Wednesday, 14 October 2015

You can tell they're desperate when .......

There was a call on my mobile this morning. Not what I wanted when I was up to my eyeballs in work. It was a magazine company cold call. The lady reminded me that I had been a subscriber to Trail magazine. In fact, I bought the first issue (the magazine was originally called Trail Walker) and many after that and subscribed for several years. Why had I stopped taking it? I said that the content tended to be the same old same old and I had tired of it. She asked if I would be interested in three issues for a fiver. I said no thank you. Changing tack, she asked if I'd be interested in Country Walking, again no. What about Fishing? I said definitely not and she presumably went on to the next punter on her list, hopefully with more success. Nowadays, if I buy a magazine, it's an impulse buy. Often, it's when a particular article catches my eye but, so often, I'm disappointed as articles tend to be too superficial. I'm afraid that if I'm typical then print magazines are on the way out. In my view, there's so much better content on the internet to be had for no cost.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

TGO Challenge Day 9 Saturday 16 May

Paul was up early and left, leaving me to get myself organised and decide what to do. As I lay in my sleeping bag after waking up, I thought about what was going on in my legs. I had assumed that it was all muscular and that I would walk through the pain and discomfort but the more I thought about it, the more it dawned on me that my legs don't have muscles up the front in front of the bones. I realised then that I was probably suffering from shin splints, something I'd only read about before. Amazingly, I was able to get internet access where I was and googled shin splints and, yep, that's what I'd got without a doubt. I knew then that it wasn't going to get better. I texted Roger Smith at Challenge Control for a bit of advice. He was very helpful but obviously it was for me to decide what to do. I looked at the map. I was about 8km out of Aviemore where I knew there was a rail station. Anyway, I packed up and started walking. At a junction of paths, one way went towards Aviemore and the other went towards Loch Morlich which would be my route were I to continue. I went a few steps each way a number of times and dithered about for a few minutes. In the end, I went in the Aviemore direction. It was hard as I had been so looking forward to finishing. However, there would be no easy way to bale out with five days to go.

Reaching Aviemore, I headed for the station and found there was a train to London at 1.30pm. I bought a ticket and went off to raid Tesco for food and drink to last me the long journey home. So, that was that. The right decision made though.

TGO Challenge Day 8 Friday 15 May

It was an undulating trail along the northern side of Allt Bhran. Last night's pitch was really good with running water just feet away. It was a lovely morning and the five of us headed eastwards.

It was a bit boggy from time to time. We skirted around some woodland to reach a good track south of Carn Dearg.

There was supposedly a track lower down through the trees but it was said not to be good with lots of blow downs. Eventually, we started to descend towards Glen Feshie.

The legs were very uncomfortable. I was wearing a knee support on my right knee and ankle support on my right ankle but walking was still a bit of a trial although it came and went.

On reaching Glen Feshie, it came on to rain. The others went ahead to cross the river which proved to be passable. I went off alone up the glen as I had planned. I stopped among some trees to cook up some lunch to restore energy levels. It continued to rain as I passed Glen Feshie Lodge although it was easy level walking. I crossed the only bridge across the river at NN849964 near Stronetoper. Other bridges have been washed away and not replaced. Here I met a young couple and stopped to talk briefly. However, they weren't Challengers although I was able to point them in the direction of the nearby bothy at Ruigh-teachain. I just carried on walking, walking, walking, stopping briefly at a car park for a bite to eat. There were a few vehicles around but it was generally very quiet.

I knew where I was likely to end the day so just kept going. A brief stop at a river to top up water with extra for the night in case I didn't find any more. At Feshiebridge I joined a forest road.

It was all very quiet but nice walking apart from the tired and uncomfortable legs. I plodded along checking the map from time to time as I had to be careful to take the correct turns as there were various tracks going off in different directions. One turn took me on a much narrower track but it was the right one and really very nice.

Eventually, I came upon a bothy.

