Monday, 26 November 2012

TGO Challenge 2012- Kincraig to Ruigh Aiteachain (Glen Feshie)

Like she (Louise) says, I am 'on a roll'.

So, here we have Day 7.

Waking up was not hard to do given that I had had a fantastic night's sleep.  I peeled back the covers of my snug bed and practically leapt to the window for a weather forecast.  It was grim.  The sky was white and cold, and light scattering of snow covered the lawns.
Val had suggested that Ruigh Aiteachain might be busy so I had it in my mind that I might have to push on up the glen to find a spot to pitch.  It might even be wise to make for White Bridge which seemed a long way.  I decided to take stock once reaching the bothy.

But! I had been offered BREAKFAST!

So why would I be rushing to get out into the weather? 
A selection of cereals, toast, fruit, yoghurt, well you name it. Fresh coffee or tea, fruit juice.  You get the picture. I dove in.  We chatted more as a cheeky Willow Warbler piped away outside the French doors.  We covered topics a plenty and mostly my contribution was utter gratefulness, and most deserved it was.

After packing and repacking my bag several times, delaying the harsh reality of the task that lay ahead, I pushed myself through the door and out into the world.  It was cold and wet and a keen wind was blowing from the North-east.  There was a bit of wet on the wind too.  Any complacency instantly diminished to nothing as I made my way lazily through the roads toward Feshiebridge where I stopped at the little store for some supplies. I was delaying again.
Things had improved weather-wise and as I emerged in to the lower reaches of Glen Feshie so did my surroundings.  The lichen-covered bark of the many trees that line the lane into the glen held me for a while.  I took a few photos before moving on. 
I took a lichen to this lichen.
I practically bounced up the glen and en route I bumped into another challenger, Martin Angel.  He too was a first timer so we shared our tales of preparation and of how we came to be on TGOC in the first place.  I noticed that Martin was sporting an enormous stick (please don't read this aloud, that last observation won't come across in the same way).  He had lost his poles or had left them behind and had enlisted the help of his enormous stick in the early part of his challenge but since buying some replacement poles for a tenner, he couldn't bare to leave his stick behind.  Who was I to argue?

Martin had earmarked a small structure in the glen as his first brew stop.  I chose to plod on up the glen and meet him again at Ruigh Aiteachain.  I bounced through the firmer bits and slipped through the softer bits passing and being passed as I wended my way to my bothy.  I had decided to stop inside if there was space.
As I neared R.A. I felt an overwhelming presence of someone following me.  I turned and almost screamed.  A pony, nay, two or more had crept up on me without my realising and the largest was practically breathing down my neck.  I stretched my hand out, fingers pointing downward and nuzzled my knuckles against the soft and velvety skin between it's nostrils for a tiny moment before walking on with my new friend in tow for a couple of hundred yards or so.  As l entered the trees that hid the bothy from view my pal issued a long-faced stare before turning back to the grazing area where we first met.
Glen Feshie Ponies
Ruigh Aitecheachachainaechain Bothy

My commandeered platform (which I did not use)

I wasn't sure whether this was a good sign, or not.

The 'Front Room'

The Back(side) Room

Tent 'Hamlet'

Ruigh Aiteachain empty as I arrived, as I recall.  Or maybe just one or two were inside.  I unravelled my quilt onto one of the bunks and set about making a brew.  A lot of challengers came into the bothy. Some stayed, others moved on.  I tried to keep note of all who stopped, if only briefly. 

