Sue and Martin above Zermatt - 2018

Sue and Martin above Zermatt - 2018
Showing posts with label TGOC 2014. Show all posts
Showing posts with label TGOC 2014. Show all posts

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Back Home

Those finishing the Challenge on Friday were treated to a day of crystal clear weather for their last lap to Montrose, where our enclave on the campsite is pictured before it started to disband.

The announcement that Big John in the exciting shirt has a job that means he won't have time to be Challenge Coordinator was still sinking in, but I've not encountered anyone who doubts Ali and Sue's ability to take on the mantle. Good luck to you both, and to the entire Challenge support team of organisers vetters and sponsors.

Apparently there were over fifty 'drop outs' this year - an astounding figure given the good conditions, though I know that some were due to unavoidable personal/domestic issues. 

The average age of Challengers was 57. The average age of dropouts was ... 57.

The highlight of my trip was Day 5 - a wonderful walk over Creag Meagaidh; but equal to that was the pleasure of meeting so many Challengers during the course of the fortnight, compared with just five encounters with other Challengers during last year's event. 

I'll remember a few little items for a while. ..
Waking up in the mist to find ourselves camped on the lawn at Balmoral Castle (or was that a dream?).
David's story about the 'tick in the restaurant'.
Coffee at Chez JJ in Tarfside.
Stefan's midnight arrival at Annan and his a la carte breakfast. 
Roger Smith looking in good form at Montrose. 
A lanky bearded figure appearing at my tent door just as I'd pitched camp on two nights running - "Hello, I'm Mole" said Jason. 
Sue O at Balmedie, soaking wet and after two 45 km days, traipsing over seemingly endless sand dunes in search of the beach, and her relief when we eventually found it. 
Jeremy Prall's idyllic camping spot on Day 1 on the Morar ridge, as well as my own eight great wild camps, all free from midges and ticks (the latter of which I have still to encounter on this event). 
The 'Amazon' woman.
The excellent Indian restaurant in Ballater and a brief encounter with American Joe, seemingly doing the Challenge in sandals.
Great hospitality at Newtonmore Hostel. 
Orchids and Bog Asphodel, Cloudberry and all the other flowers.
A red kite near Charr bothy.
T-shirt weather on eleven out of the fourteen days.
Huge herds of deer and scurrying mice, but sadly no wildcat sighting this year.
Alvar's cheery voice and Roger's cheery messages at Control. 
David's ability to survive both a slip and Heather's surgical skills.
A surprisingly tricky little hill on the way to Ballater. 
Huge clusters of small tents at Ballater, Tarfside and Montrose. 
The Cameraderie of the Challenge. 
I could go on. ...

Happy Days indeed - I hope to be back next year. 

A slide show may follow ... sometime.  

Sent from Timperley (or nearby)

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Thursday 22 May 2014 - TGO Challenge - Day 14 - By Hill of Roughbank to Dunnottar Castle and Stonehaven

Route: as planned, mainly on forest tracks, with minor variations

Distance: 29 km (Cum: 341)

Ascent: 550 metres (Cum: 12400)

Time taken: 5.5 hrs including 0.7 hrs breaks (Cum 115 hours including breaks)

Weather: dull, cool and heavily overcast, a prelude to heavy rain after I finished

Click on the link below (Day 14) for details of my planned route:

With rain forecast, I decided to start early and enjoy the best of the day.

So by 4.15 am I was tramping the forest paths towards my destination, enjoying solitude apart from the very vocal dawn chorus. In situations like this I often vow to rise early more often - it brings great rewards.

Today I was rewarded by avoiding the rain, so my tally of walking in the rain to any extent on this trip is limited to just the first Saturday morning - brilliant!

The forest paths were fine, but I hastened along them, forgetting to take a picture with the phone, so today's image is of the Queen's Well on the way to Tarfside - I'd previously tried and failed to send it. 

At Dunnottar I managed some self-timed images before Kirsten turned up and kindly took the picture on the previous posting.

A nice coastal walk to Stonehaven was followed by a bus to Montrose and the usual erecting of tent and a hot shower and fresh clothes at the campsite, then it was off to the Park Hotel to sign in and enjoy lunch and reunions, before heading to Balmedie beach to collect a rather bedraggled Sue O at the end of her walk. At least I'm assuming she's bedraggled, given the present downpour. She hasn't arrived yet. 

That's it for now. I'll maybe do another posting on statistics and a few anecdotal stories after tonight's dinner - but that posting can wait.

So - the end of another successful Challenge, with just the dinner to enjoy and Alan R and Graham B to return to their loved ones tomorrow. 

Sent from Balmedie Beach

TGOC 2014 - Dunnottar Castle


Sent from Dunnottar Castle

Wednesday 21 May 2014 - TGO Challenge - Day 13 - Burn of Badymicks to burn by Hill of Roughbank 

Route: as planned, from excellent wild camp at NO 588 834 (300 metres) to excellent wild camp recommended by Humphrey, at NO 721 876 (250 metres), mainly along good tracks

Distance: 20km (Cum: 312)

Ascent: 850 metres (Cum: 11850)

Time taken: 7.1 hrs including 2.3 hrs breaks

Weather: hot and sunny after a misty start

Click on the link below (Day 13) for details of my planned route:

After a brilliant sleep and a slow departure as the overnight mist cleared, I wandered along past mink traps and rudimentary bridges to the very pristine Charr bothy. Before Charr I turned a corner to be greeted with 'Windmills of the Fetteresso Forest' - a sight that remained with me for most of the day. I can just about see and hear them from the tent. 

