Back-door-step backpacking (almost)

Loch Neaty - Loch Bruicheach walk

This is the first in what may be a series of backpacking trips starting from home. Living as we do on the edge of the forest and moorland above the Beauly Frth I’d thought I’d like to attempt a few mini backpacking trips walking from, and returning to, our home with no transport except Shank’s pony. Although I’ll admit that I’ve already cheated on this first outing as we got a lift 5 miles to the starting point by a son who was passing that way.

A sunny day on Friday and good weather forecast for our area on Saturday, led me to plan and pack for this trip at the last minute. So on Friday evening we set off to spend one night camping by a local loch with just enough food to last until Saturday teatime. We were heading for Eskadale Moor with a return route through Boblainy Forest. Some readers may know this area as I believe some TGO challengers pass this way.

We started at the end of the public road and followed a track running along the edge of the forest. As we walked along the track we noticed the forest was guarded by a new-looking, substantial deer fence – which is common enough in these parts – but this one was electrified – which is unusual. As there were several locked gates on this track we had to be careful to mind our trekking poles when squeezing through the narrow ‘kissing gates’ beside the electric wires!

Loch Neaty - Loch Bruicheach walk

We arrived at Loch Neaty – our planned destination – about half six, but spent a wee while finding a spot to pitch. The ground was either boggy, tussocky heather, or dead bracken. We ended up stomping on some of the partially-flattened bracken and clearing some away to give a small space not much bigger than the footprint of the tent. We didn’t really spend long enough getting a taut pitch to the tent, but we didn’t see quite how saggy it was until the morning. It looked like it had been put up by novice campers – and we’ve no excuse as we’ve camped in this tent hundreds of times over the past 10 years! The wind got up in the night and we ended up with a bit of condensation blowing onto us from the flapping flysheet.

Once we’d got a brew on and eaten, it was getting dark and we were treated to the start of a wonderful night-sky show. Jupiter and Venus were like bright headlights in the west and all around masses of stars began to appear. We picked out the Plough and Orion, but that was the extent of our knowledge. However we were still able to enjoy the light show, even if we could not name what were were looking at.

We woke after a long (slightly cold) night to a lovely sunny morning albeit still a tad nippy. Out tent spot was a little windy, so we hunkered down behind a slope about 50m away to put the kettle on for a cuppa.

Loch Neaty

We were not in any great rush to get going and it was nearly ten before we broke camp, checked we had left no trace, and started off along the shore of the loch.

Loch Neaty

Loch Neaty is a tiny, wee loch, but someone has built a small ‘harbour’ so I presume they bring a boat in sometime.

Loch Neaty

And at the easterly end of the loch there is a very basic concrete dam.

Loch Neaty

Loch Neaty

Once we left Loch Neaty there are no paths at all towards Loch Bruicheach, and on a poor day this area would be tricky to navigate with numerous small tops all about only 50 – 100m higher that the surrounding moorland. On this clear day it was no trouble route finding. We initially headed SE aiming for the small top of Carn a’Bhainne.

Loch Neaty - Loch Bruicheach walk

There are new deer fences on this moorland – fortunately not electrified this time as we had to cross two. After following the fence line for a hundred metres or so looking for a stile, we found this strange sort of gate – it doesn’t swing open but the whole thing lifts off. but very awkwardly.  We found it easier to climb over, but imagine that could be tricky if carrying very heavy rucksacks or walking alone. But then the area is not ‘catering’ for walkers.

Loch Neaty - Loch Bruicheach walk

The deer fence was around a relatively small exclosure which has been planted with Scots Pine.  You can see the difference in the area that is open to deer and the exclosure.  It’s supposed to be an exclosure, but when we were inside the fenced area following the fence line to a find place to cross, we noticed plenty of deer tracks following the fence line too, so there are (or were) some deer inside with the trees.

Loch Neaty - Loch Bruicheach walk

As we climbed higher the hills of Strathfarrar came into view to the north-west, with the last lingering bits of snow on the summits.

Loch Neaty - Loch Bruicheach walk

From the top of Carn a’ Bhainne we could look east to Loch Bruicheach with its Crannog.

Loch Neaty - Loch Bruicheach walk
Looking north we could see ‘civilisation’ again in the form of Muir of Ord and the electricity switching station at Beauly, linked to the numerous hydro-electric power stations in the area.

Loch Neaty - Loch Bruicheach walk

At Loch Bruicheach we came to track again, although it was very wet and muddy at the loch edge, having been churned up by deer. This estate, which is owned by the Whtibread family, is also used for grouse shooting and we passed grouse butts and a wee look out hide near the path.

Finally we reached the edge of the Forestry Commission land again.

Loch Neaty - Loch Bruicheach walk

Just inside the forest boundary is the lovely little lochan, Loch a’ Bhron. The area around the lochan has been felled several years ago and has not been replanted. I don’t know if the FC have left this deliberately for biodiversity purposes, or aesthetic purposes, but whatever reason, it is a lovely spot.

Loch Neaty - Loch Bruicheach walk

The loch is almost hidden within the forest, because although there are vehicle tracks, they are all so muddy it deters most folks from venturing there.

Boblainy Forest is my local stomping ground – both for walking and on my mountain bike – and although it is a commercial, working forest, has a good range of native trees at places. When the land was sold to the FC by Lovat Estates, they retained ownership of a narrow riparian strip by the Bruaich Burn. As this burn flows into the River Beauly, one of the good salmon fishing rivers in Scotland, this was probably to protect the fish spawning grounds.

Loch Neaty - Loch Bruicheach walk

The FC built this substantial bridge over the burn about 3 years ago to commence harvesting of the timber on the north side of the burn. However most of the harvesting has been halted for the past two years due to the presence of a potential insect pest – the Pine Tree Lappet Moth. I wrote about the problem of the moth in an earlier post.

The last few kilometers of the walk were along a mixture of wide forest road (recently used for a car rally), and less-frequently used forest tracks. On one of these side tracks, we had to pick a way past about 20 trees fallen across the track. We either ducked under, climbed over or diverted around. I’ll remember this track and avoid it with my bike for the next wee while!

We wandered towards home in the late afternoon sun (having had a wee detour because one of us (ahem, me!) had left my camera behind at one resting spot. I found it!). Overall we’d walked about 24km and sussed out a couple of camping spots for another route in the area.

Loch Neaty - Loch Bruicheach walk

More photos in my Flickr slideshow

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12 comments on “Back-door-step backpacking (almost)

    • Thanks, Mark. We’ll will be camping in this area again in May with a visiting walking friend who wishes to enjoy a wild camp in my local stomping ground.

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