Next year’s TGO Challenge Trip Report

We are on the cusp of the high season for TGO Challenge route-planning so, like addicts around the world, I’m surrounded by maps and gear spreadsheets.  It’s a time-consuming task but bound by a deadline …. which means I will eventually say “Oh that’ll do” and send it in for vetting.  Something which is not time-bound is writing up my adventures on my blog and I seem to leave it later and later each year. To cut down on the delay I’ve decided to write next year’s now. I mean, the same stuff always happens so why not get it done while I’ve got a few spare minutes. Assuming that I get a place [fingers crossed], I suspect my trip will go something like this.

Travel to the start

The journey to my start point takes 3 buses and 4 trains over 13 hours.  I’d chosen the Quiet Carriage as I enjoy sitting in the midst of a crisp crunching convention whilst hoping that none of the drunk buffoons stand on my rucksack clips.

Arriving on the Friday night I check the signing out list and notice that out of the 65 people setting out from here, only 5 very strange people and 1 person who has blocked me on twitter are still to sign out.  I spend the evening hiding in my tent.

Day 1

A beautiful clear morning, I pack up early then unpack and repack when I realise the only place my lost mobile phone could possibly be is in my sleeping bag at the bottom of my pack.  It starts raining while I’m repacking.

Day 2

My shoulders are starting to hurt but I’m already out in the wilds and I’m loving it.  Have identified a perfect spot for the tent on the map.  When I get there, I spend 20 minutes trying to find a flat, rock-free, tent-sized space in a midgy swamp. Too knackered to go on, I filter some water from the film-covered quagmire.

Day 3

After 5 minutes walking I find an acre of flat, dry, sheep-nibbled grass next to a babbling brook with Unicorns gambolling in the neighbouring meadow.  I try to laugh sardonically but, instead, wince at the pain in my knee.

Later I phone Control. “Yeah, having a GREAT time.  Best pitches ever. Could be my best crossing yet.”

Day 4

My first proper hill day.  I curse every step of the climb then wander round giggling at the sheer glory of being up there. How lucky am I!

Still drunk on the majesty of the hilly wild places, I slip on some wet grass and get a huge bruise on my backside which I can only see by taking a photograph. Note to self: filter photographs before blogging.

Day 5

A bit of a trek on the road along the loch today but I think about the history of the place.  I see only 2 or 3 people all day but there are dozens in the Kirkyard.

I enter civilisation for a resupply, a shower and a bed.  Have a coffee after my dinner and can’t get to sleep til 3 in the morning.

Day 6

Walking through the pleasant broadleaf woods I see a beautiful deer only metres away.  I take a perfect photograph of the fence between us.


Emerging from the forest I call in at the Visitor Centre and a complete stranger says “You’re on the Challenge, aren’t you!?  You’ll be needing these!” whilst giving me a Mars Bar and a can of pop.

Day 7

A bleak, wild day just how I like it.  The peat is tiring to cross – up and down all day – but this is possibly my best day yet.  In warm sun but with a gentle breeze I’ve kept dry and had a great time.  I see a perfect pitch just on the other side of a small burn.  I leap across, choose the wrong bit of bank to land on and end up with stinky wet shoes and socks just as the sun drops behind the mountain.

Day 8

A wet day.  A VERY wet day.  My Paramo keeps me warm and wet while I toil up the hill.  I was looking forward to today but the weather was supposed to be better.  They say the views are wonderful from up here.


After a failed attempt at wading across the thigh-deep river I go the long way round and reach the bothy at just after 8pm.  The bothy book reports last night’s merriment around the roaring fire.  I hang my dripping clothes over the bare fireplace whilst attempting to wring out some logs.

Day 9

I’ve got a room booked tonight and after three tough days I am looking forward to a shower and Big Eats.  I trample my clothes clean in the shower-tray then go downstairs for my tea.

I have garlic bread as a starter; Veggie lasagne with boiled spuds, veg and an extra portion of chips for my main; cheesecake with double-cream for afters; then a bag of nuts with my beer while I catch up with twitter on the pub wifi.  Later, in bed, I find some cheese in my rucksack and eat it with some smashed up oatcakes.

