Wednesday, 30 December 2009

TGO Challenge

All's been quiet on the blogging front for a while. Anyway, we now have a route more or less planned and I've plotted it on Anquet digital mapping. We shall start at Dornie on the west coast and finish at Luna Bay on the east. It's not a particularly high level route but looks an interesting one. Plenty of wild, remote country. There will be some wild camping and a few sites and a couple of stretches where there is no discernable path, which should be fun. Once we have fine-tuned the route, it will be sent in to the organisers for vetting. More on this soon.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Backpackers Chilterns weekend

Winter beckons and so Backpackers Club members gather. This one wasn't too far from home so no excuse. We trickled one by one on to the campsite at Radnage, near Stokenchurch, just off the M40 on a wet Friday afternoon/evening. Off to the nearby pub, The Crown, for a meal a pint or three of an excellent local brew, Loddon Hoppit, brewed by the Loddon Brewery. Saturday's weather was a real contrast to that of the day before - clear blue skies and some sunshine. In separate groups, we headed south, under or over the M40, and into some really lovely countryside. I've lived not far from the Chilterns for most of my life and never really explored the area. It's quite hilly and plenty of traditional woodland. The end of season colours were stunning.

The area is well known for its Red Kites and they were very much in evidence all the time wheeling around and making their distinctive call. The camp on Saturday night was in woodland in part of a nature reserve and was really quite special, marred only by the November 5th noise of a firework display from somewhere nearby, maybe Nettlebed. Sunday was a good day as well, returning by a different route to Radnage.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

A new bit of kit

Every lightweight hiker needs one of these poo trowels and it's very easy to make. I got the idea from a fellow backpacker who, in turn, had got the idea from Andy Howell's blog. It only took ten minutes to make and it only weighs one ounce - three ounces less than what it replaces. May get to use it this weekend!

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

TGO Challenge 2010

My team has been selected! We now have to prepare a route and submit it for vetting by some time in February 2010. Great news. I shall now be a regular visitor to the Challenge website. It's all very exciting.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

TGO Challenge 2010

Well, here's some excitement. I've been invited to join a team to take part in the 31st TGO Challenge next year in the last two weeks of May. I'm about to complete the application form. Of course, we may not be selected as entry is limited to 300. The other team members are Frank and Gill. They are going to be planning the route to start with although I hope I can contribute something. Planning the gear to take will also need much care. The weather can be atrocious in the Scottish Highlands although, as I found earlier this year, it can also be superb! Will we take food for the whole two weeks with us or will we resupply along the way? There'll be more postings on this topic as time goes on.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Backpackers Dartmoor weekend

Two consecutive weekends backpacking! Now that is really something (for me). The meeting point was Ivybridge station. The park and ride car park was overrun with travellers' caravans so I wouldn't have wanted to leave a car there. Just two of us (me and Martin) started the planned jaunt from there. The idea was to spend three nights wild camping and finish at Okehampton on Bank Holiday Monday.

The weather started fair and we were on to the moor within fifteen minutes or so. It started to get a bit showery and it was quite windy. At our first night's halt, we met up with John who had arrived and pitched a couple of hours earlier. We were at SX667670 where there is a good stream for water.

Saturday's weather was fair and sunny most of the time, as forecast. Our route took us over Ryders Hill to Hexworthy where we stopped for a pint at the Forest Inn. Then on to Dartmeet where, in the car park, we came upon what had been a dramatic scene. A fire engine was still there. It seems that a car had caught fire whilst parked, spread to the one next to it and destroyed it completely. The vehicle on the other side was also badly damaged down one side.

We walked on alongside the East Dart River and on to Belever where we pitched by the same river further north. On the way down, I'd come across a dead cow amongst the ferns and gorse. A farmer came by later and I offered to go back up the hillside with him to try and find it. I did so eventually but only by going up above the gorse level and locating our entry point and endeavouring to come down the same way. Having worn shorts all day, my legs were covered with red specks where the gorse had scraped them. At Belever, four more Club members joined us (Howard, Ray, Louise and Nigel).

Next morning, Sunday, was wet and stayed that way much of the day. We went through Postbridge (where there is an excellent village shop) and then took a very cross-country route northwards and stopped for lunch to the east of Fernwood Forest. We then headed east on a virtually non-existent path to Little Varracombe. By now it was quite misty and very wet underfoot (and me wearing just trail shoes). We went over Hangingstone Hill and sheltered for a while behind a concrete shed built by the military who train around here. It was very windy!

