walkhighlands

End to End . Part ten . Feeding cleggs, ticks and midges

Date walked: 29/07/2018

Time taken: 9 days

Distance: 270km

This is the year 2018 when Arlene and myself hope to complete our Lands End to John O'Groats odyssey . With only four sections to walk this year we were hoping for good weather, to make the going easier and more enjoyable.
We completed two sections in April , Newquay to Bideford and Bridgwater to Chepstow , which left just a stretch between Chepstow and Telford which we plan to do in September and the one we've just walked this July, Inverness to Watten, the one this report will concern itself with.
Inverness to Watten, about 170 miles, crossing some of Scotland's wildest and remotest places including a few notorious peat and blanket bog areas such as the slog between the river Fiag to the Crask Inn and over the Knockfin Heights to the Chalybeate Springs .
But what a summer we've had this year, week after week of dry, warm and at times scorching weather, the beast from the east nothing more than just a distant memory. That being the case I had a really good feeling as we set off to Inverness to begin our walk. I believed the following days would continue to be warm and the sun would shine every day, the ground beneath our feet, (including those peaty areas), would always be dry and even the midges, without the conditions to mass breed, would be few and far between. :lol:...……. Oh optimism it really is such a wonderful thing ...… a bit like.... let me think....oh yes.... like living in an alternative reality. You see fellow walkers I momentarily forgot one vital fact ( must be sunstroke or a touch of madness, probably both ) and that is that WE LIVE IN SCOTLAND, that's right , :( the land of four seasons in one day...…. but being the infernal optimist that I am :crazy: I continued to dream, for surely we all live in hope . Now enough of this nonsense and on with the walk.

DAY 1. 2nd July.
Inverness to Muir of Ord. 21km

It was a warm but grey day as we set off from Inverness, making our way through town toward the Kessock Bridge. My back pack felt, as it always does on the first day of a long distance walk, heavy and cumbersome. But I convinced myself ( as I always do ) that give it two days and it will feel lighter, usually works.
We walked past an old clock tower( made from the stones of an old castle ) then over the Kessock bridge, Arlene noting that it was opened by The Queen Mother in 1952 ( I only remember that useful bit of info. because I was born in that year).
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Kessock Bridge

After crossing the bridge and needing the loo we decided to head down to North Kessock and use the loo there, rather than walk 50m along the A9 and use the loo that was definitely open in a layby. Big mistake, as the toilets in N Kessock were not open, and so once again that immortal V Meldrew expression was evoked, "I DON'T BELEIVE IT". And so we just carried on walking alongside the Beauly Firth until we came to some appropriate trees and bushes, where of course we stopped for a P and C (as opposed to a P and Tea) .
A couple of miles before we reached Redcastle, where we would head inland to Acharry, the sun burst through and the grey of the sky seem to fade away to be replaced by an azure blue, and boy did it get hot, very hot.
We stopped at Redcastle for lunch and were joined by an old gentleman( in his 80's) who was only too pleased to relate to us the many long distance walks he had completed in his earlier years, nice to meet another lover of the great outdoors.
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Break at Redcastle

After lunch we made our way past Acharry on the A832, but finding the road rather busy diverted off on to a sideroad toward Spittalwood and then took a right turn toward Muir of Ord, one or two flies about but no midges.
By the time we reached Muir of Ord we were hot, sweaty and tired and after enquiries found a café where we enjoyed a couple of glasses of water followed by a sandwich. We then walked up the road to our BandB for the night, only stopping to pick up some cake, sausage rolls and fruit drinks at the local supermarket.
We arrived at the BandB to find no one at home,( slightly irritated as had informed owner of our arrival time) so waited for an hour and then decided to leave our gear around the side of the house and go for a drink at a Hotel that we passed on the way to the Bandb ( the Guinness was sooo good).
Not much more to say about our first day other than when we went back to the BandB the owners were in and showed us to our room which was extremely comfortable.

