Sue and Martin above Zermatt - 2018

Sue and Martin above Zermatt - 2018
Showing posts with label TGOC 2012. Show all posts
Showing posts with label TGOC 2012. Show all posts

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Thursday 24 May 2012 - TGO Challenge Day 14 - Drumoak to Nigg Bay (Aberdeen) - A Sunny Stroll with Janette

Route: as planned apart from the final descent to Nigg Bay from Baron's Cairn - we headed east to avoid a landfill site, then north along the coast path.
.See http://www.topwalks.com/tgoc2012.html Day 14 for map

Distance: 25.5km (Cum 426)

Ascent: 300 metres (Cum 10,100)

Time taken: 6hrs including stops

Weather: another hot sunny day

Challengers encountered: none on the walk; none on the train; many in Montrose.

Others encountered: we had the pleasure of Janette's company for today's walk.

Flora and Fauna: coastal sea birds and flowers including thrift in fine fettle, swifts as we entered Aberdeen, a sparrowhawk on the path in front of us, lots of bluebells, red campion, daffodils, etc lining the path.

Janette joined us for a 7.30 start from Drumoak, along the pleasant Deeside Way trail all the way to its terminus at Duthie Park. This was almost all 'off road' and far preferable to our more customary road walk to the east coast.

We reached Duthie in time for elevenses at a café, before muscling our way across town for lunch at Baron's Cairn, at 83 metres the final summit of our trip.

It should have been an easy half hour's stroll down to Nigg Bay, but a landfill had encroached to the extent that we thought our planned route across the railway would be blocked (it wasn't - just seriously diverted). So we went the other way around the landfill and soon found ourselves on a lovely coastal path and heading inexorably towards Nigg Bay and the end of this most satisfying journey.

At the very end of the journey was the ruin of a church - the final subject of this series of postings' historical references. First established in 1242, the kirk was Catholic up to the Reformation then Episcopalian until 1716. It was abandoned in 1829, following the opening of the New Church of the parish of Nigg, though the graveyard continued to be used up to the twentieth century. Due to its remote location the kirk was a target for body snatchers in the early nineteenth century and was consequently equipped with a watch-house, the ruins of which can still be seen today, along with the main church building.

Bill and Alison turned up at Nigg Bay but failed to persuade Sue to skinny dip. Perhaps due to the fact that it was cooler here (14C) due to the remnants of some coastal fog, or perhaps due to the smelly effluent from a sewage works that drains into the bay. There was just one fat lady swimming.

After celebratory hugs and photos we were glad of a lift into Aberdeen to collect the 14.39 train to Montrose.

That's where we are now, hoping soon to be reunited with some of our Challenger friends, having seen no other Challengers since before Dinnet on Tuesday.

That's all for now. Montrose will no doubt be fun.

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Nigg Bay - 1.30pm Thursday 24 May2012 - the end of Another Great Challenge

After a lovely morning's walk with Janette, and over 260 miles and 10,000 metres ascent, we reached our objective on time and as planned.

Party time now...

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Wednesday 23 May 2012 - TGO Challenge Day 13 – Potarch to Drumoak - Sunstroke on Scolty?

Route: as planned apart from the addition of a visit to the Falls of Feugh and a Deeside route from Banchory to Drumoak (as opposed to the Deeside Way, which doesn't run beside the River Dee).
See http://www.topwalks.com/tgoc2012.html Day 13 for map

Distance: 29km (Cum 400.5)

Ascent: 500 metres (Cum 9800)

Time taken: 8.3hrs including stops

Weather: drenched with sweat

Challengers encountered: none

Others encountered: mainly Bill and Alison, who walked with us from Potarch to their house in Drumoak.

Flora and Fauna: Bill was given a lesson on hedgerow flowers; lots of birds and deer already recorded.
Greater spotted woodpecker and collared doves in B + A's garden.

This was a lovely day's walk, with virtually no tarmac, under a clear blue sky, with flowers, birdsong and Bill and Alison to cheer us along the way.

Bill and Alison arrived on the 9am bus, just as we were settling our modest hotel bill. The Deeside Way is not yet waymarked hereabouts, but the paths have been built and they coincide with the route I'd plotted.

Sue is pictured with B+A on one of the forestry paths featured early on the day's stroll.

After an hour or two we diverted slightly from the route of the Deeside Way to ascend Scolty (299 metres), our 'Hill of the Day' (had you noticed that policy?). It's a lovely little hill with a tower on the top (pictured). Last week Bill had to wear gloves and spend the rest of the day thawing out after visiting this spot. Today he lagged behind; on arrival at the top collapsing like a jelly in front of a friendly sunbathing George Formby fan. We thought he had sunstroke, and despite witnessing his skill in dodging a banana skin flung towards him from the top of the tower, we think we may have been correct.

The tower commemorates William Burnett (1762-1839), who was a son of Sir Thomas, the refurbisher of Crathes Castle and its famous gardens. On retirement from the army, William acquired and enlarged Banchory Lodge Estate, of which Scolty Hill was then a part.

Bill's temporary revival allowed us to descend gently to the pleasant town of Banchory, where in his sun-stricken state he demanded ice creams with menaces. Local entrepreneur farmer, Maitland Mackie was up to the challenge and one of his minions sold us some 'Mackies', a miracle ice cream cure for sunstroke.

Suitably refreshed, we made our way a few hundred metres to the Banchory Lodge Hotel, where further remedial medicine was provided by way of a large pot of tea in the garden, where Bill lay under the shade of a tree, Alison and I sat in the sun, and Sue went for a swim (well, this poetic licence has gone quite far enough - a paddle) in the river.

We returned to the official, waymarked Deeside Way until Crathes, passing on the way a short section of reclaimed railway line and its associated paraphernalia.

Then we could have continued along the old railway track, but instead we chose a slightly longer route along paths actually beside the river. This was a delightful way to finish the day, and thanks go to B + A for pointing out this route, which eventually regained the Deeside Way a few metres before reaching their house in Drumoak.

Drumoak (Scottish Gaelic: Druim M'Aodhaig, the ridge of St Aodhag) is a village situated next to the River Dee, with Park Bridge, named after the local Park Estate, being a local crossing; Park Estate was formerly owned by the railway engineer Sir Robert Williams; Sir Robert is interred at Drumoak. There is a church, small shop, bowling green and the Irvine Arms restaurant (after the family that owned 13th century Drum Castle). Drum Castle is run by the National Trust and is open to visitors. Relics and portraits of the Irvine family are kept here, and it was conferred by Robert the Bruce onto William de Irvine. The Dee River gravels also attract gravel extraction on both sides of the river. Drumoak Manse in 1638 was the birthplace of James Gregory (astronomer and mathematician), discoverer of diffraction gratings a year after Newton's prism experiments, and inventor of the Gregorian telescope design in 1663. The design is still used today in telescopes such as the Arecibo Radio Telescope, upgraded to a Gregorian design in 1997 giving Arecibo a flexibility it had not previously possessed.

Tonight the champagne and wine flowed and I'm not really in a state to compose this entry.

So before closing I'll simply thank Ali-J for her comment, congratulate Mick and Gayle on their successful crossing, wish everyone well for tomorrow and Friday, confirm that I'll pass on Martin R's best wishes to his 'Chally' friends, and say "Goodnight".

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Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Tuesday 22 May 2012 - TGO Challenge Day 12 - Ballater to Potarch - Blue Skies and Good Company

Route: as planned, with minor amendments due to Peter and Bill's local knowledge.
See http://www.topwalks.com/tgoc2012.html Day 12 for map

Distance: 34.5km (Cum 361.5)

Ascent: 500 metres (Cum 9300)

Time taken: 9.9hrs including stops

Weather: t-shirt and shorts, blue skies and light winds

Challengers encountered: Emma in the bunkhouse, Tony near Dinnet.

Others encountered: Bill, Alison, Humphrey and Peter joined us from Aboyne, then Katie came - and went with Humphrey. Jon, Margriet, Ian and Janette (as well as the above) joined us for dinner at the Potarch Hotel.

Flora and Fauna: roe + sitka deer 'everywhere'.

An early start saw us leave the bunkhouse at 7.15am, when only Emma was up. Craigendarroch was lovely in the early morning and the views from the summit down to Deeside were excellent, with Lochnagar glittering in the background. Sue is pictured on the summit looking towards Lochnagar.

The coffee house was open when we got back down, so we breakfasted there, before setting off down the disused railway line that now houses the Deeside Way, towards Aboyne.

The Deeside Railway was a line that travelled from Aberdeen to Ballater as a stretch of the Great North of Scotland Railway. Its tracks have been removed in their entirety and the path opened as a track to the public. However, there are breaks in the route from Aberdeen in places where access has not yet been agreed, and the Royal Deeside Railway Preservation Society are reclaiming part of the line to build a heritage railway from Banchory to Milton of Crathes. The pathway is shared by walkers, cyclists and horse riders alike.

Our route vetter, Alan Hardy, had pointed out that soon after leaving Ballater we would pass the historic site of Tullich, the first church at which spot was founded in the 7th Century AD by St Nathalan, one of the great Scottish saints. He cultivated the land by the church and distributed the produce generously to local people. After his death in 678AD his relics were held at the church until the Reformation in 1560. Tullich was the most important village in the area and in the 13th Century much of the land was owned by the Knights Templars. In the late 18th Century the nearby wells at Pannanich were developed as a Spa and then the new town of Ballater was developed to cater for the large number of visitors. The importance of Tullich rapidly declined and the church fell into disuse after the new church of Glenmuick, which combined the parishes of Tullich, Glen Muick and Glen Gairn, was built in 1798.

Tullich Kirkyard is notable for its circular boundary wall, so built to deny the devil a hiding place, and the stones with Pictish inscriptions (testifying to the great age of this kirkyard). Tullich is commemorated in dance. The Tullich Reel was said to have been created by parishioners waiting for a minister who was very late for a service. The minister finding the congregation dancing was very angry and cursed them!

