Sunday 22 November 2009


So as part of my move over to Ubuntu, I've just taken a realy old slow laptop from the ice age and installed Ubuntu 9.04 on it.

I can tell you, it bloody works and its fast too. Charl has been hogging the netbook we didn't need and wouldn't use so now I can get on the net in the lounge whilst Charl updates her Facebook with gay abandon!

As always though, there's the blogging problem as I use Windows Live Writer. I just found a tool called Scribefire and is a plugin for Firefox so can be used on PC or Linux. Sweet.

Does it work? Can I format a picture?

Saturday 7 November 2009

Hip Belt Pockets

In anticipation of the impending review of the Ultra light Gossamer Gear Gorilla pack……

Last night as I pushed open the front door I could hear that familiar sound of a packet being brushed aside along the floor– I bloody love that.

Back in Sept when I ordered the Gossamer Gear Gorilla, like the blithering idiot I can be, I made the mistake of not ordering the hip belt pockets at the same time. Back then I was so excited to have received the pack in time for the Scotland trip (thanks to Grant) that I didn’t fret about the absence of waist level storage and saw it as an opportunity to try with some gusto the OMM Trio chest pouch.

In short, whilst the pouch worked fine I just didn’t get on with it. Besides making me look like an overzealous member of a SWAT team, over time it became tedious to have to arrange myself, the pack and the pouch each time I had to down tools. On a short trip it probably wouldn’t be quite so annoying but I just missed the convenience of the hip belt pockets in terms of position and comfort.

After a bit of research I decided on the pockets (size medium) supplied by Mountain Laurel Designs as user experience seemed to suggest these were more robust and kept their shape a little better than the competition. I ordered a pair and an internal mesh storage pouch at the same time. A few weeks ago, a packet was brushed aside by my front door but I opened it to find the mesh pouch and only one pocket. A quick email to Ron Bell and voila, the other one arrived last night.

Mountain Laurel Designs Hip Belt Pocket The pocket attached to the belt via the elasticated loops

I’ve fitted them to the pack via the elasticated straps, and secured both in position by way of the plastic clips that lock directly to the webbing of the belt. This isn’t ideal for the Gorilla as the straps are a little too wide for the clip but I’ve attached one at each end to stop the pocket from moving along the belt as tends to happen when operating the zips a few times.

Overall I’m really pleased with the quality of the pockets and by nature of the construction in Dyneema with water resistant zip, they should keep a bit of weather out at least - I always use ziplock bags for my phone and camera anyway but its good to know.

The elasticated loops at the rear The pockets can be made to fit almost any pack with either the elasticated loops or the webbing clips supplied.

The medium size will hold a fair few bits and bobs and I intend on using one to hold my camera and phone and the other for money, cards, and choccy bars. I can just about get four Mars Bars in one if that helps gauge the size for anyone who’s interested!

Bear in mind that these are made of quite thick Dyneema X with fairly substantial zip pulls so could always be lighter. So as you will have guessed I’ve weighed them (with Dyneema pull cords attached to the zip) and the all up weight is 28g each, which isn’t bad considering the OMM Trio pouch weighs in at 125g.

Each pocket weighs 28 grams Robust but light at 28g

Now to just get out and use them….

Wednesday 4 November 2009

Swedish Storage Is A Wonderful Thing


With winter well on its way and getting out invariably even more infrequent, I decided I’d use the time wisely to sort out my gear. Living in a 1901 Victorian terraced house means that space is a forgotten luxury and so I’ve been using the loft conversion to house my ever growing mounds of kit. The Scotland trip took its toll on the poor old loft with most of the free floor space covered in bits of gear - laid out in preparation. I’ve never had anywhere specific to store it all so it started getting difficult to find things like spare batteries for the head torch and so on, so I finally decided that enough was enough.

I spent Saturday morning at IKEA and managed to find a versatile yet cheap storage combo. As the system is modular I can add to it for next to nothing, thus making more room for more kit*.

This small development now means I have all my various bits of kit organised and easily accessible. I’m surprised how much easier it makes sorting things out. Just knowing how many soups I have left and where my toilet trowel's hiding is a revelation – better late than never I suppose.

