Sue and Martin above Zermatt - 2018

Sue and Martin above Zermatt - 2018
On the Archduke's Path in Mallorca
Showing posts with label TGOC 2011. Show all posts
Showing posts with label TGOC 2011. Show all posts

Friday, 27 May 2011

TGO Challenge 2011 - Index, Gear, etc

Thanks for your kind comments, everyone.

Thanks also to any Challengers who may read this, for helping to make this year's Challenge so friendly and sociable, and to Mike for keeping me company. It was great to meet Colin Crawford - my vetter, fellow bloggers Louise and Laura, and many other new and old friends at Montrose campsite and at the Park Hotel last night.

Mike and I only used two B+Bs - at Oban and at Bridge of Gaur, where Eddie and Heather's hospitality was unforgettable. We hope to visit you again soon.

The staff at Ballater, North Water Bridge and Montrose campsites were all very friendly and helpful, given their sudden bombardment by lots of bearded backpackers, Ballater in particular being extremely kind in letting 20 of us sleep in their back office rather than throwing us all out to find B+Bs in conditions that were too dangerous for camping.

An index for this year's postings will be provided in due course.

But for now, after yesterday's wonderful evening celebrating the successful conclusion of a Challenge in wet conditions, but mainly applauding Roger Smith's efforts as coordinator over the past 20 years, I'm already moving on to the next trip.

Today's image is one taken last Sunday from the summit plateau of Ben Avon.

Here are a few initial comments concerning kit:

Star performers: RAB SuperDru jacket, RAB Bergen overtrousers, and Sealskinz socks worn continuously for 8 days - no water ingress at all with any of these items.
Phoenix Callum Hord Goretex tent - used and abused for many years - slight ingress in a major storm was easily dealt with using a J-cloth.
Scarpa Infinity Goretex lined boots - these old boots were supremely comfortable, any slight seepage being easily dealt with by the Sealskinz socks that dried overnight.
Karrimor XXL dry bag (new) - the only dry bag used, for everything, and it worked.

Problems: Sealskinz gloves - very soggy when wet but dry inside unless you insert (with difficulty) wet digits. Not suitable for severe weather. Any suggestions?

Major concern: frayed hip belt, both sides, on Go-Lite Quest rucksack. This three year old rucksack has been worn for around four months in total. It's irreparable, so had a disappointingly short life despite good weight and comfort.

Ortlieb 2 litre water carrier - seam failure on this old piece of kit.
Avon Skin So Soft - turned out to have crystallised despite a 2012 sell-by date.
Lifeventure silk liner - worn seam at bottom - had to tie a knot in it; these liners seem less than durable.
Matches - didn't take enough! Bought a lighter at Dalwhinnie.

That's all for now from the 2011 TGO Challenge. Thanks for watching!

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Thursday 26 May 2011 - TGO Challenge Day 14 - North Water Bridge to Nether Woodston Beach (NO 756 648 - 0 metres)

Route: almost exactly as planned.
See Day 14 for map

Distance: 16km (Cum 350) [Mike 16 - Cum 333]
Ascent: 250 metres (Cum 12130) [Mike 250 - Cum 9395]
Time taken: 3.2hrs including 0.2hrs stops
Weather: heavy rain overnight, then easing as we started walking and fine for most of the walk.
Challengers encountered: we walked with both Peter ('Morpeth') and Mick ('Croydon') at times and finished together with Mick, Markus and Silke. Hundreds of other Challengers are here in Montrose.
Others encountered: none worthy of mention
Flora and Fauna: coastal flowers
Best bit: the award ceremony
Worst bit: the café at St Cyrus being shut
Number of days in full waterproofs: 9+ (for Lynsey)

A short walk to the coast ended the fortnight's physical endurance test.

There followed an afternoon and evening of socialising, during which Roger Smith handed over the organiser's mantle to John Manning.

It was a memorable night, of which more in due course.

A small section of the campsite at Montrose is pictured. Unlike last year, it wasn't raining!

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Thursday, 26 May 2011

Nether Woodston - Thursday 26 May 2011 - 11.15am - TGO Challenge

Mike and Martin, with nowhere further to go....


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Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Wednesday 25 May 2011 - TGO Challenge Day 13 - Water of Aven to North Water Bridge Camp Site (NO 650 663 - 30 metres)

Route: as planned apart from a navigationally challenging additional 2km as a result of taking the wrong road out of Fettercairn (I take full responsibility!).
See Day 13 for map

Distance: 37km (Cum 334) [Mike 37 - Cum 317]
Ascent: 760 metres (Cum 11880) [Mike 760 - Cum 9145]
Time taken: 10.7hrs including 2hrs stops
Weather: dreich - intermittent rain, low cloud, cold
Challengers encountered: we walked the first section with Roger Boston, and also encountered Markus and Silke and four others at the tea shop in Fettercairn. Plus 50 to 60 Challengers on the camp site at North Water Bridge
Others encountered: various, including a friendly farmer, excellent tea shop staff, and Arthur.
Flora and Fauna: partridges, yellowhammer, verges laden with pink purslane, and fields of garlic mustard
Best bit: finding the trig point on Hound Hillock / celebrating Stefan's birthday
Worst bit: taking the wrong road out of Fettercairn (Oops!)

Today's walk started with our final big hill of this year's Challenge, Mount Battock. Roger joined Mike and me up here, to bring his tally of Munros and Corbetts to 12 (not bad for a man with two new knees), whilst I have done 8 and Mike 4.

The weather was overcast, cold and dreary, and it started to rain soon after we set off. This is Roger's home patch (he lives in Elgin), and before departing towards Clachnaben, Kerloch and the Fetteresso Forest, he delighted in pointing out an array of small summits to our north.

Meanwhile, Mike and I followed Markus and Silke beside the Burn of Badymicks to Charr Bothy, where Arthur was in residence.
"This is a Five Star Bothy" he announced, "it has central heating." He pointed to the three candles placed strategically under his chair, and explained that he is one half of the MBDT (Mountain Bothy Decorating Team) and that he and his mate Tommy ("only in his seventies") call themselves the "one and a half coffin dodgers". He was waiting for all the Challengers to go through before continuing with his decorating duties for the MBA (Mountain Bothies Association).

Mike and I continued up Hound Hillock, our very last summit. Although only just over 500 metres in stature, the peat hag ridden cloud covered crest of this little beauty made location of the summit trig point less than straightforward. Photos were duly snapped.