They were:
Martin Angel
Gordon Green
Frederic (and his festering feet)
Gordon Scott
Bill Howden
Stevie O'Hara (the fire starter)
Lynsey Pooler (who looked like she had been hugging a peat hag - I found out later that was exactly what had happened)
Ken & Nina
Eric & another person (sorry)
Russ Mannion & Herman
Sandy & Carol
Croydon & Morpeth
Emma Warbrick (Who had us in stitches when she poked her head through the door and said "This looks nice, I'll come back in when I have taken my trousers off")
Grant (with a huge bag of logs atop his pack)
Rosie & Richard (I've written 'The Honey Monsters' in my notebook, gawd only knows why - please elaborate if you know the story because I can't remember)

So there we have it. The fire roared, the boots amassed a huge gathering by the fire and many a tale was shared.  I made some pals that fine evening.
Feshie Fireside Footwear Fetish

Stevie O'Hara and Sandy

Martin Angel, Gordon Green, and my now good pal,  Lynsey Pooler.

View from the water spout
Whisky was shared and feet were dressed. Meals were cooked and fingers burnt.  I promised myself an early start in the morning but the fact I had elected to stay inside made for a late night. I didn't care.  I wanted at least one bothy night on my crossing and this was it.  I even had a little bit of home with me, my wife lit up my life from afar.

PartyLite Tealights, courtesy of the wonderful and lovely Mrs M
I would not have missed it for the world.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

TGO Challenge 2012 - Coignafearn to Kincraig

You've all been very impatient.  Well done.

Here is day 6.

You'll be unsurprised to discover that I was out of my pit and walking early away down the Findhorn.  By the ruins, a pair of challengers - Richard was one of them, I am embarrassed to say that I have forgotten the other chap's name.  It had been a cold night and we shared a few experiences of the challenge so far, and bits about our home towns etc. before Richard (I think) gave me  pointer for the ascent up Allt a'Mhuilinn.

Allt a'Mhuilinn
Grouse eggs
The banks began to rise above me as I climbed, and with every step the clouds met me with more menace.  Snow sprinkled over me from the West, assisted by a steady and stiff breeze.  Between those wintry showers, the sun shone strongly, warming and drying me as I walked.  Sloshing through the tiny, and not so tiny burns was lovely as my feet quickly became refreshed with each drenching.

The higher parts of the Monadhliath took me again, not quite as strongly as the day before.  Today was different.  They felt homely now.  I was comfortable with them, so comfortable.  It was a shame to descend to the Dulnain, I thought - but even the descent had it's charms.  Staying high above the Allt Spioradail the heather whipped my shins and from time to time I slipped on the grimy, wet, lightly eroded peaty soil.  I moved away from the steepening banks of the Spioradail - I'm risk averse, I am.

And then, the first bridge.

Bridge over the Spioradail - frightening?
 After crossing the bridge of questionable integrity, I headed straight from Dulnain Bothy.  It was deserted, and I sat a while leafing through the pages of the log.  I'll leave you to do the same (I focussed on reading the 'TGO' dates).

The second bridge of questionable integrity. 
The second bridge of questionable integrity, up close.
 It looked rough, and the water was neither deep, nor fast.  So as any wise, and risk averse man would do, I walked on the rotten planks of the bridge, for the thrill of it.  I'm occasionally perverse, like that.  I like wading and thrashing through bracken too, as some of you may know.

A track made for fast progress over the next set of hills, the far Eastern Monadhliath and it would lead me over to the Allt na Cornlaraiche and down into Kincraig.  I had a nice lawn to camp on, courtesy of a tip-off by David Wood and of the generosity of Val & Dave Machin.  Despite me having never met them, they were picking up some gas for me and had accepted parcel, too.  How nice is that!?

The fast progress was slowed as I began my descent by the gnarled and churned soils caused by an enormous earthmoving dumper-truck.  The driver was pleasant enough, but the destructive undertone of the situation rang through, loud and clear.  The wildness of these hills would soon be lost for the foreseeable future.  Google "wind turbine", "monadhliath", and "Alan Sloman" for more on this.   I won't dwell on this awful situation, but it IS WORTH PAYING ATTENTION TO - so go and read about it!

