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, 14 June 2014

The 2014 Challenge, Postscript (4)

I had an easy time of it on Saturday morning, enjoying an Arbroath Smokie for breakfast and taking my time over clearing my room and settling my bill. This was because, having got in late off the Standby List, I had been unable to obtain a sensible price for tickets on the 10.33 to King's Cross. So instead, I had tickets for the 12.15, which meant changing at Inverkeithing, Edinburgh and Peterborough, and finally arriving at Sandy at 7.50 in the evening. A long day's travelling ... but the trains ran perfectly to time, and it was as smooth a journey as you could ever wish for.

Looking back on the 2014 Challenge, we had without a doubt the most benevolent weather I have ever experienced on a Challenge. It was largely overcast rather than sunny; but the cloud base was generally high (with a few notable exceptions); the air was generally still; and there was no really heavy rain. In short, just about ideal walking weather. In view of this, it is perhaps disappointing that I only managed two Munros (out of the 17 on my route card; and none of my 4 Corbetts) and this needs some explaining. I think there are four things here. First, there was the snow on Stob Ban, which meant I had to miss out 8 of my Munros in the Mamores. Then there was the descent of Beinn na Lap, when I twisted my left knee in a couple of slithering falls. This made me cautious of going high again until I was sure my knee would take it. Thirdly, there was the news of Dave Albon's fall on Streap. I don't mind admitting that this spooked me. And finally, there was the fact that, as a solo walker, it is necessary to put caution first in all cases of doubt. I think the decisions I took at all stages were the responsible ones ... and the bottom line is, I got across again, in yet another year when the attrition rate was high.

Well, that's nine crossings under my belt, and guaranteed acceptance for next year as I make my bid to become a Leg End. Andy Desmond said he was confident I would ... and now I am just one crossing away from it. I booked my room at the Park before I left Montrose, and I already have a working route planned and ready to go. It has 9 Munros on it. So not a High Level route ... but I might just end up doing more high level stuff than on any of my other Challenges to date. It will also take me through the Lairig Ghru ... unless foul weather keeps me low, and forces me into Feshie - Geldie yet again! And it's got a few other nice surprises and unusual twists and turns, which I'll tell you about in a future post.

So that's it. 2014 done and dusted ... and 2015, here I come!! It's less than 11 months away now, and will come about sooner than you might think.

The 2014 Challenge, Postscript (3)

Eventually, two walkers came into view. They were obviously Challengers. Equally obviously, though, they were not Alan and Lucy. They had, however, been at North Water Bridge camp site the night before; and they had news of Alan and Lucy. Arriving at North Water Bridge at 5 in the afternoon they had, apparently, decided to crack on and get finished. So they had finished the night before ... probably about the time I was finishing my third pint of the evening.

I thanked the two for this news and, as there was no longer any good reason for hanging about in St Cyrus, I returned to the main road and caught a bus into Montrose. I signed in at Challenge Control, and I renewed a number of acquaintances. Then I collected my antler and went to my room to make myself presentable.

The Friday night dinner was most enjoyable; and I retired for the night feeling well refreshed and in good spirits.

The 2014 Challenge, Postscript (2)

Montrose Bay was beautiful ... but I was getting hungry. So I wandered back into St Cyrus and spent some time chatting with the school crossing patrol warden (or "lollipop man" as we always used to call them) - himself a veteran of three Challenges, as it turns out! Then, as soon as the café was open, I ordered myself some bacon and eggs for breakfast.

I watched the road like a hawk while I was eating, but Alan and Lucy did not pass by. Then I returned to my clifftop vigil, until a light breeze began to blow off the sea. Finally, I returned to the church and sat in the sunshine on the grass outside, looking back along the road towards St Cyrus. At playtime the children gathered by the playground fence and called to me ... telling me it wasn't summer yet (so? I was enjoying my sunbathing!) ... but still there was no sign of Alan and Lucy.

The 2014 Challenge: Postscript (1)

The old man pointed me to a standpipe and I washed the mud off my boots (oh! The joys of Goretex!). Then I started to think about my overnight accommodation. The campsite I had hoped to use didn't look too inviting; but there is a hotel in St Cyrus and this wasn't too far away. So I set out for St Cyrus, and got a lift for the last couple of miles (I had finished now, so this was allowed).