*Charl, that was just a silly little joke for the readers and in no way implies that I’ll buy any more kit ever again.**

**Forgive me father for I have sinned…..!

Sunday 1 November 2009

Trip report: Day 4 – Evanton to Ullapool

The night was fairly uneventful, save for the brisk wind that thought nothing of just waltzing on through the tent for most of the night. I had to get up at around 3am for a toilet break and pondered the benefits of a shewee whilst donning my crocs and cursing all the way to the designated spot for the toilet.  Creag-an-Duine-Sunrise The sun creeps slowly along the valley

By morning the wind was still having a go but as I unzipped the door I was met with a glorious sunny morning. The gentle trickle of the stream to my right sounded particularly good as I made as much noise as possible to ‘accidently’ wake Paul in return for the previous days antics. Although not perfectly level we had found quite a good spot and the tent was pitched fit for a catalogue pose, and I was first to venture out take in the mornings offering. It was great.

pitch-at-sunrise A bright but cold start on day 4

The light slowly crept up Creag an Duine as the sun came up, the wash in the stream was freaking cold refreshing and it was a good place to be. I could have stayed there all day in that very spot. It was quite chilly so we boiled some water for breakie and a brew whilst prancing about in our down jackets like a pair of twerps. I merely confirmed this fact as I set the camera up to take some ‘Neanderthals in their natural habitat’ snaps, running in and out of shot before the timer went off.

Morning_at_camp_day4 Two twerps in down jackets.

This morning it was porridge with golden syrup and it really was no chore to stand and wait for it to cook. At home I’m peering impatiently into the microwave and zapping my retinas in the hope that might speed things up. We ate and pulled out the map to go over the plan. Today was an easy one and last nights little jaunt made it even easier as we were now closer to Loch Damph – our target for the day. We were going to take a look around the Loch and see if we could find a pitch somewhere overlooking it on the north east side and /or try the bothy. We were both quite pleased to be having a short day and I for one was looking forward to a swim in the loch if the weather stayed good.


We packed up set off at around 9.00am and everything just felt good. My sore feet were now rested and ready for another day and I could almost forget I was wearing the pack. We picked up the track and as we looked back to the pitch spot we caught sight of a man clad in tweed with red gaiters who was fishing as he walked downstream. He eventually caught us up and we chatted briefly and he offered to take a photo of us both. We knew there and then that he was one of the guests at the bothy further up the glen and were glad we’d not pursued a night there after all. He looked at our packs with slight confusion but wasn’t brave enough to ask and we didn’t offer. We forded the river a few times before branching off east on the landrover track. I’d wanted to chat gear and record a podcast but as we chatted it became apparent that the wind was all that could be heard so we just talked gear. Shame really as it would have made for a good podcast. It felt as though we’d only just started walking when the track branched off north towards the loch and turned into a faint trail.


The weather was stunning and we were in our element just wondering about the highlands with not a care in world. It was breezy but the sun just got warmer making a base layer too hot at times.

The loch came into view and we dropped down to the shore to take lunch.By now our feet were getting sore once again so the shoes came off and the dreaded crocs went on just to get some air on the skin.


The Sitlight pad that cushions the back of the Gorilla Pack had developed this awful stench and it wasn’t until I put the bag down that I found it wasn’t me. The smell was neither sweat or chemical and seemed to go as the pad cooled off so was puzzled to say the least.





lunch_at_loch_daimhWe skimmed some stones until our arms ached and then ate a leisurely lunch on the stony shore at the south end of the Loch. The sun was beginning to burn but it felt so amazing as we just lazed about. Now, in hindsight, lazing is quite dangerous for me and Paul. All sorts of ideas are allowed to fester as we do nothing and soak up the atmosphere and it was here that a little change of plan occurred. We decided that as it was so early and such a great day we’d not settle at the bothy at the northern end of the loch, but continue on and find a pitch somewhere in Glen Achall. We’d seen the amazing cliff face of the glen from Seana Braigh the day before and it looked stunning and so we re-hung the bags and set off with a new purpose. It was around 2 by now and we talked beer and fantasised about what we’d eat on Sunday in Ullapool. For the first time we began to walk separately as we dropped down into the Glen.

East_ridorrach_lodge Our first sight of the lodge as we approach Glen Achall

We could see the river and began to hatch our plan. The idea was to pitch by the river between the trees East Ridorrach Lodge, pitch the tent and then lay back on the Neoair as the evening drew in. We’d wash some clothes and rig a line so we’d be fresher for the pub in Ullapool. The weather began to cloud and the sunshine became more intermittent but it made for some dramatic landscapes. As we got to the Lodge we realised that we had misread the map and the wooded area by the river was more open than we had imagined. My water drinking was rife again and I stopped at the next stream to fill my platy. Here, there was a shift in the force and something changed….

