New year, new challenges

Happy New Year!

Here’s hoping that 2014 is awesome for you all, and that you’re ready for some new challenges in the coming 12 months.

I will be undertaking some new ventures this year after a hiatus in which I’ve moved, started a new job, and acquired a few new hobbies. The first challenge I’ll be after is the Trail26:

“Taking place from Grizedale Forest Visitor Centre close to Hawkshead in the Lake District, this popular location for both trail runners and mountain bikers is perfect for our event series. The route will largely take place on forest trails with some stunning views of Coniston Water and also Lake Windermere if you choose the Trail 26 option. If you think the route will be flat then think again, Grizedale Forest and the surrounding areas provide challenging hills and rolling trails throughout the route.”

I’ve never done a marathon before, let alone an off-roader with a bit of ascent thrown in for good measure. In all honesty, I have no idea whether I can do it. But hey, I guess I won’t know until I give it a bash! And I have two months to train in. That’s enough. Right?

Following from this, I’m also hoping to undertake my first Ultra run this year, but don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten that I still need to finish the Stevenson Way first! As soon as the seasons change I’m heading back to the Highlands to carry on where I left off and tackle this beastie.

So that’s a taster of things to come, and I hope you’ll be joining me for the ride.

Here’s to a happy and adventure filled 2014.

Jay

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Pipped after the Pap

It was always going to be a bit hit and miss, going from Glencoe to Corrour. I only had Wednesday afternoon until Thursday evening and it all hinged on getting to Glencoe in time to make it to the Blackwater Dam. That’s where I planned to spend the night of Wednesday 7th August, and if I couldn’t get there, I wouldn’t be able to definitely fit the next 24km in time to catch my train to Edinburgh. Irritatingly I needed to be back by Friday lunch time for a meeting, but I didn’t want that to stop me getting in to the hills! It wasn’t to be unfortunately, but I had a fantastic (if exhausting) day arguing with midges, and some wicked pictures for the trouble.

I got up at 6am, sleepy and bleary eyed. For a minute I couldn’t remember why on earth my alarm was going off at such a stupid hour. Suddenly the excitement hit me, and I realised I was getting out in to the mountains again! I was bolt up right and out of bed like a shot. The night before I’d sorted all my kit and left it in piles in the living room, where I forgot my land lord was sleeping whilst we had visitors for the Edinburgh festival. He’s put it all by the door, but I still woke him up trying to drag it out to the hallway. For some reason, you’re always loudest when trying your hardest to be quiet!

I got everything in and ready, retrieving burger and potato waffles from the fridge and making them in to a sandwich for later. Hurriedly I said goodbye to my partner and left, knocking things over with my huge pack and slamming the door accidentally behind me (waking everyone in the flat in the process). No long goodbye with heavy heart like my last departure for the hills this, no, now I was trying to run for a bus I had to catch.

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The 7.15am train to Glasgow was heaving with commuters. People in suits looked grumpily at me, some irritated by my faffing with dry sacks, some clearly envious. The very thought of sitting behind a desk today made me cringe and I counted my blessings as the miles rolled past the window. It was beautiful and sunny, and the day held such promise. I had no idea if I’d make my destination, but I was sure as hell going to try.

I had a bit of a race from Queen Street to the bus station. People kept sending me in the wrong direction but panting and sweaty I arrived with 20 minutes to spare. Ticket in hand I sat and waited. And waited. And waited. Once again, the coach was late, and I was getting nervous. Every second wasted was time I couldn’t spend getting to my pitch that night. The river rocked up, a loud and irritated man who was particularly irked that the bus he was due to take us all on was not in it’s place. Around 9.30 it finally showed and he boarded, spending time setting up and getting it all ready. He opened the hold and motioned us all to come on board, getting in to the cab, and ticking people off the list as they boarded. I was stood with some other folks with large bags. We couldn’t get on because we’d have to back out with our packs on to stow them, after we’d given our tickets, so we put them in the hold and went to join the queue. The driver was not a happy bunny! He leapt out of the cab and actually shouted at us. He grabbed the bags and yelled to know the destination for each one, throwing them in to different places in the underside of the coach. He grabbed mine and I said “Glencoe”. He hefted it (no meant feat) and literally threw it into place. There was a crunch, and I started ticking off all the things that could have been broken. If it was my poles, I’d be in trouble. But then, I had nothing spurious with me, so if anything was broken it would be bad news. He was already back in the cab before I could challenge him, and I looked at the other passengers who were all extremely shocked. We just shrugged, and had to board as he was calling for us to hurry up!

I had a nervous trip to Glencoe, wondering what had broken in my bag, but the fears soon faded as we got more and more remote. Even the drivers disgruntled and sexist comments about women drivers ahead of him eventually blurred in to a mindless drone as I gazed out of the window. Near Loch Lomond the clouds descended and we entered that amazing Scottish phenomena known as dreich! I could see the waters of the loch for about 10m, and then nothing else, just grey and cloud. It was amazing.

Nearer Glencoe, the sky brightened and as we started into the magnificent valley, the sun emerged, casting it’s joyous light over the staggeringly effervescent colours of that truly spectacular scenery.

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I’ve been to Glencoe a few times now, but it still makes me gasp with it’s sheer grandeur.

By the time we arrived at the crossroads outside the Glencoe Hotel, it was late. Much later than I’d intended. I got out and went to retrieve my rucksack as the driver opened the hatch. The inside of the hold was awash and my bag was saturated. “You burst my water-bladder”, I said to him. “You shouldn’t have anything fragile in your bag” he retorted. “It’s not fragile” I said, “you threw my bag in and it’s broken, that’s the water I was carrying to go into the hills”. I was so angry, but mostly just uncertain what to do. I did have backup bladders, but wasn’t sure if they were enough. Did the scowling driver apologise, did he offer any help? No. His response: “You don’t need water from a bottle, there’s none cleaner than what you’ll get up there”. He’s obviously never been to Rannoch Moor, or, I assume, experienced the difficulty of trying to find water which is potable, and can be a remarkably hard undertaking. He got in the cab and drove off before I could say anything else. I stared after him, agog, then started sorting through my wet kit.

Walking up Glencoe main street in the sunshine, I soon forgot my troubles, with the pinnacle of the Pap of Glencoe ahead of me. I’ve seen it many

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times, and often thought about going up it. It’s always felt like a ‘tourist mountain’ though. You know, the ones that people tramp up and down in their jeans and flip flops because it’s a short easy path right next to the town. Surrounded by it’s larger and much grander cousins, the Pap has always seemed a little, well, tame. But it is instantly recognisable, and stands alone, on the edge of the loch, as a smaller, friendlier sentinel than those guarding the other end of the valley. And today, I fancied my chances.

In the picture you can see the Pap to the far left, with the slope down to the col  where I’d be crossing over to the other side of the valley, just above the chimney pots!

It’s not far, I told myself, but as I started the ascent I felt the burn begin. I know I’m not unfit, but I’d anticipated that I’d be fit enough. It turns out that doing not a lot for some weeks (except drinking beer and eating take-away) doesn’t maintain a fit and healthy body, and the Pap became a bit of a challenge. Having said that, when I did start to feel that it was more than just a gentle stroll, I remembered the last time I was here at Glencoe, and it suddenly seemed a lot easier. Actually, it was strange being back. I had all kinds of mixed emotions, one of which was fear – fear that I wouldn’t be able to cope with it, fear that maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t up to this challenge. As I ascended further above the valley, I could pick out distinct areas. There was the cafe in the village where I’d consoled myself with cake last time. There was the window in the bunk house below, through which I’d sat in bed feeling poorly, looking up at these hills. There was the turning for the campsite at the visitors centre where I’d stayed last August on my first trip to Glencoe, and the ox-bow just on the opposite side of the river where I’d been wild swimming. And suddenly, beyond all these places, I noticed others. There was the bridge, which I’d walked back from when I was first sick that wet and cold night, exhausted and desperate for somewhere to stay. And  as I got higher, there was Bealach Fhionnghaill which I didn’t manage to cross last time, where I was in trouble, coming down the side of the head-wall. And there was Bealach Easan, and the long winding path back to the road, which I reached exhausted with bruised feet and bleeding hips from my rucksack. It was a strange mixture of feelings. I don’t think I’d realised just how much I was in pain, and how tired and anxious I was at the time, I was too busy getting out of the valley. I hadn’t thought about it much over the last few weeks, but I realised how much not getting to my objective had knocked my confidence, and suddenly I didn’t feet quite so excited any more. Suddenly, I remembered that the Pap may be a ‘tourist mountain’ but it’s still a mountain, and the sides seemed a little steeper and the drops less forgiving. I stood for a while, contemplating, deep in thought.

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The start of the path up the Pap

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Honestly, it’s a lot steeper, and further, than it looks!

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The two Bealachs, Fhionnghaill on the left and Easan on the right, Stob an Fhuarain in the centre

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The bridge across the Loch at Ballachulish

All of a sudden I snapped out of it. Midges. Thousands of bloody midges. Sod melancholy, I was walking dammit, and those little blighters weren’t getting another drop of my blood. Onwards and upwards I went.

It’s steep, that path. It’s relentless and steep, zig-zagging this way and that, and the newly laid rocks aren’t bedded in yet so they slip and slide from under your feet. But the views are breathtaking, and with the clouds that frequently darkened the vista, extremely dramatic. The last slog up to the col by the Pap is fantastic, and I couldn’t wait to reach the crest to see what lay beyond.

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As I reached the col, I stopped for a minute. I was trying to decide whether to do the last 200m to the very pinnacle or to continue the route which went straight down the other side. I asked some passers by what the path was like, and they said it was a little exposed with some scrambling. That decided it. With my huge pack and my need to use two trekking poles to stay upright, there was no way I could scramble. I wished I’d had somewhere to leave my bag, but that wasn’t an option, so I continued on my way. It always seems a shame to be so close and yet not bag a peak, like it’s effort wasted, because at some point, you’ll have to come back and do all the work again for just a few more metres of gain. But today I was on a mission. I was running very late, and the whole plan hinged on getting down in time to get to Kinlochleven. I worked out I needed to be there by 4.30 at the latest, and it was 2.40 now! I had to get going. Crossing the flat col, people who were ascending and descending the Pap eyed me suspiciously. Why wasn’t I doing what normal people did, going straight to the top? Where the hell was I going, when there was no path on the map? These were questions I was soon to be asking myself.

