My Original Route Plan:
Thursday 12 May 2011:
Inverness – Mallaig
Friday 13 May 2011:
Inverie – Lochan nam Breac (18.7 km, 1278 m ascent)
Saturday 14 May 2011:
Lochan nam Breac – Bac an Leth-choin (13 km, 1693 m ascent)
Sunday 15 May 2011:
Bac an Leth-choin – Bealach Carn na h-Urchaire (24.7 km, 1390 m ascent)
Monday 16 May 2011:
Bealach Carn na h-Urchaire – South Laggan (18.1 km, 845 m ascent)
Tuesday 17 May 2011:
South Laggan – Melgarve (26.1 km, 1068 m ascent)
Wednesday 18 May 2011:
Melgarve – Newtonmore (33.5 km, 473 m ascent)
Thursday 19 May 2011:
Newtonmore – Ruigh-aiteachain (21.3 km, 365 m ascent)
Friday 20 May 2011:
Ruigh-aiteachain – Mar Lodge (30.6 km, 636 m ascent)
Saturday 21 May 2011:
Mar Lodge – Braemar (7.92 km, 193 m ascent, rest day)
Sunday 22 May 2011:
Braemar – Clova (28.7 km, 870 m ascent)
Monday 23 May 2011:
Clova – Tarfside (21.3 km, 932 m ascent)
Tuesday 24 May 2011:
Tarfside – North Water Bridge (26.4 km, 295 m ascent)
Wednesday 25 May 2011:
North Water Bridge – St. Cyrus (13.7 km, 175 m ascent)
Thursday 26 May 2011:
Friday 27 May 2011:
Montrose – Inverness
Total: 284 km, 10,213 m ascent
Actual: 292.7 km, 8,156 m ascent
Due to the weather conditions, I had to make some changes to my original route. On some of the days, I used my FWA (Foul Weather Alternative), or decided spontaneously to walk a lower route than I had originally planned. That explains the difference in ascent, but the overall distance stayed almost the same.
Clicking on a date will take you to the report of that particular day, although that does not always correspond with the location given in the above plan.
Inverness – Mallaig
After a half shift at work I rushed home, had a quick shower, changed into my walking clothes and grabbed my rucksack to walk to the bus station. Before I left, I weighed myself with and without the rucksack – ooops, it weighed almost 16 kgs! I had hoped to keep its weight below 15 kgs, but because of my slighty thoughtless route planning I had to carry food for the first six days, minus one dinner. In Newtonmore I would have the first opportunity to shop for supplies, and I had also sent a food parcel to the Glen Hotel where I would be staying that night.
The bus to Fort William was running late because the driver had to stop at several swing bridges across the Caledonian Canal to let boats pass. Instead of one hour between buses which I had planned to spend at Cobbs at Nevisport, I only had time for a quick coffee at Morrison’s.
During the journey onwards from Fort William to Mallaig, the weather began to deteriorate. The trees were shaking wildly, and the rain was lashing against the bus windows – not a good sign for the days to come! Fortunately, the bus driver dropped me off directly outside the Springbank B & B.
After filling in the breakfast menu sheet for the next morning, I went for a little walk around Mallaig. In the meantime the rain had stopped, but it was still very windy.
Then I went to the West Highland Hotel hoping to find some fellow Challengers, and in the bar I met Adrian, Humphrey, David (Skippy) and a few others whose names I can’t remember… Shortly after 22:00 I left for an early(ish) night at my B & B.
Inverie – Lochan nam Breac
18.7 km/1278 m/09:30 hrs
After a great breakfast at the B & B, where I met Adrian again who was staying there as well, I went back to the West Highland Hotel to sign out. Next was a quick visit to the pharmacy to buy some more zinc oxide tape – just in case, then I made my way to the Knoydart Steps down by the pier where a large group of Challengers (and some other passengers, mainly cyclists) had gathered already. I bought a one way ticket for £ 11 and secured a forward facing seat inside the cabin of the Knoydart Ferry, because I easily become sea sick…
Aboard the ferry.
The weather didn’t look too inviting at this point, so it’s easy to see why some (or most?) Challengers took shelter in the warm and cosy pub The Old Forge.
Although I was very tempted to do the same, I knew I had a long day ahead of me and should really get going. But first I had to go to the beach…
… to dip my feet in the sea (I couldn’t find a suitable place to do so in Mallaig, but Inverie still counts as “West Coast”, I hope) and to collect a pebble that I would carry all the way to the East Coast.
In the meantime, a few blue patches had appeared in the sky and it looked as if it might become a nice day after all.
From Inverie, I walked along the track leading up Gleann an Dubh-Lochain, various small groups of Challengers ahead and coming up behind me.
Looking back to the Monument – at this point some Challengers left the track to cross the Inverie River and pick up another path leading into Gleann Meadail.
For a while, I walked with Dave and Pete who were heading over the pass down to Barisdale.
My first destination, Luinne Bheinn, on the right hand side.
View back to Loch an Dubh-Lochain.
On top of Mam Barrisdale.
By now, the wind had picked up, but the summit of Luinne Bheinn was still clear, so I decided to take the route I had originally planned. Instead of descending almost all the way down to Barisdale and then climbing back up Gleann Unndalain, which would have been my FWA, I was going to climb over Luinne Bheinn and descend its East ridge.
After some searching, I found the steep path leading up to the 569 m top.
From this point on, it was extremely windy and I had to stop to put on gloves and my Primaloft jacket. In a little dip sheltered from the wind I also had something to eat, but as it was 15:00 already, I didn’t want to waste time with a long break.
By now, the wind was so strong that I was struggling to stand upright, but the summit was still clear…
Looking down to Barisdale – dark clouds moving in from the sea.
The last steep bit before the summit.
By now, the dark clouds looked quite threatening, and I tried to get to the summit as quickly as I could.
But – I was a little bit too slow…
For the next hour or so, I was walking in clouds. I only caught occasional glimpses of my surroundings when they cleared for a few seconds. After walking along to the 937 m top, I descended via the East ridge.
Druim Chòsaidh Ridge.
On the way down, I came across some rather unpleasant scrambling sections (at least with a big pack), but I negotiated them by throwing down my trekking poles and then bumsliding down the rocks…
Looking back towards the summit.
Down to Loch Quoich.
When I finally reached the path leading to Lochan nam Breac, it started to rain, which later turned into a heavy downpour.
Ben Aden in the rain.
There was just one little problem – the Allt Lochan na Cruadhach had to be crossed. I had hoped for stepping stones near the outflow of the loch, but no such luck. As my boots were wet anyway, I just took off my gaiters, rolled up my trousers (looking back, I can’t recall why I bothered!) and waded through the knee-deep river. On the other side I managed to step into deep mud while trying to cross a little tributary stream, and was struggling to pull my foot out again, but by now I was beyond caring if my clothes/shoes were wet or dirty.
