Brecons Gap Route   4 comments

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Since I decided to give cycling another go I’ve had my eye on what looked like a rather fine round called the Brecons Gap Route. So named as it traverses the gap between Fan y Big and Cribyn in the heart of the Brecon Beacons. It’s a good deal tougher in the mountain section than anything I’ve attempted before but the weather was stunning so I figured I could at least give it a go. I set off from Talybont-on-Usk on a gloriously warm sunny day and headed off on the Taff Trail

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The first section was very rough and bouncy. The Taff trail follows the line of an old railway along the valley – at least that’s what I thought. Turns out the first couple of km follow an old bridleway and it was rough going but not too steep and I coped fine

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As it climbed the views began to open out across the Talybont reservoir

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I wandered onto the dam to take a couple of shots. Stunning I thought

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From there its a very long climb up to the pass above the reservoir. Never steep and by now on the old railway line the going was much smoother. They are clearing away the old plantation so the views were superb. Gave me an excuse to stop many times and admire.

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I passed a few people walking but no-one else on a bike. The Beacons Way follows this stretch and it reminds me why I don’t like following pre-ordained long distance routes. There is a superb high level route that would avoid this long endless trudge on foot, a few hundred foot up above on open ground. In fact the Beacons Way actually descends from where that path starts to pick up the Taff Trail and then climbs back up again to meet it a few km later. Why the route chooses to ignore an obvious high level path in favour of a forest trail is beyond me. This trail is ideal for cycling but not for walking. Each to their own I suppose but the D of E groups I saw seemed not to be enjoying the trudge even on this glorious day

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Seeing as this is the age of the selfie, here’s a very rare picture of yours truly enjoying another photo-rest excuse to stop

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From the high point of the road there is a speedy short descent before the trail curves around towards the main part of the Beacons. From here things get a little tougher

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The trail becomes extremely stony and rutted and while not steep was pretty hard work. I’m pleased to say that other than one short section that drops steeply in and out of a stream, I made it all the way to the “gap” (seen in the centre of the photo below) without needing to push or more importantly, falling off

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I have to admit I was feeling pretty pleased with myself. I’d done 15km and close to 500m of ascent and survived to tell the tale. More than that I really enjoyed it – never thought I’d hear myself say that about mountain biking

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I celebrated with a very lengthy stop to have lunch and a brew, chatting to other cyclists as they passed through (this a popular and well-known mountain bike route)

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The descent from the gap gave me my only problem. The first 500m or so is steep and very rough, more like scree than a path. After a couple of nervous attempts I decided discretion was best and pushed for a few minutes. This section really needs a full on, front and rear suspension bike (mine is just a hard-tail). I managed to negotiate my way down carefully. It was wild and bouncy and my bike was making all kinds of rattling noises but again I was very pleased to make it all the way to the road-head without falling off, albeit very much slower than the madcap people taking the descent at full throttle. It must be a hell of an adrenaline rush but if you came off you’d do yourself a really nasty one

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Once on the road its a very fast and steep descent all the way to valley bottom along peaceful wild-flower be-decked country lanes. A real blast. My route back to the car was along the Brecon and Monmouthshire canal. It was superb (and flat!) and gave an excellent last hours wind-down in more peaceful surroundings after the drama of the gap

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The canal has a small aqueduct over the river Usk

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This little bridge just after was picture perfect and I stopped for breather. Nice spot for a picnic I thought. More to follow in a later post

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From there it was an easy cruise along the tow-path. Wild flowers were abundant and the route busy with other cyclists and families enjoying a perfect spring day

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I think TBF would enjoy this part of the ride although definitely not the mountain section! I must fashion a route along the canal and back along the lanes of this quiet corner of the national park

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35km ride in total and a real classic – me, enjoying mountain biking, who’d have thought 🙂

A Proper Walk in the Berwyns   9 comments

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The Berwyns have been a bit hit and miss for me. I walked them on a really gloomy day back in the 80’s by a wholly unsatisfactory route. We planned and then abandoned an outing a few years ago on the basis of a forecast of ceaseless rain that proved true. And shortly after I had another enjoyable yet somewhat unsuccessful and poorly judged outing you can read about here. This time a few weeks back everything seemed set fair with a decent forecast and after a Little Chef breakfast with Uncle Fester in Oswestry we headed for the hills.

