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 ...

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Some Unfinished Business (8)

The following morning, the weather was not great. Indeed, on looking at it, I decided that trying to get across to Gulvain and camping out was not wise. I was going to get a buffeting today, and coming back into hard shelter seemed a good idea. So I left my heavy sleeping and cooking gear, and my dry clothes, at Corryhully bothy and set out with a light pack, intending to do no more than the Corryhully Horseshoe. If the following day was fair I could always hitch a lift and do an out-and-back assault on Gulvain from the South. However, even this was not to be! I made a valiant attempt on Sgurr a' Choire Riabhaich, joining up with a young German girl on the way up; but as we ascended the wind got stronger and stronger and the rain got heavier and heavier; and at about 700 metres we looked at one another and decided it was getting just too dangerous!. So we turned around and returned to Corryhully. So that was now FOUR times in a row that I had failed to make it up Sgurr nan Coireachan ... which was really beginning to bug me! Still, I had one more day up here, and maybe the weather would be kinder on Sunday ...

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Some unfinished business (7)

And so, after a pleasant afternoon in the Lochailort Inn, I caught the evening train to Glenfinnan and made my way up to Corryhully bothy (pictured) where I settled in for the night. The plan now was to do the Corryhully Horseshoe (Sgurr a Choire Riabhach - Sgurr nan Coireachan - Meall an Tarmachain - Beinn Garbh - Sgurr Thuilm) and descend over Meall an Fhir-eoin; cross the Allt Cuirnean; ascend Leac na Carnaich and descend to a camping spot in Gleann Camghraidh; then the following day I would ascend the North slopes of Gulvain and descend to Na Sochachan, walking out down Gleann Fionnlighe and returning to Glenfinnan by road.

As I say, that was the plan ...

Some unfinished business (6)

I descended into Glen Beasdale - and this time there was absolutely no doubt that it WAS Glen Beasdale (Lochan Feith a' Mhadaidh is quite unmistakable - it is the only loch or lochan in the Rough Bounds of South Morar which has an island in it - and the lochan I had camped beside definitely had an island in it) and if you head South you end up in Glen Beasdale without the option. So once I gained the path I turned right, and I was soon down to the road.

I walked the short distance to the station and checked the timetables, but there was no train due any time soon; so I returned to the road and put my thumb out, and had a lift to the Lochailort Inn in no time.

I arrived at Lochailort in time for lunch, and asked about rooms. They had none; but they were happy to let me use their drying room all the same, and that was just fine. So I hung all my wet gear up to dry and spent the afternoon with them in the bar. I thanked them for their hospitality by ordering the occasional drink or two. And I figured (correctly) that my gear would dry in time to catch the evening train as far as Glenfinnan, and then wander up to Corryhully bothy ... which would certainly be a cheaper way of spending the evening.

I also took the opportunity to ask about the weather forecast for the next two days; and alas it was not good! Still, they were the only two days I had available to me, so I was determined to make the most of them.

Some unfinished business (5)

The following morning, as I headed South into Glen Beasdale, the cloud base was low over Druim Fiaclach; and Loch nan Uamh was only just visible through the murk. I followed the stream down for a bit, and then contoured across the East shoulder of Sidhean Mor before angling down across the steep face of Aodann an t-Sidhein Mhoir.

Some unfinished business (4)

When I arrived at Lochan Feith a' Mhadaidh, I had a decision to make: stop and camp here, or carry on to my intended camp site? The thing was this. I'd been in cloud and rain for much of the day, and despite the best efforts of my waterproofs,the clothes I was walking in were pretty wet. I had a dry pair of trousers and a dry fleece in my pack, but only one of each. So the problem was the same as I had faced on day 2 of the Challenge. If I pressed on and carried out my original plan - which involved walking the Loch Beoraid path and having another night's wild camping - I could end up starting day 3 with no dry clothes to wear. If it was cold, that could be a real problem. On the other hand, if I camped here at Lochan Feith a' Mhadaidh, I could bale out tomorrow morning by heading South into Glen Beasdale and turning back to the road. Then I could catch a train to Lochailort (or hitch a lift), get my things dried, perhaps have a meal and even a bed for the night, and then take another train to Glenfinnan to carry on with the second part of my plan for this visit to the Highlands - which was to tackle the Corryhully Horseshoe (and FINALLY get Sgurr nan Coireachain off my "to do" list!!) and Gulvain. Well, it looked as if the cloud was going to settle down overnight; and I still hadn't found and fixed that hole in my groundsheet. So I knew I was going to wake up with a lot of damp gear ... and that's wheat really made up my mind. So I pitched by the Western shore of Lochan Feith a Mhadaidh; and once again, I was abed by about 6 pm.

