Woke up at 7.30, when it was still dark. Had breakfast with the morning star winking at me through the trees. Marched out the door at 8.30, it being fully light by that time. Quite a few people were heading out by that hour, and I left a route card at reception. My destination today:
BEN NEVIS 1,344m - 4,406 ft
Anticipated time of return: 6pm. Set out across the road, across the bridge and on to the track. This was innocently flat at first, but then started to climb. And never stopped climbing. Walked with one other hosteller. It was a demanding, exacting exercise. The ascent was continuous, and rapid. But it took its toll on legs, particularly the upper leg muscles. Speed is a killer in this sort of situation, so it was a case of proceeding slowly but persistently. You wind up the hillside to the junction with the path from the Visitor Centre, then climb up northeast until you reach the valley which leads to the Ben itself. You climb out of the corrie, until you crest out near Loch Meall an t-Suidhe, altitude 570m, 1,900ft. Things don't stop there, obviously. At a large wall, the tourist path from Fort William comes in, and it veers east again. The climb continues, across a stream and then into boulder land. At altitude 1,150m, 3,800ft, a patch of snow appeared along the trail. These quickly spread and multiplied, and eventually, near the summit, spread onto the path. It is very dangerous to walk on the snow without crampons on. It is not soft, fluffy snow; it is hard, frost-glazed and you'll slip if you're not careful. Follow the cairns up, and finally, by 11.40, the summit cairn and associated ruins hove into view. There are some truly hairraising precipices along the way, and one of them is topped by a cornice. Again, in poor visibility, if you stray onto those you fall a mere
600 metres - 2,000 ft
Similar cliffs and hazards abound round the summit area. Fantastic views, all along the view. There was a great atmosphere of camaraderie on the summit plateau; the most moving thing was the cairn, which was surrounded by dozens of memorial plaques, devoted to those who never came off the mountain. Some of them had teddies placed alongside; the most recent dated back to this July. There was the ruin of the old hotel, which existed here in the early 1900s. There is a shelter at the summit, and the summit trig point, placed about20 feet above the actual summit. Snows can be deep up here in winter. Chatting to a few fellow walkers, one of whom had done the walk in 2h36; I had covered it in 3h15. He intended to do the Three Peaks Challenge - Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon within 24 hours. Had a cup of soup and a roll on the summit, as well as some tea. Then the weather began to change. Cloud rolled in, a bank overtopping the summit by about 200m, 700 ft, wreathing everything in mist. Decided to start the descent at 12.30. Got into trouble immediately, because of the mist. Didn't see the bloody route, set out as it is in stone and snow. Waited till I heard voices coming up the mountain, and followed their route. Go wrong on the summit, and you'll fall deep. Met loads of people coming up. I walked out of the mist at about 1pm, then merrily walked on through the empire of stone. Greeted all oncomers and advised some of them on distance yet to be covered. They were all covered in sweat, as I myself had been. Drank some water out of streams, which you shouldn't really do. Returned to the lochan at about 2.30, and met my final oncomer below that at 2.40. She walked very slowly, and rested every 50-100 yards. The lady would not make it to the summit and back before nightfall; at time of typing I'm still worried, but nothing I can do. A gruelling hour descending the path to the hostel brought me back there at 3.40, 3 hours and 10 minutes after leaving the top. Oh dear, how knackered can you be. And how much good a shower can do LOL.
Entry updated to 5pm
Supper consisted of my old standby "carrots & tatties", after I had washed all the sweaty togs I'd worn going up the hill. Caught up with a few friends on-line; those I spoke to know who it was. Too knackered to go to the Hallowe'en party down the road.
I have decided to dub Kinloch Castle: Jamaica Inn. It's on Rum (yep) and it's a hostelry. C?