Keeping an eye on my feet, I was avoiding the froglets which were somewhat bigger than when I’d been here all those weeks ago, when I looked up briefly and noticed that a whole new set of mountains was in view. This was it, I was on the way down! I’d planned to eat my burger and waffle sandwich as I’d only had a few bananas for breakfast, but in my excitement I forgot all about food, and started down the hillside. The fact that I took no more photos for a long, long time, tells you all you need to know about what happened next.

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Concentrating. Lots of concentrating.

I’d been looking at the Stevenson Way website the day before, and this descent was described as “hard going through deep heather and steep slopes”. I was cursing Ian Logan, it’s originator, as I remembered that the pictures on the site were taken in what looked like winter! The steepness wasn’t the issue, it was the heather. Almost immediately it was thigh high, and with multiple rivulets emerging from the hillside and treacherous boulders, every step was an adventure. I lost count of the number of times I slipped over as my foot connected with a deep section of bog hidden by that fiendish plant, or because I’d gone to step on ground that simply wasn’t there. In the end the only way to safely progress was by placing poles in front of my feet at every step to thoroughly test the ground. It was time-consuming and exhausting. As I descended, the heather grew thicker and taller, eventually being joined by gorse and bog myrtle, which at least made the experience more fragrant. Occasional deer paths gave some respite however. I was contemplating, as I followed one path, the wisdom of these animals at finding the most straightforward and robust line of descent. It felt almost magical looking down and seeing no sign of human tracks anywhere, just animal, and knowing that I was tracing their routes along the hillside. Of course, that was until one track entered a steep and narrow gorge which no human could enter, and I was reminded that I was indeed still a clumsy, two-footed, and grumpy person.

It was long. Very long. Near the bottom, somewhere above the camp site at the Loch side, I had a brief moment of concern. I was surrounded by steep sided gorges, none of which I was sure I could cross. The foliage had been brutal, grabbing at me in places and giving way beneath me in others. I’d gone up to my knees in bog once or twice, and I generally couldn’t see how I could progress, but I was too tired and hot to re-ascend. I’d made another mistake I realised. At the top I’d decided to push on, thinking that it would be good to stop for food when I was down the other side and had more time. Really I’d needed the fuel and it would have helped me manage this better now. It wasn’t exactly a desperate situation however. I could see the road. It was more of a puzzle of how to reach it. Adding to this, the sun had come out with full force, but I was too determined to keep moving to stop and get the sun cream out, instead rotating my hat to block the worst of the rays.

Suddenly I came across a deer track that was heading in the right direction. It was like some kind of miracle. I followed it, and it was clear and simple, and somehow, it led me right to a flatter area of land, where a very definitely human made path led off toward the road. As I stepped onto the track of gravel and mountain bike treads, I could have kissed the ground for joy.

I came to the road in a small lay-by next to a bridge and sat, tired, but victorious! Then I remembered lunch. I was feeling sick because I hadn’t eaten for so long and had been exercising. I was also aware I hadn’t needed the toilet at all and was probably a little dehydrated, so I found a patch of shade and settled down to replenish my waning stores. The sandwich was warm where it had been in the top of my pack in the baking sunlight. I did momentarily wonder at the wisdom of eating a burger that had been festering since it was removed from the fridge at 6am. With it now being 15:45 I wasn’t surprise it didn’t taste that great, but I was hungry. I only made half of it when I started feeling sick. Not from the burger, simply because I was too hungry from the exercise. I paced myself and stretched out my aching muscles while I digested. Of course, quite soon the midges found me, but I’d had some time and rest and was feeling ready to go.

What to do though? I needed to get to Kinlochleven in under 45 minutes to make my night camp with enough time to relax, and it was still a good 5 km away along a road with no footpath. I was going to have to hitch-hike if I would stand any chance of getting to my destination tonight. I’d planned on being there before now, but with the late coach and the longer than expected descent, it had all gone awry and I was expecting to have to call it quits. But I wasn’t done yet.

After an hour of tramping along the road, with no footpath and some hair-raising turns which vehicles raced round with no thought of what was ahead, someone pulled over. He was a youngish guy who was concerned that I’d be injured, and even better, he didn’t seem to mind the fact that I stank of sweat from thwacking my way through the undergrowth! It turned out his father owned the Blackwater Hostel and Campsite at Kinlochleven, and he offered to drop me there when I told him I wasn’t sure I was going to get much further that night. I’d said I was hoping to make the Blackwater Dam, and described the path up the Northern bank of the River Leven which I was intending to take. He suggested that instead I follow the pipeline up, using the West Highland Way for part of the route, and an access track for the rest. It was a slightly longer path, but given my experiences with how unpredictable the terrain can be in this area, I felt that using a better track could be quicker than a shorter, but less robust route. In the end I opted for a lift to the Co-op. A cold can of something fizzy and an ice-cream were beckoning, and I needed time to think through my aims.

Sitting outside, swatting lazily at midges and watching the swallows aerial antics, I mulled over my options. Without properly measuring the route, the longer path looked to be around 8km, with more ascent at the start of the route and a lot less at the end. The other path was around 7km but was on a footpath rather than a grave track, with all the ascent at the other end where I’d be most tired. It would take me around 4 hours to walk 8km with this pack up the gradient, and as it was nearly 5.15pm I wouldn’t arrive until 9.15pm. The sun would have set by then, and trying to find a suitable spot to pitch when it’s getting dark and you’re exhausted is not a good idea. Really, I’d need to reach the dam by 8pm at the latest. It was looking hopeless, but I wanted to give it a shot. There was a chance that by using a good path I could go quicker, so I decided to walk until 6.45pm, about half the time I had before 8pm, and see where I’d got to then. If I was over half way I’d keep going. If I wasn’t, I’d turn back.

I started up the track, past the camp site I was considering staying at. It looked very welcoming and I was tempted by the little wooden pods available to sleep in. I was tired and out of shape, and starting a long slog up a hillside seemed unattainable. But I forged on, determined to give it my best shot possible. In any case, I really didn’t want to have to come back again, risking another meeting with that dodgy driver!

The path crossed over the pipe line carrying water from the reservoir to the town, and started a long ascent through the wooded valley of the lower slopes. The air was shimmering with heat and fragrant with the greenery that lined the route. The noise of the water rushing through the gigantic pipes that poured down the hillside was at times almost deafening, and at others it confused me by sounding like a car approaching from up ahead! I followed the West Highland Way for a short while, then it detoured off to the right and zigzagged along the opposite side of a small valley. It took a longer and gentler route, however I decided to follow a footpath that held the line of the pipe-work – straight up! It looked intimidating, this steep and long slope ahead of me, with 100m of ascent in just under half a kilometre, but it cut out a short bit of distance. With the sun shining through the trees to the right of me I started up the slippery path.

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Over-heating in the early evening sunshine, I was relieved to see a small fracture in the pipes cascading a shower of rainbow droplets across the path. As I walked through I realised it was more of a torrent and I was saturated in the seconds it took to get past, but it was a welcome relief. Maybe 40m from the top as I was really struggling but determined to get there without stopping, my phone rang! I’d meant to turn it off, and was so taken aback by the sudden noise that I even answered it. It was my mother. She started asking me lots of questions about what I was up to. I tried answering through my panting breaths, but needing to use poles meant walking and talking was impossible any way, so I stopped for a few minutes. Almost immediately I was surrounded by bitey little midges, and had to say to her that I needed to hang up and keep moving because I was being eaten! For some reason, she kept asking questions, and even sounded annoyed when I said I really did have to go, and hung up. But then, I don’t think she’s ever encountered midges or the utter misery that they can bring, so it’s not surprising really.

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I continued upwards, veering off to rejoin the West Highland Way. There were many people coming down the path, all of whom looked at me like I was doing something ridiculous. “You’re just starting the hardest bit of the path” one man joked with me as he passed. I sort of grunted. I had noticed that already. Before I knew it, I was at the top of the steep route, just below the pump house. It was 6.45pm and time to stop and re-assess my situation. The views over the valley were spectacular, the lowering sunshine highlighting every shade of the greenery in the trees and grasses. There was a gentle breeze which meant that I could mostly enjoy the scenery without too much bother from the midges, and I retrieved the map for some thoughtful perusal.

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I was not half way. Not even close. I estimated that I’d walked around 2km, and getting to my objective was not possible any more. I contemplated walking a little up the West Highland Way until 8ish then wild camping. I thought I could continue on that route the next day, and pick up the coach at the Glencoe Ski Centre in the next valley. It would only be 10km from where I was, which was possibly achievable. There would have been quite a lot more ascent though that evening, and the day would have started with more in the morning. Mainly though, I wasn’t sure when the coaches would be going from there, and I had to make it back to Edinburgh that night. I didn’t have my smartphone, just my outdoor one with no internet, so I couldn’t check. Given that I erred on the side of caution and started the descent back down to Kinlochleven, where I could get the bus to Glencoe in the morning and the coach from there. With any luck I”d get back to Edinburgh at a sensible time and be able to get some work done. I’d had a nice day of walking even if it was shorted than I’d anticipated.

For the walk down, I followed the more straightforward West Highland Way path. I was sad to not be continuing, but was looking forward to the luxury of flat ground to pitch on, and pub around the corner! After crossing the Allt Coire Mhorair and following the route along the valley side, I looked back up to the point I’d reached when I decided to turn around. The pipe line was visible heading up the valley side to the pump house at the top, near which I had turned round. Again, it felt like wasted effort in a way, knowing that I’ll have to make that ascent again, although next time I’ll be following the actual route along the Leven.

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I finally arrived back at Kinlochleven around 8pm and pitched up at the extremely friendly campsite, where the owner was very helpful with information about local amenities and bus times in the morning. As I pitched up, a guy sat cooking dinner at a nearby table offered me a can of beer! There was nothing right then that I could have wanted more, and I immediately accepted. I sat cooking my dinner with him and his partner, chatting about the trials of long distance paths. They were walking John O’Groats to Lands End, and had given themselves until October to complete the route. Carrying much less weight and taking sensible routes to visit shops along the way, they were enjoying the freedom of the trail and taking their time. I have to admit, I was a little jealous, but it sounded like an amazing adventure to do together, and I’ve thought of them a few times over the last few days, hoping that they’re still having fun!

