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bike error

The latest leg of my quest had been planned with a fair amount of care and efficiency. It was to start with a cheeky Monday excursion with John to Sheilin of Mark bothy, cycling in from the Glen Esk side. Then I was off mid week to Oban on an advanced train ticket, with the intention of peddling to Fort William via Mull and the back roads of Morven, with a possible extension on to Inverness if the weather held. And over the weekend I was committed to marshalling a leg of the Islands Peaks Race with some guys and gals from the Carnethy Running Club, having resolved that it would be good for me to nudge myself out of my comfort zone, and actually positively interact with people for a change. So when John reversed into an unsuspecting tree in an otherwise empty car park, after a jolly day dodging the snow showers, it wasn’t quite the launch pad I had been hoping for. Surveying the quite impressive amount of damage done to our machines, which had moments before been studiously secured on to the tail gate of the car, I really didn’t think I’d be honouring my commitments.

Pan (3854)

Sheilin of Mark bothy

However, sometimes I can still pull my finger out and act with unnerving haste and ill consideration, just like the old days.  Having man handled the broken bike to Edinburgh the next day on the train, the bloke from the cycle shop confirmed that my buckled forks were a right off, and that to get back on track I would have to buy a new machine that afternoon. Which, with the promise of some cash from the very apologetic driver, I duly did. The Bike Station just happened to have a perfect bike at an acceptable price, and with a bit of swearing, I had the bike rack transferred and the panniers packed before the evening was out.

Ahhh feel this post is already spinning out of control, so I’ll try and get back on track as quickly as I can. Made the marshalling gig in Salen on Mull, after staying in Tomsleibhe bothy in Glen Forsa the night before, and headed on to Leacraithnaich on the Morven side with a bit of a hangover. I had a stand off with a sailing couple over the only copy of the Weekend Guardian in the shop in Lochaline, and because the distance was actually really short – barely twenty miles in all – I even had time to do a bit of exploring down by the coast, for another little secret spot which I’d been curious about for a while.

Tomsleibhe bothy, Mull

Tomsleibhe bothy, Mull

First boat heading to Salen in the Islands Peaks Race

First boat heading to Salen in the Islands Peaks Race

Southern coast of Morven

Southern coast of Morven

Leacraithnaich bothy

Leacraithnaich bothy

By the Sunday I was off over the hills to Strontian, and arrived there pretty knackered at lunchtime with the intention of cycling on to Resourie. I then looked more closely at the map and realised the top of the pass was over 400m, bracketed with those tell tail double v’s indicating steepness on either side. What an idiot. In fact it almost broke me just cycling over that afternoon, having pitched my tent in the very welcome campsite in the village. And the worst of it was the nagging feeling that I still had the trip back over the bealach once I was working up the forestry track to the bothy.

Resourie bothy

Resourie bothy

I was pretty run down when I woke up the next day and I resolved not to push myself too hard for the rest of the trip. I camped in an ok spot by the beach at Ardtoe the following evening, and it was drizzling as I completed the leg up to Lochailort, round the coast of Moidart, on the Tuesday morning. I was very thankful when the train to The Bill pitched up and thought I may just bite the bullet and get a ticket back home there and then. However, I rallied and decided to look at the forecast in Nevisport before deciding what to do. In the end I cycled up to Invermaille along the Caledonian Canal, and was very happy that I’d pushed myself on a bit, as the sun came out and the bothy had an ample supply of firewood. The next leg up to Inverness could wait though, and I cruised back down to Fort William the next morning happy in the knowledge that I had some more choice bothies in the bag.

Invermaille bothy

Invermaille bothy

bothy fire

bothy fire

zen bothying

Rounded off the year with a trip to Ben Alder Cottage, dusting down my 80 litre rucksack and walking boots, which certainly have been neglected of late. However, such is the habit forming routine I am now experiencing, it didn’t stop me from booking a cycle berth on the train, not even realising til I got to Glasgow and looked through my tickets. Doh! The plan was to hitch down the road from Rannoch to Bridge of Gaur, and then yomp north through the forestry and on up to the bothy. There used to bus a daily bus service to Pitlochry but now it only operates on a Wednesday in the winter, and only three times a week in the summer. And I got lucky, cadging a lift from a guy delivering building supplies to the house next to the station. The binmen were also in attendance, but according to this bloke, who had made the trip a few times, they were supposedly a particularly grumpy lot. A bit more local knowledge to add to the mix.

view west on the walk in to the bothy

view west on the walk in to the bothy

The walk in was certainly as long as I remembered and it took the rest of the day, but I was happy in the knowledge that with a bit of coal in the pack, and plenty of trees near the bothy, a comfortable evening was in store. And so it came to pass. The left hand room has recently been transformed into very plush accommodation, with full wood panelling, a sleeping platform and a substantial, and very welcome, wood burning stove. In fact I had a moment of complete zen like peace warming my wine by the heat of the fire, before starting to get spooked by the inevitable creeks and groans coming from the roof, as the temperature dropped outside. The  ghost stories associated with the bothy are hard to shake from your consciousness.Pan (3438) cover

