Cave Dwellers of Jura’s Wild West Coast (Part 1)

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It had been over two years since our last visit to Jura. Far too long. We’ve been busily marching around various other Hebridean isles in the meantime, which has been very excellent indeed, but for me there’s nowhere quite as profoundly wonderful as Jura’s west coast.

Four days to rub together and the extension of the Road Equivalent Tariff to the Kennacraig – Islay ferry service meant that we could leave Glasgow at 6.30am and pull into a small parking area near the head of Jura’s Loch Tarbert by 2pm – leaving enough time for the walk out to Cruib Lodge bothy before dusk.

As we set off along the intensely squelchy path leading down to the head of the loch, the sky was overcast, though it was still and didn’t look like raining. As luck would have it, the tide was right out so we could cut straight across the mud flats at the head of the loch – this is safe to do just so long as the tide really is right out, otherwise don’t try this yourselves, kids. This was really handy as the ‘high tide’ route formerly crossed a rickety old bridge fording the Abhainn Gleann Aoistail, which feeds into the loch, but this washed away a while back – presenting the old ‘wet boots right at the start of the trip’ scenario.

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Gaining the higher ground across the head of the loch, we followed a series of deer paths across boggy, tussocky ground to arrive at the head of Loch na Pearaich, a sizeable fresh water loch that lies hidden from all sides unless approached from the north. As we skirted the loch, Dougal was showing something of an interest in this large, appealing body of water; as he was carrying his panniers with his blanket and 4 kilos of dried food, I wasn’t keen on him going for a dip. Every time he tipi-toed up to the loch edge I admonished him with a stern ‘Dougal! NO!’ and he’d slink back along the righteous path.

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However, as I paused to take the above picture near the outflow of the loch, the pesky mutt seized his moment. Dougal is a black belt at the canine belly-flop and the resulting ‘kerr-SPLASH!!’ was all the louder for the inclusion of the panniers.

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Seemingly unable to hear my imprecations to leave the water with immediate effect, he motored around for a couple of minutes looking like he was attached to a pair of outboard engines. When he’d decided that he’d had enough, however, the banks of the loch were too sheer for him to haul his sorry ass out, hence the ‘you sort it out’ expression he’s wearing below.

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We continued on our way with no further ‘amusing’ diversions and after skirting the mud flats at Learadail, the chimneys of the bothy came into view. Cruib Lodge bothy was renovated by the MBA last spring and a mighty fine job they’ve done too. This is what it looked like in 2010:

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And this is the new-fangled version:

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Though Cruib sits by the shore of Loch Tarbert, it’s so far in towards the head of the loch that there’s seldom much driftwood to be gleaned. For this reason I’d carried in a stack of kindling and newspaper. However, in my mind’s eye was a picture of the interior of the bothy that James Bongo had sent me after he and Rich Baldwin passed by the bothy in November; in said image a box near the hearth held a large pile of sawn up fence posts. Of course I knew these would have been used by now… But no, there they still were and the bothy book confirmed that James and Rich had been the last visitors in early November. Hence a fine blaze was enjoyed; if you look carefully you can see Dougal’s head by the hearth gently steaming as he dried out from his earlier swim. Happily his dried food had stayed that way – I wasn’t looking forward to the smell of soggy dog biscuit mush over the next few days

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After a dinner of venison burgers, rice and veg and several mugs of tea we settled down and savoured the profound silence of the still Hebridean night, disturbed only by Dougal’s gentle snoring.

The morning dawned seemingly intent on continuing the theme of the previous day’s weather – this was fine by us as there was only the lightest breeze and though cool it wasn’t freezing. Rain seemed unlikely. Off we set, initially inland following an argocat track that snakes through undulating terrain before descending into the glen through which the Garbh Uisge burn flows.

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A river crossing, a short climb and then we left the track, heading south-west to follow a series of deer paths along low ridges to reach the shore once again. Here the estuarine shore gives gains a more coastal topography and the mud flats give way to pebble beaches and sandy bays. Here too are the first signs of the geological phenomena so characteristic of Jura’s west coast; raised pebble beaches, rock stacks, natural arches, exposed basalt dikes and dozens of large caves. All of these features were once beneath the sea, but were exposed at the end of the last glacial period of the Holocene in a process known as glacio-isostatic uplift. Here’s an explanation should you wish one.

Though I’ve walked this stretch of the shore many times before, I’d somehow failed to notice the structure in the picture below, which we came across soon after reaching the shore. This was a very solid structure built around a sizeable cave with double-thickness stone block walls to the outer room in which Fiona and Dougal are pictured. The outer room had a fireplace and had once had some form of plaster lining the interior walls. The room inside the cave featured the very ancient remains of an iron bed frame; two iron tethering rings fixed to the rock walls inside the cave suggested to me that this was perhaps built as a shepherds’ or stalkers’ bothy.

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We continued on our way, following deer and wild goat paths through the tricky terrain, scrambling up or through rock walls or basalt dikes bisecting the shore like natural groynes. There were plenty of red deer and wild goats around and Dougal was quite keen to see them off lest they should pose any threat to our persons; happily, however, he was happy to leave it there as I didn’t want to have to leash him given that the terrain is quite tough going as it is.

We scrambled around into a wide bay – Bagh Righ Mor – and came to stretch of glacial cliffs dotted with caves including Uamh Righ – the King’s Cave. It is a deep cave and Dougal was feart in case there were bears and wolves laying in wait in the cavernous depths. The paleantologist, John Mercer, excavated the cave in 1971 and noted ‘over a hundred poorly made crosses’  that were ‘battered’ onto the walls. Mercer thought this cave might have been used as a place of worship by islanders living in the area clandestinely after the effective clearance of some of the population during the mid-nineteenth century.

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No wooden crosses remain but there are a number of cruciform etchings visible on the walls to the rear of the cave, giving the place an eerie feel.

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Mercer also discovered tools and animal bones in the cave that pointed to Iron Age occupation. At the mouth of another cave we found a disturbed shell midden chiefly comprised of limpet and oyster shells. This detritus had an ancient look about it and I wonder if its origin might have been the mesolithic hunter-gatherers who’s presence Mercer also traced to various sites around the island.

Hunger got the better of us and we soon stopped for a sandwich though we were only an hour from our day’s destination; we explored a few more caves and enjoyed the wonderful peace pervading our surroundings. Soon enough we continued along the raised shore platform beneath the glacial cliffs for a while before dropping down to the pebble beaches fringing An Sailean bay. The Ruantallain bothy came into view prompting a deep feeling of affection that reminded me that in my own personal universe this is one of my very favourite places.

