A return to camping

I spent last night sleeping in a bivi bag on the side of a hill. My first camping trip since February. It felt good!

The Covid 19 lockdown has been difficult for everyone, so I’m not looking for any special sympathy when I say how much I’ve missed being able to head for the hills with everything I need on my back. It helps me to clear my head and renew my enthusiasm for life. I’d missed out on three planned trips, including the 2 week TGO Challenge, and I don’t think it’s any coincidence that I found May difficult; my mood was very low indeed. I’m sure people have written better than I can about the sense of loss that lockdown has generated. I realised a few weeks ago that it was as if I’d been through a grieving process for the loss of my freedom. So many mixed and negative emotions before I arrived at acceptance and was ready to move on.

Living on the Wirral peninsula, the North Wales hills are my usual destination for overnight camps. The Clwydian range is less than 30 miles away, which is closer than the Peak District, and I can easily get there by car and (less easily) by train. However, one noticeable lesson from the Covid response is that the UK is not as United as I had thought, with the 4 nations all having their own rules. I’d tried to find out whether an overnight camp in Wales was now allowed but, of course, it would be surprising to find any legislation or government guidance which specifically mentioned that lying in a bin bag on the side of a hill was permitted. I relied on the fact that the 5 mile limit on travel had been relaxed and that people could now stay overnight in self-contained accommodation. Entering Wales, a matrix road sign advised me that “Welsh Covid rules apply” and I hoped that I wouldn’t meet any hostility.

Parking in a place I’ve often parked before, my mind flashed back to my last visit when I’d found myself up to my chest in freezing water. On that occasion I’d been grateful for a pot of hot tea in the community cafe but, on this trip, I’d have to be fully self-reliant; partly because I’m not yet comfortable with the idea of eating in a cafe and also because it seemed to be closed.

I headed North up Offa’s Dyke Path as I knew there’d be a choice of grassy hills to camp on. Chest height bracken has thwarted my plans in the past. I also wanted an exposed pitch where the breeze could scare off the midges; a reason I don’t often camp in the Summer.

River Alyn / Afon Alun

Despite the thick cloud I could see quite a long way with Snowdonia just visible. I imagined how crowded the honeypots would be.

Throughout lockdown I’ve been for a walk every day. These have varied from a quick dash around the local park all the way up to a 15 miler with packed lunch. However, the Wirral is relatively flat and Offa’s Dyke Path isn’t, so I soon experienced the suprisingly pleasant feeling of being out-of-breath and having wobbly legs!

I had a couple of locations in mind for my camp site but had also planned to stop early if I found somewhere good. At one point I wondered if there might be a patch of clear ground amongst the heather so I left the path and made my way over the rough ground. It was a fruitless search, though, and I eventually turned back and continued on my original route. Actually, “fruitless” is the wrong word as the hillside was covered with those little blue berries which I never know the name of. Blueberries? Bilberries? Blaeberries? Whatever they’re called, they were very tasty.

At around 8pm I found somewhere to camp, blew up my mattress and put the stove on for a coffee. I was down the hill less than 10 metres from the path but I’d only seen two people and their dog all day and was confident I’d not be disturbed.

Dinner was some home-made Veggie chilli and pasta which I’d brought in a tub and only needed to warm up in my pan. For an overnight camp there’s no need to bother with lightweight dehydrated food. I was starting to feel chilly and it was good to get some hot food inside me as I watched the last shafts of sunlight fall on the hills ahead of me as the sun set at my back.

I woke a few times in the night, as usual. One thing I like about not having a tent is being able to immediately see what’s going on around me. Sunset was officially at about 9:30pm and I went to bed after the 10 o’clock news but I could still see quite well until 11-ish then, next time I woke up, it was dark. Sometimes when I woke there was a large patch of clear sky with millions of stars. At other times the cloud had spread back over and only a few brighter stars were visible. I saw no moon.

Sunrise was due to be just after 5am but the sky was getting lighter not long after 3.

I presume the horizon was relatively “horizon-tal” but this photo was taken whilst lying down.

At home I struggle to get up early but this morning I was having my breakfast at 6 and was packed up by 7.

The only photo I took of my campsite was this one when I had nearly packed up. No, my mattress hadn’t burst; I was just about to roll it up.

I took a different route on the walk back to the car and saw nobody until after 8 when a couple of cyclists went past. Back on the ODP I encountered a herd of cows, or possibly TWO herds as they were on both sides of a fence and blocking my access to the gate. I’d walked though several fields of cows already but had been able to give them a wide berth. These beasts were clustered either side of the gate and I had no choice but to walk towards them and hope they moved [or mooved]. I’ve heard horror stories about cows and walkers but I hoped that a confident approach, whilst not getting between mother and calf and keeping my eye on escape routes, would work. They were curious and a few stepped towards me but extending my arms and softly calling “G’wayyyy” encouraged them to step back. Once I’d gone through the gate and rejoined the path the cows seemed to lose interest in me.

Back at the car just after 9 I ate Breakfast No 2 whilst catching up with Twitter and was interested to see how many Likes I’d received for a poor quality photograph of the patch of flattened grass where I’d spent the night. An indication, I believe, that the majority of us who spend time in the hills do camp responsibly and care for our environment.

I was back home before 11 and, after a much-needed trip, I even enjoyed airing my kit and putting everything away. So nice to be finally able to do something so normal and which is such a positive part of my life.