Stag Bothy - a comprehensive mountain shelter. 
I passed Stag Bothy which is a particularly elaborate mountain shelter, in a woodland setting.  It's only a few miles walk out of Kincraig so I couldn't help thinking that it would be little used.  I was hell-bent by now on getting to the Machin's place and getting pitched up and sorted out before heading for a beer.
I was fairly well worn out by the time I reached the road, and there was a mile or so of road before I was to reach their place.  I had had enough by then.

It was raining, and I arrived at the Machin's door in a rough state.  I think I looked better than I felt, but I know I wasn't the freshest fella that had graced them with their presence.  Val came to the door and welcomed me in, she and Dave had arrived back that day from Alan and Andrew's Cheese & Wine party with a bit of a headache, so I remember.  There was a pile of kit in their hall.  

Before I could ask where I was to pitch, Val said that I should stay in the house rather than in my tent.  Inside I was ready to hug her, my body screaming YES YES YES YES!!!!  I reservedly offered that I was more than happy to pitch the tent, but if she was sure?  I doub't I have ever been more grateful IN MY LIFE.  Total strangers, never ever met them before.  IT was good enough that they would get me a tin of gas, let alone camp on their lawn, but sleep in their house?  Bewilderingly generous.

My 'Kincraig' pitch
Val introduced me to Dave and we chatted about stuff, including but not limited to challenge tales.  I showered, and managed to get my kit washed too.  I headed down to the kitchen and Val suggested I go to the pub with Dave while she cooked us all some dinner.  "I hope vegetarian lasagne is OK?, we don't eat meat".  Was it!?  Of course it was flaming OK!   Dave was taking me to the pub for a beer and she was cooking me dinner.  I'd eat the bumper off a rusty car, if she had offered it!

Their house was almost spanking new.  It had been personalised with Himalayan prayer flags, and the downstairs cloakroom was decorated with more TGO Challlenge posters and badges than you could shake a stick at.  Photos of one or the other Machin, or even both at the start, finish, or during some far flung hike, mountain marathon, race or event.  These guys are go-getters.  On self-powered travel and challenge, I've yet to knowingly meet a more 'involved' pair.

Decked out in pertex and cheap crocs I ducked through the door of the bar with Dave.  I insisted on buying the beer, despite Dave offering to buy me one.  We scanned the patrons at the Suie, no challengers were about.

After a pint or two of Tradewinds we dashed back in time for food and wine and more fantastic hospitality.  We chatted long into the evening (for me), before I could keep my eyes open no longer and I retired.  

I'll never forget that evening, and Val and Dave's hospitality.  They are truly embedded in the spirit of the 'challenge'.

The warmth and comfort of my spotless, ensuite room absorbed me before I had much time to do anything.  I quickly began a free-fall into the most lovely deep sleep.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

TGO Challenge 2012 - Aultnagoire to Coignafearn

I woke in the morning to the sound of a magically played fiddle.  Alex Sutherland was stretching his bow arm.  The sound evoked all the things I think about the Highlands in a single, brief moment.
Filtered coffee, breakfast cereal, fruit.  A full English (yes, English) breakfast.  Fresh orange juice. I was fortified.  I dragged my heels a mite.  Got myself packed away between brief, light showers.  Bryan Waddington had suggested he was opting for a route change.  A bit of knee bother had him seeking a route with less UP.  He said he was thinking of "calling it in".  I gasped "you can't!".  I should have realised that he didn't mean he wanted to pack it in.  He phoned in his route change and set off.  Or maybe I set off first.  I can't remember.

I hit the road and was joined by the first off the MV Morag that day - Simon (Hutchinson - I think) and Iain Robinson were heading up the road and into the Monadhliath.  I walked with them for a while until my path whipped me into solitude again.  The sun was bright, strong.  I was blessed with the weather that day.

