" Any more Blogs? " Bellowed a voice from behind as I headed towards my car, this was a Blogfan called Wayne, a fairly innocuous question you may think and you would be right but this was the moment that just tilted the scales as to whether I blogged this little beauty or not. That is not to say that it wasn't worth writing about, on the contrary, you see it was just so short, I could have just written, ' drove up to Killilian did what we set out to do, got drenched on the way there and on the way back, drove home' end of Blog! However there was a little bit more to it than that.
The drive from Lincoln to Loch Carron is about five hundred miles, this was duly discharged on the back of a 4:00 a.m start! Tired? No way Tiro! Too high on adrenalin and Motherland air to succumb to any of that, besides, as a prelude to our mission which I will mention in a moment, we, that is me and my friend Christian, were ready to become part of the initiated minority who stay at Gerry's Hostel and don't leave caustic remarks on the internet.
|Gerry's is legend, go before it is too late!!!|
Gerry was a wiry looking man, well into his eighties although he didn't look it, time had treated him well. I didn't find him half as eccentric as his reputation dictates, perhaps that was because he didn't see Christian's ice axe and we lacked the opportunity to interfere with one of his fires, opportunity knocks but once! Apparently he goes berzerk at the sight of an ice axe and equally ballistic if you meddle with his fire. He did ask us if we wanted a fire but before we had a chance to reply, his little face screwed up as he uttered "naaah can't be bothered". Oh well, we didn't want one anyway!
|What makes you think he isn't married?|
|Nice poster of Christian on the wall!|
|one or two deviants...|
|How to make good use of lino!|
It was a wonder we ever crossed the rubicon into Gerry's, I booked a couple of beds over the phone, all seemed fine, when we arrived there, on time, the place was deserted in true Highland style! We were about to call it a day after knocking repeatedly on every door, when Christian noticed a light on in a back room, on closer inspection this indeed was Gerry. Our booking had completely slipped his mind, not to worry, he showed us round with the excitement of a dog with two tails. When we were settling in upstairs a voice hollowed up " do you like music?" "yes, I'm a Musaholic" came the reply, "what sort?" "I'm a classical music enthusiast" "what Composers do you like?" "I absolutely adore Schubert but also like that rich seam of British music like Delius and Vaughan Williams" . Next thing I knew we were eating our tea to the sound of Schubert's Ninth symphony, on vinyl!!!
|listening to Schubert's 9th... on vinyl!|
Now, please let me tell you about our expedition, it centred around an esoteric calling to walk to Maol Bhuide ( literally Yellow Hill) Bothy and spend at least one night there. With a short detour to see the falls of Glomach you were looking of a basic distance of at least thirty miles with full kit.To paint the backcloth I will endeavour to relate why Maol Bhuide has become such a firm favourite of mine.
A year the previous summer I had one of those serendipitous moments that only occasionally occur in life. I was walking from Pait to Bendronaig Bothy along a long and winding path, I had been walking all day and was very tired, when I noticed about two miles to my left, the Bothy, there it was, a whitewashed speck twinkling amidst a sea of green. Foolishly ignoring my inner voice which said "Mark you KNOW you shouldn't be doing this" I skipped off the path and went for it direct rather than winding round all over the place. I figured I could save myself at least an hour.
|whitewashed speck... amidst a sea of green.|
Here is where the fun starts. What I couldn't see from the path was that there was a lot of undulating and masses of peaty channels, making any mobility difficult. What I also couldn't see from the track was that there were two rivers! The first, the Calavie, wasn't a problem. The second, the feeder for Loch Cruoshie, was in spate, causing me to make a massive detour in yet more masses of undulating and peaty channels. All the time I was thinking "you know full well you should never have left the track". By now I'd overshot the clock by at least an hour. I finally reached the Bothy paralysed with exhaustion only to see a sign saying 'Maol Bhuide', I was at the wrong Bothy!!!!!!!!!!!