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One of the nice things about approaching the Berwyns from their most dramatic side, the east, is you get to start the walk at the marvellous waterfall of Pistyll Rhaeadr

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Being a place of abundant rainfall the UK has many decent waterfalls. If there is a better one than Pistyll Rhaeadr I’d very much like to see it

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After taking our fill of its delights it was time for some harder work. The views back along the Rhaeadr vally were superb

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As were the views across to the lonely and tough Hirnants

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There was a deeply soggy section between Trum Felen and Moel Sych but soon were on the first of the major Berwyn summits

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The forecast was for an ever improving day and we were treated to some glorious views across to the main Snowdonia mountains and back towards Shropshire, Cheshire and as far as the Black Mountains and Brecon Beacons in South Wales

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Llyn Luncaws also held the gaze (and as it turns out holds a lot of boggy ground!)

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The highest and most dramatic point on the escarpment doesn’t seem to have its own name, a distinction that the slightly lower trig point on Cadair Berwyn owns

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The walk along the edge from here is excellent with the weather and views improving with every step

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The eastern views are quite unusual, merging high moorland with pastoral fields

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We left UF to wnader back to the high point on his own while we and TJS headed out to bag the last major high point of Cadair Bronwen

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In time honoured fashion we claimed that the views were substantially better from here (seeing as UF hadn’t bothered to climb it). We had thought about trying a circular route but its hard to craft one in the Berwyns without some re-ascent and path finding across farmland. On a day as good as this its no chore to retrace steps and enjoy the ridge all over again

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After a lengthy stop on the high point for lunch we headed down. The direct descent towards Llyn Luncaws is very steep but we’d spotted a traversing path that looked, and in fact was, very interesting

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Once down at the lake we realised its one of those lakes where the surrounding area is merely an extension of the lake with vegetation in it. Its incredibly boggy and hard going until you pick up the splendid path that traverses down the Nant y Llyn valley.

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We followed the path all the way to the road a km past the car as it was such pleasant walking, delivering one final view of Pistyll Rhaeadr

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The Berwyns finally conquered end to end in good weather and good company. A grand day out

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Cycling with the Hardman   18 comments

When I told people about this they were concerned for my welfare. Going cycling with the Hardman is like saying I’m off for a short stroll with John Muir. The Hardman is very serious about his cycling and despite his older years is seriously fit. He’s thin and wiry and in short everything I’m not. This is man who cycled from the coast to the highest road on Tenerife, a relentless unbroken climb of 2400m, in less than 3 hours. I’d agreed to go cycling in the Peak District with him. I sent him several “go easy on me” and “I’m really quite unfit” e-mails in the hope that I might stand a slim chance of returning directly home afterwards rather than via an oxygen tent in a lonely casualty department.

In the event he was a very considerate cycling partner, reducing his speed down to “middle aged mortal” level and allowing me and TBF to survive the experience intact 🙂

In truth the route was an easy one. North along the Tissington Trail, south on the High Peak Trail and back along the roads to the start. After an excellent breakfast at a garden centre (I had to wait for it to open, how sad is that at my age) we parked up the stunning village of Tissington ready for the off.