The night's residents at the bothy had recorded their stay (though there was no mention of Maggie) but were long gone. I ate a tin of fish and noted my passing. Swallows were feeding outside the window - hovering to hoover up insects that must have been drawn to that point by a trick of the light. I couldn't spot their nest.

Just beyond the bothy an excavator was doing some drainage work. The driver was the only person I saw all day. 

Beyond Charr there were fine views of Clachnaben, a lovely little hill that I traversed on my first Challenge in 2007.

A red kite suddenly appeared, ignoring me as it searched for a target. The plovers, lapwings, curlew, grouse, LBJs and oystercatchers briefly made themselves scarce.

A brew in sight of Clachnaben (pictured) was welcome by the time I got to Miller's Bog, after which a lovely section of beech wood full of birdsong delivered me to the only road of the day.

After a few hundred metres of that road, the section past Heatheryhaugh proved to be the most demanding of the day. The path to a bridge over the Water of Dye was hard to follow. Then the bridge turned out to be a basket contraption which you step into and haul yourself across using a fixed line. I jumped in and 'cast off' only to find that the basket was secured in a secondary manner - it was padlocked to the stanchion. So I was going nowhere. The haulage ropes were a little flimsy to try to walk across, but a knee deep paddle 100 metres downstream resolved the problem. 

Vague paths then led past Heatheryhaugh to join the Fetteresso Forest track network over Kerloch, at 534 metres my last decent hill on this crossing, to this excellent spot by a stream (pictured).

Kerloch proved a useful spot to catch up with messages etc, and resolve an IT problem with my blog postings. There was a good view across to the fleshpots of Banchory. Tempting, but too far away, and anyway I have a rendezvous planned here with the two unreliable Austrians! I bet they don't turn up! 

Either way, it's a great spot for an eighth and final wild camp before returning to civilisation and the excitement of Thursday night's party at the Park Hotel in Montrose.

Tomorrow's entry is likely therfore to be blissfully brief.

PS The Austrians didn't turn up, so this would have been the first and only day on which I saw no other Challengers, had not Paul Myerscough and Bernie Clark turned up shortly before I turned in to savour another long sleep. 

And Stefan turned up even later. 

Sent from the Fetteresso Forest

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Tuesday 20 May 2014 - TGO Challenge - Day 12 - Tarfside to Burn of Badymicks

Route: as planned, but omitting the diversion to The Retreat, and taking a 2 km shortcut on the route up to Mount Een. A very easy but enjoyable day

Distance: 16 km (Cum: 292)

Ascent: 700 metres (Cum: 11000)

Time taken: 5.5 hrs including 1.3 hrs breaks

Weather: mist at 500 metres lifted slowly, leaving a fine sunny day

Click on the link below (Day 12) for details of my planned route:

Last night it was good to see various folk including JD and Marie, Ann and Alvar, and the other helpers at St Drostans, as well as some of the many Challengers who were passing through. Tonight will be much busier for them as the masses pass through. 

The evening antics of screaming oystercatchers were replaced this morning by the sound of cooing pigeons and Andy's shuffles. And a cuckoo.

St Drostans provided a bacon butty and a selection of scones and cakes for breakfast, which was enjoyed in a leisurely fashion before starting the serious business of the day at around 9 am. 

I started briefly with Rob Jones, who carried on along the road as I took the track that would lead me to Mount Battock, via the lesser summits of Mount Een (reached by a freshly bulldozed track to Craig Soales from Mile Cairn rather than by my planned route via Blackcraigs), Bennygray and Wester Cairn. 

Maggie Hems was plodding along behind me and reached the summit shortly before I left at 12.30, having enjoyed a brew of hot chocolate in the shelter of the substantial windbreak. 

It had been a cool morning with a persistent easterly breeze. Aided by the sun, this breeze eventually caused the low cloud to disperse, leaving another warm, sunny day suitable for t-shirts. 

I'd seen lots of white cloudberry flowers (pictured) on the ascent. I may earlier have noted these as a different species but on this occasion a passing motorist (!) confirmed my guess.

Golden plovers padded up the path ahead of me, presumably leading me away from their nests.

After leaving Maggie it was an easy stroll down tracks with views towards Clachnaben (pictured) to the confluence of the Burn of Badymicks and the Water of Dye, where I set up camp exactly as planned. 

It was 2.20 pm.

A lovely lazy afternoon saw me chatting to Keith, Charles and Freddie as they passed by from the Water of Dye direction, and Maggie as she followed me down Mount Battock. They were all heading to nearby Charr bothy, but I'm quite happy here.

There was no phone signal today, even from the 778 metre summit. Hopefully I'll find one tomorrow. 

Sent from somewhere in the Fetteresso Forest area

Monday 19 May 2014 - TGO Challenge - Day 11 - Ballater to Tarfside

Route: as planned

Distance: 28 km (Cum: 276)

Ascent: 1200 metres (Cum: 10300)

Time taken: 8.3 hrs including 1.9 hrs breaks

Weather: mist on Mount Keen followed by a sunny but hazy afternoon

Click on the link below (Day 11) for details of my planned route:

Bacon and sausage butties again set me up for the ascent of Mount Keen on a fine but misty morning. Sue O, on a so called rest day in Ballater, joined me for the four hour walk to the summit, where we caught up with Rob Jones and joined Mole and Andy, who had arrived in their usual energetic fashion from across the watershed. 

We enjoyed half an hour on the top before the cool mist got the better of us and Sue returned to Ballater, leaving the rest of us to amble down to Tarfside via the Queen's Well and the huge monument on the Hill of Rowan. 

