Woohoo! I've discovered how to add a few little tick boxes at the bottom of each post, to enable readers to record their reactions. Do please use them. I think I've identified the four most likely responses ...

Friday, 19 November 2010

Looking Forward to the 2011 Challenge

So that was 2010. With five successful crossings under my belt, I had now achieved the exalted status of demi-legend!

In due course, TGO magazine invited entries for the 2011 Challenge, and I submitted mine. The draw was held, and a letter came from Roger.

I had not been successful in the draw.

However, I was number 26 on the Standby List, which is a pretty good position. In 2009 I got in from number 60, after all, and quite a few with much higher numbers did too.

OK, so in 2010 the standby system changed. A greater number are now given places to begin with (330 rather than 300) and the shutter comes down on 1 April with no places being awarded off the standby list after that date ... the idea being that nobody has to make frantic last minute preparations, and the numbers sink towards the "normal" figure of 300 by virtue of late withdrawals.

Is 26 high enough to suppose that I will be there again in May? I think so ... and I am certainly planning on that assumption. The route is planned and I shall start booking accommodation and things (if 1 April comes and goes without the call from Roger, I can always cancel it all, after all!).

There is, you will appreciate, nothing REMOTELY obsessive about being a TGO Challenger ...

The 2010 Challenge: There At Last!

I had intended to use this post to add the picture of me at the Scurdie Ness cairn from my mobile phone ... but I managed to lose the phone, and the photograph with it, before I worked out how to do that!!

Thursday, 18 November 2010

The 2010 Challenge, day 14: Brechin to Scurdie Ness

John said his vision was fine the next morning, and he was sure he'd be OK on his own. So after breakfast we each went our separate ways.

I walked out of town on the main road towards Montrose, then turned down to Balbirnie Mill and crossed the river by the footbridge there. Again, it is a shame my camera was dead, as this was another beautiful place.

Once on the South side of the river, I followed the back roads of the Kinnaird Estate past the estate office at Scotston and through Haughs of Kinnaird. At Barnhead I caught up with another Challenger, a lady whose name I cannot now remember, but who was heading for her second finish off five starts. I reflected upon the extent of the ill fortune which that entailed, and my own good fortune in that I was looking good for my fifth finish off the same number of starts.

We passed Old Montrose and at Maryton we turned left onto the A934. We stopped for a coffee and ice cream at the Montrose Basin wildlife centre (where they kindly admitted us without charge, as we were only after refreshments; but they nonetheless allowed us to wander round and see all the things that people usually have to pay to see) and then we set off again on the final leg of our Challenge.

We walked through Ferryden in short sleeves; but as we walked out along the cliff path to the lighthouse at Scurdie Ness, the sky clouded over and the wind began to blow. My companion put on her fleece ... and then her waterproofs. I didn't, as I wished to finish in short sleeves.

We were perhaps half a kilometre from the finish when the first spots of rain began to fall. But still I was resolute. I was GOING to finish in short sleeves.

There were several other Challengers at the Challenge cairn when we arrived there. All were in full waterproofs. I strode up to the cairn, had somebody photograph me using my mobile phone, then hurriedly dropped my pack and found my waterproofs. And not a moment too soon, either. No sooner had I put them on than the rain came down again with a vengeance; and we turned and trudged our way into Montrose through the rain.

When I work out how to get that photo off my phone and into my computer, I'll add it to this blog. But please don't blame me for the fact that there's a finger across the lens. I didn't take the picture ...

The 2010 Challenge, day 13: Cortachy to Brechin

We discussed routes, John and I. He was going to Brechin. I had planned to go to Friockheim, and to camp by the river. But there was a camp site at Brechin and I wanted to see John safe, so I modified my plan.

We walked by road to Prosen Bridge and then through Inverquharity, then down over Forest Muir and past Over Bow to the bridge over the A90.

As we did so, and gazed back the way we had come at the hills we had left behind, I took this picture. And then my battery gave out ... so I would not be able to record the last couple of days of road walking.

Which is a shame, because it was not actually all road walking, and some of it was really rather beautiful.

We took the back roads through Carseburn, then turned left to West Carsebank, and left again passing under the power lines and up Hill of Finavon in what felt decidedly like the wrong direction. We encountered a little difficulty at the end of the track, where the junction with the path from Parkford is a little enigmatic, and we had to resort to a certain amount of fence and ditch-hopping. But we got through, and followed the path over the crest of the hill before stopping in a little stand of trees to sit and enjoy our lunch. The views back to the Angus glens were quite beautiful, and it is a pity that I had no more battery power in my camera.

While we took our lunch another Challenger chanced by, and he walked with us a little way before our paths diverged.

John and I followed the path and track along the foot of Hill of Finavon to Bogardo - which is a really enchanting way to go. Beyond Bogardo, however, things got a little more difficult. The clear path marked on the Landranger Map is not so clear on the ground; and without knowing which field boundaries it was supposed to follow, we soon found that the track we were following was NOT the path shown on the map. We resorted to following field margins in the correct general direction and then pointed at the buildings which could only be Woodrae, and made our way through in the end. But it would certainly have been helpful to have had the 1 : 25000 map on this occasion.