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The next morning I was up early – 4am! The midges were hellish in numbers but this time I was prepared. No more mosquite net fail for me, I had a midge net and long sleeves and theere was nothing they could do about it. I was feeling particularly victorious as they swarmed around my face frustrated and unable to get to my tasty warm blood. At 7am I was in the village getting breakfast at the co-op before heading over to await the bus, feeling smug in my protective mesh.

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At Glencoe I waited for a long time for the coach. Someone was pottering around the local Mountain Rescue Team base and I went and said hi, more out of professional curiosity than anything else. They had some pretty fantastic kit and I had a mooch around the base. It really was very impressive. At 9.30am I was on a coach, sandwiched between two different types of irritating music and some teenage girls debating who was the biggest ‘slag’ on some TV show I’ve never heard of. But again, it droned out, and I gazed at the mountains around me, knowing it wouldn’t be long before I was back to enjoy them again.

 

Random Pictures

I spent quite a while in the tent messing around with my camera, trying out different filters and effects. I just thought I’d add some random ones here for no good reason other than that I liked them!

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Back on the road again

Jay is currently on a bus somewhere between Glasgow and Glencoe. He’ll be doing a 42k from Glencoe to Corrour over the next few days, and then another block next week. Apparently the weather looks “ok, for the hills”, whatever that means! He’s not looking forward to the midges, though!

As ever, he’s raising money for RAPID-UK, so please spread the word. Wish him luck!

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A Series Of Unfortunate Events – Illness, Injury and an Early Departure

17.06.13

1am – Well, earlier today I sent Tracy an update for the blog which was full of hope and excitement about the walk ahead. It’s not turned out quite how I’d imagined though. Right now I’m in a bed at the Glencoe Hotel where I’ve been for just over half an hour. This was not where I’d planned to stay tonight!

During the journey here I’d become progressively more ill and, ironically, as I’d passed the hotel on the coach I’d almost decided to get off here to go to the campsite and wait until morning. But I thought I’d get started, and that I’d find somewhere to pitch and sleep it off, probably waking up feeling much better tomorrow.

I left the bus at 8.40pm just south of the bridge at Ballachulish and found the cycle track I needed to follow to take me to the forest I was going to ascend through. The evenings are so light up here that I hadn’t expected a problem finding somewhere to pitch, but as rain clouds descended it became incredibly dark and I was starting to be a little concerned about finding a site. As I ascended the forest track and my body started to work, I started to feel much more unwell. I was dizzy and very sweaty, and was getting stomach cramps and nausea. It occurred to me that starting so late meant that no one else was going to be walking up here, so if anything happened to me the chances were no one would be nearby until the next day. Also, I’d made a mistake in that no one was expecting to hear from me that night as I thought it looked very straight forward. Given that, I decided the safest option was to descend to the carpark which was near to houses, and to pitch there.

All the paths and the grass verges were covered in sharp gravel, which I hadn’t expected. My heart was sinking and I was getting worried I wouldn’t be able to pitch. The rain was coming down and I was getting soaked. I found a small patch next to the river and got into my tent. As I lay there, it occurred to me that it was raining heavily and I hadn’t checked the flood area of the river. I looked out of the tent, and immediately realised that there was flood debris on the opposite bank at a much higher level than mine. There was no way I could stay there. Although most likely safe, there was a chance it wouldn’t be, so I had to move on. I literally picked up the tent and walked it to a grass verge nearby – the only other possible place. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite fit and I couldn’t peg it in at all. Ill, miserable and wet I was trying to work out what to do, when the midges found me!

My only option was to head back to the road an try and find a B&B for the night where I could warm up and try and rest to shift the sickness I was experiencing. I called my partner and the nearest ones were Ballachulish, some miles back down the road. She texted me some local taxi numbers, but there aren’t any at 10.45 on a Sunday night in Glencoe! It was pitch black and wet and I was in quite a bad way physically. I began the long slog along to Ballachulish. Eventually I arrived, in pain and sweating with nausea. The first B&B I came to at 11.20pm refused me a room. I guess I looked awful! The woman told me to go into the village “just up the road” to the next B&B. 15 minutes later, as walking was problematic, I arrived. It was full. All the B&Bs nearby were full. I sat at the side of the road, wet, sick and utterly miserable. I just couldn’t get my brain in gear to know what to do, short of pitching in the middle of the village playing field!

Eventually all I could do was walk the extra mile or so to Glencoe and if no where there had a room, at least another mile further was a campsite where I could safely pitch. I know a mile doesn’t sound far, but feeling as I was, it may as well have been 100 miles for how attainable it felt. But there was nothing for it. I had to gather my energy, mentally kick myself in the backside, and just keep walking.

Eventually I made it to the Glencoe Hotel, a bit after midnight. There were some lights on in the hallway, but the bar was in darkness. I rang the bell but it didn’t work, so I knocked. Nothing happened. I felt utterly desolate, and then, miracle of miracles I saw someone in a back room! I knocked on the window and he came to the front door. I said I was ill and asked if they had a room, and he said yes there was one left. I literally could have cried with relief. The chap said that he was just leaving and if I’d been 2 minutes later he would have been gone and the place in darkness! He brought me inside and just gave me the key, saying I could sort the details out in the morning. I was so grateful and lugged myself up the stairs and into the incredibly nice hotel room. I can’t describe the feeling when I opened the door and stepped inside, knowing I was safe and warm and had somewhere to be for the night. I quickly hung my sodden tent out in the shower and put all my wet kit out to dry before calling my partner who was desperately worried about me. I sank into bed, coccooned in cotton sheets and luxury that I hadn’t expected to be experiencing. The room was £85, which was more money than I had really, but I was lucky to have found anywhere, and it was worth every penny. So here I am, ready to sleep and grateful to have somewhere in which to do it.

1.30pm – Wow, what a night. With trying to get all the details down before I fell asleep though, I forgot the most important thing that happened yesterday!

As I arrived at Glasgow and stepped off the train, my amazing partner was there waiting for me! She’d come to see me for the 40 minutes that I had between train and coach. I have never been so happy as when we hugged. We got to the coach station in 15 minutes and sat holding tightly to each other, hurriedly sharing stories of the past week, looking at pictures from what we’d both been up to. The bus was late and we had a little more time together than was expected, which was amazing, but when I had to say goodbye again I felt awful. As I got on the bus, a little boy asked me why I had red hair, and I was talking to him about it and my piercings as the bus started moving. I quickly jumped up and looked around for my partner to wave goodbye, but couldn’t see her. I went to each side of the bus, face pressed against the glass, searching the crowd. She was gone. When I spoke to her later, she said she’d been waving to me from the front of the bus but she’d seen I was talking to someone, so she’d left. I think my heart broke a little bit again, when I realised that she didn’t know that only seconds later I was trying to find her.

Anyway, I’m not at the Independent Youth Hostel in Glencoe. I spent ages this morning trying to decide what to do, whether to start walking or not. I had sat in the breakfast lounge at the hotel looking out over the Loch towards the bridge I’d walked from the night before, eating the extremely tasty breakfast included in my room fee. I felt ok and had almost decided to leave, but when I got back to my room I was ill again, and that made the decision for me. I showered and packed my kit and sat in the lobby so I could call Clare and see how she was doing. Apart from a slightly sore back she was ok, but advised that I stop for a day or two to ensure I was well before I started walking again. I agreed totally, and she reminded me of the more affordable youth hostels just a little up the road. I got my pack on and stepped out in to what turned out to be a baking hot day.

Following the path through the village and then along the river, it quickly became evident that I wasn’t well enough to do any walking today. Although I’d be sweating anyway with the heat, I was really drenched and was struggling with fatigue and nausea. It was only 1.5 miles but it felt like forever and I arrived at the hostel in serious need of a bed and some sleep. I’d definitely made the right choice. So here I am in the bunkhouse enjoying the solitude. It’s not really open yet but they booked me in anyway so I could get into bed! At the moment the room is all mine, but with 8 beds I expect it won’t be empty for long. I’m kind of hoping someone will bring some tea bags! I made a cup at the hotel in my flask, but dropped it when I got here! What I wouldn’t give for a nice cup of tea! At the moment I’m pondering whether to miss the Glencoe section and go straight for Rannoch Moor as I’m now going to be quite behind, but I’m not sure about it. I’m also incredibly frustrated as it is a beautiful day outside. The sun is hot, there’s just enough of a breeze to keep the midges at bay, and I’m in Glencoe! I wish I were walking so much, but actually I should be asleep. I feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach, and am looking forward to drifting off and dreaming.

7.05pm – Well I slept all afternoon. Some lovely people from the Netherlands have arrived. They went to the shop and came back with loads of fruit for me, which apparently is customary for people who are ill. It was great having the vitamins though, and having a bit of a chat. The couple have been biking all around the North of Scotland, and are off to Mull tomorrow to look for eagles and otters. They’re really pleased that the weather is so good. Miriam says that every time she comes to the UK the weather is amazing, so she doesn’t believe it when we moan about the rain and the cold! They’ve given me tea bags and shared their milk with me. I couldn’t ask for better bunk-house buddies.

10.50pm – Wow, suddenly it’s late! I’ve spent the whole evening sat in the sun working out distances and timings for the whole of the Glencoe section of the walk. The sun was warm, with the red light glancing of the mountain peaks as they towered above me. Above the summits as the sun sank below, clouds were up-lit with orange and gold, a last reminder of the glorious day I’ve largely slept through.

I’ve been chatting intermittently to Phillipe, a 65 year old French man, who I had to ask to keep his shoes outside the dorm! Luckily he wasn’t offended. At the moment he’s snoring. He’s a very interesting man who lives near Mont Blanc and does an epic walk every month. He’s just done the French ‘Stevenson Way’ based on another of his books. We had that intersting moment earlier when we started talking and then realised that neither of us really knew enough of each other’s language to have an actual conversation – you both wish you hadn’t started, but now you have, you both feel obliged to continue.

