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Sunday, 22 July 2012

A gallon of Gadgies... plus 27    July 14- 21

For almost thirty years a select group of information facilitators from the North Tyneside College for the sons and daughters of artisans have organised a "gentlemen's week" away in some part of Great Britain for a  few days walking and cultural activity. I have been invited previously but have been unable to join them as I was working but this year I have accepted the invitation and joined the merry crew for an adventurous time based in Fort William, Scotland.
  Before leaving I needed to know the rules: Each member of the team brings a frozen meal or the makings; supply your own breakfast and packed lunch; remember the colour of the rubber band on your beer glass; bring a bottle of spirits (optional). My cooking skills are very limited, (ask the daughters) so I persuaded my wife to prepare a bucketful of her special meat balls, give me a few clues on cooking rice and I found a bottle of Polish vodka in a cupboard.
 On Saturday July 14th seven gadgies and an apprentice in his fifties set off from Tyneside (or Cumbria for one) and drove to Torlundy, a settlement that hardly qualifies as a hamlet, never mind a village.
I knew five of the crew; Brian the punmeister, Ray the sophisticatmeister, Harry the routemeister,  Dave the vogelmeister and John Clarke  The other two were Norman and Paul who had worked at North Tyneside College at some time.
Brian had also brought three barrels of beer, Tyneside Blonde, Farne Island and Secret Kingdom, a grand total of 216 pints or 27 gallons. The Hadrian Brewery also provided two hand pumps, taps, spiles and eight pint glasses. All at trade prices too!
 Dave, Harry and I arrived at the rented holiday home  The Logs, about 4pm, found the keys under the correct flower pot and waited for the others. The house was built entirely of wood. The owner had designed it and had the timber imported from Scandinavia; Spacious with half a dozen bedrooms, several showers and a copuple of TV sets it nevertheless looked like a Beatles song inside.

       The Logs from the outside..............................

      ..................................and the inside. Isn't it good, Norwegian Wood.

Once we had sorted out rooms and stored a mountain of food we set about rigging up the bar, and sampling the beer to ensure it had travelled well. It had.

                     Harry demonstrates his skill as a barman. Good arm work, no chat about football.
The house had a large garden, fishing rods and four mountain bikes, plus a view of Ben Nevis.


                        The Ben from The Logs

That evening we had the only meal out of the week. We drove to The Ben Nevis Inn, a converted barn in Glen Nevis, strategically placed at the start/end of the tourist route up the mountain and doing a great trade in bar meals and beer. Well worth a visit, the staff worked their socks off.
Back at the house we watched a DVD:  A Lonely Place to Die, quite possibly the worst film I have ever seen.

Sunday July 15th...... The West Highland Way.

All of the walks on this blog are covered by OS41 map, Ben Nevis. This one, a section of the West Highland Way, starts at Kinlochleven and ends in Glen Nevis, a linear walk, requiring a bit of organisation with cars. Two cars were  left at Glen Nevis Information Centre and  two went to the Ice Centre at Kinlochleven. No bacon sandwich but a cup of coffee as we watched the children working on the climbing wall. They were great, full of confidence, I would have been terrified.
It was raining as we set off, and it was raining when we finished but it was a good first walk of the week. Well signposted from Kinlochleven the walk rises steadily on solid paths to the Lairig Maire, a smaller version of the Lairig Ghru. (Three Men and a Lady, May 26th).
Once over the pass the route follows a forestry track down to Glen Nevis.

                              Herbiespot on the West Highland Way. Yes, it was raining.
 The Outdoor GPS gave a reading of 13 miles for this walk, good old reliable HiGear said 13.38 miles.
I realised that I had to return to Kinlochleven to pick up a car and it was my turn to do the cooking.
A stroke of genius told me to ask Harry, who loves cooking, if he would do the honours and heat up Mrs. Emmett's Special meatballs and cook up some rice and heat up the bag of mixed vegetables to go with them. He agreed, I promised to pull him a pint. I was a little concerned there would not be enough food and every last morsel went, but Brian asked me to pass on his compliments to the cook.
Another rule is that cooks do not wash up, I had no choice obviously but to learn from John how to fill and switch on the dishwasher. He seemed surprised we didn't have one. I told him we did, I just stand in front of the sink.
In the evening we watched episodes of Still Game, a Scottish sit com, rather like  Last of the Summer Wine, but set in Glasgow. Good plots, well acted, but the DVD player kept stopping.
Cheese and biscuits for supper, and beer of course.
     This is the Tailrace at Kinlochleven There used to be a power station and aluminium smelter, all gone, replaced by an ice wall and sauna.

