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GM/NS trip: 7 summits, 2 Munros and 1 first activation

Now on the long journey back from Northern Scotland. Just 7 activations in 6 days as weather rather variable but had a couple of reasonable days to do the Munros Ben Hope and Ben Klibreck. Got rather wetter doing first activation of NS-092 a rounded hill with only Trig point for shelter from wind and rain. Many thanks to 2m chasers who enabled me to qualify 5 of the hills on VHF and in particular for the 4 who worked both of us on NS-144 where we were under a bothy bag in heavy rain.

Proper reports later I hope.

Caroline

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Thanks again for the Sota’s etc

Karl

My pleasure Caroline,
I live north of Hadrian’s wall, it is still a long way to Ben Hope. I ascended last year but did not activate due to not feeling well.

Thanks for the S-S
David G(M)0EVV/P

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Sunday 25th June 2017 GM/NS-107 Ben Horn & GM/NS-147 Meall Dola

The forecast was for an overcast day with the possibility of some light rain: so a day for relatively low hills. Ben Horn had been on our list since we gave its near neighbour Beinn Lunndaidh its first activation a couple of year ago, and became even more interesting when we chased John G4YSS on it a few weeks ago, so an activation would make it a complete. We parked in the layby track (NC800048) at the start of the forest track which leads to Loch Horn (plenty of space without blocking access to the track). The forest track made the start of the ascent easy, over the stile over the deer fence at the edge of the forest and we continued on the anglers track to Loch Horn: an attractive little lake, where we got first sight of the blades of the Kilbraur Wind farm. We picked our way round the rough edge of the Loch and then headed up the spur of Ben Horn.

Ben Horn

The summit is marked by a small stony cairn. There were cloudy views and a times we could make out Morven and friends to the north and the ranges further to the west. We also had views out to the coast and Beinn Lunndaidh and the more distinctive Ben Bhraggie with prominent monument. It was windy so we dropped down slightly to get a little protection from the breeze. Caroline had the summit qualified on 2m FM within 5 minutes, ending up with a total of 10 contacts over an hour, picking up contacts by calling on both the calling channel and the Inverness chat frequency of 145.575. We also both had an S2S with Colwyn on GM/CS-012 Beinn a’Chaorainn. Martyn struggled with 5MHz getting just 5 contacts (including an S2S with Andy on GM/ES-045 Hill of Wirren) before they dried up completely. With lunch eaten we decided to pack up to try to get a second hill in.

We were running later than planned so it would need to be a relatively easy one. We headed towards Lairg and up the minor road to NC599067 where we parked on the verge at the start of a track. We headed up the track, initially good, but the main track headed right to a reservoir and we headed straight on to a grassy and at times damp track. We carried on passing through three gates: at times the track was quite overgrown and almost disappeared, and it was mostly wet. To add to the wetness it started to rain, so we had to stop to apply waterproofs and rucksack covers – but soon afterwards the rain stopped!

As it skirted Cnoc Moine na Caillinn the track headed through another decrepit fence, and we decided to leave it for the rough ground (which was about as easy going) to head more directly towards the summit of Meall Dola. The summit is rounded with just a small summit marker of a few rocks, being covered in a damp mixture of grass, cotton grass and heather. There were distant but hazy views of higher hills, including our earlier hill Ben Horn and Ben Klibreck to the north, as well as down to Lairg and Loch Shin beyond.

Meall Dola towards Ben Horn

Meall Dola

Caroline set up VHF by the summit marker, but could only raise one contact from this relatively low inland hill, so once Martyn had qualified the hill with 8 5MHz contacts, Caroline moved to 7MHz getting 10 contacts. After 40m dried up we had enough time for Martyn to try 14MHz, but HF wasn’t really playing and he got just 3 contacts before we packed up and retraced our steps. Back at the cottage the clouds had broken enough to give sunset views over Strathcarron, and we went out into the garden to observe and were joined by the owner who was trying to round up her chickens for the night. After a while the midges noticed we were there so we retreated inside!

Sunset over Strathcarron towards NS-123 which we didn’t get round to activating!

