View from Oban Bothy

View from Oban Bothy
Showing posts with label Backpacking. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Backpacking. Show all posts

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

TGO Challenge 2017, Part 3 May 2017

Friday 19th May, Ruigh Aiteachain to beyond White Bridge

I was up and about at a reasonable hour, my trick of wearing a blindfold in my tent in the summer was working – I wasn’t waking up at 4am anymore.

Workmen arrived to start work on the bothy before 8am, they were a decent bunch but the noise they generated was enough to encourage an early-ish departure. So we left late-ish, just before 9am. It didn’t matter, we had a lovely day of Glen Feshie and Glen Geldie ahead of us.

Soon after leaving, and brimming with confidence, we made the first error of the day: we took the low road when we should have taken the high. Anyone who’s travelled that way will know what I mean.

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The Low Road-End

Rather than turn back, we opted for the stupidist option of clambering up the not-quite vertical precipitous and treacherous hillside. Mick went first. Obviously. Ten minutes of slipping, sliding, clambering and generally cursing saw us on the rightful pth. We’d have done better to turn back.

More fun lay ahead, the world-famous Glen Feshie Landslips.

Actually, the landslips weren’t as bad as I remebered, or maybe most of the land had now slipped and there was nowt more to slip. Whatever, it was still dodgy. Mick went first – he was more experienced after all.<koff>

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Infant River Feshie

It was warm at first, we enjoyed good views (it says ‘great views’ in my diary….but I’ll settle for good) an we passed a good few mountain bikers going tother way. Mountain biking has gained popularity in recent years. Even as recently as 6-7 years ago a mountain biker in Glen Geldie was a rarity. Now they’re common. Not wishing to pi$$ on anyone’s chips, but they’re a bloody nuisance – soft ground often becomes quagmire because of all the passing traffic. Plenty are polite and allow you safe passage as you pass, I’m afraid others couldn’t give a stuff and just barge past. Bad form. I reckon that we passed 30 or more cyclists between he Eidart Bridge and the ruin north of Bynack Lodge.

I should point out that I’m a cyclist – a fairly keen one at that.

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Pretty flahs in Glen Feshie


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17, that’s SEVENTEEN miles to Braemar!


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The Eidart Bridge. And mountain bikers. They didn’t let on.


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Glen Geldie flahs

Talking of passing people, we also passed Minna, a first-time lady Challenger from Finland. Poor Minna was struggling with wrecked feet. She announced that she was going to have to bale out at Braemar – we offered help but she’s a determined lady and wouldn’t hear of it.

The climb up the watershed is very gradual, there’s a bit of undulating up and downery but it’s generally easy going with just a few burns to cross – even they were easy because of the recent low levels of rainfall. In fact I didn’t need to take my boots off for any of this year’s river crossing over the entire Challenge.

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Although the first part of the day had been warm, it chilled noticeably once over the watershed. Clouds soon gathered and we sensed it wouldn’t be long before the Great Wetness would begin. We’re quick like that.

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Geldie Lodge

The area around ruin at the confluence of Bynack and Geldie Burns was playing host to a number of Challengers, perhaps 6 – 7 tents. We stopped to chat but we wanted to get a wiggle on to get to our intended camp spot before the rain arrived.

White Bridge was virtually devoid of tents, most unusual. I hoped that most had pitched earlier at the ruin and hadn’t carried on to our intended and rather small pitch.

It stayed dry until we got our tents up. Although we weren’t the first to arrive, it wasn’t a crowded spot. There were a few familiar faces around, notably the Backpackers Club Enforcement Team: L&L from Stockport and Frank from Northampton (I think). We must have passed muster – they didn’t give us too much of a hard time.

A warm but wet night followed. And there were slugs – one of which was a great big black dobber that managed to weedle it’s way into my tent. I’m afraid I knelt on it, the squashed remnants took ages to get off my groundsheet. My trousers will never be the same.

Cuckoo Count: 3


Saturday 20th May, to Braemar

Lynsey’s Birthday!

But she wasn’t on the Challenge this year – maybe next year Lynsey?

My tent was wet through, it was going to need a good drying out – after I’d (tried to) remove the slug snot from the groundsheet.

Mar Lodge was the customary tea, coffee & biscuit stop en-route to Braemar. Challengers have always been made welcome here but this year there was a definite change in the air. We were routed around the back of the grounds to another entrance. Perhaps the sight of a few dozen Challengers was offensive to The Great and Good….although The Great and Good were nowhere to be seen.