Day 10

I get up early having had a terrible night’s sleep with indigestion.  I go down for an early breakfast and find 4 Challengers already tucking in.  We know we’ve got the hard part out of the way.  You can nearly see the coast from here.  They tell me about 2 tearooms. Wise people; I note their advice.

I’m now joining up farm tracks and a few lone hills.  The wilderness is behind me but I find a stealthy pitch near the crematorium  and have 3 cups of tea as I know I can spare the gas now.

Day 11

More roads today.  I sing One Man Went to Mow to keep me occupied.  Then Ten Green Bottles.

Glimpsing behind me, I see someone with a huge pack catching me up.  I can’t quite see who it is.  This could go one of several ways.  I start practising my excuses: “No, you go on; you’re obviously much fitter than me”.   He’s getting closer. Yay!  No need for excuses….. we last met in the café two years ago and it’s great to see him again.  The miles fly by as we plod up the road.

Day 12

I can’t get lost today. Only 11 km of quiet roads to the coast.  I get lost and have to walk along the verge of the A92 for 3km…… twice.

The bus comes at last and, at each stop, more weather-beaten tramps climb aboard.  It’s so nice to be amongst my own folk.

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Minera / Esclusham bivi

When considering how to open this blog post, I had a quick look back at a previous post and realised I was going to say exactly the same thing: love sleeping outside ….. very busy …. no time for long trips … quick bivi will have to do blah blah blah…. so, if you’re strapped for time, just re-read Micro tarp bivi on Minera Mountain; and loads of kit observations and you’ll have a pretty good idea of where I went and what I did.

Packing my rucksack had been a complete faff.   I settled on the fourth one I’d tried.  I have no idea how I managed to fit everything into a 22 litre pack a few years ago.  I must now be taking all sorts of stuff I don’t need, although the Osprey Exos 46 did feel really good with a lighter-than-usual load.

I caught the train to Hope this time, rather than Wrexham, but my shockingly bad navigation out of Hope meant I’d’ve been better starting at Caergwle …. if I could’ve pronounced it.

My GPS track shows that I went too far South to begin with, missing a path, then t00 far North missing another path and adding 1km to my route.  I was now on a path alongside a minor road to the West of Hope and enjoying the tasty blackberries in the hedgerow.  I must’ve been eating the early ones as the majority were still hard and green.

I’d left home with a litre of water and my water filter, confident that I’d be able to pick up water for camping along the way.  However, the weather was quite warm and I wasn’t seeing much water that I’d fancy drinking, even filtered, so I bought a can of pop at Llanfynydd and planned to buy another drink at any other shop I came across.

Although it didn’t really matter where I camped, I had planned to spend the night on Esclusham Mountain as it’s handy for the train home from Wrexham in the morning.   This meant heading South-ish and West a bit but I made up the route on the way.  I knew that Esclusham Mountain was likely to be covered in thick, lush bracken at this time of year – so it was tempting to stop whenever I saw a patch of short, flat grass but I wanted to put a few miles in my legs so kept going.

I got a bit lost in the Nant Y Ffrith woods.  As is often the case, I found it difficult to work out how the paths on the map matched what I could see on the ground.  Eventually I realised that a path heading NE was never going to straighten out into the slightly SE one I was looking for.  I retraced my steps and realised I’d turned less than a minute too early onto the very faint path also shown onto the map (but difficult to see in the dull forest light).

Bwlchgwyn was a disappointment.  By this time I was focused on the exact types of drink I was going to buy in the next shop I found.  I would buy a lightly sparking fruit drink, like one of those posh Sanpellegrino lemonades; and a flavoured spring water – maybe lime; and at least 750ml of water to carry to my camp.  Unfortunately, either I took the wrong route through town or Bwlchgwyn does not have any shops.

I wasn’t yet short of water but I was beginning to realise I would be happier with an extra litre in my pack so that I did not have to consider a water source when picking somewhere to camp.  With hindsight, I should have popped into the campsite just South of Bwlchgwyn and ask if I could fill my bottle ….. but I didn’t think.