Midges 0. Clegs 0. Ticks 0. ( daily rating for beasties ).
DAY 2.
Muir of Ord to Garve. 24.5km

After a hearty breakfast we set off toward Aultgowrie, passing the local distillery. It was a beautiful morning and a real joy to be out walking, Arlene wore her shorts, but I was not yet ready to shock the world with my lily white legs ( wait till we get off the beaten track). As we were only covering a short distance again today there was no need to rush, and so we stopped every now and then to examine the local flora.
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Distillery at Muir of Ord

By the time we reached Aultgowrie it was time to give my back a rest ( backpack still felt heavy)and get out of the sun for a few minutes, so we stopped for a coffee by The Falls of Orrin, and that was our first encounter with cleggs. Now to be honest there were only a few, but Arlene felt a couple bite (or slice) her left calf. I think she said something like, "Ouch" or "Oh Dear" :D and sure enough, as I glanced at her legs, two streams of blood began to run down her left calf toward her sock( thank goodness I had my trousers on). But back on the road we seemed free of them.
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Road to the Orrin Falls
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Near Aultgowrie

We stopped further down the road for a few minutes, in the shade, after crossing Moy Bridge and then proceeded to walk alongside the A835 to Contin. It was easy enough for the verges on both sides of the road are reasonably wide. The only drawback was the lack of cover, so by the time we reached Contin we were hot, sticky and in need of something to cool us down. So it was straight into the first place we came across that had chilled drinks, and that was the petrol station, I can't recall it's name, but I can still remember the refreshingly cold orange juice and the cool creamy pineapple tart, (revived us in no time).
From the garage we walked along the main road turning into Tor View to take the direct route into the forestry woods where the rough road basically runs parallel with the Black Water. We had a break on the shaded side of a small forestry building ( powdered soup and a handful of nuts), watching the occasion forestry vehicle past by kicking up clouds of dust that took several minutes to clear( it really has been a dry summer ). Just before we got up to leave I noticed a couple of small ticks slowly crawling up my trousers, so I just brushed them off and thought no more of it.
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We continued on past the Rogie Falls and on to Rogie where we encountered a lot more flies ( probably due to the cattle and horses there), but they were no problem, they just buzzed around our heads. From Rogie we headed towards Loch na Croic and Loch Garve taking in some fantastic views . I think at this point in the afternoon we were beginning to get tired due to the heat. Whenever we stepped out from the shade of the trees, as we walked alongside Loch Garve, it was like opening an oven door, as a blast of heat seem to hit our bodies. I don't think I have ever experience that type of heat in Scotland before, in the Belearics , Canaries, America, Spain, Cyprus, and the Caribbean yes, but never in Scotland.
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Scorching by Loch Garve

After passing Strathgarve Lodge we took a left turn and walked into Garve, through the railway station and to our BandB for the night, Birch Cottage, which I can highly recommend. I rung the bell hoping that, unlike Muir of Ord, someone would be in. I just wanted to have a cool shower and a lay down. Well, a lady came to the door showed us our room ( en-suite ) and seeing that we were hot went and got us a bottle of cold water from her fridge. It never touched the sides, disappearing in seconds, so she promptly got us another one which went the same way. She looked at us slightly bemused and asked if we were okay( probably both looked dishevelled and shattered , which of course we were). We told her we would be okay once we had a shower and would be down for dinner later. By the time dinner came round we had recovered and enjoyed peppered steak followed by sticky toffee pudding. Great place to stay.
Midges 0. Glegs *. Ticks *. ( beastie rating ).
Day 3.
Garve to Lubachlaggan. 25km.

Woke up to another cloudless day, so after breakfast unzipped the bottoms of my trousers to give my legs an airing. The landlady at Birch Cottage gave us a litre bottle of water to take with us, which was very kind of her, but we had nowhere to put it as our back packs were crammed full as it was. So we just carried it for 5mins before drinking it and disposing of the bottle in a community recycling bin.
Walked back up the road we came in on, then turned left toward Little Garve . Little Garve is..... how might I put this …. well it's..... little :o. And yet it had a super big play area for kids in the woods , with everything you could think of , seemed a bit strange until we walked a couple of hundred metres and came across a car parking and picnic area by the river. Obviously a visitor hotspot ( take a note if you have a family).
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We crossed the A835 and took the forestry track/path that would take us past Lochan nam Breac and on to the Aultguish Inn would we could stop for a bite to eat.
The going was fairly easy and the ground very dry and my legs were enjoying an airing. That was until we had to stop to climb over a locked gate about a mile from the Lochan. Cleggs, cleggs and more cleggs began to swarm around us, not a midge in sight, but OH those cleggs. Within minutes, in spite of continuing to swot them away, they had bitten or cut into both my legs and through my top into my shoulders.
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Into the Clegs

