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 ...

Saturday, 31 May 2014

The 2014 Challenge, day 5: Down (but not out) to Kinlochleven (10)

I did some laundry and enjoyed a pint (or maybe more ... I can't quite remember) of cider; and then I took my camera out into the hotel grounds to capture the evening sunlight on Loch Leven. This photograph is one of many that I took. Other guests out in the gardens were soon asking me for advice and photography tips, and I gave them what help I could.

Early in my photography session, my camera dropped from three bars of battery to two bars of battery. This didn't trouble me unduly. I was 5 days into the Challenge - a third of the way through - and I had a fully charged spare battery with me. So it looked as though I had plenty of battery power. However, that assessment depended upon the assumption that all three battery bars are equal ... and as I soon discovered, they ain't! Soon after the camera dropped to two bars of battery, it dropped to one; and almost immediately after that, it flashed up an emergency "low power" warning, and died altogether about 10 seconds later. This put an altogether different complexion on things! I was now a third of the way through the Challenge, and I had burned my way through fully half of my available battery power. If I didn't slow down, I was going to run out of battery before I reached the coast. Clearly, therefore, I was going to have to start rationing myself!

I put the camera away and went for supper. There was little on the menu that I could eat as it stood; but the chef was very willing to try to adapt and adjust to accommodate me; and in the end I had a very interesting meal. For a starter I had scallops served with a Portobello mushroom stuffed with tomato and mozzarella; and this was followed by smoked salmon with coleslaw and chips. It was all very good; and I retired to bed a happy man.

The 2014 Challenge, day 5: Down (but not out) to Kinlochleven (9)

The final descent to Kinlochleven is through some beautiful birch woods. The West Highland Way is well signposted; and when I finally reached the road the Macdonald Hotel had thoughtfully provided a signpost advising me to turn right, and I should find them in another 40 yards. I did as they directed and lo and behold! There was the hotel.

I checked in and collected my resupply parcel, and I rang Challenge Control from my room at 3.30 pm to let them know I had arrived safely in Kinlochleven. I then rang the Dalwhinnie bunkhouse, and said that if they had anyone going shopping in Newtonmore or Kingussie (or Perth or Inverness, obviously) between then and my arrival on Friday, I should be most grateful if they could buy me some fresh supplies of Compeeds, painkillers and Kendal Mint Cake. I then enjoyed a bath and removed the Compeed from my left foot, before heading down to explore the bar and the laundry facilities.

The 2014 Challenge, day 5: Down (but not out) to Kinlochleven (8)

It was still early afternoon as I began to descend, with the Allt Nathrach below me to my right. I toyed briefly with the idea of reascending and ticking off a few more Munros - there was time and daylight aplenty for that - but I was a little concerned by the twinges in my left knee. I had given it one hard descent today, and I was in no great hurry to give it another. So I decided that I would just press on for Kinlochleven and enjoy an early arrival at my hotel, with all that that implied.

The descent is long and tedious, and it is surprising how long it takes before Kinlochleven comes into view. But eventually I could see the town spread out below me at the head of the loch, and what a wonderful sight it was!

The 2014 Challenge, day 5: Down (but not out) to Kinlochleven (7)

What can I say about walking the West Highland Way into Kinlochleven on Tuesday 13 May 2014? Not all that much, really. The WHW here follows the line of the old military road. It is well engineered, it is well surfaced, and it is well trodden. There were many walkers heading towards Fort William; comparatively few (but some) heading away from Fort William. As I emerged from the woods South West of Meall a' Chaorainn, I met a small group of walkers coming the other way, one of whom had several cans of Irn Bru in a pocket of his rucksack. At that precise moment in time I could just murder an Irn Bru, so I asked if he'd sell me one. He said he'd happily give me one to lighten his load, and then asked if I had any painkillers. I had, so we exchanged wares, and I drank my Irn Bru with relish.

A bit further on, I sat for a while and chatted with a couple of late teenage girls, who were experiencing the joys of long distance walking for the first time. They were surprised at how difficult it was; but I got the impression they were enjoying themselves and that they would certainly be back for more.

I stopped for lunch at Lairigmor. The ruins had some good firm stones on which to set up my stove, so I decided to heat up the food I had not eaten the previous evening. The picture shows the view of the path as I headed away from Lairigmor, with Stob Coire na h-Eirghe in the background. Soon after this, I was able to look up to my left and see Stob Ban on the skyline. I also saw several figures making their way towards the ridge which I had not dared attempt. I watched with interest. They appeared to turn back.

The 2014 Challenge, day 5: Down (but not out) to Kinlochleven (6)

The descent was tough, and my left knee was troubling me enough that I had to favour it a bit. Eventually I was able to look to my left and see Lochan Lunn Da Bhra once again; and then at 11 o'clock, exactly 2 and a half hours after I had struck camp, I rejoined the West Highland Way at exactly the point that I had left it the previous afternoon.

The 2014 Challenge, day 5: Down (but not out) to Kinlochleven (5)

Having regained the summit of Meall a' Chaorainn, I considered briefly the possibility of descending the South / South East ridge, rather than the North ridge. The upper reaches of this ridge looked eminently viable; and it would save me a lot of distance, and maybe allow me to reascend and perhaps take in Am Bodach, Stob Coire a' Chairn and Na Gruagaichean before descending into Kinlochleven. However, the contour spacing in the lower reaches of this ridge looked no less dense than that on the South West ridge of hill 917; and the risk therefore was great. I knew nothing about these lower slopes. What should I expect there? On the other hand, I knew exactly what to expect on the North ridge of Meall a' Chaorainn, because that was the way I had come up the day before.

I opted for safety and certainty, and turned North. The picture shows the North ridge, as seen from above, as I began my descent. The inversion appeared to be lingering over Lochs Lochy and Arkaig; but Loch Eil now appeared to be free of cloud.

The 2014 Challenge, day 5: Down (but not out) to Kinlochleven (4)

I returned to my tent, and packed up my camp. Having done so, I wondered briefly whether there was an alternative to beating my way back over Mullach nan Coirean and Meall a' Chaorainn. I studied the map, and decided to try the south-West ridge of hill 917, with a view to joining the West Highland Way at Lairigmor and saving myself a considerable distance. However, this is a convex hill, and as it became steeper and steeper I became more and more concerned about the overnight rain, the wet grass, and the risk of a dangerous glissade. I thought briefly about those emergency snow spikes in my pack - and then I told myself not to be so silly! This was a dangerous descent, and I was not going to make it. So I retreated back up the hill to a safer gradient.

