Sue and Martin above Zermatt - 2018

Sue and Martin above Zermatt - 2018
Showing posts with label TGOC 2013. Show all posts
Showing posts with label TGOC 2013. Show all posts

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Thursday 23 May 2013 -TGO Challenge Day 14 - Pennan Bay to Frazerburgh

Route: as planned apart from avoidance of some off road sections where I may not have been welcomed

See http:/www.topwalks.com/tgoc2013.html Day 14 for map

Distance: 20 km (Cum 370 km - 230 miles)

Ascent: 300 metres (Cum 10450)

Time taken: 3.9 hrs including 0.25 hrs stops

Weather: sunny periods, cold wind, seriously strong

Challengers encountered: 'Lilo' Pete Varley at the end (pictured); no other walkers were seen (as on most of the entire two week walk)

Total tally of Challengers seen since starting at Plockton:  5

We enjoyed Lilo's company last night. Unfortunately there was no room for him at the inn so he went off looking for B&Bs. The 'bad news', he reported, was that they were full. The good news: a passing dog walker had offered him a bed...

Research occurred.  Without wishing to cast aspersions on any of Pennan Bay's worthy residents, the chef kindly pointed dear Pete in the direction of a camping spot he had already sussed.

The bed at Pennan Bay Hotel was very comfy. This is the location where the film 'Local Hero' was shot.

I waited, after an excellent breakfast, until 9 o'clock for Lilo to turn up. He didn't. He had set off at 7.30 after a disturbed night. The strong wind had changed direction and become a gale.

Today the wind dominated. Even in the quiet country lanes every gust had the roar of an approaching juggernaut. 

It was a blustery endurance test to reach Frazerburgh. I chose to travel by roads. Down by the north coast eider ducks and seagulls bobbed on the waves. The smell of rotting seaweed and mouthfuls of sand were the reward for getting close to the sea.

Eventually, on the outskirts of Frazerburgh, Sue appeared and walked with me to the lighthouse museum. Reunited with Lilo, and pleased to be finished, we enjoyed tea and cake in the café before departing for Montrose for signing in and partying...

Sent from after the end of the TGO Challenge

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Wednesday 22 May 2013 -TGO Challenge Day 13 - Turriff to Pennan Bay

Route: Not as planned. Adjusted to avoid off road sections where progress looked problematic, to minimise busy roads, and to add a pleasant off road section at the end

See http:/www.topwalks.com/tgoc2013.html Day 13 for map

Distance: 35 km (Cum 350)

Ascent: 650 metres (Cum 10150)

Time taken: 9.0 hrs including 1.5 hrs stops

Weather: bright, showery, bitterly cold, wind in face all day, full waterproofs to keep warm... are you getting the drift - not really very nice

Challengers encountered: none at the time of writing, and no non Challengers for that matter, except at the hotel. Lilo Pete is expected to appear at some point (late news - he arrived)

More of the same this morning.  But first an admission.  I failed to call in to Control on Monday.  Ian Shiel,  who as my vetter on several occasions has much experience of my incompetence, should perhaps have reminded me, but in the pleasure of the unexpected encounter with three people I knew, the phone call was never made. Sorry Control. 

Last night another conundrum concerned me.  'Lilo' Pete, the ballet dancing hairdresser, sent a message saying he was at Findhorn and would maybe see me at Pennan Bay tonight.  For those who know the local geography that's quite a hike. Anyway, he eventually faxed (or whatever you do these days) himself to Cullen, which seemed a more sensible and realistic location from which to start a day's walk to Pennan Bay. 

I noticed last night that after Wolfgang had so generously brought the sponsorship for the Levana School charity nicely up to its target, the target had been doubled. So further donations will be gratefully received!  (See 'charity' posting shortly before I set off on this walk, and a big thank you to all those who have already contributed.) 

Today:

A brief but intense shower ensured the tent went away wet.

I got going soon after 7am and before long I was enclosed in full waterproofs and, for the first time on this trip, thick gloves. There was an evil bitter wind.

The morning was spent walking to Gardenstown on the north coast. On the way I had dodged some off road sections that didn't look viable, and I managed to reduce the amount of busy roads. Lesser Celandine lined some of the verges, and the gorse seemed infested with flitting yellowhammers. At least they weren't flying backwards like the seagulls. 

Reaching the north coast (pictured) should have been a highlight. I had in mind a lengthy lunch in a nice pub or café. There was a small Spar shop. The place was deserted. Lunch was in a squall on a sheltered (but still windy) bench by the harbour wall.

The coast path to Crovie was brief but pleasant if you ignored the wind and rain. The sun appeared briefly.

My next objective was Troup Head to which a visit had been recommended by Roger B. Apparently there's an impressive gannet colony there. But the usual 'off road' problem thwarted me. Locked gates and barbed fences made it clear that visitors are not welcome. I'd been looking forward to a tramp along this north coast, but it's going to be a very limited one. 

Never mind, we are going to Pembroke next weekend.  Walkers are welcome on the stunning coast paths down there.

