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 ...

Sunday, 23 December 2012

An interesting e-mail exchange

I have had a fascinating e-mail exchange about this blog. It went like this:

From: Craig Hall (craig.hall@mediaworks.co.uk)
To: Me
Date: 8 November 2012
Subject: Advertising on your blog http://tworoutes.blogspot.com/


I noticed your blog and I’d love to work with you and your blog http://tworoutes.blogspot.com/. My colleagues and I work with a lot of outdoor websites and we’re looking for top bloggers to help promote our clients through advertising on their blogs.

If you’d be interested in an advertising opportunity with us, all you would need to do is quickly talk about some of the items from our clients website i.e. tents, hiking boots, camping stoves…

Please let me know if you’d be interested in working with us on writing product/brand promotions from time to time for your blog and I’ll be able to send over the first one for you.


Craig Hall
Online Marketing Executive

Well, I thought about this for quite a while. I wondered whether I could really deliver what they want - the blog may have had over 20,000 page views, but that is actually only because I can't master the finer points of blogger, and have a separate post for each photo. The actual average page views per page is only about 20. Still, I figured that it was up to them to research all that for themselves. If they hadn't got it figured, that was their problem not mine. And although i don't want adverts on my blog (indeed, I nearly didn't open the e-mail at all because of the misleading title suggesting it was about advertising rather than gear reviews) I decided that if they wanted to send me some gear to test and review, I would not be averse to doing that.

So I sent the following reply:

From: Me
To: Craig Hall
Date: 2 December 2012

So ... you mean doing some product testing and write-ups?

Now, this is where it gets interesting! Because although the e-mail of 8 November had spoken of "getting the first one over to me" ... he now came clean about what it was that he was REALLY asking for.

From: Craig Hall
To: Me
Date: 10 December 2012

Hi Jeremy

Sorry for just getting back to you. I had a week off from work and I’ve been trying to catch back up.

Yeah we’re be looking for review write up’s. We aren’t able to send out stock from our clients but our clients stock a wide range of items so you might own something that they’re already selling to write a review about.

Would you be interested in doing something like that.


Craig Hall
Online Marketing Executive

So ... it appears that what Mr Hall wanted me to do was to change the style and content of my blog to include gear reviews of gear that he was being paid to promote ... provided I already owned that gear!!!

Needless to say, I did not find this a particularly attractive offer, and so I wrote back:

From: Me
To: Craig Hall
Date: 10 December 2012

To be frank, Craig, I'm having difficulty at the moment seeing where the attraction in this arrangement lies for me.

At the moment the blog covers the subjects I want it to cover, and I'm happy with it. If I want to talk about a bit of kit I've been using, I will do. But I don't involve full-on gear reviews.

Now, if you were to ask me to start including full gear reviews on normal review terms, I might consider that. It would change the style of the blog - but if there were something in it for me then I would certainly consider it. But writing reviews to suit your customers' agenda with no obvious payback for me? I think the expression that covers that suggestion is "get real".

Thank you for taking an interest in my blog.

Since sending that e-mail, I have heard nothing further from Mr Hall. I somehow doubt that I shall. However, I appreciate that other bloggers may take a different view of the attractiveness of Mr Hall's offer. So if there are any other outdoors bloggers who read this blog and are just itching for a chance to write gear reviews of their own gear to please Mr Hall's clients (for which those clients will presumably pay Mr Hall, but not the blogger) ... here are his full contact details from his e-mail signature block:

Mediaworks Online Marketing
Princesway North
Team Valley
Tyne & Wear
NE11 0NF

Email: craig.hall@mediaworks.co.uk
Telephone: +44 (0)191 404 0100
Fax: +44 (0)191 40 0199
Website: www.mediaworks.co.uk
Twitter: www.twitter.com/mediaworksuk

Meanwhile, don't call us, Mr Hall ... we'll call you.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Route vetters' comments

My route for 2013 was vetted by Ali Ogden and Sue Oxley, who are new to the vetting team this year, and they have sent me some lovely comments which I shall set out in full. They write:

Hello Jeremy,

Welcome to the 34th TGO Challenge. It's a select bunch on number 8 this year as Ali will be on her eighth as well. This is a fine route which at times taking you into rough, remote and relatively unfrequented territory. Some of you days are long and arduous but after seven Challenges you will know your capabilities and limitations.

The route is very well written but is unfortunately on an old route sheet. John has re-designed it this year mainly to give more space for FWA.

Bearing in mind your adventures last year we hardly need remind you of the potential risk of burns in spate. Your foul weather alternatives are very well thought-out in this respect. We also remind Challengers of the risk of late (and sometimes fresh!) lying snow on high ground in May. If you are not carrying suitable winter equipment we presume you are willing to modify your route or use your FWA where appropriate. Distances and ascent are accurately calculated - though we assume the "59km" on Friday 17th is a typo! [It was indeed!!]

We know you are an experienced Challenger and you route appears very well researched so many of the comments below might already be known to you though we hope some snippets may be of use.

Fri 10th
This is really an Arisaig route in disguise so I guess it's a shame for you it is no longer a start point. Although tarmac underfoot, the walk along the coast will be beautiful and there are plenty of white beaches where you can dip your boots in the Atlantic. Neither of us are familiar with the path up from Scamdale but from "Where's the path" and "Geograph" it might be not always evident on the ground. Your campsite looks idyllic.

Sat 11th
A wonderfully remote day initially through pathless and rough territory. We don't know if either of the bridges near Rifern are useable but the one at NM 799866 was there and in good condition when Ali passed by in 2008. The path along Loch Beoraid is somewhat intermittent. Do you know a specific campsite south of the river or are you taking precautions in case the river comes up overnight?

Sun 12th
We think you know this area well - didnt' you come up Loch Shiel from Acharacle in the past? Therefore you will know the track from Corryhully is tarmacked and that there is a bridge over the Callop that isn't marked on the 1:50,000 maps.
FWA: if you listen to Bob's podcasts you'll know the ascent of Gleann Don is pretty tough going.

Mon 13th
A fine ridge walk after an initially bouldery descent from Gulvain. You can use the Great Glen Way as an alternative to the tarmac on the way to Gairloch.

Tues 14th
The "bridges" on the old tramway are just girders across burns which can be in deep ravines and if in spate may require diversions to cross if, like us, your gymnastic talents are limited. In 2008 we walked further along the Spean and ascended by the track spur at NN 291801, thus avoiding the deepest ravines - see Geograph for photos of the trestle-bridge crossing the Allt Beinn Chlianaig. Another idyllic looking campsite.
FWA: distance and ascent not included. [Oops! I calculated them ... ]

Wed 15th
Another fine ridge walk. You might want to rethink your descent unless you are a keen scrambler, as the Lancet Edge on Sgor Iutharn is quite exposed and will be tricky as a down climb with a full pack. It might be better to descend to the top of the Bealach Dubh.
FWA: a good alternative to the mire that is the route via the Uisge Labhair but we still doubt your feet will stay entirely dry!

Thur 16th
If you want an early shower you can take the firebreak SE of the Fara to the track by Loch Ericht.

Fri 17th
These are much maligned hills but personally we love the sense of space and on a good day the plateau is a fine place to be. If you want to descend sooner the Allt na Craoibhe runs through a beautiful little glen. You might want to revise your distances - hopefully you won't be walking 59 km!
FWA: can you specify whether you are "contouring" south of Meall Cuaich or going by the tracks to the north? Ali took the route to the south and by the Allt na Fearna in 2000 and, though pathless over the col, it was easy going on short heather.

Sat 18th
A long day over predominantly pathless terrain but if you get a good day it will be a wonderful high-level traverse. If the Geldie is likely to be high you could descend the N ridge of Carn Ealar and cross the water near its source.

Sun 19th
An imaginative solution to the Geldie being unfordable though, if the weather is excessively foul, you might have to trudge up the Geldie once you have found a place to cross the Allt an t-Seilich. We presume you know the route through Morrone Birkwood, which can spare you a bit of tarmac.

Mon 20th
Today's hills have been regulars on our Challenges. We have tended to go to Tolmount first then descend E from Tom Buidhe to join Jock's Road W of Cairn Lunkard
FWA: the road walk won't be pleasant but there really isn't an alternative. The path now diverts south of Tomb on the well-signposted Cateran Trail. We found the tracks around Westerton of Runavey did not seem to tally with the map and ended up trudging across an unpleasant fiels of as Sue put it "slurification".

Tues 21st
An alternative start (and slightly shorter) would be to take the well-made path through the impressive Coire Fee which is a beautiful natural amphitheatre and alpine meadow - complete with information leaflets as you exit the forest. If you have the legs for an extra few km on the previous day it would make a fine campsite. You should be able to find somewhere to pitch by the burn in upper Glen Quharity.
FWA from main route: ideally only features recognisable on the 1:50,000 maps should be used on the route sheet and the Minister's path isn't noted on the map [neither is the Lancet Edge, nor Coire Fee, both of which were referred to by the vetters ... I may just have to twist their tails a little about that one]. There are actually two recognised starts to it - the path via Elf Hillock, which is not very clear on the ground but might be the original route, and the now-signposted route via the track south of Wester Eggie. Glen Uig is a lovely narrow glen with a few delightfully sheltered pitches.
FWA from previous day FWA: We went this way in 2011 when we were literally blown off-course by the big Monday storm, although we took the road up the Blackwater Reservoir. Craig of Balloch is a gem of a place, narrow and rocky but with a neat little path and a natural spring.