A reluctant descent to Fettercairn brought us to the excellent café - The Arch - whose scones and cakes were delicious. Markus and Silke were there, gorging themselves.

It seems that they then set off from there in the opposite direction to us. Villages can be so disorientating! We were both 90 degrees out, but my mistake was worse, adding two km to our day, which was already the longest of the crossing in terms of mileage. At least the extra distance was along a pleasant track beside fields of garlic mustard (pictured).

A long straight road led eventually to this newly mown and very lush camp site, where nearly fifty Challengers' tents are now installed. Needless to say, it has been a most sociable evening, including the celebration of Stefan's birthday - a day early - with Stefan producing a bottle of whisky, and Colin Tock presenting him with a hastily baked (purchased?) cake.

It was drizzling, but warm and calm, so quite acceptable in terms of this year's weather.

Happy Days...

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Tuesday 24 May 2011 - TGO Challenge Day 12 - Ballater to Water of Aven (NO 549 871 - 440 metres) A Fine Day for a Cheese and Wine Party!

Route: as planned with minor amendments and a short cut to the finish.
See Day 12 for map

Distance: 31km (Cum 297) [Mike 31 - Cum 280]
Ascent: 900 metres (Cum 11120) NB did you spot yesterday's error? [Mike 900 - Cum 8385]
Time taken: 8.5hrs including 1.5hrs stops [Mike 9.8hrs incl 2hrs stops]
Weather: Fine and sunny, with a cool wind.
Challengers encountered: Roger Boston and I walked together today, whilst Mike went on ahead. We encountered Peter and Barbara a couple of times and nearly caught up with another solo Challenger on the Firmounth Road.
Markus and Silke joined us at our wild camp at Water of Aven.
Others encountered: none of any significance.
Flora and Fauna: wheatears
Best bit: lovely weather, and the beautiful Forest of Glen Tanar
Worst bit: frightening Peter when he didn't spot us behind him (foolish but funny).

Thanks Eddie, Lyn, Tony (we did spot Steve in a café in Ballater and passed on your best wishes over a pot of tea), Sue (I didn't get a photo of the wildcat, I'm afraid), Alan and others for your comments. They are much appreciated.

Last night's accommodation in the room behind the campsite office resembled (I'm struggling for words) - a doss house.

But for the twenty or so incumbents it represented a safe haven from the wind and rain outside. We'd enjoyed an excellent meal at the Alexandra and even JJ and his mates, Croydon and Morpeth, were happy to bed down early. Once Mike had moved into the annex by the freezer it was surprisingly quiet. I think we all slept well.

Mike set off soon after 7pm. There was much discussion amongst others about routes. Ours was clear - our planned route would prevail, but others hadn't planned to be in Ballater.

Roger had decided to amend his route to coincide with ours today, so he and I enjoyed a second breakfast and a coffee at a café before setting off along the disused railway line to Dinnet, where we enjoyed another coffee in the hotel, together with Peter and Barbara.

Today's route, albeit almost bereft of hills, was a delight. The track along the disused railway line was excellent, and through the forest (pictured) it was even better. Then, on emerging from the forest onto the Hill of Duchery, it was an equally pleasant walk to Birse Castle and beyond, where we finally caught up with Mike at 4.30.

Mike had enjoyed a day at his own pace. His bruised foot is getting better.

By 5pm we had reached Water of Aven, our chosen destination for this final wild camp of the trip. It was a fitting venue for the cheese and wine party we enjoyed once Markus and Silke arrived at 7.30pm, having had a late breakfast at their B+B.

This is a good spot. Remote, flat, with a selection of springs, and, like all our wild camps on this trip (indeed, any of my TGOC trips), free of insects and ticks. The company tonight is equally good, with just the call of the grouse to accompany our laughter.

A fine day at last. Even the wind has got tired of pestering us tonight. Wonderful!

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Monday, 23 May 2011

Monday 23 May 2011 - TGO Challenge Day 11 - By Loch Builg to Ballater Camp Site (NO 370 952 - 200 metres)

Route: as planned, starting 4km into the route. Mike did the FWA omitting Craigendarroch.
See Day 11 for map

Distance: 27km (Cum 266) [Mike 25 - Cum 249]
Ascent: 1965 metres (Cum 10220) [Mike 400 - Cum 7485]
Time taken: 6.8hrs including 0.7hr stops [Mike 5.9hrs incl 0.6hr stops]
Weather: rain all day, and quite windy.
Challengers encountered: Roger B - all day, numerous in Ballater.
Others encountered: nobody daft enough to be out walking, other than Challengers.
Flora and Fauna: the crows were flying backwards
Best bit: a hot shower at Ballater camp site
Worst bit: wearing waterproofs all day (again) but at least we are dry.

The rain started around 4am, and the wind gradually increased, on this our eighth day out eleven wearing full waterproofs.

Nevertheless, it's a lovely valley walk from Loch Builg to Ballater, and with the 'weather' mostly at our backs, we still enjoyed it.

Roger joined us for the entire walk, which was conducted in wind and rain, without sufficient respite for a brew stop.

Roger and I trotted up Craigendarroch (I'm pictured there) whilst Mike found his way to the camp site. We followed, after calling TGO Control, where Roger Smith sounded stressed. We found out why when we got to the camp site. Trees had blown down where Challengers had been pitched last night. So we are not camping. We are in a big room in the camp site office. About a dozen of us. It'll be noisy!

Elsewhere, it seems Challengers are stranded with even some low level routes being impassable.

We are looking forward to a leisurely evening with Markus, Silke and Roger, as well as numerous others, in the Alexandra, where Bill Strang tried but failed to reach us - sorry not to be seeing you Bill!

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Sunday 22 May 2011 - TGO Challenge Day 10 - Clais Fhearnaig to By Loch Builg (NJ 195 026 - 490 metres)

Camp site at Lochbuilg

Martin - as planned but starting part way (5km) into the route and finishing 4km into tomorrow's route.
Mike - FWA from last night's finishing point to today's planned FWA finish - ie a direct, low level route via Quoich Water and the River Gairn.

See Day 10 for map

Distance: 25km (Cum 239) [Mike 20 - Cum 224]
Ascent: 1345 metres (Cum 9600) [Mike 540 - Cum 7085]
Time taken: 8.3hrs including 1hr stops [Mike 7.5hrs incl 1.3hr stops]

Weather: blustery showers, wintry above 900 metres, with a strong buffeting wind.