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(Virtual) TGOC 2020 – The Ends

As Covid 19 has put paid to the 2020 TGO Challenge, I am revisiting my previous crossings and celebrating what this marvellous event has brought to my life over the years. 

This post looks back at the final day and reaching the East Coast on all of my TGO Challenges.

My first TGO Challenge was in 2006 and I finished at Lunan Bay where, sandal-clad, I had a paddle.  I love seeing my map case dangling round my neck. (Newbie!)

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2007 was Stonehaven.  Some Challengers tried to convince me that I must come with them to Dunnottar Castle but I was not inclined to walk any further.

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2008 Inverbervie.  A pebbly beach.  After my paddle I had chips with Bob.

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2009 Black Dog 

This is one of my favourite TGO Challenge photographs.  I’d taken off my rucksack while I had a paddle and savoured the moment on the beach.  I looked back and saw my whole world – for the last 2 weeks and 200-ish miles, at least – sitting on the sand.

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2011 Portlethen Village.  A rugged coast with a small beach.  It’s important, at the end, for me to be able to walk into the sea.

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2012 Collieston.  My certificate says Sands of Forvie but I regard my finish as Collieston.  A lovely beach, where I watched two Border Collies having a whale of a time.

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2013 Auchmithie My planned finish was Meg’s Craig, chosen as the name reminded me of a dog (called Meg, not Craig; although that would be a reasonable name for a dog).  However, I couldn’t be certain exactly which feature was Meg’s Craig and I couldn’t paddle there without a treacherous climb down a cliff.  So, I went a little further North up the coast to Auchmithie.

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2014 Johnshaven  I don’t remember a huge amount about Johnshaven apart from I obtained refreshments from The Anchor then realised I’d missed my bus, so went back in and re-refreshed myself.

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2015 Catterline.  Sitting on a bench wondering how my planning had been so poor that I’d got there before the Creel Inn opened.

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2016 Ethie Haven  My tenth crossing and I chose a finish close to where I’d reached the coast on my first crossing.  I loved how this little group of houses was set into the cliff.

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2018 Peterhead.  A busy port and very unlike my other finishes but I felt quite at home and there’s a beach for a paddle.  There’s also a brewery tap.

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My 2020 finish would have been Cocklem Bents but, for vetting purposes, was on my route sheet as Nether Warburton.  Hopefully I’ll get there in 2021.

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(Virtual) TGOC 2020 – Day 12 – 2012 My Lord’s Throat to Udny Castle

As Covid 19 has put paid to the 2020 TGO Challenge, I am revisiting my previous crossings and celebrating what this marvellous event has brought to my life over the years. 

This post looks back at Day 12 of my 6th crossing on Wednesday 23rd May 2012.  The original post is here.

I’d spent the night in a stealthy camp with a broken stove and not much drinking water, so hydration was at the front of my mind as soon as I woke up.  I do enjoy those few occasions when I’ve packed up and started walking early in the morning – but it doesn’t happen often as I also enjoy lying in my pit until lazy guilt gets the better of me.

Those “stalking” Germans were most odd.  I don’t see the attraction of killing animals for fun but I can kind of understand why some people would track an animal across wild countryside – although the fact that only one party to the chase has a firearm does seem unfair.  What made no sense at all was driving a vehicle along the hedgerow then jumping out and shooting a deer.  It’s not really sporting, is it?

TGOC2012 – Day 12 – My Lord’s Throat to Udny Castle

As usual, I woke at first light and stuck my head out of the tent door; it looked like it was going to be a nice day.

The view from the tent at 10 to 4 in the morning

Walking before 8am – possibly for the first time this trip, despite my best intentions – it was already 22 degrees C and felt like it would probably get a lot hotter.  Water could be a problem today, but I’d be passing through Inverurie where I could have my lunch and buy some water if necessary.  I would also call in at the Tourist Information Centre to see if there was any chance of booking a bed in Pitmedden or nearby.

I was glad to be up early, but was not alone on the road.  Two Germans in a left-hand-drive G-Wagen were out “stalking” – which seems to mean driving along the edge of a field until they saw a deer then getting out and shooting it.  They had two small dead dear on a platform at the back of the vehicle.  There was something very strange about 2 Germans dressed in Tweed and Barbour shooting Scottish animals from a vehicle they must’ve brought over from Germany.  I’ve put stalking in quotation marks because, when I asked them what they were shooting, they made it quite clear that they were, in fact, stalking.

Today’s planned route was 32km with the option to add in a diversion to Mither Tap.  Why I ever thought I would want to add an extra 3.4km and 230m, I’ll never know – but I did see it in the distance!

Mither Tap

By the time I reached Inverurie, the sun was very hot and I was in desperate need of a long cool drink.  The map showed a big town, with a big road – the A96 – to the West of it, but I hadn’t really been prepared for what I found.  A motorway-type service station with a caff, toilets, shop and a big carpark.  After nearly two weeks of wilderness and quiet countryside, this was quite a shock to the system.  I bought a couple of bottles of pop and, removing my shoes and socks, sat on the grass for a rest.  For such a busy place, the kids in the playground were the only people who paid me any attention, so maybe the locals were getting used to strange rucksack-carrying weirdos passing that way.

In the town, I started off by calling into the Visit Scotland shop/office.  The woman did her best to help me but was hindered by two things: First of all, she could only tell me about accommodation which was part of the Visit Scotland scheme and, secondly, everywhere was full!  Next time I head towards Aberdeen, I shall make sure I book my accommodation months in advance.

