Martin on the TGO Challenge 2017

Martin on the TGO Challenge 2017

Saturday, 21 May 2016

TGO Challenge 2016 - Day 8 - Wild camp 2km south of the Black Bothy (NH 889 325) to Grantown-On-Spey (Kinross House - NH 111 333 - 200 metres)

Date: Friday 20 May

Route: as planned plus the last 3 km of yesterday's plan, and a minor variation

Distance: 27 km (Cum: 175)

Ascent: 700 metres (Cum: 5900)

Time taken: 9.5 hrs including breaks

Weather: sunny periods, cool

The campsite was flat and soft. We slept well. As we rose, a large bird of prey circled lazily nearby.

A short section of track led to a tiring nine kilometres of bog hopping and grike and grough climbing. After about an hour and a quarter we passed Loch Braigh Bhruthaich, where we had originally planned to camp last night. Camping looks possible, but our chosen spot probably had the edge.

A new fence graces this area. We noticed several puzzled hares (we've seen lots of them) bounding up to this unexpected barrier and stopping dead with fazed looks. Hopefully they will reclaim their territories by either digging or leaping.

The sun came and went, interspersed with a few spots of rain, as we left the fence at Carn Glas-choire and progressed happily to the summits of Carn Mheadhoin and Carn Allt Laoigh, unhindered by anything other than bogs and grikes.

Slithery lichen and patches of cloudberry seemed to cover everything that the heather had missed.

Good views were maintained all along the broad ridge, with the snow clad Cairngorms diving in and out of cloud and showers. Richard should be in Aviemore having a day off with Rosie. We hope he's enjoying that. To our north east was a breast shaped mountain that I first identified as Mount Keen. But I think it was Ben Rinnes; Mount Keen has a more pert nipple.

A spot for a windy brew was found shortly before reaching a quiet road, along which virtually every car that passed us gave a cheery wave. The brew stop revealed a small plant with bright green leaves and small white flowers tinged with pink, and another with prickly leaves and yellow flowers, neither of which we could identify. Where's that copy of 'Hostile Habitats'?

We knew that we had to turn right off the road, but we mistakenly turned too early, down the dead end road to Glentarroch, a small unoccupied building. But it turned out not to be a dead end. The track now extends to join another one by Lochan Dubh. This means we accidentally avoided about 4 km of metalled road. A happy accident, which we celebrated with a windy lunch on a pebbly beach near the southern end of Lochindorb. The only blot on the landscape was a large tracked vehicle, seemingly abandoned after the track had been completed. The wealth of landowners in Scotland appears to have no limits. We half expected to find a cruise liner parked on the shores of Lochindorb!

Mink traps abound here, sat on poles across watercourses. (Useful for river crossings!) The rodents obviously don't like wet feet. There was also lots of ground nesting bird life around here. Geese and grouse with young chicks, lapwings and plovers, and several others that we couldn't identify. Where's that book?

Sue took a break on a chair by Loch an t-Sidhein, whilst I saw to other needs on which Nightbird will no doubt see fit to comment!

We were expecting paths for the next six kilometres. They are after all marked on the map. But all we could find was the occasional rabbit run and, as almost everywhere, a trail of spent cartridges littering the hillside. This meant more wear and tear on the feet and knees. Shame!

Eventually we arrived at a fenced off area, apparently to facilitate a new deciduous forest, from where it was an easy, scenic stroll into Grantown-On-Spey and the fleshpots of Kinross House and pie and chips and real ale at the nearby Craig Bar.

The views had gone from brown to a lush green during our final descent past a barn stranded fifty year old Jaguar.

We saw no other walkers today, until reaching the outskirts of town, let alone any Challengers. We've only seen one Challenger, Anthony Driscoll, in the last five days' walking. We phoned in and spoke to Ali O (who by coincidence was staying at this guest house last time I visited it) but forgot to ask any questions about other Challengers, such as "is anyone else in Grantown-On-Spey? How many have dropped out? Has Mick finished? How many hedgerows have JJ and Denis slept in?" Etc etc.

