ARTICLES/Touring Memories - Glen Affric by Eric Kearns...
Scotland was always my favourite when it came to touring and this "Touring memories" from a 1963 Duck Egg caught my eye as I was looking through some back issues recently. It's not that I am afraid of Highland Cattle. It's just that their wide horns and long hair make them look fiercer than other breeds. It might have been a Bull that heaved its way towards me at the head of Glen Affric, I didn't wait to find out, luckily it was very boggy where the animal was, and it wasn't moving very quickly, so not caring if I did appear to be hurrying, I made a little spurt along the narrow track sweating a little apprehensively as my back wheel, weighted down with a fortnights touring equipment and provisions for three days, pressed a rut into the muddy turf. Presently the little group of drovers buildings, known as Altbeath came into sight. Now a Youth Hostel, they were originally built for the drovers who looked after the cattle in this isolated Glen in the Summer months.
The weather for the past few weeks had been very wet, and as I approached the hostel all the streams were in full spate, one even necessitating wading up to my knees in the water, holding my bike above my head! The hostel was nearly full. It is wonderful climbing country, and you really feel you are away from civilisation, for a time at least that is what 17 walkers and climbers thought until I cycled up!. I had the feeling that they were a little annoyed that a cyclist should have penetrated into their remote and wild corner of Scotland. To get there they had had to walk at least 14 miles, most of it along a boulder strewn Glen.
A party of Edinburgh University lads and girls had walked and climbed the 14 miles from Cluanie Inn, on the nearest road, bringing with them a fortnights supply of provisions for 12 people, on their backs. The nearest shop to the hostel is 20 miles away and I felt a little envious of their large store of food because somewhere along the path I had lost half a sliced loaf. A string holding it to my saddlebag, had slipped, cutting the loaf into two, luckily though holding the rest in position. Loss of the bread was a bit worrying as the next part of the Glen was the toughest with a lot of real rough stuff and it would be no use trying it if the weather didn't improve.
I had reckoned on staying a couple of nights at Altbeath if necessary, so as to pick a good period for the first stage of the descent which is the steepest, but half a loaf doesn't go very far when all you have to do is eat and watch the rain being blown across the mountains. Luckily the weather broke at dinnertime the next day, and I was able to make a start on the rest of my journey. A memory that will last forever was of a peat fire surrounded on all sides by 17 outdoor enthusiasts, sitting in all positions on the floor, talking, talking, talking - while on a length of climbing rope over the fire dried 34 pairs of long thick woolly walking stockings, and in what I thought was pride of place, 1 pair of white ankle socks.
The warden that year was an architect student. He had arrived with the intention of spending his time studying,, but had found trout fishing so distracting that he hadn't opened his books for months. In his Lowland Scots brogue he told us many amusing stories about the local gamekeepers one I especially liked was about their exceptional eyesight. This day one of the gamekeepers had called at the hostel, and during the conversation pointed to a speck on the distant mountainside. The warden using his telescope, had, with difficulty made out the figure of a shepherd. The gamekeeper putting up his own "spyglass" to his eye said after a moment, "Ach, it's Willie McTavish, he dinna look so gid today".
Surprisingly there was a Calor Gas stove for cooking, and the question arose as to how the cylinders got to the hostel. The warden explained that the gamekeepers took them as far as Affric Lodge in their Land Rover, then they had to be carried the rest of the way to the hostel by the hostellers as, "a job", the routine was for him to ask anyone staying a few days to make it one of their routes to pass by the Lodge, pick up the cylinder, carry it a reasonable distance then leave it at the side of the track for someone else to again carry it a reasonable distance and in time it arrived at the Hostel.
This particular cylinder had been brought by "Two English" lads. The warden sensing that they were planning to stay all their holiday at Altbeath asked them one day if they would mind nipping down to Affric Lodge for him and pick up a gas cylinder. Using a small scale map he had pointed out where it would be, "just down there past the loch and along the path". Anyway off went the two lads not realising that it was 8 miles away. When they had not returned by tea time the warden "gave them up for lost" thinking they had returned to "civilisation". Them at about 8pm in staggered the two hostelers having carried the cylinder all the way! The outcome was that the two "English" lads never spoke to the warden again for the rest of their holiday and hardly ever went out climbing but spent all their time boiling water on "Their Calor Gas Stove"