Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Sunday 24 May 2015 – Cruising on the Trent and Mersey Canal

On the Trent and Mersey Canal
This is a short entry to report back on our ‘wind-down’ from the TGO Challenge, by way of a barge trip. We joined the usual gang – Robert, Lyn, Louise, Gerry, Chris and Stuart (minus Roger who was attempting the LDWA ‘100’ event, he did 89 miles) for the last full day of their three day trip from Etruria.

There’s an annotated slideshow here. Click on the first image then click on ‘slideshow.
Here’s the area we were in – the Professionals (Sue and I were just visitors) sailed from Weston to the centre of Stoke during the day.

Stuart had produced a huge slab of shortbread. We ate it all. There was lots more food.

Louise spent some time trying to drive the vehicle – you can just spot her head – and Robert obtained photographic evidence of a rare occasion when she managed to get the boat straight.


(Just joking!)
Buttercups and daisies lined the towpath. Typical English countryside.

We passed this home that used to be owned by our family and which brings back happy childhood memories. I remember spending time here one Christmas, sleeping top to toe in a bed with my cousins. The living room was home to a pianola on which we played music by way of perforated tapes.


Chris (‘Photographer’) produced a microscopic tripod that was used to capture the ambience of the occasion by way of a self-timed photo!


 As the day progressed, the sun came out and the late afternoon light was lovely.


Robert and I finished up by running 5 km as part of the process of getting our respective cars into the correct places, and whilst it was a leisurely day, my Garmin gadget did clock up over 17 km of walk/run activity during its course!
The slideshow is here. Click on the first image then click on ‘slideshow’.
That’s it for now. I’m returning to trying to catalogue our TGO Challenge pictures, to which I’m putting links from the daily postings that I made during the course of the Challenge. I’m currently up to ‘Day 1’ so there’s lots more to do!
Note: I’ve battled for hours on Windows Live Writer (WLW) to send this posting. It seems that Google may have done something that affects the ability to post using WLW, but they will probably blame Microsoft. In the meantime my playing with the settings, uninstalling and re-installing etc may have upset things as well. The Blogger interface is truly awful, which is why this posting may look like a mess when it eventually gets through as a result of lots of cutting and pasting and indeterminate sizing of images and the failure of the software to left-align or produce a consistent type size. Moreover, there seem to be issues with images not appearing on some of my postings; if that happens to you try to refresh the screen and they may appear. Ho-hum.

Sunday, 24 May 2015


A great way to wind down after the excesses of the TGO Challenge....

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Day 14 - TGO Challenge 2015 - North Water Bridge to Nether Woodston

Date: Thursday 21 May 

Route: as planned

Distance: 17 km (Cum: 311)

Ascent: 300 metres (Cum: 11000)

Time taken: 4.5 hrs including 0.7 hrs breaks - (Cum: 109.4 hours including 22.2 hours breaks)

Weather: drizzly

Click on the link below (Day 14) for details of our planned route:

It rained overnight and continued drizzly, but not unpleasantly so, all day. Waterproofs came on and off and we eventually gave up with them.

Leaving the campsite at 8.20, we headed across the busy main road and over the narrow bridge across the River North Esk.
Soon we were on quiet country lanes and tracks in pleasant farming countryside. We were following Rob Slade and his three cohorts, with Barbara and Ellie close behind us. They were the only Challengers we saw today, despite there having been loads at the campsite.

A partridge ran ahead of us for a while, pheasants replaced the previously ubiquitous grouse, and hedgerow plants like red campion, bluebells and comfrey lined the verges.

We joined Rob's team briefly, and we chatted to Barbara and Ellie for a while during a vergeside interlude before walking with them up to the turn to Tangleha, their finishing point.

Whilst we were sitting on the verge a car drew to a halt beside us. After a brief explanation of what we were doing we were invited back to the man's 'tower', a distinctive building on our road into Montrose. I wonder what he would have said if we'd turned up!

Anyway, we didn't. Sue and I headed on past a friendly local man to the beach at Nether Woodston, where a helpful couple took the picture featured in the previous entry, and we took the selfie which is the bottom of the self explanatory photos for today.

Sadly the café at St Cyrus was closed, so we caught the bus to Montrose for a sandwich in Greggs before signing in at Challenge Control. This year's goodies are StrideOut foot oil, an aquapac drysack, Nikwax garment cleaner and proofer, a white Hanwag t-shirt and the usual fridge stickers kindly donated by Mark Storey.

Thanks go to all the sponsors, especially Hanwag and The Great Outdoors magazine.

I'm ending this entry from the luxury of the Links Hotel (it's the first time we've not used the campsite) at around 5pm, before adjourning to what is guaranteed to be a most sociable evening next door at the Park Hotel before we travel home tomorrow in first class luxury.

Another great Challenge event. Thanks and congratulations go to all those involved in the organising of the TGO Challenge and its peripheral activities. 

Like Lemmings to the Sea!

On the beach at Nether Woodston, 12.10 - 21 May 2015.

Another Challenge completed!

Day 13 - TGO Challenge 2015 - Tarfside to North Water Bridge

Date: Wednesday 20 May 

Route: as planned except that thanks to Ali Ogden we crossed a new bridge over the River Esk at NO 580 740 and then followed the 'Blue Door' route towards Edzell. We also found a satisfactory back road into North Water Bridge thanks to Bob Cartright, by turning left then right after passing Dalladies, later passing Northgate.

Distance: 28 km (Cum: 294)

Ascent: 400 metres (Cum: 10700)

Time taken: 9.0 hrs including 2.7 hrs breaks - (Cum: 104.9 hours including 21.5 hours breaks)

Weather: sunny - t-shirt weather, cooling and clouding in the afternoon

Click on the link below (Day 13) for details of our planned route:

A much easier day along good tracks and paths, not to mention a little bit along roads.

I didn't sleep as well on the hard ground in the vicinity of snoring bodies as I had done in our isolated wild camping spots, but never mind - we've slept very well on this trip.

The camping ground woke slowly, and we were away fairly early at 8 am on a fine morning. After only fifteen minutes we reached The Retreat together with Richard and Rosemary.

They had opened specially early for us. Full breakfasts all round. Excellent.