Inshriach Bothy
I had been doubting its existence as I wouldn't normally expect to find a bothy in woodland but there it was, in a clearing. I had no idea what it was like inside. I pushed the door open startled someone who had retired early to bed. Paul was from Belfast and had been coming across to Scotland for some thirty years with his bike. He had overnighted in this bothy each time and this was the first occasion when he had company. There were just two bunks, one up and one down. There was no ladder so I opted to lay my mat on the floor next to Paul's bike. We got on very well. He was about my age. I cooked a meal and a hot drink and got my head down as soon as I could, feeling very weary. The bothy is Inshriach at NH883056.

Walked 25km; ascent 675m; descent 841m.

Monday, 22 June 2015

TGO Challenge Day 7 Thursday 14 May

Darren and I didn't leave the bunkhouse till mid morning. The full Scottish breakfast was well worth taking time over with lots of coffee to help it down. Dalwhinnie Bunkhouse really is an excellent place. We headed down the A9, stopping off at the petrol station/shop/post office for Darren to post another parcel home - food and gear he didn't want to carry. Then over the river bridge to follow the lengthy aqueduct towards Loch Cuaich.

Following Allt Coire Chuaich, it was a long and gradual ascent to a lunch stop at NN719867 where we caught up with Fred and Liz. I had been intending to end the day at a wild camp at about NN722853 but I'd heard that the descent towards Gaick Lodge was horrendously steep and we could see quite a bit of snow up there so we changed our plan and decided to go off in the same direction as Fred and Liz had gone. The destination was a wild camp around Allt Bhran. It was an interesting way to go - about 5.5 km over virtually pathless heather and bits of bog; very hard work and the constant twisting of knees and ankles didn't help.

My legs became quite uncomfortable which I put down to pulled muscles. My right foot was painful to lift. At a point where we stopped for a quick break, we were joined by James, who I had met on Day 5. We headed for a stone track at NN751882 which was visible from quite a distance. That was then followed until we left it to go east, aiming for a bridge we could see (on the map) at NN763890. Here again, the ground was very rough and absolutely no sign of a path. After about a km, we started to look for the bridge. However, it was evident that there would be quite a drop down to it as the river it was to cross was out of sight below us. Getting to a point where the only way was down, we scouted about for the bridge but couldn't see it. Eventually, it was found and rarely have I been across such a rickety bridge. There was a drop of maybe twenty feet to the river gorge below. We went across one at a time, each thinking that the bridge might give way. There was then a pathless ascent through ferns up to a metalled track which we followed north for a km or so before heading sharp south east to the weir over Allt Bhran. It having been a day without rain, the evening was just perfect. Looking for a place to camp, we spied from a short distance two tents (which turned out to be occupied by Humphrey Weightman and Andy Howell). We went on a short way to pitch by the river which was just about as nice as it gets. The legs were in dire need of a rest.

Allt Bhran
20km walked; 572m ascent; 487m descent.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

TGO Challenge Day 6 Wednesday 13 May

Darren and I left the youth hostel quite early and walked along the southern shore of Loch Ossian, some 5km. Here we met Challenger Harry who joined us for the slow ascent alongside Uisge Labhair, a river. Construction work was going on for the first stretch and then we were met by a new dam blocking our way so we climbed up on to a rough path of sorts across heather and very soon had wet feet again. We lost Harry after a while when we stopped briefly.

There was a pathless scramble up to a higher level path at around NN468719 which we followed upwards to Bealach Dubh where we stopped for lunch with great views back the way we had come and ahead where we had a long descent ahead of us.

The path dropped down, we had to skirt a belt of snow (avoiding the parts where we could see deep holes), and then down to follow an easy winding path in the foot of the glen.

Darren filtering water
 We passed Culra Bothy, closed due to asbestos, and stopped for a breather on the south side of Loch Pattack. I'd been planning to camp around here but we went on to the east side where we found Harry already camped.