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Mar Lodge – note the appalling lack of biscuits.

A couple of mugs of tea plus one and a half biscuits later we left for Braemar. Anyone arriving after us would have to survive without biscuits. Shocking.

The tarmac trudge into Braemar is just that, a trudge. A dreary trudge at that. A study of the map shows a detour away from the road and up into Morrone Birkwood, a National Nature Reserve - think Rioja Grand Reserve but with footpaths and Land Rover Tracks. Nice.

There’s not much in it distance-wise, but it’s a lovely alternative. Before you know it, you’re in Braemar and searching out somewhere to eat, drink and do other stuff.

I’d booked into Kate’s bunkhouse – Rucksacks Braemar. The bunkhouse is wonderful - Kate is even wonderfuller. She’ll do your laundry, shout at you when you misbehave, will offer a wonderful shoulder to cry on and generally plays Mum to all us rufty-tufty Challengers who whinge about blisters, sunburn, trench foot and all the other things that draw us back to the Challenge every year. I always stay at Kate’s when in Braemar. Smile

A decent nosh at Gordon’s Tea Room saw me right for the rest of the day. Chips may have been involved. Quite a lot of chips actually. I passed on the pudding though.

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In the evening I wandered down to the Invercauld Arms for a quiet pint. The place was heaving with Challengers. There may have been songs. Maybe a bit more than a (one) pint…..thanks Ian!

In previous years I’d have gone to the Fife Arms for a beer but it’s been closed for renovation for the last couple of Challenges.

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The Fife Arms

The word on the street is that loads of lolly is being thrown at the place by someone who made ooooodles of dosh wheeling and dealing in the art world. The Fife will eventually be quite a posh place – they certainly won’t want Challengers in. Worryingly, the Invercauld Arms has been bought by the same man and will almost certainly suffer the same fate.

We got chucked out of the main bar sometime after midnight, I left everyone to it – my comfy bed beckoned. A good night’s kip followed.

Cuckoo Count: 2


Sunday 21st May, Braemar to Callater

A decent breakfast at Kate’s preceded a second breakfast in Gordon’s Tearoom.

All was well with the world today: My L knee was sort-of behaving itself, I’d slept well, my tent was dry (and therefore lighter in weight) and Kate had washed and dried my dirties.

I’d sent a food-parcel to Kate’s but I also felt the need to buy a few extra goodies from Braemar’s Qworp. Important stuff like Eccles Cakes. And Mars Bars.

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Braemar’s Memorials to The Fallen

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I wandered lonely as a cloud up the golf course road to Auchalater and then on the LRT to Callater Lodge where I received a hugely warm welcome – (nearly) EVERYONE gets a hugely warm welcome at Callater. Thanks Bill, Michael, Ali, Jeanette……..

Ali, Masseuse and Yoga expert extraordinaire, was offerning her massage services in return for a donation to help with the Lodge’s running costs. If she offers the same service next year I’ll definitely be taking advantage of it, the lady knows what she’s doing – even my knee improved.

An unwelcome visitor to the Lodge was the cause of much consternation, anger even. Said visitor came up under cover of darkness and caused some quite malicious damage.

But the word is out….

Whatever, a very sociable evening followed with a fine mixture entertainment provided by members of the attending congregation, in particular some bloke who’s Dad works for the corporation waste disposal department.

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A lady with pink hair

I had a fairly early night, turning in before midnight. Others stayed up until daybreak.

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Callater’s stereo convenience

Cuckoo Count: 0


Monday 22nd May, Callater to Spittal of Glen Muick

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Loch Callater in the (very) early morning

I awoke, always a good thing, feeling a bit grotty and lacking energy. Situation normal? There was no obvious reason for this mallaise, I’d had 2 small beers the previous evening and I’d eaten very well, thanks to Michael’s culinary skills.

I pulled my boots on, the right boot felt a little damp – perhaps it had sprung a leak, and wandered downstairs to join the throng and grab a bite to eat.

After a couple of Michael’s bacon butties and far too much caffeine than is good for a chap, I set off. I had a couple of choices: over Jock’s Road to Clova or to climb the lofty peak of Lochnagar. Whichever route I would chose my lack of energy meant that this would be a slow walk.

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Lochnagar was pulled out of the hat and off I jolly well went. The weather started out dry but as the morning progressed Lochnagar became shrouded in cloud. The wind soon got up and then it started to rain. Nice.

