TGO Challenge 2017: Day 11

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Distance: 29km, ascent 468m

As usual, when I had a phone signal, I checked the weather forecast. A short period of rain was forecast for the middle of the day, otherwise not too bad. Dave W had been at the camp site and was going to walk to Ballater too, so we decided to walk together. His route was along the A93 but I suggested that my route via the Lion’s Face avoided a bit of road walking and might be better.

It was a good choice and a delightful little walk, although, all too soon, it was over and we were back on the main road. Briefly we met up with another Challenger (sorry forgotten name) and then we left for a track through the Balmoral Estate.

The tracks and forest made for a very pleasant stroll in the dappled sunshine. Here and there were various historical curios.

As we approached Balmoral Castle, the clouds thickened and it started to spot with rain. We went round the back to the cafe. Inside it was packed, so we sheltered from the rain under a convenient overhang. Dave went in to get some tea and coffee. While the rain was light, it showed no signs of stopping, so we hefted our packs and left.

Yet again, my umbrella showed its worth, keeping me dry yet ventilated. Fortunately, after about half an hour the rain petered out. By this time we were back to road walking along the B967. Although not very exciting, there was hardly any traffic.

A little further on we met another Challenger, John, who decided to tag along to Ballater. The bridge at Littlemill provided some convenient seating for a late lunch.

As road walks go, this was quite pleasant with virtually no traffic.

A little way beyond Littlemill, there was a strange house with the front garden full of gnomes and toadstools.

We kept up a brisk pace and by 4 o’clock we were in Ballater. I was staying at the Alexandra Hotel, while the other two were going to the campsite, so we parted company.

After checking in, the first task was to do a proper resupply shop in the much bigger Co-op in Ballater. I managed to get most of what I wanted.

Back in the hotel I had a bath and then used the bath water to wash some socks and base layers. In the bar I met Dave H (eventually), with whom I’d arranged to walk the last three days to Stonehaven. After a fine meal in the restaurant, it was off to bed and a good sleep before the final leg of the Challenge.


TGO Challenge 2017: Day 10

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Distance: 14km, ascent: 179m

Early morning sunshine disappointingly turned to cloud but this would be an easy day with a stroll into Braemar. I’d never been to Baemar, so I was curious to see what it was like.

The track along the Dee made for easy, if not very exciting walking.

Just after the Linn of Dee, I stopped behind a woodpile for a call of nature and an underwear faff. As I emerged, another walker hoved into view. It was Dave W, who I had met a couple of years ago. We walked and nattered away like old friends, even though we barely knew each other. It transpired that it was his Akto at Whitebridge the previous day. He had got fed up with the rain and decided to halt early.

As usual, company and conversation made the time pass quickly and soon we were at Mar Lodge. There were no signs inviting us for tea and biscuits, indeed there were no signs of life at all, so we pressed on and crossed the bridge over to the road to Baemar.

Without Dave, the walk along the road to Braemar would’ve been pretty boring, but instead, the time flew by.

We kept on seeing signs advertising a welcome to TGOC’ers at Gordon’s Tearoom, so not surprisingly when we reached it, we had to go inside. There were quite a few Challengers at the tables, but we found a table for two.

While I had a shepherd’s pie, Dave just had a coffee and decided to go off to the shops and the campsite. Also in the tearoom where Ian and Jennie, who I’d met a couple of years ago at Drumnadrochit. Jen had to drop out of the Challenge with a bad foot, while Ian had been following her in their camper van. They were going to stay at the campsite  so we arranged to meet later if possible.

When I had finished pigging out, it was time to resupply. First off I needed a small gas canister, then some food. Braemar Sports provided the former. Unfortunately, the Braemar Co-op was as disappointing as the one in Kingussie. However, this was not crucial as I only needed food for the evening and the next day as there is a much larger Co-op in Ballater.

Unlike the previous night (as I was told later), there weren’t many Challengers using the campsite. I paid my money and pitched my tent on a lush lawn and then had a wonderful shower. I felt human again! Later in the evening I spent a very convivial time in Ian and Jen’s camper van. Luxury! It was really lovely to sit down and have a good old chin wag with them. It’s typical of the Challenge that people you barely know become instant friends. It really is the charm of the Challenge. After boring the pants off them about gear and my camper van, it was off to the land of nod.

