8 October 2005 Mr M and I were married on the Isle of Skye. I was wondering how we should celebrate this year’s anniversary when fate just seemed to take over. My son was coming to stay for a few days before starting a new chapter in his life. On Monday (being our anniversary) he needed to get on the West Highland train. Mmm I wondered. After last week’s adventure in Glen Lyon, Mr M had said he thought he would be taking a break from walking with me! However, I could now see the possibility of a train journey up North to accompany my son on part of his journey, sneak in a walk and stay overnight in a hotel with Mr M to celebrate 13 years of married bliss. A bit of research on the internet and I calculated that it would be possible for us to all get the train from Croy. My son could sit back and relax and enjoy a long train journey whilst me and Mr M could jump off the train at Tyndrum. We could then walk roughly 6 miles on the West Highland Way up to Bridge of Orchy, stay in the hotel there overnight, relax over long leisurely breakfast and get the train back just after lunch.
A Perfect Plan
Now to convince Mr M that he wanted to walk part of the West Highland Way on his anniversary. “I thought we could have a night in a hotel to celebrate our anniversary My Sweet”, I said. Enough detail for now I decided. The rest of the information could be released at appropriate intervals.
So with Mr M on board with my plan, I phoned the hotel and was very pleasantly surprised that I managed to get a dog friendly room booked for us so we could take Beatrix with us. Not only did I manage to book a room, but got a deal on a separate cottage next to the hotel. Perfect. There would be nobody to walk past the hotel room causing Beatrix to bark to protect us. What could possibly go wrong this week? I did have a bit of a giggle with the manager on the phone when he asked me if I wanted the room setting out with two single beds or a double bed. “Well it is our anniversary,” I laughed.
“Have you seen the weather forecast for Monday and Tuesday?” asked Mr M. “It is going to be teaming it down both days”. Now we all know that Mr M’s idea of bad weather and my idea of bad weather are poles apart. “It will be ok. We are only walking on the West Highland way and the guide books tell us we don’t even need a map or a compass”. Mr M raised an eye brow at me. “Oh, we are walking are we?” Smiling sweetly I discussed the plans for the two days and advised Mr M that he just needed to travel light as he would be walking for 6 miles carrying everything for the overnight stay along with his picnic.
Yellow Weather Warning!
Everything was planned. Sunday came and the tearoom was closed and cleaned for our weekend. A quick check on social media at on the Sunday evening and I noticed a message from a friend, “Have you seen the weather for the West Coast. You must be mad”. I could ignore Mr M’s warnings of bad weather, but when a friend mentions the weather…. I logged onto the weather on the internet and there it was, yellow warning for torrential rain covering Crianlarich, Tyndrum, Bridge of Orchy and beyond. Now I have never walked any of the West Highland Way so have no idea what the terrain is really like, only what I have read in guide books. I read the section from Tyndrum to Bridge Orchy and the words that were suddenly jumping out of the book at me were “flood plains”. Oops. Perhaps a change of plan was needed. Ok, we would get the train all the way to Bridge of Orchy then go for a walk once we were there.
Second adjustment of plans needed. All ferries up North were cancelled for Monday. My son now needed accommodation for Monday night. Should I book him into the hotel with us? On our anniversary? So, accommodation sorted for him on his journey right by the ferry terminal ready for the re-commencement of the ferries.
An Early Start
Monday morning at some ridiculous hour, the alarms went off and we all nibbled at our breakfast and pretended that we did not mind being up so early. After a short 10 minute train journey we were in Glasgow Queen Street. We had an hour to kill before the next train but Beatrix kept the whole of the station amused going from one person to the next getting cuddles, strokes and, of course, there was always the possibility of a biscuit or too if she did the puppy dog eyes.
8.20 and we were settled on the next train. We had just short of 3 hours on the train (though my son had about 6!). How long should we hold off before we had our picnic? Realistically we could probably last until we got off the train then have our packed lunch on the walk. Just outside Helensburgh the train came to a standstill. “Ladies and gentlemen, there will be short delay”. The track on this line is single track in several places so a delay with a train from the opposite direction can cause delays for all other trains. We waited patiently, we chatted, we looked at the views (ha, ha), I did some crochet and some reading. Then, by 9.30 ish our picnics had started to creep out of our rucksacks and you know what happens once you start. It was not long before I had to tell everyone they would have to stop eating their snacks as we all had a long day ahead of us – some longer than others. Beatrix had certainly had enough – every time I looked at her my son seemed to be giving her some treat or another.