I found a cafe – well, it was more like a works canteen with a hot counter – and asked what the Vegetarian option was.  There was an awkward silence, then a shout went back into the kitchen.  A bit more shouting.  Then, “Baked tatty?” was offered.  I said that would be fine.  (I was slightly suprised not to have been offered deep-fried macaroni pie, as that is my usual Challenge fare.)

The caff was attached to a shop so, after lunch, I bought a few rolls and regretted not having pinched a few pats of butter from the cafe but would have felt a bit cheeky going back for some.  I also bought 3 litres of water.  Yes, that’s 3kg of water, and my pack suddenly became very very heavy.

Now that I knew there no rooms available in Pitmedden, there seemed little point going there, so I chose to head towards Udny Green instead.  Both Udny Green and Udny Station have a PH marked on the map, but I knew one of them was now a restaurant.  What I couldn’t remember was which Udny it was and whether it also had rooms to let.  I used the internet on my phone to find out as much as I could and decided that Udny Green was my best bet as at least it would place me nearer to my finish point if they couldn’t put me up (or let me camp outside).

At Udny Green, I found a lovely grassy square that would have made a nice campsite.  However, the old pub was most definitely only a restaurant and this didn’t look like the sort of place that would welcome camping outside.  I spoke to one of the staff and asked him if he could suggest anywhere that I could camp.  He obviously wasn’t a camper but did his best to describe bits of woodland that could be suitable.  I didn’t have much confidence in his suggestions but he did fill my water bottle.

The suggested woodland turned out to be a Community Woodland with marked dog-walk trails and not really ideal.

I kept my eyes open as I walked past the grounds of Udny Castle on the other side of a stone wall.  At the end of the wall was an old disused gate giving access to a large field of cows.  I’m wary of cows, but this was a big field and the grass looked beautifully soft and green.  I clambered over and had a look around.  Would the cows mind me being there?  They didn’t seem bothered?  Would the farmer move me on?  It was worth the chance; this was a nice pitch and, already quite tired,  I doubted I’d be able to find anything better that evening.  Only 18km left to Collieston.

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(Virtual) TGOC 2020 – Day 11 – 2015 A lazy morning and a bitterly cold mountain

As Covid 19 has put paid to the 2020 TGO Challenge, I am revisiting my previous crossings and celebrating what this marvellous event has brought to my life over the years. 

This post looks back at Day 11 of my 9th crossing on Tuesday 19th May 2015.  The original post is here.

I’d been exhausted, physically and mentally, when I reached Ballater on the Monday night and it was good to have a leisurely start to the day and a good natter.

I’d never heard of Shiel of Glentanar until I’d phoned Challenge Control from my tent and heard that’s where lots of the Ballater crowd were heading to.  I’d planned to make it to Tarfside but now had a couple of options for a shorter day – although I was surprised to see how early some people had their tents up!

It was perishingly cold on Mount Keen.  I didn’t have an extra layer easily to hand.  To put on more clothes would have required stopping and temporarily getting colder so I took the gamble of keeping going and hoping that I’d soon be past the worst of the wind and icy snow.

My overnight pitch was a few miles short of where I’d planned but was lovely and I felt no pressure to go further.  Only a couple of days from the coast, I knew I could relax and enjoy myself.

TGOC2015 – Day 11 revisited – A lazy morning and a bitterly cold mountain

Half of the Challenge was camped at Ballater.  I’d briefly chatted with a couple of Challengers in the evening but it was only in the morning that I realised just how many were there.  I spent a very leisurely couple of hours catching up with old friends and making a few new ones.  Nobody seemed to be in a rush, although I noticed that some had already been up and away whilst I was still asleep.  I felt refreshed and ready to crack on with the walk.  As a solo walker I’m usually happy on my own but this visit to Ballater, with its opportunity for a bit of gentle socialising, had given me the morale boost I needed.

My original plan for today was to walk to Tarfside and camp there. However, after several long, tiring days I made up my mind to camp a few miles short which would even out the distance today and tomorrow and give me a bit of a rest.  I had a Munro – Mount Keen – on my route sheet but I also knew that there was a pretty good chance that I’d take the bypass path to the West.  Still, I was definitely going near a Munro and I could always see what happened when I got there.

I soon got the impression that Mount Keen must be a popular mountain as I kept coming across signs.

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Despite there being plenty of fellow Challengers around, I walked alone ….. apart from when this little fella accompanied me for at least 15 minutes.

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I knew that several Challengers were going to camp at Shiel of Glentanar.  It looked like a good spot and by 1:30pm I could already see several of them making camp.

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Just after taking this photo I tripped and gave myself a nasty jolt.  The weather was starting to get a bit sleety and – despite the opportunity of a pleasant camping spot down in the glen – I wanted to get the mountain behind me rather than waking up in the morning with aches and pains, poor weather and a flippin’ big hill ahead of me.

As I ascended the Mounth Road the weather got worse.  The wind was icy and there was a mix of sleet and snow.  Navigation was simple enough and I was grateful for that as I really didn’t want to stop to get my bearings.  At times I wondered about stopping to put on some warmer clothes or change my socks but I gambled on staying warmer by keeping moving rather than risking chilling even more by stopping.  It was the sort of weather in which I would have used my bothy bag to warm up and have a flask of tea …. although I had neither of these things with me.

Through the falling snow I could see two cyclists who appeared to be pushing their bikes to the summit.  At first I couldn’t figure out what they were doing but then I realised that they had a trailer on one of the bikes and they were alternately pushing or riding their bikes up the hill then walking back and manhandling the trailer over the rough terrain.

