Martin in Gatineau Park

Martin in Gatineau Park

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Thursday 23 May 2013 -TGO Challenge Day 14 - Pennan Bay to Frazerburgh

Route: as planned apart from avoidance of some off road sections where I may not have been welcomed

See http:/www.topwalks.com/tgoc2013.html Day 14 for map

Distance: 20 km (Cum 370 km - 230 miles)

Ascent: 300 metres (Cum 10450)

Time taken: 3.9 hrs including 0.25 hrs stops

Weather: sunny periods, cold wind, seriously strong

Challengers encountered: 'Lilo' Pete Varley at the end (pictured); no other walkers were seen (as on most of the entire two week walk)

Total tally of Challengers seen since starting at Plockton:  5

We enjoyed Lilo's company last night. Unfortunately there was no room for him at the inn so he went off looking for B&Bs. The 'bad news', he reported, was that they were full. The good news: a passing dog walker had offered him a bed...

Research occurred.  Without wishing to cast aspersions on any of Pennan Bay's worthy residents, the chef kindly pointed dear Pete in the direction of a camping spot he had already sussed.

The bed at Pennan Bay Hotel was very comfy. This is the location where the film 'Local Hero' was shot.

I waited, after an excellent breakfast, until 9 o'clock for Lilo to turn up. He didn't. He had set off at 7.30 after a disturbed night. The strong wind had changed direction and become a gale.

Today the wind dominated. Even in the quiet country lanes every gust had the roar of an approaching juggernaut. 

It was a blustery endurance test to reach Frazerburgh. I chose to travel by roads. Down by the north coast eider ducks and seagulls bobbed on the waves. The smell of rotting seaweed and mouthfuls of sand were the reward for getting close to the sea.

Eventually, on the outskirts of Frazerburgh, Sue appeared and walked with me to the lighthouse museum. Reunited with Lilo, and pleased to be finished, we enjoyed tea and cake in the café before departing for Montrose for signing in and partying...

Sent from after the end of the TGO Challenge

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Wednesday 22 May 2013 -TGO Challenge Day 13 - Turriff to Pennan Bay

Route: Not as planned. Adjusted to avoid off road sections where progress looked problematic, to minimise busy roads, and to add a pleasant off road section at the end

See http:/www.topwalks.com/tgoc2013.html Day 13 for map

Distance: 35 km (Cum 350)

Ascent: 650 metres (Cum 10150)

Time taken: 9.0 hrs including 1.5 hrs stops

Weather: bright, showery, bitterly cold, wind in face all day, full waterproofs to keep warm... are you getting the drift - not really very nice

Challengers encountered: none at the time of writing, and no non Challengers for that matter, except at the hotel. Lilo Pete is expected to appear at some point (late news - he arrived)

More of the same this morning.  But first an admission.  I failed to call in to Control on Monday.  Ian Shiel,  who as my vetter on several occasions has much experience of my incompetence, should perhaps have reminded me, but in the pleasure of the unexpected encounter with three people I knew, the phone call was never made. Sorry Control. 

Last night another conundrum concerned me.  'Lilo' Pete, the ballet dancing hairdresser, sent a message saying he was at Findhorn and would maybe see me at Pennan Bay tonight.  For those who know the local geography that's quite a hike. Anyway, he eventually faxed (or whatever you do these days) himself to Cullen, which seemed a more sensible and realistic location from which to start a day's walk to Pennan Bay. 

I noticed last night that after Wolfgang had so generously brought the sponsorship for the Levana School charity nicely up to its target, the target had been doubled. So further donations will be gratefully received!  (See 'charity' posting shortly before I set off on this walk, and a big thank you to all those who have already contributed.) 

Today:

A brief but intense shower ensured the tent went away wet.

I got going soon after 7am and before long I was enclosed in full waterproofs and, for the first time on this trip, thick gloves. There was an evil bitter wind.

The morning was spent walking to Gardenstown on the north coast. On the way I had dodged some off road sections that didn't look viable, and I managed to reduce the amount of busy roads. Lesser Celandine lined some of the verges, and the gorse seemed infested with flitting yellowhammers. At least they weren't flying backwards like the seagulls. 

