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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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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TGOC2016 Revisited – Day 8 – Fleeing from a lamb on the way to Killiecrankie and Ben Vrackie

I could have taken a minor road all the way to Killiecrankie but I did not want to go through Blair Atholl as I’d been there in 2014 and it was too soon to repeat it.  Instead, I went S out of Struan and then cross country to Tomaraid where I should be able to pick up a path to Killiecrankie.

After apologising to an old chap for tramping through his front garden, I found this pleasant track through the woods..

p1040619-2… then, once again, set off on an easterly bearing across the moorland.

I think the pimple to the left of this picture is Tulloch Hill.  At first the going was rough….

p1040621-2… but somewhere near Tomanraid I found a nice grassy path:

p1040622-2Once again, the map wasn’t matching the ground – until I noticed that the forest I was relying on had been chopped down:

p1040623-2I wasn’t entirely sure how I was going to get to Killiecrankie.  I’d heard that some bridges were closed, so it was with a certain trepidation that I headed downhill and hoped I wouldn’t need a long diversion.

p1040629-2I passed a walled private graveyard for the Stewart family (at NN 892637, I think, but it took a lot of studying of aerial photos when I got home to be certain).

p1040631-2Passing through a farm onto the minor road I was adopted by a lame lamb bleating woefully.  It forced its way through a gate and hobbled towards me.  There were several other sheep in the farmyard but there was no sign of any people and I’m not sure where its mother was.  I knew that the lamb could get through the gate that I had to go through onto the road but I did not want it to stray too far from the flock, so I went through as quickly as I could then ran along the lane until I couldn’t hear the bleating anymore.  I’m not sure if this is rational behaviour but it seemed reasonable at the time.

The River Garry was looking a bit full …

p1040632-2… and I was glad to find the main road-bridge.  Fording would really not have been an option.

The Killiecrankie Visitor Centre was a blessing.  As well as interesting displays about the history and wildlife of the area there were benches, toilets, and hot & cold drinks for sale.  I ate my packed lunch accompanied with a coffee and a bottle of pop.

I’d seen the sign to Ben-y-Vrackie on my way to the Visitor Centre so the navigation was now easy…. I just followed signs all the way.  I knew that several Challengers would be going over Ben Vrackie but that was not my intention. I knew that Alistair had been up there the day before and I wondered if any other Challengers would be looking down on my campsite.

p1040642-2The ground around Loch a’ Choire was rough, boggy and – worse of all – very midgey.  I wouldn’t be able to camp here.  I pressed on to the E end of the loch where there was a bench to rest on.  Looking at the map and the lie of the land I hoped I’d find somewhere suitable if I followed the burn SE towards the next lochan.  By 7:30pm I had my tent up between the main burn and a fast-flowing rivulet draining the recent rain.  I placed a few rocks to try to discourage the water from flowing through my tent if there was heavy rain in the night….. but, thankfully, there wasn’t.

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TGOC2016 Revisited – Day 7 – Loch Errochty to Struan (and a shopping emporium).

Yesterday’s boggy yomp in zero visibility proved that I had finally found my Challenge legs.  It had all been a little bit too easy so far, and it was good to be warm, dry and well-fed in my tent after being wet and windswept for most of the day.

I was relieved to be able to walk along the edge of the loch rather than going up behind the forest.  At first the track was rough …

p1040605-2… but it soon became the metalled track shown on the map:

p1040606-2It was a pleasant walk along the loch in the sunshine with an occasional sit-down to look out across the calm water.

p1040607-2I inadvertently chased a flock of sheep for half a mile along the track.  If they had waited another couple of seconds I’d have passed by and they could have stayed where they were but, of course, as soon as one took fright they all followed and I had visions of them toppling down the bank and into the water.  Eventually the bank flattened out and they were able to “escape”.

At Trinafour, this map gave me the reassurance that I was now halfway(ish) to the East coast.

p1040608-2The milestones on the B847 were interesting:

p1040611-2I presume that S is Struan and K is Kinloch Rannoch?

I was booked into the Struan Inn that night and I knew I’d be able to get dinner, breakfast and a packed lunch.  However, I needed a few other supplies and the only shops nearby were at the House of Bruar.  Walking past the turn-off for the Struan Inn I continued on the minor road to the shopping centre.  I did wonder about leaving my pack at the Inn, but that’s cheating.

p1040614-2The shopping centre was exactly as I’d anticipated.  Full of clean, well-dressed people in large cars buying stuff that had no relevance to my current needs.  The food hall was laid out in a way that made it very easy for me to knock down entire displays with my rucksack.

However, it wasn’t all bad.  After sitting in the courtyard to eat my lunch of sandwiches, lemonade, and a glass of iced water I went round the food hall again and selected a few odds and ends that would tide me over to at least Killiecrankie and possibly until Kirkmichael if necessary.  The deli counter had some posh veggie quiches so I bought a couple of them, some smoked cheddar cheese, some plain scones and some bread rolls.  After a very nice ice-cream I walked back to the Inn and pondered on what state my quiches would be in after 24 hours sweating in my rucksack.

I had a comfortable night in the Inn and made good use of their wi-fi.  I hadn’t yet met any other Challengers but through Twitter I had a pretty good idea what everyone was up to.

Today’s beer: Belhaven Loch Errochty Lager.

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