Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Golite Breeze pack

My favourite pack is the Breeze, which I've had since around 2001. I have a couple of other packs but this is the one I invariably return to. So simple, so light and very little to go wrong. Now, it seems to have gained recognition as a style icon.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Challenge Day 14 May 24

Another hot day. A number of Challengers set off early for the eight or so miles to the coast, depending on their chosen finishing points. We weren't due to meet Bert at St. Cyrus until midday so were in no great rush. We left shortly before 9am.

It was a road walk all the way but the roads were rural and quiet. Entering St. Cyrus, we made for the cliff top where we found Bert on a bench at the top of the cliff path, high above the beach. The tide was out a fair way from the wide, flat beach. Frank and I made our way down the stony zigzag path and dipped our shoes in the sea.

We then repaired to a café for a bite to eat and then caught a bus into Montrose where we checked out at Challenge Control at the Park Hotel, obtained our certificates and T-shirts and then to the camp site to get pitched with all the other Challengers who were already there and others who arrived after us.

In the evening we ate at the Picture House as we weren't going to the Challenge dinner. Unfortunately, they've stopped serving real ale as they can't sell it. Such a difference between the beer drinking habits of the Scots and the English, and yet, we had very good locally brewed beer - the Moulin Brewery - at the Atholl Arms in Blair Atholl.

We went to the Park Hotel afterwards for the speeches and awards. An award was given to Bill Robertson, aged 78, who completed his 30th crossing this year. He's such a self-effacing man, he always checks out and goes straight home. Many have never seen him.

The oldest successful Challenger was aged 89.

Another good end to another Challenge (my third).
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Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Challenge Day 13 May 23

Another hot day was in store for us. Taking the road out of Tarfside, we called in to The Retreat for tea and toast (second breakfast). Crossing the bridge over the River North Esk at NO534783 (where we were joined by Vicki Allen), we followed the track alongside the south side of the river for about four miles, past the Rocks of Solitude (must look up how the name originated), looking down to see the water rushing through a rocky gorge. Then, continuing along the minor road at Dalbog, taking the field path on the bend in the road, which emerged at Lochside on the B966, from where it was but a short walk into Edzell.

A refreshing lager shandy was followed by lunch at the Tuck Inn café, easily identified by the mound of backpacks outside.

Then, after crossing the river bridge (accessed by a path to the side of the post office), instead of enduring the 5km straight road walk to the North Water Bridge camp site, we used a couple of back routes, first on the south side of the road, passing through Arnhall farm and then to the road and then, after maybe 2km on the road, taking the left turn by Capo wood and following the straight track to emerge back on the road just before the site. We passed by a very imposing turreted house called Inglismaldie on the left and a dovecote some distance away in an adjoining field.

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Challenge Day 12 May 22

Woke up at 5am and happened to notice two ticks embedded in the back of my wrist so occupied a couple of minutes removing them. Then slept till 7, by which time, the sun was well up and it was really warm.

Looking back to the bothy
From Shielin of Mark, it was a case of aiming generally for the right hand shoulder of Muckle Cairn, a distance of a mile or so. It wasn't nearly so wet underfoot as last year but was rough walking, with no path; just plenty of heather, bog and rough grass. On attaining the track which crosses the top, we then walked along it until we reached the track down into Glen Lee. A short way along here, we came across a burn which crosses the track on its way down to Water of Lee. It was flat and calm, crossable by stepping stones. What a contrast to last year when it was a fast flowing torrent. 

The same burn a year ago!
Stopped for second breakfast at Stables of Lee, going inside to be out of the sun. Frank thought it should be first lunch but conceded when he realised that it was only 10.15. It was a tuna roll for him whatever we called the occasion.

First lunch proper was had at the Kirkton end of Loch Lee. From there, we took the direct off road path to Tarfside, arriving at about 2.30. We headed straight to St. Drostan's Hostel where, each year the hostel offers food and accommodation to Challengers, manned by Challenger volunteers. After refreshment and some good company, we went down the road to pitch. As far as I can count, there are now 59 tents pitched here.

We were told that 52 Challengers have withdrawn from the event, one of the reasons being exhaustion. More detail will be in the Final Report in due course.

It's been really hot today. One and a half days to go.