I’m laying in bed and from a narrow slit of a window I can see trees and a mountain – it makes me really happy. I feel extremely anxious about tomorrow though. If my stomach is still bad I may have to go home as I can’t just hang around waiting to see if I feel better, spending money I don’t have on a room. I have identified two possible exits if I do walk and get into difficulty, but really I just need to be well enough to not need them.

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The independent hostel at Glencoe where I’ve been recuperating.

18.06.13

8.30pm – So, I didn’t go today. I had cramps all morning and spoke to one of our medics who advised I should give it at least another 24 hours. I had thought about calling NHS direct, but realised they probably wouldn’t understand why I’d even be considering hiking out into the hills with an iffy stomach! At least our medics are used to us doing crazy things.

I slept for most of the morning then went for a walk into the village for lunch and to buy dinner for tonight. I also got some postcards, which I thought would be nice to send home. I got some 20ps so I could use the computer at the bunk house and put the Mull section up on the blog, and then sat in the cafe and read a paper. Really low-key day of relaxation and rest, which was much needed.

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Glencoe Village with the Pap of Glencoe rising in the background

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I spoke to my partner later who told me that her work had confirmed she could move with me. Just before I started the walk I was offered a job in England and we’ve been waiting to see if she could move to. I was so excited, but it did make me feel like I needed to be at home with her so we could sort out somewhere to live and get things packed.

It’s been another amazing day here with the weather, and I wish I’d been walking. I’m anxious still about getting walking again, but feeling quite a bit better. Not 100% but then I think tomorrow I either have to walk or call a halt to it all. Going to get my stuff packed now ready for the morning so I can go if I feel up to it. Fingers crossed! The biggest problem I have right now I think is the psychological hurdle of getting going again. Now I’ve stopped, and there’s been the potential of ending and going home, it’s extremely hard to get moving. But I must be sure that if I were to go home, it’s really because I am ill and not because mentally I’ve convinced myself I should. I think whatever happens, unless I’m actively very sick, I should get walking tomorrow to kick that mental block into shape!

19.06.13

18.21 – I made it! Back out on the trail today, and I feel much MUCH happier for it! Even more exciting, I got a lot further than I expected and will be able to get back to Glencoe tomorrow without needing a second night out on this section! Turns out on flat or undulating ground I do about 5kph even with the pack, whereas all my timings were for 3kph which is ordinary mountain or boggy ground (serious uphills are down to 1.5-2kph). So today took me around half the time I expected it to!

I woke around 8am and still felt exhausted, which didn’t bode well for travelling, but I managed to drag myself out of bed.  I thought I’d see how I felt after breakfast, and although a little sore, I felt ok. Ultimately I figured I should try as I was going stir crazy just waiting and it was making me miserable and depressed.

Around 9.15am I was ready, but a bit gutted I’d missed the bus out to Ballachulish. I thought about walking but wanted to take it realtively easy and not add an extra few miles to my trip today. I made my way to the village, and my pack didn’t feel too heavy which was promising and meant I was feeling a lot better. I wasn’t too sweaty or tired and felt stronger than I had even the week before on Mull. At the village, I went to the petrol station and tried hitch hiking for 20 minutes before giving it up and heading to the bus stop to wait in the sunshine.

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Loch Leven with the bridge in the distance

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Glencoe village cross-roads and the Pap in the background

The bus came around 11 and I was on the way again, in excellent spirits. It was strange going through Ballachulish again. I felt a bit upset – I guess it was a place I now only remember as somewhere I felt intensely hopeless and alone. It looked so different in the day light, much smaller, and less intimidating. That feeling of upset stayed with me as I got off the bus and walked up the same cycle track I’d descended a few days earlier. At the carpark I went and looked at the place I’d first pitched my tent. The ground was as I’d left it with no sign of water encroachment – clearly nothing untoward had happened. Still, better that I’d made a safer call and been wrong. And I had needed a few days to get over the bug.

As I passed the point I’d last seen 2 nights ago, where I’d decided to turn back, the sun came out and my mood lifted. It was a new day, it was early and I was now on new ground I hadn’t walked on before. I was on my way. After only 100m however, a sign at the side of the path said I couldn’t go any further due to forest works taking place. I was gutted, but I wasn’t prepared to come all this way to turn around. Recalling my experience on Mull of sneaking past them, I thought I’d give it a go. Up the track I went, passing workers vehicles, empty and silent in the sunshine. I continued on and was about 2km into my journey when rounding the hillside on the last short stretch to the mast and the open hill, I heard people. A sign ahead said essential road maintenance! Bugger. If they were working on the actual track there was no way I could get past unnoticed. There was no way up or down to circumvent them either, and I could hear heavy machinery just round the bend. After an hour of walking, I had to turn back to the carpark. Again.

On gaining the carpark I weighed my options. I felt I should walk by road round the hillside to the left and continue as planned, although the extra distance plus the doubling back I’d done would add a few hours to my journey. OR, I could go right to Ballachulish and walk in via another valley that would take me much further on in that section and save me lots of time and effort. I decided to let fate decide in a way. Via Ballachulish I’d get to a cairn between the two forests where I could stay the night, with only one day of walking left on the Glencoe section to do, which meant I would finish at Glencoe tomorrow (Thursday) night! If I went left, I’d most likely end up at a bothy before that, then sleep a second night out ending in Glencoe on Friday. When I was at the hostel I’d spoken to my partner who was going to look at coming to Glencoe for the night on Friday to see me. I decided to call her, and if she was going to do that I’d go left, and if not, I’d go right, shaving off some of my journey time. After some connection problems we spoke and she told me she wasn’t coming. It just wasn’t practical in terms of time or money. I hadn’t realised then how much the thought of seeing her after this section had motivated me to get started again, and now it wasn’t happening. But motivating or not I was here now, and although disappointed I was still feeling pretty good.

I looked at the map again thinking to head to Ballachulish and in to the back of Glencoe that way, when I noticed that going the full route to the left took nme through Glen Duror and thus Appin! Suddenly it occurred to me that I couldn’t ever claim to have done the Stevenson Way if I’d missed out such a key location from the book! With that in mind and spurring me on, I turned left down a track towards the main road.

As I arrived two things struck me – first that it was a much busier road than I’d expected, and second, that it had no pavement and lots of thundering logging trucks. After walking into Glencoe village today, as well as the doubling back I’d done, I had walked quite a few extra miles already so I decided that the safest option would be to hitch hike round to Duror rather than attempt the road. A pink mohawk and piercings once again made it difficult to get a lift, but after 40 minutes an extremely kind local man pulled over and told me to hop in. Not only did he drive me to Duror, but he even took me up to the car park at the start of the forest, meaning I avoided some horrible pavement walking!

At about 2.10pm I started walking, and kept a fanatical eye on the timings I’d worked out before. Unbelievably, they were completely off. Even with continuing to stop for pictures and to look at different features, I was walking at almost twice the speed I had expected. A section I had predicted to take 3hrs15 only took me 2hrs10! Being so much speedier than I’d planned meant that I whizzed past the bothy and ended up at the cairn I would have got to if I’d travelled via Ballachulish! At just after 4.15pm I was done, and  decided to pitch just NE of the cairn. It was the last flat ground before the next forest, and I didn’t expect there to be anywhere in that where I could sleep. I did contemplate moving on to completing that next forest section too, but given it was my first day I wanted to take it easy. Looking around for somewhere to put up the tent I discovered what could only be described as a beautiful campsite! Flat areas of short green grass, almost no thistles, no uncomfortable tufts! It looked like the area had been mowed! Then I noticed the holes in a bank nearby and realised that I had a lot of bunnies to thank for my comfy pitch!

I’m sat in the tent now, and I’ve worked out that I’ve made around 18.65km today, since around 11am. I’m ecstatic with my progress. I feel generally ok, although as the afternoon wore on I’ve become a bit nauseous. That isn’t leaving me and I don’t fancy any dinner, but I’ve made myself eat anyway. I plan to sleep early tonight and get an early start in the morning, when I’ll be aiming to do 19.11km. I feel hopeful about it, although there is a lot more ‘up’ involved in the next section than there has been today. I’ll stop at the other side of the next forest for a proper break before starting the serious ascent, and see how I feel. Dinner in the Clachaig Inn tomorrow night sounds wonderful. I hope the weather is good. It’s been ok today. Very windy now, so I think it will be a loud night in the tent. I can hear sheep nearby and the occasional bellow of red deer. I just picked a tick off myself that was looking for a good place to bite but hadn’t quite made it yet. I am so happy I did this today, and hopefully will get a good day of walking in tomorrow.

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Enjoying the lovely flat freshly mown pitch!

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Getting some evening sunshine. Note the rucksack strap lines! Lovely view to the Pap of Glencoe in the background.

9.11pm – I dozed for a bit and just woke up so decided to go and brush my teeth. The wind has completely dropped, and within seconds of leaving the tent I was engulfed in a dark cloud of biting midges! Now there are about 20 in the tent with me! I hate the little bastards. If the wind doesn’t pick up again, I’m going to be in trouble in the morning!

20.06.13

6.09am – Well, it’s a reasonably good morning here in Glencoe. No wind sadly so when I unzipped my tent a million midges made a dash for me! I decided I could wait for a wee, and will tat down at the last possible moment. Just about to have breakfast and then get going – lots of miles to do today! Sadly I slept terribly, mostly because I’m cold I think. I am definitely going to invest in an ultra-light and very warm sleeping bag when I get home.

I read the other day that up to 40,000 midges can land on an exposed arm in Scotland within one hour, each biting up to 11 times a second. Bastards.

12.10pm -This morning was hillarious! Whilst waiting in hope for the wind to pick up before tatting down, I noticed that my tent fabric appeared to be flickering. When I looked closely, it turned out that the aptly named ‘fly sheet’ was covered in literallythousands of midges, and I realised that taking down my tent was going to be an interesting and probably unusually painful experience today. I rummaged in my bag for my head net thinking I’d outsmarted the bitey little gits, but as I pulled out the small stuff sack, I noticed that it said ‘mosquito net’ on the packet. With a sinking heart I emptied out the net and held it up to a nearby midge. As if to oblige, it promptly crawled through one of the mesh holes. Even a morbidly obese midge would have had no problem. Hmm. There was nothing for it but to accept my fate and crack on.

