Martin in Gatineau Park

Martin in Gatineau Park

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Back Home

Those finishing the Challenge on Friday were treated to a day of crystal clear weather for their last lap to Montrose, where our enclave on the campsite is pictured before it started to disband.

The announcement that Big John in the exciting shirt has a job that means he won't have time to be Challenge Coordinator was still sinking in, but I've not encountered anyone who doubts Ali and Sue's ability to take on the mantle. Good luck to you both, and to the entire Challenge support team of organisers vetters and sponsors.

Apparently there were over fifty 'drop outs' this year - an astounding figure given the good conditions, though I know that some were due to unavoidable personal/domestic issues. 

The average age of Challengers was 57. The average age of dropouts was ... 57.

The highlight of my trip was Day 5 - a wonderful walk over Creag Meagaidh; but equal to that was the pleasure of meeting so many Challengers during the course of the fortnight, compared with just five encounters with other Challengers during last year's event. 

I'll remember a few little items for a while. ..
Waking up in the mist to find ourselves camped on the lawn at Balmoral Castle (or was that a dream?).
David's story about the 'tick in the restaurant'.
Coffee at Chez JJ in Tarfside.
Stefan's midnight arrival at Annan and his a la carte breakfast. 
Roger Smith looking in good form at Montrose. 
A lanky bearded figure appearing at my tent door just as I'd pitched camp on two nights running - "Hello, I'm Mole" said Jason. 
Sue O at Balmedie, soaking wet and after two 45 km days, traipsing over seemingly endless sand dunes in search of the beach, and her relief when we eventually found it. 
Jeremy Prall's idyllic camping spot on Day 1 on the Morar ridge, as well as my own eight great wild camps, all free from midges and ticks (the latter of which I have still to encounter on this event). 
The 'Amazon' woman.
The excellent Indian restaurant in Ballater and a brief encounter with American Joe, seemingly doing the Challenge in sandals.
Great hospitality at Newtonmore Hostel. 
Orchids and Bog Asphodel, Cloudberry and all the other flowers.
A red kite near Charr bothy.
T-shirt weather on eleven out of the fourteen days.
Huge herds of deer and scurrying mice, but sadly no wildcat sighting this year.
Alvar's cheery voice and Roger's cheery messages at Control. 
David's ability to survive both a slip and Heather's surgical skills.
A surprisingly tricky little hill on the way to Ballater. 
Huge clusters of small tents at Ballater, Tarfside and Montrose. 
The Cameraderie of the Challenge. 
I could go on. ...

Happy Days indeed - I hope to be back next year. 

A slide show may follow ... sometime.  

Sent from Timperley (or nearby)

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Thursday 22 May 2014 - TGO Challenge - Day 14 - By Hill of Roughbank to Dunnottar Castle and Stonehaven

Route: as planned, mainly on forest tracks, with minor variations

Distance: 29 km (Cum: 341)

Ascent: 550 metres (Cum: 12400)

Time taken: 5.5 hrs including 0.7 hrs breaks (Cum 115 hours including breaks)

Weather: dull, cool and heavily overcast, a prelude to heavy rain after I finished

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

With rain forecast, I decided to start early and enjoy the best of the day.

So by 4.15 am I was tramping the forest paths towards my destination, enjoying solitude apart from the very vocal dawn chorus. In situations like this I often vow to rise early more often - it brings great rewards.

Today I was rewarded by avoiding the rain, so my tally of walking in the rain to any extent on this trip is limited to just the first Saturday morning - brilliant!

The forest paths were fine, but I hastened along them, forgetting to take a picture with the phone, so today's image is of the Queen's Well on the way to Tarfside - I'd previously tried and failed to send it. 

At Dunnottar I managed some self-timed images before Kirsten turned up and kindly took the picture on the previous posting.

A nice coastal walk to Stonehaven was followed by a bus to Montrose and the usual erecting of tent and a hot shower and fresh clothes at the campsite, then it was off to the Park Hotel to sign in and enjoy lunch and reunions, before heading to Balmedie beach to collect a rather bedraggled Sue O at the end of her walk. At least I'm assuming she's bedraggled, given the present downpour. She hasn't arrived yet. 

That's it for now. I'll maybe do another posting on statistics and a few anecdotal stories after tonight's dinner - but that posting can wait.

So - the end of another successful Challenge, with just the dinner to enjoy and Alan R and Graham B to return to their loved ones tomorrow. 

Sent from Balmedie Beach

TGOC 2014 - Dunnottar Castle

Finished! 

Sent from Dunnottar Castle

Wednesday 21 May 2014 - TGO Challenge - Day 13 - Burn of Badymicks to burn by Hill of Roughbank 

Route: as planned, from excellent wild camp at NO 588 834 (300 metres) to excellent wild camp recommended by Humphrey, at NO 721 876 (250 metres), mainly along good tracks

Distance: 20km (Cum: 312)

Ascent: 850 metres (Cum: 11850)

Time taken: 7.1 hrs including 2.3 hrs breaks

Weather: hot and sunny after a misty start

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

After a brilliant sleep and a slow departure as the overnight mist cleared, I wandered along past mink traps and rudimentary bridges to the very pristine Charr bothy. Before Charr I turned a corner to be greeted with 'Windmills of the Fetteresso Forest' - a sight that remained with me for most of the day. I can just about see and hear them from the tent. 