En route on the 'yellow brick trail' we encountered flapping lapwings, a curlew, a flock of guinea fowl, large clumps of cuckoo flower, rabbits (dead and alive), oyster catchers, and much more. But the highlight was the sociable nature of the occasion. This is certainly an exceptionally sociable crossing for me. 

The welcome at St Drostans was as thirst quenching as ever, as was JJ's coffee at the campsite (see picture) on a day which again required little more than t-shirts except on the summit. 

Chilli and baked potatoes sorted out any pangs of hunger, and the Masons continued in its bid to quench our thirsts before we staggered back to our tents. 

Sadly, too many people to mention at St Drostans and the Masons, but I'll try to add a few names tomorrow.

Sent from closer to the coast than Tarfside

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Sunday 18 May 2014 - TGO Challenge - Day 10 - Braemar to Ballater

Route: as planned

Distance: 30 km (Cum: 248)

Ascent: 750 metres (Cum: 9100)

Time taken: 9.1 hrs including 1.6 hrs breaks

Weather: overcast and slightly threatening at first, turning into another sunny t-shirt afternoon; rain later

Click on the link below (Day 10) for details of my planned route:

Last night at the Fife was sociable as planned, though it may have been more lively at the Moorfield, where I hear the Austrian contingent was practicing its 'Ve are not Germans' sketch. 

This morning brought a lavish breakfast of croissant, and bacon and sausage butties, thanks to Simon and Kat's cooker. Then I hope the house was left as I found it, as I set off past Russ Manion who was enjoying his own croissants outside the Fife.

As I neared the top of Creag Choinnich, a slightly surprised Richard Baker greeted me, out for a walk with his dog. He plans to do the Challenge again next year and asked me to pass on his best wishes to Roger Smith. 

Why should he be surprised to see a Challenger on the best route out of Braemar? Because most of the ******* are too lazy to climb this small hill.

After admiring the views from the top,  I  was surprised to meet Ian Sommerville and David Williams coming up the back of the hill. A brief discussion revealed the error of their ways and they turned round. These two provided excellent company until, together with John Sanderson, they turned off at Connachat Cottage to head towards Gelder Shiel. That left me for the rest of the morning with David Wishart and Graham Weaver - more excellent company on this most sociable of days. 

Soon after enjoying coffee and scones at the castle tearooms, I left the others to dodge the traffic on the B road whilst I took the lane past the distillery, pausing for lunch en route.

I passed the others again on the busy road where they were taking a well earned breather, before heading off through the woods and up to the minor summit of Creag Ghiubhais (486 metres - pictured near the summit). In practice this was not an entirely straightforward ascent. Knee deep heather, deep holes, large rocks and the occasional rock band were all hazards waiting for a disaster to happen. There were also flies, ants and spiky low branches, all queueing up to wreak vengeance on mankind. At least there was a cairn on top and a view through the trees towards Lochnagar and also to the high hills to the north of Ballater. The creeping azalea and dewberries that had graced yesterday's hillsides had been replaced by thickets of fruitless bilberries. Taking care with every step, I managed to get down without any mishaps. I reckon it took up to an hour and a quarter longer than the alternative route around the back of the hill that Sue and I took in 2012.

From Littlemill it then took a further hour and a quarter to reach Ballater's welcoming campsite via the scenic river path that skirts the golf course.  An excellent way into Ballater.

Sue O arrived at the same time, and after the usual campsite activity - you can see our flotilla of TGOC tents in the lower picture - we set off to be sociable in town. Sadly the Alexandra was unable to find a table for us, so we chose 'India on the Green' which turned out to be the classiest Indian restaurant I've visited for some time, with a couple of extra courses thrown in while we waited for our mains. Only two other Challengers were there - Joe and Steven from Florida, who seemed to be enjoying the experience. Joe turns out to be a very accomplished walker, and is managing the Challenge (including hills like Ben Macdui) in very ordinary looking sandals. Not recommended for mere mortals! 

On leaving the restaurant it was raining. Raining hard. We had a quick look for 'scenes of action', failed to find any, and returned to camp. I'll have to catch up with Humphrey, who I seem to have missed here, in Montrose. 

A quick call to Sue in Manchester reveals a forecast for a lovely day tomorrow.  Whoopee!  Though it's bucketing down as I send this posting. 

Sent from Ballater

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Saturday 17 May 2014 - TGO Challenge - Day 9 - By Allt Garbh Buidhe to Braemar 

Route: as planned, adding Carn Liath (818 metres) but omitting Morrone in favour of the Morrone Birkwood path into Braemar, as rain would have spoilt the Morrone walk

Distance: 22 km (Cum: 218)

Ascent: 600 metres (Cum: 8350)

Time taken: 6.3 hrs including 1.0 hrs breaks

Weather: a fine start, clouding over for predicted rain that arrived as I entered Braemar

Click on the link below (Day 9) for details of my planned route:

Sunshine blessed us after a warm night, the brisk breeze having dissipated as usual in the evening. 

Andy Wright soon passed by. He's a fisherman - an early riser.

After a chat with Mole and Ed, who is another fan of the Pyrenees, I got going around 8 am, along the easy path to Bynack Lodge. There was no need to go all the way there, so I cut across the two little streams that eventually flow into the River Dee, and took to the grassy slopes of Buachaille Breige. It was a very easy climb, which I was happy to extend to take in a 788 metre top as well as 818 metre Carn Liath, which had a good windbreak and fine views over Deeside. I enjoyed these whilst demolishing my last tin of fish and catching up with these postings.