So I headed back in a big loop to join the B9031 road for the last lap of my tarmac trudge to Pennan Bay. I had plenty of time, and tiring quickly of the road I spotted an off road option that looked feasible, if extending my day by a good 4 km.

Suddenly I found myself on a nice earthen track, contouring through pretty gorse bushes Out Of The Wind. It was great. The walk up the Tore of Troup,  returning to the main road on the east side of the burn, has much to commend it. Especially as once I reached the main road I could cross straight over an stroll down to the Pennan Bay Hotel to check in and enjoy the best cuppa of the day. 

And this time I did remember to call Control, where Sue O and the team seemed in great form.

Sent from Pennan Bay with Sue and Pete and a pint of best

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Tuesday 21 May 2013 -TGO Challenge Day 12 - Huntly to Turriff

Route: as planned plus via Turriff town centre

See http:/www.topwalks.com/tgoc2013.html Day 12 for map

Distance: 33 km (Cum 315)

Ascent: 460 metres (Cum 9500)

Time taken: 7.1 hrs including 0.75 hrs stops

Weather: varied from horrid rain to cold sunshine - 'all day gloves' and a bitter northern wind. Sheltered at camp though

Challengers encountered: none - just acknowledgements in passing from a variety of folk

You may be pleased to hear that there's not a lot to report today.

I paid my farewells to Ian, Alan and Fran and set off in unpleasant rain past scurrying tree creepers at 8am. I certainly felt better after failing to walk past the bakery, and even better when I found a viable if very muddy 'off road' section - and you had to be prepared to be friends with frisky bullocks.

After that the tarmac prevailed and the rest of the day was spent strolling along pleasant lanes in rolling Aberdeenshire farming and forestry country (pictured). If this had been in many other parts of the UK where the countryside is similar, there would have been a good choice of footpaths and ancient byways to follow. But here, any such thoroughfares have long since been tarmaced. The unsurfaced roads and paths that do exist generally lead to dead ends. 

A yellowhammer watched me for a while from a high wire, and a farmer informed me that I was 'a day behind'. He had seen three others pass this way yesterday. 

A glade of trees provided brief respite from the biting wind, to both myself and an even more weary David Brown 990.

I didn't stop much. The weather saw to that. So I found a tea shop in Turriff soon after 3pm. The cake was top notch.

The campsite is in a very sheltered position on the old railway line. I was even able to enjoy sitting outside for a while, but by 6pm I was forced to retreat to my tent to try to eat as much of my remaining food as possible as tomorrow a hotel has been booked. 

I've tried to find out how other bloggers are getting on, but apart from Gayle I can't seem to spot anyone who is making postings. I'm sure there must be lots out there, or is everyone else twittering? That's what those youngsters I met, Iain and Simon, were doing. 

Wow - I may have time to turn on my Kindle for the first time tonight! 

Sent from Turriff campsite

Monday, 20 May 2013

Monday 20 May 2013 -TGO Challenge Day 11 - Ardwell to Huntly

Route: as planned apart from avoidance of 'Private' paths

See http:/www.topwalks.com/tgoc2013.html Day 11 for map

Distance: 28 km (Cum 282)

Ascent: 550 metres (Cum 9040)

Time taken: 8.2 hrs including 1.8 hrs stops

Weather: a light mist in the air all morning; dry but hazy and overcast later, with a cool  NW breeze

Challengers encountered: Ian Shiel, with Alan and Fran, at Huntly campsite

A day of mainly road walking, especially thanks to the owners of Mains of Aswanley, who don't want people on their land. That resulted in an hour along a main road. Ah well. 

There was a chill in the air as I set off past the old school into a cold easterly breeze,  with cloud carpeted hills and the trill of the curlew. The rural lane passed many fields of noisy sheep and there was moisture in the air from the ever lower rural smog. 

Waterproofs were deployed for an hour or so but by Haugh of Glass the wetness had subsided and a pleasant alfresco hot chocolate break by the River Deveron was supervised by a watchful heron.

After an unpleasant hour on the verges of the A920 road, it was a delight to lose the tarmac and venture up to the 375 metre summit of Clashmach Hill. Haze featured heavily in the view, but at least there was one. 

A lone speed walker heading for the summit was the only person (not in a car) I saw all day other than the two attentive ladies (pictured) I chatted to at length this morning. 

Huntly seems a pleasant little town with a top campsite that has attended to all my needs. I wasn't expecting to find my erstwhile vetter, Ian, here. He is returning Alan and Fran to Montrose after their successful completion of the Cape Wrath Trail. 

We all enjoyed a convivial evening at a local hostelry. Great to meet up with you, folks - a lovely surprise. 

