Wednesday, 17 December 2014

TGO 2015 How to feed a habit! (Award Winner!)


It was suggested I submit this piece for my Club Newsletter. At The Hill and Mountain Walking Club AGM on 8 November 2015 it received the Jack Griffiths Literary Award!

Check out the Club - which is affiliated to the BMC. http://othc1989.blogspot.co.uk/


The TGO Challenge is like a drug. Once you try it, you want more. And, the more you get, the more you want. This continues until you enter the heady realms of being a Leg-end! You slowly but surely get sucked in to the event. There is no escape. To resist is futile. 


I know one or two Leg-ends and they are wretched souls. No hope for them. Totally high on the event. Why, even this year, I will start in a western den of iniquity with a couple of Leg-ends and an aspiring-to-be one too. You can spot them a mile off. Especially if the aspirant is wearing his orange smock.


To help feed this habit they indulge in various recreational drugs. Whisky has to be near the top of the chosen substances, but, good beer is well up there. Lesser mortals indulge in that amber coloured stuff they call lager! Some even go to the lengths of bringing sloe gin. Suffice to say, these recreational drugs don't last long. It becomes imperative to keep moving towards the next fix. These suppliers are dotted across Scotland and the hardened Challenger will make a bee-line towards their suppliers. But, as you observe bees you do notice that they don't really keep a straight line. Same with Challenge folk. They meander across in some haphazard manner.


Someone, somewhere decided that the finish should be on the east coast. Wrong. It should be on the west Coast! Anyone who's done the Coast to Coast in the accepted manner rues the day they exit Cumbria. Start in Robin Hood's Bay and you have the magnificence of the Lake District to end your experience.


Same issue with the TGO - you leave the Cairngorms and run out of mountains- unless you count Mount Keen as a mountain. I suppose it is a Munro, but can it hold a candle to the mountains on the west coast? You can make your last day really count by finishing on Knoydart, or, the Five Sisters, or, any one of a number of interesting finish points. Much better than St. Cyrus! or Lunen Bay!


But there is a rational for starting in the west. You leave the wild lands and make your way to the east cost navigating as you go by staggering from wind turbine to wind turbine. These are very conveniently placed to enhance your experience and to make sure you hanker to get back to the west coast for some real wilderness - at least before they stick a wind turbine on top of Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan!


I mention the recreational drugs. These do give a sort of high. But there is another more compelling habit that needs feeding. 


Not content with recreational drugs, the wretched souls that leave the west coast in high spirits (usually from the party in the pub where they had a restless night's sleep) will aim to feed that other habit - climbing pointy bits. Now, climbing pointy bits is not compulsory in getting from A to B, but the amount of tortured thought that goes into getting over pointy bits does show how much of a habit this has become for some poor wretched souls.


Why, they even compete to see who can do the most pointy bits. Just listen to the tales in the Park Hotel. 


So, recreational drugs and the feed-on-pointy bits ensures that the wretched souls get to the east coast in a state of euphoria. They will have done their chosen pointy bits. They will have battled wind, rain, sleet, snow, hailstones, as well as a few squelchy bits underfoot - some even get so high that they try walking on water. They never learn!


Of course, no matter how much recreational drugs are consumed, and, no matter how many pointy bits figure in the plans of these wretched souls, there is always the bogeyman! The weather. The weather is essential in order to ensure that the euphoria that comes from hitting the pointy bits is realised. The fortunate will get their fill of pointy bits and will celebrate in the Park Hotel with a few recreational drugs. The ones who don't quite make their desires come true, will commiserate in the Park Hotel with a few recreational drugs. They all become as one as the evening wears on. Such is the way euphoria and melancholy are celebrated.


Whatever befalls these befuddled imbibers, there is only one way to go. 


Enter for TGO 2016.


Oh, yes..............

I'm Gordon Green and I'm addicted.

I've only got 18 big pointy bits on my wish list, as well as some long airy ridges ........... and, I won't be going over Mount Keen.

