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Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Talladh-a-Bheithe Power Station

SITE OF TALLADH-A-BHEITHE WIND FARM

SITE OF TALLADH-A-BHEITHE WIND FARM – CLICK TO ENLARGE

A company has been set up specifically to build an upland power station/wind farm in the very heart of the Scottish Highlands. Sadly, this in itself sadly probably wont raise too many eyebrows amongst disheartened hill goers, who are seeing more and more of Scotland’s wild places trashed forever under millions of tons of concrete bases, haul roads, steel towers and huge turbine blades.

But this industrial development is different: Very different indeed.

Last month the Scottish Government launched a map of wild areas – areas that they say will be afforded extra protection from development. Talladh-a-Bheithe is slap bang in the middle of one such area of Wild Land – Area 14.

Let’s see where this wind farm is located: Click on the following maps to make them much larger.

TALLADH-A-BHEITHE LOCATION MAP IN RELATION TO OTHER WIND FARMS

TALLADH-A-BHEITHE LOCATION MAP IN RELATION TO OTHER WIND FARMS – CLICK TO ENLARGE

This wind farm is squeezed in between Loch Rannoch to the South and Loch Ericht to the north. Rannoch Moor is immediately to the west.

TALLADH-A-BHEITHE TURBINE & HAUL ROAD LAYOUT

TALLADH-A-BHEITHE TURBINE & HAUL ROAD LAYOUT – CLICK TO ENLARGE

The above layout seems just like any other large wind farm map. But what it doesn’t show is all the designations of land afforded to this area. The area is packed full of of nationally sensitive wild land. Take a look:

TALLADH-A-BHEITHE: POLICY & DESIGNATION, AND CORE AREAS OF WILDLAND

TALLADH-A-BHEITHE: POLICY & DESIGNATION, AND CORE AREAS OF WILD LAND – CLICK TO ENLARGE

You should be able to blow this map up to a large size, in a new window. Just take a look at what this developer is proposing:

  • The orange hatched area is Area 14 of the Scottish Wild Land Map, and yes, the wind farm lies right over it.
  • The orange hatched area six miles to the south of the wind farm is Bredalbane-Schiehallion Area of Wild Land.
  • The pale green area RIGHT NEXT to the turbines (and covering the route of the Access tracks) is Loch Rannoch & Glen Lyon National Scenic Area.
  • The red area RIGHT NEXT to the north of the wind farm is the Ben Alder Wild Land Search Area (2002)
  • Six miles to the north east is the Cairngorm National Park
  • Six miles to the west is the Ben Nevis and Glen Coe National Scenic Area.

This map alone shows that this developer does not give a monkey’s stuff about wild land. He is prepared to actually build on an area designated just a few days before as Wild Land, with extra protection from development such as this.

How does this wind farm impact visually on the surrounding area? The next map is the ZTV for the wind farm – the “Zone of Theoretical Visibility” map. It shows you where this wind farm will be visible from. Brace yourself: Again, this map can be blown up to a larger size by clicking on it.

TALLADH-A-BHEITHE ZTV MAP

TALLADH-A-BHEITHE ZTV MAP – CLICK TO ENLARGE

What do all the colours mean? At first glance you would be forgiven for thinking that the impact of the wind farm will be most severe in the area of the darker colours – the two purples and pink.

NOT SO!

These wind farm developers are cunning blighters; this is exactly what they always do. In fact, the places where ALL the turbines will be seen are the areas coloured pale yellow. Yes, that’s a massive area. This is quite normal practice - weasel-tactics -  for wind farm developers. Vast areas of land surrounding this proposed development will have an unimpeded view of the industrial wind power station. These areas are beautiful wild land.

Why does this map matter?

In this area of Scotland, tourism is a major employer. People come to visit and stay in the area in holiday cottages, hotels, and B&Bs. These visitors spend their money in local shops, local garages, local restaurants and spend money fishing, on wild life safaris, bird watching holidays, tramping over the hills with a guide. All this money stays in the local economy and each business relies on the other. People come and spend their money here because they love the wild character of the area. They don’t come here to look at an industrial complex with miles of haul road up to sixty feet wide snaking over the hillsides. They will simply not come any more.

Once the tourists go, the local economy will be shot-through. Local general stores, craft shops, B&B’s, hotels and outdoor pursuits businesses will all fold. It will be an economic firestorm. And what will the locals get in return from the wind farm developer? Community hand-outs to be spent on play equipment, village halls and the like, worth about a few million spread over the twenty five year life of the wind farm. The local community won’t need a few million; they’ll need a few million every year. The value of their homes will plummet as the local economy tanks. They won’t have jobs anymore in tourism. They’ll be out of work.