On the other side of the river, I wandered about for a while trying to find a place to pitch my tent, but the ground was waterlogged. In the end I settled for what seemed to be the only “dry” patch of grass, near the edge of the water. After I had taken my rucksack off, the rain was lashing at my back while I tried to pitch the tent as quickly as possible. As I was still wearing the Primaloft jacket underneath the Paramo Quito, it got absolutely soaked as well.
It was about 21:00 when I finally got into my tent, trying to assess my situation. I had been looking forward to camping in this location for so long, and now I was lying in my tent, thinking of all the other Challengers who were spending the first night in or near one of the bothies, Sourlies or Barisdale, wishing I could be there now because I was desperate for some company.
It was windy and kept raining during the night, and I was even thinking of finding an escape route the next morning and dropping out of the event. The problem was that most of my clothes were wet (both jackets, as well as trousers, socks, boots, gloves including liners), and I would have to put those wet clothes back on in the morning to keep one set of clothes dry for sleeping in them. But if it kept on raining constantly, accompanied by strong winds like today, who knows, I might even end up at the brink of hypothermia? With these worrying thoughts going through my mind, I finally managed to fall asleep. Not a good start to the Challenge!
Lochan nam Breac – Kinbreak Bothy
13.6 km/776 m/07:00 hrs
While I was having breakfast, the rain actually stopped and the sun came out, but by the time I had finished and packed up, the rain had started again. Would have been nice to pack away a dry tent!
Waterfall on the Allt Coire na Cruaiche.
The weather seemed to change every few minutes: Sunny spells (yes!), interrupted by short rain showers, produced interesting colour and light effects.
The dark thoughts I had the night before were quickly forgotten.
The sunny spells became longer, and my clothes had almost dried.
When I reached Loch Quoich, I had to ford the Allt Coire nan Gall which is flowing in a deep gorge. A couple of hundred metres from the outflow I found a suitable place for crossing, but the water was still thigh-deep.
I had already decided against my original plan of climbing Sgùrr Mòr and Sgùrr an Fhuarain and camping on the bealach Bac an Leth-choin, instead I wanted to stay at Kinbreak bothy. To get down into Glen Kingie, I had thought about ascending the Druim Buidhe ridge, walking over An Eag and picking up the path that zigzags down into the glen.
But when the clouds cleared for a few moments, the continuation from Druim Buidhe towards Sgùrr nan Coireachan looked very rocky, and after yesterday’s descent from Luinne Bheinn I did not really fancy another scrambling episode. Consulting the map to find an easier route, I decided to walk along the South shore of the loch, cross the next river and follow the path that leads directly to the traversing point of the ridge.
Dam at the West end of Loch Quoich.
Looking East along the loch.
The Allt a’ Choire Rèidh was even wilder than the previous river, but I managed to get across safely at one of the wider, calmer sections higher upstream.
Looking down into Glen Kingie.
On the other side, I found the good path that zigzags down the steep slopes.
On the way down, Mole, another Challenger who I had seen on the An Eag ridge earlier on, caught up with me. We walked along Glen Kingie together for a while, but then he headed on towards A’ Mhaingir, where he planned to camp.
Still a looong way to the bothy!
Approaching the bothy, the sun came out again, and by now my clothes were completely dry (apart from socks and boots). Because of the nice weather, I thought of changing my plans and camping on the North bank of the River Kingie. That would have saved me a river crossing today and another one the next morning…
But while I was looking for a good campsite, it started raining heavily! Within minutes, I was completely wet again. And so the decision was made: I would stay in the bothy, hoping to be able to dry out a bit overnight. After the third river crossing of the day (only knee-deep this time), I reached Kinbreak bothy, where I met Alan who had arrived about half an hour earlier.
Within the next few hours, more and more Challengers turned up (Jennifer and her dad John, Terry and Jane, Geoff, Sean and Ian, Humphrey and some others), in the end there were eight of us staying inside and some tents pitched outside the bothy.
Although we had a fire going, it wasn’t very efficient (at least I was freezing because I was sitting there in my longjohns as my other pair of trousers were wet!) and soon I retired to my warm sleeping bag to read a bit, eat biscuits and drink hot chocolate 🙂
Kinbreak Bothy – Allt Ladaidh
30.3 km/762 m/09:00 hrs
After a surprisingly good night’s sleep (no snorers!), I woke up when the first of my bothy companions got up at 06:00. I tried to get back to sleep, but eventually got up an hour later and had breakfast in bed while everyone else got ready.
Talking about our plans for the day, Terry mentioned that he and Jane had changed their minds because of the bad weather and were going to walk to South Laggan via Invergarry, in opposite to their original plan which had been to walk over the hills in a SE direction. That would have been my route for the day as well (with a high camp on Bealach Carn na h-Urchaire), but their FWA sounded very sensible, so I decided to follow their example.
Only after they (and everyone else) had left, I had a close look at my maps and realised that I had left the upper half of Landranger map no. 34 (the one with Invergarry on it) at home – to save weight! Ooops. I knew that my intended route would follow forest tracks in an Easterly direction, but as I have a tendency to lose my way in forests, I didn’t think it would be a good idea to attempt this without a map. But if I made a detour to the Tomdoun Hotel… a hotel in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by a lot of popular Munros, Corbetts and other hills – surely they would have OS maps for sale?
I finally left the bothy at 10:00, walked down to the River Kingie in Crocs and forded it without problems, the water being no more than knee-deep. On the other side, I changed into my boots and walked along the indistinct path which eventually joins the wide track I had arrived on the night before.
I had planned to traverse Gairich, but with the low cloud and constant drizzle I didn’t see much point in that, so I continued along Glen Kingie.
When the path entered the forest, the walk became a little boring, trudging along seemingly endless forestry tracks. The most interesting feature was this ruined house in a nice location on the banks of Lochan nan Sgùd.
Shortly before a substantial bridge over the River Kingie, Adrian who had just climbed Gairich (in spite of the clag!), caught up with me. Unfortunately he didn’t have a map of Invergarry either (if he had, I could have drawn a quick sketch map of it with the grid references of some important waymarks), so I still had to make the detour along the road to Tomdoun.
River Kingie from the bridge.
As he was walking a lot faster than me, he soon disappeared into the distance. When I reached another large wooden bridge which looked very new, I stopped to have a closer look at the map and to find out exactly where I was. At this moment a couple with a dog appeared, it turned out they were staying in a holiday cottage at Poulary, so I just joined them on their way “home”. They even allowed me to take a shortcut through their garden and offered me a lift to the pub, which I had to decline, unfortunately!
Half an hour later, I arrived at the Tomdoun Hotel where a large crowd of Challengers had gathered already. Outside I met Dave and Pete who I had last seen near Mam Barrisdale, inside I saw (besides many others) Alan, Jennifer and John from Kinbreak bothy. I was very tempted to dump my bag and have a drink or two, but I still had a long way to go and it was already 16:30.