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It was a cracker of a day. A clear blue sky is the perfect day for a visit to the White Peak. The green fields and the white stone walls seems to radiate light and warmth

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The Tissington Trail is a wonderful vantage point (or stretch to be precise) to view it from on a bike as its elevated. More importantly the ascent is barely noticeable, in effect a flat ride. Perfect for us less fit types

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We made easy and swift progress to Parsley Hay where the views were superb and we celebrated with a cuppa. The White Peak was my local hiking/stomping ground around 15 years ago when I lived near Derby and I used to love it. The mix of open grassy fields and deep limestone dales and gorges was always one of my favourite landscapes and its a real shame I don’t get back there often enough

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Such was the quality of the day we headed up to the far end of the trail to see what it was like

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This section was especially fine and the easy cycling in such wonderful surroundings was a joy. There is plan in motion to link the ends of the Tissington, Monsal and High Peak cycle ways. When complete it will be a quite superb 2 day circuit through some of the finest scenery in the UK

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We headed south and back along the High Peak Trail. Another stop for a snack and a cuppa was in order but this section was exposed to the cold wind. We eventually found a really well sheltered spot just after this man-made causeway, itself really rather impressive

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We left the trail at Brassington and had a rather excellent sweeping fast descent down the road. The price to pay was a short steep hill preceded by a ford (which the Hardman disappointingly refused to cycle through). Me and TBF were well chuffed to make it to the top without needing to push although a couple of stops to admire the scenery were required

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The Hardman, being a more serious cycling type has a disturbing tendency to dress like a MAMIL!

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A final lazy roll back down to Tissington finished a memorable ride of 30 miles. I may at some point start to enjoy cycling (don’t tell anyone)

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Best way to finish off a great day and a superb weekend? A family meal at Wagamamas when we got home. Sorted!

Madcap Backpack in the Black Mountains   8 comments

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I’ve been making promises to myself to get out and do more back packing and wild camping. I read lots of blogs and trip reports about cracking trips, mostly short to take advantage of quality weekend time but I never seem to get around to it. That’s all going to change. Armed with a new tent and after a rushed packing/eating session we’d eaten tea and were out walking in the Black Mountains by 6pm

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It was great to be out after work. Less than two hours after shutting the lid on my work laptop at home I was on my way up the Cats Back ridge

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As we raced up the sun went down

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The light was spectacular and of course at this time on a Friday we had this most wonderful ridge to ourselves

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We hurried on past the trig pillar on Black Hill towards our intended overnight stop

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I’d had my eye on a spot a mile so beyond for several years. A small sheltered area of grass just off the path. Its always been dry but after the recent snowfall and heavy rain it was very soggy. We managed to get the tent up and settled inside just as it got dark.

Also had a new tent to play with. Since the demise of my Quasar I don’t have a two-person tent (other than my Lightwave which is really for 3 people and is pretty heavy). Bring on the Nigor Parula 2. I’m pretty impressed as it’s amazingly light for a two-person tent (around 1.8kg) and fits my needs for two porches and an ability to sit up in comfort. I’m still getting used to its pitching subtleties (especially the porches to stop them sagging) but so far so good. It did pass my first major test in that the very light and thin groundsheet was pitched on some seriously wet ground without any water ingress. I should however point out that seriously impressive tents are seriously expensive!

Not the driest or flattest pitch but we slept well through a cold night.

We woke the next morning to a frosty and damp tent and glorious sunshine

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I left TJS to snooze while I wandered about to soak up the scene. I can almost see our village from the top but it felt a world away up here.

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I smiled as abundantly as the sun shone, and settled down for a hearty and not very healthy breakfast of bacon butties and jaffa cakes. TJS joined me eventually and we savoured the morning and a long leisurely feast

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Packed and ready for the off we considered our route. It was only a one night outing as I’d planned some cycling in the Peak District the following day. Originally we were just going out to Hay Bluff before returning to the car via a round of the Olchon Valley. As the weather was so grand we decided to extend the walk by taking in Lord Herefords Knob and heading back to the car via Capel y FFin

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The high level path along to Hay Bluff was superb

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The views from the summit over the Wye Valley to the Brecon Beacons and Black Mountain even better

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We both seemed untroubled by the heavier packs than we’d use for a day walk and made swift and easy progress to the summit of LHK.

