#253 – Cairn Gorm and Ben Macdui, and the Cairngorm Tragedy of 1971

The Cairngorm Plateau

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The Northern Cairngorms

Most of my Cairngorm visits over the years have been to the ski slopes, though on one occasion I did do a trip away from the ski lifts to cross the summit of Cairngorm on Alpine Touring skis. That’s barely scratching the surface of the largest National Park in the UK, though I have made a couple of hiking trips there over the years. The first one was as a teenager in 1969 – a mate and I had big ideas about walking the ‘Big Four’ Cairngorm summits with a wild camp thrown in. For those not in the know, tents back then were a bit more, err … substantial!

The Route – Cairngorm and Ben Macdui

My Blacks Mountain Tent was brill, and would have survived an arctic storm, but it weighed more than 5 kilos (about 12 pounds) and that was just the tent! We ended Day 1 down in the Lairig Ghru, having done Cairngorm and Ben Macdui, with Cairn Toul and Braeriach to follow on Day 2, but we soon realised we had bitten off more than we could chew with our ‘English’ sense of mountain scale and our bloody huge rucksacks! Day 2 we headed back the short way!

Closer view of the route

May 2019 – It was time for a return visit to the wild Cairngorm Plateau but without the weight this time. The plan was simple – starting from the Ski Centre car park, up to the Ptarmigan Station, over Cairngorm summit followed by Stob Coire an t-Sneachda then a left turn before Cairn Lochan to head for Lochan Buidhe, then on to Ben Macdui. From there a bit of backtracking would take me back to the path on the west side of Cairn Lochan before heading back below Coire an Lochain and Coire an t-Sneachda.

Coire Cas (just left of centre)

Heading up the path to the Ptarmigan restaurant and lift station

The Ptarmigan Centre

Ski information, redundant after the spring thaw

The first bit of the day was the least interesting. I’ve already confessed to being a skier, and the commercial ‘uplift’ makes it possible to cram many kilometres of skiing into one day, but the ski infrastructure is a bit of an eyesore. The Ptarmigan station and restaurant was deserted, a victim of the failed funicular railway that is due to be repaired over the next year, as it would cost more than the planned repairs to re-instate the hillside back to nature. Sadly, it’s all about money, as usual.

Snow fences near the Ptarmigan Centre

Snowfield on the way to the summit of Cairngorm

The Summit ….

…. and the summit weather station

It doesn’t take long to leave the commercial scene behind, and once beyond the snow fences, I was heading into wilder country. People seeing these mountains in spring or summer would probably find it hard to believe that in winter these hills are not Alpine – they are Arctic. It was mid-May but the winter snowfields were still clinging on, although the summit was bare. The cairn was a welcome sight and it’s hard to dislike the weather station which, although it looks alien, has probably saved scores of lives by warning of dangerous weather on the way.

Looking southwest towards the cliffs of Stob Coire an t-Sneachda

Leaving the summit plateau, heading towards Stob Coire an t-Sneachda

Closer view of the cliffs of Stob Coire an t-Sneachda seen from the top

The cliffs of Stob Coire an t-Sneachda, seen from below the previous day

Leaving the summit, it didn’t take long to get to the rim of Coire an t-Sneachda, which translates as ‘Corrie of the Snows’. It’s a popular climbing venue, both in winter and summer, but the view looking down doesn’t do the place justice. Fortunately, I had anticipated that by taking a walk into the corrie with Chris the previous day – it’s rare in Scotland to access such magnificent surroundings without a major walk in, but Chris had enjoyed the trip

The bealach between Stob Coire an t-Sneachda and Cairn Lochan

Heading towards Ben Macdui and the site of the 1971 tragedy

At the bealach (pass) below Stob Coire an t-Sneachda, I turned away from the Northern Corries of the Cairngorm Plateau to head directly for Ben Macdui. The route follows an easy path to the small lake of Lochan Buidhe (‘The Yellow Lake’), effectively cutting the corner and avoiding the ascent of Cairn Lochan, which my mate and I had toiled over with our heavy packs in 1969. Today’s route was also the route followed in what developed into the worst disaster in the history of UK mountaineering.

* * * * *

Site of the Curran Shelter (black circle) and the fatal bivouac site (red circle)

In November 1971, two groups of teenagers aged 15-16 with three instructors followed the same route that I followed as described above. Their plan was to attempt the same Big Four that I set off to cover in 1969, an overly ambitious plan considering the ages of the kids. The main difference between the two trips was that my mate and I went in August 1969 – in November 1971, winter arrived early in the Cairngorms.

Looking across to the site of the bivouac (the stream left of centre)

The group had split into two parties, the stronger party of eight going with the one male instructor and the slower group of six following with two female instructors, but both groups were hit by severe blizzard conditions. The emergency plan was to head for a rudimentary refuge at Lochan Buidhe named the Curran Shelter. The weather was so bad that the faster group ‘bailed out’ and stayed at Curran overnight in very uncomfortable conditions. When the slower group didn’t arrive, it was assumed they had turned back.