On from here, yomping through some very wet and boggy bits. In the fog, we lost Martin and John, who went on to camp at Small Brook. The rest of us camped by East Okement River at SX607934 - good water and plenty of room. During the evening, Howard's orange survival bag flashed past me into the river. He then had a challenging time retrieving it with me, camera at the ready, to catch the moment when he might fall in the river. Unfortunately, he didn't.

We then went our separate ways on Monday morning.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

A Cotswold weekend

With a good weather forecast and no-one else at home, I thought I'd go off for a couple of days. I left work at lunchtime and, with a light pack, headed from home into the southern tip of Warwickshire, joining the Donnington Way at Little Compton. This is a 62 mile trail linking the pubs belonging to the Donnington brewery. I won't have time for all of it (or to call at all the fifteen pubs) but I'll have a decent walk, probably returning home on Sunday evening. From Little Compton, the route passed through Barton-on-the-Heath and then west towards and alongside the Fire Service College at Moreton-in-Marsh. At Moreton, I called in at the Black Bear for an excellent pint of Donningtons BB. From there, I prepared an evening meal in a field and then continued towards Blockley. Near Batsford, I startled a herd of about 150 deer. Light was fading so I looked for somewhere to spend the night in Park Plantation. This was on Monarch's Way. I was surprised to find a couple already pitched here. It really is easy to wild camp in the south of Éngland if you leave it late. Knowing it was unlikely to rain, I packed no tent or tarp, just a sleeping bag and bivy bag. I rolled these out close to the edge of the wood and was asleep pretty quickly. I slept reasonably well; to save weight, I'd brought a closed cell foam mat but the Thermarest would have been more comfortable.

Blockley early morning

Setting off at 6.10am, I continued along Monarch’s Way through Blockley, the main part of which is Cotswold at its beautiful best, money, and lots of it, evident from the size and quality of the old cottages and houses, all lovingly maintained. The route then went through Broad Campden and then Chipping Campden. From here I went up to Dover’s Hill on the Cotswold Way with far reaching views from the escarpment, the northernmost edge of the Cotswolds. I brewed some coffee here whilst enjoying the vista.

I continued along The Mile Drive on the Cotswold Way down to the café at Broadway Tower, meeting again my friend Kim, who I’d last seen on my LEJOG when she kindly allowed me to camp there. Fortified with a pot of tea and a generous slice of chocolate fudge cake, I made my way down through Snowshill (which featured in the film Bridget Jones’ Diary)

and then down through the hamlet of Taddington, then Cutsdean, Ford and Temple Guiting. Harvesting was going on everywhere. At Kineton, I took a path south-west and joined the Wardens’ Way into Guiting Power, through Naunton where, just south a bit, I followed the Windrush Way almost into Bourton-on-the-Water. Light was fading so I found myself a soft spot of grassy ground beside a hedge and spent a peaceful night.

Up at 5.45am, I was on my way shortly after and it was surprising how many people were about in Bourton, even at that time. From here, field paths and quiet lanes took me the three miles or so to Sherbourne where I headed eastwards through water meadows to the village of Windrush. Crossing the River Dikler here, I followed footpaths and bridleways northwards through Great Rissington, Little Rissington and then Wyck Rissington where I joined the Oxfordshire Way. Passing through Gawcombe and then Bledington and Kingham, I was home at 5pm having walked a total of 57 miles.

This was my first outing using just a bivy bag, an Alpkit Hunka, an excellent piece of kit which until now I've only used to make sure my down bag remains dry under the tarp. Having no tarp this time meant that I was able to move off much more quickly in the mornings, as it often has to be dried either from rain or condensation. Also, the walking day was structured differently. I tended to be away earlier, I would stop in the evening between 6-7pm and prepare a meal and I would then walk another couple of hours until it started to get dark and then find somewhere unobtrusive to spend the night. However, with a bivy, even though it's red, it's not nearly as conspicuous as a tent or tarp. Definitely an experience to be repeated and could add an extra to a tarping trip as, particularly when rain isn't expected, I wouldn't necessarily need to put the tarp up.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Fairport's Cropredy Convention

Just arrived - 1.15pm. It's going to be a long day but should be good. Plenty of food opportunities and excellent music.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Walking plans

I'm beginning to look ahead a bit and schedule in some backpacking trips. First up - I find I have the weekend after next to my self (to which I can probably add a day). I have a choice of some rather good walks that would take three days or so. There's the Donnington Way (61 miles), the Cotswold Ring (55 miles) and the North Cotswold Diamond (60 miles).

Next April, I'm hoping to latch on to a friend's already planned walk from Banbury to Bath, 86 miles along the Macmillan Way Cross Cotswold Pathway. I'm also planning a coast to coast walk some time next year. This is the North of England Way from Ravenglass to Scarborough - I think it's 206 miles.

