Monday, 18 June 2012

TGO Challenge 2012 - Culligran to Cannich

So, where was I?  That's right.  I was in a wonderful deep slumber at just before midnight after a great day's glen walking through Strathfarrar.  The bastard tick-hosts lovely sheep were quietly baa-ing in the glen - I presume this, because I was in a wonderful deep slumber.  Then I am gently woken by THE VIOLENT SHAKING OF MY TENT.

Torchlights beaming through the fabric from two directions and people seeming desperate to get into my tent.  I was petrified. "POLICE, DON'T PANIC!!" It was a bit bloody late for that.

I was unbespectacled (that's my word and I am sticking to it) at the time, so furiously struggling and stammering I fought blind in my tent looking for my glasses.  In any normal situation my heart would not be leaping out of my chest, and I would simply roll to one side, pick up my specs and slip them on my face.  I managed to restore my vision, and now had to open three zips, with adrenaline corrupting my every movement, it took a while.  Throughout my battle with YKK (not KY, I promise) the invaders keepers of the peace continued to reassure me not to panic, and began explaining their mission.  I calmed slightly, and the zips began to cooperate.  Onesuch = open.   "Forgive me, but I am a bit startled" I offered.  Twosuch = Open.  "Where's the door?"  Says PC No.1.  "It's here" I replied, helpfully.  Threesuch = open.

I was then confronted by PC No. 1 & PC No. 2.  Both of whom began to tell me their mission - it was a quiet day in Highland policing - simultaneously.  "We're looking for a missing person.  A woman, aged 53, from Inverie.  She's doing a challenge."  They stopped their mission statement, allowing a reply "What?  The TGO Challenge?" My turn for questions.  "Yes" they became excited.  "Where did she start?  "What's her name?" I continued the interrogation.  "Strathcarron, we don't know her name" PC No.1 responds to my techniques. "We've got problems with the radio, we haven't got all of the information.  She was supposed to arrive at the Struy Inn before nightfall, but hasn't made it". He's spilling the beans now, I've got him where I want him.

"OK, she started at Strathcarron, is a lady, aged 53 from Inverie.  I started there too.  There's only one lady starting solo that fits the bill, and I think I know who it is you are looking for.  I can't be 100% sure about it but I definitely haven't seen her."  I put the evidence together, and have a hunch.  "She's come the same way as me, more or less". My guess is that she started late, or became waylaid.  She's done the challenge before, so running late is not really a cause for concern.  "I'm sure she is OK - other challengers will have been with her at times today and she must have camped up the glen.  We all have camping kit."  I had this case nailed.

PC's No.1 & No.2 begin to agree and by now are sure that a drive up the Glen will find her safe and well, having a brew or snoozing.  I guessed too, that Challenge Control would not have alerted the authorities just yet.  "I hope whoever called you guys isn't too worried, she'll be right as rain".  The rozzers beat a retreat to their car, waving their searchlights about before hopping into their get-away vehicle and driving up the glen.

They passed by again, down the glen a couple of hours later, still casting their lights about.  I know this because I slept very lightly thereafter, I am still not sure why.

When I had finally, properly woken at 4am, I lazily began packing my gear after emptying my bowels in Mr Ostentatious's lovely glen.  I was on the road to Cannich, via Struy by 6am.  The bad weather that had been forecast (torrential rain, gusts to 115mph etc) had convinced me to alter my plans to camp up on Eskdale Moor in favour of a camping spot at Cannich.  It was "Stormy Sunday" or whatever the rest of the TGOC community chose to call it.  

For me, a lazy, dryish still walk along the road to Cannich was interrupted only once.  At Struy, not far from the Inn, I watched as a couple got into their 4x4 in the distance.  They came up the road towards me.  Two yellow kayaks were packed neatly on the roof bars.  As it drew nearer, the vehicle slowed.  I readied myself with a smile.  I am nice like that.  Before the vehicle came to a halt, the passenger window was dropped, and out popped a head "Carl?".   HUH?  What?  I'm in the middle of a tiny little village, nay hamlet in the Highlands, to whence I ne'er have been before.  I strange vehicle pulls up and the passenger knows my name.  "Was it you that the police woke up at midnight last night?"  The missing walker, who shall remain nameless in my posts, was no longer missing. "Yes" I smiled wider.  "I am so sorry, they were looking for me" said the runaway.  "No problem, I am glad you are safe.  Were you on the drag?" "Yes" was the reply.
"Thought so.  As long as you are OK".  The challenger passed on some info of the route she had ahead of her before closing the window.  The 4x4 pulled away.  

