View from Oban Bothy

View from Oban Bothy
Showing posts with label TGOC2012. Show all posts
Showing posts with label TGOC2012. Show all posts

Monday, 4 June 2012

After The Great Wetting of The Feet

 

Preparing to leave the beach and head for Control in the Park Hotel we spotted Nik slithering through the dunes and coming towards us. She dipped her tootsies in the sea and more photographs were taken. Lots of hugs and kisses later (this ‘finishing the Challenge’ malarkey is A Good Thing for a chap) we finally dragged ourselves away to sign in and collect our certificates, T shirts and badges.

 

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Nik

The New Controller seem to have everything under control and it was good to see Roger and Patricia Smith, Steph and baby Jack – and also to meet Robin Woodger, the voice on the phone for the first week, for the first time.

Gallons of Patricia’s tea was drunk and we caused some serious damage to Control’s biscuit reserves as we chatted to other Challengers. It was clear to me that many of these people were hanging around to see if they could pick up any tips from The Master Biscuit Liberator. They learnt nothing – I keep my secrets very close to my chest.

After bathing / showering or whatever (and donning clean clothes – now that WAS a treat!) it was time to eat. We had arranged to go for an early evening curry with other Challengers before returning to the Park for the bun fight speeches.

The Indian Restaurant already had a couple of Challengers ensconced and enjoying their meal. We sat down and before long were joined by hoards of green – T shirted Challengers, all seeking decent food.

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Judith Barnes, Peter, & Louise

Back to the Park and proceedings were in full swing. The meal had all but finished – it was now wall-to-wall speeches and presentations. I normally avoid such occasions, but a Challenge dinner is a spectacle to be savoured….apart from the food that is.

The New Controller, Roger Smith and JD all excelled in their speeches – it was particularly pleasing to see Bill from Callater being presented with a large bottle of something very alcoholic.

Adjourning to the bar after the speeches is a great opportunity to catch up with Challengers from previous years – or even Challengers only encountered earlier on the current year’s event. I wasn’t disappointed – even Denis had made it to Montrose. We had a long chat about his decision to retire from the event, it was quite clear that there was no way he could have continued any further than Aviemore. He had made the absolutely correct choice. I just hope that if ever I’m in that position I take the same line of action - and that pig-headedness doesn’t take over.

Croydon, a Challenge ‘extra’ this year, led singing at one end of the bar. Other Challengers simply talked of their experiences. More than a few drank copiously. It was odd to see a room so full of green T shirts. It was an unforgettable night.

clip_image006Denis, Louise & JJ

clip_image008Roger Hoyle and Mike Knipe

clip_image010Sandy, Carol, Denis & Louise

clip_image012Carl, Andrew, Alistair & Lynsey

clip_image014T’other Lynsey and Peter

The following morning it was time to go home and it was very hard to leave. Martin & Sue had kindly offered me a lift to Timperley in their car. I’d managed to pick up a freebie train ticket from Control and decided to make use of it. Sitting on the train would give me the chance to get some shut-eye on the journey – not so easy in a car.

I was later to discover the ticket was Lynsey’s, but she’d now opted to go home with Alistair in their car – so I owe her more than a couple of pints!

I wandered down to Montrose Railway Station with all the other Challengers, it really was a moment tinged with sadness. I had enjoyed a marvellous Challenge and now it was the REAL end…..until next year anyway!

Lots of shaking of hands, kisses and hugs later, the train left. I sat with Judith for most of the journey back, in between my snoring I rather fancy we talked non-stop about our wonderful two weeks in Scotland.

I’m already plotting next year’s Challenge – it promises to be exceptional!

I hope.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Day 14, not to Johnshaven again.

….but to Montrose

Chatting with the Brocklehursts at breakfast the subject of today’s route came up.

My intended finish point of Johnshaven was clearly just not going to happen, Louise’s finish at Braidon Bay was similarly out. We’d stuck together so far so it made sense to finish together.

After discussing the situation with Margaret and David, we all decided to finish in Montrose – that was the shortest route to the coast.