Next, I looked due West, into the corrie. Could I, I wondered, descend into that and follow the stream down? I aimed off towards the stream, and took a good peer down it as far as I could see. It appeared to run in a deep, rocky defile. Not a good idea to follow it down. I backed off and resigned myself to the fact that I was going to have to return over Meall a' Chaorainn. I retreated back up the hill until I was clear of the snow fields, then contoured round to the south of Mullach nan Coirean until I regained the ridge linking it to Meall a' Chaorainn. The picture shows the view looking towards Meall a' Chaorainn as I regained the ridge.

The 2014 Challenge, day 5: Down (but not out) to Kinlochleven (3)

When I turned my back on my camp site, and looked North from the summit cairn, I was treated to the sight of the most spectacular inversion in Glen Nevis, the Great Glen, and over Loch Lochy and Loch Arkaig. That's Meall an t-Suidhe, Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe and the West flank of Ben Nevis in the right mid-ground, and Beinn Bhan and the Monadh Uisge Mhuilinn in the near background.

I spent some time admiring the inversion, and reflecting on the fact that there were doubtless many Challengers down at Spean Bridge or Gairlochy, sittign under all that cloud and cursing the weather this fine morning; whilst I was walking in sunshine, high up on the Mamore ridge, looking down on the inversion. Yes ... despite having to turn back, I was in decidedly good spirits.

The 2014 Challenge, day 5: Down (but not out) to Kinlochleven (2)

I was in no great hurry to get away; so I wandered around and took a few photos before striking camp and going on my way. The view South past my tent over Beinn na Cailich and Mam na Gualainn to Sgorr nam Fiannaidh was particularly awesome ... but the best was yet to come!

The 2014 Challenge, day 5: Down (but not out) to Kinlochleven (1)

It rained in the night. The wind blew. And at 3,000 feet, it was cold. I was glad of my new down sleeping bag, that's for sure!

I woke early, and took another good look at Stob Ban. The snow was still there. The certainty that I could not get up it to continue along the Mamores ridge persisted. If I was going to get to Kinlochleven, I was going to have to return the way I had come, and then spend most of the day on the West Highland Way. I was disappointed - but I had no choice. And despite the disappointment, I had had a spectacular day the day before, and the most stunning high level camp. So I wasn't too downcast.

The 2014 Challenge, day 4: One Munro but no Mamore (14)

This location has to be one of the most spectacular wild camps I have ever had! However, soon after I had the tent up, a light rain started to fall which sent me scurrying for its shelter. I never cook in my tent, and I did not fancy sitting out in the rain to heat up my supper. I did, however, now have a spare lunch (as a result of having lunch the previous day in the Boathouse restaurant) - so I ate this for supper, and then settled down for a night camped at high altitude.

The 2014 Challenge, day 4: One Munro but no Mamore (13)

The trouble I smelled will be immediately apparent from the photograph I took at the top of the unnamed 917 metre mountain. That's the summit cairn in the right foreground. In the left mid-ground is the ridge I needed to traverse to access Stob Ban. In the left background is Sgurr a' Mhaim. And in the right mid-ground is Stob Ban. The ridge I should need to ascent to reach the summit of Stob Ban and continue my traverse of the Mamore ridge is the concave ridge in the mid upper centre of the picture; and the backdrop of Stob Choire a' Mhaim makes it easy to see that there was a thin ribbon of white stretching all the way up that ridge. And that thin ribbon of white could only be snow.

On a knife-edge ridge such as this, snow means only one thing: trouble. I am a summer walker. I do not have winter skills. I do not have winter equipment. I had emergency snow spikes in my pack, but that snow field called for something considerably more substantial than emergency snow spikes - both in terms of equipment, and skills. I did not have the equipment to get up that ridge, and I did not have the skills to get up that ridge. Put simply, there was no way that I was going to get up Stob Ban. And that meant that my traverse of the Mamore ridge ended right here.

I did actually continue a way, more in hope than in expectation, to see whether the ridge looked any more viable closer to (after all, Meall a' Chaorainn had ...). However, the ridge between the two hills was decidedly dicey. The ridge line was very rocky and hazardous; the path below the ridge line traversed a very steep slope and was far from comfortable walking. The whole situation was a risky one. The risks were manageable ... but they were unnecessary. I already knew what I was going to find ... Stob Ban was in no fit state to climb. Traversing this ridge would merely enable me to confirm that even more definitely. Why take risks for the sake of confirming what I already knew?

I turned back, and paused at the summit of the 917 metre hill to take stock. It was 6 pm and I was at an altitude of 3,000 feet. I could retreat all the way back over Mullach nan Coirean and Meall a' Chaorainn, then look for a low level pitch somewhere along the West Highland Way. That would involve making a lengthy descent when tired and dispirited, late in the afternoon, and was far from ideal. Alternatively, I could look for a high-level pitch, and worry about the consequences of Stob Ban being impassible in the morning. I opted for the latter - not least because there was, in fact, a near perfect high-level pitch just to the south of the summit of the 917 metre hill. I texted Challenge Control to tell them of my revised plan, to camp high, retreat the way I had come, and use the West Highland Way to get to Kinlochleven in the morning. Then I set up my tent and took a GPS fix on the location: NN 1309 6543.

The 2014 Challenge, day 4: One Munro but no Mamore (12)

It took me just over a quarter of an hour to do the traverse from Meall a' Chaorainn to the summit cairn of Mullach nan Coirean. I tested my wife to say I was at the summit of my first Munro of the Challenge; and I texted Challenge Control to say that I was at the summit of Mullach nan Coirean and pressing on towards Stob Ban in perfect conditions. I simply could not believe the indescribable wonder of this place: I was intoxicated by its beauty!

I descended carefully, and then pressed on to the unnamed 917 metre top. There was show, and there were cornices, but the ridge line was clear. All was going well, and I was happy. I reached the summit cairn of hill 917, and I looked ahead to the next section of the ridge line. And that's when I began to smell trouble!

The 2014 Challenge, day 4: One Munro but no Mamore (11)

The horseshoe ridge from Meall a' Chaorainn to Mullach nan Coirean is one of the most breath-taking pieces of mountain terrain I have ever seen; and walking it on a calm, clear day was an experience which will stay with me for the rest of my life. Before I embarked upon it I had spotted two other walkers at the summit cairn of Mullach nan Coirean, and I hoped that they were coming in my direction, and that I should be able to ask them about conditions on the rest of the Mamore ridge. However, they headed off down the North ridge of Mullach nan Coirean, and I never did get to speak to them.

