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Oban bothy epic.
by Norman_Grieve » Fri Dec 02, 2011 9:49 am
Grahams included on this walk: An Stac, Meith Bheinn
Date walked: 01/08/2011
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A ring-eyed polack was the only fellow traveller, bagging the coveted back seat for a kip ahead o' me. I raced off the bus at the Keith changeover an hour later to turn the tables but I needn't have bothered as the burly young guy had to be woken up by the bus driver.
He burst into a fit of coughing when he was stopped in his tracks just before his intended collapse onto the back seat of the onward bus to the HC. This was followed by various barnyard noises in further protest & sidelong angry glares at my impudence in stealing a march on him at the changeover.
Arriving at the HC bus station I strolled to stance twa, where a goodly number of bodies were packed tightly into twin bus shelters, huddled together sheltering frome the early August rain. Seconds later the bus rolled up & I calmly climbed up the steps ahead of the pack, intent on hogging the coveted back seat for the 2hr ride doon the Great Glen.
As we were passing the scenic ruins of Urquhart Castle I got a text fae my young, slim, beautiful blonde supervisor. Being a well known 'outdoorsey' person, I was not surprised to see she was doon in the Borders, looking at horses.
I teld her the mist was right doon tae the loch & it was teeming with rain, to which she replied that she hoped I'd remembered my goggles.
As a parting shot I said I'd also forgotten my snorkel & flippers, although as it later transpired there were even more vital items of kit with which I might have avoided the coming epic...
Alighting at The Fort I stopped by Morrisons supermarket for a disposable camera, getting an uncomfortable feeling when asked at the till if that was all I wanted, as if maybe I was missing something. Rather than adding to my meagre load with further provisions, I though I'd take a stroll over to Auld McD's tae chomp on some heavily calorie laden burgers.
This also killed some time as it was 2hr 'til the next train tae Lochailort, the plan B Shiel Bus having been found to be a further hour or so later. Having washed the grease doon with a cuppa I then headed over to the rail station, where I stretched out on the platform on my auld Staioneag vintage karrimat.
In a fit of honesty I even bought a single ticket at the office, being teld they didn't do period returns, only day ones. The ticket to Morar station was £3 more than that tae Lochailort, thus tipping the balance infavour of the latter, as I'd been seriously thinking of traversing the entire north shore of the loch.
Thus the plan noo settled doon tae traversing over Meith Bheinn & An Stac to arrive at Oban bothy, as advised by my delectable [& not at all ferocious], supervisor. As we passed station after station with no sign of a ticket officer, I began to pray that wan would appear, thus my profligate spending would not be proved to be misplaced.
Thankfully these were answered as, approaching the 'Harry Potter', [formerly Glenfinnan] viaduct, a young blonde female ticket inspector appeared. I switched seats here, to face the way we were going, the Ben having disppeared fae view above Fort Bill.
A few miles doon the track we passed Essan bothy, scene of my previous wee bimble, which was to recieve another visit rather sooner than planned. I alighted at 1.40pm at Lochailort station, thankfully in the dry, only the tops of the long Corbett chain to the south, ending in Rois-Bheinn in the west were in the mist.
I set off back east along the busy A830, 'Road tae the Isles', leaving it on the left a mile later, just short of the Snowy Owl statuette at the entrance to the drive up to a B&B. There was a sign at the start of the narrow path on the left, warning that there were unmarked 'holes below the path'!
At this stage I was somewhat intrigued but treated the warning as a bit of a joke. I soon came to a wee fork in the rather overgrown wee path, where I initially took a right towards the house but quickly changed my mind & backtracked. Not much further up the left branch fae the fork I passed another wee grassy path leading up to the left.
Climbing up close to the Allt na Criche down on the right the narrow path petered out & I climbed up steeply to the left to regain a decent stalkers' path. This made for easier going & I changed into my boots, somewhat belatedly.
The angle soon lay back but the path deteriorated again, a fair bit of bog-hopping being required, the 'path' again being lost for a while. Once across here the path reappeared but failed to regain it's former glory. Even this shadow of it's former self was soon lost once again as it crossed the stream & breasted a rise, where long, narrow Loch Beoraid appeared, away down below a steep, densely wooded hillside.
Somewhere down in there was reputedly Prince Charlie's Cave but as I descended into the chaotic tangle of trees, crags & huge boulders, with the promised deep, gaping holes betwixt, I failed to identify the bonnie laddie's auld lair.
Indeed it was all I could do to avoid ending up at the bottom of wan o' these caverns, at one point a leg dangling into the abyss, whilst I struggled to aviod the rest o' me following. After making the worst o' the bad bits in this jungle I thought I spotted an escape oot to the left.
I descended into the deep ravine of the Allt a' Chuirn Mhoir, doon wee animal tracks, thence thankfully climbed the steep bank opposite, out of the woods, back into the light. From the far bank it was not much of a drop through steep, deep bracken to reach the shore of the loch.
Not far away down near the narrow foot of the loch, was a boathouse where a couple, one dressed in blue overalls, were repeatedly trying & failing, to start the engine of a sizeable, white cruiser. I made my way along above the boggy shore, soon passing opposite the budding boatmen & shortly arrived at the concrete dam at the NW end of the loch.
Below the dam I crossed a couple of rickety wooden footbridges, a good path soon leading to a track. Here I turned left above the shore of wee Lochan Lon a' Ghairt, soon quitting the track & starting up the long, craggy slopes of Meith Bheinn on the right.
I followed easy angled slopes of lush wet grass between a wee stream on the left & a steep wooded wee nose over to the right, west of the boat house. These led to a wee col which I crossed leftwards to zig-zag up a much steeper, more heathery gully between crags on either side.
Above this I followed the true right bank of a wee stream then crossed over to it's true left bank below a steep craggy nose above to the left. After moving diagonally right for some distance, I cut back left through the slanting line of broken crags leading up & right from the steep nose.
Here I was just below the mist which was closing in above 1200ft, snapping the view over Loch Morar & Loch Nevis beyond, just before I entered the mist. I followed the easy angled, stepped upper edge of the escarpment to the right of the knobbly plateau crossed by the multi-branched Allt Clioche Moire.