Making way for more customers, we strolled off down the road, soon diverging from R&R's route by heading up to St Andrew's Tower (pictured - top), a masonic masterpiece built in 1826 with a room that holds three people - a refuge in times of bad weather.

We strolled on back to the road just as the others passed by. Barred from crossing the obvious, but private and locked, bridge, we doubled back with Barbara and Ellie to cross the next bridge upstream.

After the first off-road stage across moorland, we now moved to picturesque farmland paths beside the River Esk (second picture), down to the new bridge that was duly crossed. The path soon led to a road and thence to one end of the highly recommended 'Blue Door' walk.

A lovely waterside stroll all the way to a footbridge to Edzell followed. Sue is pictured at the southern end of the Blue Door walk, and the woodland we then passed through is also shown.

The Tuck Inn café in Edzell is a favourite with Challengers. We spent a good hour there in the company of Vicky and Toby and others before making way for a large contingent led by birthday girl Lynsey, who appeared to be gaining quite an entourage.

Lots more were at the pub, soon after which we picked up Graham Brookes for the easy walk to the campsite at North Water Bridge.

The breeze from the sea was now cooler, so fleeces were donned as tents went up and soapless showers were enjoyed. We've been using baby wipes and dry wash gel, and this was the first time we'd noticed soap was absent from our possessions.

Our good friend who lives in Aberdeen, Jon Metcalf, had been waiting for us at the campsite. We had nearly run out of provisions, with nothing for tonight and just enough in our bags to see us to the coast tomorrow, so the cold buffet for four that emerged from Jon's vehicle was both a treat and necessary sustenance. The four picnic chairs added to our comfort, to the envy of others drifting into the campsite after eventually having torn themselves away from the flesh pots of Edzell.

Our party was complete when Alison arrived with the beer. Alison gives us a bed and a car parking spot when we travel up to Montrose by car and get public transport to the start of the Challenge. That was not needed this year, so it was great to see Alison here.

The cold buffet provided by Jon was extensive. You are a star, Jon. There was enough to provide a few titbits of sandwiches, mini pizzas and dips, etc, to other Challengers in the vicinity, and whilst Lynsey already had a selection of birthday fare, the large chocolate cake provided by Jon meant that none of her gathering cluster of friends went short.

The weather held, and the birthday party continued outside whilst Sue and I dozed, replete, in the comfort of our cosy sleeping bags.

A lovely day, crowned by the superb buffet supper. Thanks again, Jon and Alison. 

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Day 12 - TGO Challenge 2015 - Broom Hill to Tarfside

Date: Tuesday 19 May 

Route: as planned except:
1) we walked beside Water of Unich from Wester Balloch, rather than go between the two Watery Knowles, and
2) we omitted the final hill, Hill of Rowan, (tut-tut) as Sue was desperate for a cuppa at Tarfside

Distance: 30 km (Cum: 266)

Ascent: 1000 metres (Cum: 10300)

Time taken: 10.1 hrs including 1.5 hrs breaks - (Cum: 95.9 hours including 18.8 hours breaks)

Weather: sunshine and occasional showers; cool

Click on the link below (Day 12) for details of our planned route:

A tough day, on which the first seven hours to Hunt Hill were pathless with frequent peat haggs, grough and grikes. The final three hours were a little easier despite our being followed at times by spitting rain through a weak sun, but after an 8pm sitting for dinner at St Drostons it was midnight before we left the sociable gathering at the Masons.

So this entry is written hurriedly. Tomorrow.

We didn't see anyone until we passed Mr Grumpy geocaching and complaining he was "past it" a hundred metres from St Drostons.

But we did see two grouse nests, one with eggs, the other with chicks, lots of hares, lizards, a ring ouzel, grey plovers, lapwings and oystercatchers, skylarks and meadow pipits, lots of lbjs, clumps of milkwort, bog asphodel and a buttercup like flower that I'll call 'bog buttercup'. Great crested grebes were seen on a high lochan, with tufted ducks on Loch Lee. After a brief respite, cuckoos are back in Glen Esk (the home of Tarfside).

A highlight was the remote summit of Wester Balloch, where a visitors book had been placed in October 2014. We were the first to sign it.

Otherwise it was seven hours of hard going over scenic terrain, including the delightful but pathless Water of Unich valley, followed by three hours of easy going, also over scenic terrain.

A great day, and great to meet up with friends old and new at Tarfside, where there are about 50 Challengers' tents pitched on the village green.

Today's pictures:
Top - our final 'wild' campsite of this trip, near the top of Broom Hill 
Middle - descending beside the Water of Unich
Bottom - the Water of Lee from Hunt Hill

Fine views, all of them.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Day 11 - TGO Challenge 2015 - Braemar to Broom Hill (NO 281 798 - 700 metres)

Date: Monday 18 May 

Route: as planned

Distance: 25 km (Cum: 236)

Ascent: 1200 metres (Cum: 9300)

Time taken: 9.2 hrs including 2.1 hrs breaks - (Cum: 85.8 hours including 17.3 hours breaks)

Weather: after early sunshine, a showery day with variety - snow, rain and hail; little wind but below freezing on the summits

Click on the link below (Day 11) for details of our planned route:

Our earliest start yet. We left the cottage at 7.15 just as overnight rain was exhausting itself. It started again before we reached Lochcallater Lodge, shortly after we'd bumped into Morpeth (Peter Shepherd) trudging back to his car after a wild night in the Lodge, where Denis Pidgeon was still in residence. Bill and his mate were most welcoming and Sue's tub of shortbread was traded for bacon butties. Richard Fuell was nursing a hangover, having enjoyed a night of revelry. Rosemary was making herself useful whilst Richard sought sufficient feeling in his legs to attempt walking, JJ and Margaret were about to leave; others demonstrated inability to hold their drink. Apparently Ian Cotterill filmed the proceedings. That should be a top seller!

Anyway, we enjoyed our 45 minute sojourn. John S arrived just as we left; we wonder what the first timer made of Lochcallater. If Simon and Kat, who we again thank for the use of their cottage in Braemar, are reading this - Bill sends his best wishes and hopes to see you all soon. He has happy recollections of Simon flying in for a cuppa.