Beyond Woodrae we took the road through Balgarrock to Netherton. Again, this is a really beautiful little back road, and the stretch through the woods is especially lovely.

At Netherton we joined the main road - the B9134 - which would take us to Brechin. A light rain had started to fall and we had put our coats on. We debated waterproof trousers. Decided they might be a good idea. Went to put them on (and I to change from sandals to boots) ... and the heavens opened! In the time it took me to get my full waterproofs on, it went from being questionable whether they were really needed, to a solid wall of water falling through the sky. And through this, we walked the remaining distance to Brechin, taking the back road through Burghill then turning left to enter the town on the A933.

We arrived at Brechin a little after five and headed straight for the Bridge End bar and a pint. Then we debated what to do. Neither of us fancied going onto the camp site to pitch in this weather. And even if the rain lifted, the ground would be waterlogged and camping a whole load of no fun. I seriously considered just putting my head down and yomping to Montrose. I cold be there by 8; and were it not for my concerns about John, I might well have done so.

While we were still debating our options, the barman came to our rescue. He telephoned around and found us a couple of rooms for the night at the Caledonian Hotel. He drove John out to a working cash machine to enable him to draw funds to pay for his room and to reimburse me for the room at Cortachy House, and then he drove us both up to our hotel - which was once a proud railway hotel, but was now looking about as run down as the rest of Brechin. Not that we cared, of course. What mattered for us was that we had hard shelter for the night.

I hung up all my wet kit in the little en suite shower room to dry, then I went down to the bar for a meal and a pint. Sitting in the bar of that little hotel in Brechin, I finally began to feel that the 2010 Challenge was finally drawing to a close.

The 2010 Challenge, day 12: Mayar Burn to Cortachy (9)

At least coming this way meant I got to see the monument to Scott (of Antarctic fame); and to walk the road between Tulloch Hill and Mile Hill. This really is a particularly beautiful road which everyone ought to walk at least once in their life - preferably, as I did, on a bright afternoon in May.

And then I was in Dykehead, and at the Royal Jubilee Arms. The new new owners (who replaced the old new owners ... ) were working hard to get it reopened, but so far only the bar was functioning. Still, a functioning bar is a functioning bar - so I went in for a drink.

While I was there, another Challenger named John came in. John had a problem. Well, rather more than one problem, actually. He had been up in the hills when he started to suffer problems with his vision - so he had taken the sensible (if regrettable) decision to come out of the hills and into terrain where good vision was not essential to the safety of a solo walker. He was looking for accommodation, and was disappointed to find that the Royal Jubilee Arms was not able to provide it, as he knew of nowhere else round here. And he (along with many other Challengers) had been unable to draw any money from the cash machine at Braemar, as it had run out of banknotes, leaving him embarrassed for funds.

I thought I could probably solve all these problems for him!

I told John about Cortachy House, where I was heading, and suggested that he come with me and see whether they could make an extra room available. If they could, I said I'd happily settle his bill (as I knew that the supply parcel which was waiting for me there contained, amongst other things, £100 in cash) and John could then settle up with me in Montrose, where there was bound to be a working cash machine. And finally, I said that if John's vision continued to give him trouble, I would stick with him for the last two days of the Challenge to make sure he made it safely to Montrose.

And so it was that the two of us, having finished our drinks, waved goodbye to the Royal Jubilee Arms and made our way to the wonderfully welcoming Cortachy House (where, I am glad to say, they had not the slightest difficulty in rustling up an extra room and an extra place for dinner!)

The 2010 Challenge, day 12: Mayar Burn to Cortachy (8)

Cairn of Barns is another hill with an impressive summit cairn. But by the time I reached it, I was out of water and this spelled trouble!

I decided to continue on the ridge for as long as I could; but beyond Coremachy it becomes a vast expanse of heather, and the ridge is marked by a fence line which is difficult to follow in places due to vegetation and the re-emergence of heather's invariable partner: peat!

At Drumwhern I decided enough was enough, and turned right onto the Minister's Path. This clearly defined, grassy track took me gently down Glen Tairie and into Glenprosen Village; where I drank my fill and refilled my water bottles from the Burn of Inchmill, waved goodbye to the hills, and started the long road walk to Dykehead and Cortachy.

The 2010 Challenge, day 12: Mayar Burn to Cortachy (7)

I could now see down Glen Clova - and what a sight it presented! On a lovely clear day, with the cloud base high, this ridge really is one of the most sublime places I have ever been. And what a spectacular way to come out of the mountains - for, once I came off the ridge, that would be it for this crossing. I'd then be into the Angus agricultural belt, and walking on roads for the rest of the Challenge. So I was keen to make the most of what remained to me; but water was to be my downfall, because there was another stiff ascent now facing me in the shape of Cairn of Barns.

The 2010 Challenge, day 12: Mayar Burn to Cortachy (6)

As I continued along the ridge, I saw some movement ahead. Never mind the stag I had missed earlier: this time, a whole herd of deer was running across the ridge ahead of me.