Thanks for that little burst of history, Alan, it planted the idea of including a little such history in each day's posting, perhaps to the chagrin of some readers...

We inadvertently walked past the church, but we did shortly after that divert from the old railway line to visit the needle monument erected in memory of the founder of Ballater, William Farquharson, laird of Monaltrie, who inherited the land in 1791 from his uncle Francis who had just started to develop the village when he died. William continued to create Ballater. The needle monument is to William, who died at Vevay in Switzerland in 1828. His wife Margaret chose this hillock with its stunning views of Lochnagar, to erect the monument in 1836. It's a shame that his descendants and their unpopular Abergeldie Estate Factor are currently engaged in the blocking of old paths, such as the one up Creag nam Ban, which affected our planned route yesterday.

We had a cuppa at the needle, removed some clothing, then toddled off in lovely summery weather, passing Tony - togged up as if on a winter mountain traverse - before we reached Dinnet. After another cuppa there, we timed our stroll into Aboyne with precision, spotting Bill and Alison alighting from the bus just as we emerged from a sunken pathway.

Aboyne is a quiet village, except in summer, when tourists visit and the number of people increases dramatically. The Highland Games on The Village Green is a notable feature in August, when the population of the village doubles. Aboyne is unusual in having this Green on which events are held, as the village was modelled by one of the first Marquesses of Huntly (inhabitants of Aboyne Castle) on a traditional English village with a green at the centre. Few Scottish towns have such an asset.

We enjoyed lunch in the café of the shop that used to be the Co-op, then wandered outside to meet Peter and Humphrey off the next bus from Banchory.

The Deeside Way between Aboyne and Potarch is not complete, so who better to guide us through the best route than Peter, who has worked tirelessly with local landowners in an effort to secure permissions for a sensible route, and Bill, who had recced an off-road option over free access land.

They had both seen Challengers from the bus window, walking along the busy and dangerous main road. Peter's efforts to secure permissions for Deeside Way access had been foiled to some extent by adverse reactions from landowners to planning refusals for such things as a minor hydro scheme. An alternative, less satisfactory, route for the Way is now in gestation.

Anyway, with the benefit of our expert guides we found a good route (on which Peter, Humphrey and Bill are pictured above) before rejoining the official Deeside Way after passing through 'Kinker' - Kincardine O'Neil and Alison's old house.

Today the Deeside Way was in good form, with its verges lined by bright yellow broom and gorse, backed in many places by avenues of silver birch. Bluebells, pansies and many other flowers added to the colourful scene.

Arriving shortly after 5pm at Potarch, a small hamlet with a fine bridge across the River Dee, we headed straight for the old fishermans' hotel (http://www.potarchhotel.co.uk/) and lounged outside for some time with suitable refreshments.

Katie turned up to take Humphrey (an 11 year old beagle) home for a long sleep; Sue and I enjoyed a refreshing bath; and various above-mentioned stalwart members of Aberdeen's XXL (ex Exel) Hillwalking Club joined us for a tasty dinner and a most enjoyable evening.

It was strange to be at this late stage of a TGO Challenge without a Challenger in sight, but that is the nature of our route this year, and it's great to have the opportunity to catch up with some of our rarely seen friends from Aberdeen.

Alan R - yes, we are very much 'On Holiday', as you suggest.

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Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Monday 21 May 2012 - TGO Challenge Day 11 - Braemar to Ballater - Hot Forest Tracks and a Small Hill

Route: as planned to Balmoral, then via Crathie and road to by-pass Creag nam Ban due to access problems, before rejoining planned route.
See http://www.topwalks.com/tgoc2012.html Day 11 for map

Distance: 33km (Cum 327)

Ascent: 500 metres (Cum 8800)

Time taken: 9.6hrs including some long stops

Weather: t-shirt
(Sue's reply to Alan R's fingers comment: "Why didn't you cross your legs as well?!")

Challengers encountered: numerous

Flora and Fauna: red squirrels and roe deer in Braemar, and lots more

Brief entries from now on, you'll be pleased to hear, due to a hectic schedule. Thanks for your comment Alistair - we heard about your walk with Isabel and we look forward to seeing you in Montrose.

We slept in, so started later than planned. Further delays arose due to meeting Geoff + Co, the kilted Doug Bruce and his wife, then Emma.

Lingered on Creag Choinnich summit in perfect weather, with fine views to Braemar and Balmoral.

Easy walking to Invercauld Bridge, built in 1752 to carry the Military Road that leads north to Corgarff Castle and Ruthven Barracks in Strathspey, encountering Valerie Hamilton, a first timer. Sue was the first lady Challenger she had seen!.

Hot woodland tracks led pleasantly to Balmoral Castle, which is in fact a large estate house. Balmoral has been one of the residences of the British Royal Family since 1852, when it was purchased by Queen Victoria and her consort, Prince Albert. It remains the private property of the monarch, and is not part of the Crown Estate. Soon after the estate was purchased the existing house was found to be too small. It was demolished, and the current Balmoral Castle was completed in 1856. The castle is an example of Scots Baronial architecture.

The Balmoral Estate has been added to by successive members of the Royal Family, and now covers an area of about 20,000 hectares (49,000 acres). It is a working estate, including grouse moors, forestry and farmland, as well as managed herds of deer, Highland cattle and ponies. King Robert II of Scotland (1316–1390) had a hunting lodge in the area. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert first visited Scotland in 1842, five years after her accession and two years after their marriage. They stayed at Edinburgh, and at Taymouth Castle in Perthshire, the home of the Marquess of Breadalbane. They returned in 1844 to stay at Blair Castle, and in 1847 when they rented Ardverikie by Loch Laggan. The latter trip was extremely rainy, which led Sir James Clark, the Queen's physician, to recommend Deeside for its more healthy climate. Sir Robert Gordon died in 1847, and the lease on Balmoral reverted to Lord Aberdeen. In February 1848 it was decided that Prince Albert would acquire the remaining part of the lease on Balmoral, together with its furniture and staff, and the couple arrived for their first visit on 8 September 1848. Victoria found the house "small but pretty", and recorded in her diary that: "All seemed to breathe freedom and peace, and to make one forget the world and its sad turmoils". The house was quickly found to be too small, and John and William Smith were commissioned in 1848 to design new offices, cottages and other ancillary buildings.

Improvements to the woodlands, gardens and estate buildings were also being made. After seeing a corrugated iron cottage at the Great Exhibition of 1851, Prince Albert ordered a pre-fabricated iron building for Balmoral, to serve as a temporary ballroom and dining room. It was in use by 1 October 1851, and served as a ballroom until completion of the new ballroom in 1856. Major additions to the old house were considered in 1849, but by then negotiations were underway to purchase the estate from the trustees of the deceased Earl Fife. The sale was completed in November 1851, the price being £32,000, and Prince Albert formally took possession the following autumn.

After taking the Deeside path around Balmoral, we diverted to Crathie for tea with Laura (who as reported yesterday has dropped out of the Challenge) and her husband John. We were there for an hour and a half. Thanks, Laura.

A short road walk by-passed Creag nam Ban, which hill we failed to traverse due to access problems. A lovely green lane (pictured) followed by some deep heather took us to the south of Creag Ghiubhaig and back to the quiet road.

Then it was another lovely woodland track, partly beside the Dee (pictured) most of the way to Ballater. We saw kilted Doug Bruce and Richard Baker on the north bank of the Dee. We'd seen them earlier on the trail and apart from Valerie they were the only other Challengers we saw walking today.

Ballater is a centre for hikers and known for its spring water. The medieval pattern of development along this reach of the River Dee was influenced by the ancient trackways across the Grampian Mounth, which determined strategic locations of castles and other Deeside settlements of the Middle Ages. In the early 14th century, the area was part of the estates of the Knights of St John, but the settlement did not develop until around 1770; first as a spa resort to accommodate visitors to the Pananich Mineral Well, then later upon the arrival of the railway in 1866 (since closed). Ballater railway station was closed in 1966. Many buildings date from the Victorian era and the centre of the village is a conservation area.

The Habitat Bunkhouse supplied us with an excellent en-suite twin room, and the Alexandria sorted all our food and social requirements, including encounters with JJ and with Colin Tock, who told of a grand tour of the Highlands on this year's Challenge in order to keep his feet dry.

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Monday, 21 May 2012

Sunday 20 May 2012 - TGO Challenge Day 10 – Mar Lodge to Braemar - Summer arrives in Braemar

Route: as planned.
See http://www.topwalks.com/tgoc2012.html Day 10 for map

Distance: 16km (Cum 294)

Ascent: 700 metres (Cum 8300)

Time taken: 6hrs including lots of stops

Weather: warm and sunny, with a light SE breeze

Other Challengers encountered: 'Big John' Hutchinson on the trail, and numerous others in Braemar.

Others encountered: just a few day walkers.

Flora and Fauna: rabbits in Simon's garden and hares on the hill, golden eagle floating over Inverey.

Mar Lodge's cooked breakfast was limited to a bacon roll, but the bacon chef was on form and the cold plates contained an excellent repast. So much so that to our table's bemusement Freddy pottered in, rucksack loaded and ready for the hill, and scoffed a selection of items from the other table before wandering off again.

By the time we left at nearly 10am the campers had all gone and the ballroom had been emptied and cleaned. We had also discovered that our next destination used to be owned by Jane Torrance's family before being sold to our friend Simon. It's a small world!

Big John came storming up the driveway in search of tea and cake. He got shortbread. With a broken walking pole and half his specs missing he looked a bit battered. He related tales of seven major river crossings in one day - this Challenge seems to have been quite an adventure for many of the participants.

Mar Lodge (pictured) looked splendid in the morning sunshine as we strolled down the drive.

Our walk up to Carn Mor was blessed by sunshine and monitored by hares. It was a pleasure to be out on such a lovely day. A phone signal, the first since Blair Atholl had us pausing at each message's bleep, then tea was taken at the summit whilst we assimilated the news. Thanks everyone for your comments and text messages and we are pleased to hear that you are enjoying this series of posts.

