Sat 16 & Sun 17 April 2011
After a very nice night at Strathcarron Hotel, I drove to Attadale to start my trip to Bendronaig Bothy to do the two Munros of Bidean a’ Choire Sheasgaich & Lurg Mhor. However, my plans were to be delayed right from the start!
On arrival at Attadale I saw signs saying that the normal entrance was closed and to use this earlier one. I drove up the rough track indicated which took me straight to the normal gardens carpark – not the one walkers are supposed to use – hmmmm…
Wondering what to do and not thinking I should really park there, I wandered up the road to the garden entrance to ask where they would prefer me to park – but found noone in the little hut. I returned to my car and, thinking that the walkers’ carpark, being at the start of the normal entrance, may be open, restarted the car and drove down to look. Nope – totally barricaded off. I sighed and drove back up to the original carpark and unloaded my bike from the boot of my little Polo. I loaded it up with its panniers, loaded myself up with my camera and walking bag and set off up the short hill from the carpark. I noticed two older guys setting off walking slowly along the road with a small backpack between them and carrying coats – they noticed me too.
As this was the first time I’d used the fold-up bike in earnest with fully loaded panniers, I found there were adjustments to be made and immediately had to stop and fiddle. A few minutes later I set off again after the receding gents. About quarter of a mile further, I realised I had my bike cable lock… but not the key! I sighed and turned back for the car feeling I was never going to get off on this trip – the two ambling guys were by now out of sight.
By now it was 1030 and I was red in the face and irritated as I set off back up the road once more. By the time I caught up the two guys, who were now looking smug at the ineptitude of this cyclist who couldn’t pass them, I was at the end of the mile or so of tarmac and onto the rough track – and it was rougher than I was expecting (it didn’t improve at all either). Shortly after, I thought the bike was making a funny noise over bumps and stopped to investigate. My panniers were hanging off the back of the bike and things had started to spill out onto the track. Of course, the two smug guys were just catching up again and looking more smug than ever as I took all the luggage off the bike and repacked everything :-(
Immediately after this, the path turned across a river bridge and then set off determinedly uphill – and what a hill! I knew there were some uphill zig-zags to do but had no idea just how far I was to climb – they were interminable! There was no chance of me cycling up the hill so I was pushing the bike all the way. I couldn’t catch the two smug, strolling guys up no matter how much effort I expended – they occasionally looked round to see how badly I was doing and I became very irritated indeed (I have a very competitive streak at the best of times).
Looking back down the steep first hill from near the top
Luckily, they stopped for a rest at the top of the hill and I passed them once and for all, never to see them again. There was a short section of cycling past a pretty little lochan and then I reached the second set of zig-zags. Although these were probably longer, they weren’t as steep and the scenery was more interesting so I was a little happier. I noticed I’d dropped my elevenses banana somewhere though.
Pretty lochan from part-way up second hill
There was one section of track, just leaving a gorge, which was so steep, and the gravel so loose, I couldn’t get the bike to move at all and my feet couldn’t get any grip to force it to! I had to use the grassy side of the path so that I could get enough purchase to shift the bike and then I had to literally drag it up that section. I looked round at the top to see there had been a nicer grassy zig-zag which was much less steep – I resolved to use that bit on the way back down…
Looking past gorge back out to Attadale
Eventually I reached the watershed at the top of a steep but short section of zig-zag and mounted my bike for the rest of the ride to the bothy – the first mile or so was consistently downhill. I braked most of the way as I am a very cowardly cyclist and also didn’t feel a fully laden fold-up bike was quite the thing for such off-road riding anyway.
Final zig-zags to the watershed
At one point, even though I had no reason to, I decided to check whether my panniers were still attached to the bike. I briefly looked round – they were still there but unfortunately my brief look was quite long enough to look ahead again and see I was going down the banking – whack – the bike and me were down! I could tell I’d damaged my knee through my trousers but was more worried about the bike and luggage – fortunately, they looked okay. I ignored the blood seeping into my trousers, checked they looked okay too and continued.
I arrived at the bothy at around 1245 and wheeled the bike inside (it was clean, honest) and unpacked it. I heard it sigh with relief… I chose the little right-hand side room at the front as my friend Alan had said that had the least smoky fire. It had a really neat little fireplace and it was a lovely little room. The only minus point was that only one room in the bothy had a door – and this wasn’t the one.
Bothy and brave bike!
After I’d dumped my gear, as it was only 1300, I decided there was plenty of time to tackle the two Munros so set off. I marched very quickly up the landrover track, making good time to Loch Calavie where my plan was to follow the first burns northwards to the col between the two mountains.
Looking back to bothy – route in was over col on left in far distance
I was soon up on the col where I noticed it was pretty windy – the cloud was down on the two mountains just after the height of the col so it was going to be one of my usual sightless plods. I chose Bidean a’ Choire Sheasgaich first and set off NW up an initially easy climb into the cloud. Each section of the climb got a lot steeper than the last and the wind got more obnoxious and started battering me about. I then reached two extremely steep sections, the second narrowed quite dramatically. Luckily that was the final climb and I was then at the narrow summit ridge and very pleased that the wind wasn’t trying to blow me down the ‘bad’ side on my left, but preferring the steep grassy side on the right.
As there was no view I didn’t stay longer than a quick look further along the ridge from the cairn and then an immediate return to the col. I had a very quick break out of the wind for a coffee and a Milky Bar and then set off due east for Lurg Mhor. There was a good path to start up a steepish bouldery section but then it petered out – I just kept on east. The path then reappeared and took me nicely up to the top – again fairly steep towards the summit but very easy walking. It was even windier on this mountain.
