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Friday, 1 January 2010

The 2000 Challenge, day 12: Compasses are for Wimps!

The route I had planned for day 12 took me by road to Clova, then up past Loch Brandy to Green Hill and over Muckle Cairn and Wester Skully to Loch Lee. However, due to a supremely stupid act of vanity, I did not complete this section of my route and ended up having to replan the whole of the rest of my crossing.

You see I had decided before I set off that, although I was naturally going to carry a compass, I wanted to see if I could complete the entire crossing without ever actually using it. Scottish landforms are, after all, generally pretty easy to recognise, and the contour features easily read. I was getting ever closer to the eastern coast and had not had to use my compass so far, so I wasn't about to start now.

Which was fine, except that the cloud base was very low today - about 350 metres - and I had not climbed very far up from Clova before I found myself in swirling mist with visibility down to 20 metres at most. This might not have been such a problem if the paths up to Loch Brandy had done exactly what the map shows .... but they didn't. They divided and sub-divided constantly, and it was impossible to say which was the path shown on the map and which not. Sometimes the path I was following just petered out altogether and I had to strike out across the hillside until I found another. A few bearings taken before I entered the mist, and regular confirmatory bearings taken at path junctions might have helped me stay on the right path; but by the time I decided I should have accepted the use of the compass today, there was already no way of saying which path I was actually on, or where exactly I was. To cap it all, my altimeter was saying that I was already 30 metres higher than Loch Brandy, but there was no sign of any loch.

I looked at the map, and I looked at the rocky outcrops around The Snub, and I decided that I did not want to be blundering about there in zero visibility. I asked myself whether I could be confident that I wouldn't end up doing exactly that if I continued following the path I was on, and my answer to that question was not exactly reassuring. So I concluded that there was only one safe option open to me - to retreat down the hill again. Which is what I did.

There is a hotel in Clova, and there was a roaring log fire in the bar, which is where I now sat with a pint and a nice morale-restoring cooked lunch. Two other Challengers ducked in out of the rain and joined me. And as I sat gazing into the fire I compsed the following song, to be sung to the tune of "The Praties They Grow Small":

Every night the cuckoos call
Way up here, way up here
Every night the cuckoos call
And I long to shoot them all
But I lack powder, gun and ball
Way up here, way up here.

Oh we started in the west
By the sea, by the sea
Yes we started in the west
And we gave it of our best
Now we've made it through the test
You and me, you and me.

Now we've all got blistered feet
Girls and men, girls and men
Yes we've all got blistered feet
Caused by squelching through the peat
At the place the waters meet
'Neath the beinn, 'neath the beinn

But we've reached the eastern coast
Over here, over here
Yes we've reached the eastern coast
And that ain't no idle boast
So please raise your glass and toast
"To next year! To next year!"

When we'll all be back again
If God wills, if God wills -
Yes, we'll all be back again
To do battle with the rain
Not to mention the terrain:
Glens and hills, glens and hills!

I gave the song its one and only public performance, right there in the bar of the Clova hotel; and although I felt utterly defeated, having had to turn back that morning, my fourth verse inspired me. I'd sung it, so I just HAD to make it come true. But how? It was already too late in the day to make another attack on my planned route, compass in hand. The weather was foul and I didn't want to be benighted up on the tops. So I went to the telephone box in the village and telephoned Challenge control, to explain my position and discuss the alternatives now open to me. They drew my attention to the campsite, very popular with Challengers (but now, alas, closed) at Memus - grid reference NO 427591 - and I made this my new destination for the day. It meant road walking from here all the way to the coast, but it also meant that I would indeed reach the eastern coast.

So I trudged through the rain down Glen Clova and through Dykehead to Cortachy, and then past Newton of Inshewan to Memus, where I took a pitch on the campsite and took my evening meal in the pub before settling down for the night.

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