Walk Day 91 – Cauldron Snout to Alston

Tuesday 11th September 2018

17.72 miles today. 980.90 miles total.

Walk Day 63, Tuesday 17th July, ended in a way that I hadn’t planned, and it left me with a gap that I hadn’t walked between Greg’s Hut and Alston.

It’s impossible to get to Greg’s Hut to start a walk without the use of a Land Rover and chauffeur, so I was left with the choice of walking from Garrigill up to Greg’s Hut and then back again (not a pleasant route), or finding another way to join the dots. I decided to find another place that I had already visited, and link that to Alston, and this time I had some support in the form of Peter, accompanied by Jet the dog.

Which is why I found myself at the picnic spot at Cow Green Reservoir, setting out in the opposite direction, walking back to the top of Cauldron Snout. It had rained all night on Monday, but in the morning the clouds lifted and a strong wind blew, eventually blowing enough space between the clouds for the sun to shine through.

At the reservoir the wind was eye-stinging, and raising white horses on the water. The walk from the car to the junction with the Pennine Way just above Cauldron Snout was chilly and I expected to be wearing gloves all day.

But the sun shone brighter and made the return journey to the car (yes, almost four miles to end up back where we started!) a bit warmer.

Jet the dog jumped back into the car and showed me what he thought of a proposed walk that he and Peter could take by snuggling down in his crate. Peter said, “It’s a bit blowy for walking”, and got into the driver’s seat. “See you in Garrigill for lunch” and off they went leaving me to continue my long catch-up walk.

There’s a map-reading lesson in this walk. I planned to follow the footpath, marked as a straight line on the map. If you look at the area, especially at a satellite photograph you will notice that nature hasn’t provided straight lines anywhere nearby.

Up, down, mine shafts, sink holes, streams, bog, marsh, more up, more down, more bog… the footpath shown on the map shows that there is a right of way, not where it is. It doesn’t appear on the ground at all. So the distance I actually walked, meandering around and across etc was much more than the map mileage, but there’s no way to measure it.

Suffice to say I was ankle deep in water for much of the time, until it occurred to me to follow the tops of the hills which were merely soggy rather than splashy. Once I reached the river the path reappeared for a while. Through a couple of fields then onto an unmade road which then ran out into a footpath up the hill alongside the river.

Eventually the footpath gave way to the B6277 for several miles,

then a steep path down into Garrigill, which was closed, so no lunch there.

Finally another four miles of road walking into Alston, and a decent meal at the pub.

We met Paul and Jenny from Australia who are walking the Pennine Way. Good luck on the rest of your journey.

By walking from the top of Cauldron Snout to Alston I’ve joined the dots of my walk. Technically this means that the journey up to High Cup Nick, on to Dufton and then over Great Dun Fell, Little Dun Fell, Cross Fell to Greg’s Hut was nugatory mileage, but hey ho. It was better than walking up the ugly coffin road to Greg’s Hut and then back down again.

While I was walking Peter took Jet on the little steam train from Alston to Slaggyford, which they both loved, and for another walk in a sunny park, so a tired dog sat under the pub table and shredded Peter’s paper napkin while we ate.

I can now start Phase 7 knowing that I have genuinely walked every step of a route from Land’s End, with no gaps. Phew.

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End of Phase 6

Tuesday 4th September 2018

Last night was very cold and damp. The cold isn’t a problem but condensation inside the tent leads to damp everything. I keep as much as possible in dry bags, but a damp sleeping bag is an unpleasant experience.

The tent was dripping wet when I packed to come home, and I’m glad I can get everything dried and aired at home over the next few days.

This morning, as I was leaving the Lochy caravan park I spotted this vehicle. It was Steve and Alison (I met them on the Devil’s Staircase) who have a Motorhome with driver for their LEJOG journey – a very civilised way to travel and camp.

They were at the station later in the morning so we managed a brief chat and wished each other well. An Instagram photo of Kevin, Annie and Ed also kept us in touch.

I caught the bus from the campsite to the station. Thankfully there was no need to walk that road again.

I arrived early enough to see the Caledonian Sleeper train arrive,

and the Jacobite train depart.

The steam train is a charter that goes to the ‘Harry Potter’ viaduct at Glenfinnan, and on to Mallaig. It is advertised as a classic railway journey including Britain’s highest mountain, shortest river and deepest loch, and every seat was sold. The passengers were mostly smiling.

