I am very sorry . . . I am so far behind on blog posts! This one is from way back in April . . . over a month ago! I have at least 3 more posts already that I need to write about. I’ve set aside Sunday for catching up on computer work so hopefully you’ll see another post or two then. I’d write tomorrow except I’m going up another hill instead!!
So, here goes:
I had a week long hiking trip in Wales coming up, which I intended to take Merlin on, so I needed to do a multi-day walk with him to see how he went. To keep things a little simpler I decided to walk out to Strabeg bothy (about 25km away), stay the night, then return home the following day, hopefully via Cranstackie and Beinn Spionnaidh.
I’d been feeling a bit fatigued and kept having things get in the way (ie I’m expecting a delivery, or the bank comes to town on Wednesdays). I was running out of time so finally I stopped putting it off and just went. The weather forecast wasn’t great, but it was only getting worse over the weekend so it was pretty much my last chance.
I woke up feeling OK (not as bad as the previous day when standing up for too long was difficult, but still not 100%) so I packed my bags, and Merlin’s backpacks, and headed off. Merlin had a day worth of food in plastic takeaway containers wrapped in plastic (I didn’t have drybags for him yet). I also had his new portable bed in my pack.
We headed up the path to the bealach (as per usual) and across the eastern side of Meall Meadhonach, not bothering to go to any of the summits I’d already reached. I headed west just to the south of Meadhonach to hit the small subsidiary peak of Meall an Fheadain.
There was a homestead marked on the map here which I tried to find, but couldn’t, despite the fact that I’m sure I was standing in about the right place!
I was also going to try to find some cairns that were marked on the map to practice my fine navigation skills. I was having enough trouble with coarse navigation, ending up in the wrong place several times, so soon abandoned that plan. I was still pretty tired so cut my losses and headed straight for the bridge near Polla.
The weather was reasonably good. Windy (as usual) but mostly fine, until some light rain just before I came off the hill. Enough to get my waterproofs out though.
The bridge, unfortunately, wasn’t there! It looked like it may’ve been washed away recently, or possibly hadn’t been in use in a while. There was supposed to be another one further down but I would’ve had to walk straight past the house, which makes me uncomfortable. There was also a clear fording place on the river which was very easy to cross, although not with dry feet.
I don’t like getting wet feet. Not actually for any particularly prissy reason, but just that I assume that once my feet, shoes and socks get wet, I will soon get blisters. It’s been suggested several times recently that I need to get over this, as keeping dry feet out here can be difficult. In this instance, there was also a man working nearby on an excavator and I could imagine how silly I looked umming and ahhing about crossing a ford that was about 3 inches deep! So, I bravely tackled the ford, repeating to myself “I don’t mind wet feet. I don’t mind wet feet”! Thanks to my combination of waterproof pants, waterproof gaiters and waterproof shoes, I actually only ended up with a tiny bit of water in my shoes.
From here I walked along the road to the track into Strath Beag. This is a stunning valley with steep sides on the eastern side and southern end. These are probably Moine rocks (metamorphic schists) instead of the gentler rocks to the west (gneiss, limestones and quartzites). The way the Moine Thrust is here the rocks tend to have gentle slopes down to the east and sharper edges on the west anyway (it’s quite interesting – you can see it on most of the hills around here).
There are also patches of forest in the valley. Birch I think, maybe some rowan? Unusual around here, but obviously sheltered from the winds by the steep valley walls.
The walk to the bothy is surprisingly long and very boggy. Even having read that it was boggy, I was still surprised at how bad it was. There was a shepherd moving his sheep as we approached the bothy so we stood carefully out of the way as he took them past.
The bothy is quite large, with several large rooms and a washroom, complete with toilet. I think the toilet flushes (if you bring the water up from the stream) but I wasn’t game to try it in case it didn’t! All the downstairs rooms are stone floored except for the one with the fireplace and there was one sleeping room up some rickety stairs. As I was the only one there, I took the wooden floored main room, which had a table and several bench chairs and a drying rack. Unfortunately no nice sleeping platforms like Kervaig had, so we’d be on the floor.
The bothy was very well stocked with water, kindling, wood and even firelighters (possibly still left from when another blogger came here, which is how I first heard of Strabeg). It was in a reasonable state, although I get the feeling the building is not in great condition. There had actually been a maintenance party here the week before. It’s a shame I missed it as I’d like to get involved in them.
