Well, that was a nice stroll.
Getting there - Wednesday 11 May
Although I can get to Scotland heading north from Tamworth, I prefer to head south.
Barbara, my wife, drove me to Tamworth Station and I soon caught the train to Birmingham New Street.
Now I get Senior rail discounts, and because I book cheaper tickets well in advance, I was able to travel to Euston First Class.
I arrived at just before 1700. Time to kill. I decided to relax in the Virgin First Class lounge.
Time soon passed and I made my way to the Great Nepalese restaurant.
This had been recommended on the Caledonian Sleeper website. A good recommendation.
I had a set selection of dishes. They were delicious!
By the time I had eaten it was getting on for 1930. Time to hit the Bree Louise. A few pints in good company and it was time to board the 2115 sleeper to Fort William.
I had also decided to travel First Class. A more than wise decision in the light of what happened the next morning.
A couple of cans in the lounge car - the train starts off with 16 coaches - and back to my cabin for some music and a whisky nightcap.
I actually slept very well. Not my fitful sleep of previous years.
Thursday 12 May
The morning awoke heading by the side of Loch Lomond. Breakfast, which is included was in the lounge car. It was good, and coffee flowed freely. The views on this line are stunning. The train reached Bridge of Orchy and stopped. It stopped for a long time. We eventually arrived in Fort William 52 minutes late!
There was talk of pulling the Emergency handle - £50 fine. This could be shared out by the 6 of us in the lounge car area. (Full fare back if over an hour late). Instead we setted for the pro-active lounge staff giving us forms to claim back half the rail fare. We were in no rush, anyway. The form was posted in Fort William (vouchers were waiting for me when I arrived home).
It was hot in Fort William. So hot that the rail swing bridge near Corpach wouldn't work. We were put on coaches and driven to meet the train on the other side of the hot bridge (it was working OK later in the day). In theory we could have claimed half the fare. But, it was only £5-ish and not worth the bother.
Mallaig is a great little town.
This was the view from my bedroom window in the West Highland Hotel.
Mallaig is a popular start point and there were loads of TGO folk milling around on a superb hot day.
The evening was finished off with a great meal in the Cornerstone Restaurant with Rob and Shap.
Friday 13 May
The western Highlands had been basking in superb sunny, warm weather for over a week. There were still a couple of days of this left before a return to normal.
The 1015 ferry to Inverie was packed, with the majority of those on board being on the Challenge. It arrived in Inverie near 1100 - too soon for the Old Forge, which opened at 1200.
Some tried to find if it could be opened earlier. Others dropped into the coffee shop a little way along the front. Others, like me started our walk for the day. This was over Mam Meadail and on towards Sourlies Bothy where there were already quite a crowd of people.
It was tempting to stay and be sociable. There were going to be quite a lot more folk arriving who were on the Challenge.
Instead I continued on the superb stalkers path heading east, before I took the equally good stalkers path that struck up north into an idyllic flat area besides the Allt Coire na Ciche about 350 metres high. Here I pitched for the night.
My objective for the next day overlooked this superb pitch and I had the area to myself.
It was a tranquil night. A wee bit cool, but, I enjoyed the whisky, the music and a sound nights sleep.
Saturday 14 May
The sun was up before me. I packed up and was on my way by about 0800. Up pathless ground through Coire na Ciche to eventually reach the gully leading up to Feadan na Ciche and up a twisting faint path that eventually led to the summit of Sgurr na Ciche.
It was a superb day and at 1000 I was by myself on top of the first of three Munros that had thwarted me on previous trips.
Then I saw a figure emerge from the distance and said hello, again, to Shap.
Here's me on the summit.
Shap was much quicker over the hills than me but for the rest of the day we walked more or less together. Garbh Choich Mhor then Sgurr nan Coireachan were rough going and took a considerable time.
After An Eag time was running on and we both had little water. The only sensible action was to drop down the stalkers path that came up Glen Kingie and led to Sgurr Mor.
We found water lower down and Shap went on ahead of me to find a suitable camp spot further down Glen Kingie.
Having missed out Sgurr Mor my objective for the next day was Gairich. I looked around for a suitable camp spot where the path through Glen Kingie reached the Allt a' Choire Ghlais.
I nearly had my shelter outer pitched when I realised that there were sharp twig-like growths on the rough ground. I repacked and eventually made my way lower down to find the only viable camp spot - which happened to be where Shap had also pitched for the night. I apologised to disturbing his solitude. There were no other options by the burn.
Sunday 15 May
It was still dry and Shap continued on down Glen Kingie while I made my way up towards the stalkers path that would take me in the direction of Gairich.
The clouds were building up and there was a brief sleet shower when I reached the summit.
Here were two others who had come up from Loch Cuaich dam. They returned while I had a break and then headed down east to eventually reach the rough track south leading to the main track through Glen Kingie.