The 2014 Challenge, day 4: One Munro but no Mamore (10)

Did I just say that Meall a' Chaorainn is a playful little pussycat of a mountain? For the most part, yes, it is ... but the final rocky outcrop to be surmounted before the summit is gained is actually more like a snarling tigress by comparison. Up close and personal, it was still a relatively simple little scramble to surmount it; but once again the best routes up were well to the left, and the left side was the exposed side - VERY exposed.

Once past this outcrop, however, it was plain sailing all the way to the little summit cairn, where the views were just spectacular. I took a breather, too some photographs, took some water, and texted my wife to say that I was atop Meall a' Chaorainn and pressing on to Mullach nan Coirean, the first Munro of my crossing.

The 2014 Challenge, day 4: One Munro but no Mamore (9)

The upper slopes and rocky outcrops of Meall a' Chaorainn may look imposing from afar, but as you approach them it becomes increasingly apparent that, close-up, it is really a playful pussycat of a mountain. There are grass terraces which make it easy to get up and over the rocky bits ... although care IS still needed, because the best routes are well over to the left, and there are a number of places where the sensible choice is the slightly more difficult ascent, because the easier ascent leaves you uncomfortably exposed to a long tumble into the corrie if things go wrong. So not a difficult mountain, but one that nevertheless calls for care, and intelligent decision-making as to the route to be taken.

The 2014 Challenge, day 4: One Munro but no Mamore (8)

It was perfect ascent weather. Still, clam, no rain, but not too hot. I made steady progress up the north ridge of Meall a' Chaorainn, and as I did so the views which opened up to my right, over Lochan Lunn Da Bhra (with its crannog at the far end, where King Macbeth is reputed to have lived) towards Loch Linnhe were truly spectacular. There were, however, some pretty imposing looking rock faces which I would have to deal with higher up the mountain which might call for a bit of scrambling. So I took it steadily, conserving my water, and before I reached the steeper upper slopes I paused to take half a bar of Kendal Mint Cake. Only, somehow, after eating half a bar, I just kinda ate the second half, too. Well, you know how it is ... you need energy for ascent, right?

The 2014 Challenge, day 4: One Munro but no Mamore (7)

After a while, we came to a little hillock with the ruined remains of quite a substantial crofting settlement, from which we could look down on Lochan Lunn Da Bhra. This must have been a truly magical place to live - the surrounding landscape is quite stunning - and we tried to imagine what it must have been like when there was a vibrant crofting settlement here. We did not stay too long, however: I was keenly aware of the fact that the main mountain ridge in the background was the ridge which I should need to ascend, and I was anxious to reach Lundavra before lunch if possible.

In the event, it was eminently possible. We stopped for lunch a little way North East of Lundavra, overlooking the lochan, and then continued to Blar a' Chaorainn where our paths diverged. Bernie turned right onto the West Highland Way, whilst I turned left. I found myself overhauling a number of footsore West Highland Wayers with light day sacks. I exchanged a few words with some of them, but for the most part they weren't very talkative. After a kilometer or so, I saw a convenient gate that would let me out onto the open hillside and give me access to the north ridge of Meall a' Chaorainn, so I headed for this and was soon on my own once again with nothing for company but the majestic highland landscape.

The 2014 Challenge, day 4: One Munro but no Mamore (6)

This location also seemed a good place for posed portraits ... and I took this one of Bernie. We then continued on up the glen, eventually coming to the edge of the forestry where the path turns back on itself. There is a stile here, and when we crossed it, we were on the open hillside. The direction we needed to go was clear, and we followed the landforms until a quad bike track became faintly discernible, and then we followed this.

The 2014 Challenge, day 4: One Munro but no Mamore (5)

The track up Gleann Righ may follow a wholly artificial line up the glen, but that is not to say that it doesn't have some very beautiful places along the way - such as this one, where we stopped for a glug and to take photographs. Bernie complimented my composition on this one, which I guess must mean that my landscape photography is gradually improving.

The 2014 Challenge, day 4: One Munro but no Mamore (4)

As we followed the track, we came to this notice on a gate, which we both found equally entertaining and both felt we just HAD to photograph! A bit later we saw some sheep with impressive horns, and Bernie took a really stunning photograph of the ram's head. I assisted by whistling to attract its attention, so that it looked our way while Bernie was working his magic with the camera. I have to say he really is an accomplished photographer, and he took a photograph which was far superior to anything I could have achieved.

The track up Gleann Righ is well made, and progress was good. It is not, however, a natural track. It doesn't follow the landforms in any meaningful way, and it is a rather depressing track to walk in consequence. It is artificial, and you feel separated from the land rather than part of it. Bernie and I both remarked upon this.

The 2014 Challenge, day 4: One Munro but no Mamore (3)

Leaving the Corran Ferry behind, I headed up to the main road and turned right. I only had to walk about a kilometer on this road, and it wasn't too bad; and then I turned up the quiet little road to Inchree. Quieter still, there was a lovely little woodland path beside the stream, which cut the corner of the little kink in the road at NN 024631, and I followed this path (pictured). Then, after the activity centre, I followed the made up path which led up Gleann Righ.

I had not been on this track long when I caught up with Bernie Clark, another Kilchoan starter who had followed a mainland route rather than crossing to Mull as I had done. He too was heading for Lundavra, with the intention of turning right onto the West Highland Way and following it into Kinlochleven. I told him that was my FWA, and would leave me cooling my heels in Kinlochleven for a day, but that our routes coincided as far as Blar a' Chaorainn. I therefore asked if he would mind some company for that part of the way. Bernie was initially worried that he would be slowing me down; but I managed to persuade him that I NEEDED slowing down sometimes, and so we walked in company for the next few hours.

The 2014 Challenge, day 4: One Munro but no Mamore (2)

The Corran Ferry doesn't take long to cross the Narrows, and I was soon safely on the slip on the far side, with another Great Glen crossing point crossed off my list. I think I've probably snookered myself over the Camasnagaul ferry, as I don't think I'll be able to use that now until I'm on my second round of the start points (unless they bring Glenuig back into commission ... which seems unlikely). However, there's not a lot I can do about that, certainly not while actually on Challenge, so I didn't let it bother me.

What did bother me, albeit only a little, was pacing myself. I had a lot of ascent to do today, and I needed to avoid pushing myself too hard in the early part of the day. I know from experience that this is something I tend to do; and it is not good when the ascent effort comes towards the end of the day. It is necessary to keep something in reserve.

