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Eating the Highlands

Just after I finished this year’s TGO Challenge, my wife had a knee operation and, as part of her recuperation, we planned a short holiday in the Highlands. After a rather unfortunate post-pub nocturnal experience with midges in Mull, Anne insists on indoor plumbing rather than a tent so we planned this around places that had a reputation for good food. It was a pottering and eating rather than a walking holiday as Anne’s knee was still pretty fragile.

You might think that good food in the Highlands is hard to come by and 20 years ago, you would have been right. But things have now completely changed and lots of places now offer great food based on local ingredients – fish and shellfish, lamb and venison.

We started in Arisaig at the Old Library and Lodge in Arisaig where our room had a view of Eigg.

Eigg from OL-1

Eigg from the Old Library, Arisaig

We stayed here for two nights – highlights were the smoked mackerel cheesecake and perfectly cooked lamb. Highly recommended – good food, comfortable rooms and friendly people.

Smoked mackeral cheesecake (OL)-1

Smoked mackerel cheesecake

Lamb Cutlets-1

Lamb cutlets

We had a day trip to Moidart as I fancied checking out Acharacle as a starting point for a future TGO Challenge (It didn’t really appeal). We stopped at the Glenuig Inn for an excellent Cullen Skink and were intimidated by this monster on the way to Kentra Bay.

The Monster Midge

The Monster Midge

On our last day, when we planned to take the ferry to Skye from Mallaig, we came down to breakfast and, amazingly, met a couple of Challengers, last seen in Mar Lodge. Graham and Marion  were also heading to Skye to take the ferry to the Outer Isles. Unfortunately, CalMac cancelled all ferries from Mallaig so instead of pottering around Skye with plenty time, we had a long drive round to Kyle to cross the bridge.

In Skye, we were heading for the Three Chimneys restaurant in Colbost but stopped to take an obligatory picture at Sligachan.

Glen Sligachan

Glen Sligachan

We also stopped at Mor Books at Struan for excellent coffee and cake – if you like older mountaineering books this is place to go – they have a great selection and I bought a couple of classics that I hadn’t seen for 30 years. They are also just opposite Cioch Clothing who make made to measure outdoor clothing. I have one of their jackets which is generally excellent although it has the general problem of Analogy fabric of leaking in driving rain.

The Three Chimneys was supposed to be the highlight of our trip. It has a great reputation for its food and offers luxurious (and ridiculously expensive) accommodation.  But we decided to push the boat out and booked for dinner, bed and breakfast. I must say that the accommodation was really first-class but, to put it mildly, we were disappointed in the quality of the food.

Dinner started well – my starter of West Coast Fruits de Mer was fabulous. Langoustine, crab, prawns and oysters. One of the oysters had a dressing that looked a bit like green slime but which was minty and wonderful.

West Coast Fruits de Mer

West Coast Fruits de Mer

Sadly, however, it was downhill from then on. My main course of ‘River Esk Sea Trout’ was cooked on a griddle and, frankly, burnt. The taste of charred skin overwhelmed the delicate taste of the sea trout. Anne, who is not vegetarian, didn’t really fancy either the fish or the meat on the menu so decided on open lasagne of seasonal vegetables. This was underwhelming, to say the least. It was simply a few vegetables with a couple of sheets of pasta – a classic example of an unimaginative vegetarian dish.

One of the Three Chimney’s signature dishes is its marmalade pudding. Anne ordered this and I had a variant – marmalade pudding soufflé. Mine was dreadful – soggy and claggy and Anne wasn’t really impressed with hers either. Not quite a school dinner puddling but not far off.

To be fair, when we complained about the food, they knocked off the price of a bottle of wine but that’s not really the point. We wanted and were willing to pay for outstanding food. What we got was the poorest food of our trip.

We had a trip around Skye in clearing weather where the Quirang looked very dramatic. Then back across the Skye Bridge to Plockton, where we stayed in the Plockton Hotel.