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We gathered driftwood along the shore and made for the bothy which occupies a third of the building that was formerly shepherd’s cottages and – surprisingly – an inn once upon a time. This bijou little shelter has also been spruced up since our last visit and  a couple of mirrors have been added as have a couple of pictures, including a photographic portrait of a previous Laird of Ruantallain:

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This is all well and good but Dougal isn’t used to mirrors and he seemed to regard them as portals into another dimension; every time myself or Fiona passed one he would start barking until we reassured him by greeting the people on the other side to show they bore us no malice.

Having installed ourselves we went out to sit on the headland to watch the sun set over Islay.

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The sky to the rear of the bothy also turned a fetching shade of pink.

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Fiona and Dougal returned to the bothy, but I went down to the rocky shore on the west of the headland. There I got to watch a large dog otter doing the backstroke at length between hunting sorties. Eventually he was alerted to my presence and cut a dash.  I headed back to the bothy where the pleasing sight of smoke drifting from the chimney greeted me. I put the tent up outside the bothy (the iron bed frames in the bothy aren’t so comfy) and went in to get dinner on the go and plan the following day’s expedition…

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The Selfish Giant

Hello folks, apologies for the extended radio silence – I’ve been rather busy this spring and in truth not really that arsed about keeping the blog up to date. However, a little itch has been niggling away at me for a while and it’s now time to give it a good old scratch. The itch in question is the recent closure of Jura House gardens.

Regular readers (yes, both of you) will know that Writesofway is a big fan of the splendid Isle of Jura (the island, not just the eponymous whisky) and has spent many happy days exploring the its wild and remote hinterlands. Jura is a paradise for outdoorsbores who like their landscapes rugged, elemental and inaccessible. However, you don’t need to be a rufty-tufty hill walker to appreciate Jura. There is also much for the less adventurous to admire: abundant wildlife, including 5000-odd red deer, wild goats, otters, seals, golden and white-tailed eagles, astonishing scenery, magnificent geology, the northern hemisphere’s second largest whirlpool and numerous prehistoric sites. (And, of course, the distillery.)

Here’s the rub – one of Jura’s most popular attractions, the Jura House Gardens on the Ardfin Estate, has been closed to the public for well over a year now and not because of an outbreak of Japanese knotweed. Instead, it has been closed at the whim of the estate’s new owner, Greg Coffey.

This is a very great shame, as the gardens are very lovely and their closure is likely to disincline many potential daytrippers from visiting Jura and spending a few quid while they’re there. So why have the gardens been closed? Well, let me tell you a story.

The sixteen-bedroomed Jura house was built by the Campbells in the nineteenth century and sits above the shore at Jura’s south-eastern extremity. The garden was designed as a Victorian kitchen garden and has boxwood hedges, a rose garden, vegetable beds and fruit trees grown against the walls. It is one of very few remaining, active walled gardens. Jura’s mild gulf stream-assisted climate and the gardens’ relatively sheltered situation have enabled many non-hardy plants, including a fine Australasian collection, to thrive.

Under the stewardship of the Ardfin Estate’s previous owner, Tony Riley-Smith, the gardens were open to the public, and during the summer months a tea tent provided refreshments. The estate employed a number of Diurachs who worked at the house, in the gardens and on the estate farm. Mr Riley-Jones was very much concerned with the islanders’ fortunes and when times were hard he introduced a number of initiatives, including rebuilding the island’s distillery along with Robin Fletcher, then owner of the Ardlussa Estate in the island’s north. In short, he took the paternalistic role of laird seriously.

Tony Riley-Smith died in 2010 and the 12,000 acre estate, which includes 10 miles of coastline and seven islands, was put on the market for £3.5 million. I would have bought it only I don’t have any money. One man who did have the readies, unfortunately, is the super rich Australian hedge fund manager, Greg Coffey. Hedge funds. Or gambling with other peoples’ money and creaming off a huge percentage for being tricksy. Just the kind of bloke you want to take over the reigns of a Scottish island estate he’d probably never heard of prior to purchase. What to do with an estimated personal wealth of £260 million? Obvious: buy a chunk of Scotland for starters, great place to park the yacht(s).

Mr Coffey has not confounded people’s worst expectations. He paid his money, visited twice, closed the farm, sold the livestock, closed the gardens, closed access to the shoreline on the estate (which may be illegal), sacked the gardener and the housekeeper. Last year, his ‘people’ said Jura House Gardens were being renovated and would be re-opened in 2012. Needless to say, this has not happened, and recent information (February 2012) suggests that the closure may become permanent; earlier this month it emerged that Mr Coffey is planning to build a golf course on part of the estate.

The island’s 200-odd residents are obviously concerned about developments, not least because of Mr Coffey’s lack of communication as to his intentions. Why is Mr C behaving in this way? Because he can. He has the order of personal wealth that makes it possible for individuals such as him to behave like tinpot dictators. He has so much money he doesn’t have to care what anyone else thinks.

But what if he cares what people say about him in the press? Well, then, he might use his money to sue you. Thus, an article that TLF wrote recently criticising Mr Coffey’s behaviour, and the culture of ridiculous wage and bonus packages that makes such behaviour possible, was spiked. The organ in question was fwightened that Mr C might take exception to her strident though fact-based views and take them to law. This demonstrates a further problem with excessive personal wealth – money is power if a situation obtains where people are fearful that criticism might lead to prosecution.

In my opinion, Mr Coffey should get his act together and re-open the Jura House Gardens immediately and restore access to the shore. An explanation and/or apology to the islanders would also be welcome, but I doubt that Mr C gives a toss. I think you’re beneath contempt, Mr Coffey, and if you don’t like me saying so, I don’t care.

All Quiet on the West End Front

Our corner of the West End of Glasgow that is. Or so it may seem. I noticed today that it’s a whole month since my last post, how time flies. We have actually been out for walkies a few times, but I’ve been too busy/knackered/not sufficiently arsed to write any posts about said walks. I had thought ‘hmm, better write this up’ and then I thought ‘whoaah, hang on a minute, surely this should be something I enjoy, ne c’est pas?’ So I decided on a moratorium or blog-holiday until I’m good and ready to get back in the groove. I know both of you will be slightly disappointed, but that’s the way it is.

