Day 4, Monday: Glen Orrin to Cnoc Hotel, Struy
I'm wide awake at quarter past five. Trinnie is bathed in an orange glow. In one balletic leap I'm standing admiring a glorious sunrise to the northeast and I snap away for ten minutes trying to capture Trinnie, the River Orrin and the sun's rays cracking through the ridge line. This involves holding the camera at thigh height, having set the exposure time manually and guessing the framing of the shot as I can't make it out on the screen. About two dozen attempts - all trial and error.
|SUNRISE. GLEN ORRIN|
Of course, all this could be avoided if I just kneel down and shuffle around on my knees for a while, but the ground is soaking after the rain in the night and I'm a wuss. Whatever happened to the old cameras that you held at waist level and looked at the view on the top of the camera? My Dad had one of those...
On every walk I try to pitch Trinnie where she'll catch the morning sunshine. It provides a huge lift to the morning, melts the ice on the shelters and generally makes life bloody marvelous.
Even with all this sunshine it's still bloomin cold at this early hour and so I snuggle back into my bed and put the kettle on for some coffee, Horlicks and hot orange. I'm as thirsty as hell - I really must make more of an effort to drink more when I'm walking.
|COFFEE & A LIE-IN|
Today's forecast of a few days ago, of course virtually meaningless now in the Western Highlands of Scotland, was for a day of heavy showers. As you'll see from the notes on my maps, the choice we face today is either to go for it and head south and clamber over the ridge across rough pathless ground for a day of just 14km to the hotel at Struy, or take the much longer but lower route around the high ground, involving off-piste stuff for the first 4km and then easy tracks.
The first option would mean an early arrival at the hotel with time to sort out our washing and a few beers before dinner. It could also mean a hefty battering from the weather. Option two would mean walking in slightly less rough weather but for longer and arriving at the hotel with no time for beers.
Well, that's a simple choice to make. Over the top it is, with time for beers.
|CLICK TO ENLARGE|
|CLICK TO ENLARGE: SHOWING OUR STORMY WEATHER ROUTE ALTERNATIVE.|
Humphrey's due to head off eastwards so we leave him with a nice stroll down the glen as we brace ourselves for our trip south. We were right; it is very hard work heading up the hillside and a fair few rests are taken. The clouds are building and the temperature's dropping. We're following deer tracks, as the herd knows the best way over a bealach.
|HANDRAILING THE ALLT NA CRICHE. ROUGH GROUND. HARD WORK|
The ridge to the north of Glen Orrin is quite low and our view back reaches a long way north. The cloud is now building quickly and light showers are coming in. Jackets, but not enough for overtrousers.
|LOOKING BACK OVER THE TOP OF GLEN ORRIN|
Pleased as punch we positively gambol down the other side on nibbled turf. The first quarter of an hour is fabulous, following a bubbly caochan downhill until it becomes the Neaty Burn proper. Then it all goes to rat-shit for a while with stumbly heavy heather, awkward clambers up and over the burn bluffs. It's still cold and showers are now coming at us from the west down Glen Strathfarrar. It's all quite knackering.
And then we see a big new road, dead ahead, following the burn downhill.
|ANOTHER HYDRO SCHEME WITH ASSOCIATED ROAD HIGH UP ON THE NEATY BURN|
Of course, it's yet another Mini Hydro Power scheme. The actual works themselves are not wildly intrusive, tucked away at the bottom of the little gorges that they are placed within but the roads that enable the schemes to be built and maintained are horribly so. And they're appearing all over the Highlands because there are massive subsidies to be farmed by the already wealthy landowners. The amount of power they produce is miniscule and all at a terrible cost to wild land.
|PEEKING ROUND THE CORNER TO LOOK UP GLEN STRATHFARRAR SHOWERS|
The old stalkers path down the Neaty Burn has been obliterated by the new road and so we plod somewhat disconsolately down the dirt road wide enough for two trucks to pass each other. The old path chose a line with gentle gradients. This new road dives straight down the hill which is tough on my dodgy left knee. All the wild qualities of this old route have now gone. We're now on a road, heading down to the new housing for the generators - a modern pitched roof construction, not unlike a large house in appearance, surrounded by a large concrete apron and heavy river pebbles.
We sit against the wall for a little shelter from the rain and it's all rather depressing. Dear God. What were they thinking of? They've already screwed huge swathes of Scotland with bloody wind farms and now they're destroying havens of sylvan bliss with houses, concrete and roads. All in the name (and only the name) of supposedly 'green' policies. Had these idiots actually done the maths they would realise they are pissing in the wind and their tokenism is fucking Scotland to the hilt.
We collect the track to the Culligran HEP station, finished in the early sixties, where the power station is underground and the water piped from a few miles up Glen Strathfarrar at Loch Beannachran. This place can produce over 19MW of real worthwhile power, available on demand.
|THE CNOC HOTEL|
Then it's a charming stroll down the old Glen Strathfarrar road into Struy and the Cnoc Hotel. After sorting out a mix up with our bookings we settle in for a few pints before the hotel grind of sorting out four days of dirty socks, pants and shirts, before dinner.
We receive some excellent news by text from Phil. He's on his way to Drumnadrochit! Apparently Miss Whiplash allowed a day or so recuperation back at Lord Elpus Hall before coming up with "Do you know what you need? You need a couple of weeks in Scotland with your mates. That'll sort you out..."
As we dine, Lord Elpus is barreling northwards up the autobahns in his German war machine.