The Quirang, Skye

The Quirang, Skye

From the Skye Bridge-1

Eilean Ban and the narrows of Skye

Again, we had a great room with a view over the bay. Dinner was simple and fishy – queen scallops with bacon followed by herring in oatmeal. The best of Highland ingredients cooked simply really is better than more elaborate creations.

Plockton view-1

Our view from the Plockton Hotel

Queen scallops and bacon

Queen scallops and bacon

Herring in oatmeal

Herring in oatmeal

From Plockton, we had a short trip to Applecross. Another day where early mist cleared in the sunshine at Loch Kishorn.

Loch Kishorn

Loch Kishorn

We arrived in Applecross in time for lunch at the Potting Shed. Lots of people have heard of the Applecross Inn but the Potting Shed is an unknown gem – their dressed crab salad was probably the best I’ve ever had.  Well worth a visit and we’d have been happy to eat here in the evening.

Dressed crab (Potting Shed)-1

Dressed crab salad – the Potting Shed, Applecross

We were staying in the Applecross Inn, where we met old friends Peter and Alison. The Applecross Inn is a great pub which has been central to the revival of the community in Applecross. Judy Fish (very appropriate name) took over the Inn 25 years ago and has created a wonderful pub and restaurant. Rooms are neither large nor luxurious but are very comfortable and the overall atmosphere and welcome is fabulous. Fish (of course) is their speciality and Jon who served our meal, also caught some some it earlier that day. My squat lobster and sole was superb.

Squat lobster and sole, Applecross Inn

Squat lobster and sole, Applecross Inn

Our week in the Highlands passed all too quickly – lots of sunshine and , remarkably, neither rain nor midges. We drove home over the wonderful Bealach na Ba – the highest road in Britain.

The Bealach na Ba, Applecross

The Bealach na Ba, Applecross

 

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TGOC-14. A list of blogs

I’ve started putting together a list of blogs from 2014 Challengers. These vary from long and detailed accounts to more impressionistic presentations. Some of very factual, others perhaps embellish the truth for effect.

This list is in no particular order except my blog (which isn’t a diary) is first.

If you have a blog that isn’t on this list, please send me the address and I’ll add it.

Daunerin’ Aboot 

Over the Hills and Far Away

Fellbound

Around the Hills

Al’s Outdoor World

Blogpackinglight

Alan Sloman’s Big Walk

Doodlecat.com

Fast Track to Nowhere in Particular

Lady on a Rock

Two Routes Across Scotland

A Blog on the Landscape

Whiteburn’s Wanderings

JJ’s Stuff 

A Trundle in the Hills

Gordon’s Off

Louise’s Big Adventure

Steve Smith

Must Explore 

Chris Townsend Outdoors

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I am unashamed of my opposition to wind farms in wild areas of Scotland. The industrialisation of our landscape is a disgraceful policy by a government that has no understanding of landscape value or, indeed, of the requirements of a secure energy supply.

A recent email from my pal Ian (last seen in Maol Bhuide) made the point – what’s the alternative? It is perfectly reasonable to ask this and those of us who reject the Gadarene rush to wind power should indeed put up or shut up and propose a viable alternative energy strategy.

In the long term, it makes sense to move to sustainable natural energy from wind, waves, tide and sunlight. Irrespective of your views on climate change and CO2 emissions, burning natural resources to create electricity doesn’t really make sense. I believe that tidal and wave power, in the longer term, has the potential to generate much more energy than wind turbines at a much lower environmental cost. But this technology still needs several years of development and we have to address our energy needs now.

One of the key advantages of carbon-based energy production is that we can store energy (in the fuel) and this allows us to coordinate energy generation and energy demands. Storage of natural energy is currently impossible so we have to over-provision so that we have the ludicrous situation of paying wind farm operators not to produce energy when demand is low. Therefore, it seems to me that a natural energy policy will only become viable when we have cost-effective energy storage facilities. This is a long-term research challenge so it will be tens of years before we can move away completely from other methods of energy generation.

The most sensible current alternative to wind farms is nuclear power, where a single power station could generate more energy as all of the turbines currently installed in Scotland put together. The costs of nuclear power are high and subsidy is certainly required – but this subsidy is in practice not that different from our current subsidy to the landscape vandals for wind turbines. The era of cheap energy has passed and we may as well get used to this.

