'nother Nomination

Fry Away

Another image, another chance in the Oppad photo of the year competition. This one's in the category that I thought I had a chance in; Outdoor. This time it's an image I like myself. Perhaps that's just because I was there? After all I can still smell the woodsmoke and pancakes. The nice judge said some nice things and chose the image even though the pancake is not in view (I promise to try better next time!). Randulf is now officially "stoer" in Holland to!


The Grey Corries: Day 1. The Walk in.


As the train pulls away the realisation that it's started pulls into the space between my ears. One day I'll stand and watch as a float plane shrinks to a dot and disappears, listen as the angry buzz of its engine fades away to silence,  and learn how it feels to be alone, small, vulnerable and exposed in  a true wilderness. Today, I watch the dirty yellow and blue of the Mallaig train chatter off along the line, the stinking diesel cloud drift away on the breeze and a mix of tourists and hill folk disperse. Most turn right heading, presumably, for the station cafe or the hostel along the way at Loch Ossian. Two chaps, one with the biggest pack I've ever seen, one in shorts carrying a tiny day pack and clearly built of sterner stuff, walk off the platform and turn left.  There'll be no wilderness for me today. But, when I follow and make that left turn, I'll be taking the first step into some fine wild country. It feels good to be back!

Start as you mean to go on I always say. As soon as we've left the platform we pause for lunch. By my reckoning we need to cover just shy of fifteen kilometres before bedtime, but, although it's already afternoon, this being Scotland in July, we've got daylight to burn. Besides, I need to de-flight my rucksack and shared gear needs to be divvied up. A multifunctional lunch stop. Sausage and sorting stuff.


South of West, standing proud, is Leum Uilleim. Townsend says it's the best reason to come to Corrour. It'd be easy enough to to put a match under the plan head on over it's top and keep going West. That way lie the Mamores. That way lies another whole range I've been visiting in my head since I bought my first OS map of this place. As we head off according to plan I bury the thought. We follow the line a while. A little up and a little down. Movement enough to warm up, stretch travel-weary legs and find a rhythm. For a while it's wet underfoot and there's much dancing around trying to find a dry line through bog. A kilometre or more in it gets drier until finally we find ourselves on a better well prepared path. This one takes us down to Loch Trieg, around its South Western end , past the dire warnings of the Scottish rights of way society and onto the Creaguiaineach lodge  from whence begins the climb up the ever so gentle incline into the Lairig Lecach.


It's a gentle start. We shamble along next to a slow moving Allt na Lairige across grazed grass under scattered, small oaks. Chewing the fat. Catching up. Swapping news. The weather is holding. Grey cloud is rolling up behind but here and now it's fine. We break, sitting on packs to drink and snack. Off again, the path narrows, the ground underfoot gets rougher and the grazing meaner. As we climb the cloud moves down to meet us and as we pass the knobbly tops of the Mealls we're ducking under a low ceiling.


We cut off early. Aiming across the slope  to cut the corner and hit the Allt a Chuil Choirean with a couple of hundred meters under our belt but as we climb the Bothy swings into view. We've come further than I'd thought. I need to pay more attention. Stop bending the ground to fit where I'd like to be on the map. Brush the rust of my navigation skills. Still, if I'm going to make mistakes then sooner now than on the days to come.

Bearing off

We climb more steeply  on the south side of the stream. The path runs on the North side but it's good to be on the wrong side, picking our own untrodden route. The climb takes us up a series of short, sharp slopes and across flat wet terraces. The mass of  Stob Ban is slowly swinging into view but my focus is down not up.

Determined to get fit for this trip I'd been running. Instead of getting fit I got injured. Too much too soon? Too little too late? Too much too late? Whatever. For the last two weeks I've been limping through the days and resting in the evenings. Cold packs, hot packs, foot up on a cushion. As we climb this hill  I'm getting the measure of things half expecting my achilles to go pop and having to back track and spend a night in the bothy and then catch the train home.  But it doesn't and I keep climbing.