With everything ready, I unzipped the tent and ran outside, through the swarm, and up a hill. My tent was covered and they were restless. They could obviously sense the CO2 but not actually work out where I was. Seconds later, a new batch from another direction did find me!

The next 40 minutes was spent in a kind of strange dance. I’d hyperventillate and then hold my breath, rush in, grab a tent peg whilst being bitten on the face and then run in a different direction. Repeat. If anyone had seen me, they probably would’ve wondered if I should have been out alone.

At 7.55am I finally set off, with a lot of painful itchy bites all over my head, neck and hands. Crossing the river, I couldn’t find the path on the map, but found my own way throught the bracken and bog up the steep sides of a ridge to it’s crest. Working my way along a deer fence I located the gate and entered the forest on the other side. It was 9.10am. The forestry commission had cleared this section leaving branches, debris and deep ruts across what would have been a path, which made progress very slow. Soon enough though I entered the trees, feeling very smug and happy with my contour interpretation so far. In a light and gentle drizzle I descended a beautiful grassy path along a firebreak in the trees, keeping an eye on my timings for distance. Gossamer webs clung to my arms and face and a woodpecker rattled it’s call somewhere to my right in the trees. It was a staggeringly pretty morning.

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Meeting the forest track I continued along on the way. I noticed I was feeling a bit queezy, especially when I tried to eat or drink anything. But otherwise I was feeling ok. I was making excellent progress and thought my timings were spot on. Roughly where I expected, albeit a little early, my map notes showed a track to the left, which was matched by what I saw on the ground. I had a look a little way ahead but couldn’t see a different path so assumed this was the right one. I headed downhill but the path started going the wrong way. I gave it 1km then turned back and went South off path, thinking I was in the right place. I half crawled and half hacked my way through the trees, the ever boggy forest floor saturating my boots under foot. Branches grabbed me and snarled round my platypus hose and rucksack. I came in to a fire break and sank into a marsh. Horrified, I wondered if this was the track I’d been aiming for! I decided to keep working South, knowing eventually I’d either reach the real track, or the river, in which case I’d know to come back to here. 10 minutes later I was stood on a hard gravel road through the forest, feeling intensely relieved. 150m behind me along the road were the buildings I should have come out by. I’d left the previous track too early to go south, but when I went to look, the path I should have found down to this one was gone, where the forestry commission had uprooted the trees and any semblance of a footpath.

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I planned to stop for a short break, it was 10.30am and I’d been going for an hour and a half. Sadly it wasn’t to be as the midges had their own plans for me, and 5 minutes later my pack was on and I was trudging up the roadway. The drizzle fell but it was too hot for my waterproof jacket – though I kept the trousers on as tick protection.

I walked on, being overtaken once by a forestry van. I did think about hailing it, but seeing as I’d hitch hiked the day before I wanted to do all the walking myself today. Passing over a bridge I stopped for some minutes to watch trout below darting between the rocks and in and out of patches of fleeting sunshine.

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As I continued, I thought I should get the map out again and think about my timings. Stupidly I then thought I didn’t need to bother as it would be obvious where I needed to stop. My map notes said “follow track to end, and then go right to deer fence”. I figured I’d know where the track ended. Then I realised that was the sort of naive assumption that led to trouble, but I was so sure it would be fine, I forgot that I should have been keeping on top of it anyway, because in hill country you never ever really know. I was stupid, and I didn’t check, because I was tired and couldn’t be bothered.

The track continued on round multiple bends. Eventually it ended and a small footpath continued onward. I was a little confused by the instructions to turn right when the track ended, but in my mind the ‘track’ had ended and that was a footpath ahead. I ignored the small voice that also said the end of the track was far too soon, and following a fire break I made it downhill to the deer fence. From there I could see along the fence to the far tip of the forest I was heading to. It seemed a long way, further than I expected.

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After 20 minutes of bog hopping over challenging ground, I came to some ruins. The ruins I should have descended to if I’d continued on the footpath from earlied. I was an idiot. Luckily my error didn’t seem to have added too much time to the journey, and more by luck than judgement, the journey was continuing as planned. Passing through the ruins, creepy and moss covered, with dead pine brances scraping my arms, was an eerie experience, and I was glad when I worked along to the deer fence again. Going was slow and wet, and it was with relief that I reached the forest edge just after 12pm. I’ve just eaten, as here it’s windy enough to stop and have a proper refuel before the slog ahead.

At this point it’s worth mentioning that I was going a little bit crazy. My mind doesn’t like to be unoccupied and the isolation was doing strange things to me. Although I was concentrating on my route and on the walk, on another level I had constant ‘noise’ making up for the silence. Repeatedly I had the odd line or two of a song stuck in my mind. It would be there, over and over again for an hour or so, then another would replace it. Not whole songs, just a coupld of lines from one. Today, I didn’t mind the few lines from Disney’s Robin Hood, but I strongly objected to Shania Twain. Yesterday I was bothered by Kings of Leon!

Anyway, from my position here I’ve been looking closely at the map and have realised what I can see is just the first saddle, 1/4 of the way to the top – not the actual saddle/bealach I’m aiming for! I have to make a decision which has been bothering me. If I follow the intended route, I have to contour round a very steep headwall high above a corrie. I’m not too worried – I don’t like heights but I think it would be fine – but the ground is very wet and I’ve noticed that despite having very good walking boots, they aren’t gripping very well, which is concerning me. To my left, a safer, less steep, and quicker option is available. I think I’m going to go for the proper route via Bealach Fhionnghaill, rather than the ‘easy’ way via Bealach Easen. It’s almost 1pm and I’m gonna get started.

11.30pm – The ascent was long and I was feeling really quite unwell when I started. Every time I’d eaten or drunk anything today I felt sick and had a bit of a struggle to keep it down, but I’d managed, so thought I was ok. I thought I could get across and traverse the steep section by 3, thus being at the pub by 5pm! On the way up, I was sweating a lot more than usual, and concentrating on avoiding the many froglets that crossed my path. I was making great time, and after half an hour I was half way up!

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It got harder and harder however from then on. The wind dropped and I literally felt like I was burning up. My face and head were boiling hot and when I poured icy stream water over my head it instantly warmed up. I was feeling more and more ill, but kept going knowing that in a few hours I’d be at the bar having dinner.

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Eventually, exhausted, I reached the bealach at the top, and looked at the traverse I’d have to make. I was apprehensive but thought it probably wasn’t as steep once I had got over to the wall than it looked from here. I needed a rest but made it quick as I was anxious to get on with the section. My map notes were very clear here – don’t take a high line, drop well down below the crags. I should have listened to my apprehension.

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The crags on the side I was to avoid jutted out high above the valley floor and there was nothing in the world that would make me want to be above them. I set out, thinking I was heading in the right direction to skirt the bottom of the rocky buttresses, and although nervous, was making good progress. At some point the ground became extremely steep, dropping away to my right for hundreds of metres. I kept on and rounding a corner saw the bealach I was heading for – below me in the distance! I had taken far too high a line without realising. Looking down to my right, I could see the edge of the ground and then nothing, and I realised with horror that I was high above the crags, and one slip would send me over their edge in to the valley below. I was struggling to maintain my footing on the wet grass and more than once I started to go, digging my poles in hard to stop me from loosing the ground. There were also boulder flows to cross and these turned out to be fairly unstable on the steep mountain side. Crossing one, carefully placing my feet due to the ankle-breaking holes between them, one slipped from under me, shifting all those around it, and above it. Some crashed over the edge of the crag and I heard them echoing as they hit the valley floor. My heart was in my mouth as I realised the consequences of dislodging one of these flows and being carried by it to the valley floor. It would most likely hurt. Alot. And I would probably be unrecognisable by the end. At this point, I did the only thing I could. I wedged myself into some rocks, and got out the satphone. I left a message on Tracy’s answerphone, and one on Clares. The message gave my exact location, the time (3.10pm), what I was wearing, what I was doing, and a time an hour later when I planned to call back. In the event that they didn’t hear from me however, it also instructed them to call for help.

I realised there was no way I was getting across to the Bealach, and fear was rising in me. I needed to move before it got the better of me and I was either crag-fast against the rocks or acting rashly in panic. Using my poles, which once again were a life line, and keeping three points of contact at all times, I very, very slowly picked a line down to the valley floor,a nd worked my way along it. My right knee which had an old injury was buckling on the steep ground, and my wrists were in agony from twisting against the poles. I had almost no grip on the wet grass and rocks, and there were certainly times when I slipped that the only thing keeping me attached to the valley wall were the poles. On one slip I badly wrenched my shoulder, digging in a pole as I fell. On another my right leg went downhill whilst my left stayed up, giving me a painful groin strain. Exactly one hour later, I made the valley floor, exhausted and shaking with fatigue and adrenaline.

I had two options, either to work up the headwall to the bealach I’d entered the valley from, or to walk out of the valley down Gleann Charnan to the road in Glen Etive, and try and hitch hike for a lift back. If I went back the way I’d come I could try for Bealach Easen if I had energy, and thus Glencoe, or pitch up and do it in the morning. If I walked out, I would most likely spend the night in the middle of nowhere, miserable, lonely and depressed. I desperately wanted to stay on track.

I left another message on Tracy’s answerphone saying I was ok, and then called Claire. She answered, and suggested I walk out, as on looking at the map it seemed the Eassen option was as steep as the headwall I’d just been contouring. I agreed, but after I got off the phone I had a look and decided I would go for it. Although exhausting I wanted to get to civilisation, and a bed somewhere, if at all possible. Looking at the bealach I had to work back up to it didn’t seem so steep, and there were lots of relatively flat areas to rest. In terms of Easen, if it wasn’t possible, tomorrow I could work back through the forest to the cairn and then out to Ballachulish.

As I started my heart was thundering in my ears and my head and torso were on fire again. My legs were shaking with exhaustion and my throat was paper dry. The nausea was also worse than ever. I clambered over a rock and startled a lizard which darted away before I could properly identify it. Eventually, shattered but relieved, I made the bealach, and looked down at the kilometres I would have to re-trace. I collapsed in a cloud of midges.

