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Soggy Scottish September Sojourn

Some activation reports from our (M3ZCB & M1MAJ) September trip based in Grantown-in-Spey will slowly appear here. The Scottish weather was less than ideal, and we got rained on every day - thankfully not all day every day, but we ended up mostly doing smaller hills.

In general HF conditions were poor, though Martyn managed to qualify all the hills on HF except two, sometimes needing multiple bands. I’ll concentrate on the Scottish summits, but we did a couple of English summits to break the journey. Bardon Hill G/CE-004 was one of the failures, where Martyn only got 2 HF QSOs - both ground wave with the same station on 5 & 7 MHz. On Hail Storm Hill G/SP-009 he got no 5 or 7MHz contacts, but after having grabbed some 70cms and 2m FM contacts on my station then managed 5 on 14 MHz, including one S2S. The other HF failure was Ben Rinnes, but that was because it was too windy to try to get the HF antenna up, but more of that later.

Caroline M3ZCB

Saturday 9th September 2017 - GM/ES-069 Ben Aigan 471m & GM/ES-081 Knockan 372m

The forecast was not good with rain but with some drier spells possible. We had originally intended doing Ben Rinnes, but the rain and low cloud as we left the cottage persuaded us to go for something smaller instead, so we drove past Ben Rinnes hiding in the clouds towards Ben Aigen. We headed for the not particularly well signed forestry parking leaving the A95 at NJ336495 and then up a steep forestry track to a junction where we turned right and parked on a wide bit of track (we later discovered that there was more parking a little further on in the trees). By now the rain had stopped and we headed on the slowly ascending circuitous route to the summit, heading south on a forestry track, then south-west then back north heading towards the antenna towers on Ben Aigen’s lower neighbour Knock More. Where the track started on a major right bend, we took a steeper narrower, grassy boggy path ascending a forest ride. This emerged onto another forestry track opposite a felled area, with Ben Aigen to the left and Knock More to the right. We turned left and headed into pleasant forest, emerging onto the open heathery top. The route continued to be indirect, and as we ascended slowly round the north of the hill it started to rain, necessitating a stop to apply waterproofs. We considered trying to cut off a corner but the rough heathery ground and damp kept us on the track round the hill, until finally a track headed left up the hill. Before long the curious square “Lossie” trig point came into view. The rain had stopped and there were some views so we took photos as it looked like more rain was coming.


Square “Lossie” trig on Ben Aigen before the clouds descended.

As we arrived at the summit we heard Robin GM7PKT calling, and it turned out he was on GM/WS-096 Buachaille Etive Beag-Stob Coire Raineach in Glencoe. We both exchanged reports with him using the handheld and the rucksack antenna – good to start with an S2S. Caroline lashed the MFD to the trig point and with the proper station set up pulled in 4 more 2m FM contacts in 15 minutes and had the hill qualified. Martyn set up HF nearby as the clouds and drizzle descended, but thankfully not serious rain. He claimed another 2m FM contact from Caroline’s station, but found 5MHz poor, getting just 2 contacts to qualify the hill. He then tried 7MHz but after an initial flurry of 4 contacts it all went quiet – poor conditions due to recent solar flare. With lunch eaten we wanted to get another hill in so we packed up and headed down, now in the dry. However as we approached the car it started to rain and soon became heavy – we rapidly put our stuff and ourselves in the car out of the rain.

We still wanted to get another hill in, and decided that given the time our best bet was Knockan: not very far as the crow flies, but a rather longer drive round to the north and then past the wind farm. We parked in the rather sad looking forestry parking at NJ371457: the picnic area was overgrown and the interpretation board was missing. Unfortunately the rain was still heavy, but there was a 3G signal, so we could access weather apps on our phones, and it looked like the band of rain should pass. We passed some of the time calculating how late we could leave starting to have time to activate the hill. After about half an hour the rain had eased enough that heading out in waterproofed mode was tolerable.

