How difficult can it be…
From the house, MrP’s 2 seater BMW knocked 8 minutes out of “The Tank” on the Cannonball Run from Larbert to Dalwhinnie. Somewhat uncharitably I put that down to the fact that I had The Fatdog in the back which, let’s face it, would severely limit anybody’s chances of staying in touch on the near 100 mile run. We rendezvoused at that most necessary of establishments…the Dalwhinnie Public Toilets. For motorists having spent 100 miles avoiding post-snow potholes, I have no doubt this is an enormously popular stop off point…especially if bladders have any say in the matter.
MrP had a terribly cunning plan. From our starting point of Dalwhinnie’s public conveniences we would drive one car to the old quarry entrance (636, 863) then take the other to the end of the track at Dalwhinnie Station (633,846) thus leaving a car as close as possible to the start and end of the walk. That would save a hike of a few kilometres late in the day for which The Fatdog would no doubt be eternally grateful.
Once MrP’s equipment was transferred to “The Tank” we headed off to the quarry entrance to park one of the cars. As The Tank pulled away from the toilet car park MrP turned to me and pointed out that he had inadvertently left his behind…
….so I drove him back to the car park to pick up his car so we could begin the process all over again 😳 . I concede it was a very cunning plan – but its execution left a lot to be desired.
The weather was not as promised in the brochure. Dull clouds hung over the hills and a light drizzle of rain followed us along the estate track on the north side of Loch Ericht. Mr.P, not quite having recovered from forgetting his car, appeared disorientated and had to be restrained at regular intervals from striking off through the woods towards the hill.
Then to my horror the absence of Velcro on Mr.P’s shoes slowed us up for the second year in a row! After last years lace tying extravaganza to Uamh Bheag I had hoped for better preparation on my companion’s part. The Fatdog recoiled in horror, having sniffed too close to Mr.P’s untied feet.
By the time we reached the start of the broad firebreak, which gives access through the trees to the upper hill, the sun had popped out. Off came the damp weather gear and with both of us down to our base layers we began the slightly soggy climb.
As we neared the tree line the dampness descended once more…closely followed by a somewhat pathetic flurry of snow. As the gradient eased we followed a line of old fence posts over boggy ground towards the base of the final 150m climb to the summit. Our line took us somewhat left of the posts to avoid as much as we could of the remaining snow patches on the final section of the hill.
Mr.P and The Fatdog dodged ahead and took a break at the foot of the last rise.
By the time I caught up a sharp west wind was now sweeping down our side of the hill. We had a brief five minute break for a passing shower of hail to avoid being persistently skelped in the face by the tiny ice pellets before starting on the final push.
The summit was in cloud as we approached the monster cairn. I wasn’t checking the watch but I reckoned we had taken just over the 2 hours to the top (allowing for brief stops, lace tying etc.).
Wedged between the remains of a snow bank and the old boundary wall we had lunch, the surrounding views coming and going with the cloud sweeping over the summit. Mr.P had squeezed into the gap at the bottom level while I sat up on the “bistro seat”, back to the cairn. My logic was simple. I was above the level of The Fatdog’s head…
whereas MrP …
As we began our descent in the direction of Dirc Mor the weather turned bitterly cold and wild. Hail swept across The Fara’s NW slope. A ghostly white ptarmigan fluttered into the wind almost stalling as it “hovered”, wings and tail feathers splayed, before managing to break the grip of the strong gust and drop back into the dull brown heather. The gentle stony slope allowed us to pick up a bit of speed before it turned into boggy tussocks.
Mr.P, armed with the map, had another very cunning plan. He pointed out our line to avoid the start of the steep crags at the entrance to Dirc Mhor.
Our line (a very loose description by anybody’s standards) avoided what would be a plummeting drop into Dirc Mhor but still dropped steeply over slightly easier terrain towards a low flat area to the north-west. Sadly, it’s black-cracked surface advertised the likelihood of dire things to come. From our vantage point high on the slope above it looked like Mr.P’s proposed route ran straight towards the boggiest looking bog that one would never hope to see on any walk on any day. I sighed in despair.
“I have a very cunning plan O Broken One”
“And P, would this cunning plan happen to include crossing the Uncrossable Bog of Suppurating Deer Droppings, followed by sneaking around the Never Ending Crevasse of the Ever Vigilant “Big Mac” Cannibal Clan from whom no one has ever escaped, while bashing a very large dinner gong?”
“Yes O Broken One”
“I rather thought it might.”
“Ouch…!” “Thank you O Broken One”
Steep descents with Mr.P are always harrowing affairs and we had a reasonably steep drop to reach the ground in front of Dirc Mhor. . Armed with his single walking pole it’s not so much will he fall….as how many times will he fall. Mind you I wasn’t looking forward to it much either as my left knee was aching.