I got to the hotel in St Cyrus and enquired about rooms. They were full. Oh well, I said, never mind: I'll have a meal and a few drinks, then I'll wander down towards the beach and camp there. No need, said one of the other drinkers at the bar: I've a back lawn where you're welcome to put your tent up. Come to that, says the landlord, I've got a beer garden out back. So I ended up camped in the beer garden of the St Cyrus hotel; and very pleasant it was too.

I woke up at about 5 in the morning and knew I wouldn't get back to sleep. So I packed everything away and wondered what to do. I knew Alan and Lucy were due to finish at St Cyrus today, and I thought it might be nice to welcome them to the finish. It would also be possible that I would then be able to cadge a lift to Montrose - always assuming that a Panda 4x4 has enough room for three adult passengers and their rucksacks. So I headed out up the beach road and waited for them at the top of the cliffs, where the early morning light allowed for some wonderful photography.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

The 2014 Challenge, day 14: Going to sea (22)

The old man took a photograph of me at the finish ... then I texted Challenge Control to say that I had finished, and went in search of a standpipe to wash the mud off my boots.

The 2014 Challenge, day 14: Going to sea (21)

I arrived in Tangleha' at 5.15. An elderly resident greeted me, and offered to take a photograph of me having finished. I said that would be very nice, but that I had a ritual to attend to first. I stepped down into the harbour, and headed to the water's edge. The old man warned me that it would be muddy, but I didn't care. I squelched through the gloopy mud and dipped my poles into the sea. I had finished!

The 2014 Challenge, day 14: Going to sea (20)

From Bush, it was just a short walk down past West Mathers, and then I was into the final kilometer of my Challenge. And a little after 5 o'clock, the rooftops of Tangleha' finally came into view.

The 2014 Challenge, day 14: Going to sea (19)

I followed the road down to Bush, and there at last was a sign to Tangleha' - my finish point for this year. Not far now. I was, however, disappointed to note that the campsite at Bush was in fact a static caravan and mobile home park. I had been thinking I would stop the night there; but even if they did take tents, I was not all that keen on actually staying there. I had made no definite arrangements for tonight ... but I was sure I'd be able to sort something out.

The 2014 Challenge, day 14: Going to sea (18)

Beyond ecclescraig, I carried on past Mains of Woodstone and then turned Right. From here, I was able to see both St Cyrus and Scurdie Ness lighthouse ... both of them well known to Challengers, and popular finish locations. As I took this photograph and continued on my way, I knew that my 2014 Challenge was rapidly drawing to a close.

The 2014 Challenge, day 14: Going to sea (17)

I turned left onto the road past Snadon, which was another charming little side road; and then at about 4 pm, just as I was approaching Ecclescraig, I caught my first sight of the sea.

The 2014 Challenge, day 14: Going to sea (16)

Beyond Canterland the road became pretty rough and ready; and beyond Pitbeadle it was just a farm track. I followed it to its end, then turned right past Sillycoats farm.

The 2014 Challenge, day 14: Going to sea (15)

I turned left at Maryhill onto the small back road, and then left again for Canterland, where I encountered this beautifully carved house name sign which really brought a smile to my face. Sometimes, it can be the little things that really count ...

The 2014 Challenge, day 14: Going to sea (14)

As I headed South out of Marykirk, I noticed a flood mark on the wall of a house. I had never heard of the flood of August 1829 before ... but the water level was pretty impressive, and it must have caused immense devastation in this area. Some time when I get a moment, I shall probably try to find out a bit more about this event.

The 2014 Challenge, day 14: Going to sea (13)

There is a little hotel in Marykirk which looks as though it would be an excellent last night stopover. A far better choice that the North Water Bridge camp site (although probably a fair bit dearer, too ... ). I made a note of this for future route planning ...

The 2014 Challenge, day 14: Going to sea (12)

I crossed the A90, and followed the B974 into Marykirk. All along the road there were signs indicating that footpaths led to the River North Esk, and I wondered whether there might be a footpath along the North bank. I suspect there is, at least some of the way, as there was a path coming up to the road from beneath the railway viaduct. How far it runs, however, I cannot say at present. I think this is something for further investigation on another occasion, when I am not attempting to complete a Challenge.

