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 ...

Monday, 30 May 2011

The 2011 Challenge, Day 2: Scamodale to Glen Pean (2)

After leaving the visitor centre, I turned up Glen Finnan and soon arrived at the famous viaduct. There was somebody waiting there with a camera, so I asked whether a train was due. He said it was imminent, so I asked if he knew what would be hauling it - mentioning that I'd seen both the Great Marquess and a Black 5 a couple of days previously.

He said that the steam service hadn't started yet, and that it was just going to be a 2-car or 4-car diesel unit. Now, I can see why one might wish to wait around to photograph a steam train passing over the viaduct: but a modern diesel multiple unit?? I took my photograph of the viaduct and carried on.

The 2011 Challenge, Day 2: Scamodale to Glen Pean (1)

After breaking camp, I continued along the forestry track, and Loch Shiel continued to offer up spectacular views.

Eventually, I found myself at the Callop river, in the rain, and I crossed the bridge and followed the walkway to the visitor centre. As I did so I met two other challengers, who had started at Lochailort, coming the other way. They were evidently a little surprised to meet me!

At the visitor centre I stopped in hope of being able to get some lunch - a nice, hot bowl of soup would have been just the ticket. However, it's not always as easy as that when you're gluten-intolerant, and although they had soup to offer, it had flour in it and would have made me unwell. Not a good idea on the second day of the Challenge! To give them their due, however, they DID have a nice variety of gluten-free cakes made by a company called Lazy Day Foods, and these were really rather excellent. So I had two cans of Irn Bru, a slice of rich fruit cake, a slice of coffee cake, and a bag of crisps. I then bought two more slices of the rich fruit cake (which were suitably wrapped for the purpose) and stowed them in my rucksack for future occasions when my morale might need a bit of a lift.

The 2011 Challenge, Day 1: Acharacle to Scamodale (11)

Scamodale looks, on the map, as though it ought to offer a good camping pitch, but in fact it does not. Or rather, if it does, I failed to find it.

By the time I got there it was 9 pm, I had been walking for 12 hours (including stops) and all I wanted to do was get the tent up and get to sleep.

To make matters worse, it was raining, and the wind was getting up.

I ducked through some trees to the left of the track, just after the bridge, and made my way down to the shore line. There was what looked like a pitch at the edge of the shingly, gravelly beach. It wasn't completely flat, and the pegs didn't feel all that secure, but it would do. And it had its compensations - this photo was taken from right outside my tent the next morning.

The wind blew and the rain fell pretty much all night, and I slept fitfully: promising myself a better pitch for the following night.

The 2011 Challenge, Day 1: Acharacle to Scamodale (10)

Having followed the road to Polloch (pronounced with the emphasis on the second syllable) I followed the forestry road towards Loch Shiel, then took the little cut-off path down to cut off the point at Ceanna Garbh. This photo was taken from near the top of that path.

What remained was a stretch of steady walking on a well-made and reasonably steady track. Evening was steadily approaching, however, and at 7 pm I sat down at the side of the track with my stove and made supper. I was carrying a variety of dehydrated food and "Look What We Found" range ready dishes, and I chose to treat myself to two of the latter: a wild mushroom soup followed by venison casserole with rosemary and juniper berries. It was a very satsifying meal.

As I packed my stove away the rain began to fall again, and I put my waterproofs back on for the remaining trudge past Gorstanvorran to Scamodale.

The 2011 Challenge, Day 1: Acharacle to Scamodale (9)

Well, it has to be said that the views off Beinn Resipole were pretty special, even with the cloud right down.

The route off the Beinn was pretty special, too. There was a good ridge path, and then a steady descent. After a while Caburn came steaming up behind me. He hadn't liked the descent from the bealach all that much, so he contoiured round to join me and then shot off into the distance ahead of me. Impressive though that man is in ascent, he is just awesome in descent!

I made my way down at a more steady pace, and soon found the old coffin road from Scotstown to the old lead mine. The path down through the woods is well defined. It was a bit wet and boggy higher up, but as I reached the lower reaches it was well made and I was able to make good progress down to the road. Having reached the road I took a short break, and changed into my Teva walking sandals. Meanwhile, it began to rain again and I was back into my full waterproofs.