Even though I’d not taken the summit route, it was a relief to eventually drop down and get out of the wind.  The cyclists soon caught me up and stopped for a chat.  I was amused to see that their backs were covered in snow…. then realised that mine was too.

From the hillside I could see that Glen Mark was just what I’d been hoping for and that there’d be somewhere to camp.

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Queen’s Well was interesting …..

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…. but I presume Queen Victoria had a hardier constitution than me, as I certainly wouldn’t have drunk from this fetid pool:

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The cyclists were camped nearby and I decided to go on a little further.  I camped in the lee of a small wood a mile or so from the road.  It was a lovely spot and this photo, taken next morning, is one of my favourite from this crossing.

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(Virtual) TGOC 2020 – Day 10 – 2012 Cock Bridge to Tufty Swamp via the Forest of Dead Things

As Covid 19 has put paid to the 2020 TGO Challenge, I am revisiting my previous crossings and celebrating what this marvellous event has brought to my life over the years. 

This post looks back at Day 10 of my 6th crossing on Monday 21st May 2012.  The original post is here.

I’d had a strange night in my room in the Allargue Arms.  It’s funny how memory works.  I can remember three things: Robin Gibb had died, so my head is filled with Bee Gees songs whenever I look back at this period; the landlord had, very kindly, made me a bowl of pasta which was just a little too al dente; and I had a tiny sink in my room with only cold water.  Still, it’s always good to have a bed raised off the ground!

This was quite a tough day but the sort of day I look back at fondly.  Yes, I got stuck in an evil forest, the weather was hot and I was exhausted by the time I crawled into my tent, but I enjoy that kind of honest toil.

TGOC2012 – Day 10 – Cock Bridge to Tufty Swamp via the Forest of Dead Things

At breakfast, I found that there had been two other Challengers staying in the hotel.  They’d been doing a no-camping crossing which, in some ways, appeals to me but I think I’d prefer to keep hotels and hostels as a treat after a few days of camping.

I found the first few miles quite hard going. The old military road was easy walking through pretty scenery but I just couldn’t get my body into gear.  I looked out for the potential camping spot that I’d intended to use if I’d walked that far the day before; it will keep for another time.

The old military road running SE from Cock Bridge

I saw this trap at the side of the road.

I can’t see it being an effective form of pest control, as the pest could take another route and it would only catch one at a time, so I assume the target animal is of some value.  For fur?  Surely not for meat? Mink?

Looking back towards Cock Bridge from the A939

From the A939 I had two choices.  My original plan had been to follow tracks towards Strathdon, but I had also considered going in a straight line, cross-country, over the tops of Scraulac, Cairnagour Hill, Mona Gowan and Slacks of Glencarvie.  The weather was fine and I was feeling good, so I headed for Scraulac.

The next couple of hours were excellent.  It was mostly dwarf heather underfoot, and very dry, but with the occasional boggy bit.  I walked up and down the first three hills enjoying the excellent views and knocking a few stones off each of the cairns I passed. (It’s a habit of mine).

Scraulac, or Cairnagour Hill or possibly Mona Gowan – they were all pretty similar

At the top of each hill, I spent some time sitting in the sun and savouring just being there.  It had been a leisurely day so far, with just enough “up” to make it interesting, and my progress had been quite slow.  I decided to miss out Slacks of Glencarvie and Mullachdubh, and to follow the track that goes N from Mona Gowan.  I’d be able to rejoin my planned track in the forest in a couple of kms.

There were a number of farm tracks and buildings at the bottom of the hill and, having walked through a field full of inquisitive cows, I had no option but to wade through ankle-deep slurry – which was not very pleasant whilst wearing Inov-8 Terrocs.

The map showed that I would be able to find my track through the forest by following a path to the edge of the trees.  Realising that paths are often not visible where the maps say they should be, I switched on my GPS and started to look for a gate along the edge of the forest.  Eventually I found one in roughly the right place and with the vestiges of a track on the other side.  I climbed over and entered the forest.

There were lots of fallen trees blocking my way, so it was quite an effort to make any headway.  Many of the trees were dead with sharp, broken branches – one of which scratched a deep 4 inch gouge in my left calf.  The blood dried quickly in the heat, though.

I was expecting, at any time, to find the main track running perpendicular to the one I was on.  After a while, I checked the map and GPS (which, amazingly, still had a good signal despite the tree cover) and decided that it was worth going back to the gate and trying to make some progress in the other direction.

It was just as bad the other way and it was hard work going round, under and over all of the fallen trees whilst trying to pick my way though patches of swamp.  As well as dead trees, there was a good collection of skeletons of birds and animals and I was starting to wonder if anything ever came out of this forest alive.

Looking into the forest from the gate. It doesn’t look too bad from here!

After about half an hour of getting nowhere, I decided to cut my losses and find another way.  I went back to the gate, washed the blood off my leg and had a think.

My only option seemed to be to follow the pylons over the hill.  By now I was quite tired and I didn’t fancy having to walk over rough ground, but the pylon route turned out to be relatively easy – apart from having to crawl though a barbed wire fence.  These fences are always just a little too high for me to climb over, especially when the top two strands of wire are barbed like this one was.  Crawling on my belly through the lower two strands is far less risky!

It was good to reach the track, and then the road, after what had been a difficult couple of hours walking in quite hot sun.  I stopped at a burn and, after a drink, tried to wash the slurry out of my socks; I don’t think they’ll ever look clean again.