Before then I'm off down to Devon at the end of this month with a Backpackers Club walk from Ivybridge to Okehampton, south to north over Dartmoor, three nights wild camping.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Pack weight

I've been spending some time lately exploring the excellent US site of Francis Tapon. He's presently backpacking around Eastern Europe with a view to writing a book. His account of the various trails he's done in the USA make interesting reading. He's obviously an experienced (ultra-lightweight) hiker but he has a habit of losing bits of kit and having quite hair-raising experiences. His packweight (excluding food, water and fuel) is around 6-7 pounds. Using his kit list, I reckon I can get mine down to around 8.5 pounds and hope to get a weekend away somewhere soon to try it out.

Glyme Valley Way

I had a guest staying with me last weekend. Those of you who followed my LEJOG adventure, may remember Vinnie. He's from Jamestown, NY and was walking his own LEJOG. Our paths crossed no less than three times - at Kingsbury Water Park, near Birmingham, in Thorpe in the Peak District and then at Horton-in-Ribblesdale. He'd been reading this blog back home before he started and so recognised me from my blog mugshot at our first meeting. We walked the Glyme Valley Way, a distance of sixteen miles, plus a couple of extra miles around Blenheim Park at the beginning. It's not that well signposted in places but that didn't present a great problem as I'm familiar with the area.

Vinnie's now returned home. I hope we'll keep in touch.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

LEJOG kit review

My first assumption was that my sole shelter along the route would be my tarp, a Golite Cave. I’ve had this for about eight years and I know it pretty well. I then wavered and thought maybe a robust solo tent would be better overall and this was my intention until shortly before I left. I then did a complete turnaround and took the tarp and didn’t regret it. It’s lighter in weight, takes up less space when packed and gives much more living space when pitched. I’ve never used it in, say, 50mph wind conditions but my LEJOG route didn’t take me to really exposed places. I expected wind and rain (and had them) but not extreme wind and rain. I experienced rain, wind and below zero conditions on the walk and there was never any problem. The tarp has put up with worse conditions than this. It is far more robust than it looks and I can cook under it.

The main drawback of the tarp, in its basic form, as far as I am concerned, is that it gives no protection against midges. However, I have the Golite Nest which attaches by hooks to the inside and outer edges of the tarp. I had this sent in a resupply parcel when I got near to Penrith. I used the Nest for many of my overnight camps in Scotland and I’m glad I had it with me. It cuts down on much of the living space under the tarp but it guarantees a peaceful night’s sleep.

Trekking poles
Pacerpoles (aluminium). These were really very good. Their specially shaped hand grips were comfortable and gave extra power to propel me up hills and were also helpful when crossing streams. They kept the tarp up as well. I tended not to use them when I was using the Golite Breeze pack (see below). I found that I prefer to have my hands free when using this pack.

I chopped and changed here. I started with a Kimmlite (now OMM) Mountain Mover 55 + 15. However, I felt that I was using this to its full capacity and the rather sparsely padded shoulder straps were a little uncomfortable. I switched to a larger, unbranded pack I’ve had for years. It carried everything well but, I came to realise, it’s made for someone with a longer back than mine and it tended to hang too low. On my quick visit home at the end of April, I bought an Osprey Ariel 65. This took the required load well and was generally reasonably comfortable. Once I got into Scotland and Amanda arrived with the camper, I was able to carry a lighter load and food supplies for maybe one or two days and nights and so used a Golite Breeze. It doesn’t have a hip belt but that isn’t so important with less being carried. It only weighs a few ounces and, when packed well, it is very comfortable and, I have to say, is still my favourite pack. On a future multi-day walk, if food can be picked up more often then this would be my pack of choice.

Sleeping bag
I used a Mountain Equipment Xero 350 throughout. I bought this as a bag for winter use but only rarely did I get too hot in it on this trip. It’s a superb bag. It’s down, lightweight and packs up small.

Bivy bag
Alpkit Hunka – it only cost £25 but it does the job in making sure my down bag doesn’t get wet from rain and is as breathable as I need it to be. I took it with me following the problems I had last year on my coast to coast walk but I could have done without it but it was sensible to have it.

Sleeping pad
Thermarest ¾ length self-inflating mattress. This is the thinner one but is more than adequate for me and ensures that I sleep comfortably. I carry a short length of closed cell foam to go under my legs and feet as well. This is also my sit mat under the tarp and provides good padding down the back of the Golite Breeze pack.

