It’s been nearly a month since I’ve travelled to Inverness. Our health board (Greater Glasgow and Clyde) is currently under the tightest Covid restrictions, and the advice (not enshrined in law, nb) has been to not travel into, out of, or through the affected areas. I stayed at home for a long time, but eventually decided that it was probably ok to return to Inverness. I’m careful and don’t mix at home, and they’re careful and don’t mix up here, so the risk seems fairly low.
I’d like to say that my new post-clocks-going-back routine is “a bit later start, much shorter walks, and home well before dark,” but to be honest, I’m having a hard time even settling into that. I can’t seem to judge the weather well at all, and my groove, or mojo, or whatever you like to call it, is MIA. It might just be the usual Oct/Nov blues, or it could have something to do with the added worries of dreadful fires and evacuations in CO/CA, a new Supreme Court judge, the pending election, the virus…(good gawd, reading back over that, it’s a wonder that I—or anyone, for that matter—manage(s) to get out of bed at all!!).
Sat 24 October
The drive up was uneventful, although quite enjoyable, due to the autumnal colours. Perthshire was particularly stunning. I’ve got a hankering for more…
Sun 25 Oct
2½ hrs / 10.6 km / 70m
I left the house not even knowing where I was headed. I’d tried to contact Evie the night before, but hadn’t heard back from her. Still on the trail for good colour displays, and remembering that I’d seen some stunning photos from somewhere around Cawdor, I headed in that direction.
I contemplated having another beach walk from Nairn, as I’d thoroughly enjoyed my previous outing there. But feeling as though I should go a bit further afield, I carried on, had a brief drive to and through Burghead, and past Hopeman. Had I done a bit more research, and insisted on having a plan rather than making it up as I went along (rarely a successful methodology for me), I would have parked in Hopeman and walked through to Lossiemouth. But that turnoff was past me before I realised, and I was Lossiemouth-bound. That’s ok, I’ll have a nice beach walk from there instead. Except the footbridge across to the East Beach (far nicer and much longer than the West Beach, where I parked) has been condemned, and the nearest bridge is nearly a 3-mile forest walk away. So I had a forest walk instead, which was nice enough, but my heart just wasn’t in it.
the condemned bridge
a longing look over to the inaccessible east beach dunes
zoom to Caithness, and pointy Morven
the Covesea lighthouse
Mon 26 Oct
Strathconon nonstarter. For the third time in the past several months, I started the long single-track drive up Glen Strathconon. The colours were stunning, and I kept thinking that I should stop to take some photos, but I sadly didn’t, my concentration more focused on dodging early-morning workers and school run mums speeding down (up?) the glen at pace. It was forecasted to be a showery day, and I was prepared for that. However, it was chucking it down in earnest when I arrived at the start point.
I wasn’t in the mood for even a half-day excursion in full waterproofs. So I sat and read the paper. A couple of times, there were green shoots indicating better weather, but they quickly passed, and it was back to rain. One thing that caught my attention/interest was a large timber lorry shooting past on its way even further up the glen. I wasn’t all that far from the end of the public road, and I figured that I would have been beyond all of the active forestry works. Apparently not.
After a couple of hours, I decided to head…well, elsewhere. The same (I thought) lorry had passed by several times, full, then empty again, and was now presumably up the glen getting loaded again. So I thought I’d make my escape while he was busy collecting another load.
Well. I met THREE other lorries on my way out! Luckily, I managed to either see them from very far away, or was close enough to a passing place so I didn’t need to reverse too great a distance. But there are places, some just along either a loch or the river, where the passing places are quite far apart, (or really, whoever thought that a tiny mudpit would suffice as one was havin’ a laugh) and I was tres inquiete about the possibility of coming nose to nose with one of those lorries in one of those places. Thankfully that didn’t happen. But I made a mental note to schedule subsequent visits for weekends. I wonder if timber extraction continues throughout the winter months?
I drove across the dam at Loch Meig, and returned to the main road on the opposite side of the glen, exiting just near the Loch Achilty Hotel in Contin. I made a brief foray up to Silverbridge to see the roaring river and the colours, which are beginning to wind down.