Set off at 9.30 for Guirdil in moderate rainfall. After 50 minutes I reached Malcolm's Bridge under Ard Nev and branched off in the general direction of Fionchra, the green hill. The path was boggy and some of the streams difficult to cross. Gaining altitude all the way, I found myself under Fionchra at 11.30 and began the sweeping curve up to the pass under Orval. Reached the top, at altitude 375m (1,250 ft) at midday and could see the Long Loch and the summits of the Rum Cuillins. The rain had stopped at 11am. The cold easterly still continued though. On the far side of the pass was the rocky face of Orval, the green mass of Bloodstone Hill (380m) and Canna framed between Bloodstone and Fionchra. Went down into the valley, not losing much altitude at first. It was fairly easy, mainly level grassland. The descent towards Guirdil did get steeper during the 40 minutes down, but finally stopped on a ridge, 11 metres above Guirdil Bothy and the beach. The ruins of the settlement and the lazybeds were still perfectly plain to see, even 180 years after they had been cleared of people. Only the stags now roam here, and the odd hiker. Went into the bothy and promptly wrecked the opening mechanism of the door to the dorm. Set off to Glen Shellesder at 1.20, but on arrival there, half an hour later, got into big problems with the burn. This river was deep, fast, broad and bereft of suitable crossingplaces. It was a simple case of taking boots and socks off and wading across. Excruciatingly cold once you're across, during the crossing you have to watch the stones on the bottom; they're either sharp or slippery. Or both. And it gets ever so cold in there... Finally continued on my way at 2.40, for a most unpleasant and uninspiring bogslog. Met some stalkers who weren't having fun either. Eventually sloshed my way down the hill to Kilmory Glen at 4.40, to reach Kinloch an hour later. In the shop it was not lively. Joined the other guests for dinner at 7pm, which was very good. Tom Keane showed me round some of the decorative rooms in the castle and allowed me a tinkle on the Steinway, 100 years old and still in tune - was done 3 weeks before.
So I decided to jump on the bus to Sligachan and view the majestic Cuillins from close up. On the way there, I snapped Glamaig (the saddle-backed mountain above Sconser) and a few other white-capped beauties. Arrived at Sligachan at 10.15, and took myself off on the path towards Camasunary. Camus Fhionairigh actually means the Beach of Fiona's Summer Meadow. And it is a meadow. However, first I had to negotiate the path. Had a spot of bother keeping my eyes on it, because I couldn't take my eyes of Sgurr nan Gillean, my all-time Cuillin favourite. Completely out of bounds to someone like me suffering from vertigo on a pinnacle like that, but I can gawp. Glamaig slipped behind me and the bulk of Marsco slowly became clearer against the low sun. A large river had to be forded, but managed it with two ladies who were going in the same direction. The piece de resistance came at 12.30, when it took me a mere 40 minutes to cross the one bloody river. Had to take my boots off and wade across. Excruciatingly cold. Danced on the grass with the pain of the cold. AAAAAAAGH!!!!! By then, the view had changed to Harta and Lota Corry and a side-on view of Pinnacle Ridge on Sgurr nan Gillean. The middle section of the Cuillin Ridge also hove into view. Was overtaken at lunch by a couple heading down towards Elgol. Then the journey went around Ruadh Stac and Sgurr Hain, and the Cuillins were lost from sight for me, for a little while. Bla Bheinn towered high above me, also covered with a layer of snow. The fun stopped when my route had to go up a waterlogged hillside to An t-Sron and around the base of Bla Bheinn. Threading a route took me a little while, but finally reached the Camas unary path at 3pm. Spent about an hour gazing at the view, then toddled across to Kilmarie. Spoke to a group of Australians who were down for the day and had walked to the viewpoint. The path is quite rough and wet, but the managed surprisingly well. After they left in their own minibus, I walked down the road towards Torrin again, and once again came across that lame sheep. Decided to report it, because it had been out for at least 4 days like that, and that's cruelty. Back in Broadford at 6pm.
