TGOC2016 Revisited – Day 10 – A feast at Kirkton of Glenisla and a thigh-deep swamp

The day started quite hot but I was in my waterproofs again by the early afternoon.  The previous evening’s thunder never really came to anything but there was a lot of moisture in the air and the showers were long and wet.  I relied on my compass at various times as the paths shown on the map were faint or non-existent.

I can’t remember where this simple gate was but I think it was somewhere coming off Clach Sgorach on the approach to the A93.  It took AGES to secure the gate again once I’d been through.  For such a simple concept, it nearly had me completely beaten and I took its photograph out of respect.

p1040664-2At Drumfork I found an Ordnance Survey Flush Bracket in the wall:-

Until a couple of years ago (when I found my first Fundamental Bench Mark near Spean Bridge) I’d assumed that hill-top Trig Pillars were the only visible evidence of the Ordnance Survey’s work, but now I know that there are all sorts of pillars, marks, rivets and plates.  If were ever to become a bagger then I think these would be my obsession.

I knew that the Glenisla Hotel, at Kirkton of Glenisla, served food – although I didn’t know what hours they kept – and I opted for a diversion off my main route.  The map suggested that I should be able to get through Auchenleish Farm and walk along the River Isla to a footbridge.

Maps often look so clear but it’s a different matter when you’re on the ground and can’t tell if the track you’re about to walk up will become a dead-end.  The Auchenleish farmer was working in the farmyard and I decided it was best to ask for his help now rather than have to backtrack 20 minutes later and then ask for directions.  It turned out he was a Kiwi but had lived here for over 10 years.  He said “most people go that way” gesturing to the East…. which was good.  He asked if I wanted to use the bridge ….which confused me a bit, as I wondered what the alternative could be?  Swim?  I’m rubbish at following directions and there were so many trees and boggy bits I couldn’t work out just how far it would be or even whether I was going the right way.  Had I passed it already?  Was the farmer talking about the same bridge?  And could he see me in the distance wandering around aimlessly?

Luckily I did find it….

p1040669-2I liked the pub.  The barmaid was friendly, there was a roaring fire, they had Real Ale and I ate for England: Egg mayo ciabatta sandwich, a thick broth, scone & jam, and coffee…. oh, and beer, of course.  (I’ve noticed that I do seem to mention food quite a lot on this “walking” blog.)

Near the bridge I had seen waymarks for the Cateran Trail and I decided that this would be a much better route than the road-walking I’d planned so, feeling full and ever so slightly tipsy, I crossed back over the bridge and climbed the hill…. slowly.

I don’t really understand how I got lost but I think it happened when one of the waymark arrows pointed one way which was obviously wrong so I ignored it and went the way it should have pointed.  Then, for some reason, there were no more arrows in that direction!  I couldn’t understand it.  I could see roughly where I ought to be but I was determined to get back onto the waymarked trail, so I spent far too much time faffing about when I should have just gone back to where the wrong (ahem!) sign was and picked up the route from there.

At one point I was the wrong side of a wibbly-wobbly wire fence up to my knees in water and mud.  Usually I could have easily climbed over a fence of this height but with water lapping round my thighs I didn’t fancy taking my chances with the top strand of barbed wire, so I waded back to dry land and took the long way round.

It was about 7pm when I reached Nether Craig campsite and there was nobody in reception so I phoned the mobile number in the window and they said they’d see me in the morning.  I had a lovely hot shower and spent ages trying (and failing) to wash the peat out of my socks.  I also scoured the site for a socket where I could charge my phone having completely forgotten to do so whilst sitting in the pub.  There was no accessible socket and my phone was running very low and I’d completely drained my spare battery.  Power was now even more important than food!

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Today’s beer: Inveralmond Inkie Pinkie

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TGOC2016 Revisited – Day 9 – A thin lunch at Kirkmichael followed by thick soup in Coire a Bhaile

There were no flooding disasters overnight so, of course, my dodgy bit of not-as-wet-as-the-rest-of-it patch of ground became a lovely little pitch with a nice view of the full-moon; triggering thoughts of the Werewolves of the Upper Dulnain who would hopefully have had the genial company of Challengers a few days previously.

Navigating by forest edges, once again…

p1040652-2… I was heading for the A924, which I would have to walk along for a couple of kilometres.

As I dropped down to the road at Dalnavaid I saw a group of motorbikes heading SW. Then another group appeared …. then more and more. I started half-heartedly counting them and I reckon there must’ve been at least a hundred; it was like the Horseshoe Pass on a Summer Sunday afternoon. I’ve no idea where they were going or if, indeed, they were now coming back.

My route took me along part of the Cateran Trail.  The trail logo on this stile seemed a little bit creepy as I headed into the dark woods….. here be heart-ripping monsters!

p1040656-2I was disappointed with the shop in Kirkmichael.  It looked quite big and, superficially, there was a lot of choice but there wasn’t much for a hungry Vegetarian. The only instant pasta / noodle option was Chicken Supernoodles…. and they did appear to have chicken in them.  The chill counter was full of meaty pies and pasties. There was a macaroni cheese pie but the label clearly said it contained lard; oh for a label-free macaroni cheese pie!

