Saturday 29 October 2011

Eastern Cairngorms Backpack

Last weekend, Colin and I spent a windy two and a half days backpacking in the eastern Cairngorms, where we managed to climb four Munros, two Munro tops, see relatively few other people, cross a few rivers, wild camp, stay in a bothy and drink some whisky!  It was a good trip and it's likely to be my last backpack of the year, but I've got plenty of plans in my head for next year! (including the round of Loch Mullardoch)

This post is an index on my blog posts on the trip, which I have updated to include maps of our routes, and there's also a link to my photos.
Derry Cairngorm and neighbouring peaks from Beinn Bhreac west top

Monday 24 October 2011

Eastern Cairngorms Backpack - Day 3: Hutchison Memorial Hut to Linn of Dee

Distance: 12.5km; Ascent: 50m; with Colin

We woke at 6:30am, having both managed not to roll off the sleeping platform in the night, to find that there was still a howling gale outside, together with intermittent rain. Last night we had made plans to walk out over Derry Cairngorm this morning, but given the weather neither of us fancied battling our way up to the summit against the strong SE wind. Therefore we decided to walk out to Linn of Dee via Glen Derry, after all the hills will still be there another day.

Bridge over Derry Burn ESE of Hutchison Memorial Hut
So we set off from the Hutchison Memorial Hut at around 8:30am and headed ESE along the good path directly into the wind, which wasn't particularly pleasant! After around a kilometre we crossed the Derry Burn at a small footbridge. Soon the path coming down from the Lairig an Laoigh joined from the left and we continued south down Glen Derry with intermittent rain showers.

Glen Derry
After passing a few areas of fenced off forest, we reached a fork in the path. The path on the other side of the river looked better so we opted to cross by the bridge, which had been built in 1959 according to a plaque half-way across.

Derry Burn
We continued south through pleasant areas of pine woodland to reach Derry Lodge, where we recrossed the river and stopped for a break very close to where John, Lynsey & I camped on the 2009 TGO Challenge. It was now vehicle track almost all the way back to Linn of Dee and we made good progress, reaching the car at around 11:30am. We headed into Braemar for lunch at the Hungry Highlander before starting our drive back south.

Derry Burn at Derry Lodge (TGOC 2009 camp just off to right of photo)

Sunday 23 October 2011

Eastern Cairngorms Backpack - Day 2: Upper Glen Quoich to Hutchison Memorial Hut

Distance: 19km; Ascent: 810m; with Colin

After a good nights sleep, we woke to find that the cloud had lifted significantly and the wind had dropped. We set off walking at around 8am and returned to The Sneck, to find it too was much less windy than yesterday and there were good views north down to Glen Avon.

Slochd Mor & Glen Avon from The Sneck
We ascended west from The Sneck into the cloud, with occasional views into Garbh Choire to reach the misty Cnap a'Chléirich (Munro Top). After a quick visit to the top of the summit tor, we sheltered from the wind behind the tor for a break. We descended into a small hollow, complete with several snow patches that seemed like they might have been there all summer unless it had snowed a lot in the past few weeks. After a gentle ascent we reached the edge of the plateau and shortly afterwards reached the summit of Beinn a'Bhùird (Munro) at around 10:30am.

Colin on summit of Beinn a'Bhùird
We didn't hang around for long on the exposed plateau and were soon heading westwards down a spur towards our next peaks of the day. At around 900m we dropped out of the cloud and there were good views over towards Beinn Bhreac and Beinn a'Chaorainn as well as north to Glen Avon.

Beinn Bhreac across the Moine Bhealaidh
We picked a route through boggy, peaty and tussocky ground, heading towards Beinn Bhreac, seeing the occasional mountain hare. Eventually the ground became firmer just over a kilometre from Beinn Bhreac, and we stopped here for a spot of lunch as it was relatively sheltered.  After leaving our bags here, we picked up a path that pretty much led all the way to the summit of Beinn Bhreac (Munro), which we reached shortly before 1pm. It made a pleasant change to actually have views from the top of a peak and we could see down into Glen Quoich and Glen Derry.

