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 ...

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Route Vetter's Comments Received

My route was vetted, in super-quick time, by Colin Crawford, who wrote:

"Well, here I am vetting your route for a second time [he vetted my route for 2012 - and might have saved himself the bother, as I walked so little of it!!]. I see that you're planning a genuinely demanding route for this year, one which will require fitness and stamina. I also note an innovative, rather tongue in cheek, use of the new start point at Kilchoan. You're remaining within the Challenge boundaries though so I'll treat it as a refreshing independence of mind."

Tongue in cheek???? Hardly! I've been trying and trying to devise a route which would sensibly make use of the fact that North Mull is in the Challenge area, and just couldn't do it. Going to Mull just to walk between Craignure and Fishnish never made any sense, and that meant it was always going to have to be the Kilchoan - Tobermory crossing. But whether you went from Oban to Craignure and walked to Tobermory, or walked from Acharacle to Kilchoan and crossed to Tobermory, the problem was always the same. It took too long to get to Tobermory, and the rest of the crossing would be plagued by the need to take every opportunity to shorten the route and hurry to the East Coast. In short, 15 days just wasn't enough time for a crossing from either Acharacle or Oban which took you to North Mull. But now we can START at Kilchoan ... well, I thought that was the whole POINT of having Kilchoan as a start point!!!

Anyway, Colin is largely happy with the route; but cautions that day 2/3 might be problematic due to the Glen Sanda quarry and its associated facilities. I suspect that passing through on the shore path would not be an issue - but I do not want to assume it. If there are any access issues, then that would kill my crossing stone dead. I have therefore sent a slightly revised route, and I will post this in the next post.

Colin has ALSO poitned out a couple of Corbetts on my route which I had not appreciated for what they were. So, if I complete the route exactly as it appears on the card, I shall this year take in 19 Munros (16 of whcih are new to me) and 4 Corbetts. Even if a little bit of weather gets in the way, the chances of achieving a High Level crossing are still more than fair.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Oh Bother!

Oh wonderful! It's just been announced that Culra bothy will be closed with immediate effect, until further notice, due to asbestos concerns. So it looks like I shan't be staying at Culra bothy after all. Still, never mind ... it's a great area for wild camping, and I might just pitch a bit further on, near Loch Pattack, and do a light out-and back ascent of Carn Dearg the following morning, before setting off for Dalwhinnie, in order to get an extra Munro under my belt.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Time to get fit again

Well, since I'm on the Challenge, I guess I'd better try to get myself fit again before the off. Plus, novel as it may seem, I'm thinking that maybe I ought to give all of my gear a thorough shake-down as well. And I've just got a new pair of new boots, which need walking in. So what better excuse could I have?

We'd taken the lorry up to Grendon, so it was out of the way when the electricity engineers were working on the pole in the corner of our paddocks, and it needed to come back again on Saturday 8 March. So I decided I'd drive it to the paddocks in Ampthill, and then walk back home. I took just a light day sack with my waterproofs and some water. I didn't take my camera ... but I rather wish I had. I wasn't thinking about writing the walk up for my blog at the time. I didn't have my watch, either ... as time didn't really seem to matter. But I guess I started walking some time between 1 and 2 pm, probably closer to 1 than 2.

I didn't carry maps, either, because I was on home terrain. I didn't know the exact routes of all the paths I was intending to use. But I knew the country well enough that I didn't think it would matter all that much. I knew approximately where the paths were, and I knew the lie of the land. And in this part of Bedfordshire, you can navigate by airship hangar. So off I trotted.

Our paddocks are on Station Road, Ampthill, TL 023373; and I walked up Station Road, across the A507 Ampthill bypass, and turned left onto the bridleway over Cooper's Hill. I have ridden this bridleway many times. I have not walked it nearly so often. Then I turned right at the school, walked up the avenue, continued by the back roads over Ampthill Park Hill and turned left onto the B530 Bedford Road. After the Laurel Wood I took the path to Houghton House, and spent a little while looking at the ruins. And it is here that I wished I had brought my camera.

Houghton House, built in 1615 for the Countess of Pembroke, is generally accepted as having been Bunyan's inspiration for the "House Beautiful" in Pilgrim's Progress . It is ruinous now, and in the care of the National Trust. But enough remains to give a good impression of what it must have been like. And as for the views from its commanding position ... well, you just have to visit it yourself to see what they're like, because I didn't have my camera with me.