In the morning it was absolutely freezing, so much so the river had iced up overnight, and I was glad I didn’t have any particular plans for the day. In the end I forced myself up to the first summit before Beinn Bheoil to take some photos, but I was too lethargic to do anything else. I think I deserved a bit of a break from what has been a very enjoyable but at times quite relentless year. The next day I walked out to Corrour via the Bealach Cumhann and Loch Ossian, stomping my way through 3 miles of undisturbed snow before I got to the lodge. I haven’t been so relieved to make a bridge crossing in my life, and almost kissed the railing in gratitude. I was also pretty ecstatic that the bar/cafe at the station was open despite the lateness in the year. A fellow traveller even bought me a pint. Having a bit of a charmed life at the moment.

Ben Alder Cottage

Ben Alder Cottage

view north towards Beinn Bheoil and Loch Ericht

view north towards Beinn Bheoil and Loch Ericht

View east from Sron Coire na-h-Lolaire

View east from Sron Coire na-h-Lolaire

On the walk down back to the cottage

On the walk down back to the cottage

Sun setting over Loch Ossian

Sun setting over Loch Ossian

another island escapade

Just back from Rum where I spent a couple of happy days searching out the bothies at Guirdil and Dibidil. Having decided that this year at least I wasn’t going to ‘do’ midges, I’ve been waiting on a weather window for the last few weeks, and was relieved that the Met Office had finally promised a wee ridge of high pressure. I had also in the meantime arranged to meet up with a woman called Lucy Conway who is setting up an exciting art project called Eigg Box. However, for some naive reason I thought there was some kind of straight forward integration between Scotrail and Calmac and didn’t look up the ferry times before I went. So I cheerfully pitched up in Mallaig at lunchtime a week last Wednesday only to find out the only sailing left at 10am. And when was the next ferry? Friday. Oh. Fortunately there were a couple of places I wanted to search out if I had had  the time, so I puttered about for a day and a half before I was back on the quay, anxious to get going. Then I got talking to a group of singers, a camera man and sound recordist who were off to Canna to record some music evoking the calls of sea birds imitated in traditional Gaelic folksong (Air falbh leis na h-eion : Away with the birds). With my eye slightly off the ball I almost ended up going with the flow and tagging along. But the project had to take precedence. In fact, Lucy and a group of people from Eigg were going over on the Sunday for a informal performance, but the fiendishly complicated ferry timetable between the Small Isles scuppered any rescheduling on my part. So in fact I ended up in Guirdil on my lonesome that night, looking out to Canna across the Sound knowing where the party was that weekend.

Sunrise over Canna

Sunrise over Canna

Gurdil bothy

Back in Kinloch, I decided to pitch my tent in the small campsite run by the Isle of Rum Community Trust which had a honesty box and a free supply of fire wood. It was a no brainer really, but did mean my excursion to Dibidil would just be a day trip.  In fact I ended up walking back from the bothy over the hills, which was certainly pretty sporting in places, and would be quite a navigational challenge if the clouds were down. Back in the campsite I got talking to a couple who had been part of an organised wildlife tour to the island. I can see that on these trips there is an anecdote arms race about what people had seen. The highlight in their group was watching a golden eagle swooping down on some prey and then getting attacked in turn by a white tailed eagle. All I had to offer in return was that I was becoming an expert on crows and rooks, and had been followed for half an hour by some inquisitive wild horses. So it goes. However, the next morning I was rewarded by the most amazing sunrise, and then watched a school of porpoises in the bay while I had my breakfast.

Dibidil bothy and Eigg

Dibidil bothy and Eigg

View of Eigg from the Rum Cuillin

View of Eigg from the Rum Cuillin

Trollabhal and Askival on the Rum Cuillin

Trollabhal and Askival on the Rum Cuillin

Exotic wildlife

Exotic wildlife

Campsite at Kinloch

Campsite at Kinloch

Dawn looking over Knoydart from Kinloch

Dawn looking over Knoydart from Kinloch

Unfortunately a storm was brewing and the next days ferry was going to be cancelled, so my trip in Eigg had to be put off. I meet up with the Canna crew on the boat back to the mainland, who seems to have had a great time, and in the rush to get off the ferry I almost left my camera behind. Doh! I still had a couple of days left before my apex single was due so I went back to this secret little spot I’d found, and had a day trip to Peanmeanach. All in all a productive trip, and I have a mental note to go back to Dibidil with a bag of coal at some point, and have a couple days of contemplation with some whiskey.

Skye from the Rum ferry

Skye from the Rum ferry

Coast off the Mallaig road

Coast off the Mallaig road

Pan (3023)

Peanmeanach bothy