Summit of Beinn Bhreac
After detouring to bag the west top (Munro Top), we returned to our bags and continued northwards, picking a route through the boggy ground. After a while we reached drier ground on the watershed and the going was easy pretty much all the way to the foot of Beinn a'Chaorainn. The cloud lifted still further with the sun even coming out at one point, and there were good views across to Beinn Mheadhoin.

Beinn a'Chaorainn across the Moine Bhealaidh
Unfortunately this improvement in the weather didn't last long and it started to lightly rain as we entered the cloud on the way up Beinn a'Chaorainn.  We reached the windy summit cairn of Beinn a'Chaorainn (Munro) at around 2:30pm and after a quick break we descended SW almost into the wind.  At around 850m we dropped out of the cloud and picked our way down the steeping scree slopes to reach the summit of the Lairig an Laoigh pass.

On the summit of Beinn a'Chaorainn
From here the plan had been to ascend up to Beinn Mheadhoin before dropping SW to camp at Loch Etchachan. However given we were both tired and the wind had strengthened (and the weather was forecast to deteriorate further) we decided that it might be best not to camp at Loch Etchachan. Also scrambling up the summit tor of Beinn Mheadhoin might have proved tricky in the strong winds and I didn't really want to slog all the way up there to find that I couldn't actually get to the top again! (I had previously been up the peak in 2003 with Jon but declined to scramble up to the true summit due it being very snowy and icy).

So instead we decided to head for the Hutchison Memorial Hut with the intention of either staying in the hut or camping nearby. We traversed the hillside below Stob Coire Etchachan following a faint path before dropping down and boulder hopping across the river. We reached the hut shortly before 4pm and opted to stay inside, despite the fact that it was quite sheltered outside. We had the small hut to ourselves and had a leisurely late afternoon & evening, with a dinner of spaghetti with courgette, salami and cheese followed by whisky.  The weather deteriorated further and as I write this at 8pm the wind is whistling around the outside of the hut; I'm glad we opted to stay inside instead of camping!

Hutchison Memorial Hut

Saturday 22 October 2011

Eastern Cairngorms Backpack - Day 1: Linn of Dee to Upper Glen Quoich

Distance 21.5km; Ascent 960m; with Colin

We had decided on a round of the eastern peaks of the Cairngorms for our backpack and set off walking from Linn of Dee at 9am. It was dry as we headed north through the forest to reach the bridge over the Lui Water.

Lui Water
Once on the far side of the river, we followed the river NW for around a kilometre, with good views upriver towards Carn a'Mhaim and Derry Cairngorm. Shortly before a stream, we took a small path on the right ascending up and through the interesting narrow gap through the hills below Clais Fhearnaig.  We passed a couple of small lochans, before descending down into Glen Quoich, where we stopped for a snack whilst around 20 mountain bikers passed us. Soon we reached the confluence and had to cross the NW fork of the river, which was just about manageable without getting wet feet.

River crossing in Glen Quoich
Almost immediately after crossing the river we reached a track junction and took the right hand fork. We soon entered a pleasant area of Caledonian pine forest and after approx 1.5km we reached a ford over the Quoich Water, which looked tricky to cross. We opted to stay on the north bank, following a smaller path, and hoped that there would be a better crossing point further upstream.

It was nice to be walking amongst the trees and to hear the wind in their branches. After almost 2km we left the last of the trees behind and followed the path down to where it crossed the river. Although it didn't look to be too tricky to wade here, we would clearly have got wet feet so we detoured upstream looking for alternative crossing points. After a few hundred metres we were able to cross where the river had separated into two channels around a small island.