Moving quickly, I deployed my camera in time to get a picture of these ones. A pleasing result indeed!

The 2010 Challenge, day 12: Mayar Burn to Cortachy (5)

After Dreish comes Hill of Strone - a rather unimpressive summit cairn being all the reward one gets for a really rather challenging ascent.

That ascent was to prove to be a problem - for this ridge was proving a tougher proposition than I had imagined when planning the route, and rather than spending a while drinking as much of the Mayar Burn as I could manage before breaking camp, I had been so eager to get going that I had simply filled my water bottles and set off.

Which meant I had only one litre of water to last me the whole length of the ridge - for there are no opportunities to refill water bottles along the way - and it was rapidly becoming clear that this would be insufficient. As I left Hill of Strone and began the long, lingering descent to Cairn Inks, I was already down to about a quarter of a litre. Not good.

The 2010 Challenge, day 12: Mayar Burn to Cortachy (4)

The advantage of having a walking companion for Dreish is, of course, that I got to have my photograph taken at the summit cairn!

This was my one and only opportunity, though, as my companion was out to get Munros, and that meant he was turning back the way we'd come (as there were no more Munros in the direction I was heading). So I thanked him for the photograph and bade him goodbye, then continued along the ridge.

As I descended the East shoulder of Dreish, I was amazed to see in the far distance a horse being cantered across the ridge line from right to left, and marvelled at the qualities of the rider who would dare ride so hard in terrain such as this. Then the animal stopped dead and turned and stared at me - and I realised in an instant that it wasn't a horse at all, but a stag; and what I had taken for a rider were its antlers.

The new camera had a really rather impressive zoom facility, so I quickly reached for the pouch and pulled it out, hoping to get a photograph. But as I did so, the deer resumed running, and I was unable to deploy the camera and pull it into focus before it was lost from my sight. Such a shame, I thought. A picture such as that would really have been the crowning glory for my first photographic crossing!

The 2010 Challenge, day 12: Mayar Burn to Cortachy (3)

Following the ridge I soon found myself looking at Little Dreish, with Dreish beyond it. The cliffs were impressive, to say the least! Up on the ridge, though, it was easy walking.

As I began the reascent, I was joined by a walker (not a Challenger) who had come up the Kilbo Path from my left, and reported that it was a well-graded and therefore easy ascent from the valley below.

I took his word for it - but still thought it better to have started the day at 820 metres!

The 2010 Challenge, day 12: Mayar Burn to Cortachy (2)

The plan was to walk the entire length of the ridge to the Airlie Memorial Tower - which meant descending to the Kilbo Path and then climbing Dreish.

As I came off Mayar, the views which opened up off to my left of upper Glen Clova were truly spectacular. Here we are looking out from above the Corrie Sharroch with Craig Mellon and Capel Mounth to the left of the woods, and Mount Keen in the far distance beyond the woods, with the Capel Burn pointing straight towards it. These landmarks should be sufficient to enable anyone who is sufficiently interested (and sufficiently sad!!) to plot a linear resection back on the map and get a more or less exact fix on the location from which this photo was taken!

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

The 2010 Challenge, day 12: Mayar Burn to Cortachy (1)

Having camped so high, I was able to make an early start on the hills. Breakfast, break camp, and straight up Mayar. Here is the summit cairn, and the camera data says I took this picture at 9.36 - not bad for the first Munro of the day!

The 2010 Challenge, day 11: Spittal of Glenshee to Mayar Burn (8)

At the North East corner of the 900 metre ring contour that is the top of Finalty Hill, the map shows a little building.

When I booked my accommodation at the Royal Jubilee Hotel in Dykehead (when it was still open!!) the gentleman who took my booking assured me that he was familiar with these hills, and that that building was intact and provided a viable emergency shelter - so my route card said that, in the event of bad weather, I would overnight in this building. It is as well, therefore, that the weather was not too bad - for as this photograph shows, it takes something rather more extreme than a seasoned optimist to describe this pile of rubble as a viable overnight shelter!!

Having concluded that not all local intelligence is accurate, I continued on my way, in accordance with my "good weather plan" - which was to continue to Dun Hillocks and then head South East, and find a camping spot near the headwaters of the Mayar Burn, at or about Grid Reference NO 234739.

There is in fact a good Landrover track which runs South East from Dun Hillocks along the crest of the spur; however, choosing the right moment to head off East across the blasted peat bog that lies between Dun Hillocks and Mayar is far from the easiest of navigational tasks even in fair weather (and I'm just thankful I wasn't doing this when the cloud was down). I fancy I turned off a little earlier than I ought; but with clear visibility, the major landmarks were pretty obvious ("Is this a Munro I see before me?") and so I quickly found my way to the headwaters of the Mayar Burn.

I had hoped that, once I dropped down to the stream, I would find a good sheltered camping spot which was out of the wind. I nearly managed it. I found a more or less level pitch in a sheltered location - which meant that there was less wind. But I was not out of the wind altogether.