I sheltered out of the wind behind the cairn long enough for another coffee and then set off for a look at the scrambly, slabby ridge to Meall Mor. I’d have quite liked to have reached the ‘top’ as I’m half-heartedly collecting those too but I wasn’t keen on the slippery slabs, the sloping and narrowing ridge or the misty void on my right so unfortunately I soon turned back. Maybe if it had been dry and I could see I might have continued…
I then set off back down, losing the path to the col near the end of my descent and coming down holey and rocky ground but there was no problem. I’d realised I’d lost the original path when I came across a very large loch which I hadn’t seen on the way up! I checked my bearings though and they were more or less correct – I had been heading west all the way so I didn’t worry really. I checked my mobile for a signal and had one (there isn’t one at the bothy) so ‘phoned home’ (actually to my buddy Richard) to let them know all was well and I’d done the Munros and was heading back to the bothy to attempt to get a fire going.
Just after 6 I was back at the bothy and unpacking my sleeping and cooking gear etc. About half past I decided I should try to light the fire – I’ve never lit one before so was very unsure I’d manage it. However, my Dad’s tip of using fir-cones instead of kindling was a superb one as they light very easily, weigh nothing and, due to the resin they contain, burn for quite long enough to allow heavier materials, in my case peat blocks and compressed wood blocks, to catch.
Richard’s tip however wasn’t so good… He’d told me to put some of my newspaper (which I’d taken to start the fire off) across the fireplace to ‘draw’ the fire – I told him I wasn’t keen on doing that as my mother used to do it and then wander off leaving me with a huge blaze when it caught fire. However, I tried it and immediately the fire roared lustily into life. I watched the newspaper intently… looked okay. After about a minute I thought I’d best withdraw the paper and lowered it towards me – I saw the whole of the other side (it was several pages thick) was completely ablaze and there were huge flames leaping off it… I was in a wood-lined bothy and there was no hearth to speak of and certainly nothing to beat it out with! Eeek! There wasn’t really anything for it except to throw the whole thing onto the fire, thereby completely choking it and nearly putting it out again while also consuming the rest of my fire-starting paper for another attempt! Luckily the fire survived its choking and eventually the bigger blocks caught. I found some white ‘log’ pieces which looked a bit like asbestos but I assumed they were some kind of fire log so put one of those on too to see what happened. It smouldered away very slowly – it burned for so long I eventually put the remaining one on the fire as well.
In addition to my consumables (3 wood blocks and 2 peats) I also burned a few of the logs which had been left unconsumed on the fire in the other room and also sawed up one of the smaller logs out the back of the bothy for further use. I managed to keep the fire in until I went to bed at 2330 and it burned for a further hour or so. At one time I’d managed to get it so hot I was worried the chimney might catch fire from the huge flames leaping up it and had considered dousing it slightly with water – but all was well. It was certainly a good enough fire for me to have to move back from it at times as my clothes were starting to scorch – I was pretty proud of my efforts – now I was a real bothier :-)
Now, just before I’d set off for the bothy, I’d read another guy’s blog about Dibidil Bothy on Rhum which had turned out to be haunted. Apparently people woke there with the feeling that someone was sat on their chest and other unsettling experiences. Prior to setting off for the bothy, I’d been a bit worried by this. I quite like ghostly happenings if I’m not completely alone in the middle of nowhere but didn’t fancy them otherwise. Anyway, I needn’t have worried – noone sat on my chest in the night and at no time did the place feel threatening in any way, not even when I had to pop outside in the middle of the night. There is supposed to be an inside toilet in this bothy which I’d been looking forward to but they still had the anti-freeze in from the winter and there was a note not to use it. I’m sure there isn’t really a risk of prolonged frost in April though… In all, it’s an extremely pleasant bothy in a lovely, desolate spot and well worth a stay.
I rose very late at 0925 after a great sleep and attempted to light my ‘bothy heater’ (a screw on parabolic burner for your gas bottle) but found it wasn’t working. Damn – must have been the fall off the bike I think as it was working fine at Shenaval Bothy last year. Oh well, in between boiling the kettle for my brekkie, I just left the burner on and the place heated up nicely again. Also, the sun had started to come out and was coming in through my window.
My room after packing and cleaning up – cute :-)
I looked out of the window at Beinn Dronaig (a Corbett) but decided I was too tired, couldn’t be bothered, it looked too hard and steep etc. and just decided to ‘cycle’ back out. As I was packing up and sweeping out the bothy, a girl on a bike arrived. I asked if she was staying but she said no, she’d just come in to do the two Munros. I thought she was very brave tackling the ride in, the Munros and then following it with a ride out again – I’d found my day hard enough! I told her the route I’d taken and how easy it was and she set off.
Shortly afterwards another girl on a bike arrived. Her three friends were following her, she said, and they were staying at the bothy and what was it like? I said it was wonderful, pointed out the best room (although it would struggle to fit four) and asked if they’d brought burnables for the fire? She said not – I was really surprised as, between four of them and on bikes, they could have had quite some fire going for the night. I saw them all a couple of days later however at Coire Fionnaraidh bothy and they said they’d had a good fire with what was already at the bothy.
Bye bye bothy :-(
In total, as I pushed my pedal bike most of the way back again, including all the downhill bits as they were way too steep for me to ride, I met 10 cyclists and 4 walkers! After not seeing a soul the day before (Saturday) I was quite surprised. I managed to ride the flat couple of miles to the start of the first hill and the last mile but that was about it. In retrospect, I think if I go there again, I’ll just backpack my stuff in instead of taking the bike…
Back at the watershed, my hills decided to appear for the first time!
For the statistically-minded, my first day was 17 miles, 4425 feet of ascent and took just over 8 hours