Day 4 – Sunday 9th May
Near Loch Mullardoch to Loch an Laoigh
Walking from 10.30 to 17.50hrs
Distance 18K, Height Climbed 512m Camped at NH 023 414
Photo 16: Early Sunday morning, Camp 3
I awoke fairly early having slept really well. I lay dozing and contemplating for a little while until about 07.00 hrs when I got out for a much needed pee and to start the morning routine. It was almost eerie looking round, there was not a breath of wind and I was in the middle of a thick white mist, only being able to see about 15-20m. There was a certain brightness about it, which told me there was a clear blue sky not too far above me, not like the dull grey claggy skies of yesterday.
I treated myself to clean dry underwear and put on the Paramo trousers and jacket from the previous night – still absolutely sodden! That’s the strange thing about Paramo clothing, it takes forever to dry on its own but put it on and body heat dries it within 20-30 minutes, with the bonus that it is still as warm even when wet. I was starving hungry, having not eaten much the previous evening so this morning I breakfasted like a king – two cups of tea, the usual daily portion of porridge, a cod and potato in sour cream sauce expedition meal, followed by some chocolate! Once I had eaten and sitting in the tent with dry clothes I felt so refreshed, mentally and physically, as I wrote up my log for the previous day, I began to feel a certain sense of satisfaction that I had coped pretty well with what I had always thought would be a tough section of the trip. Although the evening before I was so exhausted that I had no enthusiasm for continuing, now I felt totally revived and began to look at the map, eager to take in the new day’s challenge – today’s route promised some interesting and demanding terrain.
The mist was beginning to move and a weak sun was shining. Visibility was variable but seemed to be slowly improving. Looking across the river I could see the bealach above Coire na Breabaig NH077306 which was my immediate objective. I took the packing up routine at a fairly leisurely pace and about 10:30 hrs I was ready for the off, the bealach had been clear for some time, but there was mist on the north side, which occasionally swirled gently through the bealach.
The river was a boots off job, not particularly fast flowing just lacking in the large rock department. I headed for the Allt na Criche and made my way up it to the watershed , once through the bealach I found myself in really thick mist again. I set the compass on a NNE bearing and made my way down over some pretty lumpy stuff, knowing that I would sooner or later come across Loch Mhoicean. Again there was a complete stillness, not a sound broke the spell and it was a great surprise when I suddenly realised the edge of the loch was about 5 metres away. The surface of the water was like a mirror and just merged totally into the misty greyness. I was only about 100m from the eastern end of the loch, beyond which there is about ½ km of peat hags which is the watershed, and then I began descending into the glen . The mist was literally just over the loch and its immediate environs, for by the time I had got through the peat hags I was looking north down the glen in warm sunshine, with some cloud still around the tops.
Photo 17: Down the glen from Loch Mhoicean – An Cruachan centre
This is a huge, wild, majestic glen. The considerable rounded mass of An Cruachan in the distance guarding the entrance to the glen and to the west rising up into the mist, was the massif of An Creachal and Aonach Buidhe with their fearsome crags and buttresses high up shielding the tops of vast steep grassy slopes. To the east the lower reaches of the 2km unbroken slopes that lead up to An Socach 1069m are riven by many streams some of which have over the ages eroded clefts higher up where the slope is steeper.
There was a path of sorts down the glen which then contoured around An Cruachan. I stopped for some refreshment and to review the situation, more or less at the point where the path begins to separate from the river. I had looked at this area many times on the map trying to picture it in my mind and wondering quite how wet it was going to be, the objective being to cross N,W. for about 4 kms to reach the eastern end of Loch Calavie. I feared that it had the potential of being quite a difficult section. There is a huge amount of water going through here either east to Loch Monar or west to the River Ling. Now as I sat there looking down on what up till now had been described for me on 25 sq cms of map, I became fairly confident of the route I should take.
Photo 18: Self portrait, North flank Beinn Dronaig on left
I left the path at NH 086354 and followed the N.E. bank of the river for 2 km or so till just past Cnoc a Mhoraire by which time I had lost the view to the NW of the dramatic south facing slopes of Bidean a Choire Sheasgaich 945m and Lurg Mhor 986m which overlook Loch Calavie. So after taking a rough compass bearing I set off NNW-ish away from the river. The next 2 km or so was to put it mildly ‘interesting’. My apprehension during the planning stages that this area would be very wet were not realised, the various streams were comfortably crossed but this is an area of broken moorland interspersed with peat bogs and peat hags, not the Premier League ones I was to see later in the walk but more the Division 2 of the peat bog fraternity, they looked threatening but were quite easy to cross.
