Martin

Martin

Saturday, 28 May 2016

TGO Challenge 2016 - Day 14 - North Water Bridge to Kinnaber Links and Montrose

Date: Thursday 26 May

Route: roughly as planned

Distance: 17 km (Cum: 320)

Ascent: 100 metres (Cum: 9900)

Time taken: 5 hrs including breaks

Weather: sunny periods, cool

We left North Water Bridge at 8.15 am as a team of seven - me and Sue, Alistair, Andy, Vicky and Toby, and Ian C. Scott, a publican from Glasgow and first time Challenger happened to be setting off at the same time and soon joined us. I hope we made him feel welcome. There's a danger perhaps of seeming a little cliquey at this point.

We took a mainly off-road route towards Kinnaber Links, pausing for a lengthy stop at Charleton fruit farm. JJ had recommended this. We called him to thank him. Many others who in earlier years may have headed for the now demised café at St Cyrus followed our example.

Soon we were at the coast and skipping through the waves, before heading off down the beach and beside the golf course to sign in at Montrose. The Park Hotel was humming with Challengers and after a visit to Madisons for lunch, and a lazy afternoon, we assembled early for dinner, as Ian and Jenny had chosen that time to have their wedding ceremony.

The wedding went well, and the meal was very good. JD is away, so Russ Mannion stood in with a fine speech welcoming first timers, who comprise about a third of the 300 or so participants.

It's a long evening, with lots of 'components'. Ali and Sue ably conducted proceedings, with Roger Smith, Hamish Brown and Humphrey all having their say. Those of us to reach landmark numbers of Challenges (10 or 20) received plaques and bottles of Prosecco, and got to shake hands with Hamish (it was a pleasure to meet him at long last) and Al Hinkes (who I already knew).

[The TGO Challenge is Hamish's brainchild, and Al is an Ambassador for boot maker, Hanwag, one of the Challenge's sponsors. Emily Rodway, TGO magazine's editor, was also present.]

The evening passed all too quickly, as always, and before we knew it we were on the train home, cogitating over next year's route.

I hope readers have enjoyed the past fortnight's postings. I'll try to produce an index and some short slideshows soon.

Gear:

Comments will be made below, if I get round to it. And if anyone is interested...

TGO Challenge 2016 - Day 13 - Tarfside to North Water Bridge (campsite at NO 650 662)

Date: Wednesday 25 May

Route: as planned, leaving out the short climb to the masonic tower at

Distance: 27 km (Cum: 303)

Ascent: 300 metres (Cum: 9800)

Time taken: 9 hrs including breaks

Weather: sunny periods, cool

We took the 'trade route' via breakfast at The Retreat and lunch at the Tuck Inn café in Edzell. Before that, a stroll beside the River Esk past the Rocks of Solitude. This is the Blue Door Walk, one of the most scenic passages of our entire Challenge. It ends with a blue door before a final stroll along the right bank of the river to Edzell. (We took the slightly rougher left bank last year.)

Our decision to leave out the off-road path to the masonic tower was brought upon by our failure to notice the turn to it whilst we were happily chatting to others in our little group that stayed together more or less all day - Sue and me, Ian C, Alistair P, Andy Walker, Rob Jones, and Barbara Saunders. We were joined at a closed footbridge near Millden Lodge by a chap called Martin, who made a dramatic entry to our group by falling off the bridge. Luckily only his pride was damaged. Jennifer from Altrincham promptly turned round and went by the public route that we'd followed, despite the assistance being offered by an estate worker to get them across the closed footbridge.

Jon Metcalf was waiting for us at North Water Bridge with some interesting beers (eg salted caramel - smooth and powerful, Brewdog), the best part of a bottle of Bourbon, and the news that he is soon to retire. Alison also arrived from Montrose and we spent a happy hour or two communing at a picnic bench, gradually accumulating more Challengers around the bench in the cool of the evening.

We observed a moment of complete farce when a nearby picnic table collapsed when the occupants of one side of it all stood up at once, sending four people on the other side of the table and the entire contents of the table, on which meals were being cooked, into an undignified heap underneath the upturned table. Luckily nobody seemed to be too badly hurt or burnt.

It was a late night, with no time to contemplate drafting this entry, which task was left until the journey home, or even later.

This was a classic day spent on a standard route towards the end of the Challenge in the company of good friends and like minded participants.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Kinnaber Links

Our team of eight from North Water Bridge put their toes in the water around noon, before adjourning to the Park Hotel.