After some distance in thickening mist & heavy drizzle, this took me over several minor tops to higher rocky twin tops, either side of a boggy wee lochan. Here I wandered around vainly looking for a way on towards higher ground, given that neither top was cairned & I very much doubted that either was the summit.
I then descended 100ft or so to reach a surprisingly big stream, which I followed up to the right below a steep craggy ridge on the left. This soon reached a fair sized lochan with steep crags close above to it's left, which I cut through on a grassy ramp.
The angle soon lay back and I climbed up bare stony slopes past a rocky wee forepeak to finally glimpse a trig point through the mist. This was gained at 6.10pm, 4 1/2hr after the off and proved a tricky problem to mount, being an old style high, slender round wan with a broken, mossy top.
There was a mossy carving below it dated May 1965, on a rock beside a wee cairn. There was a very brief clearing in which I got a glimpse onwards to the NE of a broad, gently angled rocky plateau strewn with several wee lochans.
I then dropped down steepening stony slopes in what I hoped was the general direction of the left edge of the plateau. Beyond a wee col I then skirted below & left of several rocky wee tops glimpsed through the swirling thick mist.
I followed rocky ramp lines, crossing over the head of a steep gully dropping down into the mist below to the left. After some distance I reached easier slopes which finally led down out of the mist, where I could see the rocky ridge I'd been following was now away well to the right.
Ahead was a flat bottomed wee valley with steepening craggy slopes rising back into the mist over it's far side. Reaching the wee slow moving peaty stream, flowing right through boggy ground, I glanced to the left where I saw another steep, rocky ridge dropping down out of the mist.
I then decided that the wee stream I had reached was probably flowing down towards the head of Loch Beoraid & that I'd be safer to turn left towards the ridge which I though must lie in the direction of Loch Morar. This turned out to be one of the worst decisions I've ever made in the hills & paradoxically if the mist base had been lower, probably one which I would have never made!
Anyways, I crossed over the low col to the left, soon dropping fairly steeply into the head of Slaite Coire, to the north of Sgurr na Maothaich, the summit of Meith Beinn. Numerous tributaries soon joined, the Allt Slaite Coire growing rapidly below a short wooded ravine, dropping down to a much wider, flat bottomed, boggy valley.
Here the sun even made an appearance, being much further over to the right in the sky than I'd expected, making me somewhat puzzled that I seemed to be heading back west. After some distance I picked up traces of a path on the true right bank and could see that the side valley I was in dropped into a lower, wider valley, running at right angles.
A sizeable farm appeared down below, with cultivated fields beyond & a caravan to it's left. I thought I recognised the caravan from looking down the valley earlier on my descent to the foot of Loch Beoraid! Sure enough, as I descended into the larger valley, looking up it to the left, I recognised the woods, reputedly containing the bonnie prince's wee cavern.
I still wasn't overly concerned at first, as I thought I'd probably be able to find a wee barn to kip in, as I'd done back in June on my Letterewe trip. Turning right down the track I soon passed a guy in a landrover heading up the valley. Looking back I wish I'd asked him if he could suggest anywhere suitable.
Anyhow it was noo 8.10pm and I knew I'd not much more than an hour's daylight remaining. I tramped down between wee plantations either side of the River Meoble on the left, passing close to the right of a swanky looking modernised farm, with a tall, slim, long haired lass, wiping the dishes in the large kitchen.
There were a number of sheds in the vicinity but unfortunately for me, all appeared to sport large, strong padlocks, thus affording nae possibility of shelter fae the midges. I followed a bend around left doon tae the river, then back right towards another, whitewashed farm.
Looking back over my shoulder to the right I could see that the lengthy knobbled ridge of Meith Bheinn had noo cleared of mist & was now mocking me in my folly. I carried on regardless down past several sizeable boats moored in the widening & deepening River Meoble, as I neared it's mouth where it empied into the huge Loch Morar.
Here I turned right past the piers, towards my last hope of salvation, some large boat sheds, which unsurprisingly turned out to be complete with further large padlocks. I tramped disconsolately onwards across the gloop of the muddy western end of the bay of Camas Luinge in the gathering gloom.
I took my final snaps of the day looking down the immense length of Loch Morar, past several wee wooded islands, to the setting sun down at it's distant wide west end. I sat down on the sandy beach on the far side of the bay for a breather and attempted to scoff down a wee can of mackeral but got eaten alive by a furious cloud of midges within seconds.
Suitably fortified I began on my fool's night time traverse along the loch to Oban bothy. I reasoned that it was only 5 miles or so, thus surely even if I only managed a mile an hour I should get there by 2am - in the event it took me 8 hrs & I didn't darken it's door 'til 5 to 5am!
Things immediately got off to a bad start as I fought my way through steep, deep rough heather & bracken, climbing up above the shore. Rather than head up further towards broken crags, I decided to drop back down to the shore, leading towards the headland of Rubha Liath, at the far end of the bay.
I soon found that I was scrabbling along slippery rocks, making for very slow & arduous progress. This was reminiscent of the worst parts of my evening traverse along the shore of Loch Hourn, also in the dark, in early March over 3 years previously, following my abortive 1st attempt on Druim Fhada in deep, wet snow.
After 100yds or so of this, I decided there must be an easier way and climbed up steeply through the trees above the shore, back into the deep heather above. This didn't seem quite as bad as before I'd dropped down to the shore & I continued to traverse up higher above the trees.
Beyond a wee stream I passed below broken crags across a steeper section of hillside, reaching something of a shelf with discontinuous deer trails. I topped up my 2L lemonade bottle at a larger stream, then continued climbing up further to reach another, higher wide grassy shelf.
Here I could see some distance further along the lochside, towards a long band of crags descending to a lower level, beyond a narrow strip of woods stretching up the hillside to another long line of crags above. This gave a rather alarming sense of becoming hemmed-in but I now saw no option but to press on regardless.
After another half a mile or so of rough going, descending slightly, I climbed up the right side of a crag topped by a tree, then climbed up higher over firmer steep heather. I then headed left over gentler slopes towards the upper edge of a break in a band of mature pines.
