TGOC2016 Revisited – Day 7 – Loch Errochty to Struan (and a shopping emporium).

Yesterday’s boggy yomp in zero visibility proved that I had finally found my Challenge legs.  It had all been a little bit too easy so far, and it was good to be warm, dry and well-fed in my tent after being wet and windswept for most of the day.

I was relieved to be able to walk along the edge of the loch rather than going up behind the forest.  At first the track was rough …

p1040605-2… but it soon became the metalled track shown on the map:

p1040606-2It was a pleasant walk along the loch in the sunshine with an occasional sit-down to look out across the calm water.

p1040607-2I inadvertently chased a flock of sheep for half a mile along the track.  If they had waited another couple of seconds I’d have passed by and they could have stayed where they were but, of course, as soon as one took fright they all followed and I had visions of them toppling down the bank and into the water.  Eventually the bank flattened out and they were able to “escape”.

At Trinafour, this map gave me the reassurance that I was now halfway(ish) to the East coast.

p1040608-2The milestones on the B847 were interesting:

p1040611-2I presume that S is Struan and K is Kinloch Rannoch?

I was booked into the Struan Inn that night and I knew I’d be able to get dinner, breakfast and a packed lunch.  However, I needed a few other supplies and the only shops nearby were at the House of Bruar.  Walking past the turn-off for the Struan Inn I continued on the minor road to the shopping centre.  I did wonder about leaving my pack at the Inn, but that’s cheating.

p1040614-2The shopping centre was exactly as I’d anticipated.  Full of clean, well-dressed people in large cars buying stuff that had no relevance to my current needs.  The food hall was laid out in a way that made it very easy for me to knock down entire displays with my rucksack.

However, it wasn’t all bad.  After sitting in the courtyard to eat my lunch of sandwiches, lemonade, and a glass of iced water I went round the food hall again and selected a few odds and ends that would tide me over to at least Killiecrankie and possibly until Kirkmichael if necessary.  The deli counter had some posh veggie quiches so I bought a couple of them, some smoked cheddar cheese, some plain scones and some bread rolls.  After a very nice ice-cream I walked back to the Inn and pondered on what state my quiches would be in after 24 hours sweating in my rucksack.

I had a comfortable night in the Inn and made good use of their wi-fi.  I hadn’t yet met any other Challengers but through Twitter I had a pretty good idea what everyone was up to.

Today’s beer: Belhaven Loch Errochty Lager.

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TGOC2016 Revisited – Day 6 – Loch Ericht to Loch Errochty. Just head East.

It was cold and breezy in the morning, with the threat of rain so I put on my waterproof trousers before leaving the tent.  My Paclite trousers are light, comfortable and warm when the wind starts blowing – and the various patches of repair tape give me a certain amount of hill-cred, I’m sure.  Despite many attempts to buy “proper” hillwalking trousers, I always revert to Ron Hills and lightweight waterproofs.  A versatile combination in my experience.

As I crossed the dam, I wondered why someone had seen fit to put this sign up?

p1040588-2I mean, would someone really wander round looking for Loch Ericht and only know they’d found it because it had a sign?  Odd.

Having taken several opportunities to follow my FWAs over the first few days, I now contrarily stuck to my main route despite the weather being absolutely Foul, with a capital “F”.  The early morning mist had now thickened and, as I went higher, the cloud was all around me and visibility was down to not-very-far-at-all.

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I left the track and walked E to Beinn Bhoidheach and Beinn Mholach (Corbett).  My GPS was now out of its sulk and I left it switched on during this low visibility patch but I really just used my compass to head due East.  Beinn Mholach has a summit cairn and a Trig Pillar and, apparently, there are great views to be had from the top.  However, I had to use my GPS to find the cairn as I couldn’t see it until I got close.

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I don’t have many photos for the rest of the afternoon, probably because the weather didn’t really encourage me to stop and admire the view.  I was heading for a pitch between the two blocks of forest at the NW end of Loch Errochty.  I could not tell from the map whether I’d have to drop through the gap from the N or if I’d be able to follow the shore.  I’d turned off my GPS and, on reflection, I’m still a bit confused about exactly what line I was taking as I approached the loch.  For some reason I felt that I would have had to climb up the hill to go around the forest….. but the map suggests that I should have gone downhill.  Maybe it was just the undulating hillside acting as an optical illusion? Anyway, I was glad that there was plenty of dry ground between the forest and the loch so I could just follow the shore.