The 2014 Challenge, day 4: One Munro but no Mamore (1)

Monday 12 May was a big day. After three days of largely level walking (with ever increasing daily distances) I was well walked-in, and ready to start going high. And today, the plan was to go high with a vengeance! It was, in fact, the route that I was supposed to be taking on the third day of my 2012 Challenge (the day that I actually spent walking from Oban bothy through Glen Pean to Strathan ... as recounted elsewhere in this blog!). The idea was to cross the Corran Narrows on the ferry, head up Gleann Righ to Lundavra, turn left onto the West Highland Way at Blar a Chaorainn, then point myself up the ridge to Meall a' Chaorainn, over Stob Ban, and camp by the little lochan just west of Sgurr an Iubhair, with an evening out-and-back jaunt to Sgurr a' Mhaim if I felt like it. Three Munros, with a further six to be attempted the following day, if the weather was kind to me.

I collected my laundry and had a very pleasant breakfast of smoked haddock - the most perfectly filleted haddock I have ever eaten. Then I packed my rucksack, paid my bill, and at 9.30 I strolled out of the hotel and straight onto the Corran Ferry. I believe that this, the third ferry crossing of my Challenge, probably set a new TGO Challenge record. For it is very easy to walk a route with two ferry crossings; but three ferry crossings can only really be achieved by going onto Mull, and off again North of the Great Glen. I doubt this has been done before.

The Corran ferry also has the very great attraction that it is free for foot passengers!

The picture shows the Corran lighthouse, viewed from the ferry.

The 2014 Challenge, day 3: All the way to Ardgour (7)

Once I reached the road I turned right, and in a very little while I came to the Inn at Ardgour - which stands right at the top of the ferry slip used by the Corran Ferry. The photo is a little bit of a cheat, as it was taken the following day from the ferry itself; but it shows the arrangement so nicely that I thought I should include it.

I arrived almost exactly at 7pm. I collected my resupply parcel and went to my room. There was, disappointingly, no bath. So I took a shower, texted Challenge Control to say I had arrived safely at Ardgour as planned, spoke briefly to my wife on the mobile (there being no telephone in the room) and took my laundry to reception. I had two pints of cider and a delightful supper of lemon garlic chicken, and then retired to my room to give my feet some attention. I had rubbed two blisters under the toes of my right foot, and had a bit of a hot spot on the instep of my left foot, but that was all. I pierced the blisters and allowed them to drain; I put a Compeed on the intep of my left foot; and then I collapsed gratefully into bed.

The 2014 Challenge, day 3: All the way to Ardgour (6)

After Locahn Doire a' Bhraghaid, it was only a short distance to the main road; but the views were stunning, such as this one looking up the Coire an Iubhair, with Beinn Bheag and Sgorr Mhic Eacharna in the background.

The A861 main road may be an A road, but it is still pretty wild and remote, and very lightly trafficked. It also has good verges most of the way and there is no difficulty about stepping aside when necessary for passing vehicles. During the course of the day I had been slowly composing a poem, called "The Song of the Challengers", and as I walked this stretch of road the first verse was completed. It goes:

Oh it's hard to ford the Geldie when in spate
And it's hard to bear a twenty kilo load
It's hard to climb a rusting iron gate
And it's hard to plan FW for Jock's Road
But we'll tramp, tramp, tramp 'til we reach the cold North Sea
Yes we'll tramp, tramp, tramp (finish not at Blowup Nose!)
We will tramp, tramp, tramp for we love to roam so free
So we'll tramp, tramp, tramp 'til we meet up in Montrose

At the time, I thought I'd probably get around to composing a few more verses during the course of my crossing, and have it finished by the time I reached Montrose. Alas, however, this was not to be, and in the event this is as much as I wrote during the 2014 crossing. There'll be plenty of opportunity to finish it in due course, however, so watch this space ...

My 4.55 - 5pm break was taken at Gearradh, where a kind householder allowed me to refill my water bottles from his supply. The rain started up again, however, so it was back into my waterproofs; and I decided to resume my boots, too.

At Sallachan, I took the track through Coile na Cuile to Ardgour House. I passed a dog walker who told me it would be a lovely walk which I would enjoy; but actually, the track is pretty grim, and I almost think one might as well take the road round to Clovullin. I took my 5.55 - 6 pm break in the Coile na Cuile and then pressed on. The track takes walkers behind Ardgour House, and then along a lovely avenue and past the two lochans north of Clovullin. By now my feet were beginning to hurt a bit, and I took a couple of painkillers that I found in my pack. I don't know how long they'd been there, and they were probably hopelessly out of date. But they seemed to do the trick.

The 2014 Challenge, day 3: All the way to Ardgour (5)

After lunch, I decided it was time to walk in my sandals for a bit; even though it was raining heavily now, and I would end up with wet socks. Wet socks I can live with - and they can also be changed, of course. So I changed into my sandals, put on my waterproofs, shouldered my pack and stepped out into the car park. It was 1.30 in the afternoon. Another couple of diners were just leaving, and it dawned on me that the road down into Kingairloch had been a diversion from my route. If some kind person were to offer me a lift back to the road junction, I should still have carried my pack all the way across. And on a 40km day, which had just become a 41.5 km day by virtue of the diversion to the Boathouse restaurant, I could do without it becoming a 43km day by virtue of the need to walk back the way I had come. So I sweet talked my way into their car, and was soon back at the road junction.

I was, to be honest, sorry to have to leave their company so soon. They were a charming couple, a little older than me, and he had spent his entire life in outdoor education. I told him the story of my ML assessment, and finding myself assessed as #4 in mountain fitness, making me the least fit in the fitter of two assessment groups. He in turn replied with the tale of his own winter ML assessment, where he had been in a group of 3, the other two of whom were Olympic athletes. It was a similar story. He was hopelessly outclassed. They all failed on navigation, after the other two hadn't a clue where they were, and he was too exhausted from trying to keep up with them to be able to figure it out. He passed second time, though ...

Bidding them fairwell at the road junction, I pressed on along the road. I didn't take a 1.55 - 2 pm rest break; and my 2.55 - 3 pm rest break was taken at the Outdoor Centre at Kilmalieu. I was making good progress now - with only 17km still to go. In part this is because the Loch Linnhe shore road is little different from any other shore road, and didn't really offer all that much in the way of distraction. In part, too, it was due to the fact that the steady rain provided encouragement to keep up a good steady pace and make progress. As I walked I was able to look across Loch Linnhe and survey the tops of the Appin and Etive mountains. They all looked reassuringly clear of high-level snow. That was reassuring ... because the following day, I was due to head up into the Mamores.