But what of the environmental costs of nuclear power I hear you ask. There’s the issue of storage of irradiated material for hundreds of years and, of course, the possibility of nuclear accidents such as that in Fukushima in Japan where a tsunami overwhelmed a nuclear power station. Let’s deal with each of these:

1.    Waste storage. This is certainly a problem but it’s one we have already. We have had nuclear power for 50 years and have the problem of storing waste. Building new facilities may actually make the currently problem simpler as it will be more cost-effective to create long-lifetime storage technologies if waste continues to be generated.

2.     Accidents. There is a theoretical possibility of a nuclear accident in Scotland although it is unlikely that natural disasters such as those in Japan will strike here. However, the chances of death or injury from a nuclear accident are some orders of magnitude less than those from travelling in a car so these kinds of concerns are irrational. Fukushima also led to widespread land contamination and this is certainly a concern. However, all recent nuclear accidents were from older stations and modern containment technology and safety systems mean that the chances of this happening here are extremely low. I think that the environmental benefits of nuclear power are so great that it’s worth the risk.

Of course, nuclear power stations are ugly things. But, unlike wind farms, they don’t take up a lot of land and we don’t build them on hills. In fact, the sensible place to build new nuclear stations is on the site of existing stations so landscape despoliation is minimal.

There are no easy answers to assuring a secure future energy supply. Some people will disagree with my conclusions, including those who, like me, have no time for wind farms in wild areas. However, what we lack at the moment is a reasoned debate on energy strategy that takes into account landscape damage as well as CO2 reductions.

Sadly, it seems to me that the current Scottish Government is unwilling to engage in such a debate.

PS   There is no doubt that fewer people have been killed by wind farms than nuclear installations. So wind farms are safer – unless you’re a bird where somewhere between 140, 000 and 328, 000 are estimated to be killed each year by wind turbines  (not clear if that’s a worldwide or a US figure).

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Today, the Scottish Government approved the construction of a 67 turbine windfarm at Stronelarig in the Monadliaths.  This is what I wrote to Fergus Ewing about this.

——————————————————————————————————————

Mr Fergus Ewing,
The Scottish Parliament,
Edinburgh

Dear Mr Ewing,

I am writing to you to express my dismay at your recent decision to approve the construction of a large-scale wind farm at Stronelairg in the Monadliath Mountains. This industrial development will irrevocably damage one of the finest landscapes in Scotland and will undoubtedly cause considerable damage to the local tourist industry.

The Scottish landscape is a priceless and unique part of our heritage and I am disappointed that the Scottish Government is willing to damage this for the sake of arbitrary targets on renewable energy. As an engineer, I am equally disappointed that the Government has not subjected the claims by power companies to a more stringent independent analysis. Their claims are, frankly, incredibly optimistic and I am convinced that the actual power generated and the consequent economic benefits will be significantly less than has been claimed. The main beneficiaries of your decision will not be the Scottish people but rather wealthy landowners and the power companies who are being subsidised by your Government’s policy.

It is not too late to rescind this decision and to ensure that future decisions on the siting of industrial developments take into account the need to preserve our wonderful landscape. I urge you to do so.

Yours sincerely,

Professor Ian Sommerville

I haven’t written a day by day account but a few separate posts inspired by my TGO Challenge walk from Strathcarron to St Cyrus.

Walking from Strathcarron to St Cyrus (in the May sunshine)

Blogging the Challenge

Mainly dry with sunny intervals and scattered showers

Maol Bhuide

Star Trek, Pork Pies and Primula Cheese

Photographic impressions

Highs and a few lows

Reflections on the crossing

 

 

 

One of the best bits of advice that I’ve come across about the Challenge was to remember that it’s a holiday, not something to be endured. There is no point in planning an ambitious route if you end up over-tired, injured and miserable. So, my aim was just to have a wee wander across Scotland, without worrying too much about knocking off Munros or covering huge distances in a day.