Day 5, Tuesday: Struy to Drumnadrochit
At the appointed hour David taps on my door on his way down to Breakfast. I'm in my shreddies trying to stuff an enormous pile of hiking paraphernalia into my rucsac.
An hour later we check out of the hotel. With two deep baths and a well prepared Full British Breakfast under my belt the world looks a better place. My socks are sweet-smelling and fluffy once again. My hair is no longer sticking to my scalp and my armpits are fragrant.
Hullo birds, hullo sky...
|CLICK TO ENLARGE|
|CLICK TO ENLARGE|
We set off into the Great Beyond, heading south west along Strathglass. You will notice from the top map that we are due to head up into the wild places in a little over a mile at Mauld. However we bowl along and miss our turning entirely. Blimey the conversation must be good. So we turn around and walk back the couple of hundred yards of overshoot to be totally stumped. We stare at the entrance to the hill track in disbelief.
And there it was... Gone.
Unbelievably, whoever owns this little chunk of Scotland has completely blocked off the entrance to the track. The turnout lined by rock retaining walls is still there. But right across the entrance is a substantial deer fence. Behind this, completely filling the width of the track (which is in a cutting) are impenetrable, very closely planted trees, I would say planted at nine inch centres and about four deep. They're close enough to the fence to make climbing it out of the question as you would be tangled in tree branches at the top of the fence.
We investigate climbing over the fence to either side of the entrance. Here the fence is mounted atop a three foot wall, and again there are trees planted very close to the deer fence making climbing over impossible. There is certainly no way through here. At all.
I remember that access here was problematic back in 1998, when Richard White and I had to clamber over a locked gate to gain the track. I also recall that quite a few years ago (I'm guessing about ten) this access issue was discussed at a Highland Council meeting. I had assumed that in all this time the problem would have been sorted, the owners reprimanded and, hopefully, fined and the situation resolved.
But it is not so. These arrogant shits have deliberately flouted the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 and blocked a legitimate route up onto the moor. This is outrageous. I've searched on the Mountaineering Council of Scotland's, the John Muir Trust's and Ramblers Scotland's websites for any mention of access difficulties at Mauld and there is nothing. At all.
We walk around to the house. The only vehicle on the drive belongs to a couple of gardening contractors. The place looks closed up. There is certainly no access to the track from the house.
This means our walk today has been totally screwed. We are now faced with a very long detour. We decide to follow Strathglass southwest for another 4km or so then cut up the side of the hill on a track to cut across the gorge of Alt a' Chrais and then on through the Mellness Forest and join the Affric Way at the A831 at Millness. I have been this way before with Mick Coady years and years ago in torrential rain. Of course, this means we are now facing a very lengthy walk to get to Drumnadrochit.
|BENCH IN THE MIDDLE OF SOD ALL, LOOKING OVER STRATHGLASS|
To add further complication we have arranged to meet up with Phil on the Eskadale Triangle. He is walking towards us from Drumnadrochit. I leave a garbled message of our rearranged route on his message service hoping against hope that he picks it up.
|THE FULL BENCH|
It's a pleasant enough ramble up the steep forestry track with the added bonus of a surprise bench overlooking the Allt a' Chrais and Strathglass. There are a few deer fences to negotiate but fortunately they are gated or have good ladder styles. However this particular gate is locked tightly shut. As David is scaling the monster, still laden with his rucsac, I notice that there's a hole in the mesh in the bottom corner of the gate. I persuade him not to break his neck clambering over the very tall gate, unbalanced with his pack and instead we should climb through the gap, passing our rucsacs through to each other.
|IT'LL GO... OR MAYBE NOT|
I haven't laughed so much in ages. I take quite a few pictures but only this one is free of terrible camera shake. The Rufty-Tufty Bastard is firmly wedged, unable to move, caught on the fence like a stranded yacht on the Goodwin Sands. Oddly, he doesn't seem to see the funny side of the situation.
Before too long we are strolling beneath the new hateful Beauly-Denny Powerline and join the Affric Way. How on earth they decided that a very busy 'A' road should be a suitable route for a National Trail just beggars belief.
After a scamper down this road we are on forestry tracks again, when all of a sudden a dodgy looking individual springs from beneath the trees! Packs are dropped to the earth and a rest is called.
|LORD ELPUS! LIKE A ST BERNARD, BRINGING LIFE-SAVING REFRESHMENT TO THE AFFRIC WAY|
Phil had received my text message when he was at the very top of the climb up onto the moor... And so he had redoubled his efforts and dived back down to the bottom of the hill and set off heading west along the Affric Way to meet us. He's walked further than we have, and has carried life-saving beers all the way to boot! What an absolute diamond geezer!
|STRIPPING OFF TO ENJOY HIS BEER, PHIL IS ALMOST NAKED WHEN HE GETS TO THE BOTTOM OF THE CAN|
The rest of the walk to Drum is largely uneventful, but in exceptional company. We decide to hoof it down the road for the last few miles in order to get to the hotel in time for more clothes washing. Cleverley, Phil books ahead for the restaurant as he knows from last night that it is likely to be very busy.
|GOOD FOOD, GREAT COMPANY. DRUMNADROCHIT|
There's a great slew of Challengers in for dinner tonight. Here's a snap of Gerard and Natascha from Holland, both in fine form. No, the picture below. The one above is the Rufty-Tufty David and Lord Elpus.
|CHALLENGERS GERARD & NATASCHA IN THE PUB, DRUMNADROCHIT|
We leave content, knowing that the first leg of our trip is complete. Tomorrow is a very early start to catch Gordon Menzie's boat across Loch Ness at 8:00am, followed by 30km of an awful lot of Monadh Liath...