Martin in Gatineau Park

Martin in Gatineau Park

Friday, 26 May 2017

TGO Challenge 2017 - Day 14 - Monifieth to Dickmont's Den

Date: Thursday 25 May

Route: as planned: Monifieth > coastal cycleway > Carnoustie > East Haven > Arbroath > Dickmont's Den (then back to nearby car park)

Distance: 23 km (Cum: 303)

Ascent: 150 metres (Cum: 9000)

Time taken: 6.25 hrs including 1.5 hrs breaks

Weather: blue skies, hot and calm

Leaving the campsite at 8 am I was surprised to be accosted by another Challenger. Simon Sawers had been on the same site with his wife Fiona. He had come via the Sidlaw Hills, a bit to the north of my route. It was good to see this fellow XXL Club member, albeit briefly. My third Challenger since Day 1.

Soon I passed through The Parish of Barry, another ancient place with a long history.

Then, via a track beside the busy main line railway to Aberdeen, lined with red campion, hawkweed,  forgetmenots, plantains, buttercups, vetch, bugle, speedwell and the ever present gorse and broom, a well groomed golf course introduced Carnoustie.

The source of the name Carnoustie is uncertain, but it originated long before the town of Carnoustie that I passed through next. Folk etymology suggests that the name has an Anglic origin. It is supposed to derive from the scots 'Craws Nestie', referring to the large number of crows that inhabit the area. This tradition is alluded to in the coat of arms of Carnoustie, which includes a pair of crows.

Carnoustie grew rapidly throughout the 19th century due to the growth of the local textile industry. It was popular as a tourist resort from the early Victorian era up to the latter half of the 20th century, due to its seaside location, and is best known for the Carnoustie Golf Links course that often hosts the Open Championship.

The area surrounding Carnoustie has been occupied continuously since the Neolithic period, blah, blah.

Numerous short cist burials have been found in the area, including one found in 1994 at West Scryne, a mile north-east of Carnoustie, that was radiocarbon dated to between 1730 and 1450 BC. The presence of Bronze Age round barrows at Craigmill is also indicated by cropmarks. From the Iron age, perhaps the most prominent remains are of the Dundee Law Hill Fort that I was on yesterday. Several brochs are also found in the area, including the ruins at Drumsturdy and at Craighill. Roman remains are also found in the area. Particularly notable are several temporary marching camps, and Roman coins have periodically been found nearby. 

The path had become more interesting after parting with the firing ranges that accompany it to Carnoustie, and by the time I reached East Haven the temperature had also soared. It was a pleasant surprise therefore to find a jug of cool orange juice and a stack of plastic cups, with an invitation to imbibe in return for a small donation. Thank you.

Nearby were a squad of volunteers busy perfecting a garden on a random piece of land, and a toilet block. No ordinary toilet block. This one was decked out as an art gallery, with brochures and all sorts!

On to Arbroath then, past Elliot Links, an area of regeneration of wildlife after a bitumen factory was removed from the site - these days the only indication that there was ever a factory here is the signage.

Wiki interlude: - here's a highly edited precis....

Arbroath's history as a town begins in the High Middle Ages with the founding of Arbroath Abbey in 1178. 

The town grew considerably during the Industrial Revolution owing to the expansion of firstly the flax and secondly the jute industries, and the engineering sector. A new harbour was built in 1839 and by the 20th century, Arbroath had become one of the larger fishing ports in Scotland.

The town is notable as the home of the Declaration of Arbroath, as well as the Arbroath smokie. The town's football team, Arbroath Football Club, holds the world record for the highest number of goals scored in a professional football match. They won 36–0 against Aberdeen Bon Accord in the Scottish Cup in 1885.

(Wiki has lots, lots more on Arbroath but you may be pleased to hear that it has now been put to bed for this trip. I hope some of you enjoyed its informative interludes.)

By now, Sue had parked up beyond the town and had walked back down the cycleway to meet me. Lunch was taken outside a restaurant overlooking the small harbour.

Then, after a brief encounter with John Woolston, who had finished the Challenge earlier and was now visiting relatives, Sue and I strolled on towards my finishing point, meeting Sam and Terry en route - they had already been to Dickmont's Den.

There's apparently a ballad - 'The Piper of Dickmont Den', and tales of smuggling concerning mostly the monks from the Abbey using the underground caves from the Abbey to the Cliffs...closed now for safety reasons....

Wouldn't it be wonderful if they could be made safe again...think of the fun and the tourist trade.

Sadly they aren't, so we made our way past a large group of youths who were enjoying the sunny day by undertaking sundry acts of bravado on the rocks that make up this interesting section of coastline. There are rock arches and caves, accessible with varying degrees of difficulty from the coast path that runs about 30 metres above the high tide line.

Dickmont's Den turned out to be a finger of water between the red rocks, just the sort of place smugglers would have used, with a good supply of caves. We left the rucksack at the top of the cliff and scrambled steeply down for feet in the sea and the picture used in the last posting.

Then it was back to the car park, and a short drive to Montrose after picking up Sam and Terry and stopping off for some freshly cooked Arbroath smokies.

The Links Hotel provided some post Challenge luxury, and a most enjoyable afternoon with Markus and evening with all and sundry followed.

The pictures:
Typical coastal view from today
Arbroath harbour
Looking down to Dickmont's Den
Outside the Links Hotel

Thursday, 25 May 2017

TGOC 2017 - Finished - Dickmont's Den

2 pm  - Thursday 25 May.

With Sam and Terry in close order.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

TGO Challenge 2017 - Day 13 - Dundee to Monifieth

Date: Wednesday 24 May

Route: as planned: Camperdown Country Park > fort and memorial at Dundee Law > join coastal cycleway before Tay Road Bridge > Broughty Castle > Monifieth (campsite at NO 494 320)

Distance: 18 km (Cum: 280)

Ascent: 150 metres (Cum: 8850)

Time taken: 6.25 hrs including 2 hrs breaks

Weather: sunny and warm

Dundee is Scotland's fourth-largest city and the 51st-most-populous built-up area in the United Kingdom. So why would a TGO Challenger want to walk through it?! Because it's a place steeped in history. Whilst the mid-year population estimate for 2015 was 148,000, which gave Dundee a the second highest population density in Scotland, we know the city developed originally in the late 12th century when it established itself as an important east coast trading port.

Between the 16th and 18th centuries the town had many ups and downs. It was even destroyed by Parliamentarian forces led by George Monck in 1651 and was held by the Jacobites in the 1715–16 rising.

Rapid expansion was brought on by the Industrial Revolution, particularly in the 19th century when Dundee was the centre of the global jute industry. This, along with its other major industries gave Dundee its epithet as the city of "jute, jam and journalism".

One of our correspondents, Wuxing Nick, knows all about this as he spent a few years here in the employ of Dundee Textiles Limited (RIP).

Today, Dundee is promoted as "One City, Many Discoveries" in honour of Dundee's history of scientific activities and of the RRS Discovery, Robert Falcon Scott's Antarctic exploration vessel, which was built in Dundee and is now berthed at Discovery Point.

Biomedical and technological industries have arrived since the 1980s, and the city now accounts for 10% of the United Kingdom's digital-entertainment industry. In 2014 Dundee was recognised by the United Nations as the UK's first UNESCO City of Design for its diverse contributions to fields including medical research, comics and video games.

A unique feature of Dundee is that its two professional football clubs Dundee United and Dundee F.C. have stadiums all but adjacent to each other.

With the decline of traditional industry, the city has adopted a plan to regenerate and reinvent itself as a cultural centre, to which the errant TGO Challenger may be attracted!

In pursuit of this, a £1 billion master plan to regenerate and to reconnect the Waterfront to the city centre started in 2001 and is expected to be completed within a 30-year period, with the Dundee Victoria & Albert Museum opening by 2018 at a cost of £80 million. 

From about 1854, there had been plans for a Tay crossing, to replace an early train-ferry. The first bridge, opened in 1878, was a single-track lattice design, notable for lightness and low cost. Its sudden collapse in a high wind on 28 December 1879 was, with the loss of 75 lives, one of the great engineering disasters of history, and its causes are still debated today.

The second bridge is a double-track construction of iron and steel with a 2.75 mile span, opened in 1887 and still in service.

In 2003, a strengthening and refurbishing project was recognised by a major award for the scale and difficulty of the work.

The most destructive fire in the city's history came in 1906, reportedly sending "rivers of burning whisky" through the street.

The jute industry fell into decline in the early 20th century, partly due to reduced demand for jute products and partly due to an inability to compete with the emerging industry in Calcutta.