We took the forestry track that ascended gently through the forest and out onto open heathery ground. We could see the wind farm tracks we wanted to get over to a couple of hundred metres away to the right, and as the track dropped down before heading up to more woods, we spotted a track heading north. It was a very wet track and we had to take to slightly higher rough ground to get past a couple of flooded areas, but it led through to the wind farm tracks. We then followed the meandering track past several turbines to NJ351461, where we left the track to head north over heathery ground to try to find the true summit. The top was flattish, and we concluded that a small cairn marked the high point. The cairn was the only dry spot on the top! Caroline propped the rucksack antenna on an extension pole lashed to the cairn, but 20 minutes of calling yielded only one 2m FM contact which Martyn also grabbed since HF seemed so poor. Martyn managed 4 5MHz contacts to qualify the hill for him, after which Caroline took over HF to try 7MHz – it was also poor, and it took another 15 minutes to get the 3 extra contacts to also qualify the hill. A final call on 2m FM yielded one more contact, so we ended up with 5 contacts each – hard work.

Knockan in clouds with wind farm.

We spent most of the time on the summit in cloud with intermittent rain, but as we descended the cloud lifted a bit to give more of a view of the wind farm and beyond.

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Sunday 10th September 2017 - GM/CS-123 Burgiehill & GM/CS-121 Hill of the Wangie

The forecast was for bands of heavy rain swirling round a low, but there looked as though there might be some breaks in the middle of the day further north. It was raining when we got up, but had eased to drizzle by the time we were packed up and ready to leave. We decided to stick to our plan of heading north towards Forres to do the pairing of Burgiehill and Hill of Wangie, starting with Burgiehill as it would be a complete for us, and if the rain forecast for mid-afternoon came too soon we might have to abandon the second hill.

It was dry when we parked carefully in the wide area at the start of the track at NJ102569, but rain started just as we were ready to start off, so we re-arranged ourselves into wet mode with waterproof and rucksack covers. The rain eased as we headed down the circuitous access track for the antenna farm at the summit – straight, then right then half right twice. At that point the summit antenna farm came into sight across a felled area and the track headed downhill, so we decided to make our way over the felled area to the antennas, discovering it was a replanted area with small saplings. Near the summit we re-joined the track that had taken a longer route and looked for the trig point. It was elusive, but we knew it existed from the photos Tom and Jimmy Read had taken. Eventually we discovered it among bushes and young trees on a small spur off the main antenna track. Space was tight for HF among the trees, so Martyn set up the HF antenna running along the main track with the other leg down the spur, while Caroline headed into the open woodland and found a tree stump about 6 feet tall which she could bungee the MFD to. Martyn took a contingency VHF contact from Caroline’s station before starting on 5MHz. HF was better than previous days, but still not good. Martyn got 7 5Mhz contacts while Caroline had got 4 2m FM contacts (3 via 145.575, one via 145.500) and then eaten her lunch. It had rained on and off while we were at the summit, and was in a wet phase when both Caroline and Martyn had run out of callers, but Martyn still had lunch to eat so Caroline tried 40m, with moderate success, getting another 9 contacts. By the time callers had run out the rain had stopped, making packing up easier. We headed back along the track: getting decent views as we dropped down with Ben Rinnes in the distance.

Burgiehill hidden trig point and some of permanent antenna farm.

Burgiehill HF along the forest rides

Burgiehill VHF in the trees.

It was still dry when we got back to the car so we decided to try for the second summit, taking the somewhat circuitous road to the parking for Hill of Wangie at the start of the track NJ118546. From here we had good views back to Burgiehill, and loads of cattle in the field opposite came to investigate us. Given the forecast Caroline put on her Paramo, but this proved to be a mistake, as the sun came out as we headed along the forest track, through a field and back into forest and she was soon overheating. At around NJ126539 a minor grassier track forked left, and we headed up it to the main ridge where we joined a rough grassy ride along the ridge. This was rough and often wet, starting off fairly flat with a felled area to the left, before ascending gently through a heathery ride where the sun brought out the colours of the heather. It was pretty but hard work. The sun was also bringing out lots of insect life – thankfully mostly benign, with lots of butterflies including Peacock and Red Admiral. Where the ride flattened out we started looking for the trig point which appeared through the trees, up a narrow ride to the left.