You'll see me in the bar at the Park Hotel. You'll have to guess how the bogeyman played with my head.




Thursday, 27 November 2014

Tramplite Shelter ..... more photos



NewImage


Thanks to Andy Howell - who had the first production model - there are some further photos of this fantastic shelter.

(My "Genius" post has the link to Andy's first Blog post on the Tramplite Shelter.)

I first saw the prototype of this shelter on Colin's Blog, some time ago. I then met Colin in Montrose and saw the shelter for real. Here is the Blog post:

http://www.tramplite.com/2013/10/myog-cuben-fibre-shelter.html#more

After a good discussion with Colin, I has no hesitation in placing an order for it. The only issue was that "it" had not been designed and tested and built.

Colin has developed and built a number of shelters over the years. The prototype that I saw was to be developed and refined .... and tested and further refined. The finished product that Andy now has, and others will get, has been thoroughly tested on Colin's last trip:

http://www.tramplite.com/search/label/Arctic%20Trail  (You can click on Part 1 too)

This shelter weighs 670 grms and needs 6 stakes.

Here are the additional photos:

http://www.andyhowell.info/trek-blog/2014/11/25/tramplite-shelter-more-images/

The attention to detail is just amazing.

Embedded image permalink

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Genius!


Andy Howell took delivery of the first of a limited run of Colin Ibbotson's Tramplite Shelter.

Here are his initial views.

http://www.andyhowell.info/trek-blog/2014/11/23/first-impressions-the-tramplite-tarp-shelter/

I feel privileged to be in line for the penultimate model.

Andy and Martin Rye @Rye1966 have used the term and I can only echo: Genius!

Delivery will be in January.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

A STORMY NIGHT (MLD Trailstar stars)



A STORMY NIGHT

At 3.30 am I put on my waterproofs. There
was no way I was going to sleep. My 
camping place was as planned - at the 
bealach below Stob Coir' an Albannaich,
high above Glen Etive. But the ground was 
waterlogged, meaning I'd had to triple-
stake three of my shelter's five main anchor
points - and now the wind and rain were 
swirling around the bealach, hitting the
Trailstar from all directions.
       Although I got into my sleeping bag and
bivvy bag I was afraid to go to sleep for fear
of waking up to find that my shelter had
been blown away: the Trailstar is a tarp! I 
stayed dry and reasonably comfortable until 
I decided to pack up at 6.30, delighted that 
the shelter had stayed up.
      I packed up in the storm before 
heading down to Loch Dochard and on to 
Kingshouse. That night, despite more strong 
wind and rain, and waterlogged ground, I 
slept warm and dry, secure in the knowledge 
that the tarp would stay up.
     Was I mad - not using a tent? No! Every 
night that I camped I was dry, warm and 
comfortable. My shelter was light, spacious
and easy to put up. And it coped with the 
exceptional weather that marked the 2011
TGO Challenge.
     Would I use it again on the Challenge?
Definately, but next time I'd take longer
and stronger stakes!
Gordon Green (Challenger 117)

This was published in the October 2011 issue of the TGO Magazine (The Great Outdoors Magazine)


 At the bealach
 At the bealach
Near Kingshouse

My account of my 2011 TGO Challenge - from Oban to St. Cyrus - is here:

http://aktovate1.blogspot.co.uk/2011/06/my-2011-tgo-challenge-from-oban-to-st.html

In 2011 the MLD Trailstar was still a relatively new kid on the block. Although it had been on sale by Mountain Laurel Designs for some years before, it hadn't become fairly common place in the UK. I got mine in July 2010 after reading an excellent review by Colin Ibbotson:

 http://www.tramplite.com/2012/02/reviews-test-post.html

Now Trailstars are a much more common place shelter on the hills. The design is superb and the MLD Trailstar now has a reputation for being able to cope with very stormy weather. In 2011, I must confess, I was not so sure on that second night of the TGO.