I bought some coffee, cake and some pop to have for my lunch and some bread rolls to take out. I realised that I’d fallen into the habit on this crossing of always buying a hot drink and a cold drink; I’d drink the cold drink first for refreshment and rehydration then have the hot drink with my meal. Sitting outside at the picnic table I wore my raincape to protect myself from the light rain. This seems to be the best use for this cape. It doesn’t work well with a big rucksack whilst walking but I’ve used it a couple of times when I’ve stopped for a break. It’s like a mini bothy bag.

It was getting a bit crowded outside the shop. A mini-bus had just disgorged a gaggle of walkers who were now chatting noisily and waiting for lifts home. I walked round to the Kirkyard from where I phoned Challenge Control.  I spoke to Ali who told me that they’d just been looking at my recent blog posts and were going to put a couple of my photos up on the notice board in the Kinnaird Room.  I felt like Teacher had just given me a gold star for my drawing of “What I did on my holiday by Judith aged 7”.  🙂

Heading NE up towards Ashintully Castle I was disappointed not to find an actual castle, and also by the number of Keep Out; Stay on the Path; Oi! Clear Off! Signs along the route.  Although this sign …. p1040658-2 had me giggling as I remembered this Gary Larson The Far Side cartoon:

Copyright © 2000, 2007 FarWorks, Inc.

Copyright © 2000, 2007 FarWorks, Inc.

By the time I reached Coire a Bhaile, the weather was starting to get a bit thundery and I expected to be caught in torrential rain at any moment.  I quickly threw up my tent and prepared for the storm… which never came.

p1040660-2Tonight’s tea was the best yet.  Potato and Leek soup with stale House of Bruar bread rolls mushed up in it, followed by cheese and biscuits..  Yes, it sounds disgusting but it was surprisingly good.

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TGOC2016 Revisited – Day 8 – Fleeing from a lamb on the way to Killiecrankie and Ben Vrackie

I could have taken a minor road all the way to Killiecrankie but I did not want to go through Blair Atholl as I’d been there in 2014 and it was too soon to repeat it.  Instead, I went S out of Struan and then cross country to Tomaraid where I should be able to pick up a path to Killiecrankie.

After apologising to an old chap for tramping through his front garden, I found this pleasant track through the woods..

p1040619-2… then, once again, set off on an easterly bearing across the moorland.

I think the pimple to the left of this picture is Tulloch Hill.  At first the going was rough….

p1040621-2… but somewhere near Tomanraid I found a nice grassy path:

p1040622-2Once again, the map wasn’t matching the ground – until I noticed that the forest I was relying on had been chopped down:

p1040623-2I wasn’t entirely sure how I was going to get to Killiecrankie.  I’d heard that some bridges were closed, so it was with a certain trepidation that I headed downhill and hoped I wouldn’t need a long diversion.

p1040629-2I passed a walled private graveyard for the Stewart family (at NN 892637, I think, but it took a lot of studying of aerial photos when I got home to be certain).

p1040631-2Passing through a farm onto the minor road I was adopted by a lame lamb bleating woefully.  It forced its way through a gate and hobbled towards me.  There were several other sheep in the farmyard but there was no sign of any people and I’m not sure where its mother was.  I knew that the lamb could get through the gate that I had to go through onto the road but I did not want it to stray too far from the flock, so I went through as quickly as I could then ran along the lane until I couldn’t hear the bleating anymore.  I’m not sure if this is rational behaviour but it seemed reasonable at the time.

The River Garry was looking a bit full …

p1040632-2… and I was glad to find the main road-bridge.  Fording would really not have been an option.

The Killiecrankie Visitor Centre was a blessing.  As well as interesting displays about the history and wildlife of the area there were benches, toilets, and hot & cold drinks for sale.  I ate my packed lunch accompanied with a coffee and a bottle of pop.

I’d seen the sign to Ben-y-Vrackie on my way to the Visitor Centre so the navigation was now easy…. I just followed signs all the way.  I knew that several Challengers would be going over Ben Vrackie but that was not my intention. I knew that Alistair had been up there the day before and I wondered if any other Challengers would be looking down on my campsite.

p1040642-2The ground around Loch a’ Choire was rough, boggy and – worse of all – very midgey.  I wouldn’t be able to camp here.  I pressed on to the E end of the loch where there was a bench to rest on.  Looking at the map and the lie of the land I hoped I’d find somewhere suitable if I followed the burn SE towards the next lochan.  By 7:30pm I had my tent up between the main burn and a fast-flowing rivulet draining the recent rain.  I placed a few rocks to try to discourage the water from flowing through my tent if there was heavy rain in the night….. but, thankfully, there wasn’t.

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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.

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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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