Leaving our B&B we did a little shopping in Edzell before heading south through Edzell Arch:

clip_image002Louise, with the excellent David & Margaret Brocklehurst at Edzell

We set off at a cracking pace, my navigator’s feet seeming to hold up quite well. Up until now it had been quite impossible for her to set off quickly, it had been taking a good 30-40 paces for her to be able to pick up any speed.

Today’s walk was virtually all tarmac, not the best choice for delicate bits on the end of legs. However by using grassy verges where available a lot of very hard ground was avoided and she managed well.

Trudging up (or down?) a quiet lane we caught up with Richard and Rosemary having a 5 minute break in the welcome shade of some roadside woodland.

clip_image004Richard & Rosemary, David & Margaret, and my navigator

We continued, all eventually arriving at the NTS property at House of Dun. Entry was by climbing a locked wrought-iron gate, the alternative being a long road walk = there was no alternative!

The café at the House of Dun is spectacular. And it has cakes! Considering the heat of the day, we all made the seemingly daft choice of hot soup – it was lovely! Loads of tea and a large piece of cake each soon had us fighting fit again. Well all apart from Louise who’s feet were once again complaining.

I sat her outside in the sunshine and began to operate once again. It was at this point that Margaret, a retired Pathologist, stepped in to take over the delicate bits. After some considerable time the fetid feet were feeling (and looking) good again. Margaret had worked wonders with the use of Second Skin and lots of other fancy medical-type stuff.

clip_image006Louise can barely look as Margaret performs miracles

Her work done, Margaret left us to join husband David on the final walk in to Montrose. We trundled off, ever grateful to this angel of mercy for her kind works.

clip_image008Our lunch stop….and that’s a smile. Honest.

 

clip_image010The House of Dun

Following the hot tarmac into Montrose was like walking into a hairdryer, but with traffic. We sought shade wherever we could. We both cheered up immensely as we closed in on our target.

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Happiness is a Montrose sign!

Not knowing the quickest way to the sea we stopped and chatted to a lollypop man who gave us directions, minutes later we were within sight of the North Sea.

Little Miss Stubborn Louise had decreed that she would walk to the beach and into the foamy stuff with her boots on and carrying full kit, and so she did. A repack of her rucksack and change of footwear on the golfcourse saw us marching purposefully eastwards. Eastwards is good for this trip, I may have mentioned this before.

Arriving on the east coast at the end of the Challenge is always a little emotional. I don’t mind admitting that it got a bit too much for the pair of us this time.

clip_image016Wet feet …. Again! But this time we don’t mind.

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Strathcarron to Montrose….with blisters!

Louise’s Blog report

……more to follow shortly.

I’m going for a long walk tomorrow. Because I’m worth it and because I need to.

Day 13, to Northwaterbridge….Not

 

Actually only as far as Edzell.

The agonising state of my navigators feet needed to be addressed. Walking was now extremely painful, even wearing sandals. She agreed that I should try to carry out repairs in the interests of her not having to finish the Challenge by walking on her hands.

Health Warning: If you’re squeamish, look away now.

Sitting on the grass with a large bottle of something strong (and that was just me!!) I carefully removed the dressings. It wasn’t a pretty sight – blisters in various states, bruising, blackened nails etc. Not good.

Roger Hoyle turned up to assist and he kindly applied some second skin, a seemingly magical treatment for blisters. All was well for a short time, but it wasn’t long before the discomfort was just excruciating.

Time for surgery.

I sterilised a very sharp knife and managed to drain the unburst blisters. I know that’s not accepted practice, but it was clear that it was the pressure from these blisters that was causing a lot of the pain.

The relief was almost instantaneous. I dried the open wounds and cleaned them with alcohol wash. I then applied antiseptic cream and dressed all the blisters with a special lint. By the time I’d finished there wasn’t much of her feet that was visible. Still, it worked!

We had intended to breakfast at The Retreat but the delays in carrying out foot repairs meant we were too late for the ‘Challenge Special Deal’. No matter, we’d just go for the All Day Breakfast – it was only an extra 50p or so. The waitress came back with the bad news that they had run out of bacon and sausages – although she later said the problem was that the chef didn’t want to cook. I was disappointed, The Retreat does well from the Challenge and I expected better.