I passed by Lochan na Criche (pictured, with Loch Linnhe in the background), and my 3.55 - 4 pm rest break was taken by Lochan Doire a' Bhragaid. This is an interesting wee lochan, and at its South West end there is a broad expanse of flat grass which would, I suspect, make an excellent wild pitch. The water, if taken from the stream on the North side of the road, will probably be fine and safe too, as it is a short run-off stream from the Meall a' Bhragaid. By the time I took this rest stop, the rain had cleared again, and my waterproofs were back in my pack. There was only 12 km or so still to go, and I was feeling in good shape. Above all, I was feeling confident that I should be at Ardgour by about 7, in time to enjoy a bath, a really good supper, and get a good night's sleep before my two big days in the Mamores.

The 2014 Challenge, day 3: All the way to Ardgour (4)

I decided to press on and not take my 11.55 - 12 rest break, as I had reached the Kingairloch village sign by then. I was nearly at the restaurant and I should soon be sitting down to lunch. Or so I thought! However, this turned out to be a little over-optimistic.

I reached the junction with the little road leading steeply down into Kingairloch, and there was another A-board sign advertising the Boathouse Restaurant. "First building in Kingairloch", it said ... which I naively interpreted as meaning that the first building I came to would be the restaurant. But it wasn't! In fact, the Boathouse Restaurant, housed in the oldest building in the village (the "first building in Kingairloch") was right at the western end of the Loch a' Choire, and I had to walk fully a kilometer and a half back the way I had come to find it. On the way, I paused at a little jetty to take this picture of Loch a Choire, with the impressive Beinn Mheadoin range beyond it.

Eventually, however, I was at the restaurant - developed by the Kingairloch estate in the old boathouse which had been an essential part of the estate back in the days before the road, when the only reliable means of accessing it had been by water. And what a restaurant it was! I had a delicious crab salad, followed by roast venison haunch. The venison was from the estate, and I do not exaggerate when I say it was by FAR the finest venison I have ever eaten. I always think that haunch is the most difficult joint of venison to get right; but this was simply perfect in every way! Dessert, as ever with me, posed a wee bit of a problem. However, the starters on the menu included warmed goat's cheese with pear and walnut, so I asked to be served this in lieu of dessert - and very acceptable it was too! All of this, with a glass of merlot, a shot of whisky (their own estate blend) and copious amounts of water cost me a little over £30. I was more than happy to pay this for such an exquisite meal!

The 2014 Challenge, day 3: All the way to Ardgour (3)

I made good progress on the roads, as I had expected; and I needed to work hard to restrain myself from pressing on too hard. At the junction of the A884 and the B8043, where I turned left onto the lesser of the two roads (I shall not call it "the minor road" because, truth to tell, they were both pretty minor!) there was an A-board sign advertising the Boathouse restaurant in Kingairloch, which was open. I checked my watch, and I checked the distances, and I realised that I would be at Kingairloch at about the right time to have lunch in the Boathouse Restaurant if I wished. On a big monster of a day like today, I figured that a good hearty lunch would be just what I needed to boost the troops' morale, and so that was a plan!

Before long, Loch Uisge came into view. The picture shows one of my first sightings of it, with the distinctive rounded form of Beinn na Cille in the background. I had my 10.55 - 11 rest break half way along the loch (3 hours of walking; nearly 11 km covered; starting to look OK for timing) and pressed on. I noted as I did that just to the east of the bridge over the Allt Doire na Bainnse, on the south side of the road, there is a well-surfaced little car park. It is doubtless intended for the use of those who are venturing up onto Beinn Mheadhoinn; but it would serve as an excellent overnight stop when touring in the camper van!

Beyond Loch Uisge the road was long and not particularly exciting; but the prospect of a good lunch at the Boathouse Restaurant spurred me on. I reached the woods, and there was a track off to the right running down towards the river. I suspected that following this might be a good idea; but it was not shown on my map and it might turn out to be a dead end. On days when you have 40 km to cover, following dead-end paths is a luxury you simply cannot afford. So I stayed on the road and kept plugging away.

The 2014 Challenge, day 3: All the way to Ardgour (2)

When I have a lot of ground to cover, I try to adopt a rhythm of 55 minutes walking followed by 5 minutes rest; and I try not to take any glug stops other than at the scheduled rest stops. Waterproofs are another matter, however - you must stop to put them on or take them off as circumstances dictate. There is also the matter of timekeeping. The 55 / 5 routine allows a regular check to be kept on rate of progress. I had 40 km to cover and if I could achieve an average progress of 4 km/h then this would mean ten hours of walking. Factor in an hour for lunch and that would mean arriving at Ardgour at 7pm. That was acceptable; but a sustained 4 km/h is actually quite a big ask with an expedition pack, even on roads with very little ascent to worry about. However, 3 km/h would be way too slow: that would mean over 13 hours of walking, and even if I took no lunch break at all, I would not be arriving at Ardgour until after 9 at night. There would still be daylight at that time, of course; but at the end of today I wanted a decent rest, because tomorrow was the first day I would be going high, and I was going to need all my strength and energy for that.

My first progress check came at Achagavel, the site of my originally intended overnight stop. Achagavel is a little over 5 km from Crosben cottage, and I reached it at 9.30 - so my pace was not everything I needed it to be; but on the other hand, this was following a difficult and broken path up Gleann Dubh. I would soon be on the roads; and then I would be able to make better progress. I was not, therefore, too dismayed. Besides, had I camped in this vicinity, I might not have got away until about 9, so I wasn't really all that far behind schedule!

My route vetter had suggested that Achagavel would probably turn out to be an occupied residence, and so it proved. The path made a stiff little ascent up the side of the garden fence, and then there was a well made track, with wire fences either side, and precious little in the way of viable camping pitches. Stopping at Crosben was surely the right thing to have done!

Beyond Achagavel, the track climbs up the hillside in a North Easterly direction, which wasn't the direction I ideally wished to be travelling in; but it was the way the track went. After a short distance, however, there was a trail bike path off to the right, which appeared to be contouring pretty much the 200m contour line, and I figured that it would probably meet with the road a little to the South of the main track. Perfect! So I turned off the track and followed the trail bike path.