As the tarp has no base, I used on this trip a length of clear Polycryo, about eight feet long and 2.5 feet wide. With careful treatment and a few duct tape repairs, it lasted the required ten weeks. In case it was needed, I also had with me a space blanket which does the same job just as well. The advantage of both of these is that they only weigh a couple of ounces.

Mini-Trangia. I’ve had this for years. It’s very simple and there’s nothing to go wrong with it. To lighten its weight, I’ve replaced the burner with a Varga titanium stove which weighs just one ounce. It uses much less fuel (methylated spirits) and, in the event of me running out of meths, I can use fuel tablets with it.

My jacket is a Mountain Equipment Ogre, not cheap but reliable, comfortable and very breathable. My waterproof trousers were a disappointment. They were Rab Bergen and were sent home when I found that they let in rain. I’ve yet to decide what to do about them as they haven’t been used much but I can’t find the receipt. I used for most of the trip a pair of Gelert overtrousers which cost £11.99. They were very good and did the job but the taped seams started to fall part towards the end so I dumped them. I had a pair of Peter Storm overtrousers sent on from home which, after reproofing on the campsite at Peebles, were fine.

I started with a broken-in pair of Alt-Berg Fremingtons. These were good but I found that the little toe on my right foot was being pinched. These were stretched for me, which helped. In the meantime, from Whiddon Down to Broadway Tower, I wore a pair of Scarpa fabric boots I'd had for some time which were very comfortable but the heels started to come adrift. I had the Alt-Bergs brought to me (I wasn't far from home at this point). I then wore the heels of these right down by the time I was half way across Scotland so may have them resoled. A replacement pair, identical but in a wider width fitting, saw me through almost to the end. These are excellent boots, waterproof and comfortable.

For the last couple of days, carrying only a day pack, I wore trainers, an old pair of Merrell Exotechs. I could have worn trainers for just about all of the walking in Scotland.

Other bits of kit
Golite Wisp windproof top – indispensable. It weighs nothing, packs down to nothing and, over a fleece top, keeps wind out.

Mountain Equipment Polartec 100 fleece - a favourite.

Vaseline – I used a couple of Compeed blister patches but, if caught early, Vaseline is effective in preventing rubbing from developing into a painful blister. A £1.00 tin lasted me the trip.

Pocketmail – whilst I’ve used this on previous trips for blogging, this tended to exhaust my patience. It’s an old model and doesn’t work with a mobile phone. Therefore, I was dependent on finding public call boxes. This was generally no problem but not all were working, when they were, I couldn’t always get them to work with the Pocketmail – it was very hit and miss. In the remoter parts of Scotland there were no call boxes. In the end, I gave up and used the little Blackberry that I’d bought just before leaving. I thought I’d never get to grips with the minuscule keyboard but, with practice, I became quite proficient. The drawback with it was that it needed charging periodically whereas the Pocketmail uses AA batteries. I will definitely use the Blackberry for blogging again but for longer trips might consider using a separate phone for making calls and restrict the Blackberry’s use to posting to the blog to conserve its power. I can post photos to the blog with it, whereas the Pocketmail is capable of sending text only. The Pocketmail weighs nearly nine ounces compared with three for the Blackberry.

I used Exped waterproof bags to keep kit dry. With all kit kept in a waterproof pack liner, I didn’t use a waterproof pack cover and just let the pack get wet in the rain. It always dried out quickly.

My only light was a Petzl e+lite. My only knife was a small blade in a Swiss card; I used most of the other gadgets in this during the trip.

Some statistics
I camped 47 nights, of which three were in gardens, twelve were wild camps and the rest were on sites of one sort or another. None of the sites were really bad, some were better than others. I spent one night in a backpackers' hostel/bunkhouse (Fort Augustus), one night in a bothy (Loch Choire), one night in a pub (Aultguish Inn), one night in a Travelodge (Whiddon Down), thirteen nights in beds in houses plus one on the floor of a house (Eskdalemuir) and five in a campervan.

I can't say exactly how much the trip cost me. I know that those who I met also doing LEJOG who were using B&Bs would have spent around £3,000 in all, to include an evening meal with drink. As I used my own food most of the time for breakfast and evening meals, I think my cost was around £500.

I didn't wear out any pairs of socks. I used a few pairs of socks I've had for a few years and will continue to use them. I think I must be very light on socks.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Update on worn out legs

I visited a physiotherapist and was given a leg massage. She could feel the knots in the muscles and released these and the legs are nearly back to normal now. Money well spent. The ankles are still swollen a bit - I've been told to keep massaging the achilles tendons myself and the problem should right itself.