Some unfinished business (3)

When I got up to Loch a' Choire Riabhaich, I walked around its northern shore. I did not take any photographs of it, although I cannot now remember why. Presumably it was either low cloud or rain (or both) which left it in an unphotogenic state. I noted that the North Eastern corner of the loch provided a very nice looking little camping spot: but I wished to get rather further today. So I headed East, initially following the river (pictured). After a while, however, at the fork in the river, I crossed and headed Eastwards up the open hillside, and then down on the far side to Lochan Feith a Mhadaidh.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Some unfinished business (2)

Now, I found Lochan Fada alright; and I headed South along its Western shore. Now, this is easier said than done, because it is actually very steep sided (that contour line that loops around it on the map is there for a reason!). When I got to its Southern end, however, something felt wrong. In fact, something felt VERY wrong! On the map, immediately to the South of Lochan Fada there is a single ring contour. In the ordinary course of things, you expect this to be a little, rounded hillock. It might in theory be anything up to 19 metres high. But you're not expecting fireworks. However, what I saw on the ground was an enormous, sheer-sided rocky tower which I reckoned had to be at least 50 metres high; and possibly 70 or 80. No way was it a mere 19 metres or less. No way! And so I began to wonder ... how recently was this bit of the map last surveyed? Have they been unable to do a stereoscopic aerial survey, because every time they've tried to fly over it there's been cloud in the way? Is it possible that the contour details around here has just been carried forward from older editions of the map? And it is possible that the only surveyors who came up here were in a bit of a hurry to get away from the midges, and weren't too bothered if it wasn't too accurate because nobody ever came up here (or at least, nobody who needed a map) so who was going to know anyway?

With that thought, I continued Southwards to try to pick up the path again. I overshot without seeing it, and then used the GPS to try to put me back on course. And again, I was seeing features which didn't seem to be the features that were drawn on the map. Some time, perhaps, I shall go back up in fair weather (if I can get any) and really try to resolve the question of where the map is accurate, and where it is not. On this occasion, though, the weather wasn't all that hot, and I had other unfinished business to attend to. So once I located the path I followed it. It came and went; but whenever I lost it, I used the GPS to help me get back on track. It is very well defined as it passes south of Lochan a' Bhealaich. Then where it crosses the Borrowdale Burn and turns right, I turned left.

The upper reaches of the Borrowdale Burn (pictured) soon led my up to Loch a' Choire Riabhaich. This was where I had intended to camp on the first night of my Challenge; and it was indeed big enough that there really was no mistaking it. But today i wanted to get further - ideally, I wanted to get to the Allt a Bhlair Dheirg and camp beside its upper reaches, before dropping down to Rifern and Meoble.

Some unfinished business (1)

In August, I decided enough was enough! I needed to know what had gone wrong with my navigation in the Rough Bounds, and I wasn't going to figure it out by sitting around in Bedfordshire looking at my maps. So I took a few days off work and I headed back up to Arisaig, being sure to take a GPS unit with me so I could check every location very carefully.

This was all done pretty much on a whim, and I couldn't get a sensible price on the Sleeper at short notice - so I travelled by the cheapest trains I could book, arriving at Arisaig at about 11 at night. I didn't think to check whether the station buildings are left unlocked and so available for sleeping in, but apparently they are! Instead, I bedded down for the night in a bus shelter. I chose unwisely, however: the one I chose had two ends which were open to the elements. In the morning I discovered that there was another bus shelter with only one open end, which would have been much more snug and cozy!

In the morning, I retraced my steps of the first day of the Challenge. The weather was pretty similar, but I was a couple of hours ahead of where I'd been in May because I didn't have to walk the coast road from Morar first (OK ... so maybe it WAS an Arisaig start in disguise ...)