Hill of Wangie Heathery firebreak in the sun

The trig point was surrounded by trees but had a convenient hole in the top, which Caroline used to get the MFD at its maximum height with the centre point at about 2.5m. Martyn set up HF about 15m away with the dipole legs down the main ride. Unfortunately, the sun disappeared behind more rain bearing clouds, and we had to ensure radios were covered up. Caroline was pleased to get 5 2m FM contacts given the surrounding trees, while Martyn got just 5 5Mhz contacts to go with 2 2m FM contacts he grabbed from Caroline’s station. Despite the rain Caroline again had a go on 7MHz getting just 5 contacts. Thankfully the rain eased so we could pack up without getting everything wet. We reversed our route: there was less sun, but it stayed dry, so we could load the car in the dry.

Hill of Wangie Trig point

Hill of Wangie HF along firebreak

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Monday 11th September 2017 - GM/ES-021 Ben Rinnes

There had been a lot of rain overnight, and the forecast was for more in the morning but with some improvement to light showers later in the day. It wasn’t fit for going out onto a summit, so we started researching the wet weather program. Tomintoul looked like a good bet, with a museum and an art gallery so we drove out through the rain, parked in the car park and walked back to the attractive green square. We could see the museum across the square, but it looked suspiciously closed, despite us having checked the opening times on the web before we left the cottage. It looked very empty through the window and a notice on the door said that it was closed for the whole season for refurbishment. Ah well, better try the art gallery: it was small with an artist working away in one corner, but with a variety of crafts. We emerged with a slate carved Iona Cross to find the rain had almost stopped. We wandered round the pleasant green square with a centrepiece of a former water fountain, two of whose four sides had little steps with “Step up Bairns”.

As we drove to the Ben Rinnes parking at NJ284360 the rain became heavier again. Surprisingly we weren’t the only car in the car park. While eating our lunch in the car, a rather wet looking couple returned to the other car, and we were soon the only car in the car park. By the time we finished lunch the rain had eased to drizzle so we set off, noticing that the wind was starting to get up. A good path heads all the way to the summit, initially zigzagging steeply out of the valley. The cloud was initially covering the top of Ben Rinnes, but its two northerly neighbours Meikle and Little Conval were clear of cloud. There was occasional dampness coming out of the sky, but the main problem was the ever increasing wind, which at times was making it hard to stand or make progress.

The summit has a rocky tor at the summit, and we fought our way against the wind to find a little shelter under the rocks on the east of the hill. Having recovered at little we continued round the north side of the hill to find the trig point – the south side would have been more sheltered but dropped steeply away. We found a way round to the trig point, or what we assume was the trig point – a trig point shaped object covered in black plastic. Martyn managed to get close enough to get a hand on it, but Caroline failed to battle the wind to get to it. With this wind, we needed to find some shelter to operate, and HF looked not to be feasible. We explored the tor, and concluded that east was best, but we also needed to be high enough to prevent the VHF antenna from being blocked by the rocks. We found a narrow grassy slope which enabled us to get an extension pole wedged in the rocks by a Heath Robinson arrangement of bungees and walking poles, with Caroline rucksack antenna on top sticking out above the rocks (the rucksack antenna being more wind resistant than the MFD). This was going to be a VHF only activation, and we both worked 7 stations over a 45 minute period. While at the summit the weather changed rapidly with clouds swirling round, some with light rain, but also odd patches of sunshine – though they seemed to be mostly in the valleys. We saw another couple walk by but otherwise had the summit to ourselves – nobody else mad enough to stay up there!


Novel antenna support…

It remained windy as we descended, but the rain held off and we had better views as the clouds broke up. The Convals to the north looked attractive, but we didn’t have time for them that day, or later in the week.

Faint rainbow over the Convals

Looking back up the path as clouds break up.

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I loved the ‘novel antenna support’ but have a sneaking feeling that I would get agitated when starting to clear up as I would think I had lost my trekking pole on the way up! I just hope I would try to take the aerial down before going back to look for the pole!!

Well done for taking the time and trouble to post reports. I’m sure our Sperrin Mts reports will never appear but will try to give comments on our lovely (in sun and calm sea) recent visit to Ynys Enlli one day Off to the Lake District on Saturday for a week and the forecast doesn’t look friendly…!

Viki

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Two years too late to scrounge a cup of coffee from me in Tomintoul!
I have never seen the track up Ben Rinnes so wet (and I have been up there numerous times) but I think all my activations were actually conducted in winter. If you do it again it is not as difficult as it looks to get up Meikle Conval from where you parked (there are easier routes though) so you can grab two from one parking space.