Lochan Buidhe – the site of the Curran Shelter is at the group of hikers right of centre

The slower group had not turned back, and instead had pressed on towards the Curran Shelter. They ended up following the Feith Buidhe stream, but the snow became too deep to struggle through and the group was forced to bivouac in the open, just 300 metres from the Curran and safety. The next day, one instructor and one boy attempted to go for help but got no further than 25 metres from the bivi site. In the meantime, the stronger group set off back to Rothiemurchus where they arrived at 5pm to discover that the other group was still overdue.

The Curran Shelter, now demolished – note the orange chimney – © Dave ‘Heavy’ Whalley

Contemporary photo showing the chimney in winter! – © unknown

A search was started that night, with the overdue party committed to a second night in a bivouac in near-Arctic conditions. The search continued into the next day, when one of the missing instructors was found trying to raise the alarm. At the bivouac site, the rescuers found that the other instructor and five of the six kids had died of exposure.

Looking back towards Lochan Buidhe and the site where the Curran Shelter once stood

The disaster led to more rigid controls being placed on organised groups of youngsters taking part in adventurous activities. There then followed an acrimonious debate about the Curran and other emergency shelters. It was argued that the fact that shelter was there was an encouragement to press on in bad conditions – the counter-argument was that the shelters had saved lives in the past. In the end, it was decided to demolish Curran and two other shelters, and no trace of Curran can be seen today.

I remember the tragedy well – I was a student teacher in 1971, hoping to specialise in outdoor pursuits, and I remember thinking at the time that there would be big changes in outdoor education. For reasons that had nothing to do with this tale, I didn’t finish my teacher training course and instead took a completely different career path by joining the Royal Marines.

* * * * *

Looking west across the Lairig Ghru towards Braeriach and Cairn Toul

The slopes of Ben Macdui

Closer view of the Summit – not pretty and fairly busy!

Leaving those sad memories behind me, I pressed on with Border Collie ‘Mist’ towards Ben Macdui. It’s not a pretty mountain in itself but it makes a magnificent viewpoint overlooking much of the main Cairngorm Plateau. It was surprisingly busy at the summit, as everyone else seemed to have decided to have a lunch stop at the same time. ‘Mist’ took the opportunity to go scrounging for a morsel or two.

Heading back towards the descent route ….

…. with Lochan Buidhe in view and Carn Lochan above

The path to the west of Carn Lochan, with the Lairig Ghru below on the left

Sron na Lairige on the other side of the Lairig Ghru

I had to retrace my steps back towards Lochan Buidhe, but once again I turned away from Cairn Lochan, this time avoiding it by taking a path on the west side of the mountain. I’ve no idea where the groups who had been on Ben Macdui disappeared to, but my return route was deserted with just two other hikers taking that option. It wasn’t quite deserted though.

‘Mist’ sees something in the distance

Reindeer herd

The first view into Coire an Lochhain below Carn Lochan ….

….with a view of the tiny lakes that give the names to the corrie and the summit

Heading towards the rim of Corrie an Lochain, with its tiny lakes that give the names to the corrie and the summit, ‘Mist’ suddenly went on alert at something ahead. Her eyesight is far better than mine, but I think it was a scent that had caught her interest. It was the reindeer herd that has been part of the Cairngorm magic since 1952. If ‘Mist’ was interested in the reindeer, they had no interest in the dog or me. We left them grazing peacefully – it was time to head for home.

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Time to head for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock except where indicated

p.s. – Although I normally use the local language for mountain names, especially in my adopted home of Wales, I’ve used the anglicised versions of Ben Macdui (Beinn Macduibh), Braeriach (Braigh Riabhach) and Cairn Toul (Carn an t-Sabhail) as the original Scots Gaelic versions would be unrecognisable to most outdoor folk, even those who are Scots.

Posted in 1. Scotland, Bothy days | 6 Comments

#252 – Glamaig and the Northern Hills of the Red Cuillins

The Northern Hills of the Red Cuillin

The Northern Hills of the Red Cuillin

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Several months had passed and the Blog was starting to gather dust.  Writing a blog every two weeks isn’t so difficult a task if you keep it up, but after a few weeks of not writing it’s easy to get out of the habit.    All that was needed to kick start things was an inspiring day in the mountains with some good company – time for Glamaig in the Red Cuillins of Skye to make an appearance.

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The Red and Black Cuillins of Skye

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been to Skye over the years, but it usually involves the Black Cuillins in some way or another (see posts #224, #225 and #247 for starters).   No wonder really – the Black Cuillins are amongst the most dramatic hills in the UK, and a paradise for climbers and mountaineers.  For years I had avoided the rounded red hills, just across the glen from the pointy black ones, so it was time to even things up.

The route, including the nearby northern end of the Black Cuillins

The most obvious (and brutal) route up Glamaig is straight up the front from Sligachan.  As we were camping at The Slig, this was quite feasible for those who have the speed of a race horse, the strength of a cart horse,  and the brains of a hobby horse!    Yet amazingly, this is the way the runners do it every year.   Described as ”….an appalling and seemingly endless scree slope”, the fastest of the athletes go up and down in around 45 minutes.

Closer view of the route

The race is said to commemorate the first running ascent of the mountain in 1899 by a Sherpa, Harkabir Thapa, who ran from the Sligachan Hotel to the top of the mountain before running back to the hotel bar.    His time of 75 minutes is a bit slower than the elite athletes of today, but he might have been a bit faster had he not been running in bare feet!

The route taken – (right to left) Beinn Dearg Mheadhonach, Beinn Dearg Mhor and Glamaig

Bare feet or otherwise, there was no way I was going to follow the ‘full frontal’ approach.  The map showed a much more civilised and sensible route following the low ridge of Druim na Ruaige to Beinn Dearg Mheadhonach (Middle Red Mountain), then on to Beinn Dearg Mhor (Big Red Mountain) before dropping down to Bealach na Sgairde (Pass of the Scree).    From there, the map showed a steep ascent to the final summit of Glamaig.

The cast including the author, ‘selfie expert’ Richie and Collies ‘AJ’ ‘Caizer’ and ‘Mist'(RB)

Most of my mountain days are solo, apart from the company of Border Collie ‘Mist’, who is the ideal mountain dog, never complaining and always willing – especially if there’s a chance of a sandwich!    Today we had company for a change with Richie, a mate from NEWSAR (the mountain rescue team back home) and his two collies ‘Caizer’ and ‘AJ’.  The weather was set to be fair with blue skies and a cooling breeze, and as this was in May, there wasn’t a midge in sight.  Perfect!

Richie on Druim na Ruaige, looking back towards Sligachan

Glen Sligachan with Marsco (left) and Sgurr nan Gillean (right)

On Druim na Ruaige with Marsco in the background (RB)

‘Mist’, ‘Caizer’ and ‘AJ’ with Sgurr nan Gillean and the Black Cuillins behind (RB)

Looking across to Glamaig from Druim na Ruaige

The crossing to the ridge of Druim na Ruaige was reasonably dry, and the views towards Glen Sligachan with Marsco on one side and Sgurr nan Gillean and the Black Cuillins on the other did not disappoint.    Marsco is still on the ‘to do’ list when I finally get round to it, but old friend Sgurr nan Gillean looked quite different to the view from the Sligachan Hotel.   Looking in the other direction, one thing was becoming obvious – the ascent of the final peak of Glamaig was going to include a big height loss from Beinn Dearg Mhor before a killer ascent.

On Druim na Ruaige, heading up to the first peak of Beinn Dearg Mheadhonach

Photo time for experienced model ‘Caizer’

‘Mist’ apparently not quite so enthusiastic to pose ….

….so much so that she’s sticking her tongue out at me!

Eventually, ‘Mist’ decides to pose (Glamaig in the background)

The final rising section of Druim na Ruaige heading up to Beinn Dearg Mheadhonach was pleasant enough, with time and opportunity for a bit of canine photography (that’s photos of the dogs, obviously  – they aren’t very good at remembering things such as shutter speeds and f-stops, and their paws are a bit clumsy on the focusing).   Caizer is the ideal ‘doggy model’, and his main aim in life seems to be to please Richie and Babs by posing on pointy rocks.   ‘Mist’, on the other hand, doesn’t share Caizer’s enthusiasm, and I could swear she was sticking her tongue out at me before finally giving me the classic Border Collie pose.

The final scree slope to the summit of Beinn Dearg Mheadhonach

The author and ‘Mist’ on Beinn Dearg Mheadhonach, looking down towards Loch Ainort (RB)

‘Caizer’ and ‘AJ’ with Loch Ainort and the island of Scalpay behind (RB)

Richie and ‘The Boys’ admiring the view

The last bit of uphill on to the first summit of Beinn Dearg Mheadhonach was a scree slope, a feature we were soon to recognise and loath in equal measure.    The view down to Loch Ainort and the island of Scalpay was the reward and we celebrated with a sarnie or two.   I’ve been coming up here for over forty years now, and it was fascinating looking down on to the A87 road that I’ve driven more times than I can remember.