The first challenge was the woods above Scamadale. Where is the bottom end of the path that avoids having to climb the deer fence? In May, when I met the edge of the woodland I had gone left ... so this time I went right and bingo! There it was. That was one mystery solved!

I then followed the path upwards. The cloud base was rather higher than last time, and so I was able to spot a few cairns such as this one (pictured) which I had missed in May. I managed to stick to the path for rather longer; but again after a while I lost it. So I decided, rather than using the GPS to help me find my way back onto the path, I would go and take a closer look at Lochan Fada, using the GPS unit to confirm locations and compare what I saw on the ground with what was shown on the map.

The 2013 Challenge: epilogue (3)

I returned South on the Saturday, catching the 10.32 from Montrose. This is a popular train with Challengers; but as in previous years, I had treated myself to a first class ticket so I was in a different carriage from most of them. As the beautiful Challenge country slipped away, and as we found ourselves back in England once more, I reflected on my eighth Challenge with mixed emotions. For a variety of reasons I had spent far more time than I wanted on the roads; and the weather had kept me low for most of the crossing. I had only "gone high" twice, and topped out on just two Munros. But ... what spectacular days they had been! Plus, at the end of day two, I had seriously thought that I would be withdrawing this year due to medical problems. But my symptoms had resolved themselves and I had been able to carry on - and that, in itself, was something to be pleased about. And then, there was the first day in the Rough Bounds. What HAD gone wrong with my foul-weather navigation that day??? That question was bugging me, and it continued to bug me the whole way back. DEFINITELY some unfinished business there!

The 2013 Challenge: epilogue (2)

On the Friday morning, after a wonderful breakfast, I wandered into the centre of Arbroath and poked around the harbour for a bit. I went to see the lighthouse museum, which is not in an actual lighthouse, but in the shore station for the offshore Bell Rock lighthouse. You can see it in the photograph: the white building in the background. Then at about noon, I wandered up to the station and caught a train to Montrose, where I strolled along to the Park and signed in. I had a room booked so I went and made myself comfortable, had a bath and changed into my new T-shirt. Then I strolled back to Challenge Control to chat with folks ... and this is where being a Friday finisher pays dividends. They had quite a lot of withdrawals, and they had quite a lot of surplus Challenge T-shirts. And this year's T-shirt is a very fine walking base layer. So, as they were trying to get rid of them, I came away with more than just the one!

The 2013 Challenge: epilogue (1)

Although I had finished on the Thursday, I made no attempt to make it to Montrose for the Thursday evening dinner. These days I tend to prefer the intimacy of the Friday dinner ... and the other fringe benefits that come with being a Friday finisher! So I had booked into a B&B in Arbroath (pictured). It was called Brucefield, and it described itself as a "boutique B&B" ... whatever that means! All I know is it was expensive - and worth every penny! They didn't offer evening meals, however; and I cannot now remember what I did for an evening meal. But no matter! I do know that I had a very pleasant night there, and a very fine breakfast in the morning.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

The 2013 Challenge, day 14: Forfar to Whiting Ness (14)

Finally, after 14 days' walking, I arrived at the craggy red sandstone cliffs that are Whiting Ness. The tide was out, so I walked carefully out across the seaweed coated rocks until I reached a place where the breaking waves just lapped up against my boots. Then, as I had done 14 days ago at the little bay to the South of Morar, I leaned forward and ceremonially dipped a walking pole into the sea; and that was my Challenge finished.

I made my way back across the rocks and texted Challenge Control to tell them that I had finished at Whiting Ness as planned; and then I made my way to the Bed & Breakfast I had booked, which was not very far distant. I had no plans to try to get to Montrose today: that could wait until the morning.

The 2013 Challenge, day 14: Forfar to Whiting Ness (13)

I turned right just before I reached Cliffburn, and now I was within a kilometre of my finish point. I could see the see ahead of me and, passing under the old railway bridge (pictured), I was nearly there.

The 2013 Challenge, day 14: Forfar to Whiting Ness (12)

Having passed across the Northern fringe of Arbroath, my route now brought me into its Western outskirts. However, Arbroath was not my finishing point, and I turned for Cliffburn instead.