The 2014 Challenge, day 14: Going to sea (11)

Just before I reached the A90, I came to the Marykirk war memorial - on the left-hand side of the road, and well out of the village of Marykirk itself. This was a somewhat unusual war memorial, in that the casualties are listed year by year, rather than alphabetically or by rank. Also, I couldn't help noticing that the nice, flat lawns in front of it would make an absolutely beautiful impromptu campting pitch, for anyone who doesn't have an issue with putting their tent up in front of a war memorial. I, personally, would ... but I daresay not everyone shares my scruples in such matters.

The 2014 Challenge, day 14: Going to sea (10)

I continued through Luthermuir, and turned right onto the B974. Before long I was on the bridge over the Luther Water, a charming little tributary of the River North Esk. Looking at my map, at one stage I had considered taking the footpath to the left, and then going through Dubton; but I never saw the footpath, so this option passed me by. Instead, I continued on down to the A90.

The 2014 Challenge, day 14: Going to sea (9)

I reached Luthermuir at just the right time to stop for lunch at the Luthermuir Inn. They served me a rare steak, cooked to perfection, and I was happy. By the time I left, however, it was raining hard, and I needed to walk in waterproofs until about 3.

As I left Luthermuir, I noticed that it has a very fine village green ... and I couldn't help but reflect that if they would only make it available to Challengers to camp on, particularly if they were to open the pavilion so that shower and toilet facilities were available, then it would quickly become the last night camping spot of choice. North Water Bridge simply wouldn't have a look in. And the pub would get plenty of extra business ...

The 2014 Challenge, day 14: Going to Sea (8)

I turned left at Northgate, and followed quiet back roads as far as Luthermuir.

The 2014 Challenge, day 14: Going to sea (7)

Nevertheless, in view of the reputation that this road has, when I reached the woods between the Dalladies track and Northgate, I went for a poke around in the woods (the desire for bladder relief might also have had something to do with it, given that I had not found the toilets at Edzell Muir ...).

As I walked through the woods, I was struck by how many open, flat bits of grass there were; and it occurred to me that as a free alternative to North Water Bridge campsite, you could do a lot worse than this ...

The 2014 Challenge, day 14: Going to sea (6)

Beyond the Shakkin Brig, the path ran through lovely woodland for a short way; but then it was open farmland and farm tracks. This was dairying country, with cattle and cattle-proof fences, and not a few bulls to be seen.

I walked the farm tracks through Arnhall towards Chepelton, then up to the airfield perimeter road. Turning right onto the road, I was a little bit concerned because of its reputation as a bit of a racetrack; but I found that what little traffic there was didn't cause me any real problems.

The 2014 Challenge, day 14: Going to sea (5)

The Shakkin Brig is a solidly engineered, and pretty permanent looking suspension bridge. This one isn't going to disappear in a hurry!

The 2014 Challenge, day 14: Going to sea (4)

Turning left out of the Panmuir Arms, I passed the little village post office, and then turned left down the path that leads (according to a sign on the wall of the post office) to Gassy Brae, Shakkin Brig, North Esk Water, River Walk and Picnic Area. A further sign a little way down, obscured by foliage, announced Vehicles Not Advised, and Toilets at Edzell Muir. I have no idea where Edzell Muir actually is - because it is not marked as such on the map - but I saw no sign of any toilets.

The path descends steeply to the river, and there is a good grassy area - which I presume to be the picnic area - to the right. It looks to me as though it might helpfully double up as a camping spot in the event that there is no room at the inn in Edzell. There is also a little sandy beach on the shores of the river. But to get to Shakkin Brig, it is necessary to turn left before the beach is reached.

The 2014 Challenge, day 14: Going to sea (3)

I was soon in Edzell itself, and walking past the Panmuir Arms hotel. Now, the Panmuir Arms serves breakfasts to non-residents, and it would plainly have been inconsiderate to walk past without stepping in and ordering one, would it not? So I stepped in and ordered breakfast; and having ordered it, when it was delivered, I ate it. And very good it was too. Then I paid for it, and continued on my way.

The 2014 Challenge, day 14: Going to sea (2)

Shortly after the cemetery, on the opposite side of the road, I came to the ruins of Edzell Castle. Alas, the castle was not yet open ... and there is a charge to visit ... and it's at the end of quite a length drive, which would represent pure diversion from my route. So for all these reasons, although I took a photograph, I did not linger any longer.