On Beinn Dearg Mhor looking back to Beinn Dearg Mheadhonach and the Black Cuillin

The Bealach na Sgairde with Glamaig behind

From Beinn Dearg Mheadhonach, the route to Beinn Dearg Mhor was unremarkable apart from some height gain and some more scree, but the views back to our outward route were compensation enough.   The descent from Beinn Dearg Mhor was something else though – more knee-wrecking scree and the prospect of a 400 metre slog up Glamaig from the well-named Bealach na Sgairde (Pass of the Scree) just to have another knee-wrecking descent to get back to the bealach.    Richie and I are both ex-military (he the Royal Welch Fusiliers and me the Royal Marines) and we share that decisiveness that comes from military service – we also share wrecked knees.  Faced with the decision of a painful ascent/descent of Glamaig or an early descent to the pub, we chose the only real option.

A chance to cool down for The Boys (RB)

….where there just happens to be a pub where dogs are allowed in (but don’t tell Mum!) (RB)

On the way back to the bar at Sligachan (yep, that’s the option we came up with), the dogs had a chance to cool down in the crystal-clear pools or the Allt Daraich.  From there, a short wander over the boggy moor took us back to a cold cider at the Slig.  We were blessed with a great sunset later on, with a bit of a red glow on the Black Cuillins – on the other side of Glen Sligachan, the Red Cuillins were looking very, very red.

Sunset over the Black Cuillins….

….with the Red Cuillins looking, err….. , very red!

Text and images © Paul Shorrock – Images tagged (RB) © Richie Boardwell

p.s.   apologies to regular readers (if there are any left!) for me being ‘off grid’ for several months – things to do, etc.    Back to posting now, watch out for a new episode every two weeks on a Monday morning.   (Thanks Steve Davis, for giving me the extra push to get writing again!)

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#251 – Lake District bothies Part 2 – Mosedale Cottage

Looking down towards Mosedale

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The walk out to Dubbs Hut and Warnscale bothies (see post #250) had filled a day in nicely, so we decided to round off our May Lakes trip with another bothy day, this time to Mosedale Cottage in the Eastern part of the Lake District.    The warm, sunny day we had for the Warnscale trip didn’t look as though it was going to be repeated, but at least it was dry, if a bit dull.

The Mosedale Cottage route from Wet Sleddale – out and back

The Eastern Lake District

There are three valley approaches to the bothy.   From the east you have Wet Sleddale (our start point) or Swindale, which changes its identity along the way to become Mosedale – this isn’t as daft as it sounds, because although the same stream runs through them, their characters are very different.    From the west, the bothy can be approached from the head of Long Sleddale.

Setting out from Wet Sleddale Reservoir

Sleddale Hall – the setting for the cult film ‘Withnail and I’

The bridge over Sleddale Beck

Closer view of the bridge with an impatient Border Collie waiting to get through the gate

Approaching Sleddale Halll

Sleddale Hall – ‘Crow Crag’ in the film ‘Withnail and I’

On previous trips from here (see post #51) we have done a circular route round the three velleys of Wet Sleddale,  Swindale and Mardale, missing out out the bothy at Mosedale Cottage, but this time Chris and I (plus Border Collie ‘Mist’ of course) were going to follow an ‘out and back’ route to visit the bothy.    Soon after setting out we passed Sleddale Hall, a remote hillside house that was the setting for the cult film ‘Withnail and I’.

On the way out to Mosedale

Still heading up the track ….

…. to the high point of the route, with the South East Fells of the Lake District beyond

After Sleddale Hall, the route follows a gradually rising bridleway which reaches a high point of about 500 metres, but it’s hardly what you might call a slog.   As the route gains altitude towards the high point, the view out to the South East Fells of the Lake District gets better and better.    The hills don’t look very ‘Lake District’ though, they are much more Pennine in character – that usually means ‘boggy’ but on this trip the fine, dry weather of May had dried everything up nicely.

Start of the descent into Mosedale

The bridge over Mosedale Back

On the Mosedale track

Mosedale Cottage comes into view

Once down in the valley of Mosedale, and across the wide wooden bridge crossing Mosedale Beck, it’s a steady plod of about 1.3 kms (less than a mile) to the bothy.  Mosedale Cottage has been a bothy with free public access for years, and like some Scottish bothies it also has a locked section used by shepherds and estate workers.   It’s also very remote, with the nearest habitation more than a couple of hours away on foot.

The front door of the bothy

The front door of the bothy

Inside the bothy in the main room

‘Mist’ decides to chill out under one of the sleeping platforms

Chris reading the hut book and ‘Mist’ still chilling out

As we arrived, it looked as though we might have company, and sure enough one of the estate workers was using the private section.   We said hello before heading into the section open to the public.    In just a few minutes the stove was on and a brew prepared, while ‘Mist’ decided on some ‘shut-eye’.

On the way back

Approaching Mosedale Beck bridge from the other direction

The long, gradual ascent

Wide open spaces

After a brew and a bite to eat, it was time to head back.  Apart from the estate worker we saw nobody all day, which tells you much about the remote nature of this quiet part of Lakeland.   The dull morning had changed to a sunny afternoon and a steady walk soon had us back at Wet Sleddale.