Arlene had her trousers on but still had a few bites on her legs( trousers and tops won't stop the blighters). The only respite we had was when we came out of the woods just past the Lochan onto higher ground ( shoulder of Carn na Dubh Choille ) where we stopped and sat on a cylindrical stone for a coffee. I think I must have expended more energy that day trying to fight of the cleggs than actually on walking.
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After coffee we continued on the path completely preoccupied with swotting various numbers of cleggs ( fighting the invisible man comes to mind), until the Aultguish Inn came into sight and the thought of sitting down to a ham salad and a cold drink took over. I think you would agree that it's amazing how nothing has the ability to concentrate the mind more than the sight of a Inn,Pub or Hotel when seen from a distance while out walking, knowing what awaits inside.
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Aultguish Hotel ahead

Fast forward 90mins and we're at the Inn and totally deflated, our hopes and dreams shattered, It was time for another rant, which went something like this, " I don't believe it( always starts that way) doesn't open till 4pm, what type of establishment is this; call's itself an Inn, more like an out", and so on , I think you get the message. Strange thing was that in the five minutes we were there a number of vehicles Cars/Vans and motor cyclists, from home and abroad pulled in and drove off, once they realised it was closed. This was July, tourist/holiday season after all, but it was closed until 4pm...…. so once again take note The Aultguish Hotel doesn't open till 4pm don't be disappointed .
Carried on down the road to Black Bridge stopping only for a handful of nuts( mixed ) and some powered soup. Refilled our water bottles at the bridge and then headed up past Strathvaich Lodge to Loch Vaich . Encountered a few cleggs in the woodland before the Loch but nothing compared to the morning. Walked on to Lubachlaggan where we pitched our tent had some noodles plus a cup of tea, boiled up some water for tea in the morning, and then retired for the night.
Midges 0. Glegs *** . Ticks *.
DAY 4.
Lubachlaggan to Oykel Bridge. 34.5km

Woke up about 3-30am ( never sleep well in a tent)with my legs and shoulders itching. I felt my shoulders and the large lumps that had appeared overnight, the result of the clegg bites from the day before. I sat up and checked my legs, where they itched, the large red lumps were topped with yellow cluster blisters. They didn't look good but better not scratch them, so I just lay back down and as I did a strong wind suddenly blew in from who knows where. The tent began to shake quite violently and rain began to fall thudding against the tent before bouncing off.
I lay there for a few minutes lost in my thoughts, trying to ignore the itching, musing that the long dry spell of hot weather was now over and our wet weather gear would be the order of the day and probably for the next six days when Arlene stirred, " Shall we have a cup of tea", she murmured. So by 4am we had had our cuppy and two breakfast biscuits ( same routine every day, but different bickies), got dressed , and went outside. Within those 30mins the weather had changed. Although there was a bit of mist about the rain had stopped and the wind had abated, so no wet weather gear.
We packed everything up and made our way along the track, and by the time we reached Deanich Lodge with the really dramatic views of Gleann Mor ( wonderful ) the mist had cleared to be replaced with bright skies and a warming sun.
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Grey morn from Lubachlaggan
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Gleann Mor ahead.

We carried on along the path crossing the Alladale River, taking the path that runs between Alladale Lodge and Croick. The path was easy enough to follow and we stopped for lunch just before crossing the river near Croick. Once again I had a few ticks crawling up my trousers but just brushed them off, mercifully there were only a small number of cleggs about.
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Near Alladale Lodge.

