February 2012

A tinge of excitement gets the electric going again at the prospect of another expedition in the heart of the Motherland. This time we aim to spend a few days in the area known as the 'Great Wilderness' it largely comprises of the Letterewe and Fisherfield estates that encompasses that enormous chunk of land between Kinlochewe in the south, to An Tealach at it's northern perimeter and tucked in nicely on the east by Loch-an-Nid. Wild land indeed!

On the journey up we were continually mindful of the temperature, as mild conditions were predicted to be edging their way in. What that equates to in Highland terms is dull, drizzly, cloudy, murky weather. Was February too late for crisp clear winter weather? Only time would tell. From Lincoln to Inverness the temperature hovered a degree or two either side of freezing but as we took the A835 towards Ullapool the temperature dropped like a stone, by the time we reached the 'Fannich' pull in, the car thermometer read minus ten! I've never been the greatest fan of midnight walking but there is something exciting about the shifting shafts of a head torch and trying to avoid black ice. Now adding colour we have the added gliterati of a two stone bright blue Ikea bag, full of wood, that had the potential to turn a straightforward walk into 'Whipping Boy' material. I sincerely intended to carry the wood the whole distance but after two good falls it was down to my 'young apprentice James' to take up the slack, meanwhile a screaming jet roars down the glen, tipping it's wings as if to say "don't forget about me!"

We traced the never ending contours of Loch a Bhraoin by moonlight until about 2:00am when at last the whitewashed cottage of Lochivraon shone through the darkness. Lochivraon was the original estate Bothy which is now in the process of being renovated for holiday accommodation the Bothy is now the old barn at the rear of the building. A good Bothy never manifests its self without a fight! Ikea bag, you lose! However on one of my slips, my right knee took such a bash on a projected rock, I thought we were going to be hobbling back to the car. It was really painful I even felt sick. Apprentice James gave me some encouragement as we sat on a nearby tussock. Just then a cameo of receiving the 'Golden Crampon' award for the third time flashed through my mind, "right come on let's get cracking we're not going to get anywhere sat here" I asserted and off we went. It was kind of irritating how the Ikea bag got heavier and heavier in spite of the fact on one occasion James had some whippingboyesque idea of hoisting the bag over his back and in so doing accidentally jet issoned his favorite wooly hat and a tin of biscuits, the young apprentice showed some anxiety as to whether they would be there on the return leg, I assured him that they would be.

On pushing open the Bothy door it was a relief to see that we had it to ourselves although we suspected that this would be the case because there were no other cars at the 'Fannich' pull in. This was the most practical Bothy I've ever stayed in, it was spacious, there were plenty of platforms to sort out your tackle and spread out, nice long sleeping platforms it even had a flush loo and running water, albeit the pipes were frozen on our visit. It has to be said though that this was not a warm Bothy, tin roof, concrete floors and stone walls don't bode too well for a good nights sleep. The size of the Bothy also tended to conspire against it, it was very drafty and impossible to heat up. This wasn't our home for the next few days, it was our place to survive, this is hardcore! Please don't take this as a criticism of Inverbroom Estate, for one thing it's a thoughtful gesture to provide the Bothy in the first place, once more if you take a good look around you, any wilderness lover will appreciate they owe the Inverbroom team an enormous debt of gratitude for their hard work and ingenuity in keeping the area tidy and accessible, a credit to the spirit of the Highlands. Of course we should not overlook the real reason it was so cold in the Bothy, maybe something to do with the fact that it was about minus fifteen out there!

The Old Byrne
a bit of routine maintenance!
not the warmest Bothy 
In spite of the cold, when we turned in, I had barely shuffled into the depths of my sleeping bag when young James was to be heard snoring away like an old Labrador! I was so envious, because of various aches and pains, I find getting to sleep in a Bothy an art. Normally when you go to bed you take clothes off... we didn't, we put clothes on, things like, neck gaiters and balaclavas! A situation developed when your torso was in a cushte sleeping bag and your head was in a freezer! It was soon 6:00am and time for an early morning refrain of 'Morning has Broken'. The acoustics of the Bothy, especially the tin roof, made for a perfect rendition, although I've a gut feeling that James didn't quite see it that way. I bemoaned the fact that I hadn't had a winks sleep, however James pointed out that I too was snoring wildly. Maybe I was dreaming that I was awake! I was gratified to hear this, perhaps I had got some much needed sleep under my belt after all.