The last three train journeys home have been stamina testing due to weather related delays, so today has been a pleasant change. Not only did the train to Glasgow leave Fort William on time, but it passed through the same scenery I’d walked through and I was able to enjoy it all again from the comfort of a seat.

At Glasgow a friendly local showed three of us, rather confused travellers, the walking route to Central Station. It saved an hour of journey time and meant I’ve caught an earlier train.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we have a smooth onward journey.

There’s a short break at home now that will include a catch-up walk to fill a gap, then back again for the final section later this month.

John O’Groats doesn’t seem so far away now.

Walk Day 90 – Kinlochleven to Fort William

Monday 3rd September 2018

16.13 miles today. 963.18 miles total.

I left the Blackwater Hostel at 8.15am, knowing it would be a long day.

The route goes uphill through the woods and then joins the military road. Most of the day was spent walking on rock or gravel between the big hills.

Unlike the Pennine Way the West Highland Way doesn’t take you across the top of every hill, which makes for slightly easier walking, and the path is always clearly marked.

I was overtaken by the same people as every other day; it gets quite sociable after a while, and this is the busiest trail I’ve followed so far.

Just at the end my route took me off the official route to Lochy campsite, around 2.5 miles out of town.

Having made camp I then tried to get a bus back to my diversion point. Easier said than done. Three buses and an hour later (the 919 sailed straight past me at the bus stop with the driver looking straight ahead!) I finally completed my journey.

The bus timetables don’t fit with an end of trail party, even though there are reputed to be 7 LEJOGers in town tonight. A tad frustrating, but it can’t be helped.

Thank you to John and Julie for taking my end-of-trail photo, and for your contribution to PCRF.

Walk Day 89 – Glencoe to Kinlochleven

Sunday 2nd September 2018

11.39 miles today. 947.05 miles total.

The game this morning was called Midge Wars. It was me vs them.

When I woke in my tent at 6.30am there was a strong wind blowing, so that made the perfect time to go for a shower. Soon after I returned to my tent the wind dropped and I heard the familiar sounds of besieged campers trying to pack their tents during the tartan-terror’s breakfast feeding frenzy. I stayed put.

By using the weather, sun, wind, heavy rain, and covering up completely including midge net I was able to pack up and get moving with no extra bites.

After that the walking seemed easy.

Past the King’s House Hotel building site,

between the mountains,

up the Devil’s Staircase where I met two more LEJOGers,

and down the long 5 miles

into Kinlochleven.

It was perfect walking weather, cool with a hint of rain, and occasional sunshine.

The views were majestic.

Walk Day 88 – Inverornan to Glencoe Mountain Resort

Saturday 1st Septmber 2018

8 miles today. 935.66 miles total.

It was Military Road all the way today in soft misty weather that was actually quite warm.

The midges were out in force from very early.

I can now report that, like Jungle Formula, Smidge is to midges and mosquitos what Marmite is to humans. Some hate it, while others…

I intended to walk to King’s House and wild camp, but 1.58 miles from my destination I saw this sign.

The lure of showers and a drying room outweighed the extra distance on tomorrow’s walk. I hope I don’t regret the decision in the morning.

Anyway, here are some views from today’s walk.

Walk Day 86 – Beinglas, Inverarnen to Tyndrum

Thursday 30th August 2018.

12.01 miles today. 918.03 miles total.

It was a late start this morning after packing a wet tent. But worth it for being able to eat a good breakfast before leaving.

Ed, Sarah and I were able to spend some time chatting before we went on our ways, same direction, different speeds.

Sarah is doing high mileage in order to ‘bank’ a couple of days for later in her trip.

I was the last to leave and was overtaken almost immediately by Kevin and Annie. That was the story of my day as the trail was very busy, and I recognised many of those who came past me. It made it a very sociable day.

Most of the walkers were oversees visitors, and there were two British couples. The first were young fit and confident and all three of us blithely missed a right turn and ended up in the road. Too much chatting. (An Australian woman later confided that her group had made the same mistake.)

The second couple, Peter and Heather were, like me, familiar with a lot of the faces and they were making good progress. They seemed happy to undersell their fitness and achievement. Very British 🙂

I noticed that very few people were carrying anything more than day packs. Most folks said they were staying in B&B and using baggage transfer services, which all sounds very civilised.