|Standing proud and inviting in high summer|
I use the word 'serendipity' because I discovered this little beaut by making a monumental error. Maol Bhuide lies centre stage in that roadless quarter between Loch Carron and Glen Affric. The fact that it is a serious contender for the remotest habitable building in the U.K and has a romantic sense of inaccessibility gives it a prodigious sense of place.
|The roadless Quarter|
That lovely balmy summer evening on the last day of June, I had to answer for my own error and haul myself back to the right Bothy but all was not downbeat, far from it. I had never found myself anywhere as beautiful as this, I felt completely divorced from normality. On the way back I kept having to sit down, not just because I was shattered but rather because I was immersed in wonderment at this 'ring of bright water' , wherever man goes he takes noise, here the silence was deafening! Iridescence of rejuvenated colour panned all around the green hills, hills whose praises are rarely sung, here and there the delicate brushmark of a passing cloud bank. All sheer loveliness.
|Green and serene|
|..ring of bright water.|
|delicate brushmark of passing cloud bank|
|...green hills whose praises are rarely sung.|
|had to sit down and take it all in!|
Christian and I were the sole participants and were willing to stretch our stamina and will power to pick up the winter gauntlet of the crazy challenge of walking to Maol Bhuide and back when the weather was at it's most foul. M.W.I.S made liberal use of the words 'appaling' and 'tortuous' in their forecast for the next three days, a forecast that Christian text to his Brother for a joke, the reply came back '' what do they know!" but they did know, we had rain hammer down on us with the fury of a grudge well nurtured and a violent wind that ensured that the rain was horizontal at all times! On the upside it brought out in us a moral fortitude that was to be our recondite for the next two or three days.
Mountains were clearly off limits but we could still have some great fun just being up there. One factor has to be appraised however, a well renowned Highland commentator once wrote 'a good Bothy never manifests itself without a fight' just to throw in the spirit of competition Blogfans I would like to ask you who you think said the above statement, was it
A. King Richard ll
B. Barry Sheen
D. Sir Alex Ferguson
as usual I am prepared to offer a prize for the first three correct answers. They are as follows...
3rd place- A winter night march to Maol Bhuide accompanied by Christian and myself.
2nd place- A winter night march to Maol Bhuide accompanied by Christian, myself and Tom.
1st place- A winter night march to Maol Bhuide accompanied by Christian, myself, Tom and the Hess!
We chose the route in from Killilian via Iron Lodge in order to pull in a short detour to the Falls of Glomach but the river Glomach was unfordable, I didn't fancy walking back to the car with a broken leg! I think this was possibly the worst weather I had ever walked in, it was like being in a car wash! What was now becoming a concern to me though was that water was very gradually beginning to find it's way through my body armour.
Due to the snowmelt and the unrestrained amount of rain, all the burns were fast flowing and there was no straightforward rite of passage. Our first encounter was the feeder stream for Loch Leitrich. The roaring water being audible over the raging wind was an intimidating symbiosis, we prospected uphill to our left where the stream had split into two and plied our art of river crossing there. The next stream wasn't quite as forgiving, the Allt na Sean Luibe, I was worse than useless due to nursing a strained lower back from a cycling injury but I was put in the shade by Christian's river crossing that was as sensational as it was curious, due to over compensating the counterbalance, he kind of fell three times without actually falling! I had never seen a phenomenon like it, it even exceeds Chris Dickinson's celebrated 'pas de deux' on ice from 2009. Rarely though do you go unscathed after feats of this calibre and Christian didn't, he pulled a muscle in his...Hamstring? Calf? Thigh? No, in his stomach! And it hurt every time he took a breath, he had to remind his wife, Alex, that he breathes a lot! With Christian's off the wall injury and my bad back we certainly looked a sorry looking pair.