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Lochnagar in the murk

As the visibility and wetness became horribler I changed my route, opting to take in a few slightly lower tops that weren’t as badly affected by the clag. My new route over Carn an t-Sagairt Mor > Fafernie > Carn Bannoch > Cairn of Gowal > Broad Cairn lengthened my day somewhat but it was worth it. Only Broad Cairn suffered the clag but even that cleared as I got close.

Sod’s Law dictated that the weather would improve once I’d gone the point of no return, and so it did. Having said that, Lochnagar’s top was still hidden in the murk.

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Blue sky!

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Broad Cairn

The tops on my new route were quite easily attained – I’d already done the bulk of the climbing, it was just a matter of bimbling along, going from top-to-top. Broad Cairn is always a bit of a bugger, the rocky slopes around the top make the descent far more difficult that the ascent. The views are worth it though.

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Loch Muick

I took a break on my descent and was caught up by fellow LDWA member Janet, on her first Challenge. Everybody catches up with me.

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Janet, looking far too happy

I dropped down to the pony hut, the rocky descent was playing merry hell with my L knee. I planned on having a cuppa and getting some food down me but water was scarce – I ended up using the contents of my platy to brew my tea.

The wet and windy weather returned as I descended further, it became really quite grotty. I met a lone backpacker walking the other way. He was hoping to pitch soon but the ground there wasn’t very suitable. I hope he managed okay, that weather was not very nice at all.

By the time I got to the Spittal of Glen Muick I was totally knackered. I’d contemplated pitching low down but camping around there is a bit frowned on – although I camped there 2 years ago without a problem. Plenty of running water now so I made a cuppa and guzzled a Mars Bar….and maybe an Eccles Cake too.

Revitalised, I began climbing up Allt Darrarie. After 20 minutes or so I came upon a cluster of tents pitched on some nice flat ground – adjacent to a nice fast-flowing river.  It was late, well past 8pm and I’d had enough. My tent was up in no time – just in time as it happened, the rain returned with avengeance.

I was glad to get out of my wet weather gear. My right sock was thankfully quite dry – my boot probably hadn’t sprung a leak after all. I made a decent meal of home-dehydrated chicken curry & spicy rice, followed by dried fruit and custard. It’s important to keep a record of these things.

I sat back on my new toy, a Thermarest camping seat, and enjoyed a pint of tea, when a newsflash on BBC R4 (LW) announced the terrible terrorist bomb attack in Manchester.

I felt helpless – my home town had been attacked and there was nothing I could do to help, I couldn’t even phone home.

Cuckoo Count: 0







.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

TGO Challenge 2017, Part 2. May 2017

Tuesday 16th May, Fort Augustus to Chalybeate Spring

A fine Morag’s Lodge breakfast set me up for the morning. I met up with Neil in downtown Fort Augustus and after a last minute shop for wine (Neil) and cheese, pate and crackers (me) we left the town behind.

The day’s route wasn’t promising, Glen Doe and Glendoe Forest have been largely industrialised: a new reservoir had appeared since my last visit, the wilderness had suffered new metalled roads, wide enough for the heaviest of HGVs, and there were windfarm construction sites as far as the eye could see. I recognise the need for alternative sources of energy but this intrusion just seemed over the top.

Whatever….

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Loch Ness

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Our route was initially on tarmac and footpaths around the south end of Loch Ness before what the map suggests is a Land Rover Track. It’s actually a main road up Glen Doe.

Glen Doe SSE Map

The SSE map of the Glen Doe workings

Walkers are advised to call into the security lodge just to get up to speed with the situation on the tops. A polite and helpful security man gave us the low down, it was nothing unexpected – watch out for large waggons and try to keep out of their way, that sort of thing.

The road climbed – so did we. The Manchester Crew were ahead, moving at quite a lick. They were probably trying to get a move on to try to miss the promised bad weather. Somehow they’d discovered that there was to be a bit of a gathering at Chalybeate Spring and they were headed there – and they were well prepared for it.

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The weather was still dry when we eventually caught up with the Manchester Crew – we only caught them because they’d stopped for a break.

We’d missed the morning rush hour so the traffic wasn’t too heavy, even so there were some large HGVs buzzing around.

The Manchester Crew set off and we followed on soon after. Then it started raining and it chilled quite a lot. And it got windy. Thank heavens for Paramo.

Neil had pulled ahead, I was faffing around with my camera, unsuccessfully taking lots of very imaginative photographs.