The gale howled all night long, and I woke up many times. Partly because I needed a pee - but it was so cold that I didn't fancy leaving the comfort of my down sleeping bag, struggling into my clothes and venturing out into that vicious, biting wind.

As a measure of just how cold it was that night, camped up at 820 metres with the wind whipping around my tent, I woke up next morning to find my fly sheet completely iced over. BUT my gear had kept me warm and dry. And I wouldn't have missed that wild camp for anything!!

The 2010 Challenge, day 11: Spittal of Glenshee to Mayar Burn (7)

From Spying Hillock, the path continues ascending steadily until eventually it levels out as the top of Finalty Hill is reached.

Finalty Hill isn't really all that much of a hill; but it has a little summit cairn all of its own; not to mention one of the most spectacular backdrops I can recall. Away in the distance, you are looking towards the top of Jock's Road and the various pimply litle Munros that surround it - which, of course, I "bagged" with such glee in passing on my first ever Challenge in 2000!

The 2010 Challenge, day 11: Spittal of Glenshee to Mayar Burn (6)

The path up Spying Hillock is a stiff ascent, and there was a vicious wind getting up which had me in all my foul weather gear. But oh! The views! The cliffs above upper Glen Isla - Monega Hill to the left, and Druim Mor in the middle background - fair took my breath away!

The 2010 Challenge, day 11: Spittal of Glenshee to Mayar Burn (5)

At Dalvanie, I turned left up Glen Isla, whilst my companions turned away to the right. This is a wonderful, remote glen and I revelled in the solitude. I crossed the river at Fergus and followed the path past Craigmekie to Dalhally, where I stopped and ate my lunch by the Glencally Burn. Then I continued to the footbridge which would take me back to the West side of the River Isla, at Grid Reference NO 193704.

Here is a photo of that bridge.

I looked at it ... and I walked up to it and looked at it again ... and I even climbed the little flight of steps which take you up to the start of the bridge proper to get a really good look at the bridge decking. And then I came down again, because NO WAY was I going to attempt to cross that bridge!!

So I stayed on the West side of the River Isla, and followed it upstream for the two kilometres to the bridge by Tulchan Lodge. The going was not too bad at all, and I am not sure I should have been that much quicker on the track, had I managed to cross that bridge.

At Tulchan Lodge I drank my fill of fresh water from the River Isla, and refilled my water bottles before starting the ascent of Spying Hillock and Finalty Hill.

The 2010 Challenge, day 11: Spittal of Glenshee to Mayar Burn (4)

The path gives out when you reach the Loch, but it is easy enough to make your way along the shore; and at the far end I was rewarded with a beautiful beach where I stopped and did a spot of sunbathing.

When I'd had as much chilling in the sun as I could take, I was just preparing to continue when two more Challengers chanced along. They, like me, planned to cross into Glen Beanie and descend to Dalvanie; although we were planning to turn in opposite directions when we reached the road. However, we walked together for the short distance that our routes coincided.

The 2010 Challenge, day 11: Spittal of Glenshee to Mayar Burn (3)

Safely over the bridge, the way to Loch Beanie is not hard to find, and this is the view of the loch which greeted me.

The 2010 Challenge, day 11: Spittal of Glenshee to Mayar Burn (2)

The next bridge I came to, across the Allt Mor, was decidedly more dodgy! The stream was certainly fordable, so I studied this bridge long and hard before deciding that it was probably OK, and so I crossed it.

It stood up to it ... but I wonder how much longer this bridge will remain viable!!

The 2010 Challenge, day 11: Spittal of Glenshee to the Mayar Burn (1)

This was a day of mixed bridges - the good, the bad, and the downright diabolical.

To begin with I walked back through Spittal, crossing the Shee Water on the good, substantial old road bridge, and then took the track to Westerton of Runavey - encountering (and crossing) this fine bridge along the way.

I'm not entirely sure what happened to the route-finding at Westerton of Runavey, as I was supposed to follow the track heading West ... but the track I found myself on gradually petered out, leaving me to struggle across some difficult tussocks and knolls until I found myself at Invereddrie - where the farmer kindly pointed me the way to go to get to Loch Beanie without becoming trapped by his deer fence.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

The 2010 Challenge, day 10: Glen Tilt to Spittal of Glenshee (10)

Having reached the valley floor, it only remained to walk the 8km or so down the valley to Spittal of Glenshee.

I had the pleasure of the company of another couple of Challengers for this, and the time soon passed.

The photo on the left shows the view down Gleann Taitneach once the track had been reached.

The 2010 Challenge, day 10: Glen Tilt to Spittal of Glenshee (9)

The map says that there are waterfalls - and BOY what waterfalls! And you can get right in close to capture rather breathtaking photos such as this.

Well worth the sacrifice of a Munro ...

The 2010 Challenge, day 10: Glen Tilt to Spittal of Glenshee (8)

From Loch nan Eun, I followed the Allt Easgaidh down. There is a path the whole way, but it is very steep and tricky at the very top. Great care needs to be taken - especially as the views, such as this one, are apt to distract attention from one's footing.