I’m lucky that I can get shoes (and boots) that fit. I haven’t had  a blister for more than 20 years and I didn’t do anything daft and injure myself. I deliberately chose a ‘trade route’ with some classic Challenge experiences – Ault-na-Goire, Glen Mazeran, Mar Lodge and Tarfside.  I spent more time talking to people rather than just pressing on as I did in 2013 and that was definitely the right thing to do.  So I had a great holiday, revisiting familiar parts of the country and getting to some places that I’d never been to before.

Dennis having breakfast outside his tent in Strathfarrer

Dennis having breakfast outside his tent in Strathfarrer 

Lousie snapping Laura hugging a redwood tree (but her arms weren't quite long enough).  They apparently did this regularly all the way across.

Lousie snapping Laura hugging a redwood tree (but her arms weren’t quite long enough). They apparently did this regularly all the way across.

Does my pack look big in this? Robin in the Monadliath - his pack really wasn't that big.

Does my pack look big in this? Robin in the Monadliath – his pack really wasn’t that big.

Camping in the sunshine at Mar Lodge. Certainly the lushest camp site of the crossing.

Camping in the sunshine at Mar Lodge. Certainly the lushest camp site of the crossing.

John and David - their first experiments at Tarfside with innovative uses for Primula cheese.

John and David – their first experiments at Tarfside with innovative uses for Primula cheese.

My gear was all tried and tested and worked without problems although I made the mistake of taking socks that had already done a couple of hundred miles. They didn’t look warn but as I was walking through the Larig Ghru, I noticed that my feet felt is if they were taking a pounding. Luckily, I had taken last year’s freebie socks as a spare pair and when I changed them at the Pools of Dee, I really noticed the difference in cushioning.  Next time, I think I’ll buy a new pair before I start.

For the first few days after it was over, it was nice to be back in ‘civilisation’. No need to blow up your bed every evening, cook in a single pot, wear smelly clothes or dig a hole when nature called. Everyday comforts such as sit-down toilets, chairs and electric light, which we take for granted, were a delight. Then, it began to pall – the simplicity of the Challenge seemed very appealing compared to tedious phone conferences and emails on topics I couldn’t care less about.

I think it is the simplicity is what I like most. Life is eating, sleeping and walking (with a wee bit of social drinking of course) with no need to worry about the complexities of modern existence. So, I’ve started to wonder what it would be like to do a really big walk over a couple of months rather than a 2-week Challenge although, domestically, I think that would be about as welcome as a fart in a spacesuit.

Last year I wondered if the Challenge was a one-off – an itch I had to scratch – and once I’d done it that was that. I wasn’t sure I’d come back in 2014 but I thought, last September, I’d stick the form in and see what happened.  I’m delighted that I did and now, like so many others, I guess I’m addicted and, all being well, I’ll be back.

Realising that it wasn’t raining on Day 1

Finding that the rowan I planted at Meal Bhuide in 1980 had thrived

Venison steaks and Glen Garioch whisky at Meal Bhuide with my pal Ian

My 4 hour struggle on my own through the dreadful bogs between An Cruachan and An Riabhachan (low – if a passing helicopter had offered me a lift, I would have jumped on)

Failing (on my first attempt) to find the bridge over the River Farrer  (lowish but really just stupidity)

Negotiating the ‘off road’ route from Cannich to Bearnock (low then high when I found the path)

Crossing Loch Ness in the sunshine

Janet’s fabulous dinner at Ault-na-Goire

Sunshine and social walking in the Monadliath

My first visit to Glen Mazeran

The Burma Road – never again (low)

Going through the Lairig Ghru with a great campsite by Devil’s Point

A sunny campsite in the garden, food and socialising at Mar Lodge

Listening to Rhoda in the Old Bakery discussing her experiences as a vegan while she was tucking into a sausage toastie (unclassifiable – really quite surreal)

Eating and drinking in Braemar

Walking with David and John and finding Shieling of Mark bothy first time

Learning new uses for Primula cheese (another surreal experience)

Excellent Forfar bridie  from the butchers in Edzell

Northwaterbridge camp site (low – I really didn’t like the road noise)

St Cyrus beach [high - it was finished :-) then low, it was finished :-(  ]

I guess that most Challengers take photos of their walk and there are some great landscape photos on Challenger blogs.  I’ve been learning about digital photo manipulation recently so I thought that instead of the usual colour pictures, I’d present a more impressionistic view of my Challenge, in monochrome. Some of these I’m pleased with and I think they capture the atmosphere well; others, I’m not so sure. I’d like to know what others think (please be candid). Click on a photo to see a larger version.

