Martin in Gatineau Park

Martin in Gatineau Park

Friday, 18 May 2012

Friday 18 May 2012 - TGO Challenge Day 8 – Loch Tummel to Blair Atholl - Jungle foils Summit Attempt

Route: almost as planned
See http://www.topwalks.com/tgoc2012.html Day 8 for map

Distance: 21.4km (Cum 237)

Ascent: 600 metres (Cum 6700)

Time taken: 6hrs including stops

Weather: light rain

Challengers encountered: none after leaving Loch Tummel Inn; in the Atholl Bothy Bar - Bill A, Graham W, Bernhard Koeglmeier, Phil E, Geoff G + entourage

Others encountered: nobody of significance other than Kirsty and Geoff at The Firs Guesthouse

Flora and Fauna: buzzard mobbing, pied wagtail, swallows and martins, oyster catchers, long-tailed tits, greylag geese, wood sorrel

Your comments:
Paul - thanks, we hope you're right about the weather
G - thanks, those dog walkers were actually quite knowledgeable and were interested to learn about the Challenge
Alan - I think you first visited the Loch Tummel Inn following our recommendation!
Gibson - thanks for your comments, I decided not to include a more detailed Munro story as some of my readers won't know that a Munro is a Scottish mountain over 3000 feet high. If they read your comment they'll now be puzzled as to what makes a 'Top'! Ronnie Burn must have been a very focused individual!
'Luxurious' - yes Gibson, we know how to live!
Martin R - we had to go up, as Sue thought there might be a spectacular cloud inversion!

We started today by once again by donning our waterproofs and setting off up the hill towards Blair Atholl. There was a boggy bit of woodland with the added spice of some fallen trees for the second kilometre of the day, then we started our 'roundabout route' by heading easily past honking greylag geese and down to Calvine and its trio of bridges over the River Garry.

Tea was taken where our route crossed the indistinct remains of General Wade's Military Road, then we progressed easily, in varying strengths of rain, past a tasteful memorial to Mark John McGowan (1958-2007) to The Falls of Bruar. These tear through a deep cleft as the water (pictured) rushes towards the River Garry. A large group of brightly dressed, helmeted men were doing something adventurous on the opposite bank as we passed on our way to the top bridge.

The next section involved a very pleasant stretch of forest tracks, before we headed up towards today's summit, Fair Bhuidhe (462 metres). It wasn't a big hill. Less than half the size of yesterday's giant. We got to within two 10 metre contour lines, and within 200 metres as the crow flies, to be presented by dense impenetrable jungle. I prepared for the final assault.
"Why are we going to this summit?" enquired Sue (admittedly it was a little off route).
"For the view" was my unhesitating reply.
We gave up the attempt...

An easy stroll then took us to the tourist trap known as Blair Castle (poorly pictured).

The castle is Blair Atholl's most famous feature. It's one of Scotland's premier stately homes, and the last castle in the British Isles to be besieged, in 1746 during the last Jacobite Rebellion. The Castle was the traditional home of the Earls (later Marquises, now Dukes) of Atholl. The Duke of Atholl is the only person in the United Kingdom allowed to raise a private army. This army, known as the Atholl Highlanders, conducts largely social and ceremonial activities, and primarily consists of workers on the extensive Atholl Estates. The Castle no longer belongs directly to the Duke of Atholl, as the 10th Duke, George Iain Murray (1931–96), left the Castle in trust upon his death for the benefit of the geriatric clients of The Wallace Arnold International Omnibus Company. His distant cousin, the 11th Duke, John Murray (born 1929), lives in South Africa, and returns annually to review the Atholl Highlanders. The oldest part of Blair Castle, known as Comyn's (or Cumming's) Tower, a small tower-house with immensely thick walls, is claimed (perhaps dubiously) to date from as early as the 13th century. The majority of the Castle is 16th century in date, though much altered. After the siege referred to above, the upper storey and battlements of the ancient Castle were removed to render it indefensible. A medieval appearance becoming fashionable once more during the 19th century, the Castle, which had become known as Atholl House, was raised in height and adorned with battlements once more. The many alterations in the fabric are largely concealed by the white harling (roughcast) on the walls. The collections of furniture, paintings, historical relics, weapons, embroidery, china, Highland artefacts and hunting trophies preserved in the Castle are among the finest in Scotland, as is the plasterwork and other décor of the principal rooms. Thirty-two rooms are open to the public, more than in any comparable stately home.

From the castle, a fine avenue of trees leads past the camp site where the unmistakeable red Akto tent broadcast Graham Weaver's presence, and into the village, where we were soon able to stock up with supplies and find our way to The Firs Guesthouse (http://www.firs-blairatholl.co.uk/), where Kirsty kindly saw to all our needs.

A peculiar quirk of Blair Atholl is ownership of the water supply. As a result of an unusual legal agreement made in 1911 for the benefit of steam trains, the responsibility for the public water supply to the people of Blair Atholl has been held by the railway companies who own the line through the town, currently Network Rail. In April 2006, it was announced that Network Rail would finance the cost of connecting Blair Atholl and Bridge of Tilt to Scottish Water's supply.

An evening in the Bothy Bar, in the dubious company of the above-named reprobates duly followed. Portion sizes are large in this establishment, and my seafood pasta came in a huge foil bag.

Tomorrow is a long day in a remote area with no phone signal, so the next transmission is likely to emanate from Braemar on Sunday.