Loch Mhór
The LRT above Wester Abercalder
The road turned into lane, and the lane into a track and my route lay through the heather on the western flanks of the wild mountains and moors of the Monadhliath Mountains.  I kept checking my map, to be sure I was inserting myself at the right point.  The burnt sections of heath were the easiest going, and as a Common Lizard skipped through the vegetation beneath my feet I turned to look west.  The view floored me.
The distant, Western Highlands of Scotland.
All those snow-capped peaks and ridges were stretched out.  They filled the horizon.  Brilliant white, beneath a thin ribbon of darkened cloud and a huge tarpaulin of super-blue sky.  I was higher now, and I pivoted slowly casting my gaze south.  A Golden Eagle was cruising above the high moors.  To the north a lone, defunct turbine hung it's partially amputated head in shame.  I tried to ignore it, but it loitered in my peripheral vision.  The elephant in the room.  

The ribbon of darkened cloud grew wider.  Weather began to develop.  It was westerly, and thankfully so.  It arrived on my back, primarily as a determined group of gusts.  Strengthening, the flakes began to fall.  The warmth disappeared, instantly.  I layered up, and continued up, and through lovely, winding mini-glens.  Visibility came and went with the wannabe-blizzards.  
A wannabe-blizzard and the perfect mini-glen.
Burns crossed my path more regularly now.  I gave up tiptoeing on the rocks and stomped confidently through the flows of each.  I liked the way they cooled my feet.  I drank from every other burn.  I needn't have carried the litre of water I got at the Sutherland's croft.  Not knowing the Monadhliath I opted not to trust the map.  I won't worry so much the next time.  These hills are the perfect walking location.
The termination of the LRT beneath Carn na Saobhaidhe.
The track was vulgar, but useful.
The lovely Allt Odhar
The landrover track, which I presume was in place for the construction of more turbines helped me up to just beneath the summit of Carn na Saobhaidhe on the bealach where I took a bearing and selected to handrail using the tributary to the Allt Odhar.  This was fine, wet ground after a short period of heavy bog-hopping.  The lovely Allt became my tractor beam sucking me down toward the old bothy at Dalbeg.  A lone challenger was pitching his tent by the upper stretches of the Findhorn.  I was ready to stop, but I had a target to get as far up the Findhorn as I could before camping.  The weather was good, and I made for Coignafearn (old lodge).
First glimpses of the Findhorn valley

The new lodge of Coignafearn.  A mighty, and slightly oppressive building.
I struggled to cope with the loveliness of this glen.  It was there, for all to see and use, yet no-one, not even the wealthy freeholders of the Coignafearn structures seemed to be present.  It remained a place of solitude for some time until I happened upon two birdwatchers, looking for eagles and another lone backpacker.  Andy Howell was pitching his shelter by the bridge, south of the old lodge.  I stopped for a chat and decided to pitch nearby.  It was a good spot, and the company was welcome.

As I pitched, Alan Callow, Alistair and Eddy arrived - not necessarily in that order.  The light was perfect, if occasionally interrupted by snowy squalls.  A solitary Golden Eagle broke the skyline to our southeast, dashing into the glen before making way up a tree-filled re-entrant behind the lodge.  This was a moment to cherish.  
This is my favourite photo from the challenge.  My spot beside the Elrick Burn.
In Drumnadrochit I had the foresight to purchase two cans of Tennents Super (the superlighter's lager equivalent - four cans for the weight of two).  With my tent pitched, I cracked one open and soaked it up.  It took effect within moments and eased the edge from my stinging feet.  It was the first time I had noticed my feet hurting since day two on the road into Cannich.  Trainers really do add to the comfort, be them wet or dry.