***

So far, the John Muir Trust, the Mountaineering Council of Scotland, the Ramblers Association and the North East Mountain Trust have all objected to this wind farm. (Click on each link to see their objections) But numbers of objections count, especially from  folk who are not resident in Scotland, tourists who will no longer be visiting if this wind farm is built – Tourists who will not be spending their money supporting the local economy. The local population are organised and are objecting strongly – you can find their excellent website by clicking on this link: Keep Rannoch Wild

James Boulter has written eloquently about this wind farm and what it means to him. You can find his excellent article by clicking HERE

Professor Ian Sommerville has written a fine piece, which you can find HERE

Please, please, if you haven’t already written to object to this dreadful wind farm, will you promise me you will do so now. The last date to object is almost upon us – the 5th August. We have just one more week in which to voice our objections You can email your objection to this address: representations@scotland.gsi.gov.uk

 

My own letter of objection is below:

 

Karen Gallacher                                                                                                   Friday 18th July 2014

Energy Consents & Deployment Unit

The Scottish Government

4th Floor - 5 Atlantic Quay

150 Broomielaw

Glasgow

G2 8LU

 

Dear Karen

Objection to Talladh-a-Bheithe Wind Farm Application

I write to object to the above application by Eventus Duurzaam BV for consent under Section 36 of the Electricity Act 1989 to construct a windfarm on a site at Talladh-a-Bheithe, Rannoch.

In June 2014 SNH published the wild land map of Scotland. This proposal for a wind farm lays slap-bang in Area 14 of the map – an area that the Scottish Government’s own planning policy says needs strong protection. It also lies immediately adjacent to Glen Lyon National Scenic Area. No amount of “mitigation” to the design of this wind farm will reduce the impact on the qualities of wild land as viewed from any of the adjacent hills, due to the topography of the site. Wild land cannot be ‘created’ elsewhere: it is either protected or it is lost - forever.

The wind farm would be entirely counter to Scottish Planning Policy 2, National Planning Framework 3 and is contrary to Perth and Kinross Council’s spatial guidance.

This developers’ own ZTV map shows the damage to views of the landscape from adjacent view points.

I have been taking my annual holidays walking in Scotland every year for the last twenty years. If this wind farm is built I will not be back. On top of the decision of Stronelairg this is a wind farm too far. I am sure I am not alone in making this judgement as recent polling shows that more and more hillwalkers feel the same. This will have a dreadful effect on local tourism businesses - B&Bs, hotels, shops etc – all of who, rely on tourism to help them survive.

Yours sincerely

Alan Sloman

(Address supplied)

You can easily cobble together an objection using James’ letter, Ian’s letter and mine. It will take you no more than twenty minutes. Do it, please, now. There’s a poppet!

 

Remember – this is what we will lose:

SITE OF TALLADH-A-BHEITHE WIND FARM

The picture is taken from Beinn Pharlagain. The site extends from behind the plantation in the centre up the slopes to the right – Schiehallion in distance.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Ecco Biom Hikes: A review after a long walk

I last wrote about these boots on 6th May, shortly before heading off for the TGO Challenge ~ a two week backpacking event across the Highlands of Scotland. These boots arrived less than a week before I set off for Scotland and I asked myself if I had gone mad taking a pair of boots that were brand new. Well, I am pleased to say it all went rather well!

I am always surprised when reading reviews of waking boots and shoes that we never hear about the testers’ feet. How can we possibly tell if the shoes that reviewers are writing about will suit us if we know nothing about the reviewers’ feet? So, before I let you know how I got on with these boots I’ll let you know about my feet.

If you are squeamish about feet, look away now.

These are my feet:

MY LEFT FOOT

MY LEFT FOOT

 

MY RIGHT FOOT

MY RIGHT FOOT

Have you ever seen such raw beauty?

I have slim girly ankles, an averagely wide forefoot, a decent arch but quite a shallow foot. They are “low volume” feet. These feet are great if you want to buy proper running shoes (runners tend to be slim, low volume types), but are quite difficult if you are buying walking boots or trainers. It seems that even big fat bastards have taken up jogging and hill walking and so the average volume of feet for these activities is getting bigger these days. Us slim elegant types are finding it tricky to get boots that fit.

To help make boots and trainers fit a little better, for almost twenty years I’ve been using custom-fit Superfeet. I use them in my Scarpa Nepals (which I have worn for the last eight years) and I use off the shelf Superfeet for trainers. These insoles hold your ankle centrally in the heel cup and prevent your foot slipping forward on steep descents. I have nothing but praise for them.