Well, without benefit of maps, the plan I'd had was roughly this: "Follow the Greensand Ridge Walk to Haynes, then take the bridleway to Wilstead, and the bridleway from Wilstead to Elstow". At Houghton House, however, the waymarking for the Greensand Ridge Walk is not all that great, and I managed to miss it altogether. Probably as well I did, though, because with the benefit of the map, it appears that the GRW does not follow the most direct of routes to Haynes. Instead, I found myself taking the footpath through Houghton Park - once a favourite hunting ground of Henry VIII - and exiting Explorer 193 to Explorer 208 at TL 039400.This path is well marked, following the field boundaries - but the going is pretty heavy. This is, after all, Bedfordshire clay we're talking about; the valley floor hereabouts is supposed to have been Bunyan's inspiration for the Slough of Despond.

Arriving at a T junction, I figured that going left would get me back to the main road, and I didn't want to go there; so I turned right, and soon found myself at the edge of King's Wood. This is a beautiful nature reserve, one of the last remnants of the ancient forest which once filled the vale; and there are some beautiful meadows to the north of it, too, which are also in the hands of the conservationists. This footpath led me eventually into Houghton Conquest, where I turned and followed the road to Chapel End. Had I had the map with me I should have known that if I turned left at Chapel End, onto a small road which looks to all the world like a private farm track, then shortly after I would come to a footpath which would lead me to Wilstead church. I knew that there was a footpath to Wilstead church; but i wasn't sure where to find this end of it. So instead of taking it, I followed the road I was on all the way to the A6, crossed over, and followed the main road a short way before turning for Wilstead.

On the way into Wilstead there are some benches where I sat to rest my feet for a bit, taking them out of my boots, and had a glug. I then continued on my way, taking the footpath to Manor Farm, and then following the lane to Cotton End Farm. Again, had I had the map with me, I should have known that I need only turn right, and I should find one branch of the bridleway to Elstow less than 50 metres up the road. But I was relying on memory, and I was under the mistaken impression that both branches were to my left. So I walked through the village for a way and took the Western branch of the bridleway, which I followed all the way to Medbury Farm, and so into Elstow.

The sun was just setting as I reached home. The walk had been about 20 km, a good mix of roads, made-up paths, and good old Bedfordshire clay. My new boots had rubbed a couple of blisters on my heels, but nothing to worry about. They'll be healed by next weekend, when I shall take my boots out again, possibly to explore the new bridleways they've been making round the new mid-Bedfordshire Centre Parcs. I'll try to remember to take my camera!

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

The 2014 Challenge: Route submitted!

Well, OK, so I've not quite finished counting all the squiggles on my FWAs - but I have for the main route, so I thought I'd get it off to John as it stands so a vetter can start looking at my main route. By the time they've finished doing that, I should have the measurements for the FWAs for them. So here's what I plan:

9 May: Start at Kilchoan, take the ferry to Tobermory, road to Loch Frisa then tracks and paths down the West side of the loch to Tenga and down Glen Aros, then by road to Salen

10 May: Roads and tracks to Fishnish. Ferry to Lochaline. Up the side of the loch to Ardtornish then path past Loch Tearnalt to a wild camp by the lower Glensanda River

11 May: Lochside path up Loch Linnhe to Loch a'Choire then road from Kingairloch to Ardgour (this is a BIG day ... 37 km or so!!)

12 May: Corran ferry, up Glen Righ, across the open hillside to Lundavra and the WHW, up onto the Mamore Ridge and ridge walk MULLACH NAN COIREAN (Munro #1) and STOB BAN (Munro #2); make camp by the locahn at 160654 and make a light evening out-and-back visit to SGURR A' MHAIN (Munro #3)

13 May: Ridge walk AM BODACH (Munro #4), STOB COIRE A' CHAIRN (Munro #5), out-and-back to AN GEARNACH (Munro #6), NA GRUAIGAICHEAN (Munro #7), out-and-back to BINNEAN MOR (Munro #8), descend Sgor Eilde Beag, out-and-back to BINNEAN BEAG (Munro #9) and descend to Kinlochleven

14 May: Ascend through woods to Blackwater Reservoir then past Loch Charain to Loch Treig. Under the railway line and ascend BEINN NA LAP (Munro #9) and descend Sron na Cloiche Sgoilte. Camp by the Allt Feith Thuill

15 May: Through Strath Ossian past Loch Ghuilbinn, ascend Allt Gualainn a' Charra Mhoir and Sron an Fhuarain to BEINN EIBHINN (Munro #10), AONACH BEAG (Munro #11) and GEAL CHARN (Munro #12) then descend by Leacann na Brathan to Bealach Dubh and so to Culra bothy

16 May: Past Loch Pattack and ascend Creagan an t-Seallach to Meall Cruaidh, over The Fara (Corbett #1) and down to Allt an t-Sluis then by road into Dalwhinnie

17 May: Up by the aqueduct past Loch Cuaich, over Bogha-cloiche and down by Maol an t-Seilich to the Tromie damn. Cross the damn and take the path to the Allt Bhran. Cross below the weir and follow the path past the woods to the building at 825892. Stop here, either wild camping or taking shelter in the building if possible. (Is it a bothy? I don't know. It looks as though it is more likely to be a shooting hut ... but it might nevertheless be unlocked.)