We crossed the river and strolled along the track that runs between Croick and Ullapool. After about three miles we stopped for a breather as it was really, really hot , the early morning wind and rain might now have been a relief.
By the time we reached what should have been (according to the OS map) a good path crossing from where we were to Oykel bridge we were a little perplexed. There was no sign of the path, just a deer fence blocking our way. But on a closer inspection at the fence we could quite clearly see the bent wires where other walkers had climbed over. So over we went and with no sign of a path made our way over the shoulder of Cnoc nan Caorach and into the cleggs once again. There seem to be dozens of them on that hill attacking for a few moments and then withdrawing ( after I had killed a few ) before attacking again for more blood.
By the time we were over the shoulder of the hill, besides being bitten on previous bites and now having a few bites on my face, the sweat was pouring off of both of us and we had finished our water. But we could see the Oykel Bridge Hotel, our destination for the day.
With still no sign of a path we made our way over tussocks, holes and dips down to Amat . It was definitely hard work
and we were both very tired when we walked into the Hotel. First things first of course, so I ordered a lager for Arlene and a Guinness for me. The Guinness went down a treat and the barman just refilled my glass. I then asked if they had any rooms for the night, he said they only had two single bothy rooms but no doubles. It was a no brainer, and so after a good bar meal we took our stuff to the bothy rooms, had shower and a good look at each others bites( ugly lumps), and checked for ticks( none ) and then went to bed. It was a hot night and I wasn't too sure if my restlessness and the feeling of being really hot was due to fatique or the affects of the clegg bites. Still I did fall asleep and didn't wake up till 6am the following morning.
P.S. May I just add that strangely just before we crossed the bridge near the Oykel Hotel there was/is a brand new sign pointing towards Croick from where we had just come from, but no discernible path. We spoke to the farmer at Amat who told us that he often directs walkers on the best route to take. So if you ever decide to cross from OB to Croick it might be worthwhile to ask the farmer at Amat for the best route.
Midges 0. Clegs****. Ticks 0.
DAY 5.
Oykel Bridge to Glen Cassley. 28km

We left the hotel about 7am. the sky was slightly overcast but it was very warm. Stopped to look over the bridge and take a photo, (before following the River Oykel all the way to Loch Ailsh), and came across the first midges of our walk. Not many of them but enough to be a nuisance and after a few minutes of leaving the bridge we were free of them.
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Oykel Bridge.

After about four miles we stopped and sat on a fishers bench ( walked passed maybe a dozen benches, about one per beat) and had a coffee. It was only then as I sipped on my coffee, looking up and down the river that I realised how low the water was, on its bones as they say, and that there would be no fishing until after a major spate or spates.
We carried on along the path until it almost converged with a dirt track ( Care Wrath Trail) and walked on to Loch Ailsh where we took our backpacks off and had our lunch, ( powdered soup and the last of our nuts), sitting with our backs against an estate sign.
After half an we got up and marched past the Benmore Lodge leaving the dirt track for the path that would take us alongside the Allt Sail an Ruathair and up and over the steep shoulder, to the right, of Meall an Aonaich. I nearly forgot to mention the lizard we saw before ascending MaA, it was probably the biggest one I've seen in Scotland, but then again in forty years of walking in Scotland I've only seen about twenty.
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Lizard

Once over Meall an Aonaich we made our way down past Loch Carn nan Conbhairean where the path was a wee bit wet in places( that was a novelty) and walked on until we came to the track that headed down into Glen Cassley.
It must have been about half way down when we came across a superb place to camp, flat ground close to Allt a C Ghiubhais, so we stopped and pitched the tent. I boiled up some water for our noodles while Arlene checked out the burn, which ran with crystal clear cool water.
Had our noodles and some water then turned in for the night. By about 1am in the morning the temperature seem to plummet and we both had to put more layers on. It seemed a bit strange as it had been quite warm the previous few nights, and we weren't that high ( take that how you want), but we were prepared.
Never had a real problem with clegs, ticks or midges today, maybe we've left them behind.
Midges *. Clegs 0. Ticks 0.
DAY 6.
Glen Cassley to The Crask Inn. 36km