So I asked the man behind the bar (the owner, I suppose) if he sold OS maps of the area. No, he didn’t. What about a copier then (I could have copied someone else’s map)? He didn’t have a copier either. Aaargh… it looked as if I would have to walk all the way along the road to Invergarry!
But all of a sudden he came up with a suggestion: I could borrow his own map as long as I promised to hand it in at the garage in Invergarry the next day, for him to collect on his next visit there. I happily agreed to that, and after giving me the wrong map at first (and finding it very amusing that I couldn’t locate the Tomdoun Hotel on it – not surprising as it was a map of Knoydart), he handed me the correct Landranger map no. 34. After saying my Goodbyes to all the happy people in the bar, I made my way along the road to the next bridge at Torr na Carraidh, where I crossed to the South side of Loch Garry again.
Loch Garry, still looking a bit dull.
Some Challengers had suggested that there was a good place for a wild camp near the farm at Greenfield, but I couldn’t see any suitable pitches, so I walked on. What worried me a bit was a sign warning of Highland Cattle! The fresh cowpats on the track didn’t really help (how could I have camped in an area “infested” with cows??), so I kept a close eye on my surroundings, but I only saw one Highland cow, far away between the trees. After passing several cattle grids, I began to feel safe and started looking for a camp site.
When I arrived at the bridge across the Allt Ladaidh, I saw someone down by the river, shouting and waving at me. I recognised Terry who was camping with Jane outside an open wooden hut a few metres further along the track. The hut must be quite old, as some of the inscriptions carved into the walls date from the 1800’s.
I was somehow relieved to meet fellow Challengers, and decided to stay there as well. It turned out that Geoff, Sean and Ian were also camping near the hut, but I couldn’t find a flat bit of ground nearby, so I walked a hundred metres further and pitched my tent in a kind of passing place beside the forest road. Then I went back to the hut for a bit of socialising with Terry, Jane and Geoff 🙂
There was an impressive choice of food and drinks on offer, but unfortunately I had to decline the whisky and port (I don’t drink whisky anyway, and I had not eaten much that day)! Although I really enjoyed the company and would have liked to stay longer, I returned to my tent and went to bed soon after. Somehow everything felt sore (my shoulders, my back and my left ankle), I suppose mainly because of the road walking and the hard-surfaced forestry tracks.
Allt Ladaidh – South Laggan
20 km/384 m/06:00 hrs
In the morning all of my fellow campers walked past my tent, wishing me a “Good Morning” while I was having breakfast. A short time later, while I was packing up my tent, the large group of Challengers who had been staying at Tomdoun (most of them camping by the hotel), walked past as well. They must have had an early start! (Or was it just me being late as usual?)
The walk along the forest roads to Invergarry was uneventful…
But after crossing the White Bridge, I noticed a signpost indicating a Riverside Walk to Invergarry, which I followed. This turned out to be a very scenic walk, much nicer than the forestry tracks.
Footbridge across the River Garry.
Near the Invergarry Hotel I met Geoff, Sean and Ian, who were on their way to the bar. I would have loved to join them, but I know (from experience…) that a drink in the middle of a walk doesn’t do much for my motivation to walk any further! So I headed to the garage instead, and handed in the map the owner of the Tomdoun Hotel had lent me. I also bought some crisps, Jelly Babies and a bottle of Bitter Lemon for the long road walk ahead.
First I followed the A 82, which was very busy and even a bit dangerous at times. Shortly after the Well of the Seven Heads Store, I came to a junction with a single track road, signposted “The Great Glen Way”. I was glad to get away from the heavy traffic and followed this much quieter road.
About half a mile before Kilfinnan, I left the road to walk across the Laggan Locks.
As I was planning to have dinner at the “Floating Pub”, I went in to make a reservation. The food has to be ordered in advance (before 16:00, I think), so I was lucky to have arrived in time – I didn’t know about this particular rule. The menu consists of a good variety of meals, with a focus on seafood. I settled for the Haggis and booked a table for 18:30.
The last mile to the hostel I was struggling, because my left ankle was very painful again, and I felt I had developed a blister on my right foot (I never get blisters in my Roclites – normally…). I checked into the Great Glen Hostel and discovered I had a 6-bed room to myself. After a long hot shower, I washed some of my clothes and put them in the dryer downstairs. Then I made my first phone call to Challenge Control, letting them know that everything was ok and I was on schedule in spite of some changes to my route.
After using the free internet access in my room to check my emails, it was time to head back to the pub.
With a bottle of Magners, I made myself comfortable in the “lounge” opposite the bar (nice soft leather sofas and armchairs!), chatting to some other guests who were on a kayak trip along the Caledonian Canal. When my meal was ready, I was called to the table, which I shared with six Americans who were also travelling by yacht.
As I said before, I don’t drink whisky, but the “wee dram” in the photo was an essential part of the meal – and of course it wasn’t going to be wasted 😉
After the Haggis (and a dessert) I had some more cider in the lounge area, and some interesting conversations with other walkers and the owners of the pub, who had not heard of the TGO Challenge before. Later we were joined by Biagio and Piero, who I had spoken to briefly earlier in the hostel.
When I got back to my room, I found I had two new roommates, two girls who used the internet to book accommodation/trains, so I went straight to bed and fell asleep almost immediately.
South Laggan – Melgarve
26.1 km/1068 m/08:00 hrs
From the hostel reception I had got a sketch map of the forest tracks zigzagging up the hillside on the other side of the road, with the best way up marked in red. This turned out to be quite useful, as I managed to find my way through the forest without getting lost!
Looking back to South Laggan, Sean Mheall and Ben Tee.
This was the nicest day since the start of the Challenge, and it was so warm that I actually started walking wearing a T-Shirt, without a jacket on top. But when the path left the sheltered forest and traversed the open hillside into Coire an t-Sìdhein, the sudden wind chill made me put my jacket on very quickly.
When I reached the top of the corrie and the wide plateau above it, I was confronted with this deer fence. There was no stile or gate in sight (I wonder why, as this must be a popular crossing point to get down to Glen Turret), so I had to climb it which was a bit awkward, with the big rucksack pulling me out of balance.
But I managed ok, and all I had to do now was find my way down the other side. This involved crossing some of my “favourite” terrain…
I tried to follow the Allt Teanga Bige, because the going along its grassy banks was a lot easier.
When the banks became too steep and the stream disappeared into a gorge, I changed to the right hand side and descended the Eastern slopes of Meall a’ Chòmhlain.
Waterfall on the Allt Teanga Bige.
When I arrived at the bottom of the glen, I crossed the River Turret on this dodgy looking bridge.
Shortly after the bridge, I came across a good Landrover Track leading first to Turret Bridge and then along the River Roy.
Parallel roads on the slopes of Carn Dearg.
