The run up to this years holiday was not exactly plain sailing. Firstly, it was supposed to have taken place the month before in Switzerland (bloody COVID), secondly work got in the way – I always said that I would never let work affect play, well I failed ending up working an extra week including the weekend before finally managing to escape.
Plan was to go find myself a lonely glen with no mobile signal and haul up where no one could find me, and bag many hills, and get some packrafting done; alas, the weather had other idea’s and I ended up parked near Dalwhinnie listening to the endless rain bouncing off the roof.
I wrote most of this in October 2020, but never published it. Came back to finish it off in July 2023!!
Friday 11th September
The following morning, it was still hammering it down, so I got a few jobs done on the computer, After lunch, the weather let up, and I headed to the mountain bike trails at Wolftrax. The sun even came out momentarily!
I spent the night on Wolftrax car park awaking to the return of the bloody rain.
Saturday 12th September
Plan today was a corbett at the road end at Garva Bridge. This worked pretty well on the way up with the weather clearing enough to enable lunch with a view (Mostly of wind turbines!). The weather returned as I descended to the van!
That night I headed back around to the parking spot from Thursday night.
Sunday 13th September
With the weather behaving for now (apart from the wind!), I set off for the Cairngorms, parking at Loch Morlich and hopping on the bike for a nice loop which also took in Loch an Eilein, and climbed up to Loch Eanaich which sits in the shadow of some Cairngorm giants. Last time I did this I sat on the lochside for a good while, but today was no day for hanging around, the wind had been howling in my face during the climb, and a mix of rain and loch was soaking me as I attempted to get a few photos.
In a shock change from normality, the wind did not do a 180 while I was at the Loch, so I had it on my back for the descent. This made for an extremely fast return to tree-level via the single track option. From here it was a case of pick a route back to the van. Strava.
That night, I moved up to the lower Cairngorm car park for a night with a view, quickly re-locating to a lesser view when the wind started rocking the van like a boat!
Monday 14th September
Today’s plan was Bynack Mor. I was awoken fairly early by a guy asking me to move on as there were chopper operations going on all day to lift rubble to higher levels, I assumed for path building.
Setting off on the bike, I made good time to the pedestrian bridge where I ditched the bike. Last time I came out this way, I continued to the plateau with the bike, but the descent is less good than it should be due to all the drainage ditches. Gaining height on foot with the chopper passing overhead every 5 mins, it became clear that they were not doing path restoration, but some kind of (I assume) peat bog restoration project, as they had 3 JCB’s out on the bog nowhere near a path.
I continued to the summit where I enjoyed decent views, taking in some of the other rock tors that make up this summit. The descent was the expected game of pedestrian domino’s, but I had a new route vs last time for the final bit which allowed me to miss out the worst of it.
After heading into Aviemore to stock up on Food+beer, I hot footed it around to Glen Feshie, managing not to see the No Overnight Parking sign, but making a healthy contribution to the donations box.
Tuesday 15th September
The last time I did the Glen Feshie Munros was with Andy, Simon and Lucy with significant snow cover slowing progress. This time needed to be a rather quicker affair as I needed to get to an outdoors shop in Aviemore before 5PM. The forecast was for ‘occasional drizzle soon clearing’, what I actually got was torrential rain, not clearing!! There’s a long walk in to get these Munros as a pair, thankfully much of it under the trees which offered some respite.
When the climbing begins, its on a huge motorway which basically takes you all the way to the summit of the 1st Munro, Mullach Clach a’ Bhlair. There was a group on the summit and we exchanged comments regarding how shit the weather was and how it was nothing like the forecast.
The second summit is a fair trek away, but made easier vs last time due to being able to follow a track (it was buried under feet of snow last time). I passed the group I met, and it was agreed that I should ensure sunshine by the time they got to Sgorr Gaoith.
Happily, I can report that said sunshine was indeed organised and I enjoyed nice views down to Loch Eanaich (the same loch that I had cycled 2 days beforehand).
I opted to continue onwards to another obvious highpoint 1.5KM further on, before retracing my steps and picking up an excellent path on which to descend much more directly to the van.
On arrival, I hot-footed it into Aviemore to visit Andy at Backcountry.scot to pick up some packrafting stuff and for a general blether. I was also cheeky enough to request a dump of the contents of the vans loo into his!
