Friday, 10 June 2016

Edinburgh, Glen Etive, Glen Nevis & Glen Affric in a week

Simon, Diane, Brian and Jackie. Edinburgh City behind
We clicked the door closed at 10:15am on the house in Acocks Green, Birmingham after feeding and saying goodbye to bunnies Poppy and Sahara and headed up the M6 motorway to Scotland and our fifth meeting, each time in a different country, with Simon and Diane.

Walking down off the Pentland Hills past the dry ski slope
Tea and cake at the Apres bar at the Pentland Outdoor Centre
6 hours later, after a deviation off the motorway at Lancaster due to roadworks we arrived at their very nice house in Edinburgh located just a few minutes from the city centre and the Pentland Hills. It’s a Georgian house built in the same stone as most of Edinburgh and has that classical feel throughout, high ceilings, polished wood floors, easy angled stairs with wrought iron handrail and a strip of carpet held in place with stair-rods, all in fabulous condition and very well maintained.

Sunday morning with Simon and Diane on the beach near Edinburgh
Great to see Simon and Diane again and their hospitality was superb making us feel very spoiled. On Friday evening, after Diane got in from work we went up their local hill for great views over Edinburgh city, the castle and Arthurs Seat in the late afternoon sunshine before heading back for a few bottles of wine and a great meal.

Diane on the old WWII gun emplacement foundations
We were a bit concerned going walking with them as they are currently preparing for a two week Tour De Mont Blanc walking holiday in a few weeks and are in serious training backpacking in Scotland over the last few weeks as well as Simon doing lots of fell running for his Edinburgh 7 peaks challenge in a couple of weeks. However they seemed happy to take it a bit easier with us, who have not walked very far in the last few weeks, so they had planned a gentle walk over their local Pentland Hills. Gentle, that is, for them: just under 21km and several hills rising to something over 500m made it a good outing for us.

In Simon and Dianes back garden in the afternoon sunshine
The weather was good, clear blue skies and a hot sun, but tempered by a stiff easterly wind making it feel about 13 or 14°C, which was actually just right. As promised, the views over Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth were superb and we even had the bonus of walking past the top of the local dry ski slope, which was the largest I have seen with two long, winding slopes plus a couple of beginner areas, at least one and possibly two button lifts and even a chairlift. Quite amazing!

Brian, Jackie, Rob and Alex in Glen Etive
We had a more gentle day on Sunday with a walk along the beach, covering quite a few miles on sand and rocky bits, all under another blue sky with hot sun but cool breeze. The weekend was superb, the food and wine fabulous and the company just perfect. We feel very lucky to have met two people we get on so well with and share such a common interest, the talking was non-stop and we have left with more ideas and plans for our forthcoming South America trip in September.

Jackie below Etive Slabs, Glen Etive
Monday was back to work for Diane and it was Simons final day at home before starting a three month contract in Perth starting on Tuesday, for us it was repacking and organising our gear ready for a few days of camping in Glencoe with Rob and Alex.

They had been up in Scotland since the end of May Bank Holiday for Robs 60th birthday, for which Alex had secretly borrowed her sisters campervan. Rob doesn’t like camping very much but had agreed to it and was very pleased when they swapped their little Fiat 500 with the campervan and headed off to Northern Scotland.

Alex, Rob and Jackie discussing 'stuff' at Glen Etive
‘What do you want to do for your birthday’ Alex had asked. ‘Climb the Old Man of Hoy’ was his answer. Now, for those people uninitiated, the Old Man of Hoy is a 137m sea stack of red sandstone on the island of Hoy, part of the Orkney archipelago off the north coast of Scotland and an ascent of it is a major ‘tick’ in any climbers list. It is one of the classics in the climbing world, first climbed in 1966 by Chris Bonington, Rusty Baillie and Tom Patey and had a three night live BBC broadcast in 1967 of them climbing it again with other teams (including Joe Brown and Dougal Haston) putting up other first ascents.

The end of the fabulous Aonach Eagach ridge (one of the finest ridge scrambles in Scotland) from Glencoe village. On the left the 'Pap of Glencoe' on the right the final Munro of the traverse, Sgorr nam Fiannaidh
Alex on the belay of our first climb in Glen Nevis, about to abseil down
Rob and Alex climbed the original route, which is graded at E1 5b, well above anything either of us have climbed before, so we had declined their invitation to join them and, instead just listened to their account of the climb in awe when we met up with them on Monday evening. After a few days of poor weather (but fortunately coinciding with the centenary of the Battle of Jutland, so lots of celebrations were going on up there to fill in the time), they went for it on Saturday 4th June in fine weather, completing it in 13 hours, including the walk in, climb down, climb up, abseil back down, climb back up and walk back. Alex told us how they climbed past old wooden pegs put in by the original first ascenders, sensing the history of the climb, Rob told us of the other German climbers walking and abseiling barefoot and of another group who climbed with large rucksacks on, only to get parachutes out at the top and base jump off the top!

