Monday, 22 April 2013

A Highland Fling

Under clear blue skies and with snow lying at higher altitudes a circuit of the Brecon Beacons took in much of the route of last year's Beast event with the usual fast descent of the Gap Road  providing an exhilarating finish and justifying a couple of pints in the Star at Talybont on Usk.
A quick overnight in Coventry to load up the van with maps and gear for Scotland was followed by a long weekend in Sheffield the highlight of which was a cycle ride that included Rotherham sewage works. Sunday saw us do a long ride from Bolsover through Clumber Park and Sherwood Forest thanks to Barry's encyclopaedic knowledge of local tracks and trails.
After crossing the snowy Pennines I wild camped at the back of Shap Fell (where a herd of at least 50 deer seemed unperturbed by my presence) before heading in to the Scottish borders to a relatively newly refurbished bothy - Greensykes. An old photo showed the original exterior and the efforts of the various work parties were recorded in the bothy file.

Later that day I joined a couple I had met in Morocco at their farmhouse near Dumfries where we reminisced, planned future trips and I admired the huge works undertaken to rebuild the house and construct an excellent workshop - I look forward to a return visit as there are other bothies in the area and the huge tracts of forest lend themselves to extensive mountain biking.
A final day of cold weather saw me at Culzean Castle on a club site before heading through Glasgow and across to Lochgilphead. Here other friends had an issue with their septic tank ( is there a theme here?) which was similar to mine back at the farm. However the damaged motor was beyond repair so unfortunately little could be achieved and I was soon on my way through Oban to Kentallen south of Glencoe where a group of us occupied a spacious and comfortable house overlooking Loch Linnhe. 
Sunday saw a walk through Glen Duror to another bothy as very windy conditions confined us to the lower slopes - a confused lamb tried to adopt us and the bothy provided a cosy lunch stop.
Monday started with high drama as I seemed to have a flat battery and managed to leave the handbrake off whilst looking for my jump pack leads. As the house was on a steep drive the van careered off at increasing speed shot across the road, mounted the kerb and crashed through numerous saplings and thick brambles before coming to a halt. Somewhat alarmed (massive understatement) I inspected the scene and was relieved to find little apparent damage. By pure good fortune it had missed the substation, road sign, electric pole and there had been no cars or people nearby. After a jump start from Nick and generous woodland management skills from the others I managed to drive out on to the footpath and return to the road where apart from a dented side door all seemed well.
The others set off for a nearby Munroe whilst I decided to attempt to sort out the damaged door which had jumped off its runner. I then drove in to Fort William where a local garage were kind enough to have a good look underneath using their ramp : all appeared well - a tribute to the strength of this particular vehicle.
Foul weather on Tuesday kept us indoors all day with a retreat to the pub as the worst of the storms abated although Wednesday's ascent of a Corbett above Glen Duror was one for the true stalwarts with all of us getting a real soaking in challenging conditions.
On the Thursday 3 of us took bikes on the small ferry across to Lismore from Port Appin to spend the day exploring this ten mile long gem, home to around 180 people and a cosy cafe and visitor centre housing a small but informative museum. The old lime quarries and kilns at Sailean evoked memories of a once important local industry and a ruined castle hinted at a more turbulent past whilst providing a good spot for lunch.
At the southern tip opposite Mull an abandoned farmhouse would make a challenging restoration in a superb location and after a quick visit to look across to the lighthouse we headed north to catch our return ferry and enjoy a pint at the Pier House.
Back at Kentallen we all decided to eat out and enjoyed an excellent meal at the Holly Tree - the late arrival of a large Japanese tour group provided amusement as the staff rose above their obvious and justifiable annoyance as the group ordered food well after serving time.
The best day of the week was enjoyed in the Mamores with a split in to two groups as various tops were ticked off - we enjoyed a scramble along a snowy ridge with excellent views across to Ben Nevis before descending steeply to Kinlochleven.
Our return south was improved by tea and cake in Penrith at a friends and extended by a major closure of the M6 due to a coach fire but I eventually arrived in Coventry once more after a busy few weeks.
My MRI scan was conducted efficiently on a quiet Sunday and much time was spent trying to realign the van door as I had sourced a new lower roller - limited progress was made and I will try again in South Wales next week.
I hope to visit Lundy in May but otherwise my plans for this summer have yet to be finalised but a number of loose ends have been tied up which should free me up for 8-10 weeks away.

Apologies for the long interval since the last post but please enjoy some photos by clicking here 

Monday, 1 April 2013

Spring ????

After a very useful weekend in Coventry removing every last item of clothing, equipment, tools and utensils from the van which enabled me to remove the dust and grime of Morocco, Australia and even New Zealand I replaced most things and ensured I had all the requirements for the forthcoming summer.
Unfortunately the weather had overlooked the official start of spring and turned very much colder persuading me to hunker down at Llangurig for a long weekend with the comforts of a heater, the TV and a good phone/internet signal. Five inches of snow fell on the Friday night with drifting in the strong easterly winds reaching several metres and causing devastation on local farms in the middle of lambing. A 5 mile walk in to one of our bothies took 3 hours each way in arctic conditions with much of the route completely obscured - I was relieved that I had not been tempted to wild pitch at an old favourite spot as the road out had a drift more than 12 feet deep stretching several hundred metres and I would have been stranded.
Nant Rhys was in good order with a revision of the sleeping arrangements to meet fire regulations undertaken recently by the maintenance organisers. 
A return to Brecon was followed by a few days in the Upper Swansea valley visiting old friends and one day cycling the old railway lines down through Swansea and round to the Mumbles where it felt almost spring like. A favourite circular walk via the spectacular Fan Hir ridge offered superb views and a quick chat with a German girl making her way in to the hills rather late in the day on a mountain bike with wellies and rubber gloves to fend off the cold!
Another ride from Newport towards Abergavenny along the Brecon and Monmouth canal was enjoyed in sunny but chilly conditions - warm soup and other treats at Goytre Wharf fuelled our return which was slightly marred by a plunge in to the canal for one of our number !!
I am now at Talybont with another ride planned for Tuesday up in to the hills before later this week I head indirectly to Scotland - a trip which will be forcibly shortened as I have a scan for my knee unexpectedly early - 3 weeks time in fact. Plans beyond that will depend on the outcome of the scan but I still hope to get over to Scandinavia and plans for another winter in southern Europe and a return to Morocco are well advanced.

A few icy picks (geddit) are available here :  click