I just know that on the night before I do anything like the TGOC, I sleep badly.
So, I decided to get up to Scotland a day early.
After only four hours sleep I drove the short distance to Tamworth station. My train was at 0630, but, we arrived at the station at 0610. Poor Barbara, my wife, is not an early morning person, so I was saying that I would catch a taxi to the station. But, she insisted on coming with me. Barbara left me and returned home to catch up on her sleep. My adrenaline kept me awake for the rest of the day.
The journey to Glasgow was uneventful. As usual, I popped in to Tiso's to browse around. One of the assistants had seen pre-Challenge folk before. He knew I was on the Challenge - a question from him confirmed this. I was looking, not buying. We had a brief chat before I left, empty handed.
There's time to kill in Glasgow. A Costa coffee and a Sainsbury's meal deal later I pitched up on Queen Street station. Here I met my first Challenger of 2012, John; talking to some folk doing the Cape Wrath Trail. I said hello, but didn't hang around to join in the conversation. Unusually, the Oban/Mallaig train was on the platform and folk were boarding.
The journey to Fort William went quickly. I was sat next to an elderly gentleman who regaled me with tales of times past. I particularly liked the one about his mother. She was in Dorset, on Army property. An officer came along and told her to get off. She replied: "Do YOU know who I am?" The officer went away. Soon after, another officer appeared, but, kept his distance. When she looked at him, he saluted. His mother eventually left in the opposite direction to that where she was told to go. The officer kept a discrete distance.
The views were good too.
He explained that his mother was a bit excentric. I don't think that she was royalty, however.
Fort William is a love it and hate it place. I checked in to Bank Street Hostel. I love the Grog and Gruel pub. I hate the twee tourist tat and general atmosphere of the High street. Later, I looked at the curry house menu and decided I didn't want to pay over the odds for a meal that I knew from experience was not as good as that in my favourite curry house: Rajrani in Coleshill. So, it was back to the Grog and Gruel for some more beers and a burger. I was knackered. Back early. A bit of TV and then off to sleep at 2130.
Thursday 10 May: Clambering over Crinklies
I slept well. I woke up at 0700. After a leisurely shower I popped out to get some breakfast.
As soon as I left the front door I saw Graham. Only, it was Keith. "Graham's the ugly one"
Keith, Bernie and Charles had walked Lismore with me last year after our Oban TGO start.
We had a good chat and Keith mentioned a trip to Torridon in August. Sounded good.
I dumped my gear in the left luggage place at the station and popped over to Morrison's for a full Scottish breakfast. I did see one TGO fleece and had a brief chat with Bob. The weather in Fort William was none to good, so I decided to catch the 1209 train to Lochailort.
I wasn't the only early TGO arrival. Robert too was ctaching the train.
The train was full of very mature ladies and gentlemen. Most had booked seats and most were still sorting out which seats they had booked when the train left the Station. It was heaving. Standing room only at the very front of the train. Still, not far to go.
Then came the annoucement that Lochailort was a request stop. Please let the Train Manager (guard in old money) know if you wanted off here. Oh, poo. I clambered over some very mature ladies and gentlemen all the way to the end of the train. And back. Then she said some platforms may not be long enough for the train to mate with them. Oh, poo.
And, yes, they were still sorting themselves out as I made another journey to the end. This was a two coach train - but, it should have been much longer to accommodate all the folk who had to stand.
Still, I did meet Frank and briefly said hello. And, there were one or two other Challenge folk on board, but, I was too busy clambering over crinklies to stop and say too much.
Lochailort Hotel stands in the middle of nowhere at the end of Lochailort. My room was palatial. After getting sorted out I made the obligatory trip to the seaside to wet my toes in the West water.
Then back to rest in my room before the main TGO group arrived off the 1710 train. What a great way to run up to the start of the TGO. There was Jim Davidson who remembered me from 2009. Lou and Phyllis said hello. A group of us sat round a table. Steve and Graham ( not Keith!) and I were joined by Graham Crowther and Joy and William Burton from the Carribean.
A good chat and venison curry preceeded a good sleep. The beer helped.
Friday 11 May: To Oban bothy
I was up early. Before breakfast I went down the road to get a mobile signal and the MWIS forecast for Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It was raining at Lochailort.
A good breakfast preceeded a 0920 start and rain for a while. Then it cleared up and remained dry for the rest of the day. The walk along the road was followed by a faint track up by Allt na Criche.
Then the track disappeared. It was supposed to go right and left, but, those of us who were heading off just took to the rough stuff. Par for the course in Scotland.