Passing between the trees I then dropped back down below, rounding the rocky spur of Aird Ghlas, where I could see a green promontory ahead on the lochside, with wee beaches either side. The going looked much easier down there, the beaches being backed by level, green, improved, firm looking grassland.
Beyond the spur I crossed the Allt an Aird Ghlais, a sizeable stream, where I was tempted to continue down all the way to the shore. However, the going became much easier than the previous stretch between the twa larger streams, passing through shortish bracken, so I decided to keep up the hillside, to avoid the likelihood of a likely need for a rapid reascent.
It was now getting very dark however, thus I finally decided to try out my twa torches, to hopefully reduce the frequency of stepping in holes, especially those hidden amongst the bracken. The first torch I tried seemed very dim but I found with some relief that the 2nd gave a reasonable light.
The stars were now out as the sky had cleared & the temperature was dropping rapidly. Thus I zipped up my damp Lonsdale jacket and took advantage of the now torpid midges, which took longer to find me when I sat down for a breather. Well up across the loch I could see the lights of a cottage, which I hoped would be opposite the bothy.
Moving onwards a few hundred feet above the shore I crossed another fair sized stream, thence passed over a wee level spur between further wee trickles running down between crags down below. Up above steep woodland rose up towards the base of a long line of hundreds of foot high crags, forming the north face of Druim a' Chuirn.
My pace slowed further as I developed nasty blisters on the back of my right heel & a huge blood blister on the base of my left heel. More serious was the state of my left knee, which had never been the same following tearing the ligaments within it in my very bad accident at El Chorro 16 years ago.
This started aching more each time it banged against a hidden rock in the undergrowth or I stepped in yet another unexpected dark hole. The most demanding section of the whole traverse was then reached as I had to cross an endless series of stream gullies amongst the trees.
Here I discovered that I had lost my karrimat from the top of my rucksack, both of which had seen better days. I thought this might have been a blessing in disguise, as at least it would help my balance. I was somewhat startled as a loud screeching arose from nearby, thinking I may have disturbed a Pine Marten.
However, this then rose into the air well above my head, where I was sure I could see the outline of a bird of prey against the stars. Across the largest of the many streams, the Allt a' Bhearraidh, I finally climbed above the trees and began an ascending traverse between barely seen broken crags down below & a steeper, higher band above.
Despite my weary legs the going, mainly over firm heather, was easier than the stream gully crossings, as my bad knee was much more painful on descents. However, once I reached a col at 900ft, I knew I was then faced with a long descent, right down to the shore at the bay of Camas Choimhleachain, down the true right bank of the stream of the same name.
This was rather unnerving in it's upper section, as both my torches were now fading badly & I could only see a few yards. This was just far enough to glimpse the slabs through which I had to weave my perilous descent. However, these didn't feel steep or high enough to cause me undue concern & I kept well to the left of the main stream.
I was also buoyed by the sight of the head of the loch, feeling that the end was neigh & I might actually reach the bothy before my legion of problems overcame me. The latest of these was the discovery that I had now lost my precious lemonade / water bottle, thus henceforth made sure I took each & every opportunity for a drink when crossing streams.
I followed a sidestream to the left of the Allt Camas Choimhleachain lower down, where the angle lay back, before steepening up again where I entered the dreaded deep bracken but just a few trees. A wee bird, evidently roosting amongst the bracken flew out from beneath my feet, squawking loudly in protest at being so rudely awakened fae it's slumbers.
I crossed over to the right over the main stream a couple of hundred feet above the loch, then dropped right down to the shore. Just before I reached it I stepped not once but twice into a deep, narrow wee stream cutting, thankfully both times with my good right leg. I hadn't gone far along the stones along the shore, when I was forced back into the bracken & hidden rocks up the bank, by steep wee, tree topped crags along the lochside.
This was some of the worst going of the traverse, below a steep crag above & once again I questioned whether I was going to make it. However, the sky was now lightening in the north east across the loch, which was just as well, as my torches were now almost done & I stuffed them in my pockets.
Thankfully the ground behind the shoreline soon levelled out & I could finally escape the steep, bracken covered, rock strewn hillside. I stepped through a stretch of slimy gloop along the waterside but this was much preferable to much that had gone before.
My next objective was Gleann Taodhail, across the other side of the mouth of which I knew there was a path which soon led to the bothy. This was the glen which I would have dropped down into c.7pm, around 9hrs earlier if I had followed the wee stream down to the right upon dropping out of the mist.
To reach the foot of the glen I now had just to cross over a low grassy ridge but I found even this a bit of a struggle, as my trousers were soaking wet from the deep, lush grass and had been rubbing around the top of my thighs, which were now raw & weeping.
I fancied I could make out a path climbing up a shelf slanting right up a bank not far short of the Abhainn Toadhail. However, the still dim early daylight was playing tricks on me, as when I reached it no path materialised. However, I pressed on above the bank to pass between scattered trees to finally reach the large stream.
I crossed this easily enough over large cobbles & small boulders, with a wee island splitting the rushing waters. However, there was still no sign of a path and I headed back left towards the lochside through more lush, deep wet grass. Rounding another wee ridge not far above the shore my heart sank as there was no trace of the hoped for view of the fabled bothy.
Instead there was a choice of either a drop down to cross a hollow behind a wee beach, followed by yet another climb up over the nose of a further wee ridge, or a higher traverse line further over to the right to a rocky wee col. I chose the former, steeper but shorter route to the crest of the ridge, praying that the refuge would at long last make an appearance.
Once I had hauled my sorry a*s up what turned out to be the final climb of a long, long night, I could see something which I thought could either be a huge boulder or some form of habitation, not too far along above the shore. However, as I got closer this turned out to be a sizeable tent, rather than the elusive hut.
Not far beyond this there next appeared an old ruin and it even crossed my mind that perhaps the bothy had been dismantled, as I dimly recalled it being noted to be in a 'delapidated state' & being described as only 'providing rough shelter', in my 1990 vintage copy of the SMC Guide to the NW Highlands.