Eventually, the delayed Caledonian Sleeper train came down the track and we were once again on our way. Once beyond Arrochar and Tarbet, the views should have been amazing but imagination was needed as the rain moved in. We trundled along past Ardlui and up the long incline passing the Falls of Falloch on route to Crianlarich. Of course today any little waterfalls were now raging torrents. Next stop was Upper Tyndrum, leading to our final stop at Bridge of Orchy. So, hugs and kisses given to my son, we left the train for the very short 5 minute walk to the hotel.
The Bridge of Orchy Hotel
By the time we got to the hotel we were like drowned rats as the weather was so bad. In my opinion though, that’s what good waterproofs are for. We checked in at reception only to find that the lovely annex cottage we had been promised was now flooded due to the inclement weather so we had been moved to a different room. Did we mind? Not at all, especially as the lovely hotel manager removed the additional charge for Beatrix and even gave us a further discount for the inconvenience. Ok, time for a walk. Mr M was on his best behaviour and was, in his words, quite happy to do what I wanted as it was my anniversary treat. “Let’s walk up the West Highland Way towards Inveroran” says I. My already favourite hotel manager gave us a map and told us about a round trip we could undertake in about 3 hours or so to go the top of Màm Carraigh, drop down to the Inveroran Hotel and back to the Bridge of Orchy hotel. I think the manager’s words to us were something like “you’re mad”.
Within the first 5 minutes of the walk we had hit the mud, the flood water and the comments of “this is just too wet to go any further” started. Watching two other people go in front of us, I pointed out to Mr M that they had not come to any harm so we would be fine. It was difficult to see at this point whether it was the rain on Mr M’s face or if there were actually some tears as he reluctantly agreed to follow me. Thankfully we were soon through the mud and the path started to climb steadily to become just a stream to walk in rather than a mud bath. Before long we were passing the forest and I noticed a nice spot for lunch – sheltered from the rain and with a few logs to act as a table. What better place to have lunch on your anniversary. I also knew that the thought of warm tea and food would cheer up Mr M. Ok, so it was not quite so sheltered from the rain and all the fallen trees were way too wet and slippy to use as a table, but we had a lovely lunch and I even managed to get a cheeky anniversary kiss.
We continued on our way, with the rain getting heavier and the wind getting stronger. We did get a few glimpses of the hills around us and decided that we would go to the top of the Màm Carraigh and decide what to do from there. Lo and behold we could see the Inveroran Hotel in the distance so we knew we could make it to there and then a gentle 3 mile stroll back on the single track road to the hotel. Before long, we arrived back at the hotel, very wet and with an equally very wet dog shaking herself in reception. I confessed to the manager that I had forgotten to pack a towel for Beatrix and asked if he had an old towel I could use. This was not good enough for him though and he very kindly gave us a lovely fluffy bath sheet to use. Did I tell you how great I think this manager is?
We finally got to our room only to find that the fabulous manager had remembered our joke on the phone a few days earlier and there were chocolate covered strawberries in our room with a lovely hand written anniversary note. Hot showers and dry clothes (and chocolate covered strawberries) and the wet walk was quickly forgotten. If you are ever looking for a cosy, friendly hotel in the middle of nowhere, then the Bridge of Orchy Hotel is just perfect. We had a lovely meal in the restaurant, sitting next to the log burner, chatting to the staff and the other guests. Beatrix, of course, was the star attraction again.
Out in the Wind and Rain Again
All was going well until 4 am in the morning when, as the saying goes, Beatrix was as sick as a dog. The accumulation of treats stretching from Glasgow Queen Street, the train journey to Bridge of Orchy, the lunch in the rain and who knows what else on the fells, was too much for Beatrix and she very kindly returned them all. Yes, on the hotel room floor before we had chance to get dressed and get her outside. Fortunately the floor was not carpeted so whilst Mr M was once again outside in the wind and rain, I was on my hands and knees cleaning the hotel floor! Then, as all dog owners will understand, 10 minutes later Beatrix was back to her usual self and now snuggled up on her lovely bath sheet acting as though nothing had happened.
Happy Anniversary Mr M x
Oh, the song for this week? Under the moon of love by Showaddywaddy.