This gave rise to unemployment levels far in excess of the national average, peaking in the inter-war period, but major recovery was seen in the post-war period, thanks to the arrival first of American light engineering companies like Timex and NCR, and subsequent expansion into microelectronics.

The city lies within the Sidlaw-Ochil anticline, and the predominant bedrock type is Old Red Sandstone. Differential weathering of a series of igneous intrusions has yielded a number of prominent hills in the landscape, most notably the Dundee Law that I visited this morning, and Balgay hill.

After setting off at 9 o'clock I managed to negotiate my way to Dundee Law on a pleasant day, before making my way down to the cycle track by the Tay Bridge. That track would basically provide my route for the rest of this Challenge, all the way to beyond Arbroath.

Passing through the centre of Dundee was an agreeable experience, from the latte and scone at Coffee & Co ('Down Town' - Petula Clark) to an encounter with a 'Dundee Ambassador'. Yes, they have people roaming the streets, accosting tourists to tell them more about the town. But I'd already walked past the medieval site that this chap was recommending. And I'd (just for you, Nick) paid a visit to the sparkling statue of Desperate Dan and his cohorts.

Once on the bike route I wandered around the environs of the new museum. Work is progressing apace and hopefully it'll be a great place to visit by sometime next year.

Sadly pedestrians aren't allow on the cycle track through the docks, so pavements had to suffice. This was after a visit to the Harbour Café. I sat outside with a £1 mug of tea feeling like a left over from a losing team on The Apprentice.

Beyond Stannergate, it was a most agreeable stroll to Broughty Ferry, past a display dedicated to sea eagles. Between 2007 and 2012 about 85 chicks from Norway were released here and the reintroduction of this previously hunted bird appears to be enjoying success. I next passed through Broughty Ferry, a separate burgh from 1864 until 1913, when it was incorporated into Dundee.

Formerly a prosperous fishing and whaling village, in the 19th century Broughty Ferry became a haven for wealthy jute barons, who built their luxury villas in the suburb. As a result, Broughty Ferry was referred to at the time as the "richest square mile in Europe".

Broughty Castle also has a long history. It has been restored as a museum piece and that was well worth 45 minutes of my time.

Onwards then to Monifieth, a large town situated on the north bank of the Firth of Tay, and my destination for today.

It was a lovely afternoon, and the rock gardens at Barnhill looked delightful as I strolled past, trying to absorb information from some of the many boards that litter the place.

At the outflow of Dighty Water an assembly of over 80 swans was enjoying something in the estuary.

The presence of a number of class II and III Pictish stones points to Monifieth having had some importance as an ecclesiastical centre in the early medieval period. Until the early 19th century, Monifieth remained a small village but grew rapidly due to the expansion of the local textile industry.

The earliest evidence for occupation of the area surrounding Monifieth dates to the Mesolithic period. Indeed, antiquities are found in abundance from here all the way to the end of my Challenge route.

Midden pits, worked flints, cropmarks, stones incised with cup and ring marks, the Iron age ruins of a broch and vitrified fort, artefacts including a quantity of gold coins, iron spear heads and a stone lamp, domestic remains from the late Prehistoric period, souterrains at Carlungie and Ardestie, etc, etc.

I ignored all this and timed a rendezvous with Sue perfectly - 3.15 at the campsite entrance. The Phreerunner went up to 'air', but as it's  £15 per tent I'm a guest tonight in the Nallo, which is just a bit bigger and makes tomorrow morning's logistics easier. 

Today's pictures:
Looking back to King's Seat from Dundee Law
A present for Nick
Last erection of Phreerunner for a while - drying it out.

Finally, in case you are not already bored, here's a Wiki take on Monifieth - optional reading:

Prior to the thirteenth century, the church and lands of Monifieth were possessions of the Céli Dé monastic order. The church was endowed to the recently founded Tironensian abbey of Arbroath by Gille Críst, Mormaer of Angus, around 1201-1207.

A hoard of 700 coins dating to the reigns of Edward I and Edward II were found in this area in 1854.

The present building of St Rule's Church (built 1812) originally incorporated three Class II and Class III Pictish/Early Medieval sculpted stones, recycled as building stones, including one that had previously been used in the pre-reformation building it replaced. These stones were removed in the mid 19th century and, along with a fourth stone found in an adjoining garden, were donated to the National Museums of Scotland in 1871. They represent some of the latest Pictish era monuments and can be confidently dated to the late 9th/early 10th centuries.

Monifieth remained a small village, comprising a number of turf huts until the early 19th century. In the eighteenth century, the economy of the parish was mainly dependent on agriculture. Other industries included quarrying, weaving within the home and the start of manufacturing of linseed oil at a water-powered mill by the Dighty burn, supporting a small community, 'Milltown', later named as 'Milton of Monifieth'.

Although Monifieth had no harbour, cargo was off-loaded from vessels on Monifieth Sands (in the relatively sheltered Firth of Tay) at low tide and horse-drawn vehicles would move the cargo to nearby destinations.

During the 19th century, the village gradually expanded following the introduction of larger scale industries to the area, including manufacture of machinery for flax mills in 1811.

James Low and Robert Fairweather had set up their foundry in the village at the start of the nineteenth century and in 1815 developed the first carding machine for flax tow in the area. With the growth of the textile industry in Dundee and Angus the business grew rapidly, and, by the late nineteenth century, James F Low & Co Ltd was producing a wide range of machines used for the processing and spinning of jute, flax and similar fibres.

As well as building machinery for local use, the firm attracted orders from across the world and by the 1880s the Monifieth Foundry employed about 300 workers. The expansion of Monifieth's industrial economy was aided by the opening of the Dundee and Arbroath Railway on 6 October 1838. This railway, which was originally intended only as a local line, was constructed with an unusual gauge of 5 ft 6 in (shared only with the Arbroath and Forfar Railway), later being converted to standard gauge when it was incorporated into the national Rail system.

A tramway service was introduced in 1905, with cars journeying into Dundee City centre at regular intervals. This service was welcomed by the many who travelled daily either from the Burgh into the City on business, or the many hundreds who commuted daily to work in the factories and mills.

In 1905 Monifieth gained a Cottage Hospital via a provision made in the will of the Reverend James Gerard Young DD. The Reverend Young had been Minister of Monifieth Parish Church from 1855 until his death in 1899. The funds he left were used to establish the Gerard Trust which managed the Gerard Cottage Hospital from its opening until it passed into the control of the new National Health Service in 1948. The hospital closed in 1969 and subsequently became Mary's Residential Home for the elderly.

In the First World War, Monifieth was the site of a Red Cross Hospital. During the Second World War the Monifieth Foundry was used for the production of war supplies including bombs and aircraft parts.

Amen!

Just off for some fish 'n chips.

TGO Challenge 2017 - Day 12 - Little Dunsinane to Camperdown Country Park - Dundee Hotel Travelodge

Date: Tuesday 23 May

Route: as planned apart from diversions due to non-existent or private paths: wild camp > King's Seat (Ma) > NE to join track > SE then divert to Balloleys Farm > South Latch > Littleton > divert to Little Ballo > Dron > Flocklones > Benvie > Denhead of Gray > Camperdown Country Park > Dundee Hotel Travelodge (NO 362 322)

Distance: 23 km (Cum: 262)

Ascent: 500 metres (Cum: 8700)

Time taken: 7.5 hrs including 1.5 hrs breaks

Weather: sunny periods

It was a surprisingly comfortable camping spot, given that on arrival in heavy rain last night I just threw the tent up fairly randomly. But the Karrimat soon nestled into a 'perfect fit' position.

After a late storm, the rain stopped and the clouds dissipated, giving the coldest night of the trip. Apart from my tent, my next most important luxury is the RAB 400 sleeping bag. So cold nights are actually cosy nights.

There was no rush to leave, but by 8.45 all that remained of my presence was a dry patch of grass.

The ascent of nearby King's Seat was unexpectedly tedious. King's Seat is one of the principal hills of the Sidlaw range. At 377 metres, it is classified as a Marilyn, and there may be a simple way up to the cairn and trig point. But I don't think people regularly traverse these hills. The heather is, when it's not burnt and acrid, deep and lumpy. So it was a fair old yomp for 35 minutes to reach the summit that wasn't much higher than my starting point at the broch.

Anyway, it was good to be there and admire the expansive views for a while. A distant long bridge across the Tay estuary would grow imperceptibly closer, as would the city, as the day progressed. Birds were twittering after the silence of the night. All except the melodic skylarks were keeping a wary eye on the gliding buzzards.

Looking ahead, there was an array of different shades of green broken by patches of golden yellow gorse and swathes of ugly grey plastic sheeting.

Soon the news of terrorism in Manchester dulled the brightness of the day. Thoughts are with all those involved.