The 2013 Challenge, day 14: Forfar to Whiting Ness (11)

At St Vigeans there is a kirk on a hill (pictured), and a museum. The museum holds an important collection of ancient Pictish stones or carvings or something; but it is only open by prior appointment. As I had been unable to predict what time I was likely to arrive, I had not made an appointment. So I left them for inspection on another occasion. Instead I followed the back road through Warddykes to the main A92, and then the back road up the hill to Bearfaulds where I turned right.

The 2013 Challenge, day 14: Forfar to Whiting Ness (10)

From Colliston I followed the road to Letham Grange, where I turned onto the path which uses the old railway track bed and followed this for the three and a half kilometres to St Vigeans. This really is an amazingly beautiful route, and I would strongly recommend to any Challenger contemplating an Arbroath finish to make their final approach to the town along this path if they can possibly contrive to do so. Along this path I also, finally, I began to encounter other people in appreciable numbers. Apart from here, and the few towns I had passed through, I had met surprisingly few other people. All in all, this had been a remarkably solitary crossing, even by my standards.

The 2013 Challenge, day 14: Forfar to Whiting Ness (9)

The road carried me over Idvies Hill and past Dumbarrow, where the map shows a windmill. I'm guessing that this is it (pictured).

I carried on past Dumbarrow, and across the B961 just South of Cononsyth; and then I was supposed to turn off onto the track to Parkconon. However, as I strode along I wasn't really paying much attention and I managed to miss the turning altogether. By the time I realised what I had done, I decided that I may just as well carry on to Grange of Conon as turn back; and so I followed the tracks from Grange of Conon to Colliston. As I walked these tracks it came on to rain again, so I was back into my waterproofs once more; but I was able to take them off again when I got to Colliston.

The 2013 Challenge, day 14: Forfar to Whiting Ness (8)

The road out of Letham crosses the southern tribuntary of the Lunan Water (which joins the main stream at Friockheim) on this rather beautiful old stone bridge. Of much greater interest to me as a Challenger, though, is that by this bridge there is a wonderful grassy picnic area, which will certainly serve as a final night pitch on some future Challenge.

The 2013 Challenge, day 14: Forfar to Whiting Ness (7)

I took a close look (and a close-up photograph) to get an idea of what these cup and ring markings actually are, and then I carried on into Letham. As you enter Letham from the North there is, on the left, a fascinating crafts shop and cafe; and stopping here I enjoyed a very nice bowl of chicken and mushroom soup before continuing on through the town.

The 2013 Challenge, day 14: Forfar to Whiting Ness (7)

On the right of the road into Letham there is this rather interesting feature, which turns out on closer investigation to be a cup and ring marked stone. Now normally, when one of these is marked on the map, I am completely unable to find it on the ground. On this occasion, however, there is no difficulty about finding it on the ground; but there is absolutely nothing on the map to indicate that it is there!

The 2013 Challenge, day 14: Forfar to Whiting Ness (6)

... and a further barbed wire fence crossing was necessary in order to reach the path down off the other side of the hill. With my shoulder still giving me trouble, this was far from straightforward; but I eventually got across and followed the path to Finnieston.

At Finnieston I turned right and followed the road down the hill to the junction where I turned left; and then right again onto the road into Letham.

The 2013 Challenge, day 14: Forfar to Whiting Ness (5)

... but after a while, it just peters out into an open grassy area in the middle of the woods on the hilltop ...

The 2013 Challenge, day 14: Forfar to Whiting Ness (4)

The track up Dunnichen Hill started out being clearly defined and easy to follow ...

The 2013 Challenge, day 14: Forfar to Whiting Ness (3)

My planned route after Burnside was to follow the path over Dunnichen Hill to Finnieston ... but I got the distinct impression that somebody wasn't too keen on me (or anyone else, for that matter) following that particular path. However, the sign did not look particlarly recent, and I felt confident that I should probably be safe passing this way. So I ignored the sign and followed the track anyway.

The 2013 Challenge, day 14: Forfar to Whiting Ness (2)

The use of these paths and tracks in my route had been specifically commented upon by my route vetters, who said they liked the fact that once I was out of the Angus Glens I had not simply opted to follow the roads all the way to the coast, but had tried to find opportunities to get off the roads wherever possible. What neither they nor I had appreciated, however, was that there was a large quarry to the immediate north of this track (pictured); and with a stiff Northerly breeze blowing that morning, I soon had sand blowing in my face and stinging my eyes.