Woke up to a stunning day, after coffee and biscuits we stepped out of the tent and made our way to the burn to have a wash and fill up with water. It was one of those days where everything felt right, you felt part of something bigger, even though a few midges had gathered around the tent overnight and were now busy seeking blood. I paused for a moment while filling our water bottles and gazed up at the clear blue skies and as I did so the sun began to rise over the mountains, and although still early I could feel its life giving warmth. You just can't buy those moments or those feelings, caught in a moment of time never to be repeated. I felt cross with myself today, I never charged my camera battery before we came away and the camera packed up...….. I'll put some pics of Watten to John O Groats at the end, to make up for it.
We packed up the tent and then strolled downhill forking left to walk beside a large water pipe as it meandered its way down to the power station that sat to one side of the River Cassley at the bottom of the Glen. After crossing the river by the power station we followed the service road that took us over Maovally. Once over the hill we could see the Overscaig Hotel on the far side of Loch Shin, where hopefully we could stop for something a bit more substantial than noodles or powdered soup. So we stopped for a coffee while I surveyed the hotel with my monocular ( did you know I only have one eye, lost the other twenty years ago, no sympathy please).
Now if you've ever walked this way you'll know that seeing the Hotel from Maovally doesn't necessary mean that you're going to be there any time soon. It might only look an hour away, but by the time you've walked almost to Corrykinloch ( at the far end of the Loch) then back to the A838 and then on to the Hotel, more like three hours would have passed...… after all It's nearly thirteen kilometres, and in the heat we were walking in, and the gear we were carrying, you do need your water stops.
As we approached the Hotel I quickened my pace, leaving Arlene behind me. I then saw the Hotel sign that said coffee and food served here ( or something to that effect), YES I thought. But then I read the words at the bottom of the sign... Overscaig @ 5.... and I had a sinking feeling, it was going to be Aultguish all over again... it was Groundhog Day... I was caught in a timeloop.
But I stopped outside the hotel, peering in through the windows, maybe..... just maybe.... the sign was wrong...and it would be open. This was July after all and it was the holiday/tourist season and a few vehicles( campervans/ motorcyclists) were going up and down the road( sounds familiar). ......….I turned to look at Arlene as she caught up with me, and as my bottom lip began to quiver she said a few words that I'd heard on many occasions, " I've told you before, never count your chickens"*, she said pausing for a moment before continuing, "anyway, come on dear, we can stop further down the road; and have a nice cup of powdered soup mixed with some powdered potato", she smiled at me and I felt immediately better. " What type of soup", I asked, hoping for Spicy Tomato, my favourite. " Chicken dear" she replied , " Chicken". Strange but true.
After our gourmet tucker we continued down the A838, Arlene admiring the views of Loch and mountains and me …. well let's just say my ranting and disappointment were slowing ebbing away to be replaced with a new hope... The Crask Inn :clap: .... where I believed all my despondency and dismay would surely be banished( optimist or what). But I never mentioned this to Arlene knowing what her reply would probably be*
When we got to the Fiag Bridge we turned left to follow the Fiag for just over a km then set off in the direction of the left hand summit of Cnoc an Ulbhaidh. I must admit it was tough going, for there's no path and the ground was rough and lumpy. And once again the moment we were off the beaten track the clegs were back and the routine of swatting and brushing and being bitten continued.
Phew.... it was so hot as we made our way up to the summit, which in a normal year would be boggy, wet and spongy but this year reasonably dry. We sat for 15mins on the summit drinking water, looking across toward The Crask Inn which was now clearly visible, so near yet so far. I looked at the pathless blanket bog that we had to trudge across to get there, and I recalled reading that it's only saving grace was there are wetter bogs than this, but I wasn't so sure. Oh well nothing for it, so off we went making our way down Cnoc an Ulbhaidh heading toward Cnoc an Fheoir Mhaol before making a bee line for The Crask.
I would like to say the crossing was uneventful, I really would, but in spite of the long dry, hot summer we've had the ground underfoot was extremely spongy and there were a lot of areas of brown, wet bog and patches of short, yellow moss that looked dry but were anything but.
And so we weaved and twisted, sometimes backtracking trying to avoid any wet boggy areas as we made our way across to the higher ground of CanFM. Needless to say I did come a cropper. While trying to avoid a small boggy patch I stumbled slightly and in trying to prevent myself from falling over stepped into it , sinking up to my knees. I immediately sat back on a tussock and began the process of pulling one leg out at a time ( takes some effort), while motioning to Arlene to stick to the higher ground.
I caught up with Arlene on the Cnoc a Fheoir M where we sat for a while for a breather and drunk the last of our water. It washot as the heat of the sun seem to intensify and the clegs refused to back down. I tried my best to clean myself up, as my trousers and boots were covered in wet, slimy peat,and my hands, well they remained stained for another four to five days.
We then made straight for The Crask, which now seemed a little closer, making our way from hillock to hillock. But needless to say we still stepped ankle deep into a couple of yellow, apparently dry, moss areas that on other occasions, in other locations, would be firm and stable.
Eventually we made it to a fence which we walked alongside, even though it took us away to the right of The Crask( ground a bit firmer). After a couple of hundred metres the fence turned back toward The Crask and soon we had made it to the A836 by the River Tirry.
Now, there was no way I was going to walk into The Crask Inn with my trousers peat stained, my top mucky( where my peaty hands had been brushing off clegs)and my former red but now brown wet squelchy socks. So we went down to the river where I stripped off and replaced my dirty clothes with clean ones, while Arlene washed my boots.
It had been a long tiring day, and I really fancied a decent bed for the night and a decent meal. So the first thing I asked for, as I stood at the bar in The Crask, was if they had any rooms for the night. The lady behind the bar replied they were full but we could pitch our tent on the lawn at the front of the Inn. Not exactly what I was after, but at least it would save walking any further that night .
But then to top it all I the became convinced, (after enquiring if they served evening or bar meals only to be told, not tonight because we hadn't pre booked), that I must be part of some Greek tragedy. The gods were playing, laughing at me, cursing me to wander endlessly across a land plagued by a burning sun, swarming with razor toothed harpies. Always having, like Tantulus, the things I crave for in sight, but always just out of reach. Some walks are like that.... don't you agree....no....oh well it must have been the delirium that's brought on by to much powdered food( or an over active imagination).
But all was not lost, for they did serve soup, sandwiches and toasties. But sandwiches and toasties just didn't do it for me, So after downing a pint of Giunness ( Arlene had a lager) I began to put on my.... woe is me voice..., relating to the landlady( as Arlene played the violin in the background, you should always carry one, you'll never know when it'll come in handy :lol: ) how difficult the day had been, what with the heat, the clegs and the bog crossing and how shattered we both were. I think it did the trick as she said there might be some hot Quiche and in the meantime she would get us some soup.
In fact, to our delight, not only did we have soup and bread but also hot quiche and veg followed by a creamy rice pudding.
We were then shown to a bathroom upstairs where we would be able to shower and clean up, things were definitely getting better, it was wonderful.
Now that was what I call top rate service. Many, many thanks to the couple that run The Crask, a real credit to their profession.
After pitching our tent on the lawn it was up to the bathroom for a cool refreshing shower. While in the bathroom we checked each other over. We both had a few dozen red, yellow blistered lumps on our bodies, the result of a few days molestation from the clegs and Arlene's left wrist was swollen from a nasty reaction to a couple of bites .But besides that and having to remove several ticks from each other we were okay, and refreshed. And so after having another drink at the bar, and picking up a couple of toasties for the next day, we retired to our tent for the night.
Midges *. Gleggs ****. Ticks **.
Are you still with me, or have you gone to sleep. Stay awake and continue reading there's only three days to go.