Leaving Aviemore via Aldi once more, I headed north, and then down the 10 mile singletrack road that heads into upper Glen Findhorn. There was another ‘No Ovenight Parking’ sign here, but there was no way that I was driving out 10 miles just to come back in the following morning so I opted to risk it. There was no TRO (Traffic Regulation Order) on it anyway making it ‘guidance’.
Wednesday 16th September
The following morning, while eating breakfast, there was a loud knocking on the door – Angry Man had arrived. ‘Did you not see the sign?’ I admitted I had and commented that it needed to be at the other end of the glen, not this end, and that I was heading out walking. Angry Man calmed down, and we had a more civil conversation.
I was down here to get the Corbett Carn na Saobhaidhe, this is more usually gotten from the Loch ness side, but its a long drive around there and a good excuse to get on the mountain bike, as its ridable until just shy of 700M. Cycling in, I appreciated the beauty of this magic glen, steep sided, flat bottomed, carved to perfection.
I reached the bike dumping point and hid it in a peat hag. I set off on foot, quickly wishing that I had put walking boots in my pack. My feet were soaked through within 5 steps. Its only 2KM from the end of the track to the summit, but neither the terrain, nor the navigation is easy as everything looks the same. I arrived at the summit, guided for the final stretch by an EE ESN mobile mast that had appeared there. The track had been extended from the wind farm below, meaning that this was a totally bikeable Corbett from the Loch Ness side. I ate some food while sheltering from the biting wind behind an electrical box before going off in search of the summit proper.
Summit bagged, orientation lost, and visibility not great, I was on a compass bearing across the bog, more direct vs the ascent. I located the bike and set off for the van. Thankfully, Mr Angry had not slashed ma tyres! As it had been a short day so far, I opted for some retail therapy in Inverness before heading off towards Strath Conon where I intended on hauling up for a few days while bagging the corbetts, the weather was supposed to be good to boot.
Its a long old drive down a single track road to the end of Strath Conon, and I had the parking area to myself, there were no signs thankfully.
Thursday 17th September
The next morning dawned rather fine as forecast. Plan was Corbett: Bac an Each which was circumnavigated by a stalkers track. I had no idea whether this was bike-able, but opted to try anyway. The track proved to be technical, but mostly ridable, and I arrived at the Bealach in good time, dumped the bike behind a peat hag and headed for the summit.
The views were magic, and I hid from the chilly wind taking it all in for a while. Rather than heading straight off, I picked up the westerly top, which offered views right down the glen.
I returned to the bealach, and hopped back on the bike, wondering what the descent was going to bring. The view ahead was of the ever present Strathfarrar Munros; an unusual view of these which only a Corbett bagger gets to see.
The descent was not bad at all, couple of un-ridable bits and plenty to sling you over the bars, but good combat biking if that’s your bag!
The track hangs a right after a while and drops steeply into Gleann Chorainn. Down in the glen, it crosses the river many, many times. The first couple times were fun, but by the 10th crossing of the same river, it was wearing a bit thin!
I arrived back down to the van, and since I had parked in the dark, shifted the van to a spot where I could get a better view of Loch Beannacharain. I had done gone without internet the previous eve as there was no mobile signal, so I set about getting my 2-way sat dish set up. I was then able to join the Mountaineering clubs’ Zoom session later that evening – which promptly exhausted all the data I had for the month – did not realise that Zoom was so data-hungry!
Friday 18th September
With two more Corbetts to bag, and more magic weather to behold, I was away promptly on the bike for the 6KM cycle to the start point. The guidebook suggested heading up Creag Ruadh, but knowing better (!) and seeing a track I liked the look of, I biked 3KM up Gleann Meinich, and dumped the bike in the trees, setting off North ish through a break in the trees, basically taking Meallan nan Uan direct. Initially it was OK, but it just got steeper and steeper with the heather getting deeper and deeper. Moving west a little, the steepness thankfully gave way, and I reached my hard earnt summit. Now I know why the guidebook suggests Creag Ruadh, my route was brutal. I was trying not to think about the return route to the bike, but I reckon I had spotted something more do-able, as I really did not fancy re-tracing my steps back down there again!
Meallan nan Uan was the smaller of the days two hills, but by far the more shapely/poised of the pair.