I got hungry. The rain got heavier and I got hungrier. There was no shelter to be seen – not until I spied a tunnel about 50ft below the roadway. The tunnel was making talking-type noises. The voice-type noises were the rear party of the Manchester Crew, they’d sought shelter for their lunch break and the tunnel was their saviour. Okay, it was dark and there was a stream running through it, but there were plenty of rocks to sit on and as long as I was careful I could dry off a bit.

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A lunch of cheese butty, some fig biscuits and a mug of tea warmed me up, even so I put on an extra layer, a very thin merino long-sleeved top, under my Paramo, ready to face the cold wetness outside.

My compatriots moved out, leaving me to finish my lunch and prepare to meet the horribleness outside.The rain didn’t last that long although the cold did, I was glad of the extra layer.

I marched onwards, alone, allowing my mind to wander where it wanted and enjoying the solitude….until a couple of enormous waggons went past. They weren’t speeding, but their sheer presence was enough to wake me from my daydreaming.

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Loch Ness

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The low cloud base

There were some views, not particularly brilliant, and certainly not good enough to be accurately represented with my (lack of) photography skills.

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The SSE Welfare Building at the W end of the new reservoir

The rain had now completely stopped, the cold wind got windier and remained cold. Approaching the eyesore of the SSE Welfare Building, a real blot on the landscape, I began imagining there being a cafe there to serve the needs of the workforce. Perhaps a Cafe Nero or something….?

The security man on duty came out of his lodge to greet me – I assumed to advise me of works in the area. He asked me if I fancied a sit down and a warm-up. I declined, telling him that I needed to get a move on to Chalybeate Spring for the arranged soiree. His reply was that about en of them wouldn’t be there yet – they were all in the Welfare Building drinking tea & coffee and warming themselves up!

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Not the best photo, the camera lens had misted badly.

Well, it could be considered rude not to, so I did. Two mugs of tea and a visit to the, er, washroom later, I was (almost) ready to face the outside world again.

We all left the building together, it was still a good way to Chalybeate but the break had done us all a bit of good. We sped off….sort of.

The last few miles weren’t without challenge. It wasn’t always clear which tracks we should be following, the copy of the map I was carrying wasn’t up to date. After a few false trails and a good bit of heather bashing we picked up the right track and eventually arrived at Chalybeate Spring.

We were by no means the first to arrive, the advance party of the Manchester Crew were already there plus Andy W and his team.

Jayme’s Cocktail Party:

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There were a total of 21 shelters, at least one of them was a fully occupied two-man tent. A gathering of this size was no mean feat – especially considering that it had only been arranged the previous evening.

The gathering was a very pleasant do indeed, it was good to be able to make the acquaintance of some of the first-timers – a great lot, all of them!

The sky cleared beautifully – the temperature dropped too. I was hoping for a few night shots of a starlit sky….but I went to sleep. Oh well.

After a long 30km day it was a very cold night – I woke at a very early hour and needed to pull some extra clothing on. I slept cosily once warm.

Cuckoo Count: 1 (in F.A.)


Wednesday 17th May, Chalybeate Spring to Newtonmore

Rupert, Neil and I were away at 9.30am, we weren’t in a rush. Our intended route was to take us over 3 munros: Beinn Something-or-Other, Carn Thingy, plus a few other wonderfully forgetable hill names. The hills themselves were quite splendid and totally unforgetable. What’s in a name, eh?

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Rupert and Neil

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The weather couldn’t have been better: fresh and breezy but nice and sunny. Rupert, who knows a thing or two about Munros and stuff, was our guide for the day. He did his very best to explain the difference between Munros and Munro tops….I’m still not 100% sure of the difference. What I do know is that they’re really quite big and in the right conditions many of them can afford wonderful views.

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A camera-falling-over photograph

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A Very Big Hill

We chatted to a hillwalker on the top of Carn-Whatever-it-Was, Rupert was delighted to find that this recently retired man had taught at his old school – and that there were still one or two teaching staff from his days working there. Small world, eh?

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Former pupil and former teacher

The conditions on this particular day were excellent and the views equally excellent.

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Panoramic views

Our descent from these wonderful tops wasn’t without incident. Our plan was to aim for Loch Dubh and then pick up a footpath which would ultimately deliver us into Newtonmore.

As we lost height we slowly became separated – Neil up front, Rupert in the middle, me taking up my usual and rightful position at the back.