Wed 22nd
These hills are worth it for the names alone - Clinking Cauldron sounds rather magical! There appears to be a track up the W side of the Prosen Water from Bykenhillock but we don't know of a bridge across the Prosen. Do you know otherwise? While in Glenuig we bumped into the local farmer who told us of the bridge at NO 342629 (not marked on earlier OS maps) and a track running north then up through the wood to a field crossed E to the road. It's good to see you plotting a route that avoids roads where possible. So many Challengers just stick to the road. The route via Cortachy Castle and Tufachie is unobstructed but we don't have experience of the other tracks you plan to use.

Thur 23rd
Sue finished last year at Needle E which is an interesting feature.

Once again it's a well thought-out and interesting route from start to finish and we have thoroughly enjoyed following it. Feel free to contact us directly on [e-mail address] if you have any queries and particularly if you want to clarify the points in italics [which were the remarks about the Lancet Edge on the 15th, the distance on the 17th, and whether the FWA on the 17th passed north or south of Meall Cuaich]

Well, those are a very pleasing set of Vetters' notes (although I bet once the bulk of the routes start arriving, Ali and Sue won't be able to afford the luxury of writing two and a half sides of A4 in respect of each of them!!) The invitation to "feel free to contact" them, "particularly if you want to clarify the points in italics" is actually an order to do so. A very polite order ... but an order none the less.

I shall revise my route to the use the suggested alternative descent from Sgor Iutharn; but apart from that I shall leave it as it stands. If the bridge over the Prosen (which is shown on the maps) turns out not to be there, it is only a very short out-and-back detour and there are other roads which can be followed to take me past Prosen Bridge, through Inverquharity and on to Forfar.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Route submitted ... feeling smug

So here it is ... pretty much the route I posted before, but with a few little tweaks.

FRIDAY 10 MAY: 22 km, 710m climb. Old coast road from Morar to Arisaig school; track past Sunisletter and Scamadale; and follow the stream up from Lochan a Bhealaich to Loch a Choire Riabhaich, making my camp by the loch.

SATURDAY 11 MAY: 18 km, 450m climb. Head East to Lochan Feith a Mhadaidh, follow the string of lochans up then descend by Allt a' Bhlair Dheirg and Abhainn Chlacach. Cross the River Meoble by bridge (at Rifern if the one further upstream doesn't look sound) and head up River Meoble to Loch Beoraid. Follow the non-existent path along the North shore of Loch Beoraid past Kinlochbeoraid, cross the Ruighe Breac and camp on the south bank.

SUNDAY 12 MAY: 28 km, 1100m climb. Cross back to the north bank of the Ruighe Breac and follow up through Coire Odhar Mor and onto the ridge. Follow the ridge up to SGURR NAN COIREACHAN (Munro #1: the third year running I've had it on my route card, and the third different projected approach!) then descend Sgurr a' Choire Riabhaich to Corryhully. Follow track down Glen Finnan to Glenfinnan (telephone point #1); cross the Callop river bridge and follow the track east then the road through Coille Druim na Saille and the track up Gleann Fionnlighe to Na Socachan and make camp there.

FWA for Sunday 12 May: Up Gleann Donn and down the Allt a' Chaol ghinne to Corryhully then continue as above.

MONDAY 13 MAY: 31 km, 1250m climb. Ascend GULVAIN (Munro #2) and ridge walk to Maol Aird then descend to Inver Mallie. Track to Achnacarry and road to Gairlochy, cross the Caledonian Canal and head up to the Old Pines Hotel for a night of luxury (and telephone point #2)

FWA for Monday 13 May: Follow the Fionn Lighe upstream then pass between Meall Onfhaidh and Meall a' Phubuill to Glensulaig, then follow path ENE and down Glen Loy, turn left and take the road and canal path to Gairlochy then continue to Old Pines as planned.

TUESDAY 14 MAY: 27 km, 850m climb to camp site, with 230m or so of optional climb after makign camp. Road past the commando memorial and down into Spean Bridge then along south bank of River Spean to Insh. Track up to the old tramway and follow this to Fersit. Ascend the Allt Chaorach Beag and camp at Lochan Coire an Lochan. Optional light evening ascent of STOB COIRE SGIODAIN (Munro #3)

FWA for Tuesday 14 May: stay low after Fersit and follow path round to camp by the stream just before the map edge.

WEDNESDAY 15 MAY: 23 km, 1390m climb. Ascend CHNO DEARG (Munro #4) and descend by Meall Dhearcaig. Track passing W and S of Strathossian house, then N up E shore of Loch Ghuilbinn. Ascend Allt Coire na Cosaig and BEINN EIBHINN (Munro #5) then ridge walk AONACH BEAG (Munro #6) and GEAL-CHARN (Munro #7), descending by way of Sgor Iutharn and following path to Culra bothy for the night.

FWA for Wednesday 15 May: descend and take path from Fersit round to Strathossian; and from Loch Ghuilbinn pass through bealach S of Ruigh Raonuill and follow path NE to S of Beinn a'Chlachair to Loch Pattack, then return to Culra.

THURSDAY 16 MAY: 22 km, 680m climb. Follow track past Loch Pattack and ascend Creagan an t-Seallaidh - Meall Cruaidh - ridge walk THE FARA (Corbett #1), descend NE ridge to Allt an t-Sluic then track and road into Dalwhinnie, making use of the Dalwhinnie bunkhouse. Telephone #3 from Dalwhinnie.

FWA for Thursday 16 May: just trudge up Loch Ericht

FRIDAY 17 MAY: 29 km, 810m climb. S out of Dalwhinnie and take the track up to the old quarry, then CARN NA CAIM (Munro #8), Meallan Buidhe, head NE and take path down off Bruthach na Craoibhe. Path and track N past Gaick Lodge and path up Allt Bhran, making camp shortly before the map edge.

FWA for Friday 17 May: follow the aqueduct up to Loch Cuaich then contour round below Meall Cuaich and descend to Bhran Cott, crossing the river there and heading up to planned camp by Allt Bhran.

SATURDAY 18 MAY: 29 km, 1300m climb. Follow path up to Minigaig then ridge walk the boundary line to CARN EALAR (Munro #9) and AN SGARSOCH (Munro #10) then descend N ridge and follow track to Geldie Lodge. Cross the Geldie Burn and make camp on the N bank; or on the S bank if the Geldie is not fordable.

FWA for Saturday 18 May: Take track NE past the woods and down the Feshie to Stronetoper bridge, cross and return up the Feshie and path to the Geldie, making camp at some suitable spot (possibly the stables).

SUNDAY 19 MAY: 23 km, 100m climb. Track down the Geldie to White Bridge - Linn of Dee - Mar Lodge - Victoria Bridge - road into Braemar and telephone point #4.

FWA for Sunday 19 May: if unable to cross the Geldie, follow the south bank down then up to Bynack Lodge. Cross the Allt an t-Seilich and ascend Buachaille Breige. Turn N towards Carn Liath then follow track down Allt Cristie Beag (& Mor) to Inverey, then road to Braemar.

MONDAY 20 MAY: 26 km, 1090m climb. S out of Braemar and track up Glen Callater to Lochcallater Lodge. Track up to CARN AN TUIRC (Munro #11) then CAIRN OF CLAISE (Munro #12) - Ca Whims - TOM BUIDHE (Munro #13) - Crow Craigies and descend Jock's Road to make a camp just above the woods.

Unofficial FWA for Monday 20 May: From Lochcallater Lodge, take the path up towards Carn an t-Sagairt Mor then CAIRN BANNOCH (alternative Munro #11) - BROAD CAIRN (alternative Munro #12), descend to the stable then down to Bachnagairn, Moulzie and find a camp spot at Acharn. I've been up there in pretty foul weather, and reckon it's not going to be a major issue.

OFFICIAL FWA for Monday 20 May: road S out of Braemar up and over the Devil's Elbow and down to Spittal of Glenshee and either hole up in the hotel or head up to Loch Beanie and camp there.

TUESDAY 21 MAY: 25 km, 1220m climb. Descend to Acharn, then Kilbo Path to Glack of Balquhader (diverting to either or both of MAYAR and DREISH if needed to lift the number of Munros and Corbetts on the crossing to 12 and thus make it my first High Level crossing) then Cragie Thieves - The high Tree - Bad Buidhe - path to Eskielawn - Corwharn - path down to make camp by stream below Tarapetmile.

FWA for Tuesday 21 May from Acharn: Road down Glen Clova (crossing bridge to south side of Glen) then the Minister's Path to Glenprosen Village and road to Easter Lednathie and Wester Lednathie then up Glen Uig to camp site

ALTERNATIVE ROUTE for Tuesday 21 May if starting from Spittal of Glenshee or Loch Beanie: Down Glen Beanie to Glen Isla - Folda - The Mill - Craighead - Craignity - Freuchies - Glenmarkie Lodge - Glenhead Farm - Backwater Reservoir - Craig of Balloch - Glen Quharity and find camp spot

WEDNESDAY 22 MAY: 33 km, 640m climb. Track S then ascend Clinking Cauldron - Cormaud - Monthrey - Cat Law - Long Goat. Descend path SE then Bykenhillock - Clackburn - Cortachy - Shielhill Bridge - Eskhill - Meadows - Over Bow - bridge over A90 and Forfar camp site. Telephone #5 from Forfar.

