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 ...

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

The 2016 Challenge, day 6: Picking up the Pieces (7)

As soon as I was out of Aberfeldy I put my thumb out for a lift, and the second car to come along stopped and took me part of the way. A further lift soon materialized (I think it was the third car this time) to take me the rest of the way. In between the two lifts, I spotted some rather fascinating sheep in an adjoining field. They are obviously a rare breed of some kind, and doubtless one of my readers will be able to identify them for me. There were about 8 ewes in the field, and a dozen lambs.

My injured knee had been fine when I was walking - both to and from Aberfeldy - but once I got back to the hotel it started complaining about the stairs again. I thought of Alan Sloman and his "hurty knee" a year or two previously. I hadn't been too sympathetic back then (although goodness knows I ought to have been, when it was knee injuries that had spelled the end of my aspirations to win a junior international athletics vest as a 400 metre hurdler in the 1980s); but he certainly had my sympathy now!

I had a very nice dinner in the hotel once again, and for dessert I had a poached pear with mandarin and lime sorbet. Now this was a real revelation, for two reasons. First, mandarin and lime is an EXQUISITE flavor combination in a sorbet (perhaps this should not surprise all that much, given that mandarin is the sweetest of the citrus fruits, and lime the sharpest); but also because that particular flavor combination then compliments the poached pear to a T. I should add that this dessert was not a regular menu item - we had cobbled it together with components from different desserts, omitting elements I couldn't eat to create something that I could. But I was sufficiently wowed by it that I suggested they needed to add it to their menu in future.

After dinner I turned in quite early. During the night I had three really weird dreams; and waking after one of them, I realized that I hadn't replaced my matches while I was in Aberfeldy! Curses!!!

The 2016 Challenge, day 6: Picking up the Pieces (6)

The path eventually veered away from the river, and then we were soon at the road (the B846). We turned right and crossed General Wade's bridge into Aberfeldy (it was, unfortunately, not practical to get a photo of this). We found a pub, where Laura insisted on buying me a pint and some crisps (and if memory serves me correctly I may than have bought a second pint, and something for her, and some more crisps ... ) and then we parted. Laura pressed on to Grandtully, and I went shopping.

At least, that was the idea. But Aberfeldy seemed to be shut. And what a depressing little town centre it is, too, when the rain starts falling and nowhere seems to be open. There was nowhere that could do me a new watch strap anyway (the nearest that anyone was confident I would be able to get one was Perth!!!). There was a chemist's shop, though. They weren't able to sell me a new camera pouch (Perth again ... or possibly Pitlochry), but they WERE able to sell me some AA batteries ... provided I bought a pack of 8!!!

I wasn't keen on having 6 spare batteries adding to my pack weight; but I did need two for my GPS, so I bought a pack of 8 (it was really a 6-pack with two free extra batteries ... WHICH I DID NOT WANT!!!!!). I left the chemist's shop and took one last look around the forlorn little town centre when the heavens opened, and I ducked into a little curio and collectables shop to take shelter. Needing to justify my presence, I made a beeline for a tub of foreign coins which they were selling at 5 for £1. I started sorting through them, and they came and offered me a tray so I could turn them out and have a good old rifle through them. Most of it was utter dross, as I had expected ... but to my surprise, hidden away in there were a few pieces that I might quite like to have as additions to my world coin collection. So I started being a bit more methodical about this ... and by the time I was ready to step out of the shop again I had identified 95 coins that I wanted to buy from him. He drove a hard bargain, but I managed to talk him down to £18. He put them in a bag for me, and I set off back to Fortingall ... carrying about a kilo of metal which I hadn't had with me when I set out that morning, as well as 8 batteries to replace the two in my GPS unit!

The 2016 Challenge, day 6: Picking up the Pieces (5)

Along the way we found an open-fronted fishermen's shelter which would make an excellent overnight stopping point, provided you didn't have rain driving from the South. It had benches and a table, beautiful views, and a solid weatherproof roof. No nasty locks to keep you out. Arrive here at 8.30, cook your supper, wash up in the river and bed down for the night. What's not to like?

The 2016 Challenge, day 6: Picking up the Pieces (4)

The riverside path was charming, with wild flowers on either side, and this low-level easy walking was just what I needed to get my head back into the place I needed it to be to continue with my Challenge route.

The 2016 Challenge, day 6: Picking up the Pieces (3)

We walked on the roads as far as the Keltneyburn Smithy, where they specialize in making the most amazing sculptures out of scrap matierals and salvage. This horse really caught my eye. Totally impractical to buy it and carry it with me, of course - but I did ponder asking about buying it, then driving up in the horse box to fetch it back! Hmmmmmmmm ...