A lumpy descent brought me out at a good path. Hopes of an easier route than yesterday's soon dissipated at an electric fence, a 'Beware of the Bull' sign, and no evidence whatsoever of my planned route beyond NO 234 334. So after mishandling the fence ('ouch') I made my way around the perimeter of some fields, studiously ignoring the bull, to reach Balloleys Farm and access to a road.

Narrow lanes through rolling (hilly?) countryside were happily designated '40 mph, Walking and Cycling Friendly Road', and led past a curious castellated concrete tower. They took me all the way to Littleton, where I rejoined my planned route but was immediately baulked by a 'Private' sign.

So I continued along the road to Little Ballo. Red campion and broom graced the hedgerows, pied wagtails ran along ahead of me, and goldfinches flashed golden in the foliage above.

I was dreading that the path from Little Ballo to Dron would be another no go area requiring a much larger diversion than the 2 km I had suffered so far. But no! A magical signpost announced 'Dron 2+' (I can't find a quarter sign on this keyboard). It was a delightful path, passing walker friendly signs in the Redmyre estate and even a red squirrel hide, a real pleasure, rewarded with good views towards Dundee and a lunch of tinned mackerel on a sward of grass in Dron.

Quiet lanes led to a tree lined footpath bordered by vast swathes of wild garlic between Benvie and Denhead of Gray. Then footpaths led into Dundee, passing an industrial estate and an Asda store before a narrow path beside a wall led to the western entrance of Camperdown Park. The footpath by the road by Liff may have been a better route for that last couple of km.

Once in Camperdown Park it was an easy stroll through the spacious grounds, past the decaying mansion, to a recently built café. I lingered outside there with a pot of tea and a piece of cake before making my way past a children's play area to exit the park a couple of minute's stroll from my accommodation.

Today's pictures should be self explanatory, (the middle one is on the path to Dron) and here's some optional Wiki reading:

Camperdown Country Park, often known as just Camperdown Park, is a public park in the Camperdown area of Dundee. The park comprises the former grounds of Camperdown House, a 19th-century mansion, is "the largest Greek Revival house remaining in Scotland." The park was bought by the city in 1946 and is home to a wildlife centre and recreational facilities. It is the largest park in Dundee, stretching to 400 acres. Over 190 species of tree are found in the park.

The Camperdown estate was originally known as Lundie, and was bought by Alexander Duncan in 1682. A 16th-century house stood on the estate at this time. Several members of the family served as Provost of Dundee during the 18th century. In 1797, during the French Revolutionary Wars, Admiral Adam Duncan (1731–1804) commanded the Royal Navy fleet that defeated the Dutch at the Battle of Camperdown. He was rewarded by being raised to the peerage as Viscount Duncan.
In 1820, his son Robert, 2nd Viscount Duncan, commissioned William Burn to design a new house in the Greek Revival style. The earlier house was demolished, and the new house was completed in 1828. Lord Duncan renamed the house and estate Camperdown in memory of his father's victory, and in 1831 he was created Earl of Camperdown by William IV.

The parklands surrounding the house were laid out by Lord Camperdown, with the assistance of his forester David Taylor, who along with his son planted most of the estate's trees between 1805 and 1859.

After the death of the 4th Earl of Camperdown in 1933, the earldom became extinct, and Camperdown was inherited by a cousin. On her death in 1937, the contents were sold, and the house followed, being bought by the Corporation of Dundee in 1946. Camperdown Country Park officially opened to the public in 1949.

Camperdown is notable in horticulture as the origin of the Camperdown Elm (Ulmus glabra 'Camperdownii'), a short, broad, "weeping" variety of elm.  The tree was discovered in around 1835-1840 by Lord Camperdown's head forester, David Taylor, who noticed a mutant contorted wych elm branch sprawling along the ground. The earl's gardener produced the first Camperdown Elm by grafting it to the trunk of a normal wych elm (Ulmus glabra). Every Camperdown Elm is from a cutting taken from that original tree.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

TGO Challenge 2017 - Day 11 - Bankfoot to Little Dunsinane

Date: Monday 22 May

Route: as planned plus an extra 10 km to get around non existent paths... Bankfoot > Ardonachie > New Ardonachie > diversion via Stewart Tower > Honeyhole > diversion via Knockshinnan > Ballathie House > diversion via Ballathie and Bridge of Isla > by Cargill > Meikle Whitefield > Redstone > Saucher > Collace > Dunsinane Hill (O) > Black Hill (O) > wild camp at Broch by Little Dunsinane at NO 222 325

Distance: 32 km (Cum: 239)

Ascent: 600 metres (Cum: 8200)

Time taken: 8.25 hrs including 1.25 hrs breaks

Weather: dull to start, rain between 11.00 and 13.00, bright afternoon then rain after 16.00 (finished walking ~ 17.30)

Some local knowledge would have helped today. The Ordnance Survey isn't much good when it comes to Scottish footpaths. Details of paths are available on a website that Alistair Pooler has mastered but which I found so difficult to navigate I gave up on it. The long and short of it was an extra 10 km of road walking. Not a nice road. 5 km was because there is no access across an old railway bridge at Ballathie. So I had to go over main road bridges over the Rivers Tay and Isla instead.

The Bankfoot Inn provided a good breakfast with some chatty Australians. They were very envious of old coaching inns like this one, which retains much of its original ambience.

I got away soon after 9.15 and passed happily under the A9 road whilst conversing with Conrad and Markus. The good path had verges rich with ribwort plantain, bistort and yellowhammers. But it came to an abrupt end when the first 'blockage' occurred at NO 083 350. The pain of my 2.5 km diversion past Stewart Tower was somewhat alleviated by that landmark housing a coffee shop. It was the only such amenity I passed all day, so the coffee and cake was appreciated. By the time I left it was raining.

The next 'blockage' occurred at NO 122 368, where a track to the right simply didn't exist. Pleasant forest tracks delivered me 2.5 km 'out of position' on a busy road.

Soon I was heading for Ballathie, and an old railway bridge that Bernie (my vetter) confirmed would see me across the River Tay. Shortly before the bridge I checked it out with a ghyllie. I was told it was too dangerous to cross - closed after several guests at Ballathie had fallen in! So I opted for the alternative route - instead of 1 km of disused railway, 6 km of busy roads. Perhaps that's what caused my heal to blister and my stomach to churn.

I didn't see much of Ballathie House, but according to Wiki it was built in 1886, and since 1972 it has operated as a country house hotel. There's much more, but apart from the amusing golfing story below, let's just say the place has a rich, in more ways than one, history.

Apparently a 9-hole golf course was laid out here by professional golfer Ben Sayers but this was ploughed up as part of the campaign to provide more food during World War II.

Once off the main road, I passed Sidlaw Grain Store and realised why so many HGV's were rumbling up and down the country lanes.

It started to rain again after a bright spell with good views of the Sidlaw Hills.

After the rather drab village of Collace, my route finally left the tarmac for the last 3 km of today's efforts. A steep grassy path led to a conspicuous summit overlooking a quarry.

Dunsinane Hill is of course mentioned in Shakespeare's play Macbeth. "Macbeth shall never vanquished be, until Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill Shall come against him."

It has the remains of two early forts. This is believed to be the site of a battle where Malcolm Canmore defeated Macbeth in 1054. In reality this was only a limited defeat for Macbeth. He was finally beaten and killed by Malcolm Canmore in 1057, at Lumphannan near Aberdeen.

The correct spelling of the name is Dunsinnan, Gaelic meaning "The hill of ants."; possibly a reference to the large number of people it took to build the fortress.

The impressive ramparts are still very obvious (to some - I wasn't really in the mood to appreciate them!), though the interior was much disturbed in the 19th century by antiquarians attracted to the site by its Shakespearean connection. Little of value was learned about the history of the monument from these unscientific excavations.

Black Hill, at 360 metres, is a little higher, and after a steep descent and ascent I found myself on top of that amongst the acrid smell of recently burnt heather. If it hadn't been raining there were probably good views. But it was decidedly murky so I'll leave those for tomorrow.

As the intensity of the rain increased while I descended to a pond, I found a good spot for the tent beside the broch, with reasonable looking water coming from the outflow of the very weedy pond. The Travel Tap water filter was deployed. There was no sign of Chris Peart, who had planned to be here, so I didn't after all get to meet my third Challenger since Day 1! Never mind.

Later, after further showers the rain has stopped and I'm appreciating the perfect silence and stillness of my last wild camp of this year's Challenge. Despite toothache, a painful shoulder, a blistered heel, weary knees and an upset stomach.

Would I prefer to be with Sue in Newtonmore Hostel?