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We had routes planned to do the pair from either Dufftown of from the golf club if parking was possible there. The problem with approaching from the Ben Rinnes side is that if you want to do Little Conval as well you’ll probably end up going over Meilke Conval twice!

You would indeed. There is a road going into the estate which lies between the two hills (Home Farm NJ311388 - donkeys years ago I would have said to park near the "Starshot - who remembers that?). You should be able to park quite close there then you atttack both hills from the centre point. Going up through the golf course is a nightmare, fences galore and poor tracks once you leave the course itself.

If you ever need any guidance on hills in the Cairngorms I can usually give you pointers as I have activated all of those in the National Park and all of ES.

Thanks, I’m sure we will visit again, but not sure when - there are so many other areas of Scotland fighting for our attention, and it’s a long drive for us from the flatlands.

Tuesday 12th September 2017 - GM/ES-009 Sgor Gaoith

The forecast was the best of the week, with less wind and broken high cloud to start with, and rain not due until mid-afternoon, so if we were going to get up one of the higher Cairngorms this was the day. We chose Sgor Gaoith because it looked to have a relatively short ascent and with a good path for most of the way. The parking area at NN850986 was quite busy, and the lack of wind had brought out the midges, so we needed to apply Smidge – the midges were still annoying but it seemed to stop them biting! As Caroline went to put our printed 1:25000 map extract of the route in the case, the folder holding them was nowhere to be found – it must have been left at the cottage. Never mind: we’ll use the real folded paper 1:25000 map which Caroline was sure she had put in the map bag, but it was also nowhere to be found! Did we go up the hill without our intended maps? We worked out that we had a paper 1:50000 map, at least 3 electronic devices between us with 1:25000 mapping, and two electronic devices with 1:50000 maps, which should be good enough!

We started off south down to the road end at Achlean, which looks to be being refurbished. We then took the path heading east over slightly boggy ground and into pleasant woodland. Fine views of Glen Feshie opened up as we ascended above the trees. We had started off wearing light jackets, but we needed to add layers as we got higher. Teachers from a school group we passed asked about the poles, so we explained to the students what we were going to do, though I’m not sure how interested the students were! We continued on the good path as it climbed over the shoulder of Carn Ban Mor, leaving the main path the highest point to take one of several fainter paths which headed over Carn Ban Mor. At last we started to get views of the bulk of the Cairngorms to the east, with Cairn Toul and Braeriach and beyond them Ben Macdui with clouds swirling round its summit, and ahead of us the first views of our target Sgor Gaoith.

Sgor Gaoith ahead.

The views were definitely worth the climb. We headed to the pointed summit and as we got closer the ridge narrowed and became steep on the right with vertigo inducing but stunning views down to Loch Eanaich. Caroline got as close to the edge as she dared to get photos from the summit. There were quite a lot of other people taking in the views, so we moved away from the edge of the summit to a more gently graded area to the north west to set up. The calm of Glen Feshie had been replaced by a strong breeze, but it was nowhere near as bad as the previous day, and it kept the midges away.

Loch Eanaich from Sgor Gaoith

Composite panorama from Sgor Gaoith

Caroline’s first call on 2m FM was answered by Robin GM7PKT/P, but unfortunately he wasn’t on a summit, but below us in Boat of Garten in the Spey valley. Another 4 2m FM contact followed over the next half hour: slightly disappointing as Caroline had hoped the added height would have done better – the furthest contact being Stornoway. After Martyn had a good run of 14 contacts on 5MHz, Caroline tried 7MHz with 13 contacts – HF looking better than it had been. Martyn then tried 14MHz, but that wasn’t playing – only 2 contacts, and as we could see rain bearing clouds approaching it was time to pack up.

HF station

VHF station

By the time we were packed up the clouds were down on the hill and the rain had started. We headed our way over Carn Ban Mor and back to the main path. As we descended the clouds started to swirl away giving glimpses of views and the rain desisted. The wind dropped as we got lower and by the time we were back in the trees there were calm enough areas that midges could fly. Despite that we made a diversion off the path to find waterfalls that we could hear (and where we had heard sounds of voices on the ascent), but the surrounding trees meant there weren’t good views, so we returned to the main path. Emerging from the trees we spotted a pheasant not far ahead of us on the path: we stopped and watched if for a while, seemingly oblivious to our presence, until it suddenly flew off with a massive amount of squawking: “Shoot me! Shoot me!”.