Slideshow for the Day
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Next Day - Day 9

Friday, 20 May 2016

TGO Challenge 2016 - Day 7 - Beinn Bhuidhe Mhor to wild camp by South of the Black Bothy (NH 889 325 - 390 metres)

Date: Thursday 19 May

Route: more or less as planned until we failed to pass an ideal camping spot 3 km short of our target

Distance: 22 km (Cum: 148)

Ascent: 700 metres (Cum: 5200)

Time taken: 8 hrs including breaks

Weather: cloudy morning with the local tops clear; light rain for an hour after lunch, then brief showers; cool

Once the tent was up last night it took a bit of a buffeting in the squally rain that soon arrived. At one point a disembodied voice issued a greeting, but there was nobody to be seen. Perhaps the ghost of a lost redcoat.  At 8.30 we heard the sound of zips being zipped. Peering out of the tent we saw a young lad by the trig point who seemed quite surprised to have found a tent full of people sipping steaming hot chocolate. Sopping wet, he took flight.

The rain stopped and so did the wind, leaving us in perfect silence apart from the calls of plovers and wheatears.

Peeping out in the morning, we could see Inverness, but it was hardly sparkling with lights.

We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast before packing up and leaving our summit camp by 8.30. The morning was spent laboriously proceeding in a roughly easterly direction over and through an exemplary collection of peat hags and grikes. We saw nobody. Wind turbines were the only blot on a wild view.

After a while we reached the 615 metre summit of Carn nan Tri-tighearnan. It had been leering at us beyond the grikes for some time. The white flowers of cloudberry kept us company. They looked refreshed having spent yesterday in the cloud.

Eventually, after 8 km of rough stuff (we enjoy it really - the TGO wouldn't be a Challenge without it) a Land Rover track (LRT) appeared and we spent the rest of the day on such tracks.

Lunch was taken in the lee of the south easterly breeze provided by a footbridge beyond the smart but deserted Daless Farm. A couple of fishermen were busy trying to extract life from the River Findhorn.

On the steep climb out of the Findhorn valley we stopped to chat with one of three motorised gamekeepers seen today. A pleasant lad, happy for us to be on his patch so long as we leave nothing behind, which of course we don't.

After a while we reached the lunch hut where I camped outside and Ali O spent the night inside on a previous Challenge - 2013 perhaps. Too early to stop. The straight uphill track beyond this reminded us both of the Burma Road route (not to be confused with the excellent trail number three in Gatineau Park) into Aviemore. Except that there are none of Aviemore's fleshpots beyond this 'road', just the excitement of reaching the Black Bothy. Despite the door being open, and an old rucksack being present in an area open to the elements, there was nobody around. A note on the wall told the story of a fatal plane crash in 1959, just 200 yards away. Perhaps the airman's ghost stalks the bothy.

We brewed up whilst a squall passed outside. Given the uncertainty as to the efficacy of our planned campsite, we considered stopping here, but it wasn't very clean and would certainly be colder than our tent.

So we continued onwards, splashing through a number of fords, towards Garn Gruamach and our objective beside a lochan just a little further on.

There was a good stream for water, and numerous perfect camping spots as we strolled on. We were less than an hour from our target and it was 4.30, and we were dry, but it might rain again. No problem with stopping then? So we took the 'bird in the hand' and settled down for a leisurely evening on a nice flat pitch next to a sparkling stream. 
    
Slideshow for the Day
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Next Day - Day 8

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

TGO Challenge 2016 - Day 6 - Inverness to Beinn Bhuidhe Mhor (NH 786 406 - 548 metres)

Date: Wednesday 18 May

Route: as planned

Distance: 21 km (Cum: 126)

Ascent: 700 metres (Cum: 4500)

Time taken: 8 hrs including breaks

Weather: dreich all morning, cloudy afternoon

Kenny served an excellent breakfast in full Highland regalia (Kenny, not the breakfast!). Well done to him. We explained what the TGO Challenge involved and he returned to the topic of his 'Christmas Box' (our resupply box).