Just as I finally resigned myself to becoming fodder for the ravenous midges, eureka! The unmistakable outline of El Dorado, alias Oban bothy finally hove into view, at long bl*ody last! I even stumbled on the the equally elusive path for the last few yards & then staggered through the outer door, after fumbling desperately with the bolt.
I then nearly blew my chances of remaining within the blessed shelter, as I banged the door loudly against the inside wall, allowing it to swing unhindered. Glancing at my watch I saw that it was 5 to 5am, as I opened the inner door somewhat more tentatively.
I then proceeded to check out the room downstairs to the right & up the wooden stairs, both of which appeared to be fully occupied with sleepy-eyed bothy goers, although also rather tolerant, fortunately for me. Back down the stairs I tried the left hand room, which was not only empty of bodies but also contained a long, curved couch.
This was a most welcome sight, especially in view of my lost karrimat. I had soon unearthed my sleeping bag, climbed out of my wet gear & hung it over the door. I then stretched out in the bag, curled around the bend of the firm, narrow, plastic covered couch & after stuffing some mixed nuts into my mouth fell into a fitfull sleep.
I was woken up a intervals by loud voices from the other room & by the bright daylight streaming through the window. I retrieved my watch from my dripping wet trousers, which had already made a large puddle on the stone floor. This I then hung over the narrow top of the couch & shortly thereafter knocked it to the floor, when I decided to try to get more comfortable by draping my legs over the top of the couch at the very same spot.
This sent my precious watch clattering to the hard stone floor and I hurriedly scrabbled around to check on it, only to find that it had indeed stopped, evidently not being shock proof. I then retrieved my mobile from the other pocket of the said dripping wet trousers, only to discover that it had also packed in!
By this stage I was rather hoping that being snug in my sleeping bag in the bothy, I might be safe from further woes, having exhausted most of the more obvious possibilities. However, when I next fully awoke fae my fitful dozing, I felt something flapping about inside the bag. After some time I summoned the energy to climb out & empty it, only to discover that I had been sharing it with a Horsefly, renown for producing numerous nasty bites, later discovering that it hadn't been idle...
Not long after I heard the voices next door finally make their exit fae the bothy & I dragged myself out of my pit to see if I could find an empty plastic bottle to replace mine lost during the night. Next to the heavy iron camping stove on the table, I soon thought I'd located the very thing, a nearly empty bottle of what I assumed was Iron Bru. I thought I might as well swig down the remains of the amber fluid before filling it up with water, only to feel a burning sensation in my throat, as I discovered it was in fact whisky!
I climbed the stairs to see if there were any more plastic bottles, with rather less precious contents up there but searched in vain. Looking out the window I saw a boat approaching the wee wooden pier down at the lochside, noting that it looked bright & breezy out. Thus I decided to take out my still wet things & hang them from the iron bothy name sign & other ironwork around the windows.
After another wee snooze & finishing 'Road Dogs' by Elmore Leonard, a hardcopy of which had formed an essential part of my load, I decided to have a wee wander along the path to the east & doon tae the pier. The path soon narrowed amongst deep bracken & I cut down along a dry stream course coming down fae an impressively long, steep gully leading directly up to the NW top of An Stac, over 2000ft above.
Down at the pier I stretched out on the far end of it's wooden boards in the breeze for a midge free wee sunbathe. I then hobbled along the shoreline to the west for 100yds or so collecting some more sticks to add to a couple the fisherman bothymongers had dropped on the pier. There was a sizeable dead tree on the headland directly below the bothy which had had one of it's twin trunks sawn down. I didn't feel I'd even got the energy to either cut down the other trunk or carry on along to a couple of logs on a beach on the nearside of the next headland.
Thus I headed back to the bothy, where for the first time I noticed a washing line stretched to a pole from it's east end, which I then rehung my still wet gear from. Back inside the bothy I realised I'd forgotten to buy a lighter at Morrisons back in the Fort & nipped back outside to discover a box of very damp & useless matches in my jacket pocket.
The afternoon was spent having the odd 40 winks or so between reading the last year or so of the bothy book. The highlight of the latter was an account of an encounter with the bats which roost upstairs in the bothy. Apparently one canoeist tried to knock wan off his mate, which was reportedly pinning the helpless soul to the wall. However, he only succeeded in hitting the poor guy on the kisser with his paddle. The writer concluded by stating that he wasn't sure if they would return for another visit but if they did he hoped 'someone has killed the f*cking bats!'
Of rather concern to moi however, was another piece which said that the author had had to turn back after 3 hours of an attempted walk-out as all the streams were in spate. Looking out the window I could see that the mist had returned to the hills & was rapidly lowering towards the lochside, with rain starting to fall steadily. It felt like my chances of completing both the ascent of An Stac & then successfully escaping were reducing at an equal rate of knots.
The turn for the worse in the weather had washed my fellow bothy dwellers off the loch & I finally made the aquiantance of wan o' them, asking if he had a light for a candle. He pointed to the fire & I repeatedly tried to get close enough to light some twisted newspaper before his mates appeared and lit a candle fae which I in turn lit mine. Twa o' the newcomers were father & son and the latter kindly asked if I'd like a brew & his son lit their large, heavy stove, bringing through a mug of boiling water to my room, to which I gratefully added my own tea, milk & sugar.
Seeing my meagre pile of sticks he then offered to share the firewood which he & his dad & their twa pals had brought across the loch in their boat, saying that they wouldn't need most of it as they were leaving the following day. He then brought through a few logs & I used far more of my heavy full box of 24 firelighters than needed to start a fire, in order to get the weight down on my attempted escape.
I then went out in the rain to the woodstore to get more logs, on the way stopping by the other room to ask if I could borrow a pan to boil some water for my luxury lightweight, out of code noodles which someone had given me months earlier. My new fisherfolk fiends then insisted that I use their stove rather than risking their shiny new pan on my fire.