Quoich Water
Once across the river we rejoined the path at a corner and took the opportunity to have lunch whilst we were out of the wind. There was a good view up upper Glen Quoich and we could pick up roughly where The Sneck was, which was where we were thinking of camping.  After following some boggy vehicle tracks for getting on for a kilometre, I spotted the main path off to our right. By now the forecast light rain had started, but once we were on the good path we made swift progress up the glen. By the time we reached the large erratic of Clach à Chlèirich the wind had picked up and continued to gain in strength over the next 2km to The Sneck.

Colin at Clach à Chlèirich
It was misty and extremely windy at The Sneck and after a quick look to the north we concluded that camping here wouldn't be very pleasant!  We ascended east from The Sneck in very strong winds to reach the plateau of Ben Avon. After passing over a subsidiary lump, we reached the summit tor of Ben Avon (Munro) at around 3:30pm. It wasn't entirely clear which one of the many sections of tor constituted the highest point in the mist, so we scrambled up the three highest looking ones and concluded that one of them must have been the true summit!

On one of the summit tors of Ben Avon
We retraced our steps back to The Sneck, now walking almost into the wind. We decided that one of the two coires on the east side of Beinn a'Bhùird might offer us some shelter so we retraced our steps back towards Clach à Chlèirich. However we didn't end up having to go that far as after around a kilometre we found a slightly more sheltered flat area that seemed good for the night. So we set up the tent here at around 5pm and had a dinner of couscous, pepper and chorizo, followed by vanilla pudding and whisky.

Camp in upper Glen Quoich

Thursday 20 October 2011

Backpacking Plans for a Long Weekend in the Highlands

Tomorrow evening, Colin & I will be heading up to the Highlands for three days of backpacking and Munro bagging, and Colin's left me in charge of the choice of route - I just hope that he's in charge of the weather!

Anyway, I've come up with two different three day itineraries that include plenty of Munros: one in the NW Highlands and one in the Cairngorms; we'll make our final decision tomorrow evening depending upon the weather forecast.  So here are the two options:

[Added 21/10/11: If I get phone signal at any point on the route (and that's a big if!), then you should hopefully be able to follow our progress using this map (just ignore the waypoints that are clearly nowhere near either of these routes as they are from previous trips!)]

Loch Mullardoch Round
  • Day 1: Mullardoch Dam to near Loch an Droma, 21km, 1780m ascent
  • Day 2: near Loch an Droma to Coire Lochan, 20km, 1930m ascent
  • Day 3: Coire Lochan to Mullardoch Dam, 17km, 1050m ascent

This is a backpack in the remote country around Loch Mullardoch in the NW Highlands, that would take in a total of 12 Munros, of which I have previously only climbed 2 (Mullach na Dheiragain and Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan on the 2008 TGO Challenge).

This would probably be my preferred route, but it is almost all on pathless ground that could make for slower progress.  Also the rivers at the west end of Loch Mullardoch might require long detours to cross if there are in spate, although I do seem to remember finding a bridge over the Abhainn Sithidh back in 2008.

Eastern Cairngorms Circuit
  • Day 1: Linn of Dee to The Sneck (including detour to Ben Avon), 20km, 770m ascent
  • Day 2: The Sneck to Loch Etchachan (with detour to Derry Cairngorm), 27km, 1310m ascent
  • Day 3: Loch Etchachan to Linn of Dee, 22km, 890m ascent

This is a backpack around the high peaks of the eastern Cairngorms, that would take in a total of 8 Munros, of which I have only previously climbed 1 (Ben Macdui back in 2003 with Jon).

This route is 11km longer that the Loch Mullardoch round but it does have 1790m less ascent!  Although it takes in 4 less Munros, it does have the advantage of having some good paths for the walk-in on the first day and walk-out on the last day.

Saturday 15 October 2011

Win Hill

Distance 4.5km; Ascent 280m; with Isabel

As the weather was nice for a change, Lynsey had decided to go away backpacking for the weekend, leaving just Isabel & I to go out for a walk this morning.  It had been a while since I had last taken Isabel up to the top of a hill so I opted for shortish walk up Win Hill in the Peak District as I hadn't been there since 2009.