DAY 7.
Crask Inn to Gearnsary. 25km.

It was overcast when we crawled out of the tent and the temperature had taken a dip, there was a real coolness in the air. I looked up and over in the direction of the peat moss we had crossed the day before and the skies had changed. They were no longer clear and bright but dark and threatening. The leaden, rain filled skies seemed to be heading our way and I was sure we were in for a soaking. But one has to look on the bright side, and although the outlook for the day didn't appear too promising, just maybe it would keep the clegs at bay and after the last few scorching days might even be a blessing ( now there's a first.... Scotland, rain, blessing .. not words that are often found grouped together). :lol:
And so we set off from The Crask and followed the path that runs alongside The River Tirry heading toward Loch Choire via the Bealach Easach, with the rain clouds gaining on us.
We stopped at the highest point in the Bealach to take in the view of the Lochs before us and had a coffee, allowing the rain laden clouds to catch up with us. The rain began to fall, but to my surprise it was extremely light so we just sat back, sipping coffee, enjoying the amazing views of the hills and lochs in front of us.
The rain only lasted for about ten to fifteen minutes and by the time we passed Loch a Bhealaich the clouds began to break up and the sun made an appearance, and that was it, as we never felt a spot of rain for the rest of the day.
At the far end of Loch Choire we had a rest and a brew up( had half a cheese toastie that Arlene picked up from The Crask the night before which was surprisingly good...... don't knock it until you've tried it). :lol:
For the rest of the day we just followed the track from Loch Choire House to the ruins of Gearnsary where we pitched our tent for the night. That evening was probably the best camping experience we've had for a while. It had everything.... good flat ground, a dyke to act as a windbreak, a crystal clear burn( for skinny dipping), trees to hang our washing on. Plus the prefect weather.... warm with not a trace of wind. The sky was blue with just a few light clouds drifting ever so slowly across it. There were herds of deer on the hills looking nervously down on us as eagles soared and circled above our heads. And best of all, yes best of all.... no midges, clegs or ticks to disturb us, trying to eat us alive( although I did pick off a couple of ticks from Arlene, must have picked them up in the morning). And so after enjoying a pasta mugshot and a cup of coffee we turned in for the night.
Midges *. Clegs 0 . Ticks *. Day 8.
Gearnsary to The Glutt. 33km

