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Saturday, 13 November 2010

The 2009 Challenge, day 9: Ryvoan to Linn of Avon ... and beyond

After a pleasant night in Ryvoan bothy, I decided there was no need to retreat to Glenmore Lodge and retire, so I set on about the planned day's walking. It was a miserable, drizzly day and I was walking in my waterproofs practically the whole time - but such days happen from time to time, and provide a contrast which makes the rest of the Challenge so much more enjoyable.

I took the Coire Odhar path up past Bynack More. Unlike 2004, however, instead of turning East along the ridge, I continued past Lochan a' Bhainne and down the Allt Dearg. It was on the narrow track above Lochan a'Bhainne, pressing on, head-down, into the driving rain that I had the nastiest moment of the entire crossing. The ground was wet, the way narrow, and my foot slipped and turned over, pitching me off to the right. There was no point trying to arrest the fall - I just knew I would end up injuring myself badly if I did so. There was nothing for it but to roll with it, wherever it took me! The ground dropped away steeply to the right, and that was where the weight of my pack was throwing me. Fortunately, however, I didn't roll. I lay there for a moment or two, catching my breath. Then I struggled out of my rucksack harness, stood myself up, and dusted myself down. Nothing broken, nothing sprained ... I had been lucky! I hoisted my pack and continued, a little more cautiously than previously.

I was relieved to reach Fords of Avon refuge, and spent a little while sitting in the tiny shelter. It was cold - very cold - but at least it was dry. I looked at the various food items stowed on a little shelf at the back of the shelter. There was a packet of dry ingredient soup. Just add water and simmer. It was tempting ... very tempting. But it said "Makes enough for 4 servings" and there was only one of me. I did not think I could justify opening it, when somebody else with more than one mouth to feed might need it. So I ate a little of my emergency energy rations, left a little offering of my own on the shelf, and carried on. The River Avon here is wide and swift-flowing, and doubtless very cold. The place may be CALLED "Fords of Avon" - but I did not like the idea of fording here one little bit! Fortunately, however, fording the Avon did not feature in my plans.

My route now was down the River Avon to Linn of Avon. This would be my third time through this particular point in four Challenges, and every time I should have approached it from a different direction (off Big Garvoun in 2004; from the North coming up the River Avon in 2006, and now from the West down the River Avon). I should also have departed in three different directions (up Carn Bad a' Ghuail and along the ridge in 2004; on the track through Lagganauld in 2006, and this year to the South up Glen Builg). That left only one viable approach still to be attempted (from the South, down Glen Builg - as I somehow doubted I should ever approach it from the East!) and one route away from the Linn (to the North, down the River Avon - as I equally doubted I should ever head West from Linn of Avon).

The path down the Avon is enjoyable, even with a steady light rain falling the whole way. At the top, near Fords of Avon, it is narrow and clings precariosuly to a steep hillside falling away to the river below; but it is always viable. Then it reaches the valley floor and is a bit wet in places, but nothing to make progress too difficult. And then ... Faindouran Lodge. This is a truly wonderful bothy, with a barn providing additional accommodation. But the comments in the bothy book caused me to stop and think long and hard about what we are doing here. "Came for a bit of solitude. Two wonderful days then the GOC train came through ..." and references to the bothy being full, the barn being full, and 14 tents being pitched in the immediate vicinity. Hmmm .... are we over-using (or even abusing) the Challenge "trade routes", I wondered? Is 300 Challengers too many?? We pride ourselves on being, not only the premier backpacking event in the world, but also an environmentally conscious self-sustaining self-sufficient event. But if this is how others perceive us ... ???

With this sobering thought, I pressed on. Beyong Faindouran the path becomes a well made track, and progress to Linn of Avon was so good that I arrived there round about 4 in the afternoon. And it was still throwing it down with rain. And I really didn't fancy putting up my tent in the wet, and then sitting in it with the rain lashing down, while there were still several hours of good, walkable daylight. My feet were well and truly rejuvenated, thanks to Chris Townsend's advice, despite the heavy blistering. So I looked at the map and noted that it was barely 9 km further to Corndavon Lodge. I could be there by 7, or 8 at the very latest. And the thought of a bit of shelter from the rain spurred me on.

Up through Glen Builg I went; and as I did so the rain stopped, and in the early evening light Glen Builg was truly one of the most beautiful Scottish glens I have ever walked. If you have never been through it, well, what can I say? Put it on your list of "must do" walks. Unless you cycle in from Tomintoul to Linn of Avon, you cannot do it as a day walk (unless you're going to do a VERY big day) but don't let that put you off!

The Builg Burn had to be forded twice on the way up, and then there are two more fords close to the loch. These later fords are easy enough, but the early ones are real "trousers off and plunge into the cold water" jobs. Fortunately it is very remote, and there is nobody there to see ... except for the keepers in their Landrover, who arrived just after I'd got my trousers back on following the second crossing!

As for Loch Builg ... really, truly beautiful; and a little sandy beach to cap it all.

Beyond Loch Builg, the track down the river Gairn is good walking and I made great time to Corndavon bothy, noting as I did so that neither of the bridges over the RIver Gairn to the East of Loch Builg looked at all safe. Memo to self: if ever coming off Culardoch - use the bridge at GR 190020!!

As I had not originally planned to use Corndavon bothy, I had not actually taken note of the fact that it was specifically mentioned in the Challenge notes as being no longer open! And, sure enough, it was all locked up and no way in. No matter, though - the original plan had been to camp tonight, and that was what I should do. Tomorrow's walking would be shortened by 9 km and it was no longer raining, so all in all it had been well worth the effort to press on to Corndavon.

I pitched on a lovely flat piece of grass, just across the track from the ruins of Corndavon Lodge, and after cooking supper I settled down in my tent for a very pleasant night's sleep.

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