(Virtual) TGOC 2020 – Day 3 – 2015 A soggy trudge to Tomich

As Covid 19 has put paid to the 2020 TGO Challenge, I am revisiting my previous crossings and celebrating what this marvellous event has brought to my life over the years. 

This post looks back at the third day of my ninth crossing on Sunday 10th May 2015.  The original post is here.  I started at Dornie in 2015 and, unusually, had started walking (late) on the Friday rather than the Saturday; that’s why this post is the second Sunday in my Virtual TGOC.

This day often crops up in my TGO Challenge memories.  It floats to the top, as it still hasn’t dried out.  It was wet.  Very wet.  It was the sort of day when you look forward to having somewhere dry to sleep and a hot meal.  I wasn’t due to go as far as Tomich, which is why I hadn’t phoned the hotel in advance, and it was a horrible feeling standing in the bar, dripping wet, and waiting to hear if they’d take pity on me and let me camp in their garden.  I recall the landlord being quite cross that I’d just turned up and expected to camp.  I’d misunderstood how firm the agreement was that Challengers could camp there and I was so relieved when, after apologising and begging, I was allowed to camp.  The idea of going back into the murk and looking for a wild pitch was not appealing.

Another very clear memory from that evening in the pub was when I realised that some Challengers are prepared to use motorised transport to travel to available accommodation.  I was horrified by this!  The TGO Challenge is a broad church but, in my book, I have to walk everywhere unless I’m ill, injured or responding to some other sort of crisis.  But hey ho!  Each to their own.  If they’d rather be somewhere warm and dry while I was enjoying the delights of a Laser Competition steam room then that’s their comeuppance!

Before we move on to the write-up, here’s a photo of a statue of a Golden Retriever:

TGOC2015 – Day 3 revisited – A soggy trudge to Tomich

I woke at 8am and was very very confused at why my watch was lying to me.  There was no way it could have been that late, but I must’ve needed the sleep and I did feel refreshed once I’d got over my befuddlement.  It was quarter to ten when I left the hostel.

After a dry-ish start, it was wet and dreary for the rest of the day.  I think this photo is of Loch Affric – but it doesn’t really matter where it was….. all of my photos from that day have the same grey murk in them.

P1030905_FotorWhen planning my route, this year, I’d struggled to split the days into nicely balanced chunks.  I didn’t want to over-commit myself if the weather was poor or if I was tired, but I didn’t want to miss out on the comfort of a hotel or village shop if I’d only needed to push on an extra couple of miles.  I’d heard that the hotel at Tomich would be happy to let people camp in their garden so I decided, quite early in the day, that I’d add on the extra couple of kilometres and give myself the chance to dry out in front of the fire whilst sampling the local beer.

Walking through the forest with the rain dripping off my hood onto my nose, I bumped into a hiker coming from the other direction.  He looked familiar and, as he got nearer, I recognised him as Markus, the Challenger from Austria.  I asked him what route he was taking this year….. as he did appear to be going in the wrong direction.  It turned out that he was not on the Challenge this year but was walking in Scotland in May nonetheless.  It was good to have a natter – and he let me know which Challengers he’d already passed and who I was likely to meet in the Tomich hotel.

Reaching the road into Tomich, two waterproof-clad, rucksack-bearing, pathetic-looking creatures also joined the road ahead of me.  With their hoods up, they didn’t notice me as I walked behind them towards the centre of town.  They were a funny pair; wandering all over the road and stopping to look at things without noticing me slowly gaining on them.  I smiled to myself and considered what possesses people to spend all day, possibly day-after-day, out in such miserable weather?  They were probably Challengers and I presumed they’d be heading to the pub…. as that’s what we do.

I finally caught up with them as we entered the hotel.  All of us huddling in the porch whilst we took off heavy packs and wet coats….. they turned around and there was one of those “It’s you!” moments of recognition as I realised that I’d been walking behind Alan and Phil for the last 20 minutes!

They’d had a bad day.  I thought I’d had a pretty bad day ….. but they’d had a really BAD day.  Something about going up “the wrong bl**dy mountain….. TWICE” if I recall correctly.  Nothing cheers me up more than someone having a worse day than me, so thanks guys!

Despite expecting to be able to camp at the hotel there was some discussion about whether this was possible or not.  Apparently I should have booked ahead which, with hindsight, would have been the polite thing to do but just hadn’t occurred to me.  After putting my tent up in the garden, I changed into dry clothes and headed back to the bar to join the merry throng of Craig, Vicky, Jayme, Peter and Jeremy, plus Alan and Phil, for food and beer.

It’d been a tiring day and I was glad to have the relative comfort of a pub before crawling into my tent; and today’s extra mileage meant that I had two shorter days ahead of me.

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(Virtual) TGOC 2020 – Day 2 – 2012 A very wet Sunday with a FWA – Kinloch Hourn

As Covid 19 has put paid to the 2020 TGO Challenge, I am revisiting my previous crossings and celebrating what this marvellous event has brought to my life over the years. 

This post looks back at the second day of my sixth crossing on Sunday 13th May 2012.  The original post is here.

My 2012 crossing was wet; very wet.  I’d heard so many warnings about river crossings but I think this was the first time I appreciated how fast-flowing water can force a change of route.

