Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Walk 238 -- Lower Diabaig to Alligin Shuas

Ages:  Colin was 67 years and 341 days.  Rosemary was 65 years and 118 days. 
Weather:  Very sunny, but there was a cold wind.
Location:  Lower Diabaig to Alligin Shuas.
Distance:  4½ miles.
Total distance:  2201½ miles.
Terrain:  Rock scrambling at first!  Then up a steep gully.  The path was narrow on the edge of steep hills, very undulating, swampy with fords, boggy, very uneven and often the route was unclear.  It was an extremely difficult Walk, even though I did have my trekking sticks to help me today.
Tide:  Out.
Rivers:  None, only streams.
Ferries:  None.
Piers:  None.
Kissing gates:  No.207 all by itself in the middle of nowhere!
Pubs:  None.
‘Historic Scotland’ properties:  None.
Ferris wheels:  None.
Diversions:  None.
How we got there and back:  We had our caravan in Scotland, and we had hired a small car locally so we had two.  Yesterday we moved the whole caboodle from Gairloch to Applecross along tortuous roads!  This morning we drove both cars over the highest road in Britain to Torridon where we intended to finish today’s Walk.  We left our own car there, and continued in the hire car to Lower Diabaig.
At the end, we didn’t finish!  The Walk had been so difficult, and we had taken so long that when we hit a road in Alligin Skuas I sank to the ground and declared I could go no further!  Colin left all his baggage with me, and strode back along the road towards Lower Diabaig (nearer than Torridon) trying to thumb a lift.  He only got a lift for the last half mile, so he was gone an hour and twenty minutes, by which time I was getting quite cold.  At last he arrived in the hire car, and we drove back to Torridon where the car containing the hot tea and caramel shortcake was parked.  We decided to leave the hire car parked in Torridon overnight, so only took our own car back over the highest road in Britain to our caravan.

Today’s Walk was our toughest challenge so far, even though it was short.  We hadn’t expected it to be so difficult, we were rock-climbing at the beginning!  Fortunately we were blessed with good weather, I don’t think we could have attempted it in the rain.
We took a while to set up the Walk because the nearest caravan site was at Applecross, a good many miles away over the mountains and we’d had to drive two cars from there.  So we sat by the harbour at Lower Diabaig and ate our pies before we started.  
We were looking at the interesting rocks around us, and out to sea where we could see the Isle of Skye.  Lower Diabaig is such a breathtakingly beautiful village, we felt we wanted to give everything up and come and live here!  But it is so isolated, I doubt whether that would be very practical.  The road is pretty tortuous, not for large vehicles and probably closed a good bit of the Winter.  And we’ve never been here during the midge season!
Despite the sunshine, we put on our kags for warmth before we left the harbour.  Then we followed a dustbin lorry to the end of the road, amazed at how it was coping with wheelie bins despite the steep slope.  Come to think of it, the only way it could have got here was along that narrow, steep and twisting road from Torridon — so the driver must have been used to steep slopes.
The footpath led off through the gate of the last house, and immediately we were climbing a steep slope.  When this got to be almost vertical, we came across a ‘helpful rope’ which had apparently been left attached to a rock to aid walkers like ourselves!  We had to trust it was properly tied, and did find it useful in hauling ourselves up.  (This reminded us of Iceland, where such ropes are left wherever there is a path through difficult terrain.)
We climbed a gully, more like a ‘chimney’ really.  We were rock-scrambling, and couldn’t believe we were on a public footpath!   There were ‘almost’ steps, but they were built for a giant (just the rocks really) and we found the going extremely hard.  We hadn’t expected to climb a mountain today, but that is what we felt we were doing.  Colin took over my camera because I was finding it to be a bit of a nuisance strung around my neck.  That is why there are so many pictures of me struggling up a mountain today!
We climbed steadily upwards, stopping every so often to admire the view behind us — which was spectacular!  Then we turned round and continued climbing vertically upwards again.  At one point the ‘path’ seemed to ease off a little, but then we went round a corner and came face to face with a sheer rockface!  We were stumped at first, then we looked more carefully and saw that there was a sort-of path up the side of it.  (We did wonder, at this point, if we should have brought ropes and crampons!!)
We climbed, rested and climbed until we were over the top.  It was more open after that, but still uphill and the path was far from clear.  We continued climbing — slowly — and frequently stopped to rest and admire the views.  They were so spectacular, they seemed to make up for the difficulties of the Walk.
We took the wrong ‘path’ up the side of one big rock, then had to retreat as we were looking out on infinity!  Eventually we reached the brow of the hill, and took a last look back at the idyllic village of Lower Diabaig before descending into a shallow basin.
It was hot in the sun now we were out of the wind, and I was feeling very weary.  We came to a lochan, and found a rock to sit on and eat our sandwiches. 
On we went — it was quite boggy underfoot and the path was uneven.  We had a number of fords to cross, but they were piddly little streams so they were no problem so long as we avoided the mud.  We came to a second lochan which was a true corrie lake.  It reminded us both of the beautiful Lake Agnes, high above Lake Louise in the Canadian Rockies.  I think it was the way there was a low sill at one end beyond which we could see Loch Torridon, the big sea loch we were effectively walking around.
Having bypassed both lochans, we began to climb again.  There we met a lone hiker doing the path in the opposite direction.  He was the only person we met all day.  We went up over a brow, and were amazed to find there was an occupied cottage down near the loch-shore! 
Our first indication of it was an old-fashioned mangle sitting all by itself in the middle of the moorland, not what we expected to see in such a remote place!  There were two women in the garden of the cottage, we could hear them talking and laughing — our path bypassed it way up high from the building so we didn’t actually go anywhere near it. 
We wondered how the owners got there, by boat I suppose as there didn’t seem to be any other way.  We also wondered what services they had, like electricity, telephone etc. 