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Monday 26th June 2017 GM/NS-014 Ben Klibreck - Meall nan Con: Ptarmigan and a scare

The forecast was for a reasonable day with the clouds mostly above the tops and mainly dry, but breezy. It looked as though it was going to be as good a day as we would get for the higher hills, so our target was Ben Klibreck, the second most northerly Munro. We headed north on the road through Lairg: a good road until the junction with the A838 where the A836 became single track with passing places. This slowed progress, though there were stretches with good visibility where we could pick up speed. We parked at NC543288, where there’s space for 2 or 3 cars behind a passing place.

It was cloudy but dry as we set off, initially downhill down the small spur from the parking area, where the first problem was an awkward river crossing, with stepping stones at awkward angles: we were in danger of getting wet at the start, but somehow managed to get over without falling in or getting wet feet. We headed straight up the ridge opposite (mostly rough grass) and turned left when we met a fence as the gradient eased. We followed the fence to a point where it was broken down, crossing it to head over the ridge and then down the other side, gently descending towards the southern end of Loch na Glas choille: an attractive little lake with a wooded island. Views started to open up to the north towards Ben Loyal and neighbours. Past the slightly boggy area round the lake we ascended by a fence to the north of Meall nan Uan with ever improving views, including Ben Hope though Ben Klibreck itself was still in the clouds. We had to briefly stop to apply waterproofs as a shower passed over, but thankfully it didn’t last long. At Loch nan Uan we crossed the fence to make our way round the north edge of the lake: awkward with several stream crossings and peat hags. We carried on round the lake looking for a route up to the next ridge which was to be the most challenging part of the walk.

Loch na Glas choille

The route to the ridge involves ascending over 300m in about 0.6km, so it’s steep. We spotted a section where there looked as though there might be a path at higher level and started to ascend what looked to be a spur between two streams. So far, the route had been pathless but as we started the ascent there were signs that feet had been that way before, but just disturbed ground rather than anything resembling a path. It was horrible terrain: steep, heathery, peaty, wet and unstable: we weaved our way upwards trying to find safe ground, and apologising to the numerous frogs that we disturbed along the way. After a while the ground became slightly better, but we still had a long way to climb and there looked to be another steeper section ahead, but a path was forming. It was still steep, wet, heathery and awkward, but it provided more stability as it zigzagged upwards. A faster walker caught us up and we managed to find a place he could pass us on the narrow steep path. Eventually the gradient eased, the terrain became grassier and the path disappeared: we headed up towards the ridge, coming to a path running along the ridge by a rock which had stones on top of it pointing back the way we had come: clearly a marker for the return route to help us find the top of the path down the steep bit.

What now followed was the best bit of the walk: a superb gently ascending ridge walk heading north along A Chioch with views to either side. The clouds had now also lifted off the summit of Ben Klibreck itself. As we bent eastwards onto the stony path that zigzags upwards for the final ascent to Meall nan Con, Caroline spotted movement ahead by the side of the stony path – Ptarmigan! There were three at first, but then we realized there were far more, almost perfectly camouflaged with their grey and white plumage against the stony summit.

Final ascent

Ptarmigan

We carried on to the summit, finding the remains of a trig point within a rough shelter at the top. But then there seemed to be the remains of another trig point, which puzzled us at the time. Research later revealed that the summit had had two trig points: the second being a replacement for the fallen first, and there was a suggestion that the second trig point was intact until a couple of years ago when it was believed to have been struck by lightning.

Remains of two dead trig points

Caroline set up the VHF station bungeeing the antenna to the broken trig point base, getting the 4 contacts within 15 minutes, but only managing one more half an hour later. Meanwhile Martyn had qualified with 6 5MHz contacts in under 10 minutes, then nothing more. It had been fine when we arrived but a wave of cloud and rain swept requiring some quick covering up of rigs. Martyn let Caroline use the HF rig to have a try on 7MHz which proved to be the best band of the day with 22 contacts. Given that the ascent had taken longer than expected and we knew we had to get down the nasty steep section, we didn’t have time for other bands.

