#257 – Shenavall Bothy in Wester Ross

Shenavall Bothy with the Mountains of the Fisherfield Forest behind © Alistair Humphries

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May 2019, and the Scottish trip was going well.   For the second year running, we had picked some of the many bothies in the Highlands as a hook to hang a walk on, and Ryvoan, Duror and Craig bothies had all been great choices.   The one I really wanted to visit though was Shenavall – even the name hinted of great things to come, but the classic photo of Shenavall with the mountains of Fisherfield Forest as a background made it a ‘must do’ trip.

Wester Ross and the North-West Highlands

Wester Ross with the route to Shenavall Bothy

Closer view of the route to Shenavall from Dundonnell

The land between Gairloch, Dundonnell, Gruinard Bay and Kinlochewe is often referred to as ‘The Great Wilderness’ and no wonder.   The A832 road skirts most of the area, but that’s the only road you will see – the interior has a network of ancient tracks left by stalkers, drovers and more recently hikers and mountaineers, but if you had to pick one word to sum it all up, it would be ‘remote’.

Setting out from the road with the peaks of An Teallach peeping out

Walking through the woodlands of Gleann Chaorachain

Better view of An Teallach now, looking to the northwest

The highest point of the walk in to Shenavall just above Loch Coire Chaorachain

Chris and I (plus Border Collie ‘Mist’ of course) had decided on a bit of a wander into one small corner of The Great Wilderness.   The name doesn’t convey the magnificence of the mountain scenery though, with the peaks of Slioch and the Fisherfield Forest being highlights, but the star of the show (well, for me anyway) was An Teallach.   We set off from Coire Hallie near Dundonnell, following the Landrover track to Strath na Sealga, leaving the track at its high point to follow the rough path over the moor.

The view south towards Strath na Sealga

Movement spotted on the moor next to the path ….

…. which turned out to be two riders with pack horses

Better view into the head of Strath na Sealga, with a green oasis central in the image

The path was easy to navigate, though a bit rough and boggy in places.   By now we had traded the view of the magnificent An Teallach for a less interesting bit of moorland, with a distant view of the head of the valley of Strath na Sealga.   Then I detected movement across the moor – it was two riders, each leading a packhorse.   For a moment we could have been transported back a couple of centuries when travel by horse would have been the best option.

Border Collie ‘Mist’ and the view towards the Fisherfield Mountains

Start of the descent down to Shenavall

The Fisherfield Mountains and Loch na Sealga with Shenavall just visible (left and low of centre)

The final part of the descent, Shenavall just low of centre

Chris, happy to get to level ground

Shenavall Bothy ….

…. complete with house name plate!

After a good bit of walking, our path started to descend to Strath na Sealga, gradually at first before becoming steeper on the final section.    I was amazed to find hoof prints and fresh horse dung – our riders had obviously taken this route out from Shenavall, pretty heroic stuff in my book.   Chris was less impressed by the steepness of the descent but persevered, and we eventually arrived at Shenavall Bothy, in one of the most impressive locations you could wish for.

The main room with fireplace

Another view of the main room ….

…. with a new (temporary) resident

Shenavall was once a home to the MacDonald family, who occupied the house from 1891, with Mr MacDonald employed as a stalker.   They had four cows and access to fresh salmon and venison from the estate, augmented by paraffin, meal, sugar and tea conveyed by pony from Dundonnell.   A roll of tweed would have been bought from Ullapool every year, with which a travelling tailor would make suits, trousers, skirts and jackets for the whole family.   It must have been a hard life, but by the standards of the time, they were comfortably off.

Chris checking out the kitchen

Upstairs sleeping space

Time for a well-earned brew!

All mod-cons?

Shenavall is still owned by the Dundonnell estate but is in the care of the Mountain Bothies Association, who maintain the bothy for ‘free of charge’ use by hikers, climbers and mountaineers.   Unfortunately, we were not staying overnight, but with a fire going the place would have been a cosy stopover.   After taking a look round it was time for lunch and well-earned brew, with extra dog biscuits for ‘Mist’.

Heading back ….

…. with an interesting weather front forming over An Teallach ….

…. but ‘Mist’ isn’t impressed as it’s getting near to dinner time!

Time to head for home

Then it was time to head back over the moor.    The views opened up as we left the confines of the stream flowing down to the bothy, with An Teallach taking centre stage again.   We had an extra treat with an interesting looking weather front moving through, but there was still some way to go before we finally reached the campervan on the A832.   Moving further up the road for an overnight spot proved to be a great idea – as well as meeting up with our mates Richie and Babs again, we were also treated to yet another spectacular sunset.    Days (and nights) in the Scottish Highlands don’t get much better than this!

Yet another fine sunset – looking towards An Teallach

Text and images © Paul Shorrock except where stated.

