Friday, April 18, 2008

Trip in to Glen Affric (Day 1)

Glen Affric Youth Hostel:

To go to the youth hostel, I was driven by Kevin, who has the title of Northern Region Property Manager (his office is in the Inverness hostel building). We had to take in some workman as well once we got to the road end, some water, fire, and gas inspectors.

We met the inspectors at the Glen Affric car park, and since one of them had a Toyota SUV, he drove the others in as far as Strawberry Cottage, a little building that is a mountaineering club. That was on the track that is past the locked gates of Glen Affric itself, and it's a stoney road, but passable for trucks and SUV's. Once we reached Strawberry Cottage, we had to all pile into the Land Rover - I moved to the back to allow a taller man to have the passenger seat, and two other fellows joined me on the bench seats, with their equipment and my clothing and food for 3 days.

We had to ford the river - there is a bridge but it's narrow and "scary" given its steepness on either end - and Kevin told us how the river level was so high the last time he was through that it was up to the doors on the Land Rover. Then the track got bumpy and stoney, often being crossed by burns. We passed the broken rear axle of a trailer, and then the trailer itself, abandonned. This is what one section of the track looked like.

It was slow going driving-wise, often not much faster than one could go on foot, but it sure beat carrying everything in. It was quite bumpy in the back; I had both legs braced against the floor and was riding my seat more than sitting in it.

Eventually we reached the hostel. The total trip from Inverness took over 2 hours; nearly one hour of that was the last 8 miles. The hostel is pictured above, to give you a sense of the remoteness of it, here's a picture taken from up the hill later on. You can just make out the two hostel buildings in the lower right of the photo:

When we got to the hostel, I got the necessary information from Stephen, the manager, whilst the others went about their work. The only means of communication at the hostel is a satellite phone that hadn't been working, so it was decided to take it into Inverness to see if they could sort it out (it wasn't like it was going to do me any good if it wasn't working). So once everyone had gone about their business, the fellows all piled into the Land Rover, now with Stephen in my place, to head out, and off went my contact with the outside world.

The hostel is composed of a main building, with the kitchen, lounge, toilet, shower, a 4-bedded dorm, a 2-bedded dorm (that I slept in), and the manager's room. There's another building, the annex, that has two 10-bedded dorms in it, and is unheated. The heat in the main building is supplied by stoves in the kitchen and the common room. The electricity is supplied by a wind turbine, and the water comes from a nearby burn running off the mountain that is then filtered. The kitchen has gas cookers and no refridgerator - I kept my fresh food cold by putting it in the outside coal shed, or even in my room, as it was generally so cold overnight that I could see my breath (each bed has two duvets and people bring their own sleeping bags). I pretty much wore 3-4 layers of shirts and sweaters at all times.

I went for a bit of a wander after settling in and having some lunch. Then I went back to the hostel to await the arriving guests. First were a French couple, then two older Munro-baggers (people who try to climb all the Munros), and then two younger ones.

All the folks were nice and things were going very well until we discovered that there was no hot water. I had been told by Stephen that the water was so hot that it bordered on boiling. In fact, there were signs posted by every tap warning of the water's hotness (the French girl remarked that must be some sort of "sarcastic Scottish humour"). I couldn't find anything wrong with the electrics (electricity is powered by a wind turbine), nor could I locate the immersion heater that I had heard heated the water (manuals indicated that it was in the attic). So we just dealt with the cold water, and had a pleasant evening of sitting around chatting.

Deer came down off the hills when it was getting later in the evening, and I went for a walk to look at some of them from afar (as most deer I've seen having been sprinting away from the vehicle I'm in, bar one stag on Raasay). Otherwise I just sat inside and enjoyed the view this photo shows:

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