After a couple of walks to town and back I settled on the combination of my off the shelf Superfeet combined with the lightweight leather/synthetic insoles that the boots are supplied with, that have no structure to speak of, but are useful volume adjusters. I used liner socks and medium weight Smartwool socks. I use a fresh pair of liners each day, and my Smartwools generally last three to four days before a change is required.

So, that’s my feet/sock combo and fitting adjustment dealt with. I’m sure everyone has their own methods of finding the best fit, but now you understand what a chap with feet like mine will have to do to get the best fit from Ecco Biom Hikes.

***

Now we can talk about the boots themselves:

Straight off, these are medium to high volume boots – hence the adjustments for fit I explained earlier. A pair of size 45 boots, with the supplied footbeds comes in at 1570g. They are not lightweight, but nor are they heavyweight either. They are quite a bit lighter than my Scarpa Nepals.

In the following pictures of the boots, the pictures with the pale cream backgrounds were taken when the boots were virtually brand new, and those with dark grey backgrounds were taken today, after the boots had done over 200 hard miles in Scotland. This way, you can see how the boots have fared over time.

NEW ECCO BIOM HIKES

NEW ECCO BIOM HIKES – CLICK TO ENLARGE

 

WORN-IN ECCO BIOM HIKES

WORN-IN ECCO BIOM HIKES – CLICK TO ENLARGE

The uppers are made from Yak leather. No nasty Gore-Tex is involved, which can only be a good thing, as I have never understood the need for a water proof membrane combined with what is inherently a waterproof leather upper. This dual combination can only result in an over-hot foot and the inevitable failure of the membrane which will result in soggy feet that are slowly boiled inside your boots. Yak leather is a dense, robust and very waterproof leather, which means that thinner leathers can be used than is normal for the same leather of ‘water-proofness.’ I would estimate the Yak leather to be between 2.5mm and 3mm thick. The great thing about the Yak leather is that although it wets out quite quickly the boots remain waterproof. They also dry out very quickly – much more quickly than my Scarpas, which is a big plus-point on a long multi-day walk..

NEW ECCO BIOM HIKES

NEW ECCO BIOM HIKES – CLICK TO ENLARGE

 

WORN-IN ECCO BIOM HIKES

WORN-IN ECCO BIOM HIKES – CLICK TO ENLARGE

The lining is made from a cream leather, which is padded around the ankle. This padding, happily, is not bulky and the leather lining covering it is mostly aerated, presumably to absorb sweat. The heel cup itself is sensibly nice and smooth. You do not want the heel of your boot to grip your sock at the back of your heel, as that’s a sure recipe for blisters. The padding has conformed nicely to the shape of my ankle, so the fit is secure.

The lace fastenings are made from a rust-proof alloy, with a locking hook over the instep, which means that you can have different tensions over your forefoot and around your ankle. There is a fairly hefty rubber rand around, and partially over, the toe box. The external heel stabiliser is made from a firmer rubber and is in a nice vibrant orange, that I quite like.

NEW ECCO BIOM HIKES

NEW ECCO BIOM HIKES – CLICK TO ENLARGE

 

WORN-IN ECCO BIOM HIKES

WORN-IN ECCO BIOM HIKES – CLICK TO ENLARGE

The sole unit seems to be made by Ecco themselves. I really like this sole unit; It grips smooth wet rock really well, it does not clog up with mud, it has a deep tread and so is good in mud. It is really quite “squidgy”, which makes walking along roads and hard-track a very comfortable experience. You will have noticed when comparing the two pictures of the sole that there has been absolutely no discernable wear over two hundred miles. I am light on my feet compared to most walkers – I get two thousand miles from a pair of Scarpa Nepals with a Vibram sole – but I would suggest that these will be almost as hard wearing. Time will tell.

Your forefeet feel quite low to the ground, which feels good on rough ground as you feel in contact with it rather than teetering over it. It’s good for balance.

I was amazed at how comfortable these boots were straight from the box. They are very flexible and the sole unit gives you a soft ride on hard surfaces.

One thing I have noticed about these boots is the way that there is a lot of grip and rubber under the forefoot. Take a look at quite a few hiking boots, and you will notice that recently there‘s less and less rubber under the forefoot – the place that gets most wear. The same applies to the rear of the heel – these boots are solid rubber here, where a lot of the competition have far less rubber – it’s almost as if other boot manufacturers are building in a shorter life-time to your boots on purpose.

So - Absolutely full marks so far for these boots.

Is there anything I would like to see changed?