The 2011 Challenge, Day 1: Acharacle to Scamodale (8)

It was about 3 in the afternoon by the time I topped out on Beinn Resipole. Caburn had just been starting his descent as I came huffing and puffing up to the foot of the final rocky outcrop and he kindly agreed to return to the summit so that we could both take photos of each other at the top. This photo was taken looking North East, with Loch Shiel stretching away towards Glenfinnan behind me.

The 2011 Challenge, Day 1: Acharacle to Scamodale (7)

After lunch we continued at our own paces, and it wasn't long before Caburn was disappearing off into the distance.

The summit still seemed a long way off, but we all knew that with steady effort we would reach it. Or at least, that's what I thought. When we reached the bealach, however, it became clear that Andy Howell and co weren't coming to join us at the summit - they were going to descend by way of Coire na Creiche. I wasn't quite sure where they were going to go after that, however, as I had concluded from the map that there was no way down off the North flank of the Beinn. Perhaps they knew of another way through the woods that was not shown on the map. Who knows?

In any event, I wished them well for their crossing, and then we parted. Caburn had left his pack at the bealach so he, too, was obviously intending to come back this way. I , however, was intending to continue along the ridge and descend by way of the Leac Chlann Domhnuill Mhic Dhugaill and Meall an t-Slugain, so I took my pack up with me to the summit.

The 2011 Challenge, Day 1: Acharacle to Scamodale (6)

I had hoped to take lunch at the top of the Beinn, even if this meant having a rather late lunch. But as it became increasingly clear that the summit would not be reached at anything that might even remotely be termed lunchtime, I decided that a convenient little grassy knoll by the track looked like the ideal picnic spot.

As Caburn and I sat enjoying our lunch, Andy Howell and his Anglo-American entourage finally caught up with us.

The 2011 Challenge, Day 1: Acharacle to Scamodale (5)

The path ascended through scrubby woodland, and then beyond the woods we were out on the open hillside. They say that the views from Beinn Resipole are some of the finest in the West Highlands, and it has to be said that every time I turned and looked back the views just got better and better.

As we continued to climb, it was Caburn who spotted them first: away on the far side of the stream, and fighting their way up over rough terrain with no paths or tracks to help them, a party of four walkers who could only be Challengers, led by a man in a white hat who could only be Andy Howell. So I told Caburn that they had chosen to follow a route through the pinewood plantations rather than follow the road round to Resipole.

They had been walking faster than me, and I had of course spent half an hour or more in the Salen Oakwoods, but they were now well behind us. And for some reason Kipling's poem "The Way Through The Woods" sprang instantly to mind:

They shut the road through the woods
Seventy years ago.
Weather and rain have undone it again,
And now you would never know
There was once a road through the woods
Before they planted the trees.
It is underneath the coppice and heath,
And the thin anemones.
Only the keeper sees
That, where the ring-dove broods,
And the badgers roll at ease,
There was once a road through the woods.

Yet, if you enter the woods,
Of a summer evening late,
When the night-air cools on the trout-ringed pools
Where the otter whistles his mate.
(They fear not men in the woods,
Because they see so few)
You will hear the beat of a horse's feet
And the swish of a skirt in the dew,
Steadily cantering through
The misty solitudes,
As though they perfectly knew
The old lost road through the woods ...
But there is no road through the woods.

The 2011 Challenge, Day 1: Acharacle to Scamodale (4)

In due course the road brought me to Resipole, and I could see Beinn Resipole in the distance. To my great relief, the top was clear of clouds and I knew that I should be going up and over, rather than trudging round on the roads.

The path begins as a good track up beside a stream, and after a while there is a mysterious hut which I investigated for future reference to see whether it might, if necessary, serve as an emergency bothy. It was all but filled by a large water tank of some sort, and I concluded that it was not really available as an ad hoc shelter.

It was at this hut that I met another challenger, Caburn, who had stopped for a brew; and as we were both heading up to the top of Beinn Resipole, we walked together for a while.

The 2011 Challenge, Day 1: Acharacle to Scamodale (3)

Thankfully the rain did not last for terribly long; and as I continnued along the road, occasional views of Loch Sunart opened up.

The 2011 Challenge, Day 1: Acharacle to Scamodale (2)

During last year's Challenge, the flowers which seemed to greet me at every turn were primroses. In the Salen Oakwoods, however, it was bluebells. The woods seemed to be carpeted with them.

As I returned to the road to continue my walk, it began to rain. Lightly at first, but then heavier and heavier until I was forced to admit defeat and put my waterproofs on.