Loch Pattack
It all looked idyllic but Darren was booked in at Dalwhinnie Bunkhouse and I thought I might as well go with him and thus leap 12km ahead of schedule. Along the way, we were able to contact the bunkhouse and found they had one space left. It was a long and hard walk, mostly alongside Loch Ericht and my legs were really feeling it. It was relief to tumble through the door of the bunkhouse where we saw some familiar faces - Andy Howell, Humphrey Weightman, Liz and Fred and others.

The food was plentiful - we settled for wildboar and chorizo burgers with salad and superb chips, washed down with a bottle of Cairngorm beer. Following an evening of great company we staggered off to our room feeling utterly weary.

35km walked; height ascended 700m; height descended 736m.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

TGO Challenge Day 5 Tuesday 12 May

I left Gairlochy Holiday Park around 8.30am. The recommended way into Spean Bridge was along the course of the former Invergarry and Fort Augustus railway. This was accessed via a gate within the site. It led first of all through a sort of caravan graveyard. The path was alright to start with but very soon deteriorated into ankle deep wetness and mud. It was easy to follow though but I had to divert from it a couple of times on to higher ground where the way was obstructed by fallen trees and general undergrowth. It was interesting to see the ruin of General Wade's High Bridge. Here were fired the first shots in the Jacobite uprising in 1745.

I located the Spar shop in Spean Bridge where I restocked some food items and posted maps back home. I left Spean Bridge at 11am, a road walk for some 3km and then a track which I left at NN252807 where there were a multitude of SROWS signs, the one to Corrour Station 12m being the one I would follow. I didn't see anyone else all day. At Lairig Leachach Bothy, I crossed the river

and continued on the path straight ahead, only realising after about 1km when I was too far away from the river to my left that I had taken the wrong path. It was then easier to back track the 1km rather than bash across country so that is what I did. It was very annoying. I then located the correct path and followed it where it eventually led along the southern shore of Loch Treig. I was half expecting to catch up with Darren as I kept seeing what were probably his recent footprints in the mud although he had left Spean Bridge some time before me but I was taking only short breaks so might have caught up but the wrong turn obviously lost me time.

I had originally thought about camping around Loch Treig but nowhere would have been suitable and there were lots of works going on on the part of the Corrour Estate. At the railway bridge at NN341681 my way should have taken me alongside the railway to Corrour Station but just the other side of the bridge I was distracted by the presence of another hiker. I thought at first it might be Darren as he was wearing a blue top but it turned out to be a new face, belonging to James, from Banchory, another Challenger. He was vaguely looking for somewhere to camp but we walked on together. It was only after a while when I realised that the railway line should have been on my right that it became clear that I hadn't taken the path by the railway bridge. Anyway, it didn't matter as the path we were on was, in fact, a slightly shorter route to Loch Ossian Youth Hostel where I had reserved a bed. The YH was a welcome sight after a very long day. It can just about be seen in the picture below to the right of some trees in the distance. James went off to camp somewhere nearby and I was to see him again further along.

Darren had arrived only an hour before me and pressed a welcome mug of tea on me. There were other Challengers there as well. The setting of the hostel is amazing, right on the shore of the loch. I slept very well that night!

Surprisingly, only 16km walked; height ascended 328m; height descended 410m.

Monday, 18 May 2015

TGO Challenge Day 4 Monday 11 May

From the hut, I took the track immediately heading south. It was flooded at times but I was getting used to this.

I came to where I needed to branch off at NN226983, my first crossing of the day.

Then, for 2.5km, I followed a Scottish Rights of Way Society waymarked path through a firebreak in the forest. It was very wet underfoot and raining on and off but I was able to make a stop for breakfast after a couple of hours in between showers.

The forest came to an end and the path continued across heather moorland. It was rough and the path kept disappearing but it was more or less following a straight line.

I had intended to cut across to the ruin at Fedden but it looked boggy and I couldn't make out the ruin in the rain so I kept to the path I was on, following it around the foot of Sron a Choire Ghairbh and over the bealach to drop down towards Loch Lochy.