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Challenge Day 11 May 21

The local oystercatchers were up and about early and being very noisy about it.
Bert hobbled/shuffled off to the doctor's surgery. Frank and I topped up food supplies at the little Co-op (catching a glimpse of a red squirrel in the high street) and then set off up the path opposite the camp site, through the wood uphill to meet the path that leads round by the Lion's Face rock. Then down through the wood on the other side to the road, following this until the old Invercauld Bridge, over this and then into forest belonging to the Balmoral Estate.

We aimed for Balmoral House to visit the tearooms there. On the way and within sight of the House we came across a man busying himself with a circle of boulders by the side of the estate road. 

The Diamond Jubilee Cairn - base level

Feeling nosey I asked what he was doing. He was the project manager employed in the construction of a Diamond Jubilee cairn which is likely to be unveiled around June. He was a little coy about when this would be and what the consequences would be if it wasn't ready in time. Money for the cairn has been by way of voluntary contributions from estate employees and local holders of Royal Warrants. There are eleven other "Royal" cairns around the estate but this will be the first to be constructed for over a hundred years.

Leaving the estate past the Royal Lochnagar Distillery (to be visited another time), we took the track south for several miles, eventually reaching the little visitor centre at the Spittal of Glenmuick. The sun was quite hot and I made good use of my umbrella as a sun shade, feeling quite cool underneath.

We saw an adder which crossed the track just ahead of us but there wasn't time to get the camera out.

There was quite a little group of Challengers gathered, sitting in the shade outside the visitor centre at Spittal of Glenmuick, apparently putting off the longish climb up to their, and our, intended pitch around the bothy at Shielin of Mark. Frank and I only stopped for a quick calorie intake and then set off up the side of the burn, so different from this time last year when hurricane winds and rain made life so very interesting.

The bothy can be tricky to locate as it's tucked in the near side of the next valley. On previous occasions, I've followed a very wet route to well overshoot it to the west and then follow the burn until it comes into sight. This time, however, with time to spare if necessary, we decided to head straight for it on a compass bearing. A group of six young Hungarian Challengers asked if they could follow us, to which we agreed. Our route was a little wet in places and through peat hags and groughs. In wet weather, this might be rather messy. Anyway, over the top we went and were very pleased with ourselves when the bothy appeared just below us.

We are pitched right next to the burn. There are around sixteen tents pitched here with two others a couple of hundred yards away.

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Sunday, 20 May 2012

Challenge Day 10 May 20

Woke to the sound of grouse and curlew after a calm night. A really nice pitch. As we'd not got quite as far yesterday as intended, we started extra early (for us) at ten to eight.

Bert went on ahead, not at all comfortable. Worse than that, in fact. It was an easy path and, after a while, we started to see patches of blue sky. We waded through Bynack Burn and then a deeper Geldie Burn (mid calf level) and stopped for second breakfast at White Bridge, by which time, the sun was out and it was getting quite warm. Further along, I stopped and dug out the sun tan lotion as my right ear was starting to sizzle.

Geldie Burn

We called in at Mar Lodge for tea and biscuits, an annual service laid on for Challengers. They also provide meals and accommodation for those who want it. It was here that Bert irrevocably dropped out of the Challenge. He had made his mind up and accepted a lift into Braemar. From Mar Lodge, Frank and I had a very pleasant road walk of about four miles into Braemar. We called into the Village Hall and helped their fundraising for the primary school by having soup and pudding for a fiver. At 3pm, we left to go on to our pitch at the local Caravan Club site. There aren't that many Challengers here; yesterday would have been heaving with them. The noisiest birds to be heard here are oystercatchers and there are numerous ducks wandering around the site. The weather is forecast to be dry and sunny for the next few days.

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Challenge Day 9 May 19

Today has been the day of Bert's blisters. They are a horrifying sight, although for the most part mercifully hidden by many Compeed blister patches. Although we haven't seen it (and have no wish to do so), he says that his left little toe has no skin left on it and is red raw. During the day, he took to wearing one of Frank's sandals on his left foot which helped a little and looked quite strange. His right foot has blisters as well but just feels numb. At the day's end, he has blisters on his heels as well. Not a happy bunny.

I only asked him how his blisters were!
That said, today has been easy. Leaving Blair Atholl, we went north on the lane towards Fenderbridge, coming to a good grassy path above the River Tilt which was followed for a mile or so.

On the other side of the valley, there was shooting going on, shown on the map as a rifle range. The steep sided hills on either side began to close in as we entered Glen Tilt, crossing to the other side of the river over the bridge just past Marble Lodge (presumably at some time past a hunting lodge but now an idyllic holiday let).