I then missed a trick by taking to my planned route down the Allt Cristie Beag LRT to Inverey. A couple I met on the way down confirmed that a descent via the Carn na Moine ridge would have been rather more scenic, with a lovely Alpine style finish through pine woods. Never mind. 

Many Challengers must have walked down the road from Inverey today. I saw just one, Nicole, who I chatted to briefly before heading into the forest towards the Morrone Birkwood above Braemar. A delightful stroll - it amazes me how many Challengers seem to prefer to walk along the road. Quite sad really. 

It started to drizzle as I approached Thornbank, the cottage that Simon and Kat have kindly lent me for the night. So I dumped my bag there and headed to the nearest tea shop to join Graham Weaver and others. Then Alastair P and Andy Walker strolled past so I joined them and many more in the Fife Arms. JJ and Alan R were both there, preparing themselves for the excitement of an evening at Loch Callater Lodge.

A visit to the outdoor shop resolved a broken spork problem, then the butcher and the Co-op provided supplies for a bit of home cooking at Thornbank while my clothes wash and dry. It was good to have a chat with Sue, who seems to be indoors working while the sun beams from an otherwise empty sky in Timperley. 

Today's pictures show last night's campsite and the view to Deeside from Carn Liath as the cloud came in.

Now it's off to join the party. 

Sent from Braemar

Friday 16 May 2014 - TGO Challenge - Day 8 - Bruach Gharbh Ghaig to Allt Garbh Buidhe (Glen Tilt)

Route: as planned but starting earlier at NN 795 317, and finishing in a delectable spot at the confluence of the outflow from Loch Tilt with the stream in the main valley - NN 997 820 - about 4 km short of the ruins of Bynack Lodge

Distance: 26 km (Cum: 196)

Ascent: 600 metres (Cum: 7750)

Time taken: 9.7 hrs including 2.2 hrs breaks

Weather: high cloud was dispersed by a strengthening SW breeze, leading to a lovely sunny afternoon - requiring t-shirt and sun tan cream for much of the day, for the sixth out of eight days

Click on the link below (Day 8) for details of my planned route:

The gentle gurgle of the river drowned any snoring from the Austrian contingent, on a fine calm night that didn't require the tent door to be closed.

The early sun glinted straight into the tent through thin cloud that soon thickened on the cool morning (10C in the tent). There was no rush to start. 

Philipp was soon busying himself with early morning chores whilst Markus slept on in his posh red tent. He was just vaguely awake when I left at 8 am, on the long and mainly pathless route to the 'Tarf Hotel' a rather swish mountain bothy situated at NN 926 788 beside Tarf Water. It was a good 15 km of hard graft, according to my knees. Beautiful remote country though with not a soul seen between waving off Mole and Ed, who had pitched camp just a few metres further up the valley, and greeting Andy Wright at the Tarf Hotel. I was only the second Challenger that Andy had seen since the day after he left Oban. His mate - 'Mole' - turns out to be one Jason Cole, who was somewhere nearby. 

The early part of the route to Tarf involved a couple of river crossings. On both occasions the slippery rocks dumped me into the rivers, but luckily on both occasions I was able to move quickly enough to avoid wet feet.

It was very rough going as far as a little beyond the watershed near Tom Liath, but as the infant Tarf Water established itself after an area of switchbacks it became easier to stroll beside the grassy south bank. After being surprised by the numbers of bumble bees living in the heather at 700 metres, I was less surprised at the number of plovers and dippers I disturbed nesting on the bank during my riverside ramble, where today's picture was taken.

Eventually the chimney stacks came into view, disconcertingly disappearing until eventually you emerge from the river bank near the front door.  

At the bothy I spent the best part of an hour lunching with Andy, during which I consulted my esteemed vetter's notes and decided to cross to the north side of the river here. It was nearly knee deep but not very fast flowing.

And as suggested by Colin Tock (said vetter) there was a vague LRT that made life a bit easier. Half an hour along here I met Gordon Green, who sploshed across the river to greet me. He was heading for the bothy, so would need to cross back later.

After passing a shed on the south of the river, the vague LRT veered away and the route down to the Falls of Tarf was a return to the earlier roughness. 

A couple of guys coming up from the falls would be joining Gordon (doesn't he have a tent?) at the bothy. A gaggle of Challengers was setting up camp just near the bridge on the main track up the Tilt from which the falls can be viewed. We chatted briefly. I wasn't tempted to join them so I continued on along - for the first time today - a good path, towards Bynack Lodge.

Tempting camping spots had me thinking. Eventually I succumbed to one. "It's a cracking spot." At least, that's what Mole and Ed said when they appeared as if by magic a few minutes later, just as they had done the previous night. They had taken a high route over the Munros to the north - 30 km with 1700 metres ascent. Quite a day. Mole was cheery as ever, Ed was dead on his feet. They set up camp about 50 metres away.

Clouds are building but it's not a bad evening. I'm in view of the path so I'll close my door tonight. 

There's no sign of Markus and Philipp, although I've stopped nearly 4 km short of today's target.

Sent from somewhere not too far from Braemar

Thursday 15 May 2014 - TGO Challenge - Day 7 - Dalwhinnie to Bruach Gharbh Ghaig

Route: as planned, stopping a couple of km short at a magnificent camping spot at NN 795 317 - a brilliant day's walk over relatively easy terrain

Distance: 21 km (Cum: 170)

Ascent: 1000 metres (Cum: 7150)

Time taken: 7.1 hrs including 1.2 hrs breaks

Weather: fine but overcast, with a coolish SW breeze - excellent walking weather

Click on the link below (Day 7) for details of my planned route:

I'd been allocated a shared room with Tim Wood, but as he failed to start the Challenge despite arriving at Mallaig, Alistair P was promoted to the room with a view at Newtonmore's premier bunkhouse. Alistair's post awaited his (rather late and tired) arrival - one of a series of letter/paintings from his three year old daughter. Very sweet. 