..The end of a most enjoyable Challenge. 

Postings for the final two days will follow.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

TGO Challenge 2016 - Day 12 - Ballater to Tarfside (NO 493 795 - 200 metres)

Date: Tuesday 24 May

Route: as planned

Distance: 28 km (Cum: 276)

Ascent: 1250 metres (Cum: 9500)

Time taken: 8.5 hrs including breaks

Weather: cloudy morning, sunny afternoon, cool breeze

Over the hill (Mount Keen) to Tarfside, as related on at least two earlier Challenges. A long but easy walk on good tracks and in good company with fine scenery. We have entered the more sociable phase of this event, which means more chatting and less blogging.

Breakfast at the usual café (Bean for Coffee?) in Ballater was followed by a 9 am rendezvous with Sue and Heather (achieved at 9.30), and a pleasant day's walk with them and a variety of other familiar faces, notably Maggie and Vicky.

An encounter with a well camouflaged wildlife photographer afforded us 'the other side of the coin' from the keeper we met yesterday. He was photographing ring ouzel and didn't have much good to say about anyone.

St Droston's provided its customary welcome with a pot of tea and, later, chilli and baked potatoes. Numerous tents filled the nearby recreation ground, and the Masons opened to cater for the rehydratory needs of the occupants of those tents.

Sue counted 53 tents in the field.

Insomniac birdsong eventually lulled us to sleep, just as it had drawn us to consciousness earlier in the day at the campsite in Ballater.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

TGO Challenge 2016 - Day 11 - Cairn Sawvie by Brown Cow Hillr to Ballater (campsite - NO 370 952 - 200 metres)

Date: Monday 23 May

Route: as planned

Distance: 25 km (Cum: 248)

Ascent: 400 metres (Cum: 8250)

Time taken: 8.5 hrs including breaks

Weather: sunny periods followed by long showers

Just a short entry today as it's bedtime already.

A lovely walk in nice countryside with no Challengers encountered until we reached Ballater and bumped into Heather T-S in the high street. Followed that with hasty showers before dashing to the Alexandra for an evening with Sue and Neil (celebrating making it to 60) as well as Heather.

Our only other encounter of the day was with a gamekeeper. A nice chap. He told us Inchrory, the mansion we passed yesterday, is owned by the 'Tetrapak' family, and that the nest we had seen destroyed earlier in the day was probably the victim of ravens, which he told us were a pest of increasing concern to farmers. He shared some of our views about the fancy electric fences..

Last night's wild camping spot near the top of Brown Cow Hill was great. The soft mattress of lichen afforded a perfect night's sleep. The wind dropped and there was complete silence apart from the occasional sound of an alarmed grouse.

After a slow start over rough ground we dropped to the banks of the River Garn and enjoyed a largely tarmac free stroll into Ballater. Lunch was taken on a bench near a house where the owner kindly gave us some water as our supply from near Inchrory was running low. After that we enjoyed quiet tracks and paths (no other walkers) and an encounter with a tractor of the RED variety.

Parts of Ballater are effectively no go areas after the floods of a few months ago. Many properties are having to be completely refurbished.

The campsite is operational though, and we'll get a good night's sleep, I'm sure. ..

Monday, 23 May 2016

TGO Challenge 2016 - Day 10 - Tomintoul to Cairn Sawvie by Brown Cow Hill (wild camp at NJ 214 046 - 820 metres)

Date: Sunday 22 May

Route: as planned

Distance: 20 km (Cum: 223)

Ascent: 1000 metres (Cum: 7850)

Time taken: 7.5 hrs including breaks

Weather: sunshine and showers, turning to steady rain

Morning rain was expected so we didn't rush away from Dianne's hospitality at Argyle Guest House. As it happened the rain arrived just as we left at 9.30. At least that meant we could don waterproofs indoors. She must have thought she'd never get rid of us.

The walk up Glen Avon beside the river was delightful, despite the showers. Queen Victoria's viewpoint (she visited in 1860) was afforded due respect. Pheasants cavorted in the fields between us and the river; wood anemones lined our route through verdant green woodland, and a group of over twenty walkers were seen being led over a bridge on a guided walk. The river, when we got close to it, looked crystal clear. Highland cattle munched, in time with the birdsong?