Monday, 23 June 2014

TGO 2014 - some very good gear was used


On this year's TGO I used a few new pieces of gear.

Here are my comments on a few that proved to be very good.



First there was my new As Tucas Cabietos Hoody.

https://astucas.com/en/clothing/cabietos-hoody

I wanted this hooded base layer because I've found that wearing a hat, especially under a

 waterproof, is too hot. This fitted me very well and the arms were plenty long enough for me

even though I'm 188cms tall. The arms easily pulled up when it was too warm. It was

extremely comfortable. When it was windy I just pulled the hood over my head - no faffing

around for a buff or my OMM beanie. I wasn't sure how much I would use the hood. I ended

up using it quite a few times. I wore it every day and night and, when I found my PHD down

hat too warm at night, I just pulled up the hood.



As Tucas offer a developing range of innovative gear as well as being able to custom make

gear to meet specific requirements. Marco offers a first class service and kept me well

informed on progress before the Cabietos was delivered.



My new Thermorest Xlite saw me break my "it has to be foolproof and unbreakable"

approach to gear. I had read very good reviews and decided to go for it. It was a wise

decision. Unlike the original Neoair, the Xlite stayed inflated all night (and all day on

subsequent trips where I was pitched for a couple of days). I bought the regular length and

found it to be very comfortable. The reviews were right and my old cut down Ridgerest is

retired to the gear cupboard.

I've already praised the Rab Boreas Hoody and on the few times I did use it, this year, it

worked really well. It proved to be a fairly warm, dry, TGO this year and it did spend more

time in the pack than out.



Then there was the Hi-Tec Zuuks. These were heralded as being better than Crocs for

carrying and using on river crossings. I wore my La Sportiva Raptors for walking and

crossing any wet bits. But, the Hi-Tec Zuuks were ideal around camp or in B&Bs etc. They

did scrunch down to fit in my pack and they were exreamely comfortable - especially for

my poorly feet (that I mistreated and paid the penalty for doing so).

All the other gear worked well as expected.





Anyone who reads this Blog will know that I'm passionate about PHD gear. My Alpamayo

Smock worked well as usual, although there was less rain than on previous TGOs.

My MLD Trailstar was outstanding, as usual. Over the four years since I bought it, it has

proved to be ace for backpacking in all weathers. I used my new Borah Gear Side Zip bivy

and this proved to be much better than my old Ti-Goat Ptarmigan bivy.




I'd love to have a lightweight inner for the Trailstar, but, I'm just too tall to fit one comfortably.

Then, of course the weight of the Trailstar and inner nudges up the scales.



There will be a change to this situation around the New Year and my Trailstar could well be

looking for a new home.

More on this at the time.




 


Saturday, 31 May 2014

TGO 2014 Ardrishaig to Montrose


Getting there

As usual, I did not sleep well on the Wednesday night, 7 May.

Anticipation, excitement, fear?

Whatever.

I had to catch the 0830 train from Tamworth to Crewe on Thursday 8 May. Not too early.
Barbara, my wife drove me to the station and the train arrived on time.

Crewe meant a brief wait until my Virgin train arrived to whisk me to Glasgow. I had booked first class and requested a forward facing seat. My reserved seat was backward facing. But, this didn't matter as the carriage was virtually empty and I had a forward facing seat all the way. It's good going first class as you are fed and watered throughout the journey. The toilet talks to you: "Please don't flush (stuff) down the toilet, including hopes, dreams or goldfish"

I had booked on the 1400 coach from Buchanan Street Bus Station. The train rolled in a bit late, at around 1325. But, no problems. It is a short walk to the Bus Station and I got there well in time.

There were a number of folk wandering around with packs on. None were obvious Challengers. Except one, but we didn't speak to each other. We did, however, board the same coach. Jeff sat well down the coach and I didn't see him again until we arrived in Ardrishaig.