We retraced our steps getting more views of the ptarmigan, including when a flock of them took off with massed flashes of white wings, but they disappeared into the terrain once they landed. The views from the ridge were even better on the return. When we got to the rock which pointed the way to the descent path we stopped to sit on it and eat an apple to fortify us for the hazards to come. Carefully making sure that we left the stone arrow pointing in the right direction we headed down. The initial steep path was successfully negotiated but the lower steep peaty pathless unstable area was more of a problem: at one point the ground gave way under Caroline and she tumbled a short distance down the hill, coming to rest in damp heather much to both of our consternation. What was the damage? Caroline was surprised to find that she seemed to have sustained no injury at all, though her rucksack antenna had lost its top, and it wasn’t clear how she was going to safely get from prone to vertical on the steep unstable ground. Martyn carefully made his way down to her, and we managed to somehow get Caroline back vertical and the broken antenna jammed back together. After that scare we continued carefully down to the gentler gradients around Loch nan Uan retracing our steps back to the car.

As we descended back towards the river we noticed what looked like another possible river crossing a little to the north of and round the corner from our outbound crossing: this proved better – some of the stones were under the water, but they were flatter and more stable. It was almost 9pm by the time we were back at the car after a hard but good day – amazingly Caroline didn’t even suffer any bruises from her fall.

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Tuesday 27th June 2017 Under a bothy bag on GM/NS-144 Creag a’Ghobhair

The weather forecast wasn’t good with a band of rain due to pass over in the afternoon, and given our late return from Ben Klibreck we weren’t going to be able to make an early start. We decided to try to get an activation of a little summit in before the rain band even if we had to descend in rain. Unfortunately it didn’t work out that way.

We drove the short distance through Bonar Bridge to a parking area near the start of a track at NH637928. There was damp in the air as we set off along the track heading towards Creag a’Ghobhair, but it turned to drizzle as we carried on the track. We had to leave the track before the Loch to cross the boggy valley bottom and there seemed to be an area of lower vegetation around NH649932, so we made our way heading roughly north. The rain got heavier as we made our way slowly upwards aiming to approach the summit via the ridge from the west, and by the time we reached the summit it was raining heavily with a noticeable breeze. There is a small summit cairn and a little way from it was a rock surrounded by a slight dip, which surprisingly wasn’t surrounded in water.

The only way we were going to be able to activate this hill was under the bothy bag, so we arranged it on the less windy side of the rock, with Martyn and his rucksack inside while Caroline propped her rucksack against the rock and raised the rucksack antenna higher by using the 1m extension pole normally used to support the multi-function dipole. Caroline crept inside the bothy bag, where Martyn had extracted his FT-817 from his rucksack and we decided to try a VHF only activation, both working any callers. Given the low slightly inland hill we weren’t hopeful, and Martyn feared he would have to try setting HF in the wet on a heathery hill. After about 20 minutes of alternating between 145.000 and 145.575 we had the necessary 4 contacts each, so Martyn could relax and not have to worry about having to set up HF. Lunch was consumed inside the bothy bag, by which time the rain had subsided a bit, enabling Caroline to leave the bothy bag to take a few photos with her waterproof camera: there were now even hazy views back towards Dornoch Firth. We appeared to have got the timing almost exactly wrong!

Inside bothy bag

Outside bothy bag

In lighter rain we packed up and headed down the hill, taking a route which took us closer to Loch a’ Ghobhair, which gave different and possibly better views; the ground was possibly better and certainly no worse, though the ascent up to the track seemed interminable! Back on the track walking was easier and for a while the rain stopped and we thought we might dry off a bit, but it started again as we approached the car.

Looking back to Creag a’Ghobhair on descent

As the intermittent rain continued we headed into Tain to top up on our self-catering supplies. The rain had stopped by the time we left Tesco, but we resisted the temptation to try to fit in one of the Easter Ross one pointers: we didn’t really have time and the thought of getting back to the cottage and drying things out was a more attractive option.

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I like ‘interminable’ better than ‘neverending’. The word in Spanish is exactly the same interminable.
Thanks for the report and the photos. I love seeing pics from other activations.

Best 73,

Guru

Hi Caroline,

This made for enjoyable reading especially Klibreck and Ben Horn, which is a nice 2-pointer. Sounds like you missed a lot of the path up NS14 Klibreck but sometimes it’s nicer to be inventive. Sorry to hear about the fall but glad you weren’t hurt. I too have these from time to time but I don’t always report them.