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The views were still superb but there was a very keen and very cold wind so we didn’t linger. Rather than walk along the Darren Lwyd ridge, right into the wind we opted for the Nant Bwch valley for some shelter

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Its a lovely valley with a series of small waterfalls and grassy patches for a lunch stop. Make a decent camp as well although its only a few minutes from the end of the road

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The Vale of Ewyas is one of the finest valleys in the UK in my opinion. A walk along it or above it as always a pleasure especially on a warm sunny day. Spring really did feel in the air down here

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The downside of the walk extension was having to climb up, over and down one of the Black Mountains main ridges. Sheltered from the wind it was a steep and sweaty climb. I was beginning to think I should have brought shorts

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That changed swiftly as we reached the ridge. We were exposed to the wind and thoughts of shorts turned to thoughts of hats and gloves. It was bitterly cold and we had to move quickly to descend the other side to try and reach shelter from the next ridge

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Ample compensation was provided in the views across the pastoral Herefordshire countryside and the ridge we’d walked the night before

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One last steep descent and one last final climb back up to the car completed a very fine short overnight adventure.

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TJS hasn’t been out much recently and he really seemed to enjoy the trip and the long walk in the sunshine. He’s badly out of shape though and was stiff for the next day or so and struggling to keep up with the old man on the ascents. He does take over on the downhill bits but I have my bad knees excuse for that

First part of adventurous weekend for me. More two-wheeled outdoor action planned for the Sunday

Tales from the Wacky Winter Part 3   10 comments

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The weather forecast had been changing by the hour through the previous evening but it all seemed to point towards a less wet day, possibly with some sun, maybe some rain, likely cloudy. Not too bad for Scotland. We all decided on a group walk and after much debate and a fight to death with Beinn Challuim, Beinn DubhChraig won. It ticked all the boxes, easy walk, not too far, easy navigation, plentiful parking at Dalrigh. It wasn’t  a bad morning in truth and we set off in high spirits

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The walk up through the forest was grand, another of those old natural pine forests that used to cloak Scotland, now sadly overtaken by regimented conifer plantations

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The party divided as we trudged a particularly boggy trod through the trees, I struck out solo and decided to cross the river to the path. This gave me an opportunity to test how slippery the rocks were and clean my boots and gaiters!

I did at least arrive clear of the forest a good 20 minutes before the rest of the gang who stayed in the boggy forest. From there the day became a bit of trudge. The cloud came down, the snow underfoot was wet and heavy and then some fresh stuff fell from the sky. The promise of a brighter afternoon seemed a long way off. We stopped for a snack and there was an image of the sun.

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I’ve been through this cruel deception in Scotland before. The sun appears as a ghostly image, then promptly buggers off to be replaced by rain. As we approached the ridge it did look genuinely blue directly above us and hope was rekindled. EWO loves his phrase “blueing up” and this time, perhaps…….

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As the rest arrived we started to see wisps of distant mountains and proper watery sunshine. It was magical.

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The photos don’t really do it justice but the mix of deep blue sky directly overhead and thin sunshine on the fresh snow was wonderful. As impressive as the clear blue skies of two days back, possibly more so. We climbed Beinn Dubhchraig  several years ago on a previous trip and had exactly the same experience. A dreary, damp climb in the cloud and a sudden and dramatic weather clearance. My luckiest mountain?

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The big problem with walking in a big group in poor conditions is it tends to lead to errors. Most people set off 180 degrees in the wrong direction, essentially back down the ridge we’d just come up. We’d strayed too far west while nattering leading to this major piece of navigational incompetence.  I called them back when I saw the summit looming above us through the mist in the opposite direction!

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From the summit the views were changing by the second, crystal clear one moment, back into cloud the next. It was cold and windy so we looked for spot for a leisurely lunch

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I enjoy these big group gatherings, this one all the better for the ever improving weather. The good humour and frivolity was enlivened by TBF letting her sandwich box slide off down the hill. Being the kind soul I am, I tried to knock it further down the slope by throwing snowballs at it. OFS stepped in to retrieve it giving me an additional and much larger target that I promptly hit square on the head. Result!