TGOC2012 – Day 2 – A very wet Sunday with a FWA – Kinloch Hourn

I woke at 5am and it wasn’t raining; I went back to sleep. Unfortunately, when I woke again at 8am, the rain was bucketing down and that’s how it remained all day. I knew that today was due to be wet, so I’d been thinking about my Foul Weather Alternative(s). My plan had been to go NE along Allt Coire Sgoireadail then E and up the hill to Bealach Coire Chaorainn and I knew that I’d have a tough enough day in fine weather. In this rain I really didn’t fancy the climb up to the bealach so I decided to keep following the track along Allt Coire Sgoireadail until it joined Wester Glen Quoich Burn. Yes, it would be further but it should be easier. However, my plan still depended on me being able to ford the Allt Coire Sgoireadail and that proved impossible.

It doesn’t look TOO bad, but this water was scary

My vetter had suggested the best fording place and, looking at the map, I agreed with him. The river looked quite ferocious and I kept checking my GPS to see if I was exactly where I’d planned to cross. I walked a little further along the west bank, looking for inspiration. Eventually, I sat down, removed my Sealskinz socks and put my shoes back on. I was carrying Crocs for river crossings, but in this depth and speed of water I wanted something more substantial on my feet.

I looked for the easiest place to enter the river and, from a sitting position on the bank, dropped into the water which came half way up my thighs. I knew I would have to use my poles for stability, so the last thing I wanted to do was let go of one of my (brand new) PacerPoles. Yes, I had the orange cord round my wrist but obviously not tightly enough. Luckily I managed to trap the pole before it floated too far away, and I made sure it was well secured to my wrist. I tried to take a step, but my leg was being dragged downstream as soon as my foot was lifted. I was having trouble planting my poles in the river bed as they too were being dragged downstream. Suddenly, I wasn’t enjoying myself. This water was cold, fast and deep, and quite capable of bringing my TGO Challenge to a very nasty end. I’d only managed to shuffle about 10 inches from the bank but that was quite far enough and I carefully shuffled back and climbed out.

I was wearing my waterproof trousers over my Rohan Goas and my lower body was already soaked before I went into the river. [I later found a small rip in my waterproofs and, in such heavy rain, this was enough to render the trousers useless as waterproofs.] There was no point changing into dry clothes, as my waterproofs were keeping the chill off my legs and I wanted to be certain I had dry clothes to wear in the tent at night, so I put my socks back on and reverted to FWA2, going back the way I’d come towards Kinloch Hourn and the minor road lying to the South.

From now on the walking should be an easy plod along the road, but even that was difficult in places as there were two sections where Loch Quoich had overlapped its bank and the road was flooded.

The road along the N shore of Loch Quoich

In terms of distance, my new route was pretty similar to the original one but I’d now wasted a couple of hours failing to ford the burn, and then backtracking, and I thought it best to take advantage of the easy road walking and push on as far as I could.  I had a bed booked in Invergarry the next day, so any extra distance I covered today would increase the time I had in the hostel (or pub) tomorrow.

I thought that Kingie may be a suitable place to camp but I spent ages trying to find a flat, bog-free, tussock-free pitch which was out of sight of the road and any buildings.  There was no chance of meeting all those requirements as everywhere was absolutely sodden, but I found a reasonably good pitch directly N of the power station dam.  My main concern, that night, was the wind rather than the rain and I rigged up an extra guyline on the windward side of the tent.  I don’t think it really needed it, but it made me feel better.

Unfortunately, with the heavy rain and the strong gusts, I decided I couldn’t cook either outside or inside the tent so there was no hot food or drink for me that night (but the whisky warmed me up).  Most of my gear was completely soaked; even some of the clothes in a “dry” bag were damp although, thankfully, my sleeping bag was dry.  Remembering last year’s wind and rain, I was concerned that this year could be even worse.

I keep my camera in a plastic bag in a camera pouch but it was also wet – probably from when I took photos – hence the foggy nature of the next photo.

Trying to dry my kit during a brief sunny spell next day. I wish I’d remembered to dry my camera before I went to bed.

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(Virtual) TGOC 2020 – Day 1 – 2018 My friend the mustelid

As Covid 19 has put paid to the 2020 TGO Challenge, I am revisiting my previous crossings and celebrating what this marvellous event has brought to my life over the years. 

This post looks back at the first day of my most recent crossing, my eleventh, on Saturday 12th May 2018.  The original post is here.

As I write this post in May 2020,  football fans across the country are waiting to hear what will happen to the 2019-20 season.  Currently, Tranmere Rovers are in a relegation spot and I’ve accepted that we’re probably going down.  Back in May 2018 we were fighting for promotion and I was going to miss the game and had very limited options for even finding out the result until I was up high on Sunday or, possibly, not until Cannich on Monday.

I know it was only two years ago so likely to still be fresh in my mind, but I think my football and weasel experience outside Glen Affric hostel will remain as one of my most memorable TGO Challenge moments.

By the way, if you want to watch the most exciting game of Association Football ever it is being streamed “live” on Youtube at 3pm on Saturday 9th May 2020

TGOC2018 – A photo a day – Day 1 – My friend the mustelid

This year I’m going to write a blog post for each day of my TGO Challenge crossing and base the post on one photograph from that day.  The photo won’t necessarily be the most stunning scenery but will be something that triggers memories for me.