A very expensive cheese sandwich later (£5 for a couple of pieces of buttered thin-sliced bread with some very ordinary cheese) we left to make our way to cross the bridge over the River North Esk at Dalhastnie. The foot repairs were holding out, and provided we didn’t push it too hard we should be okay.

clip_image002The River North Esk from Dalhastnie

We had a 10 minute break at the bridge and were surprised to be joined by Nik. She didn’t hang around, and as she was moving faster than us we didn’t want to hold her back.

By now the sun was beating down – what a change from just a few days earlier. I was running out of suncream and had to be careful to stay covered up.

We took a few more breaks on the way to Edzell – it was impossible to move quickly even if we had wanted to, the combination of still tender feet and very strong sunshine saw to that.

Walking gently into Edzell, I shot off to do a recce – it was around 6.30pm and we needed feeding, a miserable apology for a cheese sandwich was all we’d eaten that day.

Was the Tuck Inn still open? Thankfully it was, and we joined other Challengers for a decent meal of fish and chips and lots of tea. Some of us had an extra portion of chips. Someone ELSE finished Louise’s chips as well!

A good night’s sleep followed, we needed it.

Day 12, to Tarfside

 

It would have been around 3am when I became aware of a cold bum. Minutes later it was getting decidedly uncomfortable…. on my deflated Pacific Outdoor Equipment airbed.

Soddit.

You may remember that it was only the previous day that Nik had suffered the same problem with the same manufacturer’s airbed. I was particularly miffed as this was a replacement airbed for one that had also failed on me. I had been assured that the problem was down to a manufacturing fault, but closer examination showed that my problem was exactly the same one that had caused my first mat to fail. It seems the (presumably) heat-sealed seams are the problem. When I investigated my first airbed failure I found lots of tiny holes, far too many to repair, around the seams. My replacement airbed had failed the same way – and only after around 20 nights.

Moral: don’t use POE airbeds. It’s a shame because they’re extremely comfortable, according to Nik they’re even more comfortable than the NeoAir.

I really don’t know what to do about this. POE guarantee their kit for life so there won’t be a problem having it replaced, but that’s no good if the stuff fails when you’re in the middle of nowhere.

I slept badly, just about managing by sleeping on a load of clothing.

Around 7.30am I had attempted to carry out a repair using the supplied repair kit. I must say I thought I’d been successful so I was looking forward to a reasonable night’s sleep the next night.

Louise soon arrived from her bunkhouse and we soon had a small band of Challengers all looking forward to the day’s walk.

As I packed my kit, Doug Bruce and Richard Baker appeared, loaded up with their packs. I felt a photograph coming on…..

clip_image002Richard, Louise, Nik and Doug

clip_image004With the two Irish unofficial Challengers

Today’s intended route involved heading over to the Mounth Road and over to Mount Keen. A navigational error (on my part) early in the day meant we were, er, slightly delayed.

It was getting quite hot even at this relatively early hour and before long a map consultation was called in a suitably shaded and comfortable spot at Bridge of Muick.

clip_image006At Bridge of Muick

Leaving our very agreeably shady stop we aimed south along a LRT that skirted Craig Vallich and (this was where the nav error occurred) spent a good 20 minutes going round in circles. I blame the GPS.

Whilst trying to extricate ourselves from this navigational faff, we were being taunted by a most annoying cockerel. A shotgun at this time would have proved most useful….especially if I had known how to use one!

clip_image008Cock-a-doodle-bloody-do!

Eventually, and quite happy we were now on track, we started our climb.

clip_image010This IS the right way!

Ahead of us were the two Irish ‘Challengers’ – but they were moving at quite a pace and we soon lost sight of them. Gaining height, our views improved dramatically and we soon didn’t need much of an excuse to stop for a sit down and to drink in the expansive panorama.

 

clip_image014The splendid view

Louise’s feet were still cause for concern. She was struggling, especially on the rocky tracks – the soles of her boots just didn’t protect her battered, bruised and blistered feet sufficiently. Most of the problem originated earlier in the trip when she suffered very wet feet. Progress was slow but steady. We weren’t in a rush – we were on our holidays!