Despite following a trail of Challengers along the path up towards Carn an t-Sagairt Mor, we saw nobody else all day apart from two folk on Broad Cairn whilst we were nipping between Munro Tops, and Graham Brookes who poked his head into our tent at around 6 pm. He's had a disappointing Challenge summit wise having only been able to summit 18 Munros and Corbetts - more than we have ever done I think.

After easy paths over today's three Munros and three Munro Tops, notwithstanding the hail and snow that turned everything white, the day ended with a tough, bouldery descent from well named Broad Cairn, and after a short stretch of track to get up Sandy Hillock, a landscape of peat haggs greeted us, across which we had to stumble to gain the summit of Broom Hill. I fear there will be lots more peat haggs tomorrow.

A good spot to camp revealed itself just after that, so here we are at 700 metres relaxing in our final wild camp of the trip.

How fast the time flies by! (But who knows when there will be sufficient phone signal to post this entry?)

Today's pictures:
Top - on the sunny approach to Lochcallater Lodge in Glen Callater
Middle - lunch in view of Lochnagar (in cloud) on the descent from Cairn Bannoch
Bottom - ascending Broad Cairn in the snow

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Day 10 - TGO Challenge 2015 - Glen Luibeg (NO 020 937) to Thornbank Cottage, Braemar

Date: Sunday 17 May 

Route: as planned from a little beyond Luibeg Bridge

Distance: 17 km (Cum: 211)

Ascent: 300 metres (Cum: 8100)

Time taken: 5.2 hrs including 1.2 hrs breaks - (Cum: 76.6 hours including 15.2 hours breaks)

Weather: showery at first after overnight rain, improving to a sunny afternoon

Click on the link below (Day 10) for details of our planned route (we took an easier alternative today):

An easy day. After a lie in we left our excellent camping spot (pictured - top) at 8.45 and strolled down to find John pitched in a more sheltered spot by some trees. He had found a good place.

We continued to the new temporary bridge that we had been assured was in place (pictured - middle), near where John sploshed across the river in his skirt and Innov8s to join us for the rest of the day's walk.

Mar Lodge provided as much tea, coffee and biscuits as we wanted in return for a small donation. This is where the Lairig Ghru route joins the Glen Feshie and Glen Tilt routes that funnel Challengers into Braemar. I won't try to enumerate everyone we met there or later in Braemar. Jacqui and Tony Ford joined the  three of us for the pleasant walk to Braemar through the Birkwood Forest. A route much better than the road walk most Challengers endure. The other four are pictured by the orientation table before the descent to Braemar at Tomintoul.

JJ and Margaret were Challenger spotting from the window of The Old Bakery, so we joined them for a natter before they headed off to Lochcallater Lodge for a night of revelry.

Our afternoon at Thornbank Cottage, which Simon and Kat have again kindly let us borrow for the night, was all too short. Then it was back to The Old Bakery for a meal with John S, Jacqui and Tony, and Graham Brookes (on another of his customary mega routes), before adjourning for wine and chat in front of a log fire at the cottage.


Day 9 - TGO Challenge 2015 - Aviemore to Glen Luibeg (NO 020 937)

Day 9 - TGO Challenge 2015 - Aviemore to Glen Luibeg (NO 020 937)

Date: Saturday 16 May 

Route: planned back up route over the Lairig Ghru to a little beyond Luibeg Bridge

Distance: 22 km (Cum: 194)

Ascent: 800 metres (Cum: 7800)

Time taken: 8.3 hrs including 1.0 hrs breaks - (Cum: 71.4 hours including 14.0 hours breaks)

Weather: sunny periods and very occasional light wintry showers

Click on the link below (Day 9) for details of our planned route (we took an easier alternative today):

Despite Alvar's concerns at Challenge Control expressed yesterday, today's walk over the Lairig Ghru proved to be a most enjoyable experience with no difficulties whatsoever.

I'd not previously walked through the Lairig Ghru, always having preferred the tops, but on a day like today when conditions high up looked dubious, this well marked trail served us well.

We started late. Ellen's B&B breakfast was served at 8.30, a meal that lasted us all our walking day apart from a tin of fish and a round of cheese for lunch.

So at around 9.30 we plodded out of Aviemore and onto the Coylumbridge road in weather that required a few changes of overgarments, ie sunshine and showers. There was no sign of the predicted 50 mph winds. They didn't materialise, though conditions above 1000 metres looked challenging, so we were happy with our decision to stay low.

The stroll through Rothiemurchus Forest (Sue is pictured here) was a delight, despite the absence of bells on the majority of mountain bikes. A brew stop in the forest provided a welcome break before the long, gentle ascent to the 835 metre Lairig Ghru pass that leads towards Braemar. Here we were further reassured by a comment from Andy Dawkins concerning the bridges on the approach to Linn of Dee. Thanks Andy.

We met several folk coming down having crossed the pass, and bumped into a couple of lads going over to Corrour bothy for the night before returning to Aviemore.

Sue is pictured (middle) ascending, with our original objective, Braeriach, in the distance on the right. Not pictured is the nearby family of ptarmigan - one male trying to keep both his wives happy, oblivious to our passage.

I must admit, I'd expected the route - not allowed on the TGO Challenge as a foul weather alternative - to be harder. I didn't expect to find an obvious and well marked path all the way, albeit it is a cairned path over some small boulder fields. There were a couple of snowfields to cross, but that was no doubt easier than going over the rocks below the snow.

I took a photo of Sue at the top of the pass - pictured bottom. She turned and exclaimed "OMG, a bus driver in a skirt!"

A little further on we encountered John Sheffield, first time Challenger and devotee of lightweight equipment. He had gone up to the first Munro top before taking the judicious decision to retrace his steps and go over the Lairig Ghru pass instead. We enjoyed a most pleasurable walk with him all the way down past Corrour bothy and on beyond Luibeg Bridge to our camping spot in the open. Here John decided to continue a little further to below the tree line where any wind will have less impact on his cuben fibre tent. Apparently it's a great tent, but noisy in wind!

We got our tent up on some nice flat, well drained ground just before a light shower.

Three backpackers soon strolled past with a friendly wave. Challengers perhaps; perhaps not...

Up at just 500 metres, this is one of our lower campsites of the trip, though it is also one of our coolest. Hardly May weather, but we are very cosy in our Rab 400 down bags.