TGO Challenge 2017: Day 9

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Distance: 23km, ascent: 375m

It started raining at about 8 o’clock the previous evening and continued raining for nearly 24 hours. There was no point in going high to Cairn Toul as the clouds were low and visibility would have been limited, so, yet again, I took my Foul Weather Alternative. I wasn’t too unhappy as it gave me the chance to walk the length of Glen Feshie

I would classify the rain as persistent rather than heavy. It wasn’t too windy either. I packed most of my gear under the cover of the tent and  donned full hard shell. At least taking down the tent under the tree meant some protection.

While not ideal, it wasn’t unpleasant walking in the rain. I bumped into fellow Challengers Chris and Jessica who had been camping at Ruigh-aiteachain. After a brief chat, I pushed on.

After about half an hour or so, I spied someone delving into their rucksack under the shelter of a tree. It was Ali, co-organiser of the Challenge. She was so impressed with my hands-free umbrella set up that she took a photo:

Ali was suffering from a bad ankle and said that she would be quite slow, suggesting that I should walk on. I wasn’t in a big hurry, so I said I’d be happy to have some company, so we walked and talked together until early afternoon. For both us of us, it made the miles go by quicker.

Before the Eidart Falls we had a spot of lunch at the ruined pony hut. Chris and Jessica caught up with and another Challenger whose name I’m afraid I’ve forgotten. After a bite to eat we carried on. At the Allt Daidh Mor, Ali wanted a rest. I said I wanted to keep walking so I hopped across the rocks and kept going. It was a bit boring without Ali’s company, but at least it wasn’t raining too hard.

Onward, onward, ever onward! I reached Whitebridge at around 3:30pm. There was an Akto pitched there. I did consider stopping, but thought better of it.

It wasn’t far to reach my intended camping spot. My intention had been to camp in the lee of the woods, but the hillock opposite seemed to offer a better spot. Who else should be there than Sandy, who had the same idea. By the time I got the tent up, it started to rain harder, so there was no chance for socialising. Later on a few others had the same idea as us. It was a good spot to camp and reasonably sheltered too. Despite the rain, I had kept pretty dry. Even my feet were only slightly damp, so it was actually not a bad day at all. Next stop Braemar.

TGO Challenge 2017: Day 8

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Distance: 25km, ascent: 336m

I had a really good night’s sleep, although I was awake before sunrise. My little camp site was ideal because it had kept the sun in the evening and then caught the sun in the morning too. On the ground, there was a light frost, the first of the Challenge.

By the time I’d had breakfast and packed, it had become a bit more cloudy although it didn’t look like it would rain any time soon. I wandered down the tributary of the Allt Mor. There were a couple of superb camp sites along the way.

In less than half an hour I was at the shooting hut/bothy. I suppose in an emergency you might want to stay there, but the inside was untidy and not very inviting. Even outside, the ground was not much use for camping either.

The shooting hut is at the confluence two tributaries and once joined the river has carved out an impressive mini canyon. I followed the track above before descending to the bridge crossing the Allt Mor. On the other side there was a short climb to a stand of trees. Here I managed to pick up a decent phone signal, so I called Challenge control and home to let them know I was ok. Then I checked the weather forecast. Uh-oh! Fine until mid evening, then rain continuing for the whole of the next day. Mentally I prepared myself for another Foul Weather Alternative for the following day.

At Pitmain Lodge the track and signage was a bit confusing so I passed through the buildings, noticing on the way out that I shouldn’t have done this. Whoops!

From there it was a short road walk down hill past the golf course into Kingussie.

Kingussie was a key resupply point for me, so I visited the Co-op to stock up. The choice of food was disappointing. Once again I ended up with quite a lot of junk. It was particularly frustrating that they had no plain peanuts, only chilli or salt & vinegar. At least they had some loose apples. Suitably restocked, I went to the memorial garden to sit down for lunch and to repack my goodies.As a keen student of history, I always find war memorials very moving. We are diminished if we don’t take time to recognise the sacrifices that previous generations have made to allow us to live in a free society.

After a quick visit to the toilets in the car park (I was a bit miffed that I had to pay 20p), I resumed my walk. In truth it’s a bit of a plod to Tromie Bridge. Ruthven Barracks provides the only real interest. At least there wasn’t much traffic.