Gingerly descending down into Glen Tanar we spotted a lone Akto pitched close to the ruin of Shiel of Glentanar. There was no-one around so we have no idea who it might have been.

clip_image016Still not lost!

clip_image018The bridge over Water of Tanar, Mount Keen in the background

Now climbing up the rocky path that would take us around the summit of Mount Keen, and with Louise’s feet complaining loudly, we realised the day was going to be longer than originally anticipated. No matter, we would just carry on at a manageable pace and stop to eat and drink when we felt the need.

Hunger overtook us at the Queen’s Well so we stopped for tea, soup and a well earned rest. In an attempt to alleviate her swollen feet, the ornamental surround of the spring was put to good use:

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I hope it’s not a capital offence, but as well as using the Queen’s Well for limb elevation purposes, I used the stream emanating from the spring for a good wash down – I just hate feeling sticky. Alan, Phil and Andy will confirm that I don’t hold back when there’s chance for a good wash down!

Onwards, but now swathed in Paramo to stave off the chill, we headed off to Tarfside.

Summer arrived as we approached the road. Suspecting the onset of the male menopause (I told you I was old) I suddenly became all hot and sweaty. It was only when Louise commented on how hot she’d suddenly got that I realised it was getting much warmer – and it wasn’t merely because we were at a lower level, this was real warmth!.

Paramos removed, we hobbled carefully towards are stop for the night – still 2.5 miles away. Then I received another ornithology lesson: there, quartering it’s territory whilst looking for it’s late evening take-away meal, was a short-eared owl. Now up until this point dear readers, I had no idea what a short-eared owl even looked like, let alone appreciate it’s rarity. Louise was thrilled, whispering loudly and excitedly to me, explaining this birdy’s habits.

Our arrival in Tarfside was met with cheers from those drinking outside the Mason’s. It was late and we were tired and hungry, so as soon as we pitched and had eaten, we made straight for the Mason’s – for rehydration purposes you understand.

clip_image022Nik, Alan and Ian - engaged in serious rehydration operations

Once again a sociable evening was enjoyed. Some were so sociable that by the end of the night they were decidedly wobbly.

clip_image024Andrew getting very sociable

I climbed into my sleeping bag, on the still - inflated airbed and looked forward to a comfortable night’s sleep.

The airbed stayed up until around 3am.

Ho-hum.

Day 11, to Ballater

 

I bounced, well actually it more of a thud, out of bed at 6.45am to kettle and breakfast-type noises rising from the kitchen. My half-dozen room-mates were still sound asleep although Alan soon stirred and threatened to get up for a cup of tea. I slunk (is that a real word?) downstairs as quietly as possible – not easy in walking boots and carrying a pack.

A welcome mug of tea was thrust into my hands – I had a mouth like Ghandi’s flip-flop. Not nice. Jeanette, knowing I had to be away pronto, put me at the top of the bacon butty list. What a star she is!

Lynsey came up from her tent to see me off which was nice, then Alan made a brief appearance for tea before heading back to his bed for more much-needed sleep.

clip_image002Dave Pickles, ?, and Lynsey at breakfast

It was hard to leave, I had once again had a marvellous time at Callater and I felt quite rude making such an early start whilst so many were still asleep – it seemed almost ungrateful.

I left the lodge with a heavy heart although cheered by the warm sunshine and thoughts of walking to Ballater in good company.

I arrived at Kate’s at around 9.30am to find my navigator sunning herself in the garden. I treated myself to a shower, shave, two mugs of coffee and a second breakfast before we headed off to Ballater via the Lion’s Face, a pleasant woodland footpath that avoids a long road walk.

We soon caught up with Nik and ended up walking as a threesome for quite some time. Nik had suffered an airbed disaster – her Pacific Outdoor Equipment airbed had failed catastrophically and she’d had to fork out £125 for a Neoair from the outdoor shop in Braemar. Not what you need on a trip like this.