Morning mist below Ladybower Reservoir
We set off from the car near the Yorkshire Bridge Inn at around 10:30am and headed down the road to the River Derwent.  The morning mist had yet to fully clear from the valley and it was surprising cold!  I had opted for the path up Parkin Clough, which was signed by a new signpost from the Peak & Northern Footpaths Society, who seem to like to sign many of the footpaths hereabouts.

New footpath sign
By now the mist had fully cleared and it was becoming quite a warm day, which combined with the steepness and the fact I was carrying Isabel on my back made for tiring work as I ascended Parkin Clough.

Path up Parkin Clough
Eventually the angle of the ground eased and it was a pleasant walk up through less dense woodland to reach the moorland above.  We continued, with good views down to Ladybower, to the summit of of Win Hill (HuMP), which we reached at around 11:20am.

Win Hill trig point
View west from Win Hill
After a brief break for a bite to eat for the both of us and to admire the excellent views across the surrounding moorland of the Peak District, I decided that it was time to descend.  Initially I retraced our steps until we had entered the woods again and reached a signposted junction.  I didn't fancy going back down Parkin Clough as it would be slippy in descent and none of the other signposted routes went anywhere helpful so I opted for a pleasant looking unsigned forest path heading roughly towards Ladybower.

Woodland path back down to Ladybower
The path was generally good and apart from a brief encounter with a dog that tried to nip me on the ankle (but it was unsuccessful as I had boots on), the descent down to Ladybower was uneventful.  The reservoir seemed reasonably empty, but I suppose that is to be expected given the time of year, and there were good views over to one of the viaducts from the dam.  After crossing the dam, we turned right along the main road to reach the car soon after midday.

Ladybower Reservoir from dam

Friday 7 October 2011

Arlington Court and The Wilderness

Distance 3km; with Lynsey & Isabel

We had arranged to meet some friends in Bideford late this afternoon, so we decided to spend the day in North Devon and headed to the National Trust estate of Arlington Court. Due to traffic we didn't arrive until after midday so we immediately headed to the tea room for a spot of lunch.  Lynsey's knee was still bothering her so we opted for a relatively short stroll on good paths with Isabel in the pushchair. At around 1:30pm, we set off on the circular walk to the lake. After walking down the main drive we turned left and followed a vehicle track through the woods down to the Lake.

Here the signposted route back to the house was via "The Wilderness", which was somewhat intriguing. We crossed the river and headed slightly uphill on a muddy path through the open parkland.

Near the top of the hill, the path improved as we entered an area of woodland.  At the bottom of our hill to the right there were some interesting looking structures, which on closer inspection were some small huts and a dragon pizza oven, whatever one of them is!

Back on the path again there was a handy signpost that informed us that we were now in "The Wilderness".  But surely it can't really be wilderness if there's a signpost, a path and even a dragon pizza oven! 

Soon we were back in the immediate grounds of Arlington Court, with a good view across the small lake to the estate church.  We had a quick look round the gardens before heading back to the tea room at around 2:30pm to share a cream tea between the three of us.

Thursday 6 October 2011

Boscastle to Dizzard

Distance: 17km; Ascent: 1260m; with Lynsey

My parents had kindly agreed to look after Isabel for the day so that Lynsey & I could go on a long day's walk.  We decided that after Monday's walk from Tintagel to Boscastle, it would be quite nice to walk from Boscastle back to Bude along the coast.  And so we boarded the bus to Boscastle this morning and found ourselves in a very blustery, but sunny, Boscastle at around 10am.

Boscastle Harbour
We wandered down to the harbour and started the ascent on the coast path out of the village.  We were soon exposed to the full force of the strong and gusty NW winds, although it was good that they were blowing us away from the cliff edges rather than towards them!

After a reasonably level section, we began to round the inlet of Pentargon and drop down into the valley at its head.  The wind was so strong here that there was a gravity defying waterfall with the water being blown up and back up the valley towards the path; hence we got a bit of a soaking whenever there was a strong gust!