There was a rough up and down to eventually get to the bridge near Loch Beoraid.
The track from here to Meoble was a track. Meoble is just a small collection of houses at the place where the Allt Slaite Coire runs in to the River Meoble. From here a faint track to start led to the broad expanse that surrounded the Allt Slaite Coire. This was easy enough to follow right up to it's little lochan that marked the watershed area. From here down to Gleann Taodhail was rough ground punctuated by crags which had to be avoided. A herd of about 20 deer came in to sight and then just disappeared. The only life I saw, although I did hear a cuckoo.
There was a wet track down Gleann Taodhail and the walk down to Loch Morar was pleasant. The sky was blue with cotton wool clouds and I just knew that this year's TGO was going to be special. But, I forgot the forecast for Sunday - that I had managed to pick up down the road from Lochailort Inn.
Oban bothy is in a most exquisite place.
I was the first to arrive and after looking around proceeeded to make myself at home, upstairs. Then I explored futher and found a small room, with a wooden floor tucked away on the gound floor. So this was my resting place for the night. An impossing figure came in the door and asked a few questions. I thought he was the Laird of the Loch or whatever you call such folk. It turned out he was "Bill, number nine". Bill camped further up the way in the shelter of an old ruin. Then David arrived before Andy, John and Tim arrived. David and Andy camped outside, but John had a bed upstairs - an iron bed frame covered in plastic: very comfortable. Tim slept in the main room downstairs. Prior to turning in there was some good chat and Andy, John and Tim were to be at Laggan Locks on the Monday. I waxed fishily about the superb seafood on the Eagle barge and Tim wanted one of the same: a seafood fayre. This is what we were looking forward to.
I promised to book Tim a place.
Saturday 12 May: Sgurr nan Coireachan and Sgurr Thuilm - Pean Bothy
Saturday dawned bright and clear with cotton wool clouds and views to die for.
The way up to Sgurr nan Coireachan was on a fairly well defined stalkers path.
This wound it's way up to within striking distance of the top.
On the way I said hello to Bill, number nine, goodbye to Andy, John and Tim and hello to James. David was way ahead. James and I shared the path up and arrived at the summit to be greated by ice cold winds. No time for hanging around, although James did for a while. The walk over to Sgurr Thuilm was superb. Cold where the winds hit, but comfortable.
My route was to include a camp below Gulvain near Gualann nan Osna. But, I had seen the weather forecast for Sunday. Dire!
David was at Sgurr Thuilm and he too had planned to camp at the same place. But, he decided to cut across the Gleann Cuirnean and - I later discovered - went over Gulvain that same day. I continued down the NE ridge, through snow patches, at first and over Meall an Fhireoin to the bridge over the River Pean - my planned route. Then the plan had been to go back up to Gualann nan Osna.
Now my FWA on Sunday was down Glen Mallie. One look at the map told me this would not be a good idea. The forecast was for high winds and torrential rain. There were many many burns running into Glen Mallie.
So, Pean bothy was a welcome diversion before facing the 4 inches of rain and 80-100 mph winds that were to hit the tops the next day. I was joined by Alan, who had driven up from Oxford on a nostalgia trip. He carried an axe - with which to chop wood. It started raining that night.
Sunday 13 May: Invermallie Bothy
Torrential rain and high winds were presant for Sunday. The hills were swathed in clag and mire and my journey plan was simple. Along by Loch Arkaig and round to Invermallie bothy. I had been here early in April and found it hard to find fast flowing water. This month was to be just a little different.
The wind, thankfully, was behind me as I walked along the road. There were few cars, but these crept up on me and made me jump.
Ahead I could see 3 figures. I wondered if these could be Alan Sloman and Co., But they were so far ahead, I had no chance of catching them up. I stopped for lunch in a not very sheltered area and then this face enveloped in waterproof appeared. Er, er, umm... Mr Sloman! Then Andrew and Dave. So we walked on. I explained Invermallie bothy and they too decided this was a good place to head for.
After reaching the end of Loch Arkaig there is about a 3k walk back on the other shore. It was as dry as could be considering until the last few 100 metres to the bothy. We were wading through water up to knee deep. The track had been taken over by the river. The river was greedy and had taken over masses of land.
Then it was where's Dave?
He was behind. Oh, no. We'll have to go looking for him. The water was still rising and Dave was nowhere to be seen. Dave wasn't in the Loch, thankfully. He had taken the upper track and eventually cut down to the bothy, having waded waist deep. We were all wet and cold. Dave soon got into his sleeping bag to warm up.
