Tuesday 16th May, Fort Augustus to Chalybeate Spring
A fine Morag’s Lodge breakfast set me up for the morning. I met up with Neil in downtown Fort Augustus and after a last minute shop for wine (Neil) and cheese, pate and crackers (me) we left the town behind.
The day’s route wasn’t promising, Glen Doe and Glendoe Forest have been largely industrialised: a new reservoir had appeared since my last visit, the wilderness had suffered new metalled roads, wide enough for the heaviest of HGVs, and there were windfarm construction sites as far as the eye could see. I recognise the need for alternative sources of energy but this intrusion just seemed over the top.
Our route was initially on tarmac and footpaths around the south end of Loch Ness before what the map suggests is a Land Rover Track. It’s actually a main road up Glen Doe.
The SSE map of the Glen Doe workings
Walkers are advised to call into the security lodge just to get up to speed with the situation on the tops. A polite and helpful security man gave us the low down, it was nothing unexpected – watch out for large waggons and try to keep out of their way, that sort of thing.
The road climbed – so did we. The Manchester Crew were ahead, moving at quite a lick. They were probably trying to get a move on to try to miss the promised bad weather. Somehow they’d discovered that there was to be a bit of a gathering at Chalybeate Spring and they were headed there – and they were well prepared for it.
The weather was still dry when we eventually caught up with the Manchester Crew – we only caught them because they’d stopped for a break.
We’d missed the morning rush hour so the traffic wasn’t too heavy, even so there were some large HGVs buzzing around.
The Manchester Crew set off and we followed on soon after. Then it started raining and it chilled quite a lot. And it got windy. Thank heavens for Paramo.
Neil had pulled ahead, I was faffing around with my camera, unsuccessfully taking lots of very imaginative photographs.
I got hungry. The rain got heavier and I got hungrier. There was no shelter to be seen – not until I spied a tunnel about 50ft below the roadway. The tunnel was making talking-type noises. The voice-type noises were the rear party of the Manchester Crew, they’d sought shelter for their lunch break and the tunnel was their saviour. Okay, it was dark and there was a stream running through it, but there were plenty of rocks to sit on and as long as I was careful I could dry off a bit.
A lunch of cheese butty, some fig biscuits and a mug of tea warmed me up, even so I put on an extra layer, a very thin merino long-sleeved top, under my Paramo, ready to face the cold wetness outside.
My compatriots moved out, leaving me to finish my lunch and prepare to meet the horribleness outside.The rain didn’t last that long although the cold did, I was glad of the extra layer.
I marched onwards, alone, allowing my mind to wander where it wanted and enjoying the solitude….until a couple of enormous waggons went past. They weren’t speeding, but their sheer presence was enough to wake me from my daydreaming.
The low cloud base
There were some views, not particularly brilliant, and certainly not good enough to be accurately represented with my (lack of) photography skills.
The SSE Welfare Building at the W end of the new reservoir
The rain had now completely stopped, the cold wind got windier and remained cold. Approaching the eyesore of the SSE Welfare Building, a real blot on the landscape, I began imagining there being a cafe there to serve the needs of the workforce. Perhaps a Cafe Nero or something….?
The security man on duty came out of his lodge to greet me – I assumed to advise me of works in the area. He asked me if I fancied a sit down and a warm-up. I declined, telling him that I needed to get a move on to Chalybeate Spring for the arranged soiree. His reply was that about en of them wouldn’t be there yet – they were all in the Welfare Building drinking tea & coffee and warming themselves up!
Not the best photo, the camera lens had misted badly.
Well, it could be considered rude not to, so I did. Two mugs of tea and a visit to the, er, washroom later, I was (almost) ready to face the outside world again.
We all left the building together, it was still a good way to Chalybeate but the break had done us all a bit of good. We sped off….sort of.
The last few miles weren’t without challenge. It wasn’t always clear which tracks we should be following, the copy of the map I was carrying wasn’t up to date. After a few false trails and a good bit of heather bashing we picked up the right track and eventually arrived at Chalybeate Spring.
We were by no means the first to arrive, the advance party of the Manchester Crew were already there plus Andy W and his team.
Jayme’s Cocktail Party:
There were a total of 21 shelters, at least one of them was a fully occupied two-man tent. A gathering of this size was no mean feat – especially considering that it had only been arranged the previous evening.
The gathering was a very pleasant do indeed, it was good to be able to make the acquaintance of some of the first-timers – a great lot, all of them!
The sky cleared beautifully – the temperature dropped too. I was hoping for a few night shots of a starlit sky….but I went to sleep. Oh well.
After a long 30km day it was a very cold night – I woke at a very early hour and needed to pull some extra clothing on. I slept cosily once warm.
Cuckoo Count: 1 (in F.A.)
Wednesday 17th May, Chalybeate Spring to Newtonmore
Rupert, Neil and I were away at 9.30am, we weren’t in a rush. Our intended route was to take us over 3 munros: Beinn Something-or-Other, Carn Thingy, plus a few other wonderfully forgetable hill names. The hills themselves were quite splendid and totally unforgetable. What’s in a name, eh?