The River Tromie is impressive beneath the bridge even with low water levels. From Tromie Bridge, I followed tracks through the forest  to Baileguish.

At Baileguish, the navigation became a bit confusing with no bridge where there was one marked on the map, which didn’t matter too much as crossing the burn was easy. Apparently there’s a bridge on the other track, although that wasn’t marked on my map.

Not far into the next section of forest, I caught up with two more Challengers David P (on his 10th) and Ray. I spent a pleasant hour or so with them meandering along the forest tracks. Ray had some foot problems and was going quite slowly, so I decided to move up a gear and push on.

I was quite excited to arrive at the River Feshie as I’d never been to Glen Feshie before.  The gorse was in full bloom with its glorious scent. I was soon over the bridge and at the Allt Garbhlach. The old path and crossing had been dramatically washed away by previous storms. Fortunately it was only a short trek upstream to another crossing point.

The path wended its way through a delightful stretch of forest before rejoining the river.

By now the clouds were beginning to thicken.

Soon I reached the bothy at Ruigh-aitechain. The bothy is being refurbished. There were several tents pitched nearby. One of them belonged to Sandy with whom I’d camped a couple of nights earlier. After a quick chat, I decided it was too crowded and would find a pitch further on.

I didn’t have to go very far. Normally, I don’t like pitching under trees, especially if I know rain is on the way. However, there was a nice green flat spot beneath a pine tree. Although rain was forecast, it wasn’t expected to be very windy so there wasn’t any danger from deadfall.

One feature of this Challenge so far was the great places to camp and this was no exception. It had been a really enjoyable day, despite a bit of road walking. It also was the day when I thought that I’d cracked the walk and that it ought to be straightforward from here. I was feeling fit and my feet were good. All I had to do was get through the bad weather on the next day and I’d be on the home stretch.

TGO Challenge 2017: Day 7

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Distance: 21km, ascent: 690m

If yesterday was  hell, today was paradise! Sandy was up and away earlier than me. The day had dawned agreeably sunny and I luxuriated in the warmth for a while as I knew I didn’t have a massive day. What’s the point in camping in glorious places without taking the time to enjoy them?

I’m going to let the pictures speak for themselves. You can see the route I took. I was extremely fortunate that the weather stayed good for me for the whole day. In the afternoon, there were some heavy showers circling around, but none came near me. The walk along the ridge was sublime. Route finding was simple with a line of fence posts for company most of the way. It was easy to take in my only two Munros of the trip too: Carn Dearg and Carn Sgulain, the latter possibly one of the easiest Munros ever. Here’s the pictures:

If I was being picky, to the North there were often distant views of the various wind farms. However, even those intrusions couldn’t spoil what was probably the best day of the Challenge. Suitable reward for the previous day’s tribulations.

Even the peat bog between Carn Sgulain and Am Bodach was dry and easy to cross.

Contouring down on the southern side of Am Bodach was quite slow as the slope was steep, but eventually I reached a branch of the Allt Mor. Once down, it was relatively straightforward to follow the stream which had some delightful mini water falls.

At the confluence of a side stream an ideal camping spot presented itself. Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I decided to call it a day.

What a fantastic day it had been and ended with almost the perfect  camping spot.

TGO Challenge 2017: Day 6

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Distance: 24km, ascent: 956m

OK the write-up for today is going to be difficult. This really was the most depressing day of my backpacking life. However, it started well enough. After a good night’s sleep, I had a fine breakfast at the Bank House B&B. After having a chat about camper vans to Sue and Ian, I packed my rucksack and I was off.

I passed a wood full of strong-smelling wild garlic, and then found a footpath along the edge of a field full of sheep on the shore of Loch Ness.

I wasn’t sure where the path led to so I returned to the road (a mistake as it led all the way to Glen Doe, but it’s not on the OS maps yet). Eventually I reached the reservoir road and the gatehouse. I dutifully reported to the guard and trekked up the track.

A little further on I met a lady walking her Jack Russell (Daisy) and we had a little chat about dogs. It took about an hour to reach the green hut, where I took a break and had something to eat. It was getting quite sunny, so I applied some sun tan lotion as well.

So far, the reservoir road was little changed from when I was here two years ago. There was the occasional lorry or vehicle but not many. Apart from the dust kicked up from them, it was no bother.

When I caught my first glimpse of the reservoir, I thought to myself that it didn’t look too bad. How wrong I was!