We were suddenly taking a hidden vote as to whether we should continue on in to Ullapool or head back into the glen to find a pitch. We tried to guess what the weather would do and after much deliberation we decided we’d head on into Ullapool and enjoy two evenings enjoying the local hospitality instead of just one. This was by no means the easier option but for some reason it just felt like the thing to do. We knew it would be a tough walk in as our feet were already hurting after days spent on them pounding over rough terrain. The glen opened out and we saw our first civilians of the 4 days approaching the footbridge from the lodge.

glen_achall_2 Creag Ruadh from Glen Achall

The map suggested it was track/road pretty much the way on into Ullapool and the prospect wasn’t sitting well with my feet. I started to feel a bit sad that it was about to be all over but this quickly subsided when I realised we had a fair bit of walking to do before that! Knowing that we would be eating real food we no longer had to ration our treats and snacks and ate them like Charley with his Wonka bar on his birthday! Our pace was good again, especially on the level terrain and it wasn’t long before Loch Achall came into view. The sky was looking a bit aggravated and photo stops became a must.

moody_glen_achall Back to Creag Ghrianach from the glen

We were soon at the eastern end of the loch and we couldn’t believe our progress. The idea was to get to Ullapool whenever we happened to rock up but suddenly it looked as though we would make it by around 6pm and could relax with a beer and food for a little longer!

Glen Achall is a beautiful glen and I would love to visit it again some day. It was windy on the shore of the loch and we caught sight of some very large fish leaping out of the water – I just wish I knew about fish and could tell what it was! As we reached the boathouse we looked back the way we had came and for me it was almost like saying goodbye.

loch_achall Back to Glen Achall from the boathouse

The presence of civilisation was now apparent as 2 4x4s fully loaded with gear and people thundered down the track. They hardly spared us a glance but already I was trying to remember how to communicate with other people having been out for so long! Whilst we continued on into Ullapool, in the moments of silence I thought about the previous 3 days and everything that we’d experienced. Today had been amazing weather wise and we were hopeful about fair weather in Ullapool. The forecast I’d been given at Craigdon’s on Wednesday had suggested Sunday might be wet but for now we were still dry!

The Sitlight pad on the pack was starting to hum again and when the wind got behind me I could smell the horrid hum. I was really worried about taking this stench into Ullapool and hoped the facilities at the hostel would mean I could clean it.

Before long, we’d reached the western end of the loch and way ahead of time. The adventure was far from over though as we found the bridge over the river had been washed away and it looked as though we’d have to embark upon some ridiculously big leaps of faith! Having followed the river along it became apparent that the crocs would have to go on unless we continued further up to the road bridge and this is what we did. It was map time again as the track would split further up and we wanted to come into Ullapool from the woods above for a good view. The track was easy but the incline made my feet hurt and I was convinced I’d worked up a nice blister on the ball of my right foot. It wasn’t a problem though as it would be my first and my knees had held out for the whole trip. I was happy to have a blister at this stage ion the game – something to show for miles of wandering across Scotland.

As the path climbed we caught our first sight of Loch Broom as the elation set in. Coming in a day early hadn’t detracted from our achievement and we both let rip with cheers and clapping.

ferry_loch_broom Loch Broom and the ferry approaching Ullapool

There was a ferry entering the loch and for some reason we set a challenge to beat the ferry to port! This was going to be difficult especially as I was set on taking some photos and recording some video of the final steps of the walk. The very sight of the ferry filled me with dread at the number of people we’d be thrust into contact with in the next hour or so. Paul joked that they were all heading the youth hostel in an attempt to hurry me along I’m sure.

We headed for the view point to take in Ullapool from the elevated position and couldn’t believe how small it really was from up here.

Ullapool_monument Loch Broom from the viewpoint

ullapool_pointUllapool Point from the woods above. 

We crossed a small wooden bridge and the trail began to drop sharply via some steps into the town. The Ferry had beaten us and had already docked by the time we hopped over the stile and onto an entry by some houses on the south east side. The sound of cars and people was alien to me and I felt quite anxious at the thought of conversing with folk for the first time. The evening sun was breaking through the cloud and the golden hues spread across the surrounding landscape. The fishing boats on the bay made for a picture postcard and it wasn’t such a bad place to be. The sound of the gulls was deafening and we took some photos and tracked down the hostel on the seafront.

ullapool_beach The evening sun blasts across the loch as the trip draws to an idyllic end.