Goodnight from two bloated Challengers.

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Thursday 17 May 2012 - TGO Challenge Day 7 – Kinloch Rannoch to Loch Tummel - The Misty Mountain

Route: as planned
See http://www.topwalks.com/tgoc2012.html Day 7 for map

Distance: 29.3km (Cum 215.6)

Ascent: 1300 metres (Cum 6100)

Time taken: 8.5hrs including stops

Weather: wet

Challengers encountered: none whilst walking; Phil, Dave and Conrad at the Loch Tummel inn, plus John Woolston and Bill Archibald, for whom there is 'no room at the inn'!

Others encountered: one day walker on Schiehallion and two sets of dog walkers

Flora and Fauna: curlew and lapwings, wayside broom, another yellow flower I can never seem to identify, lots of red deer

Ben and Rita are excellent hosts. We felt unable to rush off into our planned long day. Besides, it was raining. So it was 9.30 before we left to try our hand at Schiehallion, concerning which I've edited a Wiki extract below*.

The path to the small bothy built into the eastern hillside of Schiehallion at about 600 metres was delightful. A lovely old track with fine views which we lost beyond that point on account of the mist.

It was time for elevenses, which Sue savoured from the door of the bothy (pictured).

A steep haul up from there, with slippery rocks, a bit of scree, and some small crags to negotiate, saw us on the summit of this iconic hill (Sue is pictured there) at 12.15. It was misty and raining. Sue racked her brain and decided she hadn't ever gained a view from the summit.

We expected to see a few day walkers on the 'tourist path' but today only one of them had braved the conditions. Roger Boston (who was due there today) was nowhere to be seen. Later, some of the TGO Challenge road walking fraternity declared us insane. A text message received near the summit informed us that even the hardy trio of Heather, Sue and Dave were having a day off today!

The sleet eased after we had made our way slowly along the broad ridge strewn with slippery rocks. Then the descent down the JMT's fine new path brought us to a bench near the car park where we enjoyed lunch in the rain and a chat with some dog walkers.

Q: "Where are you going?"
A: "Aberdeen."
... always raises some interest.

Pressing on through bogs and across streams before heading up through deep heather, we eventually arrived, by a rather roundabout route, at the 416 metre summit of Creag Kynachan. It was low enough to offer wide ranging views, so far as was possible given that everything over 600 metres was enveloped in a thick blanket of cloud.

The view down Loch Tummel, about which there is more here#, was not quite at its best in today's rain.

The direct descent to reach the B846 road by the power station in Tummel Bridge was very rough and tiring, with a seemingly randomly placed deer fence to negotiate near the bottom.

After draining the flask from the comfort of another bench, we embarked on the uneventful final stage of today's journey, via Easter Bohespic and some lovely forest tracks. Footprints headed off towards Blair Atholl at the point where we went down to Loch Tummel.

Amanda provided her usual cheery welcome at the Inn (http://www.lochtummelinn.co.uk/) and we spent a pleasant evening in the company of the other Challengers mentioned above.

It was still raining when John and Bill stumbled out to pitch their tents and the rest of us took to our luxurious mattresses.

*Schiehallion has a rich botanical life, interesting archaeology, and a unique place in scientific history for an 18th-century experiment in 'weighing the world'. The mountain's popularity amongst walkers led to serious erosion on its footpath and extensive repairs were undertaken on the popular eastern flanks in 2001 following the area's acquisition by the John Muir Trust in 1999. The mountain (3547 ft/1083m) is isolated from other peaks and has an almost perfect conical shape from the west. The view of the broad eastern flank attracts many visitors to the shores of Loch Tummel. Schiehallion is sometimes described as the centre of Scotland. The justification is that the line of latitude midway between the most northerly and southerly points on the Scottish mainland, and the line of longitude midway between the most easterly and westerly points, intersect very near the summit of Schiehallion. By coincidence (perhaps) the summit marked the half way point in distance of our own walk across Scotland. The slopes of Schiehallion have been inhabited and cultivated since the first millennium BC until approximately two hundred years ago. Schiehallion has been used for grazing sheep and stalking red deer.

Schiehallion's isolated position and regular shape led it to be selected by Charles Mason for a ground-breaking experiment to estimate the mass of the Earth in 1774. The deflection of a pendulum by the mass of the mountain provided an estimate of the mean density of the Earth, from which its mass and a value for Newton's Gravitational constant G could be deduced. Mason turned down a commission to carry out the work and it was instead coordinated by Astronomer Royal, Nevil Maskelyne. He was assisted in the task by mathematician Charles Hutton, who devised a graphical system to represent large volumes of surveyed heights, later known as contour lines. The experiment was repeated in 2005 as an educational initiative.

#Loch Tummel is approximately 11 kilometres long from east to west, and is just under 1 kilometre wide. It became part of the Tummel Hydro-Electric Power Scheme when the Clunie Dam was constructed by Wimpey Construction at its eastern end in 1950, raising the water level by 4.5 metres. The loch is traversed by roads on both north and south banks, offering splendid views of the surrounding countryside. The best is probably the well-known 'Queen's View' from the north shore, which Queen Victoria made famous in 1866, offering a magnificent vista over the loch with Schiehallion in the background. It is also claimed that the view was originally named after Queen Isabel, wife of Robert the Bruce. Above the head of the loch, Tummel Bridge crossing the River Tummel actually has two bridges. The original bridge built by General Wade in 1730 has a modern replacement alongside carrying the traffic from Aberfeldy. The northern side of the loch has many duns, forts and cairn circles. At the eastern end, high in Glen Fincastle to the north, sits Fincastle House, a 17th-century seat of a branch of the Stewarts, with links to the 1745 rebellion. At the head of the glen are the standing stones of Clachan Aoraidh in the Allean Forest.