I added the powder to the water, being somewhat surprised by the sweet sickly smell of blackcurrant, rather than the expected aroma of beef, as I had believed the packet to contain more of the same tasty Beef Stroganoff that had so excited my palette back at Bendronaig bothy on that wild 1st June morning. I then saw by the dim light that it had actually contained 'Blackcurrant Yoghurt'. After forcing down the thin watery BY soup, I was then offered as further desert some rather thicker bananas & custard, which was rather more appetising.
Back in my ain room I was just dozing off again, following my double dessert, when the father startled me somewhat, staggering through the door, evidently rather the worse for wear. He then kindly invited me through for a full cooked late breakfast, if I was still there when they got up the following morning. He came back again some time later, explaining that they now had a problem upstairs, as the smoke from my fire was apparently seeping through cracks fae the chimney, filling the place with smoke, to which I promised to let the fire burn out.
As soon as I awoke, very early the following morning, I looked out not long after dawn, finding that the overnight rain had stopped, although the hills were still shrouded in mist. I decided it was now or never for An Stac & soon set off along the narrow path through the bracken, crossing the dry stream course which I'd followed the previous day. I was wearing my trainers, as I didn't think my raw, blistered heels would stand my old boots.
I soon lost any trace of a path past some old ruins in the deep bracken, then gingerly descended through rough going between boulders down towards the lochside, thinking this wasn't doing my dodgy knee much good - not a good start. Thankfully I soon hit the main stalkers path, which clearly had led down to the pier fae the bothy.
Across the head of the loch I could see that sizeable cliffs dropped straight into the deep water, although I've since read that a faint path apparently leads across the headland - definitely not very promising terrain in the dark! I soon reached the end of the loch, where there were the stone walls of an old shelter, standing down to the left, just before the path passed wee Lochan an Obain Bhig on the right.
The narrow path led beyond into Gleann an Obain Bhig, opposite an impressively steep crag, complete with a huge central roof, just across the stream of the same name over to the left. Away up on the right lay the much higher, towering, mist shrouded crags of Aisre Mhor, forming the north face of Cnoc Gorm.
I briefly lost the mostly good, gravel stalkers path, where it zig-zagged up the right side of a wee knoll. Over it's far side was a short descent, followed by a climb up past another similar grassy knoll, both rather craggier than their more infamous Dallas namesake.
The path then climbed steadily up to cross the main stream, after which I again lost it, crossing over another of it's several branches. After labouring up a wide arc over lush wet grass, I turned back right below the foot of a crag, beyond which I again stumbled back onto a good section of the stalkers path.
This led up steepening slopes, then led back right to recross the left branch of the stream. Close to the deep ravine of the right branch, now named the Allt an Toll Gainmhich, the path turned back left once more. I quit the stalkers path where it recrossed the left branch yet again, between the steep bands of craggy, misty hillside both above & below.
The Allt an Toll Gainmhich turned right here, along the back side of Cnoc Gorm, up a widening, gentle sided hanging valley. I followed the true right bank of the stream, crossing over the left side of a wee knoll, after following the foot of a band of crags on the left.
From here I could glimpse the rocky summit pyramid of An Stac, still looking fairly distant in the clear, beyond the mist shrouded low ridge of Cnoc Gorm on the right. I kept well to the left of the stream lower down, passing over a series of low rocky knolls, then crossed over the stream where it turned left below the summit of Cnoc Gorm.
Here the summit of An Stac was lit up by the rays of the early morning sun, with wisps of mist floating by below it. As I clambered up over higher knolls on the broad watershed, the sun finally found me, basking in it's pleasant warmth. Up ahead several hinds ambled slowly over from right to left through the sunshine, whilst below my feet lay a carpet of flowers, numerous yellow orchids taking pride of place.
The ground steepened up at c.1800ft asl, leaving a climb of little more than 500ft up the rocky SE face of An Stac. Above the first tier, weaving my way through broken, low-angled slabby crags, I reached a wide grassy terrace, sloping gently up to the left. Below a band of mist lifted gently, threatening to engulf me, above which I could see the rocky summit cone of Beinn Gharbh away up in the sunshine, rising high above more broken wreaths of mist.
At the upper end of the terrace I zig-zagged up a steep, grassy gully, to the right of steeper crags further left. The angle gradually lay back as I approached a wee top over on the right, guarded by a final steep rock band. I rounded the left side of this, expecting to see a higher, more distant top further left of this rock tower.
However, seeing none, I cut back up through the lower left side of the rock band to see a wee cairn just a short distance ahead. Reaching this I noted that the twin rock fins over to it's left were a few feet higher, that furthest left being the true summit. Standing perched on this I could just see a bird's eye view, down over the precipitous north face, to the head of Loch Morar, partially veiled in mist 2,300ft below.
As my watch & mob. were both out of action I didn't know what time it was but later estimated that I'd summited at around 8.30am, as I arrived back at the bothy at 10.25am. Leaving the summit I crossed over another, slightly lower wee top close by to the west, then turned left to reach a much broader top a couple of hundred yards to the SW.
Here there was a narrow wee lochan tucked into the rocky r.h. side, where I had a last glimpse back to the summit of An Stac. Here I veered to the left starting the steepening descent directly down the south face. On the ascent my bad left knee hadn't been too much of a problem but now it began to ache with increasing intensity.
In the upper section I took a left trending line through the crags, the steepest & most continous of which were over to the right. There was only wan really steep section half way down, where I traversed more sharply to the left away from the head of a wee stream gully.
Once through a broken band of slabby crags I turned back right & crossed the stream, keeping to the foot of the left side of a rocky ridge, making use of a right-slanting wee deer track. The mist was rapidly burning off all around, to reveal everyone's favourite mountain, Meith Bheinn, it's NE ridge dropping down behind the sizeable Lochan a' Bhrodainn, across the far side of Gleann Cul an Staca, into which I was descending.
I rounded the toe of the rocky ridge, then embarked on a rather less steep traverse, slanting further to the right, down the glen, towards where I could make out the beginnings of the stalkers path, which I knew led back to the bothy. I reached this with more than a little relief at having got down the steep ground, despite my damaged knee.