I did not know it then, but this was to be just the first of many times I wore full waterproofs during the crossing ... and indeed, it was only on the final day of my Challenge that I did not have to wear my waterproofs at all.

The 2011 Challenge, Day 1: Acharacle to Scamodale (1)

Friday 13 May 2011. After breakfast, I signed the Challenge register and began to walk. The cloud base looked higher then it had been the past couple of days, and I was hopeful that it would lift sufficiently to make Beinn Resipole a viable proposition.

As I walked by road towards Salen, Andy Howell and his companions caught up with me and we walked together a little way until they turned off into the woods. I wished them well, and carried on by road.

At Salen, beside Loch Sunart, there is a wonderful little stretch of woodland that they are trying to protect called the Salen Oakwoods. All of the woodland paths are circular, unfortunately, so you cannot use it as a parallel track to the road. But I spent a very pleasant half hour or so walking through the Oakwoods.

The 2011 Challenge, Prologue: getting to the start (13)

Thursday 12 May 2011. I woke up in my tent with a terrible pain in my lower back, having slept awkwardly or something. Not quite sure what ... but I was scarcely able to re-pack my rucksack and seriously began to wonder whether my Challenge was over before I'd even started. After breakfast I took a couple of painkillers, and hoped that I'd be able to sleep it off. Then I set off for Acharacle again.

Walking entirely by road this time, I had to turn down three offers of lifts between the Singing Sands and Acharacle!

Arriving in Acharacle, I took this photo. Now I know that facilities can be somewhat rudimentary in the more remote parts of the Highlands, but it did occur to me that this was maybe taking things to extremes. I mean, if it weren't for the helpful label painted on the road, I would never have recognised these trees for what they really are. Would you?

A little way beyond the shelter was a bench where I sat for a while and, before long, Bill Roberts (the ulitmate legend of the Challenge, about to embark on his thirtieth crossing) came by and we chatted for a while. He was camping somewhere down by the loch. I was stopping for the night at the hotel. So after a bit of a natter we parted and I wandered on to the hotel where I took lunch at the bar and then had an easy afternoon, greeting other Challengers as they arrived.

Now, I remember the hotel (twenty five years ago) having an impressive restaurant which turned out the most amazing, hearty Highland fare. I am afraid to say, however, that it is no longer quite such an exquisite culinary experience to eat there. I ordered rack of lamb, which hadn't been French trimmed and had, as a consequence, been somewhat overcooked to render the fat. The resulting grey, chewy chunk of meat was a dreadful waste of a fine, tender cut of meat. Breakfast wasn't much better either. I ordered a kipper, which had also been overcooked and was much like eating cardboard. (Although, to be fair, at least they had kippers on the menu, unlike my hotel overlooking Loch Fyne in Ardrishaig!)

Talk over breakfast amongst the challengers centred around who was going over Beinn Resipole and who was not. Andy Howell had been given a cunning route through the forest, which doesn't appear on the maps, to avoid having to do too much road walking. He invited others to join him; but I decided to stick with opening few kilometres of roads.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

The 2011 Challenge, Prologue: getting to the start (12)

Now the Singing Sands is a truly beautiful, secluded beach; and I had it all to myself. I performed my solemn ritual of walking to the water's edge and dipping a walking pole into the waves to mark my formal departure from the East Coast, and then I sat a while and enjoyed being on the beach by myself. I took a few clothes off and ventured into the sea - which was cold, but enjoyable.

After a while, it began to rain a little, and I thought I ought to find a place to pitch my tent. Heading North along the beach I came to a little stream, and following it up beyond the tide line I found a beautiful spot with a broad flat sward, which had obviously been used as a camp site by others before me as there was a ring of stones marking out a fire place with a plentiful supply of firewood alongside. The two sheep which had been grazing when I arrived ambled off to eat elsewhere, and I pitched my tent in the rain.

After supper (cooked at the fireplace, during a brief lull in the rain) I tried to see whether I could get a fire going; but the wood was all wet and it soon became apparent that I should have little success. So I retired to my tent for the night.

The 2011 Challenge, Prologue: getting to the start (11)

The track took me past Kentra Bay (pictured) and on into some pleasant woods.