As you cross the River Kingie and head on to Glen Garry there is a superb camp spot by the bridge. Sublime. It was the only good pitch before Invergarry! I followed the track that continued past Lochan an Staic before crossing the Allt Choire a' Bhalachain and making my way through rough undergrowth and trees to eventually pick up the faint path that headed east through Glen Garry. It was rough and boggy and there was nowhere that looked good to camp. Greenfield was a possibility that turned out to be not on. And so it continued. Decision made. Head for Invergarry and Faicham campsite.
One or two did pitch by the rough track, but made the most of a bad situation.
I reached the campsite at 2045 after a 36+ k day including Gairich. The office was right at the back of the site, up a hill. The welcome was great and I was directed to my own little pitch not too far back down through the campsite.
It was late before I ate and then listened to music and enjoyed a wee whisky. And, tended to the hotspot on my right foot.
Monday 16 May
I was very late getting up. I was in no rush. I fixed my foot and stuck a plaster on it. (Other than change the plaster each day for a couple of days it didn't bother me).
A good easy day; road walking at first before walking by the canal and in to Fort Augustus. My B and B was at The Holt where Phil and Clare were my hosts for the second year.
There were quite a few Challenge folk around. I had excellent fish and chips and then joined folk upstairs in the Loch Inn. A very few pints were sunk by me. Sadly, neither the Loch Inn nor the Bothy had any real beer and the Guiness was very expensive. I had an early night.
Tuesday 17 May
This was to be the last day of dry weather for a while. A straightforward day through Glendoe and on towards Chalybeate Spring. Unlike last year, it was easy to cross the Allt Mor and join the few tents that were already pitched. A few others came along later. The wind remained light and it was a quite night with the usual music and whisky. We all kept to our own shelters.
Wednesday 18 May
The weather changed. The sometimes faint path by the Caochan Uchdach is a good handrail up to Carn na Ciche.
The weather remained dry but this soon changed after reaching Carn Dearg. A north-east wind and driving rain kept Frederick and myself amused as we worked our way along the Monadhliath skyline. After passing Carn Sgulain we continued along the skyline as conditions got worse.
Visibility was lacking and wind was blowing the rain straight at us. We reached Carn a' Bhothain Mholaich and proceeded to head the wrong way. I had estimated our time to reach the land-rover track before Carn an Fhreiceadain and when we went past this time, out came the GPS, and compass bearings were taken.
After ploughing through rough ground we eventually made it to the land-rover track that led down into Kingussie and a place in The Tipsy Laird - which I had booked by phone high up on near Carn Dearg.
We were late-ish getting there and I quickly downed a pint and placed my food order. Frederick and I shared a 6 bed room. Other Challenge folk were there and I thought they had eaten. However we all sat down at the same time and enjoyed a good meal. As last year, the host was a bit manic.
Thursday 19 May
The plan had been to stay high and continue walking along the high rolling hills towards Aviemore. The weather put paid to them. There was no obvious off-road route to Aviemore and it remained for me to road walk into Aviemore. The weather was OK, with some rain, but, nothing like on Tuesday. I arrived at Aviemore Bunkhouse around lunch time and was able to drop my pack in the Bunkhouse which didn't open until 1600.
I spent a leisurely afternoon doing very little, chatting to other Challenge folk and having a long conversation with Challenge control.
When I checked in to the Bunkhouse I was given a room where the only bunks were top bunks. I don't like top bunks. I went back and asked for a room with a lower bunk. It turned out there was one other in this room. Later, when I was asleep, two others arrived.
I had a shower and then had a superb meal in the Old Bridge Inn - really good! After, a bunch of us had a big table in the Cairngorm Hotel where Tweed were playing. Good conversation ensued and a great night was enjoyed.
It was a dry start to the day. The off road cycle path towards Cairngorm Lodge brought me out to the Cafe by Loch Morlich. Here I enjoyed a full breakfast with a coffee top up for £7.50. It was great. A bunch of us had left our packs outside. Then it rained and we all grabbed our packs to bring them inside. It was only a shower - the first of many. I decided that Bynack More would have to wait for another year as the wind was quite strong too.
Over towards Fords of Avon. I was walking with Steve as we reached the Refuge. Here we met Brad. Brad was heading towards Braemar, which entailed crossing the Avon. I have to say the River was the lowest I had seen it. Brad set out and then immediately dropped one of his poles. This floated down the river with Brad in hot pursuit. Luckily it became stuck on rocks about 100m down the river. Brad took off his shoes and socks and went in barefoot to successfully retrieve it.
He later crossed the Fords of Avon barefoot!
Steve and I made our way down towards Faindouran Lodge which had "re-opened" (it never closed - more a health and safety closure).
Here a bunch of us pitched for the night. Food and conversation were consumed in the bothy.
