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.