Approaching the dismantled railway NW of the Minera Lead Mines and Country Park I made my biggest navigational c*ck-up of the day.   I dropped down to the River Clywedog [Yay! It was still flowing, although it took ages to gather and filter a litre to carry away] then, thinking I was now on the dismantled railway, walked all the way to the Lead Mines and Pentre.  I pretty much knew I was going wrong but it was now nearing 8pm and I didn’t fancy getting lost in fading light when I still didn’t know where I’d be spending the night.  I went the long way round and joined the minor road running West from New Brighton to World’s End.  As expected, the hillside was covered in thick bracken but I fancied I’d find a clearing if I kept going.  Sure enough there were patches of nice, short grass but there were also some old lager cans and signs that the local hoodlums could disturb my peace on a Summer Friday night.

Following a path through the bracken I came out onto an open – but nettle and thistle covered – hillside.  This looked promising.   Heading as far away from the footpath as possible, I found a wedge of flat ground between two fences, dropped my pack to the floor and unrolled my mat.  I’d found my pitch for the night and I was now in desparate need of a cup of tea.

I threw up my tarp as soon as my tea was brewed.  The shower would probably pass, which it did, but I didn’t want to risk getting wet after such a dry day.  I was going to sleep in a bivi bag but I didn’t want to be rained on while having my dinner.

The back of the tarp (and views of Wrexham to the East)

Under the tarp just before unpacking.

Using the lifter in the middle of the tap created a lot of usable space under cover.  I would have had to lower the front corner if the rain had been heavy and swirling but this worked well for the light shower I had in the evening and again in the morning.  By the way, whilst I know that some readers may be interested in any photo of any shelter, I do like to use my blog as a diary and a reference guide to remind me of what I’ve tried in the past.

I drank my tea whilst watching and listening to the world.  There was a busy road – probably the A525 – over my left shoulder.  Off to my right there were children and dogs – probably in the nearby farm.  There were lots of aeroplanes and a large helicopter which came from the North then headed back the same way a few minutes later.

The stove was nearly boiled again for my pasta when I heard a strange rumbling noise which caused me to peek out around the tarp.  Three horses, which I’d been aware of but not paid any attention to, were now staring at me and had obviously just galloped the width of their field to have a closer look.  They kept trotting round – like they couldn’t see me – then galloping towards the fence and just standing there watching me.  It was funny …. but a little bit scary as I knew that a malevolent – or mischevious – horse could cause me a few problems in the night.  I also knew that the fence was not continuous and that the horses could come round to my side if they wanted to.  After a few minutes that’s what they did.  In a slightly comical routine – which I wish I’d taken a photo of – they crept round the fence and peered around the corner.  It looked like they were hiding – even though the fence was just a couple of strands of wire.  Once they’d had a good look they trotted back to their field and I cooked my pasta.  They got bolder when the light had faded and they came round into my little corner of the field, ate some grass then lost interest in me and wandered off.

The horses. Next day, still watching from the other side of the field.

This was the first trip in which I was relying on my Speedster 30ml methylated spirits stove and it worked well.  I now know that I can get a cup of tea and a pan of pasta out of one full stove, but I needed to top it up for my second cup of tea.  A full stove and a 100ml bottle should just about do me for a two night trip but I’d be wary of running out of fuel.  It’s ideal for a simple overnight bivi – although I don’t really see the benefit compared with gas.  I suppose there’s very little that could go wrong with meths – and I have suffered a gas stove failure on the TGO Challenge – but gas will always be my fuel of choice for controllability and ease of use.

I would like to have been a little warmer in the night but I wasn’t actually cold.  As usual, it was my upper-most hip and thigh [I’m a side sleeper] which got cold so I put my smock over it inside my sleeping bag.   I’d taken my lightest synthetic bag but I think down would’ve been better.

Although I woke up several times in the night I felt like I’d had a good night’s sleep; the psychological benefit of sleeping on the ground on the side of a hill, no doubt.

Back home again in the early afternoon I’d been away for about 26 hours and walked about 32 km which, for me, is at the upper end of my daily distance limit.  Mentally I feel refreshed …. but my legs are suffering a bit!

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Pre-TGOC Daunder 2017 – Part 2

In the morning, as usual, I felt the inside of my flysheet for condensation so that I could dry it off before I packed up.  Hm? That’s odd ….. no condensation.  The wind had dropped, so there should be some.  Oh hang on, it was there but it was frozen.  Ah, that would explain why I had to put extra clothing on in the night.  I’m not a girly wimp; it was arctic up there.