The truth is I’ve had rather more paid employment than a feckless freelance painter and decorator usually counts on during the winter months; I’m not complaining mind. Then I’ve had the galley proofs for the impending Walking on Rum and the Small Isles guide to deal with and finally the final proofs were handed to me by Jim – our friendly postman – this morning. Every morning Dougal whips himself into a frenzy of lupine barking at Jim’s approach only to roll over at his feet, tail wagging frantically, paws in the air. He loves Jim, but every morning he has to go through this ferocious guard dog nonsense. I was a postman once, but best not say anything to Dougal, eh?

Anyway, that’s the proofs in the pic above on my desk, er, the kitchen table, which I’m meticulously working my way through for any stray wild innacuracies and typos. The eagle-eyed among you might spot a famous blogateer in one of the pics. First correct answer wins you the remaining two inches in that bottle of Aberlour on the desk, er, table. The even more eagle-eyed might notice several maps of the Outer Hebs on my desk, er,  table; that my friends is because we’re off on a three week jolly around those very islands and Skye to boot in about ten days time. Lucky us. I will write some posts upon our return.

Erm, I’ve just noticed that said blogateer is completely unrecognisable in the picture even when it’s zoomed, so here’s another slightly sharper pic:

Pete and Fiona’s Grey Sky Scotland

First off, apologies to Alex and Bob, the bluesky boys, for the cheeky re-rendering of the name of their fine blog site in the post title. Their site is called Alex and Bob’s Blue Sky Scotland as they endeavour to avoid rain and clag on their expeditions into the big world of Scotland’s outdoors; on the whole they’re remarkably successful.

When myself, TLF and Dougal rattled down the M74 to the Southern Uplands yesterday there was no blue to be seen. No rain either, just a solid, impenetrable grey lid clamped firmly over the hills. My second apology is due to you, dear readers, as we went back to Durisdeer yet again; ‘But you went their last weekend’, I hear both of you chorus, ‘can’t you go somewhere else?’ Indeed we should, when there really are so many places to go walking within an hour of Glasgow; so, we have no excuses, but we do have a reason. We were going to look at a wee house that’s for sale in the village – we spotted it when we were there on Monday. What do you think?

Anyway, we very nearly didn’t make it to Durisdeer at all as, having set off from Glasgow with less than a quarter tank, we both realised we didn’t have any money with us as we pulled into Abington services. We explained our situation at the service station and asked if we could phone the bank to make a transfer. No we couldn’t, said unhelpful Shona as Welcome Break had a policy against this kind of thing. If on the other hand we’d bowled up, filled our tank and then said ‘we don’t have any money’, they would have been obliged to help. It’s a topsy-turvy world sometimes, eh folks? We decided to make a dash for the Dalwhat Garage in Moniaive, which isn’t a couldn’t-give-a-toss franchise and where they recognise us. The fuel light came on shortly after Abington and it was a tense 18 miles or so down through the Dalveen Pass and on to Moniaive…

…We made it and the lad at the garage said ‘no bother, put a cheque in the post’. Welcome Break can heretofor get stuffed.

Anyway, back up the road to Durisdeer. We had a look at the house, we like it, we’re thinking about it, we’ll let you know. Time for a walk. Dougal was especially glad to get out of the motor having seen so much lovely hill country whizzing past the windows as we drove hither and thither. Up the Wald Path once again to the head of the glen and the pass between Well Hill and Durisdeer Hill.

From here we launched directly up the ever so steep flank of Well Hill – it’s a stiff old climb eh, James?

From the top we were rewarded with the customary expansive views, to the south we could see beyond the grey lid covering southern Scotland to the gleaming golden light bathing the fells of England’s far north. ‘What’s that hill there?’ enquired TLF, pointing to the most prominent summit on the far horizon. I had not a clue. ‘Could it be Mount Everest?’ Enquired TLF, ‘ it is very big after all’.

After munching our sarnies atop Well Hill, we trundled along the obvious route south-west then west, following the fence and dry stane dyke, keeping an eye out for woolies all the while. Dougal has made good progress in his I-must-not-even-think-about-chasing-sheep training; I find that showing him a picture of a herdwick tup and applying electric shocks is very effective. However, he’s not yet to be trusted more than about 49% in the vicinity of woolies, which means the leash. Happily, the only sheep we encountered all day were on the other side of the fence.

Across Stonycleuch Rig, along the flank of Turn Hill, down to Glenbo Hass and then up to the summit of Black Hill. A middle-aged couple and their early-twenties daughter stood at the summit trig point, consulting a map. Their labrador, name of Archie, took instant and committed dislike to Dougal and told him so in no uncertain terms. Dougal, however, knows that it’s only a matter of perseverance and even the most snarly of dogs will soon become his friends…

The folk were very friendly and the chap with the map said that the summit in the far distance was in fact Skiddaw. I was impressed. They asked where we’d come from and then they gamely set off in that direction.

Descending Black Hill, shafts of sunlight were beginning to arrow through the grey lid.

By the time we reached the foot of Whether Hill, there were even patches of blue.

As we drove back up the Dalveen Pass on our way home, the sun burst out from beneath the grey lid with such dramatic effect that the only suitable accompaniment would have been the organ intro from Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor. No picture, sorry, camera was in the boot.

In the wet and windy midwinter

2011 was the wettest year in Scotland since records began. Apparently. Empirical evidence supports this claim; where I live in the leafy West End of Glasgow, the ground hasn’t dried out once all year – not even at the height of ‘summer’. The River Kelvin has been a thundering tumult for much of the year; some days the rain has been fairly constant and it hasn’t even bothered to get properly light before slumping back into drizzly dusk. Still, you can’t be being put off by a bit of weather in Scotland or you’d never leave the house…

We’d planned to go to Jura for a week early doors 2012, and our lovely friends, Konrad and Dorota, who live in Craighouse had loaned us their house while they were on holiday. However, the New Year storms (yep, those ones you saw on the telly) put the dampers on our plans as ferries were cancelled, power lines were down and the entire landmass of Jura had transformed into one huge, man-eating bog. This was something of a disappointment.

What to do? Well, Dumfriesshire is always a good stand-in and we’ve friends who have a wee house there, so we booked ourselves in and motored down the M74 late on Friday morning. We would be picking up our mate Colin from Sanquhar train station at 5.30 so we thought we’d fit in a walk up a hill beforehand.