We were greeted by a few midges as we emerged from our tent and made our way to the burn for a quick wash. I still can't get over the lack of them this year, they just seemed to be congregating in small groups … but hey I'm not complaining.
We walked for about 8km and sat at a picnic spot at the end of Loch Badanloch where we had our coffee break before walking on to Kinbrace. While there we watched on, as a golden eagle came down and took an Oyster Catcher chick, much to the consternation of its parents.
I don't know if you've ever been to Kinbrace but it's often shown on the BBC weather map of Scotland as if it's a major town/village in the highlands, but far from it. It's actually quite a small place ( but perfectly formed) and you can walk in and out of it in a few minutes. I can remember thinking to myself, as we neared Kinbrace, and I voiced my thoughts to Arlene...…. that because Kinbrace has a train station.... it might also have a café or restaurant. Arlene of course, true to form, mentioned something about chickens and counting, which I of course ignored.
I have to inform you, that regrettably there is no café or restaurant in Kinbrace, so any chance of a bacon roll would have to wait till we reached Watten.
From Kinbrace we took the A857 as far as the burn just before Lochside. We left the road and followed the burn for a while and then made for ruins of Knockfin. At the ruins we had a brew up and some type of powered soup before following the Knockfin burn( walking on the left hand side )up to the plateau above and then crossing to the OS column on Knockfin Heights.
The going up to the plateau was fairly straightforward, although there are no obvious paths, just the odd deer track. But the Knockfin heights were a different story, the ground was deeply scored ( riven) and lumpy and the OS column is not seen until you are almost on it, good use of a compass or GPS is essential to find your way( in my opinion anyway). The only other problem, or should I say nuisance, were the amount of clegs and ticks we encountered on the way up to the plateau. I'm not exaggerating when I say that, from Knockfin up until the plateau, we stopped probably every ten minutes to brush the ticks from our trousers as they slowly climbed up to find an opening in our clothing. I've never experienced ticks in such numbers. It was a tick fest, but fortunately when we checked each other over, later in the day, we only had to remove a couple, that had made their way up our legs and onto our bodies.
From the OS column we followed the burn down to the Chalybeate Springs, avoiding the boggy patches and occasionally tripping on a tussock. Just on from the springs is an estate track, rough but at least a track, and once we were on it the going was easier. We headed down the track which would take us down and round to the Glutt.
Must mention at this point that both Arlene and myself saw a couple of lizards just before the springs, they were both jet black..... I mean jet black...unusual or what.
By this stage we were both beginning to tire, and so began to look for a suitable place to pitch the tent. After about a couple of kms, without finding anywhere, we unexpectedly came across what looked like a bothy. We tried the door and it opened, so in we went and spent the night inside. It was quite a relief not to be cramped in the tent and even the sweet and sour noodles tasted great.
Midges*. Clegs ****. Ticks *****.
Day 9.
The bothy near The Glutt to Watten. 44km.