Day 1 – Saturday 12th May 2018

In 2015, Tranmere Rovers Football Club was relegated from the football league.  At the end of our first non-league season we finished just below the play-off places.  In May 2017 we won our play-off semi-final and went to Wembley for the final.  I wasn’t doing the TGO Challenge in 2017 so went to Wembley full of hope for a return to the League.  We lost.

In 2018, finishing in 2nd place again, we won our semi-final and booked another day at Wembley …… but this time I was doing the TGO Challenge and couldn’t go to the game on the Saturday.

I looked at changing my start day to the Sunday, but our participation in the play-off final had only been confirmed on Saturday 5th May and that didn’t leave much time to alter my route and rearrange my travel.

I studied mobile phone coverage maps.  If I could get up high then – even if I could not get a data connection – at least I could receive score updates via text message.  But I’d deliberately planned an easy first day following the Affric Kintail Way along Gleann Lichd, and climbing Beinn Fhada / Ben Attow just for the merest hope of a phone signal would be very silly.

My only hope lay in AM radio.  Maybe I could pick up BBC 5 Live while the game was on.  They weren’t broadcasting the game but surely there’d be score updates?  Failing that, BBC Radio 4 would surely herald the Super White Army’s return to the Football League on the six o’clock news, and I would almost certainly be able to listen on longwave.

I had a great day’s walk along the Affric Kintail Way.  The weather was glorious; nothing like the gloom I’d seen from the coach window.  I chatted with various walkers and cyclists; many of them from overseas.  At 3pm I sat down and went up and down the radio dial trying to find a station which could let me know how the Rovers were doing.  Nothing.

A bit later on I was sitting outside Camban bothy, again trying to find the football on my radio, when the Finnish woman I’d spoken to earlier arrived.  She seemed to want to chat – and I did my best to be friendly – but how do you tell someone that you’re not actually ignoring them, it’s just that you’re trying to find out the score from a non-League football game?  All my eggs were now in the Radio 4 basket so I kept walking towards Alltbeithe with my radio clipped to my rucksack harness and my earphones draped round my neck.

The Youth Hostel can be seen from a long way away and, as I got nearer, I realised that I’d got my timing completely wrong.  I was going to arrive at the Hostel at 6pm and risked either having to be very rude to people or, even worse, not hearing the result if someone spoke to me.

Slowing my pace, I heard the bongs and the headlines and there was no mention of the football.  This meant I had about 12 minutes to check into the hostel before the sports news came on.

Hannah, the very helpful warden, had put the hostellers’ names and dormitory / room number up on a board outside, so I went to my allocated dorm, picked a bed and dropped off my rucksack.  I also took off my shoes and rinsed my socks through as it was good drying weather.

On stepping out of the dorm to hang up my socks, I noticed a small creature dashing through the grass.  My first thought was that it was a rat but it looked browner and didn’t seem to have the right sort of tail.

I hung up my socks on the washing line and went back towards the dorm.  It was now 11 or 12 minutes past 6 and I was getting nervous about Tranmere’s fate.  The creature scurried past again.  I stood still, earphone in left ear.  The creature popped up through a hole under a rock.  Hey! I think that was a weasel!  Now, the sports news.  I turned up the volume whilst pointing my phone camera at the hole under the rock.  A voice said “It’s Judith, isn’t it?”   Hm?  That voice wasn’t on the radio …… Sue, another TGO Challenger had just arrived at the hostel.

“I’m sorry to be rude”, said I, “but I just need to listen to this ….. and there’s a weasel!  Look, there’s a weasel!”  [Radio] “Tranmere Rovers have been promoted back to the Football League despite having a man sent off after only 48 seconds” [/Radio].   Me: “Yesssss!  [Jumps up and down pumping fist] Oh, thank goodness! Get in, Rovers!  Oooh, there’s the weasel again!!”  [Wipes tear from eye].

Anyway, sorry for the stream-of-consciousness wierdness but this was a very emotional couple of minutes.  Not only had Rovers won, but I’d seen – and managed to get a photo of – a weasel (or some other sort of Mustelid) and I was having the best day ever.

Edit: After discussions on twitter I now realise I have absolutely no idea whether this furry creature was a stoat or a weasel so I’ve updated the title of this post to hedge my bets.

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(Virtual) TGOC 2020 – Day 0 – 2006 My first crossing

As Covid 19 has put paid to the 2020 TGO Challenge, I am revisiting my previous crossings and celebrating what this marvellous event has brought to my life over the years.  This post looks back at my first TGO Challenge in 2006.  Day 0 – Friday 12th May 2006 – Home to LochailortI didn’t have a blog but I took a few photos and kept a brief diary.

The idea of the TGO Challenge appealed to me but I was convinced that I was not strong enough, physically or mentally, to complete it.  You’d have to be some sort of superhero to walk so far carrying so much over such tough terrain and in Scottish weather.  I was nervous as I travelled up to Glasgow Central and was worrying about whether I’d make my connection from Queen Street as we were running late.  When the Guard told me that, no, they weren’t going to hold the Queen Street train to wait for us, I was starting to get very anxious – until he said that I’d be put on a mini-bus and taken by road to Lochailort.  Excellent!