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I stayed there for 15 minutes cooking my emergency wet ration pack – a calorific meal of beans and bacon which I thought would give me a much needed boost. It was gone 5 and I hadn’t eaten since 12.30 despite all the ascent I’d done. I was feeling very very sick but forced it down. Sweat was literally pouring from me and I realised I probably felt so sick today through dehydration. I checked and my water bladder was almost empty, and I only had 1/2 a litre left. Despite drinking my usual amount, it struck me that I should have been drinking much more, as I was still dehydrated from being ill for the preceeding days.

The descent was arduous on my painful feet, sore from the previous descent and the slipping. I soon realised I’d need a lot more water so stopped to get out the Katadyn filter. As I pumped the midges swarmed, but I was so utterly spent, that I couldn’t feel them anymore. I drank 1/2 litre there and then, fighting hard the urge to vomit. I filled another bladder and carried on, avoiding a newt as I went.

As I neared the forest I contoured round to meet the fence further up, and avoid unecessary descent and ascent. Where I met the fence I stopped to call Claire. I was feeling exceedingly unwell, and I realised that no one knew where I was. The only person who thought they did was Claire, and if anything happened she didn’t know I’d changed my plans so would send help the wrong way. It was 6.30pm and I figured I could get to Clachaig by 10pm if I could just keep going. I said if she hadn’t heard from me by then, I was in trouble. I toook a good glug of water, and started up.

As I’d been descending the steep section, and again now, my mind was wandering – picturing what I’d be doing when I got to civilisation, what I’d eat and so on. I had to repeatedly rein it in and focus on what I was doing, being aware that I was so tired I was at risk of making stupid foot placement errors. The up went on and on. I’d fix a point 10-20metres away and work slowly towards it then stop for a minute to get my breath. I did this for the whole ascent and it took a very long time. At one point a herd of deer ahead stopped to look at me, seeimingly confused as to why I was there so late, and obviously not finding me a threat. Then a stag behind me bellowed, and they moved on.

I was saturated, and burning again, but I kept going, albeit slowly. Bealach Easen was the bealach that just kept on going. Ever time I thought I was at the top, I wasn’t and it felt so cruel. My thighs and lungs were burning and I was shaking. There wasn’t one bit of me that wasn’t exhausted and in pain.

Eventually I reached the wide saddle at around 7.30pm, and made my way across to the other side. From the top, the views in to Glencoe and beyond to Ben Nevis were stunning, but I was too tired to enjoy them. A random gate with no fence attached marked the descent route and I followed a good path down from this.

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It was a hard descent with every step causing pain to my swollen and blistered feet, but I daren’t stop in case I couldn’t get moving again. I was so happy when I met a track in the valley floor that would lead to a road. It was 8.30pm and I figured I would make the A82 by 9!

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The track was agony, such a hard surface beneath my wrecked feet, and I was partly staggering, but I made the main road by 9 and headed right. I recalled a footpath from the last time I was here, which went from a car park the river to the pub, and which would save me too much road walking. Luckily my memory from my previous visit was accurate. I hobbled over the bridge and in to the woods. A group of cyclists were attempting to camp by the river, but were instead running around swatting at midges. The area smelled of deodorant which they were using to try to deter them. It wasn’t working.

Eventually, at 9.30 I found the pub. There were no rooms available, well, none I could afford, but I collected my ration parcel and slowly made my way into the bar for some much needed fluids. I must have looked awful as everyone silenced and turned to watch as I dropped my bag on the chair and practically crawled to the bar. Lemonade has never been so good as it was right then! I texted Tracy and Claire and finally took the weight off my feet.

I was contemplating the seemingly impossible walk of 1.25 miles to the youth hostel, when I saw a couple were just leaving. Not being in any state to politely hope someone would offer me a lift I stopped them and asked them if they were going left towards the hostel. Amazingly they said they weren’t but that they would take me where I needed to go!  I was immensely grateful, especially given how badly I must have smelt! They even brought the car round for me. I asked them to take me to the youth hostel which I’d try first, which was just next to the camp site if they didn’t have any room. The amazing people took me there, and then waited so that if there weren’t rooms, they could take me to the campsite!! Luckily, and with relief, I found they had a bed left, and immediately took it.

I got my bags and went in. I made the bed, showered and am now sat in the kitchen with my feet up on a chair. The bottoms of them are bruised and burning from all the many extra miles and extra descent I’ve done today with such a big pack. What should have been 19km and about 7 hours, turned in to 31km and over 13 hours of walking with 1300m of ascent! I have injured my feet, injured my knee again, hurt my shoulder, and to top it all off, I still feel really really sick. I don’t think my body was ready for walking from being ill. Let alone all the extra unplanned walking today. I need to sleep.

 

21.06.13

I woke up and had breakfast, trying to decide what to do. There was no way I was walking anywhere today, I needed to rest. More urgently though, I was wondering whether to step out of the walk. It was clear that aside from the exertion yesterday I still wasn’t very well, or at least not well enough. The thing that saved me yesterday was my training. We are trained in RAPID to keep going, no matter how tired, or how hungry, we keep going. That saw me through, and got me back to Glencoe in one piece, and I am very grateful for it. But in terms of moving on into the next section, I was thinking very seriously about it. I had lots of niggling problems, which although not serious in themselves, and not a problem in a more populated area, could be extremely risky in Rannoch Moor. I was about to head out into the true wilderness, and there would be no escape routes, even long ones like I’d done the night before. I needed to take advice so I spoke to Claire. I also spoke to her partner Jem, an outdoor instructor with years of weighing risk and making these decisions, and who also knew the area I was going to walk in to. His feeling was that for the sake of safety, I would need to be 100% before starting that route, and right now I wasn’t. I had to agree with him. Continuing the walk would mean that the strains and injuries I’d attained would only worsen without a chance to get better, and starting the most remote section like that would be potentially dangerous. With a heavy heart, I had to make the call to step back from the walk. I got on a coach, and headed back to Edinburgh.

 

22.06.13

Well, I’m home. I feel ill, and am resting and properly rehydrating. Although the weather looks good this coming week, my knee is still stiff and my feet bruised and I recognise that the amount of walking I’d need to do with such a heavy pack would only exacerbate these issues. I am gutted, and feel I have let everyone down – the people who sponsored me, my friends, and my team. All I can say is that I have made the safe decision, and I believe it to be the right one. Although I won’t be finishing the walk this week, given the illnesses and injuries I’ve had to deal with, this is really the only option. I plan, over coming months, to find time to complete the rest if possible, but will just have to do it in stages rather than as the whole walk I’d intended. I hope to be back out there soon. Fingers crossed.

Jay

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Swift Water Rescue Training – Just what you need in the middle of a very long walk!

14.06.13

Well, it was a very long day of travelling to Gloucester to get to HQ. I left Mull around 10.30am and got to our base at 10.40pm. Luckily my awesome colleagues had brought clean clothes and spares for the water rescue training, so I didn’t have to get the kit I was carrying soaking wet. Classroom sessions started around 11.45pm and we had a lot to learn about. At 1.30am I crawled into my sleeping bag and drifted off. Our sleeping quarters were far from luxurious, being a mattress on the floor, but the extra warmth of having a building around you was very much welcome.

6am came too quickly and we were up and loading up the vans to leave just after 7am. I managed a little sleep in the minibus on the way to Llangollen, but not nearly enough. At 9am we rocked up to the site and proceeded to spend the next 7 hours almost non-stop in the river. Sadly my drysuit wasn’t, and most of the time I was damp and very cold, but it kept me awake at least! The river was icy and foaming in places. There were a lot of obstacles – rocks and debris, let alone the immense strength of the current. By the end of the day I’d got to grips with ferry-gliding, where you use the angle of your body in the water to propel you to one side or another, and eddy hopping, where you use the slack water behind rocks as a respite. It was gruelling, and as well as just trying to keep warm, much of my energy was exhausted during the aggressive swimming sections, going against or to the side of the current. I’m not the strongest swimmer, and in many ways it was physically a great deal more challenging than any of the walking I’d done.

At 4pm we finished with the river and headed to a nearby campsite to pitch up for the night. We seemed to create quite a stir with some of the other guests, but were quick to reassure them we were just here for a training exercise and that nobody was missing.

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After a little downtime we headed into Llangollen town, which is really lovely. Dinner was the primary thought in our minds and for the first time in a week I had proper vegetables! I also had a pint, which more or less finished me off, and I was nodding at the table by the end of the evening. We got back to the site at 12 and I was dreaming by half past.

15.06.13

4.15pm – When my alarm went off at 6am I wanted desperately to ignore it. I’d had very little sleep for a week now and the day before had been exhausting, yet we were about to start it all again. My tent was damp when I tatted down, which would make the evening fun, but the morning was warming up and the sun was threatening to come out, which would make the river training much warmer!

By 8am we were in the water, practicing the techniques from the day before and learning new ones. After lunch, we got to play in the white water, bombing along the course in our dry suits like a flume ride, using all the techniques we’d learnt to keep up and facing the right way, avoiding the rocks. I cracked my coccyx a little on a rock but not badly. Some of my other team members hit a little harder, but everyone was ok.

The final exercise was worrying me – we were going over a weir into a recirculating eddy which would pull us back into the weir and hold us there. With quite a few qualified swift water rescue technicians in the team already at strategic places to yank us out if there were problems, it was very safe, but still an intimidating prospect. I managed to race through too quickly to get caught, but quite a lot of the others were stuck. Everyone managed to use the training and think rationally to get themselves out of the current.

All in all the training was exhausting but amazing. I’m now much more respectful of water and in particular rivers. There will be a lot of river crossings on the next sections of the walk, and I am feeling more prepared both in terms of identifying risks, and in knowing how to react if the worst were to happen.