Challengers encountered: Roger (Bionic Knee) Boston, at Loch Builg, who is camping nearby.

Others encountered: by Martin - 4 walkers on Ben Avon, whilst Mike saw nobody on the FWA. Ten mountain bikers were taking a break near Loch Builg.

Flora and Fauna: rabbits and hares, ptarmigan, large beds of Creeping Azalea, Cloudberry.

Best bit: the views from the summits

Worst bit: debilitating wind for several hours

As you may have noticed, I found a phone signal this morning due to finding a hill, after being down low for a while. I enjoyed reading the story of Gibson and Lynne's dog adventure on Ben Avon (see comment on yesterday's posting). It arrived just as I paused to gather my breath in a sheltered spot on that very summit!
It rained all night. So Mike tells me. Even in such weather I sleep well in the old Callum Hord tent, pictured above where I'm now sitting.

Luckily, the rain stopped shortly before we rose, and the sun dried my tent. Mike's dried a bit, but was soaked with condensation.

Clais Fhearnaig is a beautiful cleft with orchids and lochans. It links Glen Lui with Glen Quoich via a lovely path that was a pleasure to walk along this morning.

Mike then took the delightful but otherwise unoccupied route via Quoich Water and the River Gairn, whilst I took the long but easy path up to the 1197 metre North Top of Beinn a' Bhuird. When I set off the cloud base was hanging at about 1000 metres, so I'd expected to spend a few hours in the cloud. The wind put paid to that. At times I was admiring the view, trying to keep the camera both still and dry, and thinking that the walk would have been much easier in a benign cloud than it was in a howling gale and frequent wintry squalls that threatened to blow you away unless you were pinned to the ground!

I hope some of the photos come out...

Whilst I made it to the Munro summits, the slightly unnerving experience of scrambling to the summit tor of Ben Avon discouraged me from risking life and limb by visiting the other tors. I'll have to wait for another opportunity to enjoy that on a calmer day. I skirted them, in the lee of the gale.

Whilst this morning's ascent had been very docile, this afternoon's descent was quite the opposite, with the gale buffeting me down to 600 metres, from where steep, heathery, rocky, boggy (ie difficult) ground led down to Loch Builg.

After passing the mountain bikers I came across a well constructed, unmissable sign that directed me from our rendezvous map reference to this sheltered spot just a few metres away but well hidden from the path.

Roger was chatting to Mike, having arrived from a valley to the north of Ben Avon. Roger is renowned for his imaginative high routes. This year, like us, he has been forced to abandon several of his 'high' days due to the poor weather. His most distressing day had however featured an encounter with a newly bulldozed 'motorway' in the wild country of the Monadhliath Mountains, which showed no thought for or sympathy with the landscape.

Mike seems to have managed fine today - there has been no mention of poorly feet, and he's now out of earshot (though only five metres away) due to wind and rain.

Tomorrow it's an easy stroll to Ballater, where a more sociable phase of the Challenge gets under way, so don't expect very much by way of postings for the next few days - there's probably not much more to say anyway, though I'm sure some dramatic stories will eventually unfold.

Finally, my sympathy goes to those partying in Braemar tonight and planning on going over Lochnagar tomorrow - here's the forecast (thank you, Sue) that I received earlier:
"Extremely windy on Monday as a swathe of hurricane force winds on mountain tops tracks across Scotland. There will also be torrential rain on many mountains."

There's a slideshow of around 40 images for the day here, including a detailed route map.

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Sunday, 22 May 2011

Saturday 21 May 2011 - TGO Challenge Day 9 - Ruigh-aiteachain Bothy to path junction at Clais Fhearnaig (NO 057 923 - 400 metres)

Route: FWA exactly as planned, subject to arriving back on tomorrow's route, ie we continued up Glen Feshie and across the watershed to Geldie Lodge, then on via White Bridge, the Linn of Dee and Glen Lui.
See Day 9 for map of planned route - we took a lower option to the south

Distance: 30km (Cum 214) [Mike 30 - Cum 204]
Ascent: 660 metres (Cum 8255) [Mike 660 - Cum 6545]
Time taken: 9.2hrs including 1.7hrs stops

Weather: spitting with rain in the morning, but we ignored it; steady rain in the afternoon and evening, with strong wind easing. Noticeably warmer this evening - 14C in the tent
Challengers encountered: we were pleased to see Peter and Barbara shortly after setting off. They had waded across the River Feshie last night during which Peter had a Jelly (Croc) failure, but their spare tent pole had worked and they were fine - last seen heading effortlessly towards Mar Lodge. Then we came across Ken and Norma Proudler, with impressively light loads and a very relaxed regime involving low levels and a B+B or hotel every third night. Next we found first timers Sue and David Tooth crossing the Geldie Burn after walking up the Tilt from Blair Atholl this morning. They managed the crossing easily in their Terroc shoes, and we then walked with them for a while before sheltering from the rain in a copse whilst they brewed up and sorted out their socks. We left them to wander down to Mar Lodge in their own time. On our way up Glen Lui we met a friend from previous Challenges, Judith Barnes.
Others encountered: a mountain biker on his way from Montrose to Fort William in four days - heading for Kingussie tonight - he looked fit but wet. Three backpackers came from the Braemar direction. More mountain bikers were heading down to the Linn of Dee, including a couple with dogs in their rucksacks! Then numerous day walkers coming from the direction of Derry Lodge. They all looked very wet.
Flora and Fauna: there's a fair smattering of Cuckoo Flower (Lady's Smock) over the route at this time of year, and much of the Butterwort we saw today was in flower.
Best bit: bumping into Judith / realising that my feet are still dry!
Worst bit: the rain has returned - we have worn full waterproof gear for five whole days and for half of two days - ie 6 out of 9 days so far.

Poor Mike. He burnt holes in his groundsheet last night when a match head misbehaved. Then his watch adjusted itself to Central European Time and he got up "an hour early" - at 4am, though why he should normally get up at 5am I don't know...

Anyway, he was all packed up and waiting to leave when I woke at 6.30 - he had been reluctant to enter the bothy as he didn't want to disturb Richard, whose snores were as loud as those coming from Mike himself whilst Stefan and I were chatting last night.