Reaching the north coast (pictured) should have been a highlight. I had in mind a lengthy lunch in a nice pub or café. There was a small Spar shop. The place was deserted. Lunch was in a squall on a sheltered (but still windy) bench by the harbour wall.

The coast path to Crovie was brief but pleasant if you ignored the wind and rain. The sun appeared briefly.

My next objective was Troup Head to which a visit had been recommended by Roger B. Apparently there's an impressive gannet colony there. But the usual 'off road' problem thwarted me. Locked gates and barbed fences made it clear that visitors are not welcome. I'd been looking forward to a tramp along this north coast, but it's going to be a very limited one. 

Never mind, we are going to Pembroke next weekend.  Walkers are welcome on the stunning coast paths down there.

So I headed back in a big loop to join the B9031 road for the last lap of my tarmac trudge to Pennan Bay. I had plenty of time, and tiring quickly of the road I spotted an off road option that looked feasible, if extending my day by a good 4 km.

Suddenly I found myself on a nice earthen track, contouring through pretty gorse bushes Out Of The Wind. It was great. The walk up the Tore of Troup,  returning to the main road on the east side of the burn, has much to commend it. Especially as once I reached the main road I could cross straight over an stroll down to the Pennan Bay Hotel to check in and enjoy the best cuppa of the day. 

And this time I did remember to call Control, where Sue O and the team seemed in great form.

Sent from Pennan Bay with Sue and Pete and a pint of best

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Tuesday 21 May 2013 -TGO Challenge Day 12 - Huntly to Turriff

Route: as planned plus via Turriff town centre

See http:/www.topwalks.com/tgoc2013.html Day 12 for map

Distance: 33 km (Cum 315)

Ascent: 460 metres (Cum 9500)

Time taken: 7.1 hrs including 0.75 hrs stops

Weather: varied from horrid rain to cold sunshine - 'all day gloves' and a bitter northern wind. Sheltered at camp though

Challengers encountered: none - just acknowledgements in passing from a variety of folk

You may be pleased to hear that there's not a lot to report today.

I paid my farewells to Ian, Alan and Fran and set off in unpleasant rain past scurrying tree creepers at 8am. I certainly felt better after failing to walk past the bakery, and even better when I found a viable if very muddy 'off road' section - and you had to be prepared to be friends with frisky bullocks.

After that the tarmac prevailed and the rest of the day was spent strolling along pleasant lanes in rolling Aberdeenshire farming and forestry country (pictured). If this had been in many other parts of the UK where the countryside is similar, there would have been a good choice of footpaths and ancient byways to follow. But here, any such thoroughfares have long since been tarmaced. The unsurfaced roads and paths that do exist generally lead to dead ends. 

A yellowhammer watched me for a while from a high wire, and a farmer informed me that I was 'a day behind'. He had seen three others pass this way yesterday. 

A glade of trees provided brief respite from the biting wind, to both myself and an even more weary David Brown 990.

I didn't stop much. The weather saw to that. So I found a tea shop in Turriff soon after 3pm. The cake was top notch.

The campsite is in a very sheltered position on the old railway line. I was even able to enjoy sitting outside for a while, but by 6pm I was forced to retreat to my tent to try to eat as much of my remaining food as possible as tomorrow a hotel has been booked. 

I've tried to find out how other bloggers are getting on, but apart from Gayle I can't seem to spot anyone who is making postings. I'm sure there must be lots out there, or is everyone else twittering? That's what those youngsters I met, Iain and Simon, were doing. 

Wow - I may have time to turn on my Kindle for the first time tonight! 

Sent from Turriff campsite

Monday, 20 May 2013

Monday 20 May 2013 -TGO Challenge Day 11 - Ardwell to Huntly

Route: as planned apart from avoidance of 'Private' paths

See http:/www.topwalks.com/tgoc2013.html Day 11 for map

Distance: 28 km (Cum 282)

Ascent: 550 metres (Cum 9040)

Time taken: 8.2 hrs including 1.8 hrs stops

Weather: a light mist in the air all morning; dry but hazy and overcast later, with a cool  NW breeze

Challengers encountered: Ian Shiel, with Alan and Fran, at Huntly campsite

A day of mainly road walking, especially thanks to the owners of Mains of Aswanley, who don't want people on their land. That resulted in an hour along a main road. Ah well. 