Further on there was the ruins of another cottage.
From there we went up and down, up and down — the path seemed to go on forever. 
Occasionally we lost it and had to backtrack until we found it again. 
It was very tiring because the way was so difficult.
We were high up in the middle of nowhere when I reckoned we had reached the 2200 mile point.  So we each took a photo of the other standing on the path, and I merged them on the computer at a later date.
At last we started to go down, and caught our first sight of civilisation — a scattered settlement called Alligin Shuas. 
I was so exhausted I don’t know how I managed to stay on my feet for this last bit.  Even that was not easy. 
We were going downhill over swampy ground trying to follow cairns, but once again we lost the path and had to backtrack. 
We got to a gate which let us into a wood, but the path was so indistinct we could hardly see where it went.
 I could barely walk, I was so done in. 
We reached a road, which led to a cottage, and I sat down and declared the Walk over! 
We were more than five miles from our true destination, but I felt I couldn’t walk another step.

That ended Walk no.238, we shall pick up Walk no.239 next time on the road to a cottage in Alligin Shuas.  It was quarter past six, so the Walk had taken six and a half hours — and we’d only progressed four and a half miles!  We decided that the hire car at Lower Diabaig was fractionally nearer (by road) than our own car parked in Torridon, so Colin left all his baggage with me and set off to walk back.  He was hoping to thumb a lift, but the road is so remote he wasn’t even passed by a vehicle until he was within half a mile of Lower Diabaig.  So he only got a lift for this last bit, and I had to wait an hour and twenty minutes for him to reappear.  By then the sun had gone down and I was getting uncomfortable and cold.  At last he arrived, and we drove to Torridon where our own car containing the hot tea and caramel shortcake was parked!  We decided to leave the hire car parked in Torridon overnight as we intended finishing the Walk to Torridon the next day.  We took our own car back over the highest road in Britain to our caravan in Applecross.

I found it very frustrating to be overcome by extreme exhaustion as I was today.  I had been finding I was getting overtired a lot more often lately, and today I was near to collapse.  At the time I put it down to the fact that the Walk had been extremely challenging and that I was getting older.  But why didn’t Colin feel so tired when he is two and a half years older than me?
About a year later I had to visit the doctor on a totally unrelated matter, and he sent me for a blood test.  I was diagnosed with an underactive thyroid — quite a surprise as I had no idea.  I started taking thyroxine tablets, and once they had got my levels right I felt I had a new lease of life!  I now have so much stamina I am leaving Colin behind, and I find I can almost double the length of the Walks.  No more collapsing with exhaustion for me!

No comments: