Sunday, April 27, 2008

More sunny days

Today has been gorgeous! It's been sunny and about 15 degrees, so t-shirt weather if you're out of the wind (or handle cold better than I do). Not wanting to waste the day by staying inside, I went down to Loch Insh (see map) with Sam and we hired kayaks for an hour. They gave us waterproofs fortunately, since Sam got wet owing to his paddling technique, and I got slightly wet owing to him using his paddle to splash me.

Stopped in Aviemore around lunchtime to pick up some bacon rolls that we ate on the shore of Loch Morlich, near Glenmore (and where Cairngorm Lodge Youth Hostel is). They were so good we stopped again for seonds on the way back to Inverness - Asher's Bakery, top-notch bacon rolls. Good sweet baked goods as well, I stop at their Inverness bakery every now and then for a treat.

Didn't feel like I was out in the sun too long today, but my face still feels a wee bit warm from it tonight. When I started work this afternoon, I had the hostel doors open whilst folding sheets and it was quite nice, sunny with a bit of a breeze. There was some ducks by scrounging for bits of food outside the front door, and they were here yesterday morning as well so perhaps they'll be regulars. Until they meet the manager's cat Scooter, anyway.

We had another eat-in-the-outdoors earlier in the week, Sam and I picked up fish suppers (the supper part means it comes with chips, so fish and chips) from a chippy on route to Kinloss (about 30 minutes east of Inverness, see the map) and sat on a beach on the Moray Firth accessed by Roseisle Forest, near Burghead. There's a long stretch of sandy beach with the dunes along the coast from Findhorn eastward , where I've been out to for a walk as well a few weeks ago. On the topic of really good food, that chippy, called the Bervie, does really nice fish and chips. It's also huge fish pieces that seem to come from whales, but it's so good I can usually manage to eat it all even when I think it will be too much.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Glen Affric photos and posts up

As the title says, I've uploaded my photos, they can be found here.

I've finished writing posts about my stay at Glen Affric, they start on April 18 and there's one for each day. So just check backwards on the blog.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Back from the Glen

I got back from Glen Affric around 4pm yesterday. It was an eventful few days, and I'll write about it as soon as I can and get some photos up (in the process of doing that now). I will keep you posted!

Monday, April 21, 2008

An uneventful day (Glen Affric Day 4)

Monday morning I just puttered about after the tree-planters (the only guests) headed out for the day, cleaned what needed cleaning and then wandered around outside, up the hill to the south-side a bit, and then back for lunch.

Shortly after my lunch, a Belgian couple arrived and asked if they could leave their bags at the hostel while they went up the mountain (they were planning to camp later on). I was having cup of tea and chatting to them outside when I heard a motor and then saw a Land Rover coming up over the little hill in the road. Up pulled Dave, with Stephen in the passenger seat and Dave's two dogs (Ash and Cillie) between them.

The first thing Dave said was to joke about leaving me with the place for a few days and having two guests go to hospital. The ice-axe accident guys had stayed in Inverness after being discharged from hospital, and Willie had been in touch with Dave about the broken ankle. The dogs started running around straight away while we unloaded supplies and then loaded up my stuff, the accident-ladies' luggage, and rubbish to take away (all hostel guests have to take away their own rubbish, so what we were taking out was Stephen's and mine).

We were all ready to go, but the dogs couldn't be found and weren't responding to Dave's calls. After much thought, Stephen suggested that maybe they had followed the Belgian couple up the mountain when they set off about 30 minutes earlier. Stephen got out the binoculars, and sure enough he could spot two black shapes bounding up the path ahead of the two people on the moutainside.