There are plenty of potential good wildcamp sites along the river.
Another Carn Dearg, this time on the South side of the River Roy.
Approaching Luib-chonnal Bothy, I saw three walkers just leaving. They waited for me and it turned out they were Biagio, Piero and Jeremy. After I had a quick look around the bothy, we walked together for the rest of the day.
The bothy is luxuriously furnished with several armchairs!
In the meantime, the weather had deteriorated, and threatening clouds darkened the glen, interrupted by short sunny spells.
Looking back to Luib-chonnal Bothy.
After Luib-chonnal – where the Landrover Track had ended – the “path” had been a boggy mess, but after Shesgnan, apparently a private residence (locked, but with a car parked behind), the track improved again.
Shortly before we reached Melgarve, the on-and-off drizzle of the last hour or so, turned into heavy rain. I had hoped to walk a bit further, maybe to Garva Bridge, to shorten the next day’s stage which was the longest on my route with 33.5 kms.
But looking at the weather, I decided to stay in the bothy with the others. We made ourselves comfortable (yet another bothy with two sofas provided!) and Jeremy soon had a good fire going. We tried to dry our wet rain clothes and boots by spreading them around the fireplace, but they (at least mine) were still wet the next morning.
Melgarve – Newtonmore
30.2 km/397 m/08:00 hrs
I left Melgarve at 09:00 and walked along the road to Garva Bridge. Biagio and Piero had left earlier, but Jeremy was still in the bothy and had a leisurely breakfast.
River Spey and the hills of Glenshirra Forest.
Shortly after Garvamore, I saw some cattle on the road. I looked around and saw Jeremy in the distance, maybe half an hour behind. Too far away, so I just walked past the cows very quickly, carefully avoiding any eye contact! Luckily, they were not blocking my way, but I was still very relieved when I was past them and around the next bend.
Soon after, Jeremy caught up with me and joined me on the long walk to Newtonmore.
View to Loch Crunachdan and Glen Shirra.
The weather had been very nice until now, windy but sunny and dry. Just before we reached Laggan, it started to rain heavily. At Laggan Stores, we found Biagio and Piero sitting at the table outside the shop, just getting ready to leave. We took their places under the little canopy and had an extended lunch break with soup and hot drinks from the shop.
I had planned to leave the main road at Cluny Castle and walk to Newtonmore via Glen Banchor. But my left ankle hurt so much (the road walking didn’t help!) that I just wanted to get to Newtonmore as quickly as possible. Although that meant even more road walking, it was shorter and probably saved me about an hour.
When we finally arrived in Newtonmore, I checked into the Glen Hotel while Jeremy headed along the High Street to his B & B. After I had received my food parcel, I went to my room to have a shower and get changed, then I went downstairs to the pub for a bar meal. Unfortunately I hadn’t reserved a table, and the pub was very busy, so I expected a long wait until I would get something to eat.
But sitting at a table in the corner I saw Jeremy, waving to me, and so I joined him, Graeme and Jessie at their table. While I was having a very nice three-course meal, more and more Challengers arrived in the bar. It turned out that seven of them who were camping in Dalwhinnie had shared a taxi to Newtonmore, because the Dalwhinnie Hotel is closed and there is no other pub nearby. Others were staying at different places in Newtonmore, and altogether there was a crowd of probably 20 Challengers in the pub. After a great evening with good company and interesting conversations I went to my room at about 22:30 and straight to bed.
Newtonmore – Ruighe nan Leum
27.9 km/646 m/07:30 hrs
I went downstairs for breakfast at 07:30 and although it was very nice, I was struggling with the amount of food on my plate. Then I went round to the boiler room at the back of the hotel to retrieve my boots – the friendly waiter had offered to put them in there when I had asked about a drying room the evening before. They were actually dry – for the first time in about a week!
Finally I unpacked and re-packed my food parcel. I had found that I didn’t really need my mobile and camera battery chargers, so I sent them back home together with some food (I had eaten a lot less than I had calculated for the first six days), the maps that I didn’t need any more and some other bits and pieces. I didn’t have any sellotape to seal the box, so I used some duck tape which I cut in narrow strips with the tiny scissors from my first aid kit.
As my left ankle was still troubling me, I followed Caburn’s advice – I had mentioned my problem to him the night before and he had suggested to try and walk in Crocs instead of boots, especially on long stretches of road. I finally left the hotel at 10:00, bought some more Ibuprofen at the Coop, went to the post office to post my parcel and withdrew some cash (the next opportunity would be in Braemar but I had been warned that the ATM there tends to run out of cash when the Challengers descend on the town!).
On the cycle path to Kingussie I met Jeremy again, but our ways parted when we arrived there, because he was having a rest day in the village while I headed towards the ruins of Ruthven Barracks.
Looking back to Ruthven.
From Ruthven I walked along the road to Tromie Bridge.
Near Baileguish I met several small groups of Challengers who were taking a break beside the river and the first group invited me to join them, but although I would have enjoyed a little chat I didn’t really feel like taking a break so early in the day.
I followed the forest tracks to Glen Feshie and crossed the footbridge near Achleum farm.
Glen Feshie and the footbridge.
It was only just before 16:00 when I arrived at Ruigh-aiteachain Bothy, where quite a few tents were pitched already. Although the prospect of an evening around the bothy fire with a crowd of Challengers was very tempting, I felt it was too early to stop for the night and I wanted to get some more kilometres done. After speaking briefly to Alan, who mentioned a good camp site “by the last big tree” in the glen where I would probably meet some other Challengers, I made my way further into Upper Glen Feshie.
Looking across the river to Slochd Mòr, and the Landrover track I used on my trip to Glen Tromie in April .
The path leading across a landslide.
Scots pines below Creag na Gaibhre.
Although I did see some good camp spots beside the path, I was still looking out for the one by that “last tree”, but somehow there was always another tree further up the glen!
I was still wearing my Crocs in combination with Sealskinz socks, because walking in them felt really good and I didn’t see a reason to change back into my boots. This was quite handy when I came to a bend in the river where the path seemed to have disappeared in the course of a landslide, and I had to cross the river twice within a few minutes. I just took my socks off and rolled up my trousers to wade through, and even afterwards I kept walking without socks for quite a while.
I was surprised how comfortable the Crocs were, even without socks I wasn’t feeling cold and it didn’t feel as if I would get any blisters in them. Only when the wide track changed to a narrow path through the heather, I put my socks back on and tucked my trousers in – because I was worried about ticks…
Shortly afterwards, the path descended to a stream crossing beside a gorge, and looking down, I saw a little camp site by the stream, already populated with seven green tents! By now it was 18:30 and time to call it a day, so I asked if I could join the club 😉 and pitched my tent as well.
Just when I had finished, it started to rain and everyone retreated to their tents very quickly. So, instead of socialising, I just had my dinner, some biscuits and a hot chocolate, and went to bed soon after.