I chatted with Al, Eddy and Alan - Andy Howell had ensconced himself in his tent proclaiming "I've got my shoes off, have applied my foot cream, and I am in my bag.  I ain't coming out for anyone." It was before 8pm!.  Alistair and I continued talking to the fabric of Andy's shelter for a short while before giving up and chatting until the cold air got the better of us.  We retired to our shelters by 8.30.  
A Findhorn Encampent
A Moment on the Elrick Burn
Look, it's waterproof.
I cooked up a great deal of my food, most of which was untouched.  I had bought and packed to excess.  Tomorrow I would get a re-supply of meals and a bar meal.  I scoffed two or three foil pouches of dried grub, and several oatcakes.  It was washed down with glugs of malt.  I was becoming warmer with every minute, despite plummeting temperatures.
Snr Waddington.  A veritable dude.  Look at him smile, like a pig in poo-poo!
Alan had retired by now so I was enjoying my stupor alone until I looked up and saw two beRonhill-ed legs standing strong, flanked by a pair of trekking poles.  Bryan Waddington.  I was delighted to see him.  He was doing great, despite running a little later than most.  It was 9.00 when he showed up.  We chin-wagged with gusto and as the light faded, and the mercury sunk we crawled back in our holes and slept.  Snow was falling in squalls once again, and through the night.  It was cold.  I was drunk, and coated with what felt like a ready-brek glow.  

Monday, 9 July 2012

TGO Challenge 2012 – Cannich to Drumnadrochit to Aultnagoire

Today's walking was straight-forward – after the blitz of winds that nature unleashed on the surrounding glen and mountains, I emerged from my tent early again. Packed up, not a peep from the other challengers, I was ready to go. I bade my pitch farewell.

Cannich to Drum' road
Koos Schevellis had recommended a route away from the road for me for at least part of the day. The Glenurquhart Forest Trail is a quaint diversion from an otherwise droll road walk. I was thankful that my alcohol intake had allowed me to remember the in and out points for the trail.

I remember the sun shining down, and forming a rainbow for me through the morning's clouds. I began singing, really loud. I had cracked day 4 on my first challenge. A day that I had dreaded not reaching. I feared that the gremlins would have set in and done their best to convince me to chuck in the towel – bad weather, blisters, injury, aches and pains, negative notions. None of these things
materialised. In fact I was in my element.
Rainbow over the Enrick
First was a few verses of Amazing Grace, at the top of my voice. Then my own words to the same tune. John Denver made an appearance for a couple of songs too – Sunshine on My Shoulders and (Caledonian) Rocky Mountain High began spewing from my lungs. Tears popped into the back of my eyes and made their way forth, trickling down my cheeks before dripping to the ground. Tears of joy, elation.
Always time for a brew...
I scoffed a lazy brunch of Family-size Mattesons' Smoked Sausage with Primula and Tortilas – four I think. Loch Meikle was basking below and the sun was still shining through the intermittent showers. The rain stayed off me for the most part of my stroll. It really only set about soaking me about 20 minutes outside of Drumnadrochit itself.

As I arrived in Drum', I took shelter under some trees just outside of some houses just by the Town sign. It poured, and poured. I waited no longer and strolled quickly now, into the Town centre.

When I got to the main street I was outwardly drenched, but my waterproofs had kept the worst of the water on the right side of the fabric. I dropped my pack outside the Fiddlers Café and went in for refreshment. Tea, for two with sugar – lots of it... a bottle of lucozade, followed by another pot of tea and then a fizzy lemon pop. I had already eaten, so didn't get any more food. I shared a conversation with a local artist – a southerner who was now domiciled in the Highlands, not far from Drum'.
We never exchanged names but she questioned me about my travels so far and showed a spectator's enthusiasm for the challenge. She left me then, to make phone calls home, to Challenge Control, and to Gordon Menzies, the skipper of the MV Morag mo Chridhe. I was due to cross on his boat to Inverfairigaig later that day.

The weather had improved for a while so I dove outside and took a stroll. I didn't spot any other challengers as it was still early so I took up residence on the floor outside the telephone box by the local store. Off came my shoes and socks and I lent back on my rucksack in the sunshine and closed my eyes.
Drum, and the phone box
Davids - Pickles and Wishart arrived and stirred me to my feet. I welcomed them and we chatted for a while spotting new challengers arriving as we chatted. A former challenger arrived and quizzed us on current challengers, scouring Dave Wishart's list for recognisable names.