The night's residents at the bothy had recorded their stay (though there was no mention of Maggie) but were long gone. I ate a tin of fish and noted my passing. Swallows were feeding outside the window - hovering to hoover up insects that must have been drawn to that point by a trick of the light. I couldn't spot their nest.

Just beyond the bothy an excavator was doing some drainage work. The driver was the only person I saw all day. 

Beyond Charr there were fine views of Clachnaben, a lovely little hill that I traversed on my first Challenge in 2007.

A red kite suddenly appeared, ignoring me as it searched for a target. The plovers, lapwings, curlew, grouse, LBJs and oystercatchers briefly made themselves scarce.

A brew in sight of Clachnaben (pictured) was welcome by the time I got to Miller's Bog, after which a lovely section of beech wood full of birdsong delivered me to the only road of the day.

After a few hundred metres of that road, the section past Heatheryhaugh proved to be the most demanding of the day. The path to a bridge over the Water of Dye was hard to follow. Then the bridge turned out to be a basket contraption which you step into and haul yourself across using a fixed line. I jumped in and 'cast off' only to find that the basket was secured in a secondary manner - it was padlocked to the stanchion. So I was going nowhere. The haulage ropes were a little flimsy to try to walk across, but a knee deep paddle 100 metres downstream resolved the problem. 

Vague paths then led past Heatheryhaugh to join the Fetteresso Forest track network over Kerloch, at 534 metres my last decent hill on this crossing, to this excellent spot by a stream (pictured).

Kerloch proved a useful spot to catch up with messages etc, and resolve an IT problem with my blog postings. There was a good view across to the fleshpots of Banchory. Tempting, but too far away, and anyway I have a rendezvous planned here with the two unreliable Austrians! I bet they don't turn up! 

Either way, it's a great spot for an eighth and final wild camp before returning to civilisation and the excitement of Thursday night's party at the Park Hotel in Montrose.

Tomorrow's entry is likely therfore to be blissfully brief.

PS The Austrians didn't turn up, so this would have been the first and only day on which I saw no other Challengers, had not Paul Myerscough and Bernie Clark turned up shortly before I turned in to savour another long sleep. 

And Stefan turned up even later. 

Sent from the Fetteresso Forest

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Tuesday 20 May 2014 - TGO Challenge - Day 12 - Tarfside to Burn of Badymicks

Route: as planned, but omitting the diversion to The Retreat, and taking a 2 km shortcut on the route up to Mount Een. A very easy but enjoyable day

Distance: 16 km (Cum: 292)

Ascent: 700 metres (Cum: 11000)

Time taken: 5.5 hrs including 1.3 hrs breaks

Weather: mist at 500 metres lifted slowly, leaving a fine sunny day

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

Last night it was good to see various folk including JD and Marie, Ann and Alvar, and the other helpers at St Drostans, as well as some of the many Challengers who were passing through. Tonight will be much busier for them as the masses pass through. 

The evening antics of screaming oystercatchers were replaced this morning by the sound of cooing pigeons and Andy's shuffles. And a cuckoo.

St Drostans provided a bacon butty and a selection of scones and cakes for breakfast, which was enjoyed in a leisurely fashion before starting the serious business of the day at around 9 am. 

I started briefly with Rob Jones, who carried on along the road as I took the track that would lead me to Mount Battock, via the lesser summits of Mount Een (reached by a freshly bulldozed track to Craig Soales from Mile Cairn rather than by my planned route via Blackcraigs), Bennygray and Wester Cairn. 

Maggie Hems was plodding along behind me and reached the summit shortly before I left at 12.30, having enjoyed a brew of hot chocolate in the shelter of the substantial windbreak. 

It had been a cool morning with a persistent easterly breeze. Aided by the sun, this breeze eventually caused the low cloud to disperse, leaving another warm, sunny day suitable for t-shirts. 

I'd seen lots of white cloudberry flowers (pictured) on the ascent. I may earlier have noted these as a different species but on this occasion a passing motorist (!) confirmed my guess.

Golden plovers padded up the path ahead of me, presumably leading me away from their nests.

After leaving Maggie it was an easy stroll down tracks with views towards Clachnaben (pictured) to the confluence of the Burn of Badymicks and the Water of Dye, where I set up camp exactly as planned. 

It was 2.20 pm.

A lovely lazy afternoon saw me chatting to Keith, Charles and Freddie as they passed by from the Water of Dye direction, and Maggie as she followed me down Mount Battock. They were all heading to nearby Charr bothy, but I'm quite happy here.

There was no phone signal today, even from the 778 metre summit. Hopefully I'll find one tomorrow. 

