Radio Four ‘Thought for the Day’ aficionados will doubtless be aware of Rabbi Lionel Blue and his wry & gentle sense of humour. However, I expect not many will know that Lionel (with his mother) was one of our first TGO Challengers, completing his crossing back in the late eighties. It was of this Challenge, when his Mum was helicoptered out of Knoydart, that he wrote these immortal lines:
The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!
I can tell you with heartfelt certainty that I know exactly how Lionel felt on that difficult day. Our difficult day went like this:
The route was simple. Here’s a snippet from our route-sheet for the day [Click to enlarge it]
And here’s the map for that particular day: [Again, if you wish, you can click on it to make it bigger.]
The plan was to walk from the green marker pin, at the bottom left of the map, to the red marker flag at the top right of the map. However, as we had stopped slightly short on the previous day we would now be starting from the red marker flag at the very bottom of the map. This should be no big deal as it was but a mile of extra walking along the valley at the beginning of the day.
So what’s the other red maker flag, then, the one marked ‘Waypoint 80’ in the middle of the map? Well that’s where we finished our day, at 9:15 in the evening, totally knackered. Here’s the map again, at a scale of 1:50k that you can refer to for a better overview, with just the area that was covered that day::
[CLICK TO ENLARGE – IT WILL OPEN IN A NEW WINDOW]
We set off jauntily enough and after a short while crossed back over the Carnach after just avoiding stepping in the suppurating remains of a sheep carcase. The view forwards looked like this:
ANDY'S PICTURE: LOOKING NORTH UP THE CARNACH – CLICK TO ENLARGE
Andy and I had a little rest here, as Phil had a sudden Immodium Moment. Looking back, you can see Phil catching us up again, looking mightily relieved.
LOOKING BACK TO PHIL, CATCHING UP – CLICK TO ENLARGE
Even though we were looking out for it, we missed the path shown on the map that climbed the hillside at about this point, as we sauntered up this delightful glen.
DELIGHTFUL [THE GLEN, THAT IS] – CLICK TO ENLARGE
Here’s another of us having a lovely time:
ANDY'S SLIGHTLY BLURRED PICTURE
We started our first gorge clamber about here, where our path led us down to the wonderful tumbling River Carnach.
ANDY'S PIC OF RIVER CARNACH AT START OF 1st GORGE – CLICK TO ENLARGE
This wasn’t perilous, by any stretch of the imagination, but there one or two tricky moments where a slip could have meant a nasty tumble down to the rocks below. It only lasted for ten minutes or so. Of course, as soon as we extricated ourselves we looked back and saw a beautiful path coming down the hillside and though a gateway to meet us. So we stopped to have a rest and a bite of second breakfast.
PHIL CHECKING TO SEE HOW ON EARTH WE HAD MISSED THE PATH – CLICK TO ENLARGE
We trotted off once more and found the ruin marked on the map, in a truly delightful upper section of the Carnach, as you can see from the next picture, which had us heading on a north easterly direction for a mile or so.
THE RUIN [AND PHIL] – CLICK TO ENLARGE
Now the glen took on a more wild aspect; it really did feel like the “rough bounds of Knoydart” here It’s a mixture of bare rock and bog underfoot and the river has wonderful waterfalls.
HEADING N.E. UP THE CARNACH – CLICK TO ENLARGE
At the end of the ‘north east’ section we decided to stop and have a bite to eat as it was almost lunchtime. At this point a Dutch chap caught us up and joked “Have you seen the old guy with the enormous rucksack? I left him in the gorge. He didn’t look too steady on his feet!” We pointed him in the direction he should go (anywhere but with us, PLEASE!) as he was on a variant of the Cape Wrath Trail, which meant we sent him straight up the hillside and over Mam Unndalain.
I’ll now show you a blown up version of the last map, to make things a little clearer:
TGOC2014 DAY 2 ACTUAL, ZOOMED – CLICK TO ENLARGE
Our planned route had us now heading slightly south of east through the valley floor alongside the river. Quite delightful; but this is what we were looking at: Big cliffs dropping into the north side of the river and a jumble of rocks on the south side. (No mention of that on the map, mind!)
