TGOC2007 – Strathcarron to Stonehaven

Carn nan tri- Tighearnan

From uk.rec.walking 1st July 2007:

Photos are at: [edit: link is now dead, but the photos are here]

I kept a brief diary each night.  Diary entries are followed by
comments written after the event.

Day 0 – Home to Strathcarron
Planned route: Birkenhead – Liverpool – Wigan – Edinburgh – Inverness
– Strathcarron

Diary: Took a bus and four trains to get from home to Strathcarron.
There was a hen party on the train from Wigan North Western to
Edinburgh; they were noisy but harmless. Arrived at Strathcarron at
five past eight in the evening and walked a mile to “the sea” for a
paddle. Met one Challenger (Simon) at the Strathcarron Hotel.

Comments: Finally it was the 11th of May and the planning came to an
end. It was now time to get on the bus (and a few trains) and start
the walk.

The Hen Party was just starting to get on my nerves when we got to
Edinburgh. Why do Virgin Rail pack all their passengers with
reservations into one carriage?

I wanted to start my walk from “the sea” but was beginning to think
I’d never get there. Eventually I found some sea-weed and had a
paddle.

Day 1 – Strathcarron to Loch Monar
Planned route: Achintee – Bernais Bothy (021430) – Loch an Laoigh –
Bealach an Sgoltaidh
Approximate distance and ascent: 17km / 810m

Diary: Woke at 5am, convinced I had overslept. Got up before 7am and
was walking before 8:15am. Weather good but ground very wet and
Inov-8s were soon soaked. Changed socks once then changed into
Sealskinz. Camped at the west end of Loch Monar [actually in the loch
according to the GPS GR]. From the tent I can see a group of deer
(which are occasionally making very odd noises).

Comments: Typically for me, I got lost within the first mile. I
ignored clear signs as they did not correspond with what my map said.
Afterwards I realised that the signage had been erected to encourage
walkers to walk around, rather than through, somebody’s property but I
quietly and quickly followed what I think was the Right of Way even
though there did not seem to be a path on the ground.

My camp site was excellent. Beautiful views from the tent, including
deer, and I could receive Radio 4 on my radio!

Day 2 – Loch Monar
Planned route: N shore of Loch Monar
Approximate distance and ascent: 17.5km / 420m

Diary: Very boggy day. Had soaked the insides of my Sealskinz at the
end of day 1, so had to put up with wet feet all day. Changed into
sandals at Monar Lodge when the road became metalled. Camped at the
side of the road but only two cars have been past and I’m pretty much
out of sight.

Comments: I knew that there was no obvious path for the first couple
of miles at the west end of Loch Monar and it was likely to be wet in
places. In a moment of madness at the end of Day 1, I had waded
through some water which was above the top of my Sealskinz socks, and
I had not been able to get them dry over night. The choice was to walk
in soaked waterproof socks, which seemed a bit pointless, or to accept
that I was going to have wet normal socks all day. I was beginning to
wonder if wearing Inov-8 Roclites was a good idea; although they were
definitely more comfortable than boots.

I met a Challenger who was heading to Cannich. That seems like a
popular route and may be worth checking out for a future crossing.
My camp site was at the side of the road, but the road was raised at
that point and I don’t think I was seen until I was packing up my tent
in the morning.

Day 3 – Loch Monar to Struy
Planned route: LRT along Glen Strathfarrar
Approximate distance and ascent: 21km / 250m

Diary:  Easy day’s walking to Struy; arrived at 2pm (!) and the Inn
was closed but the landlord let me in and showed me to my room. Cup of
coffee followed by shower and pampering ie tick-check, foot-cream,
hand-cream etc. Feet are starting to show signs of wear. Wore sandals
today but will wear shoes tomorrow for more support. Weather = sun,
rain, wind, hail.

Comments: I was beginning to wonder if it had been a mistake to only
walk short distances for the first few days.  I reached Struy at 2pm
and had plenty of walking left in my legs.  I didn’t feel like I’d
been pushing myself and I worried that I might find the going tough
when I started to increase the mileage.