Rob preparing to abseil down
First nights wild camp in Glen Etive
Fabulous meeting up with them again, they are such easy people to be with, very laid back yet also very adventurous. We met them on the dead end road down the very beautiful Glen Etive, just off the main road into Glencoe and camped by the river in fantastic scenery under warm, sunny skies, cooked a meal, drank a few beers and had a thoroughly enjoyable time on our wild campsite. That is until the Scottish midges descended! The Scottish midge is a tiny biting insect that is attracted by the carbon dioxide we breathe out. Worst at dawn and dusk they descend in their tens of thousands onto unsuspecting people and, although doing no harm other than biting and leaving little red blotches on the skin they irritate the life out of you and it impossible to stay outside. Fortunately this occurred after we had eaten and washed up and we could retreat into Rob and Alex’s campervan. It was a bit cramped and quite warm inside, but better than the alternative and we had a pleasant, but cramped chat and another beer before running to our tent and massacring the midges who got inside the tent before we zipped up for the night.

Brian, Jackie and Rob survey amazing scenery in Glen Etive
Brian leading a climb in Glen Nevis
We spent the next day driving to the end of Glen Etive then through Glencoe and a coffee shop and then to Glen Nevis, another beautiful Scottish glen (valley), spending the afternoon climbing on one of the many crags there until a shower of rain came in late afternoon. Rather than camp, Alex suggested we stay in a Climbers Club cottage in Roy Bridge, a little village not far away. She is a member of this club and has a fob that is supposed to give her and up to three guests at any one of their several hundred climbing huts dotted about in all the major climbing areas of the UK. We found the four bedroomed cottage with bunk beds for 20 and fabulous kitchen facilities and comfy lounge all empty, so we made ourselves at home and went to the local pub for real ale and good home cooked food (Haggis and neeps for Brian!).

Jackie and Brian waving from the belay
Preparing dinner in the Climbers Club hut in Roy Bridge
Wednesday was back to another crag in Glen Nevis for a bit more climbing, but first we wanted to practise ropework, self rescue and ‘getting out of the system’ to help an injured climber. We found a suitable crag and spent a good part of the day under a hot sun with ropes, gear and prussic loops ‘rescuing’ each other, whilst referring to a technique book but mainly using Alex’ vast knowledge of mountaineering experience. Finally Jackie led a severe rock climb, Alex followed up on the rope and finally I went up, finding one section very thin and difficult. Meanwhile Rob had soloed up that plus a few other climbs seemingly without any fear. How does he do it!

Our ropework refresher day
Anyway, after another night in the CC hut, cooking a joint meal, drinking a few more beers and wine plus some champagne and cake for Robs birthday we finally said goodbye to them on Thursday morning, them heading off the Alex’ mums house near Aberdeen, us heading up through Fort Augustus, past Loch Ness and up to Cannich at the entrance to Glen Affric to stay on the Woodland campsite for two nights, before heading off to Gairloch on Saturday to meet up with Ian and Helen for a week in a cottage. For the first night here we booked a ‘pod’ which is like a large wooden tent with veranda and outdoor table, but for tonight (Friday) we’re in our tent as the pod is booked up.

Rob and Brian discuss ropework
And then consult with Alex, the expert
The campsite is really nice and reminds us of some of the places we stayed at in New Zealand, it was very nice in the pod last night but we had to go indoors quite early as it was much colder and the midges were out, but we did cook a meal by the veranda and met a few other campers nearby while we ate and watched the world go by.

Showing us how to tie off on a belay
Alex climbing
Today we did an 11 mile, 18km walk round Loch Affric, which is a very scenic lake surrounded by high mountains, except that the cloud was at about 1000ft (300m), giving us a restricted view and making the mountains look like small hills. The cloud eventually started to ‘leak’ and we got drizzled on for most of the afternoon, the second half of the walk being on a forest track, so not that scenic or exciting. It was nevertheless good exercise and we have fully earned the meal and beer we’ve booked for at the local pub!

While Rob just climbs solo (doesn't he know it's dangerous?)
I’m writing this sitting in the car outside our tent as it’s raining here and the cafĂ© has now shut for the day. So it’s over the pub now and then back and straight into our little tent with our books when we get back. We only brought our little backpacking two man tent with us so there’s only room for us both to lie down on the blow-up mattress (we decided on that bit of comfort!) once inside. Still it’s only for tonight as we’re off to a luxury cottage in Gairloch to meet up with Ian and Helen and Monty dog tomorrow!

This is a boulder on the opposite hillside. Does it look like a troll?

Ice creams in Fort William in the late afternoon. It was the only shade we could find - too hot in the sun!

After we left Rob and Alex we stopped at the Commando Memorial near Spean Bridge. It's dedicated to the British Commando Forces raised during WWII and overlooks the training depot. In the distance is Ben Nevis

The Garden of Remembrance, dedicated not only to WWII veterans but all commandos who have died in more recent conflicts

Looking over Loch Lochy towards Fort Augustus

In Fort Augustus

The locks of the Caledonian Canal in Fort Augustus

The lock gates just closing on 3 ships and a yacht on their way down the canal

The lock gate operating panel. They told me they'd have to kill me if I took a photo!

Looking out towards Loch Ness from Fort Augustus

Loch Ness. No sign of the monster!

Our Thursday night 'pod' at the Woodlands Campsite in Cannich, Glen Affric

Loch Affric on a fairly dank day

Affric Lodge

A Sundew carnivorous plant growing at the side of Loch Affric

Stags spied in the forest

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