As I stepped out the Bothy door that morning it was an absolute watershed, it didn't take long to register the real reason we were here, why we had to put our bodies through such deprivation. As I observed the early morning pageant, I gradually began to feel an inner calm. As the dimmer switch of dawn was gradually increased, the 'Fannichs' looked very inviting. As I turned my head west towards our destination for the day, what did I see? The backbone of Letterewe, that is Mullach Fhearchair, Sgurr Ban and the ridge towards Beinn a Chlaideimh, adorned with a garment of white, a stately mantle of snow! I thought for a minute I was in a water colour painting. Art as expression, not as a market campaign. It is all art my dear Blogfans, it is all art up here. Morphing gracefully through the transient art work of the Great Artist.

It actually seemed to be warmer outside the Bothy, maybe we should have slept outside! As we proceeded on our merry way, the only instance of kit failure began to loom in on us. James was having trouble with his crampons, eventually we decided to cut our losses, bank them in the safety deposit box of 'old ruin' to be reunited with them on the return leg. I donated my Ice Axe to Apprentice James and retained my own crampons that for once were behaving themselves. Now we were quite symbiotic, as the old maxim states 'crampons will get you into trouble but an Ice Axe will get you out of it' the import of this old adage would seem to suggest that James was going to be in for a trouble free trip.

occasional problem with crampons
approaching Craig Rannich
As we contoured round the lower slopes of 'Creag Rannich', Loch-an-Nid burst into view. An oblong sheet of blue, along with it's feeder stream 'Abhaim loch an nid', a twisting blue ribbon glistening in the low winter sun, all of this encapsulated by the massif of Sgurr Ban on one side and Creag Rainich on the other. It reminded me how the Highland's are a land of superlatives, round every corner, over every rise, you don't know what you're going to see next. All the burns and waterfalls remained frozen, a curt reminder of why the Bothy was so cold, rivers, waterfalls and three mile long lochs don't just freeze overnight, it must have been severely cold up here for some time.

The lovely Loch an Nid
As we got nearer to Sgurr Ban, we observed what we first thought was frozen streams over slabs of bare rock, we were later informed that this was several veins of quartzite, some stretching to several hundred meters, one of the geological wonders of the Highland world apparently. Mostly walkers wouldn't see this because the traditional way of doing these hills is from the Kinlochewe side, from the path that leads to Lochan Fada but in order to do a winter ascent, with time not on our side, the location of Lochivraon Bothy dictated that we did it from the Loch-an-Nid side. The Wild Side.

Quatzite slopes on the 'wild side'
With James not having crampons we had to avoid ice at all costs, this meant chartering our own path but to our pleasant surprise, in spite of all the freeze thaw cycles, ice was not an issue on the ascent, in fact in the main, there was really only a dusting of snow, it was only towards the summits where any real depth of snow had accumulated. We soon gained height on Sgurr Ban, looking down on Loch-an-Nid and the blue twisting ribbon was like looking down on a map. I always like it when you get to the point where you can see no sign of any human intervention, no roads, no houses, no telegraph poles, not even any fences or bridges. We have now entered a mountain sanctuary, the twin spurs of our nearest neighbor, Mullach Fhearchair to the left, adjacent to that Sgurr dubh whose summit ridge resembled haggard crags of eternity. On the other side of the glen, the mighty bulk of Creag Raineach, that stands at 807metres, which we gradually rose above until we could see it's small shelf of lochans just beneath the summit. The intimidating spur of Meallan nan Laoigh we at first thought was Sgurr Ban but we were soon looking down on that too as the dazzling white summit dome of Sgurr Ban beckoned us on to greater heights.

heading up Sgurr Ban
approaching summit plateaux
Beinn a Claidheimh and the Deargs
Maybe I'm slightly eccentric, see what you think. I play all sorts of solitary mind games to motivate myself and keep my mind positively charged when it comes to a good hard pull to the summit and it seems to be taking forever, tactics like forbidding myself from looking at the summit, banging out a predetermined amount of steps before stopping to catch my breath and 'staging' the climb, that is putting the summit out of my mind and having intermediate landmarks to keep you focused. Sound familiar? With the summit dome being completely white and the sky being completely blue it was hard for the eye to ascertain just how far away the summit was. All I did know was that it was getting a lot steeper and the snow was getting a lot deeper. I had to cut several zig zags in knee deep powdery snow to eventually reach the well won summit. This Munro was not going to let itself get bagged at a whim, in the end it took quite a lot of physical and mental exertion to step on to that summit ridge. In a metaphorical psychological comparison it is good food for the mind because in our journey through life there are often other mountains to climb.