The water kept rising. We went upstairs. The walls were letting in water. The front was letting in water.
This was the view out of the window that evening. We discussed how we were to get out of this. We discussed how much food we had left - and drink. And canibalism was mentioned.
Then the rain stopped, briefly. It rained again overnight, but, the river went back to where it should be. This is the same window on Sunday morning.
Then we saw the notice -below.
Monday 14 May: Laggan Locks
So, we read the notice in the morning. It did say that there was a way out avoiding the track which still had lots of water on it. We left late, but there was no rush. Alan, Dave and Andrew walked with me along to the end of Loch Arkaig. I then went off to Laggan Locks and they went off towards Spean Bridge.
There were a few showers on the way to Laggan Locks. I popped in for a pint on the Eagle and said hello again to Janet and Paul - the owners. I booked Tim a seafood fayre and then made my way to the hostel to collect my parcel and have a shower. James, Frank, Hein and Freddie were also in my room. I discovered that the Eagle was fully booked for the night. It only takes around 14 to 16 for meals.
Andy, John and Tim joined Frank and I at a table where good food was enjoyed.
Tim enjoyed his fayre.
Frank and I left quite late - without headtorches, but full of wine and beer. The walk back was dark and we were fortunate to get back ok. The front door was locked. Oops. Then Frank appeared on the other side of the front door. There was another way in. Sleep was sound.
Tuesday 15 May: the watershed .......to Garve Bridge
Back on plan. The route up from the hostel was kindly printed out for all TGO folk. The views back over Loch Lochy were stunning. The zig zags up through the forest eventually came out to the deer fence and the watershed route I had looked forward to.
The watershed was an expanse of peat and heather and wet bits. The views were great. Snow on the far hills. It took me a while to realise that the old rusty fence posts were strung out along the watershed. So, after some wandering around I used the posts as a handle to get me over. Teanga Bheag, Carn na Larach went by. Then on Carn Dearg I met two guys who were sheltering from a brief heavy snow squall. They thought I was a very keen Corbett bagger, but I explained that it just happened to be on my route across Scotland. They went off to climb Carn Dearg - the other one nearby. I set off down steep grassy, snow slippy slopes to the next set of water and peat and heather.
Lean nan Uan led to Poll-gormack Hill then Carn Leac.
The last steps to the Corrieyarick Pass were over fresh wet snow. It was cold.
I popped my head in to Melgarve bothy, but it was full. I said hello and goodbye and continued on to Garve Bridge. I had a very brief chat with Rob Slade and said hello again to Jenny (Headscalf) and David Albon. Later I said hello to Heather. Time was getting late and food was required, so I never got to say much more to anyone, including Sue Oxley who would later call me a traitor!
Wednesday 16 May: Newtonmore
Wednesday 16 May: Newtonmore
That night there was a cool breeze. I slept well and woke up late. Too late for a tilt at the Monadhliath Munros. So, a road walk to Laggan stores. It was a very cold start but the walk was made great by talking to John who was the Over the Hill Club co-ordinator and ex-mountain rescue. I will be winging an e-mail to him to pursue joining the OTH.
We parted company at Laggan stores. I went to the Monadhliath Hotel for a pint and chat with Australian tourists before a few more Challenge folk arrived. The walk to Newtonmore and my Hostel took me past Sue and Ali's new place. I aimed to check in to my Hostel and come back for coffee, cakes and a chat.
Instead Ali came running out, called out and then gave me a big hug and welcome invite in to their Hostel. Now, I should explain that I booked my Hostel with Lawrie before I knew about Sue and Ali and Neil getting their hostel. I thought it best still to dump my pack and come back. Later I came back with my pack as there was no one at my place. Ali was great. Homemade biscuits and cake with coffee. Ali's place was full and Ali was rearranging rooms to fit folk in. Rob and Jim were there and others.
My place. I was the only one there. Lawrie was great. He bade me Merry Christmas when he opened his door and gave me my parcel. I had a room, plus lounge with TV etc., I didn't know I was a traitor!
The Glen Hotel reception was superb. Ran up a tab straight away. Food was very good. Keith and Charles were there and I chatted to Andy, Bernard and Robert, one of whom was not on the Challenge - not sure who. Frank had been given a lift there from his B & B folk who sat with him and then gave him a lift back. I left at 2130 and went back to my lonely, quite Hostel.
Thursday 17 May: slight change of plan - to Glen Feshie
I got up at around 0600 as you do. It was bright. Too bright. It was white!
This was Newtonmore in the middle of May.
