Sunday, 21 July 2013

Seven little gadgies, go walking in the hills.
July 13-20th 2013.
   This years gentlemen's week means a return to the The Logs, the house we stayed in last year near Torlundy a few miles north of Fort William in Scotland. We are here for some serious drinking, eating and Munro bagging.

   Munros are the Scottish Peaks which exceed 3000 feet in height and are named for Sir Hugo Munro who first listed them in 1891. Currently there are 282 of these peaks but the total changes occasionally, something to do with measuring them or deciding if they are separate peaks or just very close neighbours.  Many people have bagged all 282, the youngest to have underlined them all in his Ian Allen Munro Spotters Guide being ten tears old, the youngest to have climbed them alone was eighteen. The record for speed is the lot in 40 days which works out at seven a day, some going. In our party Brian has the highest score, requiring another  fifteen for a full set, I have about thirty but don't keep records.

   Munros and cricket are probably the two best reasons for maintaining the Imperial system of units. Defining a Munro as being over 914.4m and a cricket pitch as 20.1168m just doesn't have the magic.

 On Saturday July 13th  we all arrived at the Logs: Brian, Dave, Harry, Norman, Paul, John and me. We had brought three nine gallon barrels of beer (216 pints) so the first task was to tap and spile one of them and set the hand pump. Having achieved this we went to the Ben Nevis Inn for an evening meal, returned and sank a few.

Ben Nevis, Britain's highest mountain, as seen from The Logs

                                                  Two views of The Logs.
   Sunday July 14th.
    Most of the UK is bathed in sunshine, but not the north west of Scotland where it is cool and overcasr. But Gadgies never stop for poor weather and for the first of the week's walks we are going to tackle Beinn a Bheithir, the Mount of the Serpent. I am making a bit of a guess here but I think " bh" in Gaelic is pronounced as a "v", so possibly" Bheithir" sounds a bit like" viper".
 We left the Logs and drove to Ballachhulish village  on Loch Leven. As Scottish schools are on holiday we made use of the village school yard as a car park, and we weren't the only ones. This is a linear walk so we used two cars, one parked in the school and one in the car park at Gleann a Chaolais.

                                                   The village school, which had some.....
                                    .......brilliant art work, including this splendid Highland cow.
This walk is covered  by OS Landranger Map 41, Ben Nevis and the car park which is unavailable in term time is at NN080578.
Most of the more popular Scottish walks are well described in several books, the one we used is Storer* who gives good descriptions of the walks, directions and points out the hard bits. And as we walked a well worn path my directions will be brief. Turn right out of the school yard  and follow the gently rising path heading south keeping a good look out for the track on the right which leads , with increasing steepness to Sgorr Bhan, a Munro at 947m or 3106 feet in real terms. The last part of the ascent proved a little difficult, mainly because Brian, John and I chose the wrong path at some point and had to struggle up a scree slope, much to the waiting pair who had scrambled over a step and found the summit. Regardless we followed the n ow clear path along to Sgorr Dhearg, next Munro at 1024m (3359 feet) and called a Herbie Spot on a peak affording a great view of Loch Leven with its small islands and salmon farm. Had it been a really clear day it would have been even better!
Rested and refreshed we wandered on to Sgorr Dhonuill, 1001m (3284 feet)

                                                          Loch Leven from high above
                                                             Dave on the edge
                                                            This way chaps, ever upwards.
At this point we split up, some returning to the bealach (dip) between the last two bumps and some continuing west until we spotted a path down. This path was very steep to start with and consisted of scree in part, making the descent difficult, until it levell3ed off and led us through the Glean a Chaolois forest to the car park.  Once we were all collected we returned to base.
A bad day for pedometers but my LIDL3D said 8.04 miles, Dave's LIDL3d said 11.99 miles and the others failed.  OUTDOORS GPS gave an accurate 7.5 miles, agreeing with Storer.

 Back at the Logs it was my turn to feed the team. Fortunately the ever lovely Mrs E. had kindly made 43 meat balls (Why 43? Being prime it won't divide fairly.) in a tasty sauce. Warmed up and served with a vegetable rice, white wine and saki they went down well. For a sweet we had the gadgie cake made for the occasion by daughter Kate.

                                                               Herbie Spot (for you C of G)

                                                               Water falls in Gleann a Chaolais
                                                      The gadgie cake, a poor photo that does not do
                                        it justice. For more cakes go to
Monday July 15th.