Another trip down the A87 to Sconser, and a busdriver who (or so I discovered 7 hours late) sold me a dud ticket. Nevis 'n' Coe is nowhere near Skye. Took the ferry to Raasay at 10.45, and once again arrived at the Suisinish Terminal. This time round after my visit to the shop, I went to see Raasay House. Had a cup of coffee there. The place had been well refurbished since last visit in 1995, and looked nice. If a bit deserted. The history of the house was recorded there, but not in the way I was used to. Dr Green, locally infamous for blocking all progress on Raasay between 1967 and 1979 was 'exonerated' in the info-folder there. Have to put that to the local press, because I've never read that version before. They blame it all on obstruction by the Highlands & Islands Development Board. Anyway, after the cuppa, I wound my way up the island's main road as far as Glame. This included a lunchbreak, with completely inedible rolls, soggy and all, at the path to Dun Ca'an. Could see Portree from there across the water. Had thought to go up the hill again, but didn't fancy another bog trudge. So on return from Glame, I also considered hobbling the mile down to Inver, through a field of frisky rams. Raring for the rear, if you like. Didn't do it, because of time constraints. Spent some time mooching around Raasay Hostel, which is in a poor state. It was still the same as it was left in October 2003, when it closed, not to be reopened this year. Bike shed with two bikes in it, open to the elements. An old bathtub, that was still there from 1995. Building was locked, but Nil Mutandur. Nothing had changed. Pity it was closed for the season and the year. Saw the visitors' book, dates 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2003. Not 2004. Lost in memories, I ambled on, only to be offered a lift. Nah, plenty of time. I'll be fine, even if it's raining. Proceeded down the road, and meandered my way round to the mining track, in the vain hope of finding my lost mitten. It is so cold. The ferry arrived at 4.25, but didn't leave till 5.00. And once on the other side, I still had to wait more than 30 mins for the bus. Oh well, Raasay is pretty. Back at the hostel, I played a game or two with a family with two young teenagers; June (mum), Davie and Hannah. Beat Davie at chess, but that wasn't quite an equal context. He was concentrating more on the TV than on the board, so he lost resoundingly.
This was the day that all the timetables didn't work my way. Had thought to go to the Quiraing, North East Skye. So, there I was, on the 9.50 bus to Portree, only to discover that I would not be able to come back the same day. A quick rethink was in order, and I asked the driver to let me off at Sconser. The Raasay ferry was in any moment, and it duly materialized around the corner. Fifteen minutes later, we docked at Suisinish Terminal, and I marched off towards Inverarish village. 25 mins later, I went into the post office, which no longer stocked OS maps for the island. A little walks leaflet was all they had. So I took that and went off, in the general direction of Dun Caan, the highest hill at 443m. There are nearly 15 different walks on Raasay, and I followed walk B. First along the Burma Road (history eludes me), then up the hill and along an extremely MUDDY track. When I say muddy, it was just that. Remember that old ditty?
"Mud, mud, glorious mud - nothing quite like it for chilling the blood"
"So follow me, follow, down to the wallow - and there we shall wallow in glorious mud"
Leaving that to one side, the track up was a bit dreary. Until the moment the craggy summit of Dun Caan pops up above the moors. Once the path peters out, you've got to find your own way using the cairns. I took a wrong turning, but still managed to get alongside a loch west of the hill. Quite some altitude above the loch, but due to time constraints I couldn't climb Dun Caan itself. At 1.30 I had to turn back in order not to miss the 3.45 ferry and the connecting bus to Broadford. The return section was still boggy, and I managed to be brought to my knees by it. Once at the bottom, I resumed the Burma Road in the direction of the old iron mine. Several concrete structures remain standing, as does the Miners' Trail out of Inverarish Village. From a certain point, you can go straight as a line to the ferry terminal. Got there at 3.30, nicely on time.The concrete structures pop up every now and again.
Ferry left late because the crew had to clean the slipway with pressure-hoses, and it was bloody low tide. So I duly missed my bus at Sconser, which necessitated a taxi. Directory Enquiries gave me a useless number, it was an office number, which wouldn't be manned till Monday. I walked the 3.5 miles to Sligachan along the A87 main road, a stretch I'd rather forget. On arrival at the hotel, at 5.10, I rang the taxi which would have to come out of Portree. Whilst waiting I went into the packed bar for a drink. I wouldn't like to stay at Sligachan Hotel. Place is a bit ramshackle. A people carrier drew up at 6 pm. Another bloke with a bike also had to go to Broadford, as he had 'cycled' from Elgol to Sligachan. I put quotes round that, as I happen to know that there are several sections where you just cannot cycle. Anyway, got to Broadford and had to pay handsomely for the pleasure.