We left at 7.45 and soon came across P+B, then we plodded happily up the Feshie valley, through natural pine woodland - very pretty.

Once in the open, at around 400-500 metres, the cold wind gnawed at us. We were so thankful that, as throughout this Challenge, it was on our backs.

A draughty brew stop provided a welcome break before we moved on to the Eidart Bridge (pictured), and the watershed where we met the friendly mountain biker.

Past Geldie Lodge (a ruin), Ken and Norma were enjoying lunch in a sheltered alcove. We joined them.

Then it was a slow descent all the way down to the Linn of Dee, during which we walked for a while with Sue and David. Mike's feet started to suffer for the first time, so he was relieved when we finally came to rest at this scenic spot. Unfortunately heavy rain has stopped play on the scenery front, and we are stuck in our tents, cooking and snoozing.

Just before arriving here, a familiar figure approached.
"Where are You going" quizzed Judith. "Braemar" I joked. Judith looked puzzled, "where's my shortbread" she countered. "Next year!" I offered, "I have a plan*."
"Is this 'Poor Michael'?" asked Judith, pointing at my weary companion.
"Yes" replied Mike, "do you mind if I sit down, M'I duggereb", he said, before giving an impressive impersonation of a jelly.
"Oh dear, Poor Michael" observed Judith, before hastening on to Mar Lodge after having come through the Lairig Ghru today.

(I'm giving Mike a day off tomorrow - don't worry - he'll take a short, low route whilst I go over Ben Avon.)

I hope this rain stops...

*I'm hoping to get Sue, the 'shortbread lady' back on the Challenge next year. She will no doubt arm herself with goodies for everyone she meets, and will also be available, at a high price, (Mr Pigeon!) for foot massages.

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Friday 20 May 2011 - TGO Challenge Day 8 - By Loch Cuaich to Camp by Ruigh-aiteachain Bothy (NN 846 928 - 360 metres)

Route: virtually as planned, with Mike omitting Meall Chuaich and tomorrow's FWA up the Feshie started in preference to Allt Fhearnagan, with other minor adjustments.
See Day 8 for map

Distance: 29km (Cum 184) [Mike 29 - Cum 174]
Ascent: 1240 metres (Cum 7595) [Mike 970 - Cum 5885]
Time taken: 10.7hrs including 2.6hrs stops
Weather: rain all night, turning to snow when we got up, then wintry showers all day, with spells of sunshine and spectacular rainbows (pictured)
Challengers encountered: Peter and Barbara this morning - we thought they would come here, but they haven't arrived, Richard Fuell who arrived a little while ago and is staying in the bothy, and Stefan, who has just (9.30) arrived by a different route. He has sore feet!
Others encountered: nobody
Flora and Fauna: mountain hares on Meall Chuaich
Best bit: fabulous rainbows over Glen Feshie
Worst bit: having full waterproofs on all day

After raining all night, it went quiet in the tents. Snow.

Nevertheless, I couldn't resist going up Meall Chuaich. It was even quite pleasant on top, by winter standards. I stayed for some time.

Meanwhile Mike caught up Peter and Barbara and found me by chance at Allt na Fearna. We spent an hour over a brew, and with some difficulty replaced a pole section on P+B's Nallo tent.

We left P+B to potter along at their own pace and enjoyed a bit of sunshine between the showers. An otherwise idyllic lunch spot on the bank of a river housed a cold wind that deterred us from brewing up.

A mixture of rough but easy ground and Land Rover tracks took us easily up to the summit of Carn Dearg Mor, Mike's first Corbett. A high wind made it unpleasant to stay long, though the views towards the Cairngorm plateau were great.

Mike continued on whilst I hunkered down to post the previous entry, during which one of several wintry squalls passed over, resulting in a spectacular rainbow.

The rest of today's walk was uneventful, even to the extent of the bothy being empty when we arrived. But Richard is now ensconced in there, and the ever jolly Stefan, who is proud to have seen an adder today, is again camping next to us on a fine patch of grass behind the bothy.

This is a lovely area of natural pine forest. I've enjoyed the evening (we arrived here at 6.15) gazing at it from the door of the tent.

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Friday, 20 May 2011

Carn Dearg Mòr (CDM)

Here's Mike on the summit of CDM this afternoon.

Jamie, you are correct. There was a storm this morning that dumped snow above 500 metres. I went over Meall Chuaich in it. That snow has now virtually gone, but the wind has strengthened.

Given the dodgy forecast and the strong wind, although the Cairngorm plateau looks enticing from CDM, with very little snow, it could be quite unpleasant. So we will take our Glen Feshie foul weather route tomorrow. This probably puts us away from a phone signal for up to three days, so sorry about that - I'll do my best...

Peter and Barbara are from the Burnley area btw, Alan.

Bye for now
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Thursday 19 May 2011 - TGO Challenge Day 7 - Culra Bothy to By Loch Cuaich (NN 690 872 - 400 metres)

Route: almost as planned, subject to 3km that we did yesterday to Culra Bothy - plus we took the track past Loch Pattack rather than the path by Allt a Chaoil-rèidhe.
Mike took our FWA and omitted The Fara.
See Day 7 for map

Distance: 25km (Cum 155) [Mike 23 - Cum 145]
Ascent: 840 metres (Cum 6355) [Mike 320 - Cum 4915]
Time taken: 9.2hrs including 2hrs stops [Mike 7.7hrs incl 1.2hrs stops]
Weather: showery morning, fine afternoon with occasional rain in the air, showery evening, breezy
Challengers encountered: we walked with Peter and Barbara beside Loch Pattack, and I walked with Stefan from Dalwhinnie to camp. Mike also saw Pete and Dave, and bumped into Bob and Rose, who appeared to be running behind schedule, at Dalwhinnie
Others encountered: several Estate workers
Flora and Fauna: a wildcat
Best bit: pretty obvious given the 'flora and fauna'
Worst bit: annoying morning showers

I've been coming to Scotland for many years and never expected to see a wildcat, but today, just after I left Mike to go up The Fara, I was enjoying a staring match with some red deer when a large stripey tabby cat with a long white-tipped tail ran across the steep grass separating one bit of woodland from another just above Ben Alder Lodge. Magic. The whole trip is worth it just for those five or ten seconds.