Photo 19: Looking back S.E. from Loch Calavie, An Cruachan centre
It was possible to keep a more less straight line across, without diverging more than 20m or so in either direction,. Looking across, it appeared at a distance like an area of open moorland, the peat bogs with their peaty cliff fringes only become apparent at close range, they could extend for anything up to 100mts or more and were quite tiring to negotiate, constantly jumping or climbing down a metre or so into the ‘bog’ then finding a way up the peat ‘cliff’ back on to solid ground again. As a result it was about 1½ hours later that I reached the comfort of the track, NH 065385, that runs from Pait Lodge on Loch Monar to Bendronaig Lodge. This had been a fascinating bit of terrain, but not one you would want to cross after a wet season, There was an interesting feature just before I reached the track, a wide area of bare peat from which the bleached roots of ancient trees protruded giving it the appearance of a graveyard of huge prehistoric beasts!
Photo 20: Ancient tree roots in the peat.
Once on the track I had a well earned rest of 15 minutes or so and ate some chocolate, dried fruit and nuts. I made good time walking on the track towards Bendronaig Lodge, about ½ km before the Lodge I turned north on the track that headed towards Loch an Laoigh and Bearness. I chose a campsite at the side of the track about 200 m from the loch. In planning I had wondered whether the NE slog up Bearness may be more feasible up the river rather than the part track shown on the map to contour round at high level.I wanted to do a ‘reccy’ so I retraced my steps from the camp site back to the track and now standing in the early evening sun looking north to the area around the loch and at that part of the river I could see, I more or less decided there and then that a low level route was a ‘no no’. It had that distinctive look of boggy terrain, plenty of dark brown ground and countless ‘glinty’ bits of open water. Looking on up the track I just had a funny feeling that it didn’t go anywhere. Still, all that would be revealed the following morning, for now I had an excellent sheltered campsite with my own little stream and I hurried back to set up camp.
Photo 21: Loch Calavie
This had been a day of no human contact, the only indication of man’s existence had been a distant helicopter early in the afternoon and now looking over I could see Bendronaig Lodge and way across the river to the north was the MBA bothy NH021431. More surprisingly the only wildlife I had seen was a raven, rock pipits, two sandpipers and I had heard oystercatchers and golden plover. I still had not seen any deer, although there was plenty of evidence of them in the form of footprints and droppings.
It was now 18:00 hrs and with the tent pitched, I did some washing and also spread out the sleeping bag and thermarest to air. The clouds that had been building up in the east all afternoon, were now over the top of Sail Riabhach and there was the occasional rumble of thunder. Although I was still in sunshine I guessed it would not be long before a storm came. I was wrong and after a brief shower and a few more rumbles, the clouds receded and it was a pleasant evening.
Photo 22: Cutting a dash at camp 4.
I settled into the usual routine enjoying my meal then sitting in the tent reviewing the day’s walk, looking at the next day’s route and finally the daily treat of chocolate and whiskey while writing up the daily log. It had been a superb day with good weather. I had walked about 22km through some of the wildest country that our small island has to offer and now I had a good campsite and the prospect of a good walk tomorrow, back into relative civilisation and hopefully the opportunity by the afternoon to find a phone and speak to Ali. I reflected yet again what a fantastic support she is. In the last week or so before I set off Ali could see that I was quite apprehensive and it would have been very easy for her to suggest I call it off but she was always so positive and encouraging.
I made a mental note to thank her for nagging me to take my gor-tex gaiters, I cannot think why I was tempted to leave them at home – probably the last minute mania for trying to reduce the pack weight. I have worn them continuously so far and they are invaluable for keeping trousers relatively clean and helping to keep feet dry.
I am amazed that with nearly 100km under my belt or even my soles, I have had no problems with my feet, for years I have come to expect blisters at the beginning of a walking holiday as a sort of ‘right of passage’. I suspect that the ‘Superfeet’ boot liners are actually doing what the guys in the Moorland Rambler store in Exeter said they would.
My last inspection of the weather at 21:00 hrs just before I turned in, revealed that the clouds had filled in again following the thunder rumbles earlier on, so I got into my bag wondering what the weather had in store for me tomorrow.