Sent from Huntly

Sunday 19 May 2013 -TGO Challenge Day 10 - Wild camp near Carn Daimh to Ardwell

Route: more or less as planned

See http:/www.topwalks.com/tgoc2013.html Day 10 for map

Distance: 27 km (Cum 254)

Ascent: 750 metres (Cum 8490)

Time taken: 9.9 hrs including 2.1 hrs stops

Weather: fog until after lunch time, then above the fog (inversion), before sea fret rolled in

Challengers encountered: Iain Robertson and Simon Hutchinson from Suie to my turn for Cook's Cairn. They were the only people I saw in nearly ten hours of walking.  Then I met Archie McBain in the Grouse Inn

I awoke at 6.30 to the sound of a cuckoo, the drip of intense condensation and the sigh of a slug as it fruitlessly mounted my gas canister.

Everything seemed pretty wet as I set off at 8am.  The path to Tomnavoulin was like most of those  walked today - wet and indecisive. 

Mist seemed to envelope everything as I descended in the rural smog. I passed  a dead lamb, its eyes pecked out by crows - the very ones perhaps that were fluttering inside traps, in a futile effort to gain freedom. 

I took the Smugglers Trail (much whisky was smuggled from illicit stills) towards Clash Wood car park, through a lovely wood, the path bordered by sleepy Wood Sorrel. 

Down in Tomnavoulin I was looking forward to a coffee at the Visitor Centre, but sadly its waterwheel was silent and the cobbles in front of it seemed designed to transport unwary visitors straight into the river below. 

A riverside path then an empty road took me to the Glenlivet path, at the start of which is a memorial to Margaret Hilton Brown (1886-1952) 'who loved this place'.

I incorrectly crossed a bridge soon afterwards, distracted by a Mercedes 300GD. The vehicle had seen better days; it reminded me of my first trip to Scotland in 1968, in the late lamented Howard Gee's Austin Devon estate car, in a constant search for spares. 

The track to Suie was rough but clear, and remained just below the cloud, above which a glimmer of brightness gave me the feeling that there may be a cloud inversion. Oh to be up high! 

The air was rich with the sound and sight of curlew, oystercatchers, lapwings and other plovers. Lizards scuttled to avoid my feet. A river crossing in cloud at 330 metres had me reaching for my 'river shoes'. Soon after that the ruined farm of Suie (pictured - there were a few such places today) provided a pleasant enough lunch spot. I explored the building; it must have been a good place to live in its day, which probably wasn't very long ago. It's now inhabited by a family of jackdaws. I don't know who was more surprised, me or them.

Leaving Suie, I spotted two backpackers close behind me. The only people I saw all day, they were Iain and Simon, speeding along on their way to Cabrach. I relished their company for 45 minutes before heading off towards Cook's Cairn. We even had the excitement of crossing a small snowfield at about 500 metres. 

Approaching the summit of Cook's Cairn I received a message from Ali suggesting I go high. She was right, there was an excellent cloud inversion, with the Cairngorm summits just poking out of the cloud, and a sea of cloud to the north west. Fantastic! But not easy to catch 'on camera'.

I thought the onward journey to Ardwell would be easy. After all, it was mainly downhill. It turned out to be another of those all too frequent experiences of the path on the map being elusive on the ground, especially in the forest beyond the sad remains of Blackwater Lodge. At least it was t-shirt and sun hat weather, for the first time since leaving Plockton. 

I was pleased to see a Black Grouse in the forest, a good omen for my visit to the inn below. There was also a large herd of roe deer down by the river. 

The Grouse Inn at Ardwell was most welcoming when I eventually arrived, and it was great to encounter 84 year old Archie McBain, who enthused over having completed three Challenges, the last of which was in 1993. "Nobody will remember me" he said. I thought he might be surprised! After setting up camp in a nearby field I strolled back to the inn for a  couple of beers and a wonderful beef casserole. Thanks Maria. 

There's no phone signal here so this will transmit tomorrow. Thanks as always for your comments, to which I'll try to reply when I can. 

Sent from somewhere between Ardwell and Huntly

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Saturday 18 May 2013 -TGO Challenge Day 9 - Grantown-on-Spey to Wild camp near Carn Daimh

Route: virtually as planned, camping at NJ 182 253 at a path junction

See http:/www.topwalks.com/tgoc2013.html Day 9 for map

Distance: 26 km (Cum 227)

Ascent: 930 metres (Cum 7740)

Time taken: 8.0 hrs including 0.75 hrs stops

Weather: rain all day; cloud base 200 to 400 metres

People encountered: one jogger, two cow herders and three mountain bikers - all said hello as they sped past

Kinross House proved an excellent place to stay. Jane did our washing and Gary cooked an excellent breakfast. What with a stomach full of gammon from last night as well, I've hardly needed to eat anything during today's walk.

I'm pictured leaving our B&B in light rain. It could only get heavier. It did get heavier. 

The walk to Cromdale through Grantown's capercaillie pine woods was lovely. Red squirrels played at chasing goldcrests and blackbirds rummaged for worms, but there was no sign of a capercaillie. 

A large group of students was about to launch itself into the Spey as I crossed the bridge into Cromdale. That was probably the best place to be today. 

Cromdale has an impressive station but no trains! 

