2010 – A Scottish Odyssey: Part 2 – Trainspotting and Bodge Tape

The Pro’s and Con’s of Rail Travel

After completing my preparation in Part 1, I decided to get to Scotland by train.  Moreover I decided I’d treat myself to first class. I was heading for the North West highlands and a few people said, “Why the heck am I going by train? Why don’t you drive or fly?”.  So here are my reasons for why the heck I went by train.  An off-peak return train fare to Strathcarron from Birmingham is about £126.00 (£314 first class – that was my treat).  A car trip to Strathcarron would require filling up at least twice if not three times with petrol.  Now, we’ve invested in an LPG car which means that fuel is about 60% the cost. Assuming I could find an LPG garage for all legs of the journey that would mean I’d have to pay about £80 in fuel.  Both journeys would require snacks and food, both would probably take about 10 hours.  I prefer sitting in a train with my laptop or music, sipping tea relaxing, rather than battling through Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow, Edinburgh traffic. 

How about flying?  Let’s see.  Cost of flight, not sure, let’s be optimistic, say £90 return to Inverness.   It means I still needed to get to Strathcarron by train or bus. I would have had to drive to the airport, or get the train, queue to check in, wait for 2 hours for the flight, spend about 90 minutes, taxiing, flying, landing.  queue for baggage. Get transport into Inverness, get a train or bus to Strathcarron.  Maybe I would have saved about an hour, maybe two.  It would have be just as expensive/cheap and again, it would have been all hustle and bustle, instead of a sedate journey enjoying the English and Scottish countrysides drifting past the window.  Oh, and trains don’t get grounded by volcanic ash clouds!  First class on the train is really nice! You get tea and snacks served to you all the time, plus nice comfy seats, plenty of leg room, free WiFi on some trains and no annoying people with tinny iPod sounds emanating from their headphones!

The Rail Journey

My journey really started at Wolverhampton then on to Carlilse, Carlilse to Haymarket, Haymarket to Inverness and Inverness to Strathcarron. The jo28042010149urney was uneventful and relaxing, with my only worry being the change at Haymarket station in Edinburgh.   I had a 5 minute window be28042010150tween arriving and the departure of the train for Inverness.  I needn’t have worried, we arrived at Haymarket early and within a few minutes I was back on board to Inverness.   First thing we did on that train was to go over the Forth Railway Bridge.  Even though you can’t see much of the bridge from the train, it’s still a bloomin’ impressive thing to see.  The girders and supports are huge, and it’s a long way down to the water!  You can see the Forth Road Bridge obviously from the Rail Bridge and having watched an episode of Coast on the BBC which showed how the cables are gradually snapping and there is only about 10 years of life left in the thing, it made me glad I was crossing on the train! 

The final stage of the trip was to Strathcarron via the Inverness/Kyle of Lochalsh railway, one of the  railway trips if you’re into that kind of thing.  The scenery is fabulous as you 28042010153trundle sedately across the Highlands and pass through many remote villages which have request stops only for the trains. As the evening wore on the clouds started coming down, the rain started to set in, and it was at a blustery, rain-swept Strathcarron railway station that I stepped off the train and made my way to the aptly named Strathcarron Hotel.  It was comfortable, tidy and I received a pleasant welcome.  I was able to grab some food and I sat down to watch “The Special One”’s Inter Milan frustrate Barcelona out of The Champion’s League.  Can’t say I was upset, I do love “The Special One”, he makes me laugh … I astutely avoided a cross-border confrontation I thought, when as sitting at the bar in the hotel, a rather large, bearded Scotsman ambled up to me.  I asked him if that was his mobile on the bar next to me. "

“Aye” he replied a bit sharply, “And that’s mah seat you’re in too!”

I decided that a tactical withdrawal was in order and said I wanted to get a better view of the footie anyhow …  You learn imagenot to mess with me I can tell you.

Next day I was up early, grabbed a full English Breakfast and headed out to the Coulags, a set of hills near Strathcarron.  The one I was targeting in particular was Maol Chean Dearg (pronounced Murl Chan Jarrak).  It was a Munroe (a Scottish hill over 3000 ft high).  I set off and did a bit of checking of my compass and map before I hit the hills.  Because I had bought the custom maps, there was no Magnetic data on the maps as each map is slightly different.  So I needed to work out what the Magnetic Variation of the area was by pointing my compass along a known direction, seeing what the map said the direction was and then checking what the  compass said. Luckily there were two straight bits of road just outside the hotel which I could do this correction on, so compass correction done, off I set for my days hike.   You can see my route for the day to the right.  The weather was pretty good to start with, skudding clouds , the tops of hill covered but blue sky between, a cool but pleasant breeze.  A perfect day for hill walking.  My destination was Torridon about 9 miles as the crow flies.

Maol Chean Dearg

I set off up the Coulags as they’re called from the South heading North along the valley.  The path was obvious and in reasonable shape.  I headed up past a river junction on my left until I reached the bridge across the river29042010156, which you can see in the picture here.  No problems with it and I carried on up the path, and stopped in the Bothy which was in good condition.  I sorted out any sore spots on my feet, had a quick drink and snack and off I set again past the small rock finger called Clach nan Con-fionn where apparently Fingal tied up his hunting dogs (yeah right!).  A couple of hundred meters on I picked up a track to the left which wound it’s way steeply up to the South-East Ridge of Maol Chean Dearg. 