This week saw our long, hot summer slip gently away to be replaced by another of nature’s amazing seasons. Of course, up in Scotland we can often experience all four seasons in one day! There has been frost in the mornings this week and even some windscreen scraping. The temperature gauge in the car has dropped to 2 degrees at times and I have to confess that I succumbed to popping the central heating on at home for an hour on Monday night. We do have a bit of a challenge at home when we see who will give in first to the heating. A couple of extra layers, a few brisk walks and plenty of hot, steaming tea and you can usually hold off the heating for a couple more weeks.
All Quiet At The Tearoom
At the tearoom this week it’s been very quiet (as always at this time of year for some reason). This has given me time to catch up on some of my own crafting, share tea, cakes, gossip and laughter with the lovely customers and start to plan for our exhibition table at the Soul Sista’s event at the end of October. The tearoom will be closed that day so that Mr M can come along to the event and we can both show off with pride what Mother Murphy’s is all about.
I Will Succeed
After last week’s disastrous trip up to Glen Lyon I decided that this week, no matter what, I was going to be successful in climbing Stuchd an Lochan before winter makes the Ben Lawers road impassable for mere mortals like myself.
After bit of a late night on the Sunday with a birthday celebration and I headed to bed and had the alarm set for 6.00 am. Mr M had said that he thought he would not go walking as he had a few things to do. I did wonder if that was his way of saying, “there is no way on this earth that I am ever getting into a car with you again and heading down Glen Lyon, never mind thinking of going up Stuchd an Lochan”.
So, Mr M was not going. Was I brave enough to go out on the hills without Beatrix and have a totally solitary outing? Well, here’s the thing and all dog owners will know exactly what I mean. For me to go out on the hills without our highly intelligent, but sometimes naughty Border collie, I would have to put some sort of escape plan together. Firstly, I would need to pack my rucksack with all my walking clothes and boots the night before and have them stashed away in the car. Then, on the day of the walk, I would have to appear downstairs in my non-walking gear, have breakfast as usual and then try to get my packed lunch and flask ready without Beatrix seeing this. Of course, she does have some sort of sixth sense, so even if she didn’t see this secret planning, she would be able to sense it. Then the looks would start – the puppy dog eyes. There has been actual scientific study into puppy dog eyes, where the brow is raised to make the eyes appear wider and sadder. Oh, and only when humans are looking. So, lying there trying to sleep, my guilty conscience got the better of me just for thinking about it, so walking the hills without Beatrix was never going to happen!
Mr M Is Coming Too
6.00 am the alarm went off and I crept out of bed, dressed and headed out for a short walk with Beatrix to let her do what a dog needs to do.
Heading back home, the lights were all on. I smiled to myself because this could mean only one thing. Mr M was making my porridge. Sure enough porridge was on the go but I also spied Mr M’s rucksack in the room. Ok, so there would be three again in Glen Lyon.
Just before setting out I checked the mountain rescue weather forecast and was pleased to read that it was going to be fine and sunny until around 4.00 pm and visibility was recorded as very good. The views were going to be great. This week it will be great.
The drive again took us along the A84 up from Callendar and past Loch Lubnaig. What stuck both of us (and possibly Beatrix noticed it) was the difference in the colours in just a week. Last week there was a hint of autumn in the trees and hills. This week, the greens were replaced with autumn golds, yellows and orange. The sun was shining and the sky clear blue. Again! The loch shimmered again and the reflections were just as clear as last week. This week, the hills were all cloud free and there was not a hit of rain. The weather forecast was correct.
The single track road from Killin up to Ben Lawers and Bridge of Balgie was just as narrow and scary as the previous week, but this week there were no timber lorries for me to reverse for. There are signs out on the road advising a speed limit of 10 mph as there is a risk of skidding in places. Let me tell you, 10 mph is positively speeding on this road! Turning left at Bridge of Balgie I assured Mr that I had carried out extensive research on the internet and I knew exactly where I was going. Ok, I had re-read my Munro books and looked at the ordnance survey map a little closer! I knew now that the little turn off I had discarded the previous week was actually the road I needed to take. With Mr M sleeping most of the way I had no back seat passenger this week. He woke up as I switched on the indicator to take the road on the right. Why I felt the need to do that I am not sure. Who on earth did I think needed to see which way I was going? The deer? The cattle? The sheep? Well, this did wake up the back seat driver. “Why are you going down here? This is not the way. I don’t remember this road”. Anyway, 5 minutes down this even narrower road, we could see the dam in the distance. Phew!