DIRECTION OF TRAVEL: ANDY EXPLORING THE JUMBLE OF BOULDERS ON THE SOUTH BANK – CLICK TO ENLARGE
Over lunch we had pondered climbing up the hillside to the immediate north of us to gain the track that then headed eastwards. But that meant a clamber of about five hundred feet up a steep, greasy and boggy hillside. Instead, we decided to investigate the right bank of the river. In practice, that meant sending Andy into our second gorge of the day. He’s a good man.
Okay. Cards on the table: With hindsight, this was a daft idea. Now take a look at that last map closely. You’ll see that at this point, the OS’s cartographers couldn’t draw all four 10m contours between the thicker 50m contours, as there wasn’t enough room to cram them all in. Ho hum…
After Andy assured me and Phil that “it would go,” it went like this:
ANDY: “Now there’s a finger hold for your left hand just up there. There’s a really good one for your right hand over there – no, higher – you’ll have to stretch for it. Now swing your right leg round this rock for a toehold. No. There’s nothing for your left foot; You’ll just have to swing your left leg round the rock and let it dangle. Now – Just shimmy up that crack and wriggle your way up…”
ME: “Are you Effing Mad??? I can’t pull my arse up that! Haven’t you noticed; I’m carrying a sodding great rucksack! I’m not shimmying up anything, Mate!”
ANDY: (Evenly) “It’s that or go back the way we came, Buddy.”
ME: (After a pause and an undignified lunge for various finger and foot-holds) “FUCK! That hurt.”
I had swung my left left leg around the rock and wacked my knee incredibly painfully against the rock I was swinging it round. I did manage to shimmy and wriggle my way up the crack though. Phil seemed to manage the manoeuvre with a great deal more aplomb than I could muster…
Andy doled out a few more impromptu climbing lessons in the next half hour to his very reluctant pupil, who by now was very sore, hot & bothered, and more than a little irked with himself for choosing this utterly barmy route variant, when there was probably a perfectly good path a mere 500 feet up the hillside on the other side of the river, which was now a bit of a torrent in the gorge below us.
Purely for your edification and utter delight, I’ll now post a Forestry Map of the area, at 1:10k scale, which I found after the Challenge, which shows the path on the north side of the river, following a beautiful balcony route all the way to Lochan nam Breac. *SIGH*.
TGOC2014 DAY 2. 1/10,000 FORESTRY MAPPING – CLICK TO ENLARGE
So, encumbered as we were with our wonderful choice of route, we slithered and grunted our way over and under rocky outcrops, slowly gaining height in sloppy bog to get away from the madness of the gorge.
JUST BOG & TUSSOCKS NOW. PHEW! – CLICK TO ENLARGE
ALLELUJAH! LOCHAN NAM BREAC IN THE DISTANCE – CLICK TO ENLARGE
ANDY'S PICTURE. DESCENDING TO OUTFLOW OF LOCHAN NAM BREAC – CLICK TO ENLARGE
We crossed the river at about Easting 904 on a huge rock-fall of boulders that had bridged the river. We then worked our way up to the old path on the north side of the river. We had to wait for a good while as Phil, to his distress, suffered another Immodium Moment.
He caught us up, and so we had a second lunch, (with Phil opting for a modest, if slightly bland repast of yet more Immodium) as the worst now seemed to be over… Oh dear…
PHIL, AFTER SWALLOWING YET MORE IMMODIUM – CLICK TO ENLARGE
Onwards! So our heroes are now at about Easting 910 (look at the map – it’s what it’s there for – Come to think of it, I wish I had looked a little closer when I was planning the route…) and now on a fairly decent path that comes and goes but it’s difficult to lose it. Looking back, the path on the north side of the River Carnach does look pretty good, if a trifle boggy. Ho hum. We’ll put it down to experience then.
LOOKING BACK TO THE CARNACH'S UPPER GORGE – CLICK TO ENLARGE
The path climbs and weaves its way wonderfully until it almost drops down to the western end of Lochan nam Breac, where we took the following snaps:
WESTERN END OF LOCHAN NAM BREAC – CLICK TO ENLARGE
LOCHAN NAM BREAC: WILD STUFF – CLICK TO ENLARGE
PHIL'S PICTURE: SOUTH SIDE OF LOCHAN NAM BREAC – CLICK TO ENLARGE
OBLIGATORY PICTURE OF WELL-LIT TREE @ LOCHAN NAM BREAC – CLICK TO ENLARGE
The path then climbs again to thread its way wonderfully through the crags and tiny meadows…
to drop you neatly at the eastern end of the lochan.