Time to head for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

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#250 – Lake District bothies Part 1 – Dubbs Hut and Warnscale

‘A room with a view’ – Warnscale Bothy looking towards to Buttermere

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The May 2018 trip to Scotland was drawing to a close.   Our outing to Invermallie Bothy and Achnacarry (see post #249) had been in damp, mizzly conditions, when the rest of the UK was basking in a heatwave that was to last into August.   It was time to bail out and head for the warmth, on the basis that Scotland is still going to be there next year.

Honister Pass and the two bothies (red flags)

The North-West Lake District

Bothy visits are a good hook to hang a walk off, so we headed to the North West corner of the Lake District where there are two bothies very close to each other (anyone still not sure what a bothy is, see my earlier blog from last year).   Two for the price of one seemed like a good deal, so Chris and I, plus Border Collie ‘Mist’ set out from Honister Pass on a hot, sunny day – summer had arrived early in the Lake District.

Honister Quarry and visitor centre

Setting out on the re-routed path from Honister

Looking back towards the visitor centre

Honister Pass is the site of a thriving quarry business.   It may seem strange to have a commercial quarry in a National Park, but the quarry was an important source of employment long before National Parks came into being.   The business was in decline until local man Mark Weir stepped in and the quarry is now a major visitor attraction, selling ornamental slate products – there is even a via ferrata in the disused quarry site.

On the old tramway ….

…. but still with a way to go ….

…. until the view suddenly opens up

We were heading for one of the old quarry sites that used to be part of the Honister operation.   The route out takes the line of an old tramway, which runs in a perfect straight line for over 1 km.   The initial section has been re-routed from the original way, as it had become dangerously loose over the years, but for the most part the tramway gives a solid and direct approach to Dubbs Quarry.

The approach to Dubbs Quarry

Dubbs Hut blending into the background (just left of centre)

Closer view of Dubbs Hut

Dubbs Hut was once one of the buildings serving the quarry, and following the business going into decline, it had become an informal shelter for walkers and mountaineers.    The hut had deteriorated quite badly over the years before coming under the care of the Mountain Bothies Association.    A spokesman for the MBA said, “When we first became involved, the building could best be described as soulless and unwelcoming with a roof that leaked heavily and with no fire or cooking facilities.”

The entrance

Inside, showing the sleeping platform and stove

Looking towards the door

Dubbs Hut has a large single room equipped with a solid fuel stove and sleeping platform, and is spacious enough to accommodate a big party if the floor area is included.   We hadn’t come to stay the night, but we had a sit inside checking out the entries in the hut book before carrying on towards Haystacks and the Warnscale Bothy.

The path heading for Haystacks ….

…. with the Warnscale Bothy path branching off

The view down to Buttermere from the Warnscale Bothy path

Warnscale Bothy

The path to Haystacks is well travelled and it would be hard, if not impossible, to get lost here.    The path out to Warnscale Bothy is nothing like as obvious, but we found it without any great difficulty.   When I say ‘we’, I’ve got to admit it was ‘Mist’ who found it first – she has a talent for finding paths, and once I have taught her how to use a map and compass, she will make a pretty good navigator.

The entrance

‘A room with a view’

Inside the bothy

Much smaller than Dubbs Hut!

The views down to Buttermere from the bothy path were impressive, and our situation on the narrow path clinging to the hillside must have been equally impressive to people heading up the path from Buttermere.    After a false start (too high) we found the right way to the tiny building that is Warnscale Bothy – it’s known as the ‘room with a view’, for reasons that become obvious on arrival.


The bothy with Buttermere beyond

Brew time!

Tiny is a good description!    The MBA description on their website says ‘Not suitable for parties’ – four could probably squeeze in to sleep, but two or three would be a better number for comfort.   It’s cosy enough for sure, and with the stove going on a cold winter night, and a glass of whisky in hand, you would struggle to find a more atmospheric lodging.

Setting out to Haystacks

Blackbeck Tarn

We had a bite to eat and a brew of coffee, sitting outside the bothy on what was a hot and sunny spring day.    Another couple came to the bothy from below just as we were about to leave, so we left them in peace.   The day was a bit too warm for a long yomp, but that hadn’t been part of the plan anyway – we carried on to Haystacks, visiting Blackbeck Tarn on the way, before heading back to Dubbs.

On the way back – Dubbs Quarry in the centre of the image

From there a steady walk took us back down to the waiting camper van at Honister, with the usual cold cider for me and dinner for the ever hungry collie.

Time to head for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

Posted in 2. Lake District, Bothy days | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

#249 – Invermallie Bothy and the Commandos of Achnacarry

Invermallie Bothy and Glen Mallie

Inside the bothy

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On our 2017 Scottish trip, Chris and I (plus Border Collie ‘Mist’) had visited a couple of bothies in the course of our mountain walking (see post #223).   I should add at this point that Chris has no intention of spending the night in a bothy, though the dog is certainly up for it and has spent several bothy nights out at Greg’s Hut in the Pennines (see post #141), but sometimes a walk out to a bothy gives a purpose to a day which otherwise might have been missing.    Which is why, in May 2018, we were setting out to Invermallie bothy.