Well, all good things must come to an end. On Tuesday morning, I moodily packed up my things. Unfortunately, when I came down to Kildonan, my backpack was transported to the house for me. So its weight came as an unpleasant surprise. Said goodbye to my hosts and lumbered across to the pier in 60 minutes. That is actually normal time, especially bearing in mind I diverted through the Lodge Gardens. On arrival at the pier, the Eiggach were in great confusion regarding The Boat. It was very well known that the regular one, Lochnevis, was away for its refit. The Raasay, a very much smaller craft, was taking its place for cargo. At midday, a mast appeared above the pier and everybody streamed down to have a look. No passengers. At 1pm, another cry "the boat is here" sent me scurrying down the pier again. This time round, it was for passengers. I could see nothing of it until I got to the point where John Cormack was standing. "Erm, John?" I went. "Did they wash Lochnevis at too high a temperature?" The Ullin Staffa was really wee. But a lot faster than Lochnevis. It covered the distance to Mallaig in 60 minutes, where the regular ferry takes 80 minutes. On departure from the pier at 1.15, the sea was choppy, and we took over a fair amount of seaspray. Some of the kids turned green and were sent out on deck for some fresh air. One young girl was beyond help and proceeded to spew up over the side. Nice. The adults stuck to their devices for keeping seasickness at bay. Arrival in Mallaig at 2.15, and we had to clamber onto the loading ramp for Coruisk, the Skye ferry. This materialized at 2.40. Coruisk was taken into service on 14/8/03, only to be taken out again before the month was out because she had lost a propellor on entering Mallaig Harbour. I had to wait for a bus for 2 hours at Armadale. I walked down the road to Aird for a bit, sat on a grassy knoll and had a coke in the local pub. On return at the main road, I stood waiting for the 5.35 from Armadale Pier, when one of the shopkeepers advised me that "this was not a stop". No. But the bus would stop there anyhow. However, I didn't want a row, so I dutifully toddled off to the Pier and boarded the number 52 for Broadford at 5.35.
went out earlier than before, and tootled across to the Pier to start with. From Kildonan Farm House, you can actually short cut to the Pier via the cliffs. Of course, you must cross some fences :-\, but they're there to keep the sheep in. I finally reached the point opposite the pier, and came across Lady Runciman's Bathing Hut. No longer up to spec, as several planks were missing from the walls, and Lady R would have been severely embarrassed changing in there. Whether she actually did go for a dip in the days of yore, history does not recall. My attempts to cross Pier Bay were thwarted by deep and wide streams. And the sea of course. I had to wind my way around the obstacles and found myself outside Shore Cottage. No problem, I just walked round to An Laimhrig. There I partook of a cup of Nescafe, 50p, and chatted to a yachtswoman who was over with her family out of Ayrshire. Later that day she would sail, with hubby, young boy and dog, to Soay, 15 miles away under the Skye Cuillins. Apparently 2 people live there, but the Arisaig boat Sheerwater delivers their mail. Why the Western Isles (Mallaig based) or even the Bella Jane (Elgol, right opposite Soay) cannot do that, nobody knows. Later on that day, the golden labrador would bite Diesel, the Carr's dog, for mischievous behaviour. The lab behaved impeccably. Diesel, a lil monster, did not. I marched up Pier Hill, past Galmisdale and up the path to the Scurr. That is well eroded and little better than a mudchute. I did comment on that to some people, but did not receive much of an active reply. Once underneath the Scurr ridge, I diverted to Lochan nam Ban Mora (Loch of the Big Women) to find the bench, which had been placed there earlier in the year in memory of Brigg Lancaster. He had died early in 2003 in a road traffic accident on the island, when his jeep left the road at Sandavore, and it rolled over. As this happened at 2am, he was not found for another 8 hours. Although he was still alive when he was found, he succumbed to his injuries. Brigg, aged 31, left a wife and a one-year old girl. The plaque on the bench simply reads 'honesty'. A bottle of whisky is commonly left at the bench, for people to have a dram. Unfortunately, the Famous Grouse had been smashed. I just sat there in complete silence, looking over the water of the lochan. Later on, I went on my way. I met Brigg only once, before he got married to Tasha Fyffe. He seemed a decent enoughperson.
