Sunday, 5 June 2016

A Highland Fling

14th-22nd May 2016.
SWCC team - Andy Freem, Antonia Freem, Lucy Freem (and Rosemary), Duncan Hornby, Harvey Lomas, Kevin Munn, Pam Munn, Helen Stewart, Malcolm Stewart, Claire Vivian.

A fun week was had by all SWCC in the Scottish Highlands around Elphin. Canoeing, caving, diving, sightseeing and walking were all on the cards and with the weather being mainly dry, if a little chilly, we managed to accomplish all this and have fun.
We stayed at the Naismith Hut of the Scottish Mountaineering Club.

The view from the doorstep


Trek up Cul-Mor: Helen, Malcolm, Pam and Kevin

Malcolm, Helen, Kevin and Pam arrived in Assynt, after a very long car journey from South Wales, to welcome blazing sunshine on Saturday afternoon. Not wanting to waste any of the precious sunshine the group decided to walk up Cul Mor, a dramatic Corbett with impressive views of Suilven and Stac Pollaidh. Stunning weather at the beginning of the trek, but by the time the summit was reached the weather had deteriorated to blizzard conditions.

View of Suilven from the summit of Cul Mor


Canoeing Loch Lurgainn: Andy, Antonia, Claire, Duncan, Lucy and Rosemary

The week in Scotland was never going to be all caving, in fact the Freem’s had brought their kayaks and a canadian canoe so the first day was to be a trip between two Lochs requiring two portages. Dropping one car at the end of our planned trip we started in Loch Bad รก Ghaill and paddled our way to Loch Lurgainn.See map here.

Preparing the kayaks and Canadian canoe, with Stac Pollaidh in the background.

I’ve never done anything like this and it was a great adventure. Andy, Claire and I were in the Canadian canoe whilst the others zipped around in their sea kayaks.

Despite it looking like a river connecting the Lochs a section was in fact a very shallow river requiring everyone to exit their boats and drag them carefully between boulders on super slippy rocks!

What was a river on the map turned out to be a boulder strewn shallow channel requiring us to get out of the boats and carry them.

It’s that way!

A second portage required us to drag the boats up and over a heather hillock as the river had too many boulders to navigate.

The second portage.

We stopped after this for lunch on a pristine, exclusive sandy beach with amazing views of the surrounding mountains. As if it could not get any better Andy and Antonia whipped out a stove and started cooking some bacon! Something about fresh air, remotes lochs and the smell of bacon...I’m salivating now as I type! :)

The Canadian Canoe on the beach where we had lunch.

The beach we had lunch on, absolutely pristine!

Stac Pollaidh from our vantage point.

The final push got us back, not to the location we had left the car, but a place which was more sensible to get the boats out and up to the road.It was an amazing first day of what was going to be a great week with SWCC!

Andy steering (and filming) whilst Claire and I provided the power. We made a successful team.

Traligill Resurgence: Malcolm
Meanwhile, with the weather forecast to break after a long warm dry spell, Malcolm headed up the Traligill valley from Inchnadamph to the Traligill Resurgence to have a dive in the sumps there, before water levels rose as a consequence of the expected rain. On arrival the river bed was dry and the pool at the entrance of the cave, normally 8’ deep, only a puddle of water, supporting a few unhappy looking dehydrated trout.

With no water flowing in the cave portering the gear along the awkward ‘thrust plane’ was comparatively easy, but the diving was just as cold as ever and the lack of flow meant the vis didn’t clear quickly. With only a 4mm wetsuit and 3l cylinders the diver had to retreat from Sump 2 without reaching the previous limit established by Simon Brooks. Repulsed again, with cold, cold fingers.


Traligill to Bone Caves walk: Andy, Antonia, Claire, Duncan, Lucy and Rosemary.

Andy looking at the Water Slide in Cnocers Cave.
The pothole entrance to Cnocers.
Today we walked in one of the primary caving areas, visited several entrances, and followed a dry river bed exploring various sinks.

We eventually stumbled across a small entrance which lead into a large chamber with the rumbling sound of water. We later found out this was called Storm Cave. The walls were covered in peat and gave the cave a very dark and oppressive feel. It clearly flooded to the roof.

Storm Cave entrance

Leaving Storm Cave behind we walked up and over a peat area with a huge sinkhole and impressive peat gullies.

Incredible eroded peat channels.

On our way back down the valley towards the car park, Antonia, Claire and Duncan popped up to the Bone caves to have a poke around.

Antonia in the entrance to the Bone Cave.

Along the way we found an antler. The ice axe loops on Antonia’s bag provided perfect storage for this.

Towards the downstream end of the valley, what had been a dry river bed suddenly became a flowing torrent as water bubbled out of a rising.

The rising for Allt nan Uamh (NC2603817731)... My kingdom for a JCB!

Antonia and Claire posing by a waterfall near the end of today’s journey.

