Saturday, 24 May 2014
Thursday, 22 May 2014
Thursday 22 May 2014 - TGO Challenge - Day 14 - By Hill of Roughbank to Dunnottar Castle and Stonehaven
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.
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.
Wednesday, 21 May 2014
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.
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.
Sunday, 18 May 2014
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.
Saturday, 17 May 2014
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.
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.
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.
Thursday, 15 May 2014
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.
Wednesday, 14 May 2014
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.
Tuesday, 13 May 2014
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.
Sunday, 11 May 2014
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.
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.
Saturday, 10 May 2014
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.