The route to Invermallie and back (Achnacarry marked by the red flag)

Achnacarry, Glen Mallie and Lochaber

At one level, Invermallie can’t be classed as remote as it’s 5 kms from the nearest road for the shortest walk in.   However, it sits on the edge of the ‘Rough Bounds of Knoydart’, one of the UK’s last wilderness areas.   I didn’t ask Chris if she fancied a 2-3 day approach walk through Knoydart to visit the bothy – some questions just don’t have to be asked.   So, it was the 10 km round trip from the roadhead then.

Eas Chia-aig waterfalls and ‘the Witch’s Pool’ at the start point

A murky, misty Loch Arkaig

Chris and Border Collie ‘Mist’ setting out by the loch

View over Loch Arkaig – still misty!

We had parked the camper up overnight near Achnacarry Castle, and woke to a misty, moisty morning.   It’s a well known saying in the outdoor community that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothing.   With a choice of waterproof jackets to go at we didn’t have that excuse, and ‘Mist’ was bouncing off the walls, keen to be setting out on her daily walk.    It was time to set off to Invermallie.

The track approaching the bothy

At last – the bothy

The walk out to Invermallie alongside Loch Arkaig was straightforward enough, if a little bit damp.   A good track makes the route easy enough for the ‘navigationally challenged’, though I noted afterwards that the final section of the route in can sometimes be well  underwater.   In the event, we arrived at the bothy with dry feet.

Cooking area

Chris enjoys a hot chocolate while ‘Mist’ waits (hopefully) for a biscuit

Blog regulars will have read some of my other posts about bothy visits.   The bothies are often disused workers cottages, usually in wild and remote areas – maintained on behalf of the owners by the Mountain Bothies Association, they are open for use ‘free of charge’ by anyone travelling through the mountains of the UK.  The availability of the bothies, especially in Scotland, allows long trips through wilderness areas without having to carry huge amounts of camping gear – what’s not to like!

The main room with one of the ‘residents’ and a good fire going

‘Mist’ inspecting one of the upstairs rooms

Ready to set out into the mist again

Heading back to the lochside

The view across Loch Arkaig looking towards the start point

One of the main downstairs rooms at Invermallie was occupied by a couple of young guys who had walked in the long way and were in the process of drying out their gear and getting a meal.  We had a tour of the spacious upstairs area before getting a brew on and having lunch in the other downstairs room.   Then it was time for a return through the misty wood to the parking area at Achnacarry.

The remains of the original Achnacarry Castle

New Achnacarry Castle hidden in the trees

We were due to head south the next day, but a visit to Achnacarry was part of the plan before setting off.   The original lodge at Achnacarry was built in the 1650’s but was burned to the ground by English troops after the failed 1745 rebellion, and all that remains now is an ivy-covered chimney.   ‘New Achnacarry’ was built in the early 1800’s but is out of bounds to the peasantry such as us, but during WW2 it became a secret military base, and the birthplace of the commandos.

Archive photo of ‘New Achnacarry’ dating back to WW2

The history of the WW2 Commandos would take much longer than a blog post to tell.   In brief, the commandos were resourceful and well-trained troops, capable of not only surviving in harsh conditions but also able to fight the enemy afterwards – they were said to be ‘fit to fight and fighting fit’.   The training, mostly at Achnacarry, was tough and arduous and an ascent of Ben Nevis, 18 miles away, was often the final challenge of the training.

Unarmed combat

Dealing with enemy sentries

Pistol shooting

Physical training with logs

The parade ground at Achnacarry in WW2

The visit had special meaning for me as I joined the Royal Marines Commandos in 1974.  Our training was similar to that of the original commandos, with an emphasis on agility and physical training, long ‘speed marches’ and the development of the commando qualities of “courage, determination, resourcefulness and cheerfulness in the face of adversity”.    The training was hard, but we had the example of the wartime commandos to draw on – a fine example indeed!

Old Nissen hut at Achnacarry in May 2018, dating back to the original Commando Depot of WW2

Text and images © Paul Shorrock except the B/W images, copyright unknown.

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#248 – Skye – Kirkibost to Sligachan, the ‘short way’

Strath na Creitheach with Blabheinn (Blaven) behind

(Left click images and maps to zoom in, use browser return arrow to go back)

I guess we are all creatures of habit.   I’m prepared to bet that for most of us, our hill days are circular routes starting and finishing at the same place, and logistically this makes sense.   The alternative is to walk an ‘out and back’ route as on my Sgurr na Stri trip (see post #247) for the same reason of convenience.   Occasionally though, it’s more satisfying to walk an ‘A to B’ route, which is how this trip was conceived.