I stayed in the hotel at Lochailort and was a little overwhelmed by how busy it was with Arisaig starters who’d now finished their first day’s walk.  I was soon adopted by a pair of Challengers who, like me, were heading to Glenfinnan in the morning.

My diary entry was brief:  Day 0. Left home at 0705; due to arrive in Lochailort at 1717. Missed connection in Glasgow so was put in a mini-bus and reached Lochailort at 1700. Went to “sea” and had a paddle.

I looks like I only took three photos on that travel day; so here they are with their captions from the time.

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Nice clean boots and trousers. Sun shining. Full of hope and anticipation.

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Lochailort is on the West Coast but I’m sure there’ll be a pedant along in a minute ……… there did seem to be quite a bit of land further west.

Looking back, two things stand out.  The first is those awful, heavy, leather boots – Brasher Hillmaster GTX.  Ooh, how my feet hurt.  I wore my Teva sandals for half of the crossing and have never worn boots for another crossing since then.

The second thing is my query about whether I was actually on the West coast.  On subsequent crossings I made sure that I was definitely westmost when I dipped my toes, even if that meant a long walk in the “wrong” direction.

 

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(Virtual) TGOC 2020 – My easiest (yet most difficult) crossing yet

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Imagine you’re camping in the mountains.  It was quite nice when you’d eaten your pasta and snuggled down in your sleeping bag, but the mist has come down overnight and now you can’t see where you’re going.  You know the beautiful hills are still there.  You know there are lochans and burns and so many vibrant colours but, for now, you can’t see them.  That’s how I feel right now.

On 15th March this year I took part in the LDWA’s Two Crosses Challenge Event.  I walked with 3 other TGO Challengers and much of the conversation was about when the Challenge would be cancelled.  We checked our emails whilst having our post walk meal as there was no getting away from the realisation that Covid 19 was going to change a lot of things and – even though May was still a while away – we knew the dreaded cancellation email would be on its way very soon.  Thursday 18th March was when the confirmation finally came.  Disappointing but sadly inevitable.

I’m writing this on Friday 8th May which, unusually for me, would have been my first walking day of TGO Challenge 2020.  Friday is normally my travel day but a Kilchoan start requires more travel and more walking so I’d been booked on the Wednesday night sleeper and planned to sign out, with the masses, on Friday morning.

I know that every day for the next two weeks I’ll be thinking about what I would have been doing if I’d been up in Scotland but there’s no point being glum about what might have been.  Instead, I shall look back and publish a blog post every day which shows my experiences and feelings from the equivalent day on one of my previous crossings.  Some will be re-posts but, as I didn’t have a blog until 2012, there’ll be some new posts too.  Hopefully readers will comment either here or on twitter and we can enjoy some TGO Challenge cameradie, albeit virtually.

But, back to our mist.  Eventually, of course, it lifts and you’re back in the sunshine.

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Stay positive.  The mountains are still there and we’ll be back soon.

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An unplanned Offa’s Dyke Dip

Most New Years I aim to camp at least once every month in the coming year.  I don’t think I’ve ever managed it.  However, as I’ve camped for one night in November, December and January, I’m going to try to continue for as many months as I can.  Those winter camps were all proper tent camps. Heavy pack full of luxuries.  Long dark nights with plenty of food, drink and reading material.

Storm Ciara – or was it Dennis? – limited my options for February but I kept my eye on the weather and decided that this weekend shouldn’t be too bad.  The wind should be dropping and the worst rain should be overnight when I’m asleep.  The urge to camp every month was louder than the little voice telling me that this was a daft idea, so off I went.  A 24 hour trip consisting of an 8km walk either side of a bivi camp.

The walk into the camp was drizzly and showery but quite pleasant.  Starting from Llandegla I followed the Offa’s Dyke Path SE through the forest.  This seems to have become my “Quick camping trip” destination of choice and I recognised junctions and bridges from my last trip when everywhere was covered in snow.  I watched in gleeful anticipation as three lost mountain bikers crossed a slippery plank bridge, but they didn’t fall in.

Approaching the southern edge of the forest I found a contractor’s metal hut, a new vehicle sized gate and a taped off stile.  Initially disappointed at what I supposed must be some sort of industrial vandalism, I then realised that the access gate and hut must be something to do with the new slabs which have been laid to replace the wooden duckboards in parts of that very wet, boggy part of the ODP.

Facing the forest from the South. The metal hut is to the right beyond the gate.

The new slabs with some of the old duckboards to the side.

Some duckboards are still in place.

On reaching the minor road, I’d intended to follow it for a mile or so before going off track and finding somewhere to camp on Esclusham Mountain.  However, I decided the surroundings were now wild enough so I went a short way up a marked, but faint, path until I found a heather free patch and I made my camp.

I’ve had some wonderful nights in a bivi bag.  This wasn’t one of them.  I’d brought my Rab Survival Zone bivi bag and my small tarp to keep the rain off my head.  This has worked well in the past although, in hindsight, I’ve only had very light showers in the past.  I pitched the tarp as a simple lean-to with a beak.  The wind was gusty, so I went to town with the guylines.  Originally planning to lie along the line of the shelter, I soon turned my bed to be at right angles to the tarp; partly to create more dry space for my kit.