There was no rush this morning as Alistair had a short day and I needed to wait for the 9.20 bus to Dalwhinnie. Breakfast at the transport café, where David Wishart was also taking advantage of some proper food, and chats with various folk soon whiled the time away, then I was joined on the bus by Markus and Philipp, like me returning to the serious business of the Challenge after enjoying tourism in Newtonmore. £8.20 for a ten mile bus ride - a bit steep!

Markus and Philipp decided to take the 'aqueduct' route to Gaick, whilst I took the more direct way over Carn na Caim. Both are good routes, but mine proved to be rather quicker. 

Mountain hares featured strongly today. They could be seen silhouetted on the horizon, and were bobbing about with their white tails, vestiges of their winter coats, looking like bobble hats stuck to their bottoms. 

The easy ascent was followed by a broad grassy ridge with occasional peat hags. Some of these were still under a layer of snow, at least one of which layers was just a thin crust above a deep hole. Luckily only one leg went through, so I was able to slither out of the uncomfortable predicament. 

A huge herd of deer passed as I made my way over Meall Buidhe for lunch with fine views down to Gaick and the deep cleft leading to it, as well as to Loch an Duin. There was then a lovely zigzag path down to a welcome bridge over Allt Loch an Duin.

I thought a couple of folk on the valley path would catch up when I enjoyed a brew at the stand of pines that Sue and I camped by in 2009, but after the river crossing beyond Loch Bhrodainn they headed north towards the lodge. My Saucony Hattori shoes had come in handy for the river crossing. 

The next section to my fine camping spot near the waterfalls at Bruach Gharbh Ghaig was a delight. It had been raining when Sue and I walked it, but in today's fine weather the narrow path above the waterfall laden gorge was a highlight of the trip.

On the way I passed a small grass covered bridge - 'Marco's Leap - cross at your own risk'. How quaint! 

There were no obvious footprints so I assumed M and P were behind and would welcome a camp at the first good spot. This appeared almost 2 km before our planned camp, but the shortfall can be easily made up tomorrow. 

I therefore stopped here before 5 pm. A Challenger claiming to be 'Mole' and his non-Challenger mate Ed soon arrived, the first people I'd met since leaving Dalwhinnie. We chatted before they moved on, eschewing the early halt.

At 6.15 the Austrians finally showed up, in a very jolly mood when they took in the excellence of the site. Their tents were soon up, pictured above beyond mine, and a typical evening in camp ensued. That involves everyone very much doing their own thing, cooking,  washing, etc.

It's a lovely warm, calm evening up here at about 650 metres. No rain is expected so my tent will stay open tonight.

Sent from en route to Braemar

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Carn na Caim

I'm ascending this easy hill, pictured, from the A9, with the hum of the traffic diminishing in favour of the squeals of oyster catchers and the 'habayla' of the grouse. The road and the Beauly-Denny power line are behind me, as is the breeze, as I potter along to an area of wildness that will probably relieve me of a phone signal until Saturday afternoon. 

So bear with me while I enjoy an easy route with occasional company.

Bye for now.

Sent from the slopes of Carn na Caim

Wednesday 14 May 2014 - TGO Challenge - Day 6 - Lochan na h-Earba to Dalwhinnie (for Newtonmore)

Route: as planned, omitting Binnein Shuas and Binnein Shios

Distance: 29 km (Cum: 149)

Ascent: 500 metres (Cum: 6150)

Time taken: 8 hrs including 1.8 hrs breaks

Weather: sunny periods, warm

Click on the link below (Day 6) for details of my planned route:

After a slightly disturbed night due to sleep not being on the agenda of the local bird population, especially one that made a frequent curlew like trilling sound, I woke to high cloud and a windless 6C.

The glassy lochan reflected a lovely skyscape.

Having decided to ease my day by omitting the aforementioned hills - they will form the basis of an excellent day walk sometime - I spent the first few hours strolling along pleasant lochanside then forestry tracks. Geese, dippers, curlew, various other birds, and distant red deer were my only company. The first human encounters of the day were Peter and Barbara, in Dalwhinnie, on their way to the distillery. 

Geal Charn was sunlit in weather that again demanded t-shirt and suntan cream. It's pictured as the backdrop to my elevenses break.

Disconcerting forestry signs requiring authorisation for entry to a small area of deserted woodland were summarily defaced.

By late morning I'd reached Lochan na Doire-uaine, a small lochan edged by a fossilised forest. This led to a rocky defile that Markus and I had negotiated a few years ago during his fine Caledonian Trail walk. It was as I remembered. A bouldery mess with deep holes and no evident path. A vetter has apparently described it as an area slashed by the lashing of a dragon's tail. It looked to me like the 'other worldly' set from a dinosaur movie. There were traces of boot prints - probably belonging to Peter and Barbara. 

Once through the defile, a small river appeared, the path slowly regained its composure, and I could enjoy a second lunch (my provisions inexplicably contained two tins of fish today) in the knowledge that I would be in time for the 16.09 bus to Newtonmore. 

On the way I called in at the café for coffee and cake, and met Markus and Philipp who joined me on what turned out to be a private bus ride to Newtonmore, where we are TGO Challenge 'tourists', staying at Sue and Ali's bunkhouse. 

