Pre-TGOC Daunder 2017 – Part 2

In the morning, as usual, I felt the inside of my flysheet for condensation so that I could dry it off before I packed up.  Hm? That’s odd ….. no condensation.  The wind had dropped, so there should be some.  Oh hang on, it was there but it was frozen.  Ah, that would explain why I had to put extra clothing on in the night.  I’m not a girly wimp; it was arctic up there.

Apparently, those noisy boastful hillbagger-types who had so rudely interrupted my afternoon nap were the other half of our party and we’d agreed to meet them down there.  I didn’t really know where there was but I was sure we’d bump into them at some point.  Besides, none of us believed that they would really have camped where they said, as any normal person would have noticed how close they were to a pub and camped in the beer garden.

We set off – me wearing nice dry socks – and took Route A across a bog.  This was authentic TGO Challenge training.

We came across some excavations in the rock so Lucky the Dog decided to go and investigate.  In this photograph you can see he is quivering with excitement at having found a troll living deep underground.

We found the others standing round doing nowt.  Typical; such a lazy bunch.  Giving them the benefit of the doubt and assuming that low blood sugar was responsible for their inertia, I offered round the Werther’s Originals.  This seemed to do the trick; they were soon saddled up and chomping at the bit.

We then walked along for a while then waited while one of our party went back for his walking poles.  This was actually one of the highlights of the day for me as I sat on a very nice rock in the sun while I waited.  I didn’t sit and think; I just sat, which is one of my most favourites things to do in the mountains – apart from sleeping, of course.

Before long we’d stopped again next to a bus stop and some toilets.  This was a little annoying as I needed neither of these facilities. However, it did give us the opportunity to form another schism.  Hurrah!  The harmony had lasted too d*mn long.  One party looked at the map and identified that there was the possibility to visit any permutation of one pub and / or two tearooms between our current location and our planned campsite.  The other party said something about a hill.  So, off I toddled to the pub.

The preferred menu option was the fish finger sandwich.  When I heard it was sick squid, I assumed that’s what it was made out of but it turned out to be the price.  Maybe a little steep but everyone seemed to enjoy it.

The halloumi on my sandwich was a little thin but was a vast improvement on oatcakes and Primula.

We must’ve then walked some more – although I can’t remember too much about it.  The farm campsite had plenty of room so we had loads of choice where to pitch.  After a bit of lounging around we decided that it would be a marvellously team-spirited thing to do if we went and met the others as they came off the hill.  It was not our fault that they had doggedly stuck to the plan and gone up hilly things but we shouldn’t let their dogmatic execution of the rules come between us.  We’d started as a team and we should finish as a team.  Besides, if they weren’t coming back then we needed to decide who was going to eat their reserved meals in the pub later that night.

We knew which direction they’d be approaching from so we wandered off that way.  No sign of them.  We pondered a bridge which was not where we needed it to be.  Still no sign.  We gave up and went back to the campsite.  I admit, I was now worried.  We’d let these poor fools go wandering off into the hills on their own.  If they couldn’t even find a big blue pint pot on an OS map then how were they going to find their way safely off the hills?  To help me cope with my own anxiety (and also because I thought it was about time I looked at the map myself and figured out where we were) I went for a short walk on my own.

When I got back, the wanderers had returned.  Putting on a nonchalent air I pretended that I hadn’t been out searching for them but was actually just on my way to the tap, so did anyone want their bottles filling?  (48 litres later I was starting to regret that offer.  The sooner someone invents dehydrated water the better).

The evening was spent drinking beer and eating risotto. Yeah, risotto.  I won’t be going there for my vegetarian tea again.

Day 3 dawned at dawn, as is the convention, and we set off at 8:30 ish for a simple walk along the Cumbrian Way.  Absolutely no chance of a schism today.  Well, apart from when only half of us stopped for a bacon / egg butty and the other half where nowhere to be seen.  I enjoyed my egg butty and I particularly enjoyed the pot of tea with an extra pot of hot water.  That’s classy, that is.

The reappearance of a mobile phone signal helped us to discover that Team B were rapidly approaching our intended destination for the day.  We had two choices; get a move on and catch up with them, or go to the pub.  It was a very nice pub.

By the time we reached Braithwaite, most of the others had thinned out and gone home.  They just couldn’t handle the pace, apparently.