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#256 – Craig Bothy

Craig Bothy (low right by the trees) (IM)

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Our “stravaiging” (see post #255) continued onwards from Glencoe, with a diversion over to Skye and the Cuillins (see post #252) followed by Torridon, but it was soon time for another bothy visit.    The main contender was what is probably one of the best-appointed and most luxurious bothies in Scotland, the former youth hostel on the coast near Torridon, and known simply as Craig Bothy.

Craig Bothy plus Torridon and Skye

The routes in from Redpoint (blue) and Daibaig (red)

Our route in from Redpoint

Craig Bothy is 4kms from Daibaig near Torridon and 8kms from Redpoint near Gairloch.  At a distance of 18kms, ‘near Gairloch’ shouldn’t be taken too literally and the walk from Torridon to Daibaig isn’t exactly a short stroll, so it appears that the ‘youth’ of a bygone age were hardier walkers than those of today.  All of which probably explains why Craig is no longer a youth hostel.

The road over Bealach na Gaoithe (NB)

Mind you, neither Chris or I were much inclined to follow the classic but lengthy walking trip from Torridon to Redpoint (and beyond) via Craig, so a ‘creative’ use of the narrow roads was on the cards.    ‘Plan A’ had been to drive to Daibaig and to walk the shorter distance to the bothy and to return the same way, but a look at the map indicated some steep bits – good old Google confirmed that part of the road was possibly the steepest section of public road in the UK.

More of the Bealach na Gaoithe road (PM)

Redpoint and the view southwest to Skye

I’m normally up for a motoring challenge, but the problem with driving a 3.5 tonne camper, 6 metres long and 2.2 metres wide, along roads not much wider than the van, is that many drivers today simply don’t have a clue how to drive.    More importantly, many of them don’t appreciate the issues of driving a big, heavy vehicle on narrow roads, and whilst I was happy to ‘give it a go’ if the road was quiet, the prospect of reversing some distance for some numpty blocking the road didn’t appeal.    Time for ‘Plan B’!

The distant Cuillin Mountains on Skye

The start of the coastal route from Redpoint to Craig Bothy and Daibaig

‘Plan B’ was simple – round from Torridon towards Gairloch, then along the narrow coastal road to Redpoint.    This meant a longer walk in to the bothy with more height gain, but at a total of 16kms there and back, it was going to be quite do-able – coastal walks can often catch out unprepared hikers, who imagine that walking by the coast is going to be fairly flat, as in reality, the ups and downs of a coastal path soon add up to the equivalent of a decent mountain day.

Old fishing station at Redpoint

The route starts out as a thin path above the boulders ….

…. before settling down as a proper path

Setting out from Redpoint, we had great views out to Skye, with the Cuillins the most obvious feature.   Leaving farmland behind us, we passed the old fishing station and headed out on a thin path above the boulders.    Then, as we gained a bit of height, the path settled down into something more path-like.   Quite often the slope below us would roll straight down to the sea, and a casual trip or stumble could easily have developed into a roll down to the water – not a good idea!

Higher up the hillside now ….

….before dropping down to one of several stream crossings ….

…. then gaining height again

Nearly there – the far inlet is the outflow of the Craig River

In true coastal-path style, we ended up dropping down to stream crossings before gaining height again.    The coastline is straight as an arrow on the approach to the outflow of the Craig River, so it was quite easy to guestimate how far we had to go.   We turned the corner to head alongside the river, and the ground immediately became more lumpy and bumpy – before long, Chris decided she had put up with enough lumpy and bumpy and decided to take a break while I carried on to visit the bothy.

Craig Bothy

The common room with a new canine occupant – note the Celtic mural

Another view of the Celtic mural

The kitchen

Upstairs sleeping accommodation ….

…. with a real bed in one room!

On the map, the bridge across Craig River leading to the bothy was so close that I thought I should try to persuade Chris to carry on, but in reality it seemed to take longer.    When I finally arrived, I found a substantial building – I’m guessing that building materials and supplies probably came in by boat because it wouldn’t have been much fun carrying in cement, furniture, pans and a woodburning stove on either coastal path.    The inside was as impressive as outside, with solid furniture and even a bed, true luxury!    One of the most interesting features though is a Celtic mural painted on the wall by one of the previous hostel wardens.

Visit over – time to head for home

I had a good wander around the building before heading back to Chris, who was sitting enjoying the warm weather.    Out came the stove and brew kit, and we had our lunch sitting in the sun, before retracing our steps to Redpoint.    We found a nearby parking spot for the camper, with great views out to sea, and as a final treat we watched the sun setting over Skye, accompanied with a wee dram – what a great way to end a day!

Back at Redpoint, it’s time for the sun to say goodbye ….