Improving weather - Loch Calavie. Five minutes after I took this, it was pouring rain.

Improving weather – Loch Calavie. Five minutes after I took this, it was pouring rain.

Into the Monadliaths

Into the Monadliaths

Textbook erosion - Allt Mhor.  See Robin Evans's blog for a colour version of this (http://blogpackinglight.wordpress.com/2014/05/29/tgo-challenge-2014-day-5/)

Textbook erosion – Allt Mhor. See Robin Evans’s blog for a colour version of this (http://blogpackinglight.wordpress.com/2014/05/29/tgo-challenge-2014-day-5/)

Glen Mazeran-mono-1

Camping in Glen Mazeran

The Lairig Ghru. This is my favourite shot as I think it captures the bleak beauty of the Lairig much better than a 'prettier' colour shot

The Lairig Ghru. This is my favourite shot as I think it captures the bleak beauty of the Lairig much better than a ‘prettier’ colour shot

The Devil's Point. A great pitch across the river from the Corrour bothy.

The Devil’s Point. A great pitch across the river from the Corrour bothy.

Fallen pine near Mar Lodge. I tried a slightly different treatment here to highlight the texture of the tree.

Fallen pine near Mar Lodge. I tried a slightly different treatment here to highlight the texture of the tree.

Morrone birchwoods between Mar Lodge and Braemar. This is another example of where the monochrome captures the light much better than its colour equivalent

Morrone birchwoods between Mar Lodge and Braemar. This is another example of where the monochrome captures the light much better than its colour equivalent

River North Esk, downriver from Tarfside. A dull day.

River North Esk, downriver from Tarfside. A dull day.

Dreaming of St Cyrus. I tried to achieve a slightly ethereal quality in this picture from the cliffs at St Cyrus.

Dreaming of St Cyrus. I tried to achieve a slightly ethereal quality in this picture from the cliffs at St Cyrus.

A note on equipment. After reading Chris Townsend’s blog post (and a bunch of other stuff) I bought a Sony mirrorless camera a couple of years ago to replace an ageing DSLR. I agree with Chris that it’s an excellent camera for walking and backpacking and I haven’t regretted this decision at all.

I took it on the Challenge last year but this year decided to take a compact camera as I found I didn’t really like carrying a separate camera case and it was a pain to get it in and out of my rucksack. My compact camera is a Sony RX-100 and I’m delighted with the quality for a pocket camera. It lived in my trouser pocket and got a few knocks without any problems. I’d certainly take it again and recommend it as a great quality:weight trade-off.

If you are interested in landscape photography, you might like this article ‘Digital Landscape Photography – Yes, But is it Art’, which critiques the technically perfect approach to landscape photography by people like Colin Prior. While I think that discussions on what is and isn’t art are completely pointless, I can see what this guy is getting at – sometimes imperfect images convey the essence of a scene far more effectively. (thanks to Chris Townsend’s tweet for the link)

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Food that you cook in and eat from bags always puts me in mind of Star Trek, the 1970s sci-fi TV series. The famous quote from Star Trek that they remind me of is when Captain Kirk and Chief Engineer Scotty encountered some strange and unusual life forms and Scotty said in his American-Scottish accent:

It’s life Jim, but not as we know it” *

Well, the astronaut food in foil bags is a bit like that – Its food, Jim, but not as we know it. It provides calories but none of the other pleasures of eating – smell, taste and texture. I’ve tried various different kinds and for me, they range from blandish gloop (mostly)  to inedible, vile wallpaper paste. So, this year on the Challenge, it was no baggies for me.