Scuba Diving at Drumbeg Wall and a Trip to Kirkaig Falls: Helen, Malcolm and Pete Glanvill (GSG) and George

Today the combined GSG and SWCC divers had a dip at the site known as Drumbeg Wall (turn left off the main road as it approaches Unapool going North, signposted for Drumbeg, and shortly after the road enters the forestry look for a broad track going down to a fish farm on the right). All launched from the bottom of the fish farm track, where there is a shallow bay, and swam round to submerge and follow the coast west, dropping down over boulders to about 20 - 25m. Loads of life; brittle stars, feather stars, a few scallops. The seal scarer working from the fish pens on the other side of of the loch, click, click, click… click, click, click... was very noticeable and we certainly didn’t see any seals.

Grumpy looking Juvenile Brill Fish

Malcolm looking at a Moon Jellyfish

Common Starfish at Drumbeg Wall

Later in the afternoon, after a light lunch at Achins Bookshop (does anyone fancy a lifestyle change?), Helen and Malcolm walked up the river to the Kirkaig Falls impressive even in fairly dry conditions.

Helen looking at the Kircaig Falls.


Smoo cave and back: Harvey, Claire and Duncan

Harvey suggested a visit to Smoo Cave. Claire and I had not been to this part of Scotland so it sounded like a good excuse to do some sightseeing whilst soaking up the awesome landscape of the Highlands.

As cavers we were given a free trip into the cave by Colin who runs Smoo Cave tours. He also turned out to be one of the people who helped dig out the Rana entrance.

The tour was an epic 20m boat trip then a 15 second walk to the “bitter end”. Made OFD look like a walk in the park :)

Smoo Cave, Durness. (There’s a patch of rare ‘mountain aven’ flowers just where the fence tops out on the left of the picture.)

Looking back at the waterfall created by the stream entering above. Note the large Chert nodules on left wall.

Harvey and Duncan on the Smoo Cave boat tour.

On our way back we picked up a hitchhiker who was trying to make his way to Lochinver. Having picked him up we then told him we were going to check out a tea room at the quay for getting onto the Handa Islands. I don’t think he had spoken to anyone for a few days so seemed very happy with our plan. We eventually dropped him off at the junction to Lochinver.

Scuba diving at Loch Carron and a cave recce at Applecross: Helen, Malcolm, Pete Glanvill and Derrick Guy (GSG) and George

Travelling south the four divers went to Lochcarron (the Spar there does good hot sausage rolls) and then dived off the slipway at Strome. This is one of the classic shore dives in the UK, with the underwater cliff to the west of the slipway famed for it’s huge plumose anemones and giant dead men’s fingers. With excellent visibility the dive was crawling with life, but the start of the flood tide pushed us off the wall before we had had a proper look, so we will have to go back another time. We surfaced to rain and this got progressively heavier as we got changed on the pier. Wet underpants, deep joy. :o(

Sea Slug (Tritonia hombergii) Loch Carron

Queen Scallop - Loch Carron

Cushion Star - Loch Carron

Back in the car, sitting damply, we crossed the Bealach na Ba to Applecross with the intention of finding and exploring the ‘Cave of True Wonders’ and the ‘Cave of the Liar’, but the piss awful weather modified this plan to an enjoyable lunch at the ‘Walled Garden’ followed by a fully saturated walk through thick undergrowth looking for and photographing cave entrances.


Rana Hole: Andy, Antonia, Claire, Duncan, Lucy, Helen, Malcolm and Peter +2

On Thursday we awoke to find that some friends had hitched a ride on us...

My friend had gorged on my blood, whilst Claire’s had simply locked in.

We then headed off to go caving. We were in two groups today. Helen and Malcolm plus Pete Glanvill and 2 friends (Derek Guy and George ?) who were staying at the nearby Grampian hut went to rig Black Rift pitch in Rana. We followed leisurely behind around 2 hours later and arranged to de-rig at the end of the trip.

Preparing the pitch at the entrance of Rana Hole.

Duncan climbing along second pitch top to fixed ladder.

Rana is the name of the cave and Rana sp. is what we found at the bottom of the entrance.

The team enjoying a brief rest before heading out.



Old Man of Stoer walk: Claire and Duncan

Today was to be a rest day which ended up being a walk out along the coast to visit the sea stack “Old man of Stoer”. It was raining, windy and overcast when we arrived but the weather eased off allowing us spectacular views of the sea stack.

Duncan also visited the remotest public toilet!

Claire and the Old man of Stoer

Close up of the Old man of Stoer

Durness, Smoo Cave and a Dive at Kylesku: Helen and Malcolm

Strong winds from totally the wrong direction resulted in the planned dive on the Fairweather being cancelled today. Instead the divers dived the Kylesku wall in two separate waves. Pete and George went in at midday on the start of the flood tide, to drift from under the bridge to the pier by the hotel, several hundred metres away. Helen and Malcolm went in from the slipway in the evening, having spent the day touring up to Handa Island (shut, raining, nice tea room, excellent lunch) and Smoo Cave (open, raining, zillions of French and German camper vans and motorbikes).

Mountain Aven - A rare and unusual plant found on limestone outcrops. We found clumps of this at Smoo Cave.