The trip was not quite over and we both knew what we had to do but decided to prolong it as though we were holding on to the crossing as long as possible. We booked into the hostel getting odd looks from the smell of my bloody Sitlight pad! Luckily I’d rediscovered my personality and was able to make a joke of it but secretly dreaded the thought of locking it into the confined space of the dorm! The plan had been to shower and change before heading on down to the beach to officially finish this thing, however that didn’t happen and we ended up straight in the pub with the promise we’d head down the following morning. Despite being thoroughly in need of a good nights kip we ended up doing a bit of a pub crawl where I sampled some the highland’s best single malts. I’d love to recall them all but after hours of drinking whilst helping Paul lose money on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, that information is lost forever!

We were up fairly early the next day as we had to be out of the hostel from 12-5pm for cleaning. It was raining heavily and the hangover’s from the night before urged us back to the pub for some social relief.  It was a bit early for a drink so we looked round the shops on the seafront and popped into Tesco for some odour eaters. Annoyingly  the people of Ullapool clearly don’t suffer from smelly feet and they didn’t have any, but in hindsight I think nothing short of a nuclear blast would have dealt with the smell from my inov-8s anyway – and Tesco’s didn’t have any of those either.

It had been a great trip and despite the rain we headed on down to the beach to tip our toes in the water to mark the end of the crossing.


 Officially finishing the crossing and cleaning our shoes on day 5

We skimmed stones with one our dorm party for 20 minutes or so to kill time - then alcoholic liquid was offered for sale and we retreated to the nearest pub for lunch. We sampled some more local ales and whiskies whilst enjoying the delights of the local catch for tea later that evening. Ullapool is a very welcoming place and made a great end to an incredible trip.

Whisky_shelf The impressive whisky shelf at The Seaforth in Ullapool

Wednesday 21 October 2009

Trip Report: Day 3 – Evanton to Ullapool

Sorry guys, this one is a long day……

I woke in the morning to the sound of the wind which I could feel rushing in over my sleeping bag. It wasn’t cold, but enough to keep on waking me from my doze, so in the end I just lay there listening. I’ll never tire of that sound and despite trying to record it on my phone it’s nothing like the real thing.


 The derelict dwelling at Loch Vaich in all its ramshackle glory!

I could have stayed there all day but Paul had suddenly shot up and headed down to the bothy to make tea. Today had the potential to be quite a long one so reluctantly I packed up and went in search of the elusive brew. We perused the map whilst eating breakfast of muesli (for me) and protein shake (for Paul) and decided that if the weather still looked OK we would commit to Seana Bhraigh. Annoyingly the morning felt a bit rushed once we were up and I was starting to see the effect of our lack of available days to play around with.

The clothes were almost dry from the night before – if not a little smoky, and the remaining damp items were hung from the outsides of our packs as we headed off towards Deanich Lodge.

me_loch_vaich 2 Me getting ready for Ski Sunday

Looking back to the buildings it dawned on me just what a great spot it was and that we had land access laws in Scotland to thank for such a low, hassle free camp. I think it was that point where it really occurred to me how England and Wales could really learn from Scotland.

The pack wasn’t sitting pretty today as we thundered up the easy track towards Deanich Lodge. I’d packed my first aid/hygiene bag and clothes bag right in the centre of the back pad and it was pushing on my back. The bag’s comfort depends very much on how you pack to avoid this happening but its easily corrected and as we stopped to adjust shoes etc I quickly re-arranged my sacks…….er drybags I mean, into better positions.

Weeks earlier, when sat planning the trip, I had imagined that by now I would have a few foot issues or maybe the dreaded knee injury, but so far so good. Sometimes, pounding along tracks can take its toll on tired feet but each day we set off my feet felt very comfortable. I wondered if I would be saying the same tomorrow morning!

deanich_lodgeDeanich Lodge with Meall na Rainich and Meall Dionach guarding

We rounded a curve in the track and the Lodge came into view. It looks incredible in its setting between Gleann Mor and Gleann Beag and I can imagine staying here gives a real sense of remoteness. We continued on to meet the bridge at Abhainn a Glinne Bhig and the sun was beginning to make shy appearances further west along the glen and we were hopeful of a dry, if not breezy day on the tops.

abhainn_a_ghlinne_bhig_bridge  “Yorkie bar or Reisens?”

