Considering that today’s route was entirely on roads and forest tracks, I seemed to spend a lot of time getting lost. I crossed the River Garry via the bridge near Poulary and it would appear that I almost immediately made a navigational error. I was following a very good track, when the map showed I should have been on a path, but I just assumed that the path had been upgraded. Forestry operations were underway nearby and I assumed that the path had recently been widened and resurfaced to allow access to the huge forestry machines. OK, I’m making excuses . . . I wasn’t really paying attention and the good track enticed me to follow it.
I could see a good, new bridge on a track junction so I stopped to look at my map and work out where I was. I had passed some “Keep out!” Forestry signs, so I wanted to be certain where I was before I bumped into the workers. Two wet backpackers appeared further along my track and also started checking their maps. Guessing that they were Challengers, I went over to talk to them. Keith and Charlie were a little behind schedule, due to yesterday’s rain and rivers, and I don’t think they were due to be in this forest. However, Keith had good knowledge of recent changes to the tracks and bridges in the area and I now realised that a) I was not where I should have been, and b) they could help me find my way out! I walked with the two of them for a couple of km and told them about the Invergarry hostel where they may be able to get a bed and a dry night.
The next 3 or 4 km were very boggy and I kept telling myself that the path would soon turn into a good track, but it never did. At Greenfield, I took a compass bearing to work out which track to take, then sat down to have some lunch. There was a temporary lull in the rain and I enjoyed my cheese and crackers whilst looking at the dusting of snow on the hills in the distance. Within 10 minutes the rain started again, so I lifted my pack onto my back and set off along the grassy track on my compass bearing.
With hindsight, I should have had a better look around me before I committed to this track. It didn’t go anywhere, and my GPS track shows that I walked about 500m NE when I should have been going East. Looking back now, in the warm and dry, I have no idea why I made such a bad decision to persevere with this track that was so obviously not the right one. I kept thinking “It’ll vere round to the East in a minute”, but it didn’t and, eventually, I saw sense and walked South and slightly East to find the road/track. In places, Greenfield Wood is tightly packed with trees and I had to force my way through the prickly branches and bog to keep on the bearing I had set. It was hard work, and all my own fault for not choosing the right direction at lunch.
There were no more navigational incidents until I got to the carpark at NH281006. I’d seen a sign saying that the bridge to my right was closed, so I’d kept walking but was now heading North when I should have been going East. The closed bridge was not just any old bridge but the essential link to the Mandally road and the hostel. If I did not cross the bridge, I would have a long detour right round Invergarry. I went back to the bridge and assessed the risks. The signs warned of great peril but the bridge looked a lot more solid than many others I’ve used on TGO Challenges, so I took my life in my hands and walked over it. I wish I’d taken a photograph, but I was half expecting to be confronted by some kind of Bridge Safety Officer – so I crossed quickly and kept going.
Further along the road, there was a sign warning people appraching from the other direction. The area is called Mandally, not Mandalay as it said on the sign, so this notice had me giggling and singing Nellie the Elephant nearly all the way to the hostel. Well, I thought it was funny!
When I reached the hostel, Keith and Charlie were already there and had managed to get a bed for the night. The hostel wasn’t full but it was busy with a mix of Challengers, other walkers and some tourists.
After a shower and doing my laundry, I walked round to the garage/shop and then to the hotel where I had 2 pints of Real Ale, a starter, main course and pudding. The cheesecake was delicious; thick and creamy, it came with a little jug of cream and was one of the nicest desserts I’ve ever eaten. I reckon I ate and drank about 4000 calories in that meal, but I needed them.
Back at the hostel, it was good to be able to dry all of my kit and have a good night’s sleep with no fear of wind and rain disturbing me. My route sheet showed 3 fairly easy days ahead but, as I wrote in my diary, “now where have I heard that before?!”