The Struy Inn was very welcoming and I had a relaxing afternoon.  I
knew that Heather, a fellow Challenger, was staying there that night
but I also knew that she was likely to be bagging as many peaks as she
could on the way.  She arrived, dripping wet and tired, just after 7pm
and we had a few drinks while we compared our experiences so far.  As
I expected, she’d been bagging (in dreadful weather) while I’d been
bimbling.  Oh well, each to her own.

Day 4.  Struy to Lovat Bridge
Planned route: Minor road (S of River Beauly) – Eskadale – Hughton –
Follow road NE to cross R Beauly at Black Bridge – Paths through
Balbair Wood to Lovat Bridge
Actual: Continued via Kirkhill to Bunchrew via minor roads.
Approximate distance and ascent:  Planned: 17km/220m  Actual: 30km

Diary:  Reached Lovat Bridge campsite at 1:30pm.  I still had plenty
of walking left in my legs (and the site did not entice me in) so I
decided to walk on to Bunchrew via Kirkhill.  The Bunchrew wardens
said I was their first walker, so gave me a can of beer!  Am camped
right on the shore.  Tomorrow is a rest day.

Comments: Lovat Bridge campsite did not look very appealing. I had a
wander round then decided to walk on to Bunchrew which had been
recommended as a good site.  Kirkhill had a Post Office/Shop where I
bought a drink.  The Post Mistress invited me to pull up a chair
outside the shop and we had a chat while I rested for a few minutes.
I received almost a hero’s welcome when I reached Bunchrew campsite.
The wardens were impressed that I had walked in and they gave me a can
of Fosters which I wouldn’t usually touch with a barge-pole but it
went down nicely as I sat in the sun after putting up the tent.  I
camped near the shore and watched various birds paddling in the
shallow water.

Day 5. Lovat Bridge to Inverness.  Actual: Bunchrew to Inverness
Planned route: Minor roads to pick up Great Glen Way at Altourie
Approximate distance and ascent:  Planned: 23km/490m. Actual: 9km!!

Diary:Had some difficulty finding the Great Glen Way as there are so
many new houses and tracks/roads.  On arrival in Inverness, I wandered
round for ages trying to find a chip-shop.  Eventually found a
restaurant that didn’t look too posh and had a sandwich and chips.
Inverness SYHA Youth Hostel is very modern; no proper lounge, just a
TV room and a pool-table room.  Interesting room-mates though.

Comments: Had a lie-in then headed to Inverness which seems to have
doubled in size since I was last there in the mid 90s.  Inverness
Youth Hostel was swelteringly hot and I was glad I had brought some
light shorts to wear.  There was a party of Czech (I think)
school-children who seemed to spend the evening jumping up and down on
the ceiling of my dormitory.  Inverness SYH is functional and
character-less and, other than convenience, has nothing to attract me
back.

Day 6.  Inverness to Wild Camp near Drynachan Burn.
Planned route: SE on General Wade’s military road – Scatraig – NCN1 to
Moy Hall- Moy Burn – Carn nan Tri-tighearnan – Drynachan Burn
Approximate distance and ascent: Planned 32km/870m  Actual 34km.

Diary: Long tiring day.  Started walking at 0800 and put up tent at
1915. Pushed on extra 2km to just after Drynachan Lodge to try to give
myself an easier day tomorrow.  Got a bit lost in the peat bogs; it
was like Bleaklow; awful.  Met two Challengers just after I had put up
the tent.  They had asked, at the lodge, if they could camp and were
asked to go further than I had – so I hope I don’t get moved on.

Comments:  What a day.  Looking back at the map, I realise that most
of the day was easy-going on paths and minor roads, but the trek over
Carn nan Tri-tighearnan was hard-going due to the peat which sapped
the strength from my legs.  This was the first of two consecutive 20
mile days and I was exhausted by the time I put up the tent.   I
reckon my tent could have been seen from Drynachan Lodge and the
neighbouring buildings, and I had an uneasy feeling as I fell asleep.
The next part of my route was uphill and I couldn’t guarantee finding
somewhere suitable to camp and I really didn’t want to have to move
again tonight.