We stopped at the bridge for a few minutes to take photos and check the map. Back at the tent we had decided our route up from the glen would be chosen once we’d gotten a visual on the severity of the various ascent options! We didn’t have a plan at this point and considered the track up alongside the waterfall before settling on the decision to press on up Gleann Beag and take lunch at Loch Sruban Mora.

abhainn_a_ghlinne_bhig2The view from the bridge over Abhainn a Glinne Bhig

We left the bridge (and Paul’s new caterpillar friend) with thoughts of food on our minds and having deep and meaningfuls about what chocolate snacks we’d have and when. I was clearly very distracted by this and I failed to spot the large adder basking to the left of the track. Paul reached out to alert me but I spotted it and froze dead still. It seemed surprised but not enough to move until we started fumbling about looking for our cameras. As it uncoiled it began to show a bit more interest and so much so I held my pole out for protection - to which it slithered away into the heather. We both just looked at each other shocked and I for one couldn’t believe how big it was! This was a photo we weren’t going to miss and we both took up positions ever closer to get some shots, and I’m sure it was just wandering what the hell we were doing! This was the first snake I’d seen in the wild and I was thoroughly impressed to see one this large and just sitting there on a Land Rover track! A real highlight of the day.

Glen_beag_adder The adder at Gleann Beag

Needless to say the next few hundred metres passed very quickly as we relived the moment. In no time at all we left the track before the weir and headed north on the path weaving alongside the falls of Loch a Sruban Mora. Somebody had bravely taken some horses up the same path and in parts this would have been butt clenchingly tight! It’s likely these were the Garron ponies from Deanich Lodge still used to retrieve stags during stalking season.

By now it was warming up and the wind was welcome as we pressed on up the increasingly steep path. After all of the easy tracks so far it felt like a never-ending climb. Layers were removed and I found I’d drank a litre a water in only a few hours. The timing wasn’t bad though as we reached the slight plateau before the lock and the views opened out.

meall_a_chaorainn Looking back into the glen with Meall a Chaorainn in the distance (centre)

The sun was breaking through some of the thicker areas of cloud, though the wind was quite a feature up here so we looked for shelter to eat lunch.

meall_a_chuaille Our view of Meall a Chuaille at lunch

The fine banquet for today’s feast was roast vegetable couscous with Peperami and despite its humble status as an accompaniment back home in the big smoke (no, not London, Coventry!), today it made for good eating!

To add to the days delights, I managed to get a signal in a very narrow ‘corridor’ on the hill and called in to Charl. Even after this relatively short time is was unashamedly good to hear her voice.

I went and filled the platypus and we consulted the map for an idea of how we might tackle the impressive Seana Bhraigh. From here, its not the best approach but we’d committed to ascending early to the loch and now we’d pay the price! There would be no reward for our eagerness and having hit the cairn on Carn Loch a Sruban Mora we encountered nothing but tough, boggy terrain, regularly dropping 20-30 metres only to climb it again only half a kilometre later.

carn_loch_sruban_moraThe rocky summit of Carn Loch a Sruban Mora 

In short, we had made an error. However, the honourable men that we are, we made the most of it and messed around stone hopping across the boggiest sections we could find, taunting them to swallow us whole! Paul committed to a particular route around a tricky section but I’d spotted a more obvious route. Paul being the stubborn grown up he is wasn’t turning back and spent some considerable time working up the courage for a ‘leap of faith’ across a large gloopy bog. I was hoping certain it would end in disaster so cheered him along whilst reaching for the camera. Backing up he ran and leapt like a…….man with a heavy pack I suppose, and landed whilst skidding heel deep on the outer perimeter. This video will make it on the blog soon enough and my only regret is not zooming in!

ciore_mhic_mhathain Finally we make it across the rough stuff at Cooire Mhic Mhathain before the final ascent to Seana Bhraigh

The boggy, rocky ground was taking its toll and my feet were beginning to roll inside my Inov-8s. I could feel a hot spot coming and as I stopped by the wee lochan to apply Compeed we spotted a stag and his harem on the opposite ridge around the 780m point. We were worried we’d ruined the day for some stalkers but nobody shot at us as the beasts made haste across the shoulder - so we assumed we’d got away with it! An adder, a stag and three does in one day is quite a treat for us city boys.

creag_an_duine       The magnificent looking ridge of Creag an Duine

I’d caught the hot spot just in time and we carried on ever upwards over the bogs and tussocks and this stretch had really tired us out. It was starting to feel as though we would never reach Seana Bhraigh just as she came into view (is it a she – who knows?).

seana_bhraigh The final ascent opens out ahead through a break in the cloud

The wind was pretty strong all the way along the ridge and so much so that neither of us felt that comfortable when the other got to close to the edge! We followed the track until the rocky scree and then just made a final push to the top. The cloud rolled in really low just as we reached the summit shelter, spoiling the potential for a great view.