I was soon past the quarry, however, and at the bridge under the old railway line. This was protected by a gate, beyond which was a large herd of cattle. My grandfather was a dairy farmer and I am not too troubled by kine, so I pressed on until I reached the road; and I followed the road past Mid Dod to Burnside.

The 2013 Challenge, day 14: Forfar to Whiting Ness (1)

Thursday 23 May 2013 was the final day of my eighth TGO Challenge. I left Forfar on the B9128 towards Kingsmuir; but at Welron I turned left onto the pleasant green track which leads towards Auchterforfar (pictured).

The 2013 Challenge, day 13: Cortachy to Forfar (7)

I left the square by means of a little back street and archway (pictured) which returned me to the main street, and here I found a traditional barber's shop which offered hot towel wet shaves. This seemed like just the kind of pampering I needed after walking nearly across Scotland, so I booked one for myself and went for another little wander while they prepared the towels.

Now a proper hot towel wet shave takes a long time - over an hour in this case - and they only charged me £10 for it! I don't quite see how this can be profitable. Even assuming that the girl who shaved me is earning bare National Minimum Wage, that doesn't leave a whole lot over to pay for premises and overheads and leave the proprietor with a little bit for themselves. However, it was their price and I was happy to pay it - together with a £5 tip because she did such a wonderful job. To put this in context, soon after I returned from the Challenge, the London Evening Standard did a little feature on a London barber who was offering his customers traditional wet towel shaves ... at £45 a time! OK, so just about everything in London is dearer than in Scotland; but not usually by 350%!

Once I had been shaved, I returned to the camp site and found another Challenger pitching his tent. When he was done we went off together in search of some supper; and over supper he told me about his achievements this crossing. It seems that on most of the days when I had decided the weather wasn't suitable for going high, he decided otherwise; and had ascended 8 Corbetts and 38 Munros on the way across. That's more Munros in two weeks than I've done in my entire life!!!

The 2013 Challenge, day 13: Cortachy to Forfar (6)

At first sight, Forfar can seem a wee bit unprepossessing. However, delve a little deeper and there are some well-hidden gems, such as this little square, which has a very French feel to it.

The 2013 Challenge, day 13: Cortachy to Forfar (5)

I was soon entering Forfar, and made my way to the campsite where I collected my final resupply parcel and pitched my tent. I made my final phone-in to Challenge Control, and then I went to have a look around Forfar.

The 2013 Challenge, day 13: Cortachy to Forfar (4)

Once I reached the road I turned left and then right, and followed the back road past meadows to Over Bow. This was road walking ... but on quiet rural back roads which were really rather enjoyable as road walking goes (pictured). At Over Bow I turned left, and crossed the bridge over the Lemno Burn and the A90, and continued up to the B9128.

Now the B9128 is NOT a particularly pleasant road to walk, although at least it does have a pavement. It connects Forfar to the A90, it is dead straight, and traffic tends to be very fast-moving and pay very little heed to the presence of walkers. Fortunately, I only needed to walk on this road for about a kilometre and a half.

The 2013 Challenge, day 13: Cortachy to Forfar (3)

Once back on track I made my way to Shielhill Bridge (pausing briefly for a rest and to admire a charming little private memorial garden at NO 426584)and then turned left past Shielhill. The plan was then to follow the track off to the left to Eskhill; but what appeared at first to be this track turned out not to be. It was another track through the woods which placed me on the wrong side of the fence surrounding the cleared area immediately West of Eskhill, and I had to get myself over a barbed wire fence and do a certain amount of field-edging to arrive at Eskhill. From there I took the track heading South South East, which was lined with trees and very pleasant indeed (pictured).

The 2013 Challenge, day 13: Cortachy to Forfar (2)

My intention was to walk through the castle grounds and past Turfachie, then turn right for Shielhill Bridge. However, somehow (and don't ask me how) I managed to misread the tracks between Home Farm and Turfachie, and ended up on a fishermen's track down by the river. This was very pleasant, to be sure (see picture) ... but the problem was, you couldn't follow it all the way to the road at Turfachie. It stopped some way short, and there was no viable means of following the river bank. So I back-tracked a bit and found a farm track up to Turfachie.