What a place! I can honestly say that this particular spot is one of the most achingly beautiful places I’ve ever been to in Scotland. There’s a silver sand beach, cropped green grass and a view that beats them all. It’s like standing just inside the western doorway of a wonderful cathedral and staring down to a magnificent altar window. Quite awe inspiring.
LOCHAN NAM BREAC, LOOKING WEST – CLICK TO ENLARGE
The path crosses the inflow of the loch at this point and it looks shallow to a little sandy island in the middle, so we all paddle across in our shoes. The hop over to the south shore looks a little deeper so Andy held his shoes in his hands and waded across. I wish I had videoed this, as he plunged headlong into the water, plunging his shoes in first, as the sand beneath him suddenly dropped away. Mates, eh?
PHIL'S PICTURE. I'M STILL GRINNING AT ANDY'S ANTICS – CLICK TO ENLARGE
ANDY'S PICTURE OF SEMI-NAKED MEN – CLICK TO ENLARGE
ANDY'S PICTURE [DESPERATELY HOPING WE WERE GOING TO FALL IN] – CLICK TO ENLARGE
It was as we were sitting down in the sunshine drinking in the view and trying to get all the sand from between our toes that we realised it was now a quarter to five in the afternoon and we had come a grand distance of…
…. just four and three quarters of a mile.
Nothing for it but to press on.
There were still some little climbs to do on our way to Loch Quoich, but the views back west were simply breath-taking. Here’s my favourite picture of our Challenge. It’s Phil heading away from Lochan nam Breac.
PHIL & LOCHAN NAM BREAC, KNOYDART – CLICK TO ENLARGE
.ANDY'S PICTURE – CLICK TO ENLARGE
ANDY'S PICTURE OF ME – CLICK TO ENLARGE
Finally, we made the dams at the western end of Loch Quoich, which is an unusual loch as it is dammed at both ends, being as it’s on the watershed. Now there are a few pictures to come of Loch Quoich, as it was so good to finally get there!
LOCH QUOICH (1) CLICK TO ENLARGE
LOCH QUOICH (2) – CLICK TO ENLARGE
LOCH QUOICH (3) – CLICK TO ENLARGE
We now beetled along the eastern end of the Loch, pausing on each of the two dams to take the next two pictures of our last look back into the heart of Knoydart.
LAST LOOK AT KNOYDART (1) – CLICK TO ENLARGE
LAST LOOK AT KNOYDART (2) BEN ADEN – CLICK TO ENLARGE
So now, time really was getting on, and it was obvious that we were not going to do our planned day, so after a quick conflab we decided that it would be a smart move to get over the one really iffy river crossing today, as the weather looked like it was going to turn for the worse. Our wonderful Vetter, Colin Crawford, had warned us that the Abhainn Chosaidh could be a right bastard in spate as it’s chock full of large boulders which means the river is deep and fast around them. So it was best to get that over & done with today while the chances of a low crossing were still good.
That was still another three miles away along the very rough shore-line of Loch Quoich, so we knuckled down and plodded first along the old road and when that disappeared along the best line amongst the boggy tussocks that we could make. I took a purler along this section, banging my already hurty knee. We arrived at the Abhainn Chosaidh at about 8:30 – it was in a nasty little gorge and after finding a half decent crossing point, it started to piss down with nasty cold rain. Oh great.
Safely across we set off, by now very keen to get the shelters up as quickly as possible. but there was nothing. For ages. And Ages.
Here’s look back at the magnificent country at this point:
We prodded various bits of ground disconsolately with our walking poles, and eventually plumped for a very unprepossessing looking spot at 9:15pm. Knackered. And just a little bit fed up with the day, which was grossly mean of us as it had been through some of the most wonderful scenery in the world!.
However, we made it our home for the night and before too long we had the stoves on and the flasks passed around. We felt heaps better. Here’s a picture taken the next morning. Nice, eh?
PICTURE OF LOCH QUOICH CAMP – CLICK TO ENLARGE
Okay, Lionel Blue’s Mum had been helicoptered out, but we were only half a day behind schedule. I think we can cope with that.