The Cuillins and Blabheinn

Regular readers will know that ‘me missus’ likes a good walk out, but not necessarily over something big, steep and pointy.    I like my ‘pointy’ mountain days, but a walk through the valleys and glens can give a different perspective on familiar hills and mountains, which is one of the reasons we decided to walk from Kirkibost near Elgol to Sligachan – the other reason was the idea of being on a journey.

The route – Kirkibost (south) to Sligachan (north)

There are scores of routes like this in the Scottish Highlands.   These are ancient trails, used for centuries to take the most straightforward way from one place to another.   The distance from Kirkibost to Sligachan is a respectable 18kms through wild country, where a twisted ankle could result in an epic, but a height gain of just over 400 metres meant that if pulses were racing it would be due to the scenery and not exertion.

Closer view of the route

The problem with ‘A to B’ walks is always going to be finding a way of linking up the two points.   The easiest way is to use two cars, one to each end of the route, but this isn’t always possible.   Over the years I’ve used buses, trains, boats, hitch-hiked and even on occasion walked the link, making the days route twice as long.   This time we were going by bus and taxi.

Setting out in mizzly conditions from Kirkibost

We had based ourselves at Sligachan, so needed to get to Kirkibost, a distance of almost thirty miles by road.   A taxi all the way was ruled out as being too expensive, but a bus link to Broadford brought the cost down.   Our taxi driver was a chatty Lancastrian who had settled on Skye, and who spent his days driving or fishing.   As he drove away from our drop-off point, we knew we were committed – if we wanted to eat that night we had to walk back to Sligachan!

Chris looking none too impressed with the weather ….

…. but things start to improve

Chris is up for long-ish walks, but not usually as ‘long-ish’ as 18kms!   I had thought that a bit of preparation beforehand might be wise, and we did a practice route of the same distance back home in North Wales before the Scottish trip (blog post to follow in a few weeks).   That being done, Chris was confident about the distance – all we needed now was for the mizzly rain to stop.

The first view down to Camasunary

Heading down to Camasunary

We had covered the first section of the route last year, with a walk to the bothy at Camasunary (see post #223), an ‘out and back’ trip of 5 kms each way.   It was soon obvious that we weren’t going to enjoy the sunny conditions of the previous trip, but the mizzle gradually died away and by the time we reached Camasunary it was cloudy but dry.

The house at Camasunary with Sgurr na Stri behind

The junction to Strath na Creitheach and (eventually) Sligachan

Heading up the Abhainn Camas Fhionnairigh ….

…. and looking back towards Camasunary

At Camasunary we took the old path heading to Strath na Creitheach and (eventually) Sligachan.   The path was a bit rough in places, but there was no navigational challenge in following it, and it didn’t seem long before we reached Loch na Creitheach.

Loch na Creitheach coming into view

Loch na Creitheach with Sgurr Hain behind

The route by Loch na Creitheach and Blabheinn (seen from Sgurr Hain the day before)

Looking ahead to Ruadh Stac and Marsco ….

…. and looking back towards Camasunary

At the loch, the trail is squeezed in between Sgurr Hain and the lake on one side and the impressive bulk of Blabheinn (Blaven) on the other.   I had seen the route the previous day from Sgurr Hain when I had done the 25km route to Sgurr na Stri and back (post #247) and the Sgurr na Stri trip had been a good ‘recce’ for this one.

Near the head of Loch na Creitheach

The author in Strath na Creitheach

Looking back towards Blabheinn (right) and Clach Glas (centre)

For me, the backdrop of Blabheinn and Clach Glas was the most dramatic part of the day, though later on, sections of the Cuillin Ridge were equally impressive.   For Border Collie ‘Mist’ it was the second long walk in the space of two days, and although she is now ten years old, she still romps along like a young dog – that is, until sandwich time, when everything comes to a stop.

Ruadh Stac ahead ….

…. and the small lake of Loch an Athain

Just after Loch an Athain, we finished gaining height as we passed the 90 metre contour – from here it was mostly downhill, though distance-wise we were only halfway.   After my ‘recce’ of the previous day, I knew where to look for the first sighting of the Sligachan Hotel, and having pointed it out to Chris, it was ‘steady away’ back to the campsite, with the usual dinner for the Collie and a can of cold cider for me.

About halfway – mostly downhill and heading for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

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#247 – Sgurr na Stri and the Cuillin Mountains of Skye

Loch Coruisk and the Cuillin Ridge, seen from Sgurr na Stri

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Despite having almost perfect weather on our May Scottish trip, our first foray onto Skye produced one of the wettest days of the month.    After a day of rain we bailed out, with the option of diverting back there on the way back home – there were two good mountain days in the Cuillins planned, and I wasn’t about to give up too quickly.    Sure enough, a week or so later the weather turned kind, and we likewise turned back for Skye.