THURSDAY 23 MAY: 29 km, 320m climb. By road to Letham - Colliston - Letham Grange - old railway path to St Vigeans - Wardykes - Bearfaulds and cycle track to Whiting Ness. Finish here and take overnight accommodation in Arbroath before heading up to montrose on Friday.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Crossing #8 ... here I come!

Got home today to find an envelope waiting for me ... with the welcome news that I have made it through the draw for places on TGOC 2013. So see you all in Montrose! As for me, well, I guess I'd better go and put the finishing touches to that route.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Maintaining Mountain Fitness (6)

On Saturday evening I took the van round to Arrochar and booked two nights on the camp site there, then went in search of a meal. The hotel was a disappointment. If you are ever in need of a meal in Arrochar, try Ben Arthur's Bothy instead. Then on Sunday morning, I set about the other three Munros of the Arrochar Alps, departing the camp site at about 10 a.m. It was another bright, clear day. I had not chosen this weekend ... it had chosen me, really. But everything was working out well.

At the planning stage I had realised that I might be a bit tight for daylight (I would ideally have liked to set out a bit sooner than 10 ... but I've had some pretty hectic weeks just recently, and I also needed to catch up on some sleep. So I didn't set the alarm, and just woke up when I woke up!). My route, therefore, was to take the Glen Loin path to Coiregrogain and start with Ben Vane, then descend by way of Lag Uaine, cross the stream, ascend to the Glas Bhealach, and ascend Beinn Ime. I would then descend to the Bealach a'Mhaim and take a view on whether it was practical to take in Beinn Narnain as well. If it were then all fine and dandy; but if not, then I would descend by the Cobbler path, which promised to be a reasonably safe way out of the mountains even in seriously failing light.

The South East ridge of Ben Vane is a lovely ascent, although it does have a couple of tricksy little scramble bits to do in the upper reaches. The views back towards Ben Lomond are pretty much the same as those I had enjoyed on the way up Ben Vorlich. I had picked up a couple of walking companions, and they thought the views pretty stunning.

We reached the summit at about 1.30 and had lunch, and one of my walking companions took this picture of me at the cairn with Ben Lomond and Loch Lomond in the background. My companions then agonised about whether or not to join me for the other two Munros, reluctantly concluding that they really could not afford to do so as they had to be back in Glasgow that evening. So after lunch they turned back, while I pressed on.

The descent to the valley floor required careful reading of the ground, and as I descended I studied the slopes leading back up to the Glas-Bhealach in order to choose the safest looking ascent. Once at the bealach I quickly found a path linking Beinn Chorranach to Beinn Ime, and this soon saw me safe at the summit of the highest of the Arrochar Alps. And the views were ... well, quite something! I could see clear to the Paps of Jura. I could see the Sleeping Warrior on Arran. I could see the Mull of Kintyre and Paddy's Milestone. Or I could look down along Glen Kinglass and across Loch Fyne to Inveraray. Or I could look down on the Firth of Clyde, and see the wake of the Rothesay Ferry as it butted its way through.

But I could also see that a vast blanket of nimbo stratus cloud was closing in, and its base was falling, so I needed to press on. Down at the Bealach a'Mhaim I considered my options. I didn't, to be frank, think there were enough hours of daylight remaining to attempt Beinn Narnain. I didn't think the weather was in favour of the attempt, either, with a serious risk of being enveloped in cloud on steep ground in failing light ... not a good option! And, in any event, I had had two hard days on the hills and wasn't really sure that my stamina would hold up. Better to cut and run, I thought. Leave Narnain for another time. And so I returned to Arrochar and enjoyed a very nice meal at Ben Arthur's Bothy, to round off a delightful wweekend in Scotland.

I doubt I shall get back to Scotland in 2012. But all in all it has been a good year for me. Despite having to cut out all of my mountains from my 2012 Challenge, I have "bagged" 15 Munros this year (and made a re-ascent of Schiehallion, too) - thereby doubling my tally to 30. And I am feeling in much better shape, in terms of mountain fitness, heading into winter than I ever have before. The odd winter walk or two would certainly be in order; but if I can maybe get back to Scotland in April to pick up Ben Lomond and Beinn Narnain, I should be in pretty good shape for the start of the 2013 Challenge (always assuming, of course, that I am successful in the draw for places ... )

Maintaining Mountain Fitness (5)

On Friday 5 October 2012, union business required my presence in Newcastle. So I decided to go in the camper van, and grab an extra weekend walking in Scotland for the expenditure of just one day's annual leave (whereas normally, a weekend in Scotland requires me to take both the Friday and the Monday off as annual leave).

I decided that this weekend, I would try to "bag" the Munros of the Arrochar Alps. Ben Vorlich on Saturday, and the other three on Sunday. On Friday night I parked up somewhere just outside Edinburgh, and by Saturday lunchtime I was at Inveruglas, ready to attempt Ben Vorlich.

Now according to the SMC Munro's book, there is no one standard route up Ben Vorlich; and according to the OS map there is no path. So I followed the hydro road as far as the transformer station, then took the higher road (they're marked on the map as tracks ... but they are both, in fact, metalled roads) to somewhere like NN 313095, and then I just turned left and headed up the slope until I gained the ridge. Then I headed along the ridge until I reached the summit (pictured).

It was a bright, clear day - just perfect for mountain walking - and as I made the ascent I had some pretty spectacular views of Ben Lomond, Loch Lomond, Loch Arklet and Loch Katrine. As I approached the summit, however, I discovered that the map had lied and there WAS a path. I decided to follow this back down, and it took a course just West of the ridge line before turning down the little corrie in grid square 2910 and meeting the metalled road at about NN 294105. I was glad to have this path for the descent ... but I was also glad not to have known about it when making the ascent, because I think the views from the East side of the ridge were FAR superior to those from the West side.

Returning to my van, I met an American couple at Inveruglas. They had been walking on the West Highland way, and had covered the ground from Rowardennan to Inversnaid that morning before taking the ferry across to Inveruglas. After spending some time at Inveruglas, they had decided that there wouldn't be enough daylight to return to Inversnaid and walk on to Inverarnan and so they were waiting for a bus to get them to their overnight spot. We got talking about this and that, and do ya know what? I think we may just see them on the 2014 Challenge (as overseas first timers, they'll be accepted just so long as they get their entry to John in time ...)

Maintaining Mountain Fitness (4)

On 5 August I got another chance to slip the leash and head off into the mountains on my own. We were now at Loch Morlich, so I decided it was time to go up Bynack More ... the Munro which I could so easily have diverted to on the 2004 Challenge, but decided not to for fear of running out of daylight.

My route this time was to go past An Lochan Uaine (beautiful as ever ...), up Strath Nethy (I now understand why the route vetters always advise against this particular route ...), over A'Choinneach (one of Munro's Munros, but deleted in Brown & Robertson's 1980 revision of the list), and up by way of the Bynack Barns (one of which is pictured). I then descended the North ridge to the site of the Bynack Stables (now, alas, no more) and came back in by way of An Locahin Uaine and Glenmore Lodge again.

The top 200 metres or so of the North ridge of Bynack More are stunning! I think this is probably the most breathtaking descent I have ever made. The dictionary simply does not have enough superlatives to describe it. If you only ever make one Munro ascent, make it this one on a fair day ... and then marvel at the views which open up before you as you come back down that ridge!

Maintaining Mountain Fitness (3)

Here's a much more attractive picture for you all to look at!

Two days after my long walk from Blair, the delectable Mrs B decided that there wasn't enough going on at the beach on Loch Laidon to justify spending a whole day sunning ourselves there, and suggested we go up Schiehallion instead. So we did.

This picture shows Mrs B sitting at the summit of her fourth Munro.

Maintaining Mountain Fitness (2)

So June drifted into July, and we took the camper up to Scotland for a two week holiday. I had already picked off three of the Munros I'd missed out on the Challenge, but I wanted to round up a few more of them if possible. So I planned a nice, easy fortnight drifting round the edges of the Cairngorms National Park. We stayed on the sites at Blair Atholl, Loch Morlich and Alford (couldn't get into Ballater), as well as having a couple of nights with Eddie and Heather at the Bridge of Gaur guest house.

I managed to negotiate a couple of days walking by myself, and so on 31 July I found myself heading out on a monumental circular walk from Blair, enabling me to collect Beinn Dearg and Carn a' Chlamain before returning back down Glen Tilt. It was lovely weather and I saw next to nobody (although there was an impressing herd of deer grazing the slopes of Elrig ic an Toisich).

At the summit of Beinn Dearg, however, I met another walker who took this photo for me.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Maintaining Mountain Fitness (1)

Well, it's becoming clear that as I get older I can no longer hope to go from one Challenge to the next without doing any serious mountaineering and hope just to keep going on the basis of inherent fitness. I need to work on that mountain fitness, and THAT means getting out into the mountains from time to time.

So on the weekend of 23 / 24 June I took the camper van North, and set about some serious mountaineering. On Saturday I went to the Ben Lawyers "visitor centre" car park and took myself up Beinn Ghlas and Ben Lawers. The weather was really truly atrocious. Low cloud, steady rain, and a vicious, bitter wind blowing at the top of Lawers. If you're hoping for some pics ... forget it! There was no way I was getting a camera out in that.