Gravity defying waterfall at head of Pentargon inlet
Soon after we reached a junction where we had the choice of the main coast path or an alternative route slightly further inland.  We opted for the main coast path route, which took a traversing line across the hill-side just above Beeny Cliff.  This section felt quite exposed and I could easily see why some people might prefer the more inland option.

We continued to follow the coast path and we soon saw High Cliff, our highest point for the day at 223m and I believe the highest point on the coast path in Cornwall too.  However before we could reach it we had to descend most of the way down to Rusey Beach and then back up again!  It was very windy here, but we were both ready for lunch so we stopped part way up High Cliff on a fractionally more sheltered spot just by the edge of the path.

High Cliff from Buckator
After we reached the top of High Cliff, we continued to follow the coast path north for around another 2km, with good views of the rocks below including a small natural arch at one point.  Soon we were admiring the Cambeck headland with its interesting rock strata on display.  We skirted the headland on its SE side and Crackington Haven came into view across the bay.  It was only around a kilometre to Crackington but it seemed to take forever!

Lynsey approaching Crackington Haven
We reached Crackington just after 1pm, which was pretty much on schedule, and we decided to reward ourselves with an ice cream.  However with it being a very windy mid-week day in October, the ice-cream kiosk was shut.  We were undeterred and went into the neighbouring cafe to ask if we could have some ice-cream.

After our rest we began the uniformly steep ascent out of Crackington Haven, which was shortly followed by another drop back down to almost sea level; it's amazing the amount of ascent that you can rack up on a day's coastal walking!  As on Monday and Tuesday, there were plenty of sloes to be found, including some where the blackthorn was intermingled with gorse.

Sloes poking through the gorse
Our second ascent after leaving Crackington brought up onto Castle Point and a relatively more level section of coast path.  There were good views north from here to Dizzard Point and on towards Bude; we could even make out the satellite dishes at Morwenstow in the distance.

On Castle Point, North of Crackington
View north to Dizzard Point from cliffs east of Castle Point
We continued along the coast path and soon began a steep descent into the Chipman Valley, where the coast path descends a convex slope such that at one point it gives the impression of heading over the edge of the cliff!  On this steep descent, Lynsey unfortunately hurt her knee.  After a rest of 15 minutes or so, we slowly continued our descent and decided that we needed to cut our walk short so that Lynsey could properly rest her knee.  After consulting the map, we continued to the top of Chipman Point and after a few hundred metres we turned off the coast path on a footpath to Dizzard Farm on the coast road, from where we were able to get a lift back to Bude.

Chipman Point

Wednesday 5 October 2011

Combe Valley

The forecast wasn't looking overly inspiring for today so we opted for a short walk with Isabel in the pushchair.  Combe Valley woods was somewhere that I hadn't been for years and I reckoned that we would be able to manage a shortish circuit with the pushchair.  We parked by the hairpin bend and set off at 11am along a narrow track into the woods, which soon opened out.

We followed this track for around a kilometre before crossing a couple of bridges and heading back west on the other side of the stream.  This track started out as a reasonable vehicle track but after a few hundred metres it narrowed and passed through a sort of tree tunnel.

Combe Valley woods
Soon the woods opened out and we had a choice: either cut down to the left and across the footbridge back to the car or straight on and a slightly longer route around on the road.  It looked slightly tricky to get the pushchair down to the left so we opted for the road and crossed the footbridge over the stream by the ford.  We soon reached the junction for Duckpool, re-crossed the river and began the steep ascent back up the road to the car, which we reached shortly after midday.

Mill Leat in Combe Valley
Ford over Mill Leat in Combe Valley

Tuesday 4 October 2011

Along the Camel Trail to Padstow

18km cycle ride with Lynsey & Isabel

Lynsey was keen to visit Padstow whilst we were down in Cornwall so she could have some food from Rick Stein's fish & chip shop, so we decided to have a day out by bike on the Camel Trail. After driving to Wadebridge, we hired two bikes plus a trailer for Isabel, which Lynsey kindly volunteered for me to tow!