Before long I came to a path junction where I met a fellow walker with an expedition rucksack sitting beside the track. It was a pleasant spot and I was in need of a glug so, surmising that he was a fellow Challenger, I sat and we talked for a while.

He was indeed a fellow Challenger: Dutchman Rolf Kerkhot Magot, on his way to Acharacle to start his fourth crossing. He had been wondering about going down to the sands to camp himself but, having been camped out in a storm the night before, he decided to go looking for some hard shelter in Acharacle instead. So in due course we parted, he following the path I had come along, and I turning right along the short spur down to the Singing Sands.

The 2011 Challenge, Prologue: getting to the start (10)

I headed out of Acharacle on the track which runs from the primary school to Kentra Bay, stopping to eat my lunch on the way. I was able to walk without my waterproofs, although I kept them handy as the sky looked as though it may offer me rain at any moment.

As I walked past Kentra Bay, I came to a gate with a rather alarming warning sign on it (pictured). However, it was clear from the text of the sign that the actual chance of being blown up on a single visit was actually rather remote, so I decided to go ahead and camp there anyway. So I passed through the gate undaunted.

The 2011 Challenge, Prologue: getting to the start (9)

We landed at Acharacle at lunchtime on Wednesday 11 May, and I wandered up into the village where I was greeted by the (somewhat incongruous, I thought) sight of a gardener in a kilt strimming the edges of the hotel gardens.

I had a day and a half before I could start, and Acharacle isn't actually on the coast. I always like to think that I've walked all the way across, so I struck out Westwards. I had at first thought that I would go to the camp site at Ardtoe; but somebody on the CHallenge message board had given me the grid reference for a wonderful wild camping spot on the coast, and I decided to give that a try instead.

The beach I was heading for is known, locally, as the Singing Sands.

The 2011 Challenge, Prologue: getting to the start (8)

The boat trip along Loch Shiel was a wonderful experience. The views of the mountains to either side are quite extraorinary. The view in the photograph is of Glenalladale, which is on the North side of the loch opposite Scamodale. I noted the landform well, as Scamodale was to be my first overnight stop, and sighting Glenalladale on the opposite shore would be the first sign of its approach.

The 2011 Challenge, Prologue: getting to the start (7)

I ought, perhaps, to explain why it was that I decided to start this year from Acharacle, and why I was travelling to Glenfinnan on the Tuesday when the Challenge did not actually start until the Friday.

Starting at Acharacle in 2011 was important to me because it was almost exactly a quarter of a century since I had fallen in love with the Highlands of Scotland, and this happened at Acharacle. At Easter 1986, during my last holiday before I sat my A level examinations, my parents and I had gone touring in Scotland, and we spent several days staying in the hotal at Acharacle. I was simply overawaed by everything I saw (as so many people are, on first encountering the majestic Highland landscape) and have returned to Scotland practically every year since. I was anxious, therefore, to mark this significant anniversary by starting at Acharacle, from that very same hotel where I first learned to love this place.

Acharacle is at the South-West end of Loch Shiel, and is difficult to access by public transport. Glenfinnan is at the North-East end of Loch Shiel, and is easily accessed by public transport as it has a railway station. And every Wednesday, a boat sails the entire length of the loch, landing at Acharacle for passengers to take lunch. The return fare is £25; and a one-way ticket can be had for £16. So this is how I decided to travel to Acharacle. But although the boat cruises on the loch on other days, it is only on a Wednesday that it runs the full length of the loch.

The boat which provides this service is the Sileas (pictured at her moorings). She is a former Admiralty HL(D) - which stands for Harbour Launch (Diesel), a hardy and versatile breed of vessel which were built in large numbers during the Second World War to service the needs of the fleet at anchor, and subsequently sold into civilian service where they have found many and varied uses. She is a delightful vessel, and I am glad I travelled aboard her.

The 2011 Challenge, Prologue: getting to the start (6)

My stroll around the village took me out to the Jacobite memorial, and I wandered right down to the shores of the loch where I took this photo and tried to envisage the scene in 1745 at Prince Charles Edward Sewart was rowed up the loch to Glanfinnan and raised his standard in an attempt to reclaim the throne of England and Scotland (by now united by the Act of Union) on behalf of his father James Stewart - who would, had the attempt been successful, have been King James III of England and VIII of Scotland.