The night at Culra was the most comfortable I have spent in a bothy. It was clean and spacious for the five in our room, with raised sleeping platforms and plenty of space. It was also very sociable despite one of the earliest nights on record (8pm approx!). The other four Challengers occupied the main room, whilst four mountain bikers turned up and slept in a third room.

Every time I woke, rain seemed to be hammering at the windows and mice seemed to be chewing a supply of crisp packets, but by morning Stefan had taken charge of his rubbish bag and the skies seemed to have exhausted their supply of moisture.

They hadn't. Shortly after setting off. the first shower hit, and after a number of on/offs of waterproofs we eventually gave up and kept them on.

Meanwhile, the flooded track by the shore of Loch Pattack provided more problems. Barbara was the most sensible, donning her Crocs for the shore path whilst the rest of us plunged in and out of huge peat hags. We disturbed a mallard and its scurrying youngster, whilst a large lone goose sat questioningly on a high hag.

Then came the magic of my wildcat experience, before a leisurely slog over beds of creeping azalea to the end of The Fara's 6km ridge. Once up there it was fairly easy going despite an occasionally violent side wind, which was more than made up for by the huge views. Snow had fallen on many summits last night and was particularly prominent on Creag Meagaidh.

Reaching the summit at precisely 1pm, I soon found a sheltered spot in which to enjoy lunch, which was back to tea, mackerel and GORP after the excitement of Heather's sandwiches yesterday.

After the steep but easy descent to Loch Ericht a strange thing happened. Not only did the waterproofs come off, but so did my fleece. Hey, I've been walking in a t-shirt today!

I soon arrived at the petrol station, to find Stefan grinning over a fresh pastie. Apparently he only had supplies for a week and has been happy to stock up here, where Kevin has been very helpful in storing parcels and generally being kind to Challengers. Thank you Kevin.

An Estate man who knows about wildcats came in and confirmed that was indeed what I had seen. "You have been very lucky" he observed, as did Avril at TGO Control when I phoned in - she seemed nearly as thrilled as I was.

The hour and twenty minute walk up to our camping spot, where Mike had arrived much earlier at 3.30, passed quickly in the company of Stefan despite the extra weight of four days food. Stefan is from Essen in Germany and edits the video for a daily TV magazine programme along the same lines as our 'Look North'.

After dinner the Callum Hord tent hosted a small party during which serious inroads were made into a golden coloured liquid that Stefan had picked up during the course of his visit earlier to the Dalwhinnie distillery. So that explains why he is behind Peter, Barbara, Pete and Dave - who have headed on towards Gaick - and also his wide grin when I saw him at the petrol station.

That's all for now, we have a long day tomorrow, and above the patter of rain on the tent and the calls of the numerous resident red grouse, I can hear snoring - the tents are rather close as you can see from the picture, with Mike admiring his Power Lizard and Stefan his Soulo.

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Thursday, 19 May 2011

Wednesday 18 May 2011 - TGO Challenge Day 6 - Bridge of Gaur Guest House (NN 501 471) to Culra Bothy (NN 523 761)

Route: Foul Weather Alternative, exactly as planned, subject to an extra 3km to Culra Bothy - ie via Benalder Cottage instead of an 8km ridge walk.
See Day 6 for map of planned route - we took an easier option. Again! Again!!

Distance: 27km (Cum 130) [Mike 27 - Cum 122]
Ascent: 840 metres (Cum 5515) [Mike 840 - Cum 4595]
Time taken: 8.2hrs including 1.4hrs stops
Weather: wet morning, wet windy and squally afternoon, wet evening
Challengers encountered: Stefan Latzel, Bob Tucker, Pete Lee, Dave Handley, Markus and Silke Petter, Barbara Saunders and Peter Kenyon
Others not encountered: Mike Knipe, the Pie Man, was apparently nearby operating a microcafè from a small blue tent with (allegedly) holes in it, but we didn't see him
Flora and Fauna: lots of small white flowers (pictured)
Best bit: meeting up with Markus and Silke
Worst bit: the weather

Mike and I 'don't do bothies'. Nor do Markus and Silke, nor do various others who passed by this place this afternoon in atrocious weather with no sheltered camping spots. So here we are, holed up in Culra bothy with the rain still lashing down outside. Mike and I have quite a smart room that we are sharing with Markus, Silke and Stefan. We are having an early night. All those seen apart from Bob, who was heading south west from Benalder Cottage, are here in one room or another.

The day started well with an excellent breakfast on a fine morning. Unfortunately, about 50 metres after setting off, the rain came and waterproofs were deployed for the rest of the day.

After an hour or so we caught up with Stefan, who has carried his supplies for the whole trip from Oban, starting with 24 kilos. He's tough, and after Benalder Cottage he went over a Munro, Beinn Bheoil, taking the short route to Culra. But he should be calling TGO Control from Dalwhinnie tonight, so is presumably 'missing'.

Stefan reports that the wind on the Munro was worse than the wind he experienced at the North Cape, perhaps justifying my marginal decision to bale out of an 8km ridge walk. That wouldn't have been pleasant.

Bob Tucker had only seen two Challengers all trip before bumping into us. He showed me his route. I don't think he'll be seeing many more!

The path between Benalder Cottage and Culra is superb, but that between the end of Loch Ericht and the Cottage seems to be in the process of being made into a road and is ankle deep in a sandy slurry in places.

Pete and Dave were very jolly when we met them on their way down to Culra, with Dave on chefing duties and producing a tasty looking soup.

We could see a very shallow rainbow in the east for ages, but even when the sun was shining on the bothy it seemed to continue to rain.

Two bedraggled cyclists arrived with fresh food to cook, but the Challengers had long since consumed their dehydrated meals and were ready for a long sleep.

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Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Tuesday 17 May 2011 - TGO Challenge Day 5 - Meadow beside Allt Coire a' Bhuic to Bridge of Gaur Guest House

Route: Foul Weather Alternative, exactly as planned, subject to the ascent of Meall Chomraidh by me - ie down towards the railway line then along the old drove road through Rannoch Forest to Bridge of Gaur.
See Day 5 for map of planned route - we took an easier option. Again!