Although I have visited Eigg for 15 years, I still managed to get lost amongst the lochans. I had to get the map out (disgrace) to remind myself of their location. Next stop: Lochan Nighean Dougaill, Lochan of Dougal's Daughter. Her lungs were alleged found floating on the surface of the lochan after she was abducted from the nearby township of Grulin. The abductor was a kelpie, one of the good people, of whom we cannot speak. Grulin was cleared in the 1850s, and now only ruins and the bothy remain. With some difficulty, I managed to wind my way around to the Twin Lochs, at an altitude close to 1,000 feet. Corra-bheinn towered some distance to the northeast, above its own lochan, which I could not see. I had to stay that high because of Glen Charadail, which cuts deeply into the hills here. The Twin Lochs can be crossed at midpoint, but be prepared for wet feet. The traverse to the western end of Lochan Beinn Tighe is a nightmare, 2ft high tussocks of heather and boulders. I disturbed 3 sheep, missed by the shepherd George Carr, so he has a job to go and retrieve them lol. Clambering over more boulders round the shoulders of Beinn Tighe, I finally managed to reach reasonable terrain at 3.15. I collapsed on the shores of the lochan and took a 45 minute break. Then followed a fairly speedy descent towards Laig, but not without the infernal barbed-wire fencing. And when you ignore clear warnings in the terrain that you're standing above a cliff, well, you have to clamber. Dont you. LOL. Reached Laig at 17.30, and the main road at 18.05. Although it's only a mile, there were plenty of blackberries to distract me. I came across Liz Lyons and Morag MacKinnon, outside's the former's pigsty - sorry, yard. Morag's cows were blocking the road further on at the summit of Bealach Clithe, so that was an interesting exercise in shooing the damn creatures to the side. Arrived back at Kildonan at 18.55. A good, long day, and I was well knackered. Asked for a rum coke - for those who don't know me, I hardly ever touch liquor.
Click on the link below for a description with pictures of the beautiful Leitir Fura Walk.
Leitir Fura Walk
Come downstairs to be met by the sight of a distracted warden who is taking all the hot water taps apart. Apparently, a new boiler was installed only recently, but it isn't working properly. Book into hostel for the weekend, then go on the bus to Broadford at 10.20. Fifteen minutes later, I'm dropped off outside the Post Office there. Walk over to the Post Office van marked Elgol, and jump on. I ask to be dropped off at Kilchrist, 4 miles southwest of Broadford. It's a bit of a tight squeeze on board, but that isn't going to be for a long time at any rate. Dropped off a few hundred yards beyond the church, near the reed covered Kilchrist Loch. Find the track that is supposed to lead to Suisnish on the coast, south of here. This is a derilict village, cleared of its inhabitatns in the 19th century, together with its neighbour Boreraig. My efforts to reach Suisnish along this path are thwarted by some appalling weather. A shower kicks off, leaving me to dash for relative shelter amidst the ruins of Kilchrist village. There is a strong westerly wind, blowing the showers over the nearby Beinn na Cailleach. Once that has passed, I continue on my way, but I lose track of the path. Find myself scrabbling on the banks of the Allt na Inbhire, trying to cross. Well, I give that up as a bad job after haf an hour, and make my way cross-country to the Marble Line walkway. This used to be a railway carrying marble from the quarry up the hillside to the pier at Broadford. It closed suddenly at 1912. This path is well maintained and signposted. After a gate, it worsens slightly to a rough hillpath. Crossing the fence at Loch Lonachan is troublesome because of standing water. This continues to be a nuisance, not helped by frequent heavy showers. The valley opens out, and I duly arrive into what I thought was Suisnish. How wrong can you be. After checking my bearings against various landmarks and their relative position, I have to concede that I am 2 miles out and actually in the enclosure of Boreraig. Wander through the sad remains of that village and try to eat something in the pouring rain. Carry on as far as the Boreraig River, then turn back. Get a massive scare outside the village, when I'm taking a break at 12.52. As I look northeast, I see a fierce blob of light. About 2 seconds later, a deafening crash follows. I'm in the middle of a thunderstorm and there is NO shelter. I wait for the storm to move away, crouching down, then go on my way north. OnceI rejoin the Marble Line path, I feel like a train, going at 4 mph. Pass above some of the houses near Kilchrist, then the branch which leads to Coire Chatachan, below Beinn na Cailleach. The path finally ends under the high voltage power line, where I have to divert to the road. Do some shopping at the Broadford Co-op, then join the 6pm bus back to Kyleakin. The YH is still plagued by pipe trouble. Have a nice chat with other hostellers. One couple offer me a lift over to Broadford tomorrow, Sunday. This gives me the chance to do the walk to Boreraig and Suisnish properly. Weather prospects also appear to be better.
Picture: ruins at Boreraig