I loved every minute of it!!!

Then on Sunday I went to Spittal of Glenmuick and set out to do Lochnagar. Again the cloud was down low; but as I climbed I met a couple of other walkers and after a brief discussion we decided to do the full Lochnagar round. All five of them. Lochnagar, Carn a Choire Bhoidheach, Carn an t-sagairt Mor, Cairn Bannoch and Broad Cairn. And we did! Once we got up above about 700 metres, visibility was seldom more than 50 metres. But we had a wonderful time. And it kind of made up for missing out so many mountains on my Challenge this year!

Thursday, 7 June 2012

First tweak to the new route

< br /> Hmmmm ... getting up and over Gulvain, along the ridge, down to Gairlochy and all the way into Spean Bridge is looking like quite a big ask.

Maybe it would be better to stop at the Old Pines hotel, and make up the distance the following day. Responses to my questions on the Challenge message board suggest that the going on the old tramway is good, so that sounds promising. Need to check the Old Pines will be happy to hold a resupply parcel for me and to put a laundry load through overnight, though ...

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

A Route For My Next Challenge

OK, so I know it's a bit early to be thinking about the next Challenge, as the dust has only just settled on this one (and some folk are still writing up their experiences in their blogs). However, I couldn't resist jotting down a few ideas for my next crossing and ... well ... before I knew it, I had a whole darned route. So I thought I may as well post it here and see if anyone has any thoughts or suggestions as to how it can be improved. I mean, don't get me wrong - I think it's a pretty good route as it stands. But there's always somebody who has a suggestion as to how a dull little bit here or there can be improved.

I decided I want a Morar start - but I don't want to go along the north shore of Loch Morar. I want to save that country until I have used up all the start points and am going round again, so I can have a Mallaig start that doesn't involve a boat trip (or maybe I'll be REALLY perverse and walk from Mallaig to Tarbert, and then take the ferry back from Tarbert to Inverey!). But I also want to keep some of the country south of Loch Morar unused, in case they bring Arisaig back onto the list of start points. Oh, and I thought that after two years of having it on my route card and not climbing it, I really ought finally to drag myself up Sgurr nan Coireachan.

So this is what I thought I might do.

Friday. LR 40. Start at Morar and follow the coast road (i.e. the old road - the one I had to drive the first time I went to Mallaig back in the 1980s) to Arisaig school and follow the track / path past Sunisletter and SCamadale to Locahn a' Bhealaich. Turn up the stream to Loch a' Choire Riabhaich and camp beside the loch.

Saturday. LR 40. Follow the stream E, and then the ESE branch. Descend to Lochan Feith a' Mhadaidh, then follow the string of lochans up to Beinn nan Caorach. Descend Allt a' Bhlair Dheirg and Abhainn Chlachach. Cross bridge over River Meoble (or divert N to Rifern bridge if this looks at all dodgy) and follow track S to Lochan Lon a' Ghairt. Traverse N shore of Loch Beoraid and camp at Kinloch Beoraid.

Sunday. LR 40. Ascend Ruighe Breac and Allt a' Choire into Coire Odhar Mor. Follow NW branch up (for easier gradients above 650m) and gain the arrete. Ascend Sgurr nan Coireachan (Munro #1). Descend by Sgurr a' Choire Riabhaich to Corryhuhlly and down Glen Finnan to Glenfinnan. Cross Callop River by footbridge (not shown on map, but it's there) and take track up river, rejoining road at NM 924794. Walk on road through Coille Druim na Saille and take the track up Fionn Lighe. Camp at Na Socachan.

Monday. LR 40 & 41. Ascend Gulvain (Munro #2) and ridge walk Mullach Coire nan Geur-oirean - Druim na Giubhsaich - Mullach na Briobaig - Loch Briobaig - Maol Aird and descend to Inver Maille. Track to Achnacarry and roads to Gairlochy and Spean Bridge. Overnight at a B&B, guest house or hotel in Spean Bridge where laundry and any drying can be done and where a resupply parcel can be sent.

Tuesday. LR 41. Road to Insh. Track SW then SE to dismantled tramway. Tramway / tracks to Fersit. Ascend Allt Chaorach Beag and camp by the Lochan Coire an Lochain. In the evening make a light ascent of Stob Coire Sgiordain (Munro #3) because it would be rude not to.

Wednesday. LR 41 & 42. Ascend Chno Dearg (Munro #4). Descend by way of Meall Dhearcaig. Path to Strathossian House. Cross footbridge NN 410727 and follow path to Loch Ghuilbinn. Ascend Allt Coire na Cosaig, and camp by lochans between Mullach Coire nan Nead and Beinn Eibhinn.

Thursday. LR 42. Ascend Beinn Eibhinn (Munro #5) and ridge walk Aonach Beag (Munro #6) - Geal Charn (Munro #7) - Sgurr Iutharn & descend E ridge to Bealach Dubh path. Culra. Loch Pattack. Ben Alder Lodge. Dalwhinnie. Stay at Dalwhinnie bunkhouse. Laundry & Drying and resupply parcel.

Friday. LR 42 & 35. Head S out of Dalwhinnie. Track up to disused quarry & hill 902. Ridge walk hill 914 - Carn na Cairn (Munro #8) - Meallan Buidhe - hill 824 & path down Bruthach na Craoibhe. Path / track N past Gaick Lodge and Loch an-t-Seilich and briefly onto LR 35. Path up Allt Bhran & find a suitable pitch somewhere beside the Allt Bhran.

Saturday. LR 42 & 43. Continue up Allt Bhran to Minigaig. Traverse E across hillside to hill 831 & follow approximate line of boundary to Glas-leathad Feshie, Hill 837, hill 845, Meall Tionail & Carn Ealar (Munro #9), continuing to hill 906 and An Sgarsoch (Munro #10). Descent over Scarsoch Bheag to track and camp at Geldie Lodge.

Sunday. LR 43. Cross Geldie Burn. Chest of Dee. Linn o fDee. Mar Lodge. Victoria Bridge. Braemar. Stay at B&B, YH, guest house, bunkhouse or hotel in Braemar. Laundry, drying & resupply.

Monday. LR 43 & 44. Road S out of Braemar. Up Glen Callater to Lochallater Lodge. Track S. Carn an Tuirc (Munro #11) - Cairn of Claise (Munro #12) - Tolmount (Munro #13) - Ca Whims - Tom Buidhe (Munro #14) - Crow Craigies - Jock's Road. Camp at the edge of the woods in Glen Doll.

Tuesday. LR 44. Descend to Acharn and Kilbo Path to Kilbo. (N.B. If bad weather has forced use of FWAs so that only 10 or 11 Munros have been climbed, it is a short diversion to Mayar and / or Driesh to bring the total up to 14; but as I have already bagged these two, there is no need for the diversion if 12+ Munros have already been bagged this crossing). Path up to Glack of Balquhader. Ridge walk Cragie Thieves - The High Tree. Path down Bad Buidhe and up Eskielawn. Ridge walk to Corwharn. Path down to join track between Corwharn & Tarapetmile and camp in the pass.

Wednesday. LR 44 & 54. Track down Quharity Burn. Path up Clinking Cauldron, over Cormaud to Monthrey. Ascend Cat Law. Ridge walk to Long Goat. Path down SE ridge and Burn of Corogle to yellow road and turn R onto road. Turn L at road junction NO 361589 to orange road S of Prosen Bridge. Orange / yellow roads past Inverquharity and continue past East Bog & Over Bow. Bridge over A90 and turn R into Forfar. Take a pitch on teh camp site by Loch of Forfar. Laundry.

Thursday. LR 54. Leave Forfar on B9128. FP from Welton & yellow road to Burnside. Path to Finnieston. Road through Letham and over Idvies Hill & flank of Boath Hill. White road to Parkconon. Yellow road to Collieston & Letham Grange. Old railway path to St Vigeans. Roads to Warddykes & Bearfauld then green dotted route to Whiting Ness & finish.

I have not yet measured the days or counted the contour lines; but it feels as though these days should all be perfectly manageable. The laundry and resupply points are better distributed than this year, so I should be able to get away with carrying less gear - which will make for a welcome reduction in pack weight. The first couple of days are nice and short to break me in gently - as I am only too aware that I have tended to plan very big days at the beginning of my crossings, only to find that I have to stop short - so this time I'm planning on stopping short. And although I have not yet planned the FWAs in detail, it does look as though they shouldn't be too hard to find (except for the day out of Braemar - the FWA from there may have to send me to a whole different place to finish!!) So, all in all I am feeling that this is a good route which will suit me well - and maybe, finally, give me my first "high level" crossing. But, as I say, if anyone has any observations, comments or suggestions on my planned route, I am all ears!

Monday, 4 June 2012

The 2012 Challenge: Epilogue

On Saturday 26 May, I had an Arbroath smokie for breakfast at the Park (and absolutely delicious it was, too), packed my things, paid my bill, and headed down to the station. Anticipating (correctly) that even in first class they wouldn't have any food to offer that I could eat, I bought a variety of supplies at the supermarket before catching my train. The 10.32 was right on time at Montrose, and would have been on time at King's Cross were it not for a half hour delay at Peterborough while they investigated a problem with the brakes on the buffet car.