I camped near to the ruin at NN668656.  The lie of the land meant that I could not see the loch from my tent but I was still pretty happy with the view:

p1040598Today’s tea: Spicy Arrabbiata Pasta with extra cheese.  Very tasty.  And my instant custard was much improved; still a bit runny but at least I needed my spork to eat it!

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TGOC2016 Revisited – Day 5 – Allt Eigheach to Loch Ericht via Rannoch Forest

It was still raining in the morning and I had a leisurely breakfast before packing up just short of 10 o’clock.  The river had been roaring all night so if there had been any noise from the nearby works I’d certainly not heard it.

It turned out that the works were part of a Hydro-Electric scheme.  I had a long chat with the foreman about which paths on the map were present on the ground and where their new access roads could be useful for me.  He also said that the grouse had recently been lekking near where I’d camped although I, unfortunately, had not seen or heard them.

I wish I’d taken a photo of the turbine building that looked nearly finished.  It was well landscaped and should have little impact on the landscape when complete – although I suppose the new roads and bridge will be there for a while.

On my route sheet, today was described as Gratuitous Hills Day.  My original planned crossing had been so short that I’d added in a day of just going up hills because they were there.  If necessary I could use my FWA….which was the huge distance of 8km!  I ended up walking a mix of my main and foul weather routes.  I was due to climb the gentle SW slope of Sron Leachd a Chaorainn then follow the ridge to Creag na h-iohair, Meall nam Fiadh and Carn Dearg (Munro), then go East to Mam Ban and Sgor Gaibhre (Munro).  Ha! Ha! Two Munros in one day; who was I trying to kid?!

I should have been up there and it really didn’t look high or difficult. I toyed with the idea all morning.

I should have been up there and it really didn’t look high or difficult. I toyed with the idea all morning.

My GPS had decided to work again today, which was nice of it.  I left it turned on to confirm I was heading towards Bealach Leathann but it was pretty obvious where I had to go: it was that dip to the right of the photo.

p1040568-2It was great up on the bealach; a bit breezy, but I had a good view of Loch Ericht and I could match up the forest with the map and work out where that night’s camping spot would be.

p1040570There was a fair bit of this….p1040576-2…. on the way down but you need a few hags to make you grateful for short, flat grass when you eventually find it.

With views like this….

p1040577-2….there was no way I could get lost today.  It was all laid out in front of me.  Easy peasy!

Whoooo!  Look at this short, flat grass!

p1040578-2I can’t remember where this photo was taken but it was somewhere in NN4764 and I was sitting down with my shoes and socks off.   It was bliss.  I had a Little Lie Down and wondered about camping right there.  After a while I decided it was time to push on for the last couple of kilometres of the day.  Of course, I was now relaxed, happy and supremely confident that I could not get lost…..  I got lost.  I think this is called Hubris.

I couldn’t work out which water course I was following?  It didn’t match anything on the map and my compass must’ve been broken.  Now that I was near to the trees I could not see the forest…. Hm, isn’t there a saying about that?

Eventually a long flat forest edge matched up with the map and I found the gap I was looking for.

p1040579-2

Looking along Loch Ericht from the SW shore.

The map shows a path / track going SE towards the dam ….. but it’s semi imaginary.  Sometimes it was there and sometimes it wasn’t.  What there was was plenty of bog.  I was getting a bit disheartened that I would not be able to find anywhere to camp but, about halfway to the dam, I found a great pitch.

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It’d been a great day.

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TGOC2016 Revisited – Day 4 – Kings House to Loch Ericht via a Tearoom

The 2* hotel was better than I’d been expecting and I had a comfortable night, despite the generator running outside my window all night.  There were a small number of campers next to the hotel, and I would have camped if necessary, but it had been good to have a room and a shower.

Today’s route would take me along the track to Black Corries Lodge then cross-country following the A’ Chruach ridge before meeting the road again at Rannoch Station.  Today’s primary objective was to reach the tearoom at Rannoch Station before it closed for the day at 4:30pm – although, having bought a packed lunch at the hotel, my food crisis wasn’t as bad as I’d feared.