The 2014 Challenge, day 14: Going to sea (1)

I didn't bother with breakfast, but just got up and struck camp. I left the picnic site at 8.30 and headed towards Edzell. The camper van had already left ... although I did not hear its departure.

A few hundred metres up the road, there is a cemetery marked on the map. This is the cemetery of Edzell Old Church. Nothing of the church remains except the Lindsay Aisle (pictured), which is currently undergoing some sort of restoration work, and there is an information board telling you all about it. It is a very atmospheric place, and beautifully cared for.

The 2014 Challenge, day 13: Glen Lethnot (21)

I pitched my tent, then made friends with a retired couple in a camper van who had parked up in the car park. They agreed that my interpretation of the "No Camping" sign was reasonable. As for themselves, they did not consider it applied to them, either, as they were parking, not camping. I made my supper, and the couple allowed me to use their washing up facilities, which was helpful. Then we sat in their van and spoke of many things, until I decided it was time to retire to my tent for the night.

The 2014 Challenge, day 13: Glen Lethnot (20)

I reached the picnic site that I had ear-marked for my overnight stop at 7 pm. It was a fine night for camping and I felt no inclination whatever to press on to Edzell in the hope of securing a bed for the night. There was a big sign proclaiming "No Camping", but that was only at the end of the picnic site where the picnic tables were. I decided that it probably didn't apply to the end of the site where the picnic tables weren't, and so that is where I decided to pitch my tent.

The 2014 Challenge, day 13: Glen Lethnot (19)

The road walking may have been tedious; but the glen was beautiful.

I made my 5 o'clock stop at the woods between Craigendowie and Bridgend. Continuing through Bridgend, I discovered that the dog walker I had spoken to at Waterhead lived here, and he was happy to take my water bottles and refill them for me.

Beyond Bridgend, the nature of the glen changes. This is now agricultural land. Cattle grazing. Large farmsteads. I made my 6 o'clock rest stop at the end of the track leading to Newbigging farm; and while I rested, a landrover came bumping past with a sheep trailer in tow. Yes, without a doubt we were no in land which justified its existence by producing food, not sport.

At Witton I paused to admire a horse which had just been brought in from turnout by its thirteen year old owner; and then the road turned, and took me underneath the power lines; and I had only a kilometer to go.

The 2014 Challenge, day 13: Glen Lethnot (18)

As it was a long day (my route card measured the FWA at 35km; but staying on the road made it more like 40) I was observing a strict schedule of 55 minutes walking, 5 minutes rest. I reached the Stonyford bridge just before my 4 o'clock rest, which I took sitting in the shade of some trees on the far side.

The 2014 Challenge, day 13: Glen Lethnot (17)

Just after Tillybardine, I encountered an adder basking in the sun. At least, I assume it was basking. It wasn't moving at all, so I suppose it could have been dead. But I wasn't about to go poking it to find out. I gave it a wide berth, and continued on my way.

The 2014 Challenge, day 13: Glen Lethnot (16)

At Hunthill Lodge I spotted a red squirrel; but I was not quick enough deploying the camera to be able to get a photograph of him. Thereafter, it was just road, road, road. Sure, the views of the river in the valley below were attractive enough. But there was no escaping the fact that it was road, road, road; followed by more road, road, road; with no promise of anything to come except road, road, road.

The 2014 Challenge, day 13: Glen Lethnot (15)

I resumed walking with no fleece or waterproof: my base-layer T-shirt was quite sufficient, given the warmth of the day. I did, however, wear my Havelock to keep the sun off my neck, and this is how I walked for the remainder of the day.

Beyond the junction, the track was a better surface still. The glen was beautiful, and I made steady progress until I reached the car park at Waterhead. Here I stopped to chat with a gentleman who had driven up to walk his dogs, and he kindly shared what water he had with me. It would not be long before I could not rely on water taken from burns any more, so I needed to start thinking about stewardship of what I had.

Beyond Waterhead, my route card said that I would take the path between Tamhilt and Craig Duchrey to Craigendowie; but I could not see the way down to the bridge at Blackhaugh, and neither could I see any evidence of a path as I looked across the river at the hillside. Furthermore, at this point in the Challenge, the idea of another ascent effort of 200 metres or so, just to save perhaps 4 kilometres of distance and avoid a bit of road walking didn't really hold out all that many attractions. I might as well just go around by road; and so I did.