"There was no whisky" he complained ..."shame on you". Yes, shame on us, though it may have been lost to Kenny if it had been there.

We trudged down to Blacks in the rain, and, armed with enough gas for more dazzling adventures in the tent, ambled uneventfully to Culloden. My previous route over this ground went through Culloden village and Culloden Wood. Today's footsteps were mostly on tarmac and rather inferior to their predecessors until we reached the 1746 battlefield, which was interesting to walk through albeit we were forced to hide in a trench for a while when the ghosts of the battling government forces and the Jacobites strayed into our monochromatic time zone.

It seems that Gayle was here last night. Perhaps her nefarious activities had awoken the ghostly past. They seemed very realistic.

There was nothing ghostly about Anthony Driscoll, who popped in to the visitor centre for a coffee before dashing off to Downey Forest and a route along the north coast to Fraserburgh.

It was raining outside. So we stayed put. For three hours. That's why it has taken us so long to complete such an easy day's walk.

By the time we left the visitor centre the rain had virtually stopped. We enjoyed a dry afternoon, though the rain returned soon after the tent was up.

A visit to the Clava Cairns, burial tombs from thousands of years BC, involved a short but worthwhile diversion, before we passed under one of the Nairn viaduct's impressive 29 arches.

At last the tarmac was in the past and we enjoyed a final five or six kilometre stroll up gentle slopes on a good track to the 548 metre summit of Beinn Bhuidhe Mhor. My vetter had encouraged us to camp here as there is "a wonderful view of the twinkling lights of Inverness". Not tonight! Such inaccuracies require naming and shaming, Graham Dunsire. ..

Anyway, it did provide a flat place to camp, albeit water is a bit scarce (I suppose we could just have used the run off from the tent, but luckily there's a small spring by the side of the track at around 500 metres).

The wind is not inconsiderable, but only a fraction of that at Easedale Tarn last Easter. It's cool tonight at 548 metres. Luckily we have cosy down bedding.

Slideshow for the Day
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Next Day - Day 7 

TGO Challenge 2016 - Day 5 - Lovat Bridge to Inverness (Silverstrands Guest House - NH 672 449 - 20 metres)

Date: Tuesday 17 May

Route: more or less as planned

Distance: 26 km (Cum: 105)

Ascent: 600 metres (Cum: 3800)

Time taken: 8.25 hrs including breaks

Weather: sunny morning, drizzly afternoon

We woke to the sounds of garrulous crows.

Later, much later, we woke to discover Anthony Driscoll parked nearby in his Akto. He said he hadn't arrived late, but it must have been after we commenced one of our Challenge 'Big Sleeps'. I sleep best in a tent, and apart from the crow interlude, last night was a good example.

We got going at 8.45, along a cycle track next to a busy road. Then a short section with no pavement that our vetter had warned us about, but an adequate grass verge saw us without incident onto some quiet side roads.

Anthony passed us and continued on towards Moniack Castle whilst we turned up a hill to reach the forest walks in the Moniack valley. They are delightful. The tallest tree in Britain is here, as well as numerous other interesting specimens. Unfortunately we were there too early for the orchids.

A quiet road took us onwards, with improving views of Ben Wyvis that had earlier been blanketed in cloud. Just as well it was quiet as a Mitsubishi truck seemingly being driven by a two year old passed us!

Then it was on up to our high spot of the day, An Leacainn - 'Hill of the Flagstones' (414 metres) with wide ranging views despite deteriorating weather. On the way up I made the same navigation error as on a previous visit, missing a left turn. This time I soon realised and we retraced to a spot where the path ascends through a forest of gorse before levelling into a land of bog.