Apparently, those noisy boastful hillbagger-types who had so rudely interrupted my afternoon nap were the other half of our party and we’d agreed to meet them down there.  I didn’t really know where there was but I was sure we’d bump into them at some point.  Besides, none of us believed that they would really have camped where they said, as any normal person would have noticed how close they were to a pub and camped in the beer garden.

We set off – me wearing nice dry socks – and took Route A across a bog.  This was authentic TGO Challenge training.

We came across some excavations in the rock so Lucky the Dog decided to go and investigate.  In this photograph you can see he is quivering with excitement at having found a troll living deep underground.

We found the others standing round doing nowt.  Typical; such a lazy bunch.  Giving them the benefit of the doubt and assuming that low blood sugar was responsible for their inertia, I offered round the Werther’s Originals.  This seemed to do the trick; they were soon saddled up and chomping at the bit.

We then walked along for a while then waited while one of our party went back for his walking poles.  This was actually one of the highlights of the day for me as I sat on a very nice rock in the sun while I waited.  I didn’t sit and think; I just sat, which is one of my most favourites things to do in the mountains – apart from sleeping, of course.

Before long we’d stopped again next to a bus stop and some toilets.  This was a little annoying as I needed neither of these facilities. However, it did give us the opportunity to form another schism.  Hurrah!  The harmony had lasted too d*mn long.  One party looked at the map and identified that there was the possibility to visit any permutation of one pub and / or two tearooms between our current location and our planned campsite.  The other party said something about a hill.  So, off I toddled to the pub.

The preferred menu option was the fish finger sandwich.  When I heard it was sick squid, I assumed that’s what it was made out of but it turned out to be the price.  Maybe a little steep but everyone seemed to enjoy it.

The halloumi on my sandwich was a little thin but was a vast improvement on oatcakes and Primula.

We must’ve then walked some more – although I can’t remember too much about it.  The farm campsite had plenty of room so we had loads of choice where to pitch.  After a bit of lounging around we decided that it would be a marvellously team-spirited thing to do if we went and met the others as they came off the hill.  It was not our fault that they had doggedly stuck to the plan and gone up hilly things but we shouldn’t let their dogmatic execution of the rules come between us.  We’d started as a team and we should finish as a team.  Besides, if they weren’t coming back then we needed to decide who was going to eat their reserved meals in the pub later that night.

We knew which direction they’d be approaching from so we wandered off that way.  No sign of them.  We pondered a bridge which was not where we needed it to be.  Still no sign.  We gave up and went back to the campsite.  I admit, I was now worried.  We’d let these poor fools go wandering off into the hills on their own.  If they couldn’t even find a big blue pint pot on an OS map then how were they going to find their way safely off the hills?  To help me cope with my own anxiety (and also because I thought it was about time I looked at the map myself and figured out where we were) I went for a short walk on my own.

When I got back, the wanderers had returned.  Putting on a nonchalent air I pretended that I hadn’t been out searching for them but was actually just on my way to the tap, so did anyone want their bottles filling?  (48 litres later I was starting to regret that offer.  The sooner someone invents dehydrated water the better).

The evening was spent drinking beer and eating risotto. Yeah, risotto.  I won’t be going there for my vegetarian tea again.

Day 3 dawned at dawn, as is the convention, and we set off at 8:30 ish for a simple walk along the Cumbrian Way.  Absolutely no chance of a schism today.  Well, apart from when only half of us stopped for a bacon / egg butty and the other half where nowhere to be seen.  I enjoyed my egg butty and I particularly enjoyed the pot of tea with an extra pot of hot water.  That’s classy, that is.

The reappearance of a mobile phone signal helped us to discover that Team B were rapidly approaching our intended destination for the day.  We had two choices; get a move on and catch up with them, or go to the pub.  It was a very nice pub.

By the time we reached Braithwaite, most of the others had thinned out and gone home.  They just couldn’t handle the pace, apparently.