Sunday, 21 June 2009


A week after I stopped walking, I'm still getting up in the mornings with legs stiff as a board - calf muscles contracted, achilles tendons tight and stiff ankle joints. I stomp downstairs and, gradually, movement returns. Swollen ankles as well. Nobody said it would be like this. Maybe I should have walked for another week or so, reducing each day.

Back to work tomorrow. Am I looking forward to it?

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Day 70 Saturday - Watten to John o'Groats

Walking 8.00am to 3.30pm
Distance walked today 19 miles
Total distance walked 1059 miles

Today was a road walk all the way to John o'Groats. The site we were on was three miles north west of Watten. There didn't seem much point in going into the village - it was an A road with no footpath. Therefore, I went up the A882 in the Thurso direction for half a mile before turning right signposted Gillock. I tramped along this road for two miles, turning right on to the B874 for half a mile to Gillock, then left for three miles to the B876, turning right for one and a half miles.

At Hastigrow, I turned left and continued almost in a straight line for eight miles to Upper Gills. Just before here, I came over the brow of a hill (more a vague change in elevation as, shortly before this, I'd passed a trig point at a height of 66 metres) and there before me was a view of the Pentland Firth something over a mile away with Stroma Island to the fore and the Orkneys beyond.

First glimpse of sea since Sennen Cove, Cornwall!

Continuing through Canisbay, it started to rain. As an aside here, one of the commonest birds I've seen on this walk has been the oystercatcher and, in a field in Canisbay, there must have been at least two hundred of them. Passing by the youth hostel, I then joined the A836 in to John o'Groats.

On the way in, there was a house named Aargh - is this some strange Scots word?

Just about there!

I'm told I'm grimacing here! I usually look a bit less ferocious

Just for the sake of completeness, having started from the most southwesterly tip of England, I shall continue tomorrow to Duncansby Head, the north east tip of Scotland. The rest of tomorrow will be spent exploring some of this part of Scotland, Monday involves a trip on the ferry to the Orkneys with a circuit by coach of the main tourist sites and we shall head for home on Tuesday via Morpeth to visit the people at my charity, MS Research and Relief Fund.

As for the other End to Enders I met, Reg and Geert, who I Iast saw on the West Highland Way, got to John o'Groats a couple of hours before me (Amanda met them whilst parked up some way ahead of me). Unfortunately, they'd had to make a dash for a bus to Wick just before I arrived.

Vinnie, my American friend, is just two days away and I shall go off in search of him at some point.

If having got hooked on this blog, you wish to switch to another, you might try - Brendan is now close to the Scottish border.

At this stage, I'd like to thank all family, friends, friends of family and friends and others who've given so generously to my charity. The original target was £2,000 and now the amount raised is nicely over £3,000.

I hope this blog has kept people entertained. I've certainly enjoyed doing it. I shall add more photos to it in due course and hope to make the whole adventure available as a downloadable pdf. The blog itself will continue with occasional postings relating to ultralight hiking and backpacking as before.

Strictly for afficionados (and sad people), I shall post some statistics of the trip and do a review of kit items when I get home.

Duncansby Stacks

Friday, 12 June 2009

Day 69 Friday - Altnabreac to Watten

Walking 7.00am to 2.30pm
Distance walked today 16 miles
Total distance walked 1040 miles
Distance left 20 miles (actually, 20.5)

Lots of midges last night. I wiped the condensation off the inside of the tarp and realised that it wasn't just wet on the outside, it was ice - in June. I think the last night the temperature dropped below zero was in Devon two months ago. Judging by the amount of water I often squeeze out of my sponge, there must be a pint at least - I'd rather not be carrying it.

I'd been camping only three feet off the forest track so I rejoined it, continuing alongside the railway. I left without breakfasting as the midges were out in force. I'd made some tea but that had midges in it. I had a head net on but it's not easy to eat or drink with it on.

The first five miles was through forest. Breakfast was had on the edge of Loch More.

Loch More

Whilst there, I had the feeling of being watched. Turning round slowly, I saw a deer no more than thirty feet away. It obligingly let me take a photo before it ambled off - by far the least afraid deer I've come across so far.

Shortly after this, the track joined the road which passed Strathmore Lodge, a large house with a tower and a turret.

Strathmore Lodge
The road continued through Westerdale and Mybster and crossed the A9 towards Watten. Last night being my last camping night, we're at a site near Loch Watten on the A882.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Day 68 Thursday - Kinbrace to Altnabreac

Walking 9.10am to 6.45pm
Distance walked today 19 miles
Total distance walked 1024 miles
Distance left 36 miles

I had a brief exchange of emails yesterday evening with my friend, Gayle (, regarding her route from Kinbrace last year. In fact, the route she and Mick took over Knockfin Heights is the one described in Andy Robinson's "The End to End Trail". The OS map shows absolutely no paths over Knockfin Heights but Gayle likes a yomp over boggy, featureless moorland, the wetter the better.