Erratum: in a previous entry I think I may have referred to Ted and Jenny Spiller being on the ferry across Loch Ness. If it had been them I'm sure they'd have been at the correct pier! The couple we met at the wrong pier were Gordon and Jenny Selley. 

Friday, 15 May 2015

Day 8 - TGO Challenge 2015 - Carn Caol (NH 770 155) to Vermont Guest House, Aviemore

Date: Friday 15 May 

Route: as planned, including the last 2.5 km of yesterday's planned route

Distance: 23 km (Cum: 172)

Ascent: 600 metres (Cum: 7000)

Time taken: 6.7 hrs including 1.4 hrs breaks - (Cum: 63.1 hours including 13.0 hours breaks)

Weather: starting sunny and calm, gradually clouding over with increasing cold SE/SW wind, with a light shower as we reached Aviemore around 2 pm

Click on the link below (Day 8) for details of our planned route:

It was one of those rare nights like our first night above Iron Lodge. Perfectly calm with just the distant gurgle of a spring and the occasional 'grousing' of grouse - no doubt squabbling over their domestic duties.

The  sun was on the tent very early, so getting up at 7 seemed like a long lie in. Blue skies greeted us, and it felt warm in the calm conditions despite being only 7C - we were after all up at nearly 700 metres.

It took us just 45 minutes of yomping over grikes full of hiding hares to reach the bothy by the River Dulnain - a good spot, but with no record of any other Challengers having passed by this year. Sue is pictured on the approach to this bothy. 

On the way down to the Dulnain valley we saw a pair of large birds of prey. They had fringed white diamond shaped tails and white on the tops of their wings. But for the white on the wings and our distance from the west coast we'd have guessed that they were sea eagles (white tailed eagles). After a few minor acrobatics they soared off to the south west. Wonderful!

From the bothy an easy walk along the left bank of the river took us to a track for the last few hundred metres to the Red Bothy, another splendid spot. We paused here for a brew and concluded that we must be very lazy Challengers as many had already passed through - some of them three days ago. Sue is pictured again here - being very lazy.

Visitors had included Rob Slade, who we remember meeting at the start of his first Challenge in 2008 (he's now addicted), Steve Chesterton, Peter Stickler, our old friend Mick Blackburn, Andy Gerrard, Emma who set out with us from Dornie, and Nicole who liked Alex and Janet's cereal.

An uneventful stroll up the well maintained Burma Road track was brightened by the mountain scenery and by some text messages. Alan R, who passed this way on last year's Challenge, thanked us for our card. "But we thought you were getting married next week" we replied. "Yes, but Sheila wanted to open the cards!" And why not? We hope all goes well on the big day, Alan, and Sheila.

We also heard from Markus Petter, who armed with a fresh flysheet is heading along the coast north of Torridon past Craig, where there's a youth hostel that we used to enjoy visiting. I understand it's now a bothy. Shame on SYHA.

Approaching the col at the top of the Burma road, we nearly encountered a couple of mountain bikers who were heading towards Red Bothy. We'd turned off to dump our bags and ascend the last kilometre to Geal-charn Mòr without any encumbrance. A lady who was descending chatted with us for a while - the first person we'd spoken to since yesterday morning's gamekeeper. Good views of the Cairngorms from the summit were diminishing by the minute as grey clouds swirled in.

It's an easy walk down the Burma road past a dead slow worm (it was too slow) to Aviemore. We paused en route for lunch in a sheltered place by a burn, surrounded by mink traps. (Yesterday we saw a carrion crow in a cage trap, waiting nervously to be dispatched.)

Café life in Aviemore was thriving. Everywhere was full until we reached The Coffee Pot. We did get served, but everyone working there was intent on leaving at 3pm.

As this is our eighth day since starting from Dornie a launderette beckoned and later we enjoyed a very hearty meal in the Cairngorm Hotel. TGO Control seemed a bit concerned about our revised plan for tomorrow - we hoped to camp at the Wells of Dee (1200 metres) but gale force winds are forecast and there might be  an ice sheet at that height, so we are simply heading through the Lairig Ghru. I'm more concerned about the bridges, or lack of them, in the Derry Lodge area. So far as I'm aware the main problem has been temporarily remedied, so I'm sure we'll get through.

Day 7 - TGO Challenge 2015 - Allt Cailtidh confluence to Carn Caol (NH 770 155 - 670 metres)

Date: Thursday 14 May 

Route: as planned apart from 1) an unexpected ascent of Beinn Bhreac Mhòr  (807 metres), and 2) we stopped 2km short of our planned camping spot because we were tired and found a good pitch

Distance: 26 km (Cum: 149)

Ascent: 1100 metres (Cum: 6400)

Time taken: 10.0 hrs including 2.0 hrs breaks - (Cum: 56.4 hours including 11.6 hours breaks)

Weather: starting cloudy but soon clearing to a bright sunny day with a SE breeze. T-shirt weather

Click on the link below (Day 7) for details of our planned route:

It was so comfy in the tent that we were reluctant to get up, despite encouragement from the local bird life, who turn out to be ring ouzel as well as stonechats. So we made a later than planned start (8.10) although we knew it would be a tough day.

Almost immediately we were delayed for 20 minutes with what turned out to be our only human encounter of the day. A Dunmaglass gamekeeper stopped for a chat. The lad had some fantastic binoculars that told you how far away you were looking, and an impressive piece of artillery on his passenger seat, no doubt awaiting the attention of an unwary fox. "Drop in at the house when you next come past" he offered. When the chips are down I hope I'm on this chap's side!

The stalkers' lunch hut where I first encountered Humphrey in 2007 had no other visitors today, but the sun shone in as we enjoyed a brew. We didn't enjoy all the factory machinery that was busy mutilating the landscape outside.

There followed about 9 km of good old peat grough yomping. First, up to the summit of Carn Odhar. Here Sue reccied the route ahead whilst I attended to more urgent matters. So we headed off inadvertently to Beinn Bhreac Mhòr rather than the less conspicuous but more intended Beinn Bhreac Bheag. Never mind, we accidentally visited an impressive summit that appeared to be the highest in the neighbourhood. It had a large concrete pillar (pictured with Sue) and magnificent panoramic views almost as good as those from Carn Odhar. The Monadhliath seems like a high plateau ringed by distant snow-capped mountains.