18 May: Long ridge walk over CARN EALAR (Munro #13) and AN SGARSOCH (Munro #14) and down to camp on the North bank of the Geldie Burn, near the woods.

19 May: White Bridge - Linn of Dee - Mar Lodge - Victoria Bridge - Braemar - Glen Callater - Lochcallater Lodge

20 May: CARN AN T-SAGAIRT MOR (Munro #15) - CARN BANNOCH (Munro #16) - BROAD CAIRN (Munro #17) - pony stable - Bachnagairn - Moulzie - Glen Clova

21 May: Green Hill - White Hill - The Goet - Black Shank - Shieling of Saughs - Waterhead - Craigendowie - Bridgend - Camp at the picnic site by West Water a little way short of Edzell

22 May: Edzell - Arnhall - Chapelton - Dalladies - Northgate - Gorloch - Luthermuir - Marymill - Forebank - Canterland - Pitbeadlie - Sillycoats - Mains of Woodstone - West Mathers - Tangleha'

Monday, 3 March 2014

The 2014 Challenge: feeling like a Vulture

It is always slightly uncomfortable, being on the Standby list. You are hoping for a place to become available ... but know that for a place to become available, somebody else must suffer the disappointment of having to withdraw from the event. It is reported that the Scilly islanders never prayed for ships to be wrecked, but that they did pray that if there were to be wrecks, that they should be on their own shores rather than somebody else's. Well, that's a bit how it feels. You do not wish withdrawal of the event on anyone ... but you do wish that if there are going to be withdrawals, they take place before the Standby List closes at midnight on 15 March.

Of course, I've seen the other side of the coin as well. In 2008 I had a place and thought I would be fit to walk, but after suffering a relapse of Chronic Fatigue I realised that I could not be confident of my ability to walk in May. So I withdrew from the event, and somebody else gained my place. I hope they were able to make good use of it.

Eventually I could stand it no more, and towards the end of February I sent John an e-mail enquiring how the Standby list stood. He replied that I was number 4 ... and then three hours later, he sent a further e-mail saying that I was now number 1. With just under 3 weeks to go until the Standby List closed. I thought it was time to start putting my route onto a route card.

And then yesterday, Sunday 2 March 2014, came the e-mail I had been hoping for. A place had become available ... did I still want it?

Well, of course I did! So I e-mailed John right away, and then I set about sorting out my accommodation. As of today, I can say that I have my travel to Fort William booked (but not my travel back from Montrose, as the Advance tickets for that journey have not been released yet) and all of my hard accommodation is booked as well. So ... Kilchoan to Tangleha' in 2014 it is! And, provided I complete ... I shall have a guaranteed place in 2015, to attempt my 10th crossing. I'm beginning to make plans for that already!!

The 2014 Challenge: the Draw for Places

And so, the time came again when I filled in my little piece of paper and sent it off to John Manning with my £40 cheque, eagerly hoping to secure a place on the 2014 Challenge. And after a while, the news came back, that I was not successful. Still, never mind ... I was at number 32 on the Standby List, and that meant I had a reasonable chance of getting on. The official blurb says that "every year between 20 and 30 people regain a place from the Standby List" ... and of course, it is always possible that some of the 31 people ahead of me might withdraw. In 2009 I got on the Challenge, having been at number 60 on the Standby list. So I was quietly hopeful that I would nevertheless be attempting my 9th crossing in May 2014. And there was a new start point to play with, too - Kilchoan. So I scrapped the route I had been planning from Plockton, and set about planning a new route from a Kilchoan start. Now, at last, I could see opportunities for taking my Challenge to Mull!

October Smash-and-Grab (4)

As I headed ever upwards, I turned back and saw the most spectacular inversion, with the whole of the Rothiemurchus forest swathed in cloud whilst I enjoyed clear visibility all the way up the arrete between Coire Gorm and the Lairig Ghru.

It wasn't to last, however, and I entered cloud at about 1,000 metres. This was a tremendous shame. To have had another 300 metres before the cloud base was all I needed. Had I had it, I should have had the most spectacular views from the summit of Braeriach across Coire Bhrochain and the Lairig Ghru to Ben Macdui. There were occasional moments when it felt as though the sun might yet break through ... but it did not. And so I arrived at the summit in 20 metre visibility. I sat and ate my lunch in 20 metre visibility. And then I began my descent once again.

I was back at my tent at about 4.30 and I did wonder about striking camp and returning to the Youth Hostel. But it had been an early start and a big day on the hill, and I was worn out. So I just collapsed happily into my tend, and was soon fast asleep.