…. but with a final flourish on the way

Text and images © Paul Shorrock, except the images tagged IM (Ibn Musa),  NB (Nigel Brown) and PM (Peter Moore) which are taken from the Geograph Project and are reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence.

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#255 – Duror Bothy and the sad tale of ‘James of the Glen’

Duror Bothy, AKA ‘Taigh Seumas a’ Ghlinne’ (The House of James of the Glen)

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The Scots have a great word for wandering about –‘Stravaiging’.   The meaning of ‘Stravaig’ is a bit more subtle than just wandering about though, as it implies more of an ‘aimless wandering’.    We don’t spend enough time in the Highlands for our wandering to be truly aimless, so for several of our hill days in May 2019 we tagged on a visit to a bothy for the extra interest.  Duror Bothy near Glencoe was the first on the list.

Glencoe, Appin and the surrounding area

The route in to Duror Bothy

From Glencoe, it’s a short drive on the Oban road to the small settlement of Duror at the mouth of the glen of the same name.    The road looks as if it has been there for centuries but has only existed in its current form since the 1930’s.    In summer it can be quite busy with tourist traffic, but May is quiet and probably the best time to visit, and the only campervan you will be stuck behind is probably ours.

Setting out up Glen Duror

The view from the forestry track

Into the woods

The bothy comes into view

If the drive is easy, the walk is likewise.   A gradually rising forestry track takes you up Glen Duror until a junction is reached on the left, where you branch off into the wood (see what I did there? – ‘branch off’ – oh, never mind 😉).     From there it’s a bit more like a maze, heading through the trees until the path opens up to lead to a clearing, with the bothy coming into view at last.

‘Taigh Seumas a’ Ghlinne’, now known as Duror Both

If I’m honest, I’m not a huge fan of wide forestry tracks or narrow paths through the trees – what makes this trip more interesting is the sad story of Seumas a’ Ghlinne, otherwise ‘James of the Glen’.  If ever a man was wronged, it was James Stewart, and the bothy was his birthplace and at one time his home.

*      *      *      *      *

Duror Bothy

James was one of the Stewarts of Appin, who had fought on the side of Bonny Prince Charlie in the 1745 rebellion against the English Monarchy.  The Glencoe and Appin areas came under the control of the Campbell Clan, supporters of English rule, and Colin Campbell, known as the ‘Red Fox’, was employed as a tax collector working on behalf of the Crown.  As such he was not a popular man and provided a likely target for the disaffected locals.

Glen Duror in better weather conditions than we had (RW)

In May 1752, the Red Fox was going about his masters’ business near to the Ballachulish Ferry when a musket shot rang out, leaving the Campbell man dead.   The Authorities would not allow such a direct challenge to their power and looked for a scapegoat.    James Stewart had been a constant critic of the Campbells and their English masters, and the murder of Colin Campbell gave them the opportunity to settle old scores.    In a sham of a trial, Stewart was found guilty of murder – eleven of the 15 jurors were Campbells and the presiding judge was the Duke of Argyll, the Campbell clan chief

The memorial to Seumas a’ Ghlinne at Ballachulish (CD)

James went to the gallows at a point overlooking the scene of the murder.     He showed no fear but expressed regret that future generations would think ill of him.    The locals were well aware of the identity of the murderer, but it remained secret despite much speculation at the time and since.     As a final act of revenge, James Stewart’s body was left hanging in chains until it slowly fell apart – his remains were subsequently gathered and given a decent burial, and the gallows were eventually thrown into Loch Linnhe by a local half-wit known as “Daft Macphee”.

A monument stands at the site of the execution.  On it is a plaque with the following words

James Stewart
James of the Glens
Executed here November 1752
For a crime of which he was not guilty

As recently as 2014, an appeal was lodged with the Scottish Government to pardon Stewart, but this was refused for no better reason than it would be ‘complicated’ and ‘Seumas a Ghlinne’ remains a victim of a miscarriage of justice.

*      *      *      *      *

Duror Bothy

Inside the bothy

Big chair – or perhaps a throne

New occupant for the throne

The sleeping platform

Chris catches up with the ‘Hut Book’….

…. but in the meantime it’s time for a brew

If the ghost of Seumus still wanders through the glen, we didn’t hear or see it.    The bothy is light and airy, probably more so than when Seumas lived there, thanks to renovations by the Mountain Bothies Association.    Despite its proximity to the road, the bothy does not seem to have attracted the attention of the louts and vandals who spoil the peace of bothies elsewhere in the Highlands – perhaps Seumas is keeping watch after all.

Time to head for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock except images tagged RW (Richard Webb) and CD (Chris Downer) which are taken from the Geograph Project and are reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence.