The 2010 Challenge, day 10: Glen Tilt to Spittal of Glenshee (10)

Well, Loch nan Eun is a beautiful loch, tucked up in a little hollow in the mountains. Another time, I think I must plan a route which comes this way and camp on its shores - perhaps on that little spit of land sticking out into the loch.

I hurried on past this time, but not without admiring its beauty, and not without capturing a few photgraphs of it. In this shot, the mountain in the near background with the snow on its face is Beinn Iutharn Bheag, and the long ridge in the far right background is An Socach.

The 2010 Challenge, day 10; Glen Tilt to Spittal of Glenshee (6)

The path ascended steadily beside the stream, easily at first and then getting steeper. Then it levelled out as it reached the bealach.

Although the map shows but the one path here, there are in fact many: for all around are Munros, and list-tickers naturally want to link them all up. So the obvious routes up and down all have their paths, and I saw many walkers coming and going along these.

My path turned across the Southern slopes of Mam nan Carn, and it was here that I encountered my one and only snow field of the crossing, blocking my way. Fortunately it was not much of a block, being more or less on the level and crossed in about three strides, if that. It did not hold me up for any significant length of time!

Beyond the snow field, however, I had a decision to make. My planned route would take me over Glas Tulichean, and there was a well-defined path turning back South by which I could climb the remaining 250 metres to the summit of this, the third Munro of my planned route before descending South and down Glen Lochsie into Spittal of Glenshee. My Fowl Weather Alternative route took me by way of Loch nan Eun, and then down Gleann Taitneach and into Spittal of Glenshee.

The weather was good and clear. The summit of Glas Tulaichean was clear. There was no need to use my Foul Weather Alternative route. However, I had had a big day the day before; my legs ached; and contemplating that 250 metres of additional ascent I decided that, today, it was just that little bit too much. I was here on the Challenge, I reminded myself, and the object of the Challenge is to get from Coast to Coast, NOT to climb Munros. Yes, if you can knock off the odd mountain or two along the way, there is no reason why you should not. BUT if it comes to a choice, if a sacrifice has to be made, if it comes to a choice between doing the mountains or finishing the crossing - well, it's a no-brainer, isn't it? You favour the crossings over the mountains.

And so it was that I decided to skip Glas Tulaichean and continue to Loch nan Eun. Maybe, if I hadn't had to go into Perth to replace my camera, maybe then I would have had it in me to tackle that additional 250 metres of ascent. But as it was, well, all I wanted right now was to get down to the Spittal and have a bath and a meal and a nice warm bed for the night!

The 2010 Challenge, day 10: Glen Tilt to Spittal of Glenshee (5)

Just before the descent to the Allt a' Ghlinne Bhig, I encountered this little stone-built shelter. It is just large enough for one person to sit, protected from the wind (but not from anything that may be dropping out of the sky directly above!) and, nearby, there are two posts with tie-up rings.

I wondered how many a weary packhorse man has been grateful for this little shelter - which speaks of another age, when the paths and tracks we now walk in solitude were once important routes into and out of the remote Highland glens.

The 2010 Challenge, day 10: Glen Tilt to Spittal of Glenshee (4)

Eventually Fealar Lodge came into sight, and the path down to it was clear enough.

After crossing the Allt Feith Lair, however, all was far from clear. The made-up vehicle track which winds its way up the Allt a Ghlinne Mor, over to the Allt Fearnach and down to Daldhu was easy enough to see. But according to the map there is also a path across Miadan mor which crosses the Allt a Ghlinne Bhig and then winds up between Carn an Righ and Mam nan Carn before turning in the direction of Loch nan Eun. It was this path which I wished to take ... but there was no sign of it on the ground!

No matter, it was obvious where (give or take) it ought to be; so I set off across the open hillside in the general direction that the path ought to take. Before long I picked up something resembling a path, which came and went, and I followed it to the crest of the Miadan Mor. From here I had a clear sighting of Stac na h-Iolaire and Carn an Righ, and the impressive corrie on their North West face with its stream coming tumbling down the mountainside. My path followed the next stream over into the pass between Carn an Righ and Mam nan Carn. This too was clear to see, so I headed directly for the confluence of that stream and the Allt a' Ghlinne Bhig, and was soon rewarded with a clear an obvious path.

The 2010 Challenge, day 10: Glen Tilt to Spittal of Glenshee (3)

To the left, the Allt Garbh Buidhe; to the right, the Allt a Ghlinne Mhoir. The path that I had chosen to follow can be seen in the middle of the picture, and was easily picked up after dropping down into the valley and fording the Allt Garbh Buidhe. It clings precariously to the edge of its valley and is decidedly hairy at places. Parallel deer tracks abound, and it is not always clear which track is "the path". But althoguh it it precarious in places and decidedly hairy, it is also a wild place of rare beauty.

I'm glad I came this way!

The 2010 Challenge, day 10: Glen Tilt to Spittal of Glenshee (2)

This picture shows the Falls of Tarf, as seen from the bridge over the Tarf Water.

