Thursday, 16 July 2009

Treading the Trossachs

Sadly, having given it away that he was not in fact dead by the twitch of a nostril, Doogs was forced to get up and carry on. Another long day ahead, but things would be easier thereafter with a couple of rest days planned. Meanwhile...onward to Gartmore (south of Aberfoyle).

Bill was going to meet us in the evening to check on the ponies, and as he would be passing Balqhuidder on his way, I took the chance to leave Ladybird's packs there for him to transport on for us. She hadn't shown any signs of fatigue, but since I'm conscious of her lack of preparation, I'm keen to spare her as much as possible. In fact Doogs had carried the packs now and then for a couple of hours while I walked, like the gentleman he is. (Hadn't realised there was any choice - and anyway, they're way lighter than YOU are - Doogs).

Today's route saw us rejoin the cycle track for a mile or so until it runs out at Kingshouse; we then took to the forest tracks as far as Strathyre. Great views of the Braes of Balqhuidder (Rob Roy country). We also saw a couple of foxes - there had been some discussion the evening before about the problem of urban foxes being released into the area (and the consequences for people's poultry).

Once through Strathyre we picked up a track which runs down the west side of Loch Lubnaig. Due to my new-found friends of the night before we had excellent directions and they also arranged for a critical gate to be unlocked - ( we would have been stymied otherwise).

The track goes on for miles through woodland beside the loch - we were all starting to feel a bit wearied when we suddenly came across - a vending machine! In the forest! Which sold Mars bars! (Well it did, hope they've restocked it by the time YOU ride past).

The vending machine was part of a Forest Holidays lodge complex. While we were raiding it, three staff members appeared, apparently more surprised at the sight of the ponies than we were at the sight of their vending machine! "We know who you are - we saw you on the telly," they said. Now I know how Kate Moss must feel (though she's not often caught scoffing mars bars, methinks).

Truly fortified now, we positively zoomed down to Loch Venachar, but you know what these sugar highs are, they never last. By now, we were all dragging our feet slightly, with still about another 10 miles to go. That may not sound a lot to YOU, but...

Another look at the map showed a much more direct route over the hill which would bring us out above the Lake of Menteith. No way of knowing if there might be a locked gate though. After a lot of deliberation (on my part) and eating (on the ponies), I decided to GO FOR IT and take the shorter more direct route, reasoning that as we were in a national park (Loch Lomond and the Trossachs) where access was actively promoted, we ought to be OK. A risk of course, as today I had no packs, no tent , no food, no nuttin'. (I don't recommend this folly!)

Thankfully in this case I turned out to be right (occasionally I have been known to be very, very wrong - yes really) and as we came over the hill we could see the Lake of Menteith and much of Stirlingshire spread out below us in the evening sunshine. We didn't stop to admire it for long as the Trossachs midges were having their annual clan gathering and banquet. We trooped down off the hill, meeting Bill at the bottom (I swear that man is following me.)

We unsaddled the ponies and I set off to lead them to our overnight stop at Easterhill Farm, cross country along the most exquisite track past Flander Moss (an old Roman Road, I surmise - dead straight and we passed a Roman camp.)

No locked gates here either (phew) - the only slight problem being having to navigate through a herd of Ayrshire cows and calves. They followed us, playing 'grandmother's footsteps' as cows will. "It's OK, " I reassured the slighly snorting ponies...then glanced back to see the herd being led by a very fierce-looking bull! Bloomin' heck! We darted out of the first gate I could see, having decided that if he took a run at us the ponies were going to be turned loose as they can run a bloody sight faster than I can. And don't think we'll forget that in a hurry - Doogs.

We arrived at Easterhill Farm, sopping wet as it was by now pelting with rain - and dark to the saintly Roz and Ross (yes, I was a wee bit confused to start with too). Well either we were there or we'd died and gone to heaven: hot bath, hot meal, and lovely cosy stables with deep beds and warm feeds for the troops. Bless you for ever - I have emailed the Pope demanding your immediate canonisation.

Wouldn't want to do too many days like that one...but we all survived, and the next day would be a short and easy one for all - or would it?

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