The little burn bubbled by two feet away, I could hear it inbetween the blasts of wind. It was light, the rain was gone and I needed a cuppa.
Hunched figures stumbled around camp at first, it felt like an aftermath of sorts. But as the clouds streaking by above us thinned, the sun struck Na Tuadhan’s spires and slipped down towards us and the second cuppa was in hand, we found ourselves quite fresh and happy to face the day.
The final insult though, was the whole end of my tent letting go and wrapping around me again. Like a clip round the ear as I step through the door, it was telling me who was the boss.
We were all pretty relaxed about things, there was one stiff climb ahead to regain the bealach between Conival and Na Tuadhan and then a nice wee trail walk out. The route had become a nice figure of eight, not often that happens on a trip.
Camp was broken slowly and we picked our way through some little crags and onto the steep slopes to the bealach above. The sun was beating down, but it was still cold, with a just little less wind it was perfect walking weather. We split up as the slope flattened into the rocky wonders of the bealach, Phil off at a tangent, Mike to talk to a couple of folk climbing Conival, and Marian and I found the track and waited for the wanderers to return. When they did, we all pulled up a sun-warmed block and sat for a while. Ahead lay the shapes of Cul Mor and beyond.
It was still as windy, as the waterfall we passed was going upwards underlined for us, but the well trodden track down to the River Traligill took us out of it’s path for the first time in a couple of days. We stopped at the bottom where there was some disrobing as it was much warmer.
The scenery was mostly above us now, Conival a 1000m cascade of glistening sugar lumps, but the way onwards was no disappointment. The trail follows the deep trough cut by the river, it’s endearingly picturesque, gurgling water, trees and heather and at one point me landing on my arse in the mud. Mfff.
I was looking at the map and trying to remember at the same time, Joycee and I had stumbled on the caves in foul winter weather and the map put them well off the track. We had to take a sideways diversion to find them as it turns out the map was right, and now I’ve no idea how we got there the last time, we must have been miles away from the track. Whatever, we threw our packs down, and stoves and snacks came out. The team had officially bonded.
I slipped into the low entrance and climbed up the wet limestone as the river rushed into a sinkhole just to my right. I shone my headtorch into the darkness, cold, wet, angular and totally wrong for camping in. I am so glad we changed the plan. Marian followed me in with fading torch batteries and didn’t get too far. I wander on a little, finding a bigger chamber where I could stand up and another passage that continued onwards. It was a little drier in there and I really wanted to keep going. Funny, I’m not good with heights and I’m always up a mountain, I’m great in enclosed spaces and I’ve never done proper caving. Hm, I wonder… ?
Reluctantly I worked my way back outside. The three of them were sitting in a grassy hollow, under a blue sky smiling about a story that I’d missed. Ach, this was better. We had coffee, soup and whatever else we had left. We sat there for ages, the day was kinda done and the energy seemed to have drifted away from us.
But sitting as we were on a fine example of tectonic plate movement, exploring brought us back to life and we walked the dry riverbed where one ancient rock had crept up on another.
Where the water resurfaced we struck sideways to find the track again, across some unusually weathered limestone shapes, an alien landscape in miniature. The track was now wide, we could see a lodge house, the sun was bright and our steps were light. We talked gear, we talked design, we talked history and about where things are going. Mike’s the Innovator in Residence at Lancaster Uni from about now, and the kids he’ll be teaching are going to have the best step-up they could get. He’s got ideals, ideas and a focus that would make a modern marketing department weep, we need that undiluted vision and unbridled enthusiasm in out kit. The season-by-season genuine progression and improvement of the kit when Mike had OMM should be a lesson for all the designers out there and the brands that employ/encourage/restrict them.
We stopped to do some traditional “Trail” shots near the road and then it was all over. Shoes and socks changed, t-shirts changed and we were off to the Elphin Tearoom where I had the rather amusing task of interviewing my companions.
Whatever doesn’t make the feature I’ll come back with on here later on, between what I got on the trip and what Mike sent me before we left, I have everything, and by then I might have some stuff to add as well, Mike’s not quite done yet you know.
We finally left Elphin before the staff ran out of ways to hint that they were closed, putting the chairs in a cupboard, shutting curtains, taking the half-empty mugs from our hands, we ignored it all.
We said our farewells and I my thanks as we hurried through the creeping cold to the motors. The Parsons were splitting the journey again, Phil and I were headed home.
We had to stop and take a few dusky shots, it was a beautiful evening, but the distance was our enemy and I kept the beat up until we pulled into Aviemore in the dark to sit in the chippy for a rest and some hot food you actually had to bite. The miles flew past now, Perth and a quick cuppa at the BP garage (the big Tiso at the same roundabout is open now, has a cafe too) led to Stirling where I peeled off the motorway and took the short cut cross-country to Balloch and home. Uneventful, and much shorter than the journey up. Them’s the breaks.
I had planned one thing and got another. The location was perfect, and the weather was both the best and the worst. I can’t thank Phil, Marian and Mike enough for supporting me with so much of their time, such good humour and endless patience as I ventured yet another question or asked “A few paces back and go again…”.