The 2013 Challenge, day 13: Cortachy to Forfar (1)

There was no hurry about getting away from Cortachy House and I was able to be nice and leisurely. Had I not revised my route, I should have been walking 33 kilometres today; and after 16 I should have been passing through Cortachy. This meant that I only actually had 17 kilometres to cover today. So, as I say, no hurry at all. Once I was packed and ready to go I said my goodbyes, and took this photo of Bob and Heather (and Merlot, of course) in their garden at Cortachy House. I then hit the road for the penultimate time this crossing.

The 2013 Challenge, day 12: Glen Doll to Cortachy (7)

From Gella Bridge to Dykehead is all road walking. Had I been carrying Landranger 44, I might have tried to get off-road fro a bit and follow one of the paths down by the river; but as ever these days, I was working off A3 colour photocopies of the relevant map sections - and as this was not my planned route but a route revision, I was currently "off map". I therefore stuck to the road which I knew would lead me into Dykehead. Beyond Cullew there was a short section of raised path to the side of the road (pictured) and I used this where I could.

I was out of water and getting thirsty now, so I hoped that the Royal Jubilee Arms hotel might be open and able to sell me some Irn Bru; but alas! The Royal Jubilee Arms is closed once again. I did, however, see somebody in the garden of one of the houses in Dykehead, and managed to persuade him to refill my water bottles for me.

I then continued down the road to Cortachy, and to a very pleasant shower, evening meal and bed at Cortachy House. Heather did some laundry for me while I slept, which was waiting fro me outside my bedroom door in the morning.

The 2013 Challenge, day 12: Glen Doll to Cortachy (6)

Shortly before I reached Gella Bridge, I met another challenger called Marian, coming the other way. Now, I know that the road her is aligned pretty much North-South rather than East-West; but heading into Glen Clova still feels pretty much like going "the wrong way" to me. However, Marian was happy that she was heading in the right direction. She had come across from Glen Prosen, and was now heading for ... well, I'm not actually too sure where she was heading.

Anyway, we both dropped out packs and sat down at the roadside for a glug and a natter, and then we both got up, hefted our packs, and continued on our (opposite) ways.

The 2013 Challenge, day 12: Glen Doll to Cortachy (5)

One by one I passed all the familiar Glen Clova place names. Wheen Cott ... Wheen ... Rottal ... Glasslet ... Whitehillocks. At Whitehillocks there was a wonderful floral display on the roadside verges. The daffodils were past their best - but then that's hardly surprising given that it was the latter half of May. I still thought them worthy of a photograph, however.

The 2013 Challenge, day 12: Glen Doll to Cortachy (4)

Having drunk a reasonable quantity of cider at lunch, I soon found myself needing a pee. So I ducked into a field to the left of the road, in order to be out of site of passing cars, and discovered a little hidden fishing loch which belongs to the hotel. I walked along the side of the loch and stayed off the road for as long as I could; but eventually I had to return to the road once again.

The 2013 Challenge, day 12: Glen Doll to Cortachy (3)

On my first Challenge in 2000 I crossed the bridge and took the southern branch of the road down Glen Clova; so this time I took the northern branch. For a while there is a cinder path which saves the walker from mixing with the motorised traffic on the main carriageway; but this soon gives out.

The 2013 Challenge, day 12: Glen Doll to Cortachy (2)

I placed my order at noon, and had a very enjoyable lunch of potato and leek soup followed by venison chilli (my first venison of the crossing). Unfortunately they had nothing on the dessert menu that I was able to eat. Still, they hadn't been warned that I was coming.

When I left the hotel the sun was shining; and I spent the rest of the day walking in lovely sunshine. Maybe I could have gone back into the hills and didn't need that bed for the night at Cortachy House. Oh well ...

The 2013 Challenge, day 12: Glen Doll to Cortachy (1)

In the morning Kevin and I walked down through the woods together. The Youth Hostel and camp site may now have gone; but there is an impressive new visitor centre with plenty of parking - and although it is left unmanned and locked up overnight, it appears as though the toilets are left unlocked. Furthermore, there are several really good looking bits of grass which would make lovely overnight pitches. Arrive after they's shut up for the night, strike camp before they arrive the next morning, and nobody would even know you've been there!