Interestingly, dies dated 1709 from which coinage for King James III "of Great Britain, France and Ireland" could be struck were prepared prior to an abortive attempt to reclaim the throne in 1708; and further dies for a coinage of King James VIII "of Scotland, England, Fance and Ireland" were prepared before the 1715 Jacobite rising. No dies were prepared before the 1745 rising however. Although none of the Jacobite risings of the 18th century led to the restoration of the Stewart monarchy, and the dies were not used at the time, a number of pieces were struck from these dies in 1828 following which the dies were defaced.

The claim to be king of France was perfectly normal: all British monarchs continued to assert this claim on their coinage until the Currency Reform Act of 1816, even though the reality was that the last English possession in mainland France - Calais - had been lost during the reign of Queen Mary in the 1550s!

The 2011 Challenge, Prologue: getting to the start (5)

Before supper that evening, I took a stroll around Glenfinnan to have a proper look at the village. It is a village I have driven through many times, but I have never actually stoppped there, other than to visit the visitor centre and the Jacobite memorial.

It is a charming village in which all is not as it seems. Take the structure in the picture, for instance. What is this? You may well think that it is a garden shed; but you would be wrong. It is in fact the village post office!

The 2011 Challenge, Prologue: getting to the start (4)

I stayed overnight at the Prince's House Hotel in Glenfinnan. It was a very enjoyable night, and the food was superb. They were happy to put some laundry through for me overnight (even though I'd only got one day's worth of clothes in need of washing, I thought it worthwhile having it done as it reduced by one the number of changes of clothes I needed to carry). They charged £10 for this service, mind ... unlike some guest houses and B&Bs where I've stayed in Scotland, who are more than happy to put a load of laundry through without charge.

The 2011 Challenge, Prologue: getting to the start (3)

As we crossed the Glenfinnan viaduct at the end of my journey, there was just time to capture a couple of photographs of the head of Loch Shiel and its surrounding mountains through the rain-dashed window of the train.

I was concerned by the level of the cloud base. I wanted to climb Beinn Resipole on the first day of my crossing ... but the cloud base would need to lift considerably to make that a viable propositiion. If it did not, then I should be on my Foul Weather Alternative ... which involved some 34km of walking, nearly all of it on roads!

I really did not want my Challenge to start with a day like that, so I hoped against hope that by Friday the cloud base would be a little higher, and that I should be able to contemplate tackling the Corbett ...

The 2011 Challenge, Prologue: getting to the start (2)

Having arrived in Glasgow, I had to walk from Central to Queen Street station. A short walk, and reasonably pleasant ... noting as I went that student humour does not appear to change from one generation to the next, and that traffic cones continue to find many unofficial uses.

I bought some things for lunch, and caught the afternoon train to Mallaig (although I was only going to ride it as far as Glenfinnan).

Along the way, we passed a steam-hauled service headed by The Grand Marquess and a Black 5. Had I known we were expecting to see it, then I should have been out on the platform with my camera to capture an image; but alas I was unaware until it was too late!

The 2011 Challenge, Prologue: getting to the start (1)

The 2011 Challenge started, for me, with a 5 a.m. alarm on Tuesaday 10 May. My wife drove me through the cold light of early morning to Milton Keynes Central, where I caught the 6.22 to Glasgow (pictured, arriving at Milton Keynes).

The sky was overcast, and a light drizzle fell. If I had but known it, this was to be just about the best weather I was to get all crossing!

As the train sped northwards, the scenery changed but the weather did not. Grey. Overcast. Wet.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Nearly time ... here's a preview of my route

As I write, I have just three more days before I head off for this year's Challenge.

Here's a quick preview of the route:

Tuesday 10 May: early train to Glasgow. Lunch in Glasgow, then onto the Mallaig train as far as Glenfinnan.

Wednesday 11 May: boat trip from Glenfinnan along Loch Shiel to Acharacle, and walk out to the coast (I always like to start right at the coast ...)

Thursday 12 May: enjoy being at the coast for a bit, then walk back to Acharacle in a leisurely manner. A chance to check and adjust kit.

Friday 13 May: start of the Challenge proper. Sign out, and head over Beinn Resipole, then along the shore of Loch Shiel as far as Scamodale. Camp at Scamodale.

Saturday 14 May: Continue to Glenfinnan and up Gleann Cuirnean. If weather is good and I feel like it, from Corryhully head up onto the ridge and traverse Sgurr a Choire Riabhaich to Meall an Fhir-eoin; otherwise stay low. Make camp on far bank of River Pean.