Well done also to my son Mike who did the Manchester 10K this morning in a creditable (for a non runner) 57 minutes, and thank you to all who sponsored him.

There were great views of the Cairngorm summits stretched out before us. Then when we reached Carn na Drochaide (pictured) even more views were open to us, with the Lochnagar massif looking enticing to the east. But the snow could be deep and soft in this summery weather.

Easy ground soon led to the track to the 859metre summit of Morrone, where we spent a pleasant 45 minutes with Big John.

This summit, though the highest of the day, was the least pleasing of the three as it's festooned with radio masts, and a car was parked on the summit - there's a service road. One of the buildings is the Brian M Goring Radio Relay Hut, erected by Braemar Mountain Rescue Association with funds donated in memory of Brian M Goring, who died of exposure in the Cairngorms in April 1967.

David? arrived, totally free of any pack on his day walk from Braemar, to chaperone the lumbering and half blind giant masquerading as 'BJ' down the mountain.

Meanwhile we romped into Braemar to find Alan Sloman and Andy Walker just about to leave the Fife Arms to join Lynsey Pooler's birthday party at Lochcallater Lodge. "Where's 'Very Poor David?" I enquired. "Broken" they reluctantly admitted, explaining that they had left the third member of their team in a ditch near Spean Bridge after about three days, with only a bottle of red wine for company! "'Poor Michael' sends his regards", I chirped, having received that message from my erstwhile companion (who I am pleased to say I didn't break) a couple of hours earlier.

Red wine was also being tippled by Laura and Louise, who we joined for a couple of hours in the pub, where it was great to find Stefan in good form and going well, and David (whose exploits in the Pyrenees we had followed) and his girlfriend Tanya, who was clearly enjoying the Challenge experience.

Unfortunately Laura has had to give up due to storm inflicted problems, and that may work to our advantage tomorrow - but ... bad luck Laura.

We also received news from Markus, the Austrian Challenger, who had embarked on a Fort William to Cape Wrath walk. Unfortunately he has given up and gone home, after some scary adventures with water. It seems he omitted, perhaps with wildly misguided optimism, to pack his waterproof trousers, and suffered a rucksack failure as well. His detailed account should be interesting.

A call to TGO Control later revealed that despite record numbers of drop outs, the octogenarian La Borwit and Fowkes teams are continuing to romp inexorably through the Scottish glens towards Montrose.

Around 6pm we located a large key that had spent the Challenge as ballast in my first aid kit. It was now brought into use and magically gained entry to Thornbank Cottage, to where we adjourned for a pizza supper, courtesy of Simon and Kat's freezer. We also found a convenient machine with which to remedy the problem of our smelly clothes, so spent the evening in front of the fire in dressing gowns that would have looked a bit odd in the Fife Arms!

And finally, here's a bit for the connoisseurs, this time on the subject of today's destination.

"Braemar, or Braigh Mharr in Gaelic (which finally died out locally as a spoken language about 1900), is not only redolent with Scottish history, but is a land of superlatives. It is the highest and most mountainous parish in the UK, with each of its 182,000 acres being more than 1000ft above sea level (the Post office, in the village centre, is at 1110ft).

The area contains within its borders some 24 Munros, and for the visitor interested in wildlife, Braemar has long held great attractions. There must be few villages where one can take an early morning walk along the village main street and have a good chance of meeting, one after the other, a magnificent 13 pointer stag, a shy roe deer, red squirrels stealing nuts put out for the birds, a cock pheasant strutting in all his finery, and a big brown hare timidly exploring the possibility of access to some of the gardens, while overhead golden eagles and buzzards sail silent, missing nothing.

Devotees of Highland Games can, in September, accompany Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth to the great Braemar Gathering, reputedly founded in the 11th Century by Malcolm Canmore, used as a front in 1715 by the Earl of Mar to plan the first Jacobite Uprising, and which has been run in its present form since 1832 by Braemar Royal Highland Society, the oldest surviving Friendly Society in Scotland."

Just thought you might like to know...

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Sunday, 20 May 2012

Saturday 19 May 2012 - TGO Challenge Day 9 – Blair Atholl to Mar Lodge - A Stunning Glen to a Fine Mansion

Route: as planned.
See http://www.topwalks.com/tgoc2012.html Day 9 for map of planned route

Distance: 41km (Cum 278)

Ascent: 900 metres (Cum 7600)

Time taken: 9.5hrs including stops

Weather: fine, with early sunshine soon gone, cool NE breeze, temp rising from 5C at 7am to 9C at 4pm

Challengers encountered: none until after crossing the Geldie, then John Hesp and Chris Peart having a brew sheltered by White Bridge's parapet. Around 20 Challengers at Mar Lodge, including Nik (who was pressing on to Braemar) Heather, Sue and David, Freddy Campbell, Di Gerrard, some Hungarians and sundry others

Others encountered: mainly Ali Ogden, and Jane Torrance's excellent team at Mar Lodge

Flora and Fauna: red squirrel, ring ousel

After an early breakfast, we started at 7.15am on a sunny but cool day. The sun was soon lost, and cool it remained, failing to get above 9C all day. That didn't detract from our day's stroll up the wonderful Tilt glen. Apart from the cute red squirrel and the shy ring ouzel we encountered a few humanoids, varying from laden backpackers to a man in flipflops returning with his fishermen friends to a house party at Forest lodge.

Glen Tilt is watered throughout by the River Tilt, which enters the River Garry after a course of 14 miles, and receives on its right the Tarf, which forms some beautiful falls (pictured) just above the confluence, and on the left the Fender, which also has some fine falls.

The attempt of George Murray, 6th Duke of Atholl to close the glen to the public was successfully contested by the Scottish Rights of Way Society.

The massive mountain of Beinn a' Ghlò and its three Munros Càrn nan Gabhar (1129 m), Bràigh Coire Chruinn-bhalgain (1070 m) and Càrn Liath (975m) dominate the glen's eastern lower half.

Marble of good quality is occasionally quarried in the glen, hence the presence of Marble Lodge, now a self catering holiday let, where the river rushes past over polished marble slabs. The rock formation of the glen has long attracted the attention of geologists. One of the earliest was James Hutton, who visited the glen in 1785 and found boulders with granite penetrating metamorphic  schists in a way which indicated that the granite had been molten at the time. This showed to him that granite formed from cooling of molten rock, contradicting the ideas of Neptunism of that time that theorised that rocks were formed by precipitation out of water. Hutton concluded that the granite must be younger than the schists. This was one of the findings that led him to develop his theory of Plutonism and the concept of an immensely long geologic time scale with "no vestige of a beginning, no prospect of an end."

At the confluence with the Tarf, we admired the falls, enjoyed our lunch, and thanked the builders of the fine suspension bridge that obviates the need for a difficult river crossing. A plaque reminded us that 'The bridge was erected in 1886 with funds contributed by his friends and others and by the Scottish Rights of Way Society Ltd to commemorate the death of Francis John Bedford aged 18 who was drowned near here on 25th August 1879'.

There are lots of great wild camping spots beside the Tilt, all the way up to the watershed, which is much less boggy than many of the highland watersheds we encounter. An excellent path runs for 8km from where the Land Rover track (LRT) ends near Tarf Falls all the way to the Geldie river crossing beyond the dilapidated ruins of Bynack Lodge.

We delighted in this stroll across the watershed at around 500 metres, with the snow clad peaks of the Cairngorms in view just below the cloud base. It was cool where we were - up on the tops it must have been 'full winter' conditions, albeit with soft snow.

Bynack Burn was crossed easily just below the lodge, and the Geldie was a straightforward knee deep wade. The water was a little numbing, so we paused to enjoy the last of our tea before replacing our boots and moving on, joining the crocodile of Challengers arriving from the west via Glen Feshie.

At White Bridge, john and Chris were in classic Challenger repose, lingering in a sheltered spot over a long brew. We chatted, but sadly I missed the classic photo opportunity.

A large gaggle of Challengers was nearly caught at the Linn of Dee, but Sue and I fell back as we diverted to admire the bridge and the falls. Then an easy road walk took us to the entrance of Mar Lodge, which I can recall being a difficult place for walkers to negotiate, even in the not too distant past. The present owners take a different view, welcoming the public, in particular at this time of year, TGO Challengers, for whom greeting notices are placed in an effort to draw the walkers in as they approach the Linn of Dee.

This year a big birthday function has relegated us to the tea room, and there is no accommodation for Challengers other than for their tents on the lawn, or their thermarests in the splendid ballroom (pictured). Sue and I had been promised mattresses in the ballroom, but Jane T kindly showed us up to 'Twin 3', a rather comfortable bedroom. Luxurious, Gibson? I guess so.

Despite the high mileage, the day's walk from Blair Atholl hadn't been particularly taxing, and we savoured Mar Lodge's mushroom soup and venison casserole with relish with old friends and new. Heather, Sue and David had planned a tough 'high' crossing ('High = 12 or more Munros and Corbetts) but had been seriously affected by bad weather and are having to pull the stops out to achieve that objective.

We also heard that there has been the heaviest 'casualty' rate ever, with Sue's mate Denis P being the 50th person to drop out of this year's event. Once again, we have chosen a route unaffected by any particular drama, so we have to make do with second hand reports such as Nik's 'stuck on an island' drama, and Heather + Co's graphic description of floods at Cougie.

I'm finishing with a bit of 'Wiki' on Mar Lodge for those who may be interested.

"Mar Lodge is a sporting lodge built for the use of the Duke and Duchess of Fife. It is accessed from the Linn of Dee road, over the Victoria Bridge, a lattice girder structure built across the River Dee in 1905.

The first Mar Lodge was built in the 18th century by Lord Braco, on the site of the present Lodge. It was Lord Braco who initiated the construction of the mansion house at Dalmore, known from the 1760s as Mar Lodge, a predecessor of the present, much altered, late-19th century house.