Louise knew of another path through the Ballochbuie Forest that would ultimately take us to Balmoral without encountering any tarmac. It’s good to have the navigator on side!

An enjoyable lunch stop in pleasant sunshine, close to Connachat Cottage, gave Louise’s tootsies a welcome rest. She’s incredibly resilient and pain tolerant – she’d already proved that by putting up with me for most of the trip! Having seen the state of her feet I don’t think many blokes would have been able to continue very far, let alone finish the trip.

Whilst we sat on a grassy bank enjoying (enduring?) bread rolls filled with squeezy cheese, a small lunch party was being held for a couple of anglers at the cottage. They had probably paid a huge amount of money for the privilege. It looked a grand affair. We were later to learn that other Challengers passing that same way a little later had been offered beers. Perhaps we looked just a little too unsavoury!

clip_image004The Memorial at Connachat Cottage

clip_image006Hairy Coo

clip_image008Baby Hairy Coo….lost

Louise had been harbouring a secret that she now let out of the bag: we had been invited for (second!) lunch at Laura’s in Crathie – conveniently on our route into Ballater. The promise of real food, at a real table, sat on real chairs was an opportunity not to be missed. So we didn’t! Laura, you may remember, had to withdraw from the Challenge. We were both very keen to catch up with her to hear her tales of woe.

clip_image010With Nik at Balmoral (Her Maj was out)

We left Nik to enjoy the comforts of Balmoral whilst we carried on to our lunch date. A very enjoyable hour was spent over an excellent soup, lots of tea and good conversation. Thanks Laura – you’re a star!

Our next few miles involved of lots of tarmac, as it was around teatime the road traffic was getting heavy. Entering the outskirts of Ballater we were able to join a very welcome riverside footpath that took us right into the centre.

Louise had booked herself into the Habitat Bunkhouse in Ballater, the place was full of Challengers so she would be in good company. I headed to the campsite, the same site that offered refuge to storm-battered Challengers on Stormy Monday the previous year.

I camped next to two lads from Ireland, they hadn’t managed to get on the Challenge. Because of the logistics involved, they walked their route anyway (and good for them!). They were good company, but to my shame I can’t remember their names. Nik arrived on the campsite too, now we had the makings of a party!

There were other Challengers on the campsite too, notably Doug Bruce (on his 10th crossing) and Richard Baker – both were clad in kilts.

Louise and I met up later to grab a meal at the hotel / pub and were delighted to find, amongst others, Colin Tock and Roger Hoyle – two very fine chaps indeed. We were soon joined by Martin & Sue and even more Challengers and a jolly evening was enjoyed by all. Both the food and beer at the Alexandra Hotel were very good indeed.

It was late when we all left, some were staying at the Alexandra, others at the Habitat Bunkhouse. Me? I was in my Akto, snug as a bug in a rug. Well I was until…..

Day 10, to Callater

 

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Strictly speaking my visit to Callater wasn’t part of my Challenge although it was originally. My planned route was to take me over Lochnagar but there looked to be more snow up there than I was happy with.

In addition to this I had the responsibility of getting Lynsey’s birthday cake up to the Lodge for her surprise birthday celebration. Sooooo…..

1) I arranged to leave my tent etc at Kate’s in Braemar, to be collected the next day.

2) Jeanette transported the cake and me to the lodge in her 4x4

3) I stayed at the lodge on the Sunday night

4) I walked back to Braemar on Monday morning to collect my kit and walk to Ballater.

This meant I wasn’t breaking Challenge ‘rules’, yet I still got to do Callater. Simples!

And so the Plan swung into action. Much of Sunday was spent sorting stuff, eating, and socialising with other Challengers. A good way to spend the day. Louise needed time to rest her poorly tootsies and Callater wasn’t on her route anyway so she stayed an extra night at Kate’s bunkhouse, along with Nik Lawcock. I gather Merlot may have been taken – especially when Sue and Martin rolled up.

Jeanette rolled up during the afternoon and loaded me, my lightened pack, and The Cake into her 4x4 and off we went, up the road and along the LRT to the lodge. All was well until we spotted Lynsey, Alistair and Isabel walking along the track to the lodge. QUICK – hide the bloody cake!!