I looked back at the hotel.  What a setting:

p1040539-2On a dull overcast day, the views were amazing.  Not picture postcard pretty, but impressively imposing.  I knew my place in the world; I was the small inconsequential being slowly making my way at the whim of the weather and the mountains.

p1040542-3Although I say slowly, the track to Black Corries Lodge is good and I made good progress.  I was only slowed by comfy rocks:

p1040544-2.. and peaceful lochans:

p1040543-2After the lodge I had a choice to make: follow my planned route which would take me uphill and off the track, or take my FWA and follow the path marked on the map across the moor and through the forest at the north end of Loch Laidon.  I can’t remember exactly why I chose the FWA but I think it was probably because the tearoom was calling.

At first the going was relatively easy:

p1040545-2… but I soon found myself tentatively picking my way across peat bog.

p1040547-2Despite (or maybe because of) the rough ground, I was enjoying myself.  This is what the TGO Challenge means to me – an opportunity to take myself off into the wilds with no worries apart from keeping warm, dry and fed whilst heading vaguely east.

I reached the Tearoom at 4pm.  Toasted muffin, lemonade and tea.  Delicious!  I also found that there’s an “honesty kettle” in the waiting room so that walkers can make themselves a hot drink if they’re there when the café is closed.

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Refreshed and content I set off for the last few km of the day.  It had been raining all afternoon and the walk along the road was a bit miserable.  I had a potential camp site planned and I was hoping that it would be dry and flat.

The path sign was in the right place but I was a little concerned at the works signs.

Looking back towards Rannoch Station

Looking back towards Rannoch Station

I’d planned to camp at the south side of a small forest but, as it came into view, I could see heavy machinery and yellow flashing lights.  Oh bother, it looked like they were working exactly where I planned to camp.  I weighed up my options and decided it was better to stop short rather than push on and find that there was nowhere to camp.  Stepping off the track I tramped through the bog towards the Allt Eigheach and, having tested out a few tent-sized spots for bumpiness by lying down, I found quite a nice pitch right on the river.

This photo was taken in the morning when the effect of the overnight rain was plain to see on my saggy flysheet.

This photo was taken in the morning when the effect of the overnight rain was plain to see on my saggy flysheet.

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TGOC2016 Revisited – Day 3 – To Kings House Hotel

I can’t remember what the delay was in the morning but it was 9am before I was packed up and walking.  I always intend to be up with the lark but I think it would be daft to set an alarm when the hours of daylight are so long so I just wake up when I wake up…. and if I go back to sleep for a couple of hours then so be it.

Looking down at Airigh nan Lochan I wondered whether I would have found somewhere decent to camp if I’d pushed on….

… so I was relieved to find it was an unpleasant swamp.  I’d made the right choice to stop early.

My route took me to the North side of the Glenetive Forest then, after a bit of a faff when I couldn’t work out if I’d found the right gate, through the forest to Invercharnan.  From there it would be a few km to Dalness and then up and over the Lairig Gartain …. or possibly Gortain depending on whether you read the OS map or the Scotways sign.

The Lairig looked tempting…

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… but it was 3:30pm when I reached this sign

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… and I had a room booked in the Kings House Hotel and I did not want to miss out on the luxury of hot water, beer and food cooked by someone else.  Despite the weather being fine, I decide to follow my Foul Weather Alternative along the minor road.

 

 

Good grief, it was tedious!  The hills and the glen looked beautiful…

p1040529-2… but the road went on for bloomin’ ever.

I eventually reached the Kings House Hotel and went into the “Cocktail Bar” to check-in.  The bar was chocka with walkers so I looked around expecting to see some TGO Challenge pals.  I saw nobody I knew and they somehow seemed “different”, then it dawned on me….. these were West Highland Way walkers.

After a shower I retired to the Climbers Bar, which was full of Germans, and had some soup and a huge plate of veggie chilli.

Today’s beer: Cairngorm Gold; Cairngorm Stag.

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TGOC2016 Revisited – Day 2 – Blarcreen to near Glenetive Forest

Sunday was, on paper, the day with the most climb (1270m) on this year’s crossing but I had limited the planned distance to only 18km.  I had a number of hills on my route, including a Corbett (Creach Bheinn), although I only know it’s a Corbett because the TGO Challenge rules say that all Munros and Corbetts must be noted.  I think I may have mentioned this before….. but I’m not a hill bagger, although I’m starting to enjoy being high on occasion…. especially when you get views like this:

p1040507My progress had been slow all day; mainly due to the rough terrain under foot but I don’t think the hills helped.  On only my second day of walking I was unfit and was glad that I didn’t need to reach anywhere in particular that night.  Also, my GPS just would not get a fix and I had an unconfident feeling about whether I was where I thought I was.