So Dave had to race off to catch up with the dogs to the point where they could hear him calling. They were a fair distance away by then so it took some time. When they made it back down, we hopped in the vehicle and left Stephen contentedly back in his little hostel.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Helicopter (Glen Affric Day 3)

Sunday morning brought more misadventure. All the guests had left and I'd finished cleaning and then washed my hair in the kitchen sink (as that way I could mix hot and cold water and not worry about scalding myself or freezing myself in the shower). I was just heading out the door when Willie the National Trust guy stopped by again. He wanted to get a map reference, as one of the tree-planters had fallen and broken her ankle on the hill and he was driving out to call for an air lift. He pointed out to me the ridge where they were, to the west of the hostel.

As I was planning to head in that direction anyway, I walked down the glen and then over an hour later I spotted them on the hillside and went up to chat. I arranged with the injured woman and her friend to take their luggage to Inverness with me tomorrow, and after a while the air ambulance eventually appeared over the mountain opposite (after having first gone down another glen).

We weighed down all the bags so that nothing would blow into the blades and gathered in one spot while the helicopter tried one spot after another in order to land. The pilot eventually managed a brief touch down to allow one medic to get out, and then continued trying landing spots on the hill, but it was too steep. He settled on a spot down the hill, which meant that once on the stretcher, the pilot, the 2 medics, and 3 other guys helped to carry the injured woman down the hill.

Here's the NHS Scottish Air Ambulance. The swirly stripe on the bottom is tartan, just so you know it's Scottish.
The rest of the day was uneventful, fortunately. Back at the hostel I had to take a brief nap while the tree planters were having dinner. My face was quite warm from the sun and wind. I think my fatigue might actually have been a bit of sun exhaustion - I haven't been exposed to so much sunlight since last summer on the Continent!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Up a Munro (Glen Affric Day 2)

Saturday morning after all my guests headed out for the day and I had cleaned up around the place, I headed out for a walk. Not owning a winter jacket over here, I just layered a couple of tank-tops, shirts, and sweaters (including a thick wool one) under my jacket, and was quite warm other than the cold east wind blowing on my face that even my scarf could not block out. Not having brought a small backpack with me (I don't have a good one), I carried my map, lunch, and water bottle in a small plastic shopping bag, which made me look as though I was just strolling down the high street according to one guest the next day.

I should mention here that the weather had been reasonably sunny in Inverness since Monday, and in Glen Affric as well. The mountaineering fellows told me that it was the first time that they had seen the tops of much of the mountains, as every time they'd been to the glen before it had been cloudy and misty. So it was still sunny on Satuday, but windy as I mentioned.

I was feeling stiff in my legs, probably because I'd gotten back at rollerblading earlier in the week, and I'd also taken a hit from an epee on my thigh that had left a good bruise on the muscle, so I figured I'd take it easy walk-wise and just go down to Loch Affric. I set out along the road that we'd driven in on, but eventually ended up wandering up a hill and once started, I figured I'd go all the way up.

The hill I went up just makes it into Munro qualification, as it's over 3000ft (it was 941 m = 3087 ft), so that is the first one I have been up, and the highest I've ever climbed up entirely myself. There was snow on parts of the ridge at the top, and the ridge leading off to other mountains was deeply snow covered, so I didn't dare head that way.

A few views from the top:

I meant to take a path back down to the hostel, but cut down the mountainside to early to avoid snow and ended up having to traverse a steepish slope that was boggy and covered by snow in parts:
I eventually made it to the path after some downward trekking and crossing a burn. Coming round a bend near the hostel, I surprised some grazing deer, who pictured here are all starting to flee me.

I rested back at the hostel, and around 5pm a fellow from the National Trust (they own parts of Glen Affric, including the land the hostel is on), Willie, arrived in his Land Rover with supplies for a group of volunteer tree planters that were due to arrive at the hostel. He informed me that to heat the water, I needed to light the stove in the kitchen (which we hadn't been doing since the kitchen was kept warm enough with people cooking). I set about doing this, and it did result in hot water again, although how it did, I don't know, as when Stephen got back on Monday he told me that there was indeed an electric immersion heater. Must have just been coincidence.

