I emerged from my tent to find that the midges had got up before me. It is the first time they’ve been really bad in the morning and I didn’t put my headnet on so got eaten a fair bit while packing up my tent.
The road walk up to the old cannery at the start of the Breabag walk was fine, with very little traffic at this time of morning. There was a car parked in the Parking bay near my campsite, with someone asleep inside! There was also a campervan parked a bit further down the road so this was obviously a popular place to stop last night. The stalking information sign at the cannery said they were stalking on the 17-23 August (a few weeks ago), so I should be fine to walk through (I had tried to check all stalking information before I left but hadn’t been able to find any for this area).
I walked up the valley diligently reading my Rock Trails guide to make sure that I saw all the attractions on the way. This area is limestone with the “attractions” being mainly the river (Allt nan Uamh) disappearing and reappearing along the course of the river. There are a number of springs, sometimes on the edge of the valley, and sometimes right in the middle. The weather had been good for this section of the walk, with a mixture of wet and dry. Recent rain meant that the springs were running well, but the dry summer meant that the water table was low so the river still disappeared a lot in between them. (This is what I think anyway, . . it may be completely incorrect reasoning)
A short way along the valley I went part way up the southern wall to visit the Bones Cave. This is an area of Special Scientific Interest and is called the Bones Cave because of the number of ancient animal bones in, some naturally occurring and some evidence of humans. There are quite a few caves, but no big accessible network so not especially ‘scenic’. I took a bunch of photos, including one which very closely mimics one from my Rock Trails book!
From the Bones Cave it was back down to the valley floor (seeing some ‘pipe rock’ on the way – this is fossilised remains of worm castings) and following the still disappearing and reappearing river. It was much further than I had expected from here to the start of the hill proper. On the way were a series of waterfalls (all described in my Rock Trails book). The first big one, it said “you can’t walk up next to the waterfall but it’s worth seeing, so go up to the base and see it, then backtrack a little and go up the lefthand side of the valley”. I went and saw the base of the waterfall . . . but of course once I was there I wasn’t interested in backtracking all that way! The right hand side of the valley looked climbable right here, so up I went! I must admit, it was only just climbable, and there were a few wobbly moments (bear in mind I had a full camping pack on at this point too!).
A bit after this was the second interesting waterfall, this one being more of a water slide, with tilted layers of rock.
After this I was into the quartzite. Quartzite (sedimentary, not metamorphic) is basically sand that has been solidified into rocks. When it breaks apart it does so firstly into quite sharp, angular blocks. Then, when it erodes further it basically turns back into sand. It is very hard and provides very little soil for plants so is quite a barren landscape. At least this means there is less water and bog . . . although when it does get wet it gets very slippery.
The walk up Breabag is not particularly steep but is very very long and not easy. There is lots of loose rock (that moves when you stand on it) and thin layers of slippery mud (that slide when you stand on it). Some bits actually had a covering of grass, which made things a lot easier.
There were a lot of deer on the way up and as deer are still a novelty for me, I took a LOT of photos of them! I think I actually chased the same herd of deer across the entire hill today as I kept seeing them at different parts of the walk.
The final approach to the summit is almost flat, but again difficult. Almost completely barren, loose rock. The actual summit would be indistinguishable except for the large cairn/summit shelter there. The views from the summit were pretty good, with no clouds. It was a bit hazy, so visibility was reduced, and the photos aren’t stunning, but it was a lot better than I’d had from Suilven yesterday so I was happy!
I also saw some ptarmigan up here (I’d never seen one before, but they looked like what I thought a ptarmigan would look like, and I looked them up when I got home to confirm), and something that may’ve been a hare. It was bigger than a rabbit but still had a white tail (no photo, it was too fast!).
My book suggested walking back along the eastern edge of the hill. Breabag is a bit of a one sided hill – the side that I’d come up was a very long, gentle (by Scottish standards) incline all the way along, with just a few outcrops. The eastern side, in contrast, was steep corries – circular bowls carved out by glaciers. This was definitely worth seeing. Wow! There were clouds floating up out of the corrie, obscuring the view but it was still very impressive.
A bit later on the clouds cleared so I was able to get some decent photos of the corrie and the views to the east. The corrie walls were pretty steep but it actually looked like some parts might’ve been possible to walk up (I was getting a better feel for the landscape by now and what walking conditions would be like).
I now had a long walk along the top of Breabag to the northern end. There was no track and lots of loose rock and false summits. It was a bit of a gamble which way to go but I think I picked a pretty good path. At one point there was a huge split in the rock all the way across the ridge! Luckily it was not too deep and there was a broken bit in the middle that I could climb up. I wonder now if someone broke this bit deliberately to make it easier to get up, or if it is just there naturally.
There was also another section that had part of a stone wall built along the edge of the corrie.
At the northern end of the ridge I had to drop down into the Traligill Valley. I had researched this section quite thoroughly as it was quite steep, with lots of outcrops (cliffs). I had to go to the east a bit to get down to the valley before turning back to the west. Looking from a distance, the drop into the valley looked like it would be very steep and difficult. As it was, I followed my planned route on the map and then . . . . suddenly I was in the valley. No difficulties at all! In hindsight it may’ve been easier, and slightly shorter, on another route not as far east as I’d gone, but not having been there before I was very happy with the route I chose. I was also very excited because there was a beautiful track along the valley! Finding tracks where they’re supposed to be is exciting enough . . . finding one that’s not even marked on the map is amazing!!