There were light rain showers in the evening but nothing too heavy.  The heavy stuff came in the night, accompanied by violent gusts that blew the rain around the shelter of the tarp.  A V shaped shelter would’ve been better and I must experiment more in the back garden when the weather improves!  I was sleeping on an inflatable mattress on top of a roll-mat, so I was warm and comfortable enough, but the concern about getting wet meant that I cinched up the bivi bag drawstring and couldn’t wait until the sun came up.  The worst bit was when Mrs Bladder came knocking at 4:30.  In a tent you can quickly nip outside and back without getting very wet; it’s a Houdini-esque struggle in a bivi bag in the rain.

At 7:15 I woke again and it was getting light.  It was also not raining very much.  I put some water on the stove for coffee and planned my escape approach to packing up.  I would pack everything away in between the rain showers.  In a dry interval I got out of my bag and put my waterproofs on.  I could now relax and enjoy myself whilst eating my breakfast and packing up.  The cloud level was dropping and I love being out in bleak countryside in the mist!

During the evening I had toyed with taking a different route back to Llandegla but now I just wanted to be back on firmer ground.  There’d been a lot of rain overnight and I could see that the already full streams were now overflowing.  I’d stepped over this stream to get to my camp site but could now see no way across….

Not to worry; I’d head in roughly the right direction until I found somewhere to cross without getting my feet wet.  I soon realised that this was not going to be an option!  Every time I thought I was nearing a narrow stretch of the stream I ended up stuck on an island of rapidly sinking reeds.  There was no way I could keep my feet dry so, in for a penny in for a pound [The Slade song is still stuck in my head], I edged my way through the bog looking for somewhere to cross.  I had sometimes had water halfway up my calves but I could at least now take a direct route rather than pussyfooting around.

The stream was rushing from right to left ahead of me when I took a small step forward.  Waaahhhh! All of a sudden I was up to my chest in water and could not feel the ground underneath me.  Thoughts flashed through my mind: release my rucksack clips, keep my head up, grab onto something.  I turned back to where I’d come from, as I knew that ground had just borne my weight, put my walking poles flat across the reeds and pulled myself up onto them and dragged myself up and forwards, then crawled to drier ground.  I could hear a slightly pathetic wimpering sound.

Shocked and a little bit frightened, I wondered what I should do.  What would I tell someone else to do?  I was soaked from the chest downwards.  Change into dry clothes?  Ha!  I should have known this would happen.  This was the very first time EVER that I did not have a spare pair of trousers with me.  However, I decided that there was little point getting changed into dry clothes; I didn’t feel cold and the rain was heavy.  My best bet was to get back onto the track and get to my car – less than 2 hours away – as soon as possible.

I checked my phone.  It said it could detect moisture(!).  I wasn’t too bothered about losing my phone mapping as I had a paper map (in waterproof case) in my bag and a compass.  I suddenly worried about my car key which is usually in my trouser pocket and would’ve got soaked.  However, on this occasion it was in a plastic bag in my Paramo pocket and was still dry.  Phew!

I made it back to the car without incident.  I had a full set of dry clothes waiting in the car and it was a relief to put them on, although only then did I start to feel cold.  A huge pot of tea and an egg & mushroom roll in the Community Shop and Cafe sorted me out although, 8 hours later, I still feel a bit wobbly like I’ve over-exerted myself.  Maybe that’s shock?

Getting drenched in the morning was probably the best time of day for it.  I was rested and well fed and I was on my way back to civilisation.  It would’ve been a different story at the end of a long walk with only a bivi bag to shelter in and no dry trousers!  I’m sure there are lessons to be learned here.  I’m still pondering what they may be.

 

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A cosy winter camp

Usually I’m looking for ways to make my backpacking rucksack lighter but a December camp, with 16 hours of darkness, calls for comfort.  My comfy mattress, my warmest sleeping bag, loads of food – all packed in my biggest rucksack, my Karrimor Jaguar 65.

Meeting JJ, Mike and Lucky the Dog in Kirkby Stephen we decided it was wise to shelter from the rain in a dog friendly cafe.  Serious expeditions, like ours, shouldn’t be rushed into without tea, soup and cheese on toast.  Then a quick dash to St Stephen’s church to bag a benchmark….

….. and we were on our way.

We’d donned our waterproofs before leaving the caff and this had the desired effect of scaring off the rain clouds.  Cold winter camping is great, but wet camping is never much fun so I was hoping to stay dry.

We walked for miles and miles and miles; quite literally three miles, although some of it was uphill so counts double.  Eventually we caught sight of the deep snow that lay ahead.

We discussed whether we should strap on our croutons.

We found a lovely flat, green patch of grass next to a field of sheep with brightly coloured back ends.  It would have been a decent place to pitch but the deep tyre tracks suggested that we may be awoken by early morning tractor reversing manoeuvres, so we went a bit further.

With a choice of “Up here” or “Down there”, we plumped for Down There next to a babbling brook.

At nearly 4:20 pm the light was fading quickly and I had to stand very still and use the Night setting on my phone camera.