Day 7. Drynachan to Grantown on Spey
Planned route: [Cross R Findhorn at Drynachan Lodge – previous day] –
LRT past Carn a’ Gharbh-ghlaic – Knockdhu – At NH918355 walk E to pick
up path to B9007 – Cross B9007 at NH 950350 – Minor road – LRT E of
Loch an t-Sidhein -Foals Well – Wester Gorton – G-o-S
Approximate distance and ascent: Planned 31km/650m  Actual: 29km

Diary: Another tiring day.  Started walking at 7am and reached the
Guest House at 5:30pm.  All of my shortcuts turned out to be bad
decisions and I ended up walking on GPS “goto”s to stand a chance of
finding my route.  Must’ve eaten 4000 calories in the pub tonight.

Comments: More peat bogs to wear me out.  Most of the time I was
following Land Rover tracks, but walked across open country in two
places and relied heavily on the GPS.  The Land Rover tracks on the
ground bear little relation to what’s on the map (as new tracks have
been bull-dozed) and I ended up walking about 1 km too far before I
noticed my mistake.  Of course, it was pouring down and windy at this
stage and I think the weather contributed to my mistake.

When I eventually saw a finger-post to Grantown on Spey I felt a lump
in my throat as I was very tired and really didn’t want to play any
more.  At the Guest House, the landlady showed me to my room and then
decided to describe every feature of the room to me: “This is the bed;
this is the bathroom, with a shower and this is the sink, and here are
the towels” etc etc.  I was tired and felt filthy and it took all my
good manners not to tell her to clear off and leave me to have a
shower.

After I’d showered and changed I walked into town and found somewhere
to eat.  Starter, main course, pud and beer…… then I called into the
local shop for a bag of peanuts and can of Coke.  I needed it!

Day 8.  Grantown on Spey to Bynack Stable
Planned route: Speyside Way to Nethy Bridge – Tracks through Abernethy
Forest – Ryvoan Bothy – Bynack Stable.
Approximate distance and ascent: 24km/470m

Diary: Had a late start; partly so that I could go to the Post Office
to send home 3 maps.  Got lost (briefly) on the Speyside Way!  Stopped
for a coffee at Nethy Bridge.  Straight afterwards my right ankle/shin
started hurting.  Really painful.  Camped at Bynack Stable.  The
building on the map is not here.  I feel a bit exposed, but the only
flat, heather-free land is where 4 paths meet!  Have taken Ibuprofen
and hope my leg is better in the morning.  I start with 350 metres of
ascent in 3km.

Comments:  Last time I was at Ryvoan bothy there was snow on the
ground, so it was interesting to see that there is a bit of space to
camp if necessary.  Even though I’ve only been there once before, it
did feel like “coming home”, as I’d been thinking about my TGOC route
last time I was there.

My right leg was painful and was worrying me.  I hadn’t twisted or
knocked it; it had just started hurting for no reason.

At Bynack stable there is a lovely clear flat bit of grass where I put
up the tent while the rain started to get heavy.  It was still light
outside but I had to close the tent door due to the rain, so I have no
idea if anyone walked past my tent which was unmissable by anyone
passing that way.

Day 9. Bynack Stable to Wild Camp south of Loch Builg
Planned route: Path SE – Keep E of Bynack Beg and Bynack More – Lochan
a Bhainne – Fords of Avon – Faindouran Lodge – LRT along R Avon – LRT
Glen Builg
Approximate distance and ascent: Planned: 25km/800m  Actual: Approx
27km.

Diary:  Day started slowly as my leg was still sore and I was a bit
nervous about the climb and the planned shortcut across Dagrum and the
Glasath.  My previous “shortcuts” have been awful.  However, neither
the climb nor the shortcut was too bad and I reached Faindouran Bothy
at 11am.  The afternoon was long, but I pushed on an extra 2km and
camped with 4 Challengers (Derek, Ellie, Barbara, Peter).  During the
day I saw a snake (but everyone reckons it was a Slow Worm).