I used to carry a bothy bag a few years ago when I did mainly VHFM for MG but dumped it out of the pack when HF came along. I could have used it a few times but I hate to disturb it in its nice little stuff sack and worried that I’d have to tether it when changing the dipole links in high winds. Obviously it must have been pretty dire on the day you used yours. They tell me they are quite cosy and your photo seems to confirm it.

If that was a lightning strike, it must have been very energetic but at the same time it doesn’t surprise me. 200,000 amps is the standard test level for aircraft structures etc but that’s a heavy bit of concrete. All I can say is. It was OK when I left it!

Looking fwd to Ben Hope. Another one I love.
73, John.

And I love reading your reports and their pictures.

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We first bought a two person bothy bag but found it didn’t fit both of us and rucksacks, so we now have a a 4 person one. It only goes up hills where we think we might need it (and even then is seldom used). I agree that you would probably need to tether it if having to leave it to change links. With the two of us we can arrange that there’s always one of us to weigh it down, and packing it up is easier with two.

Ben Hope report still being written…

Caroline.

Sometimes an activation is really enjoyable and the hill isn’t. Sometimes the hill is enjoyable and the activation isn’t. Then there is Ben Hope, where the hill and activation are more than enjoyable. One of the most enjoyable of my 500+ activations.

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Wednesday 28th June 2017 GM/NS-020 Ben Hope: the most northerly Munro

The forecast was for a better day, and we had managed to get up earlier, so we decided to take the longer drive to the most northerly Munro, Ben Hope. We lost some time in loading everything back into the dried out rucksacks. We drove out on the good road through Lairg, and then on the single-track section of the A836 past Ben Klibreck. Passing through Altnaharra, famous for having had the lowest recorded temperature in the country, we turned left onto the minor road towards Hope.

At this point we discovered what the difference is between a single track A road, and a single track unclassified road. The A road has reasonably frequent tarmacked passing places with passing place signs, and most of the time the next passing place or more beyond are visible. The minor road has no passing place signs and the passing places seem to be mostly grassy areas by the side of the road, and sometimes they seemed to be a long way apart. We had over 12 miles of this to go to the parking, but thankfully we didn’t meet anything else on the road. There were several cars in the parking area for Ben Hope at NC462477, but plenty of room for us.

The start (taken at the end when the sun was out).

At 927m Ben Hope is one of the lower Munros, but you have to climb over 900 of them since the starting point is below the 20m contour. It was cloudy but dry as we headed past the “Way up Ben Hope” sign and along the well-defined but often wet and sometimes boggy and sometimes rocky path. It passed close to a rushing stream with several waterfalls before meandering up to the ridge line, with increasingly good views: the clouds being mostly above the tops. As we hit the ridge it became very windy, but the presence of a path – now mostly rocky and grassy – made the going reasonable. We had started off with light jackets on, but had been adding layers at various points during the climb. The wind wasn’t quite as bad at the summit, but we still needed to add extra insulation.

There were 360 degree views from the summit when we arrived, including down over the north coast: there was cloud cover everywhere, but it was above the tops. There was a small shelter just to the north of the trig point, but the wind was blowing straight into it, so it was ignored by both us and other visitors to the summit. Although this was the busiest summit of the week it was still relatively quiet so Caroline decided to use the trig point to support the VHF dipole. Martyn set the HF dipole up to the east, having managed to find somewhere on the rocky top to get the pegs in. How would Caroline manage on 2m FM this far north? Within half an hour she had 4 contacts raging from Fochabers to the Isle of Lewis, but then she heard a faint GM4GUF calling (about 31), but he didn’t come back to her response. Martyn then came over to say that he was talking to Robert on 5MHz, and Robert was running 100W on 2m FM, but could we try 2m SSB vertically polarised. Using a frequency agreed via 5MHz we then successfully made the contact, 41 both ways, which Robert calculated as 312km from Biggar – a good and fun contact. After Martyn had finished his run of 13 contacts on 5MHz, Caroline took over HF with a run of 14 contacts on 7MHz. Another swap round and Martyn got 8 contacts on 14MHz while Caroline picked up another two 2m FM contacts from the Isle of Lewis.