The laces. Let’s be honest, these laces might look gorgeous, with ‘biom’ emblazoned along the lace and lovely brass lace-ends, but these laces stretch. They stretch by a good 10-15% when under tension. This makes getting the tension right a real problem. The extra stretch, coupled with my slim feet means I have yards of lacing left over, so I have lace back down the boot before tying off. A bit of a pain, really. Ecco need to sort this out. I know Robin Evans has mentioned this in the past, and I agree whole-heartedly with him.

The fit. I would love it if Ecco could make these boots with a lower volume, as I had to faff around a bit to get them to fit, but I know that it costs a huge amount to do this – there would be a massive cost to doubling the number of lasts and it would add to stocking costs as well.

As it is, the boots ended up with slightly bulbous toes as I pulled the boot to fit around my slim feet. – not a deal breaker, but it did look a bit clumsy.

***

To conclude:

  • Even with a slim low volume foot I found a way to make these boots fit me. This is highly unusual. I think it is because the Yak leather upper is very supple and conformed to my feet with careful lacing and volume adjustment under my Superfeet footbeds. These boots went through a week of incredible bogginess and rain on the first week of the TGO Challenge and never let a drop of water through to my socks. I am totally sold on Yak leather. It is a wonder material! Yak leather does not need a “waterproof membrane.” Well done Ecco!
  • The leather lining and ankle padding could not be better.
  • The sole unit is quite simply the best I have ever walked in – and I have walked in a huge variety of boots and shoes! The sole unit is built to last.
  • The boots are supple and very flexible which means they are comfortable from the box. I have only ever experienced this from trail shoes – never from boots.
  • The lacing system is superb.
  • The laces are NOT good. Replace them as soon as you get them!

Would I buy them with my own money? – A big fat “yes!”

Sunday, 29 June 2014

TGO Challenge 2014: Part 5: Let's stick together




Come on, come on, let's stick together
You know we made a vow not to leave one another, never
 
***
Between us, our little band of brothers have completed nigh on forty Challenges. And with all those Challenges under our belts I’ve learned a few things; Chiefly, I cannot abide walking in tight huddles. Not for me the tightly packed military column of Challengers in perfect step, poles swinging together like metronomes. No Sir! When the mood takes us we can be found together, but more often than not great distances separate us. That way, we experience more curlew, more outdoors and vastly more happiness when trundling along. Other Challengers have commented that they find this strange but to us it's perfectly natural. Besides, it prevents World War III breaking out.

PHIL'S PIC: ME IN MONADH LIATH HEAVEN
PHIL'S PIC: IN MONADHLIATH HEAVEN. BUT SHORTLY THIS ENTIRE VIEW WILL BE THE STRONELAIRG WIND FARM – CLICK TO ENLARGE

We try to keep within eye-shot of each other, which can be tricky with Andy these days, as now he’s lost nigh on eighty pounds, he's a bloody racing snake, and he’s generally an orange speck in the distance. On the whole it works, and if the chap in front does lose contact, it’s good form to hang about to let the others catch up. Just occasionally he might need to retrace his steps in case there’s a problem behind, but this doesn’t happen that often. When it does, he realises that the other two buggers have scarpered and left him. Mates, eh?

LOOKING SW TO THE SPEY
LOOKING S.W. TO THE HEAD OF THE SPEY – CLICK TO ENLARGE

SAME AS ABOVE BUT WITH TWO MEN IN THE WAY
SAME AS ABOVE BUT WITH TWO MEN IN THE WAY – CLICK TO ENLARGE

DISTANT MAD'N'BAD
DISTANT MAD'N'BAD, WAITING FOR THE STRAGGLERS – CLICK TO ENLARGE

TOGETHER
TOGETHER – CLICK TO ENLARGE

GIVE US A SIGN, LORD!
GIVE US A SIGN, LORD!

ANDY'S PICTURE: DAVE MACHIN, PHIL & ME
ANDY'S PICTURE: DAVE MACHIN, PHIL & ME – CLICK TO ENLARGE

ANDY & PHIL, GLEN FESHIE
ANDY & PHIL, GLEN FESHIE – CLICK TO ENLARGE

GLEN FESHIE
GLEN FESHIE – CLICK TO ENLARGE

PHIL'S PICTURE: ME, GLEN FESHIE
PHIL'S PICTURE: ME, GLEN FESHIE – CLICK TO ENLARGE

GLEN FESHIE
GLEN FESHIE – CLICK TO ENLARGE

PHIL, UPPER FESHIE
PHIL, UPPER FESHIE – CLICK TO ENLARGE

ANDY'S PICTURE: RIVER FESHIE
ANDY'S PICTURE: RIVER FESHIE – CLICK TO ENLARGE

UPPER FESHIE
UPPER FESHIE – CLICK TO ENLARGE


MY SLIGHTLY SHAKY VIDEO OF THE EIDART WATERFALL – ANDY IS WALKING TOWARDS BRIDGE AT TOP OF FRAME FOR SCALE

 
GELDIE BURN

GELDIE BURN

 