Looking up the SW face above was a maze of crags, the right side in particular holding some impressively big overhangs & parallel steep slanting ramp lines. I had earlier intended descending the left bounding SW ridge, which reputedly has some good scrambling but vowed to return some day, should my dodgy joint ever recover.
The path was pretty wet & slidy in my trainers and I took a few knee wrenching slips, notably as it steepened up, becoming grassier for a stretch rounding the foot of the SW ridge, beyond a fine waterfall down in the stream to the left.
Here the glen turned sharply to the right, the Abhainn Taodhail coming down from the left, flowing through fairly innocuous terrain. The shortish descent of this hillside looked like it would have taken maybe 20 mins max, had I not had my hairbrained ingenius stroke, leading to me turning left, c. 38 hrs earlier.
The skies had now cleared almost completely, the hot sun beating down fiercely, as it climbed rapidly overhead. I took my penultimate snap looking down Gleann Taodhail, over Loch Morar to the long, steep slopes of the south face of Sgurr Breac. Across the stream to the left lay the fine mixed woodland of Coille a' Chuirn Mhor, backed by the steep crags at the east end of the ridge leading up to Druim a' Chuirn.
I reflected that coming down over there in the dark would have been infinitely worse than my descent of Coire Dubh, over it's far side. My final snap was of the last stretch of that long night time traverse, the previous day, along the shore from Camas Choimhleachain, looking down the loch towards distant Swordland, on the far shore, across from my starting point at Meoble.
I could now see why it had taken me so long to reach this path in the near darkness, as it kept well above the shore 'til close to the bothy, cutting across the neck of the final headland up to the right. I was delighted to see from here that smoke was rising fae the chimney of the bothy, hoping that I wasnae too late for that full cooked English breakfast, as promised the night before.
Although I'd broken into my emergency can o' Lidl's corned beef [fortunately this time complete with key], back up at the summit, I thought I might still be able to force it doon. I walked through the door, to see by the fisherfolk's alarm clock on the mantlepiece that it was still only 10.25am. Remarkably my timing was impeccable, as they were just dishing up the grub!
I washed the greasy but tasty plateful doon with a large mug of tea, freshly prepared by the rather hungover father, making good on his drunken promise fae the night before. After a good chinwag, they started packing up for their long trip back hame tae Nottingham, having carried on the time honoured tradition of folk fae those parts - at least the 'giving to the poor' bit.
The father then broke the sad news to me that although he'd broached the subject of offering me a ride doon the water, his pals had decided that they were already dangerously overloaded, thus their Elf & Safety must come first. I readily agreed that seemed like the most sensible course of action & busied myself my starting to write an abridged version of my trip in the bothy book, having noted an appeal within it by the MBA for more such epic tales.
I told the fab four that I'd probably have to stay another night, on account of my throbbing knee, before attempting to make my escape on the morrow. However, they teld me that there were a couple o' fishermen doon on the loch who might be willing to gi me a lift. I went outside to peer down to the shore whilst the fab four were awa but not seeing any boats, I sat doon in the sunshine to carry on with scribing my tale.
After some time the father came back & again suggested that I try for a lift, adding that they seemed pretty friendly chaps & each had a boat to themselves. I asked him where they were, as I hadn't seen them & he replied they were just doon at the pier below the bothy! Finally stunned into action, I ran down to the shore barefoot & put in my request, facing a big guy of about thirty, who readily agreed between bites of his sandwich & gulps o' lager.
I asked him how long it was going to be before he left & he replied 'about 20 mins but nae rush', or words to that effect. Taking nae chances I ran back up to the washing line & pulled on my just nicely dried out ex-Bendronaig bothy cast off, chinese boots, sans inserts. Either flinging the rest of my sparse gear into my knackered ex-Poolewe Macpac rucksack, or hurriedly tieing it round my waist, I then hot-foot back down to the pier.
I then splashed through the shallows & climbed into the sizeable open white boat, where mein host indicated a canvas deck chair, taking pride of place in the rear centre of the deck. He then thrust a can o' lager into my hand, grabbing another one himself from the large case, which was already surrounded by numerous empties. As we cast off I shouted my thanks over to the young lad & one of his dad's rather rotund mates, who happened to be wearing the same 2yr old Mountain Equipment, black soft-shell jacket as myself.
We were soon followed by mein host's even more well rounded, fiftysomething pal, who motored over to the far side o' the loch, closeby the islands off Kinlochmorar. Mein host had earlier asked if I minded doing some fishing on the way back, or was I in a hurry. I'd replied that as it had taken me over 15 hrs tae get in, I thought we'd probably beat my record getting out.
MH mentioned that we would be following the shore, fairly close in, as he was fishing for Salmon, which used the edge of the loch to navigate. I mentioned to him that I was looking forward to actually seeing the terrain which I had traversed a couple of nights earlier but I don't think this sank in at first. It wasn't long before he started winding in the line rapidly & called to me to pick up the large catch net, for him to land what turned out to be a fair sized Brown Trout.
MH extricated the large hooks fae it's mouth with some difficulty, returning it to the water, it evidently not being big enough for him to bother with. He then tried calling up his pal on his VHF radio but despite several attempts had to give up trying to make out what the guy was saying due to bad reception. MH then showed me with some pride some of his gadgets, which included a 'fish finder', with a screen c. 6 inches square, with a fluorescent green cross for each 'floating object'.
He also had a depth finder, which told him how deep the floor of the loch was and also the depth of each 'floating object', most of which could safely be assumed to be fish. We passed effortlessly beyond first Coire Dubh, scene of my final night time descent, then the numerous ravines, hidden deep within the woods. A mile or so beyond these I mentioned that the wee bay area between the twa headlands had an old wall & the grass looked like it had been improved by farming, probably before the clearances.
Here MH finally twigged with some amazement that I'd actually followed the hillside above on the way into the now distant bothy, although I'm not sure he could credit that I was crazy enough to have done it in the dead of night. He then reeled in another wee Brownie, which had been hooked in it's side & was again thrown back forthwith.
MH teld me between swigs of another can, of which I had been strongly urged to take another, that he was a fitter working at Faslane Naval Base, based at Balloch at the foot of Loch Lomond, which was thus his most common fishing ground. He said his name was Jason & offered his hand, which I firmly shook.
