Saturday, 30 July 2011

Ben Nevis

Today was a not too early start for our ascent of Ben Nevis, meeting Lena our Guide at 9am. We had booked to go with Liz from Great Glen Adventures, but she had been taken Ill she had contacted Lena for us.

From the start the path climbs steadily and at first I thought the pace Lena set was really slow. We kept being overtaken by other walkers and it was tempting to speed up... an hour later though whilst others sat at the side of the path huffing and sweating we made our way steadily past!

The views on the climb grow more and more beautiful with height. We were lucky to have blue skies and sunshine again after yesterday's rain, although it was almost too hot and we were both soon sweating buckets.

Lena was great company and good to chat to, as well as a great guide pointing interesting places like the Harry Potter quidditch field and the hill they superimposed Hogwarts on.

Reaching the 'halfway' Lochan, that's less than half way, we could see down the next Glen. The Lochan is definitely on our wild camping list, just stunning! We crossed the Red Bun, knowing we had fresh water on the descent, and soon it wa onto the famous zig zags. As we started climbing the clouds started coming down on the summit, we stopped before reaching them for a quick food break, then it was back up the zig zags.

Until the zig zag we were still surrounded by grass off the path, but soon the surroundings were rocks and loose scree. It was so desolate and it started to become easy to see why some many people get lost. The temperature was going from hot to cold as the clouds came down then parted and soon we were higher than the main layer of clouds.

Nearer the top the paths straightens, but still climbs as at the top you can see the observatory and hotel ruins and realise they are at the far side of the summit plateau.

Lena took us over to look down the steep North Face, a gully with nothing between you and the ground but hundreds of feet of thin air. There was still now in the gully, we had seen a little patch a bit lower, but this made us realise how you could see the summit hotel and it bad weather or thick snow walk straight ahead and straight down the North Face.

Reaching the summit was a great feeling, Sarah's first mountain and the first together. Although cloud kept coming across we had enough breaks to enjoy a view across to the mountains on Skye and over Glencoe.

Photos, lunch and a call to Sarah's mum and it was Time to descend. I (Sarah) found the down harder than the up with serious concentration not to slip or twist and ankle.

Once the path evened out slightly we got to take in the views again, now under cloud level. Filling our bottles at the Red Burn was lovely, ice cold fresh water!

The descent seemed never ending, it had taken 3 hours 20 up, half an hour at the top and 2 hours 50 back down.

We said a huge thank you to Lena and hit the Ben Nevis Inn for the best pint of cider ever. A paddle in the ice cold River Nevis, shower, change and it was back to the pub for far too much burger and sticky toffee pudding before almost falling asleep in the Baileys coffee!

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Day 4: steam train to Mallaig

This morning saw us getting up to a very different day to what we were used to in Scotland.  Until now we've had nothing but sunshine decent temperatures, but this morning was very misty, wet and pretty chilly to start. We were a bit disappointed that the weather has decided to change the day before were are due to summit Ben Nevis and it been so clear for such a long time.

So we had to get to Fort William train station early enough to get some tickets to go on a train.  This isn't any train though, it is the Jacobite - a steam train running between Fort William and Mallaig, which goes over the Glenfinnan viaduct which is featured in the Harry Potter movies on their way to Hogwarts.

The trip to Mallaig took about 2 hours, stopping for about 20 minutes in Glenfinnan, then about 5 minutes in Arisaig, the most westerly train station in mainland the UK.

When we arrived in Mallaig, we decided to go straight to the Fishmarket restaurant.  We had a starter called Cullen Skink, which is basically smoked Haddock soup, but it was the best smoked haddock soup I've tasted!  We both also had fish and chips because we just thought it wouldn't be right if we didn't seeing that we were visiting a seaside/harbour village...

We had about and hour and a half in Mallaig, and after we had a little wonder around, quickly stopped off at the ice cream shop at the station for dessert, on the way back to the train.

Once we got back to Fort William we stopped at the local supermarket to get some supplies, got a bus back to the hostel and decided to go for a short walk (even though it was meant to be our day off) along the Glen that runs past the bottom of the garden where we're staying.

By this evening though, the cloud had risen well above the Ben Nevis summit so that we could see exactly what was in store for us tomorrow...

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Day three, Kinlochleven to Achintee Farm (foot of Ben Nevis)

Woke up to another scorching blue sky day, the difference this morning though was the famous Scottish midges! At the Macdonald Cabins the shower block is a short walk over a stream and without direct sunlight this is a perfect place for the little midges. Whilst waiting my turn in the shower I went from one bite to several!

Anyway, on to the walking... The start was a sharp ascent through some pretty woodland, crossing streams either by bridge or just walking through the shallow water. The uphill seemed to last for ever but after about an hour we looked back to stunning views across Loch Leven and the valley.

