Day 2 – Iron Lodge to Loch Cluanie : 26 km
Rain had bounced off the tent almost constantly throughout the night, at times very heavily. Luckily the breeze hadn’t changed direction so I remained cozy and dry under the Trailstar.
I’d sat up until late the previous evening sipping the odd drop of whisky and watching a steady stream of wet looking TGO challengers heading to camp at Iron Lodge, with a few carrying on west over towards Loch Mullardoch. These were probably starters from either Dornie or Sheil Bridge. One day into the TGO and I was already crossing over the paths of people starting from more southerly points.
This was to be a theme for the first few days, by my most southerly point on day 5 I’d cross over routes of people starting at Oban.
Todays route took me further south through two incredibly wet areas, Gleann Gaorsaic and An Caorann Mor, and I’d been warned I wasn’t likely to enjoy it one bit. But I’d managed to at least dry my socks overnight by hanging them above my head, draped over the inner tent, and I was dammed if I was going to let them get wet again.
It was still raining steadily when I packed up and set off, following the estate track down to Carnach past herds of deer and streams bursting there banks as they rushed down into the River Elchaig. Crossing the river by a bridge at Carnach would be almost the last time I’d walk on something remotely solid for the rest of the day. From here on it was like waterworld all the way to Cluanie Inn.
After a very steep but thankfully short climb up the east side of Allt Coire Easaich amongst yellow primroses, the faint path I’d been following soon petered out and disappeared, leaving me scrambling up the steep valley side through heather and loose rock to skirt high above waterfalls at the top.
What then comes into view can only be described as a very long, and very wide flood plain of a valley. For the next 6km along it’s length there wouldn’t be a dry spot of ground to balance my boots on boots. I tried diligently, but it I was covering double the distance and taking double the time simply trying to circumnavigate wetness.
After a mile or so I passed a group of drowned looking lads who’d climbed up into Gleann Gaorsaic from the west via the Falls of Glomach, but soon left them behind as I decided to take a high line along the valley leaving them to bog trot along the bottom.
The downside of taking a high line was crossing numerous streams higher up where they were steeper and the water running much faster. I managed to jump a couple, but baulked at one particularly furious looking torrent, and changed into my Vivo Barefeet . I’d not worn these for a water crossing before, but the little beauties gripped the rock like limpets and I really rather enjoyed the feeling of the cold water rushing through them like a foot spa.
So much so that, rather than change back into my boots on the opposite side, I simply left the Vivo’s on and walked the next 5 miles in them merrily sloshing through puddles and bog without a care in the world. I walked a line as straight as a die, making great time and smiling like a Cheshire Cat.
I sat down in the drizzle at the end of the valley, snacking on some oat cakes and picking bits of peat from between my toes, and watched a lone figure a mile or so away on the opposite side of the valley slowly make its way along the trackless side of Loch a’ Beafaich. It turned out to be Colin Ibbotson who no doubt had also come up via the Falls of Glomach but took the path less travelled. He must have thought he’d happened on a prize numpty seeing me sat there in the rain in my bare feet….grinning happily.
Colin carried on , turning east along Gleann Gniomdaigh, leaving me snacking on trail mix and drying my feet. But as I watched him disappear into the distance he seemed to be heading for another bog trot, while down at the river there looked to be a sunday stroll of a path hugging the bank all the way to where it meets with Fionngleann. I headed down that way and sure enough it was the sort of path you pray for in wet weather.
By the time I’d walked down the glen to Alltbeithe Youth Hostel I’d somehow managed to get ahead of Colin, and as the rain had now ceased I decided to go and sit on the bridge beyond the hostel rather than go and seek shelter in the building.
While I was sitting putting my boots back on, a few more drowned rats trudged down from An Caorrann Mor giving my spirits a good kicking and a taste of the route ahead that I’d rather have saved until later. The dishevelled souls looked wasted after the walk over from Cluanie Inn.