Another gloomy morning in Fort William as the rest of the country sweltered.
We decided a simple valley walk would be best for the day and drove to Spaen Bridge before taking a very minor road that eventually brought us to a parking place just beyond Achnafraschoille on the forest track that goes on the north east side of the Grey Corries. (OS Landranger 41,parking at NN255788).
We followed the track for about 4 miles until we arrived at the bothy that was to be the turn round spot and Herbie Spot. It is an easy track, well made for vehicles such as Land Rovers and trucks and leads gently upwards with some good views of various bumps and the Corries if it is fine.
Early in the walk we passed the statue of the "Wee Minister"
The long and winding road

                                                                Information on the "Wee Minister"
                                             and the man himself. 18th Century?
                                                  Mini monument valley
 The bothy interior
                                                    and exterior.
The bothy had a visitor book and plenty of graffiti. It had been used recently by young people doing their Duke of Edinburgh Award, it was obvious from their comments they were grateful for the shelter. It has a few bunks and a table.
Some of us returned to the car from this point, walking a total of about 8 miles and meeting two American ladies on the way. They were curious as to what a bothy actually was, when they arrived I expect they were disappointed.
The rest of our team, the hard lads, decided to walk on to Kinlochleven and managed another 12 miles or so of generally easy walking, but they did have to be picked up!
Harry had made one of his curries for the evening meal, as usual it was excellent and we were forced to wash it down with several pints of beer. Cake for sweet and a plate of cheese and biscuits later in the evening.
As we ate a pine marten came to the window, said he wasn't to keen on curry and cleared off.

Six little gadgies go walking in the hills. July 16th.
Sadly Harry had to return home on Tuesday the 16th after a short couple of days.
Another poor looking day but thanks to the miracle of iphones, ipads and stuff we were able to discover that the area near Loch Lomond was going to be fine. It was a drive of about 100 miles but well worth it in spite of the road works and narrow roads. We drove round the bottom of the loch and half way up the east side to a car park at Rowardennan  OS Landranger 56. Grid ref NS 359986,
The car park is on the lochside and costs a mere £3 for the whole day. (Glenridding and Whinlatter take note)
                                                     Cheap but classy.
Although not  waymarked the route to the top of Ben Lomond is easy to follow. Head past the toilets in the car park and keep going up the well worn footpath that leads slowly and steeply through the Ben Lomond National Memorial Park. This path is Scotland's answer to Cat Bells, a very popular one, with a steady stream of walkers of all ages. Near the top we met a young lad of about 15, dressed in his hoodie and with such a thick Glaswegian accent it was difficult to understand him. He was obviously enjoying his day out and enthused about the views from the summit. On reaching it I could only agree.
                                                      It is not often you are on a level with a helicopter
                                                       Ben   Lomond, the ascent is steeper than it looks here
                                                    Loch Lomond.

Ben Lomond at 974m (3195 feet) is a Munro, but more important it was John's 100th peak on the list so we celebrated with a Herbie Spot before heading down a spur called Ptarmigan. Steep at first it levelled off eventually and descended to emerge on a track near the Youth Hostel, a short walk from the car park.
Crown copyright and database rights 2013 Ordnance Survey.
OUTDOORGPS  measured this walk as 7.5 miles, pedometers had a bad day!
Brian's turn to cook. He provided (or was it Mrs A?) a lamb tajeen and couscous, some had cake too and as we watched a few episodes of "Still Game"** Dave served up another cheese platter. A fine selection.
Wednesday July 17th.
With the prospect of another gloomy day some of the team opted to drive to Oban for fish and chips. Dave and I chose to explore the locality and walked towards Fort William before turning off to look at Inverlochy Castle.
The castle is an impressive ruin, once moated and with a dock on the River Lochy, it was the home of the Comyns family who eventually came to a sad end, as did their castle. Once used as a store for the Fort William Iron Works it is now a tourist attraction.
                                                    Inverlochy Castle

We walked on the road to Mallaig for a mile or so before we  reached Neptune's Staircase, a system of lochs that lifts boats from Loch Eil through  64 vertical feet to the Caledonian Canal. Used mostly for pleasure boats now it was built in the early 1800s.
                                                  Boats in the first lock

                                                    ...............and boats and locks.
                 We walked along the tow path for a few miles until we reached an aquaduct at Sheniger. Here the canal crosses a small river. A footpath led down from the canal bank to a narrow tunnel beneath it. This was the only road to a few houses at Torcastle. The area seemed to be bounded by the river to the east, the canal to the west, the only way in the narrow tunnel beneath the waterway. How stuff a bit larger than a car got in I do not know. We went through the tunnel, climbed to the far canal side and walked back to Neptune's Staircase on a footpath, seldom used except by locals, unlike the towpath we came on which is part of the Great Glen Way.
                                                 Scots don't seem to go in for stiles like we do.
             Back at the staircase we continued towards Caol, a housing estate with a Shinty Club and a wreck.

The walk came in at 14 miles, but mostly on the level.
Back at the logs it was Paul's turn to cook.We were given a chilli, wine and not much cake as we were all stuffed.