There was a chill in the air as I set off past the old school into a cold easterly breeze,  with cloud carpeted hills and the trill of the curlew. The rural lane passed many fields of noisy sheep and there was moisture in the air from the ever lower rural smog. 

Waterproofs were deployed for an hour or so but by Haugh of Glass the wetness had subsided and a pleasant alfresco hot chocolate break by the River Deveron was supervised by a watchful heron.

After an unpleasant hour on the verges of the A920 road, it was a delight to lose the tarmac and venture up to the 375 metre summit of Clashmach Hill. Haze featured heavily in the view, but at least there was one. 

A lone speed walker heading for the summit was the only person (not in a car) I saw all day other than the two attentive ladies (pictured) I chatted to at length this morning. 

Huntly seems a pleasant little town with a top campsite that has attended to all my needs. I wasn't expecting to find my erstwhile vetter, Ian, here. He is returning Alan and Fran to Montrose after their successful completion of the Cape Wrath Trail. 

We all enjoyed a convivial evening at a local hostelry. Great to meet up with you, folks - a lovely surprise. 

Sent from Huntly

Sunday 19 May 2013 -TGO Challenge Day 10 - Wild camp near Carn Daimh to Ardwell

Route: more or less as planned

See http:/www.topwalks.com/tgoc2013.html Day 10 for map

Distance: 27 km (Cum 254)

Ascent: 750 metres (Cum 8490)

Time taken: 9.9 hrs including 2.1 hrs stops

Weather: fog until after lunch time, then above the fog (inversion), before sea fret rolled in

Challengers encountered: Iain Robertson and Simon Hutchinson from Suie to my turn for Cook's Cairn. They were the only people I saw in nearly ten hours of walking.  Then I met Archie McBain in the Grouse Inn

I awoke at 6.30 to the sound of a cuckoo, the drip of intense condensation and the sigh of a slug as it fruitlessly mounted my gas canister.

Everything seemed pretty wet as I set off at 8am.  The path to Tomnavoulin was like most of those  walked today - wet and indecisive. 

Mist seemed to envelope everything as I descended in the rural smog. I passed  a dead lamb, its eyes pecked out by crows - the very ones perhaps that were fluttering inside traps, in a futile effort to gain freedom. 

I took the Smugglers Trail (much whisky was smuggled from illicit stills) towards Clash Wood car park, through a lovely wood, the path bordered by sleepy Wood Sorrel. 

Down in Tomnavoulin I was looking forward to a coffee at the Visitor Centre, but sadly its waterwheel was silent and the cobbles in front of it seemed designed to transport unwary visitors straight into the river below. 

A riverside path then an empty road took me to the Glenlivet path, at the start of which is a memorial to Margaret Hilton Brown (1886-1952) 'who loved this place'.

I incorrectly crossed a bridge soon afterwards, distracted by a Mercedes 300GD. The vehicle had seen better days; it reminded me of my first trip to Scotland in 1968, in the late lamented Howard Gee's Austin Devon estate car, in a constant search for spares. 

The track to Suie was rough but clear, and remained just below the cloud, above which a glimmer of brightness gave me the feeling that there may be a cloud inversion. Oh to be up high! 

The air was rich with the sound and sight of curlew, oystercatchers, lapwings and other plovers. Lizards scuttled to avoid my feet. A river crossing in cloud at 330 metres had me reaching for my 'river shoes'. Soon after that the ruined farm of Suie (pictured - there were a few such places today) provided a pleasant enough lunch spot. I explored the building; it must have been a good place to live in its day, which probably wasn't very long ago. It's now inhabited by a family of jackdaws. I don't know who was more surprised, me or them.

