After the crushing disappointment of having to abandon the Challenge, writing about it is quite difficult. Nonetheless, I enjoyed it up to Thursday morning. For my six days of walking, I almost filled up a 48 pages exercise book with notes. However, I’m going to write a much shorter version, with mainly pictures.
On Wednesday evening, prior to getting the sleeper, I met Alan Sloman in a pub (surprise!) near Euston. Two other Challengers also popped in, William Burton, all the way from Barbados and Shap McDonnell. Shap and I were on the earlier sleeper, so we left Alan at around nine o’clock. Shap was in a different section of the train going to Inverness, while I was at the front on the Fort William section.
I arrived on time at Crianlarich, where I had to change for the Oban train. It was raining, but fortunately the station tea room was open so I could have breakfast without moving. I arrived in Oban just before lunchtime and walked to my hotel to deposit my rucksack, as I couldn’t check in until 3 p.m. . It was gently raining and was glad I had brought my umbrella. After a good lunch in the chippy I killed a bit of timer mooching around the harbour and shops.
The Queens Hotel
Just after 3 p.m., I checked into The Queens Hotel. I had a very pleasant room with a shower. I unpacked all my gear. Later I had a very fine dinner, courtesy of their award winning chef. Highly recommended.
Day 1 11th May (16 miles)
In the morning at breakfast I met another Challenger, Jim Anderson, who was taking the ferry later. The sign in for Oban was at the Youth Hostel, almost next door. As I was about to sign in, I bumped into Colin Tock, former Challenger vetter, who I recognised from Challenge photos.
I fell into conversation with Colin. We took photos of each other on the beach and walked into Oban. Colin wanted to visit the Co-op for some supplies, which suited me as I need some fruit juice. Then followed forty minutes of comedy as Colin failed to locate the Co-op. Eventually we managed to find it and supplies were purchased. Even more amusingly, it was me who navigated us out of Oban on the large scale map I had printed.
Colin and I chatted merrily away until it came time for him to take a different path. I pushed onward past the golf course and under the railway bridge to Glen Lonan. As I entered Glen Lonan, I caught up with another couple of Challengers, Geoff Reed and Chris Kitt. A couple of hours of pleasant conversation ensued while walking along. Geoff and Chris decided to have lunch at about midday, but I decided to push on.
A little further on, while I had stopped to adjust a boot, I was caught up by Margaret Fowkes, who was one of the oldest participants. She was on her twentieth crossing and was with her husband, daughter and granddaughter. We walked for a while until she decided to wait for the rest of her family to catch up. Again I decided to push on. By this time the weather had brightened from the cloudy start of the day and there was some sunshine, although the wind was quite cold.
Just past Duntanachan, I sat down for lunch. Several other Challengers passed me including the Fowkes family. It was becoming somewhat more cloudy, so I didn’t hang around too long. Soon I was on the downhill section to Taynuilt. All in all the walk along Glen Lonan was very pleasant. Just before Taynuilt, I caught up with the Fowkes clan, who were aiming for the tea room, which seemed like a good idea to me.
The road to Taynuilt
Appropriately, the tea room was named Robin’s Nest. While we were inside, there was a light shower. Outside, I was about to turn right, when I was told that it was difficult to get to the bridge over the River Awe that way and it was better to follow the main road. So I hooked up with the Fowkes family and trooped off to find the bridge. I was glad that I did join them because the way to the bridge and subsequently into the forest to Glen Noe was not entirely straightforward.
After using my Satmap we found the right forest path. By now the sun was shining and it was a very pleasant afternoon. Progress was a bit slow because Emily (the granddaughter) had blisters, but it didn’t really matter too much. At Glen Noe, I decided to stick to my original plan and camp, while the others went on to Inverliver. I found a brilliant pitch on top of the hill, hidden away in the woods. All in all, it had been a pretty good day.
Day 2 12th May (15 miles)
When I woke, the air was still and the sky was clear. After breakfast, I packed. There were a few gnats to bother me, but no midges. I looped around the hill to explore a little before rejoining the main track. At Sron nam Feannag, I saw two people in conversation, Bernie Roberts and Stan Appleton. Stan was camped on a small patch of grass by the side of the track.
After a bit of chit chat I walked down to Inverliver. Climbing the hill behind, I caught up with two of the Fowkes family, Jackie and Emily. I walked with them to Glen Kinglass where our paths parted. After Glen Kinglass, the path started to deteriorate a bit. Progress was a bit slow. When I reached the shielings, I decided to have an early lunch. There were some large boulders in the stream, which was convenient for sitting. I not only had lunch but I had a wash.
About an hour after lunch, the weather back down the loch became very dark. I put on my waterproofs, but fortunately the shower just skirted me. The weather cleared again as I approached the head of the loch. The path deteriorated before bothy at Kinlochetive. As I reached the bothy a shower engulfed me and I sheltered behind the building.
Looking behind me, it was clear that the weather was beginning to deteriorate. Around Coileitir the path was shockingly bad. Fortunately it wasn’t far to reach the bridge and the road. My original idea was to pitch somewhere around Lochan Urr. I descended from the road, but the ground around the lochan was very rough and not suitable for camping. I was a bit concerned as it was getting late.
My pitch in Glen Etive
I followed the river upstream. After a couple of bends, to my relief I found a flat area right next to the river. It had obviously been used before as there were some stones that had been piled up to make a fireplace. Not long after dinner, it started to rain. The wind had been picking up throughout the day. I was concerned that my pitch was a bit exposed but the wind had moved around slightly and the trees helped to shelter me.
Day 3 13th May (9 miles)
It rained all night, but eased slightly towards breakfast time. Looking out of the tent, the hills were enveloped in mist. I knew the weather would be poor from the weather forecast, but little did I know quite how bad it would be on “Stormy Sunday”.
Looking out of the tent door
I packed up and backtracked to a gap in the forest and climbed to the road. At the road, I was sheltered by the trees and could use my umbrella against the rain. The first mile or so was not too bad, but when I emerged from the shelter of the trees, the wind made itself felt. Fortunately, the wind was at my back. Looking up at the Lairig Gartain, it was clear that I couldn’t do my original route and would have to follow the road to King’s House.
The rest of the morning, I was accompanied by a storm force wind and torrential rain. The umbrella was furled, not to be used again during the day. The river and waterfalls were spectacular. The hills were swathed in cloud. There were a few tents pitched along the road. I thought, rather them than me.
As I approached the A82, the wind really picked up. I decided that it would be a good idea to have a cup of tea in the Kings House Hotel to consider my options. Approaching the door, I was almost bent double. Inside, there was a gaggle of people doing the West Highland Way, who were getting taxis to Kinlochleven to avoid the the Devil’s Staircase.
Speaking to a couple of people and then a couple of Challengers, the consensus was the the Devil’s Staircase would be very difficult. Winds were forecast to be over 100mph on the tops. I had lunch and took a taxi with some others who were doing the WHW. The taxi driver said he had not seen the weather this bad for many years.
At the hotel I met Jane Eggleston in the bar, who was soaked and cold. Dave Godfrey came in and he was also soaked. Both thought the conditions were at least as bad as the hurricane the previous year
My hotel room at the Macdonald Hotel, Kinlochleven