The road from Struy to Cannich
A font/well (DRY) by the road from Struy to Cannich
The sign, welcoming me to Cannich, on the road from Struy to Cannich.
I reached Cannich campsite to a very warm welcome from the owner, who's name I cannot remember, at around 10am.  My walking was done for the day, and I was a little footsore from the road.  I was urged to bring my pack inside the warm café and I plugged my phone in for a bit of a power boost.  I ordered a pot of tea, and then another, followed by a large, big, huge breakfast.  It was then that the rain began.  10:20h.

It continued to rain, and challengers continued to arrive in reasonable number.  Dave Wishart, Dave Pickles, Shap McDonnell, Bryan Waddington, Koos (from Holland), Colin (?), Byron, I know there were more than this, but my memory and notes fail me here.  I loitered and chatted to many folk, notably Bryan W - who I was not due to meet until possibly Tarfside for a beer - and was delighted to see him.  He was too, and we shared a manly hug as though we'd been pals for years.  In reality, we had never met before.  Bryan is a top chap and you should all get over to for his hikes and related natter, and I think for his really nice images.  He takes a good picture does our Bryan.

So, the day passed with much socialising and I took a stroll to the Slaters Arms for a beer on me tod.  Dave Wishart joined me just as Man City won the league in a tense, last minute finish - I think (not really a footie follower, me).  Challengers - Peter & Ursula - came into the pub (it was still tipping it down, by the way) and asked if we wanted to join them at their table when they ate.  I was going to eat something soon, so I obliged, and Dave opted for the wander back to the campsite, via the other pub/hotel whose name escapes me.

A smashing couple are Peter and Ursula and I shared the tale of two coppers with them as we ate.  Koos joined us too, having met P & U some challenges previously.  Koos had a fine alternative to my road walk into Drumnadrochit, so I stored it in my beer soaked memory bank, hoping that I could retrieve the detail in the morning.  

I looked outside, and at around 20:15h after more or less ten hours of constant heavy rain, the skies began to brighten.  My coat and I had dried completely in the few hours I had spent at the pub.  I left my company to their conversations and reminiscences and slipped outside for the stroll home to my tent.  

On the return, the huge puddles were being disturbed by a strengthening wind.  I'd ensconced myself in my tent by 9pm and hoped my pitch in the trees didn't spell out the end for me.  
Cosy in here.

Looks like a nice spot.  

One or two challengers arrived.

Being in bed by 9pm I knew I would be setting off early in the morning.  I popped in my earplugs and wallowed smugly at my altered route.  The storm-force winds continued to strengthen above the campsite, but the camping ground itself, remained well sheltered.  I drifted off to sleep - on cloud 9.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

TGO Challenge 2012 - Allt Riabhachain to Culligran

Having woken to a fine(ish) day with sunshine and clouds, and having agreed with Tony that we would aim for a 0800h depart from our spot, I made the effort to get my gear packed up.  I glanced over my shoulder every now and again to checking for the morning flight of those Eagles.  I guess they were having a lay in.

Tony was on form and ready well before me, so I made apologetic comments for my tardiness and Tony began walking around to the bealach as per our new anti-snow route.  Eddie and his son, Alistair were making their way up the Allt Riabhachain and had reached me by the time I was ready to get moving.  We swapped route details for the day and we were all heading in the same direction so began tearing up the bogs enroute to the bealach. 

Eddie is a MASSIVE fan of bog-trotting.  Alistair is completely honest when describing the day's route to his dad.  He never understates the terrain, nor distance, nor the amount of bog-trotting involved - never, ever!  Eddie was very pleased his son had talked him into walking across Scotland.

In spite of the bog-trotting, I found that the going was actually quite good.  We each picked our way - via the line of least resistance - around to the bealach.  We crossed footsteps with Tony again who pointed out that the Sun was smack, bang over our target. Alistair and Eddie sloped off for a breather in the sunshine, whilst Tony and I hunted out and located the track into Glen Strathfarrar.  It was a good one.

For more info on Glen Strathfarrar, have a click here.