Rounding the headland of Rubha Liath we met a local who proudly held up a 7lb Salmon, which he had caught around here an hour or so earlier. Jason then turned the boat around after passing the piers off the mouth of the River Meoble, where I had begun my epic traverse ta days afore.
His pal then came across from the far shore over by Swordland, saying on the radio that he'd also only caught a brownie. Jason teld me that we were doing a steady 2.9 mph, which probably meant we'd been on the go for a couple of hours since the bothy, rather less than the eight which it had taken me on foot overnight.
Jason then decided to try out some of his gear which allowed him to fish deep, as he said he was going to try to catch a Feneck? Trout, which lives at great depth and is rarely fished for. Thus we headed out to the middle of the loch, where his depth finder said that the bottom was over 1000ft beneath us, the deepest part of the deepest freshwater loch in Europe.
He again radioed his pal to tell him of his plans, which were met with derision, along the lines of he'd got twa chances of catching wan - Slim & None and Slim's left toun. This didn't dampen Jason's enthusiasm however & he tied a fair sized piece of dead fish onto the line, saying that this species of trout was known to be cannibal, even eating each other.
He was clearly enjoying the superb weather, the hot early August sun high overhead, beating down fiercely, with hardly a breath of wind. I said if you could guarentee these conditions & eradicate the midge, then maybe most Scots would explore their ain country, instead of jetting off to Spain, Greece & Turkey every year.
Looking up the hillside I was imprssed by the size of Swordland Lodge, which looked rather out of place in these wilds, like a high class hotel. I could see that there was a good looking, built up path running along the shore to the west, although the stretch of the north shore we'd passed further east, looked far more steep & craggy than that I'd traversed along the south shore - a fine challenge for my fellow SHillers?
Jason pointed out that there was a likely fish 450ft beneath us, probably a Feneck? Trout but then added that his line was only 250ft long. In answer to my queries he said that it would be too tiring to haul in a longer line, unless he invested in yet more expensive gear. He said that he's bought the boat, including all the gear for a couple of grand a few years earlier but it would be worth more now as he'd made & installed improvements himself, including the wooden seating.
Rather than any exotic species, we just caught yet another wee brownie, later passing well wooded Brinacory Island, followed by the isolated cottage of the same name, which looked in very good repair. Across on the increasingly distant south shore, beyond the by now, tiny, hard to see dot of Jason's mate's craft, were the even more isolated buildings of Lettermorar.
By now I was on my 4th can & as Jason chugged ever more back, he offered me another. To which I declined, saying that I hadn't finished the wan I had, not being much of a drinker anymore, this being the most I'd imbibed in years. Not long after I noticed that we were getting dangerously close to the shore, just missing a protruding offshore rock, which even got Jason's alarm bells ringing, as he hastily changed course, back out into open waters.
We then started passing the many scattered cottages of Bracorina & Bracara, even spotting wan or twa cars passing along near the end of the wee public road. The local who'd shown us the 7lb Salmon he'd caught, back up by the mouth of the River Meoble, motored over to show us it once again, just in case we'd forgotten, before heading home down the loch at speed.
I felt an itch on the back of my forearm & soon located the first of what turned out to be no less than 14 ticks, yet another personal record broken on this trip! I then asked Jason what time it was & as it was after five pm, I told him I thought I'd already missed the last train back east fae Morar station.
We were soon passing between the numerous wooded islands near the wide foot of the loch and the rocky headland of Torr na Ba. Jason finally gave up on his third Salmon of the year, pulling in his lines, taking down his rods and turning up the throttle. We rounded the final steep wooded headland of Torr na Cuinneige to enter Bun an Loin bay and begin our final approach to the jetty.
Here an old guy came down to chat to Jason about where the best places on the loch for Salmon were. He was soon joined by the young lad fae the Oban bothy Fab Four, his dad & chums busy loading up their van up on the road. I asked him if they'd managed to add to their meagre total of just wan wee brownie, all they'd caught over the past few days - they hadn't.
I then climbed up onto the pier, as Jason motored off to look for his fellow fisher pal, saying that he'd give me a lift along the road if I was still there when he got back. As I reached the road the old guy & his wife asked where I was headed. When I told them I was going to the station but thought I'd missed the last train, they told me to hop in, then the guy drove like a maniac round the blind bends of the narrow, wooded lane.
I asked him when the train was due & he said 'anytime now', before I teld him it wasn't that vital ie. worth killing ourselves over. We duly arrived at the station, next to which the auld couple lived, at 6.20pm and shortly after I reached the platform the train pulled in.
I got a ticket to Lochailort, which cost just over a fiver & settled down to enjoy the view over to the Cuillin of Rum, which I'd scaled 3 years earlier on my penultimate Corbett trip. We soon passed Arisaig, with a few million quid worth of yacht moored in the harbour.
Beyond Beasdale, the final halt before I alighted, we passed Loch nan Uamh, where the Bonnie Prince made his final escape following Culloden. From Lochailort station I retraced the first mile of Monday's epic walk to Loch Eilt, in the warm evening sunshine, followed by a couple of miles along the track on the south shore, to reach Essan bothy c.8pm.
This was rather less welcoming than on my well timed visit a month before. There was no longer any lighter, matches, long candles, large tin of beef & noodles or even spade. Reading the bothy book it transpired that the latter had been taken by a lassie fae the Fort, who had used it to paddle back across the loch.
Having finished the last of my cheese & corned beef I had no food left but as it was so warm I didn't feel hungry. Having consumed a whole 4 cans of Jason's lager I soon fell asleep and awoke at what I guessed was first light. I knew there was a train back east at 6.40am, the next not being 'til 10.41am, as confirmed by the list of times written on the inside cover of the bothy book.
However, as I didn't know what time it was I didn't want to risk walking back to Lochailort station, only to miss it & be left waiting there for 4 hours for the next train, with little traffic along the road so early, with which to try for a lift. Thus I dozed off again, only to be awoken an hour or so later [probably], by the sound of a passing train.
