Foreword: This should have been my 16th Challenge. I had to bail out from last year’s trip – I got to the start but didn’t even get to sign out. At the time, John, my good friend who had recently been treated for an aggressive cancer, had taken a turn for the worse. I got the call the night before I was due to sign out from Dornie.
It was a no-brainer. Next morning, instead of signing out and starting my Challenge, I went home to support him. It’s what you do for your mates.
John lasted the 2 weeks of the Challenge, his last days were in the wonderful St Luke’s Cheshire Hospice. https://www.slhospice.co.uk
My TGOC2023 has to be completed, in memory of John, if nothing else.
John McNeill, 27/2/1945 - 26/5/2022
Oban to The Strawberry Farm (if you know, you know)
The evening view from Oban’s Corryvreckan
After a day of chilling in Oban c/o The Corryvreckan and Oban SYHA, it was time to hit the trail.
Douglas Syme, Bob Allison, and Sue Chalmers
(carb loading in the Corryvreckan)
Bob, dragging himself away from the pub
The Great Wetting of the Boots - it has to be done!
The Morgans of Cockermouth heading off
My planned route was to follow the track that ran parallel(ish) to the railway line that headed north, but (don’t tell Sue & Ali or I’ll be in serious lumber) because the weather was so glorious, I followed the coast north to cross the Falls of Lora by the Connel Bridge. Okay, there was too much tarmac, but it was really lovely having the sea on my left….and I found a beautiful sandy bay to enjoy a half hour sit down.
Connel Bridge was easily located – but actually getting onto it, for a pedestrian, was another matter - I ended up following the road.
On t’other side more tarmac awaited, albeit almost traffic-free. It was hot, Factor 50 was plastered on my exposed bits.
For Dawn, and Alan R
I camped at a lovely flat spot on the NW shore of Loch Etive, close to Ardchattan House – I even found a water tap! An inevitable midge attack was foiled by the use of Smidge and Citronella Incense Sticks. I escaped unscathed, although smelling of Citronella.
Breakfast brew with a view
Next morning I was away just after 9am. More tarmac, but not for too long - once again virtually no traffic.
Waste not, want not (see what I did there...?)
I’d previously (2005) walked the SE shore of Loch Etive, it was good going until just after Glen Kinglass, but after that I had to walk on the actual loch shore – it was pebbly and very hard work, hence choosing the NW shore this time. It was good…for a while!
I rather hope this wasn't Stanley
The footpath along the northern section of the NW shore was probably on the ground, but a lot of it wasn’t visible – it was a matter of bashing through all manner of scrubby undergrowth (over-growth?)
Issy, my vetter, advised that my intended camp spot may be noisy – it was well-known for fly-camping. Very fortunately the fly-campers weren’t able to drive to the flat bit of grass I found. I was in the company of other backpackers, including Challengers Trevor and Alex Morgan.
The midges were out in force once again, but my defence system once again worked well – I escaped unscathed!
I needed a top-to-toe wash down in my tent, it had been a hot day, and I was more than a bit sweaty….but you really didn’t need to know that!
I slept extraordinarily well, maybe I was a bit tired
I planned to walk up Lairig Gartain, with the proviso that if it was horrible underfoot I’d follow the road.
It WAS horrible underfoot, so the road it was.
Tarmac it may have been, but it was lovely. Quite a few folk were ‘wild camping’ on the side of the road. I hope they understood L.N.T., but seeing how many had parked their cars in passing places, I somehow doubt it.
The sun shone brightly and hotly, I was glad of my shorts, sun hat, and ample water supply, It was a tired, hot, sweaty, and hungry JJ that rolled into Kingshouse. Thanks to generosity of one D. Williams, I had secured a bed in the bunkhouse – and it was most welcome. I owe David a substantial amount of beer!
Most of the walkers staying in the hotel and the bunkhouse were doing the West Highland Way, although there were some Challengers staying too – including Sue Chalmers and Bob Allison.
My room held something of a surprise: I was sharing with a lady – I’m not too sure who was shocked more. She was expecting to be sharing with a female, whilst I thought I had a room to myself! Anyway it all worked out fine I didn’t snore (obv) – and my room-mate didn’t snore (too much).
Next morning’s weather wasn’t quite as lovely as it had been of late, in fact it was a bit horribly wet. It was lovely to meet up with fellow Challenger Kirsten – we chatted whilst it rained all the more. I didn’t end up setting off until past 11am…..I like to talk.
At least by the time I left the rain had eased considerably, although it was a bit chilly. A huge hotel breakfast fuelled my fast walk. My route took me east (always a good choice when on the Challenge) by Black Corries, then by Loch Laddon.
Welcome to Black Corries
My intended lunch stop was Rannoch Station, but my late start meant that I’d not get there until late, so late that they’d be closed! A quick phone call to the cafe assured me of a bite to eat and a cuppa. And so it was.