The distant Hess!

If you could observe peoples eyes as they step onto summits like this one, you would notice a sense of euphoria which so clearly say's "wow!" I felt like punching the air and doing a few backward somersaults but refrained as it was a rocky summit, instead I had a dander round the perimeter and let the excitement run through me. Due to it's strategic position Sgurr Ban holds center stage not just in the Great Wilderness but in the whole of Wester Ross. It was like being in an iconic three hundred and sixty degrees shop window! To the north, the ridge tapered right down to the mighty sword of Beinn a Chlaidheimh. The skyline was dominated by the sprawling ridge of An Teallach, in the foreground a projected view of our next targeted hills, the Deargs, Mhor and Bheag from here they looked like a scaled down An Teallach. Very impressive looking hills especially with their secret hidden corrie clearly visible deep into it's southern flank. It looked like a primeval cannon ball, whist targeted for the ridge had pitched too early and blown out a great grassy verge. Atmosphere mist and cloud free, numerous points competing for attention. Everywhere sensational.

Mullach Freachair

the distant Fannichs
The Hill of the Sword!
a scaled down An Tealach
Ruadh stac Mhor

Looking east the complete range of the Fannichs stood proud. These are rolling Hills, a compact group of nine munro's. Totally mesmerized I walk along the ridge, to the west, what do we see there? The two most inaccessible Munro's, A'Maighdean and it's close neighbor Ruadh Stac Mhor. Looking towards the south, some other old friends, Slioch and the unmistakable cliffs of Bein Lair. In the foreground the tennis court summit of Beinn Tarsuinn and some other subsidiary tops but wait a minute, where on earth is young Apprentice of the year James? I found myself talking to a young man who had walked from the Kinlochewe side and half an hour has slipped by yet James was only five minutes behind me so where the blazes is he? The young man I was talking to used an expression I've never heard of before as we looked across at the whiter than white Ruadh Stac Mhor, it was the term 'sunballing' which basically means the snow shelf is getting ready to avalanche! Oo'er, please hurry up James, please pop your head up over the ridge. A couple of seconds later a positive sighting of the indefatigable floppy balaclava of James was heading our way from the other end of the ridge. Phew! Where had he been? Well on the last pitch of about a hundred meters, James was backsliding and quite heroically had to haul himself up with the ice axe. At one point he was seriously considering sacking the whole thing off but that would have been ironic, being within touching distance of the summit ridge, on a perfect winters day. Thankfully he plowed on and was well rewarded for his determination.

Bheinn Tharsuin

I don't know whether it was adrenalin but I wanted to pull in another peak, I felt like I had the legs of a twenty year old. We decided to forfeit it though and I honestly think we made the right decision, the route was not easy and it would have been a very long day, besides I aged a lot on the way back! We came down on the other side of the spurr, not the best of decisions, the nearer we got to the ground the more prevalent ice became, not just the odd slippery section but lashings of thick ribbed ice. Plotting a route down was like being in a maze. I paved the way, with having crampons while Appo James followed gingerly behind with the ice axe until the ice subsided.

Now when we were talking to the gentleman on the summit he mentioned a 'must see' on Loch-an-Nid where the stream drains into the loch, a humongous fossil exists embedded in the underlying rock strata! Well it is my duty Blogfans to inform you that no such thing exists! I don't want to induce hundreds of Blogfans especially those in such far flung places as Slovenia, Taiwain and United Arab Emirates, to make this arduous trip to the other side of the world, on the strength of this Blog, to see something that isn't there. I just don't want it on my conscience. Me and James searched through the confluence with a fine toothed comb and found nothing out of the ordinary. We came to the unanimous conclusion that it must have been an early April Fool. I have since trawled the internet and it turns out many fossils have been found there but there is definitely no conspicuous landmark fossil.