Comments: The climb wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated and my
cross-country shortcuts were on easy ground. I had been warned that
the Glassath could be difficult to cross in spate, but it was only a
trickle when I got there.

The Faindouran bothy book had been signed by several Challengers and
went back to before last year’s Challenge so I spent some time having
a bite to eat and reading the book.  Faindouran is quite a posh bothy
(well, compared with Ryvoan!) and has an upstairs sleeping platform.
I had previously read, in the MBA handbook I think, that there is no
firewood nearby and that it is necessary to carry in some “bogwood”.
However, it was only now that I realised what “bogwood” is when I saw
a big piece of it in the fireplace.  I then felt a little guilty that
I hadn’t carried some in, even though I had no intention of lighting
the fire.  I’d love to stay in a place like this, but I would feel a
little vulnerable compared with being safe and sound in my tent.

There were various campers along the banks of the River Gairn; a mix
of Challengers, other walkers and cyclists.  [Coincidentally, I bumped
into those same 4 Challengers when I walked up Skiddaw a few weeks
ago.]

Day 10.  River Gairn to Ballater.
Planned route: LRT R Gairn – Corndavon Lodge – Join B976 – Crathie –
Easter Balmoral – B976 to Ballater
Approximate distance and ascent: Planned: 28km/260m  Actual: 26km.

Diary: Land-Rover Track for 8 miles then 8 miles of road.  Was glad I
had done some research and found the Crathie Corner Cupboard and Post
Office where I had a pot of tea and a scone.  There must be at least 8
Challengers at Ballater campsite including a few I have met along the
way and one who has been visiting the same bothies (and signing the
visitor book) just after me.  “So /you’re/ number 20?!”  Off to the
pub in a minute but it’s already 8:20pm so I don’t think I’ll be
having many.

Comments: The Crathie Corner Cupboard is worth a visit if you want a
sit down and a cup of tea away from the Balmoral coach parties.  The
council-run campsite at Ballater was Hilleberg City and was run by a
very reasonable warden who decided that anyone who had walked from the
West coast with their tent on their back should only be charged the
OAP rate.  Good man.

Dinner was a chip-shop special; the stodgier the better.

Day 11.  Ballater to Feughside
Planned route: Cycle route NE out of Ballater following dismantled
railway – Muir of Dinnet – Dinnet – B976 – Minor roads to Feughside
campsite at junction of B976 and Old Military Road (NO 642925)
Approximate distance and ascent:  35km/350m

Diary: Didn’t get enough sleep after staying up boozing; 11pm is much
too late to go to bed.  Had a very long, tiring day.  Approx 35km,
mainly on roads.  Had a delicious vegetable and goat’s cheese frittata
at the Feughside Inn, but had to hobble back to the campsite and I
think it would be better to split tomorrow’s 20 miles into 2 parts and
finish on Thursday.

Comments: Probably the hardest day of all due to the distance and
having to walk mainly on roads.  Just before reaching the cross-roads
where I expected my campsite to be I found a caravan site.  I think my
tiredness was affecting my judgement and I decided that this must be
the place I was looking for.  It was HORRIBLE!  It was full of static
caravans and gravel, white plastic picket fences, satellite dishes and
gnomes.  I was so disappointed as I was sure I’d read that Feughside
wasn’t a bad site.  Thankfully I then pulled myself together and
realised this was not the right place.  I walked on for a few minutes
and found the proper site.  There was no sign of the warden and I
couldn’t find the shower-block, but the disabled facilities were open
so I had a shower then pondered what on Earth I was going to do in the
morning; complete the walk to Stonehaven or find a mid-way point to
camp?

The Feughside Inn served a nice pint of real ale and had one
vegetarian dish on the menu.  I could not remember what Frittata was
but I ordered it anyway and it was delicious!