Huge, ancient glacial scars laid out the history of the Glen, drumlins all about - natural spoil-heaps from another climate-change event in Earth's past.  Glen Strathfarrar is splendid.  Spoiled a little by the power station and its associated water controls, but still adequately splendid.  A good road underfoot, steep and most gorgeous (in the literal sense) in many places.  Tiger Beetles scuttled.  The loveliness of the day was becoming a little too much to bear, so we lingered at one of the many concrete structures and I popped off my shoes to dry my socks for a while. 

Tony, in Glen Strathfarrar - glacial scars above and to the left of shot.
Fantastic volcanic rocks high up the Glen
Lovely, lovely Glen Strathfarrar
 The father and son (enter Cat Stevens earworm) team arrived and I broke out the chocolate for a bit of bring and share.  I had plenty - 500g to be precise, fine Lindt and Sprungli tableted stuff - assorted flavours, of course.

Further down the Glen we would meet Eddie and Alistair again, by a closed bridge.  Tony and I took a glance, and the sign more than hinted that crossing might be ill-advised.  We chose to ford, and each picked a spot to wade.  Knee-deep was as bad as it got, and quite powerful was the force of the Farrar at this point.  Still, it was preferable to a 15 foot plunge through splintering timber.  

A sideburn.  ;-)
Tony was heading into Cannich via the Allt Innis na Lárach - a Scottish Hill track which looked infinitely more attractive on the ground than on the map.  It was barely lunchtime and I was already at my intended stop for that evening.  I felt fine, not at all tired, and hit the road again pausing often to suck up the views.  I wondered if I would make a spot I had clocked on the map further down the Glen by Culligran wood.  It would mean a bigger day than planned - but looked like it might be a great pitch.  

The spot I chose, and lived to regret, for so many reasons - and none to do with the grumpy looking weather.
The bothy just up the Glen from my new overnight halt was locked and therefore ruled out.  I found my spot: flat, clean(ish), dry, slightly exposed.  No sheep, but there were signs of grazing.  There was water close-by (in the form of the River Farrar) and a good supply of twigs and organic matter to burn in my little wood-stove.  The weather was still fine.  I pitched, and began collecting water & wood.  I was within sight of the Glen track, but as this was no more than a well-metalled land rover track I had decided it was OK.  I would find out about that soon enough.

Very soon, in fact.

A Peugeot weekend-type vehicle came along the track, heading out of the Glen.  I was walking toward it at the time.  It stopped.  The passenger window wound down.  "Are you camping there?"  

Given that my tent was pitched, and I was walking away from it to get water and fuel, I resisted the urge to be sarcastic.  I didn't fancy tarnishing the reputation of the Challenge on my second day.  "Yes" I replied.  Silence, and then "Are you moving on tomorrow?".  "Yes" I added - I knew what was coming.  "You see, there's no camping in the Glen".  "Oh" I said, pitifully.  "Where have you come from?".  I explained my route, and the crossing I was making.  "This is my land, you see?"  said the man.  "Best part of 20 miles by 5 miles of Glen and I can't use 6 bastard feet of it" was my desired response.  What came out of my mouth was more like "I am quite happy to move on, if you prefer".  
"Well you have chosen a very exposed spot, haven't you?".  The driver then spoke "the forecast is terrible for this evening.  Rain and winds".  I had a good pitch, plenty of guying, and the Moment was tight as you like. "The tent will take it" I hoped.  "Would you prefer it if I moved on, or maybe moved the tent into the trees?".  Silence, again.  "You won't have seen the signs if you've come in from Strathcarron".  My turn for silence - what fucking signs?  This was getting tiresome.  One more chance, I thought.  "I am more than happy to move on".  I wasn't.  The last thing I wanted though, was ill-feeling and grumpiness.  "No, no" he paused thoughtfully "if you are happy, then I am happy".  I smiled "Thank you" and promptly aborted my errand.  I swore aloud - many, very nasty swear-words as the knobber laird buggered orf down the Glen.  

Later I managed to get enough signal for the next few day's weather forecast, and it looked a bit iffy.  50-80mph windspeeds gusting above 100mph and a lot of rain.  The Eskdale Triangle was out for tomorrow's camp - decided.

A meal and a sip or two of malt followed by the systematic (and mildly panicked) removal of just under a dozen embedded ticks from my person - plus a couple of dozen more from my groundsheet and sleeping mat had me zipping in tightly for the night.  Quickly I dropped off into a lovely, warm, deep and contented sleep.  

What happened next I was planning for, but it will have to wait for the next post.