DAWN, GELDIE BURN

DAWN, GELDIE BURN – CLICK TO ENLARGE


EARLY MORNING COFFEE

EARLY MORNING COFFEE, GELDIE BURN – CLICK TO ENLARGE

 

ANDY'S PICTURE: KKK MEETING @ FIFE ARMS
ANDY'S PICTURE: KKK MEETING @ FIFE ARMS

So, this means you have now caught up with us at Braemar. There will be a short hiatus, as we head for the bar in the Fife Arms for some well-earned rehydration.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

TGO Challenge 2014: Part 4: A walk through Stronelairg




Don't it always seem to go 
That you don't know what you've got 
Till it's gone 
They paved paradise 
And put up a parking lot

***


Shamefully, Highland Council had already approved the Stronelairg Upland Power Station - the biggest wind farm so far for the Highlands of Scotland. Now, all that stood in the way of its construction was the Scottish Government’s possible refusal. Recently, the S.G. had made great claims about protecting wild land, and their own agency, Scottish National Heritage (SNH), had opposed Stronelairg. Folk like Cameron McNeish (an ardent SNP & Scottish Independence supporter) queued up to proclaim the SNP’s protection of wild land. They assured us that we “could trust the SNP Government.”

STRONELAIRG, MONADH LIATH, SCOTLAND
STRONELAIRG, MONADH LIATH, SCOTLAND “A SUITABLE LOCATION FOR A POWER STATION” – CLICK TO ENLARGE

Well, now we all know how that turned out. The Scottish Government rubber-stamped Stronelairg, but yet even today McNeish, and his SNP chums, is celebrating the fact that his Government has now approved the modified SNH Wild Land map, which of course deleted protection for the Stronelairg area of the Monadh Liath. In fact it does not include the Dell Wind Farm, the Corriegarth Wind Farm or the Moriston Wind Farm either. Protecting Wild Land? Don’t make me laugh. These Shysters have just given the green light to surround Scotland’s National Parks and National Scenic Areas with wind turbines. They have ghetto-ised the remaining wild land and condemned it to strangulation.

Being realistic, and knowing how the SNP Government operates, I knew that this was inevitable. That’s why I planned our route for this TGO Challenge to pass right through the heart of the Stronelairg Upland Power Station. I also planned our annual Cheese & Wine Party to be amongst the proposed turbine locations. The party was to be a last send off for the Monadh Liath, a “Last Hurrah” for the wild places.

Here’s a map of our route. Just the Ft Augustus start is missing. I have quite deliberately used Scottish & Southern Energy’s (Stronelairg’s developers) own map for today’s post. They can sue my arse off for all I care. I wouldn’t put it past the contemptible shits.

STRONELAIRG UPLAND POWER STATION
STRONELAIRG UPLAND POWER STATION – CLICK TO ENLARGE


The next few pictures will give you a flavour for what the SNP-led Scottish Government thinks is an appropriate place for a power station. I wonder if you agree with them:

VIEW WEST FROM THE NORTHERN LIP OF THE STRONELAIRG BOWLVIEW WEST FROM THE NORTHERN LIP OF THE STRONELAIRG BOWL – CLICK TO ENLARGE

PHIL'S PIC OF HAUL ROAD & MILLENNIUM WIND FARM
PHIL'S PIC OF HAUL ROAD & MILLENNIUM WIND FARM; THIS IS A TIDDLER COMPARED TO STRONELAIRG – CLICK TO ENLARGE


ANOTHER OF MILLENNIUM FROM NORTHERN RIM OF STRONELAIRG
ANOTHER OF MILLENNIUM FROM THE NORTHERN RIM OF STRONELAIRG – CLICK TO ENLARGE

STRONELAIRG, MONADH LIATH
STRONELAIRG, MONADH LIATH, SCOTLAND: A “SUITABLE LOCATION FOR A WIND FARM”  – CLICK TO ENLARGE

VIEW ALONG THE LENGTH OF STRONELAIRG
VIEW ALONG THE LENGTH OF STRONELAIRG – CLICK TO ENLARGE

STRONELAIRG, EXHILARATING  WILD LAND
STRONELAIRG, EXHILARATING  WILD LAND – CLICK TO ENLARGE


SOON TO BE MADE HOMELESS BY A FOREST OF WIND TURBINES
SOON TO BE MADE HOMELESS BY A FOREST OF WIND TURBINES

Phil and I walked the length of Stronelairg, some 6 miles long, often bumping into Chris Townsend and his friend Tony Hobbs. Chris was also taking lots of pictures. We were both anxious to capture the true magnificence of this incredible landscape, which is now about to be desecrated.