The 2014 Challenge, day 13: Glen Lethnot (14)

The path led me to a much simpler bridge (two planks, actually) over the West Burn, and then I was on a Land Rover track which led me to the track junction South West of Craig of Doune. By now the weather had taken a decided turn for the better. I still had a long way to go, so I decided that what I really needed to do was take a break, and lie back and enjoy the sun. There was a nice big patch of grass here, so I dropped my pack, took off my boots and socks, and lay back to make the most of the sunshine. By the time I felt ready to resume my walk, my feet were nice and dry, and I treated them to a fresh pair of socks.

The 2014 Challenge, day 13: Glen Lethnot (13)

A notice on the far side of the bridge told me that it was not for my use. Tough. I'd already used it.

The 2014 Challenge, day 13: Glen Lethnot (12)

The path led me to the footbridge over the Water of Saughs, which turned out to be a very well-built suspension bridge.

The 2014 Challenge, day 13: Glen Lethnot (11)

The map shows a path running down the ridge line of the Shank of Donald Young, then dropping down to the South and following the burn down to the footbridge. At the top of the ridge I saw no sign of any path; but I read the landforms as I descended, and in due course I decided it was time to turn off the ridge and drop into the little valley to the South. When I did so, I soon found the remaining traces of the path. It does not look as though it sees all that much use nowadays; but it was evidently very well engineered at one time, and was a joy to follow it down. The photograph shows the view to the South, looking up the Burn of Duskintry to its confluence with the Burn of Adikinear, with Ruragh in the background.

The 2014 Challenge, day 13: Glen Lethnot (10)

After lunch I followed the track for a while, but then it turned away to the left and headed back West. I presumed it probably descended to the Water of Saughs and made a ford at some point. But I didn't know how far that would be, nor how easy it would be to make the crossing on foot. These tracks often lead to fords which are fine if you are in a hefty 4x4 with a breather snorkel fitted, but not necessarily so good for a lone walker. At the foot of the Shank of Donald Young, however, the map showed a footbridge; and this was what I was going to head for. So I turned off the track, and continued down the ridge line, which afforded me some pretty impressive views down Glen Lethnot towards Waterhead, such as the one in the photograph.

The 2014 Challenge, day 13: Glen Lethnot (9)

Almost at once I encountered a second not-quite-summit cairn, accompanied by a well-constructed stile over an electric fence. I crossed the fence, and sat against the stile while I took a glug and texted my wife to say that I had now completed the last major ascent effort of the Challenge. Then I set off once more, quickly finding another well-engineered track which took me over Gibs Knowe and towards the Shank of Donald Young. Here there were grouse butts; and as it was about lunch time, I stopped in one of the butts (which provided excellent shelter from the wind, as well as a nice dry floor to sit upon) and had something to eat.

The 2014 Challenge, day 13: Glen Lethnot (8)

There is no cairn at the highest point of White Hill; but there is this "not-quite-summit-cairn". I chose my photographing angle carefully, so as to get the unmistakable outline of Mount Keen, the easternmost of the Munros, in the background. Having done so, I set a bearing for Gibs Knowe, and headed off in that general direction.

The 2014 Challenge, day 13: Glen Lethnot (7)

The track was well engineered, and well made; and it led me practically to the summit of White Hill. Towards the top it veered off to the left and petered out; but then it was a simple task to pick my way through the few remaining boggy bits onto the rounded top of White Hill.

The 2014 Challenge, day 13: Glen Lethnot (6)

When I reached the path, I looked back along it, down towards Glen Clove. The clouds were still threatening, but the cloud base appeared to be lifting. Perhaps the weather was going to favour those who went high today, after all!

The 2014 Challenge, day 13: Glen Lethnot (5)

I saw a herd of deer on the skyline, and reached for my camera. As I did so, they saw me, and began running. I used extreme digital zoom, and the quality of the picture suffers a little for it. But I got a picture of them.

Shortly after taking this picture, I came to a fence. I heaved my rucksack over it, clambered over myself at a good solid fence post, and sat a while to have a glug. I had been warned that I might encounter deer fences, electric fences, and other troublesome obstacles in these hills. I had intended to make myself a pair of electric fence neutralisers to bring with me, but I had not got around to it. Fortunately, however, this turned out to be the last fence that I should have to climb without the benefit of a stile.

