Category Archives: lazy road trips

over ambition

Of all the things I’ve learnt about being in the hills over the years, one of the simplest is just don’t try and pack in too much into an itinerary, especially when you don’t have a lot of time to play with. But somehow I got sucked into such a scenario last week when my sister was over from Canada, and we had three days to make good use of a precious car hire.  From the moment she said she was coming over, I thought that perhaps we would be able to make it to Cruib on Jura, which is by far the most logistically difficult place I have yet to visit to complete the full round. Not only that, the place is a new jewel in the MBA crown of island bothies, which was renovated and opened in 2011.  I had become pretty focused on it, and also thought that if I could chivvy her along, perhaps we could sneak in a walk up the coast to the end of Loch Tarbet and look in at Ruantallain, and if the ferry times fell correctly clean up An Cladach on Islay, which is only a few miles down the coast from Port Askaig. My sister was up for it, and we realised that in all the times she’s visited she had yet to take a Calmac ferry, which sealed the deal.  Perhaps a bit relentless? Well funnily enough yes, as it turned out.

Fortunately, one of the other top tips I always take into consideration when hatching some plan or other, is always have a coherent plan b. In this case it was to just leave Jura for another occasion, and spend a couple of days at An Cladach just chilling out. After all it is another idyllic place to spend some loose time, even if you don’t get the weather. So, when it became glaringly obvious that despite getting up at the crack of dawn, there was just no way we were going to get the one o’clock Islay ferry from Kennacraig, a simple decision was made to book on to the next sailing, and hopefully make it in to An Cladach before it got too dark. In the end even that proved a little beyond us. Having parked up and left the car just after 7, the first mile and a half to the coast took us over and hour, and picking a way the final 500 yards along the beach to the bothy took a ridiculous 45 minutes! A serious underestimation of the terrain, especially under the light of a rapidly fading head torch.

Arriving at Port Ellen on Islay

The next day we were up for the dawn, and were really thankful that we hadn’t pushed too hard the previous morning. We spent the day meandering about, combing the beach for wood, and just unwinding from what we realised for both of us, had been a pretty stressful few weeks.

Dawn over the eastern extremities of Jura

An Cladach, with Jura in the background

Waterfall just down from the bothy…

View of the ferry returning to the mainland from the bothy door

Jura in the gloaming

Sun setting on the hills above the beach

Reading by the fire

On the third morning the weather was extremely kind to us, and we made our merry way back to the ferry in good time…

Benefit of being an early riser…

Early morning light on the bothy

Time for a cup of tea

Bothy is really like a wee little hostel

Local blackberries

Some OCD stuff going on here…

Picking a way along the shore on the way back to civilisation

A final look back

Jura ferry heading out across the sound

I will be back…


bike takes a cameo role

Caught the tail end of the annual Easter gathering of friends and their families, which this year was held at the the suitably grand Drunaig Lodge in Letterfearn. I weighed up taking the bike by train to Plockton, and then cycling round, but a six pound single ticket to Sheil Bridge on the Scottish Citylinking bus soon scorched that idea. Managed to corral the entire party to Surdalan bothy in Glen Elg for the day, and was even able to borrow a bike so that I could cycle over the Mam Ratagan pass. First real test of the new updated version of my back, which held up remarkably well.

Drunaig Lodge

Drunaig Lodge

Viewpoint half way up the Mam Ratagan Pass

Surdalan bothy

Some of the gang outside the bothy

At the end of the week, I cadged a lift to Fort Augustus, and spent a couple of nights in Glen Buck bothy, on the western fringes of the Monadhliath. I had a reasonable supply of food gleaned from the leftovers at the house, but had unforgivably neglected to procure any alcohol, and the nearest shop was a compromising detour away. So I spent the first dry night in a bothy in goodness knows how long, pacing out the articles in my Saturday Guardian, and keeping the fire well stocked up.