At 11.30am we were done, dry and ready to go. I got a lift with someone from another USAR team who had joined us for training, and got to Shrewsbury where I picked up a train to Crewe. From there I found one to Glasgow where I am now. I’ll get there around 5.20pm and then I have a coach at 6pm to get me out to the Highlands again. I’ve been pouring over maps and know where I’m planning to pitch tonight. There will be an hour or two walk to get me up the hill but then I’ll be in a great place to start tomorrow. The only thing is that I’ve had a really bad stomach since lunch time. I’m feeling sick and sweaty and I really hope it clears up soon or the next few days could be pretty grim. As well as feeling ill, my legs and arms are killing me from the effort of battling the strong currents during our training, but I have really enjoyed spending time with my team. I have to say though that being on the train with two different types of hideously loud music and some extremely unpleasant sexist conversations going on around me is definitely making me yearn for the solitude of the hills and the peace and quiet. I’m missing my partner terribly but I’ve managed to speak to her, and also to my dad for father’s day! I’ve updated Tracy so I think that’s everything done. I just need to get there, pitch my tent and relax. I hope that the morning is good for walking and that the rain holds off. Right, back to the maps 🙂

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Update

Just to let you all know that I’ve been laid up at Glencoe for 2 days now with a stomach bug. I had a nasty walk out Sunday night and ended up at midnight struggling to find somewhere warm and safe to stay. Luckily I managed eventually but it was a difficult night. The bug is not really shifting but I’m hopefully going to get into the hills tomorrow. I was planning to go out today but after talking with one of our medics I was advised to give it at least another 24 hours. The hostel here is great, but I wish I were in the mountains I can see from the window. Here’s hoping I feel better tomorrow!

It does mean that I’m now days behind and definitely can’t finish the walk in the time I have, but I’ll give it my best and go as far as I can.

Thanks for the support everyone.

Jay

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The First Section – Mull & Midges

9/6/13

At 10:54 I was sitting on a train at Edinburgh station waiting to leave, and I had a heavy heart. I was surrounded by very tired people who had been doing a night walk for charity. They were exhausted, and crashing from adrenaline, and quiet. They seemed to echo how I was feeling. I’d just said goodbye to my partner, holding each other for ages at the station. When I’d finally crossed the barrier we used sign language. My heart was breaking a little, and the last I saw of her, she’d looked back over her shoulder and smiled before disappearing in to the crowd.

On the train two very excited young Irish girls were talking about a concert they’d been to, whilst someone with appalling music taste was using their not-so-personal stereo behind me. I was starting to feel hungry but thought I’d save my sushi for the next train. It wasn’t really what I wanted, I was craving meat, but I didn’t think it would be cool to give my veggie partner a meaty kiss goodbye, so I figured I’d get a burger at Glasgow.

A few hours ago I’d been in a bed, and it dawned on me that it would be the last time for around three weeks that I did that, or showered, or hugged my partner. As the train pulled out, I realised that this was massive. How would I feel when I got back? Would any experiences I was about to have change me? I had so many mixed emotions from excitement to downright fear. This was going to be a challenge, but I wouldn’t know if I could meet it without trying.

The first train was uneventful. The Irish girls started discussing a TV series in detail as if it were real. I took a picture of myself using my forward facing camera, and the woman opposite thought I was taking one of her. I arrived at Glasgow and waited for my walking partner Claire to arrive. I hopped on the train whilst she said goodbye to her partner, and once on board with both of us giggling like school children, our journey proper began.

On the table next to us was a very nice older woman. We got chatting and went to join her. She was in her 80s and told us all about her nephew who had been in SAR, but whose climbing partner had died in an accident last year which had injured him. She told us about her degree in geography at a time when women didn’t do degrees, and all about her husband – a marine biologist with whom she’d travelled the world. She knew so much about the area, naming all the lochs and mountains we passed, telling us what the names meant in English. Just before Oban she told us she wasn’t very well. She then pointed to a building where she said her husband was currently living, to give her some respite. He’d had a stroke and she cared for him full-time. She’d just had her first weekend away from her caring role. They’d been married for 54 years.

We stepped off the train at 3.30pm into baking heat! It was well over 25 degrees. Sitting at the ferry terminal we waited in the stifling room until the last minute, before putting on our massive and heavy packs (each about 3.5 stone/24 kg). It turns out neither of us like ferries. Or planes, or cars, or buses! We sat on the top deck and I stocked up the calories with macaroni cheese and chips which gave me indigestion. Looking over the blue water to the isle ahead, in the heat with the smell of sun-cream in the air, I was reminded of my last journey with my partner, between islands in the Canaries. I was also reminded of the last time I made this journey with my partner – she’d been on my lap fast asleep, but then it was 7am, and it was February and pitch black.  This time I could see the views and they were spectacular.

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We made it on to the bus in good time and as we set off we were very excited. It was a hot afternoon and everything was green and lush. Here in February 2 years ago the land was brown with dead heather and bracken. I’d had no idea Mull could be so vibrant and beautiful. The driver we were sat by told us how he’d moved up from Leicester. He pointed out his house as we drove past, and he explained how he liked nothing more than kayaking in the Loch and fishing for mackrel. He told us where to see eagles, otters and explained how the mussels were farmed in the loch, and also how to pronounce some of the names.

At Fionnphort we marvelled at the azure crystal clear sea and pink granite rocks. I wished we had time to swim, but we needed to get moving.

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1/2 km down the road a van stopped and a guy asked if we’d like a lift. We threw our bags in the back and he asked if we were going to the camp site 2km further on. We said no, we were going across to Erraid to wild camp. I thanked him for being so kind as to give us a lift. He said it was very kind, as he was the owner of the camp site! He then made it abundantly clear he’d never have picked us up if he’d known we weren’t staying there. Still, it got us 2km further along!

We walked on debating what to do for sleep. It was 6.45pm and high tide was due at 7.30pm, so we weren’t expecting to get to Erraid that evening, but we thought we’d have a look. We passed through a farm where a tiny lamb ran up and licked my hand, and then hit the beach. The white sand and blue water made the scene look almost tropical. Even at high tide, there was only a small rivulet of water between the two islands; we were lucky. At 7.20 I took off my trousers and boots and we forded the water. It was like ice, but it felt amazing on my aching feet!

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Erraid on the left, Mull on the right

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Claire, excited about fording the water!

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On Erraid we avoided a stinky bog and some cows, and eventually passed the lighthouse keepers cottages. There we met a chap from the Findhorn Foundation who told us everything you could need to know about the island. He was very generous and gave us ample water. They hire the cottages to people as kind of working holidays, and I think in future I’d love to go back and spend some time in peace and solitude of Erraid.

We headed up to the observatory and found somewhere nearby to camp in glorious sunshine. It was still above 20 degrees and a beautiful evening. We climbed to the highest point of the island and looked down on Balfour’s Bay and out to sea. Beautiful.

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Soaking up the rays!

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Claire, reading Kidnapped out loud at the observatory

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On getting back I removed 7 ticks from my clothes and enjoyed a welcome cup of tea as we watched the sun set over Iona. Just as the last rays were vanishing and I was sinking in to a peace and bliss I haven’t felt for a long time as I meditatively watched, Clare started telling me a Bill Bailey anecdote – totally killed the mood, but it was funny.

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So now I’m here. It’s 10.55pm and I’m writing in glorious evening light with no hint of the need for a head torch. The lights are just coming on over on Iona and Mull, and cuckoos are calling from all sides whilst oyster catchers shout in the bay. The only way this would be better is if my partner were here – then it would be perfect. According to the bus driver, the Aurora has been seen the last few nights so we’ve set an alarm for 1am in the hopes of catching it! Lights are flashing on the buoys in the channel and the world is resting. And I’m off to sleep.

10/6/13

It’s 8.22pm and I’m sat in my tent with the sun in my eyes looking out over Loch Assapol. What a day it’s been for our first day of actual walking. We were up around 7.30, but I’d barely slept at all and was exhausted. I had a cold, a runny nose and a nasty cough and sore throat, and was feeling quite sorry for myself. I made some porridge but it was quite windy, and when I raised the spoon to my lips the wind blew my breakfast all over me! We tatted down and wandered over to the lighthouse keepers cottages where we nervously looked around for the chap from the night before, whilst trying not to wake anyone! Luckily he saw us and came to say hi, and kindly re-filled our water bottles.

Leaving Erraid was tricky, we went slightly off course, but came out onto the sand between the two isles at a place the sea had not yet reached, so crossed without even having to take off our shoes!

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We headed up the bay and off path, working our way through bog and bracken to Torr-Fada – at least that was where we thought we were. We headed East but eventually realised we’d gone awry when we could see the coast, and it wasn’t where we were expecting. Working our way back along the deer fence we eventually found the actual Torr-Fada. After some hours, we’d ended back almost where we started from! It was depressing, but after dusting off a few more ticks, we shouldered our packs and headed up and over following a lovely and welcome path!

In fact the path was so good after struggling across the boggy ground, that we made a ridiculous error. We didn’t notice when it started to turn the wrong way because we assumed it was going where we expected it to! Heading down the track I spotted an adder. It slithered off and as I pointed to the grass it had hidden in to show Claire it hissed at us. We left it well alone! Eventually, heading out from a wood we saw Ardlanish Bay, and I was ecstatic. Until Clare pointed out that it wasn’t the right bay, and we were no where near where we should be! We were 4km West still of that stop, and there was no way across to it save re-tracing our steps. I can’t describe how miserable I felt at that moment. We took some time, a good hour, sat on a tree trunk looking out over the sea, re-fuelling and drinking tea. Eventually, at around 1pm, we picked ourselves up and headed back up the trail. It turned out not to be as bad as we expected because after 15 minutes a path headed off in the right direction and we followed it happily – this time keeping an eye on the compass and confirming our location with the Satmap.

Following this path, we came to ruins of a village or hamlet that wasn’t marked on the map, and from there we reached Loch An Sgalain. Heading along the West side of it following a deer fence was like a special level of hell. The path utterly vanished and we had an extremely hard hour of more or less crawling through old wild wood with bog and quicksand below us and raking spiky branches on all other sides. Eventually we made it out of the mossy depths, scratched and with a few tears to our kit.

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As we climbed a deer fence and dropped our bags down the other side, my platypus hose got caught and the mouth piece flew off. We spent ages trying to find it, but the moment we’d stopped the midges descended! Smothering ourselves in deet we eventually found it and moved on heading round the South end of the loch. We travelled along a beautiful valley, seeing harriers, lizards, adders and many frogs. The cotton grass was waving in the breeze and the air was fragrant with the scent of the millions of wild flowers we were trying not to tread on. At Loch Mor Ardalanish Claire asked to stop for food and we had half an hour to relax in the sun, with the breeze defying the midges. The cuckoos were everywhere and I could have stayed there sleeping soundly all afternoon. But it was not to be.