It was lovely to once again catch up with Alex and Trevor Morgan, and also Bob Allison. The rather sad news was that Bob had decided to retire, he was waiting for the train to whisk him off homewards. Bob’s a good bloke, I hope he’s back next year.
A cheese toasty and a mug of tea sorted my hunger as I stayed to chat withBob until his train arrived. The weather by now was quite pleasant.
I left the station and headed to my planned camp spot for the night. It worked out okay, but with it being in forestry there were rather a lot of trees around. Surprising really, I mean, who knew? I really didn’t relish another battle with midges, but the temperature had dropped and there was a bit of a breeze – I was safe.
My late lunch / early tea meant I wasn’t overly hungry, so a quick meal of cous-cous with a sachet of tuna stirred in was just right: tasty and nutritious. It may just have been followed by a delicious pudding of squashed Eccles Cake and custard. Maybe.
Next morning I set out in mixed weather, but this is Scotland – if you don’t like the weather, stick around – it’ll soon change.
It DID change: I had rain, hail, wind, snow, and hot sunshine, all within a couple of hours. Situation normal…..for Scotland.
I’d been looking forward to seeing Corrour Old Lodge, but it was a disappointing ruin.
A walker was heading towards me, it was Frederic, a fellow Challenger. He was intending to go by Glen Tilt in a few days time.
Challenger Adrian was also walking towards Loch Ossian, he was going to Dalwhinnie, same as me, but via a far more circuitous route, I think by Rannoch Station. He was a bit concerned that he’d heard that the hotel at Dalwhinnie was closed – a food parcel was supposedly waiting for him.
I arrived at the south shore of Loch Ossian in bright sunshine. The last time I was here was on my 2005 Challenge, I remembered it being a grey day. It was also the day I met the lovely David and Margaret Brocklehurst – I was disappointed not to see their names on this year’s list of participants.
Onwards, through the immaculate Corrour Shooting Lodge Estate, I stopped for a breather, taking advantage of the shelter offered by a little hydro-electric power station. I’d only seen two Challengers so far that day – but then, within 15 minutes I was joined by 4 more – including the walking machine that is Hiking Aina. That girl puts in some serious miles!
I wandered upwards by Uisge Labhair to my planned camp spot, just below the bealach.
I had to hunt around for a flat, dry spot and eventually found a patch of ground that fitted the bill perfectly, on the banks of the river.
The weather was still changeable, but at least the rain held off.
A home-dehydrated meal of Turkey Korma (turkey dehydrates and rehydrates well, unlike chicken) followed by dried fruit and custard really hit the spot. I drifted off to sleep to the sound of running water.
Next morning dawned a bit grey and damp, nothing a rufty-tufty Challenger couldn’t cope with. I need to be that Challenger.
The weather soon turned wetter, not heavy rain, but that stuff that, given half a chance, would soak everything in sight.
Full waterproofs were donned – and they stayed on for most of the day.
It was a tug up to the bealach, but once up there the downhill bit had me speeding along. I hadn’t bothered eating, relying on a couple of mugs of coffee to kick-start my sorry backside into action.
I sat in the lee of the bothy to break out the muesli and enjoy a late breakfast.
‘Fast and Light’ decided to eat inside the bothy – at least they stayed dry!
I poked my head inside the bothy before I left, it was much as I remembered back in 2005, very comfortable. Such a shame about the asbestos problem, maybe the MBA can sort it – this fine organisation needs support to carry out it’s good work, you should join, donate, whatever.
I continued NE, in the wetness of the day, towards Loch Pattack (famous for curry sauces)...
The horses of Loch Pattack
....and then the descent to the ostentatiously tarted-up Ben Alder Lodge. Money, apparently, had been no object in renovating the place.
It was good to catch up with Barbados’s most famous son, William Burton, sitting by the lodge’s gate house. We were both heading to Dalwhinnie but continued separately. I needed to stop for a bit of a breather.
The road alongside Loch Ericht seems to go on forever, and it most certainly wasn’t flat – I’d forgotten that! It took an age to get to Dalwhinnie, but at least the sky had cleared and the rain had stopped.
5 miles or so later, Dalwhinnie, famous for Network Rail closing the level crossing, came into view. It was a bit of a faff finding the new crossing point, but knowing what I know now, I’d have continued to the crossing, gone through a gate onto the station platform and then crossed the track by the station’s footbridge.
I initially intended to camp in the grounds of the hotel, but by good fortune I booked a bed for the night at Lee’s very excellent Old School Bunkhouse – a very comfortable place to stop.
Dalwhinnie’s hotel seemed to operate very strange hours, it was most certainly closed when I walked past at 5pm – I hope Adrian managed to get his food parcel.
The hotel garden was now a a building site, absolutely no chance of pitching a tent there – and obviously no chance of a meal.
Other Challengers were also staying in the bunkhouse, including ‘Baby Croydon’, Mick’s daughter, Tracy. We teamed up for a few days – she was great company, she’s definitely her father’s daughter….just don’t ask her what her grandfather does.