All good stuff! There's lots to explore around here, and all three of our lodgings over the past three nights have afforded great hospitality. Thank you to them all.

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Thursday, 17 May 2012

Wednesday 16 May 2012 - TGO Challenge Day 6 - Bridge of Gaur to Kinloch Rannoch - Views from Leagag and Forest Tracks

Route: As planned

See http://www.topwalks.com/tgoc2012.html Day 6 for map of planned route

Distance: 26km (Cum 186.3)

Ascent: 700 metres (Cum 4800)

Time taken: 7hrs including stops

Weather: fine, mainly sunny, light shower later, cool NW breeze

Challengers encountered: Tony and Nik, at both Bridge of Gaur and Kinloch Rannoch; Graham Weaver and Oliver Robinson at Bridge of Gaur; Phil East on the road walk into Kinloch Rannoch; Alan and Catherine Watt at Bunrannoch House

Others encountered: two day walkers passed nearby this afternoon; Ben and Rita at Bunrannoch House

Flora and Fauna: more red deer, nearby cuckoo on a post, nutcracker-like bird in the woods

A very leisurely start saw us following Tony out of Bridge of Gaur after 10am, after leaving Nik with Eddie and a conundrum of how to get her maggoty deer's head, complete with antlers, back home to Nottingham. She had carted it lovingly from Rannoch Forest, trying quite hard to limit the number of maggots falling down her neck.

We soon passed Graham and Oliver at the T-junction where a left turn took us down to the Braes of Rannoch church, where the Rev A E Robertson (1870-1958) was minister from the date this new church opened in 1907 until his retirement in 1920.

Robertson's main claim to fame is as the first 'compleater' of Sir Hugh Munro's list of Scottish mountains over 3000 feet high, in 1901. It wasn't until 1923 that anyone else matched his feat, an achievement now accomplished by several hundred folk every year. Today's list of summits is much more accurate than in Robertson's day, when tops like the Inaccessible Pinnacle on Skye didn't make it onto Munro's list. Sir Hugh was constantly updating his list and would undoubtedly have utilised the modern techniques used by the Munro Society in its 'heightings' to continue to enhance the accuracy of his list.

Graham joined us in the little church, and he kindly rescued Sue's waterproof jacket when it escaped from her clutches. She doesn't have much to carry, but ... Graham was duly rewarded with a piece of shortbread - she would never drop that!

We left the lads to walk down the road (seemingly a favourite occupation of this year's Challengers) and followed Tony up the track that branches to pass boggily around the back of Leagag, the route to the top of which is really pretty easy.

At 601 metres, Leagag's summit is a pretty modest height, but on a clear day like today its views are wide ranging, with snow clad Ben Alder shining brightly across Loch Rannoch (pictured above), the big western mountain ranges lining up for identification, and the distinctive snub of Schiehallion ever closer to the east.

We drank in those views and watched Tony disappearing onto the forest path far below, before descending steeply down the eastern flank of the hill to a sunny lunch spot on the edge of the forest.

Initially the surface of the forest track was hard and wide, where recent operations had amputated much of what had been growing nearby, but soon after passing an unexplained wooden cross adorned by a well ripped black bin liner, it transformed into a pleasant woodland path through stands of lovely old pine forest (as predicted by David on Day 1).

A second and rather lengthy lunch, enhanced by Braeburns from Heather and Skittles from Bob and Rose, was taken (pictured) in the woods, surrounded by wood anemones, beside the Bogair Burn.

A gentle forest descent then led us down to the small hamlet of Carie, where the nice looking camp site sported a red Akto and a green Nallo - tents surely housing other Challengers.

Reaching the road, we joined Phil East for the walk into Kinloch Rannoch. He was walking with Dave Catanach and Conrad Woolcock, who were somewhere unseen on the road behind us. We should see Phil again at tomorrow night's lodgings. He had stories of unhelpful hoteliers at Glenfinnan, where he had finished up spending a night in the station waiting room.

A passing shower, the foretaste of more continuous rain, did little to dampen our spirits as we entered Kinloch Rannoch and said goodbye to Phil as he headed off to the town centre. Ben and Rita, proprietors of Bunrannoch House, were anything but unhelpful, and we were soon installed in front of tea and cake in their guests' lounge. Tony and Nik appeared, and we enjoyed a pleasant evening with them and with Alan and Catherine Watt. I've never previously encountered a B+B Challenger whilst on the walk, but tonight Nik was the odd one out - of the six of us, she was the only one carrying a tent, though she has only used it once.

So, here we are in Kinloch Rannoch.
Formerly a tiny hamlet, it was enlarged and settled, under the direction of James Small, formerly an Ensign in Lord Loudoun's Regiment, mainly by soldiers discharged from the army, but also by displaced crofters. Small had been appointed by the Commissioners for the Forfeited Estates to run the Rannoch estates, which had been seized from the clan chieftains who had supported the Jacobites following the Battle of Culloden in 1746. Local roads and bridges were improved, enabling soldiers at Rannoch Barracks to move more freely around the district. Small was supported by Dugald Buchanan and his wife, who taught the villagers new trades and crafts. Dugald was a local schoolmaster and Gaelic poet, who is commemorated by a large monument in the centre of the square in Kinloch Rannoch. He worked with James Stuart (Church of Scotland) of Killin on Bible translations into Scottish Gaelic.

Near the village is a hill reputed to resemble the head, shoulders, and torso of a man. It has been given the name of "The Sleeping Giant". Local myth says that the giant will wake up only when he hears the sounds of his master's flute.

The village and some of its inhabitants were featured in the film Shepherd on the Rock.

That's all for today apart from a note on comments:

Martin R, this is indeed a crossing laced with history. But that actually applies to any crossing of Scotland, or anywhere else for that matter. It's just that I'm trying to vary the reporting style by including a bit of history or 'local interest' where I can.

Gibson, there is no 'peat bog' photo, not because of the 'civilising Scottish influence' (sadly), but in my excitement I pressed the wrong button and turned off the camera!

Paul, it's good to hear from you - good luck with your 'Footprints'.

Alan R, up here it can be warm and sunny sitting behind a sheltered wall, stepping out from which the Arctic wind can be like stepping into a drafty fridge! Your comments do continue to entertain us Alan - well done.

Helen - good to hear from you, we'll be in touch when we get home.

Others: you may have noticed some spam advertising from the likes of Crish Hell and Camp Stove - these are unwelcome and will be deleted asap (it's not easy to do that from the phone); please don't click on their embedded links - they may be harmful.

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Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Tuesday 15 May 2012 - TGO Challenge Day 5 – Bridge of Orchy to Bridge of Gaur - Life at its Best

(Yesterday's omitted title should have been 'Foresters Foil Play')

Route: As planned, subject to a slight adjustment in Rannoch Forest to avoid a ford, and the omission of the ascent of Meall Chomraidh.

See http://www.topwalks.com/tgoc2012.html Day 5 for map of planned route.

Distance: 35.8km (Cum 160.3)

Ascent: 1100 metres (Cum 4100)

Time taken: 10.1hrs including stops

Weather: sunny periods and a light but cool NW breeze, with brief showers later

Challengers encountered: none on the walk, Tony Pugh and Nik Lawcock at Bridge of Gaur Guest House

Others encountered: Heather and Eddie at this splendid Guest House, a couple who have 'overflowed' here from another establishment, and two Oriental cyclists who arrived here at 10pm

Flora and Fauna: swallows, ptarmigan, red deer, purple saxifrage

A 7am start from Bridge of Orchy meant that we avoided any congestion in the small bunkhouse common room with the international hordes of folk heading along the West Highland Way. Apart from one high maintenance lady who was worrying about everything.

The sun glared at us through Bealach Dòthaidh as we ascended
past purple saxifrage. Reaching the col presented no difficulties, nor did the subsequent stroll up to Beinn an Dòthaidh's western summit. Then we strolled easily along the broad snow clad ridge to the main Munro summit (1004 metres), and on to the subsidiary top at 993 metres.

It was great up here to feel the creak of fresh snow under our Vibram soles - a rare chance in this year of generally warm weather. Not that it was cold today, t-shirt and fleece being quite adequate in the benign conditions, albeit a dark cloud did provide a good backcloth for pictures on the ridge (see above).

After an easy descent to the head of Coire Achaladair, a good contouring path leads all the way down to the watershed at the head of Gleann Cailliche. This almost justifies climbing the Munro summit, being a much easier path than the lower route over steep ground that Poor Michael and I took last year after a stormy night in our tents.

The next 12km or so of today's walk was mainly over rough, pathless, sometime boggy ground interspersed with peat haggs and areas of petrified forest that reminded Sue of the elephants' graveyard in The Lion King.

Our first target was to find 'Tigh nam Bodach'. Last year Mike and I paused fairly miserably by an old sheep pen that we mistook for the antiquity during our two and a half day stumble over what Sue and I would achieve in today's walk alone - and last year we missed out the Munro summit.

Today we enjoyed a cuppa behind the wall of the sheep pen, out of the light bite of the gentle Arctic breeze, before moving on to locate the antiquity. The stones of an old ruined building first caught our eye, but then we soon located our unmistakable objective, next to which Sue is pictured above.

The antiquity is the site of a pagan ritual which according to legend is associated with the Cailleach. The small 'Sheiling' pictured, known as either Tigh nan Cailleach or Tigh nam Bodach, houses a series of apparently carved stones which can be seen placed outside the coffin sized space. These stones, according to local legend, represent the Cailleach (old woman), her husband the Bodach (old man), and their children. The local legend suggests that the Cailleach and her family were given shelter in the glen by the locals and while they stayed there the glen was always fertile and prosperous. When they left they gave the stones to the locals with the promise that as long as the stones were put out to look over the glen at Beltane (spring) and put back into the shelter and made secure for the winter at Samhain (autumn) then the glen would continue to be fertile. This ritual is apparently carried out to this day, though some may question the fertility of the glen!

The views in this lovely valley are stunning, with lots of fine camping spots. It's no wonder that my TGO Challenge vetter last year (Colin Crawford) recommended this route as an alternative to the boggier passage via Gorton Bothy by the railway line.

In today's fine weather, Sue and I ambled carefully on, enjoying a second lunch break (and plundering some tins of fish I'd been carrying all the way from Manchester) in view of the distinctive white plateau of Ben Alder and its outliers.

A sting in the tail of this fairly rough section came in the area of a new deer fence (inside which we spotted our first red deer of the trip) where our route approached the railway and a line of pylons that we would follow into Rannoch Forest. The peat haggs were deep and wide. Good judgment was required. Sue, being slightly lacking in this department, fell in. Sadly it was an audience of only one person that she strove to entertain, as we saw nobody else all day.

The walk through the forest was easy and uneventful, and given the proximity of some afternoon showers and the lure of Eddie and Heather's teapot we decided to cull the short ascent of Meall Chomraidh from our itinerary and head straight to the Guest House after what was quite a long day anyway.

We were surprised to find only one other Challenger, Tony, in residence, and we enjoyed a chat and then a meal with him, in between hot baths, beers, a call to Roger Smith at TGO Control and a good wash for Sue's peat coated trouser legs.

Around 8.30pm, Nik turned up and took the opportunity to grab a dessert and a room which would surely provide a more comfortable bed than her leaky thermarest in a tent. She had set up camp earlier in the forest but had moved on after a shooting party had politely indicated that it could be a bit dangerous for her. At least Nik has her waterproof back, but even the recovery of that from the Bridge of Orchy Hotel's luggage room had been a stressful experience as it had got buried under several van loads of WHW gear.

Just as we were settling down for coffees etc before bed, the two Oriental cyclists turned up. They seem to be in a bit of a pickle. We vacated the lounge to enable them to be housed on the floor, as our hosts quite rightly weren't comfortable about turning the two lads out into the night.

Cheese and wine, meanwhile, should have been the fare for some other Challengers, Alan Sloman and his crew, in a nearby glen. It looked a lovely evening for that. We hope they enjoyed it.

Thanks again for your comments, especially Gibson and Alan R, whose regular contributions are always appreciated and keep us entertained when they pop up on the phone.

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Monday, 14 May 2012

Monday 14 May 2012 - TGO Challenge Day 4 – Dalmally to Bridge of Orchy -

Route: as planned until NN 230 333, when Lorne Forestry signs prohibited further progress, so we had to return to the B8074 road and stroll beside the River Orchy.

See http://www.topwalks.com/tgoc2011.html Day 4 for map of planned route - the option forced upon us was easier.

Distance: 27.5km (Cum 124.5)

Ascent: 500 metres approx (Cum 3000)

Time taken: 7hrs including stops

Weather: sunny periods with rain in the air, after early heavy showers, turning into a very pleasant afternoon

Challengers encountered: none whilst walking, Nik Lawcock is at Bridge of Orchy and has been involved in a river crossing and misplaced waterproof epic. Her waterproof is due to return, having been mistakenly taken home by three people who gave up. We've also heard stories of another epic river crossing undertaken by Julie Harle, and a gent who got the train home after one wet night - what a waste of a space on the Challenge...

Others encountered: nobody during the walk, other than a few motorists and a kind lady who offered us a lift. Various people at B of O doing the West Highland Way, and Marion, a LEJOGer.

Flora and Fauna: Canada Geese, pheasant, common milkwort, plus - as always - much already seen.

By 7.45am this morning we felt that 10 hours of luxuriating under the canopy of our four poster, listening to the splatter of rain against the window, was perhaps enough. We thought of Geoff under his tarp.

Rebecca's full English breakfast set us up for another long day in the hills. We thought again of Geoff in his tarp, and of Frank with his 'micro-portions' of food.

"You're only jealous" would no doubt be Geoff's (not unfair) response. You can follow his progress via his 'Litehiker' blog (http://litehikersblog.blogspot.com)

We set off quite late (9.20) after chatting to a couple from Yukon over breakfast. After admiring the church from the shelter of a tree in a heavy burst of rain, we set off along the metalled road on the north bank of the River Orchy, soon finding ourselves on a pleasant unsurfaced track (pictured) next to the fast flowing river.

The path eventually faded into a marshy area near where our route indicated a short ascent. Our short cut across lower ground would have been fine if we had noticed an easy crossing of one of many side streams, all in spate, near its outflow into the main river. As it was, we dared not risk the steep torrent, and headed steeply up for
several hundred metres before finding a crossing place.

Back beside the River Orchy we were disappointed not to see any kayakers. The river (pictured) was in spate, and was giving a very clear demonstration to confirm its reputation for having some of the best white water in the UK.

After a short section along the quiet B8074 road, we left this at Eas Urchaidh in order to head up the good forestry track beside Allt Broighleachan. A pleasant route. Until we got to NN 230 333, where Lorne Forestry's signs prohibited further progress. We paused for lunch under a tree canopy that protected us from the rain rather better than yesterday's wall, whilst debating our options. We planned to leave the forestry track after an hour or so to ascend Meall Tairbh, so perhaps we should continue? Sue would have done, but I'm a bit of a wimp on such matters. So we turned tail and returned to the B8074 road, cursing Lorne's inconsiderate foresters for failing to properly site their notices (which should have been at Eas Urchaidh) and for failing to explain the extent of the closed path. As we strolled beside the River Orchy to our destination, we could see devastated areas of recently felled forest near the track beyond where we had planned to leave it, so we'd probably have been ok continuing along the closed track, especially as there was no sign whatsoever of anyone working in the forest today. They possibly just 'forgot' to take the signs down, lazy *******.

This all made for a comparatively short and easy day, albeit with rather too much tarmac, with the bonus of the company of the impressive River Orchy in spate.

Reaching Bridge of Orchy by 4.30, we had plenty of time to contemplate the history of the small Central Highland hamlet. Dating back to 1751, It now includes the tourist hotel in whose bunkhouse we are ensconced. Located at the head of Glen Orchy, it's on the A82 road, has a railway station and, as many readers will no doubt be aware, is on the West Highland Way (WHW) long distance path. This makes life very easy for the hotel, whose profits come on a WHW plate, whilst slightly off-route hostelries struggle to survive. The bunkhouse is ill equipped to say the least, with cereal bowls doubling as teacups!

Nearby prominent peaks include the munros Beinn Dorain and Beinn an Dòthaidh. The eponymous bridge was constructed by Government forces as part of a programme of pacification of the Highland Clans, which involved the construction of military roads from the Lowlands into the much wilder upland areas of Scotland. It crosses the River Orchy, acknowledged as indicated above as one of the finest white-water rivers in the UK.
The hotel, staffed by enthusiastic Aussies, South Africans and Eastern Europeans, does 80 to 100 covers a night. A veritable gold mine. We took two of those places tonight, and to be fair the food was very good.

Condolences go to Alan R, and any other (I don't think there are any) readers who admit to being of 'Red' persuasion.

Thanks for other comments, and for your weather forecast, Gibson - the B of O Hotel hasn't bothered to update theirs today. I'm afraid that those requesting 'more pictures' (Martin R) will have to make do with just one or two a day, 'for technical reasons'.

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Sunday 13 May 2012 - TGO Challenge Day 3 – Inverary to Dalmally - A Rainy Day in Argyll

Route: Foul Weather Alternative - we took the road to Lochan Shira rather than endure the 500 metre thrutch up Beinn Ghlas. Then we took the track on the north side of Lochan Shira for 2km before heading north then WNW to reach a substitute summit for the day, rejoining our planned route for the descent to Dalmally.
See http://www.topwalks.com/tgoc2012.html Day 3 for map of planned route
Distance: 33km (Cum 97)
Ascent: 900 metres approx (Cum 2500m)
Time taken: 7.6hrs including some short stops
Weather: rain all day, cloud base around 500 metres, cool south to SW breeze, increasing with altitude.

Challengers encountered: none after au revoirs in Inverary
Others encountered: a jogger, a lady walking her dog, Jock (J333OCK) fetching his Sunday paper, and Rebecca at our B+B.

Flora and Fauna: bullfinch, siskins - not much new, it must have been sheltering.

Inverary was full last night. There were even folk camping outside the rather basic Youth Hostel. We wondered what had become of Bert and Suus, who had planned to stay in Inverary, but hadn't booked anything. We are still wondering...

Sue and I enjoyed the hostel's basic (uncooked) breakfast which was a variation on the European mountain hut breakfasts we will receive for much of the rest of the summer. Then we waved goodbye to Frank and his cohorts, who had ordered a luxury breakfast at a nearby hostelry. They needed it, judging by the minute portion of food that Frank was rehydrating for his evening meal.

After leaving Mildred Scott with the washing up and a yearning to do more than two days of the Challenge (she has done many in the past, but this year was walking with Vicky Allen for just a couple of days), we said cheerio to 'Snapper' Cotterill, who was last seen heading for the naughty chair after a futile rummage through all the dirty laundry in the hostel had failed to locate his room key.

Then we set off into the grounds of the castle, about which I said more than enough yesterday. Lack of attention to the map meant that by the time we reached the second kilometre mark on our planned route, we had actually covered three kilometres. Never mind, it was a scenic detour despite the rain, which has been unrelenting today.

After the pleasant woodland paths around the castle, the bustle of the main A83 road was a bit of a shock. But not as much as the shock of the road up Glen Shira. At the entrance to the glen was an ominous sign 'Clachan Flats Windfarm'. I'd not realised the tarmac would continue for ten miles up to Lochan Shira's dam, nor that the road had been upgraded for the transport of wind turbines for most of its length. Frank had plotted his route along the west side of the glen - probably a better choice than our road. I wonder how his team got on.

The first of today's pictures was taken at the southern end of Dubh Loch at the start of the long road to Lochan Shira. Driech.

We should have left the road at Elrigbeag, but the thought of thrutching up a pathless 500 metre ascent in steady rain to a misty, windy ridge put us both off.

So we spent the morning strolling up the tarmac to the dam, where some buildings shielded us from the rain sufficiently well for us to enjoy our Sunday lunch (pictured)without it drowning before our eyes.

Then our alternative route to the radio masts at Bealach nan Cabrach was plotted in a successful attempt to avoid the ribbons of blue that intersected our original plan. This worked well, with the added benefit of an unplanned summit. The well cairned spot, with fine views of curtains of rain (perhaps more extensive views in less driech weather), was imaginatively named '512'. Coincidentally my altimeter said 512 metres, the highest point of our crossing to date. Yes, this really is a 'low level' crossing.

Our pathless 'yomp' ended just beyond 512, at the radio masts, from where a service track led us into some forest. The shelter from the trees allowed us to drain our flask of tea in comfort, before continuing pleasantly down to Blarchaurain. Frank's party was planning to camp at this clearing. There were plenty of good spots, so as I write this from a warm lounge I expect they are cosily snuggled up in their tents near Blarchaurain. Except Geoff, who has a tarp.

A little beyond the clearing, our descent path joined the Old Military Road from the ruined township of Ardteatle at the site of a huge monument to Duncan Ban MacIntyre, (1724-1812), the Poet of Glenurchay.

From there it was an easy descent to Dalmally, where we were concerned to find the hotel in 'Dalwhinnie' mode - 'Shut for the Winter'. That was where we had planned to eat tonight.

Dalmally (here's today's Wiki extract) is former Labour Party leader John Smith's place of birth (1938). Glenorchy Parish Church stands on an island site between the rivers Orchy and Orchy Bheag near the village. The category A listed building, constructed 1810-11 on the site of at least two earlier churches, is a rare example of an octagonal plan with adjoining tower. The little-altered, white-harled (roughcast) church has been restored to its original appearance in recent years. (That seems to make sense, I can see it from the window as I write.) The site is probably early Christian in origin, and is associated with St. Connán. The large churchyard contains examples of medieval grave-slabs in the 'West Highland' style, which may have originally covered the graves of early chiefs of the Clan MacGregor and their relatives. They show warriors in contemporary armour, interlace and other motifs.

Kilchurn Castle, dating to the 15th century, stands in a picturesque setting on a peninsula (formerly an island) in Loch Awe, a little west of the village. Nearly everyone knows about Kilchurn Castle, but not many people know that there are four castles on Loch Awe, as well as a suspicion that there might have been a fifth near where Castle Farm now stands. There was also a castle at Achallader, at the head of Glen Orchy. The four castles on Loch Awe are, from north to south, Kilchurn, Fraoch Eilean, Innisconnel, and Fincharn. They were once served by boats, probably galleys - the island near Innisconnel is Innis-Sea-Rhamach, 'the island of the six-oared galleys'. Kilchurn was built, probably in 1437, by Sir Colin Campbell, the First Laird of Glenurquhay. Fraoch Eilean is a 13th century Hall House with a defensive wall, granted to Gillechrist MacNachdan by Alexander III in 1267. Innisconnel was built by the Campbells of Argyll, then taken by the MacDougalls, and finally granted again to the Campbells by Robert I, The Bruce, whom they had helped in his battles. Fincharn Castle is probably 13th century. The legend is that it was burned down shortly after being built in a quarrel between rival families, and was never really inhabited afterwards.
Only Kilchurn is easy of access. Fincharn requires permission from the farm, while Fraoch Eilean and Innisconnel need boats.

A little beyond the sad looking hotel, Craig Villa Guest House has been owned by the same family for nearly 30 years. Just three years ago Rebecca and her Brazilian husband took it over when her parents retired. Rebecca kindly took our damp waterproofs to the drying room. Despite the driving rain, our clothes underneath were dry, thanks largely to a recent treatment of the waterproofs with Nikwax.

"The hotel's in Administration", advised Rebecca. "Would you like me to cook you something?"

"Yes please. Anything" we chorused. So tonight we haven't had to brave the continuing rain. We've stayed in and enjoyed a lovely lasagne with garlic bread, followed by banoffee cheesecake and real coffee. Thank you, Rebecca. Before that we watched the news and discovered that City are football champions, but not without a bit of suspense (which we hope Andrew survived). We narrowly missed the 'Countryfile weather forecast for the week ahead', which is probably just as well, given Alison's comment.

It's lovely to hear from you Dot. We hope you continue to improve, and we'll see you soon.

Finally, happy 60th birthday greetings go to Bill. We hope this mention will make partial amends for our forgetting your card, and we hope the ceilidh went well. We look forward to seeing you and Alison in Aboyne next Tuesday.

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Sunday, 13 May 2012

Saturday 12 May 2012 - TGO Challenge Day 2 – Ford to Inverary - The Long Road back to Loch Fyne

Route: As planned, apart from leaving the forest track early to ascend Beinn Ghlas.
See http://www.topwalks.com/tgoc2012.html Day 2 for map
Distance: 34.5km (Cum 64)
Ascent: 1000 metres (Cum 1600)
Time taken: 9hrs including stops
Weather: Mainly sunny, with a cool SW breeze
Challengers encountered: None whilst walking; several of the 'Ardrishaig Crew' (Ian, Geoff, Frank, Bert and Vicky) in Inverary
Others encountered: None whilst walking
Flora and Fauna: We are told that yesterday we walked past an osprey's nest, and we failed to notice the beaver dams in the Ford area. New birds include heron, robin, sandpiper and pied wagtails, with Mildred reporting tree pipits, goldcrests and a wren by Carron bothy. New flowers include swathes of pink purslane, speedwells, wild strawberry, common comfrey, ribwort plantain plus various common (buttercups, daisy, gorse etc) stuff not previously mentioned. Mildred did better, she spotted yellow pimpernel, ramsons, herb bennet, herb robert, and a stoat.

'The String of Lorn is a lovely walk through to Carron Bothy' reported a vetter. So after saying our goodbyes to Alison on her warm, calm, midgy doorstep we set off in high spirits on a sunny morning.

We soon noticed whole rows of trees that had blown down in the winter gales, and all day we continued to see these, as well as quite a bit of bare countryside due to felling operations.

After a minor diversion to avoid a quagmire that we had been warned about, we joined the old stalkers path to Carron. Except that it had gone, having been replaced for three kilometres by a broad road, with various bits of construction machinery littering the surrounding hillside. Wind farm paraphernalia.

A little further on, next to the old stalkers path, lurked what looked like a giant lavatory bowl. It was a 'Triton Sonic Wind Profiler'. Oh dear, what is to become of this beautiful landscape?

Once through that devastation, however, the old path was indeed delightful, all the way to Carron, where last night's occupant of the bothy, Mildred, had left it looking really spic and span.

The visitors book had some lovely messages, and we could see outside that last night's camping Challengers may have enjoyed a sumptuous feast of bracken stew.

A lovely forest path (pictured above) with high banks of primroses, then led us to another relative motorway - a 'Forest Ride' accessible to all vehicles. Admittedly subject to a 15mph speed limit.

A short cut through the forest to Beinn Ghlas was spotted. We duly heaved ourselves up to the 420 metre trig point with fine views. Ben Lui sparkled in the distance like a Christmas pudding dipped in icing sugar. We enjoyed the moment over lunch in a sheltered spot. Wonderful.

Two wind farms intruded into our view, but I suppose we shouldn't complain, it was clear that Beinn Ghlas's lonely trig point receives few visits. We wondered whether Julie Harle had made it up here yesterday - it was on her planned route.

From there we regained the forest track via an area of felled trees. I gave my feet a break by wearing trainers for the next 6km. The downside of this was sore shoulders from the extra weight in the rucksack.

We passed Auchindrain -
http://www.auchindrain.org.uk/

"A UNIQUE PLACE - There's nowhere like it in Scotland. Auchindrain (pronounced Aach-andryen, from the Gaelic Achadh an Droighinn, Field of the Thorntree) gives visitors a fascinating and authentic insight into how people lived, worked and played in the old Highlands, from the first record of Auchindrain in 1533 to when the last resident moved away in 1967."

It's apparently recognised worldwide as the last and most complete example of a Highland farm township, where a group of families worked the land in common. Agricultural improvements in the 18th and 19th centuries, the Highland Clearances and the development of crofting changed farming, families and the face of the Highlands forever, but Auchindrain carried on much as before, just slowly evolving. The museum provides an opportunity to see life as it was, and to share the stories of the families who lived here as tenants of the Duke of Argyll.

It is from nearby Brenchoille that modern day creations have accrued from the efforts of one Roger Smith, who I'm told created a footpath network to Furnace. This area must be a favourite of Roger's, so is surely worthy of inclusion on any Challenger's route. I harbour happy memories of woodland walks undertaken whilst on family holidays at nearby Minard.

After a quick 3km along the busy main road, we hid behind a wall whilst a short squall passed through and I returned to boots. From there it was a delightful stroll into Inverary, down Forestry lanes then past a large campsite beyond which fine views up Loch Fyne dominated. One of those is shown above.

A flowery green lane led us finally into the back streets of the town and to the reuniting greetings of other Challengers and the welcome of the SYHA.

(You don't HAVE to read the next bit, which is courtesy of Wikipedia, but it may be of interest.)

"Inveraray is the traditional county town of Argyll and ancestral home to the Duke of Argyll. In 1744 the third Duke of Argyll decided to demolish the existing castle and start from scratch with a new building. The castle was 40 years in construction, and the work was largely supervised by the Adam family, still renowned to this day as gifted architects and designers. The end product was not a castle in the traditional sense, but a classic Georgian mansion house on a grand scale, Inveraray Castle. Over the years the castle has played host to numerous luminaries; Queen Victoria visited it in 1847, and the Royal connection was further cemented when her daughter, Princess Louise, married the heir to the Campbell chieftainship, the Marquis of Lorne, in 1875, illustrating the elevated position of the Argyll family in the social pecking order of the times. The town prior to the reconstruction of the castle was little more than a collection of humble cottages adjacent to the castle site and the Duke wished that the populace be moved to improve the appearance of his home. As early as 1747 William Adam had drawn up plans for the creation of a new Inveraray. By 1770, however, little had been done, and it was the fifth Duke who set about rebuilding the town in its present form. Much of the work on the rebuilt Inveraray was done by John Adam, the Argyll Hotel on Front Street being his, as well as the Town House. The end product was an attractive town which included houses for estate workers, a woollen mill, and a pier to exploit herring fishing, which was to mushroom in later years to play a major role in the town's economy. The finished product is one of the best examples of an 18th century new town in Scotland, and the vast majority of the properties in the centre of Inveraray are considered worthy of protection because of the town's architectural significance. The celebrated essayist Doctor Johnson, himself no fan of Scotland, was moved to comment on the new Inveraray: "What I admire here is the total defiance of expense"."

The meal at the George was excellent, and later we enjoyed a good blether with a number of Challengers, past and present, before taking to an early bed. We'd all had a long and tiring day.

Thanks as always for your comments, everyone. It was particularly nice to hear from Norma and Phil, who we would normally expect to encounter somewhere en route, grinning broadly under their heavy loads.

We have another longish day tomorrow, with a slightly 'iffy' weather forecast, (but thankfully no high summits) so I'd better get some sleep!

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