Ruighe nan Leum – Mar Lodge
24 km/329 m/07:00 hrs
I woke up at about 06:00, first to the sound of rain, which then turned into hail and even snow some time later! It felt quite cold as well and so I decided to stay in bed a little bit longer. When it eventually stopped snowing, I opened the tent door and found that everyone else had already gone, all that was left were tiny mounds of snow and hailstones around where their tents had been standing.
But on the other side of the path I saw Margaret and David, who were using a large rock as their breakfast table – they had been camping further down the glen together with others, and didn’t want to wake them up with the noise of their stove!
At about 10:00 I was ready to go, again wearing Crocs, with my trouser legs tucked into the Sealskinz socks (because it felt somehow inappropriate to wear gaiters with Crocs…).
There was still some fresh snow on the Munros on the other side of the river, but it was melting away quickly in the sun.
After three kilometres I arrived at the bridge across the River Eidart.
Past the bridge, the path follows the Geldie Burn. The weather was very changeable, long spells of sunshine (but with a very cold wind), interrupted by rain and hail showers.
Geldie Lodge on the other side of the river.
Up to this point the path had been very boggy in places, and although the Crocs are extremely comfortable to walk in, their soles have no grip whatsoever. A few times I slipped, but my trekking poles saved me from falling into the mud. I was quite happy when the path turned into a dry Landrover track.
To get out of the freezing cold wind for a few minutes, I stopped for a short break in the “dangerous building” near the confluence of Geldie Burn and Bynack Burn. There I met Margaret and David again, as well as Doug and Richard (doing the Challenge wearing kilts), who all seemed to have had the same idea. A few minutes later we were joined by Ian, who I had last seen in Mallaig when the two of us were probably the last Challengers to sign out on Day One! Soon afterwards I left the others and was on my way to Mar Lodge.
Apart from the wind, the weather was really nice by now, and it was easy going along the track, where Ian caught up with me a short while later.
When we arrived at the Linn of Dee, Ian kept walking towards Mar Lodge, while I was planning to have a break at the car park, expecting something like picnic tables at such a popular spot. But no such luck, so I just had a quick snack, sitting on a boulder in the middle of the car park…
After that it was almost another hour of road walking and my ankle was very sore again. What a relief to see this sign:
By the time I finally arrived at Mar Lodge, every step was painful. There were no signs indicating the entrance, and all the doors I tried were locked. After walking around the whole front of the building (and beginning to doubt that I was in the right place), I saw Ian coming up behind me, who had just enjoyed tea and biscuits in the kitchen. He pointed me in the right direction, and eventually I found the entrance at the back of the building.
Several months ago I had only booked accommodation at Mar Lodge, but now I decided to have dinner as well (which seemed a very good deal at £ 13 for a three-course meal). I was expecting to share my twin room with someone else, but my roommate never turned up, so I had the room to myself.
After I had a shower and got changed, I went downstairs and asked one of the girls working there about the “Stag Ballroom”. Two of them had to go there anyway to get a few extra tables for tonight’s dinner, so they kindly let me come along to have a look at the room and take some photos.
We were a group of about 30 Challengers staying at Mar Lodge that night, and some of us spent the time waiting for dinner in a room with a large fireplace just behind the kitchen, which used to be the bar in former times.
At dinner time we moved to the large dining room, where we had a nice meal consisting of Scotch Broth, a choice of Stovies or Shepherd’s Pie, followed by Trifle, and tea or coffee afterwards. Then it was back to the “bar” with the fire, the only thing missing were the drinks! But that problem was solved when one of the waitresses offered to drive to Braemar and took orders for drinks 🙂
Soon after, I got my two cans of Strongbow and spent the rest of the evening chatting to other Challengers, finally going to bed around midnight.
Mar Lodge – Braemar
7.92 km/193 m/02:00 hrs (Rest Day)
Almost everyone seemed to have booked breakfast as well, but I had not, so I made my own breakfast in the kitchen and joined the others at the large table in the dining room. After packing up, I left Mar Lodge at 09:30 for another long road walk into Braemar.
Victoria Bridge near Mar Lodge.
Dee Valley, looking back to Mar Lodge.
When I arrived in Braemar around lunchtime, there were Challengers everywhere, among them many familiar faces. I was particularly pleased to see Emma, whom I had first met on a Winter Skills Course at Glenmore Lodge in January 2010. She was staying in a B & B in town, while I was planning to camp, but it was very likely that we would meet later in the pub. After buying some biscuits and soft drinks at the Coop, I made my way to the campsite.
The facilities at the campsite were very good, but there seemed to be a very strict system in place, about how the tents were supposed to be pitched. The pitches were numbered and although there was a lot of space in between them, that space had to be kept clear. After a pitch had been chosen, a numbered card had to be collected from reception and then attached to the tent. Later that day, after more and more Challengers had arrived, this system was quickly abandoned, and there were tents pretty much everywhere…
After a hot shower and changing into some warmer clothes – it was extremely windy again – I walked back into town. First I visited Braemar Mountain Sports with the intention to buy some new footwear, probably trail shoes because I thought my ankle problem might be caused by wearing boots. After explaining my problem, I was advised that the reason was likely to be my lightweight shoes and that I should actually try wearing heavier, sturdier boots which would provide my ankles with more support! That is exactly what I wanted to avoid, because after changing to lightweight boots or shoes (different models of Inov8 Roclite’s) several years ago I find heavy boots extremely uncomfortable and I just cannot imagine going back to wearing them again.
As a sort of compromise, I ended up buying a pair of pink Superfeet Insoles – exactly the same ones I have got at home, but I had stopped wearing them because of claims that they could cause Goretex boots/shoes to leak by damaging the waterproof membrane. But that didn’t matter now, as my boots had been leaking for a long time anyway.
After that, I had a large portion of Haddock & Chips at the Hungry Highlander just opposite the shop. In fact, the portion was so huge that it wasn’t served on a plate, but on a plastic tray! My next destination was the Fife Arms, which was very busy but most of the guests were watching football on a big TV screen, and I didn’t see anyone I knew. After my first pint of cider I walked up to the Moorfield Hotel to see what was happening there, but it seemed almost deserted with only six or seven people in the bar, and I decided to go back to the Fife. In the meantime, the football had finished and people had become a bit more talkative 😉
Later Terry, Jane, Alan and many more Challengers I had met previously, arrived and we had a really nice evening in the pub. I also met Emily and her mum Jackie who were part of the only three-generation team on this year’s Challenge, walking with Jackie’s parents who are in their 80’s. After 22:00 most Challengers had gone to the Moorfield Hotel to see the Bingo Wings play, but I was feeling a bit tired and went back to the campsite for an early night.
Braemar – Clova
31.4 km/981 m/09:00 hrs
I left the campsite at 09:15 and followed the A 93 to Auchallater. It was raining heavily all the way down the road, but the rain stopped when I left the main road to walk up the track into Glen Callater.