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I spotted a frog – a frog worthy of a photograph I thought. Camera out, I zoomed in and squatted down to snap the beastie…when I slipped and took a tumble on some wet and slimy ground. This fall badly jarred my L knee (the poorly one) and I really thought that this was the end of my Challenge. A sit down to gather my thoughts and to massage my poorly knee convinced me that I should continue. The knee was quite sore but it was bearable.

I continued my descent, passing Rupert who’d decided that he deserved and sit down and a quick brew & a bite.

After a good mile or so I looked at my map….only to realise that I no longer had my specs. When I slipped I must have gone one way and my specs had gone t’other. I dropped my pack and hobbled back to search. After well over an hour I gave up – a pair of brown-framed specs hidden in heather aren’t the easiest things to find.

Feeling quite sorry for myself, I hobbled painfully down to Newtonmore, I was tired and hungry. And then it started to rain.

I didn’t arrive at Sue & Ali’s Newtonmore Hostel until around 9pm – quite knackered. Sue and Alvar were brilliant: tea and cake were dished up in very short order. I was put in a dorm with Andy W’s team, the only berth left was a top bunk. Andy, being the star he is, agreed to let me have his bottom bunk…..although he later admitted that he only moved because he didn’t fancy me falling on top of him during the night if I couldn’t safely get out of bed with my poorly knee.

I still owe him a pint though! 

And the photo of the frog wasn’t that good after all.

Cuckoo Count: 0


Thursday 18th May, Newtonmore to Ruigh Aiteachain Bothy

I should say something about Sue & Ali’s Newtonmore Hostel but I’m struggling to find enough superlatives: It’s wonderful, warm, comfortable, very welcoming and has excellent facilities. It’s always nice to have a comfy hotel or B&B, but given the choice in Newtonmore I’d much prefer the hostel.

Newtonmore Hostel

Newtonmore Hostel

(Image nicked from the hostel’s FB page)

My knee had improved overnight, it only hurt a bit. I was happy that a short and easy day lay ahead. It was late when I eventually dragged myself away from the hostel and I was now in the company of Neil and Croydon. The weather was gloriously warm and sunny and it was nice to wander down Newtonmore’s main street (Main St) and not feel hurried.

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This was my first time in the town and also the first evidence I’d spotted of the local bloodsport:

A quick re-supply at the local Co-op (pr: Qworp….but you knew that) and we wandered north on tarmac into Kingussie for further re-supply – gas for me and a new hat for Croydon.

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Service Sports, Kingussie’s outdoors shop is very good, the staff know what they’re talking about. They stock a wide range of goodies and their prices are sensible. I know from others that it’s been the savious of many a Challenger when their kit has failed.

Kingussie has a public loo – with a difference. It offers hot showers. Had I not spent the previous night at Sue & Ali’s I’d certainly have used this unexpected facility….even so, there was at least one Challenger who was grateful for this unexpected luxury.

Bert hobbled over to us. He’d had to retire from the Challenge, his feet were in a dreadful mess. He’d had medical attention and had been told in no uncertain terms that continuing his walk was not an option. Looking at the way he was walking I don’t think he could have continued even if he had wanted to.

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We left the town on very quiet tarmac and headed to Ruthven Barracks and beyond.

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We didn’t turn left. Honest.

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Note Croydon’s new hat. And my poorly L knee.

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Good tracks from Tromie Bridge delivered us to Glen Feshie where, after a lunch break, Neil left us to head north to camp around Loch an Eilein, his route was to take him over the Lairgh Ghru.

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Flat walking through forestry towards Glen Feshie

Once on the eastern side of the Feshie we turned south, following the mostly good track. apart from where the track had been washed away by the river:

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Snow shower

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We weren’t the first to arrive at Ruigh Aiteachain by any means and actually considered moving on, many of the good camping spots had long gone.

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The bothy is currently undergoing major refurbishment and is closed, not that was a problem for us. I’m not a lover of sleeping in bothies unless conditions are really bad, I much prefer the convenience, comfort and privacy of my tent.

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What I do like about Ruigh Aiteachain is it’s water supply and it’s outside loo. All terribly civilised.

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A sociable evening followed. The were lots of familiar faces spending the night here and there was plenty of catching up to do.

The night was clear and quite cold. Once again I’d planned to take some photographs of the night sky…..but I went to sleep instead. This was my only effort, taken at 7.30pm, hardly night time::

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Cuckoo Count: 0