So now I have completed 7 Challenges off 7 starts, including the two with the highest attrition rates ever (2009 and 2012) and that with the worst weather (2011). I have had 7 different start points, and 7 different finish points - but I have re-used two different Great Glen crossing points (Inverness and Gairlochy). My ambition of achieving 10 crossings by the time I am 50 is looking eminently achievable. All my crossings to date have been solo crossings, and I imagine the next 3 will be as well, making me one of those rare Challengers who make 10 solo crossings.

2012 was a very enjoyable crossing, despite the need to tear my route sheet up and pretty much make it all up as I went along. The knowledge and experience I have gained in previous crossings enabled me to do that, because I knew that if I got from Oban into Glen Pean it would take me down to Strathan, and from Strathan I could follow the Loch Arkaig road to Spean Bridge. No matter that I didn't have a map for the section after Glenpean bothy - I was confident and safe walking that section without a map. Likewise, I knew from experience that once I was at Spean Bridge. it was a day's walking to Corrour / Loch Ossian - which would mean I was back on track, even if not on schedule. And I knew from experience of planning routes which I hadn't, in the end, actually walked that there was a route from Blair to Braemar which would take just two days, and so enable me to make up for lost time.

What I am coming to realise, however, is that my approach to planning FWAs is, perhaps, in need of a re-think. At the moment I just think in terms of having a FWA for each day when I go high. But sometimes, when you go high, there is more than one ascent effort in the day; and you might find yourself able to do the early ascent effort(s) with no problem, but then needing an FWA for the later ascent effort(s) as the weather deteriorates during the day. It is not simply a question of asking yourself, at the beginning of each day, "is this a suitable day for going high?" It is more a case of asking yourself, before each ascent effort, "Should I be making this ascent, or not?" This is (or should be) what you do when you're out on the hill - and maybe the thinking about FWAs at the route planning stage should reflect this.

What happened to me this year was that my first day had 3 ascent efforts; but my progress was slower than I had expected, and I stopped short after only two of them. However, I only had a FWA planned for the whole day. I didn't have an FWA planned for the third ascent effort; and then I found myself needing one. I was able to plan one as I sat there at Oban ... but of course, the only record of it was the entry I made in Oban bothy book. So when I finally got the call through on the satellite phone on Tuesday morning (and, for the record, the whole message did get passed to Challenge Control), John's immediate reaction - according to Kathy, whom he phoned straight away to let her know that they had now heard from me - was "What on earth is he doing there??"

So, in future my FWA planning will be based on ascent efforts, not days (whether this makes my route cards unmanageably complicated remains to be seen). I have a route for 2013 planned and ready to go (Morar to Whiting Ness; but crossing the Great Glen at Gairlochy again, I'm afraid). The days are worked out, although I haven't measured distances or counted squiggly lines yet. And I haven't worked out the FWAs yet, either. But as soon as I've got the main route drawn up on a set of maps, I'll be looking for separate FWAs for each ascent effort - you can depend on that!

The 2012 Challenge, Day 14: Fettercairn to St Cyrus (9)

Well, what can I say about St Cyrus beach, other than that it is simply magical? Just a vast expanse of golden sand, and practically nobody there except myself. Maybe three or four other folk dotted about, and a dog. And that was all!

I walked across the sand to the water's edge and then, as I had done at Lochailort two weeks previously, I bent down and dipped my finger in the sea. And, with that, I had finished!

I stood up and turned my back on the sea, and walked back up the beach. As I did so, I sent a brief text to Challenge Control. "34 Jeremy Burrows finished at St Cyrus as planned."

It was a surprisingly stiff climb back up the cliffs; but I was soon at the top and I made my way to the cafe. Big John hadn't waited for me - although they said he'd only left a few minutes earlier. I drank two cans of Irn Bru; but they didn't have anything that I could eat, so I left it at that. At 2.30 I headed out to the bus stop, only to find on a closer reading of the timetable that the 2.48 only runs on non-schooldays. Never mind - the 3 o'clock bus would do.

It is only a short bus ride from St Cyrus to Montrose, and I had plenty of time to get to the Park; so my first port of call was the pharmacy where I bought a razor, a toothbrush and some toothpaste so I could make myself presentable for the dinner. Then I went to the Park. Jim Davidson was sitting outside with a variety of other Challengers. He welcomed me and said I should join them for a drink once I'd signed in. I said I would.

I checked in and dumped my kit in my hotel room, and then made my way to the Kinnaird Room where I was heartily welcomed by Roger and John. There were three other Challengers still to come, that was all. There were plenty of spare Challenge T-shirts (unsurprisingly, given the high attrition rate) and they gave me three. They were also having a bit of a clear out and selling old stock, so I bought an "Ultimate Challenge" cloth badge. I never actually did the Challenge in the days when it was called the Ultimate Challenge ... but I do rather like the mountain goat emblem!

They did rather better this year at accommodating my dietary needs for the dinner - even though they hadn't actually done anything to warn the kitchen despite my giving them loads and loads of notice. It came down to the waitress asking me how they should adapt the menu to suit me! I wanted to try to keep as close to the actual menu as possible, to make life as easy as I could for the kitchen. The starter was fine (fan of melon with prawn Marie Rose) but the main course (chicken breast stuffed with haggis in a cream and whisky sauce) and the dessert (apple pie and cream) were both going to cause me problems. So I suggested that they do me chicken breast with bacon (I meant wrapped in bacon ... but I didn't say "wrapped" and in the event it didn't come wrapped) with a red wine reduction sauce and that for dessert they do a backed apple stuffed with spiced fruit. They did both these things for me, and it was very acceptable.

And then after dinner, John delighted in telling the story of the Mountain Rescue callouts (there were two - the other one being very much more necessary than mine!) and asked me to sing a song which I had written summarising my experiences on this year's Challenge, which I was delighted to do. It was very well received, too, so far as I could judge. The tune is, of course, "The Twelve Days of Christmas" and I had to take one or two slight liberties ... for instance, exaggerating the severity of my first day hangover, and omitting to say that it was only a practical joke when they told us there were no spare beds at Tarfside. So, for those who missed the Friday dinner, here are the words to "Jeremy's Crossing":

Oh the first day of my crossing was a day that I felt cursed -
The hangover to end all hangovers

The second day of crossing was a day that I felt cursed -
Stuck in Oban bothy and the hangover to end all hangovers

The third day of my crossing was a day that I felt cursed -
Mountain rescue shout ... etc.

The fourth day of my crossing was a day that I felt cursed -
All day on the roads ... etc.

The fifth day of my crossing was a day that I felt cursed -
Union politics! ... etc.

The sixth day of my crossing was a day that I felt cursed -
Deep river crossing ... etc.

The seventh day of crossing was a day that I felt cursed -
Nasty squelchy peat bogs ... etc.

The eighth day of my crossing was a day that I felt cursed -
Didn't pack the sun cream ... etc.

The ninth day of my crossing was a day that I felt cursed -
Missed out all my mountains ... etc.

The tenth day of my crossing was a day that I felt cursed -
No spare beds at Tarfside ... etc.

The eleventh day of crossing was a day that I felt cursed -
Yet more road walking ... etc.

Oh the twelfth day of my crossing was a day that I felt cursed -
Can't believe it's over ... etc.

I should perhaps just add that, as I originally wrote it (and sang it), "Missed out all my mountains" was the eighth day, and "Didn't pack the suncream" was the ninth day; but as I have been writing this blog up, it has struck me that actually, I was suffering from lack of sun cream while there were still mountains on my route card which I hadn't yet missed out. So, with the benefit of hindsight, I have corrected the song to make it a more accurate reflection of my 2012 Challenge experience, by switchin these two verses around.

The 2012 Challenge, Day 14: Fettercairn to St Cyrus (8)

I headed on past the school, towards the cliffs and the path down to the beach. As I did so, I met a slightly out-of-focus Big John coming back up from the beach. He had finished ... I still had a little way to go. He asked me if the cafe was still open and I assured him it looked as though it was. I wondered if he would wait for me. After all, it wouldn't take me long to get down to the beach and back up.

When I reached the clifftop, I took some photographs on my mobile phone and sent them to Kathy to let her know I'd arrived. I briefly toyed withteh idea of texting Challenge Control and asking if they could send a helicopter to pick me up from St Cyrus beach, but thought better of it ... probably best not to joke about such things! And so I descended the cliff path to the beach.

The 2012 Challenge, Day 14: Fettercairn to St Cyrus (7)

I turned the corner at NO 744651, and there was the sign telling me I had reached my destination! Now all I had to do was get down to the beach.

At the main road there are public toilets and a bus stop. It was a little before 1.30 and I checked the bus times. There should be a bus at 2.48 which would do me just fine; and if I missed that, there was another at 3 o'clock. So no need to worry about getting to Montrose before 5 - everything would be just fine.

So I walked through St Cyrus, and found myself passing the primary school while the children were still out in the playground enjoying their lunch break. Suddenly somebody shouted "There's one o' them hikers!" and they all came crowding over to the fence, shouting "Well done" and applauding me as I passed. It really was a rather special welcome to the east coast!

The 2012 Challenge, Day 14: Fettercairn to St Cyrus (6)

This was my first sight of St Cyrus ...

The 2012 Challenge, Day 14: Fettercairn to St Cyrus (5)

Off to my right, the little side road to Mains of Kirktonhill looked absolutely delightful ... but that wasn't the way I was going. I pressed on past Hospital Shields and Sillycoats, then I turned left at Hill of Morphie.

