capped peaks filled the more distant horizon.

Now let's see. A long approach means something ... oh yes ... it's a long way back to the bus.

Fact File
All the photos on Flickr - click here.
Start/Finish: Callander
Public transport: Hourly bus from Stirling Bus Station (next door to the train station) to Callander.
Route: From the main street head out on Bracklinn Road signed for Bracklinn Falls. A the farm at Braeleny continue straight ahead on a dirt track and cross the bridge at its end over the Keltie Water. Follow the track left and up to the buildings at Arivurichardich. A small path continues round the left of the second building and climbs up to the broad ridge between Meall Odhar and Stuc a'Chroin. It's lovely walking up here. Follow the path to the Stuc. I returned the same way.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Dalwhinnie - Tail end of winter

The days are lengthening now and there's a hint of warmth in the sun when it's out. Winter may be on the wane but Rob and I were happy to steal a final wintry weekend in the hills above Dalwhinnie.

Late evening we biked to Loch Pattack along a dirt road and into a stiff wind that the ruffled the grey waters of Loch Ericht. Spots of rain fell and the darkness advanced so that eventually we put on our bike lights to illuminate a small patch of trail ahead. Rob's new tent went up on my favourite wild camp spot hereabouts. It's a wide open place with mountain views and big skies where the river flows silently under the wooden slats of a shoogily bridge before emptying into the loch. In the wind and the darkness we were glad we'd practiced pitching the tent the previous weekend between the daffodils on Rob's lawn.

We lay late next morning listening to the pitter-patter of rain on the tent and the distant warble of black grouse, then opened a sliver of door to watch snow falling. But the forecast had been right and by late morning the day dried up and brightened. We continued along the lochside track watching a pair of whooper swans out on the water, perhaps pondering their flight to Iceland to breed. Our boots came off for a river crossing then we followed a rough path to Creag Pitridh, eventually pulling up into the snow.

Creag Pitridh is a modest hill itself but the views to its higher neighbour, Beinn a' Chlachair, were spectacular. Steely grey clouds drifted around it's snow-sculpted edges while sunlight illuminated its fine lines. Our return route found a path that passed along the edge of the snowline on a shelf above the waters of Loch a' Bhealaich Leamhain. Several point avalanches scarred the steep east face and had sent down snowballs in spiral patterns.

Next day dawned grey again with the hills covered in low cloud as we biked south through Drumochter. We hid the bikes in heather before slogging up the boggy slopes of Sgairneach Mhor. 

Eventually our boots were on the snow again as we walked along the massive cornice edge overhanging the hill's north side. A crack line was forming and it seemed like the gentle push of a boot could send the whole lot down into the glen. We were lucky again with the weather and by the time we were striding across the broad top, the cloud had cleared and the sun beat down.

Visibility was crystal clear and our view stretched westwards to Rannoch Moor and the snow-streaked peaks of the Black Mount and Glen Coe. Closer to, the massif of Ben Alder and its near neighbours still held huge amounts of snow.

lt's always difficult to walk away from the top of a mountain on a beautiful day like today but eventually we turned our backs on the views and on this year's winter. A bit of heather bashing took us to the glen below and a downhill bike ride put as back in Dalwhinnie.

Fact File
More photos on Flickr - click here.
Start/finish: Dalwhinnie
Public transport: Glasgow/Edinburgh trains stop at Dalwhinnie.
Route for Creag Pitridh: Out of the station turn right along Alder Road and cross the level crossing at the end. Continue straight along this track, passing to the right of the estate gate house and then along the shores of Loch Ericht. The track splits eventually but hang right and climb uphill. Eventually Loch Pattack will come into view and at the loch take a lefthand track that follows the water's edge. After the second bridge take a right hand split in the track and follow it to a ford over the Allt Cam. Pick up an obvious path on the other side. Follow this path up the east side of Loch a' Bhealaich Leamhain and onto the bealach between Creag Pitridh and Geal Charn. We struck up the hill on its south side skirting crags and found a bit of a path in the snow. We returned via the path that passes above Loch a' Bhealaich Leamhain on its west shore then picked up the outward route.
Route Sgairneach Mhor: From the station in Dalwhinnie cycle down Station Road and turn right on the main street. Just before this road joins the A9 the cycle path to Pitlochry leaves to the right. Follow it as far as a track heading down to a cattle creep under the railway at grid ref NN636742. Turn right on the other side and follow this track to a bridge over the Allt Coire Dhomhain. Cross the bridge and strike up south towards the point at 758m before turning southwest to Sgairneach Mhor. A faint path crosses boggy ground then joins a firmer path along the top of the ridge to the broad top. We returned via the same route.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Fife - Trundle through Tentsmuir

Just across the water from my home in Portobello, is the Kingdon of Fife - great  for a quick escape and a bit of variety. Here are some pics from a mini tour I did a couple of weekends ago with bike buddy, Graham.

Our wee tour started on Saturday afternoon by taking the train to Dundee and cycling back over the River Tay. Despite the proximity of traffic, I always enjoy cycling the Tay Bridge.
On the other side the route headed east along the coast to the pleasant village and harbour at Tayport where we picked up water for a wild camp later. 
The route hugged the coast where mud flats were revealed by the low tide. We passed "dragon's teeth", the name given to the jagged line of concrete war defences. On the other side of the water stood an older defence, Broughty Ferry Castle.
It was early evening when we cycled into the pine forests at Tenstmuir and set about looking for a spot to camp. On a grey night that was threatening rain, we seemed to have the place to ourselves. The tents were pitched on a grassy shelf between a thin line of birch and the sandy beach.  The dusk time air was filled with birdsong and breaking surf.
Next morning we set out in heavy rain and meandered across Fife, passing over the backbone of its little hills via the High Road.
Next stop was the village of Ceres. We tipped our hats to the famous 18th century statue of the Provost and ate lunch overlooking the quaint village green.
The sun finally broke through as we rounded Fife's Lomond Hills and headed to Thornton to catch a train back.
Fact File

Start: Dundee railway station
Finish: Glenrothes with Thornton railway station
Map: OS Landranger 59
Route: From Dundee station follow national cycle route 1 signs over the Tay Bridge and eastwards to Tayport and Tenstmuir Forest. Continue on route 1 through through Starthkinnes or divert via a traffic free route to St Andrews. Continue on route 1 to Ceres via Kemback then beyond Ceres the route passes over Cults Hill. Just beyond here it junctions with cycle route 76. Follow route 76 to Thornton and the railway station is to the left of the main road through the village.