We followed a good vehicle track for several miles up Glen Tilt. Eventually, it veered off and our way became a narrow path up to the Falls of Tarf with its elegant black wrought iron bridge. It was constructed in memory of one David Bedford, who lost his life there. It being a place that so obviously needs a bridge, it seemed a shame that a life had to be lost before a bridge was built.

Going on from there, we followed an undulating path above the Allt Garbh Buidhe. Here the hills immediately either side opened out and we are camped in an idyllic spot at NN998823, east of Loch Tilt. All we can hear is a light breeze, the occasional cries of grouse and the sound of running water just a few yards away. Looking to both north and south, we can see snow capped tops.

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Friday, 18 May 2012

Challenge Day 8 May 18

It rained lightly all through the night. I heard what may have been a stag. I'm not sure what the noise they make is called. Barking? Roaring? Anyway, it was quite close.

Black slugs were all over the place this morning. They seem to be attracted to metal. I often find at least one on the pan I heat water in for morning coffee. They soon drop away as the pan warms up.

Yesterday morning, I found that my gas cartridge was empty which I suspect may have been due to me not having turned it off fully. My plan B then came into operation. I'd brought with me a tiny meths stove which, when turned upside down, has a smooth surface on which I can burn white fuel tablets and I'd brought a few with me. They've seen me through yesterday morning and evening and this morning. They're surprisingly good, at least in relatively calm conditions. I've now got more gas.

This morning, we continued east through Tummel Forest along the forest road. We looked down to the power station at Tummel Bridge and the vast forest clearance operation going on. Going by Loch Bhac, we then left the forest, going on to a heather moor, on a clear path, quite muddy and underwater in places.

There was then a far off view of Blair Castle and the long descent into Blair Atholl which we reached around 2pm. We stopped for a quick restorative at the Atholl Arms Hotel and decided we would eat there later. We then went to pitch at the Bridge of Tilt site where our resupply parcels were waiting. Hot showers were then had, the first since last Saturday.

Love the leaded windows!

The food at the Atholl Arms was very good. Black Pudding Skirlie starter followed by macaroni cheese with garlic bread. The beer is excellent - Moulin - brewed locally and a single malt, Edragour. A few other Challengers were there as well, including Martin and Sue, continuing their B&B trek! A nice end to a quite short day.
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Thursday, 17 May 2012

Challenge Day 7 May 17

It rained/drizzled all through the night. Bert was "unwell" in the night but, fortunately, he was on the other side of the burn so didn't disturb us. He slapped more Compeeds on his blisters and dosed himself up with paracetamol and decided to walk today.

Today was a day of constant drizzle. However, the walking was easy as it was on tarmac. From Bridge of Gaur, we followed the minor road for nine miles along the south side of Loch Rannoch to the village of Kinloch Rannoch.

Here I topped up food supplies at the Co-op and we then sought out Treats café. Their tomato, chilli and lentil soup and crusty bread and a pot of tea went down very nicely. Here we met other Challengers Alan Sloman and Andrew Walker and a few others turned up as well. We hadn't seen any others since Sunday.

We then continued along the B846, picked up water along the way and are camped just a short way inside Tummel Forest. It's still raining but I've had a four course dinner, including local smoked duck pate as a starter, so am feeling quite mellow.

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Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Challenge Day 6 Wednesday May 16

Today was basically a dry day. It tried to rain a few times but never came to anything.

Leaving King's House and Glencoe, we followed the track east, leaving the West Highland Way. After two miles, we came to Black Corries Lodge. There is now a signed footpath around it instead of going through the grounds. Not a problem. We rejoined the track and continued to its end at NN333549. The mountain views, particularly to the south all morning were beautiful, the tops facing north and east being snow covered. The track then abruptly became a path. We lost it very quickly, losing height gradually until we were closer to some water to the south. We moved uphill to where there was a line of telegraph poles in a line east and then found the path. It wasn't difficult to follow but it was muddy and boggy for much of its route and wet feet became the order of the day again.

Eventually, we entered a fenced forest area and a forest road. It was then a really nice forest walk, ending just before Rannoch Station. In the forest, I stopped to wring the water out of my socks. Frank and Bert went on ahead. Moving on, I came across some folk with four large dogs, fortunately restrained. When I caught up with the others, I was told that the dogs had been loose and one of them had gone for Bert, maybe not liking the look or smell of him (after all, we haven't had showers since Saturday night).