We did and by the time we pulled over to say hello, the cake had been unceremoniously shoved under the seat in front of me. Phew!

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I walked through the door of the lodge to greeted by Bill, who shook my hand with his right hand and handed me a cup of tea with his left. Who said men can’t multi-task?! It wasn’t long before I was being absorbed into the unique atmosphere of the lodge. I don’t have the words to describe my feeling for the people or the place, it’s just very special to me.

clip_image006T’other Lynsey, Michael and Peter outside Callater Lodge

A convivial evening was spent in excellent company, and of course the highlight was Lynsey’s birthday surprise.

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        Bill with The Birthday Cake                                        Lynsey, the Birthday Girl

And now a moan:

There were new faces this year – most were rather taken aback by the hospitality offered by Bill, Jeanette, Michael, Ross and Keith – and others too. It’s good manners to accept such hospitality graciously, as most did. I’d like to think that any inappropriate behaviour exhibited this year would not be repeated in the future. It’s bad form.

End of moan.

Bill, as ever, was the perfect host. He never ceases to surprise with his knowledge of Scottish poetry, song and traditions. I thoroughly enjoy being in his company. A real gentleman.

As the evening progressed, songs were sung, poetry recited, and stories told. A ceilidh in the true sense of the word. The room began to empty as the guests retired for the night, and so ended the (almost) perfect evening.

My intention was to get to my bed before 1am so I would be up, bright-eyed and bushy tailed for my return walk to Braemar and continuation to Ballater.

I’m afraid it was another failed plan, it was well past 2.30am when I finally hit the sack.

Perhaps plans aren’t such a good idea after all.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Day 9, to Braemar

 

clip_image002Kit explosion in Glen Derry

The day dawned DRY – amazing.

Even more amazing, and slightly worrying, was the overnight appearance of Brigadoon Bridge, virtually adjacent to our pitch. Fighting the urge to sing a Brigadoon song (not difficult, I don’t know any) for fear of incurring the wrath of ‘her with the GPS’, we breakfasted, packed and very gingerly crossed Brigadoon Bridge…..I mean, it may have vanished at any moment, and GPSs don’t like water.

Peter came to meet us and we compared notes on the previous day’s walk. Brian & Peter, both very strong walkers, took until 9pm to get to Derry Lodge, this made our 11pm arrival slightly more acceptable.

We three made our merry way through Glen Lui towards Mar Lodge for tea and buns, laughing nearly all the way. The memories of the previous day’s difficulties diminished with each step. And the sun was breaking through.

Before long we were walking down the long drive to Mar Lodge, I could smell the tea! As we approached the lodge we spotted Challengers ahead of us, some arriving, the others leaving to go to Braemar.

This year we were in a different room to that used in previous years. It was very comfortable and we were soon sat on real chairs at a real table, enjoying butties, scones, and lashings of ginger beer tea. The craic in the room was electric. Stories were exchanged, blisters compared, tales of woe told – each trying to out-do the other.

clip_image004Emma, Stan, Andy Williams, Peter and ‘er with the GPS.

The bad bit of this day is the road walk into Braemar, it’s long and boring….unless you divert through the woodland.

clip_image006Ready to roll from Mar Lodge

Our new band of five set off to cross Victoria Bridge and on to the ‘B’ road into town. Louise’s feet were still giving her problems so rather than follow the rest of the team’s divertion through the longer but more pleasant Morrone Birkwood route, she opted for boring.

clip_image008Parting of the ways….for a short time

It was a sensible choice….and as we’d done so much of this crossing together I followed her. In good company it’s amazing how easily boring bits can pass. As we made our way into town, still tired from the previous day’s exertions, we made A Plan.

Plans are good, especially when you stick to them.

We were booked into Kate’s bunkhouse in Braemar, a wonderful place with an equally wonderful owner.

The Grand Plan went like this:

1) Go straight to the bunkhouse

2) Shower and change

3) Ask Kate to do our laundry

4) Eat

5) Heads down and feet up for a couple of hours before tea

6) Eat again

7) The Moorfield…..or more likely the relative peace and quiet of the Fife.