Hmmmmm ... the main track was well surfaced, and passable by motor vehicles. It probably bridges all the side streams. The trail bike path was churned-up peat, and made difficult crossings of the streams, of which there were several. I was right in my surmise that it led to the road - right at the corner of the woods - but I suspect it may have been a slower way of reaching that point that following the main track. Nevertheless, I had reached the road by the time I sat down for my 9.55 rest stop (a little over 1 km covered in 25 minutes ... not good progress!). In theory I ought to have changed into my walking sandals at this point; but my feet were feeling good in my boots, so I decided to continue as I was for the time being.

The 2014 Challenge, day 3: All the way to Ardgour (1)

Sunday 11 May. With no curtains at the windows I woke early with the morning light; and it's as well that I did. Today was, according to my route card, a 35km day (mostly on the roads); but Crosben cottage was a good 5km short of my intended overnight stop, so I now had 40km to cover. However, that 40km included very little ascent (being mostly along the shore of Loch Linnhe) and I was confident of my ability to cover the ground. I just needed to make an early start, and keep plugging away at it.

After breakfast I gathered all my gear and re-packed my rucksack. I did a final tour of inspection to check that the cottage was exactly as I had left it, and at 8 o'clock on the dot I set out locking the door behind me. Mr Thornber had warned me that the path might be difficult to find for the first few kilometres, and sure enough it was less than obvious in places. But the line of the glen was clear enough, and every time I seemed to lose the track I just kept going in the right direction, and sooner or later (usually sooner) something approximating a track reappeared. Was I following sheep tracks rather than "the path"? Possible. But it doesn't really matter. The point is, I made steady progress up the glen.

After Crosben, the next named location shown on the map is Lurga. Mr Thornber had told me that this was the site of an old mine and that there were no buildings there, just ruins, and so it proved. They are rather atmospheric ruins, however; and so I took some photographs.

When I set out from Crosben I had not needed my waterproofs; but by the time I reached Lurga I had put them on, and I was to wear them for most of the day as it proved to be a day of on-off drizzly rain. The air was still, however, and there were no really heavy or uncomfortable showers; so the walking was pleasant enough.

The 2014 Challenge, day 2: Loch Aline and Gleann Dubh (6)

After a while the rain cleared up, and I went out and took some photographs of the views from Crosben cottage. What a wonderful place this must have been to live! Whether the estate will be able to find another tenant, even if they tidy the cottage up and replace all the plaster, is another matter, though. The access track was once, according to Mr Thornber, passable in a standard estate car. Now it requires a specialist 4x4 vehicle. There is no running water (you takes your water from the burn) and the sanitary facilities consist of a chemical toilet in the range of outbuildings. It is quite an impressive range of outbuildings, and the cottage is much more than a mere "but and ben". But all the same, I think that I may well end up being the very last person to have slept the night in that cottage.

After supper, I spent the evening trying to imagine what life at Crosben must have been like for the Hollick family. All the trappings of family life were still there. A pile of board games stacked up on one of the shelves. And the books included a "Look and Learn" annual from 1974, suggesting that the Hollick children must have been about my age or perhaps a little older. That would place old Mrs Hollick in her 70s or perhaps even her 80s - so Mr Thornber was probably right when he surmised that she was unlikely to return to the cottage. And the child's felt-tip pen drawing of a volcano which was pinned to one of the book shelves? That had either been there a very long time, or was drawn by a grandchild. Possible both!

As the evening light began to fade I read some articles from a copy of Reader's Digest which was older than me, then returned it to the shelf where I had found it and went up to bed. I slept very well in Crosben cottage.

The 2014 Challenge, day 2: Loch Aline and Gleann Dubh (5)

When I reached Crosben cottage, the gentleman I had met - whose name was Iain Thornber - was waiting to guide me across the exceedingly rickety bridge over the burn which flows down from the Coire nan Capull. I did not actually need to be told to make sure I trod on the boards directly over the central timber; but I was glad for the clear evidence that somebody else had crossed the bridge safely before me!

Once I was safely over the bridge, Mr Thornber showed me into the cottage, where he had already lit the stove in the sitting room. I took off my waterproofs, and we sat and talked a while. Mr Thornber told me of the Hollick family - the last people who had lived at the cottage - and how he had helped them move in and had often dined with them. He came by from time to time to check that it was still secure, but he doubted they would ever be back and in due course the estate would probably come and clear everything else. He told me to feel free to use anything that was there; but I didn't feel comfortable doing that. I burned some wood from the wood store, but that was all. Although invited to use the gas stove in the kitchen, I actually used my own MSR petrol stove to heat my supper.

After a while, Mr Thornber had to leave to attend to other matters, and I was left on my own in the cottage. I had a good look around. There were three bedrooms upstairs, with bed frames but no mattresses on them. There were a couple of ancient mattresses in one of the rooms, but I did not like the look of them as they had been standing rolled up in a damp, neglected cottage for a while. There were, however, a couple of sheets of foam rubber which were bed length, and I put both of these onto the bed frame in the smallest of the bedrooms and it made a very acceptable bed on which to lay out my sleeping bag.

The cottage had been relatively tidy downstairs; but on the stairs themselves and upstairs there was fallen plaster everywhere. I tried to sweep some of it up, but made little impression and stirred up a lot of dust. In the end, I settled for just sweeping the floor of the room I was going to sleep in, and expelling the sweepings out onto the landing.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

The 2014 Challenge, day 2: Loch Aline and Gleann Dubh (4)

The track up Gleann Dubh was easy going, and I made good progress. The bridge over the Black Water (pictured) was substantial and firm. However, soon after I crossed the bridge it began to rain and my thoughts turned to Crosben cottage. Day 3 was supposed to be a 35km day. Stopping short at Crosben would turn it into a 40km monster. On the other hand, two separate people had told me that Gleann Dubh was not a good place to camp; and camping in not a good place, in the rain, is no fun at all. In the end, therefore, I decided on a compromise. I would sit out the rain at Crosben and have my supper there. If the weather didn't improve as the evening progressed, then I would spend the night there. If it did, then I would make a decision on whether or not to push on up the glen once the rain had stopped.

Monday, 26 May 2014

The 2014 Challenge, day 2: Loch Aline and Gleann Dubh (3)

The track up the River Aline meets the A884 at Claggan, and I stopped here to take a glug. There was a young lady hammering a post into the ground on the opposite side of the road, so I greeted her and we exchanged pleasantries. I told her about the Challenge and my plan to camp the night in upper Gleann Dubh; and she warned me that the glen was prone to be soggy and full of midges. It transpired that the local primary school had a ten mile sponsored walk taking place the following day, and that she was putting out route markers. The one she was fixing to the stake I had seen her hammering into the ground was a warning to take care at the road crossing (although I must say that there was very little traffic on the road to take care of). It was getting blown about a bit by the wind, and we both doubted whether it would survive until the morning; so I gathered some rocks from a nearby construction spoil pile, and built a little cairn behind it to shelter it from the wind. Then I hefted my pack again, and headed North up the road for a kilometer or so to the Acharn Bridge.