Tues 27 Oct
3 hrs / 15.4km / 254m
Another local no-car exploration, across the A9 to and through Daviot Woods, then home via Milton of Leys. A good long walk, but nothing too exciting.
Wed 28 Oct
Upper Findhorn moors and glens
4¾ hrs / 20.54km / 582m
I’d seen this route while I was developing my Inverness to-do list; although I’d originally earmarked it as a low-level winter walk, it rose to the top of the list for today. The forecast was for overcast but dry (errr…not quite how it worked out), but it had rained heavily overnight, so I knew the hills would be soggy. A long traipse in a remote area on tracks all the way suited my energy level (lacking) and mood (see earlier comments about where my groove might have gone off to). And actually, as I drove slowly up the glen, over 10 miles of single-track with a severe dearth of suitable passing places, I decided that I probably wouldn’t want to visit in the winter, esp if there was any lying snow, or ice.
“At least there won’t be any timber lorries,” I thought to myself, just before I passed an “EU-funded timber extraction route” sign. It was still before 8am, so likely before working hours commenced, but I wondered on and off throughout the day what the drive out would be like. I didn’t notice any active works, but that didn’t mean they weren’t there! Thankfully, whatever works has been done, or is scheduled to be done, isn’t currently underway.
a proper standard parking sign after miles of unsigned single-track amused me (it doesn't take much )
I set off walking just a couple of minutes after 8am. It’s a long walk on a very straight track up to the new Coignafearn Lodge, which is beginning to look a bit derelict. I wondered how much it actually gets used, and by whom. When I got home, I tried to find out when it was built, but there was very little information about it. The other thing that niggled my brain all day was the Rausing name; although the WH desc said only “publisher/philanthropist,” I was certain that I remembered reading something about a scandalous death by drug overdose. This too I searched when I got home—it was Sigrid’s sister-in-law Eva who had indeed died several years ago.
again, nice colours (the theme for this entry, apparently)
follow the straight track
empty, starting-to-look derelict, slightly creepy lodge
Just past the lodge, before crossing over the river, I saw a golden eagle. It flew up in front of me, from not very far away, and quickly settled on a rock in the near distance. There was no question that it was an eagle; it was huge. I briefly tried to get some photos, but decided that I’d rather just watch it than faff around trying to find it on a zoomed lens, only to still end up with only a fuzzy blob. This was undoubtedly the highlight of the day!
I enjoyed the walk up along the Elrick Burn; there were some vestiges of reds, oranges, and golds left in the trees, and the river rushed peatedly down the glen. The water was high, and I took the footbridge option (followed by a short distance of rough and very soggy ground) rather than taking my chances at the ford. Looking back, I could probably have crossed it safely, but would probably not have emerged with dry feet.
follow the river up the glen
March on. I thought I’d read something about a grouse-shooting lunch hut, but I couldn’t remember for sure, and it wasn’t marked on the map. By now, the track was wandering up and down through endless peat haggery. There wasn’t much of a view further afield, due to low lying cloud, but I realized afterward that those biggies in the distance were the “back side” of the Newtonmore Monadhliath Munros.
some dramatic Monadhliath-esque scenery
I did finally reach a hut, but it was, disappointingly, locked (so it doesn't get a photo!). I sat on its porch and ate half a sandwich; at this point, I was probably only about 4km away from the single-track road that would carry me back to the car.
finally descending back toward the road
the ruins at Coignafeuinternich (try saying that three times fast! )
My feet were sore by the time I returned, but I’d had a good day, enjoying the solitude and wide-open space.
Thurs 29 Oct
Local (battlefield) wander
2½ hrs / 13.2km / ascent negligible (i.e., dunno)
Heavy rain was imminent during the afternoon, so I wanted to get out for a bit beforehand. Up the road to Nairnside, left to the battlefield, then down the road to the Scottish Forestry School and through Culloden Wood. Made a detour down to the shops to get a paper, then powered back up the hill, back home. This has sort of become one of my local circuits.