Distance: 16km (Cum 103) [Mike 15 - Cum 95]
Ascent: 340 metres (Cum 4675) [Mike 135 - Cum 3755]
Time taken: 5.2hrs including 1.2hrs stops [Mike - 1.7hrs stops]
Weather: fine with sunny periods
Challengers encountered: at Bridge of Gaur Guest House - Lou and Phyllis La Borwit, the Fowkes quartet - Bernard, Margaret, Jackie and Emily, and camping outside (but eating in) - Dentally challenged [he says I got the 'D' wrong] Des Horan and sleeping expert Koos Schellevis
Others encountered: only Heather and Eddie at their splendid Guest House
Flora and Fauna: cuckoos are seen as well as heard, and a sparrowhawk catching its lunch, as well as lots of wild flowers on the ascent of Meall Chomraidh - butterwort, tormentil, wood anemone, dog violets, etc
Best bit: a brew stop in the sun on a windless day/the great hospitality here
Worst bit: can't think of one, other than the paucity of summits on a fine day

We slept early and woke late on a calm, rainless night. After a good lie in we eventually set off before 9.30 on a boggy quest to join the old drove road through Rannoch Forest. We saw four people behind us but they didn't catch us. It later transpired that they included the La Borwits, who are nearly 20 years older than us, so can be justified in being slower.

The route through the forest was scenically challenging, unless you like pine forests, but was pleasant enough on a good track.

Mid morning brew stops should feature highly on any Challenge, but today's (pictured) was only our second in five days. A record. It was a highlight of today's walk.

Readers may be aware of my predilection to higher ground. Mike is not so afflicted. So when we exited the forest, Mike was happy to linger over his lunch (and to be fair, I did lend him some bird-watching binoculars to occupy the time) whilst I strolled to the summit of Meall Chomraidh. The views to the east were excellent, with Loch Rannoch and Schiehallion dominant, whilst an ominous belt of low cloud and rain appeared to be racing in from the west. After a chat with Sue and the despatch of Sunday's posting (sorry, but this was the first phone signal since Bridge of Orchy), and loads of photos, I enjoyed a time trial against the rain and descended back to Mike in ten minutes.

Bridge of Gaur was only 45 minutes down the good track, and we were there by 2.45pm, which turned out to be several hours before the rain eventually arrived. Better to arrive dry than wet, though, albeit very early, as we were sure that Heather and Eddie would have been inundated with wet Challengers yesterday. (They were, Ron Reynolds, a man with just a few Challenges - 20+ - under his belt taking the prize for not having a single item of dry clothing.)

Perhaps I had time to pop up Leagag, but the day was better spent in the sociable company of the above-mentioned fellow guests and campers - there is no room at the inn for Des and Koos (who for the sake of pronunciation prefers to go by the name of Dick), who are camped on the lawn but eating here. The Fowkes quartet unfortunately failed to notice the guest house sign and carried out a misdirected tour of Bridge of Gaur before finally landing at this Shangri La.

We had a lovely evening with fine food and wine as well as the excellent company of our fellow guests and our hosts. I was flattered to learn that Phyllis occasionally tunes in to these ramblings. Hello Phyllis - I do sincerely hope that your adjusted route proved to be a success.

Thanks for your messages - Aussie Mike, the weather is certainly not up to its usual standard, with an obnoxious low pressure sitting stubbornly off the north of Scotland.

That's all for now. Normal service (ie rain, hills) may be resumed tomorrow, after these very easy two 'half days'.

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Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Monday 16 May 2011 - TGO Challenge Day 4 - Col at head of Coire an Dothaidh to Meadow beside Allt Coire a' Bhuic (NN 408 485 - 380 metres)

Route: Foul Weather Alternative, exactly as planned, subject to a convenient camping spot 500 metres earlier than planned - ie a walk down Gleann Cailliche, then north up Gleann Meran, continuing to near the railway line at the edge of Rannoch Forest.
See Day 4 for map of planned route - we took an easier option.

Distance: 14km (Cum 87) [Mike 14 - Cum 80]
Ascent: 200 metres (Cum 4335) [Mike 200 - Cum 3620]
Time taken: 5.1hrs including 0.5hrs stops
Weather: incessant rain after a vile night
Challengers encountered: None
Others encountered: we saw one man preparing some ground for forestry in Gleann Meran
Flora and Fauna: lots of deer; dog violets and skylarks seem to like the rain
Best bit: relaxing in a warm, dry tent
Worst bit: having to wear waterproofs continuously for three successive days, with more to come

We both had bad nights. It was quite windy and very wet. My tent seemed to fill quickly with water, so I had to lie very straight on the Thermarest in order to stay vaguely dry. Mike suffered more - his new tent appears to have leaked, and his pegs kept leaping out of the ground during the night, resulting in Mike having to leap out of his tent to carry out maintenance work. The inconvenience to me of his noisy flappy tent keeping me awake was, in comparison, a minor irritation.

We got our usual pre 8 o'clock start, and having rejected thoughts of going up Beinn an Dothaidh in the driving rain, we dropped down to 650 metres and contoured across a slope to eventually reach the col at the head of Gleann Cailliche. It was slow going. Mike isn't good at slopes.

Eventually the steepness of the ground eased and we quickly reached a walled area in the middle of nowhere - Tigh nam Bodach - an antiquity that now seems to be a graveyard for sheep and, judging by the droppings, a place where they shelter in bad weather. They were all on the hill today; I suppose that makes us wimps. Pictured above - a wimp at Tigh nam Bodach.

The rest of the morning was spent admiring the view down Loch Lyon (in our imaginations) and strolling up to another col, (from where we could have continued our planned route, but Mike declined and I decided it was best to stay together today), then down to camp, with just a few peat hags to complicate matters in a minor sort of way.

We have a nice flat grassy pitch beside Allt Coire 'a Bhuic, which should be easily crossed tomorrow despite the rain, which continues to patter on the tent as I write. No leaks are evident today, and the only legacies of last night's torrential driving rain are a few wet bags and a damp sleeping bag.

Unsurprisingly, my old Scarpa boots have started to seep a little, but thanks to Sealskinz socks my feet have remained warm and dry. My Sealskinz gloves are sodden and will take time to dry (Mike's have the same problem), otherwise our waterproofs have worked perfectly apart from a leak through the zip of Mike's jacket.

Lunch was again taken indoors - tea and tinned fish in the Callum Hord, which has a bit more headroom than Mike's Vaude Power Lizard.

Camp routine:
Usually arrive between 5 and 7pm
Tent up
Brew up
Pasta and sauce with added John West seared tuna fillets
Angel Delight (butterscotch is best)
Hot chocolate
Asleep by 10pm
6.30 alarm
Tea and muesli
Leave by 8am
But some days, like today, you get extra time, which is very nice, especially if it's not raining.
Today it's raining...