Today's pictures:
The road bridge over the River Tay where I spent some time mending my heel,
The Sidlaw Hills - I'm pitched around the gap at the far right,
Phreerunner, next to the broch, with Black Hill behind.

(No proper signal so transmission will be delayed.)

Sunday, 21 May 2017

TGO Challenge 2017 - Day 10 - 3 km beyond Amulree to Bankfoot - Bankfoot Inn

Date: Sunday 21 May

Route: as planned  > Meall nan Caorach (Ma)(G) > NE to join track at NN 939 346 > around Findowie Hill to Auchmore > SE to Little Glenshee > track to Loch Tullybelton > Glack > Balquharn > minor roads to Bankfoot Inn

Distance: 22 km (Cum: 207)

Ascent: 520 metres (Cum: 7600)

Time taken: 6 hrs including 1 hr breaks

Weather: warm, calm, no midges, dull until 11 am with 600 metre cloud base, then rain, becoming heavy

I woke to heavy cloud, but the rain seemed to have passed for the time being, so it was easy (after another very early night) to be up and away by 7.45. It was 6°C outside but the barnacle geese appeared to be on heat.

After 45 minutes I was standing in a cloud on top of Meall nan Caorach at 623 metres. The cloud base was about 600 metres. So no chance of an inversion today!

The scenery was good (apart from a nearby sea of wind turbines) - rolling hills rather than jagged peaks - and I admired that as I yomped north east through clumps of cloudberry flowers, accidentally missing out the acclaimed summit of Creag Ghorm. I'll  leave it for Gibson to do as my proxy at some future date.

After yomping through an area full of mountain hares and the occasional startled deer, a grassy track was picked up. This headed to an abrupt conclusion at the head of Glen Shee.

Another quite easy yomp took me into Glen Shee to another track leading past a farm to a roadhead beyond Little Glenshee.

By now it was raining again, but I'd had three hours of dry weather and the path past Loch Tullybelton and Drum Tick to the Glack was a delight.

The bird life on the lochans was impressive, with swans, ducks, geese, sandpipers and numerous other birds. I'm out of my depth identifying them all, but I know a black grouse when I see one, and there were plenty here.
Another destination for Ken and Anne.

I reached the Glack only to be surrounded by barking dogs. They were soon under the control of a local man, and the owner, a retiree from New York, arrived. They wanted to know what I thought of their expensive new metal stiles over the deer fences. There had been complaints that they are too steep. I found them fine, albeit steep. The American had owned the place for nine years and claims responsibility for turning it into a sanctuary for wildlife. But as I walked the final 3 km down a dead straight lane to Bankfoot, past numerous (probably justified for farm access) no parking signs, I wondered about the lack of parking facilities for visitors. The car park at the roadhead by Little Glenshee would need to be used to avoid the walk in from Bankfoot.

Bankfoot is a village approximately 8 miles north of Perth and 7 miles south of Dunkeld. It had a population of 1,136 in 2001. We usually rush past on our way north, but tonight it's my home.

I'm in the Bankfoot Inn, a restored 18th-century coaching inn which has  real ales (I like the Hogs Back Ale), and a lounge bar with fire and a restaurant. All very convenient as it's still raining.

Until 1931 Bankfoot had a railway station, but now the trains take a different route north. So with the A9 also out of sight, it's a fairly peaceful backwater.

The inn was quite busy with diners. My lasagne with chips and salad definitely had the edge over last night's pasta and tuna twist.

It was good to hear that Don had enjoyed today's 80 mile Rannoch bike ride, despite the rain, and Sue managed to climb the four Glen Lyon Munros - not without incident!

Today's pictures:
The summit of Meall nan Caorach
Glen Shee
Loch Tullybelton
The long road from the Glack
Bankfoot Inn 

TGO Challenge 2017 - Day 9 - beyond Kenmore (NN 802 431) to beyond Amulree (NN 914 349)

Date: Saturday 20 May

Route: roughly as planned: minor road 5 km on from Kenmore > minor road E > Garrow (River Quaich) > track to Wester Shian > Auchnacloich > L to Turrerich > NE shore of Loch Freuchie > Wester Kinloch > Amulree > A822 > track to Girron > continue to grass by gate at NN 914 349

Distance: 18 km (Cum: 185)

Ascent: 310 metres (Cum: 7080)

Time taken: 5 hrs including 1 hr breaks

Weather: light rain overnight continued all day, intensifying into heavy showers

I woke up to a damp morning. The Lochan was doused in cloud, with visibility very limited up here at 500 metres.

After two hours of Morse (book 2 - Last Seen Wearing - was finished) and a slow breakfast I finally faced the rain and struck camp. Thanks to the tent's spacious interior it's easy to pack everything up indoors before taking the tent down.

I'd already done most of the day's climbing, so it was an easy stroll up to the top of the pass and a pleasant descent, with no traffic, into Glen Quaich.

The glen could be designated a nature reserve. It's absolutely full of birds - snipe, curlew, lapwing, oyster catcher - these were the commonest but there were also birds of prey and various medium/small birds that I couldn't identify. Ken and Anne would love it here. Rabbit would be on the menu for the birds of prey.

The glen is however marred by a battalion of huge power lines that march through it.

Beyond Turrerich Farm I stopped for a brief chat under a leafy canopy with three day walkers. Nearly every group of hikers you meet on this sort of trip know someone who has done the Challenge, which many recall as the Ultimate Challenge, from the days of its first sponsor. It's now in its 38th year.

After the very amenable path to the north of Loch Freuchie I drifted past some nice properties and into the hamlet of Amulree.

The place was a disappointment. It used to have both a hotel and a coffee shop. There was no sign of the latter, and the hotel was largely boarded up and in a state of serious disrepair. I sat under the porch and ate some mackerel and oatcakes next to a foundation stone dated 1714. To my surprise there must have been somebody inside, unless the hotel was somehow generating its own Moody Blues.

Setting off again into the rain, I passed the parish church that contains copies of records of the large number of people who stayed there prior to mass emigration - mostly to North Easthope, Canada - in the early 19th Century. The church is linked with Aberfeldy Parish Church. An interesting history "Amulree and its Church" was written by a resident Nancy Enniskillen in 1990.

Amulree is mentioned in the song Drover Road by the Western group Cowboy Celtic. Perhaps today's sad spot - albeit perhaps a haven for those who live there - had a lively past.

I was soon heading along a tussock lined path signed 'Harrietfield 7 miles', not that I'm going that far along it.

About a kilometre past Girron, as the skies blackened, a good patch of grass next to a gate forced a quick decision. The tent was up and the rucksack inside before the deluge arrived, soaking me as I pegged the tent out and chatted to a couple of curious dog walkers.

It was 2.30 and I am 3 km into tomorrow's route.

Despite the inclement weather I've enjoyed today. It's always interesting going on 'new' routes, and I've walked only a very small proportion of this year's route before. That's good!

Today's pictures: Looking down Glen Quaich, in Glen Quaich, the sad hotel, my tent with tomorrow's summit in view.

Dodgy signal here, so who knows when it'll post. Meanwhile Morse (book 3) calls - I'm glad I brought the Kindle.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

TGO Challenge 2017 - Day 8 - NN 675 443 to beyond Kenmore (NN 802 431)

Date: Friday 19 May

Route: roughly as planned: descent E > Boreland > Fearnan > forest track above A827 > descend to Kenmore, lunch at the Court Yard > minor road ascending 400 metres to wild camp by small Lochan at NN 802 431

Distance: 19 km (Cum: 167)

Ascent: 600 metres (Cum: 6770)

Time taken: 5.5 hrs including 1 hr breaks

Weather: sunny periods through high cloud, flatter light than yesterday, calm and warm (t-shirt all day)

After a great night's sleep and a good lie in with Morse (book 2), I set off on the calm sunny morning past a large herd of deer and lots of birds including a curlew, to pick up a track at some shielings. This took me down past the bunkhouse at Boreland to Fearnan, beside Loch Tay.

The loch is long and narrow - around 14 miles long, and typically around 1 to 1½ miles wide. It is the sixth-largest loch in Scotland by area and over 150 metres deep at its deepest.

My plan to take a forest path a good couple of hundred metres above the Loch was thwarted by a 'Private No Admittance' sign, but less than ten minutes further on a more encouraging sign - 'Tay Forest Park - The Letterellan Gate' - indicated a more pleasing route through the forest above the main road.

The path was a grassy carpet laced with bugle and a neat yellow flower that may be yellow pimpernel. There was also lots of wood sorrel, greater stitchwort, violets, primroses and strawberry flowers. To my right, the woodland between the path and the road was a dark blue sea of bluebells.