A few km along a quiet lane to Wester Rynabailoch softened me up for my crossing of the Hills of Cromdale. A path was marked on my map, linking Wester Rynabailoch with Strath Avon. There was little evidence of such a path on the ground.  The ascent to the watershed, through giant clumps of steep heather interspersed with boggy quagmires, in pouring rain, in a cloud, was a little on the tedious side.

After spending two and a half hours on this 6 km section of the day's amble, I was pleased to find tourist facilities in the glen, namely a car park and an information board. These proved a good omen. The walk up to the lofty peak of 'Could Be Anywhere' (aka Carn Daimh) was along good tracks. Some single track mountain bike trails are under construction here - they promise to be challenging. 

Near the summit I spotted a suitable  camping spot, but with no water on board I continued towards my planned destination a kilometre down the hill in a more open area. But after a while I found a rather peaty water supply so I stocked up and returned to the pitch in the trees. 

A deluge in this nice flat spot has failed to flood me out and by the time this report is sent I should have enjoyed a good night's sleep. It's only 8pm but seems to be getting dark! Even the birds have gone quiet! 

Thanks for your comments - I've tried to reply to some of them, but the signal here is rather vague. 

In particular, thanks Ali for your company over the past couple of days and at Struy.  You may have been wise in choosing a route around,  rather than over, the Hills of Cromdale on this occasion! 

Sent from the descent to Tomnavoulin from Carn Daimh

Friday, 17 May 2013

Friday 17 May 2013 -TGO Challenge Day 8 - Wild camp near hut to Grantown-on-Spey

Route: as planned except that I continued to Kinross House B&B rather than stay on the campsite

See http:/www.topwalks.com/tgoc2013.html Day 8 for map

Distance: 26 km (Cum 201)

Ascent: 600 metres (Cum 6810)

Time taken: 8.4 hrs including 1.4 hrs stops

Weather: fine with sunny intervals

Challengers encountered: Ali O

Ali and I set out together at 7.30, as planned last night in the lunch hut, where Ali decided to spend the night inside and risk getting cold rather than soggy, rain having been forecast. 

This was new ground for both of us, and we didn't see a soul before the outskirts of Grantown. Wild country. 

We soon reached the second of three bothies, a fine wood panelled affair with a stable devoted to the storage of mink traps. This is serious grouse moor; their predators are ruthlessly eliminated.

We didn't visit the bothy at Knockdu, but it's pictured above. More alert readers will note that today Millie has been substituted by Ali. 

A pathless section found us utilising the planks on which the animal traps were located, to facilitate river crossings. Luckily the planks just about bore our weight. 

Lunch followed shortly after a mid morning break - by a large cairn on Carr Mor that must have a historical significance. Then Ali took a direct path to Grantown whilst I bimbled through beds of wood anemones to the 471 metre summit of Beinn Mhor. This minor peak enjoys wide ranging views towards the Cairngorms, where snow is still the dominant feature above 1000 metres or so. 

Here in the relative lowlands it must be much warmer.  Today I was distracted by my sunburnt nose and a lizard. Greylag Geese and Lapwings were busy in the skies in their differing ways, and it was Ali who nearly stood on a grouse's nest. 

Lovely countryside despite some new roads being built through these remote tracts of land. 

I followed Ali past a tame oyster catcher and some classic cars (including a stunning white 1971 Ford Capri) into Grantown shortly before 4pm and we took full advantage of our shared bathroom before adjourning to the Garth Hotel for an excellent meal, then to the Co-Op for supplies. 

In between all this 'Control' was informed of our survival thus far, albeit expressing concerns over our bathroom facilities, which for the avoidance of doubt are shared, but not at the same time. 

Goodnight. 

Sent from Kinross House, Grantown-on-Spey

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Thursday 16 May 2013 -TGO Challenge Day 7 - Wild camp at NH 787 413 to Wild camp at NH 888 363

Route: virtually as planned 

See http:/www.topwalks.com/tgoc2013.html Day 7 for map

Distance: 17 km (Cum 175)

Ascent: 580 metres (Cum 6210)

Time taken: 6.5 hrs including 1.4 hrs stops

Weather: fine with sunny intervals; hail showers in the afternoon

Challengers encountered: Ali Ogden arrived at 8pm and is camping nearby

This was my shortest day. I had in mind a semi rest day. 'Just as well', I thought, when I awoke at 8.45am this morning. I get my best sleeps in tents - I would never wake at that hour at home. 

Anyway, setting off at 10.20 I immediately had my one and only encounter of the day - with a very fit looking lady who was running down the hill. Apparently there are three hills, of which this (Beinn Bhuidhe Mhor) is one, used by the fell runners of Inverness for training. I heard quite a few of them pass by last night. 

My next encounter was on the summit of BBM, with Millie, pictured above in the centre of the picture to the left of the trig point. She or others of her family were to keep me company all day. They, and the grumpy grouse, one of whose nest of ten eggs I nearly stood on.