I had planned to walk past Loch Callater, then up Jock’s Road across the plateau and down into Glen Doll and Glen Clova. But other Challengers had recommended to use the much better path leading up the hill just before Lochcallater Lodge instead. As I had walked the path along the loch before (when I had climbed the four Munros to the South and West of Loch Callater from there) and knew that it petered out somewhere at the head of the glen, I decided to give that other path a try.
Just before I got to Lochcallater Lodge, I saw this sign:
Although I was tempted to visit the Lodge, I was already running late and decided against it.
The path leading up the hillside was a very good path indeed and it made for easy going.
Lochcallater Lodge in the sunshine.
Glen Callater and the East end of the loch.
Higher up, it was very windy and the sunshine was interrupted by some heavy showers.
When I got to the point SE of Carn an t-Sagairt Mòr where I had to leave the path, I stopped to figure out which way to go – I was planning to head for the 1000 m top called Fafernie and locate the path to Crow Craigies and eventually to Glen Doll from there.
But while I was trying to get a compass bearing in the right direction, I noticed a group of four Challengers coming up behind me.
They were Maria and Stuart, Chris and Emma (who I had not met in the pub in Braemar after all, because she had had an early night in her B & B). Three of them were heading to Shielin of Mark Bothy, whereas Chris was also on his way to Glen Clova, but on a different route than me. After a brief discussion of our plans, I decided to join them on part of their route which was supposed to be easier and shorter than mine.
In strong winds and some heavy rain and sleet showers we struggled past Cairn Bannoch and towards Broad Cairn. Although we practically went over the top of Broad Cairn, I deliberately avoided the summit because I want to climb that Munro sometime as part of the “White Mounth Munros”, bagging the five Munros around Loch Muick with a wild camp somewhere on the plateau (I have done Lochnagar before but got into a hailstorm on the summit and didn’t get any views, so I don’t mind climbing that one again!).
Descending Broad Cairn.
Just before the hut between Broad Cairn and Sandy Hillock our ways parted, the rest of the group took a break by the hut and I made my way down the path towards the River South Esk.
Looking towards the glen leading into Glen Clova.
Soon Chris caught up with me, but as he was walking a lot faster than me, I quickly lost sight of him. When I got to the bridge across the River South Esk, I stopped for a short break sheltered by some trees.
A short distance further, I noticed Caburn coming down the path behind me, he had walked over several Munros that day and was also on his way to Clova, so we walked the rest of the way together.
Footbridge in Glen Clova.
Caburn had been hoping that the visitor centre at the Glen Doll car park might serve tea and cakes, but even if they did (they did not), the centre would have been closed by now anyway, as it was already after 17:00 on a Sunday. So he decided to have a break at the car park, while I walked on towards the Clova Hotel.
After another long stretch of road walking, I was extremely happy to see this sign:
Looking back into Upper Glen Clova.
It was 18:30 when I finally arrived at the hotel, where I had booked a bed in a four-bed dorm in the bunkhouse. After I checked in and got a key, the receptionist walked away to speak to someone else who then took the key off me again and gave me another one. She explained to me that I could stay in the staff accommodation at the back of the bunkhouse, and that I could choose one of the rooms as I would have the whole flat to myself. I was very surprised about this (it was a bunkhouse after all, and I had been prepared to share a room with others), but of course I had no objections!
The flat had two double rooms, one of which was ensuite, a single room, a fully equipped kitchen with lounge area and TV, and a bathroom with separate shower room. I made myself comfortable in the single room, had a quick shower and went over to the hotel, as I had been told when I checked in that bar meals were only being served until 19:30 (!).
In the cosy Climbers Bar I found Caburn (who was camping outside), and two other Challengers, Koos and Bill. I joined them at their table and ordered a menu of Breaded Brie and Cranberry Sauce, followed by Spinach and Garlic Mushroom Lasagne with Garlic Bread, Coleslaw and a Mixed Salad, and rounded off with Apple Crumble with Cream – one of the best meals I had in a long time 🙂
Soon after, we were joined by Gordon, who had walked from Spittal of Glenshee that day, and Alan. Apart from one or two Challengers who had booked rooms at the hotel, most of the others were staying at the bunkhouse, and it turned out they all had dorms (with several beds) to themselves.
After we had looked at the MWIS weather forecast supplied by the hotel, indicating wind speeds of up to 120 mph the next day, we had a discussion about what to do. My plan had been to walk over the hills to Glen Esk and Tarfside, but I realised that would not be possible in such conditions, and there didn’t seem to be any low level alternative apart from an extremely long road walk via Kirriemuir. So I decided to stay at Clova for a second night, that way I would lose one day, but I would still arrive in Montrose in time. Most of our group came to the same conclusion, and we all made arrangements with the hotel to book another night.
Later in the evening two Americans, Julie and David, arrived. First they were told that the bunkhouse was fully booked, and then I was asked (!) if I agreed to have them stay in the staff accommodation as well. So they each moved into one of the double rooms, and they actually decided to walk to Tarfside the next day, together with Caburn – in spite of the weather forecast!
0 km/0 m/00:00 hrs
When Caburn first turned up at the bunkhouse to collect Julie and David, he was wearing shorts, but we managed to persuade him that waterproofs would be more appropriate ;). After they had left, I walked over to the hotel to have breakfast with the others. The Full Scottish Breakfast for £ 8 was excellent and substantial, and we sat in the breakfast room for a while after we had finished, just chatting and enjoying the relaxed atmosphere. Gordon took a note of our names and Challenge numbers, and went to make a phone call to Challenge Control to let them know we were all staying at Clova for another day.
Back in the bunkhouse, I washed some clothes and arranged them on the radiators to dry. Later I tried to reduce the weight of my rucksack by eating some of my spare food – first Leek & Potato CupASoup, then Dolmio Pasta Spirals with Bolognese Sauce, followed by chocolate pudding. I was joined by Alan and Chris, who came around to watch the TV news while having their lunch.
After they had gone, I read a bit, had some chocolate biscuits, several mugs of tea and coffee, and generally just lazed around (which was nice for a change!). Stretched out on the comfy sofa, I could have easily fallen asleep… while outside the storm was raging.
In the evening, Alan came over and invited me to come along to the pub. And although it took some effort to haul myself off the couch, I am glad I did, because I enjoyed another nice evening in the pub in the company of fellow Challengers Alan, Bill, Gordon, Koos, Bart and Chris.
Clova – Tarfside
21.6 km/901 m/08:00 hrs
The weather was surprisingly nice and sunny the next morning, and I left the bunkhouse at 08:45 to get a bit of a headstart, as the rest of our group had agreed to start walking at 09:00.
A good path leads up the hill behind the hotel, and although I got caught in a sudden heavy rain shower, I enjoyed climbing towards Loch Brandy as the views were getting better and better as I was gaining height.