Fortunately we had a wonderful gang of Challengers turn up to celebrate the Monadh Liath together at the Cheese & Wine Party, and Dave & Val Machin (who had recently celebrated their golden wedding anniversary!) came up trumps again and arrived with a wonderful spread to add to every Challenger’s own contribution. What a fabulous couple!

Here are few pictures of wonderful people all having a great time in what I believe is the best back-packing country in Britain:

CHEESE & WINE 2014 (1)
CHEESE & WINE 2014 (1) – CLICK TO ENLARGE

CHEESE & WINE 2014 (2)
CHEESE & WINE 2014 (2) – CLICK TO ENLARGE

CHEESE & WINE 2014 (2A)
CHEESE & WINE 2014 (2A) – CLICK TO ENLARGE

PHIL'S PICTURE: CHEESE & WINE 2014 (2B)
PHIL'S PICTURE: CHEESE & WINE 2014 (2B) – CLICK TO ENLARGE

CHEESE & WINE 2014 (3)
CHEESE & WINE 2014 (3) – CLICK TO ENLARGE

PHIL'S PICTURE: CHEESE & WINE 2014 (4)
PHIL'S PICTURE: CHEESE & WINE 2014 (4) – CLICK TO ENLARGE

SUNSET, CHEESE & WINE 2014 (5)
SUNSET, CHEESE & WINE 2014 (5) – CLICK TO ENLARGE


We had had a wonderful day, The weather was kind, the Challengers warm & friendly. And the landscape was the star of the show: Absolutely stunning.

The SNP Government thinks that this is a suitable location for an Upland Power Station. They should hang their heads in shame. Never, ever let them forget what they have done.

The Scottish Government has signed the death warrant for one of the world’s magnificent wild places.

Here is a very rough and ready hand held video I took from the northern rim of the Stronelairg bowl. Please excuse the quality and concentrate on the fabulous scenery that will soon be gone forever.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

TGO Challenge 2014: Part 3: Consequences.

Jake_and_Elwood_in_car_at_night_Hit_It1

Lord Elpus: It's a hundred and six miles to Braemar, we've got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it's dark, and we're wearing sunglasses.

Mad’n’Bad: Hit it.

***

DAY 3: MORNING ON LOCH QUOICH

DAY 3: MORNING ON LOCH QUOICH – CLICK TO ENLARGE

DAY THREE:

Lying all snug in Oook & Trinnie, drinking my breakfast Ovaltine, I’m looking at the maps and thinking about the next two days. Yesterday’s shortfall has consequences:

  • We’re now quite a bit behind our schedule.
  • I’ve had very little sleep because my knee aches like hell. Every time I turn over there’s a sharp jabby pain.
  • We still have a good couple of hours to slog our way around the boggy shoreline of Loch Quoich before we reach the Loch Hourn road.
  • The weather is turning decidedly cold and squally.
  • We have a B&B booked in Fort Augustus in two night’s time.

TGO2014 DAYS 3&4

TGO2014 DAYS 3&4 – CLICK TO ENLARGE

It’s time for a re-think. After yesterday’s epic we need an easier day today to recover, but we still need to get to Fort Augustus on schedule for our night of luxury in a B&B. Our original route along the ridge above Glen Garry now looks too big an ask, and so after a bit of a conflab we decide that once the road is reached we’ll trundle along the length of Loch Quoich and then continue to  the Tomdoun Hotel. After the Tomdoun it will be a bigger day through the forest, to Invergarry for a late lunch and then a bit of a slog up the canal to Fort Augustus. Phil had done this day before,with David, his brother-in-law,  ten years ago.

There is a brief hysterical moment when both my cartographically challenged companions try to convince me that our current position is a good two hours further west, and that even our current night’s target of reaching the Tomdoun will be a complete bastard. Until, that is, I point out that we had already crossed the nasty gorgey river last night at half past eight in the evening in the pissing rain.

With that, happiness returns once more to our merry band of brothers. Andy reminds us that we need to call or text Alistair, to let him him know we are not going to be where intended as we were due to meet and camp with him on the ridge.

PHIL'S PICTURE: INCOMING

PHIL'S PICTURE: INCOMING – CLICK TO ENLARGE

As expected, the shoreline around the rest of Loch Quoich is a bit of a pig. but it’s taken steadily. We are lucky with the last river before the road; We tip toe across it in our shoes on a little stony built path.  We make the road in reasonable order, just as the first squally rain shower hits.

VENISON STEAKS

VENISON STEAKS

 

I BEG YOUR  PARDON?