Not everyone survives this journey 
It was a tough ascent to the bealach and, as I went over the top, there were hail stones, thunder and lightning. Not a time to hang around. There was then a long descent to the forest above Loch Lochy. I passed by a bank of snow on the way down.

I stopped for lunch where I emerged on to a cycle trail. I wanted to drop down to the Great Glen Way. The only trail to it was going out of my way by a couple of km so I slid (literally) down into the strip of closely planted forest and followed as straight a line as I could for maybe 3/4km until I dropped down on to the Great Glen Way. It was boggy at times and I and my pack were covered with pine needles and odd bits of branch. Well worth doing though.

Once on the Great Glen Way, it was just a case of one foot in front of the other down to Clunes and then following the road by Bunarkaig to Gairlochy

where I had booked in to Gairlochy Holiday Park.  Here, I had a resupply parcel waiting and I was able to shower and dry out my sleeping bag in the tumble dryer there. The only other Challenger here was Simon from Aberdeen. I pitched with a view of Ben Nevis.

28km walked; height ascended 902m; height descended 1,047m.

TGO Challenge Day 3 Sunday 10 May

In fact, I probably would have had time last night to reach Kinbreak Bothy. Anyway, I made an early start. The river crossing across to the bothy was easy. Last time I did it, the water was much higher. As I arrived, Graham and Marion were just leaving. They said that they and just one other were at the bothy that night, far fewer than expected.

I stopped and had breakfast and coffee upstairs in the bothy, nicely sheltered from the wind and intermittent rain.

Then down to the River Kingie for an easy crossing

Up then to join the track eastwards towards the forest in Glen Kingie.

Walking in the rain to the bridge at NN090998

Up ended trees
At the bridge at NH129000, I misread the map and my intended route. There is a new forestry road just after the bridge which I should have taken. My brain obviously wasn't engaged and I discounted the road as being the route to take. As a result, I fell back to a route taken on a previous Challenge which I knew was going to be tough, the intermittent wet and boggy path just to the south of the River Garry to Garrygualach, a very squelchy plod of about 4km. Even before I got on to the boggy bit, there was a battle to get through and round some felled trees.

Just before Garrygualach, I got to a bridge where there was a red barrier at both ends to discourage crossing it but it had to be done. Then it was a walk up a very wet and, at times, flooded track. Here, I met a German and a Chinese walking the Cape Wrath Trail (Fort William to Cape Wrath). We stopped to talk trail. The German seemed pretty well kitted out and prepared; the Chinese had forgotten to bring waterproof overtrousers and, altogether, looked a bit miserable.

Just past Greenfield, I encountered Liz and Susan (Susan just accompanying Liz for the first three days of the Challenge). They were just about to pitch by the side of the farm track. I went on the the wooden hut at NH230002 where I had stopped on another occasion. I pitched behind the hut as before. At the hut were Mark (who I had met at Mallaig) and Alex and Liz, both of whom are MBA volunteers doing the Challenge together for the first time. We ate together and the time passed very pleasantly with the rain falling outside.

29km walked; height ascended 715m; height descended 953m.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

TGO Challenge Day 2 Saturday 9 May

Loch Nevis early morning
I left Sourlies Bothy a while before Darren and made a bit of a hash of getting up out of the valley and over the top to the two lochans. Everything looks different on the ground compared to the map and I kept too much to the northern side and so found myself too far over at the top. 

Looking back - Loch Nevis
After a while, I saw Darren quite a way below and managed to cut across to where he was correctly heading for a bridge over the river.  Not too much time was wasted.

Vanessa (from Lochinver), who had also been at Sourlies, was with us on and off and also where we stopped for lunch before the descent into Glendessarry. At one point, Vanessa stopped to take her waterproof off and never caught up with us. Darren later said she had dropped out with a possible angina pain.