We had a good look around the forge, admiring the various creations, and then continued on our way. We went through Coshieville to Tirinie in the Appin of Dull, and then we took the path down to the river Tay which we followed all the way to Aberfeldy. The map doesn't show this path - but it is there alright!

The 2016 Challenge, day 6: Picking up the Pieces (2)

That something we still had to do was, of course, to pay a visit to the Fortingall yew tree. That's it, in the background. The oldest living thing in Europe - and possibly, indeed, the world. The rootstock is somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000 years old, and it's taken a lot of abuse in its time. In the 18th century people used to come and carve off pieces to take away with them; and local children lit bonfires inside it, hollowing it out. In the 19th century, funeral processions used to pass through the middle of it. Despite all this, however, it has managed to survive and thrive. WOW!!!

The 2016 Challenge, day 6: Picking up the Pieces (1)

On Wednesday, I stuck by my decision to take a day off and do no walking with an expedition pack. Alvar had tried to persuade me to use the day to go back and walk the "missing" section of my crossing, so that I should have a complete crossing when I reached the East Coast; but I wasn't ready for that. I also found, no I'd had a good night's sleep and the adrenaline had subsided, that my right knee was rather painful - particularly up and down stairs. I had evidently done it rather more damage in the glissade than I had at first realized. (Or, more likely, I did the damage when arresting the glissade: it's a bit like the old observation that falling off a horse never hurts, but hitting the ground immediately afterwards often does!)

Laura was walking to Aberfeldy, and then on to Grandtully (pronounced "Grantly", obviously - these Dull Scots really can give Norfolk a run for its money!). I had said I should walk with her as far as Aberfeldy and then turn back, and that was what I proposed to do. Carrying no gear. Just to see how I felt about it all, and how the knee performed. Plus, when I got to Aberfeldy I should be able to do a bit of shopping. My resupply list had grown a bit, due to various equipment failures. My watch strap needed replacing, and the zip of my camera pouch was broken so I needed to replace that, too, in addition to buying new batteries for my GPS.

Laura was a sport and posed for this picture before we set off; but there was still one more thing we needed to do before hitting the road!

Monday, 29 August 2016

The 2016 Challenge, day 5: Killin to Fortingall (19)

The Lawers Burn path eventually becomes a charming woodland walk; and soon after taking this photo I was down at the road. Alvar rang me back to say that the hotel would be sending a car for me, and I browsed in the horn-worker's shop while waiting for it to arrive.

When I got to the hotel, I had a bath and calmed myself down, and then thought about what I should need to do next. One thing that was certain was that I would not be walking the next day; so I arranged an extra night in the hotel, and rearranged my booking at Killiecrankie. I texted my wife. She was going to come and join me for a few days at the end of the Challenge; but if she could have taken some extra leave I would have withdrawn there and then, so that we could enjoy a longer holiday together. But her work diary was full, and she couldn't take the extra leave at short notice.

There was another Challenger in the hotel that night - Laura Liddell. We had supper together, and I told her what had happened. She was absolutely wonderfully supportive, and we agreed that I would walk (without a pack) as far as Aberfeldy with her the following day. I would then turn back to the hotel at Fortingall while she carried on. I thought I should be OK for that - a low level walk, in company, without a pack. And if I should have any more panic attacks, there would be somebody there for me. If I could make it to Aberfeldy without having another panic attack, I was fairly confident I could make it back OK, too.

The 2016 Challenge, day 5: Killin to Fortingall (18)

The path beside the Lawers Burn is well-made and excellent walking; it is just a pity that I was in no fit state to enjoy it properly. As I followed it I kept pausing to check for mobile reception, and eventually, at the East Mealour shielings, I got a signal.

I rang Challenge Control, and Alvar answered. I announced myself. I guess he sensed something was wrong from my voice, for the first thing he asked was "Are you alright?"

"No," was my direct and blunt answer.

I told Alvar, briefly, what had happened. "I'm still in one piece physically," I said. "But mentally and emotionally I'm all over the place."

Alvar asked if I'd like him to see if the Fortingall Hotel could send a car out to pick me up when I got down to the road, and I said that yes, that would be a good idea. I really didn't fancy the idea of having another panic attack on the side of a busy road with traffic passing close beside me, even though this meant that I should not be able to claim a complete crossing. At that precise moment, this was the least of my worries. I wasn't even sure I should be able to continue in any event.

