(or WHERE’S DAVE?)
We had spent the night in the bothy at A Chuil as the rain continued and blustery winds shook the roof every now and then. It’s lovely to sit in a chair at a table and prepare breakfast and not have to worry about packing away a soggy tent.
Breakfast for me typically consists of a cheese roll, a couple of Granola bars or Cadbury’s breakfast bars, hot orange and coffee; the hot orange made by simply slipping a Vitamin C fizzy tablet into a mug of hot water. I tend to still be slightly dehydrated from the previous day’s exertions so try to drink lots of fluids in the morning. No washing up is required.
We had discussed today’s route over the past few days and as time progressed it looked increasingly clear that the forecasters had it about right. It was going to be very rough, wet and cold out there today.
So, our Storm Weather Alternative route was adopted: Stroll as best we can along the north shore of Loch Arkaig until a suitable campspot is found and hunker down to see out the worst of the weather. This had the advantage of shortening the next day into Spean Bridge where we looked forward to the relative luxury of a booked B&B.
As we headed out of the bothy it was not too bad; the trees were sheltering us from the weather and so we were quite optimistic. We stopped after ten minutes for Dave to have an undercarriage faff. It seemed he was chafing quite badly and so we stopped for a quarter of an hour as he applied various creams and Micro-pore tape to the softer tissues. Neither Andy nor I could look; The thought alone was nasty enough. Still, Dave seemed to be made of stern stuff as he was still going strong with a puffy knee and groin rot and so we headed on the few miles of forest tracks to Strathan and the open road!
Loch Arkaig is about thirteen long miles long and the road is a delightful switchback full of twists and turns with fierce little hills to make the walk ‘interesting.’ There is perishingly little shelter and the wind was coming from behind and across the loch, smashing the rain into us quite heartily. It was also bloomin’ cold. This made life quite difficult: Road walking is not great at the best of times, and Dave & Andy seem to tramp about like Panzers, slapping their feet down quite hard. This is quite wearing to walk with as they are right noisy buggers. I tend to walk on my own in situations like this, hood up and looking for the good stuff like oily puddles and broken twigs and interesting rocks to talk to.
Andy noticed that Dave was struggling a bit and so we opted to take a short breather in the spruce plantations on the left as soon as there was a gap in the deer fence – which took a long time coming.
Eventually Andy found a suitable spot up the hillside and we spent a fairly miserable ten minutes in the woods getting colder and colder as we scoffed chocolate and granola bars. Still – it was weight off the feet with the rucksacks off, but we needed to get going again to warm up. I had noticed with some despondency that over the intervening fifteen years since I had last come this way, most of the lovely little camping spots were now occupied by static caravans, littering the loch-side like a cheap holiday park. I was beginning to think that we might struggle to find a good pitch later on.
At this point we bumped into the wonderful Gordon Green who was taking a breather and so we teamed up to carry on the bash along the loch. Gordon had already worked out a plan – he was heading for shelter; a bothy on the south side of the loch at Invermallie. This was slightly further than I had promised Andy & Dave, but the thought of ‘indoors’ was enough to spur them on the extra miles. Indeed, the last few miles would be heading west to get to the bothy, but hey, it worked for me!
By now it was really hissing down and at this point we were all together…
Thanks to Andy for the above picture; It’s amazing he got his camera out at all in these conditions. This river is in fact the track to Invermallie bothy. It’s about knee deep at this point and with quite a bit of pressure behind it. We waded the thing for two or three hundred yards until eventually the bothy came into sight:
It stood on a little island with a colossal bog to one side and a very large swollen river taking over the flood plain on the other. It was paradise.
Once inside we decided that all the wet gear should stay downstairs and we would sleep and dine in luxury upstairs. With the waterproofs hanging on nails to dry and rucksacks dragged upstairs, shoes off, we took stock of the situation.
I’m not sure who realised he was missing first but there followed a very greasy moment where we all realised that we had been here some ten minutes and there was no sign of him. But we had all been together only ten minutes before we got to the bothy at the waterfall!
With a sinking feeling, we climbed back into our shoes and clumped back downstairs and climbed back into the waterproofs to head off out into the weather. It was not looking good. I decided to go downstream to the lochside. To be honest I was hoping NOT to find Dave as I was looking for either a floating rucksack or body – I had convinced myself he must have slipped and fallen in. For him not to be with us in the bothy could only mean that he was unable to get to us.
Andy & Gordon headed east down the track the way we had come to see if Dave was just stuck and wondering what to do. Eventually I worked my way along the loch shore and back up to the track, quite relieved not to have found Dave. Gordon was heading back to the bothy and Andy had headed off west along the new upper track track. Eventually we all returned to the bothy, empty handed. By now the track was thigh deep and very difficult to push against and so it was a very glum party that arrived back at the shelter to find Dave strolling in from the south across the bogs.
He had simply missed the turning.
Mightily relieved, we all trooped upstairs and started on hot drinks and food.
You couldn’t make it up, really you couldn’t! The water was coming in through the walls.
Eventually the water level rose up the first stair tread… Outside, it looked like this from the back window:
To be honest, I was too tired to care anymore! It was unlikely to flood upstairs (surely?) and tomorrow was another day.
On a plus note, my new anorak had kept me perfectly dry all day in driving rain. I was pretty damn sure that my Paramo would have failed miserably. See; there is a silver lining!
Today’s route: The purple line (29.8km with about 500m ascent)