Parking up by the Daer Reservoir, we louped up Sweetshaw Brae and on to Hods Hill. When we started off there was the very finest hint of moisture in the air so we didn’t bother with waterproof trews. The airborne moisture became progressively more insistent the higher we climbed until we were both soaked through from the nether regions down. So was Dougal, but being a labrador, he embraces dampness. Back down the hill we came at a trot, longing for dry undies. A short way to the north, an array of huge wind turbines have conquered and subjugated Wintercleuch Fell – a sad sight and an increasingly common one in the Southern Uplands. It was too wet for pics, folks.

Having donned dry undies, we drove on over the Mennock Pass to collect Colin, who was late as his train had given up interest at Kilmarnock. Thence on to Kirkland by Moniaive and our billet for the weekend.

Saturday dawned bright and clear – perfect for the plans I had for our day ahead. We drove off to Thornhill and then took the wee back road that skirts beneath the southern Lowther Hills. We parked up by Garroch and exited the car. A very stiff, very cold wind was blowing in from the northwest across the fells – it was going to be a bit breezy out on the tops!

Happed up in many layers, we strode out on the track running alongside the Garroch Water, Dougal tightly leashed to protect him from the sheep.

Looking back along Garroch Water from the foot of the glen

There were a number of burns to leap across or splash through and we soon gained height up on to the shoulder of Garroch Fell. The higher we climbed, the fiercer the wind howled down the glen. At the highest point of the track we lurched straight up the flank of the fell through ankle-turning heather. Onwards and upwards we battled with the wind  hitting us broadside, the view was expansive and we could see some weather coming in over the hills to the north west. However, we made it to the summit of Garroch Fell without a battering from wind driven, rain/sleet/hail and took a pause in the lee of the summit cairn.

A short way north east along the ridge we encountered an access track cut into the hillside so that chinless wonders can be landrovered into the grouse-shooting butts of the Buccleuch Estate grouse moors without having to budge their lardy backsides. To cheer ourselves up, we totalled a few stoat traps along the way…

Along the stretch of ridge before Gana Hill we scared up three mountain hares in their winter raiment, how they must be lamenting the lack of snow this year…

Dougal admires Colin’s fey posturing atop Gana Hill, Queensberry looms beyond

As we dropped from the summit of Gana Hill, cleaving to the serpentine ridge, we were whacked side on by the roaring wind once again. We were following the fence along the ridge and I was reminded of how handy those ridge-top dry stone walls and fences can be in this terrain in thick clag.

Aside from the wind, however, conditions were okay and visibility wasn’t too bad at all – we could actually see Queensberry, a result we’d not achieved the last time we climbed it.

 

Dropping down to Daer Hass, we enjoyed the view down Burley Sike to the Capel Burn flowing south to Mitchellslacks

This view will soon have its own skyline of turbines as the Forest of Ae will have its own wind farm in the near future.

From Daer Hass, we made the short, steep climb to Earncraig Hill where we hunkered in the lee of a dry stane wall for some coffee as the wind brought in a sudden heavy shower of tiny, stinging  ice particles. That was one strategically located wall! Once this scouring shower had passed, we continued over the top of Earncraig and down to the head of the Penbreck Gap.

From the gap we made the steep climb along the fence to Penbreck, while nearly being blown flat several times.

TLF and Colin struggle gamely against the elements

Once atop Penbreck there was just the matter of the final pull up Queensberry to contend with. We steered a course around an expanse of peat hags and battered on with the wind right up us, so to speak.

At the summit we couldn’t even stand up let alone take photos, so it’s left to your imagination to picture the triumphant scene…

The weather ripped along scouring the hilltops and we were all feeling a little sand-blasted and pebble-dashed by the time we got beneath the worst of it.

Anyway, it was now well past lunch o’clock, so we made a beeline for Burleywhag bothy.

Joy was unconfined when we reached shelter and the promise of imminent sarnies.

Despite being popular with parties of hedonistic young people (I used to be one once, nowdays I’m a hedonistic old fart) Burleywhag was in good shape, I’m happy to report.

Sandwiches scoffed, all that remained was to stomp the couple of miles down to Mitchelslacks and then a couple more back to Garroch and the car. It had been a fair old walk in some intense weather, but it’s an unbeatable feeling when you’re back home in front of a fire with venison stew bubbling away in the oven and a dram clenched in your paw…

Sunday wasnae so good weatherwise so we just took a gentle daunder up the Chanlock Burn that flows into the Scaur (or Scar as it seems to be called once again) Water. This was very pleasant and totally uneventful. A great opportunity for Dougal to practice his prodigious vertical lift-offs though.

On the way home on Monday, we called in at lovely Durisdeer for a saunter up the Wald Path old Roman road to the head of the glen…

…then back doon again. It’s not a bad old life.

Writes of Way’s proletarian credentials dealt a shattering blow!

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Freda Dudley Ward in 1919

This has nothing to do with walking whatsoever, but I felt it might provide sufficient amusement to merit a post anyway.

I’ve always regarded the Upper Classes, the Establishment, the Landed Gentry and posh folk in general with considerable disdain, it’s always felt like a perfectly natural attitude to possess. I grew up on a council estate, went to a fairly dysfunctional secondary comprehensive from which I was ejected aged 15, for a litany of serious misdemeanours; I was always in trouble with the police, made a number of appearances at juvenile court, gained a criminal record, sniffed glue, took drugs; I became a vegan, hunt saboteur, rabid anti-monarchist and embryonic anarcho-class war fruitcake. I went on every demo going, and worked on fund-raising gigs for the striking miners. I hung out in squats in Brighton, London, Berlin and Amsterdam and I still held doors open for old ladies!

So, I’ve always felt that my proletarian credentials were pretty solid, yet people often take me for posh because of my speaking voice. I’ve always found that quite funny as to my mind being ‘well-spoken’ isn’t necessarily a class thing – definitely not in my case. In the early-nineties I found those ubiquitous middle class drop-out wannabe-New Age traveller kids very amusing when they attempted to disguise their accents by adopting something earthier, which often made them sound as if they were auditioning for The Wurzels.

Nope, definitely not posh me.

So why is it, then, that returning from a pre-xmas working and visiting trip to my native Sussex, TLF was able to derive a great deal of pleasure from repeatedly calling me a posh twat as we motored up the M6 on our way home?