The 2016 Challenge, day 5: Killin to Fortingall (17)

Having a near-fatal experience can have a less than welcome effect on your emotional stability. As I made my way along the shore of Lochan nan Cat, I had two massive panic attacks. Both times I felt them coming on just in time to throw off my pack and drop to the ground, where I lay hyperventilating fit to burst. When I eventually regained control I was physically, mentally and emotionally drained. But I still needed to make it down to the road, and safety. I wanted to phone Challenge Control to report what had happened, but I had no signal on my mobile. So I gathered myself together again after each attack, shouldered my pack, and carried on.

The outflow burn from the lochan led me down to a weir and a little pool, at the confluence with a couple of other streams running off the mountainside, and from here there was a good, well-made track. After a couple of hundred metres there is a small cairn (pictured) marking the point where the path beside the Lawers Burn diverges, and I turned off onto this path.

The 2016 Challenge, day 5: Killin to Fortingall (16)

Beyond the snowfield, I had a new problem: the path gave out, and I found myself at the top of some nasty rocky outcrops with no obvious way down. In utter despair, I contemplated calling Mountain Rescue and reporting myself cragfast above Lochan nan Cat; but I was still mobile, so before that I needed to explore my immediate surroundings to establish whether or not I truly WAS cragfast.

I retreated a little and moved across to my right, and after crossing alittle stream I eventually found a viable descent to the lochan; but it was an extremely steep and tricky grass descent, and hardly the sort of thing you want ideally wish to attempt immediately following a near-fatal glissade! Nevertheless, I made slow progress downwards, and was eventually rewarded by a steady levelling out of the ground until I eventually reached the shores of the lochan.

I took this photo looking back up from a little way along the lochan. The snowfield on which I glissaded is in the centre background: I had been working my way down the lower edge of the rocky outcrop below the "toungue"pointing diagonally up to the right in the picture. The slope had a dual aspect - both towards the camera and off towards the left of the picture - and this is why the grass glissade quickly became a snow glissade.

The rock outcrop I found myself on after recovering from the glissade is to the right of the picture, in the centre. I worked my way across to the other side of the stream making the gully in the middle of the picture, and descended the little ridge to the left of it.

When I got down to the shores of the lochan, I took several minutes to regroup and regain my composure, and then I set off along the South shore of the lochan, aiming for the path down the Lawers Burn.

The 2016 Challenge, day 5: Killin to Fortingall (15)

The path led me down a steep hillside, and I could seldom see very far ahead. But as I dropped the clouds began to clear, so at least I had visibility. And then ... the path was obscured by a snow field. It was easy enough to divert round that one on the grassy slope; but as the path twisted and turned its way through some rocky outcrops, I came upon a second snow field. And this time there was no diversion. To my left was a sheer rock face; and ahead and to my right was a snow field which sloped down away from me and off to my right at an alarming angle.

I was snookered. I couldn't retreat back up the hill. That would merely leave me back at the foot of An Stuc, with the same issues as before, but considerably more fatigued and with an hour less daylight in which to solve them. I couldn't go left because of the rock face; and I couldn't go right because of the snow field. So what was I to do?

As I studied the problem and considered my options, I noticed that the snowfield had been melting, and retreating at the edges; and that, in fact, there was a narrow gap between the edge of the snowfield and the rock face. The snow field was deep enough that this narrow gap was like a chimney; and I realized that, by wedging my boot in this narrow gap between the snow field and the rock face, I should actually be able to descent the few metres to where I could see the path emerging again from the snow field. And so this is what I did, and it worked a treat. Until ...

... as I got towards the bottom of the snow field, it thinned out considerably, and it was no longer deep enough to wedge my boot. So now, with no wedging, I was on a steep, wet grass slope. Far too steep to maintain the necessary friction to stay upright - and all at once my feet slid away from me in a grass glissade.

The slope was at such an angle that my grass glissade quickly became a snow glissade; and in the blink of an eye I was hurtling down across the snowfield with no means of arresting myself. I was near the bottom of the snowfield in the direction I had been descending; but in the angle of travel there was plenty more snow beyond the line of the path, and I should shortly be pitched over the immediate horizon into who knew what?

The only hope I had of arresting this glissade was the path itself. The snow was not very thick and I could see a slight dip where it lay over the path. I was approaching this feet-first, and so I dug my heels in hard and bent my knees as I reached it ... and it worked! I managed to arrest the glissade, and now I could safely stand and walk a few metres along the line of the path to where it emerged from beneath the snow.

The 2015 Challenge, day 5: Killin to Fortingall (14)

By the time I reached the little summit cairn of Creag an Fhithich, to add to all my other worries, I was also definitely falling behind schedule. I carried on to the lowest point, before the ascent of An Stuc began, and I reviewed my situation.