The next few hours followed a valley, or Glen, that can only be reached by footpath and feels hidden from the real world. Again there were streams to cross by fording them and they were so clear it was tempting just to stop and drink from them. We came across a couple of ruins, sad reminders that someone used to live in this special piece of wilderness. Although the ruins were too dangerous to camp inside, there were several spots we saw and decided next time we would wild camp there, beautiful, isolated, fresh mountain springs and enough shelter.

We finally reached the first 'forest' marked on the map, although most of it had been cut down, there was still a small patch to give shade from the midday sun. Shortly after lunch, Sarah managed to twist her ankle again and whilst distant sight of a Golden Eagle gave some respite, it was nothing compared to the 'tea' station at the information board!

Imagine being hot, sweaty, have a painful ankle and know there's still at least another 3 hours to walk. Then out of nowhere a friendly bloke asks if you would like tea or coffee and chocolate biscuits. He may have been an angel, but I think he actually worked for the people who maintain the West Highland Way and our cuppa only cost a donation and answering a few questions!

The next few hours were basically walking along not very interesting forest commission paths with a breathtaking (and slightly scary as we'll be doing it in 2 days) view of Ben Nevis. The last hour or so felt never ending but finally the Visitor Centre was in sight with diet coke and Achintee Hostel just a minutes walk across the foot bridge.

We've just had a great dinner at the Ben Nevis Inn with plenty to drink to celebrate our Not Walking Day tomorrow and an early night with the hope of catching the Harry Potter train tomorrow!

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Day 2: Kingshouse to Kinlochleven

Had another early start this morning. Sarah woke up at 6:30am after not being able to go to sleep again. I was woken up 15 minutes later with Sarah looking for something in our already packed and ready to go ruck sack... but that's why I love her :)

Packed our ruck sack about 3 more times before heading for breakfast. We both had a full Scottish breakfast, me having lorne sausage and potato cake extra.  We finally left Kingshouse and started off on the next leg.

For the first hour we walked alongside the Buachalle Etive Mor, a mountain we had a perfect view of from our bedroom window at the Kingshouse. It really is a perfect mountain with a pointy top and craggy sides, there's apparently a hillwalkers path up it, something we have both decided we will be back to try.

Sooner than we realised we were at the bottom of the Devils Staircase. Standing at the bottom looking up in the already hot sun it looked a pretty tough climb, but within an hour we were at the top having photos taken with spectacular views across the glens and mountains and fighter jets flying below us.

The descent turned out to be more of a challenge with us both suffering knee pain. Lunch was had next to a small waterfall and it was a blissful half hour before back on our feet for more downhill walking which took nearly 3 hours in total and Sarah re-spraining her ankle as well as having her usual hissy fit about sore knees :-) 

We're now sat in the bar at the Macdonalds Hotel and Cabins drinking very welcome ice cold cokes waiting for our baggage. As soon as it arrives we are taking a short walk up to the Grey Mary waterfall and to buy supplies for dinner, we'll be cooking ourselves tonight... Although the half roast chicken is sounding good! 

Monday, 25 July 2011

Day one Bridge of Orchy to Kingshouse

Following this mornings early start on the bus, we arrived at the Bridge of Orchy Hotel to drop our bags for luggage service Travel-lite to collect and carry to Kingshouse. The hotel was lovely so we decided to stop for coffee and ordered packed lunch, great value at £6.50.

To start with we got lost within the first 200 metres of leaving the hotel, but realised we'd missed the path behind a parked car before getting too far. The start was a gentle-ish climb through forest, but got the heart pumping, before finally cresting a hill with a breathtaking view of Loch Tulla below. There's a small detour not much further on to a small cairn on a hill, definitely worth the slight climb for the fabulous view down onto Inveroran.

Following the road past the hotel (which clearly states their facilities are for hotel residents only, no chance for a last loo stop then!) the road finally leads to a gate and the start of Rannoch Moor.

The moor was one of the parts I was most worried about after reading stories of fierce winds and thick fog making navigation difficult. Under blue skies and sunshine, it was a pleasant stroll along a well kept path, starting in woodland and being watched by deer in the long grass.

Another thing we had prepared for was midges, the famous Scottish ones, but today with sunlight and strong wind it seemed to be horseflies that were the main irritant, and not particularly adverse to Deet Jungle Formula! Thankfully even though we had our lunch break over looking a pond surrounded by peat bog, they kept away and let us enjoy the stunning mountain scenery around us.

After lunch I struggled to get back into the swing of walking and started struggling with sore toes. Our map didn't seem to match with where we thought we were and the middle stretch of today seemed to last forever. I just kept looking around though and taking in the view to forget my aches and pains.

Finally Glencoe ski lifts came into view, and unsure how much further we had until the hotel, we decided an ice cold coke and bathroom stop was needed. A trip back in winter is now on the cards, even if it's just to sit in the cafe with huge picture windows over looking the valley and wood burning stove, not needed today though in the 20 degree sun!

Kingshouse turned out only to be a half hour walk from the ski centre and stood outside the front of the hotel, happily grazing was a small deer. Later we saw several more, seemingly not bothered by the hotel guests and pretty interested in us as we sat outside by the river drinking local ale and ice cold cider.