Lunch was enjoyed on a grassy slope next to the happy gurgle of spring water, shortly before the yomping ended and a good track took us down to the River Findhorn. We then enjoyed a lengthy stroll along a long and dusty road lined with pansies, down the valley before heading over the tops towards the River Dulnain.

The Findhorn valley is a beautiful place. Red deer wander undisturbed, oyster catchers fuss in flocks, and today a lone lapwing fluttered it's presence. It was the first one I'd noticed on recent days, though there are lots of other types of plover on the heathery slopes mixed in with red and black grouse.

It's a lot less green here than in lower climes, with the trees only showing the vaguest sheen of green.

It was hard work. First an encounter with some piebald goats, then a couple of tricky river crossings, then an unexpected dip in height beyond a bird scattering machine, and a difficult yomp over ever bigger haggs (we were tired) to the sound of big booms from the bird scattering machine, the purpose of which remains a mystery to us. (Alright - the purpose was to scatter birds. But why?)

We were determined to reach the watershed, but given the extra distance and ascent we'd already done compared with today's plan, we were happy to descend to the first suitable place to camp. So that's where we are, as shown, near some hefty snow banks and with great views of the Cairngorm summits that loom ever closer.

Other news:

It's great to get comments and text messages from other Challengers, especially as those people we are in touch with all seem to be having a good time. Comments from others like Alan, Gibson and Conrad are also appreciated of course. 

We've also been 'chatting' to Markus, the Austrian Challenger, who this year is doing a west coast walk rather than the Challenge. Today he was in Inverness getting a new flysheet for his new tent, luckily being posted to him by the manufacturer. But why did the new tent fail to withstand a breezy night? That might worry me.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Day 6 - TGO Challenge 2015 - Drumnadrochit to Allt Cailtidh confluence at NH 612 207 (425 metres)

Date: Wednesday 13 May 

Route: as planned

Distance: 21 km (Cum: 123)

Ascent: 1000 metres (Cum: 5300)

Time taken: 8.5 hrs including 2.5 hrs breaks - (Cum: 46.4 hours including 9.6 hours breaks) [excludes an hour for the Loch Ness crossing]

Weather: cloudy with sunny periods and a light but cool NNE breeze, becoming calm and cloudless later

Click on the link below (Day 6) for details of our planned route:

Thanks everyone for your comments. We really did enjoy the Balmacaan Forest. It's a great shame if the area is to be trashed by wind farms. The perpetrators should be locked up. Just like those who are trashing the Monadhliath where we are now. Albeit we have an idyllic position out of sight of the extensive factory sites.

Up at 6, we had the use of the kitchen at the B&B, but we're never really hungry at that time of day, so yogurt and toast was about all we could manage.

Away at 7, we got to what we thought was Temple Pier in plenty of time for Gordon Menzies' 8 o'clock sailing. Ted and Jenny Spiller joined us. We chatted. 8 o'clock came and went. Eventually Gordon tracked us down. We were at the wrong pier. Oh dear! Our apologies go to all concerned, especially Gordon - chocolate caramel shortbread was handed out by Sue by way of recompense for the valuable time lost. Sorry Gordon. The others on the boat for the thirty minute trip across Loch Ness to Inverfarigaig were Alan and David Hardy, Steve O'Hara, Michael and Juergen from Stuttgart, and Peter and JP from Shropshire. Gordon was in jovial form, possibly because, at £10 a head, it's a nice little earner. Not that any of us would argue that it's not good value for the essential service.

Sue and I set off with Steve towards Aultnagoire. I thought Alan and David were going there, but they turned right along the lochside, and who would call back a vetter?

At Aultnagoire we found the Rev David and Nicole, who was raving about something as unlikely as what she thought was Janet's home made Tropical Fruits muesli. It turned out to be from Aldi and had received accolades from others. They had spent the night in Alex and Janet Sutherland's garden, together with three pink footed geese who had just flown in. Sue, Steve and I then experienced the legendary hospitality that Alex and Janet offer to Challengers. Thanks so much you two for the coffee and toast and an hour of your excellent company. During that time, Alan and David wandered in. Alan said he'd taken a wrong turn, distracted by thoughts of a couple they had encountered the other day engaged in a random act of exposure  in the middle of a path. Alan had wanted to walk past this couple, remarking "nice day for it", but David had restrained him and they held back. Eventually they were spotted by the copulating couple, who dashed off to a nearby car. Alan assured us that there were no ladies' knickers whatsoever involved in this incident.

Alex and Janet rent out a nearby property under the 'Loch Ness Hideaways' banner. They have weeks free this year so anyone fancying a holiday in this lovely part of the world should contact them, eg via Facebook.

We  also learnt of another devastating earthquake in Nepal.

We walked a little further with Steve, past the phone box in Errogie that also serves as a library. We made appropriate entries in the visitors' book. Steve's good at spotting birds and noted a sparrowhawk and a greater spotted woodpecker. It didn't require any birding skills to notice the cuckoos.

It was a great day for walking - calm and clear, if a tad cool. But that coolness didn't matter to Sue and me as we headed up a good track past the coconut aroma of blossoming gorse, that led almost to the summit of Creag a'Chliabhain (aka 'The Hill of Cold Feet). There we no chilblains for us today - just good clear views to the mountain panorama and to the sea beyond Inverness, which seemed to be in receipt of a host of EasyJet flights.
Down in Conagleann, lunch was enjoyed in warmish sunshine before we headed up the glen past a flightless partridge towards a mansion that looks a bit like the top deck of a cruise liner - Dunmaglass Lodge. I'm pictured on the Conagleann path. Beyond that was a scene of industrial landscape where wild land had stood until recently. Lorries and other vehicles trundled up and down a wide new road and there was lots of industrious activity taking place on the Monadhliath horizon.

We skipped the road and headed directly up another little hill, Beinn Mheadhoin (aka Hare Hill  - there were masses of them). It was a thrutch made possible only by our ability to haul ourselves up by grabbing tufts of the deep heather. A dead deer, one of many seen as we have been crossing the Highlands, bore evidence of a harsh winter. It sported a fine set of antlers that Alan might like to collect sometime. Summit views were blighted by the distressing sight of a beautiful landscape trashed by wind farm construction work.  On the narrower track that we will follow tomorrow we could see Alan and David marching along like two little matchstick men.