After a couple of hours we stopped for a brew by the Burn of Little Fergie. Having seen no Challengers since we passed through battle torn Culloden a few days ago we got quite a surprise when Sandy Millar strolled into view, and even more of a surprise when Tony Hewitt stumbled in behind him. It was great to 'commune', and the two of them kindly posed for a photo with Sue.

The next few kilometres were spent amiably with Tony, a stalwart of the Long Distance Walkers Association's Staffordshire Group. (He may even have founded it.) He stopped for one of his several lunches whilst we continued past orchids and pansies to an idyllic spot up the valley towards Lagganauld from the palatial pad at Inchrory. Tony joined us there and appreciated a brew (he's using non camping accommodation and has no stove). Sandy wandered past, then we were honoured by the appearance of John Burt, who I first met in Drumnadrochit on my first Challenge in 2007. He's an elusive soul, often being one of the last people to finish when most have gone home. He's also one of the few Challengers who sometimes dip into these pages, so if you are there, John, it was great to see you and we hope you enjoyed the rest of your walk.

After an hour's break and a brief interlude walking with John we left the 'sensible route' to Cock Bridge and headed up easy heather to the summit of Ruigh Speanan and on past a golden plover's nest (the picture indicates a design for a nest of four eggs, so perhaps the fifth was an afterthought; they were hot, so we quickly moved on) to the Well of Don. Distracted by an enormous double electric fence, we didn't locate the well. The fence seemed to follow the county boundary over Little Geal Charn and on to Meikle Geal Charn, where we left it and the boundary and headed up through clumps of small pink flowers (purple saxifrage I think), to Cairn Sawvie.

During the ascent to Well of Don another shower arrived. Not a shower this time. More like continuous rain with a thunderstorm mixed in. Not windy though, so we are very happy in this  flattish spot with a lichen mattress near the summit, just a few metres below the summit of Brown Cow Hill. There don't seem to be any cows here, but in truth we can't see much at all and are happy to settle down for a cosy night in the tent on what will be our fifth and last wild camp of this year's Challenge.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

TGO Challenge 2016 - Day 9 - Grantown-On-Spey to Tomintoul (Argyle Guest House - NJ 169 186 - 345 metres)

Date: Saturday 21 May

Route: exactly as planned

Distance: 28 km (Cum: 203)

Ascent: 950 metres (Cum: 6850)

Time taken: 9.5 hrs including breaks

Weather: showery morning,  sunny afternoon

Dry feet. It's great to have them. Despite even more bogs and groughs today, our relatively new Scarpas (bought last year with Patagonia in mind, but it wasn't wet there) kept our tootsies perfectly dry. Great.

The morning started with a woodland and riverside walk. We saw no capercaillie, just a few fishermen waist deep in the River Spey, and some canoeists. When it started to rain the fishermen drove off in their BMWs and the canoeists got out and stood under a tree!

Bugle lined the riverside path.

Two cafés were signed in Cromdale. We found neither. Then it stopped raining and we enjoyed a perfect brew on some nicely mown grass at the end of someone's driveway.

It was soon time to mosey on up to the knife edge ridge of the Hills of Cromdale. On the way we saw a red squirrel and a kite, probably red, a buzzard, and lots of curlew, lapwings and oystercatchers, to name but a few. Underfoot, the cloudberry carpet on the upper slopes took a battering.

After many more on/off delays with the waterproofs we wound our way round from a distinctive tall cairn to the main summit of Creagan a' Chaise (722 metres), where an even bigger cairn greeted us with some well earned shelter from the persistent wind.

We used the opportunity to wolf down some pork pies, egg and cress sandwiches, and a packet of crisps. What, no fish!

Down a slithery hill past lots of empty cartridges to Glen Lochy and a second lunch (more eggs and a fruit yoghurt) put us in good spirits for the scenic countryside stroll to Tomintoul. The route featured an entertaining suspension footbridge and finished on a very pleasant footpath with sunny views in good light.

No other walkers were seen today. Our contact with Challengers was restricted to text messaging and 'social media'. We were sorry to hear that JJ had retreated to Timperley due to a sick relative, but Alistair, Heather, Sue O and Markus all seem to be enjoying themselves.

Dianne and Steve at Argyle Guest House were welcoming. We have another very big room. The meal at the Clockhouse Restaurant was very good. It should have been - the chef used to cook for Charles and Diana when (in aeons past) they spent time at Balmoral.