Meall nan Uan Drone 360
Leaving the summit, I headed down to the Bealach, before ascending the rather boggy slopes of Sgurr a’ Mhuilinn. I was going to return to the bike from here, but there are a couple of 840M tops to the north west. These are the pair of hills that can be seen from the A832 Achnasheen road, and I quite fancied bagging them for interest the next time I was passing by road.
These summits are further away than they appear, but once you have done one, the other is bagged via a minor bealach. Photo’s taken, and with time getting on, I set course directly for my intended descent route – I say intended because I had no idea if it was do-able and I did not want to descend via terrain as steep as the mornings climb. Another minor knoll with a decent view down the glen was too good to miss, so this was tagged on before the descent began. Lots and lots of deer tracks made the descent thankfully easy, but I was to pay for this later.
Back at the bike, it was mostly downhill to the tarmac, followed by the ride back to the van. I was, by now a wee bit knackered, but the view down Loch Beannacharan was nice.
After having brushed multiple unattached ticks from my hair, I settled down to an internet-free night having run out of data and with the top-up mechanism broken. Tomorrow was a day for travelling, and I needed a rest!
Saturday 19th September
I was a bit sad to be leaving this glen. In contrast to Glen Findhorn, the locals were welcoming and I had no issues parking for 3 nights, add to that, the weather was absolutely spectacular!
I headed out of the glen and then in the direction of Achnasheen followed by Kinlochewe, with the weather playing ball all the way.
Having obtained a water top-up near Kinlochewe, I went hunting for somewhere to park that would give easy access to Loch Maree finding a spot at the 3rd car park I tried. Time to get the boat out!
The plan for the afternoon was to take a trip on Loch Maree basically taking a look at the islands. As is the norm with packrafting, the paddle there includes all the sightseeing and usually results in one ending up a long way from base for the paddle back. This occasion was no exception – especially given my late start.
The Islands on Loch Maree were magic, particularly the burial Isle Maree. Much of my paddle around the southern islands was in the shadow of the giant that rises from the shores of the loch ‘Slioch’.
Heading further north, I explored the various channels between the islands, but was fast running out of daylight, so unfortunately missed the classic packrafters paddle to the island in a loch, on an island in a loch on an island. Gives me an excuse for a return visit though!
Heading back to where I had parked the van, it went very dark. I was rather glad of the campfire in the distance marking my end point.
Eilean Sùbhainn Drone 360
Saturday 20th September
The day once again dawned fine, and the plan for the day was to bag one of the Corbetts on the opposite side of Loch Maree – Beinn Lair. The paddle over was serene – just magic and I took the chance to down paddle and just bob about in the middle of the loch for few mins!
Arriving at the other side, there was not really anywhere to hide the boat, and given that the boat was my ticket back to the other side (the other option being an 8hr hike), I deflated the boat and set off for the summit with it in my backpack- well it is a packraft!
The hike to the summit with its utterly massive cairn wasnae bad, and I enjoyed the views before hotfooting it back down and across the Loch, opting to stay a second night in the same spot.
Sunday 21st September
The weather had turned rather less good than the previous few days, but I had another Corbett left to do – Beinn Airigh Charr. This was another one that I had hoped to paddle to, but it was rather too windy for that. I relocated the van to Poolewe, and managed to cycle in a good distance towards the Corbett before setting out on foot.
Thankfully, I did enjoy views, firstly from Spidean nan Clach and then from the corbett proper after tackling its rather steep final slopes.
Back at the van it was time to find somewhere to spend the night, I usually stay at the cheap campsite at Firemore (£10/night or £40 for 7 nights, just bins and a view no other facilities) overlooking the Isle of Ewe in this part of the world, but it was closed due to Covid, as such, a sub par spot further along the road, high up, getting buffeted by the wind and lashed by the rain had to suffice!
Monday 22nd September
With the weather still minging, I drove to Ullapool to meet a friend for coffee and stock up on some food. That achieved, and with the weather due to pick up, I quite fancied bagging the Corbett Beinn Dronaig in Attadale, so I headed around to a spot on the A832 with views over the to lumps that I had bagged a week previously.
Tuesday 23rd September
I was up fairly early for Attadale as I recall the parking not being plentiful. The plan was to use the bike in and out, but the bike turned out to be of more use on the way out than in due to the gradients. I had a quick look at Beinn Dronaig bothy – somewhere I have previously spent the night before swapping bike for boots for Beinn Dronaig. The weather was great again.