|...weather appaling and tortuous!|
|Christian in the process of pulling a muscle in his... stomach!|
|the howling wind ... over the roaring water was an intimidating symbiosis!|
|''a good bothy never manifests itself without a fight''|
|Maol Bhuide you are cruel!!!|
As we headed down from the bealach I felt a sense of euphoria to see the whitewashed walls of Maol Bhuide. Happiness and fitness seemed to bludgeon forth unannounced as we marched towards our spoil. Christian was in front but he seemed to be heading down the hill away from the Bothy, I couldn't fathom why, when he was almost within touching distance of it's white walls. The phrase 'A good Bothy never manifests itself without a fight' was coming back to haunt me. As I climbed a small rise I could gradually here something above the whip cracking of my hood that was very disconcerting. The wee burn that was as innocent as a lamb on my first visit was now as raging as a demented Lion! Maol Bhuide, you are cruel!!!
|A stone's throw from the Bothy, irony!|
Now what? A stone throw from the Bothy and we can't get to it and a fourteen mile walk back to the car is out of the question with darkness to fall in about an hour. Beam me up Scotty! I wouldn't have thought it possible for a burn to be that swollen, we scouted up and down and eventually found a pitch that at least wasn't going to sweep us away but it was nonetheless a fearsome prospect. We waded through thigh deep, trying to lean into the torrent to avoid getting knocked off balance. Our margin for error was minimal. In the photo Christian has reached the shallower part, I was too slow getting my camera out, perhaps I had other things on my mind.
What a relief to reach the other side. To think that the last time I was here, it was at the height of a drought and the burn was but a trickle, I topped my Camelback up from it's placid waters! On entering Maol Bhuide there is a kind of an outhouse, it didn't even register last time I came but for some unknown reason, it annoyed me this time, I referred to it as an insult to humanity! All that could be seen in the main room was our dripping equipment hanging from everywhere. No use protesting now this was our idee fixe, and now the script has been written it can't be changed. You're in the Army now!
|our dripping equipment hanging from everywhere|
|an insult to humanity!|
It was now mid February and I found it a compliment that since the beginning of November there had only been four entries in the visitor book! Mind you, I could see why, there was no wood lying around for a fire, the only way to get a good fire was to bring wood and coal in yourself and we had pruned our itinerary down to a bare minimum. We kind of knew we might have to bite the bullet with keeping warm so after a meal of the highest Bothy Wayfarer standard we retired to the upstairs quarters and got into our bags.
I was soon cozified in warmth snuggled up in my bag and losing consciousness couldn't have been more pleasurable. I was surprised to be awoken in the early hours to what sounded like furniture being moved around in room two, this was only Christian doing sit ups! Actually this is a good idea, for you to understand why that is my dear Blogfans I need to explain how a Goose Down Sleeping Bag works.
Allow me to ask you a question. Have you ever seen a cold Goose? No, neither have I. Why not? Well when those Geese are up there in a V formation it must be very cold and the wind chill must be horrific but between it's body and feathers is this stuff called down, millions of fibres with microscopic barbs creating pockets that fill up with warm air that gets trapped as the Goose expends all those calories flapping it's wings. This creates a thermal layer that ensures that the Goose is kept warm. That same principle is employed in a sleeping bag except if you get in it cold you will stay cold. I did not realise this, on one occasion on a high camp with local hill walking legend James Hesse (aka the Hess) we froze our butt's off all night and I couldn't figure out why, I thought has my sleeping bag stopped working, funny the last time I used it, it was like an inferno! You have to get in them warm with hardly any layers on so the heat gets trapped and provides a lovely thermal layer. Hence Christian's sit ups.
Drifting back off to sleep didn't happen, you see I had something on my mind, a question, a question of paramount importance, a question that demanded an answer. How the heck are we going to get out of this place!? Here we are marooned in a dank and dingy ramshackle shed in the middle of a wet desert! Every time I had a thought I conveyed this to Christian even if it was an hour in between each thought, funny thing he always seemed to be wide awake. There were some aluminium ladders in the loft, I figured if we could stretch those over the river we would be in business. It was maybe taking a bit of a liberty but I'm sure the Mountain Bothy Association would understand, we were trapped, it could be our only ticket to freedom, they wouldn't get damaged and nobody was going to pinch them. I was settled at that but still couldn't get behind the wall of sleep so under torchlight I jotted down a few lines.