An easy descent took us to our planned camping spot out of sight of the ugly industrial scene.

Just one obstacle remained - a river crossing to reach the shangri-la that beckoned us. I boulder hopped. John and Norma would have been proud of me. But total immersion was only narrowly avoided by a giant leap that surpassed even Sue's long jumping skills. So she stripped to her Rohans for a cool, wet, safe crossing.

Camp is pictured - in a sheltered spot on soft flat grass near (but not too near) the rushing torrent. We were there by 4.30 and have enjoyed a relaxing evening in camp. I hope our resident stonechat stops chatting at some point. It's very vocal...

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Day 5 - TGO Challenge 2015 - Loch nam Meur to Aslaich B&B, Drumnadrochit

Day 5 - TGO Challenge 2015 - Loch nam Meur to Aslaich B&B, Drumnadrochit

Date: Tuesday 12 May 

Route: as planned from Loch nam Meur

Distance: 15 km (Cum: 102)

Ascent: 200 metres (Cum: 4300)

Time taken: 4.7 hrs including 0.8 hrs breaks - (Cum: 37.9 hours including 7.1 hours breaks)

Weather: rain turning to showers, fine later

Click on the link below (Day 5) for details of our planned route:

We woke to the sound of rain. In fact we had slept to the  sound of rain. Slept very well. And the socks on the line that kept slapping me in the face were now dry. 

A lie in was in order, given the short day ahead and our exquisitely comfortable pitch. The sun came out but the rain continued. We attempted to exhaust our meagre gas supply by brewing tea then hot chocolate (we failed), during a leisurely breakfast period. The wind roared and the tent was buffeted. "Good practice for Patagonia" observed Sue. I hope so, because we were well rested and had no worries at all about the performance of the eleven year old tent that has seen a lot of use.

First off, after we eventually got away at 9.40, the prospect of walking for an extra hour to avoid a roaring torrent didn't appeal. So I waded (gaiters kept my feet dry) and Sue practiced her long jumping technique. "I used to be able to clear three metres" she asserted. Luckily her first effort got the gold medal today.

That meant an easy 2 km yomping to Loch Aslaich, curiously adorned with a selection of fishing shacks, where we joined the track that leads all the way to Drumnadrochit.

Red deer scattered as we progressed along the glen, skipping over the bogs and torrents that tried to bar our way. It's a lovely wide valley. Sue is pictured as I look down towards Drumnadrochit. She is also shown during one the long jumps for which she had been practising so assiduously.

Lunch was taken at noon, at the point where the path enters the forest, via a very laid back sort of stile equipped with a handrail. Mackerel and oatcakes. Delicious.

There followed a delightful stroll into Drum, along a good track lined with bugle, primroses, dog violets, wood anemone, wood sorrel, bluebells and dandelions, not to mention the outspoken robins, chaffinches and blackbirds.

Arriving at Aslaich B&B at 2.20 pm gave us plenty of time to sort ourselves out once Magda had shown us the ropes.

Then we spent a most pleasant evening in the Fiddlers with Steve, who we'd met in Cannich but who had taken a rather shorter route over the past two days. Unfortunately we arrived in between the closing time of the café and the opening time of the restaurant, but surprisingly it was nice enough to laze outside whilst the Scots enjoyed their siestas. 

Day 4 - TGO Challenge 2015 - Kerrow House B&B to Loch nam Meur (north)

Date: Monday 11 May 

Route: as planned, plus a faux pas in Tomich, where we set off from the hotel in the wrong direction, and an extension to point 7 on tomorrow's itinerary - NH 390 245 at 530 metres

Distance: 23 km (Cum: 87)

Ascent: 900 metres (Cum: 4100)

Time taken: 8.0 hrs including 1.4 hrs breaks - (Cum: 33.2 hours including 6.3 hours breaks)

Weather: after brief sunshine, morning rain turning to afternoon sunshine interspersed with violent showers with a blustery SW wind

Click on the link below (Day 4) for details of our planned route:

Apologies for the possible puerile nature of some of this text, composed during a self imposed fourteen hour exile in a Rab 400 cocoon. Then lost and recompiled

Knickers. Jeremy's choice of underwear (ladies cotton) and his river crossing technique have been observed and commented upon. Having met Jeremy only briefly and for the first time on this trip, I can only pass on the observations of others, with one exception. He was talking through his *** when it came to concerns about the condition of the north Mullardoch ridge, which contrary to his opinion was in excellent condition for walking. Perhaps he should reconsider his choice of knickers!

Anyway, it seems that whilst folk like John and Norma cross streams by boulder hopping fully clothed but with the risk of total immersion, Jeremy prefers to strip to his knickers and wade. Discussion earlier today with Alan and Phil brought the revelation from Alan that he was "with Jeremy on that".... Does that mean that Alan also wears ladies underwear? Phil remained discreetly silent.

I'm writing this from the comfort of our little Nallo tent in a howling gale next to a stream that we need to cross but aren't inclined to due to the volume of water in it. So we camped next to it. My chef is having a few problems - that is unless she is trying to warm up my wet boots for tomorrow by pouring tonight's dinner into them. They were stolen by a dog in the Slaters Arms last night so they'll be at even greater risk of dog theft tomorrow. Our supply of loo roll is rapidly diminishing as Sue is multi-tasking, all of which tasks require either loo roll or baby wipes. And we have no babies with us!

It's serious fun in here! I've just been attacked by a wet sock on our dancing in house washing line. It's windy.

We started from Kerrow House B&B after a fine breakfast in freshly dried kit. Liz had somehow managed to dry both our boots and our (washed) waterproof socks as well as a load of other stuff. Wonderful.

Sue is pictured on the sunny driveway moments before the rain started.

We soon met Alan and Phil, walking along the road from Tomich. In a conversation that ranged from missing tent poles to ladies knickers it became apparent that they had been unable to camp at Cannich last night as Alan had left his tent poles in Tomich. Phil had then found accommodation for them in Drumnadrochit and a taxi. The taxi driver had a few problems understanding their itinerary.... "so you want me to take you to Drum then in the morning I'm taking you back to Tomich, with all your gear, so that you can walk back to the same B&B in Drum. Duh!"