And once again as other walkers seemed to be heading east along Glenaffric, I turned south yet again across another watershed. This was turning into a bad habit.
Once across the bridge opposite he Youth Hostel I tried hugging the bank of the river hoping to find some firm ground again, but the shear volume of water heading down the hillside meant it was more like wading than walking.
Not far from the Youth Hostel you pass what’s left of a Vickers Wellinton which crashed in February 1942 (or at least I think that’s what it was). You can still make out a slight depression in the hillside where it cam down, though not much of the plane remains after over 70 years.
The view from there back NW towards the valleys of Gleann Gniomdaigh and Fionngleann is just massive, that’s the only word I can use to describe it. Even in these dull conditions it’s the sort of panorama you just have to sit and stare at.
So far I’d managed to stay pretty cheerful despite the rain and being wet underfoot. All that changed pretty swiftly as I trudged up An Caorrann Mor, and yet another badly misjudged leap over a stream undid all my efforts to stay in dry socks. This time I completed the set by ending up face down in the bog, my rucksack flipping onto my head and pinning my face into the dirt. I was not a happy bunny. In fact English expletives failed dismally to relieve my anger and it took a few shrieked swear words in Finnish to calm me down (A well pronounced Finnish expletive, such as ‘perkele’, ‘vittu’, or ‘paska’ shouted with a bit of gusto does wonders at times like these).
My original plan had been to camp at the watershed on the second night, but on this ground that was out of the question. And besides I was way ahead of schedule, and I could detect the faint aroma of a decent pint of beer wafting up from Cluanie. Once on the descent I quickly found a dry path followed by a track and made rapid an much happier progress down to the Loch.
My senses had done me proud, and after a short mile along the road to the Cluanie Inn I was sat outside quaffing a pint of Deuchars IPA (followed by a swift second, and a more leisurely third).
I was already a good 6 miles or so ahead of where I’d planned to camp by now, so rather than push on I thought I’d call it a day at Cluanie and find a spot to camp by the Loch. There’s a few flat spots down by the bridge as you cross into the estate heading south, and so I headed down there. It was a lucky call. No sooner had I got the Trailstar up and it started to drizzle, and then throw it down.
The wind also turned and started blowing rain under the tarp but I really couldn’t be bothered to re-pitch it once I was inside, so I deployed a MYOG door I’d cobbled together out of a beach wind break the weekend before. Worked a treat.
Tea consisted of my first experience with a Fuzion Foods meal, a Chicken Chasseur. Very tasty I have to say, and all washed down with an evening tot of whisky again. Though as I sat there after eating, wringing rancid water out of my socks, I couldn’t help but wonder how the heck the Scots managed to produce such nectar out of this hill water…even after aging it in bourbon barrels. Six hours maturing in my socks and I wouldn’t have touched it as a mixer.
Day 3 – Loch Cluanie to Glen Garry Forest : 31 km
An odd thought struck me as I sat eating my porridge the next morning. After 2 days walking I may in fact be further from my destination on the East coast than when I’d set of from Strathcarron. And this morning wasn’t going to help matters. Another trek south, and another bog trot…..oh and a crossing of the River Loyne thrown in for good measure
The first few miles were thankfully an amble, along the Cluanie Estate track with fine views back north to Am Bathach. The wind had gone, as had the rain, the ground was dry and solid, and once again my socks had managed to dry out over night. Socks seem to dry very easily under a Trailstar, which either means it’s incredibly draughty under there, or I must be doing some heavy breathing in my sleep (I drape them over the inner tent above me to dry, catching the heat that appears to leak out of my sleeping bag….rated seasonless).
I then took a lovely path that skirted up behind Creag Liathtais with wonderful views backwards to Glen Loyne to Loch Loyne. Sometimes when I’m plodding along I forget to turn around and look back over my shoulder, you can miss some wonderful views when you focus too much on the road ahead.