Less than an hour later it was pitch black apart from the bright light of the moon which stayed lit all night.

So…… 5pm….. what’s to be done for the next 15 or so hours?  I know, I’ll eat!

Cup of tea and a cheese roll first.

Then a hand shoved a mince pie in through my tent door.

It must be tea time now ….. so time for the mushroomy couscous which has accompanied me on a couple of trips but not got round to being eaten.

A crossword puzzle and a bit of radio listening.

Oooh, pudding time.  Asda Christmas pud and Bird’s instant custard.  Lump free.  After over-thinking this in the past, I decided to just boil up the water and then chuck the powder in whilst stirring like billy-o.

I experimented with taking photographs of the night sky.  I now have lots of black rectangles stored on my phone.

Cheese and port were served just before 1030 pm.

With hindsight, two truckles of cheese was probably excessive but better safe than sorry.

I slept well in my -10 down bag and was glad I’d carried the extra weight.

A light sprinkling of snow had fallen in the night.  I wondered why my tent was the only one covered but apparently JJ had already cleared his by the time I’d crawled out of my pit.I enjoyed a breakfast of coffee and porridge.  Yes, enjoyed.  I have no idea why things taste so much nicer in a tent in the snow.

I’d taken my Hilleberg Akto, rather than my more often used Terra Nova Laser Competition, and I’d forgotten how much more extra space there is inside.  With a weight penalty of 500 grammes I’m unlikely to go back to using the Akto for long trips, like the TGO Challenge, but for a long winter night it was excellent.  I was slightly jealous of the above-the-door rain cowl on JJ and Mike’s newer model.  Not £600 jealous, though.

By mid-morning we’d packed up and climbed back up to “Up here” where the cold wind was rather nithering.  “Down there” had been the better choice.

After a tough three miles we were back in the caff spinning tales of derring-do and eating toast, our arduous expedition complete.

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The TGO Challenge has called me back……..

At the end of August, @TGOChallenge tweeted that the window for entries to TGO Challenge 2020 would open in two weeks time ….. and my heart fell.  I had a total of 6 weeks to decide whether to enter.  Did I really want to spend two weeks away from home?  Did I want to do the planning?  Comply with the rules?  Get soaked through and exhausted whilst sticking to a route and schedule I no longer wanted to follow?  The answer was No ….. but not a big enough No for me to turn my back on the event completely.  My mind was in a muddle.

I did my 10th TGO Challenge in 2016 having missed only one year since my first crossing in 2006.  I spent a week on Challenge Control in 2017 then completed another crossing in 2018.  I found this one quite tough.  I had things on my mind, I had a miserable cold, my feet hurt, and my heart just wasn’t in it.  I had to dig deep to keep going and wouldn’t have needed much of an excuse to pack it in and go home.

This year, 2019, I did not apply for the Challenge.  Instead I spent a wonderful week helping to maintain Leacraithnaich Bothy then watched Tranmere Rovers get promoted (again) at Wembley.  Keen readers will recall that I missed Rovers’ 2018 promotion and heard the good news whilst photographing a stoaty/weaselly thing at Alltbeithe hostel.

Although not involved with the TGO Challenge this year I enjoyed reading the tweets about planning routes, choosing kit, and doing the walking part ….. but it all seemed a bit distant.  I was pleased for the people who were taking part and getting so much enjoyment from the event but I wasn’t sure I’d ever feel sufficiently motivated to do another Challenge myself.  I’d been there, done that, got the T-Shirt.  11 T-Shirts, actually, and I needed to do something else with my precious time.

In September, this year, I joined another MBA workparty;  this time in Resourie, Ardgour.  The walk in was quite hard-going.  It was wet, very wet, and my rucksack was heavy with extra clothes and nearly a week’s worth of food…. but the mountains were beautiful.  Even camping on the only dry spot amongst miles of neverending bog on the wettest day since time began ….. was amazing.  This is where I belong.

The train journey from Fort William to Glasgow, on my way home, triggered so many memories.  Places I’d camped; tea rooms I’d visited; evil forests; lung-busting, leg-withering climbs; gloriously empty glens; bogs I thought I’d never escape from; cuckoos; macaroni cheese; the simple pleasure of clean, dry socks….. and so it went on.

After my Resourie trip I spent a long weekend in a Lincolnshire caravan and spent a rainy afternoon looking at maps of Scotland.  Possible routes were scribbled in my TGO Challenge notebook.  There was some consideration of of the practicalities of reaching my 3 potential start points.  Again, as I mentally wandered across the Highlands, the memories flooded back.

TGO Challenge 2020 application deadline day arrived and I’d still not applied.  I was tipping more towards wanting to do it than not but wasn’t completely sure.  I decided to apply and buy myself a couple of extra weeks thinking time.  If I got a place I could withdraw at the payment stage and someone else would fill the gap.  I think it was 3 hours before the deadline when I pressed the button.

Over the next week I found myself reading TGO Challenge blogs and really enjoying them.  Whether the blogger had been having a great time or a miserable one, I knew exactly what he or she was going through.  I understood the anxieties, the calmness, the simple enjoyment, the pain, the misery, the rewards.  I needed to do this Challenge thing again!