Monday July 16 .........  the Mamores.

Back to Kinlochleven and coffee at the Ice Centre, still no bacon sandwich.
 A circular walk today, no  need to shuffle people and cars around. This walk follows a badly marked path out of  Kinlochleven on the right side of the road  leading out of the village on the north side of the loch and after a while joins a clear route which leads  steadily uphill in a north easterly direction until it is well above Loch Eilde Mor and the Blackwater Reservoir is clearly visible in the distance. Considering the rain the rest of the country has had, the reservoir was low, there is a drought in the highlands. We chose  a Herbiespot looking down on a small loch and then headed north for  a while before turning west and climbing steeply to the minor peak of Binnein Mor and headed north for its bigger stonier brother. For those of you who, like me, are not Gaelic speakers,  Binnein Mor is pronounced Been yan Mohr and means "big peak" which at 3700 feet it is by British standards.  As we sat on the small peak, admiring the views of the Grey Corries and even distant Schiehallion a fellow walker stopped to chat. He claimed to be getting a bit old for this sort of thing. Brian asked his age, he claimed 53 years. Brian pointed out that
"He's 68, he's 67, he's 63......." The fellow walker struggled on, probably acutely embarrassed.


          We were forced to admire this as we ate lunch. It is Sgurr Eilde Mor, and a loch.
We retraced our steps to the minor peak and then west along the ridge to Na Gruagaichean, pronounced Na Groo-agichan, meaning "Maidens" and standing at 3461 is a Monroe* of course.  I mentally ticked it off in my Ian Allen** Monroe Spotters Book.
From the peak we followed a steep path down a grassy and slippy slope until it became a track which led us past Mamore Lodge and down to Kinlochleven. The Ice Centre, amazingly, had a bar. I was driving, I always am..
Outdoor GPS claimed a walk of 11 miles. Higear said 13 miles.

    It's the views that make it all worthwhile, especially in the Highlands.
 Back at the Logs, Norman, who had a bad foot and had not joined us on the walk but had gone cycling, had also been busy cooking. Baked salmon steaks and baked potatoes, washed down with Tyneside Blonde and followed by more Still Game.

Tuesday July 17th...............the Aonachs.
The weather forecast was not too promising so we cheated a bit and drove to the Nevis Ski Centre and took the gondola part way up the mountain. Near the top station is the start of the best mountain bike trail in the United Kingdom, 2.85 kilometres long with a fastest time of 4.5 minutes from top to bottom. looking down at the bends, stones, rocks, jumps and gravel as we ascended in the gondola was terrifying enough. Riders are required to wear full body armour and one young man we talked to had been down nine times in a day! The course is used for World Championships.
                                  A  mountain biker races down the track, too quick for the camera!
From the top station we walked up a steep, grassy slope beneath a ski tow. The ground was littered with scrap timber from broken fences, piles of burnt scrap and general rubbish from the ski operations. They should clear it up. At the top we reached the plateau of Aonach Mor.
A word of explanation. Mor in Gaelic means "big" and Beag means "small".  However to add to the confusion this mountain has two peaks, Aonach Mor (Oenach Moar) which is 3999 feet high and is named "Big Ridge" and Aonach Beag (Oenach  Bake) which is 4055 feet high and is the sixth highest peak in Britain. According to Storer* this is because Aonach Mor is named for its bulk, not height. Confused?
From the lower peak, which is a bit like the Cheviot, flat and dull, some of us walked on to the higher peak which was more interesting and involved a short steep but stony climb. The summit was bleak and almost grassless but we spotted a Dotterel, the first we had ever seen. Not too shy, so we could get close, it was a female and an inhabitant of tundra with a small number in Scotland.



Mrs Dotterel on Aonach Beag.

We retraced our steps to the gondola station and returned to base.
Outdoor claimed 6.41 miles and Higear said 7.8 miles.
Back at the Logs Paul presented us with a chillie, like all the meals it was excellent and the wine and beer went down well. I demonstrated my new found skill with the dishwasher and we watched more hilarious TV



Dave admires Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis, wrongly as it turned out. It is a bump between Aonach Mor and the Ben.