After a Little Sit Down and a natter, I strolled into Keswick and had the cream tea I’d been promising myself [I was worried I’d not been eating enough] then put up my tent on the Keswick Camping and Caravanning Club site which – as a backpacker – was much better than I had been expecting.  I’d had a great weekend; a good mix of (just enough) walking, camping and beer with a decent bunch of people.  If I’d been doing the TGO Challenge this year, this would have been just the sort of practice I needed.  Thanks to everyone for the organisation and the good company.

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Pre-TGOC Daunder 2017 – Part 1

I’ve never been on a Daunder before.  I’ve read about them;  I’ve seen the photos; but I’ve never actually been – so I was excited and honoured to receive the invitation email.  This year, Messrs Lambert and Sloman had hired a minion to undertake the planning and administration.  (I presume they’d hired him, because I can’t see how he’d have put up with the Daunderers’ whinging and complaints if he wasn’t receiving some sort of remuneration?)

The planning was executed to the highest standard.  A series of emails detailed where we were to meet; a daily schedule; and a choice of pubs for Saturday night dinner.  The route was described clearly and there was a table of distance and heights to be acheived ….. although I’d stopped reading after the “choice of pubs” bit, so I didn’t pay too much attention to the numbers.

For a backpacking trip in the English Lake District in April I knew that my standard TGO Challenge kit would suffice.  I mean, that’s the whole point of the Daunder; to give the kit, legs and lungs a trial run a few weeks before leaving the West Coast of Scotland for the long trek East.  I dithered for a while about which stove to take.  I’ve always been a fan of simple gas stoves but have recently bought a Speedster Stove and was pondering cooking on meths for this trip.  However, it just didn’t appear to be a reasonable balance of weight to convenience for a 4-5 day trip.  I calculated that I’d need to take a 500ml (over 500g) bottle of meths – but a full gas canister would only weigh 370-ish grammes and has always got me all the way across Scotland for 12-13 days.  I took the gas stove and will save the Speedster for overnight bivis.

The other bit of non-standard gear I considered – and took – was my Exped Down UL7 sleeping mat.  It took up slightly more room in my pack than the Neoair but it ain’t half comfy.  (I’ll probably revert to the Neoair on my next Challenge, though).

I took the train up to Penrith.  This was a bit of a faff due to engineering works on the track nearest to home, but Virgin Trains sell a very nice Tilting Ale and I was soon in holiday mood.

From Penrith I caught the bus to Keswick then set off on the 2 mile walk to Braithwaite.  Of course, I went the wrong way having convinced myself I could take a shortcut across the campsite.  I have no idea why I thought this but was grateful when the site warden very helpfully pointed me in the right direction – and I walked all the way back to where I started.

At Braithwaite there was a strange pale green near-see-through tent in the middle of the site.  Not finding anyone at home, but guessing that this was probably one of our tribe, I pitched nearby.  I was soon joined by two young (4 or 5 year old) children on scooters.  They were very keen to know why I didn’t have a hammer.  It was difficult to know how to answer that question and they didn’t seem convinced by my statement that I didn’t need a hammer as I had very thin, sharp tent pegs.  Their Mummy and Daddy had just put up their tent and these kids knew that I needed a hammer.  They also wanted to know “Why is your tent so small?”.  This was asked in a rather dismissive tone that, I admit, did irk me somewhat.  Cheeky young tykes!

The rest of the Daunderers gathered over the next few hours and we were soon exchanging kit reviews and asking “Where are you starting from?” which – if you’ve never met an actual TGO Challenger in the flesh – is always a good opening gambit.

A trip to the pub [two pubs, actually] gave the opportunity to discuss the plan for the morning.  There was talk of huge ascent but I hoped this was just the beer talking.

After a good night’s sleep (once the non-Daunderer rowdies had shut up and gone to sleep in the early hours of the morning) I awoke to drizzle which had developed into rain by the time I was packing up my tent.  As experienced, hardened backpackers we shrugged off the miserable weather ….. whilst sitting in the cafe hoping it would pass.

At 10 o’clock, our Leader cracked his whip and we shuffled outside.  There was some muttering about today’s planned route making a mountain out of a molehill, and how there was absolutely no need to go UP when ALONG would do nicely.  I could have joined in the conversation, I suppose, but I was in sheep mode and couldn’t really be bothered looking at my map.  Baaaaa!