We sat in the shelter a while waiting for the wind to push the cloud over but it was cold and felt as though we’d never get that elusive photo from the summit. I wolfed some Jelly Babies as my stomach grumbled at being empty yet again. We had worked pretty hard to to get there and we were chuffed to be in the final leg of the day. As we messed around suddenly the cloud cleared enough to reveal a stunning view down into Glen Achall to the north west and Strath Mulzie to the north in the early evening sun. It was worth the cold windswept wait at the shelter.

strath _mulzie_sb The low evening sun over Strath Mulzie from the summit shelter of Seana Bhraigh.

Our spirits were lifted immediately and we both strode off in various direction is pursuit of the best photo! The wind was still so strong I had to lie down to steady myself to take the shot of Loch Luchd Choire in the basin below. I’ll relive these few moments again and again.

loch_luchd_choire The impressive west face of Creag an Duine and loch Luchd Choire below.

loch_a_choire_mor_sb The shadows extending over Loch a Choire Mor from Seana Bhraigh

We suddenly realised we’d spent far too long taking photos and snacking on the summit and we’d miss a beautiful evening at camp if we weren’t careful. We picked our route down Creag nan Gobhar which was far easier than it looked on the map. The view just continued to glow and impress as we descended into the valley.

Suddenly we both stopped dead as the mating call from a stag echoed around the awesome basin created by the two towering beasts above.

loch_a_choire_morStopping to listen to the manly calls of a stag nearby. 

Once again, I was out of water, whereas Paul had clearly been absorbing his fluids through the bogs or something! For some reason Paul drinks the most pathetic amount of water when walking and I never know how he does it. We picked our way down the steep rocky hillside as I joked that his wee must be like syrup!

We wanted to camp by the lodge if possible and to do that we had to cross the outlet of the loch. So we tried to work out the least boggiest approach from our vantage point.

shoulder_carn_banThe setting sun just kissing the top of Creag an Duine 

We stopped at the stream to fill the platypus for the evening meal and pondered our options of crossing the river. It was wider than we were expecting and it looked at one stage that we might have to resort to the dreaded crocs! Paul being Paul he wasn’t going to be beaten and set off rock hopping across the river. This was all well and good until the next available rock was just out of reach. I wondered off to look for another option further downstream but as I glanced back I caught sight of Paul making what looked to be an impossible leap! The problem wasn’t just the distance, it was the balance required on the landing that made this difficult. Not to be beaten however, I turned back to go for it too! As I got closer the gap looked wider and it wasn’t filling me with much confidence. I put the pole into the black water to attempt to vault the gap but it almost disappeared before hitting the bottom! It was my turn for the leap of faith which luckily for me remained a dry affair. Its those little adventures that will stay with me from that day.

The cloud formations were incredible from the glen and we spent our time walking up to the bothy with heads pointing skywards most of the way.

Choire_mor_clouds Disk-like cloud formations from the valley.

Another characteristic of the glen was the speed at which the light seemed to fade. As we rounded the final corner to the bothy the wind whipped across the loch and we caught a whiff of smoke. Our hearts sank as the warning that the bothy was closed for stalking season was correct. We hadn’t planned on using the bothy but the idea was we would pitch using the bothy as a shelter form the ever present gusts of wind and nip on in to eat by the fire etc. Whoever was in there had a roaring fire going and it gave off an deep red flicker through the window. We pondered for longer than we should have about whether to go and knock and ask permission and finally decided to just press on and find another camp spot. We didn’t want to annoy paying guests of a stalking party.

In the 15 minutes it had taken us to cross the river and reach the bothy it was dark and we were tired. We walked on down the track looking for the closest place to camp but by the light of our head torches this wasn’t as easy we’d planned! No problem -out with the map and we soon picked a spot around a kilometre further on where the track meets the river once again. This turned out to be almost perfect and we set about getting the tent up and getting some food on with gusto. It was a great spot and we just lay around the tent eating and drinking hot chocolate and tea with gay abandon. It had been an amazing day and we’d covered quite some distance and taken in so many different landscapes to boot. Best of all it hadn’t rained and we’d got some reasonable photos too.

It was a beautifully clear and cold night with the milky way clearly visible form the tent door. The Ipod went on once again until I dropped off with hopes a great sunrise the following morning….

Saturday 17 October 2009

Windows to Ubuntu - Blogging Software

Sorry to interrupt the trip reports with this random pish, I'll be back on the case with the trip report for day 3 shortly.

I'm slowly trying to make the move from Windows to Linux and part of that process is understanding what the limitations will be and the workarounds re
quired. I can't quite decide which version of Linux works best for me at the moment, but I'm finding out by trying to use it the way I would a windows machine in everyday life. So far this latest version of Ubuntu (well until 9.10 is released in a few days) seems to work fine.