The 5km yomp to my 615 metre high point of the day (Carn nan Tri-tighearnan) took over two hours of hard graft. Picture the roughest parts of Bleaklow. Hard work for a 'semi rest day'! The continuation to Carn an Uillt Bhric wasn't much easier, but after that the extensive grouse moor road system of the Cawdor Estate came into play, making the going easy, but the eyesores of freshly built tracks rather spoiled the 'wilderness experience'.

The sandy waters of Allt Breac provided a most welcome brew stop in ideal conditions - my most enjoyable such stop of the trip. 

Down at Drynachan I passed fields of frolicking lambs before crossing the first of two bridges, beyond which lay the easy pull over Carn na Sguabaich to my planned camping spot. 

As I ascended, a woodpecker drummed in the nearby wood whilst a cuckoo unmistakably announced its presence and two fishermen tried their luck in the river below.

On Carn na Sguabaich there was a strange enclosure, and further down, next to the track, a beautifully constructed enclosure and outlet for a well. There's a history to this place. 

Arriving at my planned camping spot at about 5pm, I managed to whizz up the tent just before a hailstorm arrived, so I didn't perhaps choose the best spot. As I write, at 8pm, Ali O has just appeared, having come all the way from Inverness today. She's gone down to the nearby lunch hut to pitch her tent.

Sent en route to Grantown or near to wild camp if I can find a signal

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Wednesday 15 May 2013 -TGO Challenge Day 6 - Dochgarroch Lock to Wild camp beyond Dalroy

Route: as planned, but passing through the centre of Inverness for provisions

See http:/www.topwalks.com/tgoc2013.html Day 6 for map

Distance: 28 km (Cum 158)

Ascent: 650 metres (Cum 5630)

Time taken: 9.25 hrs including 3.25 hrs stops

Weather: dry but cool into Inverness, then showery, becoming fairly constant rain and hail, easing to showers in the evening

Challengers encountered: none

Recapping from yesterday:

The photo is of Ali and Charles outside the Cnoc Hotel.

My enthusiasm for amending my route to avoid the rough ascent of Cnoc na Gaoithe was misguided. I should on reflection have gone up the hill and wild camped by the burn to its south. But I didn't realise that the woods above Dochgarroch were private, easy to enter, and hard to escape from. Nor did I realise I'd made a mistake with the campsite - I had sfter all found it on the Internet. It must be somewhere else - perhaps at Scaniport?

Finally, the fire. I was lighting my stove using my new fire steel. I haven't mastered the technique. After several strikes I managed to light the stove and knock it over all in one action, resulting in an inferno in the enclosed porch of the tent. How I managed to open the door and chuck the fireball out with no damage to anything will forever be a mystery. A lesson has been learned.

On to today. I was on the canal towpath soon after 8, having again borrowed the key to the toilet from the friendly Air Cadets. The alternative may have surprised a few dog walkers. 

This was the best bit of the day weather wise - you may guess that from today's picture. 

The heavens opened as I passed through Inverness. I could tell that from the windows of the supermarket. And from the windows of the coffee shop. 

Once out of Inverness, the path to Culloden was very pleasant. Bullfinches greeted me as I approached the impressive gates and buildings of Culloden House. I later noticed that the building looks the same as it was in some of the pictures that are contemporary to 1745.

More paths and cycleways led onto Culloden Moor, where I paid a visit to the Prisoner Stone, though I'm still not sure of its history. 

A visit to the Battle of Culloden Visitor Centre was perhaps the day's highlight. I wish I'd had more time to appreciate it. Let's just say it's not your average visitor centre. 

Whilst I was being impressed, and taking advantage of the café facilities, clods of hail were bombarding the building. Waterproofs were needed for the rest of my walk up to some boggy moorland to this surprisingly comfortable pitch. En route I have to admit to having weakened during a short pause in the deluge - I booked a B&B in Grantown for Friday. 

Finally - hello Tim, I'm delighted to hear you are following my progress, and look forward to seeing you soon. 

That's enough for one day, albeit an easy one. It's time to let the rain lull me to sleep. 

Sent from a hill south of Inverness - NH 787 413

Healthy Eating?

For the curious, here's an example of Challenge fayre, following my recent restocking for a couple of days. 

The fruit was eaten before I took this picture, as it was a bit heavy.


Sent from Culloden

Tuesday 14 May 2013 -TGO Challenge Day 5 - Struy to Dochgarroch Loch

Route: as planned,  with some adjustments

See http:/www.topwalks.com/tgoc2013.html Day 5 for map

Distance: 34 km (Cum 130)

Ascent: 900 metres (Cum 4980)

Time taken:  9.6 hrs including 1.5 hrs stops

Weather: fine with long sunny periods, rainy evening

Challengers encountered: none

A sunny morning greeted us through the curtains. The tent was soon down (think I'm joking? - no, but I slept in the bed) and a brew was on.

Breakfast was excellent. Then Ali and Charles set off in one direction and I took the low road. We had spent last night with Charles, who is tackling the Cape Wrath Trail. Good luck Charles, if you read this. 