At 1 o'clock, I flopped down onto the grass verge at NO 739651 or thereabouts, and enjoyed my lunch. Just a very short way to go now ...

The 2012 Challenge, Day 14: Fettercairn to St Cyrus (4)

At the A937, I saw my first sign for St Cyrus. Not far to go now!

The 2012 Challenge, Day 14: Fettercairn to St Cyrus (3)

By noon I was safely across the A9, and heading for the gap between Hill of Garvock (to the left of the picture) and Kirktonhill (to the right).

The 2012 Challenge, Day 14: Fettercairn to St Cyrus (2)

Leaving Sauchieburns behind, I followed lovely quiet back roads past Pitgarvie Wood (pictured), Brigton, Dowrieburn, Mill of Thornton and Mill of Barnes. Mill of Barnes farmhouse offers B&B, and this too is worth noting for future challenges as a potential last night stopping point. If they don't do evening meals it's no great problem - depending upon how early you like to eat and how late you are happy to walk, a meal could be taken at either the Ramsay Arms or the Sauchieburn hotel, and then the final short stretch to Mill of Barnes walked after supper.

The 2012 Challenge, Day 14: Fettercairn to St Cyrus (1)

Friday 25 May was another gloriously sunny day, and after a satisfying breakfast of smoked haddock and poached egg I paid my bill and hit the road at 10. I may not have had all that far to go, but I didn't want to be walking through the heat of the day if I could avoid it - besides which, there was still the small matter of getting from St Cyrus to Montrose, and being at the Park by 5 pm. I therefore allowed myself to crack along at a fairly brisk pace.

11 o'clock saw me at Sauchieburn, and the proprietors of the Sauchieburn Hotel were more than happy to give me copious amounts of water to drink, so as to preserve the limited supply I was carrying in my drinking bottles. The Sauchieburn Hotel is not nearly so grand as the Ramsay Arms, but it struck me as a cosy and friendly place; and another year I may try to stay there the last night before I reach the coast.

The 2012 Challenge, Day 13: Tarfside to Fettercairn (8)

The Ramsay Arms Hotel is an impressive building to look at, and it displays the royal arms over the door to commemorate Queen Victoria's visit. However, it also closes between the hours of 4 and 6 in the afternoon ... and they don't think to publicise this fact. So I arrived just after 4, to find it completely deserted and nobody manning reception or answering the bell when I rang. A quick scout around, however, soon located the staff sunning themselves in the beer garden, and we were in business! The young man was happy to show me to my room, and as he is anxious to do a bit of serious walking himself he took a great interest in learning about the Challenge and everything to do with it, and in being shown my gear, what I chose to carry, and why.

Practical demonstrations over, I had a long, luxurious bath and then went for a pre-dinner stroll. By some strange magnetism, my stroll seemed to be drawn inexorably to the distillery ... and to my surprise the visitor centre was still open - although apparently this was only because they were stock-taking. They explained rather apologetically that although they could give me a tasting, they could not sell me anything, because they were outside the hours of their licence. I assured them that a tasting would be just fine, and so they served me with a very enjoyable dram.

Well, once I'd got the chore of whisky tasting out of the way, I returned to the Ramsay Arms for supper - and very good it was too! Indeed, the goat's cheese salad which I had for my starter was quite probably the most excellent goat's cheese dish I have ever eaten. And trust me, I have had a fair few of them!

I made a note that this was a hotel well worth returning to, and retired for the night.

The 2012 Challenge, Day 13: Tarfside to Fettercairn (7)

I entered Fettercairn through the arch, built to commemorate a visit by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. They had come from Balmoral, riding ponies to Mount Keen and then crossing Mount Keen on foot. They then took a carriage down Glen Esk to Fettercairn, where they stayed the night without letting their true identities be revealed. The following day they returned to Balmoral. Even with the assistance of ponies and carriages, that was quite an impressive two days' journey!

There is not a whole deal to see in Fettercairn, other than the arch, the meerkat cross and the distillery. However, there is a cafe which goes by the imaginative name of The Arch Cafe, and I went in there and enjoyed a long, lazy root beer before heading back to check in to the Ramsay Arms Hotel.

The 2012 Challenge, Day 13: Tarfside to Fettercairn (6)

After a few kilometres of fairly unspectacular road walking, I came to Fettercairn cemetery. Beyond this there is a well made path into Fettercairn, and it was about 3.30 pm when I arrived at my destination for the day.

The 2012 Challenge, Day 13: Tarfside to Fettercairn (5)

The Rocks of Solitude are an amazing place, and my photograph does not do them justice. But it's the only photograph I have of them, so it'll have to do.

At about 12.45 I chanced upon a little grotto beside the path, with seats, and an elderly couple were enjoying their lunch there. They suggested I joined them; and although I wouldn't normally stop until 1, it seemed such a delightful place that I did. We chatted for a bit, and then they finished their lunch and departed. I took a while longer to finish my lunch, and then pressed on.

The riverside path continues past The Burn, and there are a number of benches dotted about the place. I spent a while sitting on one of these, simply enjoying the sense of place, the stillness, the beauty, and the shade from the summer sun. But eventually I had to continue, and soon I arrived at the Blue Door. Opening this and passing through I emerged onto the B966; and as there didn't seem much point now in going into Edzell, I turned left for Fettercairn.

The 2012 Challenge, Day 13: Tarfside to Fettercairn (4)

Another lovely little off-road diversion was provided by the track down to Haughend, and then back up to the road. This one is shown on the map; and I stopped on the track back up to the road for my 12 o'clock glug stop. Then, soon after I had rejoined the road, I heard a vehicle approaching from behind. I moved over to the side of the road to make as much room for it as I could, but the vehicle pulled up alongside me. It was Alvar and Ann, in their camper van, heading down to Montrose for the Thursday festivities. They kindly refilled my water bottles with fresh water, which was most welcome, and told me that in fact I wsan't the Challenge tailender after all as they had passed another Challenger a couple of miles back who had said she was heading for North Water Bridge campsite. A lot of Challengers head for that campsite after Tarfside; but I was headed for the Ramsay Arms hotel in Fettercairn.

Soon after Alvar and Ann had left me, I made a discovery which instantly dispelled any regrets I may have had about staying north of the river and on the road - and that was the riverside path through the Rocks of Solitude and past The Burn to the Blue Door. If you look very closely on the map this IS shown; but there is a boundary line along the river and other fussy detail which makes it very easy to miss. However, there was a nice notice board with the paths clearly shown, and I didn't need a second invitation!

The 2012 Challenge, Day 13: Tarfside to Fettercairn (3)

At one point where the road and river came together, it looked as though there might be an anglers' path along the riverbank. No path was shown on the map - but such paths seldom are. So, even though I was walking in sandals not boots today, I though it would be nice to get off the roads for a bit if I could, so I decided to follow it and see where it took me.

Alas, it didn't take me very far before I was forced to turn back and retrace my steps. However, what little of the path I was able to follow was absolutely delightful.

The 2012 Challenge, Day 13: Tarfside to Fettercairn (2)

Maybe I should have taken a closer look at my map before setting off along the roads, because there is in fact a riverside track on the south side of the river which eventually joins the road to Dalbog and would have allowed me to avoid going up into the hills without having to spend all day on the roads. Oh well ...

The road down Glen Esk is a very pleasant road to walk (albeit littered with a LOT of roadkill - mostly rabbits, but there was also a pheasant and a deer) and some of the views are really rather delightful. However, I could see a walker on the path to the south of the river (or was it two walking in step? I couldn't quite see). It wasn't Big John ... so it was presumably either Jim Davidson or Dave Collins. Or both. And I couldn't help thinking, somewhat wistfully, that maybe I should have been across there with them.

Still, one of the advantages of being on the road was that I could make cracking progress. I'd left Tarfside at 9, and the kilometres were just flying past. And at this stage of the Challenge, this is what matters. Because at this stage of the Challenge, you have so much effort invested in the crossing that you just want to get on and get it finished.

The 2012 Challenge, Day 13: Tarfside to Fettercairn (1)

Thursday 24 May was another bright, clear morning which promised to turn into a scorchingly hot day. My route card for the day said that I would take the south bank of the river, then go over Hill of Wirren and East Wirren, and over Hill of Corathro to Little Tullo and Lochside, cross the bridge in Edzell and then by way of Inch of Arnhall and Meikle Strath into Fettercairn. But that would involve spending a lot of the day up on exposed hill tops, in fierce sunshine, with no water sources. And I just thought ... "Nah!" And so I decided to stay north of the river, and just walk the Glen Esk road. OK, so it meant a lot of road walking when I'd planned a day that was nearly all off road ... but the off road route would always be there another year.

Breakfast options at Tarfside are generally bacon rolls or bacon rolls (or book breakfast at The Retreat instead) - but as the roll bit was not an option for me, they agreed to do me a plate of bacon and eggs. Which, I have to say, was absolutely delicious and set me up for the day. Then I settled my account, and Jim gave me another couple of squirts of his sun cream for my arms. And finally, before setting out for Fettercairn, I took a photo of 6 wonderful folk of Team Tarfside.