Sometime between 1730 and 1737, the property was acquired by the Duffs—this family's first foothold on Deeside—and by the end of the century they had purchased the neighbouring Farquharson lands of Alanaquoich, Auchindryne and Inverey.

Originally known as Dalmore House, the Lodge was damaged in the 'Muckle Spate' ('large flood') of 1829 and later demolished.

The 2nd Mar Lodge, colloquially known as Corriemulzie Cottage or 'New' Mar Lodge, was built near Linn of Corriemulzie at the top of Mar Lodge Brae. It was a very 'Victorian' building with architectural detailing such as prominent use of lattice work (still visible on the 'Stag Ballroom') and tree-trunk supports (visible in the veranda of the old bar at the rear of Mar Lodge) being reused in the construction of the next Mar Lodge. It was destroyed by fire on the 14th of June 1895.

The 3rd Mar Lodge was built between 1895 and 1898 for the Alexander Duff, 1st Duke of Fife and his wife Princess Louise, Princess Royal and Duchess of Fife. The foundation stone was laid by the Duchess' grandmother, Queen Victoria on 15 October 1895. The architect was Alexander Marshall Mackenzie of Aberdeen (1848-1933) who, at the express request of the Duchess—H.R.H. Princess Louise, used the Elizabethan style of architecture.

The 3rd Mar Lodge was destroyed by a fire while being renovated in 1991.

The 4th Mar Lodge is the result of rebuilding the lodge soon thereafter to a similar design. It has recently been converted into holiday flats and retains many of the grand features of its heyday as a hunting lodge. The ballroom has a spectacular 2,435 red deer stags heads lining the walls and ceiling.

Mar Lodge Estate became a National Trust for Scotland property in 1995.

The Stag Ballroom was constructed for estate staff balls, required by the need for segregation between master and servant which dominated the period. Built near to the second Mar Lodge at Corriemulzie, it was moved to the present site in 1898. A large timber building in the estate red, it has distinctive lattice trellising, an original Victorian ventilation system and unusual cast iron bracers on stone plinths supporting the walls. Internally the building remains virtually in its original state and contains over 2,435 stag's skulls." It is currently (as I write) occupied by about a dozen TGO Challengers on thermarests.

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Friday, 18 May 2012

Friday 18 May 2012 - TGO Challenge Day 8 – Loch Tummel to Blair Atholl - Jungle foils Summit Attempt

Route: almost as planned
See http://www.topwalks.com/tgoc2012.html Day 8 for map

Distance: 21.4km (Cum 237)

Ascent: 600 metres (Cum 6700)

Time taken: 6hrs including stops

Weather: light rain

Challengers encountered: none after leaving Loch Tummel Inn; in the Atholl Bothy Bar - Bill A, Graham W, Bernhard Koeglmeier, Phil E, Geoff G + entourage

Others encountered: nobody of significance other than Kirsty and Geoff at The Firs Guesthouse

Flora and Fauna: buzzard mobbing, pied wagtail, swallows and martins, oyster catchers, long-tailed tits, greylag geese, wood sorrel

Your comments:
Paul - thanks, we hope you're right about the weather
G - thanks, those dog walkers were actually quite knowledgeable and were interested to learn about the Challenge
Alan - I think you first visited the Loch Tummel Inn following our recommendation!
Gibson - thanks for your comments, I decided not to include a more detailed Munro story as some of my readers won't know that a Munro is a Scottish mountain over 3000 feet high. If they read your comment they'll now be puzzled as to what makes a 'Top'! Ronnie Burn must have been a very focused individual!
'Luxurious' - yes Gibson, we know how to live!
Martin R - we had to go up, as Sue thought there might be a spectacular cloud inversion!

We started today by once again by donning our waterproofs and setting off up the hill towards Blair Atholl. There was a boggy bit of woodland with the added spice of some fallen trees for the second kilometre of the day, then we started our 'roundabout route' by heading easily past honking greylag geese and down to Calvine and its trio of bridges over the River Garry.

Tea was taken where our route crossed the indistinct remains of General Wade's Military Road, then we progressed easily, in varying strengths of rain, past a tasteful memorial to Mark John McGowan (1958-2007) to The Falls of Bruar. These tear through a deep cleft as the water (pictured) rushes towards the River Garry. A large group of brightly dressed, helmeted men were doing something adventurous on the opposite bank as we passed on our way to the top bridge.

The next section involved a very pleasant stretch of forest tracks, before we headed up towards today's summit, Fair Bhuidhe (462 metres). It wasn't a big hill. Less than half the size of yesterday's giant. We got to within two 10 metre contour lines, and within 200 metres as the crow flies, to be presented by dense impenetrable jungle. I prepared for the final assault.
"Why are we going to this summit?" enquired Sue (admittedly it was a little off route).
"For the view" was my unhesitating reply.
We gave up the attempt...

An easy stroll then took us to the tourist trap known as Blair Castle (poorly pictured).

The castle is Blair Atholl's most famous feature. It's one of Scotland's premier stately homes, and the last castle in the British Isles to be besieged, in 1746 during the last Jacobite Rebellion. The Castle was the traditional home of the Earls (later Marquises, now Dukes) of Atholl. The Duke of Atholl is the only person in the United Kingdom allowed to raise a private army. This army, known as the Atholl Highlanders, conducts largely social and ceremonial activities, and primarily consists of workers on the extensive Atholl Estates. The Castle no longer belongs directly to the Duke of Atholl, as the 10th Duke, George Iain Murray (1931–96), left the Castle in trust upon his death for the benefit of the geriatric clients of The Wallace Arnold International Omnibus Company. His distant cousin, the 11th Duke, John Murray (born 1929), lives in South Africa, and returns annually to review the Atholl Highlanders. The oldest part of Blair Castle, known as Comyn's (or Cumming's) Tower, a small tower-house with immensely thick walls, is claimed (perhaps dubiously) to date from as early as the 13th century. The majority of the Castle is 16th century in date, though much altered. After the siege referred to above, the upper storey and battlements of the ancient Castle were removed to render it indefensible. A medieval appearance becoming fashionable once more during the 19th century, the Castle, which had become known as Atholl House, was raised in height and adorned with battlements once more. The many alterations in the fabric are largely concealed by the white harling (roughcast) on the walls. The collections of furniture, paintings, historical relics, weapons, embroidery, china, Highland artefacts and hunting trophies preserved in the Castle are among the finest in Scotland, as is the plasterwork and other décor of the principal rooms. Thirty-two rooms are open to the public, more than in any comparable stately home.

From the castle, a fine avenue of trees leads past the camp site where the unmistakeable red Akto tent broadcast Graham Weaver's presence, and into the village, where we were soon able to stock up with supplies and find our way to The Firs Guesthouse (http://www.firs-blairatholl.co.uk/), where Kirsty kindly saw to all our needs.

A peculiar quirk of Blair Atholl is ownership of the water supply. As a result of an unusual legal agreement made in 1911 for the benefit of steam trains, the responsibility for the public water supply to the people of Blair Atholl has been held by the railway companies who own the line through the town, currently Network Rail. In April 2006, it was announced that Network Rail would finance the cost of connecting Blair Atholl and Bridge of Tilt to Scottish Water's supply.

An evening in the Bothy Bar, in the dubious company of the above-named reprobates duly followed. Portion sizes are large in this establishment, and my seafood pasta came in a huge foil bag.

Tomorrow is a long day in a remote area with no phone signal, so the next transmission is likely to emanate from Braemar on Sunday.

Goodnight from two bloated Challengers.

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Thursday 17 May 2012 - TGO Challenge Day 7 – Kinloch Rannoch to Loch Tummel - The Misty Mountain

Route: as planned
See http://www.topwalks.com/tgoc2012.html Day 7 for map

Distance: 29.3km (Cum 215.6)

Ascent: 1300 metres (Cum 6100)

Time taken: 8.5hrs including stops

Weather: wet

Challengers encountered: none whilst walking; Phil, Dave and Conrad at the Loch Tummel inn, plus John Woolston and Bill Archibald, for whom there is 'no room at the inn'!

Others encountered: one day walker on Schiehallion and two sets of dog walkers

Flora and Fauna: curlew and lapwings, wayside broom, another yellow flower I can never seem to identify, lots of red deer

Ben and Rita are excellent hosts. We felt unable to rush off into our planned long day. Besides, it was raining. So it was 9.30 before we left to try our hand at Schiehallion, concerning which I've edited a Wiki extract below*.

The path to the small bothy built into the eastern hillside of Schiehallion at about 600 metres was delightful. A lovely old track with fine views which we lost beyond that point on account of the mist.

It was time for elevenses, which Sue savoured from the door of the bothy (pictured).

A steep haul up from there, with slippery rocks, a bit of scree, and some small crags to negotiate, saw us on the summit of this iconic hill (Sue is pictured there) at 12.15. It was misty and raining. Sue racked her brain and decided she hadn't ever gained a view from the summit.

We expected to see a few day walkers on the 'tourist path' but today only one of them had braved the conditions. Roger Boston (who was due there today) was nowhere to be seen. Later, some of the TGO Challenge road walking fraternity declared us insane. A text message received near the summit informed us that even the hardy trio of Heather, Sue and Dave were having a day off today!

The sleet eased after we had made our way slowly along the broad ridge strewn with slippery rocks. Then the descent down the JMT's fine new path brought us to a bench near the car park where we enjoyed lunch in the rain and a chat with some dog walkers.

Q: "Where are you going?"
A: "Aberdeen."
... always raises some interest.

Pressing on through bogs and across streams before heading up through deep heather, we eventually arrived, by a rather roundabout route, at the 416 metre summit of Creag Kynachan. It was low enough to offer wide ranging views, so far as was possible given that everything over 600 metres was enveloped in a thick blanket of cloud.

The view down Loch Tummel, about which there is more here#, was not quite at its best in today's rain.

