Wild Camping by Loch Coruisk

Camping in the highlands had seemed like a good idea at the time.

We upgraded our camping gear (waterproof tent, airbeds, gas stove, decent backpacks), bought some Adventure Food, and flew to Scotland. The plan was to camp on the Isle of Rum on our first night, then beside Loch Coruisk on the Isle of Skye, then book into the Sligachan hotel for well-needed showers. The problem with this, however, was that a lot of boats were involved, from Skye to Rum, Rum to Skye, and Skye to Loch Coruisk, and high winds were preventing the rig boats getting out to Rum. So the plan changed, and we headed straight to Coruisk.
Isle of Rum
The Isle of Rum above, looking just how I always imagined Neverland would
Loch Coruisk
er… and our actual destination ahead. I think we were all wondering at this point what exactly we were in for.
Loch Coruisk

Well, some of us were. Others were busy posing…

The boat dropped us off on the shore, and we headed over the headland to search for a good place to set up camp. Coruisk is a water-filled caldera, a volcanic eruption millions of years ago resulting in the jagged peaks and swathes of solidified magma you will find there. Boulders of honeycombed pumice are scattered across the loch’s shores, and tendrils of cloud often wrap around the peaks like drifting smoke. It is also very wet, and we spent a lot of time bouncing up and down to determine whether the squelching peat beneath our feet would sustain a tent.
Loch Coruisk
Tom modelling our sexy – and very useful – head-torches
Loch Coruisk

Then the midges found us.

We were woefully unprepared for the ensuing onslaught. Luckily I had a bottle of Amazon-rainforest strength fly repellent, that was frantically dug out of my bag. Do not get this stuff on your lips. It burns. Then your mouth goes numb. I had also brought smoke-coils as we always used these on Nauru, and I figured tropical mosquitoes had to be worse than Scottish midges, but there were just too many midges. The fly-repellant stopped them biting, but did not deter the clouds that swarmed around us, filling our lungs and obscuring our vision. It felt like we were in some kind of crap horror film. Katy and I erected the tents together as quickly as possible, being unusually polite to each other.

“When you have a moment, could you possibly pass me one of those tent pegs you’re holding?” [Shaking head fiercely with eyes closed].

“Oh of course, so sorry” [handing over tent peg in between flapping arms around face, before sprinting away to higher ground for a brief reprieve].
Loch Coruisk
Our wonderful little tents. Very easy to put up and, miraculously, both waterproof and midge-proof
Loch Coruisk
Loch Coruisk

The view from outside our tents. Not bad eh!

Once both tents were secure, sleeping mats blown up and sleeping bags unrolled, I leapt into the porch of mine and Tom’s tent, zipped myself inside, and sat there for a good five minutes regaining my composure. I have no idea what Katy was doing at this point, as I felt like I’d temporarily lost my mind. Perhaps she was doing the same.

Tom returned around then with our bags (we had been forced to drop them and run, carrying only the tents, so he had taken on the responsibility of lugging them over to our campsite). We grabbed gas stove, water, mugs, tea bags and Adventure Food, and scrambled down to where the loch flowed into the sea. A wide expanse of dry rock and a gentle breeze kept most of the midges at bay here, as did constant movement. We were able to perambulate around the area, like druids circling their ceremonial gas stove, clutching much needed mugs of calming sleep-tea.

Revived, we held a brief council of war, and elected to head to higher ground to try and eat our dinner in peace. We climbed as high as we could, searching for a rocky outcrop sufficiently far from water that the midges would be deterred. The views were spectacular, but there was no escape. It was like being hunted by tiny, flying velociraptors, only eluded by our keeping on the move. Katy and Tom returned to the flat rock on which we had made tea, and began to prepare dinner. At this moment however, the sun set, the sky turned carmine and I grabbed my camera.
Loch Coruisk
Loch Coruisk
DSC_1368 (800x533)
Midges
‘Wow, what a beautiful photo. What on earth has caused those glittering specks like fairy-dust in the sky Jade?’ Midges. That’s what. Goddamned midges swarming towards me and confusing the flash on my camera.
Loch Coruisk
Loch Coruisk
Loch Coruisk
If you follow the river’s path down, just before you reach the sea you can see a tiny Tom and Katy making our dinner on a finger of rock that juts into the river
Loch Coruisk

Our Adventure Food supper was surprisingly good. Packets of dehydrated meals need only the addition of boiling water, a fierce stir, then a 10 minute wait as they resume the appearance of food inside the bag they come in. I pulled out a bottle of Oban for us to share (whilst packing my backpack in London I had made the difficult but absolutely correct decision to bring whisky instead of my camera tripod), and as darkness descended the midges finally abated.

Waking up in the wild is the most amazing experience. The air is crisp, the sun gleams like silver on the loch’s surface below you, and the percussive impact of the view hits you as soon as you unzip your tent. After another Adventure breakfast (Katy and I somewhat suspicious of how they crammed 600 calories into a small bag of sugary porridge and raisins), we packed up our gear and got a boat back to Elgol.

Loch Coruisk

Has anyone else survived Scotland’s midges? There must be a support group for us somewhere.

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Hiking in the Lake District (With a Broken Foot)

Lake District

So I broke my ankle, a few weeks ago.