We set off as a group of 14, walking on tracks and a bit of road.  The drizzle dried up quite soon so the waterproofs came off.  My GPS was playing its usual game of refusing to tell me where I was [I’m going to buy a new one] so I didn’t record a track and am not sure exactly where we went although we did stop for a sit down and a snack at Newlands Church.  By now, the schism was tangible.  We’d already lost two of our number to a tea-room and there was now clear dissent in the ranks.  It was time to nail my colours to the mast and stand up for what I believe in.  I said I’d join the group which was going to walk up the valley and camp early.  Well, it seemed the right thing to do.  Some principles need to be defended, come what may.

Thus, relieved of the burden of impending mountains we carried on our way with a spring in our step.

A pleasant valley on the way to Dale Head

The valley walk was enjoyable but no walk in the park.  There was a fair bit of UP and we had to go over a bealach near some craggy bits.  (I know all of the technical language).

As I’d still not looked at the map, I feel I must apologise to my fellow Daunderers if I kept asking “Are we nearly there yet?”

By late afternoon (well, OK, shortly after 2pm) we reached our intended camp.  Or somewhere near there. Anyway, wherever it was, it was flat and there was plenty of room and some fast flowing drinking water nearby.

We put up our tents/shelters and did camping-type things – like having a cup-a-soup then going to sleep for hours.  The wind was a wee bit gusty (OK, it was blowing a hooley) but Phil and I had discussed the best way to pitch a single-hooped tent in strong winds.  We came to complete agreement then pitched our tents at 90 degrees to each other.  One of us obviously wasn’t paying attention!

I was abruptedly woken from my snooze by some rowdy ruffians standing in the middle of our camp and loudly criticising our choice of site and the kite-like attributes of some of our tents.  Apparently they’d been up a hill and they seemed to expect some sort of medal and a welcome committee.  Yeah, whatever.  I’d walked up a valley then camped in a wind tunnel so naaaahh!

The noisy macho types pushed on (or off, if you like) and I went back to sleep.  Waking again at 7pm, the wind had dropped and I could hear people drinking whisky so I decided I’d better have my tea then join them.  I was probably back in bed for 10pm ….. but these long hill days are so tiring.  (To be continued).

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A Southern Snowdonia Camping Trip

It would be wrong to say that this was a walking trip.  It was always planned with the camping at the centre but with some walking to build up an appetite.  I’d been keeping an eye on the weather forecast during the previous week and I was pleased to see that it was slowly getting colder and drier.  Tuesday should now be around freezing overnight with Wednesday a couple of degrees colder and then Thursday a few degrees above.  This turned out to be a pretty accurate forecast and I only donned my waterproof trousers for an hour on Friday morning as a precaution against the mist which had surrounded my tent.  Some snow would have been nice, but I had no room in my rucksack for crampons so I was very pleased with how things turned out.

I’ve only been to Blaenau Ffestiniog once before.  On that occasion it was as grey as a very grey thing on a grey day.  The town is built from the local slate, so the buildings, mountains and sky all share the same greyness.  However, I think it must have been raining last time as it looked almost pretty in the bright sunshine.  Yes, it was still grey … but a more cheerful grey than I remembered.  Arriving at 11:30-ish, I was grateful to the train guard who’d phoned ahead when it looked like I’d miss my connection due to the late arrival of my train into Llandudno Junction.  Thankfully they held the train for a couple of minutes and I now had 4 or 5 hours to find somewhere to camp rather than the 1 – 2 hours if I’d had to get the later train.

Following the Tanygrisiau route out of Blaenau Ffestiniog there were plenty of signs of the area’s slate mining past:

I had a rough idea of where I might camp that night.  I’d follow paths and tracks for a while then look for somewhere off the beaten track next to one of the many lochans.  I think they may be called llyns around here but I’ve noticed I do tend to revert to Scottish terms when describing things I see on maps.

A good part of my navigation was based on avoiding people, and there were quite a few out on this Bank Holiday Tuesday, so I weaved a lonely path between the hills in a vaguely NW direction.  I didn’t care where I ended up as long as it was a reasonable pitch.  Conscious of how quickly the light can fade, and finding myself on tussocky ground with a steep climb up to my intended pitch, I decided to call it a day at around 3pm and set up camp in the valley running down to Llyn-cwm-y-foel – SH657474.