The direct descent to reach the B846 road by the power station in Tummel Bridge was very rough and tiring, with a seemingly randomly placed deer fence to negotiate near the bottom.

After draining the flask from the comfort of another bench, we embarked on the uneventful final stage of today's journey, via Easter Bohespic and some lovely forest tracks. Footprints headed off towards Blair Atholl at the point where we went down to Loch Tummel.

Amanda provided her usual cheery welcome at the Inn (http://www.lochtummelinn.co.uk/) and we spent a pleasant evening in the company of the other Challengers mentioned above.

It was still raining when John and Bill stumbled out to pitch their tents and the rest of us took to our luxurious mattresses.

*Schiehallion has a rich botanical life, interesting archaeology, and a unique place in scientific history for an 18th-century experiment in 'weighing the world'. The mountain's popularity amongst walkers led to serious erosion on its footpath and extensive repairs were undertaken on the popular eastern flanks in 2001 following the area's acquisition by the John Muir Trust in 1999. The mountain (3547 ft/1083m) is isolated from other peaks and has an almost perfect conical shape from the west. The view of the broad eastern flank attracts many visitors to the shores of Loch Tummel. Schiehallion is sometimes described as the centre of Scotland. The justification is that the line of latitude midway between the most northerly and southerly points on the Scottish mainland, and the line of longitude midway between the most easterly and westerly points, intersect very near the summit of Schiehallion. By coincidence (perhaps) the summit marked the half way point in distance of our own walk across Scotland. The slopes of Schiehallion have been inhabited and cultivated since the first millennium BC until approximately two hundred years ago. Schiehallion has been used for grazing sheep and stalking red deer.

Schiehallion's isolated position and regular shape led it to be selected by Charles Mason for a ground-breaking experiment to estimate the mass of the Earth in 1774. The deflection of a pendulum by the mass of the mountain provided an estimate of the mean density of the Earth, from which its mass and a value for Newton's Gravitational constant G could be deduced. Mason turned down a commission to carry out the work and it was instead coordinated by Astronomer Royal, Nevil Maskelyne. He was assisted in the task by mathematician Charles Hutton, who devised a graphical system to represent large volumes of surveyed heights, later known as contour lines. The experiment was repeated in 2005 as an educational initiative.

#Loch Tummel is approximately 11 kilometres long from east to west, and is just under 1 kilometre wide. It became part of the Tummel Hydro-Electric Power Scheme when the Clunie Dam was constructed by Wimpey Construction at its eastern end in 1950, raising the water level by 4.5 metres. The loch is traversed by roads on both north and south banks, offering splendid views of the surrounding countryside. The best is probably the well-known 'Queen's View' from the north shore, which Queen Victoria made famous in 1866, offering a magnificent vista over the loch with Schiehallion in the background. It is also claimed that the view was originally named after Queen Isabel, wife of Robert the Bruce. Above the head of the loch, Tummel Bridge crossing the River Tummel actually has two bridges. The original bridge built by General Wade in 1730 has a modern replacement alongside carrying the traffic from Aberfeldy. The northern side of the loch has many duns, forts and cairn circles. At the eastern end, high in Glen Fincastle to the north, sits Fincastle House, a 17th-century seat of a branch of the Stewarts, with links to the 1745 rebellion. At the head of the glen are the standing stones of Clachan Aoraidh in the Allean Forest.

All good stuff! There's lots to explore around here, and all three of our lodgings over the past three nights have afforded great hospitality. Thank you to them all.

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Thursday, 17 May 2012

Wednesday 16 May 2012 - TGO Challenge Day 6 - Bridge of Gaur to Kinloch Rannoch - Views from Leagag and Forest Tracks

Route: As planned

See http://www.topwalks.com/tgoc2012.html Day 6 for map of planned route

Distance: 26km (Cum 186.3)

Ascent: 700 metres (Cum 4800)

Time taken: 7hrs including stops

Weather: fine, mainly sunny, light shower later, cool NW breeze

Challengers encountered: Tony and Nik, at both Bridge of Gaur and Kinloch Rannoch; Graham Weaver and Oliver Robinson at Bridge of Gaur; Phil East on the road walk into Kinloch Rannoch; Alan and Catherine Watt at Bunrannoch House

Others encountered: two day walkers passed nearby this afternoon; Ben and Rita at Bunrannoch House

Flora and Fauna: more red deer, nearby cuckoo on a post, nutcracker-like bird in the woods

A very leisurely start saw us following Tony out of Bridge of Gaur after 10am, after leaving Nik with Eddie and a conundrum of how to get her maggoty deer's head, complete with antlers, back home to Nottingham. She had carted it lovingly from Rannoch Forest, trying quite hard to limit the number of maggots falling down her neck.

We soon passed Graham and Oliver at the T-junction where a left turn took us down to the Braes of Rannoch church, where the Rev A E Robertson (1870-1958) was minister from the date this new church opened in 1907 until his retirement in 1920.

Robertson's main claim to fame is as the first 'compleater' of Sir Hugh Munro's list of Scottish mountains over 3000 feet high, in 1901. It wasn't until 1923 that anyone else matched his feat, an achievement now accomplished by several hundred folk every year. Today's list of summits is much more accurate than in Robertson's day, when tops like the Inaccessible Pinnacle on Skye didn't make it onto Munro's list. Sir Hugh was constantly updating his list and would undoubtedly have utilised the modern techniques used by the Munro Society in its 'heightings' to continue to enhance the accuracy of his list.

Graham joined us in the little church, and he kindly rescued Sue's waterproof jacket when it escaped from her clutches. She doesn't have much to carry, but ... Graham was duly rewarded with a piece of shortbread - she would never drop that!

We left the lads to walk down the road (seemingly a favourite occupation of this year's Challengers) and followed Tony up the track that branches to pass boggily around the back of Leagag, the route to the top of which is really pretty easy.

At 601 metres, Leagag's summit is a pretty modest height, but on a clear day like today its views are wide ranging, with snow clad Ben Alder shining brightly across Loch Rannoch (pictured above), the big western mountain ranges lining up for identification, and the distinctive snub of Schiehallion ever closer to the east.

We drank in those views and watched Tony disappearing onto the forest path far below, before descending steeply down the eastern flank of the hill to a sunny lunch spot on the edge of the forest.

Initially the surface of the forest track was hard and wide, where recent operations had amputated much of what had been growing nearby, but soon after passing an unexplained wooden cross adorned by a well ripped black bin liner, it transformed into a pleasant woodland path through stands of lovely old pine forest (as predicted by David on Day 1).

A second and rather lengthy lunch, enhanced by Braeburns from Heather and Skittles from Bob and Rose, was taken (pictured) in the woods, surrounded by wood anemones, beside the Bogair Burn.

A gentle forest descent then led us down to the small hamlet of Carie, where the nice looking camp site sported a red Akto and a green Nallo - tents surely housing other Challengers.

Reaching the road, we joined Phil East for the walk into Kinloch Rannoch. He was walking with Dave Catanach and Conrad Woolcock, who were somewhere unseen on the road behind us. We should see Phil again at tomorrow night's lodgings. He had stories of unhelpful hoteliers at Glenfinnan, where he had finished up spending a night in the station waiting room.

A passing shower, the foretaste of more continuous rain, did little to dampen our spirits as we entered Kinloch Rannoch and said goodbye to Phil as he headed off to the town centre. Ben and Rita, proprietors of Bunrannoch House, were anything but unhelpful, and we were soon installed in front of tea and cake in their guests' lounge. Tony and Nik appeared, and we enjoyed a pleasant evening with them and with Alan and Catherine Watt. I've never previously encountered a B+B Challenger whilst on the walk, but tonight Nik was the odd one out - of the six of us, she was the only one carrying a tent, though she has only used it once.

So, here we are in Kinloch Rannoch.
Formerly a tiny hamlet, it was enlarged and settled, under the direction of James Small, formerly an Ensign in Lord Loudoun's Regiment, mainly by soldiers discharged from the army, but also by displaced crofters. Small had been appointed by the Commissioners for the Forfeited Estates to run the Rannoch estates, which had been seized from the clan chieftains who had supported the Jacobites following the Battle of Culloden in 1746. Local roads and bridges were improved, enabling soldiers at Rannoch Barracks to move more freely around the district. Small was supported by Dugald Buchanan and his wife, who taught the villagers new trades and crafts. Dugald was a local schoolmaster and Gaelic poet, who is commemorated by a large monument in the centre of the square in Kinloch Rannoch. He worked with James Stuart (Church of Scotland) of Killin on Bible translations into Scottish Gaelic.

Near the village is a hill reputed to resemble the head, shoulders, and torso of a man. It has been given the name of "The Sleeping Giant". Local myth says that the giant will wake up only when he hears the sounds of his master's flute.

The village and some of its inhabitants were featured in the film Shepherd on the Rock.

That's all for today apart from a note on comments:

Martin R, this is indeed a crossing laced with history. But that actually applies to any crossing of Scotland, or anywhere else for that matter. It's just that I'm trying to vary the reporting style by including a bit of history or 'local interest' where I can.

Gibson, there is no 'peat bog' photo, not because of the 'civilising Scottish influence' (sadly), but in my excitement I pressed the wrong button and turned off the camera!

Paul, it's good to hear from you - good luck with your 'Footprints'.

Alan R, up here it can be warm and sunny sitting behind a sheltered wall, stepping out from which the Arctic wind can be like stepping into a drafty fridge! Your comments do continue to entertain us Alan - well done.

Helen - good to hear from you, we'll be in touch when we get home.

Others: you may have noticed some spam advertising from the likes of Crish Hell and Camp Stove - these are unwelcome and will be deleted asap (it's not easy to do that from the phone); please don't click on their embedded links - they may be harmful.