8) Earlyish night

What actually happened:

1) Fife Arms

2) Still the Fife Arms

3) Kate’s

4) Laundry

5) Shower and change

6) Eat

7) Sleep

8) Oversleep

9) The Moorfield

10) Bed around 1am

Ah well, it was a good idea at the time.

The Fife Arms proved to be a Challenge magnet, it was great to see all the weather-beaten faces staring out at us…..we couldn’t resist. Anyway it would be rude not to. Wouldn’t it?

A couple of bottles of decent Scottish Ale later (the Fife doesn’t do cask) I thought it was time to go…..until I spotted ‘er with the GPS with yet another pint. Not wishing to be rude or seem unsociable another bottle of Old MacTavish’s Finest Fighting Ale was consumed before we wobbled gently out of the Fife to the luxury of our bunkhouse.

clip_image010Jeanette and Biaggio with Piero in the background, in the Fife

Getting our stuff sorted was relatively easy, Kate is a marvellous host and she’s well-used to dealing with the influx of smelly Challengers that descend on her every year. Before long she had our now clean clothes on her washing line.

By the time we had eaten our nosh it was time for a bit of a siesta. I had arranged to meet Lynsey at the Moorfield at 9pm. A funny noise disturbed my slumber at around 9.45pm – a text message arrived from Lynsey….’What about our date??’ Whoops!

Hobbling up to the Moorfield I came across John Braide walking back to the campsite. John’s a fine man that I’ve known for some years from my running (Ho-ho!) with the Cheshire Tally-Ho! Hare and Hounds – a fine running club formed in 1872. I’m pretty sure we still have some of the founder members running with the club!

John, an experienced and very capable backpacker, was a Challenge first-timer and I was delighted when he eventually succumbed to my constant mithering to apply for the Challenge. John about-turned and came back to the Moorfield with us until really quite late. It was a lovely evening in the company of Challengers….and the beer was good too.

clip_image012Alan and Carl in the Moorfield

clip_image014Andy Walker doing something clever and mathematical on his Bat Phone.

clip_image016Gordon Green in The Moorfield

Lynsey, my ‘date’, berated my lateness – but she was in very good company and was clearly enjoying herself.

When she left to go back to her B&B I quickly went round the pub with her birthday card for the next day’s celebrations at Bill & Stan’s. Husband Alistair and I had been plotting for a while. He and baby Isabel were in Braemar to meet up with Mum, he had baked a cake but the problem was how to get it to Bill & Stan’s. Jeanette came to the rescue by offering to drive into Braemar the next day to collect the cake in her 4x4.

It was well past midnight when the remnant Challengers eventually agreed to leave the pub. We’d had a lovely evening and were all ready for our beds.

I think I slept well!

Day 8, to Derry Lodge

 

The Gang of Four had agreed to meet up at 9am to make our way to Derry Lodge via the Fords of Avon, Lairigh an Laoigh and Glen Derry. Text messages had been flying around as plans changed to suit the weather – just a few hours ago we had convinced ourselves that Glen Feshie / Glen Geldie was the only practical way of making our way to Braemar. This low level route would probably have taken an extra day – not what we really wanted.

The very sad news of the morning was that Denis had retired from the trip. Considering his very recent bout of ‘flu this was exactly the right decision. We were all gutted by this news, but Denis was sensibly resolute – he was experienced enough to know when to throw in the towel.

This news came on top of Laura Liddel’s retirement the previous day. Both Laura and Denis are very competent on the hill and we knew their decisions to withdraw from the Challenge hadn’t been taken lightly. Louise & Laura are close friends and the news that Laura had pulled out at Fort Augustus was upsetting for her.