We continued by road to the Clova Hotel, which we reached at 11. Now this has changed a bit since I was last here! There is an impressive conservatory extension to the front making a lovely light and airy dining area; and I thought this would be a wonderful place to take a bite of lunch. So I had a pint or two and waited until they were ready to serve. Kevin just had a coffee and a scone, and then headed on up over the hill to Loch Brandy.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

The 2013 Challenge, day 11: Cairn of Claise and Jock's Road (14)

There are plenty of good spots for pitching a small tent close to the edge of the edge of the woods, and I had made camp by 6.15 or thereabouts. Another Challenger, a first-timer called Kevin, shared the camping spot, pitching his tent just the other side of the drumlin from which I took this photograph. Having had two breakfasts, I hadn't really bothered with lunch. So now I didn't really bother with cooking myself supper; instead, I just ate the packed lunch and called it a day.

The 2013 Challenge, day 11: Cairn of Claise and Jock's Road (13)

As Jock's Road dropped down into the valley floor, the woods came into view and I knew my day's walking was almost done. I worried about the weather, however. It looked as if we may be in for a stormy night. With my damaged ground sheet, that might not be so much fun. I therefore considered the possibility of pressing on to Clova and hoping for a place in the hotel bunkhouse. But that would be another 7 kilometres of walking at the end of a big day, possibly through miserable weather. So I thought about it ... but decided against it. I'd said I would camp at the edge of the woods, and I was going to camp at the edge of the woods.

The 2013 Challenge, day 11: Cairn of Claise and Jock's Road (12)

Glen Doll is a classic glacial U-shaped valley, and the views as you descend Jock's Road are breath-taking. However, as the photograph shows, the weather was also closing in. I now only had a couple of kilometres to go to my planned wild camp at the edge of the woods, though so I pressed on.

The 2013 Challenge, day 11: Cairn of Claise and Jock's Road (11)

The last time I was up here, on my first Challenge in 2000, I had turned off on a whim and taken the path down over Craigs of Loch Esk and the Glittering Skellies. This time, however, I didn't even see this path and I wondered whether it had fallen into disuse and the mountain was reclaiming it. After all, both Glen Doll Youth Hostel and the campsite had now closed, so the two bases from which it formed part of an obvious circular route no longer existed. What I did see, however, was that away off to the North, Broad Cairn and far Lochnagar appeared to be suffering some pretty atrocious weather; and the cloud base was coming down quite rapidly. I worried for the Germans, and anybody else walking further to the North who was caught up in it; but I was also concerned about its implications for me. I needed to make good progress if I was not to become swathed in cloud.

As the path took me to the South of Cairn Lunkard (pictured) I knew I was in country that was new to me - although well-trodden my many other Challengers. Upper Glen Doll is stunning; really it is. But I did not have time to enjoy it. I had one eye on that cloud base, creeping ever lower, and I knew that I needed to lose height faster than it did (or at least, no less fast) so I kept moving. Just past the shelter at the foot of Cairn Lunkard, I sighted a brace of ptarmigan casually strolling around just off to my left. This was a wildlife first for me, and I naturally reached for my camera. However, before I could deploy it and get a decent photograph of them (or any sort of photograph, actually, of either of them) they had casually strolled out of sight. I was subsequently assured that this is what ptarmigan do!

The 2013 Challenge, day 11: Cairn of Claise and Jock's Road (10)

From Cairn of Claise the idea was to head pretty much due East to Ca Whims and Tom Buidhe, then turn North East and drop down into the valley and back up to Crow Craigies, before turning right onto Jock's Road. So I duly set off East and enjoyed the easy descent over springy turf. But as I got down into the col, a bit of a rethink seemed in order. This is peaty ground, and the hags were complicated by a number of snowfields, some of them at pretty challenging angles. Now this was all safe. A glissade would simply result in slithering down to the broad, flat bottom of the hag. There was nothing here that would kill you. But wrenches and strains were nevertheless possible, and with my shoulder still troubling me I was not too keen on that particular risk (never mind having to admit to the indignity of it on this blog). So I took a good look at the ground and the position of the snow fields, and I surveyed a line which passed North West of Ca Whims and South East of Tolmount, and which appeared to be entirely clear of lying snow.