Today’s little things included

a field of red mushrooms,

some red moss on the forest floor,

and this little robin redbreast who was defending his bridge against all comers.

The path varied between

old military road,

forest trail,

mud, stones, up, down, quite a variety.

Honesty boxes for refreshments are more common on this trail, and the chair was a good idea.

The scenery is big with lots of water,

moody mountains visible in the distance.

The route crosses the Killan river and passes the deserted site of St Killan Priory, an Augustinian order.

These are cattle with big horns.

There’s an Arthurian style legend about a lost battle sword close to Tyndrum. The writers of the notice seem sceptical.

I arrived at the By The Way Camp Site in chilly drizzle to discover they have a hostel bed available so I’ve paid the extra and will be warm and dry tonight.

Walk Day 85 – Rowardennan Lodge to Beinglas Camp Site, Inverarnen

Wednesday 29th August 2018

15 miles plus the walk to the pub. 906.02 miles total.

Over 900 miles!

Walking along the east side of Loch Lomond sounds as if it ought to be a nice beach stroll. Obviously it isn’t.

Whether you love it or hate it, and there were plenty of both comments at the end of the day, it is not a stroll.

I chose the lower path which is mainly wooded, goes up and down a lot, with steps created from the rocks or tree roots, and many of them are exactly the right height for someone a few inches taller than me.

I had to remove my pack twice.

Once to get under this fallen tree and once to slide down a rock incline. The kind German man who held my pack said, “It is manageable”. His daughter had used the same words to him a couple of minutes earlier. She looked more of a clamberer than me. 🙂

The views of the Loch and the forest varied according to the weather, which ranged from drizzle to dry every hour, and the tree cover. There was water everywhere.

Again, little things to spot like this fallen tree trunk.

I stopped for lunch at the Inversnaid Hotel, then carried on walking to Beinglas campsite.

On the way I passed Doune Bothy and went in for shelter from the rain. Any thoughts I might have had of stopping three miles early for the night evaporated when I saw that there were already four occupants, a large amount of kit hanging up and spread all over one of the sleeping platforms and the general air of a teenage party about to take place.

I decided to move on and was making my way up hill at the end of the Loch when Sarah called from behind me. By the wonders of social media she knew that four separate LEJOG walkers would be in Inverarnan tonight. So Sarah and I completed our walk together, pitched our tents and then walked a few hundred yards to the Drovers Inn pub to meet Ed and Kevin (and Annie who is walking the WHW with him.)

This the four of us being overseen by a hundred years of taxidermy. Thank you Annie for taking the photographs.

Walk Day 84 – Drymen to Rowardennan Lodge

Tuesday 28th August 2018.

11.69 miles today. 891.02 miles total.

From Drymen I followed the shorter route to the Oak Tree Inn at Balmaha

for a morning cuppa before picking up the path around Loch Lomond.

Another walker said she had taken the higher route and climbed Comic Hill, but the weather was against her and views were hidden by cloud. This is what it looked like from the ground.

Among the big pictures there were also smaller things to notice. This fungus,

a tiny frog less than an inch long,

and the sign in the pub that left me smiling.

Tom Weir MBE, Scottish mountain man is commemorated in Balmaha.

As the path started to climb the views opened out and even on a cloudy day the route was scenic.

At one point I sat on a large rock to make a phone call and a stoat dashed past my feet. Sadly this time I didn’t have the camera ready.

Lots of people overtook me today. Many had been staying in the same hostel, so there was some recognition.

Also overtaking was the other LEJOG walker, Kevin from America, now walking WHW with his wife. He had taken a break in Glasgow and Edinburgh.

I’m possibly one of the few English people walking this trail. Almost everyone else is from Germany, seasoned with some Dutch, Belgian and French, a brace of Canadians and a quartet of Australians.

Here is one of their finds.

Many of us are staying in the Youth Hostel which feels quite cosmopolitan.

Rest Day at Drymen

Monday 27th August 2018

A day of tent drying, sock discarding – more holes – and resting. And chatting to other guests at Kip in the Kirk.

Recommended 🙂

I walked into the centre a few times. Once for supplies, and once to post back the used maps.

The wool shop was closed, but it had an old GR post box on the outside.

And just now, for dinner.

No exercise plus lots of food has left me feeling overfull so I’ll sleep well tonight.

The weather is forecast to be good for the rest of the week and tomorrow I’m aiming for Rowardennan, and hopefully lots of views of Loch Lomond.