Skye, including the Cuillins

The Ridge of the Black Cuillins is a mountaineer’s paradise, and to traverse the 7 miles of the ridge gives a challenge that is almost Alpine in scale.    Although I’ve not done the ridge in a single trip, I’ve completed virtually all the ridge in sections (see post #224) and the previous year Chris and I had walked out to Camasunary bothy (see post #223) where I saw the Cuillins from a new and unfamiliar direction.

The route – out and back from Sligachan to the north

When we got home from the 2017 trip, I did a bit of reading about that part of the Cuillins and discovered that the small summit of Sgurr na Stri (Peak of Strife) which rises just above Camasunary, gives one of the best viewpoints of the whole ridge in all its glory.  It did strike me afterwards that it’s probably a better idea to do the research before a trip rather than after, but whatever, a return trip was definitely called for.

Raring to go – Border Collie ‘Mist’ setting out (along with accompanying human) at Sligachan

In Glen Sligachan, with Marsco (L) and the northern part of the Cuillin Ridge (R)

Some tackle Sgurr na Stri from Camasunary, but I fancied a longer, and probably more interesting, day.   The plan was to do an ‘out and back’ trip from the campsite at Sligachan, a trip of about 25 kms (just over 15 miles).    Chris decided that a 25 km walk wasn’t at the top of her list of ‘things to do’, so I set out with the ever-faithful Border Collie ‘Mist’ for company.

Closer view of the northern Cuillin Ridge – L to R Sgurr nan Gillean, Am Basteir, Sgurr a Bhasteir

The North Ridge of Sgurr nan Gillean (AKA ‘Pinnacle Ridge’), with the pinnacles coming into view

The undoubted star in the northern part of the Cuillins is Sgurr nan Gillean (Peak of the Young Men).    One of the best days out on the mountain is the North Ridge, better known as ‘Pinnacle Ridge’ – looking from Sligachan, you might well wonder why the ridge gets its name but viewed from the side the reason becomes obvious.    The ridge is graded as an easy rock climb, but it’s long and has a serious air about it.

The upper section of Glen Sligachan

The view towards Harta Corrie, with the Cuillin Ridge beyond

Parting of the ways – my route heads right towards Sgurr Hain. Blabheinn (Blaven) on the left


Looking back towards Glen Sligachan

My route out took me on a gradual ascent of Glen Sligachan, heading roughly south.   As well as getting me towards Sgurr na Stri, it was also a chance to ‘recce’ the route for the next day when Chris and I (plus dog) were going to follow a linear route from near Elgol back to Sligachan (blog post to follow in a couple of weeks).    Eventually it was time for me to branch off towards Sgurr Hain leading on to Sgurr na Stri.

The pinnacles of Pinnacle Ridge more obvious now, with Am Basteir in the centre of the frame

Just below Sgurr Hain looking towards the Southern Cuillin Ridge

First view of Sgurr na Stri, just left of centre on the skyline

The whole of the Cuillin Ridge comes into view

Sgurr Hain effectively blocked the view of everything except Blabheinn (Blaven), but as I reached the col above Choire Raibhaich I had the first sighting of the southern section of the Cuillin Ridge, followed soon after by a view of Sgurr na Stri.    The col was a good a place as any for a break – ‘Mist’ had the same idea as she tried to mug me for a sandwich.

First view of the sea (Loch Scavaig)

The summit of Sgurr na Stri

Loch Coruisk (R) flowing into Loch Scavaig with the Cuillin Ridge beyond

Sgurr na Stri was interesting enough in its own right, but the outlook from the summit was outstanding!    Anyone intending to traverse the ridge would either find the view inspiring or have a sinking realisation of what they were taking on, but for me it was a trip down memory lane with many happy Cuillin memories.

The memorial to Captain Maryon ….

…. and the attached plaque

The time came, as it always does, to start heading back.   I almost bumped into a small group of red deer, who didn’t seem at all phased by the presence of me and the dog.   I unintentionally lost a bit of height trying not to spook them, which dropped me conveniently at the memorial cairn dedicated to Captain Maryon.  The cairn marks the spot where Maryon died in July 1946 – his body was not discovered for nearly two years.

On the way back, with the Northern Cuillins (L) and Marsco (R)

Blabheinn (Blaven) with Loch Creitheach below (the route for the following day)

Lower down the descent route, looking back to Blaven again

Almost back on the Glen Creitheach-Glen Sligachan path

As I crossed the col where I had stopped on the way out, ‘Mist’ immediately went in search of any lost crumbs – Border Collies are a bit too clever at times!    Then it was the long return to Glen Sligachan – I don’t find ‘out and back’ trips boring, as you get to see everything from a new perspective, but as we approached the Sligachan Hotel I suspect that the only thing ‘Mist’ wanted to see was a full dinner dish.

The end of the trip – the Sligachan Hotel with the campsite beyond

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

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