Ben Dronaig Drone 360
Leaving the summit, and heading back on the bike the views were not too shabby overlooking Loch Carron either.
My next few days were going to be dedicated to trying to get a decent day on the Corbett Beinn Aden – one of the classics due to its remote location and thus monster walk in (unless you happen to have a boat of course!). As such I headed around to Kinlochhourn parking up with a lovely view down Loch Cuaich.
Wednesday 24th September
I’d pre-packed the boat, ready for Beinn Aden (Beinn an Aodainn) and left the van on the bike at about 7:30am, noticing a decided chill in the air. Bike was ditched at the bridge, and the boat went in the water. As I rounded the corner, the wind, and the fetch it had generated caught me. I battled onwards for maybe 20 mins before being forced to accept that it just wasnae gonna happen today!! Cursing and swearing the wind, I trotted back down the road to the bike and back to the van.
A quick change of clothes later and I was back on the bike in Munro Bagging mode headed for Sgurr Mhaoraich. This turned out to be a decent plan. I got decent views down Loch Hourn and turned it into a circuit, heading down via the coire behind.
Thursday 25th September
Thursday windy with squally showers, and was thus another hill bagging day. Todays targets were Gleouraidh and Spidean Mialach and I did at-least manage some pretty nice views!
Back at the van, the wind had dropped, the sun had come out and it was looking promising for Ben Aden tomorrow.
Friday 26th September
Leaving early for what I expected to be a big day, I used some beta that I got from my first attempt to find better launching spot for the boat. Some Canadian Canoeists were also headed my direction.
The paddle down the loch was spectacular. The sun was shining, there was no wind, what a pleasure to paddle my boat in such a special place! As I headed down the the loch, the Canadian canoeists ahead peeled off to the right for an overnight camp (I believe it was a farther and son team). Ben Aden at the head of the loch just kept getting bigger and I was relishing the chance to climb it in decent weather.
I had thought that I might see some folks on the old track that was used to construct the dams at the Ben Aden end of the loch. I was rather glad to be on the water rather than stomping a track for 4 hours each way!
I continued paddling, not quite believing my luck with the weather and hoping that the wind would not be in my face for the return.
After about 9KM, I reached the end of the Loch. Well I say the end, but the water levels were low, coming nowhere near the two dams so I was about half a KM short of the end. Paranoia over hill walkers fancying a boat back rather than a walk back led me to part deflate the boat and take one of the paddle blades with me!!
Boots on and it was off up the hill in the still magic weather.
I chose to tackle the summit via its ridge-line which gave some nice scrambly sections, but am always cautious when somewhere relatively remote on my tod with no phone signal! Some way up there is a huge flat slab area that you could have staged a football match on.
After a wee while, I reached a bealach and the mighty Sgurr na Ciste came into view, a right turn then brought me to the lofty summit of Ben Aden and I paused for far too long taking in the expansive views.
Ben Aden Drone 360
All too soon it was time to head back down again, retrieve the boat, paddle to the bike and cycle to the van. The wind had indeed gotten up while I was on the hill, and it took a good 1.5 hours longer to paddle back sticking to the left hand shoreline for a wee bit of shelter. I packed away the boat in the last of the daylight and cycled back to the van by headtorch. A thoroughly rewarding day.
Prob a paddle that I will do again one day, but next time i’ll pack a tent so I can call the area ‘home’ for a night!
Saturday 27th September
This was my final day of activities before it was time to head back home to the coal-face. I had one Munro left to do in the area for my second round (Gairich) so that avoided any dithering re how to spend my final day. I had thought about paddling across the loch to get it, but alas the wind was up again!
I left the van in the same spot and hopped on the bike for the ride to the start, was able to cross the dam by bike as well. The initial section of this track is a nasty bog trot, but thankfully it soon improves once on the hill proper.
Back at the van, it was time to reminisce ahead of tomorrows journey homewards about what a fantastic wee holiday this had been. Mountain biking, Packrafting and Hill Walking. Getting Ben Aden was definitely the highlight, closely followed by Loch Quoich and the magic Corbett’s of Strathconon. The hills tally for the holiday was 7 Munros and 9 Corbetts.