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Monday, 3 May 2010

The 2006 Challenge, Day 7: Over The Cromdale Hills

I followed the Speyside Way out of Grantown, through the woods to Mains of Cromdale and crossed the bridge over the Spey. Then I took the road through Cromdale and the track up the Haughs of Cromdale and round behind Claggersnitch Wood. There was a battle here. It is not marked on the map as a battle site, but there are information boards which tell you a bit about it. But I shan't ruin the surprise for you: you can read them for yourself when you go there!

According to my route card, I was going to follow this track all the way around and up to the ridge, then down to Knock. But as I reached the highest point of the track, and contemplated the 130 metres of height loss before it began to climb again, I reflected on Wainwright's Rule and decided that maybe I should do something different. I was only 150 metres below the ridge. The hill was not all that steep. I could climb the heathery hillside and follow the ridge until I reached the path; and this seemed a much more sensible idea.

I paused for lunch at a grouse butt, then pressed on as the rain began to fall. The ridge line was not good walking, and I decided to start on down the far side and aim off for the track. Easier said than done, I fear! The descent through the heather was not particularly enjoyable, but eventually I had my path and I followed it down to Knock and on to the bridge over the river Avon. There is a car park by the bridge, and a fishing hut which could certainly provide acceptable overnight accommodation in an emergency. But this was no emergency, and I had plenty of daylight left, so I pressed on.

My route followed the path from Ballenlish to Glenconglass, with the option to divert via Carn Daimh if the weather was fine. The weather was not fine, however: the cloud was low and a steady rain was falling, so I pressed on as hard as I could. There is a car park at Glenconglass. It does not appear on the OS map, but it is there - at just about the point indicated by the arrow and the words "Forest Walk". I noted this for future reference, and pressed on by way of the road and the Speyside Way and into Tomintoul.

I spent the night at Tomintoul Youth Hostel - as fair a Youth Hostel as I have ever stayed in, albeit very basic (as are all the Scottish hostels, apart from those in flagship locations such as Inverness). I did not feel like cooking for myself, however, so I went out into the town, braving the rain, and found myself a wonderful hotel whose restaurant served me a superb meal. Its bar served me plentiful amounts of uisge beatha too, and so I retired to bed that night a happy man.

The 2006 Challenge, Day 6: A Long Tramp to Grantown on Spey

Leaving the lunch hut, I followed the track down the Rhilean Burn and on to Dunearn Lodge. The waters of both the Rhinean and the Leonach Burns were swollen and angry from the overnight rain, and a rich peaty brown in colour. I chose to keep shoes and gaiters firmly in place when crossing, and to walk with wet feet and socks, and I didn't care to fill my water bottles from such murky streams. Even the Tomlachlan Burn, which I had to ford to reach Dunearn Lodge, was fast-flowing and challenging that day.

Dunearn Lodge is a fishing lodge, large and handsome, and I arrived just as a couple of expensive cars headed off for a day's fishing. It is, however, sufficiently up-market to have resident staff, who were more than happy to refill my water bottles for me and invited me in to the kitchen where I enjoyed a cup of coffee and a chance to change into some dry socks. This, I always feel, is the TRUE meaning of hospitality. Not the grand, sweeping gestures; but the small things that make a difference. I wasn't even allowed to wash up my own coffee cup, and I was sent on my way with a smile on my face.

I walked down the drive - all half a mile of it - and turned left onto the B9007 to Burnside, then right onto the little road across the North flank of Hill of Aitnoch. Then I followed the old military road to Aitnoch (the final descent at the end by spot height 288 proving to be more than a little challenging!) then followed the A939 to Dava.

The route I had planned to walk followed the track East past Aittendow and south past Badahad; but by the time I reached Dava I was longing for the joys of a warm bath, a good meal and a soft bed. So I just turned onto the A939 - the quickest way into Grantown!