Later, much later, the rain has stopped - for a while!

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Sunday 15 May 2011 - TGO Challenge Day 3 - Meall nan Uan to Col at head of Coire an Dothaidh (NN 328 398 - 705 metres)

Route: exactly as planned, subject to dropping down a few metres to a sheltered spot (famous last words) to camp.
See Day 3 for map

Distance: 21km (Cum 73) [Mike 21 - Cum 66]
Ascent: 1100 metres (Cum 4135) [Mike 1100 - Cum 3420]
Time taken: 9.8hrs including 2.7hrs stops
Weather: drizzly rain all morning with a brief respite this afternoon before we entered a zone of cloud at around 500 metres.
Challengers encountered: after rejoining the 'trade route' on the track by Loch Dochart, we met first timers but experienced Munroists Frank Kelly and Jim Martin and walked with them to Lunch No 1 - at the Inveroran Hotel, from where we walked to Bridge of Orchy with Nik Lawcock, on her seventh Challenge for Lunch No 2.
Others encountered: lots of people on the West Highland Way, which appears to be a principal source of income for the above establishments. Some looked quite miserable. Mike tried to cheer them up by offering them packets of muesli that make feel sick.
Flora and Fauna: lousewort, creeping azalea, flitting meadow pipits (but Frank and Jim reckoned they'd seen two golden eagles.
Best bit: all three lunches.
Worst bit: looking at the weather forecast at Bridge of Orchy.

The only food we had for today was lunch. The planned big meal at Bridge of Orchy was scuppered by lunch at Inveroran, so we had another lunch at B of O before scooting up here to eat the goodies we'd been carrying since Oban, before picking up fresh supplies at B of O.

I'd like to say we are on an airy verandah. (Today's picture shows Mike making the finishing touches to his perfectly pitched tent on the verandah.) We are, I suspect, on an airy verandah if we were brave enough to look outside and could see through clouds. However, we are beside a gently burbling stream that will no doubt lull us to sleep.

Today's walk started with the long, rough plod up Beinn Suidhe. Nobody else was up there today; it was cloudy.

Back on the main track, Crocs were used to cross Allt Ghabhar - not really necessary if you crossed with care, I concluded. "I crossed with care" commented Nik later, adding that she got a wet foot.

That's all for now. Normally I would scoot back up to the col and look for a signal to send this tonight, but it's dry and warm in here and just a little inclement out there!

Thanks for the messages btw; we are sorry to hear that it has been raining in Manchester...

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Sunday, 15 May 2011

Saturday 14 May 2011 - TGO Challenge Day 2 - Creag an Fhithich to below Meall nan Uan (NN 190 365 - 504 metres)

Route: virtually as planned, with Mike omitting Meall Garbh.
See Day 2 for map

Distance: 19km (Cum 52) [Mike 15 - Cum 45]
Ascent: 1815 metres (Cum 3035) [Mike 1395 - Cum 2320]
Time taken: 10.4hrs including 2hrs stops [Mike 7.8hrs, 1.3hrs stops]
Weather: Cool, with a few blustery showers. Cloud base around 800 to 900 metres but occasionally higher. The sort of day when you keep your waterproofs on all day.
Challengers encountered: None
Others encountered: None
[That was easy!]
Flora and Fauna: last night's camp was on a bed of Milkwort, which is probably today's most seen flower. Herds of deer roam this area, and startled ground nesting birds scurry away from under your feet.
Best bit: good views and dry feet.
Worst bit: setting off from Beinn Eunaich in the wrong direction!
Strangest bit: doing a restaurant review on the top of a Munro.

Another relatively easy day in fine (ish) weather, with an enjoyable sting in the tail - Meall Garbh - for me. A long haul up to the first Munro, but we were rewarded with occasional views from the ridge.

This after the restaurant review of Light of India, apparently needed urgently for Stockport Walking Group!
"Average sort of curry house. Fine for a hungry group.
Others enjoyed the fish restaurant that did nice lobster etc" - that was enough, my hands were cooling down...

We could see that someone with small feet had walked ahead of us - probably Ali and Sue - and we wondered how they were doing on Ben Cruachan. Then we heard from Heather, who after bottling out of her 'high route' was regretting the decision as she was now sloshing up the north shore of Loch Etive.

Mike did fine today, managing to maintain the planned pace, though the cool weather meant fewer stops than usual as he chills easily. He kept muttering something like "M'i duggereb"; I'll have to consult someone intelligent like Alan Sloman or Mike Knipe for a translation and then take appropriate measures such as increasing the daily distance.

Today's picture was taken on the descent from Beinn Eunaich; Meall Garbh is prominent on the left.

We are camped on some ledges below the summit, facing east, in the shelter of any breeze, but this evening it's dead calm. Very quiet as the water is a few minutes away, but my pitch is pretty much perfect, Mike's is further up the hill.
Strange that after the buzz of excitement and expectation on the train, then yesterday's sociable string of ants, we should see absolutely nobody today!

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Saturday, 14 May 2011

Friday 13 May 2011 - TGO Challenge Day 1 - Oban to Creag an Fhithich (NN 068 344 - 220 metres)

Route: virtually as planned, with Mike omitting Deadh Choimhead.
See Day 1 for map

Distance: 33km (Mike 30km)
Ascent: 1220m (Mike 925m)
Time taken: 9.5hrs including 1.5 hrs stops (Mike 2+hrs)
Weather: cloudy with sunny periods and a light westerly breeze in exposed spots (surprisingly, no rain!)
Challengers encountered: Heather, Ali, Sue, Roger, Robert, Susan, Des, Frank, Jim, Lou, Phyllis, Ian, Christine, Peter, Ursula and more. Quite a few in fact...
Others encountered: very nice ladies who served a bottomless pot of tea and delicious toasties at the Robins Nest tea shop in Taynuilt.
Flora and Fauna: cuckoos, lots of orchids and red deer on the ascent of Deadh Choimhead, and much more.
Best bit: no rain, lots of friendly Challengers.
Worst bit: the Deadh Choimhead maze - where a zone of felled trees had to be negotiated.

This was an enjoyable and easy first day, with Morven's team at the Kathmore Guest House fuelling us amply for the day ahead.

