Friends, collies, windswept dogs,
It’s all swings and roundabouts I suppose. Our overnight spot, in a lay by beside the A93, wasn’t a patch on the salubrious expanse at the head of Glen Esk, our resting place after Mount Keen on the first day but, on the plus side, it did have a strong phone signal and therefore an internet connection too, so we were able to check the weather forecast. In fact, this wasn’t all good news. On the one hand we were forewarned about the gales sweeping the hills at lunchtime tomorrow. On the other hand we had to put our black hats on (doom and gloom), as it spelt curtains for the two Munros we had hoped to bag on our planned walk. A quick chat between B and David reminded us that we had other hats to wear, when David asked if there was a shorter walk we could do, completing it before the winds reached gale force.
This send B back to the drawing board or, to be more accurate, the Munro guides – with her green hat on (creativity). Before long we had to change hats again and I was getting dizzy. I think it was a hat-trick (hee, hee, hee). Anyway, it was yellow hats all round (sunny optimism) and I was informed that, by getting up at 5.30am, we should be able to walk over to An Socach and back from the wonderfully appointed Ski Centre Car Park, sitting at a height of 675 metres. This wasn’t going to be the most magical of walks but then, they’ve all got to be done. B said that grabbing one out of the jaws of defeat would, in itself, be a minor victory. I thought 5.30am doesn’t allow for a lot of shut eye but, for me and B – with a mission to complete – 5.30am it was to be.
The disagreeable ski slope clutter that spoils the landscape for acres around the centre, especially when devoid of snow, is a subject referred to in all the guide books. They maintain that the great bulldozer tracks, chair lifts and multiple ski posts clothing the hills, leave an ugly scar. That may well be so but, being a dog, perhaps I don’t have quite that level of aesthetic appreciation because, given B’s navigational skills, there is nothing that warms the cockles of my heart like the sight of a nice broad track. We started off on one such track, left by the wonderful bull dozers (how I envied those cattle that didn’t have to get up at 5.30am) and, after a short steep ascent, were beside a cafe. No chance of a rest here though, as it only opens in winter; how strange is that? We were heading to the col between two of the Munros that me & B had planned for the next day. Today we ploughed straight on, over the pathless bog and peat to the north of Loch Vrotachan which, much to my disgruntlement, I wasn’t allowed to swim in. The terrain was a horrible tumble of down, down, down, where my paws kept collapsing beneath me, as they plunged into horrid peat trenches. At the lowest point we had to cross Baddoch Burn and, though we found what looked like a good spot, B had a moment or two where reasonably dry feet had a chin-chin with the river and it was a close run thing. Once over, we climbed up to a landrover track and turned left, following this to a cleavage between the East and West faces of An Socach, just to the North. A better path than our guides suggested led us up by a burn, to the bealach between the ridges, with much activity in the huffing and puffing department and consequently, a very satisfying number of treats.
Though conscious of the rising winds, they had checked our progress but a little. Up here, in unsheltered territory on the ridge, it was a different story. Buffeting guests confirmed the forecasters prediction. The cloud wafted over the hills in rapid sweeps as if someone had pressed a meteorological fast forward switch. I was frogmarched along to the summit without a by your leave, where photos were taken at break neck speed, proof of attainment only and with no consideration for the time I needed to look my best. Even the malt whiskey to lips ritual was reserved for a little shelter in the gully, by the burn we had climbed up.
As we descended here by I was given a v. v. v big telling off from a mummy grouse when I disturbed her babies. I was glad to be saved from myself as I was on my lead at the time, so couldn’t take off in chase, ending up in very big trouble. As I watched them cackle off I caught sight of a beautiful hind etched against the skyline – “Like stout Cortez, silent upon a peak in Darien.” We viewed each other for a long time, until she eventually moved gracefully out of sight.
At this point me & B resumed our race again the rising wind, retracing our steps to the Baddoch Glen. Here the river got it’s own back on B’s dry feet, much to my amusement. Then, oh deary me, we had to haul ourselves back over Sron nam Fiadh, only this time we were going uphill, which made the going one long big slog. Incredibly, absolutely incredibly, my usual remedy for such a situation – a bit of sit down and nice big snack – was rejected in favour of getting back to the shelter of my van as soon as we could. After lots more hard work we eventually reached the col between tomorrows Munros and I have never, in all my three years, been so pleased to see a big bulldozed track. Within half an hour we were back at the ski centre and B had hot footed it to the h & c facilities, while I tried to catch up on a much deserved bit of shut eye. This wasn’t so easy when my van was rocking about alarmingly so, on B’s return, we drove down to look for some protection in the glen, where I could catch up on my sleep after such an early start.. This we found back at our – by now – favourite lay by.
Love Ben xx