The origin of TLF’s enchanting new pet-name for me was a little window onto the murky mists of our family history opened by my 85-year old mum. Details of our family past have always been a bit sketchy, not least on my father’s side; he was, to say the least, a bit of a dark horse. For instance, he was known to all and sundry as Tony Edwards, yet when he died in 1994, this is the name that was inscribed on his headstone;

Captain Henri Anthony Lemoine Edwards

While he was alive, no-one bothered to mention that his natural father was French, a mining engineer, who had been killed in 1914 (the war?) – the year my father was born. He was then shipped out to relatives in Blighty, but subsequently went to boarding school in France. He was a fluent French speaker, but never bothered to teach me a word of the language. All I really knew about him was that he had served throughout the second world war during the campaigns in the Western Desert, Italy, France and Germany. I was immensely proud of this. Other than that, he wasn’t a great communicator.

Anyway, while we were down in Sussex, myself and TLF visited my sister and family over in South Heighton to celebrate mum’s birthday. My niece, Abbie, cooked a roast and after we’d eaten my mum chipped in with a bit of a jaw-dropper…

I’d known for a long time that my father had a cousin, name of Penelope Dudley Ward, who had been a reasonably famous actress before and during the last war (starred opposite Larry Olivier in Moscow Nights (1935) and the wartime dramas In Which We Serve and The Way Ahead). This is a picture of her from the National Portrait Gallery:

Penelope Dudley-Ward in 'Victoria Regina', by Paul Tanqueray, 1937 - NPG  - © estate of Paul Tanqueray

Well that’s okay, isn’t it? Actress with posh name, never mind, starred opposite Larry O – that’s quite cool, ne c’est pas?

So then my mum tells us about Penelope’s mother – my great aunt – Freda ‘Fifi’  Dudley Ward,  also known as the Marquesa de Casa Maury. ‘Ooh that sounds a bit posh doesn’t it?’ I hear you say. Bloody right it does, but guess what? It gets worse: she was only King Edward VIII’s mistress for 15 years while he was still the Prince of Wales and before he met Wallis Simpson!

Great aunt Fifi, how could you? There goes my reputation…

Seven Sisters, Sussex by the Sea

Much as I love the rugged, wild grandeur of the Highland and Island landscapes of my adopted home, I hold the gentle, rolling countryside of the South Downs – where I grew up – very dear to my heart.

We’re down south for a visit and Sunday presented the opportunity for a bracing walk on the Downs in cold, sunny conditions. ‘Where would you like to go?’ I enquired of TLF. ‘Where’s that lovely coffee and cake shop?’ she asked in response. I knew she meant the one at East Dean, which sits in a lovely coomb near Birling Gap between Eastbourne and Seaford on the Seven Sisters – a rollercoaster of lovely chalk cliffs just west of Beachy Head.

The plan was hatched – we’d drive to Friston Forest and do a circular walk from there.

Setting off from the car park, we crossed the A259 coast road and joined the South Downs Way, which soon began to climb above the lovely oxbow meander of the River Cuckmere.

At length we arrived above the clifftops and joined the trodden path that undulates its way up and down, up and down over the Seven Sisters from Cuckmere Haven in the west to Birling Gap in the east.

It makes for a fine walk. It is also a very popular walk along one of England’s truly ‘iconic’ landscapes. Today, however, there weren’t that many folk out enjoying the sunshine and fresh sea air. In all probability the population at large were working themselves into a frenzied pre-xmas shopping lather. How much more they would have enjoyed a walk!

Dougal had to stay on the leash for much of the walk owing to the presence of woolies; I was also slightly concerned about him bowling over a cliff edge in pursuit of rabbits, seagulls and so forth.

The chalk of which the Downs are largely comprised is composed of the shells and/or poo of countless billions of tiny shellfish that sedimented on the floor of an ancient ocean a very, very long time ago. Downland chalk is studded through with flint stones, which were formed when expired sea cucumbers (I’m not making it up!) sank to the ocean floor and became embedded in the sedimenting chalk. The sea cucumbers then rotted away and the cavities left behind filled with a silica solution, which solidified as flint. Amazing, huh?

What I don’t understand is why there are obvious strata of flints – sometimes dozens of metres apart – visible in the eroded chalk of the cliff faces.

Anyway, back to the walk. Well it was fairly uneventful in the best possible way, just a lovely, joyful potter along the clifftops.

Every year, more of the chalk cliff faces crumble into the sea. This is down to a combination of wave and weather erosion and freeze-thaw action. The picture below shows a sizeable lump that’s ready to go. I offered TLF £100 if she would jump up and down ten times on the seaward side of that big crack. She declined.

I was walking along here with agroup of friends about 12 years ago when thousands of tonnes of cliff at Beachy Head collapsed into the sea. This was down to freeze-thaw action. The porous chalk is permeated with water which expands when freezing then contracts when thawing causing the chalk to split along the key points of stress.

We continued on to Birling Gap where a staircase provides access to the beach. A happy hour was spent beachcombing and chasing tennis balls along the pebbly shore.

You can see the aforementioned strata of flint in the cliffs in the picture below.

TLF filled my rucksack with sea-rounded balls of chalk and large lumps of flint resembling Henry Moore sculptures, before we lurched off in the direction of East Dean and our appointment with coffee and cake, which was all the more keenly anticipated on the discovery that our sandwiches had been left at home…

East Dean is full of Sussex vernacular flint-walled houses – the archetypal picturesque Sussex village. Perhaps a little too picturesque if you know what I mean. Anyway, the coffee and cake was superb. Over the other side of the village green, the Tiger Inn looked inviting, however there were a few too many people in green corduroys with children called Jasper hee-hawing about so we passed up on the tempting thought of a pint of Harveys best bitter.

Interestingly, East Dean is where Sherlock Holmes came to retire when he’d done with the business of thwarting Professor Moriarty and throwing frisbees for the Hound of the Baskervilles. This is his house below:

Don’t believe me?

Anyway, having finished our cake all that remained to do was to walk back the few miles through Friston Forest to the car park. This provided a very pleasant conclusion to an excellent walk.

Thereafter, we drove home and the Hound went to Basketville.

Forty eight hours on Treasure Island

Many times I’ve looked north across the Gulf of Corryvreckan – the infamous kilometre-wide strait separating the isles of Jura and Scarba – and thought about visiting the lonely sea-girt mountain that is Jura’s lesser-known neighbour.

When running my eyes over Scarba’s contours and crenellations my gaze would always come to rest on the tiny outline of the cottage marooned in Gleann a’ Mhaoil – one of only two dwellings on the entire island. On learning that the cottage is in fact an estate bothy, which is open to Joe Public, my resolve to visit was stiffened.