After just over two km of pleasant strolling the path ended in a clearing. It's marked on the map as rejoining the road, and the overgrown remnants of that blocked route are still evident. So a 'forest excursion' was required over ground piled high with dead branches in order to regain the road.

A little further on, a path marked 'Short Walk to Kenmore' delivered what it promised. A delightful path through woodland, with broom, eyebright, garlic mustard and herb robert adding to an ever growing list.

There's a lower path that I'm told is equally attractive. Now who told me that? I entered Kenmore virtually outside the Court Yard restaurant. Di and Ngumo were sat at a picnic bench enjoying some lunch. I'd caught up with them for the third and probably last time. We had an enjoyable half hour before they hit the road to Aberfeldy. Lunch was good - chicken wings then a large cheese and pickle sandwich, and when I went to pay I found the bill had been settled. Thank you Di and Ngumo - I'll get you back in Montrose...

Before we leave the pretty village of Kenmore, here's a bit about it.

The village dates from the 16th century. It and the neighbouring Castle were originally known as Balloch (from Gaelic bealach, 'pass'). The original village was sited on the north side of the river approximately two miles from its present site and was known as Inchadney. In 1540 Sir Colin Campbell of Glenorchy started the construction of Balloch castle on the opposite bank of the river and the entire village was moved to a prominent headland by the shores of Loch Tay, hence the name Kenmore, which translates from Scots Gaelic to "big (or large) head". The village as it is seen today is a model village laid out by 3rd Earl of Breadalbane in 1760.

The Kenmore Hotel, commissioned in 1572 by the then laird Colin Campbell, has its origins in a tavern built around 70 years earlier offering accommodation and refreshments. It is reputed to be Scotland's oldest hotel. It looks quite posh.

Taymouth Castle, another Campbell creation, was built by John Campbell, 2nd Marquess of Breadalbane, on the site of its late medieval predecessor, Balloch Castle (built 1550 by the Campbells of Glenorchy, ancestors of the Marquesses of Breadalbane, demolished 1805). This enormous mansion, in neo-Gothic style, was completed in time for the visit of Queen Victoria in 1842. No expense was spared on the interior, which was decorated with the utmost sumptuousness. Taymouth Castle is now privately owned and has a fine golf course in its grounds. Plans to restore the Castle to its mid-19th century glory and convert it into a luxury hotel are said to be currently ongoing.

Kenmore Bridge dates from 1774.

Around two miles northeast of the village by the side of the A827 road is a complex multi-phase stone circle known as Croft Moraig Stone Circle.

The Crannogs of Loch Tay, artificially created islands of which there are 18 in the Loch, are thought to have originated before 2000 BC, though they continued to be built and used as dwellings and refuges into the Middle Ages. The Crannogs not only afforded excellent protection against unruly neighbours but protected the ancient Celts from the wild animals (wolves, lynxes and bears) that once inhabited Scotland.

The Scottish Crannog Centre, with an accurate full-size reconstruction of an Iron Age crannog, based on the Oakbank Crannog site (off the north shore of the Loch), and a visitor centre displaying finds from the excavations, is open to visitors a little south of Kenmore village. I should have visited...

The biggest island in the Loch, known as the Isle of Loch Tay, or in Gaelic Eilean nam Ban-naomh, 'Isle of Holy Women', is just north of Kenmore. It was the site of a nunnery in the 12th century and was the burial place of Queen Sybilla (d. 1122), wife of Alexander I of Scotland (1107–24). A castle was built on the island in the later Middle Ages. Much larger in area than the other crannogs, it is unclear to what extent this island is natural, or has been 'improved' over the centuries.

So now you know all about Kenmore. A pretty spot that I walked through and left via a good chat with a lady from Johannesburg, up a steep minor road for 4 km to this position overlooking a small lochan with Schiehallion dominant on the skyline.

There's an unexpected variable signal here - maybe not enough to send this posting but enough to discover that Mike and Marian have, with only two good legs between them, had to drop out. That's a great shame.

Meanwhile Di continues to struggle on with her one and a half feet. I hope she made it to Aberfeldy.

Yesterday's pictures were self explanatory, the middle one showing the tricky descent from An Stuc.

Today's pictures: striking camp in calm weather below Meall Greigh summit, Loch Tay from the descent path, lunch with Ngumo and Di, today's camp site with Schiehallion. 

Thursday, 18 May 2017

TGO Challenge 2017 - Day 7 - Killin to north of Ben Lawers ridge (NN 675 443)

Date: Thursday 18 May

Route: almost as planned: Killin > A827 past Cruachan Farm then left turn up minor road to parking spot for ascent of Lawers massif > Ben Lawers traverse - Beinn Ghlas (M), Ben Lawers (M)(Ma), Creag an Fhithich (MT), An Stuc (M), Meall Garbh (M)(Ma), Meall Greigh (M)(Ma) > N to wild camp at NN 675 443

Distance: 24 km (Cum: 148)

Ascent: 1800 metres (Cum: 6170)

Time taken: 8.75 hrs including 1.75 hrs breaks

Weather: perfect - sunny and calm but not too hot

What a fabulous mountain day.

Despite a large party of cyclists ordering ahead of us, the Killin Hotel followed up last night's fine meal with a promptly served and we'll cooked breakfast.

I was on the road by 8.45, and was soon passed by Sue as she drove up to the Ben Lawers car park. She was intending to go to a couple of summits then meet me on the way back. It was such a good day though that I tried to encourage her by text message to walk the entire ridge and hitch a lift back to her car.

I'd planned a cross country route to the car park via a track near the top of a pipeline, but it soon became clear that access from below was a problem, at least for anyone lacking local knowledge. So rather than impale myself on a series of barbed wire fences, I chose to walk along the main road. Thankfully there was very little traffic. Much to my surprise, shortly before my turn up the minor road to Ben Lawers, I was accosted by a sign announcing 'coffee shop - open'.

I was the only customer. A pleasant half hour was passed with the lady of the shop, mainly discussing the local wildlife, which is plentiful and varied. The Carpenters music had the edge on my earlier Ken Bruce experience.

The bright yellow VW campervan that had been lovingly restored and the newish state of the art model looked resplendent  (almost to the point of giving me ideas above my station!) as I pointed out the path to their paragliding occupants.

Setting off at 11.15 up the Ben Lawers path saw me passing a few chatty folk and meeting the early morning brigade - the weather was blue sky earlier, now some clouds had arrived but it was still mostly sunny.

I climbed these Munros many years ago, certainly before 1997 when An Stuc was promoted to Munro status - I remember having to go back to the area to climb it. In those days there was a Visitor Centre and the path up Ben Lawers was diabolically eroded and boggy. What a transformation! The visitor centre has gone and the path is now a finely constructed mountain footpath over virtually the entire 10+ km ridge. Well done whoever accomplished that project.

The Ben Lawers ridge now has five Munro summits, the descent from the middle of which, An Stuc, has a reputation for being a little tricky. I could see a group of four ahead of me and a chap I met confirmed that there were two Challengers (no doubt Graham Brookes and Andy Dawkins) the wife of a Challenger (no doubt Sue, following my advice and doing the whole ridge) and an unknown day walker.

This chap also gave me the confidence to stash my walking poles and walk down the tricky descent without incident in the excellent conditions. Thanks to him, and thanks to the unknown walker (Robin) whose wife was conveniently at the end of the ridge to meet him, and gave Sue a lift back to her car. Brilliant. We've done that a few times - what goes round comes round...

Meanwhile, I got to the last summit at five o'clock, spent a while there enjoying the views and the ambience, then descended for fifteen minutes to this lovely location.

It's a short day tomorrow so I can have a lie in, but today's walk was rather easier than expected thanks to the excellent paths.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

TGO Challenge 2017 - Day 6 - NN 400 332 to Killin - Killin Hotel

Date: Wednesday 17 May

Route: exactly as planned: Wild camp > tracks roughly NE to join minor road near Kenknock > minor roads > Botaurnie > Tullich > fork L at Lochay Power Station > Killin (Killin Hotel, meet Sue)

Distance: 23 km (Cum: 124)

Ascent: 400 metres (Cum: 4370)

Time taken: 6 hrs including 1 hr breaks

Weather: sunny and calm - t-shirt weather

Today was Glen Lochay day. I was off by 8.30 after another 'perfect pitch'. Very comfy indeed, and if I hadn't gone to sleep early I'd have enjoyed a good lie in. But with the sun on the tent I was starting to roast.

Glen Lochay is a glen through which the River Lochay runs eastward towards Loch Tay, joining the River Dochart at Killin. The glen is about 32 km long, running from a point north of Crianlarich to Loch Tay. Today I walked the last 23 of those kilometres.