I'd been walking a while on the road when I came to soem road works, where the workmen drew my attention to the fact that the old dismantled railway had now been made available as a walking / cycle route. There was a gate providing easy access, so I left the road behind and went to play trains.

The old track bed was not all that good going, I have to say; the cuttings were particularly boggy and the deep cutting North of Carn Luig was practically impassable.

At Lynemore you have to rejoin the road - presumably because the old tunnel is impassable; but after a short stretch of road I turned left again and headed into Grantown through the pleasant grounds of Castle Grant.

I cannot now recall which hotel I stayed at in Grantown. I do recall that it was large and imposing, and served a very fine dinner and an excellent breakfast. And that the bed was soft and inviting, and the hot bath more than welcome! I slept well that night.

The 2006 Challenge, Day 5: Culloden to the Allt an t-Slugain Mhoir

The first part of day 5 consisted of pleasant if unmemorable back roads through Dalgrambich to the bridge over the River Nairn at GR 800480, then through the Assich Forest and past Cawdor Wood to Glengeouille, where I paused to eat my lunch. I then followed the track beside the Riereach Burn, noting as I did a rather smart estate lunch hut at GR 842436. This hut is kept locked, but it has a good verandah where shelter from the rain can be had in an emergency.

I then continued on the track, joining the road just south of Shearleat, and followed the road down its steep descent to Drynachan Lodge and its bridge over the Findhorn. Here I paused a while to watch a tractor at work, topping the meadow beside the river, and exchanged a few words with the driver who asked me to stay on the tracks on the other side to avoid disturbing the grouse. I assured him I would.

The last five kilometres of the day were all on ground I had travelled before, on my last crossing. They took me to the lunch hut beside the Allt an t-Slugain Mhoir at GR888362. It had been unlocked last year, and I hoped it would still be so this year. If not, I planned to press on to the bothy. However, this was unnecessary as the hut was indeed unlocked, and after a pleasant evening meal I settled down for the night.

And what a night it was! The wind howled and the rain beat down on the roof all night, and I really felt for anyone who was out in their tents that night.

In the morning, after breakfast and before departing I made sure that the hut showed no sign of my having been there and was left securely shut up. These huts are a valuable resource for Challengers, providing shelter that can be most welcome. But they are not bothies, and if we use them then we use them as trespassers. So we must take the greatest of care to ensure that nobody ever has cause to complain of our stopping there in passing.

The 2006 Challenge, Day 4: through Inverness to Culloden

Here is another day of which I have but a sketchy recollection. Leaving Lovat Bridge I took the road past Ferrybrae to Kirkhill, where I caught up with my companions from Luipmaldrig once again. We strolled together a while; but when we reached the main road they were turning left, for an easy day into Inverness with a good pub lunch. The suggested I join them and I was certainly tempted. But I had other things in mind, so we said our farewells and I took the back road through Newtonhill and headed up over the Aird to Blackfold.

The track I followed this year was both clear on the ground and the one that is shown on the map, so I made good progress. After Blackfold I crossed the road and took the path to Dochgarroch, where something (I am sure) went wrong - although I cannto now remember what it was. I think it may have been that the path down to the camp site simply didn't exist, and so I ended up joining the main road at GR 623417. In any event, I did not take the path down between the A82 and the Caledonian Canal, but instead ended up following the main road for 3 or 4 km into Inverness.

I turned right after crossing the canal, and wondered whether the ice rink had a public session that I could join. I quite fancied the idea of a short excursion on ice, even if it did mean wearing hire skates. But, alas, the ice rink is closed all day on Monday! So I carried on through Inverness and out the other side on the B9006 through Westhill.

At Culloden I paused to walk the battlefield, and then spent some time at the visitor centre. It is well presented, and well worth a visit. And it doesn't take much in the way of imagination, once you have seen the actual ground, to understand why the Highland Charge was doomed to fail that day in 1746!

Another three kilometres took me from the visitor centre to the camp site where I stopped for the night.