I’d planned to camp by White Hill but the pitch didn’t look that good from the road and I was sure I’d find something better futher on.  I very nearly knocked on a door near the bridge over Deskry Water, when I saw a lovely patch of grass in someone’s garden, but I really wanted a “wild” camp out of sight of the road, so I kept going a little further to the track that goes to Tarland via Lazy Well and managed to find a dry patch in the middle of a swamp.  By lying down on the ground, I identifed a sleeping-bag sized patch of flat, tuftless grass and pitched my tent over it.

It was tufty; it was boggy; but I was tired and it was the best I could find.

I would have slept well, had it not been for the annual bird jamboree taking place in the nearby trees.  I swear every bird in Scotland had descended on Gallows Hill and was tweeting at the top of its voice – ALL NIGHT.  By midnight, I’d resorted to earplugs and was soon well away.

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(Virtual) TGOC 2020 – Day 9 – 2016 A thin lunch at Kirkmichael followed by thick soup in Coire a Bhaile

As Covid 19 has put paid to the 2020 TGO Challenge, I am revisiting my previous crossings and celebrating what this marvellous event has brought to my life over the years. 

This post looks back at Day 9 of my 10th crossing on Sunday 22nd May 2016.  The original post is here.

This was, for me, a typical TGO Challenge day.  The thought of food never far from my mind.  A little bit of rain, with the threat of more to come.  Finding amusement in the little things.  Oh, and more food, of course.

TGOC2016 Revisited – Day 9 – A thin lunch at Kirkmichael followed by thick soup in Coire a Bhaile

There were no flooding disasters overnight so, of course, my dodgy bit of not-as-wet-as-the-rest-of-it patch of ground became a lovely little pitch with a nice view of the full-moon; triggering thoughts of the Werewolves of the Upper Dulnain who would hopefully have had the genial company of Challengers a few days previously.

Navigating by forest edges, once again…

p1040652-2… I was heading for the A924, which I would have to walk along for a couple of kilometres.

As I dropped down to the road at Dalnavaid I saw a group of motorbikes heading SW. Then another group appeared …. then more and more. I started half-heartedly counting them and I reckon there must’ve been at least a hundred; it was like the Horseshoe Pass on a Summer Sunday afternoon. I’ve no idea where they were going or if, indeed, they were now coming back.

My route took me along part of the Cateran Trail.  The trail logo on this stile seemed a little bit creepy as I headed into the dark woods….. here be heart-ripping monsters!

p1040656-2I was disappointed with the shop in Kirkmichael.  It looked quite big and, superficially, there was a lot of choice but there wasn’t much for a hungry Vegetarian. The only instant pasta / noodle option was Chicken Supernoodles…. and they did appear to have chicken in them.  The chill counter was full of meaty pies and pasties. There was a macaroni cheese pie but the label clearly said it contained lard; oh for a label-free macaroni cheese pie!

I bought some coffee, cake and some pop to have for my lunch and some bread rolls to take out. I realised that I’d fallen into the habit on this crossing of always buying a hot drink and a cold drink; I’d drink the cold drink first for refreshment and rehydration then have the hot drink with my meal. Sitting outside at the picnic table I wore my raincape to protect myself from the light rain. This seems to be the best use for this cape. It doesn’t work well with a big rucksack whilst walking but I’ve used it a couple of times when I’ve stopped for a break. It’s like a mini bothy bag.

It was getting a bit crowded outside the shop. A mini-bus had just disgorged a gaggle of walkers who were now chatting noisily and waiting for lifts home. I walked round to the Kirkyard from where I phoned Challenge Control.  I spoke to Ali who told me that they’d just been looking at my recent blog posts and were going to put a couple of my photos up on the notice board in the Kinnaird Room.  I felt like Teacher had just given me a gold star for my drawing of “What I did on my holiday by Judith aged 7”.  🙂

Heading NE up towards Ashintully Castle I was disappointed not to find an actual castle, and also by the number of Keep Out; Stay on the Path; Oi! Clear Off! Signs along the route.  Although this sign …. p1040658-2 had me giggling as I remembered this Gary Larson The Far Side cartoon:

Copyright © 2000, 2007 FarWorks, Inc.

Copyright © 2000, 2007 FarWorks, Inc.

By the time I reached Coire a Bhaile, the weather was starting to get a bit thundery and I expected to be caught in torrential rain at any moment.  I quickly threw up my tent and prepared for the storm… which never came.

p1040660-2Tonight’s tea was the best yet.  Potato and Leek soup with stale House of Bruar bread rolls mushed up in it, followed by cheese and biscuits..  Yes, it sounds disgusting but it was surprisingly good.

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(Virtual) TGOC 2020 – Day 8 – 2012 Red Bothy to Nethy Bridge

As Covid 19 has put paid to the 2020 TGO Challenge, I am revisiting my previous crossings and celebrating what this marvellous event has brought to my life over the years. 

This post looks back at Day 8 of my sixth crossing on Saturday 19th May 2012.  The original post is here.

My 2012 crossing was tough at times.  The weather had been grim in the first week and my mood was quite low – and I was getting even more disheartened by the fact that the weather was getting me down!  Surely I could just pull myself together?!

A bit of human contact and some unexpected kindness did wonders for my spirits.  Thankfully the weather also improved in the second week.