I was falling behind schedule, and I was fatigued. I was running low on water. I had ahead of me a Munro I had never attempted before, with a tricky technical descent, which might have a snowfield on it, and which I should have to attempt in poor visibility, with a cross-wind, carrying an expedition pack. It didnt' seem sensible, and if there was any way to avoid it, I thought I should take it. Retreating back over Ben Lawers did not seem like a good plan. I would never make it from there round to Fortingall. I needed some other alternative.

The map shows no viable escape routes from the pass between Creag an Fhithich and An Stuc; but on the ground there was an unmistakable, well-trodden path heading off to my right. This was no mere goat track. It was a definite, trodden, walkers' path. But where could it lead? It wasn't shown on the map; but even the most cursory glance at the map provided the answer. There was only one place it COULD lead - which was down to Lochan nan Cat. This was presumably a continuation of the path up the Lawers Burn, allowing access to An Stuc without the need to undertake that difficult technical scramble on the far side. And if people came up it ... I could go down it.

So, with a certain amount of regret that I was going to miss out another three of my Munros, but confident that I was taking the right decision for the right reasons, I decided to bale out and take this escape route down to Lochan nan Cat, then follow the path down the Lawers Burn, and finish my day on the roads round to Fortingall.

The 2016 Challenge, day 5: Killin to Fortingall (13)

Visibility for the descent was very poor, but every so often the cloud cleared just sufficiently for me to see Lochan nan Cat down below to my right. This photo also reveals something else which was beginning to trouble me: the snowfields on my right, with lethal-looking cornices. They had never actually obscured the path, but their very presence made me uncomfortable. What if I were to encounter a similar snow field on that tricky technical descent on the far side of An Stuc?

A further, troubling development was that as I descended the wind was steadily increasing. It was coming from the West - my left - and that meant that the tricky technical descent of An Stuc, with its possible snow fields, would have to be attempted in poor visibility and a cross-wind. This was a daunting proposition indeed!

The 2016 Challenge, day 5: Killin to Fortingall (12)

Ben Lawers has both a trig point and a summit cairn, and I visited and photographed both before I carried on.

It was just after quarter past one that I began the descent to Creag an Fhithich; and this proved a difficult, slow and knee-jarring descent.

The 2016 Challenge, day 5: Killin to Fortingall (11)

I reached the summit of Ben Lawers in swirling mist, and settled down in a little rocky hollow to enjoy my lunch. I was no longer comfortably ahead of schedule, as I had been at the car park. The ascent of Lawers with full expedition gear had taken a lot out of me, and I was now barely on my original schedule. I had had to relegate my GPS unit to mere emergency use only. Visibility was poor, it was bitterly cold, and a bit of wind was starting to get up.

Looking back, it is easy to say now that this was the point at which I ought to have baled out. I had been up two Munros, but the conditions were turning against me. There was an easy escape route down beside the Allt a' Chobhair, to connect with my FWA, and I ought to have taken it. But I wasn't thinking like that. I was thinking about the three Munros which remained to be done - all of which were new Munros to me. And I was thinking of getting to Fortingall in time for dinner, so the idea of cutting and running never occurred to me, and I pressed on into the swirling mists.

The 2016 Challenge, day 5: Killin to Fortingall (10)

As I approached the Lawers summit, my hopes of good visibility at the top were dashed as the cloud began to close in again. And I now had another problem, too. I had been using my GPS as an altimeter, taking regular readings in order to get the elevation figure and track my progress in ascent. But now, as I took a further reading, I got a low battery warning. I had no idea how many more readings I could take before the batteries failed, but I concluded I had best reserve it for emergency use only now, until such time as I could acquire some fresh batteries for it. And so I headed on up into the clouds.

The 2016 Challenge, day 5: Killin to Fortingall (9)

As I descended to the lowest part of the traverse between the two Munros - which has a charming little lochan (scarcely more than a puddle, really) which is not shown on the map - I dropped out of the cloud; and the cloud base did indeed seem to be lifting a bit. I could see clear nearly all the way to the summit, and only the highest reaches of Ben Lawers were swathed in mist.

This is, so often, the way in the Scottish mountains. As the day progresses and the air warms up, the cloud base lifts. You can set out on the ascent of a mountain which is completely shrouded in cloud, and be walking in next to zero visibility for the first half of the ascent; but the cloud base is lifting faster than you can climb, and suddenly you are out of the cloud, and the mist ahead of you just melts away to reveal the most amazing vistas as you approach the summit. You just have to be bold enough to set out despite the cloud cover to experience such days in the mountains; and today was now looking as though it would turn into one such day!