My high level route - over to Gaick Lodge and up and over to Spittal of Glenshee was not on. To get to Gaick Lodge involved a steep descent off from a 800m top. Oh, poo!
First thoughts - take a day off. Second thoughts, momentarily, take a train home. Third thoughts were a plan to get round to the East coast.
Umm, no maps. Kinguissie, Tromie Bridge, Feshie, White Bridge, Breamar, Ballater, Mount Keen, Tarfside etc.,
A call to Challenge Control. A plan agreed. Best buy a map.
The Post Office opened at 0900. I was there on the doorstep as it opened.
So, off to Ruigh aiteachain bothy. It was raining on and off most of the way. I rang Barbara and explained the snow and my diversion. I also rang the Clova Hotel to cancel my bunkhouse booking with breakfast that i had paid for. They would not refund my payment. Too little notice. (I came back to this later, when I got home).
04 June Update: After I e-mailed the Clova Hotel, a couple of days ago, I had a very pleasant conversation and it was agreed to refund my payment. I really loved my visit to the Clova hotel last year. I'm pleased to say I'll be looking forward to staying there again.
On route I met Russ Manion and Herman and later Dave and Andrea. There were others including Big John. The bothy was slowly being surrounded by tents and Trailstars - two. Loads of folk were Feshie-ing. Carl, Tim, John and Andy, plus Lynsey, Bill ,Mervyn, Keith and Charles were among loads who were enjoying the warmth of a good fire before most of us went out to a cold rainy night. Poor Frederick, a fellow Trailstar user, had his feet swaythed in plasters etc., and was struggling. But, every subsequent day I met him he was always smiling. (Bill Howden had helped him along - and he made it to Montrose ok).
Friday 18 May: Breamar
It had rained all night and there was sleet in the morning. A bitter cold wind was blowing straight into folk who slogged their way over to White Bridge and beyond. The rain got heavier, the ground got boggier.
The Allt Dhaidh Mor was angry and swollen. A brief walk up saw no safe way over. Back to the track. A Crocs crossing. A complacent Crocs crossing! I rolled up my trousers and my waterproofs, which soon started to hang down. I held two poles in my left hand and my waterproofs in my right. With boots slung around my neck I waded across. And ... slipped.
Left Croc went, arms went: somehow I managed to stay clear of the water and not go in completely. Arms up to elbows in freezing water. Water had entered the boots as they dangled from my neck. I was ok. Willem and Leendert were there on the other side along with Martin. Willem offered me a dry pair of gloves. Later Martin offered me some tea (at red House). My only thoughts - after thanking Willem for the offer - were to get moving quickly to warm up and get to the shelter of Red House. It took a while but warmth gradually came back to my hands and feet. At Red House i was feeling much better, especially after eating some mixed nuts and fruit.
I was thinking Mar Lodge and I was thinking the Fife. The Fife won. I by-passed Mar Lodge and steamed into the Fife at 1830. Russ Manion had told me they were doing good deals on rooms. They had no single rooms left but could do me a twin for £43 a night - I wanted two nights. I replied that I would feel better if they made it £40 a night. They did.
David Towers had popped out of the Bakers restuarant to say hello and come in. Instead I had a shower and was too late to join David. But, the Fife was packed with loads of Challenge folk. Keith and Charles, plus Gordon, plus Jim, plus Lynsey,(a first timer), Ian Sheil, plus others ensured a good evening. Much to my surprise John, who remembered me from 2009 came and said hello.
Saturday 19 May: Breamar
The Olympic Torch was arriving just as I woke up. It was at Lands End. I was on a day off in Breamar. Exciting. Later I sat on a bench and rang Barbara to catch up on her news. It was great to speak to her again. I felt really good.
I rang Challenge Control and found that 49 folk had pulled out - so far. A record number. Umm. I also thought it prudent to buy a map to get me to Tarfside.
It was a lazy day in Breamar. Loads of Challenge folk came in to town. Later loads of folk went up to the Moorfield Hotel for some Bingo Wings and great conversation. I even recognised Rob Hausam from having met him in 2009. We had a good chat. he was wearing a cuben fibre rain top. The rest of his gear was similar and weighed in around next to nothing. His footwear was Five-fingers!
Back to the Fife where Terry and Jane, Mick and David and I sat round chatting until 0130. The Fife did not serve drinks to residents after time. A good thing, as that last drink is always the bad one.
Sunday 20 May: Ballater and .......Summer
Imagine waking up to sunshine and warmth. This was Breamar in Summer. Yesterday and before was Winter. There was no Spring and this was Summer. Martin and I walked together for the day.