Beyond the fence, I continued my ascent; but fairly quickly I spotted the line of a track making its way up the same slope a little to my left, so I headed across to it.

The 2014 Challenge, day 13: Glen Lethnot (4)

As I headed up, it certainly looked as though I had made the right judgment call on the weather. This picture is looking up the glen of the Kennel Burn, with the steep lower North West slopes of Finbracks on the right, and the South West ridge of White Hill to the left. The cloud base was well down, and White Hill is only 778 metres. The Goet of Ben Tirran is 896!

The 2014 Challenge, day 13: Glen Lethnot (3)

As in 2013, I walked beside the fishing loch to avoid the road where I could; but it only offered brief respite.

According to the map, there are a plethora of paths leading off the road to the left: one going up Rough Craig; another from just past Inchdowrie House to the Adielinn Plantation; another running up the side of the Adielinn Plantation to Loch Wharral (which almost certainly has a Corbeteers' branch, not marked on the map, up onto Ben Tirran), and another from Wheen leading back to the top of the Adielinn Plantation and joining up with the aforementioned path. I was not aware of any of these, as I strode out along the road!

Shortly before Rottal there is a well made car park with a sign proclaiming the fact that "you are welcome to park and access the hill from here". I interpreted this as an invitation not to intrude of the privacy of the folk at Rottal Lodge. Don't follow the track up past there windows. Park here, and cut across to join the track a little higher up the hill. I may not have had a car; but I thought it would be as well to respect the wishes of the folk at Rottal Lodge.

Hmmmmmm ... how long have I been walking the Scottish hills? Will I EVER learn?

I walked through the car park, and out onto the open hillside beyond. It was rough tussocky grass and heather, very boggy, and progress was slow. I could see the line of the track, and the path that branches off it up Manywee (what a delightful name for a hill: but don't drink the water!!) and so I aimed at the junction. It was a slow, difficult slog; but once I got there the track was well-made and progress was good. There was a bridge across the Burn of Heughs which I was more than happy to use. The only thing was, the track beyond the bridge did not behave as the path shown on the map ought to have behaved. It was, evidently, a track which is not shown on the map, running up beside the Kennel Burn. It seemed unlikely, then, that this would take me to the top of White Hill, so I chose my moment and turned left, heading for the skyline. When I felt I was on the skyline, I would turn right again, and just keep going up until I reached the top of White Hill.

I was, once again, on tussocky grass, heather and bog ... but with a little careful reading of the vegetation, I made steady progress, ascending all the while.

The 2014 Challenge, day 13: Glen Lethnot (2)

I settled my account and left the hotal at 9.15. As I headed down Glen Clova on the road towards Rottal, I looked back and wondered whether those clouds were going to lift. They might ... on the other hand, they were rather ominous-looking, and equally well they might not. In any event, there was no point in pondering might-have-beens. I had made my call, and now I had just the one major ascent effort left, so I set about ensuring that I enjoyed it.

The 2014 Challenge, day 13: Glen Lethnot (1)

I woke up early, and went out to have a look at the weather. The cloud base was low - very low. I had a suspicion that what I was actually looking at was the underside of an inversion; but I could not be sure. Today was supposed to be the day that I made good my failure to get up by way of Loch Brandy on my very first TGO Challenge. My route card read "Path up past Loch Brandy to Green Hill & White Hill - THE GOET OF BEN TIRRAN (C#4) - Black Shank - Descend to Shieling of Saughs" (well, actually, it said Shieling of Saught ... but we'll ignore that, shall we?). However, if the cloud was down, I wasn't too keen on this route. My FWA was designed for just such an eventuality: Rottal - White Hill - Gibs Knowe - Shank of Donald Young. Fewer navigation issues in poor weather; no isses about getting over into Glen Lethnot. Reluctantly, I decided to walk the FWA.

Alan and Lucy would have no such choice. Lucy had been musing the night before on the fact that they had started two days after me, had caught up with me in Glen Feshie, had been keeping pace with me ever since, and were going to finish a day after me. The answer, of course, is that the Glan Clova Hotel is two days from the coast if you want it to be, and I wanted it to be. Most Challengers spend two days getting from Tarfside to the coast. And Alan and Lucy were planning on taking a day to get from the Glen Clova Hotel to Tarfside, then another two getting to the coast. If you spend a day walking essentially parallel to the coast, you should not be too surprised if you end up a day behind those who make a beeline for their finish point!