After a Little Sit Down and a natter, I strolled into Keswick and had the cream tea I’d been promising myself [I was worried I’d not been eating enough] then put up my tent on the Keswick Camping and Caravanning Club site which – as a backpacker – was much better than I had been expecting.  I’d had a great weekend; a good mix of (just enough) walking, camping and beer with a decent bunch of people.  If I’d been doing the TGO Challenge this year, this would have been just the sort of practice I needed.  Thanks to everyone for the organisation and the good company.

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Pre-TGOC Daunder 2017 – Part 1

I’ve never been on a Daunder before.  I’ve read about them;  I’ve seen the photos; but I’ve never actually been – so I was excited and honoured to receive the invitation email.  This year, Messrs Lambert and Sloman had hired a minion to undertake the planning and administration.  (I presume they’d hired him, because I can’t see how he’d have put up with the Daunderers’ whinging and complaints if he wasn’t receiving some sort of remuneration?)

The planning was executed to the highest standard.  A series of emails detailed where we were to meet; a daily schedule; and a choice of pubs for Saturday night dinner.  The route was described clearly and there was a table of distance and heights to be acheived ….. although I’d stopped reading after the “choice of pubs” bit, so I didn’t pay too much attention to the numbers.

For a backpacking trip in the English Lake District in April I knew that my standard TGO Challenge kit would suffice.  I mean, that’s the whole point of the Daunder; to give the kit, legs and lungs a trial run a few weeks before leaving the West Coast of Scotland for the long trek East.  I dithered for a while about which stove to take.  I’ve always been a fan of simple gas stoves but have recently bought a Speedster Stove and was pondering cooking on meths for this trip.  However, it just didn’t appear to be a reasonable balance of weight to convenience for a 4-5 day trip.  I calculated that I’d need to take a 500ml (over 500g) bottle of meths – but a full gas canister would only weigh 370-ish grammes and has always got me all the way across Scotland for 12-13 days.  I took the gas stove and will save the Speedster for overnight bivis.

The other bit of non-standard gear I considered – and took – was my Exped Down UL7 sleeping mat.  It took up slightly more room in my pack than the Neoair but it ain’t half comfy.  (I’ll probably revert to the Neoair on my next Challenge, though).

I took the train up to Penrith.  This was a bit of a faff due to engineering works on the track nearest to home, but Virgin Trains sell a very nice Tilting Ale and I was soon in holiday mood.

From Penrith I caught the bus to Keswick then set off on the 2 mile walk to Braithwaite.  Of course, I went the wrong way having convinced myself I could take a shortcut across the campsite.  I have no idea why I thought this but was grateful when the site warden very helpfully pointed me in the right direction – and I walked all the way back to where I started.

At Braithwaite there was a strange pale green near-see-through tent in the middle of the site.  Not finding anyone at home, but guessing that this was probably one of our tribe, I pitched nearby.  I was soon joined by two young (4 or 5 year old) children on scooters.  They were very keen to know why I didn’t have a hammer.  It was difficult to know how to answer that question and they didn’t seem convinced by my statement that I didn’t need a hammer as I had very thin, sharp tent pegs.  Their Mummy and Daddy had just put up their tent and these kids knew that I needed a hammer.  They also wanted to know “Why is your tent so small?”.  This was asked in a rather dismissive tone that, I admit, did irk me somewhat.  Cheeky young tykes!

The rest of the Daunderers gathered over the next few hours and we were soon exchanging kit reviews and asking “Where are you starting from?” which – if you’ve never met an actual TGO Challenger in the flesh – is always a good opening gambit.

A trip to the pub [two pubs, actually] gave the opportunity to discuss the plan for the morning.  There was talk of huge ascent but I hoped this was just the beer talking.

After a good night’s sleep (once the non-Daunderer rowdies had shut up and gone to sleep in the early hours of the morning) I awoke to drizzle which had developed into rain by the time I was packing up my tent.  As experienced, hardened backpackers we shrugged off the miserable weather ….. whilst sitting in the cafe hoping it would pass.

At 10 o’clock, our Leader cracked his whip and we shuffled outside.  There was some muttering about today’s planned route making a mountain out of a molehill, and how there was absolutely no need to go UP when ALONG would do nicely.  I could have joined in the conversation, I suppose, but I was in sheep mode and couldn’t really be bothered looking at my map.  Baaaaa!