I’m not really organised enough for home dehydration but it’s certainly something I’d like to experiment with sometime. So,  I decided that my Challenge food this year should be what’s available in the supermarket and, wherever possible, to eat real food in cafes etc. Given the outrageous price of astronaut food, I don’t think that this cost any more than buying lots of food bags.

I’m going to blog at another time about lightweight food from supermarkets but some highlights this year were Ainsley Harriot spicy cous-cous, Tesco’s chorizo sausage and sachets of concentrated Heinz tomato soup. Sachets of Chinese sauce also worked well with Chinese noodles. with a few bits and pieces thrown in.

Food highlights of the Challenge were a great home-cooked meal from Janet at Ault-na-Goire (Lentil soup, Beef Casserole and rhubarb crumble), a meal in the Old Bridge Inn at Aviemore (Brown trout followed by Slow-cooked belly pork) and in the Gathering Place Bistro in Braemar (French Onion soup, Game Pie). Venison steak, fried tatties and onions with my pal Ian at Maol Bhuide was a very welcome surprise on day 1.

Game pie in the Gathering Place bistro in Braemar. Seven of us had an excellent meal here.

Game pie in the Gathering Place bistro in Braemar. Seven of us had an excellent meal here.

Dinner in Mar Lodge was as tasty as ever but, disappointingly, we ate in the kitchen rather than in the rather more impressive surroundings of the dining room. And the cake at St Drostans was super.

When you are walking, healthy eating is redefined. You need to have a balance of food groups – sugar, carbohydrate, fat and protein to give an all-day release of energy. It’s hard to overeat and you’ll burn off any fat that you consume. Therefore, my favourite daytime foods are dark chocolate and pork pies, neither of which I normally eat.  Dark Chocolate with Orange from the coop is my favourite. It is available in most places and the coop’s pork pies are also OK, although Sainsbury’s Melton Mowbray pies are better.

However, the best pork pie this year was from the butchers in Edzell – it was moist and well-spiced. I also recommend the pork pies from the butchers in Ballater (which I’ve had at other times) and the venison and cranberry pies from the Braemar butchers. If you want to try local food (which I recommend) then try Forfar bridies – the Angus equivalent of a pasty. Puff pasty with steak and onions – again, the Edzell butcher had really good examples.

Turning now to the ubiquitous Challenge food, Primula cheese. Lots of people have this on biscuits or oatcakes. I’d never tried it until this year and I don’t think that I’ll buying this bland emulsion of fat, air and water again. I guess it’s cheese but it bears as much resemblance to real cheese as I do to Kylie Minogue. I prefer a chunk of tasty cheddar and I’m not convinced that it’s much heavier.

However, I’m told that Primula has other uses – rather than the expensive Gewohl foot cream, a wee bit of Primula rubbed in has the same effect.**  It’s a lot cheaper and saves you carrying 2 separate tubes. Gives a whole new dimension to the idea of ‘cheesy feet’.

'Lighting'  John Sanderson applying Primula cream to tired feet.

‘Lighting’ John Sanderson applying Primula cream to tired feet.

There is no doubt that if you want to carry as little as possible, you have to resign yourself to surviving by eating gloop and finding innovative uses for Primula cheese. I understand why people do this but it’s not for me – I’d rather carry a wee bit more and live to eat rather than eat to live.

*  According to Wikipedia, this quote was never said in the series but I’m ignoring this as it would have spoiled the story

** I had thrown away my Primula before this photo was taken so have not had the opportunity to try this myself. David Williams is a Primula expert and I believe is writing on his blog (Fellbound) about the multifarious uses of this versatile spread.

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TGOC 14: Maol Bhuide

Maol Bhuide is a remote bothy in Attadale that you can get to from either Strathcarron, Bernais bothy or Iron Lodge. It was one of my favourite places to visit in the 1970s and I went there several times with my pals Danny and Ian. Except in 1979, we didn’t get there. Danny slipped when walking alone on Beinn Alligan at Easter and was killed.

Danny (left) and Ian on the summit of Beinn Eighe, the day before Danny fell on Beinn Alligan.