Now, I don't like long coach journeys. But, when I saw there was a loo on board I relaxed. No one used it. Instead, we had a break at Inveraray. Time for folk to smoke and pee; not necessarily at the same time. I don't smoke, but the pee was welcome. I was to be coming through Inveraray on Saturday 10 May. There seemed to be a few feeding and drinking places. The coach continued to Furnace where I planned to be on the Friday night. Not much there, and the pub had closed down long ago (the owner made more income selling food from a mobile van, but, not in Furnace itself). Lochilphead was the next stop and not long after the coach rolled into Ardrishaig.

I got off and realised that Jeff was a Challenger. He asked the coach driver where the Grey Gull Hotel was. We chatted for the short walk to the hotel and checked in.

 



Ardrishaig was the staring point for 7 Challengers. Diane had signed in and disappeared up the loch to camp. After touching the waters I had dinner and a few beers with Jeff and later Charlie and Thomas Coombs arrived. We had a very brief chat; it turned out Thomas was the youngest on the Challenge this year. I never saw Hein and only met Colin on the Friday, later on. We all retired to our rooms fairly early.

Other start points were a bit busier.

Friday 9 May Ardrishaig to Furnace

Some walking and some talking and some birdwatching.

I left the Grey Gull by myself and started the easy walking along the Crinan canal.

 


Some time later I looked round to see Jeff in the distance. I ambled along to give him time to catch up and we eventually got to the hotel in Cairnbaan which did us coffee and tea while a heavy shower rolled by.
We let it pass and then continued by road, then tracks and paths towards Carron bothy.
The way to the bothy was not easy and the Vetters had at one time tried various routes before coming up with a prefered route through the forest. (The path on the map did not exist). We ignored the advice. Well, there had been some tree felling and a rough, no very rough, track going in the general direction of the bothy. This proved none to be good, with no obvious way ahead, so Jeff and I went over to the River Add and followed this for a few kilometres. Not easy going between the river and the fence, but, do-able. After some rough and, almost, tumble, we got sight of Carron bothy and also of a figure that was turbo charging up behind us. Hello, Colin.

 


We had a break in the bothy. Colin did stay at the bothy that night. I had been advised that my first day was too long at 34k, but it was relatively early and I decided to press on, as planned to Furnace. It had been good walking the day with Jeff. He was into bird spotting and I had an education in some of the species that were to be seen. Wheatears have a white bum, I think.



The day was punctuated by a few showers. We left the forest path to emerge onto a track and without too much effort got to Furnace at around 1930. Jeff asked some lads, who were playing football, if there was a B & B in Furnace. There were 2 - maybe 3. The first was full, but, the next in the road was Maggie's and she had a twin room we could share.
Maggie was a hostess with the most-est. She explained that the pub was closed but gave us two bottles of lager each. I had 100mls of whisky too.
A chance for a shower and some TV before a good night's sleep.

Saturday 10 May Furnace to Shira Dam

Leaving the hustle and bustle of the West coast.

Breakfast at Maggie's was superb. Maggie runs a restuarant in Inveraray. She even offered us a lift to Inveraray. We declined.

Just after we left Maggie's we met Diane outside the little local store. We had a brief chat and left her having her store bought breakfast. The walking was easy along a track which ambled along parallel to the loch.

 


Not a good place to be a teddy bear.



We wandered through the caravan park and as we made our way over the golf course, turned round to see Colin making rapid progress along the road. We didn't see him again that day. It being Saturday Inveraray was busy, but, we had a couple of pints in the George Hotel. Jeff was staying in Inveraray and I left him looking for a room.

There had been a few showers in the morning, but, the afternoon was dry. After a busy road walk out of Inveraray I left the traffic behind and made my way up Glen Shira. Effectively road walking most of the way. It was very quite, though.




This sign was a warning? What could you do? It turned out to be a no shooting day. Thinking about it, it was probably just to say - don't ring the police if you hear gunshots. But, this was not obvious.