TGOC2012 – Day 8 – Red Bothy to Nethy Bridge

Today’s route was due to be 33km with around 400m of ascent and a lunch break in Boat of Garten although, having spent the night in Red Bothy, I’d now have to make up an extra couple of km. The weather was reasonable, if a little cold, and I set off with two targets in mind: first of all, to reach Eil – as that was where I should have started the day – and, secondly, to get to Boat of Garten where I could have something to eat. Breaking my longer days up into chunks helps me to manage mentally, especially when I’m not particularly enjoying myself. I was glad I’d chosen to stay in the bothy, as it made getting dressed, having my breakfast and packing everything away much easier, but my spirits were low and I was starting to get quite disappointed with myself for feeling so miserable.

This time I followed the sign down the right track

I’d walked part of today’s route on a previous TGO Challenge but I had some more up-to-date information from my Vetter so knew I’d be able to cross the Dulnain via a bridge rather than fording it near Dalnahaitnach. I’d seen the sign to the bridge last time but then misinterpreted which track it was pointing to and ended up believing that the bridge had been washed away (rather than I’d made a mistake!)

I was convinced that I had never been to Boat of Garten, so it was a very strange feeling when I walked down the main road and seemed to recognise the buildings, shops and even the bus stops. At the bottom of the hill, when I saw the railway and the little ornamental garden, I remembered I must have been here in February 2007 when I spent a week in the Cairngorms. The memory was confirmed when I went into the hotel and sat at my “usual” table in the bar!

I think the signs say it all. It was cold but BoG has everything a tired walker could need.

The pub triggered memories of my last time here.  There were a number of well-heeled, smartly dressed folks having their lunch and a glass of wine. And then there was me looking like I’d just walked over a hundred miles in awful weather and had been sleeping in ditches and abandoned farm buildings for a week. I felt slightly uncomfortable but really shouldn’t have worried as the staff were wonderful. The barman, in particular, couldn’t do enough to make sure I had everything I needed. Along with my food and beer, he brought me a large glass of iced water with a slice of lemon just because he thought I could do with it – and he was right, it was just what I needed.

Whilst eating my lunch, I turned on my phone and sent a Tweet. Almost immediately, Carl tweeted back some words of encouragement. The break and food & drink did me a power of good and I’d made contact with the rest of the Challenge world.  I was feeling a bit happier and, not wanting to lose my momentum, I decided to change my route.  Instead of going South-east-ish through Abernethy Forest and camping by Loch a’ Chnuic, I would go through the North part of the forest to Nethy Bridge.  I’d camped in the snow at the Lazy Duck campsite in February 2007 and found it a simple, welcoming site.  If I couldn’t get a pitch there, I could try the hotel.  I was happy to camp, but I really didn’t fancy the idea of a wild camp if the weather turned rough again.

I took the waymarked Speyside Way to Nethy Bridge and walked past a couple of groups of Osprey spotters.  Although I’d been to Nethy Bridge before, I couldn’t quite remember where the hostel/campsite was, so I looked at the Tourist Information board in the centre of the village.  A leaflet reminded me that the campsite only accepted a maximum of 3 or 4 tents at a time – and this was Saturday night.  Should I phone ahead and risk being turned away, or just turn up and try to look desperate and pathetic?  I decided the second option was more likely to succeed.

As I arrived at the Lazy Duck, I could see a family setting up a couple of tents but the site didn’t look busy so I hoped I’d be in luck. At reception, I asked a young woman if I could camp there.  She apologised and said that they had another family arriving soon and had no spare pitches.  I tried to stay cheerful and started to ask if I could at least fill my water bottles and have a rest before moving on.  Then she noticed my rucksack and asked if I’d walked in to the site.  I told her I had.  “Oh, in that case, I’m sure we can find somewhere for you”.  Wahey!  She took me to a patch of grass away from the usual camping field and I started to put up my tent.  Two minutes later she came back and said she’d found a better place, so she picked up my half-erected tent (causing me a certain amount of anxiety!) and helped me move to a pleasant spot near to the cooking shelter and from where I could watch red squirrels scampering in the trees.

I’d almost finished putting up my tent when the young woman appeared again with a tea tray. I thought nothing of it, assuming that she was just tidying things up in the cooking shelter, but she came over to me and handed me the tray saying that they always gave refreshments to somebody who had walked in and that she hoped I would enjoy a pot of peppermint tea and a bowl of dates. I was quite touched at this kind gesture and also slightly surprised to find that the mint tea and dates (which wouldn’t have been my first choice if tea and cake had been on the menu) were delicious and really refreshing!

It had been a long day and a slog in places but twice I had received simple, kind hospitality (plus a couple of encouraging Tweets) and that had made a world of difference. I needed good weather if I was to carry on with the route I had planned for the next day, but at least my spirits were a little higher and the odds were now tipping towards me carrying on rather than quitting.

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(Virtual) TGOC 2020 – Day 7 – 2015 An unintentional Munro

As Covid 19 has put paid to the 2020 TGO Challenge, I am revisiting my previous crossings and celebrating what this marvellous event has brought to my life over the years. 

This post looks back at the seventh day of my ninth crossing on Friday 15th May 2015.  The original post is here.

Rereading this blog post makes me happy.  Good weather and up high.  Lovely!

TGOC2015 – Day 7 Revisited – An unintentional Munro

Today was always likely to be relatively hard work – with most of the day off the beaten track – but with the potential for great views and a wonderful “out in the middle of nowhere” feeling.  It did not disappoint.