We had lunch at some pile down the road. I had a scone with jam and cream washed down with coffee. If you knew me, I do not like scones with jam and cream. But, I was on my Summer holidays.
It was mainly back road walking to Ballater and a lovely campsite. Bill was there - from Clova last year. Andy Howell was there with his lightweight Duomid and slightly heavier tripod. Bryan Waddington was pitched nearby in his Trailstar. Mick and Gayle were there and Russ, Herman and Kirsten rolled in, as did Dave and Andrea. There were others too.
The Hotel did great food for all including Alan Hardy, David Towers and many more. It was warm that night.
Monday 21 May: Tarfside
The forecast was for wall-to-wall sunshine. There was wall-to-wall sunshine. Martin and I set out for Mount Keen. My map was redundant.
There were signs on the way to say Mt Keen this way. The last bits of snow were disappearing before our eyes.
On the way, Jules caught up with us and soon disappeared in to the distance.
As there would be no signal in Tarfside I decided to phone in to Challenge Control to let them know that I was safe and others too.
That was Martin, Bill and Jules. I spoke to Steph and complained about the heat. Challenge folk have to find something to complain about.
The snow was still covering the Cairngorms. The views were stunning. The walk down to Tarfside was a follow the yellow (brick) road affair. The path was well made and very clear down to the Queens well.
Tarfside was amazing. Five other Trailstars were pitched on the site. I had a good look at Shap's Oooknest. Very impressive. Mark from Holland also had a chat. I had a meal outside my Trailstar before going over to the Masons to join Ron Moak, Jim, Jules, Martin and Bill among others. Bed at 2230. A good sleep.
Tuesday 22 May: Northwater Bridge
A superb breakfast in the retreat. Bill and Martin and I were joined by Sam and Colin. The walk down to cross the river was littered with poor dead rabbits. There was a sign saying slow down for wild life. We came across Jan and Chris relaxing in the sunshine before continuing to NWB. Martin stopped to cool down his feet, but, Bill and I continued on. First the Tuck Inn and Chilli Nachos with water and coke. It was sunny and hot. Over to Mace for some bread and cheese and pickle. But down to another store for some wine, as Mace had no drinks licence.
Then on to NWB. Thanks to Bill we avoided the long long straight road. Instead we went through the farm and turned off, after the Danger - No Entry sign, to walk round a field and cross that road. Then we went along a way to a track that ran parallel to the drag strip and brought us out about 200m from the campsite entrance.
Martin, Bill and I had a picnic on one of the tables. Good chats ensued and bed was warm and comfortable. No need for down trews here.
Wednesday 23 May: Montrose
Another hot and sunny day. A simple road walk to Hillside and then in to Montrose. Only, I didn't have a map and added about two miles to my journey by walking away from Montrose, before turning back.
On the way I rang the Park to enquire about any late cancellations. They had none. So, I asked about camping on their lawn. Later the mobile rang and i was told that that would be ok as long as I had a breakfast in the morning: £8.
I got to the beach just as Bill and Frederick were leaving it. My boots went in the water and my feet followed later. The rest of me thought about it, but it was ffffreezing!!
After checking in to Challenge Control and meeting the great team that had guided folk in, I was amazed to hear that 53 had had to drop out. By far and away a record.
The question for all was why? Was it that bad?
For me it was my third and most enjoyable crossing. Great folk on the way. Weather to remember and four seasons in 14 days.
I had to wait until the man had stopped mowing my pitch for that night.
Later, Jan and Chris, Jules, Martin and I boooked the Indian Garden for a meal and then went to the George for a couple of pints. Mervyn, Andy Adrian and sam joined us and cameover to the Indian garden too.
Thursday 24 May: Montrose
My room in the Park was worth waiting all morning for. Massive. The dinner was ok food and great company and the night was passed with pleasure. It was great to see folk like Nicole and Koos again - memories of Clova before the storm. There were loads of others to say hello to and with whom to share a few drinks with.
Friday 25 May: home
The TGO express left Montrose at 1022 and distributed folk to all parts of the world. Roll on next time.
PS: There were many people that I met and have mentioned. There were many more who I met and did not specifically mention. Probably because I was overwhelmed in trying to remember names. But, my thanks to all for making this my most enjoyable Challenge yet. You were all an integral part of this enjoyment.
Thanks too to Challenge Control. A few more grey hairs for the main man, a great team always there and always good to hear.
A special thanks to Barbara, my wife, for putting up with me swanning off to do this crazy venture and for being there when it was just great to hear her voice again.
Bye...... until next year, I hope.