Wednesday July 18th............... Fort William.
It was raining, not a day for walking unless you are young and /or determined. Four of us decided to explore the town  of Fort William, the others drove off to Mallaig for the day.
 First call Morrison's supermarket to top up the bread buns and fruit department followed by a walk  to the old fort itself, not there is so much left of it. The friends of the old fort had put up several information boards explaining the origins of the fort,  first built by Oliver Cromwell's army and then rebuilt in Jacobite times to control the highlanders and its steady decline.
                 Looking down Loch Linnhe from the remains of Fort William on a grey day.
Like many British towns Fort William has a high street partly in decline with several shops closed and the premises up for sale or rent. As a tourist spot it has several souvenir shops and its proximity to the mountains supports several outdoor gear shops, one of which sold me new ferrules for my walking poles. Pretty useful too, I lost one coming off Na Gruagaichean and without the ferrule the pole tends to stick in soft ground
 A large sign outside the church of St. Andrew offered soup and a roll or coffee and biscuits so we went into the church hall and had a delicious vegetable soup for lunch and coffee and biscuits.
This was followed by a trip round the West Highland Museum, interesting but dated in style. No "hands on" activities for children, quite right too, let the little beggars look at exhibits. Star exhibit for me was an iron coffin box used to keep the thieving hands of people like Burke and Hare off corpses until they were rotted down a bit. There was also a collection of Bonnie Prince Charlie memorabilia, including Flora MacDonalds shawl and an oak chair the young pretender had sat on. The room, originally in the fort, where the orders for the Glencoe massacre were signed had been rebuilt in the museum.
Wandering back to the car Dave noticed two things, a LIDL store and a steam engine in the station with a train of old fashioned carriages. Rushing over to the train like a pair of engine spotting anoraks we noted it was an LMS Jubilee Class named "The Lancashire Fusiliers" and it was pulling "The Highland Scot", a tourist train. Oh the smell of steam, and the soot in your eye.

Jubilee class 45407 "The Lancashire Fusilier". This would have been underlined in my old Ian Allen books!
 And on to LIDL where Dave, who has a history, bought yet another pedometer. This one with a built in USB so you can download information direct to a computer. I will stick to Outdoors and Higear.
Back at the Logs  Harry busied himself making a curry. Harry makes top class curries, this one being no exception. Sadly we had no Cobra lager but had to make do with Tyneside Blonde.
Another evening spent watching Still Game and anything else that would play on the poor DVD player.

Thursday July 19th......... Big Ben Nevis.

We live on quite a small island and don't have vast mountain ranges but we have some pretty good ones and Ben Nevis is the biggest at 4406 feet. There are a number of ways of tackling the Ben, some quite difficult but we opted for the "tourist route" which is a long steady pull to the summit. We started at the Ben Nevis Inn, handy for parking cars and post stroll refreshment.
The tourist route is well named; it is the most popular route and for most of the walk is well paved, in places there are well laid large stone paths underfoot and the trail zig zags relatively gently uphill, passing a small loch at 2000 feet which is a good halfway marker. Towards the top the path has a small stone bed, harder on the feet but easy going. It took me 2 hours and 46 minutes to walk non stop to the top, a distance of about 4.8 miles according to Outdoor and I must admit to feeling quite pleased with myself.
The pleasing thing about the walk was the large number of young people climbing the mountain and obviously enjoying themselves too. We have a tendency to knock young people, not necessary!
It was also interesting to note the number of Europeans walking the mountain: I heard French, German, Italian, Czech and Russian being spoken and had a pleasant chat with a young lady and her boyfriend who were from the Basque country in Spain. Of course they spoke English, a polyglot I am not, except I have the ability to ask for beer in 17 languages.

                           A school trip on the summit of Ben Nevis.

                        Brian thought I might well be the oldest man on the mountain on July 19th. He may well have been right.

Harry, Paul and I decided to return the same way and some minutes down we were joined by Brian. The others chose to return via the arrette and the mountain hut.
On the way down we stopped in a small stone shelter for a drink and were joined by four young Czechs from Ostrava. eating bread and cheese sandwiches. (I am boasting here but I recognised the Czech for bread and cheese! Maybe I am a polyglot) They were staying in the Glen Nevis youth hostel and offered us a swig of plum brandy to seal our friendship.
Back at the Ben Nevis Inn we took some liquid refreshment before heading back to base.
Outdoors claimed u8.76 miles, Higear 12.1 which I would like to believe but pedometers like mine are inaccurate on slopes, either going up or coming down. It's the way they work.
John's turn; he had brought lasagne, eaten with salad and the usual lubricants of wine and beer.
By way of a change we watched Airplane; still funny after all these years.
 Friday July 20th.... on your bike.