It's wet underfoot but pick the right line and you can avoid the worst of it. I pick the wrong line and find myself with my right leg in up to the knee. My Gore-tex lined boot runneth over. Cold brown peaty water; great in Lagavulin but less nice in my boot. I curse. I'll more than likely have a wet foot for the duration now. As we get level with the dog leg in the Allt a Chuil Choirean we stop to ponder the best line up. Squinting through the now grey light a feint use path comes into focus. The day is almost done. Just a couple of switchbacks and a little light rock hopping and we're up on the shoulder.


Turning North, showing our backs to the scree strewn slope of Stob Ban and our faces to the first climb of tomorrow, we cross the saddle looking for the lochan, looking for what the map suggests will be a fine bivvy. Quartzite slabs and outcrops decorate the way. As do pools of standing water. Level and dry appear to be mutually exclusive terms on this here hill. Zig-zagging we find nowhere suitable before we reach the lochan and the inviting green swath on the shores of the lochan, on close inspection, is saturated. A forrest of green stalks growing through mirror glass.

What to do? By now, there's a chill wind and it's carrying rain. Things always seem better on a full stomach so we decide to avoid the decision and set about filling the two we've brought with us. We find a spot under a high bluff, out of the wind, complete with a table sized flat slab, pull on waterproofs, tops and bottoms, confirm that Iain's cannisters fit my stove, and boil up water for a dinner and a brew.


We eat, in light rain, but nevertheless  eat well and, each having assumed the other would have tea bags,  wash it down with a mug of hot water. Only then do we consider options. We could carry on, use up some of tomorrows route looking for drier ground higher on the hill, but we'll have to carry water and I guess that'll expose us to more wind and soon enough bring us into the cloud carrying this rain. Deciding to take a last look I double back, climb around the bluff and scour the saddle looking for a bed. Ten minutes of to and fro turns up a a patch of gently sloping grass, big enough for two, behind a rock step that'll serve well to block one end of the tarp. We set up, crawl under a low pitch, and settle down for a long, wet night.

Tarp Bums


Normal Service Will be Resumed Shortly


The pen may well be mighty but, in my hand at least, it's not going to break any speed records. It's been a while since the last post. The Corries are now a distant memory buried, as they are,  under the debris of an intense week at work and eclipsed by the family holiday that came right on their heels. My Summer, if you can call the season we've had a Summer, is almost done. Next week will see me back in t' Mill.


The family holiday was something special. Unconventional would seem an apt description. A road trip of sorts, up through Denmark and onwards to Norway. A last minute arrangement born out of the desire to welcome friends to their new home and help them on their way. Those friends were, however, too gracious to put us to work and went out of their way to keep us, especially the kids, entertained. Young kids try the patience. It's written in their job description. Our kids are good at it. Since we've become four, we don't so much visit as descend upon those innocents unfortunate enough to get in the way. The mood swings, bodily fluids and general paraphernalia associated with young kids, is for some, I fear, too much. Our newly Norwegian hosts seemed to take it all in their stride. Norway is at least the ideal place to convalesce after a traumatic experience.


A wet week, in a tent, in a garden in suburban Stavanger is, in reality, far better than it reads. The parents got time with friends, prawns straight from the quay and their Norway fix. Dad got to look at some boats. The kids  got to play with the big boys and girls, touched their first trig point, scrambled over their first granite (dad is pleased to report that both the boy and the girl move well on rock) and dipped their toes in the crystal clear waters of the Lysefjord. Blend all that up and you get a  smoothie of the Scandinavian magic that, if they've inherited something other than my flat feet and my bad temper, will keep them visiting the North for years to come.   

Wet Day Out

This time out, the younger half of the Hanlons behaved reasonably well by their standards. No really, they did! There are, it would seem, two consequences to using a visit to Legoland as a bargaining chip. The first is better than average behaviour. The second is, in the interest of parental consistency,  that  Legoland actually has to be visited. As it happens, our stay in Billund on the way back down also held something for everyone. I'm pretty sure Emily got her first adrenaline rush. Mum and dad got to enjoy Emily's response to the place and Benjamin, though he didn't really get the point, did get mainly ice cream and hot dogs. The weather was very summer of 2011. For the most part wet. For the remainder wetter than wet. The point of the wet rides was lost in the noise there somewhere. That said water gun shoot outs on the pirate boats were still fun. There's something deliciously wrong about giving other peoples kids a soaking while you and yours are dressed head to toe in Gore-Tex.

Shoot Out


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