By Rannoch Station is the Moor of Rannoch Hotel. We'd been discussing what we'd have there. I fancied a pot of tea and a scone with jam and cream. It was closed.

From there it was an easy road walk to Bridge of Gaur, our day's end. Bert has been suffering from bad blisters for some time and they have been particularly bad today. He is thinking of getting a taxi to Blair Atholl to get himself sorted out, possibly with lightweight trail shoes. Frank and I will reach Blair Atholl the day after tomorrow.

Frank had been fantasising about finding a nice little B&B, but it was not to be. We have found a very quiet pitch just off route at NN502563 off a vehicle track by a burn, Allt an Fheadain. I've washed my feet in the burn. They feel really nice now but will have to wait for hot water to get rid of all the ingrained dirt.

We've walked 17.6 miles today. It's raining now but very half heartedly.

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A stop for elevenses

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Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Challenge Day 5 Tuesday May 15

I spent a surprisingly comfortable night, given the pitch. Before settling, I repositioned the tarp by moving it along about eighteen inches as I found I had a grassy clump where it was going to be uncomfortable. When I'd finished, the clump was my pillow and I slept diagonally.

We woke to sunshine and views of snowy mountain tops.

Our rather wet route took us east past Loch Dochard. We crossed Clashgour Bridge at NN418233, waded the Abhairn Shira south of Clashgour to follow the river bank and then a track to Forest Lodge where we joined the West Highland Way.

Clashgour Bridge
We just couldn't go wrong from here. The views all around were clear and stunning. Apart from a quick shower, the weather was kind to us all day. 

Victoria Bridge
We walked up the WHW for the best part of ten miles and are now camped by the King's House Hotel, a popular haunt of walkers, backpackers and climbers.

From Ba Bridge

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Challenge Day 4 Monday 14 May

We woke to more rain this morning but it held off while we packed away, but soon started again for the next hour as we walked through forest. Below a monument, our track and then road followed the route of an old military road into Dalmally. We had hoped to have coffee at a hotel there but it was still closed for the winter. However, as we joined the main road we saw a snack van and had superb bacon and egg rolls and coffee.

Glen Orchy church; Stob Diamh in the distance
 Crossing the bridge over the River Orchy, we took the road to the foot of Glen Strae, following this for a mile before heading north on a wet, indistinct path through the Lairig Dhoireann, climbing steadily for about one and a half miles to the bealach below Meall Copagach.

There was then a long descent into Glen Kinglass and then a search for the bridge over the River Kinglass. We crossed the bridge (out of our way) at NN133357 but the one at NN144362 would have been quicker.    
We then followed the vehicle track along the foot of the glen past Glenkinglass Lodge and then beyond on a clear track. We're pitched on some rough ground by the bridge at Innseag na h-luraich NN402185. At least the water's plentiful with the river close by.

Apart from the odd shower, much better weather than yesterday.
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Monday, 14 May 2012

Lunch stop before going over the top

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Sunday, 13 May 2012

Challenge Day 3 Sunday 13 May

The weather forecast for today was incessant rain and so it proved to be. However, we first fortified ourselves with a Full Scottish Breakfast at Brambles which opened at 8.30 prompt. It was first class and washed down with excellent coffee. A place to be recommended (and they do B&B).

We started the day's walk, in the rain, through the grounds of Inveraray Castle which avoided road walking. At the head of Loch Shira, we headed north east along a track on the west side of Glen Shira with forest on our left and the small Dubh Loch and then pasture on our right. We eventually wanted to be on the other side of the glen. There are four bridges along its length. We took the second one by Kilblaan to meet the road on the east side of the glen.

Twinkles having a tinkle
We then followed the road, turning left where there was a bridge over the Brannie Burn. 

The road, which was virtually traffic free, took us up to Lochan Shira reservoir. We passed by the power station below the dam. We'd been with Ian Cotterill thus far but he left us by the dam to follow a track east. We went west and then north, first along a concrete slab track for nearly a mile and when this came to an end, we were able to see two masts at Bealach nan Cabrach which we wanted to head for about a mile away. There was no path and we splashed across the open moorland. Once we were as wet below the knees as we could be, yet more wet made no difference.

The masts in the distance

... and then close up
Upon reaching the masts, where the wind was gale force and the rain horizontal, we went downhill on a vehicle track, eventually passing into forest. We are camped just off the forest track in a glade. It's still raining. The ground is quite soggy but we're very sheltered, as long as no trees come down in the night.

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