The weather had been variable at the top: at one stage clouds swept over the summit, but then there were hints of sunshine over the north coast, for a while turning the sea over the Kyle of Tongue turquoise. The views were even better on the descent with the sun finally reaching the summit as we descended past the waterfall to the car. We were again fortunate to not encounter any other traffic on the minor road back to Altnaharra, and even the single-track A road wasn’t too busy. A good day with fine views and good radio given current HF conditions.

On the way up.

Sun shining on Kyle of Tongue

VHF station

HF station towards cloudy north west

Trig point with Ben Loyal.

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And rarely there are times when neither are enjoyable, though sometimes those can also be memorable - Hill of Stake has become Martyn and my term for an unpleasant activation! Ben Hope is up there among our most enjoyable, though for me Ben More (GM/SS-001) tops it, being an excellent walk, stunning views and where I got my first transatlantic contact from a summit. With also 500+ activations, some of them are very much more memorable than others: it tends to be the best and the worst that stick in the mind!

Thanks for that 2m ssb QSO Caroline with the help of Martyn on 5megs. Its many years since I went up Ben Hope and always wondered if I could get a signal thru the rest of mountainous GM to the top from home and proved possible! Ive worked the north coast under flat band conditions but with yagis at each end so thats my best contact on my colinear, with you only on the 5W as well, I could just hear a faint quietening of the RX with the squelch off on FM but SSB did the job.
For your next trick, learn some CW so I can try to Lewis, Orkney or Shetland next time :o)
73 Robert GM4GUF

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I had a splendid time when I first visited that part of Scotland. The countryside is stunning and is really different to most of Scotland. I saw you had some rubbish weather and thought that was really touch luck when you considered how far you’d traveled. Good to see you got a slot of better WX for this one. Your photos brought back lots of memories of the climb and my time there. And yes, that road to the foot of this hill is spectacularly rubbish. The single carriageway A roads are like motorways in comparison.

It’s a big hill!

A younger FMF… since then I’ve passed through grey to white hair and lost about 12kgs.

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Hi Caroline - Martyn,
I was looking forward to your Ben Hope report and it didn’t disappoint. Colourful photos of the surroundings. The cloud added something. This is one of my favourite mountains but not recommended in February. I see the box of dog treats has now gone.

Well done on 4 x 2-fm QSO’s; they’re not guaranteed. You need to try 145.575 from there - probably you did as you used it from Ben Horn. You can easily reach Ray GM3PIL in Nairn from there and he listens to S23 very often via a 70cm link around the house and garden.

NS20 is an experience you don’t forget in a hurry. I hope I get the chance to go again but Shearings are selling off their more northerly hotels so GM/NS may not be as cheap in the long term.
73, John

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I worked Ray on every hill we did except NS-147, which may have been a bit late in the day. I was generally calling alternately on 145.475 and 145.500, and getting responses on both.

We enjoyed Ben Hope, but I doubt we’ll do it again since there are so many other interesting looking hills up there that we haven’t done - Ben Loyal looks well worth a visit, as well as the Assynt hills (though I concluded that Ben More Assynt was too long a day walk for us and we don’t do multi-day walks).

Caroline.

You get spoilt for choice. Quinag, Cul Beag, Cul More, Stac Pollaidh, Suilven… oh Suilven! Plus so many others. There’s just so much around Ullapool and up that coast.

Just found my old log of Munro’s ( Got about half way B.C. …) and the one in the North that still stands out for me was Ben More Assynt which I can still remember ( Think we must have had good weather as I remember that much more clearly than Ben Hope ). I have a sneaking suspicion that what I climbed aged 33 might feel a bit different now at 54 but it would be the one I would want to do again! All of these were pre somewhat pre SOTA!

Paul

Thursday 29th June 2017 – First activation of GM/NS-092 Meall an Fhuarain

The forecast was for a cloudy start with rain coming up from the south east later, so we decided to head north west to try to avoid it for as long as possible. Our choice was between Ben Stack, a possible complete for us, and Meall an Fhuarain which had not previously been activated. Ben Stack was going to be almost as long a drive as yesterday, and although the single track A838 ran past it, we had been warned that it wasn’t as nice as the single track A836.