Soon Bart caught up with me, he was planning to walk over the tops, and was dashing up the hill at lightning speed! Alan, Chris and Bill followed shortly after, and soon disappeared into the distance as well. They also wanted to stay high today and walk to Tarfside via Burnt Hill and Cairn Caidloch.
“The Snub”, west of Loch Brandy.
Looking down to Loch Brandy from the path up Green Hill.
Having arrived on the plateau, I walked first with Koos, then with Gordon for a while, but as my walking pace was slower than theirs and I didn’t feel like rushing, I was soon on my own again.
Mount Keen in the distance.
The path so far had been marked by little cairns, but somewhere between Muckle Cairn and Wester Skuiley I lost the path in a large boggy area. Even worse, I seemed to have lost orientation completely, as I was trying to figure out exactly where I was and I found myself heading towards Glen Effock instead of the west end of Loch Lee.
I wasted a lot of time with walking in various directions on compass bearings, trying to locate the path again, and at one stage I wasn’t even sure into which glen I should descend! Looking back, I can’t believe why I had such problems as the visibility was excellent – it seems to me that the main issue was that I didn’t know my exact position, not having looked at the map regularly while I had been walking with the others earlier. While I was struggling with navigation in sunny, clear conditions I kept wondering how Julie, David and Caburn had coped with this kind of terrain in zero visibility the day before!
Eventually I just descended along the stream leading to Inchgrundle, on difficult ground covered in thigh-deep heather with deep holes hidden in between.
Waterfall on the way down.
I couldn’t believe my luck when I finally discovered a path on the other side of the stream, about 500 metres from the farm at Inchgrundle. Now the going was a lot easier, but at this stage I felt I really needed a break. I found a sheltered place under the trees, boiled some water and had a coffee and a soup.
Feeling a lot better after the break, I walked over to the other side of Glen Lee. It had been very windy on the plateau, but down in the glen the wind was even stronger and I was struggling to stay upright.
Loch Lee near Kirkton.
The ruin of Invermark Castle on the road to Tarfside.
Shortly after passing the castle, I left the main road and walked along the track past Westbank, and the Hill of Rowan with the Maule monument. I had managed to run out of water again, as I had not realised that there were no water sources on this last stage of today’s walk.
In Tarfside, I headed directly to St. Drostan’s Hostel, hoping to be able to buy some cold drinks. But only tea, coffee, beer and wine were available – I normally wouldn’t mind beer or wine, but as dehydrated as I felt, I didn’t think drinking alcohol would be a good idea.
I was just going to settle for a glass of tap water, when a Challenger who I had not met before, suddenly turned up and handed me a bottle of Irn Bru! 🙂 (I don’t know your name, but if you ever read this – thank you once again, I really appreciated your kind gesture and to me, it was one of the highlights of the Challenge!)
There was a moment of mild panic when I was told by one of the ladies at the hostel that Challenge Control had been looking for me the day before (when according to my original schedule I was supposed to phone in from Tarfside). After all, Gordon had phoned from Clova for all of us, so I had not bothered to make another phone call myself. But now I was worried about causing unnecessary concern, and also the possibility of getting into trouble for not following Challenge rules!
I made my way to the campsite, pitched my tent, put on a warm jacket and immediately felt a lot better. I found Gordon and told him about what I had heard at the hostel, and he assured me that he had also given my name and Challenge number when he had made the phone call the day before. I spoke to Challenge Control from the phone box at the car park and explained the situation, it must have been some communication problem, but everything seemed to be sorted now. Phew!
At 18:30 staff from The Retreat Folk Museum and Restaurant arrived at the car park to take orders for food and drinks. I ordered a Baked Potato with Coleslaw and a can of Tennent’s, and when the orders arrived 1.5 hours later, I had dinner in my tent. I didn’t really like the lager, and poured most of it away (…sorry, but I only drink cider).
Afterwards, my stomach felt somehow funny, but the portion had been quite small and I was still hungry. So I had some biscuits and a coffee, settled down in my sleeping bag and suddenly felt very tired. I had intended to visit the Mason’s Arms later, but I didn’t really feel like a drink and besides, I didn’t have the energy to get up and get dressed again, so I just fell asleep some time later.
Tarfside – North Water Bridge
26.2 km/318 m/07:00 hrs
In the morning my stomach still felt dodgy, but I managed to have two slices of Ryvita for breakfast with a cup of tea. I packed up my tent and started the long road walk to Edzell, feeling sick and having stomach cramps from time to time. When I passed The Retreat, being aware that this is a popular place for Challengers to have a nice big breakfast, I didn’t feel tempted at all…
It was raining on and off, I hate road walking at the best of times, and the way I felt didn’t help, so I just plodded along to get to Edzell as quickly as possible and didn’t even stop to take any photos, apart from this one:
I had read about the Blue Door Walk in previous Challenge reports, and when I saw the signpost for the “Rocks of Solitude”, I left the road and followed the path along the River North Esk.
Bench beside the path.
I felt very cold by now, it had been raining most of the time and it seemed a lot colder than in the morning. When I found a dry bench under the trees, I unpacked my rucksack to get to the drybag with my clothes, which was almost at the bottom of my pack. I changed my T-Shirt for a long-sleeved top and even put gloves on, then I tried to eat some chocolate but felt almost sick again. For a moment I even thought I would have to lie down to stop me from passing out.
After a few minutes I felt better and continued walking, slowly warming up again. I walked through the Blue Door and found myself on the main road, only two kilometres from Edzell.
At the roadworks just before Edzell, one of the roadmen asked me where I was going, and pointed out to me that the footbridge in Edzell was closed. He told me that a group of Challengers had gone back just before me to find another bridge further up the river. I couldn’t really face walking all the way back, but first I had to do some shopping in Edzell anyway, and I was hoping to find some way across the river once I got there.
In front of the Tuck Inn I saw several rucksacks leaning against the wall, and a constant flow of Challengers going in and out. This was another of the places I had wanted to visit, but I still couldn’t eat. In the Mace shop opposite I bought more Ibuprofen, an apple pastry, some fruit and a bottle of Lucozade. There was a discussion between some Challengers and the shop staff about the closed bridge – apparently some people had crossed it earlier without any problems, but at the moment there seemed to be workmen around who wouldn’t let anyone pass.
Outside the shop, I sat down with my bottle and tried to decide what to do now – did I really have to walk back to the last bridge? At this moment a Challenger came along and said the bridge was open! I quickly grabbed my rucksack and rushed there, together with some others. There was a sign saying “Bridge Unsafe” attached to a barrier blocking the way, but we could squeeze past and made it across safely (by the way, the bridge looked perfectly ok, at least compared to some of the really dodgy ones during the last two weeks!).