The lumpy path down from An Leacainn is hard to find, not that it really matters, as you can't miss the Great Glen Way when you reach it.

Turning left along this walking/cycling route, we soon found a bench on which to enjoy our customary lavish lunch of tinned mackerel and oatcakes above a house that was flying the Scottish flag at half mast. Soon afterwards we lost our views in the forest and it started to drizzle, slowly getting heavier as we continued towards Inverness.

We chatted for a while with a French Belgian cyclist who was completing the Great Glen Way on a wreck of a bike. He'd had to whittle a piece of wood to keep it intact.

Bracket fungi and wood sorrel were abundant as we proceeded steadily along the ancient drovers road that has been resuscitated to form this section of the Great Glen Way.

The sad sight of the wreck of an old hospital was soon followed by the eco friendly monstrosity of Great Glen House, home of Scottish National Heritage. Then a descent to cross the Caledonian Canal and the River Ness drew us ever closer to our destination, where Kenny was very apologetic about having opened our supply parcel.

"I thought it was Christmas" he said, "until I looked at the back and saw your name."

Later, the nearby Redcliffe Hotel saw to the needs of our stomachs with a really excellent meal.

Slideshow for the Day
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Next Day - Day 6 
  

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

An Encounter with Humphrey

Here are a couple of pictures from Day 1, when Humphrey laboured past our campsite at Bealach Bhearnais. After proudly showing off his new steamer ..."fresh fish here we come" ... he persuaded Sue to try on his new gloves. She reckons they would be waterproof.

TGO Challenge 2016 - Day 4 - Struy to Lovat Bridge Campsite (NH 516 451 - 5 metres)

Date: Monday 16 May

Route: as planned

Distance: 20 km (Cum: 79)*

Ascent: 550 metres (Cum: 3200)

Time taken: 7.25 hrs including breaks

Weather: sunny intervals, westerly breeze

Cnoc Hotel served an excellent meal last night, and a fine breakfast this morning. Sue and I said our goodbyes to Alastair and Richard and made a leisurely departure at 9.30 on a 'just about fine' morning. However, the skies opened above us from time to time and we spent most of the day in t-shirts and sun tan cream.

The views as we headed gently up past mewing buzzards and Lochan Fada to Loch Ballach were wide ranging if not spectacular. A swan was paddling serenely on Lochan Fada. The good track was interspersed with large puddles housing a collection of water boatmen, tadpoles and water beetles. Not much good for the hovering kestrel. Large scats seemed to contain lots of hair but no bones. We wondered what had produced them.

After a brew up near Loch Ballach, with huge views to the snow clad Cairngorms and back up Strath Farrar, we headed cross country past scattering deer to pick up the track through fire scarred heather to Farley. On the way we passed through an area of hut circles that looked as if they could be ancient.

After lunching just before Farley we caught up with an elderly lady and her dog, the first person we'd seen since leaving Struy nearly five hours earlier. After chatting for a while we left the lady and took the shortest route we could see on the map between NH 474 453 and NH 484 456. There was a good 100 metres descent and ascent. After passing some rather swish residencies we arrived at the second of the above grid references, to find the elderly lady coming from the direction of a 'no through road'. She was surprised to see us.

"I didn't realise you were coming this way" she said, "there's a right of way through the fields that isn't marked on the map. You are lucky I stopped for a chat with someone or I'd have missed you. You will come in for a cup of tea?"

The following hour was spent in the company of Maureen McCallum and her dog Tessie. She's a lovely lady and over tea and Battenberg cake told us how her husband had hated working in the tunnels of Strath Farrar's hydro system that we had passed yesterday. There were also stories of the new owners of the Lovat Estate (apparently young Lovat was a gambler who died young and presided over the demise of that clan) and their naivety in highland ways. Maureen also told us that whilst the hut circles we'd passed may be ancient, the buildings were occupied until the early 1800s, when the failure of local people to return from wars in Russia left the area bereft of people. She also pointed out the remains of an old mill that had been operational in her own lifetime.

