Wednesday, 20 November 2013
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
As I say, that was the plan ...
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.
Wednesday, 13 November 2013
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.
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.
Sunday, 10 November 2013
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!!!
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.
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.
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.
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 ...
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
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!
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 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
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.