 Alistair, the owner of the house, had told us there were four mountain bikes in the shed. Three of them, with a little  tinkering from the engineers in the group were made reasonably roadworthy so, while Dave, Ray and Brian went off down Glen Etive to bag the MonroeBen Nan Aighenan, Harry, Paul and I set off for a bike ride.
Heading towards Fort William we turned west on the road to Mallaig but after about a mile joined the tow path of the Caledonian Canal at Neptune's Staircase.

 Leaving the highest lock in Neptune's Staircase.
 The good thing about tow paths, as I know from my childhood near the Leeds Liverpool and Lancaster canals, is that they have a tendency to be level, making cycling on them quite easy. And so I pedalled my uncomfortable bike to Gairlochy. Here we left the canal, a popular walk to Inverness, and cycled mostly downhill to the Commando Memorial at Spaen Bridge. Erected originally as a memorial to World War II commandos who trained in the area the small garden is also home to small plaques remembering young men who have died in such recent conflicts as Afghanistan.


     The memorial to the commandos at Spaen Bridge.

We chose a seat as a Herbiespot and watched the tourist buses come and go. From opening doors to driving off they stayed 8 minutes. Had it been a shop or cafe it would have been much longer.
Speeding down to the village of Spaen Bridge and called at a hotel for coffee. It was about 1.30 pm and Paul fancied a bacon roll, but they stopped serving them at 12 noon. You could have a meal - provided it was fish and chips!
About a mile down the road to Fort William we turned off and rode through a small settlement called Highbridge which claimed to be the site where Prince Charlie's standard was raised. The road undulated all the way back to Torlundy. The ride was about 25 extremely pleasant miles.It would be a regular route if I lived there!
For the last supper Brian had brought a pasta with an very tasty meaty sauce, washed down with Farne Island, the Tyneside Blonde had been finished on Wednesday.
The evening entertainment was Oh brother, Where art thou?  Unfortunately the DVD player gave up about half way through.

Saturday July 21st.................going home.
 We had to vacate the house by 10am so most were up early and packed after breakfast. There was some Farne Island beer left which Brian, quite rightly, took home.
We stopped at Glencoe Village for a bacon sandwich. They were awarded four flitches, bacon fine, service good, premises interesting but the bun was disappointing.
Then off through the magnificent Glen Coe, which must be the best view in Britain.
Outside Edinburgh we stopped at a Little Chef for a break and a sausage sandwich before driving the last leg home down the A1.
Terrific holiday, I enjoyed every moment. Thanks to the facilitators of NTCFE for inviting me. Hope to make it next year too.


* Monroes are Scottish Mountains over 3000 feet high. First listed by Hugh Monroe. Some people collect them and why not. I have about 20 and I think there are 207, or is that the number of squares on a chess board?
** Most men my age collected engine numbers as children because we didn't have computers and ipods. The numbers and names were listed in a seies of books published by Ian Allen.

BOOK OF THE BLOG:  One of many books on walking the Scottish Highlands;
100 best routes on Scottish Mountains by Ralph Storer. Originall published by Warner, now Sphere Books. Good route descriptions and diagrams.

This is a bit nerdy but I know Dave has a liking for matrices so here's one:


WALK           DISTANCE        DURATION *       HT GAINED**      HT LOST      AV. SPEED

                              (miles)               (Hours, mins)            feet                      feet               mph

West H. way        12.8                  4.51                               4038                 2641              2.6

Mamores             11.16                 6.00                               4275                 4412              1.9

Aonach Beag        6.1                    3.54                               7198                 2979              1.6

Ben Nevis             8. 76                 6.02                               7752                 4416              1.4

TOTALS               38.82           14.47                              23273 !!!          14448            1.875

* Duration means actual walking time, excluding stops etc

** The heights gained for Aonach Beag and Ben Nevis make little sense to me, blame the Ukrainian satellites.

   And Finally;

                                         Hey, hey we're the gadgies
                                         And people see us walking around,
                                         But we're too busy drinking,
                                         To put anybody down.

Words by kind permission of David Kear but I suspect he borrowed them from somewhere. Hope Neil Diamond doesn't sue.

                            Quite appropriate this week. If you are not sure what it means send a cheque for £20 and a stamped addressed envelope.