When researching hills before our trip Caroline had been surprised to notice that GM/NS-092 hadn’t been activated, since it didn’t look to present any particular access difficulties: after 15 years of GM SOTA we expect unactivated hills to either be a long walk in or have other access difficulties. It was already drizzling as we left the cottage, but we drove out of it as we headed along the A837 through Strath Oykel. Some of this was officially single track, but the sections which were supposed to be two way weren’t very wide and past Oykel Bridge it went properly single track. We had read that there was a parking area in the forest around Coire Ruchain which would save a longer walk in from the A road, so at NC337037 we turned off onto the forest track. There were no gates so we headed carefully along the rough forest track: a 4x4 would have been better but our estate car managed it at 10-15mph, a hairpin back south then another bend right (at this point there’s an unmapped track going left – the right higher one is the right one), and then round to the remains of an old quarry at NC314041.

It was dry as we parked and headed down the obvious gravelled forest track nearly opposite the quarry. The forest has mainly been felled, so we could see the lie of the land, but there was felling debris everywhere. The track ended before we reached the stream of Allt Coire Ruchain. We found a crossing point and made our way towards a rough track on the other side. It was hard going with lots of broken branches and stumps to cross. We could see what looked to be a slightly better defined grassier track up the hill, but the track we were on was getting harder with deep ruts and tree debris, so we headed along a stream bed and over more rough ground to get to the track. At this point it got a little easier, though the track still had fallen branches and boggy areas to negotiate. The track continued above the former tree line, becoming boggy and indistinct in places, before coming to a gate in the deer fence at NC303040.

Rounded summit of Meall an Fhuarain from flank of Meallan Odhar

Our plan had been to contour round Meallan Odhar to the col with Meall an Fhuarain, and the track appeared to continue the other side of the fence in roughly the right direction, so we followed it – often boggy and sometimes faint – we lost it where it crossed Allt Coire Shellach just to the east of the col but then found it on the other side. Ascending the other side the track appeared to split and we took the right, but it faded and we headed back left to find the main track.

The hill is rounded and the summit seemed to be a long time coming, not helped by the wind getting up and the rain catching up with us. The track faded away as the gradient eased onto the flattish top. Eventually the trig point came into view, and there were glimpses of the silhouettes of other larger hills against the leaden skies: Breabag and Ben More Assynt to the north, Cul More and Ben Mor Coigach to the west. On a nice day, I could imagine there would be good views. We needed to get extra layers on as protection against wind and rain. There was no shelter at the summit apart from the little offered by trig point, so we made it our base. Caroline lashed the dipole to the trig, and Martyn set up nearby.

Trig with faint distant hills

Caroline struggled on VHF from this relatively low inland hill, getting just 2 contacts in the first half hour, so after Martyn had qualified with 7 contacts on 5MHz, Caroline moved to 7MHz a good run of 29 contacts including an S2S for both of us with David GM0EVV on Goseland Hill – nice to get a reasonable number of contacts for a first activation. As the rain wasn’t too bad Martyn tried 14MHz getting just 6 contacts but including an S2S for both of us to CT/TM-026. Final calls on 2m FM got Caroline one more contact from the Isle of Lewis, but sadly still one short of qualification on 2m FM.

Operating huddled up against trig point!
It was then time to pack up and head back. By now visibility has closed in and despite taking a compass bearing we managed to head off the featureless top in slightly the wrong direction, but we contoured round the hill to find the track, and followed it back – this time managing to find the right line where it became indistinct. Back into the felled forested area we carried on following the track past where we had joined it on the ascent, and found that it formed a better route back to the car, coming out about 100m further along the main forest track from where we had parked in the quarry, about NC313042: although not obstruction free this would have been a better ascent path.

By now it was raining heavily, so we loaded everything back into the car as quickly as possible and headed back to the cottage for another batch of drying out. On the return we headed straight on at NC325050 rather than taking the hairpin back south: this reduced the amount of off road driving and we rejoined the road at NC329051.

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