Fri 30 Oct
Falls of Rogie to Dingwall (via Strathpeffer)
Sub2K: Cnoc Mor
5½ hrs / 17.1 km / 618m
A really lovely walk with Evie. Cnoc Mor is small in stature, but has several very steep sections. Beautiful colours; river very full, fine views to the Strathconon Corbetts, which now seem to dominate the area much more so than before we climbed them!
a fast-running Falls of Rogie
them Strathconon Corbetts are everywhere!
looking down over lovely Strathpeffer
a farm outbuilding just coming into Dingwall
Sat 31 Oct – Sun 01 Nov
Rain, rain, rain. And wind.
Mon 02 Nov
Inverfairigaig to Falls of Foyer (East Loch Ness)
3 hrs / 11.1km / 455m
Taking a wrong turn on the way to the start point (who could have imagined that the tiny hamlet of Inverfairigaig boasts more than one left-hand turn?), I found myself on the most scary-ass road of my life. This tiny road switchbacked up steeply, over six or seven very tight curves. The road was slippery with wet fallen leaves, and there was no place I could have turned around. I prayed –vehemently – that I’d not meet another car, and that I’d find myself safely out of this mess. When I reached a gate, I had no choice but to execute a 12- or 13-point turn, and head back down the way I’d come up. More petitioning to the safety gods. It was with a pounding heart that I reached the main road and took the NEXT left to the start point. I had to sit for a few minutes until the shaking stopped.
After a rather exciting start, the walk was thankfully dull and peaceful. It was mostly a nice forest walk; not many views, given the number of trees. I decided that it was probably quite similar to walking the Great Glen Way only on the east side of the loch.
the occasional glimpse of Loch Ness through the trees...
The tea shop in Foyers was closed. The falls, although quite high, weren’t particularly impressive (apparently, much of the water has been diverted via hydro schemes). The surrounding rock walls and gorges were much more impressive than the falls themselves.
a long drop/fall, but no' much water
gorge into which the falls fall
again with the colours!
across the loch, Meall Fuar-mhonaidh stands prominently
Toward the end of the walk, I did spy a cheeky red squirrel, who sat motionless for a long enough period of time for me to get out my camera, and focus in on him (her), but who, at the very last second, scampered away.
Tue 03 Nov, Election Day
Graham: Meall Mor (Easter Ross)
5 hrs / 15.71 km / 611m
I had a hard time psyching myself up for this, but I managed to haul myself out of the house a bit before 7:30am. Part of the problem was worrying about clocks-gone-back time management, but I made good time to Evanton, then up the glen, and was on my walking way by 8am; that gave me more than 7 hours of walking time, which should be more than sufficient. Nonetheless, I kept my foot on the gas until I was well up the hill—off the tracks, and into peat hag hell.
Loch still-as-Glass; the pink house
up the forest path...but there's only forest on the one side (left ascent, right descent) now!
I was enthralled by Ben Wyvis on my way up
if you look closely, just right of center (looks like cloud cover), it's actually a light dusting of snow
northern end of the loch; stormy Wyvis again
I needn’t have worried; I was back at the car in exactly 5 hours. SO glad I managed to drag myself out.
Wed 04 Nov
2½ hrs / 10.3km / 113m
After staying up for the much of the night watching the (for the moment still unresolved) election results, I’d arranged a late-start short jaunt with Evie for today. I arrived an hour or so earlier than we’d agreed, and had a wander around the village, and out to the headland.
We met at mid-day; walked along the beach (very high tide) for a fair old distance, and then back to Burghead through Roseisle Forest.
Thurs 05 Nov
recce on Beinn Tharsuinn (G)
3¾ hrs / 12.5km / 536m
Just not feelin’ the love. Late start, headache, fierce wind wreaking havoc on my sinuses. Final straw was reaching a deep, wet, and substantially wide peat hag. Did due diligence and looked for a suitable crossing spot, but time marched on…
…and I worried that by the time I’d detoured to find a way across, and made my way to the top, I’d be running short on daylight. So I returned to the top of Torr Leathann, sheltered out of wind in the lee of its tall cairn, and enjoyed the view over the Cromarty Firth whilst I had my sandwich. I descended the same way, trying not to be too disheartened by not reaching the summit (I’d only been about ½ km away!).
the quarry track ... Torr Leathann on the left, Beinn Tharsuinn on the right
Torr Leathann's cairn
zoom to a hazy Cromarty Firth
At the end of the day, it was an outing…fresh air, and a bit of exercise, leaving another visit for another day. It’s less than an hour from home.