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Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Tuesday 15 May 2012 - TGO Challenge Day 5 – Bridge of Orchy to Bridge of Gaur - Life at its Best

(Yesterday's omitted title should have been 'Foresters Foil Play')

Route: As planned, subject to a slight adjustment in Rannoch Forest to avoid a ford, and the omission of the ascent of Meall Chomraidh.

See http://www.topwalks.com/tgoc2012.html Day 5 for map of planned route.

Distance: 35.8km (Cum 160.3)

Ascent: 1100 metres (Cum 4100)

Time taken: 10.1hrs including stops

Weather: sunny periods and a light but cool NW breeze, with brief showers later

Challengers encountered: none on the walk, Tony Pugh and Nik Lawcock at Bridge of Gaur Guest House

Others encountered: Heather and Eddie at this splendid Guest House, a couple who have 'overflowed' here from another establishment, and two Oriental cyclists who arrived here at 10pm

Flora and Fauna: swallows, ptarmigan, red deer, purple saxifrage

A 7am start from Bridge of Orchy meant that we avoided any congestion in the small bunkhouse common room with the international hordes of folk heading along the West Highland Way. Apart from one high maintenance lady who was worrying about everything.

The sun glared at us through Bealach Dòthaidh as we ascended
past purple saxifrage. Reaching the col presented no difficulties, nor did the subsequent stroll up to Beinn an Dòthaidh's western summit. Then we strolled easily along the broad snow clad ridge to the main Munro summit (1004 metres), and on to the subsidiary top at 993 metres.

It was great up here to feel the creak of fresh snow under our Vibram soles - a rare chance in this year of generally warm weather. Not that it was cold today, t-shirt and fleece being quite adequate in the benign conditions, albeit a dark cloud did provide a good backcloth for pictures on the ridge (see above).

After an easy descent to the head of Coire Achaladair, a good contouring path leads all the way down to the watershed at the head of Gleann Cailliche. This almost justifies climbing the Munro summit, being a much easier path than the lower route over steep ground that Poor Michael and I took last year after a stormy night in our tents.

The next 12km or so of today's walk was mainly over rough, pathless, sometime boggy ground interspersed with peat haggs and areas of petrified forest that reminded Sue of the elephants' graveyard in The Lion King.

Our first target was to find 'Tigh nam Bodach'. Last year Mike and I paused fairly miserably by an old sheep pen that we mistook for the antiquity during our two and a half day stumble over what Sue and I would achieve in today's walk alone - and last year we missed out the Munro summit.

Today we enjoyed a cuppa behind the wall of the sheep pen, out of the light bite of the gentle Arctic breeze, before moving on to locate the antiquity. The stones of an old ruined building first caught our eye, but then we soon located our unmistakable objective, next to which Sue is pictured above.

The antiquity is the site of a pagan ritual which according to legend is associated with the Cailleach. The small 'Sheiling' pictured, known as either Tigh nan Cailleach or Tigh nam Bodach, houses a series of apparently carved stones which can be seen placed outside the coffin sized space. These stones, according to local legend, represent the Cailleach (old woman), her husband the Bodach (old man), and their children. The local legend suggests that the Cailleach and her family were given shelter in the glen by the locals and while they stayed there the glen was always fertile and prosperous. When they left they gave the stones to the locals with the promise that as long as the stones were put out to look over the glen at Beltane (spring) and put back into the shelter and made secure for the winter at Samhain (autumn) then the glen would continue to be fertile. This ritual is apparently carried out to this day, though some may question the fertility of the glen!

The views in this lovely valley are stunning, with lots of fine camping spots. It's no wonder that my TGO Challenge vetter last year (Colin Crawford) recommended this route as an alternative to the boggier passage via Gorton Bothy by the railway line.

In today's fine weather, Sue and I ambled carefully on, enjoying a second lunch break (and plundering some tins of fish I'd been carrying all the way from Manchester) in view of the distinctive white plateau of Ben Alder and its outliers.

A sting in the tail of this fairly rough section came in the area of a new deer fence (inside which we spotted our first red deer of the trip) where our route approached the railway and a line of pylons that we would follow into Rannoch Forest. The peat haggs were deep and wide. Good judgment was required. Sue, being slightly lacking in this department, fell in. Sadly it was an audience of only one person that she strove to entertain, as we saw nobody else all day.

The walk through the forest was easy and uneventful, and given the proximity of some afternoon showers and the lure of Eddie and Heather's teapot we decided to cull the short ascent of Meall Chomraidh from our itinerary and head straight to the Guest House after what was quite a long day anyway.

We were surprised to find only one other Challenger, Tony, in residence, and we enjoyed a chat and then a meal with him, in between hot baths, beers, a call to Roger Smith at TGO Control and a good wash for Sue's peat coated trouser legs.

Around 8.30pm, Nik turned up and took the opportunity to grab a dessert and a room which would surely provide a more comfortable bed than her leaky thermarest in a tent. She had set up camp earlier in the forest but had moved on after a shooting party had politely indicated that it could be a bit dangerous for her. At least Nik has her waterproof back, but even the recovery of that from the Bridge of Orchy Hotel's luggage room had been a stressful experience as it had got buried under several van loads of WHW gear.

Just as we were settling down for coffees etc before bed, the two Oriental cyclists turned up. They seem to be in a bit of a pickle. We vacated the lounge to enable them to be housed on the floor, as our hosts quite rightly weren't comfortable about turning the two lads out into the night.

Cheese and wine, meanwhile, should have been the fare for some other Challengers, Alan Sloman and his crew, in a nearby glen. It looked a lovely evening for that. We hope they enjoyed it.

Thanks again for your comments, especially Gibson and Alan R, whose regular contributions are always appreciated and keep us entertained when they pop up on the phone.

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Monday, 14 May 2012

Monday 14 May 2012 - TGO Challenge Day 4 – Dalmally to Bridge of Orchy -

Route: as planned until NN 230 333, when Lorne Forestry signs prohibited further progress, so we had to return to the B8074 road and stroll beside the River Orchy.

See http://www.topwalks.com/tgoc2011.html Day 4 for map of planned route - the option forced upon us was easier.

Distance: 27.5km (Cum 124.5)

Ascent: 500 metres approx (Cum 3000)

Time taken: 7hrs including stops

Weather: sunny periods with rain in the air, after early heavy showers, turning into a very pleasant afternoon

Challengers encountered: none whilst walking, Nik Lawcock is at Bridge of Orchy and has been involved in a river crossing and misplaced waterproof epic. Her waterproof is due to return, having been mistakenly taken home by three people who gave up. We've also heard stories of another epic river crossing undertaken by Julie Harle, and a gent who got the train home after one wet night - what a waste of a space on the Challenge...

Others encountered: nobody during the walk, other than a few motorists and a kind lady who offered us a lift. Various people at B of O doing the West Highland Way, and Marion, a LEJOGer.

Flora and Fauna: Canada Geese, pheasant, common milkwort, plus - as always - much already seen.

By 7.45am this morning we felt that 10 hours of luxuriating under the canopy of our four poster, listening to the splatter of rain against the window, was perhaps enough. We thought of Geoff under his tarp.

Rebecca's full English breakfast set us up for another long day in the hills. We thought again of Geoff in his tarp, and of Frank with his 'micro-portions' of food.

"You're only jealous" would no doubt be Geoff's (not unfair) response. You can follow his progress via his 'Litehiker' blog (http://litehikersblog.blogspot.com)

We set off quite late (9.20) after chatting to a couple from Yukon over breakfast. After admiring the church from the shelter of a tree in a heavy burst of rain, we set off along the metalled road on the north bank of the River Orchy, soon finding ourselves on a pleasant unsurfaced track (pictured) next to the fast flowing river.

The path eventually faded into a marshy area near where our route indicated a short ascent. Our short cut across lower ground would have been fine if we had noticed an easy crossing of one of many side streams, all in spate, near its outflow into the main river. As it was, we dared not risk the steep torrent, and headed steeply up for
several hundred metres before finding a crossing place.

Back beside the River Orchy we were disappointed not to see any kayakers. The river (pictured) was in spate, and was giving a very clear demonstration to confirm its reputation for having some of the best white water in the UK.

After a short section along the quiet B8074 road, we left this at Eas Urchaidh in order to head up the good forestry track beside Allt Broighleachan. A pleasant route. Until we got to NN 230 333, where Lorne Forestry's signs prohibited further progress. We paused for lunch under a tree canopy that protected us from the rain rather better than yesterday's wall, whilst debating our options. We planned to leave the forestry track after an hour or so to ascend Meall Tairbh, so perhaps we should continue? Sue would have done, but I'm a bit of a wimp on such matters. So we turned tail and returned to the B8074 road, cursing Lorne's inconsiderate foresters for failing to properly site their notices (which should have been at Eas Urchaidh) and for failing to explain the extent of the closed path. As we strolled beside the River Orchy to our destination, we could see devastated areas of recently felled forest near the track beyond where we had planned to leave it, so we'd probably have been ok continuing along the closed track, especially as there was no sign whatsoever of anyone working in the forest today. They possibly just 'forgot' to take the signs down, lazy *******.

This all made for a comparatively short and easy day, albeit with rather too much tarmac, with the bonus of the company of the impressive River Orchy in spate.

Reaching Bridge of Orchy by 4.30, we had plenty of time to contemplate the history of the small Central Highland hamlet. Dating back to 1751, It now includes the tourist hotel in whose bunkhouse we are ensconced. Located at the head of Glen Orchy, it's on the A82 road, has a railway station and, as many readers will no doubt be aware, is on the West Highland Way (WHW) long distance path. This makes life very easy for the hotel, whose profits come on a WHW plate, whilst slightly off-route hostelries struggle to survive. The bunkhouse is ill equipped to say the least, with cereal bowls doubling as teacups!