The first inkling of how bad the next few hours were going to be was when I saw the works compound. At the entrance there was a security guard. I had a pleasant chat with him and he kindly gave me some water (a bit of a life saver as it was getting hot and there were limited opportunities for water once on the construction site). It is worth mentioning that all the workmen and women I met were all very courteous as were the drivers of the various vehicles.

I could have a bit of a rant here about the destruction of this wonderful piece of wild land but what’s the point? The pictures convey some of the story, but actually it’s even worse than the pictures.           When I planned the route, I had hoped that the construction work would have barely started but as you can see it was in full swing. I knew it would be bad but it was shocking to see the devastation.  Once I was past the substation building works, the landscape opened up and I followed the track to the Chalybeate Spring.

In front of me I could see another backpacker, but I didn’t catch up until I was at the spring itself. It was Sandy, who I’d met on the Challenge a couple of years ago. It was nice to see a familiar face and have a chat.

We selected our respective camping spots and pitched our tents. After my evening meal, Sandy came over for a quick chat and then I turned in for the night. The weather forecast was good for the next day, so I had high hopes that I’d finally be able to do a couple of Munros.

TGO Challenge 2017: Day 5

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Distance: 26km, ascent 442m

After some overnight rain, the weather cleared and by the time I was ready to leave Corrie Dho, there were patches of blue sky. I felt well rested and much happier with the world. The first task was to get across the River Doe to the track on the south bank. Fortunately, the water level was low and a short way downstream there was a ford with some convenient stones to rock hop across.

Once across the river, I followed the new “improved” hydro works track to Cul Dubh, where I had camped two years ago. I was glad that I hadn’t tried to camp there this year as there was a large “depot” scraped out by the track and the stream that I had used before for water was fouled.

Beyond Cul Dubh, I left the hydro track and followed a winding track towards Tomchrasky Farm. This was the same track I’d used on my Challenge in 2015. The only difference this time was the water levels were much lower so wading the fords posed no problems and it wasn’t raining, although there were a couple of showers that passed by in the glen below.Every so often the path would follow a large water pipe. In several places it was leaking, so I suppose if you needed some water here was a ready supply.

I did spy some places that it would be possible to camp too, but it was generally not very attractive. The views were somewhat spoilt by the wind farm on the opposite side of the glen. I made rapid, if boring, progress.

The only interesting thing was a whistling gate post! Just beyond the ford at Allt na Dubh-chlaise, I took my pack off to get something out and was mystified by a whistling noise. On further inspection, the wind was blowing across a hole in the metal gate post and making a low-pitched whistling sound. There’s a novelty: a musical gate post.

I was soon passing by the rather unattractive farm at Tomchrasky and making the seemingly endless trudge along the minor road to Torgyle Bridge. The only saving grace was that there was hardly any traffic. In couple of places, some barking dogs broke the monotony. Eventually I crossed the River Moriston and after a mercifully short walk along the busy main road, I followed a track into the forest. Soon I found a convenient log to sit on to have a bite to lunch.

As I was eating, it started to spot with rain. Up went my umbrella. I thought it was just a shower but after 20 minutes it became apparent that this was more persistent rain, so I put on my waterproofs. I followed the track up to the power pylons rather than the military road. As I got out of the trees, the wind strengthened and the rain got heavier. For an hour there was a strange mixture of wind-driven rain and sunshine. As I reached the top, the rain relented and I trudged on under the pylons. After a while my route left the hard track to follow a more pleasant zig-zag down to Fort Augustus.As this was just a repeat of two years ago, I ploughed on as quickly as I could and arrived in Fort Augustus by mid afternoon.

By this time the sun was shining and it was quite warm. I called into the “supermarket” to restock with some food. The selection was rather meagre so I ended up with mainly chew bars and junk. Then I walked to my B&B, The Bank House. The Bank House is a really great place to stay. Sue and Ian are very welcoming and helpful. I arranged for Sue to do some washing for me, then after phone calls to Challenge control and to my wife, I had a bath. Luxury!

I had a pleasant dinner at the Lock Inn. Unfortunately, I didn’t bump into any other Challengers, so it was a solitary affair. I felt good that I’d completed the first section of the Challenge with no particular issues or problems. However, the next day was to prove one of the most dispiriting walks of my life.

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