Glen Buck bothy

Glen Buck bothy

In my element…

The next days plan was to route march across the moor to Blackburn bothy, which lies on the track which winds its way through the Corrieyairack Pass. In the morning the weather was pretty foul, but needs must, and off I trekked the four miles over the hill, hoping to scuttle back as soon as I could. However, in the end I carried on down the path into Fort Augustus, the pull of a bottle of wine for the second night just to difficult to resist. The only problem with this impulse, was that I had to hitch three miles back down the road towards Invergarry, to where the path heads back up Glen Buck. I’d already got a lift down the single track road to Letterfearn from Sheil Bridge, and again I was in luck. In fact the next day I was inspired to hitch back to Fort William and the train home, and got a lift from a lorry driver just before the bus turned up.

Blackburn of Corrieyairack bothy, a location that is unfortunately rather compromised by the new and old pylons of the Beauly to Denny line. The new set do look fearsome, the original ones almost friendly in comparison

Rainbow from the bothy door

View of the Grey Corries from the lofty height of a lorry cab

if Calsberg did bothy trips…

When I started this blog, I had half a mind to call it bothies on a budget. But I’m glad I didn’t venture to far down that particular avenue, as it would be hard to tie in last weekend’s bothy trip with a few old student friends. Its sketchy enough to airbrush out any tenuous bike links into this this cameo entry, but when you get a door to door lift in a Aston Martin DB9, all I can do is hold up my hands and say this wasn’t exactly part of the original (4269)

Although I am counting the pennies, most of my friends have muddled through pretty successfully and a couple are seriously in the money. And when Ant confirmed that he and Paul were coming along, I knew that the lap of luxury would be gently eased into my otherwise back to basics plan. So a potentially austere wilderness weekend morphed into the most luxurious bothy trip imaginable: the booking of the Edinburgh University Mountaineering Club Hut in Glen Licht to save us from interacting with the hoi polloi, a hired Landrover Discovery to save us from a walk in, and enough booze and coal to iron out the lack of hot tub and sauna. And of course sirloin for dinner and a fine selection of cheeses to adorn the oatcakes. We even took in three guitars and an accordion. I don’t quite know how I’m going to readjust back into my monastic routines when I next venture out.

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boys own action

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delving into the Pogues back catalogue…

Pan (4298)

excursion to Camban bothy which is much improved since I was first there twenty five years ago

Pan (4305)

view of the bothy from the ridge on Ben Fhada

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the crew taking a break

with my sister’s welcome assistance

Ok, I have to admit that after May’s debacle, I didn’t have any qualms planning a road trip with my sister that included the possibility of motoring over a couple of significant obstacles, so I didn’t have to deal with them at a later date on the bike. And why not take out the big daddy of them all, namely the Bealach Na Ba, which I’m sure is the steepest road in mainland UK. This little strategic sidestep meant that I could make it down to Uags bothy at the bottom of the Applecross peninsula without even breaking into sweat. I’m sure somewhere deep in my psyche there is the desire to peddle up its alpinesque switch backs, but after all the exertions over the last year I was happy to be a passenger once again. And once I got to thinking it didn’t take a huge leap of imagination to include a trip to Craig on the itinerary, thus negating the need to expend energy over the undulations of the Diabeag road. I just had to be very nice to my sister for the week, as she would be doing all the driving.

I also have to confide that we luxuriated at the Torridon Inn for a couple of nights – courtesy of my sister’s credit card – which with my budget mindset took a little getting used to. Well, a good five minutes at least. I even remembered to pack a smart set of clothes so I didn’t look like some kind of tramp when I walked into the hostelry’s restaurant. All in all, it was a really sedate trip. The wander along the coast to Craig is a real treat, with great views over to the Trottenish and out to Harris, and there is a similar atmosphere to the walk down to Uags. The only difference is the path down the peninsula takes some finding, even though there is a helpful signpost close to the road end.

Walk in along the coast from Diabeag

Walk in along the coast from Diabeag

Craig bothy

Craig bothy

Useful signpost

Useful signpost

Uags bothy

Uags bothy