It was a little bumpy but my new Exped mattress meant that I would have easily passed the Princess and the Pea test – although I did slide downhill a few times in the night.  Distance walked that day?  Oh, at least 4 miles (possibly).

My flysheet was frosty in the morning but I’d slept well.  The sky was clear in the morning and, although I was not going to catch the early sun in my valley campsite, I could see that the tops were brightening up and I’d have an excellent sunny day ahead.

Today’s plan was to walk North along the black dashed line on the map.  I knew it must be some sort of boundary; it turns out to be the County boundary between Gwynedd and Conwy.  Mainly following a ridge on the map, I did not know if I’d see anything on the ground but for much of the way I was following a fence or detouring huge bogs; unfortunately the weather was not cold enough to freeze them.

At times I felt like I was on top of the world; the mountains seemed to go on for ever.

I thought a likely spot for a good campsite would be off to the East where the public footpath comes West / East across Bwlch y Rhediad; halfway between the County bounday and the forest.  On the map the ground looks flat and well drained.  It isn’t.  The footpath is fine but the ground to the left is steep and to the right is swampy and tussocky.  I convinced myself that there must be a lovely flat, smooth, dry patch hidden in the swamp and launched myself into the bog.  This was not a good idea.  Every step was treacherous as I could hear running water but couldn’t see it and I could not trust the ground below my feet.  In for a penny, in for a pound, I hoped that there’d be something flatter near the river (Afon Cwm Edno, I think) – as there often is.  I was right – although I could have saved myself a lot of grief by missing out two sides of the triangle and just walking straight to this point (SH677522) 45 minutes earlier.

I’d had a bit of a faff buying gas in the week before I went away.  I had accidentally bought a C300 cylinder, rather than a C250, and found that it would not fit in my MSR Titan kettle – which is how I pack my gas when I’m walking ….. so I took it back to the shop.  I’d brought a partially used canister which had seemed adequate before I left home but I seemed to have used a lot of gas already and I was a bit worried I may run out.  Not to worry, though.  Since cross-threading my Pocket Rocket on the TGO Challenge a few years ago I’ve been carrying a titanium Esbit stove and some hexamine blocks as a spare stove.  I would make that evening’s main meal and hot drink with that.

Stove similar to this one. This photo from from where I bought the stove.

Spotting a flat rock whilst pitching my tent, I lit half a hexy block and placed a full pan of water on the stove on the rock and carefully placed my windshield round it.  The hexy burned nicely and the water was starting to heat up.  I turned away and heard a crash.  Yes, the rock was flat but not level.  The stove and pan had slid off and I’d acheived the dual effect of not only spilling all of the water but the hexy was setting fire to the grass!  Luckily the stream was only a few yards away so I refilled my pan and started again.  This time I more or less held the pan handle for the entire time that the water was heating.  Every time I loosened my grip, the pan slipped or the tiny stove shifted a little.  This was the first time I’d used this stove for real (ie not in the back garden) and it was a good way of reminding myself of the challenging nature of ultralight, solid fuel stoves … oh, and of the need to bring a full gas cylinder when camping in winter!  By the way, I still had a tiny bit of gas left after breakfast on the final day so who knows whether I did actually need to perform this hexamine debacle.

This had all been jolly good fun but, while I’d been setting fire to the swamp, the temperature had dropped significantly and I was getting cold.  I left my pasta to cook in my pot cosy while I set up my mattress and sleeping bag and prepared everything I’d need in my tent.  After eating, and listening to PM, I rested my eyes for a few minutes ….. and woke up just after 10pm.  I’d hung my swamp-soaked socks to dry and they were now frozen solid, as were my boots.  I’d decided to wear my Karrimor (so called) waterproof lined fabric boots and they were holding a lot of water … or, rather, ice.  This was slightly disconcerting as I only had one pair of footwear so had to wear these boots in the morning, although I was happy to lounge around in the sun while they defrosted.  I put them in a bin bag inside the inner tent to stop them getting any worse.  I also covered my water bottle, although that still had some ice in it in the morning.