Half asleep I rushed outside the bothy to try to work out which way the train was headed, deciding that it had probably been westbound. The first such train on the handwritten timetable inside the bothy book was 9.10am, which I recalled having to step aside for, 5 mins doon the track, on my walk out a month earlier. Thus I thought I'd better get my skates on, as on that occasion I'd only made the 10.41am train with c. 10 mins to spare.
Once I reached the road at the end of Loch Eilt, I was soon struck by how little traffic there was, on the normally busy famous 'Road to the Isles'. I reached the station, relieved that no east bound train had passed in the over 3 mile hike on my way fae the bothy. However, as no train appeared, I soon began to suspect that the train I'd heard passing the bothy must have been the 6.40am east bound.
I was kept entertained for the next hour or so by a hind which appeared along the track c.100yds to the west & crept gradually nearer, nibbling the bushes as it wove in & out of the thick brush. Finally a train appeared fae the east, which I guessed must be the 9.10am westbound, which was confirmed when I asked a rather startled couple of young guys who'd just alighted, what time it was.
As I now knew I'd got over an hour to kill, I thought I may as well try out my thumb down at the roadside, despite the light rain which was now falling. There was a fairly steady stream of holiday traffic by now, which in my experience is the worst type for getting a lift, especially when it's raining. After no luck for 20 mins or so, a gey coach appeared & I dropped by thumb, as clearly I wasn't going to get a lift here, was I?
Apparently the answer was yes, as it pulled in & I then realised that it was the Shiel Buses sevice bus, a very rare sight, as there are only a couple a day! The fare to the Fort was only £3.70, just over half the train fare, which I duly coughed up. As we approached The Fort, nearly an hour later, I noted fae the handy digital clock near the front o' the bus, that it was nearly 10.30am.
It occured to me that I'd caught the Inverness bus at Spean bridge at 10.45am, so guessed that the bus was about to leave the Fort. Thus I made sure I was off first & ran for the Stagecoach bus in front of our stance at the station. I'd no sooner climbed on the crowded coach & paid the £11.20 fare than we set off for Inverness. I then found a seat near the back, next to a rather worried looking old lady, who reluctantly removed her small, white handbag fae the seat.
Not long after the driver switched on the powerful overseat fans & the old lady asked me at regular intervals all the way to Fort Augustus, if I minded her switching it off, despite my repeated assurances that I didn't. We then got chatting after she asked me to mind her seat whilst she got off for a comfort break. She was going all the way fae The Fort tae Inverness just to go shopping at Marks & Spencers for food, having first driven 20 miles to get there, presumably from Glencoe!
I then discovered that she was a close friend of Hamish McInnes first wife, a doctor who'd divorced him back in the 70's. She told me her husband had also been a well known climber & they'd been at the Clachaig, the night Dougal Haston had killed a few folk drunk driving. She also knew Doug Scott, Dougal's fellow conqueror of the SW face of Everest & 1st British ascensionist. She went on to tell me all about Hamish McInnes love life over the years, including his long affairs with a couple of young Hollywood movie actresses!
We were already late arriving at Fort Augustus, on account of having to wait for a cruiser to pass through a swing bridge before Invergarry. Beyond Fort Augustus we had to stop at the YHA & Urquhart Castle. Here the driver came back to search for seats, before allowing the lucky wan or twa 1st in the queue onto the bus & giving the bad news to those left outside for at least another couple of hours. This meant we arrived in Inverness just in time for me to catch the bus back to the Granite City, where I dashed to Lidls on my way hame, arriving 2 days late, having nae eaten or drunk for over 24 hours!
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by Norman_Grieve » Fri Dec 02, 2011 1:51 pm
- Posts: 378
- Joined: Jan 10, 2011
by Mal Grey » Fri Dec 02, 2011 3:47 pm
I love the fact that its not just a tale of mountains, but also of humanity, with many interesting characters appearing along the way. Many thanks for posting.
by joonnifer » Fri Dec 02, 2011 4:49 pm
by Norman_Grieve » Sun Dec 04, 2011 10:55 am
joonnifer wrote:Good grief you are a tough cookie! I am interested about the sign warning about the holes at the start of your walk...About 50yrs ago as a small child with the family out for a walk our cocker spaniel disappeared straight down one of these to a depth of about 20ft! My fathr walked back to the wee local community where a group of 4 blokes left their Sunday dinners and trapsed up the hill with a rope and wouldnt allow Dad to go down but one insisted on going down the rope being held by the other 3.Nip ( well named ) was brought to the surface luckily none the worse We often spoke about this in years to come and wondered if the hole had been covered over as it was very near to the path and could have swallowed up a man quite easily! Feel so sorry for my poor Dad when I look back as my younger sister and I and mother were wailing and refusing to move till Nip was rescued...if he hadnt got help there am not sure what would have happened...lovely kind folk!
Jennifer, where was that - on the Loch Eilt tae Meoble path? methinks not??
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- Joined: Jan 10, 2011
by malky_c » Mon Dec 05, 2011 1:35 am
Didn't you enlighten us on Hamish McInnes' love life previously? Or are you worried about the possibility of a libel case against you
by Norman_Grieve » Mon Dec 05, 2011 12:41 pm
malky_c wrote:Glad you put this one up - definitely one of your best (for the rest of us, anyway)
Didn't you enlighten us on Hamish McInnes' love life previously? Or are you worried about the possibility of a libel case against you
Malky, much as I relish libel cases I'm in little doubt that I would be disbarred fae the site in double quick time if I were to even touch the surface of the salacious details. However, these will become available in due course in my forthcoming blockbuster 1st book, as commissioned by Dreamer.
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by rocket-ron » Mon Dec 05, 2011 4:30 pm
by mrssanta » Mon Dec 05, 2011 10:14 pm
thanks for the pics
still want a map tho!
by Norman_Grieve » Tue Dec 06, 2011 12:03 pm
mrssanta wrote:not far to the magic 300 and our next epic instalment!
thanks for the pics
still want a map tho!
Aye, Missysanta, my favourite helper.
I've put the map contract oot tae tender - looks like Malky is the frontrunner at this stage.
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