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Wednesday, 3 November 2010

The 2009 Challenge, day 5: Through the Corrieyairack Pass

After a wonderful breakfast, the staff at the Caledonian Hotel bade me farewell and good luck, and I tramped out of Fort Augustus, past the burial ground, and to the foot of General Wade's military road through the Corrieyairack Pass. It was overcast and a little drizzly, and I was glad to be without the blistering heat of the first couple of days.

I rested a while at the bridge, then began the ascent proper. Blackburn bothy offered an opportunity for a second break. There was an MBA work party there, and they kindly made me a most welcome brew. My feet seemed to be holding up OK, so I pressed on. The wind was getting up and was in my face the whole way, but I made steady progress and before long I was taking my lunch huddled against the concrete blockhouse at the head of the pass. I didn't stop too long, however, because it was bitterly cold and I was anxious to be on my way - so as soon as I had finished my lunch I stuffed my hands in my mittens and pressed on.

The path down through Corrie Yairack itself is now in a shocking state. Badly eroded in places, it has suffered conisderable water damage. So much so that I begin to wonder whether we need to exercise self-restraint and not use this route until some much needed repairs can be carried out. There are many places where it is necessary to abandon the path itself, and walk up on the high bank beside it.

In one of these places, once I was clear of the damaged section but before I had found a suitable place to scramble back down to the path, I happened to look down and was amazed to realise that the paved surface I was looking at could only be the very original surface as originally laid by General Wade. It was only a short stretch - 15 to 20 metres at most - but I just HAD to walk it. So I retraced my steps to the beginning of the original surface, hopped down, and walked on the very stones which, so many years ago, had been trodden by the government soldiers sent to "pacify" the Highlands of Scotland. It was a very special feeling - I can think of no other word for it.

Eventually the pass was behind me, and I stopped for a break at Melgarve bothy. From Melgarve it was just a short way, in the late afternoon, to Garva Bridge - which I crossed before pitching my tent on a lovely flat sward beside the river just to the left of the road. After supper, in the failing light, another Challenger - a first timer - chanced along. We chatted for a while; and I was amazed to hear that he had started on the Friday and had progressed no further than this. He confessed to being so amazed by all the amazing sceneray that he had kept taking detours to take photographs. I suggested that he really needed to think about increasing his rate of Eastward progress now, or he'd never make it to Montrose before Challenge Control closed; then bade him farewell as he headed on into the gloaming.

I slept well that night ... but still wondered whether I would be withdrawing from the Challenge once I reached Dalwhinnie.

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