At breakfast, we discovered why the other couple of Challengers had not wished to dine with us the night before. She had started to suffer with shin splints on the descent of Jock's Road, and knew from bitter past experience that the moment she started to suffer she needed to stop, absolutely. Taking it easy, and spending three days ambling to the coast was not an option. Having come this far, she was retiring from the event. How terrible that must be! And in a place with no transport out, either. Fortunately, they had a friend in Perth, who was going to drive over and fetch her out. But not a nice way to end a Challenge. As for him, well, he was going to carry on if he could ... but his feet, heels and ankles were very badly blistered (he showed us: it was not nice). If he could get his boots on then he planned, somehow, to hobble on. But could he get his boots on? That was the question - and I was away from the hotel before we found the answer to that one. What WAS certain, though, was that if he hobbled on, it would be down Glen Clova and not on to Edzell. He had cancelled his hotel room in Edzell, which meant if I decided I wanted to push on into Edzell rather than stopping short and camping, there was a hotel room going spare which I may be able to take. This was worth knowing.

The 2014 Challenge, day 12: Lochcallater Lodge to Glen Clova Hotel (15)

We reached the Glen Clova Hotel at 4.40, and I made my last phone-in of the Challenge. The attrition rate stood at 40 retirements with 3 non-starters - the same as in 2013 - but there were still one or two struggling on with blisters who might yet have to retire. A shame, so close to the end; but if you cannot continue, there is not much that you can do.

I arranged to have supper with Vic and Nic; and when Alan and Lucy arrived, they agreed to join us, too. Two further Challengers who were staying at the hotel, though offered the chance to join us, preferred to dine by themselves.

Alan and Lucy were staying in the bunkhouse, where toiletries are not provided; but there were rather more complimentary toiletries in my room than I required for my own personal use, so I readily yielded to Lucy's plea that I let her have any lotions and potions that were surplus to my requirements. I enquired how her leg muscles were, and was gratified to learn that the stretches had made all the difference. Her legs were nowhere near as tight as they had been, and they were not in need of a massage. So I'd been carrying the additional weight of oils unnecessarily ... oh well!

The hotel is under new management, and the new proprietor is a chef who relished the challenge of putting something together for me to eat. I had a goats' cheese starter, followed by a venison casserole, followed by water melon balls, with a jolly good bottle of wine which I shared with Alan and Lucy. Then I went for a stroll in the last of the evening light, before turning in and enjoying the enveloping embrace of my hotel bed.

The 2014 Challenge, day 12: Lochcallater Lodge to Glen Clova Hotel (14)

Passing the picnic and parking area in Clova, with its conveniences, we were gently amused to note what difference a little creative vandalism can make to a sign ...

The 2014 Challenge, day 12: Lochcallater Lodge to Glen Clova Hotel (13)

I rounded a corner and found two other Challengers sitting on the grass, enjoying a break. These were Vic and Nic Slawski, whom I had met and chatted to in Braemar (and possibly Dalwhinnie as well ... I cannot clearly recall) but did not mention in my notes at the time; however, they are mentioned in my notes at this point because we talked some more, and it emerged that they really are quite remarkable. They were on their eighth and seventh crossings respectively; but their seventh and sixth crossings had been made - get this! - twenty five years previously, in 1989!!! They had been on the 2013 Challenge as well, but had had to retire from that one. This year, however, they were looking good.

Vic and Nic urged me to hurry on past them as they would only slow me down, they said; but remembering Glen Feshie, I insisted that I did not mind being slowed down in the least. They, too, were heading down to Glen Clova Hotel; so I let them set the pace and tagged along behind.

We reached the foot of Jock's Road, and we followed the track to Acharn (where there is no longer either a youth hostel, or a camp site, or a public convenience, whatever the map may say), and then trudged the road to the visitor centre (where there is a large car park, and public conveniences, not shown on the map; the disabled facilities being kept open 24 hours) and then made the long, hard tramp along the road to Clova. Those last 6 kilometres are hard work; but with the three of us we were able to keep our spirits high, and the worst part was soon behind us.