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Posts tagged ‘bothy’

Stretching time

It has been passing too fast, this gap “year” of mine and it seems I’ve now overrun my original 12-month deadline. Thirteen months and … well, who’s counting? Best not. I’ve been stretching it out, packing in adventures, travels, walking,  sunshine, encounters and as much writing as I can before my nomadic lifestyle comes to an end and I have to work again.

The hills have been an enduring focus. Two of the most memorable were Beinn Chabhair and Ben Cruachan in Argyllshire; brutes of mountains which demanded long days and big effort. We started late after mornings of rain spent reading in the tents but Chabhair eventually rewarded the steady slog with evening sunshine and outstanding views. There was no desire to leave the summit so we dallied and gazed at the ranges of hills, trying to work out the names of different peaks, returning to camp too late and tired to cook. We pooled resources and shared beer, chocolate and yoghurt – a walker’s feast.

But Ben Cruachan was a different matter. It has been a target for a long time and it lulled me upwards, almost promising all day that the clouds on the summit would clear as I reached through them to the top.

But for once I wasn’t lucky. I’m a fair-weather walker so the last few hundred feet of navigating through mist over rock slabs was a disorientating experience which I’m not keen to repeat. I turned back once, only to meet a couple of serious climbers then follow them sheep-like to the summit. Finding a route back on my own was scary.

Then it was back up to Sutherland to climb Canisp, the elegant swirl of hill I admired from the summit of Suilven in the springtime. I could P1010343gaze all day at the wonder that is Suilven … But Sandwood Bay beckoned still further north across the moors.

What a day of late summer sunshine, the magnificence of Ben Stack, Foinaven and Arkle poking stark out of the expanse of Sutherland’s heather and moorland.  I want to return to camp there, miles from roads and houses and people and take time to enjoy its peace. Next year.

I camped in the pine woods of the Cairngorms and on the coast  in Fife; I spent three days in Stirling at the “Bloody Scotland” crime writing festival listening to successful writers discuss their books and making friends (and commiserating) with like-minded aspiring authors. One woman had written 18 novels and published them online to acclaim yet still can’t attract a publishing deal. What hope for the rest of us who’re still struggling to finish our first?

But despair in pointless (while procrastination is not) so I jumped on a cheap flight to Bordeaux to rewalk parts of last year’s Camino more slowly. And visit Pamplona, Estella, Bilbao and finally the lovely French town of Bayonne.

And now I’m going to stop and stay still for a while. I’ve arranged to rent a little cottage for the winter; it’s by a beach and it has a fireplace. I don’t need more.  Hibernation suddenly feels like another exciting adventure. I’m going to enjoy the sound of the waves at the door, to walk in all weathers and finish my story.

And in the springtime? Time, I hope, will stretch.

Heading into the hills

It can take a lot of plotting, planning and scheming to find a way into one of the most spectacular pieces of wilderness in Scotland.

Unless you have the time and energy to carry a pack for days,  you first have to negotiate your way through a padlocked gate which bars entry to most vehicular traffic. Local knowledge and being able to utter  the “magic words” overcame that controversial barrier.

But the first 16 miles of bumpy road  up the Glen Strathfarrar track were just the beginning. More scheming had resulted in a rendezvous and the opportunity to hitch a lift on a boat all the way up remote Loch Monar.

View from my tent

View from my tent on the shore of Loch Calavie

That gave us a fascinating insight into the way of life for folk who live up here all year round and a summit by summit commentary.

By the time we reached the stalkers’s house at Pait and finally heaved on our rucksacks to walk five miles further to Loch Calavie we had taken a few shortcuts and learned a lot. Choosing a campsite beside the loch was a great piece of advice.

We pitched our tents near the shore and set off on the slog up Lurg Mhor, the 986m hill which rises straight up from the loch. It’s known  as Scotland’s most remote Munro and it’s a steep pull up to the summit cairn.

From here we were close to the neighbouring and (to me at least) terrifying Meall Mhor summit. I preferred to turn my back on it and look west instead, over the sea to Rum, Skye and the wonder of the jaggy Cuillin Ridge.

Evening view to Skye and the west from the top of Lurg Mhor

Evening view to Skye and the west from the top of Lurg Mhor

We considered tackling Bidean a’Choire Sheasgaich. It was close but would require another couple of hours of effort at the end of an already long day.

Instead we enjoyed the long walk back across a  mossy hillside carpeted with wild flowers to stop for the day and cook down beside the water. I fell asleep to the sound of birds and the scent of a Highland hillside in June. No midges. No phone signal or internet access. Just peace and the stars.

Sutherland Trail: Suileag Bothy

Back in the bothy we were shivering. The air was damp and our bags had been too heavy to carry  fuel for the fireplace. Yet our timing had been only slightly out as I’d met people on the hill who’d had a great roaring coal fire and company the previous evening. But we were alone with only matches and a few kindlers to burn. It was barely enough.

We boiled water, made soup and pasta then at 8pm, wearing every piece of warm clothing in our rucksacks, we crawled into sleeping bags to drink hot chocolate. It was bedtime in the bothy.

P1030680Just before midnight I woke up. A full howling storm was battering our tiny stone house, torrents of rain pelting down on the noisy metal roof and rattling windows which looked out to the dark hulk of mountain. I lay and listened, absorbing the full might of the weather and idly pondering (as you do through the night) how the modern roof was attached to the ancient walls and just how secure it might be. Occasionally there would be a respite and then the wind whirled around us, sucking up enough energy to batter and blast with wave after relentless wave of fury. Rain soaked in under the shaking doorway and somewhere at the far end of the bothy another door banged all through the night.

How fortunate that we had retraced our steps and not camped as originally planned. It would mean an extra few kilometres walking in the morning but for now we were safe and dry. And finally warm.