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 ...

Thursday, 4 November 2010

The 2009 Challenge, day 6: Garva Bridge to Dalwhinnie

The road from Garva Bridge through Garvamore makes fro very pleasant walking, and I had a companion for this part: another Challenger who had arrived at Garva Bridge well after me (I wasn't even aware of her arrival!), and whose company I enjoyed only as far as Glenshero Lodge. From here she continued on the road towards Laggan, whilst I followed th track South South West to Aberader Lodge - which is a very enjoyable walk through Glen Shira, and is joined at the last by the path which follows the Allt Crunachdain down between Carn Dubh and Meall Ghoirleig.

At Aberader Lodge I turned East on the main road, stopping briefly at the estate office at Inverpattack Lodge where they kindly allowed me the use of their toilet facilities and refilled my water bottles for me; and then I pressed on to Feagour, intending to follow the old drove road to Dalwhinnie.

The story that follows probably reflects little credit on me ... but even less, I am afraid, on the Scottish Rights of Way society. For at the foot of the track at Feagour, there is a multiplicity of signs. One warns that the way to Dalwhinnie is "more a route than a path" and that good navigation skills are required. Well, OK I thought. It NNAS gold and ML (S) doesn't give me the required level of navigation skills, they would presumably say something rather more extreme than that! Then there was a sign which purported to show the route ... and it appeared to follow a rather different route than the track and path shown on my OS map. Finally, there was a green "arrow" sign with white lettering saying "Dalwhinnie", which pointed along a path which does not appear on the OS map, to the left of the made up track which (I presumed) was the track shown on the map. I decided to trust the Scottish Rights of Way Society and so, ignoring the track which appears on the map, followed the path on the ground which was indicated by the sign posts, and which has coloured waymarkers at regular intervals.

This path takes you for a pleasant walk up through the woods, and the waymarkers are reliable if sliughtly unnecessary - for there was no point where it was possible to deviate from this path. I rather naively assumed that the waymarkers would continue to the point where the need for navigation skills kicked in; but no! The waymarkers continued until the path came to a clearing with a rather impressive abandoned village in a clearing, which had not been so much as mentioned on the various signs and notice boards at Feagour.

I wandered around the abandoned village for a while, took a few bearings, and concluded that it was probably in the clearing at 575896. I could hear the river below - but there was no obvious way to get down to it. The path carried on past the clearing and became a well-made track; but it was quite plainly not the track shown on the map, and it carried on in altogether the wrong direction, heading to I knew not where. The woods were altogether too think to make it viable to head down to the river and follow it downstream in the hope that the footbridge at 586901 was both in existence and viable; and so the only real option open to me was to retreat back to Feagour and reassess my options. Thank you, Scottish Rights of Way Society!

Back at Feagour I realised that if I relied upon the good, made-up track being the track shown on the map and it turned out not to be - or if the path beyond the River Mashie proved to be unviable - then I should be in a right pickle. Retreating to Feagour for a second time I should find myself on the roads in failing light or total darkness, and reaching my overnight stop so late that my feet would probably not recover sufficiently while I slept to enable me to continue the next day. This was too great a risk and there was only one thing for it: I should have to go the long way round - all the way to Dalwhinnie by road.

I changed from approach shoes to Teva sandals, hefted my pack, and began the long trudge down Strath Mashie. At Drumgask I considered stopping short at the hotel there, but nobody seemed to be at home (other than the gardener) and it wasn't exactly welcoming, so I continued. The tearoom at Middleton, by contrast, was both open and welcoming, and served me a very welcome bowl of soup, big steamign mug of coffee and a wonderful slice of gooey cake; and this fortified me for the long, dreary road walk through Catlodge and over Cathar Mor into Dalwhinnie.

The light was beginning to fail when the distillery finally came into view, and I wearily trod the final two kilometres through the village to the hotel. It was going to be a vile night, and I was glad to be in the hotel. It had, however, had a thorough refurbishment since I was last here, and I did not care at all for the changes made. Gone was the cheerful, basic, traveller's stopping point with welcoming bar and hearty food that I remembered. Now it was all pretentious, designer nonsense which tried to be something it was not and could never be, and weird and wonderful cocktails rather than striaght, honest pints. Come on guys! You're in the remote Highlands of Scotland here, not South Kensington! I mean, I know that successive A9 upgrades have made it slightly more accessible than it once was, but even so ...

I rang Challenge Control from my room and updated them on my situation, and then I went in search of supper. I ordered a rare steak, and at least it came with a plate piled high with chips. But that is as much praise as I can give the kitchen. For when I cut into my steak and tried to eat it ... good GRIEF!!! I have long since got used to the idea that most steaks in this country are overcooked by one graduation, and if I order rare and get medium rare I will eat it. As tired and footsore as I was, I should probably even have eaten it if it had been medium. But there was only one way to describe this steak: well done! And after struggling manfully with it for three or four mouthfuls I decided that I deserved better than this and sent it back.

I have never done that before. Perhaps I am just a tolerant guy who puts up with more than most. Or perhaps I have just been lucky. Or perhaps it takes a truly awful chef to accept an order for a rare steak and deliver a well done steak, and the Inn at Dalwhinnie had engaged a truly awful chef. I really don't know. But after the day I had had, and with the very real possibility that I should be waking up the next morning with no alternative but to withdraw from the Challenge, I was not in a very tolerant mood and decided I deserved better than this.

As I finished my second steak (much better this time - truly rare!) a glanced around the dining room and sighted two other walkers, presumably Challengers, who invited me to join them. One turned out to be none other than Chris Townsend, and on hearing of the state of my feet and the risk that I should have to withdraw, he gave me some very sage advice. It was probably this advice which enabled me to complete the Challenge, so thank you Chris!

What he suggested was that I try removing the footbeds from my shoes. This might not make them any more comfortable or any less inclined to rub; but it would change the PLACES in which they rubbed, and so give the existing blisters a bit of respite. I had already applied this principle to a certain degree, by switchign to my Teva sandals for road walking; but it had never occurred to me that, by fiddling about with footbeds, it was possible to apply the same principle to walking in terrain which was not suitable for the Tevas.

Chris Townsend - next time we run into one another, I owe you a drink!!

No comments:

Post a Comment