The next morning I was up early, and soon regained the road at Coylumbridge. I didn't feel like walking the roads so I just put my thumb out, and had a lift in about 35 second flat. That's a record for me! Before long, I was once again aboard a train heading South. A weekend and a day's annual leave had given me a spectacular day on the third highest mountain in Britain - one I shall not forget in a hurry. But I want those views ... and some day I shall return for them!

October Smash-and-Grab (3)

I had chosen my gear carefully for this expedition. I had taken the rucksack with the little "piggyback" daysack, so that I could pitch my tent and leave all my heavy overnight and cooking gear at the Camping Ground. All I took with me from there to the summit and back was my lunch, some water, and my waterproofs.

It is only a short distance from the Camping Ground to the Lairig Ghru path, and I turned onto this with eager anticipation. I had heard many tales of the Ghru from fellow Challengers, but have yet to attempt it myself (I am saving it for my 10th crossing). My route today, however, took me to the foot of the famous pass, where I turned right and followed the path up the Sron na Lairige.

October Smash-and-Grab (2)


October Smash-and-Grab (1)

By mid-October, I could bear it no more ... I just HAD to get back to Scotland one more time before winter set in. So I looked for an excuse ... ANY excuse, to do a quick smash-and-grab raid on a Scottish mountain or two. And that's when I remembered that I had promised myself that I would plan a Challenge route which involved using the Cairngorm Club Footbridge in its centenary year ... 2013. Only, when I came to plan my route, I forgot all about that promise. And my 2013 route had taken me nowhere near the Cairngorm Club footbridge. Still, 2013 was not out yet, and there was my excuse. So I repaired my tent groundsheet, booked a train to Aviemore on Saturday 19 October and a bed for the night at Aviemore Youth Hostel, and I set out to make an autumn ascent of Braeriach. Which would, of course, involve crossing the Cairngorm Club footbridge. OK, so it wasn't on the Challenge, but I would be keeping my promise in spirit. And that was what mattered. Well, that, and getting another trip to the Scottish mountains in before the onset of winter.

I suspected that I might find myself struggling for daylight coming back off the mountain, so I booked a taxi to meet me at the Youth Hostel nice and early, and drive me the short distance to Coylumbridge. It wasn't much, but it helped. It was still completely dark as I started off into Rothiemurchus forest; but the track was easily discernible even without any artificial light, and the dawn soon began to break all around me. So by the time I reached the Cairngorm Club Footbridge, it was bright and clear, and I was able to take photographs.

I wished the bridge a happy 100th birthday, and began to cross.

Some Unfinished Business (11)

After Sgurr Thuilm came the long descent of Drum Coire a' Bheithe, and again the views were amazing despite the indifferent weather.

And then ... it was all over! I was back in the valley floor, and I made my way back to Corryhully Bothy where I rested a while and had supper. Then I packed my things and made my way to Glenfinnan station, where I bedded down for the night in the platform shelter. I had to be on the early train the following morning ...

So that was it ... my last visit to Scotland of 2013. Sgurr nan Coireachan and Sgurr Thuilm finally conquered, and the mysteries of South Morar laid bare, even if not solved. It had been a worthwhile use of three days of annual leave, and I was contented.

And yet ... as autumn came on, I once more felt the siren call of the Scottish hills ...

Some Unfinished Business (10)

From Sgurr a'Choire Riabhaich it is a pleasant ridge walk of just over a kilometre to Sgurr nan Coireachean - the first Munro of the day - and BOY did it feel good to be up there at last, and to get that particular monkey off my back. The views were pretty stunning, too - this one being towards Oban and Loch Morar.

From Sgurr nan Coireachan the horseshoe takes you over Meall and Tarmachain and Beinn Garbh, and one last unnamed little 858 metre top, and then on to the second Munro of the day: Sgurr Thuilm. the route is easy, the ridge simply breathtaking . I watched the cloud base, and it stayed above me ... but only just. Looking back along the ridge I often saw places I had been not 30 minutes previously enveloped in mist. But at no point did the mist close in and envelop me.

Some Unfinished Business (9)

Well, Sunday didn't exactly dawn sunny and clear - but it was still, and the cloud base was reasonably high, and it was now or never. So I packed only my essential mountain gear, leaving all my overnight and cooking things in the bothy, and I headed back up Sgurr a Choire Riabhaich. As I did so, I was treated to some pretty spectacular views back down Glen Finnan, and I was glad I'd decided to give the horseshoe another crack.

It was an exhilaratign ascent, with a couple of enjoyable little scrambles; and once at the top there are some marvellous views. But would I have wanted to do it with full expedition gear? Well, probably not ... so perhaps it was as well that I had been unable to make it up here either time I attempted it on the Challenge?. I don't know ... really I don't know.