Leaving Suie, I spotted two backpackers close behind me. The only people I saw all day, they were Iain and Simon, speeding along on their way to Cabrach. I relished their company for 45 minutes before heading off towards Cook's Cairn. We even had the excitement of crossing a small snowfield at about 500 metres. 

Approaching the summit of Cook's Cairn I received a message from Ali suggesting I go high. She was right, there was an excellent cloud inversion, with the Cairngorm summits just poking out of the cloud, and a sea of cloud to the north west. Fantastic! But not easy to catch 'on camera'.

I thought the onward journey to Ardwell would be easy. After all, it was mainly downhill. It turned out to be another of those all too frequent experiences of the path on the map being elusive on the ground, especially in the forest beyond the sad remains of Blackwater Lodge. At least it was t-shirt and sun hat weather, for the first time since leaving Plockton. 

I was pleased to see a Black Grouse in the forest, a good omen for my visit to the inn below. There was also a large herd of roe deer down by the river. 

The Grouse Inn at Ardwell was most welcoming when I eventually arrived, and it was great to encounter 84 year old Archie McBain, who enthused over having completed three Challenges, the last of which was in 1993. "Nobody will remember me" he said. I thought he might be surprised! After setting up camp in a nearby field I strolled back to the inn for a  couple of beers and a wonderful beef casserole. Thanks Maria. 

There's no phone signal here so this will transmit tomorrow. Thanks as always for your comments, to which I'll try to reply when I can. 

Sent from somewhere between Ardwell and Huntly

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Saturday 18 May 2013 -TGO Challenge Day 9 - Grantown-on-Spey to Wild camp near Carn Daimh

Route: virtually as planned, camping at NJ 182 253 at a path junction

See http:/www.topwalks.com/tgoc2013.html Day 9 for map

Distance: 26 km (Cum 227)

Ascent: 930 metres (Cum 7740)

Time taken: 8.0 hrs including 0.75 hrs stops

Weather: rain all day; cloud base 200 to 400 metres

People encountered: one jogger, two cow herders and three mountain bikers - all said hello as they sped past

Kinross House proved an excellent place to stay. Jane did our washing and Gary cooked an excellent breakfast. What with a stomach full of gammon from last night as well, I've hardly needed to eat anything during today's walk.

I'm pictured leaving our B&B in light rain. It could only get heavier. It did get heavier. 

The walk to Cromdale through Grantown's capercaillie pine woods was lovely. Red squirrels played at chasing goldcrests and blackbirds rummaged for worms, but there was no sign of a capercaillie. 

A large group of students was about to launch itself into the Spey as I crossed the bridge into Cromdale. That was probably the best place to be today. 

Cromdale has an impressive station but no trains! 

A few km along a quiet lane to Wester Rynabailoch softened me up for my crossing of the Hills of Cromdale. A path was marked on my map, linking Wester Rynabailoch with Strath Avon. There was little evidence of such a path on the ground.  The ascent to the watershed, through giant clumps of steep heather interspersed with boggy quagmires, in pouring rain, in a cloud, was a little on the tedious side.

After spending two and a half hours on this 6 km section of the day's amble, I was pleased to find tourist facilities in the glen, namely a car park and an information board. These proved a good omen. The walk up to the lofty peak of 'Could Be Anywhere' (aka Carn Daimh) was along good tracks. Some single track mountain bike trails are under construction here - they promise to be challenging. 

Near the summit I spotted a suitable  camping spot, but with no water on board I continued towards my planned destination a kilometre down the hill in a more open area. But after a while I found a rather peaty water supply so I stocked up and returned to the pitch in the trees. 

A deluge in this nice flat spot has failed to flood me out and by the time this report is sent I should have enjoyed a good night's sleep. It's only 8pm but seems to be getting dark! Even the birds have gone quiet! 

Thanks for your comments - I've tried to reply to some of them, but the signal here is rather vague. 

In particular, thanks Ali for your company over the past couple of days and at Struy.  You may have been wise in choosing a route around,  rather than over, the Hills of Cromdale on this occasion! 

Sent from the descent to Tomnavoulin from Carn Daimh