We were a little nervous after reading many bad TripAdvisor reports on Kingshouse, but we've had a few drinks, tasty dinner of venison casserole (Sarah) and venison burger (Ben)and the hotel staff are friendly and helpful. Some of the hotel furnishing is a little out of date, but surrounded by mountains and with views down the valley, from our bedroom and the main lounge, the furnishing was the last thing I noticed!

So after a quick dram of a local whiskey (got to be done in Scotland) it's going to be an early night before a short but steep 9 miles into Kinlochleven tomorrow.

We're in Scotland!

After months of planning our first real walking trip, we've arrived in Scotland.

Had a great trip up on Megabus yesterday, so glad we chose to pay £6 instead of the £70+ some of their competitors were charging! On the way found probably the most scenic service station, with duck pond and mountain views at Tebay North.

Last night we stayed at the Glasgow City Premier Inn. Again, another budget option but good food, very comfortable king size bed and every thing else needed for a one night stay.

This morning we're on the Citylink coach (typing this on the free WiFi)heading to the Bridge of Orchy and the start of our walk. We have clear blue skies, promises of temperatures in the 20's and wondering why we are carrying down jackets and fleeces... Although with Scottish Highland weather you just nevr know!

Will hopefully update tonight but not sure of the WiFi situation so maybe a day or two when we'll be really into the Highlands.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Scottish Food and Phrases

In the run up to our trip away we have had plenty of advice from those who have fled the Highlands for warmer weather down South.

Our favourite Scottish sayings so far (from Avril Mclaren at Dolan Hotels) are:

Auch aye the noo
Ye canny shuv yer granny af a bus
Dinny da that
Awa an bile yer heid
Awa an no blether ye haiver 
Yer glakit

We’re not too sure of the translations of all of them so I’m not sure if we’ll be trying them out just in case. Of course anyone who can give us the translations please let us know in the comments box below.

Another great email was Scottish Food we must try from Gill at Capita. From the list below I’m glad we will be burning several thousand calories walking each day:

If you come across a hotel serving High Tea - go for it. This is a main course like  Mixed Grill - chops, sausages, egg  chips and tomatoes and mushrooms served with toast and butter and tea  followed by cakes and scones and raspberry jam and more tea- traditionally served around . This is a dying species but still available in the smaller "toons"
  • In addition buy a packet of Pandrops to suck whilst walking - they are like mint imperials but better
  • Callard and Bowser Toffees
  • The fish and chip shops are so much better also -ask for White Pudding or Red Pudding it is a cereal based sausage like creature which is deepfried with chips
  • Haggis - obviously
  • Arbroath smokies - which are like kippers but better
  • Mackerel coated in oats ( you can also have this for breakfast)
  • Square sliced Lorne sausage for breakfast
  • Potato scones –breakfast

With further recommendations Because of the softness of the Highland water the following items taste one trillion times better in Scotland”:-
  • Tea
  • Whisky
  • Marmalade
  • Bread
  • Scones
  • Shortbread
  • Tablet - a very sugary fudge like confection.
  • Porridge
  • Butter - (nothing to do with the water but could have, cows have to drink!)

So Scotland here we come! (after a few days in Leeds) The weather forecast is looking a lot better for next week. A little bit rain but at least it’s not as bad as it has been… and at least a bit of rain might help keep the famous Scottish midges away! 

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Scotland Update

Following our previous blog about walking the West Highland Way and hiking up Ben Nevis, we have now booked our final bits and pieces.

Although Ben was very keen to carrying all of our own gear, I wanted to be broken in gently to multi-day walking holidays, and seeing as we are not camping and doing the whole walk so therefore not doing it ‘properly’ anyway I opted for us to use one of the baggage carrying services. Travel-lite-UK have been in operation for 16 years and at £20 for the 3 stages, I think it’s going to be worth the money!

We have also finally booked our Ben Nevis guide. We are going with Great Glen Adventures which is run by Liz, an ex-Exodus Guide I’m pretty sure we are in safe hands and looking forward to walking up the highest mountain in Britain!

Finally, we have decided to hire a car when we get back down to Glasgow and got a great deal though Holiday Autos and even better they changed our booking for free when we booked Prestwick Airport, instead of Glasgow International. Apparently there are 2 airports in Glasgow and Prestwick is about 35 miles away on the West Coast- oops!

We also had quite a big spending spree last week and hit the outdoor shops for supplies. Emergency shelter bags, whistle and midge head nets were among the heaps of items purchased, hopefully we won’t have to use any, although I don’t think we’ll get away without using the midge nets!

So with only 2 weeks to go until we fly to the UK and a few days more until we arrive in Scotland we’re getting very excited, especially as Visit Scotland seem to be constantly advertising on TV at the moment, I just know that the tune will be stuck in my head for the walk. Sarah is also a little worried as the blister she gained during the ITEX on her little toe is still painful to walk on, hopefully it will heal soon!