Fri 06 Nov
my un-birthday Corbett: An Ruadh-stac
7¾ hrs / 15.9 km / 984m
What a fab day. What a fine hill. What glorious views.
Two years ago on my birthday, I climbed Suilven. It was clag-bound and I didn’t get any views, but it didn’t matter; I was chuffed to bits that I’d finally managed to climb this elusive, scary (in my mind), and iconic hill. Last year, Evie and I traversed wee Craig Dhubh above a widespread inversion, looking across Speyside to Cairngorms that were spectacularly covered in white. It was going to be hard to top either of those days, but hoping for a triumvirate, I’d told her weeks ago to pencil in the 13th for – weather permitting, as always – An Ruadh-stac, a Torridon Corbett that has eluded me on a couple of occasions.
As events unfolded, and as has been the case for so many of the plans made for this <ahem> disruptive year, it started to look as though I’d be spending my birthday back in the central belt, rather than in Inverness. It was a week early, but we had the weather window, and decided to go for it.
And what an outing it was. As we set off from Coulags (8:15am), most summits were still ensconced in cloud, but as various tops started poking through, we were optimistic that our hill, too, once it finally came into view, would be cloud-free. And it was.
Sgorr Ruadh poking its head through...
Maol Chean-dearg coming out to play...
But first things first. The good though stony path up to the bothy and then on up to the bealach seems to have lengthened and grown in the five years since I climbed it with Jimmy (on our way to Maol Chean-dearg, as well as one of my unsuccessful attempts at AR-s). Nothing to do with “ageing up”! When we saw that we still had what looked like a helluva climb to the bealach, we stopped for a break, and to fuel up. It wasn’t as bad as it had looked, and it wasn’t long before we were staring at the very steep face of AR-s. It, too, seemed to have become a LOT more intimidating since the last time I’d laid eyes on it.
We stood and gawped for a few minutes, discussing how to attack it. Did we even want to attack it? I think we were both harbouring a few doubts at this point, although neither of us admitted it aloud until we were enjoying our post-adventure coffee and cake (shout out to The Midge Bite, in Achnasheen, which is open – even in November! – until 5pm, bucking the traditional 3-4pm tea shop closing time ).
um. wow (gulp). there 'tis...
Back to the task at hand…once we’d decided on our line of ascent, we took a deep breath, said “we can do this; we’re hearty and brave lassies,” and set off. Once we’d made it safely across the quartz slabs, we traversed over to the right, and began what was a fairly sustained scramble for about a km. It was slow going, but there were plenty of hand- and foot-holds, and never was it heart-pounding scary. There were, as the WH desc says, bits of path here and there, but on the ascent, we never found what seemed to be “the” path (we did find it on the way down; one of those things that’s simply much easier seen from above).
Evie making her way up
may be better to not look down...
The views were amazing. We’d managed to land one of those autumnal days that offered remarkable clarity. We could, of course, recognize and name all of the Torridon hills; the ones further afield were somewhat less recognizable other than in generalities – Kintail, Mullardochs, Affric, etc.
a tasty selection of Torridon hills
in the general direction of Lochcarron; I think these wee hills look really interesting
perhaps various Strathcarron / Strathconon / Craig hills (?)
just-below-the-top selfie (we forgot to take one at the actual summit)
After staying at the summit for a while, we carefully started the descent. Although we’d been apprehensive, it went much more smoothly than we thought it might, thanks to the aforementioned path. It was nearly 4pm when we returned to the car (yet another instance of breaching the WH estimated time on the wrong side), tired but extremely elated. The drive home offered up lovely late-afternoon light on the hills, which faded into the most marvellous rosy pink. When we got out of the car in Achnasheen and looked up, that same rosy glow washed the high feathery clouds above us; a fitting ending to a beautiful day.
What a happy, happy un-birthday!
the final photo I took. Lovely, innit?
...and a good note to end on. The next day, I packed up the car (thinking that as I have a base accommodation in Inverness, the amount of schlepping I do should be less...shouldn't it??), and headed south. Tier assignments and travel restrictions may determine the timing of my next foray north.
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