The 2016 Challenge, day 5: Killin to Fortingall (8)

The traverse from Beinn Ghlas to Ben Lawers involves the narrow ridge that is Creag nan Gabhar; and in the swirling mist it really did feel as though I was walking into sheer nothingness. I was glad that I had walked this way before, as it gave me confidence that there WAS a safe path all the way. Nevertheless, the feelings and sensations of isolation, up on this ridge with hardly any visibility, were quite extraordinary. I was grateful that there was no air movement to speak of, as even a mild wind would have made this very uncomfortable walking indeed.

The 2016 Challenge, day 5: Killin to Fortingall (7)

I had reached the "visitor centre" car park by 9 a.m., and I considered this to be excellent progress. I was well ahead of progress and, but for the weather, I was feeling good.

I took the ascent of Beinn Ghlas slowly and steadily, with frequent breathers and glug stops. By the time I reached the summit with its rather modest summit cairn the cloud was all around me, visibility was decidedly poor, and it was cold. But I'd been up here before. Neither Beinn Ghlass nor Ben Lawers was new to me, and I knew the path between them was clear and well defined. I could follow it safely in zero visibility if I had to. Beyond that was new ground to me, but it was a ridge with a further three Munros on it and I felt sure that the path would be easy enough to find. The descent of An Stuc was the only thing that was troubling me. My route vetter had warned that this was a difficult technical piece of scrambling, and I really would have liked a bit of visibility to see what I was doing on that. Still, I was sure I'd be able to cope, and so I pressed on.

The 2016 Challenge, day 5: Killin to Fortingall (6)

The map shows the vehicle track curving away to the North, and joining the little yellow road about half a kilometer North West of the "visitor centre" car park; but there is in fact a well made path, not shown on the map, which "cuts the corner" and saves perhaps half a kilometer of walking. This is used by Munroists heading up Meall nan Tarmachan, and was doubtless laid to save erosion and wear to the moorland across which it runs.

As I followed this path, my heart was slowly sinking; for the cloud showed no sign of lifting and, indeed, if anything it was closing in. I had wanted another fine, clear day with spectacular views from the Lawers ridge, but it didn't appear that I was going to get one. There was no wind to speak of, and the clouds were showing no inclination to drop their precipitation, so I did not think that a diversion onto my FWA was called for. After all, there would be a clear, well-defined Munrosits' path all the way along this ridge. But all the same, I was a little apprehensive about this lack of visibility. On the positive side, though, it would limit my water consumption, which had to be a good thing as there were no resupply sources up on the ridge.

The 2016 Challenge, day 5: Killin to Fortingall (5)

As I neared the car park, I was able to look away to my left and see the dam which holds back Lochan na Lairige. This is, plainly, a hydro dam connected to the pipeline beside which I had ascended; and there must be an underground pipeline connecting it to the building at the head of the inclined pipeline.

The 2016 Challenge, day 5: Killin to Fortingall (4)

At the head of the pipeline is some sort of a building connected with it - it looks vaguely like a small turbine hall, but that makes no sense as you locate your hydro turbines at the bottom of the gradient, not the top of it - and there is a well-made vehicle track which contours the open hillside for about 4 kilometres to the car park at the site of the old Lawers Visitor Centre (still marked on the maps, but no longer there). After the stiff climb and with my leg muscles full of lactic acid, this gave some welcome respite. Up ahead, I could see the Lawers range, but the cloud cover did not look at all promising.

The 2016 Challenge, day 5: Killin to Fortingall (3)

By the time I reached the top of the pipeline, I had covered a horizontal kilometer and climbed some 280 metres from the road; and the view down to the head of Loch Tay and Killin seemed well worth recording.

The 2016 Challenge, day 5: Killin to Fortingall (2)

After a bit, the ground leveled out for a bit, and a pleasant little track led to the bottom of the second part of the ascent; and here there was a surprise. A railway track ran beside the pipeline for the rest of the way up! Doubtless this had once been a gravity-worked incline (there's no way any locomotive could have worked a gradient like that without a rack and pinion; and there was no rack up the centre of these tracks). From my perspective, it made the ascent much easier, as I could "sleeper hop" all the way up.

The 2016 Challenge, day 5: Killin to Fortingall (1)

Day 5 - Tuesday 17 May 2016 - was by FAR the biggest day on my route card and I knew it. The five Munros of the Lawyers ridge (with a good 12 kilometres of walking before I would even reach the first summit) and then on to Fortingall. I woke up early, had a granola bar for breakfast, and was away from my hotel by 6.15.

After walking for about a kilometer, just about as I was passing the Lochay Bridge hotel, it dawned on me that I had not filled my water bottles before setting out. I didn't want to lose all that time turning back to the hotel to refill them, but what else could I do? I decided to emulate Mr Micawber and assume that "something is bound to turn up", and so I pressed on; and after another kilometer or so something DID turn up, in the form of a caravan site on the left. Nobody was up and about this early in the morning, so I went and found one of their drinking water standpipes, and replenished my bottles.