Following a surface swim from the slip across the bay in front of the hotel we descended by the rocks at the corner and worked our way west and deeper to about 30m. At the furthest end of the dive we were starting to get on the main vertical wall, plunging rock in clear green water covered in sunstars, huge anemones and pale orange dead men’s fingers, vanishing into the gloom below.

View across Loch Gleann Dubh, Kylesku

Common Sunstar - Kylesku Wall

The Kylesku Hotel has improved a lot in recent years and provided an excellent post-dive beer and supper. These were on the menu...
Long Clawed Squat Lobster - Kylesku Wall


Inverpolly nature reserve canoeing trip: Andy, Antonia, Claire, Duncan, Lucy and Rosemary

This was to be one of life's great adventures, entering the wilderness of the Inverpolly Nature Reserve. We had paddle across a small Loch, then drag the boats up and over a small hill to get to main Sionasgaig Loch.

The main portage, dragging boats up and over a small hill through gloopy mud.

Initially the boating was calm and pleasant with the occasional squall. The sun kept popping behind clouds and the surrounding scenery changed dramatically from sunny mountains to dark and ominous shadowed backdrops.

Andy and Claire looking happy (before the boat tipping incident…)

Yet again Andy, Claire and Duncan powered the Canadian canoe whilst the others zipped around in their sea kayaks.

Antonia zipping around in her sea kayak.

The 3 sea kayaks with spectacular mountain scenery.

We had stopped at the central island for lunch, soaked up the sun and had a wander around the island. Being blissfully ignorant I had not appreciated that the wind had picked up and upon setting out for the return journey it very quickly became obvious that it was going to get a whole lot more interesting!

With some waves almost breaking over the top of the canoe, getting to the far shore was going to be a challenge, but thankfully Andy is a very experienced kayaker and read the situation well and got us across the main section of water between the island and far shore. We pulled into a shallow protected area and Andy asked Claire to move backwards to help distribute the weight. She stood up, got tangled in some netting and tipped the boat. Thankfully we could simply stand up and I for one was grateful that this had not happened in deeper water.

With boat emptied of water, the others joining us, we reconfigured with Andy in a sea kayak towing us as we desperately paddled against the oncoming waves. We eventually got into a zone of less wind and waves and were then able to paddle full steam ahead with my awful steering hindering everything.

We eventually got back to the cottage that the Freems were staying at and whilst drinking tea and reminiscing over the day we were treated to a spectacular sunset.

An awesome sunset to complete the day’s amazing adventure (before it started raining for 12 hours…)

Thanks Andy/Antonia for an amazing day out!

Storm Cave Again….Helen and Malcolm

Responding to stories of huge chambers, and a beautiful clear stream pouring down a walking-size passage to cascade into an inviting sump pool (by all accounts, warm, clear, tasting of gin and full of mermaids), Malcolm and Helen walked over the moors to Storm Cave. Reaching the sump wearing two three litre cylinders proved easy, it was only at the sump pool that the problems started. There was no cascade into the pool, instead the swollen stream flowed into a large long lake, black water that extended through a narrow rift to a further deep lake beyond, with no dry land, just an overhanging roof and a mountain of black peat mud. Furthermore the reported lead blocks for diving were nowhere to be seen, no doubt sitting on a ledge somewhere underwater, waiting for a more sensible diver to return in lower water conditions… Walked back off the moor to Inchnadamph without turning the cylinders on. We did have a fun hour exploring and photographing the river passages and chambers in Cnocers.
Malcolm above Traligill Rising; the river was back to its normal size by Friday.

Malcolm exiting Cnocers cave

Malcolm in Storm Cave


One last cave… Claire and Duncan

After Friday's epic kayaking, Saturday was going to be an easy day, especially as it had rained for 12 hours non-stop over night.

Claire and I had decided to visit the infamous Allt Nan Uamh Stream Cave. The Valley which had been bone dry 3 days earlier now had water bubbling out of the ground feeding into the mainstream way.

Water bubbling out of the ground where there had been no water a few days earlier.

Borrowing a map from Andy we navigated our way around the cave, entering too tight crawls to large almost “OFD” size passages.

Access to the stream and current dig site was via a precariously balanced ladder.

Andy had suggested visiting a section of the system called the Farr Series which are beyond what is affectionately known as the Sphincter. We found this part of the system and were somewhat dismayed by the volume of water (in fact, we looked everywhere for a more inviting way on). A section that would require a flat out crawl in water with limited air space. There would be no escaping a soaking in this duck. We went for it, got to the pitch down to Thunderghast Falls then turned around and hurriedly exited that part of the cave system.

Claire exiting the Sphincter. As you can see water was pouring into this part of the cave from all directions.

We pottered around the entrance of the system exploring every nook and cranny and finally exited the cave to discover what had been a dry channel was now taking a fair amount of water as it flowed passed the entrance. In hindsight we thought it was fortuitous that we did not stay too long beyond the sphincter, otherwise the sh*t really would had hit the fan!

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