In retrospect, no time was actually wasted ambling round the head of Loch-an-Nid. The salubrious soft winter afternoon light had me continually reaching for my camera. From the head of Loch-an-Nid, it looked like the high hills on either side of the loch had swooped down to glen level to stop this huge body of water in it's tracks. A classic Highland loch. As we walked back to the Bothy we were so chilled it felt like we were part of the infrastructure, with any wilderness area, you have to walk in it's own time signature, observe it's rhythms, read it's small print, otherwise you could find yourself oblivious to the very special elements that endow the area with it's wild nature. Case in point, James pointed out, high above some lonely crags overlooking Loch-an-Nid, a Golden Eagle being harried by two Pennigreen Falcons! What an amazing spectacle, the Eagle was being continually dive bombed but it was in no way intimidated, it just spread it's wings and soared out of their range as if to say "you boys just don't know who you're dealing with". Doubtless it was biding it's time before it honed in on it's target. We just stood and stared for about ten minutes, before we moved on, not knowing when the show was going to finish. Incredible! Beyond explanation, beyond words, beyond photography.

Hills swoop down to Glen level. Loch an Nid.
That fat old sun in the sky was beginning to set as we finally reached the Bothy. We wasted no time in getting a good fire going but with the light being of such good quality, I had itchy feet and after a couple of shots of Talisker had to get out there for a womble round the Loch. Singing out loud the slow movement from Rachmaninov's second symphony, I proceeded to the water's edge. Looking down Loch a Bhraoin, Beinn Dearg was that red I thought it was molten. As I approached the water's edge, I realized this huge loch of roughly four miles long and a quarter of a mile wide, was mostly frozen. I picked up a large stone and pelted it onto the ice, thinking that the impact would at least crack the ice but the ice just laughed at it! I meandered around the locality of the Bothy as the sun peacefully set. A lonely serene landscape bathed in an afterglow of liquid gold! With the fire no doubt now roaring it was now time for one of those hearty Bothy meals, in this case, Wayfarer Chilli Con Carne, rescued by fresh coriander and Tabasco, oh and maybe a few more shots of Talisker! Life was good.

Loch a Bhraoin...
...mostly frozen
Bhein Dearg on fire
As the distant rumbling of a Jet engine could just be heard overhead, Apprentice James acquiesced over the cumbersome Ikea bag full of wood. His disdain for the bag and it's contents dwindled as did the wood as we spent the evening sat round a roaring fire in classic Bothy fashion, drying out any damp clothes and even beginning to feel human again. I dropped off quick that night but I was also conscious of dropping off the sleeping platform whilst cocooned in my sleeping bag and knocking myself out on a breeze block that happened to be kicking around! I did have trouble getting warm in the 'last watch' but the temperature was savagely low, we now had to kick holes in the ice as the burn had all but frozen, to get at the only trickle of water below! We had a fire that morning, it was a pleasure to saw up some wood and generate some body heat. As we sat around the morning fire, we decided to head back to the road and then walk to 'Sheneval' Bothy for the next leg of the expedition.

wee frozen burn
The walk along Loch a Bhraoin was a sheer delight, a highly recommended low level walk giving all ages and capabilities a taste of the Motherland. A large part of the loch was still frozen, which gave us the opportunity for an impromptu attempt at 'curling'. The target stones flew across the ice, you wondered if they were ever going to stop. Hitting them I found practically impossible but without me going on to the ice with a broom, young James somehow managed to induce a curved path with his stone. We looked on in disbelief as his stone veered towards its target smacking it right on it's sweet spot! Thought you might be interested to know that Curling originated in Scotland around the Sixteenth Century, when frozen lochs were ten a penny and were guaranteed year after year. When lochs are occasionally drained, for example for Hydro-electricity projects, granite stones have been found with sixteenth century dates inscribed on them!

distant great wilderness
coldest day of the year!
Hess photography!

The stroll along the loch really was unhurried, so much so, I was beleaguered with many photographic opportunities, one of such lay right at my feet, James's biscuits, frozen favorite hat and a few random pieces of wood! On receipt of this discovery we laughed our socks off! Out of the corner of my watering eye, a vapor trail scores the empty sky. When we reached the Boathouse I asked James why he never takes any photos, he replied that his photographs are never very inspiring, in the same breath he pointed out a chimney with a sturdy weed growing next to it that exceeded the height of the chimney! Perfect, I've said it before and I'll say it again "photography begins in the heart".

On reaching Corrie Hallie parking slot, we were very concerned to see that there were two vans and an estate car already there, presumably walkers. We now had to make a decision, it was possible, bearing in mind those three vehicles that there were upwards of a dozen people in Shenevall Bothy. We had never stayed in the Bothy before but the likelihood was that it could be full. What we didn't want to happen was slog it down there, six miles and three hours of hard graft on our already aching limbs, only to find out the Bothy was full and have to trek back, possibly in the dark. After giving it some pensive thought we decided to book into Sail Mhor Youth Hostel for a couple of nights and I can honestly say, as this Blog will soon reveal, that it was one of the best decisions that I have ever made.