There are too many to mention here and at Dalwhinnie, but my plan for a sociable Challenge has certainly been achieved. 

In particular it was good to see Louise and Laura in good spirits, the Forfar trio, Sam and Richard, Emma, Peter and Jayme, to name but a few, not forgetting Ali, Sue (en route to Montrose) and Neil at the bunkhouse.  

Sent from Newtonmore

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Tuesday 13 May 2014 - TGO Challenge - Day 5 - Annat to Lochan na h-Earba

Route: as planned, camping at NN 463 812 at 355 metres with views to Binnein Shuas and down the lochan

Distance: 24 km (Cum: 120)

Ascent: 1200 metres (Cum: 5650)

Time taken: 10.1 hrs including 2.1 hrs breaks

Weather: mainly sunny and warm

Click on the link below (Day 5) for details of my planned route:

Sun blazed down on the tent. It was 6am. Time to review my surroundings without it tipping down with rain. The bright red tent 100 metres away must be Stefan's. He soon appears. All muscles and underwear. He set off from Spean Bridge at 5pm last night to join the International Gathering that others missed. Arriving at midnight, Stefan was also on the tardy side. I shouldn't complain - I'd completely forgotten his commitment. 

We spent a while catching up, before Stefan adjourned to prepare a lavish breakfast of black pudding, white pudding, sausage and pitta bread, with a pot of fresh coffee nearby. I expect he also had a carton of eggs! This may be the German's last Challenge for a while - he recently married his childhood sweetheart and they are expecting a mini Stefan. Congratulations to all concerned. 

It has been a lovely day. One of the best Challenge days I can remember. I saw no other Challengers (tomorrow will be different) but there were a few folk on Creag Meagaidh and several walkers and mountain bikers on the track up to the lochan I'm camped beside. 

The route up Creag Meagaidh from Annat (Turret Bridge) is long but very well graded. It was a delight in today's benign conditions. I took my time. Vistas of snow dappled mountains opened up in all directions. A pair of amorous ptarmigan completely ignored me. I dumped my sack and popped up Stob Poite Coire Ardair. Sod's law dictated that my camera battery expired during this excursion, so some opportunities were lost before I could return to the sack for a spare. No doubt Sue and I recorded similar scenes when we walked the entire ridge during the 2009 Challenge. 

Up on Creag Meagaidh, Jim and Davy were celebrating Jim's hundredth Munro. Well done Jim!

The descent started gently, past the spot where Liz's gloves flew away a few years ago. It wasn't so windy today. My lack of research let me down once I reached a point below 700 metres where the substantial wall I was following turned right. I headed on down over pathless rough terrain with rock bands. There must be a Munroist's path somewhere but I didn't find it. So it was a tired man that ambled up the track to Lochan na h-Earba, and a relieved one who found a spring nearby and a brilliant camping spot at the end of the lochan.

Today's picture is from the ascent of Creag Meagaidh just above The Window. My attempts to photograph a flock of plovers (I think) and small mushrooms and butterflies were less successful. 

Sent from en route to Dalwhinnie

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

A Sunny Morning

Here's last night's view, taken this morning. 

Note the appearance of Stefan's distinctive red Hilleberg tent. Apparently he arrived at around midnight, after leaving Spean Bridge at 5pm.

"I'm here for the International Gathering" he announced, strolling over in his t-shirt and underpants. "Don't put those photos on the internet!" he insisted.

A good start to the day. 

Monday 12 May 2014 - TGO Challenge - Day 4 - Gairlochy (Torness) to Annat

Route: as planned from Gairlochy Holiday Park to wild camp at NN 357 917 just beyond Annat

Distance: 24 km (Cum: 96)

Ascent: 1200 metres (Cum: 4450)

Time taken: 9.1 hrs including 1.6 hrs breaks

Weather: drizzle soon abated for a cloudy day with rain after 3 pm

Click on the link below (Day 4) for details of my planned route:

After bidding the Forfar trio farewell at the midge infested campsite, I saw just one person all day. That was Sam Hackett, in his tent at Turret Bridge, during the short break between the first shower and the continuous rain that arrived about a minute before I got the tent up. Having been both taken down and put up in rain,  the Solar Competition 2 is just a little damp around the edges. It's pictured in the rain in this excellent sheltered spot by a chattering stream. In fact the stream is so talkative that I keep thinking people are walking past.

My designated path led into a boggy field. Luckily a new access road to some lochside properties saved the day until my route proceeded over a 'dangerous' bridge into a conservation area where 'No Livestock' was demanded. After going down the path and over a broken fence to an area of jungle, I came across an area reserved for Gairlochy's annual Bog Trudging Championships. They couldn't really have chosen a better venue.

Quite a contrast to the fine Great Glen Way path on the other side of the loch.

The tarmac road up Glen Gloy was easy by comparison, with fading daffodils and blooming orchids and cuckoo flower, as well as the occasional call from said bird - they seem a little less ubiquitous this year. At the end of that section a good land rover track (LRT) from Upper Glenfintaig took me up to elevenses at 300 metres. A river crossing followed. Looking down, I could see an easy way across. Getting down the greasy precipice to the river was less easy. A dipper watched in puzzled silence. 

Heather, tussocks and endless convexity made the slog up Leana Mhor (684 metres) a bit of a 'slog', past scurrying mice and athletic frogs. But the views made up for that - a panorama stretching far and wide. 