Symphony in Yellow (Maol Bhuide)
A pulsating grind of the subtle illusory art
pounding away at the stringent itinerary within
fragmented emotion grapples with the existing function
yet reality exceeds it's annotated existence
beauty in persistent rain lashed form
cattle and deer in transient norm
oblique eccentricities bulwark the undertow
in ways only sagacious old men can know
on a hillock in a glen astride a brook
a lonely sentinel some fool undertook
to build amidst ethereal landscape
Shostakovian in raiment
yet volatile in look
you don't belong here
the snow venom growled
I bellowed back louder
with footfalls unfurled
the harsh infrastructure groaned within
yet our hearts ensconced the invincible swell
we sloshed over like Cyrus' formidable crew
the wet defence listlessly fell to our path
meagre shelter of the rarest kind
if yester years switched back
what would you find?
ten kids hollow aimlessly
poor parents work vigorously
dusty loom rusty plough and sweet gloom
hark! Journey of time says forever is soon
in the middle of a drought
at the back end of June
I chanced upon shelter
on a bright lonely hill
a serendipitous moment
swathed in soft mellow
haste ye back
to my symphony in yellow.
|''cattle and deer in transient norm''|
That morning I went for a constitutional around the Bothy, it was about the only time in the whole expedition when it wasn't raining and there had been a slight frost. Yet again I had that 'light bulb' moment, here stood Maol Bhuide on a plinth of green cradled in mornings sweet embrace. It looked wild, free and beautiful and what a pleasure it was to see it as such. That is why we put ourselves through all sorts of deprivations, a complete panorama of unbridled distilled beauty. I walked back into the Bothy with a spring in my step and a smile on my face, once again the return of the kettle drum effect of rain hammering on the tin roof picked up where it left off. Life was good.
|about the only time in the expedition when it wasn't raining!|
I was amazed at how much the water had receded by morning, after all that fretting, the ladders were safe. Like Robert Plant said 'rivers always reach the sea'. The river's weren't a doddle to cross but at least the scenario of being airlifted out of Maol Bhuide was not going to make national news. There had been no fresh deliveries of snow over night, so we were able to trace our own footsteps back. The only incident of note on the return leg was the mysterious case of my exploding rucksack! The wind, which must have gusted at around 80 m.p.h at times, found it's way under my rucksack cover blowing it up like a balloon, until it popped off... right into Christian's face! Christian eventually managed to attract my attention over the raging wind, I turned round to see a speck of yellow, high in the sky about half a mile away. We both looked at each other as if to say, ''I'm not chasing after that!"
Towards the end of the walk, the track contoured the river Elchaig, rain was falling in extensive quantity with nowhere near enough time to drain hence we were wading through with water nearly up to our knees, we might as well have been walking in a river! But with the beautiful sight of my car getting nearer and nearer we knew we had a huge psychological advantage therefore a 'devil may care attitude' ensued.
We were thoroughly pleased we did this expedition. The whole aspect of this essay is conceptual, contrasting extremes, Maol Bhuide was portrayed at it's best and at it's worst. The curious thing is how the human mind gravitates between positive and negative when conditions are the opposite ends of the spectrum.
Just thought you might like to know a Mrs Renwick raised ten children at Mhaol Bhuide around the turn of the century and the last recorded family who lived there were the Burnetts who left in the 1916. For many years it was the sanctuary of passing vagrants until it was sympathetically restored to it's former glory by the Mountain Bothy Association in the spring of 1980.
No greater contrast to the wild mountain environment could there have been than the snug Loch Carron Hotel. All the creature comforts that we take so much for granted leap out and demand respect.
|no greater contrast to the wild mountain environment.. the snug Loch Carron Hotel.|
Go fishing my boy!