The first thing I noticed that Sunday morning when I awoke at 5:30am was that it was raining quite heavily, on the up side it was only raining on one window, if it had been raining on all of them we really would have been in trouble! Not having the six mile head start we had to set off for the 'Deargs' at a ridiculously early hour, I believe we were on the path to Shenevall at about 6:15am, I say on the path, no sooner was I on it, I was off it! More problems with ice, as Appo James stood laughing at his exalted leader, he was soon on the deck too! Vengeance is sweet!

Use of the head torch was vital, although as we struggled crossing a river with the aid of a rickety old fence, it was a pity it didn't illuminate a solid wooden bridge about ten yards downstream! The rain gave us a right battering through the trees, making the unseable Allt Gleann Chaorachain even more noisy. But by the time we had reached the high point of the path, on the lower slopes of Sail Liath, we were pleasantly surprised when the rain abated. Now the landscape began to open up, we had a snapshot view of Loch na Sealga and on the other side of the strath, the angry looking guardian of the glen, Beinn a Chlaidheim, maybe looking more fierce than normal because it has just been declassified as a Munro! From this point we descend to Shenevall Bothy, a Shostakovian landscape, you must hear the cello in the second part of his fifteenth symphony, moody and broody to be sure but all encompassed underneath the dome of ethereal beauty.

Shenevall Bothy with Bhein Dearg Mhor and Bheag as backdrop
I've never quite figured out why Shenevall Bothy is so popular. I'm fully aware of the fact that it lies at the foot of An Teallach but if you wanted to climb that hill would you not do it from the road for Pete Thomo's sake? I ask myself why walk six miles with full kit, have a third rate night's sleep, to do a hill about five yards from your car door that you could do with a day sack? Just for the record, there were no cars in the Shenevall pull in that morning and from a peek in the visitors book it would appear that the Bothy was actually empty the previous night! To add insult to injury Shenevall is a bit like Dr Who's tardis, from outside there appears to be one or two rooms but there are, believe it or not six! Top to tail this Bothy could maybe accommodate upwards of forty walkers!

From Shenevall we took a straight line across the Strath to Larachantavore, to me this was the highlight. The Great Artist had got his water colours out again, An Teallach behind us the 'Deargs' in front of us Loch na Sealga to our right with it's narrow glen to our left all best appreciated under lowering skies. Surreal to the point of breaking the chains of reality. Walking across the Strath was like walking across the Nile Delta, it was spirit level flat. We felt a keen sense of retribution, I've spent many happy summer months in the highlands fighting bog and midges and if you were to do this walk in the summer, or less you're into 'Bog Tenting', it would be a real test of your patience, over a mile of sloshy bog each way and a Midges paradise, with you on their menu! Needless to say it gave us great satisfaction effortlessly plodding across miles of iced bog.

in summer this would be endless bog!
but today frost grips the ground
Don't think it was all a 'walking by numbers' problem free endeavor, it wasn't, not only is Larachantivore guarded by miles of bog, it also requires two river crossings, the rivers are known colloquially as Straths. We encountered the first Strath fairly quickly, it looked pretty full but at the same time docile, far from being in spate. We scouted up and down, looking for a shallow point to cross but to be honest there wasn't one, it was at this juncture, shamefully, I acted deviously. You see I thought river crossings could be a stumbling block to Young Apprentice James, so while he had his back to me the 'Exalted Leader' took the plunge and splashed through, no more than gaiter high. Now James HAD to cross! But how wrong I was Y.A.J grabbed the bull by the horns and did what he had to do. I might add he didn't do this begrudgingly, he actually reveled in it, laughing and joking, enjoying the moment. By the time we crossed the next Strath we were at the front door of Larachantavore.

Broody... Shostakovian.
first strath
and the second!

As I took a stravaig around this isolated building I pondered, how on earth did those shepherds survive there in days of antiquity? It reminded me of 'The House Beautiful' a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson, which reads in part,

 A naked house, a naked moor
A shivering pool before the door
A garden bare of flowers and fruit
And poplars at the garden foot
Such is the place that I live in
Bleak without and bare within.