Danny (left) and Ian on the summit of Beinn Eighe, the day before Danny fell on Beinn Alligan.

Danny wasn’t one for conventional memorials so we raised some money from family and friends and arranged to renovate Maol Bhuide in 1980 in his memory (some pictures of the renovation are here) and for a while I looked after the bothy for the MBA. But babies came along, as they do, and pressures of family and work meant I couldn’t carry on with this. We moved south to a new job and visits to the Scottish hills were confined to snatched week-ends, without enough time to get to places like Maol Bhuide. Even after we moved back to Scotland, work took priority and I never got the opportunity to get to the bothy.

I hadn’t been back to Maol Bhuide since 1983 and one of my objectives on this year’s Challenge was to get back to Maol Bhuide and to see how it was now. It’s a very pleasant walk from Strathcarron to Bendronaig Lodge, then to Loch Calavie before cutting across the shoulder of Beinn Dronaig to Loch Cruoshie and then to the bothy. The outlet of Loch Calavie is crossed by an ‘interesting’ bridge – I decided that I’d rather get wet.

Wire bridge-1

The ‘interesting’ bridge over the outlet from Loch Calavie. I tried it for a minute then decided that discretion was the greater part of valour and waded the river.

Maol Bhuide is guarded on all sides by water and it can involve some hairy river crossings if the burns are in spate. Approaching from Strathcarron, I had to cross the River Ling which is not fast flowing but which can be pretty deep even in good weather. I was a wee bit worried about what it would be like when I set out from Strathcarron but as it turned out, the river wasn’t a problem at all. The problem was the utterly evil bog just a few yards from the river bank.

This bog was the kind of bog in which you imagine monsters lurk, who will suck you in and then spit your bones into the peat hags. A skin of slimy water over deep, black peat with only occasional tussocks showing. I have crossed a few bogs in my time and so I wandered up and down looking for firmer bits to jump on. I spotted what seemed to be a solid bit and leant over to prod it with my pole.  This was a mistake!  After initial resistance, my pole went in for about 3 feet. It pulled me and I naturally stepped forward to find one myself in the bog – one leg up to my thigh, the other just above my ankle. I thought at that stage ‘Oh shit!’ (but it wasn’t, fortunately, just peat)

My first thought was can I get out of this without losing a shoe? On Day 1 of the Challenge, that would be a disaster.  I wriggled out of my rucksack and fairly easily extricated my left foot. Slowly, by twisting and pulling I managed to free my right leg  from the bog and with a pop, it emerged with shoe intact but VERY dirty. I then scouted around a bit more and finally found a way through the swamp.

Here, the depth of the River Ling turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I simply jumped into the river which came to above my knees and by the time I reached the far bank I was clean (ish). Ten minutes later, I was in the bothy meeting up with my old pal Ian – partner in crime when we wandered the hills with Danny in the 70s – and he is now MO of Maol Bhuide for the MBA.

Maol Bhuide-1

Maol Bhuide bothy (9th May)

We had a wee examination of the bothy and it was good to see that some of our handiwork from 1980 had survived. I was especially pleased that the rowan tree that I’d planted in 1980 had thrived within the very amateurish drystane dyke that we built to protect it from the deer.

Rowan tree-1

The rowan tree that I carried in as a sapling and planted in 1980 outside the bothy. Rowans were traditionally planted outside houses in the Highlands to keep evil spirits away.

Ian, like myself, is not a lover of dried food and he’d carried in a couple of venison steaks, onions and tatties. So we ate rather better than most Challengers that night, with a couple of bottles of beer and some of my Glen Garioch whisky. No other Challengers arrived so we thought we’d have the bothy to ourselves but at 10.30, 3 Americans and a Scot appeared having walked from Glen Affric. They were tired (to put it mildly) and after a few minutes by the fire, headed to bed.

Next day, it was raining on and off. Breakfast was Stornoway black pudding and Aberdeen butteries (which I recommend, if you can get them, instead of the ubiquitous wraps) and I set off to do more battles with bogs on my way to Strathfarrer.

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