The River Loyne though from where I was stood was looking like it may require a pair of waders to get across. I’d been warned that it’s proved un-fordable in the past, resulting in lengthy detours way back up and around Glen Quoich. And after the two nights rain I wasn’t feeling too hopeful.
As luck would have it, the Loyne turned out to be little more than an ankle deep trickle when I dropped down to it. Wide….but shallow and flowing slowly. It was time to don the Vivo Barefeet again.
This time I didn’t even hesitate to think about changing back into my boots on the opposite bank. The ground was deeper in water on the opposite bank than the river itself so I simply waded through it in my Vivos, making my way up towards a deer fence and a path that would take me over to Glen Garry.
Once over a very rickety and incredibly high stile over the deer fence, the path actually got worse, disappearing into heather and water rivulets as it wound it’s way laboriously up to a col at Mam na Seilg. I can honestly say that I have no intension of ever setting on that stretch of path ever again. In fact referring to it as a path at all is probably risking prosecution under the Trades Descriptions Act. It exists in short sporadic sections of bog, and then leaves you stranded and dissorientated.
Still, the views back over your shoulder looking up Glen Loyne towards Glen Quoich make up for I once you reach the col.
On the decent down to Glen Garry I bumped into Paddy, a Challenger from Manchester, and walked the 3 km down to the road with him. Well I say walk. I tip toed my way from rock to rock in my Barefeet , while Paddy sloshed through the wetness in his boots and proceeded to slip on his arse no less than four times.
By the time we reached the roadside I’d walked another 5 km in those little plastic shoes. For 200g they were proving a bit of a revelation. My socks were dry, the sun was out, and for some reason I was getting even further ahead of my schedule. I’d originally planned to camp at Tomdoun, but was almost there at lunchtime. Half way into Day 3 and I’ve already ditched my plan.
I’d been looking forward to a bit of terra firma after all the wet ground from Strathcarron, and by the looks of all the other bodies along the road quite a number of challengers who’d started at Mallaig or Inverie had decided to hit the road too. Whether they’d originally intended to I’m not sure , but I didn’t intend to do stay on the road longer than I had to. Tarmac can play hell with your feet, especially when they’re wet and sore. The pleasure when you first step on it soon wears off, as does the skin on your heels.
I left the road at the head of Loch Garry and headed like everybody else into Glengarry Forest and made for a cabin in the woods for a brew up and afternoon snack. It was raining steadily again by now.
Paddy joined a while after and we sat there for a good hour sheltering under the tin roof, watching wet challengers trudge by on the long forest track towards Invergarry. It didn’t look like much fun, even if there was a promise of a shower at the end. And as Paddy and I were both headed south out of the forest and over to Fedden the next day we decided to try and find somewhere to pitch besides the Allt Bealach Easain as the stream enters the forest higher up.
A few highland cattle, and the odd newt in a pond later, and we found a great little spot sheltered by what looked like some old livestock walls. I initially pitched a distance away from Paddy after he admitted to being a champion snorer, but noticed when I went to collect water that the stream disappeared underground 20 ft upstream of my tent, only to reappear 20 ft beyond it. I’d pitched directly above the line of the stream. Not recommended in the current climate.
So I moved it…….to what turned out to be a slug infested patch.
Evening chores included a full body search for ticks following two days walking in bare feet with trousers rolled up to my knees. Amazingly enough I found none. Though one toe nail did appear to be taking on a fetching shade of black, and three days of constant wetness had left my feet quite sore.
Three days had also meant that my socks were now beyond the point where it was acceptable to hang them above my nose for the night. Rufty Tuftyness has it’s limits. So they were relegated to the doorway to catch a gentle breeze.
That night I dreamt that something was eating it’s way slowly through the Trailstar and my sleeping bag. The sound of crunching and chewing echoing through my ears as I lay there was like something out of a Stephen King novel.
In the morning as I packed up the inner tent I found a rather large slug attached to it. My airmat had been amplifying the sound of it having a midnight snack as it crawled beneath me chomping grass.