Saturday 21 May
It didn't take long before the rain got it's act together. Down the Avon it was OK, but after turning in to Glen Builg it was coming straight at us with a hard driving wind. This continued until we turned to join the track by the River Gairn. After what seemed like ages we reached the level "meadow" a couple of Ks past Daldownie. By this time the rain had stopped and the evening was quite.
Sunday 22 May
A straightforward walk in to Ballater. Sad to see so much destruction - months after the floods. The flood water had come in across the golf course and caused havoc. The caravan and camp site had not long re-opened. Just as I was about to pitch a massive hailstorm blew in with thunder and lightning nearby. The Indian on the Green was still closed. After getting to the Alexander Hotel late afternoon a few us had an early meal and stayed there to enjoy a few pints and conversation.
Monday 23 May
As folk were packing up, Steve, who had been pitched nearby bid farewell to a few of us. Then realised that he had left his tent standing while he was about to walk off......
The day started dry. I crossed the Dee and entered the woods that would lead me out just east of Ho of Glenmuick. From here it was a long uphill drag to Pannanich Hill.
I spotted the little man from way off and thought I had company, but all I had were fantastic views of the Cairngorms and Lochnagar and points east and south.
The weather looked like changing and as I made my way in to Glen Tanar I decided that it would be better to skirt Mt. Keen rather than made my way to Cock Cairn. A wise decision, in retrospect.
The rain was tipping it down in the nearby valleys and it wasn't long before it started in Glen Mark. By the time I reached Queens Well it was tipping it down and this continued until just before I got to Tarfside. Paths became rivers. When I entered Tarfside the rain stopped.
I was able to pitch in the dry.
Here I was pitched near Colin Ibbotson in version 2 of the cuben Tramplite and Paul Myerscough - in the only Silnylon version - Handmade by Colin.
The day had been very draining and after a couple of cans in the Masons I had a fairly early night.
Tuesday 24 May
Most folk had packed and been long gone before I was up and packed. I got chatting to Steve and breakfast at the Retreat seemed like a good idea. Instead of going via Mount Battock I decided to walk to the Fetteresso via Charr bothy. Steve and I made our way in to Glen Dye having been slightly misled by the new tracks. The result was a climb over two parallel fences and a bit of heather bashing to eventual bring us in to the Glen. This was a much more interesting walk than I thought it would be.
Charr bothy was busy with Challenge folk - one or two of whom decided to stay there for the rest of the day/night. We continued and entered the Fetteresso.
Some of the tracks were new. The old ones were rough. Last year, with the help of Ian Sommerville, I found a pitch down from the track going past Cairn Kerloch. Ian also found a pitch in the same area. I forgot that this involved a lot of heather bashing. Although I found a pitch - where I had camped last year - Steve had to go over 1k further to get a reasonable pitch.
It was rough, but I did have a fairly level pitch.
Wednesday 25 May
The walk through the forest tracks is reasonably straightforward. One track was blocked by a number of downed trees and involved a bit of a detour. The tracks got better and eventually threw me out at Mergie. From here, minor roads and some forest tracks eventually let in to Stonehaven.
I had phoned the caravan site on Monday and was told they were full, for campers. I pleaded a little and was told it may be possible to squeeze me in. But, when I got to the main square, I decided on a B & B. A late lunch in the Harbour hotel and a rest before an evening meal and a few pints.
Feet were dipped in the sea.
Thursday 26 May
The B & B did a superb breakfast. Then I strolled up to the station to catch a train to Montrose. I had a room booked in the Park. Loads of folk were milling around the Challenge HQ room. I had a rest in the afternoon, and, after a bit of indecision, decided to go for a curry. The usual curry house had had a fire and was closed.
There was one some way away, but it had been recommended. After a few pints in the pub in the main drag (forgot name) with Nils, Halvard and Kyrre we made our way to the restaurant. Can't find it on Google, but it was great. We did get into a bit of "banter" with a local who had probably had more to drink than we did. Of course, while we enjoyed a meal and the banter folk were tucking in to the Challenge meal and speeches. We missed it all. I did get back to meet folk after it was all over.
Friday 27 May
Caught the 1033 Challenge Express and eventually got home.
The weather to start was great. After that it was typical Challenge weather. Not so cold or as windy as it has been in previous years.
Four new Munros were climbed, as well as two I had already been over.
My gear choice was spot on for this, my 7th Challenge. The only major item I would change would be my Gossamer Gear Gorilla Pack. The slipping/twisting straps on this ruin an otherwise great pack. I am in line for a new pack, but it will probably be early next year before I get it.
I will do a more detailed run down on the gear I used, in the near future.
I met loads of folk, both old and new and because there were so many, I haven't even attempted to name them. They will know who they are - and they all have my thanks for their company
It's the Challenge community that makes the TGO Challenge such a great event.
It's the Challenge community that makes the TGO Challenge such a great event.