Darren and I went on to Strathan where we parted company, he to find somewhere to pitch not too far away and me to head over the top to Kinbreak Bothy, which I didn't expect to reach until quite late. It was quite a haul up and at the top I stopped to get dinner going before continuing the last four kilometres or so to the bothy. However, I began to think I might run out of time so decided to find a pitch. It was all a bit boggy here but I managed to find a reasonable pitch just before the descent to the bothy at around NM995939. 16 km walked today; height ascended 862m; height descended 430m.

Day's end

Thursday, 14 May 2015

TGO Challenge Day 1 Friday 8 May

I checked out for the Challenge at the West Highland Hotel. Woe betide anyone who forgets to check out. The powers that be then assume that you haven't started and if you then meet with a problem along the way, Challenge Control won't raise any alarm.

I had filled my water belt with two litres of water, only to find that water was dripping out around the thread where the drinking tube attaches. I decided not to take it and Gayle will take it to Montrose for me to collect at the end. It wasn't a great issue as I have another water carrier with me.

Darren and me on the jetty
The ferry to Inverie left at 9.45 and the crossing was very smooth. 

The forecast for the day was sunny and dry and the views to the north particularly were glorious. At Inverie we stopped for tea, etc. at the tearooms before starting off. 

The trail was easy to follow because it was the only one. 

Looking back towards Inverie
We just needed to make sure we didn't miss the turn right leading to Gleann Meadail instead of straight on to Barrisdale. 

Just before the descent to Sourlies
After a while, the long gradual ascent started before dropping down to the bouncy bridge over the River Carnach. 

Darren bouncing across
It was then a very wet crossing of the marsh at the head of Loch Nevis. We eventually reached Sourlies Bothy where about eight of us are camped. 14 km walked today; height ascended 780m; height descended 792m. A relatively easy first day. 

Friday, 8 May 2015

TGO Challenge travel

Had a good night`s sleep on the train which arrived exactly on time at 7.20 at Glasgow Central. William and I went off to find a Wetherspoons for breakfast. Later, we parted company and I went to look for a barber where I had the shortest haircut that I've had for many a year. Ideal for a long hike.

Challengers gathered at Queen Street station during the morning. I met up with Darren. Although we're both walking solo, our routes coincide for most of the first four or five days. Our train for Mallaig left at 12.20, a five and a half hour journey. There was a little rain and a flurry of snow at one point but there was sunshine and clear skies most of the way. Of course, the scenery was stunning but the journey was long. I made my way to the Mission Bunkhouse to settle in for my stay overnight. Later Darren and I, and another Challenger, Mark went for a meal. Later met met Gayle and Mick (Gayle of Mick is doing the Challenge, whilst Gayle is heading east to help man Challenge Control for the second week. I later watched the TV news with the election exit poll forecast. Will find out more in the morning.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

TGO Challenge - the Off

Train up to Paddington and then Euston station where I collected my tickets for the overnight sleeper to Glasgow at 23.50. Then across the road to the Bree Louise which seems to have become the place to be for Challengers to gather before travelling north after a meal and a few beers. Most of those present left for the 9.15 sleeper to Inverness. A few minutes before that train was due to leave, I spied on a window ledge two map carriers filled with route maps, belonging to *** (he knows who he is). He was planning to walk solo I believe so would be stuffed without them. What to do? I dashed to the station, glanced at the departure boards and ran to platform 15. With three minutes to spare, I`d located him and reunited him with his maps (which he hadn't realised he didn't have). Mission accomplished.

Back to the Bree. It was just me and William Burton, from Barbados. A new friend made. A while later, we made our way to our sleeper and were soon on our way north as well.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

TGO Challenge 2015

With only a few days to go to the "off", I think I've finally sorted out how I'll be blogging from the trail. Until last year, my phone was a Blackberry Curve 9320, which was great. I like having a proper QWERTY keypad. However, the camera packed up (Carphone Warehouse investigated and concluded that damp had got in and caused some corrosion) and the contract came to an end. I switched to a Nokia Lumia 630 which is a good all round smartphone but I don't really get on with the virtual keyboard. Although I don't have fat fingers, nevertheless, I am constantly touching the wrong letter and so I concluded that this phone will not do for blogging.