Too many challengers to remember showed up, including my new pal Tony Bennett who I later learned would pull out from his challenge at Drumnadrochit. It would be a shame not to bump into him again. I had been told that Mick & Gayle (read their blog here) had asked after me so I hoped to see them before crossing the loch. Dave, Dave and I set off for one last cuppa and lo, there they were. Mick and Gayle, the intrepid and perpetually walking couple were sat refuelling in one of the tea-rooms. I have to admit to being a little starstruck. This odd feeling quickly subsided as we chatted and became friends. I think it was here that I caught up with Louise Evans again, this time with John Jocys but I can't remember exactly.

After more convivial exchanges and a resupply at the local store Dave, Dave and I hopped onto Morag (and motored out across the most famous Loch in the world – Loch Ness. As we left the western shore, I saw a landmark leave me behind. Day 4 and Drumnadrochit – done.

I was sat at the back of the boat, and promptly the other challengers started looking back at me. No, they were looking past me. I pivoted and looked behind just as 3 mallards came in to land – on Morag herself!

Shap McDonnell took a shine to the drake so I took a quick snap for his album. You'll agree it is a quacker.

L to R - ANON, Mick, Andy(?), Piedro, Biaggio aboard MV Morag mo Chridhe

L to R - David (Wishart), Alan (?), Keith, Mick, Gayle, Gordon also aboard.

Shap McDonnell & David W

David Pickles

L to R - Jemima, Daffy, Shap.  Look at that smile - lovely man, that Daffy.

Urquhart Castle - centre frame

Jemima and Daffy, again.

Drumnadrochit away from sight now, a milestone passed.
The bouldered, rocky pier at Inverfairigaig welcomed us to Loch Ness's eastern shore and the steep and unrelenting road walk up to Aultnagoire lay before us. Some would walk on, past the croft. I would not. I had booked to camp in the grounds and take a dinner and breakfast with the Sutherlands. As I was soon to discover, I wasn't to be alone. It was here I met more folk who would become friends. It was here that I met with wonderful hospitality. Tea and Cake in seemingly unlimited supply was thrust upon us as we passed through the door.
Mick, Alan, David P, Andy - Mick, Gayle, Shap, Byron behind - I think
The trickle of challengers became a stream once Morag had returned. Those whom I can remember are:

  • Sandy and Carol – a lovelier couple it would be difficult to meet
  • Bryan Waddington – a fellow first-timer
  • John Jocys – a challenge regular (later to provide much entertainment)
  • Louise Evans – a challenge trembler (and a lovely, lovely individual)
  • Mike, Alan & Andy – a band of three very likeable Scots
  • Denis Pidgeon – another challenge regular, with tennents in hand
  • Shap McDonnell – a hiking man with the best smile I have seen
  • David Pickles – diamond bobby off Dartmoor
  • David Wishart – chatty, friendly and funny comrade from the North-east (of England)
  • Byron (insert surname here)
  • Keith (insert surname here)
  • Andy Howell – I didn't get the change to speak to Andy here, but later I would
  • Biaggio Pellegrini and his pal Piedro
  • Koos Schellevis - all friendly in that very Dutch kind of way
  • Mick and Gayle – expert producers of fine, dehydrated fayre and purveyors of great walking wisdom
  • FINALLY - The Sutherlands – our hosts
    • Mrs Janet
    • Mr Alex
    • Miss X (I'm a little ashamed to have forgotten the Sutherlands' daughter's name – she was lovely).
There were more, I know it. I just cannot remember everyone.

We ate our fill, and although the conversation wasn't lively it was interesting and friendly. More and more food was offered and we even managed to squirrel some over to Bryan. He was so well behaved sat in the corner of the dining room. He deserved something!

My notes of this evening are so scant I am a bit annoyed – my memories are faded too. I know I had a nice evening. I chatted, but exactly to whom, and precisely about what I can't recall. The midges arrived, not in great number, but they arrived. I retired to my tent dreaming of breakfast and the Monadhliath.