After several attempts we finally got to visit Scarba last Friday. The crossing from Croabh Haven marina took us 30 minutes in the company of Duncan Phillips, skipper of the Farsain. It was a cracking afternoon and Duncan checked the forecast for the weekend. The prognosis was exceptionally good. ‘You should have a magical weekend’, said Duncan.

I’d tried in vain to find a contact number for the Scarba Estate – as we wanted to ensure that there was no stalking place  at the weekend. This was unlikely as the stag stalking season was over and though hinds are stalked until February, weekend stalks are not the norm. Nonetheless, it would be mighty disappointing if we had to turn back. Duncan delivered us to the pier on the island’s north-eastern coast at the southern end of the Sound of Luing – happily there was no-one waiting to tell us that stalking was in progress.

A gradual climb along  the Landrover track lead us to Kilmory Lodge, the island’s only habitation other than the bothy. There were no signs of life – perhaps there was no-one else on the island, then? We continued south, contouring along on the excellent track. There were plenty of fallow deer around and Dougal was a little anguished that he wasn’t allowed to go and ‘play’ with them. After a few pleasant kilometres ambling along and taking in the fine views, we arrived at the head of Gleann a’ Mhaoil. We were now looking down across the Gulf of Corryvreckan to the north-eastern end of Jura; the roof of the bothy soon appeared – always a heart-gladdening sight. The track wound down the glen and as we approached the bothy there was no sign of anyone else in occupation.

There was indeed nobody home. We really were the only people on the island. I have to say that this was an entirely splendid feeling. The bothy has a fine situation and is a well-appointed residence – the first bothy I’ve visited that has replacement uPVC windows (only at the front)! The upstairs rooms were very dusty with lots of crumbly plaster, so we decided to pitch our tent in front of and below the bothy for sleeping. The remaining daylight was used to gather driftwood from the bay; there was plenty to be had so we were really beginning to feel that our luck was in.

There were a couple of dead common seals on the beach, one of which was so recently expired that there was no smell at all – Dougal didn’t even notice it, his eyesight is so bad he probably thought it was a rock. Loaded up with combustible material, we headed back to the bothy and got a fire going. I’ve spent more evenings in front of bothy fires than I’ve spent at home in the last couple of weeks! It’s not a bad old life.

The morning dawned calm and largely clear, though with some cloud hovering over the Firth of Lorn to the west. We were up and about early and set off in good time. An old pony path contours around the south of the island, so we chose a cross-country route that would enable us to take advantage of the path at the earliest opportunity.

Deer paths helped us on our way as we gained height, crossed a burn and then climbed more steeply to the inflow of Loch Airigh a’ Chruidh. The morning was still and the surface of the loch was placid.

We joined the pony path a short way above the loch and continued contouring initially south west.

The path climbed a little and as we cleared the rise we were presented with a breathtaking view along the north-west coast of Jura. My pictures can only hint at the grandeur of the vista that lay before us across the Gulf of Corryvreckan. The view honestly tugged at my heart, but then that’s because I love the west coast of Jura with a passion. It was worth coming to Scarba just to have this magnificent perspective on a landscape that I know so well. The mountains, glens and bays stood out in relief in the morning light and we could see the Paps poking above Loch Tarbert 20 miles to the south. Deep joy.

We sat and soaked up the view for a good while until we were feeling a bit chilled – as in cold, not extremely relaxed. Back to the excellent path.

The cloud that had been hovering over the Firth of Lorn had been wafting east and was now snagging on Cruach Scarba, the island’s mountainous summit. A sudden heavy shower had us pulling on our waterproofs and gloves as there was a real chill in the air.

We continued on our way and I was quick to leash Dougal as I spotted some red deer nearby before he did. Again, he was a little tearful at not being allowed to ‘play’. Happily, word must have spread among the island’s deer population that there was a big broon dug on the prowl as we didn’t see any more of the critters until much later when Dougal was too tired for ‘interaction’ anyway.

The pony path soon petered out with just a vague path descending to the north west. It was time to climb. It was still raining, but happily the cloud had blown off the summit of Cruach Scarba; being able to see where you’re going is a great navigational aid, I find.

It was a comfortable gradient and our efforts were rewarded with some fine, wild Hebridean vistas.

TLF and Dougal were first to the summit and we hunkered into the shelter of the dry stane wall around the Vanessa  triangulation pillar to enjoy our sandwiches and a wee nip of McAsda’s finest multiple malt, which was justifiable on grounds of the cold!

Then something splendid happened. We looked around to the north to see the most enormous, perfect rainbow I’ve ever seen, arching right over the island. I tumbled pell mell back down off the summit to try to take a snap, though I would have probably have to had swum the Corryvreckan and hot-footed it down the spine of Jura to get the whole thing in the frame. Again, pictures fail to do justice.

 

I snapped away for a bit then settled for just sitting and admiring the great natural splendour of it all. Dougal was similarly inclined.

This was some place. There can be few better Hebridean vantage points. We sat a while until we were again a bit chilled, then set off north down the ridge. We spotted a fine looking lochan sitting at about 400m and I should have guessed what was coming.

It’s November, it’s cold, we’re at 400m, but that’s just not going to stop TLF jumping out of her clothes and going for a swim. It was, she said, ‘fresh’.

Once TLF had got back into her clothes, we set off down the ridge working a route through the complex terrain. There were fine views across the ‘Slate Isles’ and below us Lunga lay supine and perfect.

To the north west there were grand views across to the Garvellachs and Mull.

We managed to work a good route down and disturbed a golden eagle who wasn’t hanging around to have his picture taken. We eventually found the pony path that contours around the north of the island and we followed that back to join the track near Kilmory. From there we followed the same route out to the bothy that we’d walked the previous afternoon.

It was a lovely evening, so I wandered along the shore to watch the sun set across the Corryvreckan. A young seal was snuffling around in the water a few yards from the shore, but I couldn’t get him to engage in conversation, he just kept on snuffling around intent on his business, completely unperturbed by my presence. Pictures of seals in the water are often rubbish.

Next morning, we exited the tent early and watched the sun rise. It wasn’t a bad start to the day.

We decided to see how far we could get along the coast, west towards the Corryvreckan whirlpool. The whirlpool – the second largest in the Northern Hemisphere after Norway’s Maelstrom – is caused by a sumerged pyrimidal rock 3oo metres off Scarba’s coast, which catalyses the waters flooding into the strait on the flood tide. I’ve looked across the Gulf of Corryvreckan perhaps ten times from Jura and never seen the whirlpool during its spin cycle. However, Duncan had told us that the flood tide was due in the middle of the day, so we set off on our mission with a sense of purpose.

