Day 1 - Strathcarron Hotel to Allt Riabhachain (above Pait Lodge) 0900h start
I had a worried, and nervously tense breakfast at the hotel. Despite the nice people I leapfrogged along the first ascents, I really wanted to start alone. With that in mind, I really ought not have picked Strathcarron as more than thirty challengers were due to set off from there and most of those were to do so on the Friday morning. I need not have worried as I pushed a little bit harder than I originally intended to get a bit of distance between me and the small groups before settling into my normal pace. I had forgotten to set a start beacon with Viewranger, and had lost signal by the time I remembered.
|Somewhere in the hills above Strathcarron|
The Lochs - nan Chreada and an Fheóir gave me a gigantic sense of presence in what seemed a tiny world of oceans, islands and peninsula. I could have spent hours up there, within just a square mile of landscape - one day I fancy doing just that. I peered down into the deep, water carved valley of Eas Ban as it swept up to meet me and this confirmed my position, and by just after 11am I had been visited by the first Cuckoo of the trip. In hot pursuit, a Meadow Pipit - intent on seeing off the parasitic monster bird following its unceremonious plopping of it's oversized egg in the little one's nest.
Bendronaig Lodge, or rather Lodges - a First-class (locked) shooting lodge plus its smaller, Steerage-class (unlocked) sibling - offered my first taste of shelter. The Steerage option was fine, if typically dirty. I positioned my (wet) self in the unusually bright 'kitchen' area where I made a snack and a couple of brews. I hadn't really noticed it was raining, but my drippyness brought me to my senses, as did the bedraggled appearance of my followers. A while had passed before I was joined by any of my co-starters. Maybe I was rushing things, but I was happy.
|Bendronaig Lodge, above and left of centre|
The flushing bothy toilet proved too much of a pull for one of the trio so off she popped for a bucket of water before diving in, so to speak. We closed our ears and later she emerged smiling and giggling, but only after exit from the WC was permitted by the lifting of the loo seat. With the seat in the down position, exit was impossible.
Gradually and at a similar rate to their arrival, the comrades left the bothy and I too eschewed myself from the Lodge into the weather. Loch Calavie passed me by and many kinds of weather made busy as I trampled along the path by it's side - a diver was snorkelling in the shallows.
I lost the path-cum-land rover track somewhere above An Gead Loch on the way to Pait Lodge. The path appeared clear on mapping and aerial photograph alike. In reality it was not. In spite of this, the going was good but it was a lot slower. I felt a might self-conscious, as most of the folk behind were now above me. I assumed they were on the path and could clearly see my off-piste bog-trotting antics. Oh, well.
The visibility was excellent, and the weather improving, so navigation to my goal was not a problem. I set about my plan to find a spot to camp by the shores of Loch Monar, out of sight of the lodge itself and to it's North north-west. I felt a tad lonely, and pined for a little company. I headed directly to the lodge avoiding the barking canines and circumnavigated the lodge rather than heading through the grounds. Those of you that have been in the area will know the state of the ground to the immediate North of the lodge. It is rough, and at the end of the day, the myriad peat hags were a sting in the tail of what, for me, had been a long and really great day in the depths of the North-western Highlands.
|Rainbow, and improving weather over Loch Monar|
I took a few photos of my first camp of the challenge. I should probably point out that I used a mobile phone as my camera. I left the memory card for my compact camera at home in Suffolk, so the camera itself was dead weight for the next hundred miles until I lost it somewhere between Feshie and Braemar.
|My house is to the left, and Tony's to the right|
|Meallan Buidhe - snowcapped, behind our camp|
|The Allt Riabhachain|