I BEG YOUR  PARDON?

So now it’s an amble along the minor road alongside Loch Quoich – and the weather  goes from this:

MORE INCOMING

MORE INCOMING – CLICK TO ENLARGE

to this, with Phil rolling up his sleeves and me with my sun hat on.

ANDY'S PICTURE: BRIEF ROAD RESPITE

ANDY'S PICTURE: BRIEF ROAD RESPITE – CLICK TO ENLARGE

There are a couple of small River Hydro plants just completing construction along the way, and so we settle down for a good spot of lunch at the second. The weather is now gorgeous.

PHIL'S PICTURE. LUNCH AT 2ND HYDRO PLANT

PHIL'S PICTURE. LUNCH AT 2ND HYDRO PLANT – CLICK TO ENLARGE

Eventually the horrid business of shouldering our packs and trudging down the road pushes its way to the fore. Ticking off landmarks, we come across the turning for Poulary and the track from Kinbreack Bothy, and wonder if we were going to see any Challengers. Sure enough, right on cue, up pops Jim Taylor: A truly lovely man, Jim is ninety one and three quarters years old. His pack is covered by an old bin liner. He has had a dunking in the Kingie and had taken things off to dry but had left his new pack cover hanging from a tree. He has bent his waking pole quite badly but has bashed it to more-or-less straight again.

We ask him if he would like a cup of tea at the Tomdoun, as we are likely to get there well before him. He politely declines, saying that he can’t be bothered with stoves and hot drinks. He’s quite happy with his oat cakes and a little water. (Jim went on to finish his twentieth Challenge, a day ahead of us.)

FORLORN TOMDOUN HOTEL

FORLORN TOMDOUN HOTEL – CLICK TO ENLARGE

After our sixteen mile day, we arrive at the Tomdoun at a reasonable sixish o’clock and decide that there’s no point going any further as we know the next day is “do-able” with no obstacles. We’re joined by Andy, who parks his Akto in front of the bar, and Jim, who parks his Laser Comp around the side with Phil. Jim dives into his tent and we don’t see him again until morning. My knee is feeling no better at all and to be perfectly honest, this was enough for today. I need a good rest now and a decent night’s sleep.

PHIL'S PICTURE - TOMDOUN HOTEL

PHIL'S PICTURE – ANDY (x2) AND ME, TOMDOUN HOTEL

The Tomdoun’s been closed and on the market for a few years now. If it’s not sold soon I can’t see it ever being sold as a hotel again. Already some down-pipes are broken, slates are missing from the roof and when peeking inside it looks very damp as ceiling paper is hanging down and large water stains are evident everywhere. It’s dreadfully sad, but I suppose its decline was inevitable, as it’s stuck half way along a dead end single-track road in the Western Highlands. It would make a fabulous building plot for a new house or group of houses, which is what I expect will happen.

TOMDOUN DINING ROOM

TOMDOUN DINING ROOM

 

TOMDOUN BAR

TOMDOUN BAR – NO TOP-SHELF CHALLENGES THESE DAYS.

 

TOMDOUN B&B

TOMDOUN B&B – CLICK TO ENLARGE

 

DAY FOUR:

There’s quite a lot of condensation this morning as it has been a damp, still night. Jim’s away a good hour before us and the other Andy follows shortly after. We get away at a respectable (for us) time of before eight o’clock. We’ve a biggish day to do, but decide on a strategy of a quarter of an hour rest every five km, with an hour for lunch, which should get us to Fort Augustus around six thirty.

PHIL'S PICTURE: TOMDOUN

PHIL'S PICTURE: TOMDOUN – CLICK TO ENLARGE

 

PHIL'S PICTURE: THE WAY AHEAD

PHIL'S PICTURE: THE WAY AHEAD – CLICK TO ENLARGE

 

It’s a lovely day again, if a touch chilly and soon we’re crossing Loch Garry on the Bailey Bridge.

PHIL'S PICTURE: LOCH GARRY

PHIL'S PICTURE: LOCH GARRY – CLICK TO ENLARGE

We pass a few camping Challengers (David Brown & Emma?) and have our 5k rest stop a little further on.

ANDY'S MICROPORE CHALLENGE

ANDY'S MICROPORE CHALLENGE – LAST YEAR EVERY AVAILABLE DIGIT WAS COVERED IN MICROPORE

At this point the Lovely Emma (this girl is always smiling!) comes along. Phil trips her over. Andy sits on her. I ply her with Werther’s Originals and Jelly Babies. Finally she agrees to walk with us through the deep dark forest. It is as well we have polite company as our crew have now been together for over three days and frankly we are sick to the back teeth with each other.

