It’s only a few months until the 2015 TGO Challenge and I really should be concentrating on planning this year’s crossing. However, I feel there is still some unfinished business from last year. I published short blog posts on most days of my Morar to Johnshaven crossing but I also kept a diary with the intention of “writing it up properly”. I’m not intending to write up a blow-by-blow “and–then-I-went-up-a-hill-and-then-my-feet got-wet-and-then-I-had-my-dinner” type of report (although I have recently enjoying re-reading my 2012 report in that style) but there are a few memories I would like to record so I can revisit them in the future.
I use Geograph when planning any walk in areas I don’t know and I was astonished to find that there were swathes of Day 2 which had NO Geograph photos. I knew that other Challengers had taken the same route the year before… so why had they passed through NM8292 and not gained a Geograph point? I’d never bothered uploading anything before now as, even if I’d knowingly walked through an empty square, I’d never been prepared to take the time to properly record my location and the direction I was facing when I took the photo – but this time I’d made a note of which squares needing filling in and I methodically ticked off a few of them.
My photo album from my 2014 crossing has several photos like this:
and my GPS has waypoints called Geo1, Geo2, etc as I wanted to upload the most accurate information I could. Publishing each Geograph required me to match the time-stamp of each photograph with my GPS waypoints to get the grid reference, then look at the photo of the compass to get the direction of the photo. Yes, a bit time-consuming but if a job’s worth doing…..
I do still have a few photos to upload; possibly supplementals rather than Geographs, so I hope my methodical record-keeping allows me to decipher exactly where I was and what/where the photos are of.
This year’s awful forest
I had arranged to meet up with Martin in Spean Bridge and walk to Fersit together. We’ve had some “interesting” walks together in the past – mainly because the weather has been atrocious, so it was good that the rain mainly stayed off – although, if I remember correctly, I did have my waterproof trousers on and off at least once.
Martin wanted to bag a Graham which was slightly off my route and I was happy to vaguely head towards the top of the lumpy bits, although I didn’t make a point of deliberately standing on the highest bit. Somewhere near the top is good enough for me.
We had some lovely views from the top of one lumpy bit.
My main memory of the rest of the day is of tiredness. Five days in, I was achy and lethargic. This day was only due to be around 22km but it seeemed to have been more than that and I fancied finishing the day with some easy walking on flat, dry paths. Our hilly diversion meant that I wasn’t really sure where we were. I know I could have turned on my GPS and taken charge of my own destiny but, for some reason, I preferred to rely on Martin and not make any decisions for myself.
We’d been keeping an eye out for the Puggy Line, a dismantled narrow guage railway, but I did not know how clear the old line would be on the ground and it was tempting to assume that any flat straight marks on the ground were the old railway.
By now I was navigationally challenged and not thinking clearly. My feet hurt and I remember sitting down and taking off my shoes and socks in an attempt to rest them.
We agreed that a route through the forest would be the quickest way to get to Fersit. Unfortunately, the path through the forest was soon blocked with fallen trees. We persevered, going under and over the resting trunks with their sharp broken off branches. We crawled through and under interwoven branches – passing my rucksack through gaps that were too small for me to get through with it on my back. Eventually we turned back and repeated the tortuous journey in the other direction.
We decided that a firebreak looked clear and, whilst taking us in a slightly roundabout direction, would soon get us back on track. Guess what? Yep, it was blocked with fallen trees. Martin clambered up the roots of a huge tree which was lying on its side and, when at the top, advised me to stay where I was. Not wishing to admit defeat I ignored him and clambered up. Blooming ‘eck! There was a sheer drop of at least 20 feet! (Why hadn’t he warned me!?)
I think we must have backtracked to where we started and followed the outside edge of the forest but I can’t really remember. We did eventually find remnants of the Puggy Line.
I was exhausted when we finally arrived at Martin’s van and was extremely grateful for the shopping he’d brought for me and the delicious curry he made from real ingredients; none of this instant packet stuff for some campers!