The day was bright and clear - excellent walking weather. 

Tarmac was to feature quite a bit on my route. My first attempt to leave it failed due to my planned route being blocked by the new Beauly - Denny power line. But that left me a better alternative, albeit featuring a runnel of deep bog.

My first encounter of the day was with a very friendly chap who was mowing grass outside Beaufort Castle. He told me where to see ospreys nearby. So I went to the spot for lunch,  but the birds eluded me.

I pottered on to Cabrich, for a good natter with a complete stranger, Donald West. He was going to the Struy Hotel tonight. "Great food" he enthused. I agreed. He recalled that the hotel used to be the estate office  for the Chisholm estate, when the Chisholms had a pub by the river near Inchmore. Apparently the drovers used to get their cattle to that point and say 'not an inch more' as they headed for the pub. It was shut by the Chisholms the day after as drunken customer drowned in the river. It never reopened. 

After the beautiful woodland of Moniack came the ascent to An Leacainn, my high point of the day. First I took the wrong track for a kilometre and reached a half built house with a grass roof. Then after retracing to find it, the correct path, when located, turned out to be very rough, boggy and hard to follow. It was quite late when I finally reached the trig point, which informed me that this was 'The Place of Flagstones'. It also had good views and a cold wind.

Readers may expect mention of Ben Wyvis, of which I should have seen much today. It was hidden from the world, present only by virtue of houses named 'Wyvis View'. A postman's nightmare. 

Descending from An Leacainn, I came across the irresistible track of the Great Glen Way. As it was late, with rain in the air, I abandoned my planned route over Cnoc na Gaoithe in favour of the pristine highway. This led to a more direct path into Dochgarroch, or so I thought. I was wrong. Private tracks forced a 3km detour. It was 7pm by the time I finally reached my destination.  But there was no sign of a campsite.  A planning error on my part.

Luckily there were some Air Force cadets camped by the lock, and they kindly lent me a key to the Waterways toilets. My pitch beside picnic benches was flat and comfy. After nearly setting fire to my tent I enjoyed a pleasant evening with an excellent dinner,  followed by a long sleep.

More about the route issue tomorrow, and I may mention the fire...

Sent from beside the Caledonian Canal

Monday, 13 May 2013

Monday 13 May 2013 -TGO Challenge Day 4 - Wild Camp by waterfall to Struy

Route: FWA as planned, plus a diversion - basically descent to Glen Strathfarrar and a long road walk to Struy, plus an exploratory diversion

See http:/www.topwalks.com/tgoc2013.html Day 4 for map of where I should have been

Distance: 26km (Cum 96)

Ascent: 500 metres (Cum 4080)

Time taken: 6.75 hrs including 0.75 hrs stops

Weather: overnight slithering sounds revealed snow at dawn; cold rain showers and a brisk westerly all day

Challenger encountered: Ali Ogden, hence the brevity and lateness of this posting

Overnight snow, though it didn't stay for long where I was at 350 metres, may have surprised some Challengers. It certainly surprised me, as it had seemed quite a warm night. 

After a lie in I packed up and headed down to the road, for the twenty plus km stroll to Struy down beautiful Glen Strathfarrar. 

A diversion into the Struy Forest to find an alternative to the road proved futile when I couldn't find the path, but at least it made a change  from the road for an hour and a half. 

Then much washing and eating and socialising at this fine establishment, and great to catch up with Ali.

I forgot to get the phone out today except when I was about to strike camp, so I'm afraid it's another TNSC2 picture. 

There are lots of deer down in the valley,  even strolling past the restaurant window.  Bewick Swans, Pied Wagtails and lots of LBJs, as well as Wrens and Oyster Catchers,  Dippers, etc were also spotted. 

That's all for now.  Thanks again for your comments. 

Sent from the very hospitable Cnoc Hotel

Sunday 12 May 2013 -TGO Challenge Day 3 - Wild Camp near Lurg Mor to Wild Camp below Beinn na Muice

Route: FWA more or less as planned

See http:/www.topwalks.com/tgoc2013.html Day 3 for map - FWA (foul weather alternative) continues beside Loch Monar to Monar Lodge then goes west over Beinn na Muice to a wild camp near a waterfall

Distance: 22km (Cum 70)

Ascent: 980 metres (Cum 3580)

Time taken: 9.75 hrs including 1.4 hrs stops

Weather: overnight rain (it was raining on the couple of occasions I woke up) then fine but grey, with rain from the south west obviously going to arrive, which it duly did around 3pm

Challengers encountered: Sue Moore, by Loch Monar, the only person I saw all day

The familiar sound of raindrops on nylon was no encouragement for an early start. But eventually a brew was on and the familiar morning routine was under way. 

I left the fine site at 8am and took a circuitous route to Loch Monar to avoid any tricky river crossings. The plan worked - there were no 'incidents' today. 