We set off as a group of 14, walking on tracks and a bit of road.  The drizzle dried up quite soon so the waterproofs came off.  My GPS was playing its usual game of refusing to tell me where I was [I’m going to buy a new one] so I didn’t record a track and am not sure exactly where we went although we did stop for a sit down and a snack at Newlands Church.  By now, the schism was tangible.  We’d already lost two of our number to a tea-room and there was now clear dissent in the ranks.  It was time to nail my colours to the mast and stand up for what I believe in.  I said I’d join the group which was going to walk up the valley and camp early.  Well, it seemed the right thing to do.  Some principles need to be defended, come what may.

Thus, relieved of the burden of impending mountains we carried on our way with a spring in our step.

A pleasant valley on the way to Dale Head

The valley walk was enjoyable but no walk in the park.  There was a fair bit of UP and we had to go over a bealach near some craggy bits.  (I know all of the technical language).

As I’d still not looked at the map, I feel I must apologise to my fellow Daunderers if I kept asking “Are we nearly there yet?”

By late afternoon (well, OK, shortly after 2pm) we reached our intended camp.  Or somewhere near there. Anyway, wherever it was, it was flat and there was plenty of room and some fast flowing drinking water nearby.

We put up our tents/shelters and did camping-type things – like having a cup-a-soup then going to sleep for hours.  The wind was a wee bit gusty (OK, it was blowing a hooley) but Phil and I had discussed the best way to pitch a single-hooped tent in strong winds.  We came to complete agreement then pitched our tents at 90 degrees to each other.  One of us obviously wasn’t paying attention!

I was abruptedly woken from my snooze by some rowdy ruffians standing in the middle of our camp and loudly criticising our choice of site and the kite-like attributes of some of our tents.  Apparently they’d been up a hill and they seemed to expect some sort of medal and a welcome committee.  Yeah, whatever.  I’d walked up a valley then camped in a wind tunnel so naaaahh!

The noisy macho types pushed on (or off, if you like) and I went back to sleep.  Waking again at 7pm, the wind had dropped and I could hear people drinking whisky so I decided I’d better have my tea then join them.  I was probably back in bed for 10pm ….. but these long hill days are so tiring.  (To be continued).

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A Southern Snowdonia Camping Trip

It would be wrong to say that this was a walking trip.  It was always planned with the camping at the centre but with some walking to build up an appetite.  I’d been keeping an eye on the weather forecast during the previous week and I was pleased to see that it was slowly getting colder and drier.  Tuesday should now be around freezing overnight with Wednesday a couple of degrees colder and then Thursday a few degrees above.  This turned out to be a pretty accurate forecast and I only donned my waterproof trousers for an hour on Friday morning as a precaution against the mist which had surrounded my tent.  Some snow would have been nice, but I had no room in my rucksack for crampons so I was very pleased with how things turned out.

I’ve only been to Blaenau Ffestiniog once before.  On that occasion it was as grey as a very grey thing on a grey day.  The town is built from the local slate, so the buildings, mountains and sky all share the same greyness.  However, I think it must have been raining last time as it looked almost pretty in the bright sunshine.  Yes, it was still grey … but a more cheerful grey than I remembered.  Arriving at 11:30-ish, I was grateful to the train guard who’d phoned ahead when it looked like I’d miss my connection due to the late arrival of my train into Llandudno Junction.  Thankfully they held the train for a couple of minutes and I now had 4 or 5 hours to find somewhere to camp rather than the 1 – 2 hours if I’d had to get the later train.

Following the Tanygrisiau route out of Blaenau Ffestiniog there were plenty of signs of the area’s slate mining past:

I had a rough idea of where I might camp that night.  I’d follow paths and tracks for a while then look for somewhere off the beaten track next to one of the many lochans.  I think they may be called llyns around here but I’ve noticed I do tend to revert to Scottish terms when describing things I see on maps.

A good part of my navigation was based on avoiding people, and there were quite a few out on this Bank Holiday Tuesday, so I weaved a lonely path between the hills in a vaguely NW direction.  I didn’t care where I ended up as long as it was a reasonable pitch.  Conscious of how quickly the light can fade, and finding myself on tussocky ground with a steep climb up to my intended pitch, I decided to call it a day at around 3pm and set up camp in the valley running down to Llyn-cwm-y-foel – SH657474.

