Mini bus disappeared off up the road towards Scourie and Kinlochbervie, with a group of eager participants in a John Muir Award residential on board, and left me standing in the evening sun at Ledmore Junction. The quiet after a long journey, and the magnificent surroundings were a joy to behold. It was great to be back again ready for another stretch on the watershed walk.
So I hitched south a few kilometres to the watershed itself, and found as midge free a spot as possible to camp. Next day, a bit overcast, but headed north towards Breabag and Conival. The views were nothing like as extensive as had been the case on my last outing a few weeks earlier, but there was enough, to give a good hint at the kind of grand terrain I was walking through.
A couple of bogs later found me heading up onto Breabag itself, where I found a weird primeval sort of landscape with vast areas of bare rock or boulder field on a mega scale. With much of it entirely devoid of vegetation, it really looked as if the glaciers had just receded last year.
Down a short way in deteriorating visibility to the beallach before Conival, and then a very demanding scrambling sort of ascent, in which the GPS was a great aid. Some comfort on this hairy-scary climb, with the sight of boot prints left by some other intrepid in the few bits of mud. Very re-assuring that – I’m not the only madman!. Summit reached, and no dilly dallying, but did kiss the cairn in passing. Beallach at about 800m found at normal access route from Inchnadamph. Tent up and dinner followed, and then the wind got up. With frequent bursts of heavy rain too, it was a noisy, damp sleepless night.
Calming weather followed as I made my way next day ever northwards towards to Beinn Leod, through more of the surreal boulder strewn terrain. Views to left and right of lochan dotted moor and bog, with the sunlight making it sparkle. A hairy-scary descent this time, brought me to a rocky knowe where I spread out my tent, sleeping bag, duvet, clothes – the lot, to dry in the breeze. A few more wee hills, and down to the A838 near the head of Loch Merkland.
Midges – then more rain and rising wind overnight.
All set to tackle Cairn Dearg and Ben Hee, but a text from Kenneth at base with a summary of the forecast caused something of a hic-up. `Very heavy rain and winds of 50 – 100 mph on the tops, adv you bail out a.s.a.p`. Conversation with a local resident confirmed the forecast, but offered a glimmer of hope – it may be better in the East. So a bit of rapid thinking, and decided to hitch to Crask Inn, where a food drop awaited me, see what the weather held further East, and dry out for the night.
Crask Inn was a delightful surprise. They were expecting me three days hence, but Kia and Mike gave me a really warm welcome. Home made broth, large pots of coffee, and the company of other travellers on foot, by car and motor bike all made for convivial company. Dinner was equally good, with home grown vegetables adding a real local touch. Crask Inn, only the second hostelry on the watershed (Mosspaul was over 800km back), comes with a hearty commendation from this epic traveller.
Next day, headed East, with the battering wind and occasional downpour at my back. On advice from Mike, sought out Sealachan bothy, newly created earlier this year by converting a semi derelict stables for stalkers` ponies. Shelter from the wind and rain, and I had the place to myself. Stove and a supply of peat to burn, gave a cheery glow, and wonderful aroma.
Onwards over hill and moor towards Forsinard Hotel and station, but meantime, two more days of moor and hill – much firmer to walk on than I’d anticipated, and the wind rippling through the orange tipped deer grass made it look like the moor was on fire. The crimson sphagnum moss added to this stunning illusion.
Everywhere I looked, lochans of every shape and size dotted the landscape, and when the sunlight caught their surface, it danced and lapped in the breeze. I found these moors far more interesting and enjoyable to walk over than I’d anticipated, and the sight of two Golden Eagle soaring by a crag, with their young calling to them made it a perfect sort of place to be. The weather just added to the sense of anticipation.
Had thought of dossing in an empty cottage I found on the last night, but it was already occupied – by three dead sheep.
Forsinard Hotel for a wonderful pot of coffee (I’d dreamed about it I’m sure), and smoked salmon sandwich. Then a quick look round the RSPB`s visitor centre in the old station buildings – a very impressive intro to the big reserve in the area. And then the train south, and homewards, only slightly scunnered at the three days walking I’d had to postpone in the North West.
This has threatened the remaining 11 days walking, if the revised target finish on 1 st October is to be met. Fast running out of time, with all manner of work and domestic commitments to be kept along the way. But it is do-able, with seven days in the far north in mid September, and a further four days in the Trossachs and Black Mount to be finished in late September.
Time and weather are ganging up on me, but the resolve to enjoy to the full, and complete this epic journey by 1 st October has never been more focussed.