Yes, most folk would conclude that they are a little crazy.

We saw one other person all day, once we'd said goodbye to a distressed Scotsman who likened Ms Sturgeon to Hitler (a bit harsh?) and the young lady from Georgia who served us elevenses in the Tomich Hotel. Amanda hadn't take the 'lift to Cannich to get gas' bait, so we decided to restrict brew stops and manage with what we'd got. The weather didn't look suitable for brewing anyway. And it wasn't.

That one person was a cyclist on the track near Loch ma Stac, approaching a boggy section crossed by several streams in spate and negotiable by the acquired art of 'tussock jumping'. We have that art (our wet feet are due simply to several hours of squelching through bog) but we wouldn't want to do it with a bicycle. Moreover this cyclist was frantically pushing his bike down a track that was good for cycling. He was in a hurry, with no time to chat to us.

Before that we had lunched in a rainy larch forest, exiting to discover that the sun was shining. Then we passed five massive wind turbines before reverting from their ghastly access road to a narrow track with bogs.

We passed our planned camping spot at about 2.30, and rather than spend the afternoon being buffeted in our tent we decided to be buffeted in our waterproofs, which were worn all day, albeit they dried out between showers.

So we passed the strange three storey building on Loch ma Stac and headed up to the trig pointed 679 metre summit of Meall a'Chrathaigh. Then on to two more lesser summits before descending and making our way to this rather exposed camping spot that I'd noted from a previous visit in calm sunny weather when the rivers weren't in spate. If we can't cross tomorrow we'll have to retrace our steps until we can. We can afford to do that as it's not far to Drumnadrochit from here.

Today's pictures show Sue in the sun, a rainbow from Meall nan Oighreagan (after the best of it had faded - the slideshow will have a much better version), and our sunny but rather exposed campsite.

The Balmacaan Forest is a lovely spot of wilderness, even in iffy weather -  highly commended. Must go - dinner is served, surprisingly not out of my boots!

Monday, 11 May 2015

Day 3 - TGO Challenge 2015 - Garbh-choire to Kerrow House B&B, Cannich

Date: Sunday 10 May 

Route: more or less as planned

Distance: 25 km (Cum: 64)

Ascent: 600 metres (Cum: 3200)

Time taken: 8.3 hrs including 1.6 hrs breaks - excluding 3 hours in the Slaters Arms (Cum: 25.2 hours including 4.9 hours breaks)

Weather: dreich until 2.40, when the sun came out but it continued to drizzle. Heavy rain encouraged us to stay in the Slaters and we enjoyed the final 3 km to Kerrow House in the dry.

Click on the link below (Day 3) for details of my our planned route:

Light, intermittent rain in the early hours signalled the end of our purple patch of weather. Knowing that we had a relatively easy day, we breakfasted and packed up slowly inside the tent before ambling off at 8.20.

The way up our fourth Munro of the trip, Carn nan Gobhar, was easily found despite a cloud base of 850 metres or so. It was cool just below 1000 metres on the summit and a tricky boulder field on the descent towards Mullach na Maoile ensured our levels of concentration. Ptarmigan observed us closely and we found a cold egg that one of them must have inadvertently laid on the path.

Beyond Mullach na Maoile a convex slope drew us ever more steeply towards Allt Mullardoch. On reflection, a direct descent to the bridge near Loch Mullardoch may have been the best way down, but my weak knee decided to draw us north of east to avoid some crags. We found somewhere to cross the river without being dunked and we later pondered the thought of Jeremy crossing at this point, dressed only in ladies' underwear!

Beyond the torrent lay a good path to the bridge, and a tin shack held together with gaffer tape beckoned us inside for elevenses. The view across Loch Mullardoch was excellent, though protection from the mizzle was minimal.

We'd been walking for around three hours by the time we reached the dam, and we later discovered that only one other Challenger had come along the Mullardoch ridge - Stephen O'Hara had started from near Iron Lodge yesterday, reaching the dam at around 10.30 pm. An epic day!

A newt wriggled it's way through a puddle beside the road, where wheatears tracked our progress.

Once at the dam, it's an easy walk down the quiet road to Cannich. Waterproofs came off soon after we'd lunched in light rain just beyond Liatrie. Sue is pictured here filtering water for the last gasp of gas from our 250 size canister that was full when we set off on Friday.

The walk down to Cannich, apart from being on tarmac, was delightful. Trees swathed with lichens and mosses were coming into leaf. Breathe deep - the air quality must be good. I'm pictured in this woodland zone beside the River Cannich.

By now the hopping wheatears had been replaced with cheery chaffinches, and goosanders vied with eider ducks for pole position in the river, whilst mallard chicks paddled furiously behind their mother.

The Slaters Arms in Cannich couldn't have been more welcoming. We arrived at 4pm and left at 7pm after a most sociable time with other Challengers coming and going from their B&Bs or the campsite.  A pot of tea whilst chatting to the aforementioned Stephen, the Rev David and JJ - the latter being 'off route' as usual - was followed by a beer with John and Norma, who like several others had successfully fought their way along the north side of Loch Mullardoch.

Dinner was in the presence of Ian C, and George and Martin from Perth, as well as Greg from Massachusetts, who seems to be enjoying the error of his over provisioning by handing out food to whoever wants it. His smile is broader than ever.

It had been pouring with rain, so we were glad to find that the rain had stopped by the time we set off on the final 3 km to Kerrow House B&B. En route we met Alan and Phil, heading to Cannich in a car for a night in the campsite and at the Slaters before returning to Tomich tomorrow to continue their stroll. They had found Tomich to be full, and a kind lady who is in the next room in our B&B but who happened to be at the Tomich Hotel at the crucial time gave them a lift. 

I wonder whether the same lady may help us tomorrow, as the partly filled gas canister in the resupply package I left here on my 'Grand Tour' is inadequate given the number of brew stops we are having?