It was a little bumpy but my new Exped mattress meant that I would have easily passed the Princess and the Pea test – although I did slide downhill a few times in the night.  Distance walked that day?  Oh, at least 4 miles (possibly).

My flysheet was frosty in the morning but I’d slept well.  The sky was clear in the morning and, although I was not going to catch the early sun in my valley campsite, I could see that the tops were brightening up and I’d have an excellent sunny day ahead.

Today’s plan was to walk North along the black dashed line on the map.  I knew it must be some sort of boundary; it turns out to be the County boundary between Gwynedd and Conwy.  Mainly following a ridge on the map, I did not know if I’d see anything on the ground but for much of the way I was following a fence or detouring huge bogs; unfortunately the weather was not cold enough to freeze them.

At times I felt like I was on top of the world; the mountains seemed to go on for ever.

I thought a likely spot for a good campsite would be off to the East where the public footpath comes West / East across Bwlch y Rhediad; halfway between the County bounday and the forest.  On the map the ground looks flat and well drained.  It isn’t.  The footpath is fine but the ground to the left is steep and to the right is swampy and tussocky.  I convinced myself that there must be a lovely flat, smooth, dry patch hidden in the swamp and launched myself into the bog.  This was not a good idea.  Every step was treacherous as I could hear running water but couldn’t see it and I could not trust the ground below my feet.  In for a penny, in for a pound, I hoped that there’d be something flatter near the river (Afon Cwm Edno, I think) – as there often is.  I was right – although I could have saved myself a lot of grief by missing out two sides of the triangle and just walking straight to this point (SH677522) 45 minutes earlier.

I’d had a bit of a faff buying gas in the week before I went away.  I had accidentally bought a C300 cylinder, rather than a C250, and found that it would not fit in my MSR Titan kettle – which is how I pack my gas when I’m walking ….. so I took it back to the shop.  I’d brought a partially used canister which had seemed adequate before I left home but I seemed to have used a lot of gas already and I was a bit worried I may run out.  Not to worry, though.  Since cross-threading my Pocket Rocket on the TGO Challenge a few years ago I’ve been carrying a titanium Esbit stove and some hexamine blocks as a spare stove.  I would make that evening’s main meal and hot drink with that.

Stove similar to this one. This photo from http://www.backpackinglight.co.uk from where I bought the stove.

Spotting a flat rock whilst pitching my tent, I lit half a hexy block and placed a full pan of water on the stove on the rock and carefully placed my windshield round it.  The hexy burned nicely and the water was starting to heat up.  I turned away and heard a crash.  Yes, the rock was flat but not level.  The stove and pan had slid off and I’d acheived the dual effect of not only spilling all of the water but the hexy was setting fire to the grass!  Luckily the stream was only a few yards away so I refilled my pan and started again.  This time I more or less held the pan handle for the entire time that the water was heating.  Every time I loosened my grip, the pan slipped or the tiny stove shifted a little.  This was the first time I’d used this stove for real (ie not in the back garden) and it was a good way of reminding myself of the challenging nature of ultralight, solid fuel stoves … oh, and of the need to bring a full gas cylinder when camping in winter!  By the way, I still had a tiny bit of gas left after breakfast on the final day so who knows whether I did actually need to perform this hexamine debacle.

This had all been jolly good fun but, while I’d been setting fire to the swamp, the temperature had dropped significantly and I was getting cold.  I left my pasta to cook in my pot cosy while I set up my mattress and sleeping bag and prepared everything I’d need in my tent.  After eating, and listening to PM, I rested my eyes for a few minutes ….. and woke up just after 10pm.  I’d hung my swamp-soaked socks to dry and they were now frozen solid, as were my boots.  I’d decided to wear my Karrimor (so called) waterproof lined fabric boots and they were holding a lot of water … or, rather, ice.  This was slightly disconcerting as I only had one pair of footwear so had to wear these boots in the morning, although I was happy to lounge around in the sun while they defrosted.  I put them in a bin bag inside the inner tent to stop them getting any worse.  I also covered my water bottle, although that still had some ice in it in the morning.