The river was very easy to cross this morning, by a clump of moss campion. I then followed the high track that passes Batavaime farm, the last occupied building in the glen.

Continuing on to Kenknock Farm, beyond which there is no vehicular access unless your destination is the cottages at Badour, I could see two backpackers on the track below me. A startled sandpiper flew off. I stopped for a brew, observing the ruins of some cottages higher up the glen, but these were vacated long ago.

There is an extensive local hydroelectric network throughout this area, much of which is buried under the ground and goes largely unseen, but some pipelines are visible crossing the glen. Just beyond the first of these I dropped down to join the lower track at Kenknock.

I soon caught the two backpackers seen earlier, Charles (Ngumo) and Di, and spent a pleasant half hour chatting with them before moving on at a slightly quicker pace. Only slightly, I was feeling tired again and couldn't manage all of my tuna salad lunch.

Luckily, today's 23 km were very easy, and I was installed in room 29 in the Killin Hotel by 2.30. Sadly no phone reception, so unable to contact either 'TGO control' or Sue. 

(Later - the phone forgot it had a SIM card. Sue arrived 3.30, and I enjoyed a chat with John D at control. A message from Markus also indicates he is enjoying life in Inverness.)

Today's pictures: The early morning view down Glen Lochay, looking back to Beinn Challuim from a brew stop, tonight's luxurious accommodation. 

A Wiki interlude concerning my present location:

The village of Killin ('the White [or Fair] Church' in Gaelic) is situated at the western head of Loch Tay. The west end of the village is magnificently sited around the scenic Falls of Dochart, the main street leading down towards the Loch at the confluence of the rivers Dochart and Lochay. The falls are crossed by a narrow, multi-arched stone bridge carrying the main A827 road into Killin.

Killin railway station was on the Killin Railway. Sadly the railway station was officially closed on 1 November 1965.The MacNab Clan were once dominant here, and have long been associated with Killin. Their ancient burial ground is on Inchbuie in the River Dochart, just below the falls, and is visible from the bridge.
Kinnell House was the seat of the MacNabs. A well-preserved prehistoric stone circle (possibly 'restored' to improve its appearance) known as Killin Stone Circle can be seen in the grounds of the house. To the north of the village lie the ruins of the Campbells of Breadalbane's stronghold of Finlarig Castle, with its associated chapel. The growing power of the Campbells eventually ousted the MacNabs, who lost Kinnell House to their rivals. In 1694 Sir John Campbell of Glenorchy, 1st Earl of Breadalbane, established Killin as a Burgh. In 1949 Kinnell House and its estate returned to the ownership of the Chief of Clan Macnab, but in 1978 death duties forced the then Chief, James Charles Macnab of Macnab, to sell most of the estate.

In 1767 the minister of Killin, James Stuart, published the first New Testament in Scottish Gaelic. (Wow!)

By the end of the 18th century there was a local linen industry. Flax was grown locally, spun in small mills and woven into linen by home based weavers. Today, Killin services the local rural community and the growing tourism and leisure industries. In addition to walking on Ben Lawers National Nature Reserve, fishing for trout and salmon there are various watersports available on Loch Tay. Many local vernacular buildings have been preserved or converted, allowing the village to retain much of its historic character.

The 19th century Moirlanich Longhouse in nearby Glen Lochay (on the road I didn't take) is a rare surviving example of the cruck frame Scottish longhouse, and is now in the care of the National Trust for Scotland.

The former Breadalbane Folklore Centre in the Victorian mill by the falls displays the 'healing stones' of Saint Fillan.

Tomnadashan Mine, an abandoned copper mine overlooking the village, is sometimes identified as the haunt of the Rabbit of Caerbannog of Monty Python and the Holy Grail fame.

Finally, Glen Lochay is the mysterious location to which Richard Hannay, played by Robert Donat, heads in the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock film 'The 39 Steps'.

TGO Challenge 2017 - Day 5 - Tyndrum to Allt Challuim (NN 400 332)

Date: Tuesday 16 May

Route: FWA as planned: Tyndrum > West Highland Way > Kirkton Farm > start up Beinn Challuim path to 500 metres > contour W of Beinn Challuim > Bealach Ghlas-Leathaid , > E to wild camp by Allt Challuim at NN 400 332

Distance: 14 km (Cum: 101)

Ascent: 520 metres (Cum: 3970)

Time taken: 5.5 hrs including 1 hr breaks

Weather: showery at first, vile at 500 metres, clearing mid afternoon

I delayed my departure from Tyndrum as long as possible, finding excuses to faff with anything possible. By the time I left the cabin at 9.45, it had just about stopped raining. Waterproofs went on and off like a campervan's kettle for a couple of hours.

The path out of Tyndrum was more scenic and interesting than yesterday's. A bare area served as a reminder of the lead mining that took place here, desecrating the countryside.

A pleasant woodland path then led to the Lochan of the Lost Sword, where Robert the Bruce and his army are reputed to have thrown their weapons, including Robert the Bruce's huge Claymore, after their defeat at the nearby battle of Dalrigh in 1306. No weapons have been found so the story is probably just a tourist attraction.

The field of the Battle of Dalrigh was passed (a field of grass), soon after which I came across a sign down a side track 'Artisan Café 3 mins'. It took me five minutes, but the diversion was well worth it for the latte and carrot cake served in an old chapel with Ken Bruce's dulcet tones in the background.

My excuse for eating more cake was founded on a plan to climb Beinn Challuim. After meeting a few WHW walkers I passed through Auchtertyre, where Strathfillan Wigwams appear to be thriving. According to Aaron (Day 1) an en-suite wigwam is now available for around £20,000 should you want one. It's his dad's business.

Just before Kirkton Farm the remains of St Fillan's Priory are represented by a disappointing pile of moss covered stones. My path left the WHW here and passed a couple of neatly maintained cemeteries before crossing the railway and embarking on the major ascent of the day.

There were two walkers ahead of me, strangely carrying no rucksacks at all. I caught up with them. "Charles!"

Yes, I'd found my first Challengers since parting with Aaron on day 1. Charles had taken both his and Di's bags further up the hill and had come back down to walk with her. He must be walking nearly three times as far as Di! They were planning to contour around Beinn Challuim and head into Glen Lochay to camp. After a chat, I left them to it and headed on up the hill.

Lunch was taken at 12.45 at about 500 metres. Conditions were vile - strong gusts of wind and a deluge of rain in a cloud with only a few metres visibility. If it's like this here, what will it be like at 1000 metres?

I didn't bother to find out. This was where my FWA should kick in if needed, and I decided it was needed. The cloud soon cleared to just above my head and the contouring was relatively easy despite a few gullies, and complaints from my left foot concerning the stresses being placed on its left side due to contouring across a steep slope.

Beinn Challuim is noted as a habitat of Northern Green Rush or Sedge, which may be rare. I wouldn't know it if I saw it, but I wonder whether a metal cage on the hillside might have anything to do with it.

The bealach was attained and it was an easy, if pathless, walk beside the river to this excellent spot, where I arrived at 3.15.

As I was pitching the tent the rain stopped and the sun came out, so I've had a pleasurable afternoon beside the babbling river with a good view of the nearby hills.

I keep hearing 'voices' but it's just the river  'babbling'.

During dinner (pasta sauce with tuna twists) a large military aircraft flew over, seemingly just a few feet above me.

Today's pictures: an excuse for cake, typical WHW path, camp, view from tent to Meall Glas.

Monday, 15 May 2017

TGO Challenge 2017 - Day 4 - Clashgour Bridge to Tyndrum - Pine Trees Caravan Park

Date: Monday 15 May

Route:  as planned plus 3 km from yesterday's plan: Wild camp > Abhainn Shira > Victoria Bridge > Mam Carraigh > Bridge of Orchy > West Highland Way > Tyndrum (Pine Trees Caravan Park)

Distance: 22 km (Cum: 87)

Ascent: 430 metres (Cum: 3450)

Time taken: 6 hrs including 1.5 hrs breaks

Weather: warm, calm(ish), no midges ... steady rain

It was 9.30 before I set off across Clashgour suspension bridge on the good path that was to be a feature of the day. I'd been lulled to sleep by the drumming of raindrops on Goretex, and and I woke, late, to the same sound. I'd have heard it all day if I'd stayed in the tent.

After just over half an hour I passed Clashgour hut, the last landmark on yesterday's planned route. The hut was originally built c.1900 but had to be rebuilt in 1919 following a fire. Its construction is of the Meccano type kit, typical of temporary structures of the period. Until 1933 it was used as a four pupil primary school, but this ended with the opening of the new road to Glencoe. For several years it remained unused and it deteriorated until the GUM club Glasgow University Mountaineering Club took it over in 1948 when the Blackmount estate agreed to lease it. This arrangement still continues today. The hut has changed since then, with the main change being the building of an upper level for sleeping. Legend has it that the hut once held 35 people after two groups of walkers were forced to return there from a wild day on the Blackmount Hills.