The 2012 Challenge, Day 12: Is there a bed at Tarfside? (8)

We arrived at Tarfside just after 3.30 and went in for a chat and some refreshment - at which point it became clear that there was plenty of space at the hostel, and the "no beds" comment had been a practical joke on Big John. Well, it certainly worked, as both John and I were completely taken in by it. In reality, we had the pick of the rooms, because we were the first two Challengers to book beds that night (Jim having decided that as it was such a lovely evening, he would rather save his money and sleep under canvas on the camping field).

Alvar advised me that there was no need to phone Challenge Control, as Challenge Control always phones the Tarfside Hostel at some point in the evening to find out who is there; so having settled in I took a quick look round the kirk and then took a short pre-dinner stroll. I met a large group of school kids and their teacher, coming in off a Duke of Edinburgh Bronze practice expedition, and heading to the camping field for the night. So it looked as though Jim was going to have plenty of company!

Two other Challengers arrived at Tarfside after us. One was Dave Collins, a first time Challenger from Rushden. Rushden is a little town just across the Bedfordshire / Northamptonshire border, and I think he is probably my most local fellow challenger. We exchanged e-mails before the Challenge and tried to meet for a chat, but it never quite worked out. The most promising weekend, he e-mailed me on the Friday and said "I can meet you in Bedford any time this weekend"; but I was already driving north in the camper van for my two days of walking in March! It was nice to meet up at last! The other Challenger was a lady whose name I did not catch, who arrived just in time for dinner.

Dinner was a wonderfully relaxed affair. There were five Challengers and six hostel staff, and extra portions for anyone who wanted as it was the last evening meal they would be serving, and any spare food would like as not go to waste. This was in marked contrast to the previous day when, apparently, no fewer than 70 Challengers had passed through Tarfside! Challenge Control duly phoned, took details of who was in Tarfside, and imparted the news that there had been 53 withdrawals but that all other Challengers were accounted for. And after dinner, Big John's flask of Aberlour came out and we all had a nice wee dram before turning in for the night.

The 2012 Challenge, Day 12: Is there a bed at Tarfside? (7)

We took the track to Westbank and followed the path between Cairn Robie and Hill of Rowan into Tarfside. John said that if I wanted to run up to take a look at the monument I should feel free; but I wasn't running anywhere in that heat! Besides, how could he be sure I was going to be able to find my way back down to Tarfside without troubling Mountain Rescue?

As we approached Tarfside I spotted two figures lurking in the heather to the left of the track - and they turned out to be Alan and Marion, who had come up from the hostel to greet Big John. And they brought bad news with them. "There are no beds left I'm afraid. That fellow - what's his name - Jim has just booked the last one." I turned to Big John and shrugged. Oh well - the camping field for us, then. Not a biggie, that - it was going to be a lovely night for camping, and presumably we'd have the field pretty much to ourselves.

The 2012 Challenge, Day 12: Is there a bed at Tarfside? (6)

At the car park we sat beneath a shady tree for half an hour or so, enjoying the day again. There was no hurry, we thought. Either we would get a bed at the hostel, or we wouldn't. No worries. Certainly neither of us was going to rush to get there. John said he'd explain his tardniess to everyone by the need to escort me down off the hill. He'd say he found me at Shielin of Mark, thinking that I was at Glas-allt-Shiel, and decided that if he didn't escort me down to Tarfside they might need to get the Mountain Rescue out for me again. I just grinned and said "Yeah, yeah!"

After half an hour or so, we decided that perhaps we should press on and finish the day's walking. At the foot of the Auchronie track, we were most entertained at the sight of these sheep, being moved around in a transport box. They seemed a little bemused, but not too upset by it all.

The 2012 Challenge, Day 12: Is there a bed at Tarfside? (5)

Loch Lee is a beautiful loch, and as John remarked it has one very great advantage over lochs like Arkaig, Ericht and Rannoch - which is that it does NOT go on and on for ever! We were soon at the east end, and passed through Kirkton and past Invermark Lodge before coming to the enchanting (if slightly unsafe) ruins of Invermark Castle.

The 2012 Challenge, Day 12: Is there a bed at Tarfside? (4)

We stopped for lunch when we reached the west end of Loch Lee. Jim was long gone by now - practically at Tarfside, I shouldn't wonder. We, however, were just bimbling along, enjoying the sunshine, and the views. The photograph was taken from our lunch spot, looking across the head of Loch Lee towards Inchgrundle. Such wonderfull names they have for the places in Glen Lee! Another time I can see I'm going to have to come over the hills from Clova (well, I still need to make up for my failure to get over in 2000!) and descend from Cairn Lick. That way I can have the delightful-sounding Shank of Inchgrundle on my route card!

The 2012 Challenge, Day 12: Is there a bed at Tarfside? (3)

There are some impressive rock faces overlooking Glen Lee. This is Craig Maskeldie.

The 2012 Challenge, Day 12: Is there a bed at Tarfside? (2)

Jim soon opened out a healthy lead on John and myself; but John's natural walking pace and mine were almost perfectly matched, so we walked in company. We caught up with Jim again at Stables of Lee (pictured), where we all took a breather and a glug; but once we left Jim was soon opening up the gap again. Hurrying to Tarfside is, of course, an old Challenge tradition. Beds at the hostel are allocated on a "first come, first served" basis - although John was saying that he had been promised a bed for tonight and would turf somebody out if needs be, and I wasn't altogether sure whether he was joking or serious. Earlier in the week, you would have needed to arrive at or not long after noon to be sure of a bed. But today was the last day that the hostel was open and I had no idea how busy it would be. Perhaps it was safe to arrive a bit later on the Wednesday, with the majority of finishers trying to be at the Thursday night dinner in Montrose.

About two kilometres down the glen from Stables of Lee, there is a small wooded area. There has been some felling here, and a little building can now be seen which was, apparently, previously hidden away in the woods. It is not shown on the map but it is there. And when I went to investigate it proved to be a nicely appointed little bothy with a table, chairs, and plentiful supply of firewood. No bothy book that I could see, however, and clearly not MBA. But if ever forced to stop short of Tarfside, I think I should far prefer this to the Stables of Lee as my overnight shelter!

Sunday, 3 June 2012

The 2012 Challenge, Day 12: Is there a bed at Tarfside? (1)

Wednesday 23 May dawned bright and sunny ... just like the three days before it! I really should have bought myself some sun cream in Braemar ... but thankfully this morning Big John came to the rescue with a few squirts of his for my arms. The neck wasn't such a problem, as I'd be walking in my havelock again.

After breakfast Jim, Big John and I all packed and headed off at pretty much the same time. We were all going to the same place: Tarfside. And we were all getting there by pretty much the same route: Over Muckle Cairn and down Glen Lee. Jim and John were intent on staying north of the river once they got to Glen Esk, whereas I had put on my route card that I would use the tracks and paths to the south of the river; but I didn't need all that much persuading to change my route to be sociable!

John and I took a rather different path up Muckle Cairn from Jim. His route was rather to the south of ours. We thought we had picked the best line by reading the hill and the vegetation, but Jim was powering along a whole lot fast than us - with the result that we all met up together on the Land Rover Track as we began our descent. In this photograph Jim is in the lead, followed by Big John, and I am bringing up the rear.

The 2012 Challenge, Day 11: Braemar to Shielin of Mark (11)

My navigation was absolutely spot on, and as I reached the little gully through which the headwaters of the Water of Mark flow, I saw the roof of the bothy directly ahead of me. I picked my way down the slope and came round to the front door, and went in.

Jim was already there, of course ... but so was another Challenger: John Hutcheson (or "Big John" to his friends). They had already taken the two main sleeping shelves, and I reckoned that I would probably be just as well off in my tent so I pitched outside. Then I went into the bothy and cooked my supper.

After supper, the whisky came out. I produced my flask of Caol Isla, and Big John produced a Sigg water bottle full of a Speyside malt. Aberlour, if memory serves me correctly. The evening passed quickly in mirth and merriment; and then I retired to my tent and slept soundly all night through.

The 2012 Challenge, Day 11: Braemar to Shielin of Mark (10)

Up on top of the peat hill I turned and looked back towards Lochnagar. It was going to be a glorious sunset, and I should have loved to have been able to stay up there and watch it. But I had a bothy to get to.

I was right about two things, though. There were plenty of peat hags up top, and travelling on a bearing would have been well nigh impossible. However, there was no real difficulty reading the hill, and as I worked my way through and around the hags, I had little doubt that I was putting myself in the way of the bothy.

The 2012 Challenge, Day 11: Braemar to Shielin of Mark (9)

The ascent of the glen in the evening light was really very beautiful, and most enjoyable. I took it very easily, not wishing to risk another breathing problem, and everything was fine. I watched the altimeter steadily counting off the metres as I climbed, and I was sure that I was going to make it to the bothy tonight.

At NO 328832 the stream divides, and it is necessary to make a choice how you are going to navigate to the bothy. My instinctive preference is to handrail the streams south, and then east north east across the face of Round Hill of Mark. However, at the Spittal we had met a lady who says she regularly takes groups up there on navigation exercises, and she said you're better travelling on a bearing over the top of the hill. Jim, certainly, had opted for this alternative - and had taken a bearing when he was down at the Spittal, although I remain unsure how this was supposed to have helped him. When I reached the stream junction i decided that I too would go over the top - although I wasn't convinced of the merits of the bearing. It was obviously a peat hill, and travelling on a bearing through peat hags is notoriously difficult. But it was a beautifully clear evening, the land forms all around were clearly discernible, and I decided that there should be no difficulty simply reading the hill and pointing myself in the right direction without the need to use a compass. And so I headed up from the stream junction and across the open hillside ...