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Day 2 - TGO Challenge 2015 - Coire na Breabaig to Garbh-choire

Date: Saturday 9 May 

Route: as planned from Coire na Breabaig to Sgurr na Lapaich, then to Garbh-choire via the northern spur as the planned eastern spur made me shake with fear. Excellent camping spot (bottom picture) at 735 metres (NH 172 351)

Distance: 16 km (Cum: 39)

Ascent: 1100 metres (Cum: 2600)

Time taken: 8.8 hrs including 1.7 hrs breaks (Cum: 16.9 hours including 3.3 hours breaks)

Weather: Another blue sky day with gradually increasing cloud. Afternoon  showers to our north, and a cool breeze on the ridge.

Click on the link below (Day 2) for details of my our planned route:

This is another 'second attempt', my first effort having disappeared into the ether just as I was finishing it! This version is somewhat briefer, brevity being a virtue when you have to do the same piece of work several times.

Simply a superb mountain day traversing the six Munro and Munro Top summits of the north Mullardoch ridge with wonderful views throughout.

We saw no other Challengers today, just a group of six day walkers armed to the teeth with ice axes and crampons. These were unnecessary as the snow was soft. The dour Scots looked at our big packs with disdain.

Sue is pictured on the summit of An Riabhachan - the middle one of the three Munro summits.

Fantastic views, superb weather, chatty plovers, snow buntings and ptarmigan. What more could you want?

Okay, a great camping spot. We have that as well. Unlike last night, which we enjoyed in an exceptional and memorable silent calm, with just the occasional tweet from an unknown bird, tonight we have a tumbling stream and a light breeze to lull us to sleep.

Day 1 - TGO Challenge 2015 - Dornie to Coire na Breabaig

Date: Friday 8 May

Route: as planned to beyond Iron Lodge, then directly up Carn na Breabaig before dropping to the col to camp at NH 072 308

Distance: 24 km (Cum: 24)

Ascent: 1300 metres (Cum: 1300)

Time taken: 8.1 hrs including 1.6 hrs breaks (Cum: 8.1 hours including breaks)

Weather: A blue sky day with gradually increasing cloud

Click on the link below (Day 1) for details of our planned route:

A perfect start (apart from the fact that I drafted a long entry that then disappeared overnight, so this is a second attempt, written at the end of Day 2).

The seven of us who stayed at Dornie Hotel enjoyed breakfast together before lining up for a series of photos. Mine shows Colin, Robin, Sue, Emma, Jeremy and Greg (top image).

Colin disappeared but the rest of us walked together for a while, admiring superb views over Loch Long. My best effort of describing the view is by way of the middle image. Others will have done better.

We soon aborted the narrow strip of tarmac in favour of the good path beside the River Glennan. A lovely route during which our group of six gradually dissipated leaving Sue and me to enjoy the views from the watershed on our own. The vistas towards the Cuillin Hills on Skye were magnificent.

Our first brew stop was enjoyed above Camas-luinie. We were joined by Robin and Emma, and by John and Norma, who had also started from Dornie. Jeremy and Greg stormed past and then entertained us with their cack-handed approach to getting through a deer fence.

Greg should be excused, as he had just flown in from Massachusetts with nine days' food. Incredibly, his rucksack is hardly any heavier than mine!

Beyond Camas-luinie a good track leads all the way to Iron Lodge. Sue and I stopped for lunch at the turn off to the Falls of Glomach, as we knew most of the 'Dornies' were heading up there. Nobody appeared - they were in no hurry.

A further stroll past numerous cuckoos along the lane lined with gorse and primroses interspersed with lesser celandine, wood anemone and dog violets, took us to the bothy at Iron Lodge. Chaffinches hopped hopefully ahead of us for some of the way. Craig and Vicky, two more Americans, were installed in the lodge. Uncertain about the efficacy of the carpet, they had set up camp in the living room. Craig came out to admire his new home whilst munching through a giant packet of crisps, whilst Vicky had donned her pyjamas and was washing their smalls.

The haul to the summit of Carn na Breabaig was up a steep grassy slope. Great views from the summit were enjoyed before we ambled down to the col and pitched camp in a fine spot (shown above).

My chef performed miracles with a few packets of dried stuff and some tuna twists.

(So that's a version of what I wrote whilst Sue was busy cooking. I'll take precautions against losing it this time, precautions that have been needed! as the signal that brought in 32 emails earlier has done a bunk.)

There's a short slideshow for the day (35 images) - here. Click on the first image, then click 'slideshow'.

Next Day - Day 2

Thursday, 7 May 2015

TGO Challenge 2015 - Getting to the Start

Five am. Just as well Sue's alarm went off as I'd set mine for the wrong day.

My second mistake was forgetting to bring my Senior Railcard. Not too many more 'Senior Moments' on this trip, I hope. 

Some hope!

(In the event all today's conductors were very kind.)

It was too early for trams, so a taxi to Piccadilly got us onto the 6.14 Trans Pennine Express to Edinburgh. A lovely sunny day slowly revealed itself on this beautifully scenic route through the Southern Uplands. Then a commuter train took us over the Firth of Forth, where a new bridge is under construction, and on next to a snoring Scotsman to Perth, where we picked up the ScotRail service to Inverness, arriving there by 1.30 pm. Timperley to Inverness in a morning - not bad going.

It's election day, though you couldn't guess that.

No evidence of any Challengers, either, before Perth. Then David Wishart appeared, plus a number of both stalwarts and unknown faces, with Jamie and Emma in the former group.

It's another lovely journey over Drumochter, beyond where a violent shower reminded us that the weather can be changeable in these parts. Outside, on the station platforms, a cold wind emphasised that we had moved somewhat north of Timperley. 

The Kyle train was waiting for us in Inverness, and for the onward journey the weather stayed fair and the countryside fairer as we trundled across to the west coast and a final short but inordinately expensive* bus ride to reach our destination by about 4.45 pm.

That gives us plenty of time to enjoy a sociable pre-challenge evening with the election continuing in a parallel universe.

I've just nipped out to admire the views and take a few snaps - from top to bottom, our hotel, Loch Alsh and Eilean Donan castle.

* almost £1 a mile, whereas the cost of our two tickets from Manchester to Kyle totalled £84.

There's a short slideshow for the day (10 images) - here. Click on the first image, then click 'slideshow'.

Next Day - Day 1