The road wound up a steeper and twisting set of curves before running up to the dam.

It was quite up by the dam and I found a good pitch under it.

 


Not long after I pitched, and, just as I was preparing my meal near the power station, a heavy shower started. I had to retreat to my Trailstar.
Water was from a tiny outlet about 10 minutes walk away down the road. After the shower it became fairly still and I had a quite peaceful night.

Sunday 11 May Shira Dam to Beinglas Farm

Remote walking finished off with a multi-national meeting place.

After a good night's sleep I woke up to a bright dry sunny day. It got cloudier and there was little wind for the rest of the day. The route to Beinglas Farm was initially by the Loch, before heading over the the start of the Fyne. This is remote desolate county and I didn't see anyone until I got close to Beinglas Farm. Visability was very good and the way onwards was following a number of concrete water collectors that sat on the 350m contour. There were a number of faint paths later on and I took one in the general direction of Glen Falloch and some sheepfolds. I soon lost the paths and took a bearing towards the pylons that strode across the Glen. It was rough and wet, but, I caught sight of the sheepfolds and the track that would wind it's way down - to eventually bring me out near Beinglas Farm.

Beinglas Farm is popular with West Highland Way folk and there were a few tents on the site. Last time I was here was on LEJOG and it was much quiter. I looked around for a suitable pitch. The ground was stoney in places and soggy in others. Just as I decided to pitch on some soggy ground (the Trailstar needs to be well anchored and on stoney ground this would be hard) it started to get very windy and a heavy hail shower blew in. This was to be the start of a very wet night, although there was a brief period when it didn't rain. Time to get to the Drovers and back.

The Drovers did good beer and the food was ok. The staff were all in kilts and the tables were lit by candles. A potential hazard to avoid. It was just about the right side of being a send up. Good for the tourists. I was joined at my table by 3 members of a St Albans walking club. There were 14 in total and all were walking the WHW - staying in accommodation and having their gear transported from place to place. What cost? I didn't ask, but not for me. Two Americans joined the group and put their twang on events. They too were taking it easy. I finished charging my phone and headed back to the campsite. It started raining and this continued all night. At least it wasn't windy. I slept well, but it was still raining in the morning and the ground was super soggy.






Monday 12 May Beinglas Farm to Strathfillan Wigwams

This is after all a holiday.

It was a very wet and sodden time packing up. It was also fairly warm. Waterproofs on ensured a not so comfortable walk along the multi-national highway. Still, no problem route finding. Not long after leaving Beinglas Farm I heard my name being called and Colin came striding up to me. He had camped near the big water pipe in Gleann nan Caorann. We had a brief chat, but, there was no way I was walking at his pace and he soon disappeared into the distance. I know he turned right to Crianlarich, while I went straight ahead.

The rain continued until late morning. I made good progress and got to Auchtertyre at around 1330. My intention had been to camp by some sheilings about 1.5k up Gleann a' Chlachain. But, it was early and I discovered that I could get a wigwam for £20 for the night.



These are pretty basic, but have heating - of sorts - and power points. And, Tyndrum was a relatively short walk away - about 45 mins. The Fish and Chip shop in Tyndrum is really good and I washed this down with a pint of beer from across the road. It was a bit costly and the pub lacked any atmosphere. There was a big group of WHW walkers in one area - including the folk I talked to in the Drovers. Other than them, no-one. They guys did say hello, but they were back to their group fairly soon.

So, 4 Green Welly supplied bottles of beer made their way back to the Wigwams where they joined some music and relaxed the night away. Gear was dried and I was refreshed.

Tuesday 13 May Strathfillan Wigwams to Bridge of Balgie

This day was a mistake. I paid the penalty. Sorry, feet.

