Bill...wondering what the hell just happened
I woke to rain rattling on the flysheet of my tent - I gulped a fast coffee as I packed, then I returned to the warmth of the lodge for a mug of Michael's excellent coffee...and a couple of mugs of tea. And a bacon butty. Or two.
Poor Tracy was in trouble. she and Mick had decided to stay another night anyway, but her feet were blistered to blazes, she just couldn’t carry on – she’d have needed a good few days for her feet to recover. I only found out some days later that she’d had to retire, there was no other option. Mick, being the great bloke that he is (did I tell you what his Dad did for a living?) opted to stay with his daughter and also retire.
Leaving Callater Lodge
I didn’t leave Callater until far too late on the Sunday, I left Tracy with a load of antiseptic cream, but her feet needed a proper seeing-to.
My route, one of the trade routes out of Glen Callater, took me round Carn an Sagairt Mor and Broad Cairn. The weather was pretty miserable: raining and thick mist – thick enough to have to use the compass a fair amount.
The top of Broad Cairn is very rocky, it’s very easy to slip and fall. I was on my own, so if I’d have taken a tumble I’d have been in trouble, so I opted to follow the path marked on the map that goes around the rocky summit and then descend eastwards.
Big mistake! The path may be on the map, but there’s very little evidence of it on the ground – it took me an age to contour round the summit on really rough ground. Eventually I picked up the very good track leading off the top and followed it down to the pony hut, and then down to Loch Muick.
Loch Muick....if you look REALLY hard
Looking back at Loch Muick
It was around here that I realised how hungry I was – Bill’s bacon butties had fuelled me well up until now. I found a flat rock with a stream running by….all I needed to rehydrate a meal, make a brew, and enjoy a restful dinner.
At the Spittal of Glenmuick I headed SE and uphill until I found a nice little spot to plant my tent, and so to sleep.
Shielin of Mark Bothy
Next morning I didn’t bother with breakfast, a couple of coffees sufficed. The yomp to Shielin of Mark is a good one to exercise compass skills – it was with some satisfaction that, by relying on walking on the needle, the roof of the bothy soon appeared dead ahead of me.
Breakfast time! Muesli and a brew – in the company of many other Challengers going my way.
Lindsay and Pierre
Another yomp, this time up and over Muckle Cairn, in the company of Sir Dave, Powerful Pierre, and Lindsay (famous for helicopter rides). We stuck together for the rest of the day – and what a fun day it was!
The sun had returned, big time. Sunscreen applied, knees were exposed, whilst other bits were covered up, it was hot.
The LRT by Glen Lee and Loch Lee is a well worn Challenge route for those heading to Tarfside, as we were. It was good to see Bernie Roberts again – he reckoned this was going to be his last Challenge….yeah, right Bernie, anything you say – see you next year then!
Pierre feeding Sir Dave the Beaver
This is always a sad bit of the Challenge for me – others too, I’m sure. The big hills are behind, from here on the terrain begins to lose it’s wilderness – slowly but surely civilisation returns.
Arriving in Tarfside we called in to St Drostan’s to report in – mobile phone coverage in Tarfside is non-existent.
St Drostan's, Tarfside
I resisted the temptation to head straight to the Mason’s for beer and a burger, instead I put my tent up, had a cuppa, a good wash, and THEN hit the Mason’s. To quote some of our politicians who delight in dishing out crap in the hope that the Gullibles will swallow it, it was ‘the right thing to do’.
The Tarfide campsite was as busy as ever I’d seen it, with a huge variety of lightweight tents, I managed to squeeze my tent in to a nice flat spot – not too far to walk to the Mason’s!
TWO delicious burgers and a couple of beers later, I was at last feeling human again. A very pleasant evening followed – it was good to catch up with Mole, my original plans meant it was unlikely we’d meet up.
Around 10.30pm we were turfed out of the bar – those running the place had homes to go to! The Mason’s really is a very welcome ‘pub’ – warm, dry, something to sit on….not much not to like. If Tarfside is on my TGOC2024 then you’ll certainly find me in there at some point.
Leaving the campsite next morning in glorious sunshine, I decided to have a look at the church at Cairncross. I'd walked past it many a time, but this time curiosity got the better of me:
My usual breakfast stop after Tarfside used to be the Retreat, a mile or so down the road. Unfortunately circumstances have changed in recent times (Covid related?), it just wasn’t cost effective for the place to open up with catering staff for a limited number of customers. Coffee and cake was all that was on offer. I had a coffee.
The Retreat has a museum with many interesting artefacts, it's well worth having an explore....even if you can't get your breakfast. Although the coffee was nice.
Google / Blogger continue to bugger up the order which photos are posted, heaven knows why.
I followed Andy and Martin, we chose the Blue Door route by Rocks of Solitude – a truly beautiful walk to Edzell. I’ve only done the route once before, I’d forgotten how spectacular and peaceful the path was.
Edzell can only mean one thing: the Tuck Inn….but it was closed! The good news, and something of a relief, was a rather nice café just across the road. A tasty, late lunch set me up for the last leg of the day to the campsite at Northwaterbridge…..henceforth known as NWB – because I can’t be mithered typing out ‘Northwaterbridge’ every time I want to mention Northwaterbridge. That’s going to save me loads of time. .
For those in the know, and that’s nearly every Challenger these days, there’s a quiet route which bypasses enough of the very busy Edzell Woods to NWB road to make the walk almost bearable.
A much needed ice cream was devoured on my arrival at NWB (see how much time I saved there?) before putting my tent up. The site was full of chatty Challengers, all sharing tales of their crossings – only one more day to go!
The Challenge village at Northwaterbridge campsite
The sunset that evening was quite spectacular, lots of oohs and ahs as camera phone were clicking away in a NW direction.
My last day was almost all on tarmac. I was away fairly early. The day was forecast to be a hot one, and the forecast was right - I was grateful to be plastered with Factor 50.
Hillside's War Memorial, always beautifully tended
Brunch of decent coffee, an even more decent bacon butty, all followed by a strawberry meringue was more than satisfactory. The Charleton Fruit Farm’s café was full of Challengers – this place has taken over from St Cyrus as the place to finish, and with very good reason:
It’s but a short 1km walk over the dunes to at last reach the end of my TGO Challenge: the North Sea coast.
Boots eventually came off, feet in the cooling sea – my tootsies felt deliciously fresh for the dunking in sea water.
I was in the company of an American Challenger. To my shame I can’t remember her name, and we walked, in bare feet, along the beach as far as Montrose’s golf course. We navigated our way, fairly successfully, to the Park Hotel where we were able to officially sign out, collect our certificates, t-shirts, & badges, and then guzzle biscuits and drink copious amounts of tea until the cows came home.
And then I had a bath – navigating to the allocated hotel remote bathroom was harder that finding my way across the Highlands!
Challengers have been using this bathroom for years, yet after all this time the taps are STILL jammed. Come on chaps, if I had my tools with me I’d have repaired it in 5 minutes, it’s not that difficult.
A number of Challengers escaped to the PictureHouse pub in town for our evening meal, cheap and cheerful, and it did the job.
A couple of beers back at the Park Hotel gave us the chance to catch up with other Challengers, renew friendships, hear their tales of woe – and discuss plans for TGOC2024.
Thanks to Sue & Ali, all the route vetters, and all the many folk who work, unseen, in the background to make this hugely popular event possible. Without you lot the Challenge just wouldn’t happen.
That’s it until my 16th Challenge which, fingers crossed, will be in 2024.
Edited to add this map showing my (West to East) approximate route: