Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Glen Fruin, Yankee Road and the 3 Lochs Way.

Unfortunately I've not had the usage out of the old Kona that I'd hoped but I managed a little jaunt the other day. I didn't have much time so it was really a micro adventure but it's always good to get out for an overnighter even close to home. 
I left home in Helensburgh at 5pm so daylight was always going to be in short supply, a quick pedal up Sinclair Street brought me to the Glen Fruin turn off.  

I pedaled through Glen Fruin as quickly as possible, I wanted to get further on to try and find a bivi site before it went completely dark. Soon enough I reached the start of "Yankee Road" (or the American Road as the 3 Lochs Way website calls it, presumably in some kind of strange effort to appear PC). This is a military road through an army training area with firing ranges but there is access to the public as long as you stick to the road when the red flags are flying. 
Eventually the tarmac road peters out and turns into a forest road along which the 3 Lochs Way runs. I followed this in the gathering gloom looking for a likely spot to stop for the night. My parameters for a bivi spot were level ground, preferably grassy, water source and some windfall branches so that I could use my Honey Stove to cook on (I had a meths burner with me as well just in case I couldn't find any wood to burn). I ended up riding on almost to the end of the forest road just before the "Gurkha Bato" (a connecting track that the Gurkhas built for the 3 Lochs Way). Finally a suitable spot revealed itself and I set about setting up my bivi in almost total darkness. 
I only needed small sticks for my stove and there was a plentiful supply in the area to cook my dinner and then just sit and relax listening to the red deer stags roaring all around me. 
Next morning I got up as soon as it was light and ate some breakfast before packing up. 
Then it was on along the 3 Lochs Way, crossing the Allt Derigan stream. 
After crossing the West Highland railway line via an underpass there was a steep climb up to another forest road that ran up Glean Culanach which leads to Glen Douglas. 
I popped out onto the road again at Glen Douglas, riding down to the A814 above Loch Long with views of The Cobbler and Ben Narnain and the other Arrochar Alps. 
Then it was an enjoyable road ride following the A814 fifteen miles or so back to Helensburgh in time for lunch.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

A tribute to my friend Graham.

I was shocked and saddened to recently hear that my great friend Graham Dibsdall had passed away after having suffered a heart attack.
I first met Graham while canoe sailing on Loch Lomond. He was taking part in an OCSG local meet to the less frequented northern end of the loch. Graham was such a friendly guy and I immediately felt totally at ease in his company. At that time I had only just started canoe sailing and was a little in awe of more established sailors but Graham was totally down to earth and approachable. His boat "Cochon Vert" (or Green Pig) was a triumph of recycling. By his own admission Graham had built the boat to a tight budget but although many of the components were second hand the design and execution were excellent and Graham's handiwork was very impressive.
 Over the following months I met Graham again at various OCSG meets and got to know him better. He was going through a bit of a rough patch in his life and was keen to get away from things as often as possible. This dovetailed perfectly with my obsession to get out in my sailing canoe and gain more experience and we ended up doing a number of memorable trips together. Graham was a superb mentor to me and on several occasions when conditions became challenging he patiently shepherded me through the experience. It was reassuring to have Graham sailing along with me and although his boat was quicker and more sea worthy than mine he never showed any frustration at having to wait for me. In camp Graham was an amazing cook, making delicious food from ingredients that sometimes sounded unlikely. He often caught fish while we were sailing and we supplemented our meals with this and fresh mussels that he harvested from the sea. Graham wasn't a big drinker but he was partial to the odd beer or dram of whisky by the campfire while we sat and chatted. It transpired that we shared tastes in music and were both motorcyclists so we always had plenty in common to chat about. Over the following years I had loads of memorable adventures with Graham in the company of our mutual canoe sailing friends. Graham was always the same, a fun, reliable, entertaining, resourceful guy and great company to be with.
More recently I've seen less of Graham, not because we'd fallen out but because he'd found happiness in his life. He'd recently relocated to Cumbria with his partner Carole where they were building a new life together for themselves.
 It seems terribly unfair that Graham should lose his life just when things were really looking up for him and I can't begin to imagine how difficult things must be for Carole and Graham's family.
 I shall miss Graham immensely and will always remember him fondly, sitting contentedly by a campfire, fishing for mackerel or blasting along in the Green Pig, sail fully unfurled, kicking up plumes of spray while everyone else was reefed down.

