Category Archives: pictures & trips

Wiley Gill and Back

At the beginning of June I had to go to Manchester to pick up our daughter’s gear from university, so I combined it with a quick backpacking trip in the Lake District. Originally I was going to do a three day trip around the Northern Fells, but the weather forecast for the third day was for heavy rain, so I decided to walk from Braithwaite to the sheepfold at Wiley Gill and back. The weather was lovely and apart from my encounter with a fun sponge, it was a nice little trip. Here’s some photos.

TGO Challenge 2017: the Challenges of the Challenge

Some Reflections on the 2017 TGO Challenge

Well, that’s my third successful TGO Challenge. Every Challenge presents a different set of challenges, psychologically, physically, topographically and meteorologically. Overall, it was a rewarding experience but not without some low moments.

The Challenge of the Route 

In many ways this was a much more uneven route than the last two Challenges. I had pencilled in four specific days where my route would take me high over Munros. As always, you are at the mercy of the weather. On two of those days (days 4 and 9), low cloud and rain meant that Foul Weather Alternatives were the only sensible option. Day 3, I had intended to go over Carn Eige but the weather forecasts put me off and I did a different route. Only on day 7 did I do my intended high route and took in two Munros. There were compensations, however, particularly walking up Glen Feshie which was a real delight, even in the rain.

I spent a bit longer in the west (5 days) than most people. Consequently, I felt I was always a bit behind the curve and couldn’t afford to let my itinerary slip, which added to the psychological pressure. Daily distance was mainly in the 19-26km range, with three half days (3, 10 and 14). Three days were long days in terms of time or distance or both. Day 1, I walked much longer than anticipated. Day 11 was 29km to Ballater but was pretty easy with not much up and down along tracks and roads. Day 13 was much more challenging with 30km of distance and 1,180 of ascent with some trackless terrain and eroded paths thrown in. That was definitely the toughest day.

One of the biggest disappointments of the first six days was the proliferation of wind farms and hydro schemes. I knew about the wind farms, but the hydro schemes at the Allt Garbh and Corrie Dho came as a shock. The wind farms around Glen Moriston, Loch Ness and the Monadhliath intruded in the vistas. The worst of the lot was the Stronelairg wind farm construction site. There were warnings that it would be horrible, but it was like walking through Mordor. In retrospect, I should’ve taken a different route.

Offsetting those horrors, if I averted my eyes from the views northwards, the ridge walk along the Spey was a delight, as was Glen Feshie. Glen Tanar was as lovely as ever. Gleann Gaorsaic to Glen Afric was wonderful with bleakness turning to beauty. The walk out of Cougie was also an unanticipated pleasure. Perhaps this trip, the landscape highlights were too few, partly because of familiarity, partly because of the depredations of development.

I was blessed with some wonderful places for wild camps. In particular, Loch Affric, Chalybeate Spring, Allt Mor and Glen Feshie spring to mind. I love wild camping and certainly these made up for some of less attractive aspects of my route. It was so wonderful to camp at Chalybeate after the torture on tramping through Stronelairg.

I was also fortunate with the weather in that it was generally quite mild (only two mild overnight frosts) and only one day of persistent rain (day 9). It rained for a large part of day 4, but it was only light and barely merited waterproofs. On day 5, there was about an hour of heavy rain but then it cleared. Other than that, the weather was as good as could be expected. It was also exceptionally dry underfoot and the rivers were low so no wading was required.

When planning the Challenge, resupply points are an important consideration. For the last two Challenges, the only thing I’ve posted ahead is freeze dried meals. I’m keen on buying as much as possible locally. However, with the limited range of food available in the smaller supermarkets, this is a challenge in itself. It was particularly frustrating not to be able to get simple things like plain peanuts or pocket tissues. I was talking to Sue at the Bank House B&B and she said within reason, she would be happy to get basics for walkers to resupply. Perhaps staying at B&Bs and getting the owner to get supplies for you might be a good way around this problem.

The Psychological Challenge

Perhaps I underestimated the impact of the death of my mother. Most of the time life goes on but when you have time on your own, the grief returns. I still miss her a lot. My wife’s poor health has been a constant worry too. When I set off, I knew there was a possibility that I might have to abort the walk at Fort Augustus. By the end of day 3 I was incredibly anxious and had a terrible night’s sleep worrying about virtually everything to do with the walk.

Fortunately, I was able to talk to my wife midday on day 4 and much of the concern subsided. After Fort Augustus, there was little likelihood of having to stop, so my state of mind improved. This state of anxiety coloured my enjoyment of the first few days and it wasn’t until half way through the walk that I truly regained my equilibrium. Compared with 2014 & 2015, psychologically this was a tougher walk.

Perhaps another factor making the first half of the walk more challenging psychologically was that out of the first eight days, I walked six either wholly or mainly on my own. I’m used to solo walking and very happy to do so, but when there are things dwelling on your mind, too much time to think can be unhealthy. The flip side was that from day 9 onwards I had company every day. I’d like to thank Ali O, Dave W and Dave H for their excellent company (as well as Dickie, Rosie and Rich at the start!). It really makes the miles go by when you’ve got someone to talk to.