“Do not worry O Broken One, I have another very cunning plan.”
“I rather thought you might P. And would this very cunning plan perchance involve the use of your pointy stick and a lot of falling down until we reach the bottom?”
“Yes it does O Broken One.”
“Now there’s a surprise to make your eyes bulge from your head in utter and complete astonishment!”
But Fate is a nasty little bugger, so it was it was me who ended up with a bump on the shin as my foot shot down a gap at the side of a heather covered rock, launching me head first downwards with my leg still firmly wedged behind me. Luckily it was only a bump. MrP made a far more dignified descent and reached the bottom unscathed.
Dirc Mhor was an impressive sight. Completely out of character with the surrounding countryside its jagged lining of rock debris presents a serious challenge to walkers.
“Bugger that!” we thought…and plotted a route past its SW end. This may be the appropriate time to remind Mr.P about the steep gully – “Ahem!” (according to his map) that wasn’t…um…there!
Our continuing descent brought us to Lochan na Doire-uaine and a wonderful view across its surface to Dirc Bheag. It may be the lesser of the Dircs in size but the view to it across the lochan is the highlight of this route.
Preserved in peat at the waters edges the remains of ancient forest were a reminder of what had been stripped away centuries ago in the name of progress. We can only speculate what this country would have looked like if the old forests had not been cut down. However one thing is for certain…hillwalking would have been a real sod!
The bog proved to be less of an obstacle than first thought. Although it was damp underfoot and there were many “channels” to cross, the gaps were mostly step width. We barely broke stride as we skirted the smaller, more westerly Dirc, before turning north towards Meall nan Eagan.
My embarrassment was huge as I, not having looked at the map, mistook the rise on the westerly side of Dirc Bheag for our target hill. The word “pillock” ran quite high in my thoughts at that time. It was such an easy slope…I was gutted that it wasn’t our hill!
Meall nan Eagan
The short ascent of Meall nan Eagan (the real one) was…eh…short. Not that I was complaining. The last two hill walk I did was in July last year when I ridiculously tackled Carn Mor Dearg then Ben Nevis…so I was a wee bit out of practice. Like the snow a couple of weeks before on Meall Onfdaidh, today’s bog was beginning to sap the energy out of the legs but all things considered I was quite happy with the day’s efforts.
Mr.P pointed out our proposed descent route. Unsurprisingly the word “bog” sprung to mind once more. I began to suspect he was short on original thinking.
Typically the sun popped out as we began our descent down Meall nan Eagan’s east face. On the way down we bypassed some minor crags…so minor that we didn’t even notice them until we looked back.
The final bog of the day proved to be fairly innocuous as bogs went and before long we were following the north bank of the Allt-an-t-Sluic. We picked up the track running down the glen where it forded the burn and from then on it was a straight forward amble to Mr.P’s car, parked opposite the entrance to the track.
I had one reservation about the travel arrangements back to The Tank. From where our walk ended we would be travelling in Mr.P’s 2-seater BMW. This could be tricky.
We had a couple of aborted attempts at fitting both me and The Fatdog into the front. Eventually I ended up sitting on the passenger seat my legs dangling outside the car while FD hopped into the seat-well and shuffled into something approaching a tolerable position. I hauled my legs in one at a time and squashed them in beside her, knees heading towards my chest. FD squirmed, then perched her long nose across the controls of the central console. Well at least we were in.
Fortunately Mr.P’s car is an automatic – otherwise gear changing might have proved a real bugger. Unable to sit normally because of the sizeable hairy mass at my feet, my head was squashed against the roof giving me a somewhat distorted view of our drive back to The Tank.
There followed the unfortunate incident of the big woolly socks.
The socks had been difficult enough to pull onto my feet in the morning but now they had the immovability of seam welded lycra. The straight arm pull failed abysmally to move them so much as a millimetre. My half-lotus tug fared no better and The Fatdog’s help was hindered by the lack of opposable thumbs. My left leg was half way round my neck to meet my right hand when…
“Do I Have to O Broken One?”
“Yes…indeed you do P. This treat can be in lieu of your birthday present”
“Why thank you O Broken One.”
There ensued a most undignified tussle as Mr.P wrestled with the toe end of my shrink wrapping walking socks. My feet suddenly sprang clear and gasped for air.
Mr.P looked in horror at the offending rags of soggy wool in his hands as they tried to wriggle clear and make their way back to The Tank.
The incident of the soggy socks was an odd note on which to part…but I think we manage to do odd rather well. Mr.P’s adventures would carry on over the coming days but for The Fatdog and I it was time to head for home.
As FD and I drove through the pissing down rain at Drumochter I happened to glance in the rear view mirror to see the discarded socks slowly crawl their way across the top of the rear seats towards me like giant woolly caterpillars. Odd right enough!