Thursday 8 October 2009

Trip Report: Day 1 - Evanton to Ullapool

With everything packed into the bag the night before, I was fairly relaxed despite the early start. Although the flight wasn’t until 12.05pm Paul was picking me up at 8.45am to head over to his for some last minute checks and to get some breakfast at the ‘golden arches’.

Months of planning and sorting gear were over and the trip was officially on, but in hindsight I don’t think it had properly dawned on me that we were about to spend 5 days being feral in the Scottish Highlands.

We arrived at the airport with time to spare and by chance I spotted an abandoned roll of shrink wrap by the entrance to Terminal 1. They were charging £5 for this just 100m away and, not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth, we promptly applied an obscene amount of shrink wrap to each of the packs and dropped them at the oversized baggage point.

The flight was delayed so to be polite we waited quietly with a couple of beers and eventually arrived at Inverness around 2pm. I’d arranged for Nigel from Shore Excursions to collect us from the airport, stop, off in Inverness and drop us in Evanton. Nigel didn’t mind the delay (unlike any other taxi I’ve ever taken) and we set off for Inverness. Nigel was a cool guy and it turned out his service is way beyond that of a simple taxi. Nigel explained that like most businesses in the Highlands he worked in a number of areas; from arranging tours to pick ups and drops offs for cyclists, backpackers and those using the cruise ships and ferries. He could even pick up supplies and receive parcels and so is more akin to a fixer than a taxi driver.

I darted out to Craigdon Mountain Sports to grab gas, meths and a drybag and was told that our Seana Braigh day (Friday) would be a treat with 80mph gusts. Goooood!

We set off straight away to Evanton and Nigel had took the liberty of finding out from his wife exactly where we wanted to be dropped – small thing but a nice touch and especially as we were running late. Arriving at the burial grounds we left our litter with Nigel and said our goodbyes. The spot was exactly where I’d planned to be and we just re-packed our bags, filled our reservoirs and headed to the shore of Crommarty Firth to wet our feet. The coast to coast had officially started.

Feet_at_evanton_coast By golly it’s on!

We started off up the minor road heading for Evanton just as short sharp rain shower blew on in from the west. Was this the weather we had to look forward to over the next few days? Who knew but it wasn’t all bad as multiple rainbows appeared along the way.

evanton_rainbow Ahh a rainbow!

We both seemed quite subdued at this point and for me that was partly down to the fact I needed the loo (of the really inconvenient type) and partly absorbing the notion that this trip was finally on and we were now on the map!


The weather blowing in over Crommarty Bridge

We shot through Evanton, taking our first wrong turn, eventually heading through the woods to Black Rock Gorge. We opted not to take the track descending to our right to the gorge itself but heading further up into the forest before meeting the other bridge further along. We passed the water treatment works and onto the forestry road towards Eileanach Lodge. Here, a couple in a Saab passed us several times asking for directions but the lodge they were looking for just didn’t appear on our map. The Gods clearly thought we could have done more to help as they proceeded to punish us with wind driven rain showers all the way along Loch Glass. The loch is surrounded by some impressive scenery and we just trudged on past the pink Culzie Lodge as we compared our packs here to those we carried a few years ago in Buttermere. Despite the extra food, our packs were as light as the proverbial feather in comparison!

loch_glass_east Our first sight of a gloomy Loch Glass

One thing I noticed was how quickly the darkness set in and we both knew it would be fun finding a good pitch in the dark beyond Wyvis Lodge. Suddenly a 4x4 thundered up the sandy track with its light cluster blinding us as it pulled up close. It was the game keeper who asked if were out for the night and didn’t look too pleased with our reply. We explained where we planned on pitching and he explained that he would be heading out there with a stalking party the following day. We promised we be away early but he seemed happy enough to take his party elsewhere instead. Relieved, we trudged on and decided it was fair game (no pun intended) in return for our night vision – now ruined by the headlamps.

It wasn’t long before the lodge came into view with its rooms lit by soft lights and open fires – Suddenly the tent didn’t seem as welcoming as it had only a mile up the road! We passed on by the lodge and my first mistake became clear. As Paul revealed his head torch as if he just happened to be carrying it all the way there, whereas mine was buried deep in my pack! Not wanting to faff by the Lodge we just used Paul’s but it was futile in the boggy ground beside the river. It seemed like we weren’t going to find anywhere so we pulled out the map to track the rivers position further up the glen. It seemed as though there might be a spot just a hundred meters along Abhainn Bienn nan Eun so we rejoined the track and sure enough it appeared. Like all of the best pitches the track was pretty much running through the tent but we didn’t expect to see anyone at this time and we’d be away early. We pitched the tent (appallingly) and I collected water from the river for tea after getting the neo air and sleeping bags setup.

I was looking forward to seeing what the neo air would be like especially as its almost a full length mat for my ‘compact’ stature! We boiled water on the Mini Atomic stove whilst recording some audio for a podcast.

tea_for_two Waiting for a well deserved brew on the Mini Atomic

We had made good time considering the distance covered and it worked out at just over 13 miles in under 5 hours. I took a lucky dip into my pack for my dinner and pulled out a Real Turmat Game Casserole and what a prize it was! Food never tastes better than when you eat it outside and merely endorses my theory that you would eat just about anything when camping.*

* with the exception of pork liver and actual poo maybe…

Paul had clambered into his bag the moment we got into the tent but I’d been a little more reserved and so when I finished some hygiene duties getting into my bag felt a bit overdue. Time seemed to fly as soon as we’d eaten and all of a sudden it was 11.30pm. It had been a strange first day what with the flight, the raid on Inverness and then the 13mile dash to the pitch. Surreal but quite cool.


James Boulter said...

Looked like a hectic first day! You cant beat the feeling of the first wild camp of a long trip - all those miles ahead of you!

PhilT said...

You're lucky you started when you did - the snowline isn't much higher than Loch Glass at the moment!

Anonymous said...

I think this is about to become a classic route for those that want to cross Scotland coast to coast in a week! Look forward to the rest of the report!

Marcus said...

Hi James, it was quite...erm busy on that first day but I guess that's the price you pay for trying to squeeze it in!

Phil, we got very lucky with the weather on this trip, pretty much beyond any expectation. I'd be lying if I said a little snow wouldn't have been good though!

Robin, I think you could be right. The route is great as it is but there are also some great opportunities to break off and take in a few more tops if you have a little more time. The beauty is in the simplicity but nothing quite beats the feeling of how remote it all is too. stopping for lunch on the shoulder of Carn Loch Sruban Mora is the most remote I've felt in my short time of taking to the hills.

GeoffC said...

I must look up this route, I've seen it mentioned several times - that area sounds wonderful at this time of year especially with some snow on the tops for extra spice.
Eagerly awaiting the next reports.

Nigel Gray said...

Great first write-up and looking forward to the next installment(s)!! Rather jealous seeing as I seem to have been devoid of hill-time of late, so reading others' adventures is the next best thing!! How'd you find the NeoAir?

Marcus said...

It is a nice route and relatively easy too. Spreading it over 6 days would make for a more relaxed crossing and leave time to dash up some hills - Ben Wyvis for example would be an easy one to squeeze into the route. I know you like your tops Geoff!

Hi Nigel, the Neoair was nothing short of fantastic! Fortunately mine stayed over night and was unbelievably warm and comfy for an air mattress. It was always going to be luxury for me though as I don't normally take a full length mat. All good times.