Louise’s David did the honours by delivering the now fragrant and freshly laundered Challenger back to us. She had enjoyed good food, drink, a soak in her bath – and a REAL bed for the night. She also had a slight hangover. But I didn’t tell you that.

clip_image00275% of the Gang of Four heading towards Glenmore Coffee Shop

Off we went, much laughter ensued and my map of Wales was consulted. Satisfied we were still not in Wales he homed in on the excellent coffee shop in Glenmore. Good coffee and yummy cakes were consumed as we watched wild birds feeding in the, er, birdarium thingy. Red squirrels also frequent the garden but there were none today. They probably knew we were coming.

clip_image004Peter and Allan struggling to keep up. Not.

Walking in the direction of Ryvoan Bothy and through the last couple of km of the Rothiemurchus Forest, we were treated to a taste of the weather that was to come later that day: wind driven rain and snow showers.

Leaving the forest on a LRT our long climb to the Fords of Avon began. The climb is not severe, but the paths had become flowing rivers. This rang warning bells, crossing by the Fords of Avon could be tricky if the river was in spate. In case we got separated on the climb, we had arranged to meet at the Refuge Hut so we could cross the river together if need-be.

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The snow and rain showers were now slowing progress. Before long it was just one long shower. Louise’s leaky boots and poorly feet were causing her problems, but she’s a brave bear and she just got stuck in. Her foolishness fortitude was really, er, fortitudy.

clip_image008A patient (ahem) Louise waits while Peter has a kit faff.

(Paramo is good. Honest)

Peter and Allan sped off towards the refuge whilst Louise and I, firmly in Slackpacker Mode, trudged through the foaming footpaths to the refuge. We were both tired and hungry when we got there and were disappointed and a little miffed that two teenagers had decided to use the refuge as an overnight stop. We tried to explain, gently, that this was an emergency shelter and not a bothy but our comments went in one ear and out the other.

Our faster companions had recced the river crossing and pronounced it an easy-peasy crossing, and they shot off whilst we stopped for soup and tea.

We crossed the two rivers with ease, Louise’s sooper–dooper waterproof sandals weren’t needed. Yes, you read it here first: WATERPROOF SANDALS! Surely this is the only way to cross rivers whilst maintaining dignity and style.

clip_image010See, waterproof sandals!

Actually the rivers were easily crossed in boots, although in Louise’s case her feet were so wet that it would have made little difference. Her feet were causing her problems.

Rain and snow continued to hamper our progress and it took a long time and lots of zig-zagging off our river / path in vain attempts to avoid the worst of the torrents. Eventually we got to the more level and slightly drier ground of Glen Derry. The rain and snow had stopped – I became aware of a definite change in the feel of conditions, atmospheric pressure was on the up. I told Louise and she responded by trying to throw a walking pole at me, but she was too tired and missed her target. Although she did say something about a nerd.

Light was fading when I started looking for a suitable pitch, quite a few spots looked good: dry, flat, close to the river etc. I suggested this to my accomplice but by now she was firmly in Stubborn Mode – “We ARE getting to Derry Lodge tonight. Right?” I know when to shut up.

More wonderful pitches came and went, but little Miss Stubborn would have none of it, with my headtorch on she fairly blazed a trail through the glen. I’m sure that if it wasn’t for her soggy feet, she would have set light to the undergrowth – such was her speed.

When tiredness eventually overcame pride ‘we’ decided to look for a pitch. Sods Law states good pitches are simply not available when you need them. We spotted a good pitch but the militant wing of the DofE had got there first. I thought of waking them all up and telling them the river level was due to rise dramatically in the next hour…..but herself wouldn’t let me. Oh well, on to Derry Lodge.

We were on the west side of the Derry Burn, but I knew there was a bridge very close to the lodge that would give us access to the better ground on the east side – closer to the lodge. I recovered my headtorch, and in searchlight mode (it was rather late!), looked for the bridge. I looked up the river, I looked down the river. I even looked at the other river, Luibeg Burn. I could not find the bridge. Perhaps it had washed away. Perhaps, Brigadoon-like, it was simply the wrong day of the century. There was no bridge. It wasn’t there. Okay?

Poor Miss Stubborn’s Louise’s feet were in a bad state, wet and sore. She wasn’t going to complain. Well not too much anyway.

We pitched on the wrong side of the river and after a hurried meal and hot drink we crawled into our sleeping bags for a well-earned kip.