We set off cycling shortly after 11am under mainly overcast, but dry skies. The level nature of the disused railway line made for relatively easy progress and I found I had no trouble keeping up with Lynsey even though I was towing Isabel in her trailer. There were good views out over the River Camel and plenty of blackberries in the hedgerows alongside sections of the trail.

Bridge over Little Petherick Creek
We reached Padstow at around 12:15 and, after finding somewhere close to the harbour to park our bikes, we headed for the fish & chip shop. Padstow was a lot busier than I was expecting for a mid-week October day and there was a 45 minute wait to get a table in the fish & chip shop; given Isabel was unlikely to last that long we opted for a takeaway.

After lunch we took a quick walk around the harbour before returning to our bikes.  The cloud was now starting to break up, with the sun starting to come out, and there were good views across the River Camel to Rock from the start of the trail back to Wadebridge.

View across the Camel to Rock
River Camel
Soon we reached the bridge over Little Petherick Creek, which despite being on a cycle path had a weight limit of 3 tonnes; that's a lot of cyclists on the bridge at the same time!  And the council had also felt it necessary to exempt fire engines from the weight limit despite the fact that we weren't actually on a road!

Presumably this bridge gets mysteriously stronger when a fire engine is approaching?
We soon reached the half-way point back to Wadebridge, where an enterprising person had set up a drinks and snacks stand on the back of a trike!  With Isabel asleep in her trailer, we stopped for some cake and a cold drink.  After our break we continued cycling, returning to Wadebridge at 3pm.

Over half-way back

Monday 3 October 2011

Tintagel to Boscastle

Distance: 7.5km; Ascent: 520m; with Lynsey & Isabel

We've been down in Cornwall since Saturday evening and after taking Isabel to the beach yesterday we decided to make the most of the continuing good weather and head out for a walk today.  The section of coast path between Tintagel and Boscastle was appealing to us as we could easily use the bus to make it a pleasant linear walk.

We arrived in Boscastle at around 10:30am, got ourselves ready and boarded the bus to Tintagel.  We set off walking from Tintagel in glorious sunshine at 11:15am and wandered down to Tintagel Haven where the main entrance to the castle is, along with a tearoom.  From here we began our first ascent of the day, with good views back to Tintagel Head.

Tintagel Head
We continued on the coast path for a couple of kilometres, avoiding a couple of optional detours to headlands, to reach the cliffs above Bossiney Haven, on whose beach we had planned to have lunch.  However, although there were excellent views north along the coast, it wasn't particularly obvious how we were actually going to get down to the beach given we couldn't even see the beach!

View NE from above Bossiney Haven
We continued following the coast path around the cliffs above the haven and soon we reached a path junction in a small valley.  The coast path was straight on, but we turned left to drop down to the beach, the last part by some steps through the rocks.  The tide had been on its way out for the last couple of hours, but if we had been much earlier we wouldn't have actually been able to access the beach!  We spent just short of an hour on the pleasant little beach having our lunch and taking in the surroundings, including the natural arch.  Apart from a couple of swimmers, we had the beach to ourselves, presumably because you actually have to walk a reasonable way to get there.

Bossiney Haven beach
After lunch we re-ascended back to the path junction past large numbers of sloes.  By now the weather had started to turn and it was beginning to feel significantly cooler under the overcast skies.  Soon we reached Rocky Valley where the river had eroded the rocks to form interesting patterns.

Sloes above Bossiney Haven
Rocky Valley
The mist now descended and we spent the rest of the walk to Boscastle with limited views of the nearby cliffs.  After skirting Willapark to the east we began our descent into Boscastle harbour where the tide was clearly out.
The mist descends
Boscastle at low tide
We reached Boscastle at around 3pm and headed into the National Trust tearoom for a cream tea.  It had been a good walk with Isabel in the carrier with some excellent views before the mist descended.

Mmm, cream tea :)