Sunday 15 May: Strathan, Kinbreak and into Glen Kingie. Down to Tomdoun and have a bath and a shave, a bed and a good meal at the hotel.

Monday 16 May: cross the bridge over Loch Garry and ascend by Allt Bealach Eosain, then traverse the ridge from Meall a' Choire Ghlais over Sron a' Choire Ghairbh to Sean Mheall. Descend to Kilfinnan and follow the road for teh last few kilometres to the Great Glen Hostel.

Tuesday 17 May: Ascend Allt Sidhean and drop down to Glen Turret. Follow the glen and stop for the night at Melgarve.

Wednesday 18 May: Continue to Garva Bridge then ascend Geal Charn and walk the ridge as far as Carn Ban and Carn Dearg, then descend to Loch Dubh and camp by the loch.

Thursday 19 May: Short day following Gleann Lochain and Geln Banchor down to Newtonmore, then following the cycle track into Kingussie. Another chance for a bath and a shave, a decent meal and a nice bed. Plus the chance to deal with any kit issues.

Friday 20 May: a long but flattish day walkign past Ruthven barracks, through the Inshriach Forest to Feshiebridge and across Feshie Moor to the Cairngorm Club footbridge, then by way of Loch Morlich to the Cairngorm Lodge Youth Hostel.

Saturday 21 May: Pass Ryvoan and head north, then fork away from Rynettin and walk the ridge Geal Charn - Geal Charn Beag - Carn Ruadh-bhreac. Descend to Ca-du ford and follow the track down Water of Allnack to Tomintoul. Another Youth Hostel beckons.

Sunday 22 May: Over Carn Daimh to Tomnavoulin and track up the River Livet to Suie then track below Carn Daimh to Blackwater Lodge. Cross the bridge and camp on teh opposite bank.

Monday 23 May: Track up Dead Wife's Hillock then ridge walk Rounumuck Hill - Cairnbrallan Hill - Hill of Three Stones - Longriggin Hill and Lang Hillock. Track across Blairlick Hill to Kindy Burn and ascent The Buck, then ridge walk Kebbuck Knowe and Hill of Snowy Slack. Track down Glen Laff and camp just above the tree line (which I'm told is no longer there as the trees have been clear felled ... )

Tuesday 24 May: A fair bit of road walking today, but the chance to get up into the Correen Hills on the path over Edinbanchory Hill and Fouchie Shank, then down into Alford where another nice hotel room beckons.

Wednesday 25 May: Over some hills and through the Bennachie Forest, then down by road into Inverurie.

Thursday 26 May: All road walking now, from Inverurie to Newmachar and on to the East coast at Balmedie beach. No attempt to get to Montrose today. It's a full day's walking and as I got in off the standby list the Park had long since been fully booked. So I shall stay overnight at Balmedie.

Friday 27 May: A leisurely journey down into Aberdeen (making use of motorised transport if any is available) then on to Montrose. Celebratory dinner and an overnight stay at the Park.

Saturday 28 May: by train to London and then home. When I booked my ticket, it was only £20 more to have a First Class ticket, so it was a no-brainer, wasn't it? After walking across Scotland, I reckon I'll deserve it!

This year I shall be carrying a camera with a 2GB memory card and two freshly-charged batteries, so I ought to be able to illustrate my blog with pictures of the whole crossing.

I'll be trialling dehydrated food as well, but not for my entire rations.

Just three more days to go ... Acharacle to Balmedie ... it's just a case of getting from A to B!

Monday, 2 May 2011

So close I can almost smell it ...

... Well, it's been one heck of a month, and I'm glad to be waving goodbye to April.

Just five more working days, and one weekend, and then I'll be on the train heading North, ready for the start of this year's Challenge.

Acharacle this year. I'll take the train to Glenfinnan, then a boat trip along Loch Shiel. I'll walk out to the coast and camp by the sea, then walk back inland to Acharacle and the "start point" hotel, before starting my Challenge proper.

It's a good looking route. It's going to be fun.

I've loaded the pack - just under 16 kilos. Not bad. There's be a little more weight when I put in the "real" food load; but then again, it's currently got my old synthetic sleeping bag, and there'll be some weight to come off when I switch to the down bag (whcih I don't intend to compress until the very last minute).

Looking good, Jeremy ... looking good!!