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The walk down the NE ridge was just superb. The skies were clearing further, revealing superb views across the Southern Highlands and Loch Lomond

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There were a couple of steep sections that would have been interesting in icy conditions but easy to plunge down in very deep snow

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There was one spot on the end of one of the small buttresses that was bathed in sunlight with majestic views all around. We took it all in and snapped many photos

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Ben More and Sob Binnein looked especially wintry

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This is Old Grandfather Sheffield. He had a “Cardiac Event” (to give it it’s modern re-branding) a few years ago which gave him a stark lifestyle reality check. All good now but there was a while when he thought climbing summits might be beyond him. He joins us every year and whilst he’s not quite as fast as he once was he’s pretty much back to his best and really seems to relish these weekends almost more than the rest of us.

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The light just got better and better as we came down. Even though the snow was horrid and wet and the ground boggy it didn’t matter. Why should it with views like these

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Rather than return the same way and cut the corner off through the boggy forest, we took the much longer forestry track. Having already done two longish days my knees weren’t happy to bash down a hard track. I was just starting to think that the shortcut would have been better when I (on my own as everyone else had left me behind) emerged from the forest to this view of Beinn Dorain and Beinn Odhar

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It was superb and as the shortcut comes out much lower I’d have missed the scene and the light as I’d been down much earlier. From there, the walk down the through the natural forest was breathtaking

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At every bend there was a better view than the last

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Beinn Challuim stood proud catching the last of the sunlight and framed often by the Scots Pines

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It was after six when we reached the car with everyone waiting for me and TBF. An absolutely cracking finish and well worth the lost sleep from arriving back home at 2am

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So our winter gathering over for another year. A new home found and another couple of superb days to live long in the memory all the better shared with loyal friends of long standing.

Tales from the Wacky Winter Part 2   11 comments

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Normal service resumed. The promised bad weather had arrived and was happily splashing everything with a soaking rain when we roused ourselves for breakfast. Plenty of time for a leisurely feast and long discussions about how best to use a wet and grey day in the middle of nowhere that is the Southern Highlands. The forecast had been evolving and it seemed to promise a ramp-down in the rain in the afternoon. In fact by the time we had re-assembled in the car park to continue the discussion in a colder and less hospitable environment the rain had pretty much stopped. While others went to bag munros and dreary corbetts, a select band chose an altogether more unprepossessing route

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A horseshoe around the hills behind the hotel, taking in Ben Inverveigh and Meall Tairbh. We hoped their modest height would keep us out of the cloud and although that didn’t quite work out, it was in the end a pretty enjoyable day – of sorts – and challenging in its own way

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The lower slopes, so often a real grind in these parts was overcome by the West Highland Way and a decent path that took us most of the way to the top. The views weren’t all that bad and we took comfort from the fact it was nowhere near as bad as the forecast from the previous day

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We reached the snowline and wandered across the wide ridge taking in small outcrops and cairns as we went. When the mist came down we amused ourselves with baiting each other with the political and social issues of the day.

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After a brief rest below the first summit we pressed on over a col that on the 1:50k map had no contours over a quite wide area – never a good sign in Scotland. In fact it was drier than expected (for that read, extremely boggy rather than a lake disguised as dry land) and interesting in its own way.

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I found a small and very soggy, wet stream to enliven the climb to the second summit and celebrated its ascent with a fruit pie from Tebay services in the snow (they are well worth a stop on the M6 to stock up for a weekend I can tell you).