Just a little break, an avulsion fracture of the talus, apparently, though the additionally sprained ankle and knee have been causing me a lot more trouble. Never make assumptions about horses. You think they’re going to go over a jump, you think they’re a big brave thoroughbred, and then they coward out at the last-minute leaving you to go over said jump on your own. Cheers for that Wizard.

Aside from accusations of equine cowardice, I only have myself to blame for my injuries though. I’ve probably fallen off several hundred times since I started riding twenty years ago, thanks to getting a reputation for liking ‘problem’ (crazy) horses. Flop and roll. Every time. Even if you land on your spine, you flop and roll. On this occasion, however, something went wrong and my reflexes said ‘land on your feet – no actually, just on one foot, that’ll work better!’ It didn’t.

I may or may not have lain on the floor for a good two minutes whimpering, and thinking ‘bloody hell, I’ve actually injured myself here, aaaarrrgggghhh’, but then I dragged myself upright and the pain completely vanished. I could feel that the ankle had swollen under my leather boots, but I was able to rotate and put gentle pressure on it, so I recaptured Wizard (who had been standing next to me looking bemused/ bored), and got back on. We carried on jumping for a bit so he didn’t learn that ditching his rider meant getting out of work, then I limped home.

“It’s probably only a sprain, but maybe get it x-rayed just in case” from my GP led me to a fracture diagnosis at the Royal Free a couple of days later, at which point I have to admit I may have gone a little mad. The doctor who talked me through the x-ray didn’t quite know what to make of me, as I espoused my lack of pain and begged to be allowed to go on a hiking holiday. It’s not that I have a high pain-threshold, I really don’t, but I do get migraines and back problems, both of which are so excruciating at times that the upper limits of my pain-scale are perhaps higher than average. Compared to this the ankle hardly hurt at all, and nobody seemed to care about the knee. The problem came, however, when I was told to rest. I don’t do rest. I go to the gym every day, and I ride two to three times a week, and I do MMA and boxing every week, and hiking, scrambling, swimming and occasional rock climbing and ohgodpleasedon’ttellmetorest!

Rest I did though, religiously. I bandaged ankle and knee every day, and tried to use the crutches he forced on me (mostly I carried them around with me, but I sort of used them sometimes). I elevated and iced the ankle every evening when I got home from work, and I kept as still as I possibly could. The clever man, you see, told me that the only way I would be able to go on a hiking trip to Scotland in 13 days was if I rested until then and didn’t go on the planned hiking trip to the Lake District in 7 days.

This ‘resting’ malarkey lasted all of 5 days though, at which point I warily headed back to the Royal Free for an appointment to get a ‘support boot’ fitted, or even perhaps a cast. I waited around for nearly an hour, but the wait was worth it in the end as the wonderful, wonderful doctor who saw me said no cast, no support boot, no crutches if I didn’t want them, and actually yeah, why not go hiking in the Lake District?! Just don’t ignore the pain if it gets worse. I could have hugged her.

A week of hiking in the Lakes wasn’t easy, but it was absolutely, definitely worth it. Through trial and error we worked out that I could cope with about half the walking we would usually do, and 10-12 miles a day over rough terrain was about my limit (16 miles was a bad day. A very bad day). I had also forgotten to take any painkillers during ‘rest-time’, so regular doses of ibuprofen and paracetamol on holiday really made a difference. Pushing myself to just get on with things was the best possible remedy. The constant twisting and stretching of my ankle as we clambered up and down uneven mountain paths was a far less boring form of physio (there’s only so many times you can write the alphabet with your foot), and the sense of achievement at the end of every day turned me from a miserable, paranoid gremlin back into something resembling my real self.

Much to Tom’s relief, for whom the two weeks of rest time had been more trying even than for me. Also, we went to cafes. We had pit-stops involving lunch and ice-cream and alcohol. I had an epiphany half-way through the week and pointed out that I was actually really enjoying myself, rather than just walking miles and miles and miles in the rain like usual. Almost like, dare I say it, a real holiday?! “Humph, well, yes I suppose this is what weak people do on holidays” replied my darling Thomas. ‘What, have a good time?’ He did at least laugh at this.

Hopefully more fun walking-holidays are to come, but here are the photos from this one.

Lake District

Lake District

Lake District

Lake District

Lake District

End of the day here, at a waterfall near Borrowdale. Veeerrryy tired!

Lake District

The librarian adventurer.

Lake District

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Nearing the top of Catbells, a peak I’ve never climbed before because Tom deemed it beneath him. Turned out to be a nice little climb with a beautiful view, despite the crowds – just the thing for a broken foot!
Lake DistrictLake District

A lovely cafe we stumbled upon, the Grange Bridge Cottage Cafe. It has a beautiful little garden with views over the river – the perfect place to stop for lunch and ice-cream!

Lake District

With polariser…
Lake District

…Without polariser. Magic!Lake DistrictLake DistrictLake District

One day I’ll climb up to that cave…Lake DistrictLake DistrictLake DistrictLake District

Outdoor cafe at the Lodore Falls Hotel.

Lake DistrictLake District

Sunset at Castlerigg stone circle.Lake DistrictLake DistrictLake DistrictLake DistrictLake DistrictLake DistrictLake District

Tales of wild-camping and swimming under waterfalls to come.

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