This morning I received an email to say that I’d been successful in the draw for the TGO Challenge in 2020.  I felt two emotions in quick succession; first, a buzz that I’d be taking part again, then a concern for all the others who’d applied.  There were bound to be people who desperately wanted a place but weren’t going to get one.  There’s no longer a standby list so any hopes of a second chance are shortlived as they depend on people not paying the entry fee.

However, I was pleased with my first reaction.  I’ve got my TGO Challenge desire back.   Planning for crossing number 12 is now full steam ahead.

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Into the inpenetrable forest – Resourie Bothy

I’m attending an MBA bothy workparty in a couple of weeks.  It’s at Resourie bothy, in Ardgour, and I’m planning to get the train up to Fort William then walk in to the bothy.  The obvious way to approach this bothy is via the forestry tracks up Glen Hurich, from the South West, but I’ll be coming from the East so have had to decide whether to go the easy but very long way on tracks or to go cross country.  Unless the weather is abysmal, I’m opting for the cross country route.

The current 1:50,000 Ordnance Survey map shows Resourie bothy as being deep in the forest.  The route in from the East looks impossible.

Contains OS data © Crown copyright and database rights 2019

However, the 1960 OS 1 inch map for the area show the building sitting on the very edge of the forest and with paths coming from the North and the East.

Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.

The Glen Hurich Land Management Plan says that the land, which was formerly a sheep farm, is predominantly a conifer plantation and was purchased from the Board of Agriculture in 1927.  I don’t know what the building was used for before it became a bothy but it looks like, over the years, it has not warranted protection from the plantation which was planted – or self-seeded – all around it.  I’m expecting to find a Hansel and Gretel cottage fighting for light amongst the trees; that’s if I find it at all!

Over the last couple of months I’ve spent many happy hours poring over maps and aerial photos and weighing up different routes.  I use OSMaps (subscription) for the current Ordnance Survey mapping and the National Library of Scotland (free) for the old maps.  Geograph is always handy to get an idea of what the landscape really looks like, although there’s often not the detail I need.  For example, I’d like to know how big the Resourie bothy clearing is and how close together the trees are around the bothy.  I intend to add a few photos after my trip.

The bothy’s Maintenance Organiser has sent me some very detailed notes on the old route from the East so, armed with GPS, new & old maps, and probably a small pruning saw I’m going to walk up Glen Scaddle then try to reestablish the old path through to the bothy.

I’ve had some “interesting” times trying to squeeze me and my backpacking rucksack through dense forests on the TGO Challenge and I admit to a certain trepidation about making this journey but I’ve been told it is possible, albeit boggy in places, and I’m hoping less than a kilometre will be tortuous.  It’ll be fun!

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Leacraithnaich Bothy work party – May 2019 – Part 2: The work party

This is Part 2 of my bothy work party write-up.  This part is about the bothy and the work.  If you want to read about my planning and travel please start with Part 1.

I spent the first couple of days fixing the stone walls with lime mortar.  This traditional product has advantages over cement-based mortars.  I’m sure there’s a lot of science behind it – and there are many interesting webpages out there if you want to learn more – but the most important feature of lime mortar appears to be that it is porous; it allows an old, natural building to breathe and expel dampness from the inside through to the outside.  Of course, this will only work if the mortar is mixed and applied properly.

The mix of lime to sharp sand had been worked out in advance by Jim and Pete and the Lime bucket marked with a fill-to line.  Making up the mortar was a job for two or three people with spades cutting the lime into the sand then working their way round the pile of dry ingredients, folding the mix into the pool of water in the middle.  It could have been done by one person but a three person folk dance was more entertaining.

Once the texture was “just right” it was time to apply it to the walls.  I tried to keep the reason for this job uppermost in my mind; it was all about strength not cosmetic appearance.  The mortar was to hold stone against stone providing strength from the floor all the way up to the roof.  For each section of wall we’d brush out the crumbling old mortar, spray some water into the holes – always keep it damp! – find a suitably shaped stone to mostly fill the hole, spray it with water, tap the new stone as tightly as possible between the existing stones, then pack the gaps with lime mortar.  Ideally, a newly mortared section of wall would be covered with wet hessian – especially if outside where the wind could dry the mortar out too quickly.  At the very least we’d respray the wall later.  Just a light mist of water to make sure it could dry out slowly from the inside rather than quickly from the outside.  Before the mortar was completely dry we’d beat the surface with the bristles of a stiff brush; a milk churn brush to roughen up the surface and increase the surface area to make it more breathable.

Faithfull Churn Brush with Short Handle

A churn brush

Like I said, there’s good science behind this and most of it was bewildering to me but I did feel that I was doing things the proper way that had stood the test of time for centuries.

In a big project it’s important to have people productively occupied at the right time.  It’s good to have plenty of keen volunteers but sometimes there is nothing for them to do until the skilled workers have done the measuring, planning and fettling to get a task underway.  I was there as an unskilled General Hand; keen but clueless, but the mortaring was a task that I could always return to in between other jobs.

While I was busy mortaring there were people working on the roof.  The old roof had been completely removed and new trusses built before I arrived.  Over the next few days the corrugated aluminium sheets were fitted in place.  Sometimes, when I was mortaring on a platform inside the bothy, I could hear the roof-workers inches away on the external scaffolding and see the daylight slowly disappear as the roof became weathertight.