After that it was an easy stroll down a new footpath lined with the rich coconut aroma of gorse in flower, to a cheery welcome at the quiet Lovat Bridge campsite that looks none the worse for recent flood damage. You'd have thought that the control of water through the hydro system should prevent flooding?

Graham Weaver and David Wishart were booked to be here, but sadly Graham suffered a bereavement that put paid to their Challenge before it had started. They would have been good company.

So, no other Challengers have been seen since this morning, and we are having a quiet evening at camp listening to the birdsong and reading our books. I'm enjoying '50 shades of Hill Walking' (Ralph Storer) rather more than Sue is coping with her book club's current offering, 'George Passant' (CP Snow).

* A note re distances:
I've stuck to my estimates according to Anquet mapping software. This is for consistency. The distances may be consistently understated by around 15% according to Richard Fuell's sophisticated GPS gadget, which takes account of lots of small twists and turns that can't be emulated using Anquet.

Slideshow for the Day
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Next Day - Day 5 
  

Sunday, 15 May 2016

TGO Challenge 2016 - Day 3 - wild camp at NH 225 391 to Cnoc Hotel, Struy (NH 404 407)

Date: Sunday 15 May

Route: as planned

Distance: 21 km (Cum: 59)

Ascent: 300 metres (Cum: 2650)

Time taken: 6 hrs including breaks

Weather: just a few spots of rain in the valley; cloud on the tops

No nightmares, just a lovely deep sleep away from Richard's snoring. (He later told us he had woken himself up with said snoring.)

Raindrops on the tent encouraged us both to turn over and enjoy a lie in. We eventually got away at around 8.30 am just as Jim Davidson and Charles Bain were passing. I think they may have preferred our camping spot to the one they had chosen a little up the road.

Jim and Charles provided us with excellent walking companions for about 4 km, when they insisted on heading towards Cannich across a rickety bridge. We took our camera to the riverside but sadly (for the emergency services, sensationalist headliners, etc) these two professionals managed the crossing without incident.

Just beyond some barking dogs, perhaps to cool down after we had donned waterproofs to combat a few droplets of rain, we stopped for a brew on a lovely grassy bank full of ticks that have subsequently cascaded from us in all directions. A buzzard fluttered past.

On leaving the tick zone, after a fine brew up, we spotted Richard Fuell just behind us. We walked with Richard for the rest of the amble to Struy, where we clocked into the Cnoc Hotel at 2.30. Meanwhile, we passed and re-passed George Stewart and even met a search party out looking for him. Custodian of a food mountain, George would be able to cater for all the culinary needs of his rescuer.

Lunch was taken on the banks of the River Farrar. Whilst the road had provided wildlife in the form of flat snakeskins and roadside gorse, dog violets, primroses, wood anemones, lesser celandine, greater stitchwort and more, our secluded riverside spot amongst the bluebells brought us close to pied flycatchers, a curious Robin, fearless chaffinches, and busy dippers and swallows.

My catering arrangements revealed a faux pas. We had an extra breakfast of '9 bars' but were short of a lunch. Luckily Richard had spare food, so Sue and I finished the last of our first gas canister with a brew and a Real Turmat pasta bolognese. Thanks Richard, we really enjoyed it.

After a cheery welcome at the Cnoc Hotel, where all eight rooms are full tonight, we enjoyed a cuppa with Richard, and then another one with Alastair,  who is having a day off walking during a month long Munro bagging trip.

Clothes were washed, ticks removed, blog entries composed and despatched, etc etc. Such afternoons disappear in a  trice.

Soon it was time for G&Ts, and an excellent and very sociable meal. Victor and Nicola from Long Load are also here. We enjoyed a chat with them before adjourning to our luxurious rooms.
   
Slideshow for the Day
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Next Day - Day 4