Whilst lighting the fire, one of the younger mountain climbing guys rushed in to tell me that his friend had had an accident on the mountain and cut himself with his ice axe. Willie was still around, so I went out to see if he might have a satellite phone to call out for help, but he told me that if the fellow got down to the hostel, he would drive him out to hospital. So the young fellow went back up the hill to meet his friend and escort him down. When the injured guy arrived down, one of the older mountain climbers helped to re-bandage his face (where he'd been hit by his axe when he fell through the snow), and then Willie drove him out to Inverness. It was very fortunate that Willie had been there at the time; otherwise the young fellows would have had at least a 7 mile walk out to their car at Cluanie.

The hostel became very busy then, as there were 11 tree-planters, which filled the hostel up a bit. The two older mountain-climbing guys were staying on, and another fellow had arrived, and we all sat in the lounge to wait for the group to finish eating before going in there ourselves to cook. The new arrival had grown up in Sandbank, near Dunoon, so we actually found we knew a few people in common. We sat around talking mountains for a while (well, they talked mountains, I asked questions and listened) and they forced whiskey upon me that they didn't want to carry back out, as they put it.

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:

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Going to Glen Affric

On Friday, I'm going to work for a few days at the SYHA hostel in Glen Affric. Now, it's a special sort of hostel, in that there is no road access. People come in on foot from where the road ends, at the Glen Affric Lodge I believe it's called, over 7 miles away to the east, or they come over land from the west, where it's 17 miles to the Association's nearest hostel at Ratagan.

The manager of the hostel (the only staff member) has been there since it opened around March 20, so to give him some time off I'm going in. I'm being taken in by Landrover Friday morning, and being picked up Monday morning. The hostel isn't very big, only 26 beds, so the amount of cleaning I'll have to do will be minimal compared to larger hostels, as will reception duties. Glen Affric is supposed to be one of the most beautiful glens in the country.

Electricity for the hostel is produced by a windmill, as far as I know, and there's no heating in the dormitory buildings, just the main one where there's a small stove. There's also no mobile phone signal or even a land-line phone, only a satellite phone to use if necessary. So needless to say I won't be posting to my blog until I get back. I'll be taking my camera with me, so there'll be loads of pictures if all goes well.

A few links about the place:
walks in Glen Affric area
Wikipedia article

Google map I made up (will be added to later I imagine)


The weather has been sunny here since Monday, and it looks like it might continue for a bit, so that's rare and great! I got out skating Monday afternoon, had to break the skates in some and they are heavy so my legs need some conditioning to that. I'll go out later today and continue my search for the smoothest surfaces to skate on in Inverness.

Last week I got in touch with a fellow that I met in Skye who works in Inverness, Conor, who's from Ireland. We met up to hang out and discovered that we live on the same street - he lives up the hill from the youth hostel. It's a wonder that we didn't bump into each other on the street at some point in the last few months.

I was down to the Cairngorm area briefly on Friday evening, went for a drive with Sam down to Aviemore to get something to eat and drove up to the base of Cairngorm Mountain for a look while we were there. There's loads of snow down, the best in 20 years supposedly.

Days off today and tomorrow; I'm going to enjoy civilization before being sent to the most remote hostel in the country for work on Friday - that's in the next post.

Monday, April 14, 2008


Well, the spring-ish weather has turned my fancy to rollerblading, as it is inclined to do, so I went and bought myself a pair of skates yesterday. I looked around the shops last week and discovered that it's not a popular sport over here (I've never seen anyone skating in Scotland, now that I think of it), and people seem to think it's a kids' sport since most skates available are for them.

