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Friday, 1 January 2010

The 2000 Challenge, Day 3: Allt Cheanna Mhuir to Spean Bridge

Day 3 of the Challenge brought another surprise - and a very NASTY surprise at that. Our nice little camping site in the woods, which had been so very delightful the evening before, was now absolutely awash with ghastly little Scottish insects which were hell-bent on devouring their Sassenach visitors. The first intimation I had of this was when I heard the yelps of my neighbours who had woken before me and, on unzipping their tent, had promptly been eaten alive.

Well, forewarned is forearmed. I got the distinct impression that these evil little monsters weren't going to settle for a starter and entree - they were going to want me for dessert, too. So I hurriedly dressed and packed my rucksack in the tight confines of my little one man tent (which is no mean feat, as there really is very little space inside a Terra Nova Solar single-hoop tent, which is what I had). I then unzipped the tent and threw my gear outside, before collapsing the tent and putting it away as quickly as I possibly could, and making a bolt for the road.

The insects chased me to the road and tried their best to eat me, but if I strode out I could just about walk faster than they could fly; so they quickly turned their attention back to my fellow campers, whose two man tent took rather more packing away, leaving them completely at the midges' mercy. Heartless brute that I am, I felt no remorse at all about heading off into the insect-free distance without them.

I passed Ardechive, and the little deciduous wood beyond it, and only stopped once I was well clear of the trees and out into the open country. Then I sat down beside the road, unpacked my little petrol stove, and prepared some breakfast (bacon and beans again, as there isn't all that much choice of breakfasts in the Wayfarer range ... ). As I sat there eating, I saw my first pine marten, scampering across the road and up a lone pine tree. I have since seen several in captivity, but this remains the only pine marten I have ever seen in the wild.

After breakfast I continued past Achnasaul to the stunningly beautiful Eas Chia-Aig waterfalls, where my camping companions caught up with me. They had a camera with them, and so I took photographs of them leaning against the parapet of the bridge with the falls behind them. I had no camera, however, so they were unable to return the favour (which is a shame, as I should love to post a photograph of these falls. As it is, you will just have to take my word for it: if you are ever at the south end of the Great Glen, they are worth making a detour to see.)

The road continues to Clunes, and then round the shores of Loch Lochy to Gairlochy. It is easy, if undulating, walking through pleasant woodland with some delightful views of the loch. My camping companions and I leap-frogged one another, they passing me while I took a breather and a drink, and I passing them while they took a break from walking, and it wasn't long before we reached Gairlochy. I had planned for today to be a short day, whilst they had a full day's walking (I think they were aiming to get far up Glen Roy) so I waved them farewell and lay back on the well-kept grass verge to soak up a bit of sun. After eating my lunch, I bought an ice cream and ate it as I headed down to Bridge of Mucomir, where the rivers Lochy and Spean meet in a crashing cascade of white water. After pausing briefly to admire the sight, I pressed on to Spean Bridge. Not wanting to walk on roads the whole way, I followed the little path from Torr an Eas to the school - thus bypassing the Commando Memorial and the great throng of coach parties stopping to see it - and it was still early afternoon as I passed the Spean Bridge Hotel, where I naturally stopped for a pleasant pint or three before strolling the last couple of hundred yards to the Smiddy House Guest House and my bed for the night.

The Smiddy House is a delightful little guest house, with a very good bistro where I enjoyed a superb evening meal, did some laundry, and picked up my first resupply parcel. It also began to dawn on me that I had, perhaps, under-estimated my own capabilities, and that this conservative low-level route which I had set myself was not going to be nearly challenging enough. I had energy to spare - and plenty of it - which meant that maybe, just maybe, I ought to consider tackling a few hills along the way. They weren't shown on my route card, of course; but I was already beginning to get the impression that some of my fellow Challengers viewed their route cards more as a "serving suggestion" than a patisserie recipe, which needs to be followed to the letter ...

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