The Physical Challenge

In the months before the Challenge, I had suffered from a number of minor foot complaints, mainly to do with inflammation between the third and fourth metatarsals in my left foot. As the Challenge approached, although there was an improvement, I was unsure how my feet would stand fourteen days hard pounding.

In the event, I had no real problems with my feet other than a tiny blister on day two caused by a loose thread in one sock. I used Salomon X-Ultra Mids and Sidas Conformable footbeds which worked perfectly in conjunction with Bridgedale Trekker socks.

My general level of fitness was pretty good. I put this down to doing a number of trips in the months before the Challenge and doing 10,000 to 20,000 steps daily (monitored by a Fitbit). For someone living on the outskirts of London, the most difficult thing to achieve is true hill fitness. For me, I can either do long distance or a lot of ascent, but doing both is tough with a full rucksack. That said, apart from a couple of days, I never felt really tired at the end of a day.

I only had one “injury”. On day 13, the descent from Cairn Kerloch was on an atrociously eroded path with lots of loose rock. On the next day, after about half an hour, I felt a pain behind my left knee cap. A long time ago, I had problems with my knees from playing football. For the last fifteen years or so, I’ve not had any issues. However, I’ve always carried a Bioskin knee support just in case (which I used to use for skiing). I felt my knee cap was a bit unstable, perhaps because of the tough descent of the previous day straining my knee. Once on, the issue was resolved. It just shows that you shouldn’t always chuck out stuff that you don’t use regularly.

It’s taken me about three weeks to recover from the physical exertions of the Challenge. Initially I was a bit worried that a couple of insect bites that I had early in the Challenge might have been ticks. Your mind then turns as to whether you’ve got Lyme’s Disease. However, I don’t have the external symptoms and the tiredness has largely gone, so I think I’m ok. I did a short trip to the Lakes a week after the Challenge and my fitness was good, so I don’t think there’s a problem.

 

I’ll do another post on how my gear performed and some thoughts.

TGO Challenge 2017 Summary Page

  1. Plockton
  2. Day 1: Plockton to Faddoch
  3. Day 2: Faddoch to Gleann Gniomhaidh
  4. Day3: Gleann Gniomhaidh to Loch Affric
  5. Day 4: Loch Affric to Corrie Dho
  6. Day 5: Corrie Dho to Fort Augustus
  7. Day 6: Fort Augustus to Chalybeate Spring
  8. Day 7: Chalybeate Spring to Allt Mor
  9. Day 8: Allt Mor to Glen Feshie
  10. Day 9: Glen Feshie to Linn of Dee
  11. Day 10: Linn of Dee to Braemar
  12. Day 11: Braemar to Ballater
  13. Day 12: Ballater to Ballochan
  14. Day 13: Ballochan to Hill of Roughbank
  15. Day 14: Hill of Roughbank to Stonehaven

The Challenges of the Challenge: Some Reflections

Gear review part 1

Gear review part 2 and gear list

TGO Challenge 2017: Day 14

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Distance: 19km, ascent: 206m

I woke to a cloudless sky.  By the time Dave and I had sorted ourselves out, the other two were long gone. Our aim was to try to get to Stonehaven for lunch.

The first part of the forest track was partly covered with some fallen trees, so we had to divert into the forest a couple of times.

After a couple of kilometers, I felt a slight pain in my knee. This is the first time I’ve had any problems in a knee for probably over ten years. All that time, I’ve carried a Bioskin knee support just in case. Now I had a chance to use it! I put it on and instantly the issue was resolved.

We happily trundled along a number of tracks, noting that there weren’t a huge number of places to camp, but there were a couple of spots where it was feasible

Eventually we made it to Mergie and out of the forest. I know there are some fans of the Feterresso, but I’m afraid I’m not one of them. I don’t think I’ll be back, especially with the wind farm right in the middle.

Our route now took us along a minor road to Cheyne Hill.

Eventually we had some views of Stonehaven and the sea.

It seemed a long walk through Stonehaven to the beach. On the way we stopped to get a drink from a convenient petrol station shop as it was getting hot under a cloudless sky.

Just before 1:30 we reached the beach and our journey’s end.

After some congratulations we found a cafe and had some lunch. Instead of walking back up the hill to the station, we splashed out on a taxi. It was only a short train ride to Montrose and on to the Park Hotel to sign in at Challenge Control.

That’s three successful TGO Challenges now. Will I do more? I’m sure I will, although probably not every year. A big thanks to Ali and Sue for organising, also to all those at Challenge Control and the vetters for making it happen. Thanks also to all those I had the pleasure of walking with. Despite a shaky start, in the end, I enjoyed it.

TGO Challenge 2017: Day 13

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Distance: 30km, ascent: 1,180m

I knew today would be a tough day and I wasn’t wrong! We weren’t disturbed in the night by an irate farmer, so our stealth camping strategy appeared to have worked. We were up and away by 8:30 and ascending Cock Hill number one by a convenient track.