After signing out at a friendly portacabin we strolled up to the folly, McCaig's Tower (pictured), before joining a slow trail of heavily laden ants along the country lanes to Taynuilt.

Mike gracefully declined to join me on the 300 metre ascent of Deadh Choimhead, the decision being made when he saw the shin deep river that had to be crossed to start the ascent. He wouldn't have liked the tree maze either, but red deer came very close, the flowers were lovely, and the views expansive despite Ben Cruachan's head being in the clouds.

My diversion, after which I continued to enjoy wearing the Crocs I'd used for the river crossing for a few km, put us behind various folk and was a reason for seeing so many Challengers today. All very jolly. But after the tea shop we headed a short way up Glen Noe and then to this spot, which is a good but not a fine site, being a bit lumpy but close to a good water supply.

It has started to rain (9pm) and that at least has shut up our resident cuckoo.

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Thursday, 12 May 2011

Thursday 12 May 2011 - TGO Challenge Day 0 - Montrose to Oban

Despite Heather T-S's best efforts - text messages in the middle of the night relating a tale of rain in Lancashire - Chez Alison provided a good night's sleep before a stroll, with a rucksack that feels very heavy, to the station for the 9.18 to Glasgow in the esteemed company of legend Ron Reynolds and three generations of the Foulkes family, including Bernard and his big rucksack. Bernard will be 83 in a couple of weeks time. This will be his and Margaret's 19th Challenge.

The usual melée at Queen Street station was followed by a most sociable train journey to Oban, waved off by Messrs Smith and Shiel, in the company of the majority of the 57 Challengers who are starting from there tomorrow morning. I forgot to buy a baguette, so lunch included Stilton and crisps, washed down with a very palatable bottle of red wine, courtesy of Poor Michael (Mike) who turned up dutifully on the platform at Queen Street.

It has been a day of sunshine and showers. We suspect that the latter may prevail over the days to come.

Then Gordon managed to gather a quota of about a dozen Challengers in the Light of India restaurant here in Oban for an amenably sociable preamble to the walk.

Great to meet up with friends old and new, today. There's a bit more effort needed tomorrow...

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Friday, 6 May 2011

TGO Challenge - 2011

Our TGOC 2011 route - 365km (227 miles) with 16,300 metres ascent

This year’s TGO Challenge starts next Friday – for me in Oban.  But the journey actually starts in a few minutes time when I set off with Sue for a weekend at Bridge of Orchy.  I’ll be staying up north after that weekend, doing the TGO Challenge, the planned route of which is shown above, then returning south for a few days on the Devon coastal path.

So the rest of this month’s entries will be via ‘mobile blogging’ – a telephone.

I’ll be doing the Challenge with a carefully selected victim, ‘Poor Michael’, who should know better really as he’s known me for nearly 50 years!  It’s his picture, taken during a practice on Catbells, that you can see on this month’s background image to the blog (I hope readers can see the text more easily than last month, when Lud’s Church was the chosen background).

Our route is described in vivid Technicolor here.  This year I’ve decided not to set up ‘Planned Route’ postings on a day to day basis as they often tend to get out of order due to phone signal problems, etc.  Readers should be able to follow our progress quite easily using the web page, to which I’ll try to provide a link on the daily postings, which may not be daily due to phone signal issues. 

I’ll do my best, though!

Comments will be directed to my phone, so please do keep in touch – I’ll reply by way of observations in the text of the postings, as Gayle does.

The route is a challenging one.  I think that’s the general idea of the TGO Challenge, but it has many options for short cuts and omissions, which I expect to be taken from time to time due to weather and tiredness.

‘Poor Michael’ is very competent in the hills, so we may not stay together all the time if one of us feels better than the other about going high; we are independently self-sufficient.

I’ll finish with the last ‘decent’ image you’ll see for some time over here, the phone images being necessarily of rather low resolution.  It’s a self-timed image taken on last year’s Challenge on the summit of Ben Vrackie.  At least this year I’ll have Mike to take some pictures and avoid the 10 second sprints needed for ones like this!

On the summit of Ben Vrackie - May 2010

Friday, 25 March 2011

Saturday 12 March 2011 – The TGO Challenge ‘Snake Reunion’

The ever optimistic Tony Bennett prepares for blinding sunshine

Alan Hardy (that’s not him above!) again kindly organised this reunion.

Whilst some attended the whole weekend, Sue and I joined a hard corps of about 30 folk – nobody was counting – for a 17 km walk; followed by an evening with 40 or so diners at the Snake Inn.

The route chosen for the walk was excellent – from The Snake we dropped through woodland to the River Ashop, for Essential Training – a river crossing.

Crossing the River Ashop in Lady Clough

But the crossing was hardly a practice for Scottish burns in May. Nobody got their feet wet.

Then a large portion of the day’s height gain was achieved on the ascent to Seal Stones. Peter struggled. He may need to adjust his red wine/exercise quotient to get fit for the Challenge.

Barbara and Sue greet Peter as he ambles up to Seal Stones

But we were in no hurry. We pottered slowly along Seal Edge, then across Kinder Scout to the Downfall. There wasn’t much falling down; it has been dry.

Posing on Seal Edge
Peat Hags on Kinder Scout
Kinder Downfall

The well surfaced track of the Pennine Way saw us over Sandy Heys to William Clough, where lunch was taken and one of the less robust members of the party, who shall remain nameless, decided to take a short cut down the Snake Path and Ashop Clough.

The rest of us continued along the Pennine Way to Mill Hill, then along the long paved path across Featherbed Moss to the top of the A57 Snake Pass road.

The paved Pennine Way snakes its way to the Snake Pass

After a long wait for JJ, who had been testing a vital item of Challenge Kit, the motley group carried on to ‘Old Woman’ before leaving the ‘Motorway’ that is the Pennine Way.

A light shower didn’t deter us from enjoying the final few kilometres down Lady Clough and back to the Snake Inn.

Here’s our route – 17 km, 620 metres ascent, taking a leisurely 6.5 hours.

Our 17 km route, with 620 metres ascent, taking 6.5 hours

Then, after a few beers etc, a jolly evening was had by all those who didn’t leave early, and by even more who arrived late.

Waiting for dinner

Great to see you, folks.

There’s a slide show here – not very good images I’m afraid, but they do feature one Challenger who seems to be preparing his own head for target practice!