Half a kilometer further on, I came to the pipeline (pictured). This runs down the hillside, and I had told my route vetter that I should follow it up, not knowing whether this was a viable proposition or not. He had not said that it was not, so I assumed that it was; and my #1 eyeball inspection persuaded me that, at least for as far as I could see at this point, following it up would be practicable. So I hopped over the low parapet, skidded down the cutting embankment, and started up the long, steady ascent beside the pipeline.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

The 2016 Challenge, day 4: Tyndrum to Killin (8)

The pictures from this section of my crossing all look much the same, so I shall not overburden my blog with more than a very small selection. As long afternoons walking on landrover tracks beside Highland rivers go, it was pleasant enough. But we've all had plenty of long afternoons walking on landrover tracks beside Highland rivers, so I'll say no more about it. Eventually we reached the road, and even more eventually we reached Killin.

John had booked a room in the Lochay Bridge hotel, which was the first hotel we came to. My own booking was at the Killin Hotel - which was another kilometer or so up the road (a kilometer, be it noted, that I was going to have to walk again in the other direction the following morning: John had clearly made the better job of choosing which hotel to book!) Before we parted John invited me to join him for a drink in the bar at the Lochay Bridge Hotel, an invitation which I was delighted to accept. John said that when I had first suggested joining him for the day's walk, he had been less than delighted, but too polite to say that he would rather walk on his own: but that now he was glad he had had my company for the day. And I have to say, it definitely WAS one of those days which, had you been alone, would have been a sore trial of your staying power and endurance. Sometimes a little company in the hills is just what you need!

I finished me pint and we wished one another well for the remainder of our crossings, and then I walked through Killin to my hotel. The receptionist (who came from Tenerife) had one of those delightful personalities which you encounter once a year, if that - the sort of person who spreads happiness and joyfulness to all around them, just by being there. After a brief and enjoyable chat with her, I went to settle in to my room. Alas, as so often now in the Highlands, there was no bath, only a shower. And there was no telephone in my room, either. The mobile reception was good, however, so I used my mobile to phone Challenge Control and gave Alvar a brief update on my progress.

Having reported in I showered (nowhere NEAR as good as soaking in a bath after a long day's walking!), shaved, and changed for dinner. The hotel served me a delicious beef tomato and mozzarella salad, followed by a pan fried fillet of sea bass. I suspect I enjoyed a bottle of wine with that, but I can find no mention of it in my notes. They had no desserts I could eat, however - which is not really that much of a surprise.

After dinner I settled my account and turned in early, telling them that I should be making an early start the following morning - before reception opened - and that I should not be needing breakfast. Day 5 was the biggest day on my card - the five Munros of the Lawers ridge and down to Fortingall - and I wanted to give myself plenty of time to complete it and reach the Fortingall hotel before they closed the kitchen for the evening.

The 2016 Challenge, day 4: Tyndrum to Killin (7)

Beyond the shielings, there was a track to follow. It was there on the map, and it was there on the ground. But there was an awful LOT of it to follow: about 10 kilometres to the road at Kenknock, and then another 11 kilometres by road down Glen Lochay and into Killin. It was a long, hard trudge for both of us, and I think we were both glad of the company.

The 2016 Challenge, day 4: Tyndrum to Killin (6)

Lochan Chailean was soon in view, and we aimed off at the far end. This was good "heads up" nagivation by sight. Look at where you want to go, read the ground between you and there, and choose the best line to get you there! Before long we were at the shielings, and here we paused for lunch. I was concerned that I was carrying more food than I was using, so I offered to share my soups with John. He gratefully accepted a chicken mulligatawny, whilst I had ham and split pea. We both got our stoves out to heat them up, and here I found another issue with my kit which needed to be addressed. When I tried to light my stoves, I found that all of my matches (including my storm matches!) were too old, and they simply would not light. Eventually I gave up, and lit one by introducing it to the flame of John's stove. But I should definitely need to sort out some resupply before I used my stove again! I made a mental addition to my resupply shopping list: batteries for the GPS and matches for the stove!

The 2016 Challenge, day 4: Tyndrum to Killin (5)

At the top of the plantation we had to cross a fence to access the open hillside, and this one seemed easier to duck under than climb over. However, once past this wee obstacle we had the freedom of the hillside. And what a glorious hillside it was too! We enjoyed a marvelous conversation, too, about all manner of things, including matter so of faith and belief, and the identification of drumlins! In seemingly no time we were trying to plan the best angle of descent to reach the shielings whilst avoiding the worst of the gullies cut into the hillside by the streams.