Anyway, I figured that my feet are small so I could squeeze into large boys' skates if necessary, so I headed to JJB Sports after work yesterday and asked what they had in my size. There was only one model available, a pair of what are meant to be aggressive skates (i.e. for doing tricks and the like), although when I commented on that to the sales guy, he gave me a blank look. The model name is Sledge, odd since that's the word for a sled over here. They have no brake (so I'll get to work on my hockey stops), but they did come with wrist guards and knee pads, and for a decent price. Anyway, they'll be good enough for me to scoot around on for the next couple of months. I haven't been on them yet, other than skating around the store slowly (where everyone stopped to watch me), but if the weather holds I'll be out this afternoon.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Last week's trips: Black Isle and Northwest Scotland

Day off today, but it's raining steadily so don't know if I'll do anything out-of-doors, since that's what I usually do in my day-off travels. It will be a lazy day. I'll watch my rental DVD later - I'm into Father Ted at the moment.

I had Thursday and Friday off last week. The Thursday was a slighty-cloudy but not too bad day, and having not been able to make up my mind about where to go, I decided on Thursday morning to go for a walk over to the Black Isle and up the coast. The walk was one suggested to me by Alistair (who's from North Kessock) when I asked him for walk suggestions in the area.

Here's a map of my walk (still can't imbed them, it crashes Internet Explorer :-( ) .

I left the hostel about 11am, and walked back into Inverness about 5pm, so it was a proper day's walk. I even tore my jeans on barbed wire, just two small holes, but they're the old ones so no big deal. The coast is pretty rocky where I walked, so that made it more adventurous and fun then just walking on flat ground. A few photos are below, the rest are in this album.

Here's the Kessock Bridge from North Kessock; I've just crossed it and walked down.

The village of Kilmuir that I walked past along the coast. I later headed up the hill at Arrie Wood and then inland along the single-track road.
Later in the day, when back at the hostel, I got a call (and by call, I should say text message, since that's the standard mode of communication here) from Sam, who I met through the fact that he is Alistair's flatmate. Anyway, Sam didn't have to work Friday so asked me if I'd like to go up to the north coast and stay at Durness and then tour around on Friday. So I quickly threw things in a bag and met Sam in the car park (we went in his works van that he's able to use as a personal vehicle).

A map of the route we took is here. We arrived in Durness at about 9pm, so all the photos I have are from touring around on Friday. The drive up took us between 3 and 4 hours, I can't remember exactly. Around dusk we saw loads of deer around the roads (it's marked on my map roughly where), more than I've seen at any one time over here. We also saw a few the next day, but never managed a photo due to bad lighting conditions or the deer not sticking around to pose.

A beach on the east of Durness:

Walked along this beach that is west of Durness on Friday morning. Note the blue sky.Walked up to the cliff overlooking the little bay (I think it's Balnakeil Bay).
Now check out the sky - this is 20 minutes since the first photo, and there's a storm quickly moving in.The storm blew over, whilst we were walking in it (I was only wet down one side, where the wind was coming from).

Drove down the coast, as shown on my map, stopping for photos here and there. It was one of those days where it rains hard, then rains soft, then stops raining, then repeats. The road through the Assynt area, near Lochinver, was a particularly winding one - not for those who get carsick!

A gushing burn off the roadside:

We stopped in Ullapool for lunch, and then headed out southward. We stopped at Corrieshalloch Gorge, as Sam had never been to it nor even heard of it. Neither of us likes heights, or railings over heights, so walking across the shaky bridge was a slow process, as was going out on to the viewing platform. The prospect of watching rocks fall was enticing enough to get Sam to look over; I can look but at a safe distance from the railing.

We finished off the day by driving up the road over the Applecross Pensinsula, the Bealach na Ba or "Pass of the Cattle". It's the highest road in Britain. We'd both been over this road before (I've put up photos from last time in summer with Jamie and Matt), but it's such a cool drive we decided to do it again.
Had a good view over to Skye and Raasay on the drive back toward Torridon before returning to Inverness. Could also see a submarine sailing along northward past Rona (island north of Raasay).

That's all for now, there's loads more photos in my web album, of course.

Monday, April 07, 2008


So I mentioned I got my haircut, and I figured I'd post this for those folks in the colonies and elsewhere that haven't seen me since I did. Voici (I'm on the beach on the Black Isle if you're curious).

More photos to come from travels soon! Sorry for wait!