I've got a choice of blogging software to replace Windows Live Writer but I need to test just how good these are. Lets just go with it for now and see what happens...

Here I've got BloGTK which is quite basic and pictures seem to have to be linked to its hosted hyerlink as opposed to the WYSIWYG format of Windows Live. This means I have to uplaod the pics first for me this is a real deal breaker, but lets just see if it works.

I've got 3D desktop setup easily enough, which in version 7.10 was a world of terminal work to get my ati graphics to play. ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ sorry have you all dropped off yet!

Woohoo Compiz working on Ubuntu 9.04!

Tuesday 13 October 2009

Trip report: Day 2 - Evanton to Ullapool

It was a windy night and Paul had brought his snoring machine along to boot, so sleep was never going to be abundant. I caught a few hours here and there, listening to passing rain showers and stag mating calls in between. I woke at around 6.30 and was wishing we hadn’t promised to move on quite so quickly now!

I reached up and opened the tent to see the rain had stopped and the thick cloud had dispersed from the night before. It was still quite windy but it was dry and I headed on out to relieve myself having done that thing were you put it off for hour after hour!

Despite the dark arrival we’d chosen probably the only good spot beyond the wooded area for a pitch.Gradually the sun crept up and as it got brighter it was clear it wasn’t going to be a bad start.

pitch_1  How not to pitch a Seedhouse SL2!

It became clear upon being born from the tent door (that’s how you have to leave Big Aggy when she’s holding twins, she gives birth to you in the most unflattering way!) that the reason for the incessant flapping was purely user error, but that wasn’t a problem because today we were free men in open country. We could pitch that thing however we damn liked and there was nothing anyone could do about it! We took her down as quickly as we could in any case….

We ate, checked the map and packed away whilst it was dry and we were ready to be on our way in no time at all. Packing the Gorilla was becoming more routine and I was growing to like the little blighter already. Putting it on is a nice experience if that makes sense. The straps are sufficiently wide to spread the weight and no part of it had rubbed the previous day – which was a nice surprise.

Paul_packing_up Paul demonstrates the safest way to hold the tent pegs

We hit the track, taking in the scenery and before long we forded our first river of the trip. Paul had to cross 3 times though as I didn’t have the camera ready the first time!

pauls_first_ford Paul demonstrating his intrepid explorer pose.

One thing I’ve often noticed in Scotland is how big the skies are and today was no different. The clouds were just making all sorts of shapes and was pure entertainment in itself.

Cloud_front Cloud formations approaching Ben Wyvis

We made good progress on the track and it was really sinking in that we were out here doing our thing. The plan for today was relatively simple: We would be following the glen along the falls, and breaking west off-track up onto Carn Loch Nan Amhaichean, before heading on down to Strathrannoch forest and following the well maintained landrover tracks north west until we rounded in the glen and Loch Vaich. I knew from reading Jame’s blog that there would be a bothy to play around in so we couldn’t wait to get there.

We gradually ascended the glen passing the falls and the stalking shelter on the way up. We were making great progress without really making much effort and even despite the increasingly boggy ground alongside the river.

topsy_turvy_waterfall The shelter and falls of Abhainn Beinn Nan Eun

We broke to higher ground from the track, trying to avoid the endless boggy ground but everywhere we stepped threatened to swallow us at any time. It became a bit of a lottery as to whether you could make it over sections of ground without the need for a snorkel! We rejoined the path further up before heading west after the ford and up a slight cleft on the approach to Loch Nan Amhaichean. It was tough going with the heavier packs and was really the first ascent of the trip. Again the ground was wet and bogs lay in ambush – I couldn’t quite get my head around how a steep incline could retain so much water!

loch_nan_amhaicheanPassing by Carn Loch Nan Amhaichean

As we approached the top of the cleft we were met with a blast of cold wind coming in from the west. Without seeing the Loch we could see that our summit was in a band of low cloud. We trudged on some more before deciding that making for the top was pretty pointless, so we continued west towards the forest.

strathrannoch Strathronnoch Forest and the bog mined ground in between!

As we pressed on the wind battered our faces, the cloud lowered and the bogs squelched at our every move. Luckily we could see clearer skies in the distance and we hoped they blow in for our approach to Loch Vaich. By now we were ravenous and food was starting to become quite an obsession for us both. Once we’d eaten breakfast we were thinking about lunch and planning dinner! Rather than eat and get blasted we decided to carry on to meet the river we would have followed down to the forest had we have bagged the peak of Carn Loch Nan Amhaichean and this was a good decision as we were rewarded for our bog hopping with a nice sheltered riverbed to take on food and a brew.

lunch_alt_a_choire_rainnich Descending to the river for lunch


“Sorry, is this seat taken?!”