Up in the rafters

Once the roof was substantially complete, ie it looked like a roof although there was still plenty of work to do with chimney flashings etc, we could start building the internal ceiling and walls out of wood.  This was the bit that I learned most from and found most rewarding.

Using tongue and groove boards – with several people on platforms or ladders and others down below, cutting, drilling and passing up the boards – we built a ceiling.  We measured the boards from alternate ends of the bothy and cut them so that the ends of neighbouring boards would overlap rather than looking like a continuous split in the ceiling; predrilled the nail holes in the boards (but not in the joists, of course, or the nails wouldn’t have held); then nailed each board in place with lost head nails.  Then, step back 4 inches and repeat.

The ceiling starts to take shape

Hammering can’t be difficult, can it?  No, it isn’t, unless you’re doing it over your head and aiming for a tiny nail whose head you’re trying to neatly embed just below the surface of the wood.  I got better with practice!

We had a busy production line of measurers, markers, cutters, drillers, nailers all working on the ceiling.  At first I was just doing what I was told but it soon started to make sense and I understood why we doing things a certain way.  It was great that I was given the opportunity to fully participate in the work, and the more experienced workers were very happy to teach me how to do things …. like saw wood.  Again, that’s something I got better at!

The ceiling nearing completion

After the ceiling was built we moved on to the internal partition walls.  With two larger living rooms and a smaller sleeping room to build, we split into teams and I worked with Rebecca on the right-hand room (as you go into the bothy). Given that this type of work was new to both of us, I was pleased with how much I’d learned and with how we were managing to turn a bare stone building into somewhere that I’d be very pleased to spend the night in the depths of a bleak Scottish winter (or summer!).

“Our” wall starting to look like a wall

Throughout the work I was picturing how the wood would look to a cold, wet hiker in the depth of winter.  Fearing the prospect of our fine work going up the lum, I made every effort to sink each nail deep into the wood.  The work continued for another week after I’d gone home and I was pleased to later see photographs of not just the completion of the work I’d been doing but also the little extras, like skirting boards, which make all the difference to the appearance.

To support the work on the bothy we had excellent domestic facilities.  For a wild and lonely place we had some incredible luxuries.  With so many people on site for a month-long work party we needed a toilet – which was basically a barrel in a wooden hut.  Nothing fancy but it met the requirement.  The shower – yes, we had a shower! – would not have been out of place in a B&B.  Gas heated and with a choice of (environmentally friendly) shower gels, this provided a very pleasant start or finish to the day.

With the bothy unavailable as a shelter or bedroom, I slept each night in my tent.  People self-catered their breakfasts but all other meals and tea breaks were provided by John in the group canteen.  As a Vegetarian, and not wanting to complicate mealtimes for the majority, I had carried in 6 days food but was very happy to supplement my supplies with the team’s spuds, rice, veg and bread. We even had a fridge-freezer a few hundred metres away in a hydro scheme shed.  Yeah, roughing it!

There was so much for me to learn on this work party but the most important question I needed an answer to was how to say Leacraithnaich.  It’s something like LeCrannoch.  The locals all seem to call it Teàrnait, after the loch, and there was some discussion during a tea break about whether the Ordnance Survey had given it the wrong name and whether we should really be renovating the ruin a couple of hundred yards away!

I hope this is not Leacraithnaich bothy!

The tea breaks were an important part of the day.  A cup of tea and a slice of Christmas cake gave us the opportunity to have a natter and enjoy the scenery and wildlife.  One day, a white tailed sea eagle soared in giant circles off to the East.  Of course, my attempts to capture it in a photograph failed but this was the first time I’d seen an eagle in the wild and I was felt so excited and privileged.  The dry weather, which was good for us on the work party, had exposed Loch Teàrnait’s sandy beaches.  It looked beautiful but the lack of rain was a cause of concern to the estate and our own drinking water burn started to run low – until the rain arrived on the day I departed.

The wildlife which made most of an impact on me was, unfortunately, the ticks.  My one evening walk, after dinner, convinced me never to stray from the path again as I could see the little blighters waiting on my trousers until they could find a nice juicy bit of bare flesh to latch onto.  I routinely brushed myself down before getting into my tent and performed tick checks morning and night.  5 managed to find a way through …. but they didn’t survive their meal.  I’ve not had a tick for several years so either Ardtornish is a hotspot for them or it’s a good year (ie bad year) for ticks in general.

I really enjoyed my week on the Leacraithnaich work party.  It was such a beautiful location in which to spend my holiday and I learned so much.  At the start I’d have been happy to do the fetching and carrying and to be the tea wetter but I was given the support and guidance I needed to learn new skills and “get stuck in”.  If I ever stay in that bothy I’ll know that not only did I help out at the work party but I mortared that wall; I built that partition; I made that ceiling.  Of course, I did none of this on my own but it was good to be part of a team which achieved so much.

The aim of the Mountain Bothies Association is To maintain simple shelters in remote country for the use & benefit of all who love wild & lonely places.  If you’d like to support this work please consider becoming a member  or making a donation.

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