Loch Monar (pictured this morning in the brightest part of the day) is quite long. It took me 6 hours to walk the 14 km to Monar Lodge. Any semblance of a path was occasional and vague. The whole day was like that, hence a rather slow pace.

Sue Moore was standing on the path waiting for me.  We chatted briefly. She was doing the Challenge  to chill out from work, etc for a couple of weeks. Quite a few do that, I think. I left her to her contemplations and continued my traipse on along the path, punctuated by a couple of brew stops and some easy river crossings on slippery rocks. Walking poles came in handy. 

From the south and the west some very ominous weather seemed to be approaching us at little more than walking pace. Waterproofs went on and off. It soon became apparent that my planned fine weather route was not a sensible option. 

Monar Lodge was surrounded by road building equipment,  and a road leading nowhere. I suspect previous residents of these parts may not have approved.  Much has changed since Iain R Thompson (Isolation Shepherd) was here. 

The little hill I chose for my FWA turned out to be a bit of a brute. Very steep up and down, with a nice little summit ridge that seemed longer and narrower than it actually was due to the debilitating gusts of wind.

I thought it would be easy to find a good spot to camp, but the terrain below was a medley of stones and heather in a sea of bog. I'm currently at NH 234 401, near a waterfall. The best I could manage.

The rain eased for a while and the weather cleared to reveal fresh snow on the summits. It's raining again as I conclude this latest episode.  It's a shame I've had to duck out of the main Strathfarrar ridge, as my route from now on could be regarded as a gentle amble.

Sent from a rare place in Scotland - one with a phone signal

Saturday 11 May 2013 - TGO Challenge Day 2 - Loch nan Gillean to Camp near col

Route: More or less as planned, wild camping at NH 057 412 (630 metres) 

See http:/www.topwalks.com/tgoc2013.html Day 2 for map

Distance: 25km (Cum 48)

Ascent: 1450 metres (Cum 2600)

Time taken:  9.25hrs including 1.7hrs stops

Weather: rain,  gradually brightening, with the rain finally pausing around 11am. We then enjoyed a couple of hours of 'not rain' before it started again. As I chose my camping spot at 5.15pm the rain miraculously stopped, the sun came out, and the hills I'd just climbed in thick cloud and heavy rain grinned at me as the sun's rays warmed their rocks.

Challengers encountered: none, the only people I saw today were two walkers coming down from Lurg Mor and 'Cheesecake'.

It was a good night to test a new tent.  Constant rain, blustery at times.  I slept well.  Enough said. 

I woke today in the same cloud that I went to sleep in last night. However, it was easy enough to make my way across the trackless bog and around the edge of some forestry to gain a path that was even more boggy. This soon got me to a better track that led me to the main estate track up to Bendronaig Lodge. It wouldn't have been so soon if I'd slipped on the tree trunk I used as a river crossing at one point. A film of that, as branches snapped and poles went flying, may have been hilarious. 

For an hour or so I was free from waterproofs, but given the cool breeze I lunched in Bendronaig  Lodge's bothy. When I emerged 40 minutes later it was raining again. 

Three people a few minutes ahead of me may have been John, Sue and Jane, but I didn't find out as they continued beside Loch Calavie whilst I headed up to the col between Lurg Mor and 'Cheesecake'.

That thrutch was rewarded with the pleasure of a couple of hours without my rucksack.  Whilst it was raining, the benign conditions didn't merit even contemplating my FWA (foul weather alternative).

I think the weather was the same as when Sue and I were last here. 

My camp site (pictured) is one of the best. After the sun came out the wind changed, so as soon as I'd put the tent up I found myself  repositioning it. Then the wind dropped completely and hasn't returned, though cloud has returned to the summits. The weather looks unsettled - but at least it has provided a glorious evening. 

Flora and fauna: lots of deer on both days so far, a variety of plovers and unidentified birds, and a fine clump of purple saxifrage just near the tent. 

Alan R - S3 notepad? ★

Composed at NH 057 412, sent when a signal appeared

Friday, 10 May 2013

Friday 10 May 2013 - TGO Challenge Day 1 - Plockton to Loch nan Gillean

Route: More or less as planned

See http:/www.topwalks.com/tgoc2013.html Day 1 for map

Distance: 23km (Cum 23)

Ascent: 1150 metres (Cum 1150)

Time taken: 8 hrs including 1.4 hrs stops

Weather: sunny for the first couple of hours, then gradually wetter.

And wetter. 

Challengers encountered: none after  leaving the start. In fact I've seen nobody since 10am this morning. 

An interesting first day. I was first of the ten Plockton starters to sign out - spot on 9 o'clock on a perfect sunny morning. I left John, Sue, Jane, Graham and Tina to their breakfasts. Sadly Louise, although reportedly in Plockton, wasn't about so it'll probably be a while before we meet up. 

Andrew kindly guided me out of town along his favourite lochside path beside the shimmering waters of Loch Carron. Then I was on my own. All day. 