The Vicar’s Bottom
Martin had told me how – whilst travelling to meet me at Spean Bridge – he’d got talking to Heather, a fellow Challenger, who was dashing to make up lost time after helping David off Streap after he’d slipped and bounced down half the mountain on his backside. It sounded really nasty and I was able to get the full story from Heather when I bumped into her in Spean Bridge. It sounded like he’d be OK, but it was quite sobering to think of the perils of the mountains – especially as I normally walk alone and had had a slip (albeit nowhere near as bad) the day before.
I saw David at Dalwhinnie and recognised the sight of a man in pain and great discomfort – although, after 2-3 days maturing, I do think I got to see the bruises at their most beautiful, colourful best. (No JPEGs; this is a family site).
A coincidental encounter
I reached the Commando Memorial, on the way to Spean Bridge, at about 9 o’clock in the morning and it was relatively visitor-free with just a few cars and people. One car pulled up and out jumped Jhimmy – with whom I had last walked (with Martin!) in the Kielder Forest in 2011. Small world, eh?
The OMG-I’m-going-to-die bit
Following the path along Allt Gharbh Ghaig part of the path appeared to have been shored up with timber. Whilst edging closer to have a look, I dislodged a rock which bounced down the steep valley into the water below. In my mind’s eye I could see myself – rucksack attached – bouncing down after it. I clung to the vegetation and had a little mental wobble. Decision made, I ignored the “path” and climbed up the hillside where the walking turned out to be much easier with amazing views.
The “Oh, THAT North!” moment
I’ve never descended to Gaick Lodge before…. and still haven’t. Somebody had messed with the Earth’s magnetic core or maybe I just didn’t read my compass properly. Meh!
Anyway, whatever the reason, I found myself like one of the Grand Old Duke of York’s men – neither up nor down and not making very much progress at all.
A delicious Highland breakfast
I walked about 30km to reach Spittal of Glenshee and was disappointed that there was no room at the inn. Apparently this is not unusual. Or, rather, there is plenty of room … but no rooms available. [Ed: And no rooms for quite a while longer while they pick through the burned down remains].
However, they said I could camp round the back and have dinner and breakfast. Excellent.
Breakfast was served in the bar and consisted of a few cling-filmed bowls of dubious cereals; a toaster; a plate piled with slices of bread; and a catering bucket of Jam Fruit Mixed with a knife stuck in it.
I asked for butter. There wasn’t any.
I ordered a cooked breakfast and asked what Vegetarian options they had. They could do me eggs. Good so far. Tomato. Yes, please. Cheese. Pardon me? And salad. Salad? Sorry, did you say “salad”? Oh, OK, eggs and tomato please. I think he only charged me three pounds, and I did eat a lot of toast and jam, but SALAD?
Other random memories
The excellent wild camps. Just me in the middle of nowhere with snow-capped mountains all around.
The drunken “nearly there” revelry at North Water Bridge. (It wasn’t as raucous as it sounds but I enjoyed the cameraderie)
Mike’s lovely cup of coffee when I unexpectedly bumped into him at Glen Prosen. After a 32km day, a mug full of anything warm, wet and made for me was bound to be good!
Chips at Blair Atholl.
Watching The Good Life and Ever Decreasing Circles at Blair Atholl.
Trying to dry my Ron Hills on a fence in Dalwhinnie.
Watching a Bride and Groom jump out of a car near Loch Arkaig and have their photos taken. This is not the first time this has happened on one of my crossings.
The wonderful exposed bleakness of the Gaick plateau. Peat bogs, snow, freezing cold. Amazing.
Maybe I will eventually get round to writing up more detail, but I doubt it. There’s only a short period of time in which I can remember what really happened, step by step, on a walk. After that the memories can be stirred by a word or a smell but the story becomes fragmented and relies on guesswork to fill in the gaps. But maybe that’s a more entertaining way to write a blog…..? <Hm? Thinks…..> I’ll aim to get my 2015 write-up published in the next couple of weeks. 😉