I didn't go this way. Taking advantage of having my support vehicle and team with me, I took a day pack with just waterproofs and water, donned trainers and power walked the seven miles by road, the. A897, to Forsinard. This was single track with passing places and there were very few vehicles about.

The road north of Kinbrace

We had a quick look round the RSPB Visitor Centre and then went for a pot of tea at the Forsinard Hotel. I then continued, covering a further four miles in record time.

After this, I put boots back on, shouldered my Golite pack and headed off, initially south east, on a trail signposted Altnabreac. This was easy to follow, being waymarked and having a good sandy surface. In fact, I'm certain it was wider than the A897 in places.

The map I had was supposedly up to date and I expected to be walking through forest much of the way. Most of the forest had been cleared, obviously some time ago as part of a scheme to return the land to its original wet moorland state.

My planned overnight stop around Cnoc Maol Donn proved to be totally unsuitable so I collected water at a burn and carried on walking. After another three miles, I found a reasonable pitch close to the railway alongside a forest track at ND010461. In the three hours I've been here, one vehicle and one train have gone by.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Day 67 Wednesday - Loch Choire to Kinbrace

Walking 8.00am to 3.15pm
Distance walked today 17 miles
Total distance walked 1005 miles (now, doesn't that look impressive?)
Distance left 55 miles

I spent a peaceful night in the bothy. Those responsible for it have taken a lot of trouble over it.

Loch Choire bothy

There was no need for a compass today. I followed the track along the south side of Loch Choire. I chatted to the housekeeper of Loch Choire House, who's from Hampshire, although her husband, the stalker, who I also met, is very Scottish. Along the way, I met the estate handyman, who is from the Czech Republic.

I took the track east, rather than the estate road, just past Loch Choire House. There were numerous deer around here but, as usual, they moved on as soon as they became aware of my presence. I then rejoined the estate road and followed this for eight miles to Badanloch Lodge - very easy walking. All along this road, there were superb open views from the west right round to the east. I passed by lochs I've never heard of - Truderscaig, Rimsdale, an Alltan Fhearna and Badanloch.

Loch Badanloch

I'm not good at bird identification, but I was definitely circled today by some very vocal curlew and I also saw many golden plovers.

Joining the B871, I followed this, passing by Loch Achnamoine, for the remaining four miles to Kinbrace. I moved off the road for a vehicle coming up behind me, only to find it was Amanda in the support campervan. She went on to put the kettle on.

Day 66 Tuesday - Lairg to Loch Choire

Walking 9.00am to 6.00pm
Distance walked today 17 miles
Total distance walked 988 miles
Distance left 72 miles

I'd planned to walk out of Lairg up the A836 for nearly six miles and then head east along the track to Dalnessie. However, after my road walking yesterday, I looked for an alternative. I happened to have with me in the camper Andy Robinson's excellent book "The End to End Trail" and he gives a route through forest north of Lairg which joins the track to Dalnessie.

Fishermen on Loch Tigh na Creige

Having done it now, I can say that it is pretty easy to follow and is worth doing. In case it's of help to anyone, when Loch Tigh na Creige is reached, don't immediately head for the loch side - keep going ahead on the track (which is quite faint here) - then, when the loch side is reached, follow it round until a stile over a deer fence by a burn is seen at NC621094. Go over the stile into the forest, alongside the burn. Cross the burn at the first opportunity and head north through the forest to meet a path going east-west - head west and the path soon meets a main forest road on a bend. After four miles on this, the track to Dalnessie is met. This was a really nice forest walk.


After Dalnessie, the track and then path was clear until some way past where there is an old shed and I forked left, following a burn called Allt Goblach. From then, over the next four miles, I would lose the path quite regularly. It was difficult to keep on course but as long as I generally headed north, I wasn't going to go too far wrong. It was bleak, open moorland.

Above the descent to the trees at NC623247, I caught a glimpse of Loch Choire, still nearly two miles away.

There is a bothy by the loch where I am spending the night. A jogger went by earlier. She has a very remote route. Having been showery during the day, it's now raining again.

Inside Loch Choire bothy

Monday, 8 June 2009

Day 65 Monday

I mean double figures, not single! Less than a hundred miles to go, although much of this is likely to be somewhat tedious, across the Flow country of north east Caithness.