The 2016 Challenge, day 4: Tyndrum to Killin (4)

I had warned John that my pace in ascent was slow, but we found that we were actually very well matched on the hill as well as on the flat. Our rest needs were about the same, too; and when we came to a little flat bit we were both agreed that a pause for some posed photos was in order.

Behind John, in the left background, is the North ridge of Fiarach with its distinctive plantation just above the railway line to Oban; then beyond that, from left to right, are the two Munros Beinn Dubhchraig (which shields Ben Oss from view) and Ben Lui, and then, after the dip in the skyline which is Glen Cononish (through which I had walked the previous day), in the right mid background is the Corbett Beinn Chuirn. In the right background are the slopes of Creag Bhen Eigheach, which hide Tyndrum from view, although the woods above Tyndrum are very evident.

The 2016 Challenge, day 4: Tyndrum to Killin (3)

We followed the West Highland Way - which was easy walking - as far as the ruins of St Filian's Priory, and then we turned left off the Way and headed up the hill.

John's route - one which had never occurred to me when I had studied these maps in the past, but which I have to say struck me as pure genius - was to climb to about 500 metres (essentially, the minimum necessary to pass the top of the pine plantation) and then to contour round into grid square 3929. From here we would angle down across the open hillside to the shielings by the head of Lochan Chailein and collect the track to the Glen Lochay road. It was a very fine piece of route planning which produced, I must say, a most enjoyable piece of hillwalking. Indeed, I think that morning spent contouring round the open hillside with John Hooper may well have been one of the most enjoyable pieces of walking I have ever done, on the Challenge or not.

But first ... we had to ascend to 500 metres; and before we could do that, we had to cross the railway line. There is a choice, at this point, of a level crossing or a bridge. We opted for the level crossing, only to find ourselves hemmed in by fences. We could have crossed them in all probability, but it seemed to make more sense to go about, recross the railway line using the level crossing, and then to use the bridge. To get to the bridge we had to cross a little stream in a deep defile, but this was not particularly problematic. And then it was just a steady old haul up the hillside.

The 2016 Challenge, day 4: Tyndrum to Killin (2)

Our initial route was south on the West Highland Way, which gave us an excellent view as the Fort William portion of the Sunday night sleeper headed North towards Rannoch Moor. It was possible, although unlikely, that one or two very late starting Challengers might be on that train. Today was, after all, the last day for signing the register, and anyone on that train would be taking most of the day to reach their start points.

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I woke at 5.30, and set about preparing for the day as John had said that he liked to make an early start. I had Ambronite for breakfast again, which I was finding perfectly acceptable, even if I cannot say I was positively looking forward to it. Then, after striking camp, we hit the trail at 7.30.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

The 2016 Challenge, day 3: Dalmally to Tyndrum (20)

I pitched my tent on a lovely flat pitch, and then went and found Andrew Walker and Martin Rye, who were staying in one of the "Hobbit Houses". We agreed to go into Tyndrum together for supper, and after a very good gammon steak and a pint or two of cider, I turned in for a very pleasant night's sleep.

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While I was drinking that second can of Irn Bru, John Hooper - another Challenger, who was walking in a kilt - came into the shop and we got to talking. He was staying on the site, and he was also heading for Killin the following day. He was not going over any mountains, but his route sounded interesting. It sounded like the sort of walking I enjoyed. And before I knew it, the decision had been taken that I would take a pitch on the site (for the grand price of £8) and that the following day I would walk in company with John.

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As I approached Tyndrum, I saw the sign advertising the "By The Way" site, and at that moment I thought that the one thing I could do with more than anything else was a can or Irn Bru. They said they were open 7 days a week, so when I reached the site I turned off into their little shop, and asked for a can, which I quickly drank, and then another ...

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When I reached the railway bridge, I knew it was time to make a decision ... and I also knew that the decision had already been made. I was going to go to Tyndrum.

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There were plenty of false brows on the way up to the bealach; but eventually I reached the true pass, and then began a truly wonderful descent beside the Allt an Rund. After about 2 kilometres I picked up the River Cononish path, and then it was easy going. I was making good time, and as I stode out along the track I began to have an idea.

Looking at the map it seemed like an excellent idea.

When I reached the West highland Way, I thought, my intention was to turn right. But there would be plenty of daylight. So why not turn Left. Go into Tyndrum and have a decent supper somewhere, and maybe a pint or two, and then make my way to my wild pitch in the last of the evening light?

As I strode along beside the River Cononish, the closer I got to the West highland Way, the more I liked this plan.