As soon as I laid Merlin’s bed out, he lay straight down and went to sleep. He was obviously tired, and had even been caught laying down on the hill while I took a photo stop! He perked up a bit later for dinner and went for another run around outside once the rain had stopped.
I had some dinner, started reading one of the books from the bothy’s library (a nice short one called “After the Flood”) and lit the fire, as much for light as for warmth. It didn’t seem very effective at warming the room up and there didn’t seem to be any residual heat after it had gone out. Maybe I just don’t realise how cold it would’ve been without any fire! I was fine, on my Therma-Rest, in my sleeping bag, but I noticed Merlin was a bit cold in the morning.
I had arrived at about 4pm the previous day so had plenty of time to read the book. Unfortunately I still had 1/3 of it to go, and didn’t want to spend another 2 hours reading it. I also didn’t want to leave without knowing what happened though so skimmed through it very quickly before I left!
I also cleaned out the fireplace, swept the bothy, filled up the water buckets, found some more kindling and sawed up a big piece of wood. I may not have completely made up for the wood that I burned, but I made an effort.
My plan of going up Cranstackie and Spionnaidh was not going to happen. Fatigue aside, the clouds were sitting at about 200m. This meant there was no rush. I wandered down the stream, taking some photos and appreciating how beautiful it was. Also trying to find a place that I could cross with dry feet!
After this it was up the hill on the western side of the valley (it was actually the lower flanks of Cranstackie) and across the side of the hill just below the clouds. Then I made a terrible decision. I was walking along the hill when suddenly there was a huge rocky outcrop in front of me. I should’ve walked down the hill and around the bottom of it, which I could see. However I don’t like going down when I’ve already put the effort in to get up to that height, and will just have to go back up again afterwards. I know I’m not alone in this feeling either! Instead I decided to walk uphill and go around the top of the outcrop.
I wasn’t reading my map properly, so didn’t realise how far up this was. I ended up completely in the clouds with about 10m visibility, walking along the edge of a cliff. And Merlin kept wanting to go right to the edge and look over! I was also well off the course that I’d planned which meant that if something did go wrong, I wouldn’t be where they went to look for me!
Eventually I could hear the stream at the bottom of the cliff (which meant it wasn’t so far down anymore), and then I could see the other side of the gorge. Once I could see the bottom I made my way down and crossed the stream.
I then made another silly error and walked too far north (rather than east), leaving myself another very difficult river crossing. The rivers in this area have cut very deep into the hill meaning that it can be quite a climb down to them and back up again. It had also been raining all morning so they were starting to get quite deep and fast flowing. I did make it across, and then decided that my number one goal had to be to get out of the cloud and lower on the hill where the streams would be easier to cross.
Once I got lower down, it settled into being quite a long, wet, cold walk, mostly back along the same route I’d walked yesterday. It was just a lot wetter and boggier, and the streams that I could step across yesterday I now had to search for a safe point to cross. I was still in cloud enough that I couldn’t see the Loch, and the hillside there is quite featureless, so I used my compass to make sure I got to the right point on the hillside. While my fine navigation is lacking at the moment, luckily my coarse navigation is still OK. And I made sure that I actually followed the direction my compass told me to go, rather than veering towards the direction I thought was right!!
I got back to the valley with the homestead supposedly in it and was very happy to find the “Durness Walking Network” poles. Unfortunately there were two colours, going different ways, and I had no idea which would actually take me back to town! I couldn’t even find this path in the booklet I have at home afterwards.
Eventually I came over the ridge to the path back into town. By this point I was more wet and getting quite cold. It had been raining most of the dayI think my jacket had been riding up under my pack and letting water run into the top of my waterproof pants, and I hadn’t been making sure my jacket sleeves were over my gloves, which meant the inside of my waterproof gloves were also very wet. And cold.
Still, there was not much to do but keep walking and get home as quickly as I could. A hot shower (including washing Merlin) and a warm pub meal soon fixed all those problems though! Merlin was happy to sleep at home that night . . . and for the entire next day!
Merlin was quite happy carrying his packs, with weight in them. Unfortunately he ripped them, I think on one of the gateposts just outside of town. I still haven’t repaired them properly although they still work as long as everything inside is in a big drybag. His food was a bit soggy with just the containers and plastic bags! He also got a bit soggy. At one point he ran across a green mossy patch and sunk half way up his belly. He looked at me, awfully confused, and I was just debating how to get him out without sinking myself when he worked out how to “swim” to the edge.