Early on we ran into some wild goats and again Dougal had a good old cry when he was put on his leash. However, he soon got into the spirit of things and enjoyed the exciting walk/scramble above the shore. Unsurprisingly the coastline is not dissimilar to the west coast of Jura so I was entirely in my element. There were caves, basalt dikes and rock arches along the way including this handy little portal, which provided access to the adjoining bay. 

Progress along the coast was hugely entertaining and eventually we chose a ringside seat opposite the whirlpool. It wasn’t fully up to speed and the lack of wind reduced its drama, but it was certainly impressive watching the sinuous currents roiling around the Caillich, or Hag, as she’s known. You can hardly tell from my pictures, so you’ll have to take my word for it. Better still, why not visit yourselves, but check the tide timetables first.

All good things come to an end, however; we were due to be collected by Duncan at 3pm so it was soon time to scramble back along the coast, pack up our stuff and say ‘bye-bye’ to Treasure Island for now. We’ll be back.

The crossing between Scarba and Croabh Haven costs £60 each way. Call Duncan Phillips, skipper of the Farsain, on 07880 714165.

 

On and off the beaten track in Glencoul and Glendhu

After our out and back trip to Lochstrathy bothy, James and I drove off to Kinbrace to collect The Lovely Fiona from the train halt there. TLF had phoned to say that her journey had been transmogrified into an all-singing, all-dancing train-bus-taxi fandango courtesy of our crumbling publi transport infrastructure. Never mind, at least that gave me time to find a bin to dump my hideously mutilated boots in.

TLF was deposited eventually and we set off for the Crask Inn once again. Another fine evening was enjoyed chez Crask and this time we also got to enjoy a fine dinner cooked by the landlord between him tagging sheep and fetching his wife from Lairg. It was such a good dinner that I’m going to have to tell you about it:

Lentil soup and home baked bread, followed by Venison chops (James had wild salmon) with potatoes, kale, parsnips and celery in a creamy sauce with bramble and apple crumble for dessert. There was absolutely loads of it. It was excellent and it cost us a comically cheap £12.95 each. We very much enjoyed our evening in the company of the landlord and landlady (Mike and Kai, I think) and Moffat John. Listen, if you’re ever up that way you have to go the Crask, it’s wonderful.

Anyway, next morning we set off for Kylescu on the west coast to start our final backpack. The drive took us through some wonderful landscape and we passed Arkle which was asparkle in the morning light.

We parked up beneath the phantasmagorical, cloud-shrouded bulk of Quinag – a mountain that would keep us in its orbit for the next couple of days – and it started to rain. Waterproofs and rucksacks were donned and off we set – me in my trainers, wondering how long I’d have the benefit of dry feet for.

We skirted a loch and followed a very distinct path up towards the Bealach  a Bhuirich. This was a novel experience for me as I’ve hardly ever encountered anything resembling a footpath in Scotland; it certainly made the going easier, but these days I find actual paths just a little bit suburban for my tastes. Like the Lake District.

On the way up we passed three chaps who were descending, this seemed a little bizarre given that it wasn’t much after 11am. Anyway, we said hello to each of them as they passed us a hundred yards apart. The last one chose to ignore us. Not being willing to have my existence denied by this Gore-tex clad pipsqueak, I pointed out that I’d said hello. He feigned surprise and gave us a limp response. There’s enough rude people in town, thanks, don’t bring your bad manners out to the hills ( I told you I’m a bit chippy).

Anyway, we continued over the bealach and enjoyed the luxury of following the path as it weaved a serpentine route through the cnoc and lochan terrain with stupendous views across Glen Coul to the Stac of Glencoul and Beinn Leoid beyond. In a slightly surreal moment, we watched a huge RAF transporter plane flying beneath us into Glen Coul, given that we were at around 400m, that was one low flying plane.

We passed a friendly young family and continued on to cross the burn feeding the Eas a Chual Aluinn – apparently the waterfall with the longest drop in Britain, or something like that.

Securing a rocky perch, we stopped for lunch and a wee rest. Unfortunately, when a couple of people came into range of Dougal’s radar, he started barking. He did this once before in Wales. Perhaps he’s just guarding the sandwiches. Anyway, the people in question were very tolerant, which helped, and Dougal was all smiles once they’d been introduced. Shortly after continuing on our way, we soon paused to engage in a Strike a  Caspar David Friedrich Pose competition, which James and Reuben won hands down.

 

Our path wended it’s way towards the head of the glen and we passed this very lovely lochan on the way.

Shortly after we started our descent into the glen, which lies parallel to and south west of Glen Coul, and in a short while the lovely path had petered out. No bother, we squelched down next to a watercourse and were soon hoppity-skipping over the Abhainn an Loch Bhig, which flows down the glen.

The walking was fairly boggy and awkward along the edge of the burn – the Scotland we know and love! It was very lovely too.

We followed the burn and eventually arrived at its mouth where it emerged into Loch Glencoul. The light was beginning to fade as we continued around above the shore of the loch, common seals bobbed around in the shallows, keeping an eye on us and the dugs. We cut across a small headland and soon the lodge and bothy came into view. As we approached, we asked the usual question – would anyone be at home?

A whiff of wood smoke answered our question. James entered the bothy and received what seemed at best a lukewarm reception from the sole inhabitant. this was a bit disappointing. I went in, said hello and got the same impression that the incumbent wasn’t exactly delighted that we’d turned up. Never mind, we had our tents.

We went down to the shore to pitch, agreeing that we’d pop back to the bothy to get warm by the fire, however, reluctant the chap was. Dougal and Reuben found a seal skeleton with lots of bits of delicious tissue still attached and romped around delightedly. Yuk. Soon after the tents were up it was dark and then it started to rain. None of us were arsed about going back to the bothy, so we hunkered down in our tents to cook. Frying venison steaks inside a zipped up tent vestibule probably wouldn’t win us many points from the old H and E gauleiters!

It was a wet and windy old night, but we were cosy in our new bomb-proof tent that isn’t a Terra Nova (boo-hiss!). The rain went off with the dawn and we set about packing up.

 

A visit to the bothy showed that we’d misjudged the lone inhabitant. His name is Alan and he’d been out walking through the wilds of Scotland since April – seven months! He said he’d hardly seen a soul in weeks and had been looking forward to our company the previous evening. What we’d read as unfriendliness was just a man not used to company being presented with three people and two dogs all at once. Alan was staying at Glencoul bothy for a few days, painstakingly trying to wash and dry some clothes…

We left Alan to his laundry and headed off up Glen Coul, passing the imposing eminence of the Stac of Glencoul on the way up.