Back at the car park the midges were out in force. Our efforts at keeping them off of us by applications of Smidge were more successful than our attempts to keep them out of the car, though changing out of our boots sitting on rocks away from the car helped a bit. As we headed back up the single-track Glen Feshie road towards Aviemore we had to stop because the road was full of pheasants – mostly young – with no road sense. Eventually they moved and we continued without acquiring any of them for dinner!

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If it didn’t snow then it doesn’t count! I had quite a few snow showers when I did that one in August many years back. It’s a fair walk and climb but the paths make it seem easy.

I’ll look forward to your Ynys Enlli report: we didn’t make it as the boat was cancelled. Good luck with G/LD.

No sign of snow, and I read that the long lived snow patch on Braeriach has melted recently. As Scottish 10 pointers go, it’s relatively easy.

I spent three days/two nights in a snowhole on its southern flanks in March about a dozen years ago on my Winter Mountain Leader assessment… it didn’t feel too easy then :slight_smile:

Nice write-ups as always - thanks

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One of my all time favourite Cairngorm hills and your photos really do it justice.

If you do it again there is easy parking and a less touristy route starting at NH852013. Does involve a very steep ascent at one point but gives you a different view of the hill approach. Brings you onto the ridge from the opposite direction.

Can’t offer any guarantee about the voracious little beasties though.

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Wednesday 13th September 2017 GM/CS-118 Stac Gorm

The forecast wasn’t good with heavy rain forecast for most of the area, with some possible gaps in the rain, but with no particular pattern of good or bad areas. It looked like heading west might be best so we decided to go for either CS-109 Meall Mor or some of the small hills west of Loch Ness. It was raining as we left the cottage and still raining as we passed Meall Mor so we continued on to the RSPB reserve parking on Loch Ruthven. We were the only car in the car park, but three others soon arrived. The rain had thankfully stopped so we loaded up, not trusting the weather, with rucksack covers on and light waterproofs. We turned right out of the car park entrance, and found a faint grassy path which became better defined but muddier and narrower as it entered heather. We continued up passing an enormous boulder before continuing up through more heather, over a low fence and up into a craggy area. The path was awkward with slippery wet rock mixed into heather and mud, but eventually a stone built trig point appeared on the top of rocks, and we made our way up to it.

The rocky terrain made HF difficult at the small summit itself, so Martyn worked his way round to a flatter area a few metres almost vertically below the trig point and set up HF down there. It was still dry when we got to the summit, but we had some brief light showers while at the summit. The trig point had a suitable hole in the top, so Caroline used the rucksack antenna on an extension pole in the trig point. Caroline found VHF slow, taking half an hour to get her 4 contacts, which surprisingly given the low summit included Stornoway. At times the wind at the summit dropped enough for the midges to come out, so Caroline applied Smidge which kept them at bay. Meanwhile Martyn was having a good run of 16 contacts on 5Mhz, but had failed to apply Smidge and the midges were worse in his more sheltered operating position. Martyn ended up with a lot of bites, but they seldom react on him, and despite being annoying signs of them had disappeared in a few hours.

HF antenna from trig point

VHF station

VHF station by trig, with HF station (me in purple) below

Both stations with bad weather approaching

There looked to be more wet weather coming, but with her lunch eaten and Martyn still to eat his, Caroline decided to try 7MHz and had a reasonable run of 10 contacts before contacts dried up and we packed up rapidly as the rain started seriously. Unfortunately this rain was more prolonged than earlier showers, and we got very wet on what should be a short descent.
Back at the car we packed things in the car and contemplated what to do. There was a phone data signal so we could see that more rain was predicted for the area we were in, so sadly we abandoned ideas of doing one of the other little hills in the area.

Perhaps it would be better when we got to Meall Mor: the rain had eased as we pulled into the layby for it on the A9, but soon it was raining heavily again, so that one was abandoned too. We took a circuitous route back, hoping to find somewhere else where we could have a bit more of a walk. We drove through Abernethy forest to the Osprey Centre which was closed for the winter, the ospreys having sensibly returned to Africa, but cold and rain deterred us from a woodland walk. As we drove back along the east side of the Spey the rain stopped and we spotted the ruined Castle Roy and adjacent Abernethy Old Kirk. Unfortunately the castle had signs saying it was too dangerous to enter so we looked from outside and around the old little church. Soon after we got back to the cottage the rain returned, the finer weather only arriving as the sun was setting!