On the other side of the river, I decided to walk along the very long straight, busy road to North Water Bridge, instead of using the back roads which would have been more scenic and quiet, but would have also taken longer. After a short break near Edzell Woods, where I had “lunch” consisting of the pastry, two Ibuprofen and some Lucozade, I felt a little bit better. The depressing road walk seemed endless, but at 16:45 I arrived at the campsite.
I pitched my tent (unfortunately right beside the worst snorer ever!), had a quick shower and spent the rest of the evening in my tent, still feeling quite unwell. I couldn’t eat a proper dinner, and just had an apple and an orange instead. Later it started raining heavily, but that didn’t stop a group of Challengers from celebrating an impromptu birthday party outside, complete with cake and songs 🙂
North Water Bridge – Kinnaber Links – Montrose
14.8 km/123 m/03:00 hrs
No change the next morning, again I could only eat two plain slices of crispbread for breakfast. Although I really felt like staying in bed all day, I knew I had to pull myself together to get those last few miles done. By the time I packed up my tent, most of the others were long gone, as usual. But Colin and John, who had camped just beside me, were still around, and discussing their route for the day. When they asked me how I was, I explained that I had an upset stomach and wasn’t feeling well. They said they had changed their minds and would be walking to Kinnaber instead of St. Cyrus, as this route was a bit shorter and almost in a straight line to the East coast. “Shorter” sounded good to me, and so I decided to do the same!
After crossing the A 90, I followed the minor road to Hillside.
The weather was a bit dull (but dry!), and the only bright colour were the yellow rape fields typical for this area.
To be honest, I didn’t enjoy the walking on this last day, partly because of the scenery which I didn’t find very interesting (compared to the Highlands), partly because of the road walking, but mainly because I was so ill.
What cheered me up, was the friendliness of some of the locals I met on the way. Some drivers waved when they drove past me, and people doing some gardening or walking their dogs gave me encouraging calls of “Not far to go now!” or similar 🙂
All this, and the thoughts going through my head at this point, made me feel quite emotional, and I was glad to be walking on my own. When I got the first glimpse of the North Sea just before Hillside, I actually had tears in my eyes, because at this moment I knew I would make it, no matter what!
After walking through Hillside, it took me a while to find a way to the sea between the farms at Kinnaber. But eventually I arrived at the dunes.
I left my rucksack on top of the dunes, and made my way down to the beach, sliding and slipping as the embankment was quite steep.
Made it – my first TGO Challenge! 🙂
Throwing the pebble from Inverie into the sea was followed by dipping my feet. (I know that there is also a tradition of jumping into the sea, but this time I decided against it!)
Then I scrambled up the dunes to pick up my rucksack, and walked back to the A 92 and towards Montrose. After passing an Industrial Estate, I was glad to find a bus stop on the main road, and according to the timetable, the next bus was due in a few minutes. When the bus arrived, I bought a ticket to the last stop (the train station) because I thought I might as well collect my train ticket for the next morning and then ask for directions to the Park Hotel from there.
But at a bus stop in the High Street everyone else seemed to get off the bus, and some other Challengers told me the Park Hotel wasn’t far from there, so I joined them and decided to get my train ticket the next morning. Luckily, there was a branch of Boots just beside the bus stop, and I went in to buy something for my upset stomach. I got some pink liquid medicine which tasted horrible and didn’t really help although I took the first dose of it right outside the shop.
At the Park Hotel, many Challengers had gathered already, and I made my way to the room upstairs where everyone had to sign out. There was another emotional moment for me when I received my certificate from Roger Smith, as well as a T-Shirt (I was delighted to find that it was blue, my favourite colour) and a badge (oh, and a kiss!). I also met Alan Hardy, my route vetter, for the first time. Then I sat down at one of the tables, had several cups of tea, and chatted with some of the others.
When I left for the campsite, I walked past the Tourist Information office and thought it might be worth asking if any accommodation other than the campsite was available. But no such luck, Montrose was fully booked that night, and so I walked the fifteen minutes or so to the campsite. I pitched my tent, had a shower, put my new T-Shirt on and walked back to the Park Hotel.
It was great to meet again many of the Challengers I hadn’t seen for several days, and I really enjoyed the atmosphere that evening. Unfortunately, I couldn’t join the celebration as I would have liked, because I couldn’t drink alcohol and as it turned out, booking the dinner was a complete waste. It was a very nice three-course meal, but I could only just try a little bit of each course and even that proved to be too much for my stomach…
During the dinner, several speeches were made and Roger Smith who is going to retire as Challenge Coordinator after this year’s Challenge, was presented with several gifts. One of them was a card consisting of twelve separate parts that were signed by all the Challengers leaving from each start point on the West coast, and then carried all the way to Montrose.
After the meal, everyone seemed to retire to the bar, and I didn’t see the point of staying any longer as I was feeling unwell again and couldn’t drink anyway. In the washroom I met another woman who was planning to leave early as she was ill as well, and she offered to share her taxi with me. I got back to the campsite just after 22:00 and went straight to bed, but I think that night I spent more time in the toilet block than in my tent…
Montrose – Inverness
After packing up, I went to the campsite office and asked the warden to call me a taxi. I was hoping to buy some better medicine for my stomach at Boots, but unfortunately they were still closed, so I asked the taxi driver to drop me off at Tesco’s instead, which is only a few minutes walk from the train station. I bought Imodium tablets, Rehydration Sachets and a bottle of water, walked over to the train station and mixed my rehydration drink in the waiting room. After taking the medicine, I managed the journey home without any problems, but it wasn’t until Sunday before I was able to eat normally again.
I have no idea what caused all this, and I can usually eat (and drink) pretty much anything without ever having problems with my stomach. That’s why Imodium wasn’t part of my First Aid Kit – but it will be from now on, just in case! I lost 4.5 kgs during the Challenge which was probably more down to hardly eating anything during the last few days than to the walking itself, and I expected to put the weight back on very quickly, but so far I haven’t, which is not a bad thing 😉
Looking back, I would say that the Challenge was probably the hardest walk I have done, but also the highlight of my walking life so far. Although I do backpacking and hillwalking all year round and I am certainly used to Scottish weather, I must admit that in weather conditions like that I would have abandoned my walk if I had been on one of my normal backpacking trips. The fact that my ankle troubled me constantly (I went through three packets of Ibuprofen in the two weeks), and my stomach problems at the end, didn’t help either. But I am glad that I kept going, and realising that I am able to cope with adverse conditions, will certainly boost my confidence in similar situations in the future.
Even more important to me, was to experience the companionship among the participants. Although I am used to walking solo and I enjoy it, it was great to meet so many like-minded people. I was particularly impressed by the helpfulness and kindness of some, and being a first-timer, I got a lot of encouragement and good advice from more experienced Challengers.
Altogether, my first TGO Challenge was a fantastic experience, and I really hope that I will be lucky in the draw for 2012 – and see you all again next year! 🙂