Day 65 Monday - Oykel Bridge to Lairg

Walking 8.30am to 4.00pm
Distance walked today 16 miles
Total distance walked 971 miles
Distance left 89 miles

The route as originally planned would have had me walking along the A837 all the way to Lairg. However, in somebody's account of a LEJOG walk, I was able to identify a bridge crossing the River Oykel at NC407006 which isn't shown on the Landranger map. This enabled me to plan a route south of the river as far as Inveroykel. This bridge does exist (June 2009).

Bridge at NC407006

I followed then a path alongside the river a short distance to a hill fort. It's not clear here exactly where to go. There's a track shown on the map a little to the south east but no obvious way to it. I went too far to the north of the track but a lady walking a dog pointed me in the right direction.

River Oykel at Inveroykel

Having gained the track, it was an easy walk to Inveroykel. I stopped and chatted to a farmer on a quad bike for twenty minutes or so. He was extremely English but has farmed here for years and wouldn't live anywhere else. He told me that the village shop in the next village, Rosehall, is owned by Mohammed Al Fayed, (who also owns some 70,000 acres locally) and let to the proprietor. I went in the shop, called Invercassley Stores. It's very good.

Invercassley Stores

There was about a mile of the A837 to Rosehall, then, just past the river bridge, a track leading to Invernauld House. A lane from here took me up to the A837 again and I then followed this for the remaining six miles into Lairg. It was single track with passing places much of the way with very little traffic so, as far as road walking is concerned, it was quite good. It was dry and cloudy/sunny most of the day.

The remaining mileage to John o'Groats is now in single figures!

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Day 64 Sunday - Gleann Mor to Oykel Bridge

Walking 6.40am to 3.45pm
Distance walked today 16 miles
Total distance walked 955 miles
Distance left 105 miles

I slept well on my side of the river, although last night a herd of long haired, long horned cattle appeared on the other side. I checked the map to see where the nearest bridge was! I woke early this morning to the sound of them clearing their throats.

Camp at Abhainn a`Ghlinne Mhoir

After last evening's rain, this morning was lovely and sunny. It was easy enough continuing along Gleann Mor. After four miles, I reached Alladale River and, after going over a couple of bridges, I turned right alongside the river. The map shows a path from the back of Alladale Lodge to Croick but I'm not sure if it is passable - there were 4x4s going to and from it and it looked a bit private. Anyway, my intended, albeit longer, route was the way I went.

Bridge at Alladale Lodge

The way along the south and then east of Amat Forest was easy and on a hard unmade surface, although it became tarmaced. The forest to the left was attractive and I caught sight of one or two deer.

The road to Croick

At The Craigs, I turned left in the direction of Croick. I'd got marked on my map Croick churchyard as a possible wild camp and with water obtained in advance (maybe from the river near Alladale Lodge), it would be OK, not that I needed it today.

Passing through Croick, I went on to where I expected to find the path to Oykel Bridge at NH397961 but there was just unbroken deer fence. I went on a bit and found a gate but it was locked and no sign of a path on the other side.

Information I had with me from the Scottish Hill Tracks book gave me another alternative. I went back to NH407958 where there was a way through apparently. This took me to a gate across the track I'd just been down but no sign of a way towards Oykel Bridge.

What I did from this point was just take a compass bearing and, using a GPS as well, headed towards Oykel Bridge, thrashing through heather and going through young tree plantations, uphill north west for the first mile or so. Once I was about half way, I took yet another compass bearing and, turning in that direction, espied a stile over a deer fence. That meant I was on course and it was then a long downhill, mainly not on a path, to Amat and then Oykel Bridge. Whew.

Oykel Bridge

I'm not sure if there is a proper path all the way here or not. I was pleased in the end to have got through and just trusted the compass - the GPS was invaluable as well, enabling me to check my position frequently.

My support picked me up as arranged and I'll be dropped back at Oykel Bridge tomorrow morning to walk to Lairg.

Day 63 Saturday - Aultguish to Gleann Mor

Walking 10.30am to 4.00pm
Distance walked today 12 miles
Total distance walked 939 miles
Distance left 121 miles

The Aultguish Inn is on the A835 Inverness to Ullapool road. As well as offering comfortable accommodation, there is also a well equipped bunkhouse. There are no camping facilities. The food is excellent and so's the beer. Couldn't fault the place really. Also, Lesley, who owns the place with her husband, gave me a generous donation to my charity.

Aultguish Inn

I noticed yesterday that I've worn through the tread of the heels of my boots. I hope to have them resoled so switched to the new boots I bought on my brief trip home at the end of April.