The nearest road is an arduous six miles away, then it's several more miles to the nearest hamlet. Your next door neighbor is not exactly within shouting distance, Shenevall is about one and a half miles as the eagle flies. In the day's of just popping out to your twenty four hour Tesco's, this building is a living testimony to another way of life, a monument to a different world, only problem is, I'm not quite sure which one I prefer! These days Larachantavore is managed as an estate hut. I'm uncertain as to what Larachantavore means in Gaelic but if I were to ever live there, I would rename it 'The House Beautiful!'
The House Beautiful
We stood for a few moments looking up at those girt bastions of Hills, Beinn Dearg Mor and Beinn Dearg Bheag. I couldn't see any way up them, at first glance, these seldom climbed hills looked impregnable, nevertheless within an hour or so we had contoured right round the shoulder of Beinn Dearg Mor and the way forward now seemed obvious, only problem was, the wind was getting more and more ferocious, the gusts were blowing James clean over. We forged ahead mostly on our hands and knees until a huge boulder kindly gave us some congenial shelter. The sprawling ridge was now just above us it maybe would have taken us twenty minutes to reach it but as I looked up at that narrow knotty ridge against the soundtrack of a howling gale, the 'Inner voice' said NO, you don't argue with the 'Inner voice' not even the Exalted Leader. We made a bold decision but the right one and walked away from it.

I firmly maintain you've got to know when to stop, Hillwalking should be savored and relished
not become a life threatening experience. There is a lot of credence in that time honored maxim 'the hills will still be there another day'. We had made the most of a window of good weather today, not brilliant sunshine but leaden skies and cloud free summits. Now the rain was coming back and making up for lost time. It was raining that hard, if this was in Lincoln you would think to yourself, it will only last five minutes max at this velocity, that yardstick doesn't apply in the Highlands, up here at that velocity it could maybe keep it up for three weeks!

One of the ways I gauge a persons depth of hill walking maturity is to observe how they react to adverse weather. The unrelenting ear numbing rain on my cagoule hood, the howling wind and dense hill fog, would indicate that the weather was vile. How does Y.A.J react? Well on a scale of one to ten, I would say ten! Not only is he not fazed by it but he wants a completely rounded out view of how the Highlands really are, notwithstanding, the renowned extreme West Highland weather. Bring it on! Well it's better than having someone at your side saying " well from now on, things are going to get harder and harder and we're going to get slower and slower" obviously James would never say that!

The walk on the way back was a different animal from what it was on the way there. "Judah stretched himself out like a Lion and like a Lion, who dares rouse him" say's the Bible at Genesis 49:9. On the way there the Lion was stretched out, on the return, the Lion had been roused! This was a walk on the wild side. Straths that were once sedate were now swelling and moving menacingly. Mountain streams that were once picturesque, were now raging torrents. It was like a war zone. Water turning corners with such violence. Stationary rock's instantly converting gallons of water into surf, to be immediately interjected into the earth's stratosphere! Intimidating.

We tried to find the point where we crossed the Strath but this was now irrelevant, the Straths were now full and flowing. I pitched in at what I thought seemed a low point but the composition of the river bed was such that as I got near to the bank it suddenly got a lot deeper. By now I was past the point of no return so I went for it, the water going way over gaiter high. My prized possession of dry feet were no longer a viable commodity! The most disconcerting thing was having to bludgeon my way through the ice towards the end. If I could use a word that would least describe my landing on the bank, it would have to be, graceful! The same sensational process was repeated at the next Strath. As I stood there with freezing wet cold feet, I said to Y.A.J "right that's it, it's 'kick the door down' time, no stopping, get focused and onward to the finishing line before the cold get's a grip". Our new book 'The complete guide of how not to cross rivers' is now available in all good book stores.

James made an interesting observation, when you're walking, for example in the Peaks or the Lakes and it's very busy, you can grow weary of even saying "hi" to other walkers. In comparison in the heart of the Motherland, it's a novelty to bump into someone and the chances are, that 'someone' appreciates the same things that you appreciate and has gone to the same lengths to get there as what you have. That 'someone' might even be a Blogfan! You just never know. We met up with three walkers, on the high point of the path, just under Sail Liath bound for Shenevall. Their team leader, a polished looking elderly gentleman had his team well organized, they were quick to pull out various sections of Landranger maps on laminated A4 sheets and you could tell that the rain was in no way going to dampen their zeal for the area. The very persona of the courtly looking gentleman imbued me with confidence, I'm approaching Fifty and although I'm not going to hang my crampons up yet, I can't ignore the fact that the final curtain is maybe not far off as far as expeditions are concerned but his gait said to me " you might have another twenty years left in you yet young fellow!" They were from Devon, by the way and were staying over three nights. I've no idea why but he reminded me of a Mother duck! As the Mother duck moved downstream the other two ducklings followed.