Beyond the bridge, the path divides. I imagine that most Challengers who come this way continue up the Allt Garbh Buidhe and down to White Bridge and Linn of Dee. My route, however, headed off East, to Fealar Lodge and then up into the bealach between Carn an Righ and Mam nan Carn.

The 2010 Challenge, day 10: Glen Tilt to Spittal of Glenshee (1)

The day started with a 4 kilometre stroll up Glen Tilt to the site of my original planned overnight stop, which was just the other side of the bridge over the Tarf Water below Falls of Tarf. You can see the big patch of grass, centre right of the picture. I reckon it can probably accommodate five or six tents quite easily; and I counted four being struck as I strolled up. All things considered, therefore, I guess I probably had a better night camped by myself further down the Tilt!

The 2010 Challenge, day 9: Blair Atholl to Upper Glen Tilt (10)

What more spectacular a pitch could there be? Alone in Glen Tilt, no sound but the rush of the river. I ate heartily and slept well that night!

The 2010 Challenge, day 9: Blair Atholl to Upper Glen Tilt (9)

I made it to the valley floor, and slaked my thirst from the cool, clear waters of the Allt Fheannach. Then I crossed the Tilt on the footbridge which was, I am glad to say, of good and substantial construction and in excellent condition.

Barely half a kilometre upstream from the bridge there was a large, flat grassy expanse between the track and the river; and nobody else camped there yet. Here was my camp site; and I gladly shucked my pack and pitched my tent for the night.

The 2010 Challenge, day 9: Blair Atholl to Upper Glen Tilt (8)

The view up Glen Tilt as I descended Luib Mhor was truly spectacular, and quite possibly the best of the Challenge so far. The near-vertical sides of the valley of the Allt Fheannach coming in from the right make it pretty obvious where the descent route is to be found; but there is no path as such until you are pratically in the valley floor, despite its being an obvious route onto and off a ridge with two fine Munros on it. This, and the fact that it is a convext slope would make a descent in poor visibility particularly hazardous; and as I was descending it dawned on me that this meant my route choice for today had in fact been particularly poor. For although I had provided a suitable Foul Weather Alternative (which was simply to follow Glen Tilt all the way up from Blair Atholl), I had not really given any thought to my options if the weather turned against me once I had gone high. Normally there is some sort of a viable escape route back to lower levels. But this ridge has none. It is spectacular, and I enjoyed being up there immensely. I shall doubtless return, some time, with a lighter pack and nothing better to do that tackle Beinn a'Ghlo. But was it a sensible way to go on a Challenge? In retrospect, I am beginning to think not!

The 2010 Challenge, day 9: Blair Atholl to Upper Glen Tilt (7)

The summit cairn of Braigh Coire Chruinn-bhalgain, looking east towards Beinn a' Ghlo with the evening sun behind me. According to the details recorded by the camera, I took this picture at 6.45 - so it took me precisely an hour and a quarter to get from one summit to the next.

I had succeeded in doing my two Munros for the day, despite my little trip to Perth and not hitting the road until 2 o'clock in the afternoon! What remained was the long, leg-breaking descent over Luib Mhor to the floor of Glen Tilt. According to my route card, I was then going to continue up to Falls of Tarf and make camp there - but it already seemed pretty claar that in fact, once I had reached the valley floor, I should be looking for the first good pitch and stopping for the night when I found it. The following day's route was not overly long, and making up the missing kilometres tomorrow if I stopped short today would be no great problem.

The 2010 Challenge, day 9: Blair Atholl to Upper Glen Tilt (6)

I longed to linger up on that ridge - but time was short and I still had to get over the Munro with the very long name and down into Glen Tilt before the light began to fail. Also, I had used most of my limited water supply on the main ascent, and there wasn't going to be a chance to replenish it until I got down the other side. Add in the fact that the weather looked as though it might be about to turn, and the gentle breeze was threatening to stiffen all the time, and I thought I'd better press on.

Not too many photos taken, but those that I was able to take are pretty stunning!

Sunday, 14 November 2010

The 2010 Challenge, day 9: Blair Atholl to Upper Glen Tilt (5)

The ridge from Carn Liath to Braigh Coire Chruinn-bhalgain is a twisting, exposed, knife-edge. It is wide enough not to be unsafe ... provided there is no wind. But if the wind were to get up??

I wasn't sure I wanted to stay around to find out what would happen if it got windy!

The 2010 Challenge, day 9: Blair Atholl to Upper Glen Tilt (4)

I reached the summit of Carn liath and took this photo at 5.29 pm - almost exactly three and a half hours after I had set out from Blair Atholl. This, I reckoned, was pretty good going for nearly 9 km and over 850 metres of ascent, with a heavy expedition pack on my back, too!

However ... and here was the thing. It had been beautiful and clear when I had started the ascent, but now it was clouding over. The cloud base was high and there was no danger of being caught in it; but wind and rain both threatened and that could be an issue. I needed to press on.