Drizzle began to fall about 5am and after twenty minutes of waiting for it to stop we donned our ponchos and stepped out of the bothy. We walked down the track to Leathad Leanain and then up to The Glutt, all the while the rain continued to fall, sometimes light, sometimes heavy.
At The Glutt we took shelter under some trees and took our ponchos off to give our bodies an airing( sweaty things ponchos), where we were joined by a couple of dozen midges. After a coffee and redonning the ponchos we strode through the rain passing Dalganachan and Dalnawillan, the rain finally deciding to stop as we drew level with Loch More.
At the bridge at the far end of Loch More the sun began to shine again ( it was great to be out of our ponchos) and we stopped to refill our water bottles. A land rover stopped and a friendly estate worker had a chat with us.. He had just come back from the doctors after having been bitten on his hands (clegs) and had had a bad reaction to them (very swollen). We spoke about ticks and clegs, and he confirmed that the Knockfin area is notorious for ticks, as I brushed quite a large one off my sleeve.
We stopped for lunch at the car park just up the road from the bridge, but if we had waited until we reached Strathmore Lodge, another fifteen minutes up the road, we would have had the comfort of a picnic table and bench ( a tip in case you go that way).
We now had a choice we could either leave the road and follow The River Thurso until The Little River and on to Halsary, through Wester Watten Moss to Watten. Or simply carry on along the road until it met the A9 and then cross over to the B870 which went straight to Watten. We choose the road.
Once we were on the B870, about nine and a half kms from Watten, we decided to try and book a room at The hotel in Watten ( a bit of luxury). Arlene phoned up D Enquiries for the number and then phoned the hotel but couldn't get an answer. Although slightly deflated we carried along the road, try to phone again when we got nearer. We had only gone a couple of hundred metres when Arlenes phone rang.... it was the Hotel. Arlene asked if they had a double room....no doubles came the reply.... ..any bothy rooms said Arlene... there was a pause, the receptionist didn't seem to understand, but finally said ...… we do have two singles...…. NO prizes for Arlenes reply. :D
And so with rooms waiting for us we stormed along the road, so much so that within three km of Watten a blister came up on the base of my heel and I had to stop for running repairs ( well almost running ). And to think we had walked nearly 270km without any foot problems and now with Watten at our mercy I was removing a boot to put a plaster on my heel.
We walked into Watten ( well Arlene walked, I kind of limped) and made for The Brown Trout Hotel where we were made welcome. After a shower and rest we enjoyed a very good meal and a couple of pints.
Midges **. Clegs 0. Ticks *.
The next day we took the bus to Inverness, changing at Wick, back to the car.

All in all a great experience and really satisfying to be able to carry all our gear over the different terrain we encountered, even though we are in our mid sixties. Also a great way to lose weight, we both lost half a stone.
And what can I say about the beasties, well the clegs were the main problem, followed by the ticks and then the midges, and even though we took repellent we still came away battle scarred.
But that sometimes is the price to be paid for traversing our great countryside and as walkers we are all prepared to pay that price for the enduring memories, which last a lifetime. So thanks for reading my report and remember......Keeeeeeeep walking.

Watten to John O Groats. We walked it over a couple of spare days last July 2017. Weather was dry but the crossing of Killimster Moss was horrendous, now that's what I call a bog.
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Coffee stop.
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Freswick bay behind us.
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Geo
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Seals of Duncansby
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Stacks of Duncansby

I don't think we could have asked for better weather. The day from Keiss to JOGs was tremendous.


















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raykilhams


Location: Forfar
Interests: Walking/backpacking, Swimming, Dancing , Theatre, Fishing.
Activity: Walker
Pub: too many to mention
Place: Fort William
Gear: walking poles
Ideal day out: any walk with good views either up or down

Munros: 13
Corbetts: 5
Grahams: 4
Donalds: 2
Wainwrights: 9
Hewitts: 11
Sub 2000: 14
Long Distance routes: West Highland Way    Cateran Trail    Fife Coastal Path    Forth & Clyde and Union canal towpath    Great Glen Way    St Cuthbert's Way    West Island Way   



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Statistics

2018

Trips: 1
Distance: 270 km

2017

Trips: 1

2016

Trips: 1
Distance: 140 km

2015

Trips: 2
Distance: 20 km

2014

Trips: 3
Distance: 355 km

2013

Trips: 9
Distance: 743 km

2012

Trips: 4
Distance: 43 km
Corbetts: 1

2011

Trips: 2
Distance: 80 km
Ascent: 610m


Joined: Sep 12, 2011
Last visited: Sep 04, 2018
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