The route across to Bein Iaruinn was gently graded and mainly on grass, with more fine views stretching from the Morar hills where I started, all the way across Scotland to the Cairngorms. A phone signal permitted an exchange of messages with Heather, who had abandoned her injured companion to the whims of a river crossing expert (see an earlier posting) and part time doctor. I'd earlier chatted to Sue - happily behind her desk at work after a good trip to Turkey.

And so, past Sam to Annat, where wheatears seemed to be enjoying an unlikely positioned vegetable garden, to this fine site in the rain. An international gathering had been planned, but it was not to be. ..

Sent from somewhere near Creag Meagaidh

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Sunday 11 May 2014 - TGO Challenge - Day 3 - Sgurr Mhurlagain to Torness (Gairlochy campsite)

Route: Dubious weather and over ambitious planning saw me abandon my plan to slog my way over the summits north of Loch Arkaig. Insead, I descended to the road and enjoyed the easy stroll to Gairlochy. 

Distance: 25 km (Cum: 72)

Ascent: 400 metres (Cum: 3250)

Time taken: 8.0 hrs including 2.0 hrs breaks

Weather: rain stopped when I exited the tent, then the mist cleared for a warm day of sunny periods and a shower.

Click on the link below (Day 3) for details of my planned route:

I forgot to mention that yesterday's picture was of the snow on the north side of Sgurr Mhurlagain. That hill isn't much higher than 850 metres, so the snow to the north of higher summits may be impressive. 

Today's image is of Loch Arkaig, with Sam Hackett, during our elevenses break.

Having made the decision to descend from my misty but comfy camp, I treated myself to a lie in whilst the rain continued where it had left off when I went to sleep last night in the wet cloud in which I was still immersed.

I'd just converted an excruciatingly tough day into a very easy one.

It took an hour over easy ground, soon descending below the cloud base and disturbing numerous deer, to reach the quiet single track road that undulates alongside the north shore of Loch Arkaig. It proved quite pleasant to walk along after yesterday's roughness, and Sam was good company after he caught up with me, as were a trio from Telford - Alan, Anne and Nigel. I hope that those three reached Fort William in time for tea.

The tree lined loch was very pretty. This year the trees are more advanced than usual and are rich with foliage in all shades of green. As Sam and I enjoyed our half hour break, woodpeckers entertained us from above. 

We reached the Clan Cameron museum at one o'clock after enduring the 'shower of the day' for about an hour. The museum opens from 1.30 to 4.30. So we took advantage of the large picnic bench outside and brewed up in comfort. The Telford trio were dining on Mountain House dried meals. They looked disgusting. "They are disgusting" quipped Nigel as he headed to the garden to use his as fertiliser. 

We drifted off, one by one, after ice creams and an hour on the bench in the sunshine, having reverted to t-shirt attire. 

The Great Glen Way was soon joined - a delightful woodland path skirting the western end of Loch Lochy. Great views down the loch that Sue will remember from 2009. Wood Sorrel and Wood Anemone line the path at this time of year, together with violets, bluebells and all the usual spring delights of these parts. There's also a concrete landing craft structure that was used for training purposes in WW2, and even one or two wrecks. 

At Gairlochy lochs a surprise awaited. Apart from Sue and Chris Marshall, Markus and Philipp, the two Austrians, were there to greet me. I walked up to the campsite with them. Markus is just about coping with carrying Philipp's two kilo tripod, which has yet to be used.

It was something of another surprise to find Mike Gillespie and his two cohorts, Pat and Alan, on the site. I should have quipped "have you spent the past five years here?" but I didn't think fast enough. Is it really that long since Sue and I met Mike's team at this very spot? 

We are a select band of four Challengers staying here tonight. Thanks for the company folks, albeit somewhat disrupted by midges then rain. And thanks for opening my can of strawberries - they were delicious with the chocolate custard!

A call to Alvar at Challenge control confirmed the rumour that Tim Wood had dropped out at Mallaig before starting. It's just not the same for him without Kate. I'm sure everyone who knows Tim will wish him and Marjorie well. 

Alvar didn't mention any other problems, but then I received two messages. One from Markus to say they had chosen an easier route to Dalwhinnie so would not be seeing me tomorrow as planned. That's fine, I'm so glad they let me know. Also a message from Heather T-S who had been involved in an evacuation of a non Challenger to Glenfinnan this afternoon, when a bed and a food parcel was waiting for her in Spean Bridge. What bad luck - I do hope she's able to continue.

Sent from rainy (when it's not midgy) Torness

Saturday 10 May 2014 - TGO Challenge - Day 2 - Sgurr nam Meirleach to Sgurr Mhurlagain

Route: From NM 867 930 (680 metres) as planned as far as Sgurr Mhurlagain, beyond which I camped at NN 021 945 (690 metres), about 3 km earlier than planned

Distance: 20 km (Cum: 47)

Ascent: 1300 metres (Cum: 2850)

Time taken, 10.7 hrs including 2 hrs breaks:

Weather: light rain and cloud until lunchtime, then a sunny afternoon (t-shirt weather), with rain after 18.30.

Click on the link below (Day 2) for details of my planned route:

A tough day over very rough ground. Began at 7.30 in mist and rain. It was a shame that the views from the summit of Bidean a'Chabhair (it's the one that looks like Sgurr na Ciche as you walk up Glen Dessarry) were somewhat limited. Care was needed. It was nearly 11 o'clock by the time I reached the Glendessarry path. There were numerous Challengers here - apparently there were over twenty tents in the vicinity of Sourlies bothy last night. 

I bumped into a group from Macclesfield doing the Cape Wrath trail, then Jeremy arrived from Finiskaig having descended to the north rather than carry on along the ridge. Jayme and Peter may have done the same - I didn't see them today. 