It was pretty amazing, but as I climbed up, the clouds just seemed to part and every time I needed to get a grasp on exactly where I needed to go without having to resort to navigating by compass.  The views just got better and better and within about an hour and a half of turning off the main track I was standing at the cairn at 29042010170the top.  So that was Munro number one.  Of course if you climb a mounta29042010160in, sooner or later, you have to come down, and seeing as I needed to get to Torridon Youth Hostel that night I thought I’d better crack on.  For those of you who have done some mountaineering it’s a given, for the inexperienced and non-hill walker its a potential killer and that is, that going down a hill is way more tricky and potentially dangerous than going up.  On this particular instance, I was actually going down  the route most people come up, simply since otherwise I’d be going back on myself and I was on a time constraint, as I didn’t want to be too late getting to Torridon.  So I looked for the stone shoot which was the route down the North East slopes.  I found it quite easily and it was pretty steep and muddy and wet.  The soil and rocks underfoot were loose and seemed to threaten to take me and the whole mountain side down with them.  I came across a strip of snow, but it was old and flaky so I avoided it, but the descent got steeper and steeper and more and more slippery.  Well, there was nothing for it, I unhooked my ice axe and used it to provide me with an anchor as I descended further and further.  The footholds were becoming pretty small and still the stones kept on slipping away downhill.  I decided to hug the walls of the shoot in an attempt to get better grips.  Eventually the rocks turned into a mixture of rocks and grass and I was onto the grassy shoot below the rocks.  I kept having trouble with my gaiters which seemed to be loosening off.  I decided to stop and check them once again.  It is a good thing I did, as I found to my horror that both soles of my boots had parted almost entirely from the boots themselves!!! 

Boots and Bodge Tape29042010173

Equipment failures are fairly common in hill-walking but separation of soles of boots is a pretty serious one.  Somehow I managed not to panic, but realised I was about 4 miles from my eventual destination still, and I didn’t think I could do that over rocks and rough ground in effectively a pair of socks!  It was also starting to rain slightly now and the clouds were moving in.  So I whipped out the bodge-tape and strapped the soles to the boots and carried on.  The first lot of tape lasted about 400 yards after which the sharp rocks and now continuous rain wore through even this toughest of materials.  I applied another few rounds of the stuff and this time the right boot seemed to stay together better, but the left started to wear through again.  I had by now managed to get back onto the actual path to Torridon via Bealach na Lice but it was still between 3 and 4 miles to go.  I remembered some straps on my rucksack could be removed easily, so I took them off and as tight as I could strapped up my boots.  I now knew that I would definitely get to Torridon, the straps would hold out for sure. That was a relief and sure enough after a long trek with an annoying dog-leg at the end that took me way out of my way.  I eventually arrived at the very nice looking Torridon Youth Hostel.

That evening I spent on the phone with Sandra trying to work out a plan to get me a new pair of boots and to allow me to continue the trip.  In the end thanks to Sandra, we arrranged for me to pick up some additional cash in Inverness, and I would take an early bus from Torridon to Kinlochewe, dump my rucksack at the Kinlochewe Hotel where I was staying that night and then take the bus to Inverness, get a new pair of boots and then return to Kinlochewe by the evening bus.  I’d then be back on track and I would have just missed out a days hiking.  It was actually just as well, as my feet had gotten a little cut up by the lack of proper soles and were pretty sore. 

So next morning at 7.45am I caught what turned out to be the school bus to Kinlochewe.  Children of high school age in that part of Scotland attend Gairloch High School which can involve for some children nearly an 80 mile round trip commute per day!  Still I was just going about 8 miles up the road and got safely to the Hotel after having a good chat to the bus driver who was from Manchester and used to work for AV Roe aircraft manufacturers, who made the Lancaster, wow! I indeed managed to get to Inverness, got the money from HSBC as agreed and then went to Cairndom where I purchased a great set of boots and new gaiters (the old ones had also broken) for £170.  I then got a meal in the Highland Kitchen, a very nice Scampi and Chips and after a chat with Sandra on the phone, decided to take the train back to Achnasheen from Inverness from where I could hike the 10 miles back to Kinlochewe.

Arriving at Achnasheen the day was beautiful and I had a good hike for about 5 miles when I was picked up by the owner of the Kinlochewe Hotel and taken straight to my destination.  A lucky break, as my feet were really beginning to hurt.  New boots and walking on hard tarmac were not a great recipe for fit feet.  I went and had a quick kip, then headed for the Hotel bar for a great meal of Steak and Ale Pie, and had a nice chat to a chap from Southampton.  After a decent nights sleep in the hotel Bunkhouse and porridge for Breakfast and after leaving my travel itinerary for the next two days with the hotel, I set of for the final stages of my hike, which involved an overnight stay in a Bothy a rather tiring roadwalk and a beautiful last day in the hills!  More of that next time.


Dave Mc









About davemcmahon81
Software Developer & Architect, User Group Leader, Speaker, Writer, Blogger, Occasional Guitarist, Man-made Global Warming Sceptic, Climate Change Believer, General Optimist but most of all proud Husband and Dad ...

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