As it turned out, the line I had chosen to walk didn't avoid the snow fields altogether, for there was one in the dead ground that I had been unable to see when I made my visual survey (pictured). I made it safely across, however, and I joined Jock's Road about half a kilometre North West of Crow Craigies. In the distance I could see a couple of people who I suspected were fellow Challengers coming off Fafernie towards the Knaps of Fafernie; but they were too far off to want to wait for them to arrive. So I pressed on over Crow Craigies.

The 2013 Challenge, day 11: Cairn of Claise and Jock's Road (9)

Just to prove that I really HAD been there in short sleeves, I took a "selfie" as well. The eagle-eyed among you may notice that the T-shirt I was wearing is in fact a Portsmouth FC shirt; but before you go jumping to any conclusions that I am a Pompey fan, let me tell you here and now that I am not. I am not any sort of an association football fan. I favour the far superior codes of rugby football. However, that having been said, I AM acquainted with Trevor Birch, who was the Administrator appointed to sort out the financial mess at Pompey, and he suggested that I really ought to go to see a game at Fratton Park because because the atmosphere there is quite unlike anything he has ever known anywhere else (and remember, he WAS a professional footballer himself) and the fans really have something special going there. And when the drums struck up and the Chimes rang out, I knew exactly what he meant! However, what I also found was that as it was the last home game of the season, and the fans' shop was unsure whether there would be a club at all the following season, they were desperately trying to liquidate their entire stock and everything was heavily discounted. And the shirt seemed a pretty good base layer, so I bought one. By the time I was photographing myself at the summit of Cairn of Claise, I was actually thinking that maybe at that price I should have bought five or six. But as they say, hindsight is always 20:20

The 2013 Challenge, day 11: Cairn of Claise and Jock's Road (8)

If I had still had a realistic chance of achieving a "High Level" crossing, and just needed a few more Munros and Corbetts to make up the 12, then it would have been easy enough to make a short out-and-back diversion to Carn an Tuirc; and later in the day to pick up Tolmount and Tom Buidhe as well for a total of 4 Munros in the day. But even that would have left me well short of target; and they were all Munros that I had been up before. Moreover, the weather was beginning to look a little less genial and I began to fear that it might close in before I was safely off the plateau. So I ignored Carn an Tuirc and just headed for the summit of Cairn of Claise, where I found this rather impressive summit cairn.

The 2013 Challenge, day 11: Cairn of Claise and Jock's Road (7)

The map shows the path giving out at about 940 metres elevation, just to the North West of Coire Loch Kander; but in fact on the ground it does no such thing. There are two Munros up here, so you can be certain that there will be a trodden path of sorts to each of them. In this case, however, there is more than that; because the vehicle track continues all the way to Cairn of Claise and beyond. In doing so it skirts the rim of Coire Loch Kander, which is a stunningly dramatic feature. I wish I could have managed to take a photograph which captured half its splendour; but alas, my landscape photography skills are limited, and this is the best I can offer.

The 2013 Challenge, day 11: Cairn of Claise and Jock's Road (6)

On the way up, I had to contend with some snow lying across the path; but it was nothing I could not handle, and it presented no danger. I could of course have gone around it with little difficulty; but there is something altogether rather pleasing about walking through snow in a T-shirt without feeling at all cold - so this is what I did.

The 2013 Challenge, day 11: Cairn of Claise and Jock's Road (5)

The day was now a little overcast, but still warm and I was still happy walking in just my T-shirt. Delighted finally to be able to, in fact. The cloud base was high, and there was no reason not to go Murno-bagging today.

The path South crosses the Callater Burn by a well made vehicle bridge (pictured, looking back towards Callater Lodge) and then begins a steady climb which is not difficult going at all; especially by this stage of the Challenge when one is well walked-in.

Friday, 8 November 2013

The 2013 Challenge, day 11: Cairn of Claise and Jock's Road (4)

The view from the "patio" (pictured) was one which I particularly admired.

All too soon, however, it was time for me to go. I had some serious hill walking to do, and I needed to be on my way. So I said my farewells, and took the path to the South.