Five little gadgies go walking in the hills........  July 18th

Sadly Paul had to go home on July 18th.
A slightly better day, we decided to head east and tackle Creag  Meagaidh, (Rocky Bog) another Munro!
OS Explorer Map 401, Loch Laggan covers the walk and we parked (for free!) in a car park at Aberarder on the lochside (Grid RefNN483872)
Like the other walks this is easy to follow. Leave the car park and head up the gentle footpath directing you to Allt Coire Ardair and stay on it. A well constructed path it leads relatively easily to the Lochan a Choire, a beautiful place which became a Herbie  Spot. On the lochan we spotted a gannet. Now gannets are usually seabirds but two of the party are reliable witnesses when it comes to ornithology and even I recognise a gannet when I see one. It was a young one and appeared to be fishing, unsuccessfully.
Lunch over we returned to the task. From the lochan the path gets steeper and rockier as it climbs to "The Window". At this point we turned left and climbed up to the plateau which leads eventually to the summit of Creag Megaidh.  It was difficult to see anything because of the low cloud but as we sat on the summit the mist cleared and we could see the surrounding peaks, for a few minutes! And it was another Munro at  1130m (3707 feet).

                                                    Lochan a Choire. Beautiful Herbie Spot
                                                  and home of a lost Gannet.

Leaving the summit, but pausing to play on the remains of the winter snow, we retraced our steps to "The Window" and climbed up to another Munro, Stob PoiteCoir Ardair, 1053m (3454 feet).
At this point John and I decided to return to "The Window" and walk back the way we came as the walk was so beautiful. The others opted to continue in a north east direction along the ridge before heading for the car park.
                                        The snows of Creag Meagaidh
                                                   On Stob Poite Coir Ardair, above the lochan
Passing the lochan there was no sign of the gannet, hopefully it had found its way east to the sea but it did get a mention on the "what have you seen board" at Aberarder, along with some red deer.
OUTDOOR GPS claimed 13 miles, LIDL3D came in at 15, Regardless of distance it was a cracking walk.

John had persuaded his daughter in law to prepare an exotic chicken dish (Torlund) with papaya and other exotic vegetables.
The evening cheeseboard went along with "Still Game".

Friday July 20th.
The first hot and sunny day of the week. John and I decided to have an easy day with a bike ride while the others trotted off down to Glen Coe to bag a Munro or two.
We patched together two bikes and rode down to Neptune's Staircase and along the canal bank to Gairlochy.
                                                   Caledonian Canal, and sunshine for once.
From Gairlochy we struggled uphill before free wheeling down to the Commando Memorial outside Spaen Bridge.
                                             The area was used as a training ground for Commandos in WWII
                                               The memorial is impressive, the visitors make it a quick
                                                 stop on their bus tour.
We continued to Spaen Bridge and then on the road to Fort William. After about a mile we turned right and pedalled along a lovely meandering road with a few hills that brought us back to the Logs.
The ride was 22 miles long, the day was hot.
After we had dozed in the sun for some time the climbers returned.
Norman produced a tasty chilli, hot enough to require several pints of cooling liquid, as if we needed an excuse. And we had to finish the cheese. It's a hard life being a gadgie.
                                                             A much better picture of the cake.

Saturday July 20th
Sadly we had to go home, the gentlemen's week  was over for another year.
This picture makes me cry, but we had to do it.
                                                 Emptying the barrel
Back to Friday walks!

Bird of the Blog.
We fed the garden birds at The Logs with leftovers, they loved the basmati rice but complained about bthe lack of curry. We saw ravens on the tops, I heard an owl one night but the bird of the blog has to be the mountain gannet, almost as rare as the famous gosprey.

Beast of the blog.
We saw some deer but the award goes to the garden pine marten.

 *One of many Scottish Walks Books;
The Hundred Best Routes on Scottish Mountains by Ralph Storer. Published by Warner Works

** Still Game, a BBC Scotland sitcom, like Last of the Summer Wine but funny.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Five go battling the duergars of Simonside.......July 5th

For several reasons today's walk is to be fairly local and not too strenuous. There are five of us out; Harry, Ben, Dave, John and me. The forecast is promising, warm and rain free so we are walking from Fontburn Reservoir. This reservoir is west of Morpeth, to get there take the A1 go almost through Morpeth but turn left for Mitford and on to Scots Gap. Turn north at Scots Gap and watch out for signs for Fontburn Reservoir. Watch out for Roughlees Farm which boasts rare breeds of animals and watch for the sign advertising the Goats on the Roof Café. Cross the dam and park up. It is a popular fishing spot, beware of Geordie Anglers.
A map is advisable and the one to use is OS  Explorer OL42, Kielder Water and Forest and the car park is at GR046939.