The sky was full of stars; some twinkling and some just shining.  I would love to have spent some time properly studying them but didn’t have the will-power to wrap up warm and sit outside my tent.  This is where bivi bags are better as you’re outside and wrapped up warm.  I wondered where the moon was but I’ve just checked online and found that it was the period between the end of the old moon and the start of the new, so no visible moon.

I made myself a cup of tea and read for a while.  This was also the first outing for my Kindle Paperwhite e-reader.  This has an illuminated screen so can be read without any background lighting and is ideal for 15 hours of winter camping.  I’d downloaded a few classics from Project Gutenberg and I read all of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness over the 3 nights.  I can’t say I enjoyed it but it was an interesting book and bound to come in handy on University Challenge or Only Connect at some point in the future.

I’d chosen a spot nearer to Betws y Coed for the following night’s camp so that I was well-placed to catch the midday train home.  However, I’d hemmed myself in to a boggy rough area and really did not fancy the physical effort of squelching my way back to the footpath to the North.  Instead, I headed SE and used the forest edge (and the mainly good rough path) to reach the minor road.

Relying on map and compass, I could see there was something not quite right about the forest – until I realised that a large part of it had been chopped down.

You can see from the cloud that the weather was now quite a bit warmer than the night before.  I’d managed to massage my semi-frozen boots onto my feet, and my tent was dripping rather than frozen by the time I packed up.

In an odd way it was nice to walk along a road.  After a couple of days of rough, boggy ground it was comforting to have something solid under my feet.  I day-dreamed as I walked through and past farms, setting off the dogs and listening to the birds.  I saw “The Station” down in the valley.  I use quotation marks as I thought this was Dolwyddelan station – as that was vaguely on my route – so I was quite suprised when I arrived there and it was Roman Bridge / Pont Rufeinig.  In my aimless bimble I must’ve missed the turning which would take me past Dolwyddelan Castle and into Dolwyddelan.  It didn’t really matter though, I enjoyed a sit-down on the station bench, had a bite to eat then retraced my tracks back to the last farm.

Dolwyddelan Castle

Dolwyddelan Castle

I had great plans for Dolwyddelan.  There would be public toilets and somewhere to get a cup of tea.  I was not disappointed.  I had a jam doughnut too.

After following forest tracks North out of the village I looked for a suitable place to camp.  This was now farmland with lots of fences, sheep and quadbike tracks.  The track itself was teasingly good; I could have pitched my tent anywhere along this flat, short-cropped sward – although it was the usual tufty bog to either side.

There were occasional patches of good short grass, though; I knew that the sheep would’ve made sure of that.  I took a gamble on there being somewhere flat and out-of-sight up a slight hill near where two tracks crossed and I found a reasonable pitch at SH745563.  It was not as remote or picturesque as the two previous nights but it was fine.  Nipping out in the night I was surprised to see the bright lights of a town – probably Llanrwst – down below.

I made a real effort to get up early in the morning but I do find it difficult to get up while it’s still dark and it didn’t start to get light until 7am.  I was on the way by 9:25, which was earlier than the last two days, and I had an easy walk into Betws y Coed.  I’m not sure I went exactly the way I’d planned, but East-ish with an occasional check of the map worked well.  Where possible I followed the river footpath with a little bit of road walking.  This roadsign made me laugh:

…. there’d been no footway for the last three days, so I don’t know why they thought it was worth a sign now.

Approaching Betws y Coed, I knew that the first shop I would reach would be Cunningham’s.  Could I walk past without calling in?  Yes.  I looked in the window but I wasn’t in the mood for shopping.  My feet were uncomfortably wet and I just wanted to get something to eat and change my socks.  I also noticed that all the people I passed stank of shower-gel and other perfumed products…. so maybe the retailers of Betws wouldn’t appreciate my presence today.

A little further on, a much more welcome scent reached my nostrils – the chip shop!  Despite it still being before 11:30 they were frying chips and I could not resist.  Deep-fried carbohydrate; what’s not to like after a few days in the hills?

My journey home was uneventful.  As usual, the closer I got to home the wierder the people’s clothing and behaviour became.  They could have spent the last three days wandering the hills and sleeping under the stars but, instead, they were going shopping and muttering into mobile phones about sales and parties.  Why are normal people so odd?

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TGOC2016 Revisited – Day 13 – The End – Ethie Haven

With only 12km ahead of me on my final day I should have plenty of time to reach Ethie Haven, enjoy the moment, then catch the bus to Montrose, check into my room at the Park Hotel and relax before dinner.  The day did not work out quite as I’d planned.

