I started the day by walking into a toilet door and nearly knocking myself out. With slight concerns about having to withdraw from the Challenge with concussion, I waited for the stars to stop spinning around my head then crossed the busy B road with a vague plan of following minor roads and farm tracks to Portlethen then on to Portlethen Village.
The rolling farmland and yellow gorse indicated that I was nearing the East coast. There are probably some very nice walks to be had around here but, this morning, my aim was just to get to Portlethen Village avoiding as much traffic as possible.
At a road junction I paused to look at the map and noticed this memorial tucked away in the verge. “No 6 Coy Kincardineshire Rifles were the first corps of Scotch Volunteers to go to camp which they did at Clochandighter from 19th to 26th June 1869. Erected by their successors 5/7th Buchan, Mar and Mearns BN the Gordon Highlanders 1st July 1930”. The birth of the Territorial Army in Scotland? It isn’t marked on the OS maps, but I think it was around NO900980.
I reached Portlethen railway station by 10 o’clock and checked the train times for Montrose but there were none until the evening. I’d already looked up the bus times, so I now knew that I had plenty of time to get down to the village and would not have to rush back for a train. (I can still remember the feeling, at the end of my first Challenge in 2006, when I’d reached Lunan Bay and didn’t have a clue how to get to Montrose. My planning is better now.)
It wasn’t clear on the OS maps how to get down to the water at Portlethen Village but I’d done my research, including “Where’s the Path?” and chatting with a Portlethen local in Corrour Bothy, and it was easy enough to find the sheltered cove and the steps down to the pebbly beach.
It was lovely down on the beach. The waves were crashing and the seabirds were squawking but I felt really peaceful. There was the usual slightly sad feeling of coming to the end of the journey, but this was a nice place to finish and I took my time just looking and listening.
Eventually, it was time to make my way to Montrose to sign-in and meet up with everyone else. After chips and Irn Bru in Portlethen, I waited by a bus-stop on the A90. I’d looked up the bus number and times before I’d left home so I knew which bus I wanted and what time it was due. To be sure, I also texted the number on the bus-stop. . . . . . and received a completely different set of times and numbers. Several buses had gone past, at the wrong times and all with Stonehaven (not Montrose) destination boards, so I stuck my hand out and asked the rudest bus driver in the world for help. By now I was wondering about walking to Montrose but I took a chance on the next bus which, as luck would have it, was going to Montrose and had a friendly, helpful driver.
At the Park Hotel, after greeting Challengers I’d met on this crossing and several I hadn’t seen since my last Challenge in 2009, I went up to the Kinnaird Room and was greeted by a “Hello, Judith” from Roger Smith as I walked through the door. How does he remember all those names?
As I’d come off the stand-by list I was too late to book a place at the Thursday night dinner but I huddled at the back for the speeches and to make sure Roger got a good send-off as TGO Challenge Coordinator.
So, that was my 5th Challenge and definitely one to remember. At The Park, so many people said “Never again!”, but there’s a draw for places for the 2012 Challenge so either memories have faded or there are a lot of first-timers who think 13 days of swamp and gale is fun! Either way, I hope to see you in May.