Monday, 5 October 2015

A Rannoch crossing by packraft.

Having previously paddled both Loch Ba and Loch Laidon separately I've harboured a desire to connect the two into one trip. The practicalities involved in making this a reality using canoes have prevented this in the past however using packrafts make it logistically far more doable.
Rambo and I drove in separate cars to Bridge of Orchy railway station where Ramsay parked his vehicle then we both hopped in my car and drove up on to Rannoch Moor. We parked adjacent to Loch Ba and readied our rafts and luggage next to the new road bridge which carries the A82 over the outflow of Lochan na Stainge.

We were soon on the water, threading our way through the islands that litter the western end of Loch Ba. The water level was significantly lower than the last time that I'd been here (in November 2013, http://jurassic-chris.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/loch-ba.html) but we were able to get through without incident.

Once our into the main body of the loch we picked up a nice steady tailwind which was a real blessing when paddling what is in reality a posh rubber dinghy!

We paddled on towards Eilean Molach (the pretty wooded island in the middle of Loch Ba), pausing to take in the fantastic views of the mountains on the western fringe of Rannoch Moor.

We made great time and soon arrived at the start of the Abhainn Ba, the river which connects Loch Ba with Loch Laidon.
 Based on past experience I'd assumed that the river wouldn't be navigable (Graham had paddled the top section in his canoe on our previous visit but the water level had been higher and it had still been very scrapey). To my surprise and delight we managed to wind our way through the first few rapids without too much problem, the ultra shallow draught of our little boats meaning we could run the rapids. This was a major bonus as it saved us having to deflate the rafts and hike through the peat hags of the moor. Finally we reached a section that looked just too bony to attempt so we landed and portaged round.
A short walk saw us back on the water and we were able to continue for the majority of the river which varied between deeper wide sections and sections of rapids. It was really good fun to paddle although we were a bit concerned about how much damage our boats were sustaining from the extremely abrasive rocks.
An unfamiliar view of the Bridge of Orchy Hills seen during one of the wide stretches of river.
From our previous visits I knew that the last 500m of the river would almost certainly need portaging with the water levels this low and this proved to be the case so we had no option but to land again after the final wider section. 
The hike down the bank wasn't too bad and certainly beat having to walk the whole river as expected. 

Soon we could see Loch Laidon beyond the final section of rapids.
After a short breather we launched onto Loch Laidon.

After a short paddle we entered the area of small islands which signals the junction of the main body of the loch with an arm which points west towards Glencoe. This was where we were heading to find the campsite that Graham and I had used on our previous visit (http://jurassic-chris.blogspot.co.uk/2013_01_01_archive.html).
We soon found the spot and landed to set up camp before the light began to fade.

We soon had ourselves established and were able to enjoy the sunset over the Buachaille and other Glencoe hills.

As the sun lowered in the sky the wind dropped leading to sporadic outbreaks of midgies so we lit the firebox hoping that the smoke would suppress them a little while we cooked our dinner.

Once it had gone dark the temperature dropped and the midgies vanished so the firebox came into it's own for warming us and brewing up on.

The moon came out and lit our camp in a silvery light and despite the lowering temperature we stayed up late chatting and enjoying a dram until we'd finally exhausted our supply of firewood.
On Sunday morning I woke before Ramsay and got up in time to see a beautiful sunrise. The light bathing the scenery was a lovely warm amber colour.

I ate a leisurely breakfast while enjoying the views while Rambo had a lie in before emerging from his tent.

We knew we had plenty of time before we had to be at Rannoch station to catch our train so we took our time packing up before getting on the water and exploring the western arm of the loch.

After that we retraced our track back on to the main body of the loch and headed east with a freshening wind pushing us along.
 The view back southwest.
After paddling for a while we landed for lunch.
Then it was onward towards our destination. 

Soon our landing spot came into view and we prepared to land and pack up the rafts for the short walk to Rannoch station.

When we arrived at the station we were pleased to see that the tearoom was open so we treated ourselves to a celebratory pot of tea and slice of carrot cake!

 After that it just remained to wait for the train and make the short twenty minute ride back to Bridge of Orchy to collect Ramsay's car (and pick up mine from Rannoch Moor).
Here's the video that I made of the trip.