The sky was full of stars; some twinkling and some just shining.  I would love to have spent some time properly studying them but didn’t have the will-power to wrap up warm and sit outside my tent.  This is where bivi bags are better as you’re outside and wrapped up warm.  I wondered where the moon was but I’ve just checked online and found that it was the period between the end of the old moon and the start of the new, so no visible moon.

I made myself a cup of tea and read for a while.  This was also the first outing for my Kindle Paperwhite e-reader.  This has an illuminated screen so can be read without any background lighting and is ideal for 15 hours of winter camping.  I’d downloaded a few classics from Project Gutenberg and I read all of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness over the 3 nights.  I can’t say I enjoyed it but it was an interesting book and bound to come in handy on University Challenge or Only Connect at some point in the future.

I’d chosen a spot nearer to Betws y Coed for the following night’s camp so that I was well-placed to catch the midday train home.  However, I’d hemmed myself in to a boggy rough area and really did not fancy the physical effort of squelching my way back to the footpath to the North.  Instead, I headed SE and used the forest edge (and the mainly good rough path) to reach the minor road.

Relying on map and compass, I could see there was something not quite right about the forest – until I realised that a large part of it had been chopped down.

You can see from the cloud that the weather was now quite a bit warmer than the night before.  I’d managed to massage my semi-frozen boots onto my feet, and my tent was dripping rather than frozen by the time I packed up.

In an odd way it was nice to walk along a road.  After a couple of days of rough, boggy ground it was comforting to have something solid under my feet.  I day-dreamed as I walked through and past farms, setting off the dogs and listening to the birds.  I saw “The Station” down in the valley.  I use quotation marks as I thought this was Dolwyddelan station – as that was vaguely on my route – so I was quite suprised when I arrived there and it was Roman Bridge / Pont Rufeinig.  In my aimless bimble I must’ve missed the turning which would take me past Dolwyddelan Castle and into Dolwyddelan.  It didn’t really matter though, I enjoyed a sit-down on the station bench, had a bite to eat then retraced my tracks back to the last farm.

Dolwyddelan Castle

Dolwyddelan Castle

I had great plans for Dolwyddelan.  There would be public toilets and somewhere to get a cup of tea.  I was not disappointed.  I had a jam doughnut too.

After following forest tracks North out of the village I looked for a suitable place to camp.  This was now farmland with lots of fences, sheep and quadbike tracks.  The track itself was teasingly good; I could have pitched my tent anywhere along this flat, short-cropped sward – although it was the usual tufty bog to either side.

There were occasional patches of good short grass, though; I knew that the sheep would’ve made sure of that.  I took a gamble on there being somewhere flat and out-of-sight up a slight hill near where two tracks crossed and I found a reasonable pitch at SH745563.  It was not as remote or picturesque as the two previous nights but it was fine.  Nipping out in the night I was surprised to see the bright lights of a town – probably Llanrwst – down below.

I made a real effort to get up early in the morning but I do find it difficult to get up while it’s still dark and it didn’t start to get light until 7am.  I was on the way by 9:25, which was earlier than the last two days, and I had an easy walk into Betws y Coed.  I’m not sure I went exactly the way I’d planned, but East-ish with an occasional check of the map worked well.  Where possible I followed the river footpath with a little bit of road walking.  This roadsign made me laugh:

…. there’d been no footway for the last three days, so I don’t know why they thought it was worth a sign now.

Approaching Betws y Coed, I knew that the first shop I would reach would be Cunningham’s.  Could I walk past without calling in?  Yes.  I looked in the window but I wasn’t in the mood for shopping.  My feet were uncomfortably wet and I just wanted to get something to eat and change my socks.  I also noticed that all the people I passed stank of shower-gel and other perfumed products…. so maybe the retailers of Betws wouldn’t appreciate my presence today.

A little further on, a much more welcome scent reached my nostrils – the chip shop!  Despite it still being before 11:30 they were frying chips and I could not resist.  Deep-fried carbohydrate; what’s not to like after a few days in the hills?

My journey home was uneventful.  As usual, the closer I got to home the wierder the people’s clothing and behaviour became.  They could have spent the last three days wandering the hills and sleeping under the stars but, instead, they were going shopping and muttering into mobile phones about sales and parties.  Why are normal people so odd?

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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.


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.



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.


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!


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.


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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