Rupert and Neil
The weather couldn’t have been better: fresh and breezy but nice and sunny. Rupert, who knows a thing or two about Munros and stuff, was our guide for the day. He did his very best to explain the difference between Munros and Munro tops….I’m still not 100% sure of the difference. What I do know is that they’re really quite big and in the right conditions many of them can afford wonderful views.
A camera-falling-over photograph
A Very Big Hill
We chatted to a hillwalker on the top of Carn-Whatever-it-Was, Rupert was delighted to find that this recently retired man had taught at his old school – and that there were still one or two teaching staff from his days working there. Small world, eh?
Former pupil and former teacher
The conditions on this particular day were excellent and the views equally excellent.
Our descent from these wonderful tops wasn’t without incident. Our plan was to aim for Loch Dubh and then pick up a footpath which would ultimately deliver us into Newtonmore.
As we lost height we slowly became separated – Neil up front, Rupert in the middle, me taking up my usual and rightful position at the back.
I spotted a frog – a frog worthy of a photograph I thought. Camera out, I zoomed in and squatted down to snap the beastie…when I slipped and took a tumble on some wet and slimy ground. This fall badly jarred my L knee (the poorly one) and I really thought that this was the end of my Challenge. A sit down to gather my thoughts and to massage my poorly knee convinced me that I should continue. The knee was quite sore but it was bearable.
I continued my descent, passing Rupert who’d decided that he deserved and sit down and a quick brew & a bite.
After a good mile or so I looked at my map….only to realise that I no longer had my specs. When I slipped I must have gone one way and my specs had gone t’other. I dropped my pack and hobbled back to search. After well over an hour I gave up – a pair of brown-framed specs hidden in heather aren’t the easiest things to find.
Feeling quite sorry for myself, I hobbled painfully down to Newtonmore, I was tired and hungry. And then it started to rain.
I didn’t arrive at Sue & Ali’s Newtonmore Hostel until around 9pm – quite knackered. Sue and Alvar were brilliant: tea and cake were dished up in very short order. I was put in a dorm with Andy W’s team, the only berth left was a top bunk. Andy, being the star he is, agreed to let me have his bottom bunk…..although he later admitted that he only moved because he didn’t fancy me falling on top of him during the night if I couldn’t safely get out of bed with my poorly knee.
I still owe him a pint though!
And the photo of the frog wasn’t that good after all.
Cuckoo Count: 0
Thursday 18th May, Newtonmore to Ruigh Aiteachain Bothy
I should say something about Sue & Ali’s Newtonmore Hostel but I’m struggling to find enough superlatives: It’s wonderful, warm, comfortable, very welcoming and has excellent facilities. It’s always nice to have a comfy hotel or B&B, but given the choice in Newtonmore I’d much prefer the hostel.
(Image nicked from the hostel’s FB page)
My knee had improved overnight, it only hurt a bit. I was happy that a short and easy day lay ahead. It was late when I eventually dragged myself away from the hostel and I was now in the company of Neil and Croydon. The weather was gloriously warm and sunny and it was nice to wander down Newtonmore’s main street (Main St) and not feel hurried.
This was my first time in the town and also the first evidence I’d spotted of the local bloodsport:
A quick re-supply at the local Co-op (pr: Qworp….but you knew that) and we wandered north on tarmac into Kingussie for further re-supply – gas for me and a new hat for Croydon.
Service Sports, Kingussie’s outdoors shop is very good, the staff know what they’re talking about. They stock a wide range of goodies and their prices are sensible. I know from others that it’s been the savious of many a Challenger when their kit has failed.
Kingussie has a public loo – with a difference. It offers hot showers. Had I not spent the previous night at Sue & Ali’s I’d certainly have used this unexpected facility….even so, there was at least one Challenger who was grateful for this unexpected luxury.
Bert hobbled over to us. He’d had to retire from the Challenge, his feet were in a dreadful mess. He’d had medical attention and had been told in no uncertain terms that continuing his walk was not an option. Looking at the way he was walking I don’t think he could have continued even if he had wanted to.
We left the town on very quiet tarmac and headed to Ruthven Barracks and beyond.
We didn’t turn left. Honest.
Note Croydon’s new hat. And my poorly L knee.
Good tracks from Tromie Bridge delivered us to Glen Feshie where, after a lunch break, Neil left us to head north to camp around Loch an Eilein, his route was to take him over the Lairgh Ghru.
Flat walking through forestry towards Glen Feshie
Once on the eastern side of the Feshie we turned south, following the mostly good track. apart from where the track had been washed away by the river:
We weren’t the first to arrive at Ruigh Aiteachain by any means and actually considered moving on, many of the good camping spots had long gone.
The bothy is currently undergoing major refurbishment and is closed, not that was a problem for us. I’m not a lover of sleeping in bothies unless conditions are really bad, I much prefer the convenience, comfort and privacy of my tent.
What I do like about Ruigh Aiteachain is it’s water supply and it’s outside loo. All terribly civilised.
A sociable evening followed. The were lots of familiar faces spending the night here and there was plenty of catching up to do.
The night was clear and quite cold. Once again I’d planned to take some photographs of the night sky…..but I went to sleep instead. This was my only effort, taken at 7.30pm, hardly night time::
Cuckoo Count: 0