I'd seen smoke from the chimney, and glancing back to the hut I perceived a young lady signalling at me - 'T'. I introduced myself as 'Conrad', out of deference to the great man who receives frequent offers of this nature. The tea was excellent, provided by four non members of the club who had paid £3 for the privilege of spending a night in this iconic place. I have no idea how it could accommodate 35 - it seemed full with five.

Joining the West Highland Way (WHW) at Victoria Bridge, I soon made my way to the Inveroran Hotel for excellent coffee and sultana cake. I'd already passed a few WHW walkers... over to Wiki...

The WHW is a linear long distance footpath, with the official status of Long Distance Route. The 154 km route runs from Milngavie north of Glasgow to Fort William. I'm informed that about 80,000 people use the path every year, of whom over 15,000 walk the entire route. I met about 100 people today who appeared to be on the WHW.

The trail was conceived by the late Tom Hunter, approved for development in 1974, and completed and opened on 6 October 1980, so becoming the first officially designated long distance footpath in Scotland. In June 2010, it was co-designated as part of the International Appalachian Trail!!

I was on my way again on the good path to Bridge of Orchy, still in rain (it rained all day). A girl wearing flip flops passed in the other direction (I saw nobody else heading south) - her smile was as broad as the path, which was lined with bright yellow kidney vetch.

At Bridge of Orchy, a village that dates back to 1751, a 66 reg campervan pulled up. Alas not Gayle, but a chatty couple nontheless. 

The eponymous bridge at Bridge of Orchy 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, one of the finest white-water rivers in the UK.

The hotel provided me with a vast pot of tea and a bowl of Cullen Skink. The diners were of WHW genre - no sign of another Challenger. 

So, onward to Tyndrum, with the rain being blown into my face by what little wind there was. Many more bedraggled folk on the WHW. The track has improved somewhat from the bogfest I recall from walking along here many years ago, and the coconut smell of the bright yellow gorse was delightful.

After an uneventful two and a bit hours I reached Tyndrum, a small village notable mainly for being at a junction of transport routes. The West Highland Line railway from Glasgow splits here, with one branch heading to Fort William and the other to Oban. Tyndrum has a station on each: Upper Tyndrum on the Fort William line and Tyndrum Lower on the Oban line. Thus unusually there are two stations serving the same small village, only a few hundred yards apart, but about 10 miles apart by rail. It's no surprise then that Tyndrum is the smallest settlement in the UK with more than one railway station.

Overshadowed by Ben Lui, (not today - the cloud saw to that) Tyndrum is built over the battlefield where Clan MacDougall defeated Robert the Bruce in AD 1306, and took from him the Brooch of Lorn.

It's is also a former mining centre and there's a very recent saga concerning a proposed gold mine at nearby Cononish, above Cononish Farm. Work on constructing the mine began in the 1980s but low gold prices forced the closure of the mine before it became fully operational. In October 2011 it was announced that the mine would be reactivated. It was expected to employ 52 people and produce 154,000 troy ounces (4,800 kg) of gold and 589,000 ozt (18,300 kg) of silver over the next 10 years, thereby generating an estimated £80 million for the Scottish economy. Following planning difficulties, which featured in the BBC Four programme Tales from the National Parks, and a fall in the price of gold, opening of the mine was again delayed. (There's more...'yawn'.)

So by 4 o'clock I was installed in my cabin. Ablutions took some time, then a chicken burger at the Real Food Café. Very ordinary but the beer was welcome. No sign of any other Challengers - I'm probably looking in the wrong place. Anyway, I'm enjoying Ruth Hogan's 'The Keeper of Lost Things'.

Today's pictures: inside and outside the GUMC hut, the view back to Inveroran, and 'Islay' - my luxury cabin. 

TGO Challenge 2017 - Day 3 - NN 137 459 to beyond Loch Dochard (NN 233 417)

Date: Sunday 14 May

Route: roughly as planned Wild camp > Allt Mheuran to col at NN 163 433 > Glas Bheinn Mhor (M)(Ma) > return to col for lunch > Stob Coir an Albannaich (M)(Ma) > return to col > SE below Sron na h-Iolaire to join track around NN 197 409 > past Loch Dochard to convenient wild camping spot by trees to the right of a bridge at NN 233 417

Distance: 20 km (Cum: 65)

Ascent: 1500 metres (Cum: 3020)

Time taken: 9 hrs including 1.5 hrs breaks

Weather: sunny periods and showers

Today's timepiece free start saw me leaving camp in reasonable weather at 8.15. So I must have got up at about 7.

I missed a bridge over the river that I thought I had to cross. The river would have been easily crossed yesterday, but overnight rain had made the ground spongy, if not really boggy, and the rivers tricky to cross. After getting across myself, I helped a guy who was going up Ben Starav. My route needed none of the three river crossings I made, and I later met folk who had changed their itinerary because they weren't able to cross.

The crossings weren't that bad, and they did enable me to get a good view of the Robbers' Waterfall.

The Robbers' Waterfall, Eas nam Meirleach, is an idyllic waterfall hidden by the slopes of Ben Starav. The 15 metre  double waterfall drops down a dark narrow ravine. It's hard to get a proper sight of it. I think I failed.

It was rough going up to the 800 metre col, and fairly rough up the two Munros. But at least they were clear of cloud, if not the hailstorm that greeted me at the first summit.

It was another rough descent through an area of bog laced with rivulets and full of butterwort and frogs, to join the Glen Kinglas path. A bit further up the valley some people were setting up tents.

After the pathless descent, then a bit of an uphill slog to reach the track, suddenly walking was a whole lot easier. But I was getting tired. Loch Dochard looked a good place to camp beside, but a sign referring to rare ground nesting birds discouraged that. So I moved on to where Alan and Sheila would have been if Alan hadn't developed a tooth problem. It's a good spot. Very flat. I got the tent up just before a heavy shower so it's a bit drier in here than it was last night.

I've seen no Challengers to speak to today, though a group of three crossed the nearby bridge just as I was rushing to get the tent up at around 5.30.

The pictures: waterfall, view from second Munro, and camp.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

TGO Challenge 2017 - Day 2 - NM 986 464 to Glen Etive (NN 137 439)(50 metres)

Date: Saturday 13 May

Route: roughly as planned for Foul Weather Alternative (FWA): Wild camp > Beinn Churalain (Ma) > NE ridge dropping to join minor road N of Fasnacloich > NE to Elleric > Glenure > Glen Ure > Airigh nan Lochan > E to Gualachulain > Druimachoish > bridge at NN 140 468 > S to wild camp at NN 137 439

Distance: 22 km (Cum: 45)

Ascent: 700 metres (Cum: 1520)

Time taken: 8 hrs including 1 hr breaks

Weather: warm and still; gradually clouding over with light rain starting at noon. Waterproofs needed by 2.30, then steadily increasing pulses of rain ended in heavy rain whilst tent was pitched. Midgy, hence not many stops. Rain stopped later.

Not much Wiki today, you may be pleased to note.

Yes Gibson, I was tired yesterday, though I seem to have taken longer today to walk a shorter distance.

I turned off or hid my timepieces last night and once I'd killed the pain in my shoulder I found the pitch of the tent to be one of the most comfortable ever.

It had been light for a long time when I eventually gathered the momentum to produce a brew. The timepiece said 8 o'clock and I felt refreshed.

I started up Beinn Churalain soon after 9. Messages were received, contrasting from my daughter (a new and challenging job) and Alan R (who I was to meet tomorrow - possible tooth abscess - desperately seeking dentist). It was steep, with lots of Common Dog Violets, but with less water in my bag it was easier going than last night. I was alone with the grouse and the meadow pipits.

Churalain is a nice peak with a large cairn and good views, albeit hazy today with the increasing cloud. My route took a north easterly direction along a rough 3 km ridge with lots of easily negotiated fences. Easy enough and with good views to the route ahead (pictured top), but the descent that followed was reminiscent of yesterday's antics on Airds Hill. Rough going through a forest. The clearings were bright blue with a magnificent display of bluebells. There were also orchids, wood sorrel, stitchworts, wild garlic, celandine, bugle, cuckoo flower and more.

It took me three hours to cover the first 6 km of today's walk, so any hope of getting up Beinn Trilleachan was soon discarded. Its inclusion on my route plan was an erroneous last minute adjustment that blew apart my policy of a maximum of 25 km and 1000 metres ascent on a backpacking day. Otherwise I might still be walking far into the night instead of enjoying a good four hours at camp before the light goes and sleep beckons.