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#254 – Glenmore and Ryvoan Bothy

Ryvoan Bothy © GR

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May 2019 – we arrived just after midday at Glenmore near Aviemore, with several options lined up. I had plans on a trip out over the Northern Cairngorm plateau in a couple of days (see post #253) and I’d promised Chris a walk out to the wild corrie of Coire an t-Sneachda. What was needed was a short walk out into the mountains to get a bit of the ‘vibe’.

The Northern Cairngorms

Glenmore, Loch Morlich and the Ryvoan Pass route

Closer view of the Ryvoan Route

No competition really, it had to be the Ryvoan Pass – we would be following in the footsteps of the cattle thieves and drovers of times gone by, through a setting of ancient Caledonian pines. The cherry on the cake was to be a visit to an iconic bothy – Ryvoan.

The present-day Glenmore Lodge

Soon after starting out from Loch Morlich, we passed Glenmore Lodge, one of the premier Outdoor Training Centres in the UK, the other one being Plas y Brenin in North wales. The original aim of the centre was “to help an individual discover their own physical, mental and spiritual potential” and for the past seventy years, ‘The Lodge’ has done just that, being the start point of hundreds of thousands of outdoor adventures in mountaineering, skiing, climbing, canoeing, etc. Many ex-students have themselves gone on to be instructors in those activities.

The memorial to Kompani Linge at the Glenmore Visitor Centre © RT

Closer view of the memorial © AR

Glenmore Lodge was originally a shooting lodge, part of a local estate. During WW2 it was taken under government control as a military training centre and is best known as the base of the Norwegian Kompani Linge who trained there as commandos. Named after Captain Martin Linge, who was killed on an early raid in a raid on Måløy in Norway, the Company was best known for the raid on the heavy water plant in Rjukan, later immortalised in the film ‘Heroes of Telemark’.

A handy seat for one in the forest

An Lochan Uaine

Next to the Loch

‘Mist’ can’t resist a dip ….

…. and has a final look at the ‘Green Loch’

We didn’t have any heroic plans on this trip out, and carried on past ‘The Lodge’ towards Ryvoan Pass, passing an unusual seat by the side of the trail. A little further on we came to An Lochan Uaine which translates as ‘the Green Loch’, for reasons which become obvious from certain angles. The water has a green hue, which could be down to particles of minerals in the water, though another answer offered by the locals is that the colour comes from the fairy folk washing their clothes in it. Obvious really!

Onwards, up the Ryvoan Pass

Ryvoan Bothy

Ryvoan in 1932 from a photograph by John Henderson, © unknown

From the ‘fairy laundrette’, we carried on along the track to the bothy at Ryvoan. A photo taken in 1932 by John Henderson shows the bothy still in use as a dwelling – a long way out for a quick trip to Tesco though! As with many similar buildings in the Highlands, Ryvoan would probably have deteriorated into a state of collapse but was instead taken over by the Mountain Bothies Association who, with the permission of the landowner, maintain the bothy to allow hikers to use the building free of charge (see post #223).

The storm porch entrance to the bothy

Inside – one of the residents settling in

Plenty of reading material

Lunchtime, and a very helpful Border Collie

My favourite titanium mug featuring 45 Commando Royal Marines

Inside the bothy, we found two hikers who were passing through the area and spending the night at Ryvoan. We weren’t staying overnight, but lunch seemed like a good idea and as usual Border Collie ‘Mist’ agreed in a flash. As with many bothies, there is plenty to read on the walls or in the ‘Hut Book’, but Ryvoan is best known for a poem written by A.M. Lawrence in the 1940’s – she was clearly deeply affected by the magnificent mountains of the Cairngorms. By tradition, a copy is pinned to the door.

I shall leave tonight from Euston

By the seven-thirty train,

And from Perth in the early morning

I shall see the hills again.

From the top of Ben Macdhui

I shall watch the gathering storm,

And see the crisp snow lying

At the back of Cairngorm.

I shall feel the mist from Bhrotain

And the pass by Lairig Ghru

To look on dark Loch Einich

From the heights of Sgoran Dubh.

From the broken Barns of Bynack

I shall see the sunrise gleam

On the forehead of Ben Rinnes

And Strathspey awake from dream.

And again in the dusk of evening

I shall find once more alone

The dark water of the Green Loch,

And the pass beyond Ryvoan.

For tonight I leave from Euston

And leave the world behind;

Who has the hills as a lover,

Will find them wondrous kind.

Having read the poem, we left the new occupants of the bothy in peace and set off back to Glenmore, with ‘Mist’ yet again disturbing the fairies of the Green Loch.

Time to head for home ….

…. but time for one last dip on the way back

Text and images © Paul Shorrock with the exception of images tagged GR (Graham Robson) and John Henderson, which are taken from the Geograph Project and are reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence plus the images tagged RT (Reuben Tabner) and AR (Amanda Ruggeri)

Posted in 1. Scotland, 3. Yorkshire Dales, Bothy days | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

#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.


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.

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#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.


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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