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Thursday 14th September 2017 - GM/ES-027 Meall a’Bhuachaille

The forecast was for a day with clouds at about Munro level with some occasional rain, but mostly dry. Given that it was our last day we decided to risk a medium height hill - Meall a’Bhuachaille at 810m might stay below the clouds. We headed to the parking at the end of the minor road near Glenmore Lodge around NH988095, but it was full so we headed back to the main road, parking in a rough layby around NH979097.

The clouds were covering Cairn Gorm and the surrounding Munros, but it was dry and pleasant as we set off, heading back past Glenmore Lodge via a good path running nearly parallel to the road. The wide made path was busy as it continued along a pleasant wooded valley which opened up to give views of the hills and lead to the pretty An Lochan Uaine. Despite it being a dull weekday there were several groups of people enjoying the sandy shoreline. We wandered around it but had a hill to climb so carried on following the path.

As we approached the junction where the path to Bynack More and Braemar forked right the rain started, so it was on with the waterproofs, but it had almost stopped by the time we reached the Ryvoan Bothy. We left the main path here to head up a narrow path, initially grassy then heathery which wound its way upwards. As we climbed out of the valley the wind hit us and by the time we were on the ridge it has become unpleasant. We hoped that there would be shelter at the summit, and were relieved when the large summit cairn with low surrounding shelter appeared, but would it offer sufficient protection? Nobody else was in the shelter, and Caroline worked out that the calmest spot was wedged between the cairn and the edge of the shelter, but even with this needed to apply maximum extra layers. Martyn worked out that if he positioned himself just outside the shelter on the side away from the wind he could both get the HF antenna up and get some shelter from the wind himself.


At the summit.

Once again Caroline didn’t risk the MFD in the wind and used the more stable rucksack antenna on an extension pole, and had 5 contacts on 2m FM within 15 minutes. It took Martyn a while to get the HF antenna up and his first contact was after Caroline’s 2m FM contacts had dried up, but he then had a reasonable run of 10 contacts over 20 minutes on 5 MHz. With no more 2m callers Caroline ate lunch, and then took over the HF antenna for a run of 14 contacts. With Martyn’s lunch eaten it was time to pack up, even though this involved being more exposed to the wind. The wind had been swirling clouds round the summit, and there had been some other visitors who had used the other side of the shelter where it was easier to sit out of the wind.

We headed west down the path towards the col with Creagan Gorm. Our original plan had been to continue along the ridge to Craiggowrie, but the relentless wind on the ridge line was just too wearing, so we instead took the shorter route back down the path via Coire Chondlaith. This led to an expected and magical encounter. As we approached the col we got a distant glimpse of what looked like deer, but the antlers disappeared over the edge of the hill before we got a good view, so we headed down the path, being relieved to be out of the wind.

We then realised that further down the hill close to the path there were two reindeer with rather scruffy antlers – clearly in the process of losing their velvet. Then we spotted two smaller reindeer with them, with stumpy velvet covered antlers – we guessed that one might have been a last year’s calf and one this years. As we walked slowly down the path they moved ahead of us, munching on the surrounding vegetation, but we were still getting closer. When we were just a few feet away from them we stopped to take more photos as they grazed – close enough to be able to hear them tearing at the grass. As they continued along the path we followed, until they headed off the path into the heathery vegetation as the path approached the tree line.




Reindeer

We continued through to forest by the side of a pleasant stream, turning right off the main path to head towards the visitor centre which was closed. We had seen a wide variety of fungi in the woodland paths, and there were more around the visitor centre. After inspecting the memorial with Norwegian flag to the Norwegians who had trained in the mountains during the war we headed down towards Loch Morlich. The Loch is surrounded by an extensive sandy beach with a boat house and people in boats and some even swimming in the Loch. We walked round the sandy shore to where a path headed off into the woods following the shore and eventually turning to follow a stream before taking a path which came out near where we had parked the car – a nice “circular walk”, despite the high winds on the ridge.

Loch Morlich