Sunday, 29 April 2012

Scotland's Finest

After an excellent week on Skye I headed north to Ullapool enjoying the isolated road through to Applecross and the dramatic mountain scenery of Torridon. With no timetable to adhere to I decided to enjoy the back roads of Assynt with a comfortable night overlooking the Summer Isles at the new camp site near Achiltibuie followed by a memorable night alongside Stoer lighthouse with a perfect sunset. After more superb scenery en route to Kylesku I reached Durness and found a place to park for a few days at the south end of Loch Eriboll from where I walked in to Strabeg bothy.
Over the next few days around ten of us carried out a number of repairs to return the building to a weatherproof condition carting materials and equipment across boggy terrain and a river. Good company made for an enjoyable week with the weather generally behaving itself and a considerable amount achieved.
Back at Durness I explored the scenic coastline including Smoo Cave before catching  the small ferry nicknamed HMS Tupperware across the Kyle of Durness to Cape Wrath.
This wild and remote area is an active MOD range but access is maintained and I cycled out to the lighthouse where remarkably the Ozone cafe serves light snacks in a unique location as far from mainstream life as you could imagine. My intention was to spend the night at Kervaig bothy and under a hot sun and clear skies I arrived at as pretty a place as you could wish to find - the pristine cottage alongside a dream bay with golden sand, crashing breakers and jagged rock outcrops ticked every box. I walked along to some of Britain's highest sea cliffs where the puffins were a delight and returned as two lads arrived somewhat exhausted from Sandwood Bay to the south. They were excellent company as we watched the sun set and the stars emerge in this most magical of places.
My return to the jetty was only marginally hindered by a broken chain compounded by the resetting tool also failing - all good practice for my intended Brecon Beast participation in September. After the short crossing with seals lazing on a sand bank taking little interest I returned to Durness to do a load of laundry and then walk round to Faraid Head and back through Balnakeil before enjoying the late afternoon sunshine and planning my visit to the Outer Hebrides that begins a week today. Before then another work party south of Ullapool beckons - the forecast seems good which will suit a few days in a tent - Shenavall is a popular bothy so a plan 'B' is advisable.
More photos here and as ever my recent locations can be tracked here.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Off Jura and over the Bridge to Skye

Another calm crossing from Islay to Oban calling in at Colonsay gave excellent views across to Mull as we sailed gracefully in to Oban on a sunny afternoon. A chance to restock supplies was taken before I headed out to Fort William and then round to Loch Quoich parking high above the water with the side door aligned to the spectacular sunset. Two perfect days ensued enabling me to complete 2 circular walks and bag a couple of Munro's with the occasional brief blizzard adding to the stunning setting.
After a trundle round to Kyle of Lochalsh I crossed the graceful bridge and was soon at our cosy cottage near Broadford. The rest of the team arrived after long but uneventful drives up from Bristol and we enjoyed a good catch up.
Sunday saw a long and challenging day on the Black Cuillin ridge culminating in topping An Bhasteir  whose final exposed scramble was I decided a step too far for me after more than enough excitement over the last few months. Monday was another perfect day with good conditions for some of us to ascend Blabhein whilst a cloudier Tuesday saw a walk to Camasunary bothy. We split up again on the Wednesday as Nick and I completed a long circuit around Glen Brittle and Talisker seeing an otter during lunch, covering over 30 miles and attaining a speed of 38.5mph down a particularly loose and steep forestry track!
I took the bike over to Raasay for an energetic day exploring the hidden charms of the island  and reached the island of Fladda after taking Calum's Road built single handedly by an islander over a ten year period.
Our final day was marred by the early departure of Pete and Glen as the latter had been confined to bed with a serious stomach upset - a great shame for him as the weather had been condusive to enjoyment all week. The remaining trio enjoyed a good ride along an old marble quarry railway track and then a mountain track that dropped us down to the abandoned hamlet of Boreraig and along the coast to Suishnish.
A good meal to celebrate Nick's birthday topped off an excellent week and today after a tidy up of the house we set off in different directions as I have headed round to Ullapool to join the bothy work parties.
Phone and internet coverage are likely to be minimal for the next week until I return to Ullapool - meanwhile enjoy the piccies  here and keep an eye on the Spot to see where I have ended up.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Joys of Jura/Islay

The crossing to Port Askaig was idyllic on a calm sunny evening with the 3 Paps of Jura beautifully lit as the sun set. I soon found a place to spend the night and then headed to the south east of Islay passing many of the famous distilleries before walking from Claggain Bay up to an MBA bothy north of the remote MacArthur's Head lighthouse - 6 seals cavorted in the bay and as I returned at dusk a pair of otters played in the swift flowing stream. The next few days were spent exploring the island's many natural attractions, often on the bike as there were many old tracks out to distant headlands and quiet lochs. Views from the Rhins across to Mull reminded me of previous trips to that island and a superb couple of days were spent based at Machir Bay where some of the thousands of geese that overwinter on the island filled the evening skies. I took the brief ferry crossing to Jura for the Easter weekend and set off down the island's only road.
As I'd hoped it was very quiet and I spent 2 days on a large bay north of Craighouse with a walk up the Paps in initially good but then rather poor conditions - with only four months elapsed since my coronary capers I decided just to do two of the tops - the right decision given how tired I felt on my return. A drop in temperatures proved the value of the small genny I now carry as I was able to stay warm and cosy and enjoy a couple of films each evening.
Further north I walked out to a future bothy on the north side of West Tarbert loch - popular with visiting yachties and sea katyakers as it provides good shelter on the exposed and rugged west coast. North of pretty Inverlussa and the Ardlussa estate the road ran out and I based myself for two nights at the start of the long rough track north to the tip of Jura. This passes Barnhill where George Orwell wrote '1984' and finally Kinuachdrachd which remarkably seemed to be in permanent occupation despite the inaccessibility. 
Two miles beyond here were stunning views across the swirling waters of the Corryvreckan whirlpool to rugged Scarba but for me the highlight was observing a pair of white tailed sea eagles gliding around their eyrie perched high in a conifer : not wishing to disturb them my photos were of low quality due to the limitations of my small digital camera but it was a remarkable sight. 
My final night was spent on the Sound of Jura after a bike ride around rough tracks to the south west of the Paps - the estate is finishing off a substantial £7m hydro scheme that will supply both islands with power from later this year, pay for itself in 7 years and then produce a handsome £1m p/a return for the far sighted owner.
Today (11th April) sees me in Oban after another memorable sailing from Islay via Colonsay with views that reminded me of the superb coastal scenery at the northern end of NZ's South Island : many of the communities live a similarly independent life relying on ferries and privately owned boats to keep in touch with mainstream life.
With a couple of days to get to Mallaig for a ferry to Skye and the generally fine weather continuing I shall visit another couple of bothies before meeting friends from Bristol for a week in a cottage which should be very entertaining.
Piccies here and Spotties here.


Slides look back at early days in NSW.