Lunch was Quick Rice Chinese style and it won’t be appearing on the menu again! We refilled out platys and headed on down towards the forest, opting for the more interesting route down the river, crossing over at various stages, jumping from rock to rock.

alt_a_choire_rainnich Rock hopping the alt a choire rainnich

The weather was holding off nicely but looking back it seemed our decision to skip the tops was a wise one as the sky blackened above Carn Loch Nan Amhaichean.

carn_loch_nan_amhaichean Carn Loch Nan Amhaichean from Strathronnoch Forest

After the endless bogs walking on the landrover track was surprisingly welcome. Up ahead we spotted a 4x4 and a quad with a stalking party, but by the time we reached the fenced wooded area they had turned around and gone. We forded the river and it was touch and go as to whether the crocs might have to come out for the first time. They didn’t and I was starting to wonder if they would ever be needed and just end up being a 349g dead weight in the bag.

passing_strathrannoch Heading north on the track from Strathrannoch

Unavoidably we talked work whilst stomping down the trap, both eagerly awaiting the first view of Loch Vaich and the bothies near the shore. It wasn’t long until the track began to turn west and eventually north where the loch came into view.

loch-vaich-bothies Paul charges towards the shelters

Our eagerness to get to the bothy was primarily as we were looking forward to setting up camp in good time and getting a fire going before taking a dip in the loch. The notion that we could set up camp early was great and the freedom to just relax rather than hurriedly put the tent up, scoff food and got to bed was refreshing to say the least.

We made our way over and quickly noticed that the first dwelling was not fit for any kind of human occupation – being literally full of sheep droppings! However, the second of the two buildings had one room left with window and fireplace, fit for a temporary shelter. Kindly, someone had left some wood inside to dry out and to say we were elated is an understatement!

The building once had two floors but the stairs had long gone and the only features up there were the resident bats which would visit us later on that night by the fire. There was not a chance we would sleep inside and with that decision made it was back outside.

loch_vaich_bothy Our prize for the day: the open fire and dry fuel

We decided to set up the tent in the lea of the second building whilst it was dry, but with the wind whipping up from the south of the loch it offered little protection for Big Aggy. This done, we set about rigging up a drying line and lighting the fire before heading down to the loch for a swim!

bothy_fire Paul prays to the God of hell fire before our near death experience at the loch.

I’ve heard that the legendary Alan Sloman uses a gas stove for his fire lighting trickery but here I found that liberal use of meths works just as well to get things going! The dry wood needed little help though and was soon popping and crackling away.

The plan was to pop the crocs on and go for a ‘refreshing’ swim in the loch, which we fully anticipated would be cold but foolishly continued regardless. Paul was the first to get down to the shore donning merino socks, boxers and crocs as I trailed behind with the camera and similar attire! The wind was whistling on up the loch and whipping up a cold fine spray, hinting at what we were about to sign up to. Paul flirted at the water’s edge, I however I wasn’t in the mood for small talk and waded on in whilst trying to stifle my wimpy gasps. Paul barely got wet and ran back to the bothy but I made the most of the opportunity to wash a few items and freshen up. Luckily there was no-one around to see this homo-erotic freak show at the lochs edge!

By the time I got back to the bothy the fire was dying away but with a small drop of meths and some more logs soon restored open fire karma. Boxers, socks and towels were hung up to dry and it wasn’t long before we had the alcohol stove on for a brew. We sat on rocks by the fire warming ourselves and our food obsession returned with a vengeance. It was a Real Turmat beef and potato stew for me and it was worth the £7.99 price tag without a doubt. We took our time eating for a change and finished off with a hot chocolate before heading out into the howling wind to the tent.

We had pitched the tent on a slight slope as there was no level sheltered pitches to be found. Nevertheless we had pitched it to absolute perfection. It was like a little rock despite the ferocious gusts of wind. We dived in to get the usual chores out of the way.

Upon inspection I was still without any blisters and ticks so was a happy man all round. I still took the time to apply some Gehwol Extra foot cream which if nothing else has a nice smell and encourages you to at least check your feet for blisters and sore spots.

Paul went off to sleep almost instantly whilst I lay listening to my Ipod before dropping off, with only a faint sound of the wind getting through.