A word of warning: you may find life easier following the two black dotted lines on the attached map rather than religiously following the gadgie blue route with arrows.
One of the North's prettier car parks, reservoir in the background.

The walk;
We left the car park and walked east past the dam and with the water treatment plant on our right, with another fine railway viaduct in the background.
Treatment plants and an abandoned viaduct, must have been a great railway line. Shame on you Beeching.
On the left a marker led us down a path, actually on the old line.                                                           It would have been sensible to remain on the railway track past the old station buildings and continued to the track going to Blueburn Farm. (see map).
But we didn't, we turned off the railway and
meandered west, north west, north east, west, north east and finally north until we came to the track leading to Blueburn Farm and turned left.

At the farm there is a path that leads almost due north, crosses Spylaw Burn, continues north, crosses Forest Burn and comes to a junction. Turn left and at the next junction take the left fork which brings you to Spylaw.
                                                        Spylaw Burn

                                                                                                            But of course we didn't

 we wandered rather aimlessly but generally north west, crossing Spylaw Burn and Forest Burn until ending up at Spylaw.
If you are interested in ancient settlements and cup and ring markings take St. Oswald's Way in a north east direction at Spylaw and visit Lordenshaw. A well preserved  fort is there for the visitor, and some of the mysterious cup and ring markings.
We didn't, and Dave the archaeologist was a bit annoyed . We took the right fork at Spylaw and headed north west up a track that became a path that brought us to the well paved track that crosses the Simonside Hills. Like the ones on the Cheviot it is made from redundant mill flagstones and although purists are not keen it makes for easy walking in wet weather.
                                                    The crags on Simonside.
We settled on the crags at the highest point on Simonside and declared a Herbie Spot. Unfortunately I forgot the chocolate but Ben had gingers and Dave had flapjacks so we dined well.
Simonside comes from Sigemund's (ge)set, a seat or settlement. It is thought to have been a sacred mountain and is still the home of the Simonside Dwarfs, Brownmen, Bogles and Duergars.
Their leader is Roarie, they are ugly dwarves wearing lambskin coats, moleskin trousers and shoes and a hat made from moss and heather. The Greeks had their sirens, the Rhine has its Lorelei but Simonside has its Duergars. They entice travellers into the boggier parts of the hills, particularly in the dark, leading them with torches. The word duergar comes, possibly from the  Old Norse word for dwarf, (dvergor), or from Anglo-Scottish dialect for dwarf.
Catch them in a good mood and they will take you down to Tomlinsons Café and Bunkhouse in Rothbury for a five flitch bacon sandwich. Catch them on a bad day they could well make a bacon sandwich out of you.
 Lunchtime on Simonside, John in the hat watches for duergars.

                                  Crags on Simonside. Can you see the duergar?
Lunch  and duergar baiting over we descended from the summit of Simonside by way of a well constructed stone stairway and path. At the foot of the hill are several forest tracks but we took a footpath heading south across open moorland with  plantation on our right, this particular one having been recently felled. The path leads past Selby's Cove, strange name for an inland feature.
                                                      Selby's Cove.
Having crossed more open moorland the path entered a plantation and soon we were on a forest track, heading almost due south, which eventually joins St. Oswald's Trail again. Watch out for the markers as the track eventually becomes footpath leading to the farm at Fallowlees.

                                              Wouldn't be a blog without a stile.
                                             Friendly Fallowlees Filly

At Fallowlees it is possible to take the footpath in front of the house that leads almost due east to Newbiggin Farm and back to Fontburn, but for the prettiest part of the walk we took the bridleway just west of the farm and unmarked, that leads across fields  and crosses the Fontburn before turning east and joining the Greenleighton Walk, a National Trust walk, along the south side of the reservoir, along the nature trail laid out inside the boundary fence and back across the dam to the car park.
Along the way it passes a large stone which has several cup markings but no rings, could be a apprentice training school.

A poor picture of cup markings
                                                              Flowers by the car park.

On the long journey home we stopped at the Dyke Neuk pub near Morpeth for refreshment. I tried the Dyke Neuk beer, very tasty too, made for the pub by a local micro-brewery. Five barrels.
 The Matrix MMMVI

                                                                  steps                                  miles
Asdaped                                                    25596                               11.8
LIDL3D                                                    27562                                12.4   all is forgiven

Dave's LIDL3D                                        26373                                 12.13
LIDLUSB                                                 25458                                 12.85
OUTDOORS GPS                                                                              11.8
Ben's Bragometer                                                                                11.7

Bird of the blog.
A quiet day for birds all things considered. Bird of the blog is the Skylark, singing its heart out.

This is a good walk if you want variety: hills, fields, moors, plantation and woodland. But wsatch out for those duergars, they can bite.

Next week the gadgies are off on their holiday to Fort William so wait for report.