After an easy start past beds of wood sorrel and chirping birds, the section of jungle beyond Loch Achaidh na h-Inich came as a bit of a shock. It wasn't the first non existent path on today's map. After muscling my way through the dense forest and locating a lovely old forest path that circumvented some forest operations, I came upon the sight of Auchtertyre Hill directly in front of me.

I can't say I would recommend climbing Auchtertyre Hill from the west. If you do choose that route, take care. The contours are very close together.  The heather is deep and much of it had recently been burnt. When I was half way up it started to rain. Now both my walking gear and my waterproofs are streaked with black lines from the charred heather. If I encounter anything harder than the steep gully near the top on this trip I'll be even more out of my comfort zone.

The view from the summit would have been better if it hadn't been raining.

It was much easier on the other side, though the 60 metre ascent of the day's second hill, Maol Mor, was pretty abrupt. 

The route I'd chosen followed that of the old A890, when it was single track.  It's amazing how things can change so much. Bushes - Juniper perhaps - presented an impenetrable barrier at times.  Progress was slow,  but road walking was avoided.

Then came an easy 5km of forestry track,  with wrens, cuckoos and small warblers in attendance as well as the ubiquitous chaffinches. 

That section ended all too soon, when the ongoing route beyond point 7 on the map (see link above) proved to be absent from the ground. So I batttled through some more jungle and then wandered up to an unplanned high point of the day,  the 486 metre summit of Carn nan Iomairean. 

After admiring the diminishing views,  I trotted down to Loch nan Gillean and by 5pm was putting the new tent up in increasingly heavy rain. Having chosen a spot with a view, the cloud came down and I can't see a thing. 

It proved a good time to stop. I'm having a pleasant evening in the tent, which luckily and most surprisingly has 'phone reception. 

Alan R - S3 spell checker?

Sent from my TNSC2's first wild camp at NG 922 355

Thursday, 9 May 2013

TGO Challenge 2013 - Getting to the start

Sleep didn't come easily.  The 5.15 alarm wasn't needed.  I enjoyed breakfast with Sue, who kindly rose early and dropped me at Piccadilly station, before heading off for work, only five minutes away.  So she may have had quite a long day!

The 6.33 am First Trans-Pennine express to Glasgow was quiet and on time.  Not a Challenger in sight.  Not in the executive compartment, anyway!

The blue skies and tree greenery slowly diminished as we headed north.  Our swifts are back, but I don't think I'll be seeing any during the next couple of weeks. 

Later...

Plockton (is designed by) is bathed in late afternoon sunshine.  The 10 hour journey went without a hitch, much of the time being taken with renewing old acquaintances and chatting with new ones.

Whilst I haven't spotted any other Challengers in Plockton, Andrew and Rosemary were here to greet me with tea and cake, and there's the mouth watering prospect of a meal at Shores restaurant to come shortly. 

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

TGO Challenge 2013 – Final Preparations

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I’d like to be able to post a picture of some neatly laid out gear, but I can’t.  These snaps were taken just before it was thrown into a sack a week ago, since when it has been wending its way to Plockton.  I hope to be reunited with it tomorrow, when I should be whisked up to my starting point, leaving Manchester’s Piccadilly Station at 6.33am and arriving in Plockton for afternoon tea sometime after 3pm, via Glasgow and Inverness.

That’s the theory, anyway.

There’s a web page with my planned route, kit list, and links to previous Challenge exploits, here.  This may be helpful to anyone who decides to follow my progress over the next couple of weeks.  You’ll have to bear with me a little on that score, as mastering the complexities of the Samsung Galaxy S3 is more than a trifle taxing!

Good luck to others who have been lucky enough to get places on this year’s Challenge.  I hope to see some of you in Plockton, and then maybe en route to Montrose (via Frazerburgh in my case).

Have a good one…

Friday, 25 January 2013

TGO Challenge 2013 – A Route is Born

TGO Challenge route 2013

This week I finally got round to drafting a route for the backpack that takes place between 10 and 23 May.  Whilst it’s my seventh Challenge, I’ve managed to restrict any duplication with previous routes to just 3 km along the north shore of Loch Monar, where the route intersects my 2007 route

Moreover, of the 360 km (225 miles) that I’ll be walking, only about 20 km will have seen the soles of my boots before, so it’s pretty much all new ground.

I could surmise… ‘if I haven’t been there before, are these places really worth visiting?’ but time will only tell.  There’s a bit too much tarmac towards the end, but at least it’s ‘fresh’ tarmac.

My route is basically …. Plockton > Struy > Inverness > Grantown-on-Spey > Huntly > Turriff > Kinnaird Head (Frazerburgh), including around 11,500 metres ascent (6 Munros, 1 Corbett, 2 Grahams, 3 Marilyns, and 11 other hills).  It should be fun, but encounters with other Challengers may be something of a rarity!

Update:  By 1 February my route had been returned, duly vetted.  I got a map reference wrong, and have apparently chosen an aircraft wreck on which to pitch my tent at one point!  I hope the cockpit is intact!  See you in Montrose…
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