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We headed on, only stopping at a woolen mill for ice-cream, and eventually arrived at Loch Assapol where I’m writing this now in the glorious evening sunset!

I spoke with Tracy by satellite phone, and she updated the blog as follows:

“Hello everyone, just a quick check-in from me, Tracy, on behalf of Jay. Have literally in the last few minutes spoken to Jay on the satellite phone and after a slight detour this morning, due to getting slightly ‘lost’ they are back on track!!

When I spoke to Jay he was in good spirits camped for the evening, enjoying the early evening sunshine at Loch Assapol, approximately 13 miles into the trek!

The weather for the area is not going to be as good tomorrow with some rain expected,  but by Wednesday the forecast is looking better.

It was good to chat to Jay, and I have a lot of respect for him taking on this challenge. I know it means a lot to him so please if you can, donate to his fundraising page.”

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11/6/13

Well, what a difference a day makes to the weather on Mull! Today we woke at 6am after some half decent sleep. We left site at 7.45 and had anticipated rain from about midday but a clear morning. The temperature had dropped and the sky was cloudy.

We headed into the forest following a track through the trees. There were so many red deer, some of which came quite close to us. As we went we often thought we’d reached the clearing which marked the edge of the wood on the OS map but sadly not! Occasional fire breaks led downhill and gave us amazing views to the sea. At around 9.20am it started to rain and we had to get on the waterproofs. Eventually we reached the end of the forest, and looming in the distance was the awesome Malcom’s Point, a towering cliff face that appeared utterly menacing in the swirling gloomy clouds. We had planned to go directly East to the next forest and then around the back of the point, but after discussions we decided to head up and over it, following the coast to Carsaig bay. Slogging up and over my cough got a lot worse, and I was struggling to get enough breath on the uphills. It quickly became an exhausting and trying day. The rain came down hard and was incessant. At points, especially near Carsaig bay, we were scrambling with our heavy packs. After 6 hours of trudging in the deluge and the wind we stopped at an old barn to dry out and eat.

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All in all, it was a demanding and draining walk, and eventually at the three lochs in the evening, we pitched up and dragged out exhausted bodies in to our sleeping bags, falling almost immediately as the rain and wind lashed the fly sheets.

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12/6/13

I was woken around 9 by Claire asking if I’d looked outside. The clouds had come down and eerily, we couldn’t see the lochs we were camped next to any more. We had to shout to be heard over the wind and rain, but my voice quickly gave out. I felt awful. The cold had kicked in with avengeance and I wanted to call it quits. I had coffee and porridge, and all I could do was crawl back in to my sleeping bag and pass out. The rain was due to lift at lunchtime, so we decided to wait until then before setting off, particularly as we now had a much easier day ahead.

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I just have to say that I love my ration packs. Today when I made porridge, I had a sachet of white hot choc mix in it! I made packs for each day of walking, and occasionally put special treats in them, but I have no idea which ones. Today when I needed it most, I found a pepperami! And a packet of fizzy cola bottles! It’s amazing how important these little bits of joy are in making the day seem a little easier.

All the stuff in the tent porch was wetter than when I’d put it there the night before. The wind changed direction in the night and blew side-on, pushing the water through the material and causing showers in the tent. My boots which were soaking were now entirely saturated, and they smelled evil!

Eventually a call of nature made me leave my tent. My loo roll was wet but Claire suggested I use some spagnum moss, which seemed like a great idea. The only problem was that it turned out I didn’t know which one spagnum was, and I used what turned out to be very much the wrong one. The one I use had sharp fibrous hairs all over it which came off and lodged themselves in my skin. Which made for an interesting and painful afternoon of walking!

Anyway, around midday the rain eased off and clouds lifted, so we packed our tents away and got moving. I felt a lot better for the extra sleep and the thought of a bothy later on where we’d be dry and warm!.

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We left the site around 1.45pm trudging up the wet hill in soaking boots and socks. My waterproof gloves had totally given out and were saturated, but as the sky brightened we began to feel pretty good! We followed an easy track along the road through woodland, with the mist from the low cloud dripping from over-hanging branches. Eventually the path crossed the road and headed up through the forest to the North. It was hot and humid, so we couldn’t stop for a wee or a drink at all as the midges were everywhere, laying in wait! Soon the path ended and all we could do was head West up to the forest edge and follow the inside of a deer fence. It was very, very tough and the terrain was essentially a large marsh with tussocks to use as stepping stones. Step off and you sunk, but staying on them was tricky as they collapsed or slipped sideways. Coming to a hole in the fence, we crawled through and traversed the open hillside. The going was slightly easier, but still treacherous. Eventually we passed over to a new patch of forest where we went through a gate and followed the inside of the fence. After a few km a track appeared on the right across a clearing, but the 30m we crossed to reach it were hell! It was a significant bog and I slid off the tussocks over on my ankles many times. Claire went in over her knee and had trouble getting un-stuck. Eventually on the track, we hurried on to get away from the midges which had congregated as we got our breath back. As we neared the end of the forest, a group of highland cows emerged from the trees in front of us. They looked surprised at our presence, as we were of theirs! Nervously we tried to work out how to get around them, but luckily they moved on and out of our way.

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Eventually we reached the bothy at Tomsleibhe. It was a fantastic and welcome shelter, where we unpacked all our kit so it could have a chance to dry out. A Spanish guy who worked at the hostel in Oban arrived some time later, but spent most of the evening braving the midges to watch the sunset. The sun came out long enough to give us spectacular views along the length of the valley to the Sound of Mull and into Morven beyond! There were wonderful white fluffy clouds against a deep blue sky through the evening.

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So here I am, enjoying the peace and quiet! It’s 9.21pm and I’m shattered, but feeling fitter than this morning. I’ve definitely put on muscle over the last few days, but I’m not sure if it’s enough. Carrying the packs is draining and the idea of more weeks is daunting. When I’m alone it’s going to be tougher too, and I’m feeling apprehensive about it. This kind of walking isn’t the type where you relax and your mind can wander and process your stress. It’s arduous and challenging and you can’t relax physically or mentally at all or you loose determination, your location, or your ankles!

13/6/13

I slept terribly last night. I went off around midnight, but woke up a lot with the cold and eventually got up around 8am. It was a lovely morning – very hot when the sun came out, which it did every now and again. We took our time packing and decided we’d head for Salen rather than Fishnish, and then get the bus to Craignure in time to spend the afternoon relaxing! We had thought about heading over a pass to Fishnish, but after our experience of walking round the tops of the woods yesterday, we decided against it!

Claire was complaining of a large spot on her back and showed it to me. I had to tell her it was a tick, but I managed to get it out without too much difficulty. I’m particularly wary of ticks, having had Lyme’s disease in the past, but I suppose being out here for around 3 weeks, I’ll just have to accept I’ll probably get one or two.

DCIM100GOPRO

DCIM100GOPRO

At 9.50am we began our walk North along Glen Forsa to the shore of Mull. We’d been able to see the path from the bothy and it was very clear and well-defined. I have to say that this morning was possibly my favourite part of the walk all week! I’ve found myself using the word ‘idyllic’ at many points over the last few days, but this truly was. The sun shone on us and a gentle breeze kept us midge-free. Most of my stuff (except boots and socks) had dried the night before, and I hoped the rest would as we walked.  We had easy walking and easy weather and it was lovely, especially when the water in my boots warmed up. The river sparkled as it wound it’s way beside us, and the highland cows regarded us nonchalantly as we passed them by, gazing from under their long fringes.

A dozen lapwings cried and flitted around us as we walked, joined by curlews that soared overhead uttering their haunting and melodic cry. Just as we were discussing how perfect it all was, Clare spotted something huge hovering over a field, being attacked by a lot of other birds. It was massive, and our jaws dropped as we realised it was a golden eagle! We dropped our packs and sat watching it for 10 minutes, when remarkably, it was joined by another! Eventually they swooped off up the valley into the forest, their calls being carried to us on the hot air from the dense pine beyond. It was magical.

DCIM100GOPRO

At 11.50am we made the main road and headed to Salen, where we picked up the bus to Craignure. Our feet were raw with the water and we stumbled into a cafe after dropping off our packs, for a well-deserved lunch!

We decided to use the camp site for the evening rather than trying to find somewhere to wild camp. We were sold as soon as we saw that they had a common room with a wood burner! The shower was free and hot and an indescribable joy after the cold and grime and muck of the preceding days, which had been baked into my skin by the morning sun!

DCIM100GOPRO

Weird astroturf pitches. We couldn’t get our tent pegs into them so camped alongside instead!

It’s 6.30pm and here I am now in my tent, re-thinking the routes next week. After seeing how far I can actually walk with this pack, and how sore my knees are today, I think I won’t be able to complete the entire walk, but I’m going to get as far as I can. I’ll spend some time revising my distances per day – realistically depending on the terrain an average of 10mpd is accurate and enough, but we’ll have to see. Hopefully as my muscles build I’ll be able to extend that. At the very least I want to get to Strathyre!

14.6.13

9.40am. The tent is down and I’m sat in the common room. Cough is really bad this morning and I’ve been having anxiety dreams. On the plus side though, oh joy of joys, my socks are dry for the first time since Monday night!

I feel weird leaving Mull today. I expected this to be the easiest section but parts of it have been incredibly hard, in terms of navigation, weather and terrain. It’s reminded me of some important lessons to keep in mind for the next two weeks when I’m by myself, and doing 12 instead of 4 days. It’s been wild, isolated and scary at times, and when out walking we’ve not seen another soul. At some points I’ve felt free and relaxed, and at others I’ve been utterly miserable and freezing. I guess this is what the rest of June will be like! It’s a good lesson to recall – that everything is transient and that even when rain is saturating you, the sun still has to come out sometime. It’s a lesson I learnt well many years ago but had forgotten, and it’s welcome into my consciousness now. I’m going to miss Mull.

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