Eventually, Creach Bheinn was ahead of me.  The time was about 3pm and I was tired.  The hill looked enormous…. although this photo doesn’t do it justice.

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I had about 8km of my planned day ahead of me and I just couldn’t see how I was going to manage it if I climbed the Corbett.  I looked down the hill towards Loch Etive:

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That didn’t look like an attractive option either but at least, when I reached the bottom, it should be an easy enough walk along the glen.

I hadn’t bargained on this under foot, though –

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It was a tough trudge but I kept going for a few more km, wondering if it would have been easier under foot if I’d stayed on the hills to my left – Creag na Cathaig and Meall Garbh.  Shortly after Beinn Sgulaird I decided it was time to call it a day.  I was a couple of kilometres short but I’d found a good place to camp and I had an easier day in the morning so could make up the distance without too much trouble.

p1040512-2Usually I don’t plan to have a “proper” pudding, although I might have some chocolate or nuts after my dinner, but tonight was definitely going to be a fig-rolls-and-custard night due to the effort I’d expended during the day.  The Bird’s instructions are easy enough to follow at home with a kettle, measuring jug and a whisk but not so easy with only a Ti kettle, a spork and a nearly-triangular folding bowl.  The custard was a little on the runny side…. in fact, it was like water but I was glad of the extra calories and would have two more opportunities to get it right later in the trip.

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TGOC2016 Revisited – Day 1 – Oban to Blarcreen

The festival goers woke me up at 1am.  “Jenny” found something hilarious and spent what seemed like an hour giggling and being told to shut up by her friend.  I wasn’t amused.  However, by 7:30 I was in a much better mood and spent twenty minutes Velcro-ing and un-Velcro-ing, accidentally dropping my pan on the floor, and carelessly slamming the cupboard door.  Oops, sorry girls!

I had breakfast at the Hostel and ate far too much.  Whilst eating, I tried (again) to get the hostel wifi connection to work.  Oh no!  I’ve become one of those people who uses their phone at the breakfast table!

The walk out of Oban and along to the railway line to the North was pleasant and gave views of distant mountains.  The weather was warm and I was walking in short-sleeves with my Paramo smock packed away in the top of my pack.  Plonking myself down at the side of the road, I wondered just how hot this Crossing was going to be.

p1040486I stopped at the pub in North Connel for lunch.  Food planning had been a concern this year as I wasn’t going to many towns or villages.  I would either have to carry a lot of food or take advantage of every opportunity to buy a meal along the way.  So, after a huge breakfast and only 8 flat kilometres of walking, I had a pub lunch and a pint of beer.  Still, it was looking like I wouldn’t need any tea and that would eke out the food I was carrying.

Following the coast eastwards, I stopped off for a wander around Ardchattan churchyard and sat on a bench enjoying the warmth of the sun and the solitude.  A woman arrived to lay flowers on a grave and we exchanged a few words about the weather.  I wondered if it’s only in May that they find strange people sitting outside their church?

At Blarcreen, where I’d planned to camp, there was a huge, flat green area which would have been ideal but – after only one short day of walking – I hadn’t really got into my TGO Challenge frame of mind and I thought that the area was too open and exposed.  I wanted somewhere a little more tucked away and out of view.  I followed the steep road North, which was my intended route for the morning, and found a pitch down by a nearly-dried-up river.  It was not perfect but reasonable and had a very handy tree on which I hung my clothes after rinsing them in the river.  It had been a hot and sweaty day so it was good to have an en suite laundry.

p1040497I like to record my camp site’s exact grid reference so switched on my GPS to get a fix.  Unsurprisingly given my sheltered spot, I didn’t get an immediate lock on the satellites so I climbed back up the hill to a gap in the forest and then spent at least 30 minutes wandering round trying to get a fix.  Eventually I got a signal but it was a tortuous affair – and a warning of trouble to come.

Today’s beer: Orkney Brewery Dark Island

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