Pinned to the wall of my office for almost a year now has been the Ordnance Survey Explorer map 393.
For much of that time, visitors to my office would stand in front of it and look. Some would just see concentric collections of orange rings and scattered pale blue areas. Others would be able to picture the area from the information shown, maybe picking out a place that they had heard of.
I helped the first group by printing pictures from the internet and gluing them to the map in the position that they were taken, so helping with visualisation.
Maps are an invitation to adventure.
The seed for this microadventure was sown by a magazine article in TGO where they spoke about using kayaks to get to the most remote areas that are not serviced by roads or railways.
With this inspiration, all we needed was a long lake with a big mountain at the end of it. Dalwhinnie fitted the bill perfectly. Loch Ericht is the 10th largest freshwater lake in Scotland and Ben Alder the 40th highest peak in Britain. Oh and in Steve’s opinion, the whisky made in Dalwhinnie is the finest in all the land.
Ted came along too but isn’t a paddler. The plan was for him to walk the length of the loch as we kayaked.
We travelled up after work on Friday night, making decent time for the whole journey, although I never quite come to terms with how far it is from Penrith (somewhere I’m familiar with travelling to) to Glasgow.
After a couple of beers in Perth, we got to Dalwhinnie just after midnight. We pitched tents in darkness and hoped that we weren’t actually camped on a building site as it appeared we might be.
Saturday morning brought clouds of midges and a last minute dash to the next village to buy midge nets. After loading 3 days of muesli bars into kayaks on a part of the loch’s floor that is usually covered by water, we set off in very decent weather.
The first coffee stop on a beach after 7 or 8 km.
Things continue to get increasingly remote.
By the second coffee stop, we were all beginning to flag. Steve and I were feeling the constant headwind in our shoulders, while Ted appeared to be ‘full-body tired’.
After 24km, we reached the bay that contains Ben Alder bothy. The bothy had the leaders of a DOE group and so despite the increasing cloud of midges, we decided to pitch camp on the sand of an east facing beach in the shadow of Ben Alder.
It was a truly beautiful spot.
The traditional stove photo.
Sunday saw us walk a route around to the north side Ben Alder before climbing up to the summit plateau. We couldn’t help but compare the area that was new to Ted and I with the more familiar Lake District. The lakes would have people on the tops of each peak and there would be well worn paths criss-crossing the area. This part of the Highlands has very few paths. Out route up and down (this is one of the highest hills in the area) had no path. We travelled off-piste both ways.
The summit of Ben Alder and the route down offered us excellent views of the loch that we had paddled the previous day. It looked a very long way!
Our reward at the end of 16.5km and 1000m of climbing was a big open fire, a breeze to keep the midges at bay and bottle that I had brought ‘home’.
Before that though, we went wild-swimming in the loch. The experience of swimming in pure, cold, clear water in such stunning surroundings was truly memorable.
Monday, we paddled out with the wind behind us and a huge sense of satisfaction.
The bothy from the loch.
After the paddle out, we headed for the SYHA hostel in Pitlochry and an evening of local beers, whiskies and food – I actually ate something called ‘The Sporran Of Plenty’!
At times, the midges threatened to ruin this trip. The ‘march of the madmen’ that we developed in an attempt to rid ourselves of the swarm that followed our every move was comical but necessary. Simple tasks became exercises in patience and self-control.
But in a week’s time, I won’t remember the midges. I’ll remember the solitude and beauty of an unspoilt part of the country. A reminder that this crowded country of ours still does offer the opportunity of adventure in remote areas.
Time for a new map on the wall…