The 2012 Challenge, Day 11: Braemar to Shielin of Mark (8)

We took the descent to Spittal of Glenmuick steadily, savouring the views to distant Mount Keen. We arrived at about 5.30 and took a breather. Jim got out his stove and made a brew. I went to the public toilets ... and came away without my money belt (which contained all my money, my credit card, and my train ticket home from Montrose - its loss would be a complete disaster!) As soon as I realised this I headed back - but the cubicle I had used was occupied, and I had a tense wait until its occupant emerged, and I could check whether my money belt was there. Fortunately it was!

I had told Challenge Control that I would telephone them tomorrow, either from Spittal of Glenmuick as I passed through, or from Tarfside on arrival. According to the map there is a telephone at the Spittal of Glenmuick visitor centre, and indeed there is: but it is for emergency calls only! So it was going to have to be Tarfside, then!

Jim left Spittal of Glenmuick at about 6 and headed up to Shielin of Mark. I waited a good three quarters of an hour longer to gauge my recovery, and to decide whether or not I was going to be able to tackle another ascent this evening. Eventually, however, I decided that I should be able to make the climb as long as I took it nice and steadily. So at 6.45 I set my altimeter (the first time in a very long time I had felt any real need to use it ... but I wanted to be able to monitor my progress: Jim had told me that there were some good wild pitches half way up the glen to Shielin of Mark, and I wanted to have as much information as possible as possible to help me decide whether to stop short or press on). Then I shouldered my pack and began a slow, steady climb.

The 2012 Challenge, Day 11: Braemar to Shielin of Mark (7)

As we followed the track, we had views across to Lochnagar; and it was all too obvious that there was still plenty of snow up on the top. Staying low today had definitely been the right decision.

"Low", of course, is a relative term ... and the Clais Rathadan track does in fact climb to 700 metres. We were walking at a fair pace (slightly faster than my normal pace, in fact, as Jim appears to have a somewhat faster gait than me) and I began to get into difficulty.

I have only had one full-blown asthma attack in my life, and that was on my ML assessment in September 2001 - 3,000 foot above sea level and a good 5 miles from the nearest road! When I got home I saw my doctor and was tested for asthma, and the results were negative. However, all my life I have suffered occasionally from symptoms which I am now convinced are asthmatic in nature. The only way I can describe them is that it sometimes feels as though I had a load of stale air at the bottom of my lungs, and I cannot get rid of it and replace it with fresh air - all I manage to do when I breathe in is add fresh air on top of it, and when I breathe out again I am only expelling the fresh air, not the stale air at the bottom of my lungs. When I get like this, I have to take several deep breaths, and eventually one of them will feel as though it has displaced the stale air, and I can breathe normally again. Well, that's how I began to feel as we trudged up the side of the Coire na Ciche. I stopped. I breathed deeply. But I could not displace the stale air. Eventually I did ... but it took me a lot longer than it normally does; and by the time I succeeded, I was feeling very unwell. We continued to the junction with the Lochnagar path and then I sat and rested for a while. When I felt well enough to continue, I told Jim that I didn't know whether I'd be up to climbing from Spittal of Glenmuick to Shielin of Mark tonight. I'd make my mind up when we got to Spittal of Glenmuick - but if I wasn't up to it, I'd take the level path along the shore of Loch Muick to Glas-allt-Shiel.

The 2012 Challenge, Day 11: Braemar to Shielin of Mark (6)

We stopped for a short break at Gelder Shiel bothy, and checked the bothy book to see who had passed through recently. Jim regaled me with the story of the near-incineration of the bothy on last year's Challenge, for he had been one of the unfortunates taking shelter there when the incident occurred. For those who are unfamiliar with the story, this was during the really bad storms of 2011. The bothy was packed full. It was late at night. Everyone had had their supper and was trying to settle down for a good night's sleep, when a late arrival burst in and set up a petrol stove. What he was doing wrong is anybody's guess, but the bothy rapidly filled with petrol fumes and he had to be forcibly restrained from striking a match by those who feared that if he did, they would quickly be engulfed in a fireball! Well, that's how the story has come to my ears, in any event. Doubtless those who were actually there will put me right on the odd detail or two.

After a short rest, during which we didn't burn the bothy down or even come anywhere close, we were on our way again. As Jim had predicted, there was no real onward path and we were soon heather-bashing our way to the Land Rover Track. Once we reached it, progress was good, and I began to debate what I should do when we reached Clais Rathadan. If I had been going over Lochnagar, I would have descended to Glas-allt-Shiel and spent the night in the bothy there; and my Foul Weather Alternative Route therefore aimed to finish at Glas-allt-Shiel too. But then the following day's route took me through Spittal of Glenmuick and up to Shielin of Mark bothy, and I began to think that maybe I should just aim for Shielin of Mark tonight. There was plenty of time, and that was where Jim was headed, too.

The 2012 Challenge, Day 11: Braemar to Shielin of Mark (5)

We crossed the bridge over the Gelder Burn and paused for a glug and to refill our water bottles (well, my water bottles and Jim's plastic bag thingy that he uses to carry his drinking water ... and which he never seems to fill more than about a quarter full). It was a lovely spot, and the sun was smiling down on us. So I recalled the Twin Towers telling me, on my first Challenge, that I should slow down and not be in such a hurry to get to the end of my day's walking. What was the point, they asked me, of walking THROUGH all this beauty if I was in too much of a hurry to ENJOY it? If memory serves me correctly, that was on the Lairig path heading up to Leacain bothy ... The views were magnificent, looking back across the woods to the snow-capped mountains north of the Dee. It was probably right to have stayed low, rather than attempt Lochnagar ...

Well, I reckoned that this was the time and place to sit back and just enjoy the beauty. I told Jim to feel free to continue if he wished (this being one of the advantages of walking together because you just happen to be heading the same way rather than because you have entered as an official pair - you can stick together or split up as you please). Jim decided to stick with me, however, so we just lay there in the sunshine, soaking up the rays, for perhaps half an hour. Then we decided it was time to continue - and another choice had to be made.

The official "preferred route" from here is via Gelder Shiel, and then the path up the stream which joins the made up track just below Little Conachcraig. However Jim, who has been this way before, told me that beyond Gelder Shiel there isn't really a path, and you just end up beating your own way through the heather until you reach the Land Rover track. The alternative, it seemed to me, was to take the left fork at NO 255906 and then turn right at NO 258908, which would avoid the heather-bashing altogether. However, it would also bypass Gelder Shiel; and as I had never been to Gelder Shiel we decided to stick to the "official" route.

The 2012 Challenge, Day 11: Braemar to Shielin of Mark (4)

We re-entered the woods, and chose a shady spot to sit and take lunch. Jim gave his feet a break from his boots - not something I have ever thought to do in the past, but I can see the merits! Then we continued round the back of Ripe Hill, down the Feith an Laoigh and to the Gelder Burn.

The 2012 Challenge, Day 11: Braemar to Shielin of Mark (3)

In the clearing by Garhb Allt Shiel cottage we came upon a large herd of deer. They were obviously well accustomed to human presence, and did not take fright and run off as we passed, so a reasonable photograph was possible. Then we strode out all the way to Connachat Cottage.

Beyond Connachat Cottage, two tracks came down from the right to join the road we were walking. According to the map there should be two tracks joining from the right, but they should be about 200 metres apart, whereas these looked rather closer than that. Furthermore, they both appeared to join our road at pretty much the same angle, whereas according to the map they should be joining at very different angles. I therefore felt a little uneasy about simply identifying the first track we encountered with the first track shown on the map (which was the track we needed to follow to the Gelder Burn). However, a little bit of compass work soon confirmed that the bearings at the first junction were an exact tally for those of the track shown on the map, and so I was reassured that it was indeed the track we should be taking. As we followed it, though, I kept up a constant reference back to the map, until I was satisfied that it was indeed behaving exactly as it ought. Once we emerged from the trees and the unmistakable form of Ripe Hill was there in front of us, I was entirely satisfied that we were on the correct track.

The 2012 Challenge, Day 11: Braemar to Shielin of Mark (2)

Beyond the castle, the road runs close to the Dee, which is here tranquil and graceful. After a little way, I found a gate which opened on to a track running through the woods which appeared to follow the road, and it seemed prudent to follow this rather than risk life and limb on the road. I'm glad I did, because otherwise I should not have seen the defensive positions dug by the local Home Guard to defend Braemar against invading Germans coming up the Dee. However, before long I came upon a waymarker describing this as a "circular route", which kinda made me feel that maybe I ought to return to the road while I still could. One climb over a rickety fence later I was back on the road, and as I sat enjoying my next glug stop I encountered my first "walking Challenger" of the crossing. Jim Davidson was heading the same way as me, and so we walked in company for pretty much the rest of the day.

We crossed the Dee twice - using Bridge of Dee and Invercauld Bridge - and took the track for Garbh Allt Shiel, which is one of the estate's preferred routes for Challengers to follow. The tracks on the Balmoral estate are well made and the going is easy. It is also incredibly beautiful, and it is easy to see why Queen Victoria fell in love with this estate.

We paused briefly at the bridge over the Glenbeg Burn to replenish our water supplies, and Jim kindly gave me some of his suncream for my arms and my neck. And then we continued through the woods.