The stream that runs down from Lochan na Brathan was one of those tributaries that was now making it's presence felt, it was hard to believe it was the same stream. I pointed out to Y.A.J a good place to cross, a nice big square rock, smack bang in the middle of the river. I focused on the rock, honed myself to a fine edge and off I went. Next thing I knew I was smack bang in the middle of the river, my feet were level with my head! I couldn't tell the rock was iced! As time stood still I mentally prepared myself for what was inevitably to follow. As I clambered up onto the bank I glanced back at James who gave his Exhausted Leader a look of strange curiosity. James crossed further upstream. At this point my sense of humor had deserted me. We firmed up on our earlier resolve of no stopping or lingering. The only way of heading off the 'shivers' was to generate some body heat and exercise your right to survive. Eye of the tiger!

I always think a sense of humor to a human is like shock absorbers are to a car, therefore I was pleased when my sense of humour returned. James admitted he felt guilty because he found the whole incident absolutely hilarious. I reassured him that he had no need to feel guilty, if the same thing had happened to him I would have been in bits. It has since come to my ears that local hill walking legend Tom Bertins has been consulted to ascertain if the whole scenario merits 'Whipping Boy' status, I personally don't think that it does, you've got to have a few occasions when things don't quite go according to plan, otherwise the Blogs would be boring but the blogs aren't boring are they?

As we trudged over the moor it soon became apparent that we had gone off course. James blamed himself as he was leading, the Exhausted Leader was now behind, however it wasn't James' fault or anybody's fault we had just got blown off course by the weather. The mist was now down, drastically reducing visibility, the whole place resembled a wet desert. We appeared to be heading for a headwall that we definitely didn't broach on the way there. Eventually we had to face the fact that things were not going according to plan, we might even be, dare I say it...lost! It was during this uneasy period I uttered the unforgettable words, "James can you turn over the map and compass please, I need to take a bearing, I think we're wondering round like lost Jews!" As it turned out we had wondered off course a little but soon located the sister track that runs to Achnegie, I think we may have eventually stumbled across it anyway but it's reassuring to have the security of a compass bearing. If I was to be brutally honest, these day's the only time we look at a map is when we're lost! How I do love to hear those immortal words when things aren't going too well, " err let's have a look at the map!"

I suppose we weren't really lost, we were just unsure as to where we were heading but in view of my wet condition, any deviance from the main course was greatly exaggerated. The writer of this blog would like to thank the Dubliners, the Johnstons, Steeleye Span and Blackmores Night for rousing folk songs for me to belt out, raising the spirit and putting a smile on our faces when normally there wouldn't have been a smile. Even James, not a natural singer, found himself joining in on some of the chorus's " Wo Oh glory o ... hand me dowwwwn me bible!"

I found it hard to extricate myself from the shower that evening, I think it could possibly be the longest shower anybody has ever had! My opposite number spent that long over the electric fire, I thought we were going to have to get it surgically removed! I basked in the thought of what a vital decision we had made to stay in a Youth Hostel and do the walk from the road. I think the prospect of being cold and wet and a night in a damp cold Bothy to look forward to, would have been psychologically too much to bare.

As we relaxed in the Sail Mhor lounge that evening, spread out in front of the roaring electric fire, the newly qualified Scottish Hill Walker, James, described our expedition as "frictionless" that was quite a poignant comment, I put down the book that I was reading, 'Modern Jet Propulsion' by H.S.Capade and reflected a moment on James's hillwalking qualifications. Believe it or not James once received the highest accolade possible for a 'Whipping Boy' this was for his pivotal role in the famous, or I should say, infamous Glen Pean expedition. He didn't just get the 'Golden Crampon' award but the A.W.B.M.E( aficionado whipping boy masters eturnus) badge! But James has now been properly trained, has moved on and learned from past mistakes. To James now, double roll mats, never ending ruck sacks, ponchos and webbing belts are but a distant memory, you stand more chance of seeing him on a mountain with a bow tie on than sporting any of the aforementioned paraphernalia!

Good times

We will be back..................one day.

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