Sent from somewhere in the Fetteresso Forest area

Monday 19 May 2014 - TGO Challenge - Day 11 - Ballater to Tarfside

Route: as planned

Distance: 28 km (Cum: 276)

Ascent: 1200 metres (Cum: 10300)

Time taken: 8.3 hrs including 1.9 hrs breaks

Weather: mist on Mount Keen followed by a sunny but hazy afternoon

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

Bacon and sausage butties again set me up for the ascent of Mount Keen on a fine but misty morning. Sue O, on a so called rest day in Ballater, joined me for the four hour walk to the summit, where we caught up with Rob Jones and joined Mole and Andy, who had arrived in their usual energetic fashion from across the watershed. 

We enjoyed half an hour on the top before the cool mist got the better of us and Sue returned to Ballater, leaving the rest of us to amble down to Tarfside via the Queen's Well and the huge monument on the Hill of Rowan. 

En route on the 'yellow brick trail' we encountered flapping lapwings, a curlew, a flock of guinea fowl, large clumps of cuckoo flower, rabbits (dead and alive), oyster catchers, and much more. But the highlight was the sociable nature of the occasion. This is certainly an exceptionally sociable crossing for me. 

The welcome at St Drostans was as thirst quenching as ever, as was JJ's coffee at the campsite (see picture) on a day which again required little more than t-shirts except on the summit. 

Chilli and baked potatoes sorted out any pangs of hunger, and the Masons continued in its bid to quench our thirsts before we staggered back to our tents. 

Sadly, too many people to mention at St Drostans and the Masons, but I'll try to add a few names tomorrow.

Sent from closer to the coast than Tarfside

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Sunday 18 May 2014 - TGO Challenge - Day 10 - Braemar to Ballater

Route: as planned

Distance: 30 km (Cum: 248)

Ascent: 750 metres (Cum: 9100)

Time taken: 9.1 hrs including 1.6 hrs breaks

Weather: overcast and slightly threatening at first, turning into another sunny t-shirt afternoon; rain later

Click on the link below (Day 10) for details of my planned route:

Last night at the Fife was sociable as planned, though it may have been more lively at the Moorfield, where I hear the Austrian contingent was practicing its 'Ve are not Germans' sketch. 

This morning brought a lavish breakfast of croissant, and bacon and sausage butties, thanks to Simon and Kat's cooker. Then I hope the house was left as I found it, as I set off past Russ Manion who was enjoying his own croissants outside the Fife.

As I neared the top of Creag Choinnich, a slightly surprised Richard Baker greeted me, out for a walk with his dog. He plans to do the Challenge again next year and asked me to pass on his best wishes to Roger Smith. 

Why should he be surprised to see a Challenger on the best route out of Braemar? Because most of the ******* are too lazy to climb this small hill.

After admiring the views from the top,  I  was surprised to meet Ian Sommerville and David Williams coming up the back of the hill. A brief discussion revealed the error of their ways and they turned round. These two provided excellent company until, together with John Sanderson, they turned off at Connachat Cottage to head towards Gelder Shiel. That left me for the rest of the morning with David Wishart and Graham Weaver - more excellent company on this most sociable of days. 

Soon after enjoying coffee and scones at the castle tearooms, I left the others to dodge the traffic on the B road whilst I took the lane past the distillery, pausing for lunch en route.

I passed the others again on the busy road where they were taking a well earned breather, before heading off through the woods and up to the minor summit of Creag Ghiubhais (486 metres - pictured near the summit). In practice this was not an entirely straightforward ascent. Knee deep heather, deep holes, large rocks and the occasional rock band were all hazards waiting for a disaster to happen. There were also flies, ants and spiky low branches, all queueing up to wreak vengeance on mankind. At least there was a cairn on top and a view through the trees towards Lochnagar and also to the high hills to the north of Ballater. The creeping azalea and dewberries that had graced yesterday's hillsides had been replaced by thickets of fruitless bilberries. Taking care with every step, I managed to get down without any mishaps. I reckon it took up to an hour and a quarter longer than the alternative route around the back of the hill that Sue and I took in 2012.

From Littlemill it then took a further hour and a quarter to reach Ballater's welcoming campsite via the scenic river path that skirts the golf course.  An excellent way into Ballater.

Sue O arrived at the same time, and after the usual campsite activity - you can see our flotilla of TGOC tents in the lower picture - we set off to be sociable in town. Sadly the Alexandra was unable to find a table for us, so we chose 'India on the Green' which turned out to be the classiest Indian restaurant I've visited for some time, with a couple of extra courses thrown in while we waited for our mains. Only two other Challengers were there - Joe and Steven from Florida, who seemed to be enjoying the experience. Joe turns out to be a very accomplished walker, and is managing the Challenge (including hills like Ben Macdui) in very ordinary looking sandals. Not recommended for mere mortals! 

On leaving the restaurant it was raining. Raining hard. We had a quick look for 'scenes of action', failed to find any, and returned to camp. I'll have to catch up with Humphrey, who I seem to have missed here, in Montrose. 

A quick call to Sue in Manchester reveals a forecast for a lovely day tomorrow.  Whoopee!  Though it's bucketing down as I send this posting. 

Sent from Ballater