The 2010 Challenge, day 9: Blair Atholl to Upper Glen Tilt (3)

By Loch Moraig, I met some walkers who had just come off the Munros and were loading up their cars. They had a lot of spare fluids with them. I only carry about a litre with me, and I could see that this might be insufficient - for the day was turning out to be bright, sunny and hot. So I begged their spare liquid off them and drank my fill, and then continued on my route.

The path up Carn Liath is a bit difficult to miss; and the ascent was simply glorious!

The 2010 Challenge, day 9: Blair Atholl to Upper Glen Tilt (2)

Armed with my new camera, I grabbed some lunch and jumped on my train back to Blair. At Blair I retrieved my rucksack from the campsite warden, and I hit the road at more or less exactly 2pm.

It was a fine, clear day and I WANTED those Munros ... so I decided that I would do them, no matter what. I had a good 7 hours of daylight, and then a fair bit of twilight. It was enough. I might have to pitch a little bit short of my planned camp at Falls of Tarf; but I was going to do it.

I took the road through Middlebridge towards Monzie, politely declining a lift up the hill
from a kindly motorist who clearly thought me mad! And as I approached them, those Munros just looked more and more enticing ...

The 2010 Challenge, day 9: Blair Atholl to Upper Glen Tilt (1)

Day 9 was a short day. Only 22km. Deliberately so, because it had two massive great Munros right slap bang in the middle of it. If, however, I was forced (or chose) to use instead my Foul Weather Alternative route (Glen Tilt all the way) then it became a titchy little day. A half day, in fact. Which is just as well really, because received wisdom was that my best chance of sorting out a replacement camera would be in Perth, and it was going to take me half a day to get to Perth and back.

I caught a train into Perth, and I found a camera shop. They surveyed my damaged camera, and agreed it was ****ed beyond repair.

Could they replace it?

There were various cameras they could offer me, but I wanted a Lumix - because all my digital cameras so far were Lumix, and they all worked in exactly the same way. Learn to use one Lumix, and you can use any other, straight out of the box, without having to spend 60 hours reading the instruction manual. Which was what I wanted ... because I was going to take it straight out on the mountain and start using it there and then. I had no time to read instruction manuals.

They no longer made the model I had just broken (I'd got it for a very good price for this very reason); and none of the models that they DID have used the same battery. They had the new model which replaced the one I'd broken - somewhat bigger and heftier. It needed a different battery and a larger pouch; but it was the best option available. Moreover, the shop agreed to post all the bits and pieces to my home address, so all I needed to carry away with me was the new camera and its new pouch. Great!

Question: was the battery fully charged?

The man in the shop didn't know, but he imagined so. I imagined not. A mobile phone unlocking shop around the corner had the right charger for the battery and allowed me to put half an hour's juice in the battery. I'd have liked to put more in, but I had a train to catch. It would have to do.

The 2010 Challenge, day 8: Kinloch Rannoch to Blair Atholl (8)

As I walked through the back streets of Blair Atholl, I spotted these two wonderful examples of the wood carver's art.

I stopped for some coffee and comestibles at a little tea room, and then made my way to the camp site (I was booked onto the Bridge of Tilt camp site, rather than the castle camp site).

Having pitched my tent, I sorted out my washing and made my way to the camp site laundry. I don't like leaving valuables unattended in my tent, so I slipped my camera into my trouser pocket, along with my mobile phone. Washing done and dried, I walked back into town to have supper at one of the hotels, and as I sat there I decided to take a look through the day's photographs.

When I tried to do so, however, I found I had a problem. The LCD screen was cracked, and I could not see a blessed thing. The consensus of opinion among those to whom I showed it was that it had probably been damaged when I had it in my pocket with the mobile phone and, not to put too find a point on it, it was ****ed!

Now I had a problem! No camera, and nearly half a Challenge still to go - including all five of my planned Munros. I could either carry on without a camera, or I could spend some time tomorrow trying to sort out some sort of a replacement. If needs be, I could always abandon tomorrow's Munros and opt for my FWA. Not ideal, but at least that way I might get photos on three Munros!

The 2010 Challenge, day 8: Kinloch Rannoch to Blair Atholl (7)

Beyond Balnansteuartach, the track turns East and runs parallel to the A9. Indeed, it feels at times as though you are walking the original route of the road, so good is the turf underfoot.

You are scarcely aware of the road and its traffic roaring along beneath you for the two kilometres that you run parallel to it; but then it is necessary to cross. Never pleasant, this - but it is manageable. And then it's down to the river, where there is a bridge which has been there for over a hundred years but which the Ordnance Survey has yet to notice, and you're in Blair Atholl!

The 2010 Challenge, day 8: Kinloch Rannoch to Blair Atholl (6)

The path becomes more obvious as you descend ... and still those mountains draw you one.

As I descended, I prayed to the gods of good weather. PLEASE don't force me onto my Foul Weather Alternative tomorrow.

I had a total of five Munros on my route. These were the first two, and I desperately wanted to have a crack at them.

The 2010 Challenge, day 8: Kinloch Rannoch to Blair Atholl (5)

The path from Loch Bhac down to Balnansteuartach is not all that easy to see on the hillside, at least in the upper reaches. But it's not a problem really - because all you have to do is just to keep pointing yourself at them two big Munros, and you can't go all that far wrong!