We followed the track for a few kilometres up to Loch an Eircill and then launched ourselves up the flank of Beinn Leoid (792m). It was quite a pull up the hill, but we stopped for a fortifying lunch break and the views were plenty compensation for our efforts.

Even Dougal seemed to be appreciating the views, or perhaps he was just hoping to win the days’ Strike a Caspar David Friedrich Pose competition…

It was a bit breezy on the way up, but at least the wind was behind us. It was a real result that we had such good visibility.

Dougal thought the summit was a bit chilly, but the views were splendid!

We were soon hot-footing it down the mountain and TLF agreed to pose for a photoshoot with the lovely Beinn Leoid

There’s a good argument that having dogs when you’re out in the wilds reduces your chances of seeing much wildlife, but Dougal and Reuben managed to scare up two mountain hares and  a few ptarmigan in their winter rayment. Watching Dougal coursing a mountain hare with his rucksack on was quite a sight. He was only 25 minutes behind the hare when it came back round. Reuben looked as if he knew that they were onto a loser, but he felt obliged to join in the pursuit for Dougal’s sake.

Eventually we picked up the stalkers’ path marked on the map and it rapidly became a full-blown ATV track, which swooped precipitously down to the floor of the glen.

We were soon walking out along the shore of Loch Gleann Dubh in the gloaming with the Glendhu lodge and bothy in our sights. Again the same question, again the same answer: a whiff of wood smoke.

This time the sole inhabitant really wasn’t that keen on company, especially not the dogs – which is fair enough. Happily the bothy is a biggie with four rooms so we just did our own thing for the evening. A fine bothy and a very pleasant bothy night.

In the morning, we followed the track out to the road and James managed to hitch a lift for the five long miles back to the car within ten minutes. An excellent result at the end of a fine week of backpacking and bothying in Scotland’s far north. Furthermore, I managed to keep my feet dry for three days in trainers and The Arsenal beat Chelsea 5-3 at the Bridge!

 

Going with the Flow Country

After a comfy night at the Crask ‘bothy’, we were ready for the next installment of our far north backpacking and bothying trip. James had his eye on a visit to Lochstrathy bothy – a five mile schlep across the vast, boggy expanse of the Flow Country from Rhefail in Strath Naver.

After a very enjoyable drive north-east from Crask, we parked up, shouldered our packs, crossed the bridge over the River Naver and walked up past the estate farm and houses and so on to the hill. The rain started pretty much as soon as we’d set off and once we’d crossed the shoulder of Beinn Rifa-gil (293m) we were walking into the teeth of a stiff breeze. It was very refreshing.

Once we were up, we plotted a route through the landscape of cnocs and lochs. Despite the wind and rain, visibility was good, which was a great help. Happily, we were able to follow convenient argocat tracks for a good part of the way as the ground was exceptionally boggy in places.

After a spot of lunchtime sandwich-bothering, we continued along our convenient ‘cat track until it no longer served our purposes. We then made a beeline across the bog, aiming for the gap between two lochans. It really was very boggy indeed, but somehow we managed to traverse the morass and remain dryshod.

We gained a slight rise then crossed a small river valley before arriving at the deer fence surrounding the Strathy Forest plantation. All we had to do now was follow the fence and we should arrive at the bothy after a mile or so. This was all very straightforward except that as we were blethering away, we wandered into the middle of a large bog from which we had to extricate ourselves by gently tiptoeing around to its outer reaches.

Soon we descended a little towards the River Strathy and made for a ladder stile over the deer fence next to a locked gate. The dogs startled up a red deer hind a way off on the other side of the river and gave a little chase, thankfully just for show of course.

We passed the mutts over the ladder stile, much easier with a compliant 22 kilo staffie cross than a 30 kilo labraloony with a backpack. Here was the lochstrathy bothy then, a solid looking stone cottage standing in a clearing surrounded by coniferous plantation.

Sadly, this wonderful spot will soon be a huge windfarm. To some people this is just ’empty’, unproductive land, which can be made to pay by erecting a large number of huge turbines which will be visible from far and wide. The expansive view across the Flow Country we’d enjoyed from Ben Armine a couple of days before will soon be broken up by a vast, bristling array of wind turbines. Never mind that the proposed array is on the edge of an important RSPB reserve, the Highland Council has rubber stamped it and the SNP continues with its aim to cover the whole of Scotland – other than the picture postcard views – with the bloody things.

It had only been a five mile walk in, but we were glad to arrive and shed our backpacks. What a bothy too; five rooms including two upstairs, bed frames, a huge hearth and a TV. Really. Happily the TV is just one of those sight gags beloved of bothy dwellers (I was fond of the light switch at An Cladach until some humourless git wrenched it from its fixing). Unsurprisingly, given that the bothy is in a forestry plantation, there was literally tons of firewood and we soon had a blaze going.

The fireplace has a shelf either side above the grate – perfect for drying boots! I put my ever so slightly damp footwear on one side and spent a while gazing into the soporific heart of the fire.

I removed them an hour later only to find that the rubber last over the toe cap had collapsed, cracking and buckling the leather of the toecaps. The toe was now full of hard, sharp protruberances. Doh! My boots were – as Monsieur l’Artiste might put it – furqued. I had my cheapo, ersatz-Croc bothy creepers with me, but seeing as Dougal had chewed the heel thingumys off of them they would be no use for recrossing the bog tomorrow. I envisaged a painful walk out in my destroyed boots. Furthermore the remaining backpack would have to be done in my trail trainers, which were in the car. Boo.

Dougal and Reuben seemed very relaxed about the situation, however.

The next morning we set off  from the bothy to retrace our steps to Rhefail and thence to collect TLF from Kinbrace station.

The walk back out seemed that much easier, except on the downhills when my boots were transformed into Medieval torture instruments.

Soon enough we were looking down along the beautiful Strath Naver.

We descended towards the farm and ran into the landowner as he was exiting the farmyard in an argocat. Hilariously, he pulled up and delivered the landed classes’ standard phrase (it’s not really a question) when encountering examples of the Great Unwashed on ‘their’ land. ‘Are you lost?’ He wasn’t impolite, but how he must pine for the days when he could roar ‘Get orf my land’ at the plebs, but sadly no more. Rather diplomatically James replied that no, we weren’t lost, just heading back to the car. And so we did.