The TGO Challenge planning notes said that I had to identify all Munros and Corbetts on my route sheet.  This is all well and good if you’re a bagger, but I only have a vague idea what a Munro is and don’t have a clue what a Corbett is.  Planning today’s route wasn’t too hard but trying to work out why a 942 metre hill was not a Munro was challenging.  And another problem was that there is not enough space on the route sheet to write “when I include a hill’s name it doesn’t mean I intend to go to the top so it doesn’t really matter whose list it is on.”

Anyway, for those who’d like to follow the route on the map as they read the blog, here’s my route for that day: E via easiest route under foot – Sneachdach Slinnean (NH621026 914m not Mun) – NE – Carn Ban (942m not Mun) – Carn Ballach (920m not Mun) – Meall na Creughaich – Meall a Bhothain – Round Carn Sgulain (Mun NH684059) – Carn a Bhothain Mholaich – Round Carn an Fhreiceadain (Corbett) – Beinn Bhreac – Meall a Chocaire – A Bhuidheanaich – Carn Coire Dhugain – Camp NH798093  It looked great and I couldn’t pronounce a word of it.

The morning was cold and I stayed wrapped up until the late afternoon.  The going was quite slow for the first couple of hours as the ground was either rough and boggy or covered in snow.P1030955

Crossing the snowfields was interesting; looking out for slight changes in the colour which indicated a potential icy pool beneath.  A few times I found existing footprints in the snow and took advantage of them.  At one point I saw a little black frog sitting on the snow.  I bent down to have a closer look and s/he flattened him/herself against the ice.  I pretended that his/her cunning attempt at camouflage had been effective and walked on.

In my trail shoes, my feet were getting quite cold crossing the larger snowfields so I wasn’t hanging about.  I only plunged knee-deep into cold water and mud a couple of times, which was fortunate.

The going got easier when I reached Carn Ban …. but this was where my navigation skills failed me.  I had one of those “The map is wrong.  The GPS is faulty.  And someone has moved that glen.” moments.  I must’ve spent 20 minutes, getting colder and colder, trying to figure out where I was.  I was convinced that I was heading towards Carn Ban because I was heading uphill and there were some other people with rucksacks going that way and… erm, well, I’m not really sure.  It was mildly inconvenient that I was heading SE and should have been going East.  Oh, and that valley really shouldn’t be there, but maybe if I just keep going it will all become clear?

Eventually I figured it out.  I was heading towards Carn Dearg.  The valley was probably Gleann Ballach.  I needed to go North and stay on the high ground; not SE and down into the valley which, for some reason, was an option I had considered.

Approaching Carn Dearg … possibly.

Back on track, I was now quite annoyed with myself.  I could’ve avoided the confusion by anticipating the lie of the land and paying more attention to where I was rather than (subconsciously) following the other walkers.

The walking was now easy and enjoyable.  Yes, it was a bit chilly but it was a lovely day for walking and I just followed the high ground, first NE then generally East.  There were faint tracks in the short scrubby vegetation and I guessed that they had probably been maintained by hillbaggers.  With that in mind, as I approached Carn Sgulain, it was clearly going to be less effort to head for the summit rather than forging my own path to the South as planned.  It was not a deliberate decision to “bag” a Munro; it just sort of happened.  I reached the top at the same time as another walker who, if I recall correctly, was returning to hillwalking after a lengthy gap and was finding it quite hard going so had decided to cut his planned 3 Munro trip to 2.  I don’t seem to have taken any photos to mark my first TGO Challenge Munro, but I did take my GPS for a wander round all the nearby lumpy bits just to make sure I’d been to the top.

By late afternoon I was getting quite tired.  I’d had a great day but cross-country walking always wears me out and I was wishing that there was a way I could change my route to make the last few miles a bit easier.  I was wild-camping that night so it didn’t really matter where I ended up.  I considered taking the track S into Kingussie but that would have taken me back over ground I’ve done before so, instead, I decided to miss out A Bhuidheanaich and take the more direct route towards Kincraig and look for somewhere to camp by the quirky-shaped patch of forest.

I bagged the trig point on Carn an Fhreiceadain [Oh my word, I’ve just realised I did a Corbett, too!] then headed as due East as I could manage.  I was at the trig point at about quarter to six – and the forest finally came into view at about twenty past eight.

At last, the forest comes into view. That’s where I want to camp.

I had my tent up by 9pm.  It was a nice spot near a burn and with lovely views of snowy mountains.  I was exhausted but I’d had a brilliant day.

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(Virtual) TGOC 2020 – Day 6 – 2013 Hills Day!

As Covid 19 has put paid to the 2020 TGO Challenge, I am revisiting my previous crossings and celebrating what this marvellous event has brought to my life over the years. 

This post looks back at the sixth day of my seventh crossing on Thursday 16th May 2013 and follows on from yesterday’s post when I was camped looking up at a big climb.  The original post is here.

I enjoyed this day.  It shows how I’d developed as a TGO Challenger; now happy to go relatively high and find a route where there was none marked on the map.  It also shows that lochs often get moved and you have to keep your wits about you!

TGOC2013 – Day 6 – Hills Day!

Today’s diary entry, written whilst my dinner was cooking:  Day 6.  Hills day!  Hard work but enjoyable – although absolutely exhausted now.  Rain and snow in morning.  Hot sun in pm.  Saw lots of deer and a fox.  May look to miss out tomorrow’s hill.  Feet wet all day.  That just about sums it up.

This was a really enjoyable day which, according to my route sheet, was only 17km distance but with 1280 metres of ascent.  That’s quite a lot of Up for me.  On my early TGO Challenges I’d never have considered going up and then across pathless nothingness, but I’ve learned that this can be really good fun . . . although progress can be slow which is why I planned a short day.