I thought to use my old Blackberry as a Pay As You Go so ordered, online, a GiffGaff sim card and bought a bit of credit for it. It didn't work properly. I could get internet access but couldn't send or receive texts or make or receive calls. I can't fault GiffGaff's online assistance. They really tried to sort me out. Anyway, they refunded me the money that I'd paid within a few minutes of me asking so I was really impressed.

I went into Carphone Warehouse yesterday. They tried to set the Blackberry up as a Pay As You Go but without success. Something to do with bypassing the Blackberry ID. I sorted it out the best I could last evening. I've paired it with the Nokia with Bluetooth so what I'll do is compose the blog postings on the Blackberry, transfer them to the Nokia and then post online from that. The Blackberry will be purely a mobile blogging device with no phone or internet. Having done a dry run, it will do the job (I hope).

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Minehead to Combe Martin

This weekend walk was based on an article by Paddy Dillon in TGO magazine some years ago and takes in some of the best that Exmoor has to offer. Taking the Macmillan Way West out of Minehead, I ascended through woodland to the east-west ridge and headed west. It was a Thursday evening so it was a case of stopping for something to eat and then scouting out a pitch for the night. There were only a few joggers about so as light faded I had the place to myself.

I had two new pieces of kit to try out. First was an Integral Designs Sil-Tarp 1, bought in the New Year sale at Backpackinglight for the princely sum of £25. It comes without guys and pegs so I bought 100 feet of 550 para-cord, cut it into various lengths and sealed off the ends. I used my usual tarp pegs but I'd spent some time learning some new knots, bowline, taut line hitch and prusik loop. I'd also played around with the tarp in the garden at home.

The other new item was the amazing Sawyer Mini water filter.

I found a secluded pitch in the woodland known as Wootton Common, very close to the trig at 949442. It was rather a tight fit but sufficed. I attached a ridge line between two trees and very soon had the tarp set up quite nicely as it got dark.

It was very peaceful but around 10pm ten or so cyclists went by on the track just a few feet away but I well out of sight. I slept very well.

Next morning early, I dropped down through the woodland to the village of Wootton Courtenay. It was as well that there was a little shop as I realised that I'd only brought food for two nights out and there were going to be three. Rain came on as forecast but it was light. I stopped for second breakfast just before the climb on to the moorland path to Dunkery Beacon. It was sheltered in the woodland and I knew it would be quite blustery out in the open. I didn't stop long at the Beacon. The wind was strong and it was very misty so not much to see. I came across two hunt dogs and some time later was asked by hunt people if I'd seen four hounds that appeared to have gone missing. I gave them the location of the two.

At Exe Head I joined the Tarka Trail. I had thought, by looking at the map, that a reasonable pitch might be by Pinkery Pond at 724423 but it wasn't at all suitable so I pushed on. It was still quite windy and tried to pitch the tarp just before reaching the B3358 road but it wasn't looking good. I crossed the road and immediately found a quiet field corner which, although adjacent to the road behind a wall, was very still and there was very little traffic passing by.

Next morning, I climbed the path to 717405 and headed west to the village of Challacombe and then back up to the B3358 where, after a while, there was a farm track north over Challacombe Common, eventually leading to Parracombe where the pub was, unfortunately, shut.

Over Trentishoe Down and then Holdstone Down, I found a perfect stop for the night overlooking the sea with Wales visible in the distance. I'd seen it from higher up on the path but it was a crawl through gorse to get to it. Well worth the effort. It wasn't going to rain so I pitched the tarp as a lean to, just pegged along one edge to the ground and the other edge over trekking poles and then guyed to the ground.

Next morning the sun was up early, as was I, joining the coast path to Combe Martin. I didn't really need to carry water as there were plenty of small streams to take water from and the Sawyer Mini was so easy to use (more on it in another posting). During the whole trip, I saw no other backpackers.