Mr M kindly opened the gate for me to enter the final stages of our journey. This road takes us into the remnants of the Caledonian forest and these fences and gates are vein attempt to protect this wonderful area from the deer and sheep. Unfortunately for car drivers, highland cattle are not prevented from roaming this area. Now, Glen Lyon is a vast glen. Actually it is the longest enclosed glen in Scotland, running for 34 miles from Loch Lyon in the west to the village of Fortingall in the east. Why then I ask did all the highland cattle feel the need to be on the road I was travelling on. Mums, Dads and baby highland cattle. Oh flip I thought. Not to worry, if I drive slowly they will move off the road when I get to them. Or so I thought! Before I had chance to panic, the car was surrounded by cattle all looking in the windows, licking the windscreen and generally putting their huge horns far too close to my windows than would like. Now, don’t forget that I had a back seat driver and a border collie in the car with me. Beatrix by now was barking like a ferocious wild animal in the back of the car. This just intrigued the cattle more and they were putting their faces even closer to the car to get a better view of the barking dog. The back seat driver was telling me that I should not scare the cattle because we didn’t know what they would do. Is that right I thought! I inched forward slowly and eventually I was able to crawl the car through the herd. On any other road, I would have thought about reversing and going home for a cup of tea, but this was, don’t forget, the narrowest road you could find, so reversing was not an option for me.
Eventually though we were though the beasts and the car was parked safely at the side of the correct dam this week. The sun was still just about shining but there was a strong, cold breeze blowing in. Off we went.
Stuchd an Lochain starts with an almost impossibly steep climb to begin with and you do question at times whether you are walking a path or a stream. Eventually though it eases out and the views start to open out. Past the initial very steep beginning, the rest of the route up to the summit is gentle in comparison. I love this walk because you are walking most of the way up what feels likes a horseshoe ridge. The views are spectacular and mountains stretch as far as the eye can see. I was hoping to see lots of deer around the Loch on the way up to the summit but it was not to be today. Now let’s not forget that I checked the weather forecast just before setting off this morning and read about the sunshine and the very good visibility. Maybe I will send my photos to the mountain rescue weather people. Stopping for a snack and to catch our breath a little, we could see that the clouds were rapidly heading our way. The rain started but stopped almost as quickly as it started – to be replaced by snow! I am in my element in the winter weather and love the snow, the driving rain, the wind. I know! I am a little mad. Mr M, however, loves the hot, sunny weather. By now were perhaps an hour away from the final summit. Being the thoughtful, caring wife that I am, I did say to Mr M that I was happy not to go to the summit if he thought the weather was too bad. “I am not coming this far and not getting to the top” was the reply. Oops, my plan worked then!
Finally arriving at the summit, the views were not as spectacular as I had hoped but the feeling of isolation was still the same. We should have been able to see across Rannoch Moor and the Ben Nevis range but we could just about make out the dam across the valley that we arrived at by mistake the previous week. It was very cold and windy at the top so we did not hang around too long. The descent was very pleasant and the snow turned back to rain, though not quite so heavy now. The final mile or so is not quite as pleasant as we had to go back down the steep descent where the stream path was now a bit of a raging torrent at times. There were several slips and slides and lots of little swear words (from all three of us I think).
Finally we reached the dam road and just had a 5 minute walk back to the car from here. Suddenly Beatrix disappeared. I whistled to her, shouted to her and looked all around. My initial thought was that she had somehow managed to get into the dam workings. Don’t be silly, there is no chance of that. I looked and saw she was down at the edge of the water playing with the stones. Phew! Then she disappeared again! There was lots of shouting, cursing. How could we walk all that way and then loose her! I set off down to the car to see if she had gone past without us seeing her. No. She was not there. I set off back up the dam service road to see if Mr M had found her. She came running towards me like a bullet, stopped at my feet and dropped a half-eaten fish at my feet, smiling like only a collie can smile. She won’t be hungry now I thought to myself!
Drama over, we were all back in the car and Mr M said he would drive home. As we set off back up the hill, the highland cattle were nowhere to be seen but like magic they suddenly descended on the road and surrounded the car again. No matter how much we waited and waited, they were not going to move. “You will have to get of the car and shoo them along”, said Mr M. Well, I have to say, it took Mr M quite a while to keep getting out of the car, shooing the beasts and jumping back in the car to drive. I can tell you, there was no way I was getting out of the car to shoo these beasts!
Mr M says that he is going to have a little break from walking with me!
This week’s song for you to sing along to,
Rocky Mountain High by John Denver.