Walking on minor roads into Inverkeilor I somehow missed a turning so used farm tracks to get back to where I should have been.

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p1040708-2This was actually much nicer than walking on the road…. so a good choice  😉 although I did have to cross a vicious nettle patch which stung my legs through my trousers.

There was no need to stop in Inverkeilor; I was nearly at the coast and wanted to keep going.  I crossed under the railway line and headed south along the road.  I kept going south.  Hm?  Surely the road should be going south east?  Oh b*gger it, I’ve missed my turn…again.  I turned round and walked back towards Inverkeilor taking the road to Priestfield.

Nearing Ethie Haven I had a good view of Lunan Bay, the finishing point of my first TGO Challenge in 2006.

p1040715-2There were fingerposts to Ethie Haven via Ethie Mains and via Corbie Knowe.  I plumped for the Ethie Mains route so that I could do a circular walk back via Corbie Knowe.  My plan was to walk along the Lunan Bay beach after I’d finished, and I did not want to have to reverse my steps if I could avoid it.

I knew that Ethie Haven was nestled in the cliff and would not be very easy to find but I was starting to wonder where on Earth it was until, finally, it came into view.

p1040732-2I walked down the pebbly beach to the water’s edge for a paddle then sat on a rock having a think.  I’d done it.  I’d completed my 10th crossing of Scotland.

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p1040730-2It was now nearly 1pm and time to head for Montrose.  I would walk along the beach to the Lunan Bay Diner then catch the bus to Montrose.  In a very bracing wind the sea was roaring.

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Looking back to Ethie Haven.

I hadn’t really properly researched where the Lunan Bay Diner was and I wasn’t sure if I could walk all the way there along the beach so I diverted onto the road at Red Castle.  This was a mistake as I could have stayed on the beach which would have been much nicer.  I expected that the diner would be full of Challengers but I was the only one, so I ate my dinner and drank my pop on my own.

I’d not bothered to check the bus times in advance as I know that there are loads of buses along the A92.  Unfortunately at that time of day they all go South.  Bus after bus was going to Arbroath but none were due to go North to Montrose until after 5pm.  Oh, b*gger (again).  I weighed up my options; wait for a bus, hitch, call a taxi … or walk.  Lifting my pack back onto my shoulders I set off along the A92.  This was not the highlight of my trip, I can tell you, but I could see Montrose getting nearer and I suppose it’s the purist’s way of completing the Challenge!

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Reaching the Park Hotel after 5pm I signed the register and checked into my hotel room.  Good friends and many people I’ve hardly spoken to before congratulated me on my Tenth (…. yes, I think Tenth needs a capital letter in these circumstances.)  I remember my first finish; gritting my teeth in a false smile and saying “Oh, I’ll see…” when people asked if I’d be back to do my second – but now, here I was finishing my Tenth.  I think this TGO Challenge thing has got its hooks into me!

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TGOC2016 Revisited – Day 12 – Chips and company in Friockheim

It got quite chilly in the night but I slept well and wasn’t disturbed in my semi-wild pitch.

Walking mainly on minor roads, I took advantage of any grassy bits on the well-signed Forfar Footpath Network.

p1040697-2p1040698-2I hoped that there would be some sort of shop at Lunanhead but there wasn’t.  I should have already confirmed the fate of the Post Office, which had closed down over 10 years ago, but I was hopeful that there would be something – but there wasn’t.  I was feeling tired; not just physically but mentally.  I was due to finish tomorrow and I think I was starting to feel a little anxious and slightly sad that the walk was coming to an end.  I sat on a bench near the Village Hall eating the odd bits of food I still had left in my pack and I called Challenge Control to confirm I’d see them tomorrow.

A few miles further along the road I glanced over my shoulder and saw the familiar sight of a Challenger marching along behind me.  Drat it!  I’d made it all this way from Oban without bumping into a single Challenger and now, on my penultimate day, one was about to catch up with me.  What if it was one of the weird ones?  You know, the ones who walk 360 degrees around you weighing up every single piece of clothing and kit, then tell you how theirs is better for the next 3 miles?  (This has happened to me).  Oh, hang on….. it’s Markus.  Phew!  Panic over.