EMMA, ANDY & PHIL

EMMA, ANDY & PHIL – CLICK TO ENLARGE

We are all very brave. We face bovine perils with no more than a nod to the head honcho as we weave our way through their hairyness:

HAIRY COOS

HAIRY COOS

DADDY HAIRY COO

DADDY HAIRY COO – CLICK TO ENLARGE

 

LIFTED FROM EMMA WARBRICK!

LIFTED FROM EMMA WARBRICK’S PHOTOS

Emma took this picture, because the back drop is the ridge where we should be, had things gone rather better on the second day. Notice the beautiful Millennium Wind Farm. The Scots sure know how to respect their landscapes…

None of us have our maps out as we all know this bit of Scotland like the back of our hands. We have fallen naturally into two groups, usually within eye-shot of each other, the fast pair in the front (Emma & Andy) and the rest dragging up the rear. I realise something is wrong when I can hear heavy traffic on a road above us to our right. There is a river flowing towards us on our right. There is a house that I have never seen before. This is bizarre. I ask Phil to pull the map from my rucksack lid, and sure enough we are in The Wrong Place. There is no sign of A&E and so after waiting for their inevitable return to see what was up, which does not materialise, we backtrack to where we should have gone straight ahead on the track over the bridge (that we do not recall) over a river.

Andy will be fine. He goes off on his own all the time. He’ll understand our not turning up.

Anyway. We then spot a riverside path on the map that will cut off a few hundred yards and link up with the minor road to the Mandallays. This is brilliant, except after ten minutes of increasing bush-whacking, the path peters out into stones and riverside bog and then finally to nothing at all. Backtracking once again, we find a new track that leads us to a new foot bridge over the river. The forestry track bridge has gone, which is why we did not spot it - either torn away in a flood or blown up, or taken away by aliens. Whatever the reason, its absence has just added over a mile to our already biggish day. Ho hum.

Phil & I fall upon the Invergarry Hotel and order enormous baguettes and three pints apiece, for valour. Ordinarily, faced with a plateful this size I would have baulked. But not today. Three and a half day out in the muddy wild and this baby was mine! I can thoroughly recommend the Invergarry Hotel’s baguettes.

After a little while Andy joins us. He is fine. No. Honestly, he is fine about being left in the middle of sod-all explaining to a pretty woman that it was perfectly normal for your mates to leave you in the lurch and that it happens all the time. Then the party gets bigger with the arrival of Alistair and then David Brown. This is all quite lovely and we really don’t want to move from this wonderful place.

ANDY'S PICTURE

ANDY'S PICTURE: WE’RE FEELING MUCH BETTER FOR THAT - CLICK TO ENLARGE

So now we’re joined by Alistair as we trudge, nimbly, I might add, up the ‘A’ road towards Bridge of Oich. It’s still a fine day and waggling your pointy waking poles seems to deter the motorists and truckers. Apart from one, who with nothing coming from the other direction almost wipes us out. He could have had great fun picking Paramo and Osprey out of his radiator grille when he got home.

We make the bridge in good order and pause to take photographs of the swing bridge and the old bridge:

PHIL'S PICTURE: BRIDGE OF OICH

PHIL'S PICTURE: BRIDGE OF OICH – CLICK TO ENLARGE

 

PHIL'S PICTURE: SWING BRIDGE

PHIL'S PICTURE: SWING BRIDGE – CLICK TO ENLARGE

I’ll be honest – there is little pleasure in the last four or five miles along the Caledonian Canal. My knee is starting to bitch like hell and the general knackeredness from the first three days is catching up with me again. Our party is slowing up, but still broadly on our schedule. We take a long break on a pathside bench, and Andy covers his feet in yet more Micropore.

PHIL'S PICTURE OF ANDY'S MICROPORE

PHIL'S PICTURE OF ANDY'S MICROPORE

Alistair has a phone call to make to his children in Fort Augustus and so zooms off at enormous speed so he can read them bed-time stories. What a lovely man. Then from behind we are overhauled by David Brown. He’s going well.

DAVID BROWN ON THE CALEDONIAN CANAL PATH

DAVID BROWN ON THE CALEDONIAN CANAL PATH – CLICK TO ENLARGE

I limp into Fort Augustus completely knackered, dump the rucksack at the B&B and wander down the lock staircase to buy some cheese & wine for tomorrow night’s party. I bump into John & Norma, who both look fresh and relaxed. I feel like a train crash alongside them!

However, a shower, a few coffees, and the washing done and I’m back up to speed again and down to the pub, where the Usual Suspects are gathered. A huge fish & chips later and a few pints and all is well with our world.

At last, we’re back on track.