There were two other tents on the campsite and they turned out to
belong to two Challengers who had seen me in the pub.  They persuaded
me that I should be enjoying myself and that walking 20 miles was
probably not the best thing to do given that I was tired, had a sore
leg and that there was a day to spare if I needed it.  I slept well
having made the decision to split my last day into two.

Day 12.
Planned route: B976 – Strachan – Cross Water of Feugh – Minor Roads –
At Knock Wood take footpath South – Fetteresso Forest – Minor roads
into Stonehaven.
Actual: Camped just outside E side of Feteresso Forest
Approximate distance and ascent: Planned: 33km/570  Actual: Approx
23km

Diary: Felt much happier to start walking this morning as I had
decided not to walk all the way to Stonehaven today.  Had an enjoyable
day’s walk with lots of sit-downs and no rushing.  Asked a farmer if I
could camp in his field.  Should have less than 3 hours walking
tomorrow.   Had beeen hoping to watch the Champions League final in a
Stonehaven pub but will have to make do with the radio.

Comments: I had been advised that Feteresso Forest was an easy place
to get lost, but I had no problems although I did take it easy and
check the map often.  The trees are spread widely enough for a good
GPS signal so I was always pretty certain I was going the right way.

I crossed a stream in the middle of the forest and filled up my water
bottles; I carry an empty platypus for camping, so I filled that up as
I did not know where I would be staying that night.   When I emerged
from the forest, I started looking for somewhere to camp.  I couldn’t
decide whether to try to “hide” or to knock on someone’s door and ask
if I could camp nearby.  I found a flattish field, full of sheep,
which would have been ideal so I knocked on the nearest door …… and
got no reply.  It had taken a bit of courage to knock on the door, so
I felt quite slighted when nobody answered!  A little further on I saw
two men mending a fence, so I asked them if I could camp in their
field.  They seemed a little bemused by the request but the older man
(presumably the farmer) said I could.

To the left of my tent, just out of sight of the door, was a patch of
rough ground on which pheasants were strutting their stuff and rabbits
were either hopping around or standing tall keeping watch.  Every time
I reached for my camera they disappeared behind a fence-post or down a
rabbit-hole.  I propped myself up on one elbow for what seemed like
ages but didn’t manage to get any photos.

Day 13. Montrose
Planned route: Spare morning if required.   Travel to Montrose
Approximate distance: About 10km.

Diary: Final day.  Had an easy 6 mile walk to Stonehaven.  Went to the
beach first then walked round to the harbour.  Met a couple of
Challengers who were heading to Dunnottar Castle – a popular finish
point.  Had an ice-cream and looked for somewhere to have lunch but it
was still too early so caught the bus to Montrose and picked up more
Challengers all along the route.

Comments: I had planned for my finishing point to be the harbour at
Stonehaven but, when I saw the sea, I could not resist going for a
paddle.  One of the locals said “It’s up that way; Dunnottar Castle is
up that way”, as it seems anyone carrying a huge rucksack in May must
be heading to Dunnottar Castle.  I could have tagged along with the
two Challengers who were going up to the castle, but I decided I had
walked quite far enough (although I was nearly tempted when they said
there was a bus-stop by the castle, so there would be no need to walk
back to Stonehaven.)

At the bus stop, a small crowd of Challengers was gathering and the
crowd got bigger at every stop along the route to Montrose.  The
conversation frequently centred on finish points for next year and I
wish I had made a note of some of the promising places I saw.

At Montrose I met up with loads of people I had either met on the way,
or met last year or had chatted with on the internet.  Although this
was only my second Challenge, I do feel like a member of a close-knit
community.  I know that I could do a similar walk on my own whenever I
liked, but I do like the comradeship of the TGO Challenge.

I am already thinking of my next route, but I’ve not decided if it
will be next year as two weeks is half my holiday entitlement and I
may think of something else to do instead.

If I get round to it I shall write a brief summary of equipment I used
this year eg Lithium batteries, Paramo clothing, Inov-8 shoes……… but
given the time it has taken me to write this TR don’t hold your
breath!

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