I’ve bumped into Markus most years, the last time being in 2015 when he wasn’t even doing the Challenge.  He was planning to finish tonight so had a HUGE day by my standards but he reckoned he could do it.  We walked together for the next 5 miles chatting about Challenge stuff, looking for ways to take advantage of the dismantled railway [we couldn’t] and taking photos of the tidy church in Guthrie.

p1040701-2At Friockheim we went into the first pub we came to; the Railway.  There was no Real Ale and no meals, either, but she said she’d do us a bowl of chips.  Due to a slight mix-up about just how hungry we were, this bowl of chips turned out to be a cauldron.  It was enormous.  Markus only wanted a few so I did my best, on my own, to eat enough chips to feed the whole town for a week.

This was obviously a “local” pub with a handful of stalwarts enjoying their mid-afternoon session.  Sitting at the bar we joined in the conversation and I did my best to share out my chips.  There was an older chap with a very strong accent and I did wonder how much my Austrian friend could understand…but it turned out he was doing better than me!  There’s another pub in Friockheim, the Star Inn, but it was clear from the locals that we’d chosen the right one.  As the Star was closed I didn’t get the chance to compare them.

With another few hours walking ahead of him, Markus set off for the coast whilst I had another beer and put my phone on charge (see, I’m learning!) then nipped to the Coop for some food and drinking water.

I had a pitch planned in some woodland near the crematorium and it was a good spot – although, in the morning when I looked back from the road, I reckon I could probably have been seen if anyone had bothered to look.

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As I fell asleep, with the strong wind buffeting my tent, I could now allow myself the belief that I was on the verge of completing my tenth TGO Challenge.

Today’s beer: Tennant’s Caledonia Best (Keg).  Cold and wet.  Not as bad as I expected.

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TGOC2016 Revisited – Day 11 – Two breakfasts and lunch with Peter Pan

It was all road-walking today; 23km of it and hard on the feet but I had a couple of opportunities for a rest.  At the campsite I’d seen a sign for Peel Farm but paid no attention to it.  It was only whilst chatting to the site owner, while he kindly charged my phone, that I realised that it had a cafe and was well worth a visit.  The cafe was only a couple of miles away, and I hardly deserved a second breakfast, but I polished off a fried egg roll with a pot of tea.  Still kicking myself at having wasted a phone-charging opportunity whilst in Kirkton of Glenisla, I chose the table which had an electric socket next to it.  How did I ever manage to leave the house before mobile phones were invented?

The guy at the campsite had said that Reekie Linn waterfall was worth a visit but, when I got there, I didn’t like the idea of the narrow footpath and steep drop so didn’t divert from my route.  The carpark bins were overflowing with barbeque and picnic remains; this is obviously a very popular beauty spot.

The River Isla with the Reekie Linn carpark behind the trees to the left.

The River Isla with the Reekie Linn carpark behind the trees to the left.

p1040678-2Loch of Lintrathen was calm:

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I loved these fingerposts:

p1040683-2Along the way, I spent 10 minutes watching a man chop down a tree…. or nearly.  He got his chainsaw stuck and I decided not to put the poor chap under any more pressure by standing there chuckling.

p1040685-2I reached Kirriemuir at just the wrong time; the pubs were open but weren’t serving food.  I had a wander around the town and marvelled at how many famous people had links with the town; not only Sir J M Barrie and Sir Hugh Munro, but also “Bon” Scott from ACDC (not that I’d actually heard of him) who all have memorials of some sort within the town.  The people of Kirriemuir were a friendly bunch and I had a couple of conversations about the Challenge.  One woman seemed amazed that I had managed to fit a tent in my rucksack; I’m not sure she understood that you can take the poles out and fold it up when you’re not sleeping in it.

I popped into a pub for a beer (and a phone charge top-up) but decided that it wouldn’t be worth hanging around for a couple of hours until they served food.  So, off to the shop to buy a few things including drinking water and fruit juice for that night’s stealth camp, and the makings of a sandwich to eat next to Peter Pan’s statue.

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On the map I’d identified a small woodland which should provide a good location for a suburban “wild” camp.  When I got there, I found that the woods were opposite a big house with people playing tennis on a proper court outside.  I don’t like to draw attention to where I’m camping and and it looked like I’d have to climb over a gate in full view of the tennis players.  However, I took a gamble on there being another gate at the end of the woodland, which there was, and I managed to slip over without being seen …. I think.