It was surprisingly hard work in quite humid weather. There were  some good views back to Birse Castle.

From the top, we looked down to the Water of Aven. The way down involved quite a lot of heather bashing but wasn’t too bad, if a little slow.

Once at the bottom the ground was quite hummocky. I had considered this as a place to camp, but glad we didn’t. We found a convenient place to cross the burn and then stopped for some refreshment and filled our water bottles.

Over the other side we were confronted with a tall deer fence. However, there was a sort of ladder, which made climbing over reasonably easy. Then it was more heather bashing to the summit of Cock Hill number two.

When we reached the summit there was a clearing and a track leading to the foot of Mount Battock. Near one of the rocks, Dave found a cork screw and placed it on a rock so it could be removed by the next group of shootists.

After a short climb, the track levelled out and we could see most of the track to rocky outcrop that is Clachnaben. Beyond that we could see the wind farm, below which was our destination.

Near the Hill of Badymicks, we spotted a shooting hut slightly off the track so we descended to have a look and see whether it was open. Sitting against the back of the hut was Colin, one of the TGOC vetters (who I had met in 2014) and John (who walked part way to Ballater with me). Not surprisingly, given the plushness of the interior, the hut was locked, so after a quick rest we continued.

It was an easy walk to Clachnaben. We didn’t bother to climb to the top as we knew we still had a long way to go.

Descending the steep eastern slope we met a family and their dog on a day walk. Reaching a wood lot, we decided that a late lunch was in order, so we stopped to eat and fill our water bottles from a stream.

We took the track through Miller’s Bog to Glendye Lodge where we took the lodge road down to the bridge (which we probably shouldn’t have, oops!).

Along the track to Heatheryhaugh, it started to spot with rain, so up with the umbrella! It didn’t amount too much and after a few minutes it stopped. We managed to find the track across to the other side of the valley, where it met a broad forestry track.

We found a small stream to fill up our water bottles yet again and trudged along a series of uninspiring forestry tracks.

We turned off the main track to ascend Cairn Kerloch instead of going through the hideous wind farm. It was tough work and Dave was beginning to lag a bit.

By now the weather was clearing . Looking to the north, we were tempted to go off route to find a camping spot as in the distance there were swathes of tempting looking grass, but decided it would be too much of a detour.

The track down from Cairn Kerloch to Glenskinnan was badly eroded and took a bit of a toll on my knee, which became evident on the following day.

At Glenskinnan, the track marked on the map to the north of the forest proved to be badly overgrown, so we followed the path inside the forest, trusting that a link path shown on the newer maps did exist. Fortunately, it did and we were saved some forest bashing. When I originally planned the route, I had in mind to possibly carry on to Hill of Hobseat, but it was getting late in the day and Dave was visibly tiring. So when we reached the burn below Hill of Roughbank, it was time to call it a day.

There were two Challengers already there (Kate and yet another Challenger whose name I’ve forgotten) but there was enough room for us, albeit on quite hummocky ground. The wind turbines of the wind farm could be seen above the trees, but, mercifully, there was no wind so they were stationary. It had been quite a tough day and we were both glad to do our chores and get something eat.

TGO Challenge 2017: Day 12

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Distance: 25km, ascent: 639m

The disadvantage with hotels is that a good breakfast often means a late start and so it was today. It was after 9:30 by the time we made it to the bank to get some money and then to the start of the Deeside Way.

The Deeside Way is an old railway track and provided a quick and painless way to Dinnet and beyond. It was a very pleasant start to the day.

Passing the Cambus o’ May bridge we saw the damage that the recent floods had wrought. It just shows how quickly things can change, as many Challengers remarked at how dry it had been underfoot dring the Challenge.

At Dinnet, we called into the hotel for a spot of lunch. Excellent food and very welcoming. Not long after we arrived, two other Challengers, Gerrard and Natascha walked in (I’d met them before at Loch Affric). It transpired that it was their 20th wedding anniversary. Cue a lot of feeble jokes about medals etc.  We spent rather longer than we should’ve but you’ve got to make the most of some decent food. After a short road walk we were back on to a mixture of tracks and footpaths vaguely following the Firnmounth Road

Yet again, I was treated to a cornucopia of scented gorse.

We stopped at the Glen Tanar visitors centre for a quick rest and to refill our water bottles as the sun was making the walk hot work.

We passed the pretty church and then picked up the Firnmounth Road winding its way up the hillside.

By now the clouds were starting to gather. Occasionally we got glimpses down into the beautiful Glen Tanar.

It was a bit of a pull up to Craigmanhandle and as we emerged from the forest, it began to spot with rain.

The walk across to the Hill of Duchery involved a bit of heather and bog bashing, but nothing too serious.

Soon we caught a glimpse of our intended overnight stop. As we descended we looked keenly for potential places to camp. Despite looking promising from a distance, getting closer, good spots were elusive.

In the end, we decided to camp in a field but hidden from habitation by a convenient wood lot. As we pitched there was some light rain, so we repaired to the tents for some food. I was a bit nervous that the farmer might turn up and tell us to move on but I saw no one and we were well hidden from any buildings.