Saturday, 14 June 2014
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.
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.
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.
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
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 ...
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 ...
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.