While I was admiring the views at the Acharn Bridge, a gentleman in a rather marvelous little piece of kit called a John Deere Gator drove up, and we got talking. He offered me a lift up the glen as far as Crosben cottage, which I naturally declined. I told him about the Challenge, and my plans to camp in Gleann Dubh. He told me that it was not the greatest of places to camp, on account of the midges; but he said that I was welcome to stay the night at Crosben cottage if I wished. I said I wasn't sure - it was a good 5 kilometres short of my planned overnight stop, and I had a long enough day the following day as it was. He said he'd leave it unlocked, and I could make up my mind when I got there. Then he drove off up the track, and after taking a quick glug I followed on foot.

The 2014 Challenge, day 2: Loch Aline and Gleann Dubh (2)

The Loch Aline shore path is an interesting four kilometres of walking. The first section takes you to - and through - the site of the only mine in Britain which produces sand of a sufficiently high grade to be used in glass production for optical lenses. The mine was deserted when I passed, but there was plenty of evidence of regular activity there. Then, once past the mine, the route settled down into a pleasant woodland track with the still waters of the loch beyond. At the head of the loch is the castle - but I never really got a good enough angle to photograph that. And then the track becomes a riverside track, heading up the River Aline.

The 2014 Challenge, day 2: Loch Aline and Gleann Dubh (1)

I left the Salen Hotel at just after 9. The weather was overcast and drizzly, and the day began with 12 kilometres of uninspiring road walking to the ferry terminal at Fishnish where I had an Irn Bur (my first of the Crossing, but certainly not my last) and got into a conversation with a lady wearing a TREC top who had, it transpired, ridden at the British Championships in 2004, as of course had I. However, whereas I was competing in the Level 2 class(finishing 5th, and taking the Pony Riders' Association rosette for the highest placed competitor whose mount was under 15hh) she had competed in the Level 4 class (finishing 8th). I wish I could remember her name now, but alas I cannot: and I have been unable to find the 2004 results online, although they were definitely all neatly catalogues back in the days when Sarah Thurnell's twin - whose name I also now forget - was running the BHS competition office and website. In any event, we had a pleasant chat about mutual acquaintances - and particularly Maddie Jacob, who had inspired her to persevere competing with her Eriskay ponies - before the ferry arrived.

When the ferry came, it turned out to be the Loch Linnhe again! It took us across to Lochaline, and I photographed it as it departed. The sun was shining brightly, and I was in no great hurry, so I bought myself some leek and potato soup at the little refreshment kiosk at the ferry terminal, and sat down to enjoy the sunshine. Then I changed into some fresh socks (enjoying the luxury of knowing that, with a laundry opportunity the following day at Ardgour, I could afford to use two pairs of socks a day on this leg of the crossing) and I was only just starting out from Lochaline as the ferry returned once more.

The 2014 Challenge, day 1: Mulling It Over (9)

The last little bit of road walking was on the main road - the A848 - but this is still a single track road with passing places, despite its A number. The road hugs the shore, and gives some lovely views, such as this one across the mouth of the Aros River to the ruins of Aros Castle.

I arrived at the Salen Hotel in good time to settle in and have a relaxing bath before dinner. I thought the hotel was probably where my wife (although she was only, at the time, my finacee) and I had stayed on Mull when we took our first island-hopping holiday off the West Coast in 1988; however, they searched out the guest books going back to 1988 for me and there was no entry that I had made. I do not believe that I should have omitted to make an entry in their guest book, so I guess we must have stayed some place else. It is difficult to think where, however.

The 2014 Challenge, day 1: Mulling It Over (8)

After a kilometer of road walking, there was a well made track to the left, leading to a well-made and substantial bridge over the Aros River (pictured from the North side). Crossing this enabled me to follow the track on the North side of the Aros River and, because this was a well-made track, I changed into my walking sandals for the rest of the day. I spent a short while in the company of a pleasant couple who were out walking these tracks, and who were happy to share their water supplies with me when we reached the Forestry Commission car park (where they were parked); and then I continued alone for the last 3 kilometres or so into Salen (pronounced sallen)

The 2014 Challenge, day 1: Mulling It Over (7)

Beyond the woods, there were once again some nice views of Loch Frisa off to my left; but the path as promised by the map soon became indistinct, then utterly indiscernible. I met a couple walking in the opposite direction, who said that they had just followed the landforms up after the standing stones; and it seemed to me pretty clear that I ought to be doing much the same and just following the valley down to the edge of the next woods. The ground underfoot was rough, tussocky and sodden; but I made my way down.

The standing stones are evidently quite a significant feature of this part of Mull; but in seeking to follow the path line shown on the map I bypassed them altogether. And this is a shame because, when you get to Tenga, they are well signed and there is a made-up track (which does not appear on the maps) to take you to them. I could have made better progress had I found this track! Never mind, though: I reached Tenga, and then the road, where I sat down and changed my sodden socks.

The 2014 Challenge, day 1: Mulling It Over (6)

The path looked fine when it entered the trees, and I was not too concerned. However, it continues through the wood for some two kilometres, and a lot can happen in two kilometres! First, I came to some fallen trees which blocked the path, and finding a way over, under, through or around them was not all that easy. Then I found a bit where the path got a bit boggy. And then a LOT boggy ... and I found myself sinking in beyond my knees. There were several more such bits before I got to the end of the woods; but I quickly got savvy to the fact that wherever this happened, I should look out for evidence of faint tracks heading up into the trees to the right of the main track and then parallel to it. By following these, I was able to avoid getting too seriously muddied up.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

The 2014 Challenge, day 1: Mulling It Over (5)

I stopped for lunch at the South West end of Loch Peallach, then continued past Lochs Meadhoin and Carnain an Amais. There was a well-made track to the North East of Loch Frisa; but this is marked on the map as a cycle train through the Salen Forest and I didn't really want to be mixing it with the mountain bikers, so I was aiming for the track to the South West of Loch Frisa. This meant following the road past the end of Loch an Torr (pictured), and then turning left onto a well-defined track which was an absolute joy to walk ... until I reached the woods!!