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As I headed up into the bealach and looked back the way I had come, I reflected on the fact that this, perhaps, was the kind of walking that I enjoyed more than any other. Across the open hillside, with no paths, enjoying the wild, rugged barrenness of it all. The navigation was trivial - the handrails were obvious and unmissable. I had this landscape to myself, and could range across it as I wished.

What I wished, though, was to reach the sheilings and make camp for the night. So I pressed on through the bealach and down the other side.

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The deer fence had a good, sturdy set of diagonals at a main post where it crossed the stream, and I had little difficulty getting over. Then it was just a case of following the stream up into the bealach.

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Above the bridge the going was easy, and when I reached a part where the gradient eased off a bit, I found a lovely spot beside the stream where I just sat and enjoyed the sunshine for half an hour or so. I remembered the Twin Towers, back on my first Challenge, berating me for not taking the time to stop and enjoy the beauty I was passing through, and I felt sure they would approve. I took this picture looking back down the Eas Daimh before I carried on.

Not far above this, I came to the edge of the trees. The path didn't continue quite all the way, and I had to fight my way through the last three or four rows of planting, which was a bit of a chore. However, I made it through with little difficulty and only a few scratches to my arms (maybe I should have put a long-sleeved fleece on ... but I was enjoying walking in just a T-shirt). Beyond the edge of the planting there was a deer fence, and then open hillside.

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After a bit, I came to a substantially contructed bridge over the Eas Daimh. I didn't take a GPS fix to get its exact location, but I am hazarding a guess that this is at the point where the map shows the path swinging to the right and crossing the stream.

On the other side of the bridge the path was now a well-made forestry track, and I am imagine that it has been made up to ease the forestry operations which had resulted in the diversion of the Ben Lui mountain access. In any event, there was yellow tape stretched across it and warnings not to follow that track. The path by the stream continued upwards beyond the bridge, however, and I was happy to continue following it. I figured that as long as I could follow the stream all the way up to the edge of the woods it didn't really matter if I was doing so on the path marked on the map or not; and if I came out of the wood a little further North than originally planned, no harm would come of it.

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Beyond the railway bridge, the path took me up beside the Eas Daimh. In fine weather it was absolutely beautiful, and I met a number of picnicking families and couples as I pressed on up. What it would be like in clag and rain with wet grass underfoot, however, I should not like to think.

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Sharing the bridge under the railway with the stream was cosy, to say the least. The headroom is about 4 foot at most, and I contemplated crawling rather than merely ducking down a bit. With the Eas Daimh in spate and the water above the metal walkway, this could be more than a little interesting (and this does raise some rather interesting questions about the wisdom of my FWA route choice AS a FWA ... when you need to use it as such, would you be able to use it at all?) As it was, the only real challenge was to my knee joints - but I made it through OK.

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The path leads you along the bank of the River Locky to a point opposite the confluence with the Eas Daimh (pictured). You then have to ford the river, and duck under the railway line sharing the bridge with the Eas Daimh. The river was low, and a dry-shod crossing making use of the many available stepping stones presented me with no problems.

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I reached the car park and stopped for lunch. There were some nice picnic tables there, so I sat at one and took my boots off to let my feet breathe a little. There were also some rather troubling signs, of which this was one, warning of diversions on the Ben Lui mountain access due to forestry works. I didn't know if the path I was planning to follow was the Ben Lui mountain access or not. I tried to reconcile my map to the maps they had posted showing the diversion, but I was unable to be clear. The problem was that their map presupposed that you knew which path was the Ben Lui mountain access, and I did not.

Well, no matter. I was sure I'd find a way through OK one way or another. So I finished my lunch, put my boots back on, and followed the path along the bank of the river.

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After a while the old military road met with a surfaced forestry track which isn't shown on the map, and then it continued the far side. Eventually, though, it curved to the right and joined up with the main A85 once more. As you can see from the photograph, there was very little Sunday traffic, and the remaining half a kilometer I had to walk on this road was no real problem at all.

Ben Lui, on the far side of the road, stood mocking me from above the tree line. I had been supposed to be up on top of that mountain; but I little bit of noise had driven me down onto my low level route instead. It should have been my fourth Munro of the crossing, but so far I had managed just the one! Still, there were plenty more mountains on my route card, and I should still have plenty of opportunities to make this a High Level crossing.

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There were a few fallen trees completely blocking the way in places, and some of these necessitated a few awkward detours into the thick fir plantation. But I was able to find a way over, under, round or through in ever case.

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The old military road is completely grassed over now, and somewhat boggy in places. But it is nevertheless good going, and made for a very pleasant three kilometres or so of walking.