This was quite a long walk, always with a little doubt about whether I was going the right, or best, way. There was always a chance I’d end up walking into some cliffs, or unclimbable rocks and have to backtrack a lot. That said, this was a very rewarding part of my walks . . . and that is probably the reason why.
The river valley (“follow the river”) was a very easy walk until suddenly the river dropped off the edge into a steep gully! Luckily the track kept going for a while, higher on the ridge. When that disappeared (Scottish tracks just do that) it was crosscountry again through bogs. Yay. I also saw a sinkhole (this happens in limestone, and I’d seen evidence of it in the aerial photos of the area) so was a bit more careful than normal while tromping through bogs.
I got back to the river (Allt a Bhealaich), which was also disappearing and reappearing . . . . until at one point it just disappeared completely. There wasn’t even a dried riverbed to follow! I thought I must’ve missed a turn but, nope, I checked the map and the river just ends!
Luckily shortly after this I found a track again. And, wow, it was a real track, with stone gaps to allow water to flow (love those things)! I was just getting excited about this when I saw some other people and the turn off to some more caves. One cave opens up into an underground river! Not a trickle seeping through the ground but the entire river flowing underground! There was nothing on the surface anywhere near here. I’m guessing that’s where the Allt a Bhealaich ended up.
As I was coming out of the cave, a guy walked past. He asked if I was OK. Maybe he thought I’d slipped into the cave? Or maybe I just looked a little crazy?! They (there was a woman too) started following the track back to the main road, so I looked around the other caves then followed them.
The track, then road, gave a lovely scenic walk back to Inchnadamph. I was quite indignant about seeing a new house (complete with round turrets) on the hillside which was not marked on my map! Yes, my maps are that detailed that each house is marked!!
On the way out I saw another stalking sign. This one said that they were stalking this week. Oops! Obviously the sign I saw at the start of the walk hadn’t been updated.
I took a slight detour south to the Inchnadamph Hotel, thinking a pint would be nice, but it didn’t look open so I didn’t try. I’m glad I didn’t have to use this as my resupply point on the original walk! I read some signs about geology in the area then headed up the road (I had learnt that road walking was preferable to cross country across hills!). On the way I stopped at a plaque for a geologist (so excited to see something turning geologists into heroes!), at Calda House and at the signs for Ardvreck Castle (I didn’t go to the castle as I went last time I was here). I also saw a bunch of sheep walking up the road, including one who decided to sit down in the middle of the road and have a rest. I kept hearing cars braking suddenly and honking their horn, but it didn’t care! A jet also screamed through at about 500m, judging from the way it went between the hills rather than over them!
Just after Ardvreck Castle I turned off onto the side road to Achmore Farm. The track continued past the farm and was OK for about another kilometre before it turned into that worst kind of Scottish track: the bog! At this point the track actually becomes worse to walk on than the surrounding countryside. I walked parallel to the track for a while, then decided to just make a beeline for the carpark near Quinag, as much as you can beeline in bogs and lumpy hills! I saw a few sinkhole like things around here too so was being careful.
I ended up finding a campsite a few hundred metres off the road, in view of Quinag and less than 1km from the carpark marking the start of the Quinag walk. It was reasonably flat, not too lumpy and not too boggy so decided to stop here rather than risk not finding anything else suitable. It was quite good, except for the bugs! I got eaten by midges AGAIN, mistakenly thinking that I could set my tent up quickly enough and electing to not put my headnet on! This means I got eaten at both ends of today – I would be so lumpy and itchy in a couple of days! Also tried using mum’s Avon insect repellent, which didn’t help at all!
The midges kept me locked inside and I’d pitched my tent tail into the wind which unfortunately meant I couldn’t look out my front door towards Quinag. Still, I was very happy to be sitting (and sleeping) so close to my mountain. I was hungry tonight and couldn’t be bothered waiting for my past to rehydrate fully, but it still tasted OK (just a little crunchy!). I was also loving my Romneys Extra Strong Mint Cake, and chocolate, for dessert! I was still not filtering my water but was at least selective at where I took it from: some directly from one of the main spring (Fuaran Allt nan Uamh), and some from a tiny lochan right at the top of Breabag. No sign of getting sick either! I’d also decided by today that my shoes weren’t waterproof anymore.
Today was a fantastic day. I saw some amazing views, conquered some difficult terrain, found my own path and enjoyed the whole thing. Not that some bits weren’t still very hard work! I also may’ve been going slightly crazy from spending too much time on my own. Here are some of the random thoughts I wrote down this evening:
There is so much water in this country I’m surprised its inhabitants don’t have webbed feet and gills!
I like my tent. I like being in my tent. Maybe something about when I’m here I’ve stopped for the day and I’m safe from midges and rain and anything else. I don’t need to do anything. It’s my own little world.
I feel like maybe 10 days of this would’ve been too much. I feel like I’m already going a bit kooky after 2 out here. Plus, it’s REALLY hard. 10 days would really wear me down. I’m also, while enjoying being here in my tent and living this life, also really looking forward to being picked up. Partly so I don’t have to walk/work anymore. Partly because I’m looking forward to seeing people (which wouldn’t have been the case originally).
Yes, I know, I blew my photo allowance again today, but I thought I did pretty well given that I took 230 photos today (vs my usual ~100)! There are also a couple more lovely photos of this walk here.