From the inn, I went east along the A835 for one and a half miles. At Black Bridge, I took to the road which heads north through Strath Vaich and then alongside Loch Vaich. There were a few passing showers but it made for undemanding walking.

Having covered ten miles, just before Deanich Lodge, I came across my first people of the day. These were two ladies from Wales, in the early stages of cycling from John o'Groats to Land's End, raising money for Macmillan Cancer Relief. I forgot to ask them their names or take a photo.

Deanich Lodge in the valley ahead

A couple of miles further on, I found a good pitch by the river, called Abhainn a`Ghlinne Mhoir. The rain torrented down not long after I'd settled and there are now frequent showers.

Abhainn a`Ghlinne Mhoir

The new boots have, as expected, been comfortable straight from the box.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Day 62 Friday - Loch Cul to Aultguish

Walking 7.00am to 3.30pm
Distance walked today 14 miles (including 2 unplanned)
Total distance walked 927
Distance left 133 miles

It was eerily quiet this morning. I'm used to a dawn chorus but here, next to the loch in open moorland, there are no trees and so, very few birds.

I rejoined yesterday's path. I'd been some two hundred yards off it and totally hidden from passers by (although I doubt there were any). The path was fairly well defined for the first mile and a half. The wind became quite chilly.

About half a mile from Loch Luichart, the path just totally disappeared in a mass of ferns and then there was a deer fence. After flailing around a bit, I caught sight of a ladder stile over the fence so thrashed my way over to it. There was no sign of a path to it. Once over it, there was no track to continue towards the loch. With a few false starts here and there, I eventually arrived at the loch side; the main thing was to avoid deer fences and just keep going downhill.

There were few traces of path to follow around the loch. Heading west, I made for the head of the loch and at last saw the railway bridge which was my way over the river. I walked along the railway track to the station and then along the A832 to Corriemoillie.

I'd planned to shave a couple of miles off by taking the track at NH358636 to meet the path at NH380651 but found a locked deer gate with a "no unauthorised access" notice. It was rickety and may not have borne my weight. Should I have gone through it? As it was, I went on down the road to Gorstan to look for the drove road to Aultguish.

It went into a felled forest and, as this part of it wasn't shown on the map, I couldn't find it at all. Therefore, I took the lane up to the A835 and so went the long way round to pick up the drove road.

This road took me a couple of miles through largely felled forest up to open moorland. Here, the weather took a turn for the worse. I saw the rain clouds heading my way and the wind and rain came and it really got cold. I had full waterproofs with me but stuck with my windshirt and Lycra shorts and just cracked on to the Aultguish Inn, arriving quite cold and, Amanda having booked a room there, I fell into a really hot bath which made me realise how much I'd lacerated my legs in the undergrowth this morning. It was very painful and it was about ten minutes before I was able to fully submerge my legs! The tap water here is peaty - it was like having a bath in Bisto, but it was good.

Had a super meal - casserole of oxtail & mash followed by marmalade bread & butter pudding. The beer was An Teallach (not sure of the brewery) - very nice.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Day 61 Thursday - Loch Monar to Loch Cul

Walking 7.45am to 4.30pm
Distance walked today 14 miles
Total distance walked 913 miles
Distance left 139 miles

I camped last night just below the path I took this morning along Allt a` Choire Dhomhain.

Looking back towards Loch Monar

The path was reasonably well defined most of its length but where it ascended away from the burn at NH209449 it disappeared but this wasn't too serious as I knew I had to go over the saddle and then drop down to the River Orrin. There was no defined path down but I could see the river (such as it was) way below and made my way down to it.

River Orrin

I followed the course of the river for about a mile, the path then continuing by the north side of Loch na Caoidhe for half a mile.

At this point, a path ascended north east to Torran Ceann Liath and then dropped gradually to continue in the valley bottom of Gleann Chorainn for three miles to Inverchoran, a small cluster of cottages. Past these was a bridge over the River Meig and the narrow road for four miles down to the village of Milton. I received a reminder of the real world here, seeing the village hall open as a polling station - 4 June - local and MEP elections.

From Milton, I took the path up through Strathconon Woods on to moorland, taking a right fork from the main track passing to the east of Carn Airigh Charn. I'm camped beside Loch Cul, a bit tussocky but not bad. I got my water for the night from a burn in Strathconon Woods, but there are a couple of burns across the moor.

Loch Cul
I've met no-one today. A brief shower of rain but, otherwise, the weather's been good, but cooler.

I've measured out the remaining miles to John o'Groats. Instead of the 139 indicated above, there seem to be 145, so I'll use this figure from tomorrow.