The photograph doesn’t really do it justice, but I started the day with 550m of ascent in just over 1km on the map.

Luckily the weather was fine (so I didn’t have to wear my waterproofs) and there were plenty of opportunities to “admire the view” (also known as “gasping for breath”) and look down at where I’d been camping; inside the bend in the river near the bridge.

Loch Katrine looked tranquil ……… … but then, guess what?  Yes, it rained.

Once the initial climb was over, I didn’t stick too closely to my originally planned route but just bimbled in an Easterly direction whilst aiming to maintain as much height as possible.  There were patches of snow on the North-facing hills and I had one brief snow shower in between the sun and hail.

I knew I’d have to drop down to the Allt a’ Choin …..

….. but I was in no rush and the climb back up again was gentle enough.

I like being in wide open landscapes but I do sometimes get a little navigationally challenged.  I caught sight of a Loch which, of course, must have been Glen Finglas Reservoir as that’s where I wanted to go.  Unfortunately, “Glen Finglas Reservoir” was the wrong shape and did not fit in with the features on the map.  Maybe there’d been a lot of rain and the reservoir was now a different shape?  Yes, that’ll be it.  I plodded on.

The road which should have led to the tip of the reservoir was in the wrong place…. and there was a steamer sailing the length of the reservoir, just like on Loch Katrine.  Er, very like on Loch Katrine. Ahem, maybe this was Glenfinglas Reservoir….….. almost identical (cough).

I can’t believe how long I puzzled over why Glen Finglas Reservoir was the wrong shape and in the wrong place.  My only excuse is that I thought I’d walked further than I had.  The poor navigation doesn’t really worry me, as I was having a lovely day in the hills, but the complete absence of common sense was slightly concerning!

I remember being very tired on the walk down to Glen Finglas Water.  I’d had to climb over a couple of barbed wire fences and I was almost too tired to be safe.  The soles of my feet were aching on the hard track and I really wanted to be tucked up in my tent.  My planned campsite had been another sheepfold but I found it was thigh deep in thistles, bracken and mud so I had to walk on a little further.  Just over the bridge at NN492118 I found a reasonable patch of ground that was a bit churned up by cattle but I really didn’t have the strength to look for anywhere better.  I slept well that night.

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(Virtual) TGOC 2020 – Day 5 – 2013 Glen Gyle via an interesting pub

As Covid 19 has put paid to the 2020 TGO Challenge, I am revisiting my previous crossings and celebrating what this marvellous event has brought to my life over the years. 

This post looks back at the fifth day of my seventh crossing on Wednesday 15th May 2013.  The original post is here.

TGOC2013 – Day 5 – Glen Gyle via an interesting pub

A sunny morning following Gleann nan Caorann downhill.  I can’t remember how or why I lost the track – maybe it petered out in the middle – but I decided that following the pylons would be the easiest form of navigation, although I did occasionally find myself having to backtrack when I’d ended up at the top of a crag I couldn’t climb down.  At one point I seemed to be close enough to the electricity cables to be able to make an improvised Death Slide from my shoe-laces; but the term “Death Slide” kind of put me off the idea, so I scrambled down the hill instead.

I’d been wearing my waterproof trousers due to the occasional rain showers but took them off when I reached the road and felt almost naked after 4 and a half days of being dressed for rain.

I’ve been to the Drovers Inn once before; I stayed there during a Winter attempt of the West Highland Way in 2010.  Back then it was “quaint” with interesting electrics and plumbing.  On this occasion, I only wanted something to eat and drink and a quiet rest after the morning’s exertions.  I chose a table in the corner and a Tourist Brochure Scot complete with kilt, sporran and German accent came to take my order.  He struggled to understand what I meant by Real Ale; assuring me that “Ja, ve hev it; ve hev Stella”.  I said I would come up to the bar to place my order.  While I was browsing the food menu, another Tourist Brochure Scot came over to take my order.  I asked him if they served Real Ale.  He said they had Deuchars so I ordered a pint of that.  Two minutes later he was back . . . . to say that the Deuchars was off!  So, Guinness it had to be.

Whilst waiting for my food to arrive I moved table to try to get away from the loudspeaker blaring out “Traditional” Scottish music.  From Letter from America to Flower of Scotland to Donald Where’s Your Troosers?  – it was relentless and loud.  I don’t know whether the Drovers gets a lot of tourist coach parties who come for a taste of Authentic Scotland, but if you wanted a Scottish stereotype it was here in this pub.  I even had (Veggie) Haggis for my lunch!

After lunch I made my second call to Control and I’m sure John said the weather was set to be fair where I was.  I put my Tilley Hat on and set off along the road to pick up the WHW for a km or so.  Within half an hour I had my waterproofs on again and my Tilley was back in my rucksack.  Thanks, John!

The climb up to Ben Glas Burn was steep at first but at least it wasn’t too sunny now (!).  Once again, I used the pylons to navigate down Glen Gyle.At first, I couldn’t find anywhere suitable to camp by Loch Katrine but then found a sunny spot near the bridge crossing Glengyle Water.

Before pitching, I had to set to work to clear the ground of poo.  I had no idea what animal, or animals, had created this mess but there was a lot of it.  (In the early hours of the morning I heard the culprits; Canada Geese.)

This was a pleasant spot on a sunny evening and gave me an excellent view of the rather steep and worrying climb that was the first thing on tomorrow’s route.

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