After discussing the Pyrenees with a couple from Sydney - these things just seem to happen - we continued along the boggy but not as bad as usual path to Glendessarry, by which time it had stopped raining and we could enjoy a leisurely hour for lunch. 

Jeremy headed off to Kinbreack and I continued down the firm track with Ian and others. We met a Challenger coming up the track - "you're going the wrong way" we jested. "I'm not" he countered,  hastily consulting his map. "Oops" he concluded.

I soon left the main drag to climb Sgurr Mhurlagain and bumped into Jim Taylor, resting on his way over to Kinbreack. "You know I'm ninety one" he enthused, during our long chat.

The sun illuminated the ascent, and it was t-shirt weather all the way, with great views. However, I could see lots of rain coming in, and it was quite late (for me), so I headed down to a likely looking stream and managed to set up camp just before the rain started. Four hours later it's still going strong and there's a red deer outside that seems to want to join me in my dry and cosy home. She's out of luck.

Sent from somewhere in the vicinity of Loch Arkaig

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Friday 9 May 2014 - TGO Challenge - Day 1 - Morar to Sgurr nam Meirleach  

Route: more or less as planned

Distance: 27 km (Cum: 27 km)

Ascent: 1550 metres (Cum: 1550 metres)

Time taken: 10.5 hrs including 1.5 hrs breaks

Weather: fine and sunny for much of the day; cloud base 600 to 700 metres

Click on the link below (Day 1) for details of my planned route:

The day started with a quick breakfast in the presence of Jim Taylor, a 91 year old Challenger. I hope he makes it.  Then I made my way to the 8 am bus. The driver kindly made arrangements for me to change buses at Arisaig so that I could be delivered to the entrance of Johnny and Val's campsite at Camusdarach.

A coffee there went down well. Jeremy Prall, a first timer from Sedbergh, turned up and stayed for a bacon butty whilst I signed out and started walking at 9.10.

A path to the beach saw me diverting from my Anquet blue line and splashing in Atlantic surf before heading on past some interesting architecture to Morar.

Jayme and Peter were strolling along. I joined them for the rest of the day. Heather and David joined us for the latter stages after we'd inadvertently overtaken them.

We found Jeremy later, not far from where I am now camped. He has a prime spot by a small lochan. J and P joined him there,  whilst I moved to the other side of the hill to avoid Peter's snoring. H and D have carried on a little further, but 10.5 hours on the first day is quite enough for me, and I only just had time to finish my meal before darkness fell. 

Today's walk was very fine indeed. After a short stretch of tarmac a lovely path undulated along the north shore of Loch Morar (pictured), before heading over to Tarbet. J and P went down to the pier at Tarbet for a longer route, but I took a short cut from a large cairn. A stile took me over a fence below a steep climb, beyond which a deer fence had no obvious way through. I climbed it. All participants survived undamaged. 

The lochside walk had been a floral delight, with, bluebells, milkwort, butterwort, tormentil, violets and celandines featuring strongly together with the bright yellow gorse. Cuckoos were not unexpectedly in evidence, as were a number of diving birds and plovers.

A wait ensued when I'd gained the ridge, as I spied the foursome behind me, after which we negotiated the rough but broad ridge together. 

Cloud featured on the later stages of the walk today, but it has been generally warm and calm. I spent some time trying to resolve a technical issue - where was my sun cream? - and I've already spent more time with just my t-shirt than on last year's entire event. Having said that, the forecast is poor and it has turned showery tonight.

Sent from Scotland

Friday, 9 May 2014

Lochailort to Morar

Whilst the other Challengers at Lochailort could enjoy a full breakfast and a leisurely departure, I decided to bin my ticket for the 9.20 train in favour of the 8am school bus.

This enabled me to get to the Camusdarach start point rather earlier than I would have done via the train. I had thought the Morar start would be closer to the station. 

It was in fact some way away in the wrong direction, so the 9.20 train would have seen me setting off at around 11am, with an extra 4 km each way to the starting point to boot.

But by the time the bus had dropped me at Camusdarach campsite the rain had stopped and the sun was emerging, so everyone was smiling as I set out from Morar on this year's TGO Challenge walk across Scotland. 

The picture was taken near Morar.

Sent from Morar

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Montrose to Lochailort

Alison had gone to work by the time I rose to a sunny morning over Montrose bay.

It's a short walk to the railway station at the other side of town, where Hugh and Barbara were waiting for the Aberdeen train for the first stage of the journey to their Shiel Bridge start. A few minutes later I was on the smooth running 9.18 to Glasgow along with John and Norma, and Jacqueline and Anthony. 

A lovely sunny ride to Glasgow had me feeling a bit 'lull before storm' ish.

At Glasgow Queen Street, there was a good send off from Emily, who was looking very happily pregnant, and a reunion with many others including Mike and Marian, Markus, and the indefatigable Tim Wood.

Very green woodland throughout this trip is evidence of the mild Scottish winter at lower altitudes, though higher up there has in places been the most snow for sixty years, or so I'm told. I'm also told that the midges are active; perhaps some insect repellant would have been a good idea. 

Jayme and Tim and others provided good company for the wonderfully scenic five hour journey to Lochailort, where I'm sharing a room at the inn with Graham. 

It was drizzling when we arrived. If the forecast is anything to go by, we'll be happy if it doesn't get much worse. 

We've enjoyed a very jolly evening and now it's time for another good sleep. 

Today's picture was taken from the train window in the vicinity of Spean Bridge.

Sent from Lochailort