Nearby prominent peaks include the munros Beinn Dorain and Beinn an Dòthaidh. The eponymous bridge was constructed by Government forces as part of a programme of pacification of the Highland Clans, which involved the construction of military roads from the Lowlands into the much wilder upland areas of Scotland. It crosses the River Orchy, acknowledged as indicated above as one of the finest white-water rivers in the UK.
The hotel, staffed by enthusiastic Aussies, South Africans and Eastern Europeans, does 80 to 100 covers a night. A veritable gold mine. We took two of those places tonight, and to be fair the food was very good.

Condolences go to Alan R, and any other (I don't think there are any) readers who admit to being of 'Red' persuasion.

Thanks for other comments, and for your weather forecast, Gibson - the B of O Hotel hasn't bothered to update theirs today. I'm afraid that those requesting 'more pictures' (Martin R) will have to make do with just one or two a day, 'for technical reasons'.

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Sunday 13 May 2012 - TGO Challenge Day 3 – Inverary to Dalmally - A Rainy Day in Argyll

Route: Foul Weather Alternative - we took the road to Lochan Shira rather than endure the 500 metre thrutch up Beinn Ghlas. Then we took the track on the north side of Lochan Shira for 2km before heading north then WNW to reach a substitute summit for the day, rejoining our planned route for the descent to Dalmally.
See http://www.topwalks.com/tgoc2012.html Day 3 for map of planned route
Distance: 33km (Cum 97)
Ascent: 900 metres approx (Cum 2500m)
Time taken: 7.6hrs including some short stops
Weather: rain all day, cloud base around 500 metres, cool south to SW breeze, increasing with altitude.

Challengers encountered: none after au revoirs in Inverary
Others encountered: a jogger, a lady walking her dog, Jock (J333OCK) fetching his Sunday paper, and Rebecca at our B+B.

Flora and Fauna: bullfinch, siskins - not much new, it must have been sheltering.

Inverary was full last night. There were even folk camping outside the rather basic Youth Hostel. We wondered what had become of Bert and Suus, who had planned to stay in Inverary, but hadn't booked anything. We are still wondering...

Sue and I enjoyed the hostel's basic (uncooked) breakfast which was a variation on the European mountain hut breakfasts we will receive for much of the rest of the summer. Then we waved goodbye to Frank and his cohorts, who had ordered a luxury breakfast at a nearby hostelry. They needed it, judging by the minute portion of food that Frank was rehydrating for his evening meal.

After leaving Mildred Scott with the washing up and a yearning to do more than two days of the Challenge (she has done many in the past, but this year was walking with Vicky Allen for just a couple of days), we said cheerio to 'Snapper' Cotterill, who was last seen heading for the naughty chair after a futile rummage through all the dirty laundry in the hostel had failed to locate his room key.

Then we set off into the grounds of the castle, about which I said more than enough yesterday. Lack of attention to the map meant that by the time we reached the second kilometre mark on our planned route, we had actually covered three kilometres. Never mind, it was a scenic detour despite the rain, which has been unrelenting today.

After the pleasant woodland paths around the castle, the bustle of the main A83 road was a bit of a shock. But not as much as the shock of the road up Glen Shira. At the entrance to the glen was an ominous sign 'Clachan Flats Windfarm'. I'd not realised the tarmac would continue for ten miles up to Lochan Shira's dam, nor that the road had been upgraded for the transport of wind turbines for most of its length. Frank had plotted his route along the west side of the glen - probably a better choice than our road. I wonder how his team got on.

The first of today's pictures was taken at the southern end of Dubh Loch at the start of the long road to Lochan Shira. Driech.

We should have left the road at Elrigbeag, but the thought of thrutching up a pathless 500 metre ascent in steady rain to a misty, windy ridge put us both off.

So we spent the morning strolling up the tarmac to the dam, where some buildings shielded us from the rain sufficiently well for us to enjoy our Sunday lunch (pictured)without it drowning before our eyes.

Then our alternative route to the radio masts at Bealach nan Cabrach was plotted in a successful attempt to avoid the ribbons of blue that intersected our original plan. This worked well, with the added benefit of an unplanned summit. The well cairned spot, with fine views of curtains of rain (perhaps more extensive views in less driech weather), was imaginatively named '512'. Coincidentally my altimeter said 512 metres, the highest point of our crossing to date. Yes, this really is a 'low level' crossing.

Our pathless 'yomp' ended just beyond 512, at the radio masts, from where a service track led us into some forest. The shelter from the trees allowed us to drain our flask of tea in comfort, before continuing pleasantly down to Blarchaurain. Frank's party was planning to camp at this clearing. There were plenty of good spots, so as I write this from a warm lounge I expect they are cosily snuggled up in their tents near Blarchaurain. Except Geoff, who has a tarp.

A little beyond the clearing, our descent path joined the Old Military Road from the ruined township of Ardteatle at the site of a huge monument to Duncan Ban MacIntyre, (1724-1812), the Poet of Glenurchay.

From there it was an easy descent to Dalmally, where we were concerned to find the hotel in 'Dalwhinnie' mode - 'Shut for the Winter'. That was where we had planned to eat tonight.

Dalmally (here's today's Wiki extract) is former Labour Party leader John Smith's place of birth (1938). Glenorchy Parish Church stands on an island site between the rivers Orchy and Orchy Bheag near the village. The category A listed building, constructed 1810-11 on the site of at least two earlier churches, is a rare example of an octagonal plan with adjoining tower. The little-altered, white-harled (roughcast) church has been restored to its original appearance in recent years. (That seems to make sense, I can see it from the window as I write.) The site is probably early Christian in origin, and is associated with St. Connán. The large churchyard contains examples of medieval grave-slabs in the 'West Highland' style, which may have originally covered the graves of early chiefs of the Clan MacGregor and their relatives. They show warriors in contemporary armour, interlace and other motifs.

Kilchurn Castle, dating to the 15th century, stands in a picturesque setting on a peninsula (formerly an island) in Loch Awe, a little west of the village. Nearly everyone knows about Kilchurn Castle, but not many people know that there are four castles on Loch Awe, as well as a suspicion that there might have been a fifth near where Castle Farm now stands. There was also a castle at Achallader, at the head of Glen Orchy. The four castles on Loch Awe are, from north to south, Kilchurn, Fraoch Eilean, Innisconnel, and Fincharn. They were once served by boats, probably galleys - the island near Innisconnel is Innis-Sea-Rhamach, 'the island of the six-oared galleys'. Kilchurn was built, probably in 1437, by Sir Colin Campbell, the First Laird of Glenurquhay. Fraoch Eilean is a 13th century Hall House with a defensive wall, granted to Gillechrist MacNachdan by Alexander III in 1267. Innisconnel was built by the Campbells of Argyll, then taken by the MacDougalls, and finally granted again to the Campbells by Robert I, The Bruce, whom they had helped in his battles. Fincharn Castle is probably 13th century. The legend is that it was burned down shortly after being built in a quarrel between rival families, and was never really inhabited afterwards.
Only Kilchurn is easy of access. Fincharn requires permission from the farm, while Fraoch Eilean and Innisconnel need boats.

A little beyond the sad looking hotel, Craig Villa Guest House has been owned by the same family for nearly 30 years. Just three years ago Rebecca and her Brazilian husband took it over when her parents retired. Rebecca kindly took our damp waterproofs to the drying room. Despite the driving rain, our clothes underneath were dry, thanks largely to a recent treatment of the waterproofs with Nikwax.

"The hotel's in Administration", advised Rebecca. "Would you like me to cook you something?"

"Yes please. Anything" we chorused. So tonight we haven't had to brave the continuing rain. We've stayed in and enjoyed a lovely lasagne with garlic bread, followed by banoffee cheesecake and real coffee. Thank you, Rebecca. Before that we watched the news and discovered that City are football champions, but not without a bit of suspense (which we hope Andrew survived). We narrowly missed the 'Countryfile weather forecast for the week ahead', which is probably just as well, given Alison's comment.

It's lovely to hear from you Dot. We hope you continue to improve, and we'll see you soon.

Finally, happy 60th birthday greetings go to Bill. We hope this mention will make partial amends for our forgetting your card, and we hope the ceilidh went well. We look forward to seeing you and Alison in Aboyne next Tuesday.

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Sunday, 13 May 2012

Saturday 12 May 2012 - TGO Challenge Day 2 – Ford to Inverary - The Long Road back to Loch Fyne

Route: As planned, apart from leaving the forest track early to ascend Beinn Ghlas.
See http://www.topwalks.com/tgoc2012.html Day 2 for map
Distance: 34.5km (Cum 64)
Ascent: 1000 metres (Cum 1600)
Time taken: 9hrs including stops
Weather: Mainly sunny, with a cool SW breeze
Challengers encountered: None whilst walking; several of the 'Ardrishaig Crew' (Ian, Geoff, Frank, Bert and Vicky) in Inverary
Others encountered: None whilst walking
Flora and Fauna: We are told that yesterday we walked past an osprey's nest, and we failed to notice the beaver dams in the Ford area. New birds include heron, robin, sandpiper and pied wagtails, with Mildred reporting tree pipits, goldcrests and a wren by Carron bothy. New flowers include swathes of pink purslane, speedwells, wild strawberry, common comfrey, ribwort plantain plus various common (buttercups, daisy, gorse etc) stuff not previously mentioned. Mildred did better, she spotted yellow pimpernel, ramsons, herb bennet, herb robert, and a stoat.

'The String of Lorn is a lovely walk through to Carron Bothy' reported a vetter. So after saying our goodbyes to Alison on her warm, calm, midgy doorstep we set off in high spirits on a sunny morning.

We soon noticed whole rows of trees that had blown down in the winter gales, and all day we continued to see these, as well as quite a bit of bare countryside due to felling operations.

After a minor diversion to avoid a quagmire that we had been warned about, we joined the old stalkers path to Carron. Except that it had gone, having been replaced for three kilometres by a broad road, with various bits of construction machinery littering the surrounding hillside. Wind farm paraphernalia.

A little further on, next to the old stalkers path, lurked what looked like a giant lavatory bowl. It was a 'Triton Sonic Wind Profiler'. Oh dear, what is to become of this beautiful landscape?