It looked like there was occasional vehicle activity in the woods – possibly related to gamebird rearing – so I hoped that I wouldn’t be disturbed (or run over) in the night.  The road ran just behind the trees in the photo and I could hear the conversations of a local jogging group as they went past in both directions.

p1040693-3Today’s beer: I can’t remember…. not because I drank too much of it but because I did not write it down at the time.  Something beginning with W, I think.  Very nice, whatever it was.

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TGOC2016 Revisited – Day 10 – A feast at Kirkton of Glenisla and a thigh-deep swamp

The day started quite hot but I was in my waterproofs again by the early afternoon.  The previous evening’s thunder never really came to anything but there was a lot of moisture in the air and the showers were long and wet.  I relied on my compass at various times as the paths shown on the map were faint or non-existent.

I can’t remember where this simple gate was but I think it was somewhere coming off Clach Sgorach on the approach to the A93.  It took AGES to secure the gate again once I’d been through.  For such a simple concept, it nearly had me completely beaten and I took its photograph out of respect.

p1040664-2At Drumfork I found an Ordnance Survey Flush Bracket in the wall:-

Until a couple of years ago (when I found my first Fundamental Bench Mark near Spean Bridge) I’d assumed that hill-top Trig Pillars were the only visible evidence of the Ordnance Survey’s work, but now I know that there are all sorts of pillars, marks, rivets and plates.  If were ever to become a bagger then I think these would be my obsession.

I knew that the Glenisla Hotel, at Kirkton of Glenisla, served food – although I didn’t know what hours they kept – and I opted for a diversion off my main route.  The map suggested that I should be able to get through Auchenleish Farm and walk along the River Isla to a footbridge.

Maps often look so clear but it’s a different matter when you’re on the ground and can’t tell if the track you’re about to walk up will become a dead-end.  The Auchenleish farmer was working in the farmyard and I decided it was best to ask for his help now rather than have to backtrack 20 minutes later and then ask for directions.  It turned out he was a Kiwi but had lived here for over 10 years.  He said “most people go that way” gesturing to the East…. which was good.  He asked if I wanted to use the bridge ….which confused me a bit, as I wondered what the alternative could be?  Swim?  I’m rubbish at following directions and there were so many trees and boggy bits I couldn’t work out just how far it would be or even whether I was going the right way.  Had I passed it already?  Was the farmer talking about the same bridge?  And could he see me in the distance wandering around aimlessly?

Luckily I did find it….

p1040669-2I liked the pub.  The barmaid was friendly, there was a roaring fire, they had Real Ale and I ate for England: Egg mayo ciabatta sandwich, a thick broth, scone & jam, and coffee…. oh, and beer, of course.  (I’ve noticed that I do seem to mention food quite a lot on this “walking” blog.)

Near the bridge I had seen waymarks for the Cateran Trail and I decided that this would be a much better route than the road-walking I’d planned so, feeling full and ever so slightly tipsy, I crossed back over the bridge and climbed the hill…. slowly.

I don’t really understand how I got lost but I think it happened when one of the waymark arrows pointed one way which was obviously wrong so I ignored it and went the way it should have pointed.  Then, for some reason, there were no more arrows in that direction!  I couldn’t understand it.  I could see roughly where I ought to be but I was determined to get back onto the waymarked trail, so I spent far too much time faffing about when I should have just gone back to where the wrong (ahem!) sign was and picked up the route from there.

At one point I was the wrong side of a wibbly-wobbly wire fence up to my knees in water and mud.  Usually I could have easily climbed over a fence of this height but with water lapping round my thighs I didn’t fancy taking my chances with the top strand of barbed wire, so I waded back to dry land and took the long way round.

It was about 7pm when I reached Nether Craig campsite and there was nobody in reception so I phoned the mobile number in the window and they said they’d see me in the morning.  I had a lovely hot shower and spent ages trying (and failing) to wash the peat out of my socks.  I also scoured the site for a socket where I could charge my phone having completely forgotten to do so whilst sitting in the pub.  There was no accessible socket and my phone was running very low and I’d completely drained my spare battery.  Power was now even more important than food!

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Today’s beer: Inveralmond Inkie Pinkie

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