The 2010 Challenge, day 8: Kinloch Rannoch to Blair Atholl (4)

The Loch itself is really rather beautiful, and secluded. At the far end there, in the distance, the other side of Glen Garry, that's Carn Liath you're looking at, with Braigh Coire Chruinn-bhalgain to the left. Beinn a' Ghlo is hidden away somewhere behind the pair of them.

They look impressive enough from here - but wait until you get them close to. Which was what I was going to have to do, becuase (weather willing) my route out of Blair Atholl went over the tops of the both of them.

It was at Loch Bhac that my camera battery ran out. This didn't bother me too much, as I had brought a spare. Indeed, I was quite relieved: the first battery had lasted seven and a half days, with six and a half days to go (including the rather boring agricultural belt that you have to trudge through to reach the East coast). I was therefore quite reassured to think that the second battery would have no difficulty lasting me for the rest of the crossing.

What it is to be well prepared!

The 2010 Challenge, day 8: Kinloch Rannoch to Blair Atholl (3)

I was heading for Loch Bhac ... and the signposting made it difficult to miss!

The 2010 Challenge, day 8: Kinloch Rannoch to Blair Atholl (2)

Before reaching Tummel Bridge I turned onto the road to Trinafour, and then again onto the forestry track past Easter Bohespic and through Tummel Forest above Bohally Wood.

This track is unmissable, and progress was good.

The 2010 Challenge, day 8: Kinloch Rannoch to Blair Atholl (1)

The day started with a few kilometres on the road East from Kinloch Rannoch to Tummel Bridge - but what a road that is!

As you walk, your ears are assaulted by the roar of the River Tummel in the valley below; and when there was a chance to scramble down to the water's edge and see it frothing and foaming its way across the rocks, well, I didn't need asking twice!

And as I walked, my mind returned once again to a song I had been trying to figure out ever since my first Chellenge in 2000. Having come up with some words to sing to "The Praties They Grow Small", I began to wonder whether "Cavalilly Men" (a 17th century Royalist song) might also provide a suitable tune to which to set a Challenge song. The only problem was, I'd got as far as the first two lines (So here we are, another year / We've crossed a country to be here) and the final line for each verse (Great Outdoors Challengers!) - and there it had stuck. No more words would come, and it had been teasing me, taunting me, mocking me for the best part of 10 years now.

Finally, as I walked along beside the Tummel, a whole verse finally came together. I sang it to myself, adjusted it, refined it, and sang it again and again until I was happy that it was as good as I could get it. And here it is:

So here we are, another year
We've crossed a country to be here
From West to Eastern shore
O'er mountain top, through valley floor
In Feshie Glen, on Rannoch Moor
Great Outdoors Challengers!

Alas, the next verse would not come ... nor any intermediate verses. But a triumphant, final verse to round the song off sprang to my lips almost as soon as I began to think of it:

And if it be, as well it may
We ne'er come back another day
My friends, the fact remains
That o'er this land we've all roamed free
So come what may, we'll always be
Great Outdoors Challengers!

The song is not complete at two verses. It needs an intermediate verse or two. Three at most. But, it's getting there. Give me another ten years, and who knows ...

The 2010 Challenge, day 7: Bridge of Gaur to Kinloch Rannoch (6)

Somehow, I always find that reaching the midpoint of a crossing is a bit of a melancholy moment, and so I always like to have the option of a really nice hotel mid-crossing.

Kinloch Rannoch provided that for me, and more! The Dunalastair Hotel is really outstanding; and the photo shows the room they gave me, four-poster bed and all.

A nice hot bath, a good look at my feet (no signs of blisters this year - yippee!!), a nice meal in the restaurant and a few glasses of Scotland's finest in the bar, and I was more than ready for the second half of the crossing.

The 2010 Challenge, day 7: Bridge of Gaur to Kinloch Rannoch (5)

Well, as I walked into Kinloch Rannoch, I was tickled pink by this. We all know that Schiehallion is notorious for causing endless arguments that go along the lines of "Oh look, there's Schiehallion." "No it isn't, Schiehallion doesn't look like that." "Yes it does." "No, it doesn't!"

Well, in Kinloch Rannoch, there is no danger of such arguments breaking out, because they have clearly labelled it so you are in no doubt which mountain you are looking at!!

The 2010 Challenge, day 7: Bridge of Gaur to Kinloch Rannoch (4)

And one final one (there are lots more - but I think three is probably more than enough!!)

The 2010 Challenge, day 7: Bridge of Gaur to Kinloch Rannoch (3)

Here's another atmospheric photo taken at the water's edge

The 2010 Challenge, day 7: Bridge of Gaur to Kinloch Rannoch (2)

Do you know what? That road along the south shore of Loch Rannock is one of the most beautiful roads I know. As I walked along it I was so enchanted with the place that I soon decided against heading up into Rannoch Forest. I just wanted to walk along that shore road. And every so often I would slip down to the shores of the loch to take a few atmospheric photographs, like this one.