Once through that devastation, however, the old path was indeed delightful, all the way to Carron, where last night's occupant of the bothy, Mildred, had left it looking really spic and span.

The visitors book had some lovely messages, and we could see outside that last night's camping Challengers may have enjoyed a sumptuous feast of bracken stew.

A lovely forest path (pictured above) with high banks of primroses, then led us to another relative motorway - a 'Forest Ride' accessible to all vehicles. Admittedly subject to a 15mph speed limit.

A short cut through the forest to Beinn Ghlas was spotted. We duly heaved ourselves up to the 420 metre trig point with fine views. Ben Lui sparkled in the distance like a Christmas pudding dipped in icing sugar. We enjoyed the moment over lunch in a sheltered spot. Wonderful.

Two wind farms intruded into our view, but I suppose we shouldn't complain, it was clear that Beinn Ghlas's lonely trig point receives few visits. We wondered whether Julie Harle had made it up here yesterday - it was on her planned route.

From there we regained the forest track via an area of felled trees. I gave my feet a break by wearing trainers for the next 6km. The downside of this was sore shoulders from the extra weight in the rucksack.

We passed Auchindrain -
http://www.auchindrain.org.uk/

"A UNIQUE PLACE - There's nowhere like it in Scotland. Auchindrain (pronounced Aach-andryen, from the Gaelic Achadh an Droighinn, Field of the Thorntree) gives visitors a fascinating and authentic insight into how people lived, worked and played in the old Highlands, from the first record of Auchindrain in 1533 to when the last resident moved away in 1967."

It's apparently recognised worldwide as the last and most complete example of a Highland farm township, where a group of families worked the land in common. Agricultural improvements in the 18th and 19th centuries, the Highland Clearances and the development of crofting changed farming, families and the face of the Highlands forever, but Auchindrain carried on much as before, just slowly evolving. The museum provides an opportunity to see life as it was, and to share the stories of the families who lived here as tenants of the Duke of Argyll.

It is from nearby Brenchoille that modern day creations have accrued from the efforts of one Roger Smith, who I'm told created a footpath network to Furnace. This area must be a favourite of Roger's, so is surely worthy of inclusion on any Challenger's route. I harbour happy memories of woodland walks undertaken whilst on family holidays at nearby Minard.

After a quick 3km along the busy main road, we hid behind a wall whilst a short squall passed through and I returned to boots. From there it was a delightful stroll into Inverary, down Forestry lanes then past a large campsite beyond which fine views up Loch Fyne dominated. One of those is shown above.

A flowery green lane led us finally into the back streets of the town and to the reuniting greetings of other Challengers and the welcome of the SYHA.

(You don't HAVE to read the next bit, which is courtesy of Wikipedia, but it may be of interest.)

"Inveraray is the traditional county town of Argyll and ancestral home to the Duke of Argyll. In 1744 the third Duke of Argyll decided to demolish the existing castle and start from scratch with a new building. The castle was 40 years in construction, and the work was largely supervised by the Adam family, still renowned to this day as gifted architects and designers. The end product was not a castle in the traditional sense, but a classic Georgian mansion house on a grand scale, Inveraray Castle. Over the years the castle has played host to numerous luminaries; Queen Victoria visited it in 1847, and the Royal connection was further cemented when her daughter, Princess Louise, married the heir to the Campbell chieftainship, the Marquis of Lorne, in 1875, illustrating the elevated position of the Argyll family in the social pecking order of the times. The town prior to the reconstruction of the castle was little more than a collection of humble cottages adjacent to the castle site and the Duke wished that the populace be moved to improve the appearance of his home. As early as 1747 William Adam had drawn up plans for the creation of a new Inveraray. By 1770, however, little had been done, and it was the fifth Duke who set about rebuilding the town in its present form. Much of the work on the rebuilt Inveraray was done by John Adam, the Argyll Hotel on Front Street being his, as well as the Town House. The end product was an attractive town which included houses for estate workers, a woollen mill, and a pier to exploit herring fishing, which was to mushroom in later years to play a major role in the town's economy. The finished product is one of the best examples of an 18th century new town in Scotland, and the vast majority of the properties in the centre of Inveraray are considered worthy of protection because of the town's architectural significance. The celebrated essayist Doctor Johnson, himself no fan of Scotland, was moved to comment on the new Inveraray: "What I admire here is the total defiance of expense"."

The meal at the George was excellent, and later we enjoyed a good blether with a number of Challengers, past and present, before taking to an early bed. We'd all had a long and tiring day.

Thanks as always for your comments, everyone. It was particularly nice to hear from Norma and Phil, who we would normally expect to encounter somewhere en route, grinning broadly under their heavy loads.

We have another longish day tomorrow, with a slightly 'iffy' weather forecast, (but thankfully no high summits) so I'd better get some sleep!

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Saturday, 12 May 2012

Friday 11 May 2012 - TGO Challenge Day 1 – Ardrishaig to Ford – A Fine Day in the West

Route: virtually as planned - see http://www.topwalks.com/tgoc2012.html Day 1 for map
Distance: 29.5km
Ascent: 600m approx
Time taken: 9hrs including at least 2.5 hrs stops
Weather: mainly cloudy with sunny periods and a cool north westerly breeze
Challengers encountered: most of the Ardrishaig starters, plus 'hangers on' Mildred and Barbara.
Flora and Fauna: lots of canalside flowers, including bluebells, greater stitchwort, pignut, lady's mantle, spurge, water avens, bugle, wood anemone, dog rose, lady's smock, primroses, forgetmenots, marsh marigold, red campion and lesser celandine. Later, common dog violet and lousewort on the hill.

Mergansers and mallards on the canal, eider and other ducks in the estuary. Long-tailed tits, goldfinches, siskin, greenfinch, great tit, chaffinches, buzzard, carrion crows, many wheatears, cuckoos, blackbirds, house martins, skylarks and meadow pipits.

Roe deer in Kilmartin Glen.

The Grey Gull treated us to a fine breakfast. This hostelry proved to be an excellent starting point with a great group of people. Thanks go to the Australian management and all their staff for making everyone so welcome.

We signed out and set off at 9am, with Sue in 'happy mode' because I'd arranged a flat walk along a canal towpath, as she had requested.

The Crinan Canal was opened in 1801 as a short cut (some say "the most beautiful shortcut in Britain") for lazy sailors who couldn't be bothered or were too scared to sail all the way around the dangerous waters of the Mull of Kintyre. Thomas Telford was involved a few years after that, when the original construction proved inadequate (ie - the canal collapsed). His attentions must have worked - today, mergansers were in charge of the placid waterway, some 200 years later.

We soon came upon the Cairnbaan Hotel, which suddenly and unexpectedly had to open its coffee shop. It was a very jolly group of Challengers who supped coffee and nibbled some remnants of shortbread, helped by the fact that many of us knew each other from previous trips. We even discovered that some of us have mutual friends, such as Gilly Hunt, who will be on our next trip - she lives down the road from Geoff Gafford, who was with us today together with Frank and Bert. Hello Gilly!

After this, most of the others were heading directly towards Carron Bothy, whilst Sue and I continued alone along the towpath towards Crinan. We saw no further Challengers today.

At Islandadd Bridge we headed away from the canal, into the Moine Mhòr, or Great Moss - a flat area that leads into Kilmartin Glen, an area rich with history. The glen has one of the most important concentration of Neolithic and Bronze Age remains in Scotland. There are more than 350 ancient monuments within a six mile radius of the village of Kilmartin, with 150 of them being prehistoric. Monuments include standing stones, a henge monument, numerous cists, and a "linear cemetery" comprising five burial cairns. Several of these, as well as many natural rocks, are decorated with cup and ring marks. The remains of the fortress of the Scots at Dunadd, a royal centre of Dal Riata, are located to the south of the glen, on the edge of the Great Moss.

Cup and ring marks or cup marks are a form of prehistoric art, consisting of a concave depression, no more than a few centimetres across, pecked into a rock surface and often surrounded by concentric circles also etched into the stone. Sometimes a linear channel called a gutter leads out from the middle. The decoration occurs as a petroglyph on natural boulders and outcrops and also as an element of megalithic art on purposely worked megaliths such as the slab cists of the Food Vessel culture, some stone circles, and passage graves. 

But I digress. We paused at length at the 5000 year old Temple Wood stone circle (pictured above), and spent a while exploring the interior of a burial mound. Luckily for Andrew W, his route doesn't pass this way....

En route, the sad remains of Poltalloch were past. The sad tale of the rise and fall of the Malcolm family's fortunes is reflected in the crumbling masonry of this once stately building. The nearby church, however, remains intact and is worth a visit - it sports some lovely stained glass windows and Malcolm memorabilia.

Hastening on to Kilmartin, we joined David and Janet in their lovely new garden. They moved here on Wednesday, so we provided our last two pieces of shortbread by way of a house warming present. Jim joined the party and was placed on wardrobe carrying duty. Thanks for the tea + biscuits, you two.

Alan Hardy had predicted a boggy ascent of Beinn Bahn, but it really wasn't bad, with the reward of a summit 'brew stop' out of the wind with great views back over Kilmartin Glen to the Paps of Jura, and on to Loch Awe, most scenically placed in the evening sun, with the snow-capped summits of Ben Cruachan glittering behind the loch.

Then we strolled pleasantly down to Ford, where Alison J soon whisked us back to Kilmartin Hotel for a good meal, and a most enjoyable evening. I've known Alison for 40 years or so and hadn't seen her for a while, so it was great to catch up. She sends her best wishes to those mutual friends who read these pages, as do David and Janet.

Alistair, Lyn, Martin R and Alan R - thanks for your comments. We noted how well Lynsey was looking in Glasgow, Alistair - we hope she has a great crossing.

That's all for now, apart from thanking Alison for her excellent B+B service - more than enough, I suspect, though given a lack of 'phone signal you may not receive it for a while.

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