The summit of Meall Tairbh was bagged in a white out followed by a long plod down a very boggy ridge and back to Inveroran on the shores of Loch Tulla. I have great memories of this spot. You can park up and pitch on the grass where the road crosses the Allt Tolaghan and we did so many times for winter mountain bagging, retreating to the pub a short walk away to eat and drink. They were happy days. Who am I kidding they were cold days and I much prefer a warm B&B to a cold tent and frozen milk on cornflakes for breakfast. I was kidding they were memorable and fun weekends with a huge number of stories from the archive

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It was a day that vindicated making the effort. Little in the way of views but good company and a fine walking challenge. I would have drawn you a map to show how far we went but Bing seem to have removed that functionality. Looks like I’ll have to pay for some maps. The cheek of it!

 

Tales from the Wacky Winter Part 1   12 comments

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Winter in the mountains this year has been wildy unpredictable. I’ve been skiing at over 2000m in the Alps over rocks and bare patches of grass while my mate UF has just been suffering from no skiing due to too much snow just a month later. Ahead of our annual trip top the Southern Highlands the conditions changed from full winter, to no snow, back to loads of snow, followed by another thaw, all in a period of less than two weeks. I had no idea whether to pack skis, crampons, axes or shorts for this years trip!

Our home for the past few years has been the Suie Lodge Hotel. Sadly the wonderful owners who looked after us so well have sold up and the place was in transition to new owners so we needed a new home. This year we gave the Bridge of Orchy Hotel a go, more upmarket and pricey but after some negotiation by your truly we got a decent rate. It has a location to die for and the place is rather nice. The bar was out of action for a refurbishment but the rooms were great and the staff superb. Food was also top drawer so the place comes highly recommended

The weather forecast looked promising but drawing back the curtains on the Friday revealed a stunner. Cloudless blue sky and wisps of mist over the summits and valleys. One of the huge benefits of the hotel is the possibility of munros from the door so we chose a route over Beinn an Dothaidh and Beinn Achaladair leaving a car at the far end so we could make a circuit

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It was a magnificent day, far better than the forecast had led us to believe.

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As we ascended Coire an Dothaidh the views just got better and better

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We hit the snowline at 700m and it the transformation was dramatic. From odd patches to complete deep cover in a mater of minutes. It was primarily deep unconsolidated snow on very wet ground so no need for metalwork and it was hard going. Luckily we had fit people in the party happy to break trail for me! 🙂

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At the col we were in a winter wonderland. There was much exchange of smug grins and talk of people still at work

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We pressed on towards the first summit of Beinn an Dothaidh. The snow was in places surprisingly extensive and deep considering there had been a major thaw less than a week ago

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This range is one of the best in Scotland on a clear day. They stand proud above the vast expanse of Rannoch Moor giving a reals sense of air and space with a huge spread of mountains to the south and west

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This is the next mountain on the route, Beinn Achaladair

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We hit the edge somewhere between the the three tops and took a wander back to one of the lower tops on a whim, seeing as it was such a nice day.

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It was an inspired idea. Not only were the views majestic but there was a perfect lunch spot tucked under the rocks, out of the wind and with the best of the views

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Ben Cruachan looked particularly superb

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Nothing better than a blue sky day, winter conditions and a chance to savour it with good friends of long standing

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Onwards across the edge to the very shapely north top before plunging down to the col for another climb

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The ridge to Beinn Achaladair is a long one, although not steep but you barely notice such things on a perfect day

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Lochaber and its vast collection of summits was laid out in front of us

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Even Ben Nevis was clear of cloud

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As the day progressed it became a view of two halves. Supremely clear to the north and west but with cloud building from the south. The advance of bad weather that was forecast for the rest of the weekend. The cloud created some mesmeric lighting effects that my camera didn’t do justice to

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The walk along the last part of of the summit ridge was a delight

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It was one of those days that you just don’t want to end. Tired legs and fading light dictated otherwise

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The party divided. Some chose the easy and longer option of a return to the col. The rest of us plunged down a quite outrageously steep grassy slope on a more direct route to the car.

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The setting sun provided a fitting finale to a memorable day.

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I thought we’d used up all our Scottish good weather luck last year but it was still holding

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