After that 6 km of rough going, during which i tripped on a tussock and bent a walking pole, it was nice to have a short stretch of tarmac in Glen Creran on which to regain my composure. Two people, the first I'd seen today, were walking towards me. It's a small world. I knew them. Les and Izzy are accomplished Challengers and erstwhile organisers of the Scottish reunion. They live in Appin and were out for a morning stroll. It was great to see them. They plan to make a guest appearance at some of the Challenge hot spots next week.

The car park looked familiar. I think it was here that we assembled a few years ago to celebrate Jon and Martin's final Munro, Beinn Sgulaird. Lots of Aberdeen Hillwalkers, pre XXL days, were hanging around in full midge protection gear for Martin. The group set off and was eventually caught by Martin, who we thought should know the way.

"You should have told me where to go" he complained "- I've never been here before!"

It started to rain. I lunched under cover of some pine and beech trees just beyond Glenure, where the buildings are being renovated, or even rebuilt.

A runner passed by. I met her later coming back down the good track that leads to Airigh nan Lochan. Waterproofs were donned over the t-shirt on the way up. It was warm and calm. It was from this Lochan that I should have turned off to ascend Beinn Trilleachan, an exceptionally rocky peak best known for the unique rock-climbing on its 'Etive Slabs'.

The slabs - unavoidable even for walkers - would be slippery in the wet conditions. Dangerous. Anyway, it was already 2.30 and I didn't want a late finish.

The next four km to Glen Etive were rough and slow. Some campervans were parked on the Glen Etive road. Alas not Mick and Gayle's. Rampant gorse is flourishing in the Glen. Rampant rhododendrons are being cut back. A small hut with a girdle of fancy cars announced itself as the 45° Mountaineering Club hut.

A review of contours had already led me to conclude that a lower than planned camping spot may make life flatter and easier. So soon after crossing the River Etive I stopped for water at a convenient stream and didn't have to carry it very far to this flat site not far from the river, at the foot of the path to the Robber's Waterfall, the pleasures of which I've postponed until tomorrow.

Meanwhile I've enjoyed a full five course dinner. My appetite has returned.

The pictures should be self explanatory.  There's no phone signal in Glen Etive, so apologies for the delay.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

TGO Challenge 2017 - Day 1 - Oban to the west of Beinn Churalain (NM 986 464)

Date: Friday 12 May

Route: roughly as planned - Ferry to Lismore > Port Appin > Airds Hill (Ma) > Appin > Strath of Appin > camp to the west of Beinn Churalain at NM 986 464 (420 metres)

Distance:  23 km (Cum: 23)

Ascent:  820 metres (Cum: 820)

Time taken:  8 hrs including 2 hrs breaks

Weather: mostly sunny, warm and calm

The Regent Hotel is a bit down at heel but it served me well. My bag was packed and everything but my small torch (now found) was accounted for, including a first aid kit stuffed with ibuprofen to counter yet another root canal tooth problem.

I wandered down to the ferry terminal and joined seven other Challengers for the short ride past sunbathing shags to Lismore.

Lismore (meaning "great enclosure", or "garden") is an island of some 9.1 square  miles less than an hour's ferry ride from Oban. It was once a major centre of Celtic Christianity, with a 6th-century monastery associated with Saint Moluag and later became the seat of the medieval Bishop of Argyll. There are numerous ruined structures including a broch and two 13th-century castles.

During the 19th century various new industries were introduced, including lime quarrying. The population rose to 1,000 followed by a lengthy decline. Although resident numbers are now less than 200, there was a small increase from 2001 to 2011. About a third of the population were recorded as Gaelic speaking at the former date. The modern economy is largely based on farming, fishing and tourism and the largest settlement is Achnacroish, where we landed this morning.. Various shipwrecks have been recorded in the vicinity.

Aaron and I found ourselves walking together along a good path, with Colin just behind us. Alan Hardy's group of five took the road route and missed the elaborate broch.

This is Tirefour Castle, an Iron Age broch located 4 kilometres north of Achnacroish, situated on a rocky height on the east coast of the island. If we'd been more observant we may have been able to spot Ben Nevis to the north, and the Paps of Jura to the south, as well as the good view of Ben Cruachan that greeted us to the east. The broch was probably built in the late Iron Age. It was inhabited during the Roman era as shown by the discovery of an enamel brooch in the foundation layer.

The broch was inhabited until the Middle Ages. Among the finds in it were a decorative pin from the 8th century and a Norse pin and rivets, dating from the 11th or 12th century. Located near the broch are the remains of a rectangular building in the Norse style.

The Castle has an almost circular floor plan. We noted a narrow passageway in the walls around the outer circumference of the building, blocked off to avoid sheep getting in. A couple of Geordies were camped nearby in a fine spot.

Wiki has lots more on the broch.

Aaron and I had a 45 minute wait for the 12.15 ferry to Appin. Others had less of a wait, but everyone was assembled in plenty of time for eleven passengers and a driver to cram themselves into a small boat for the ten minute ride back to the mainland. The Lismore adventure had proved an excellent way to start the Challenge with an easy stroll on a good path.

Appin may be a remote coastal district of the Scottish West Highlands, but it has its fair share of fish restaurants. We lunched at the one by the Appin ferry. I sat outside with a pint of best and enjoyed that together with a smoked salmon and cream cheese ciabatta that wasn't too soggified by the few drops of rain that preceded a slow change to the recent fine weather.

The district formerly had a railway, but the Caledonian Railway company's branch line from Connel to Ballachulish was closed in 1966. It has recently been converted to a fine walking/cycling track that most of us used today.

Appin is where the Appin Murder occurred on 14 May 1752, resulting in what is often held to be a notorious miscarriage of justice. It occurred in the tumultuous aftermath of the Jacobite Rising of 1745. The murder inspired events in Robert Louis Stevenson's novel Kidnapped.

On 14 May 1752, Colin Roy Campbell of Glenure, 44, the government-appointed Factor to the forfeited estates of the Stewart Clan in North Argyll, Scotland, was shot in the back by a marksman in the wood of Lettermore near Ballachulish. The search for the killer targeted the local Clan, the Jacobite Stewarts of Appin, who had recently suffered evictions on Campbell's orders.

The chief suspect, Allan Stewart, having fled, James Stewart, one of the last leaders of Stewarts, was arrested for the crime and tried for the murder. Although it was clear at the trial that James was not directly involved in the assassination, he was found guilty "in airts and pairts" (as an accessory; an aider and abetter) by a jury consisting of people from the locality where the crime occurred. 

Accordingly, James Stewart was hanged on 8 November 1752 on a specially commissioned gibbet above the narrows at Ballachulish, now near the south entrance to the Ballachulish Bridge. He died protesting his innocence and recited the 35th Psalm before mounting the scaffold. To this day in the Highlands, it remains known as "The Psalm of James of the Glens."

Airds Hill is a low, densely-forested summit rising to the east of the popular village of Port Appin. It's a Marilyn. So it's there to be climbed, but only a very small minority of Challengers, namely Colin Crawford, recognise this fact. I was therefore somewhat astonished when Aaron said it was on his route as well as mine.

It's 181 metres high. Sometimes the small hills are the most demanding. We dumped our bags near the bottom and started up a forestry track, leaving it where requested due to forestry operations. There followed a kilometre of bog, thick forest and the debris of fallen and felled forty year old trees. Halts were needed to remove twigs from down our sweaty necks. The summit was a high point in a thick forest. No views at all. A few hundred metres away an old trig point struggled to be seen through its mossy camouflage.

An equally obscure and tedious descent brought us back to the road, and the end of my ten mile saunter with Aaron. Since then I've seen one person, a farmer. It was good to have company for the start of what I anticipate will be a fairly solitary crossing.

My route continued as planned. The old railway line to Inver folly was lined with plantains and bluebells. Then a track led me slowly, very slowly, to a stream from which I'd decided to collect water for the night. There was just a dribble of good water at NM 971 458. Even slower, I then toiled up to point 430, passing hairy caterpillars and a lizard, as well as the familiar blue flowers of milkwort. Lousewort and tormentil were also in evidence, and I was surprised to see so many bluebells on the open hillside. By the time I reached a camping spot at exactly the place I'd suggested on my route plan, the only sounds were of my first cuckoo of the year, chattering grouse, and barking red deer. It's a good spot, but perfectly calm, so a little midgy. I'm tired, but not very hungry after the large lunch.

Today's pictures are of the broch, the trig point on Airds Hill, and my campsite.