The 2014 Challenge, day 1: Mulling It Over (4)

I walked past the famous coloured buildings of Tobermory harbour, and then at the foot of the steep road leading out of Tobermory I spied this! How could I POSSIBLY resist a brightly coloured shop called the Sugar Rush, with such delightful decorations on its external walls? I went straight in, and found it to be everything I had imagined. A good, traditional, old-fashioned sweet shop! They did not even bat an eyelid when I asked for "quarters" of sweets ... although I suspect that they actually served me with 100 gramses. Well, whatever. I had a quarter of rum balls and a quarter of jelly babies (what my mother always used to call "leg helpers" when we were little) and then started up that stiff old climb out of Tobermory.

Leaving Tobermory behind, I followed the B8073 Dervaig road; and I was soon tramping through wild and remote country with the Tobermory River off to my left.

The 2014 Challenge, day 1: Mulling It Over (3)

At the appointed hour the Tobermory ferry - the MV Loch Linnhe - came into the bay and berthed at the ferry slip. I boarded, forgetting to dip my pole into the sea before (or as) I did so. I omitted this particular ritual on my first Challenge, in 2000, as well. On that occasion I had taken the ferry from Mallaig to Inverey. Obviously, therefore, if you are actually being carried across the sea at the beginning of your Challenge, it is not actually necessary to make any connection with the sea itself to signify the start of the crossing, as you cannot actually be much more closely connected to the sea than being in a boat which is ON it. Well, that's the excuse I came up with when I realized my omission, and it seems reasonably plausible to me, so we'll leave it at that.

The crossing to Tobermory was as perfect as could be hoped for. The sea was smooth and calm, and the little ferry boat steadily made its way across until finally it reached the Tobermory slip and dropped its ramp. The cars drove ashore, and I followed on foot; and now, after so many years of wondering how to achieve it, I was on Mull as part of a Challenge.

The 2014 Challenge, day 1: Mulling It Over (2)

It only takes about a quarter of an hour to walk down to Kilchoan Harbour, which is a beautiful little sheltered bay, and the water was stunningly clear. However, when I arrived there was a noticeable lack of anything looking even remotely like the Tobermory ferry, either in the harbor or out in the Sound. This didn't exactly seem right. It was a quarter to 9, and the ferry should surely be in view by now. So I checked the ferry timetable again ... only to discover that the sailings were at 8 and 10.15.

Oh well!

The 8 o'clock ferry would always have been impractical. The hotel didn't start serving breakfast until 8, and I wasn't going to depart before breakfast. Besides which, the Challenge Register doesn't open for signing until 9 on the first morning of the Challenge (and yes ... I know they allow the Oban starters to sign a little early in order to make the 9 o'clock Lismore ferry; but I wasn't about to start any such tradition for Kilchoan starters and the Tobermory ferry!).

So, I had an hour and a half to wait. Not really a problem. It was a nice morning, and the harbour was a pleasant enough place to bide a while. I had already walked something like a kilometre, so a short rest was probably in order in any event ...

The 2014 Challenge, day 1: Mulling It Over (1)

Friday 9 May was the first day of this, my 9th Challenge ... and it did not start all that auspiciously. For one thing, my head was a little thicker than ideal; and for another, the hotel was under new management and they knew nothing of the Challenge. In particular, they did not have a Challenge Register for us to sign. So we did what any resourceful Challengers would do ... we drew up our own register, and signed out, then let Challenge Control know what we had done, and why. Somebody else's problem now.

I had breakfast, paid my bill (quite a big bar bill, that ... ) and headed down towards the harbour for the 9 o'clock ferry to Tobermory on Mull.

The 2014 Challenge: Getting to the Start (5)

The Kilchoan hotel was the start point, and I had booked a room ... so I settled in, had some supper (rabbit terrine followed by scallops), and then spent a pleasant evening drinking in the bar. Cider ... whisky ... Drambuie ... it was a pleasant evening. And everyone was interested in knowing my views on Scottish independence. This was a question which I was to be asked many times during the course of this year's Challenge. My answer was always the same, so I shall note it here and then be done with it. I am a great believer in the Union and I believe it has brought many benefits to all of the countries involved. However, Union is not something that I think can, or should, be forced on a people against their will. So if the people of Scotland wish to leave the Union, then I shall be sorry to see them go; but I shall nevertheless wish them well.

The 2014 Challenge: Getting to the Start (4)

In due course, our bus arrived. There were a couple of other Challengers also travelling on it, as it served Acharacle as well as Kilchoan. The route took us out of Fort William along the shores of the loch to Corran, then by way of the Corran Ferry across to Ardgour. Then it was on to Strontian and Acharacle ... where the bus developed a clutch problem and obstinately refused to move any further. All was not lost, however, as our resourceful bus driver called the garage on her mobile telephone, and they rustled up a convoy of two further, smaller buses (diverted from the school run) to take us and our luggage on to the Ardnamurchan peninsula. And despite these problems, we were only five minutes late arriving at Kilchoan (some very generous timetabling going on there, evidently ... )

The 2014 Challenge: Getting to the Start (3)

As I walked around Fort William, I noticed a Cal Mac ferry - the Loch Alainn - tied up in the loch. I was subsequently advised, however, that this was no longer a CalMac vessel, having been sold out of service to the diving school.

My walk also took me to the remains of the old fort, which I had never seen before. They have had a lot of conservation work done on them, and have a number of information boards, and are well worth the time to have a good look around them. It really is amazing how many new things you can find to see, even in a town that you have visited many times before!

The 2014 Challenge: Getting to the Start (2)

We arrived in Fort William, and I wandered across to the bus station to check the time of the Shiel Buses service to Kilchoan. The relevant bus timetable wasn't on display, however, which was a little irksome to say the least. Nor was there any information as to the bus stand from which it would depart. Eventually, however, I was able to obtain a bus timetable from the Caledonian MacBrayne office (which confirmed, as I had believed to be the case, that the bus did not depart until early afternoon and I had a considerable amount of time to kill in Fort William). They were also able to tell me which stand it would depart from.

Having established the bus arrangements, I had a very nice breakfast in the station café (because the breakfasts provided on the Sleeper are not exactly either gluten-free or dairy-free) and then went for a stroll around Fort William. I had brought suncream this year, but not Skin-So-Soft. The forecast was for midges in abundance, so I took the opportunity to acquire some Skin-So-Soft and add it to my kit. I then told a first timer who was also waiting for onward transport (to either Acharacle, or Lochaillort, or Morar or Mallaig ... I cannot now remember which) about this prudent precaution, and he went off in search of some anti-midge of his own.