The track wound it's way up from the wigwams and on into Gleann a' Chlachain. The area of the sheilings would not have been a good place to camp, although there were some spots down by the Allt Gleann a' Chlachain that looked ok.
Near the top of the glen I decided to head for the Bealach Ghlas-Leathaid rather than head for the tops. Then I saw some fresh footprints and soon after came up to David and Margaret Mitchell walking with Bob and Marlyn Simpson. Marlyn explained that Bob had recently had an operation on his heart, but, was passed as ok to do the Challenge. Not sure if I would.
From the Bealach it was rough going down eventually to the track that hugged the 400m contour for many Ks until it reached the rough road coming up from Kenknock. A brief shower came and went and I reached the road fairly early. Here is where I made my mistake.
I decided to press on for Bridge of Balgie. This was a further 19k on roads, albeit quite roads. Road walking without much break puts a lot of heat into your feet. I knew the rules: have a few breaks to air your feet etc., But, I didn't; and, after a while my feet got hot and little sore spots developed. I carried on. Bridge of Balgie would see me a day ahead of myself, but, with sore feet - that would not go away.
Bridge of Balgie hasn't got much to offer. I crossed the bridge and turned down a track that led past a big field - about the size of 6 football pitches. I continued on this track to the Scout Adventure Centre. It was totally deserted. I filled my platypus with water from an outside tap and made my way back. There were some good camp spots near the Centre, but too close. Back to the big field. Down near the river, by a high fence was the perfect sort of pitch. Short dry grass and level. Out of sight of any houses.
Here I made myself comfortable for the night. There was only a light breeze and, after my meal and music with whisky, I had a really good night's sleep.

Wednesday 14 May Bridge of Balgie to Kinloch Rannoch (Dunalastair)

Corbett baggers have my respect. My feet take in some comfort.

I must have been really tired, as I didn't wake up until just before 0800. I set about preparing my hot chocolate and breakfast bars as well as putting a few bits of first aid on my feet. Mainly my right foot. One slight sore by the outside of my heel. One bloody blister under my little toe and a white, slightly mushy area under my big toe - that weeped a little. Just one sore spot on the outside heal of my left foot. Any bulges were pierced and the first aid kit was well raided. I don't get blisters - unless I'm so unwise as to put in a long day of mainly road walking. My own fault!
As I slowly got ready to go, I heard a tractor. Only, this was fairly close. I looked round from the front of my Trailstar and sure enough there was a tractor spraying grey ash like stuff over the pristine green grass. It was some way away. I hastened my packing, but it got closer and closer. At one point it disappeared for a while. But, it only went to re-load with more ash like stuff. The slight wind was blowing this stuff my way.
I decided to talk to the driver. He was ok. I explained that I would be gone in around 20 mins and he said he would go to the far side of the field well away from me. No danger of sniffing the grey ash, thank goodness.
I left the field trying, without sucess, to avoid walking over the grey ash. My trail shoes did not disintergrate. The first 15-20 minutes were walked with my feet getting themselves comfortable. Then, with my feet over their complaining, I proceeded up the track, parallel to the Allt Ghallabhaich until it turned off towards Meall Glas.




I don't know what makes this humane, and I would not like to think what happens if anything is caught, but put up a I'm alright sign and you are a good guy?


Instead of heading directly to Meall Glas I followed the faintest of tracks that made it's soggy way over between Meall Glas and Beinn Dearg. The top of the track was a broad ridge and I was soon at Beinn Dearg.


 
The Munros are one way of seeing Scotland, but start doing the Corbetts and you are into a totally different way of getting around. Munros are fairly well trod in comparision to Corbetts and Corbetts take you into areas where you'd be lucky to see anyone all day. I didn't see anyone as I made my way towards Carn Gorm. This entailed a steep descent and then a steep climb out of the bealach that led to Point 918. Then it was easy going for 2.5k to reach Carn Gorm. A good spot for lunch. Nobody in sight. Fantastic views.








After lunch I made my way onwards towards Meall Gharb and met the first and only person I was to meet until I got to Kinloch Rannoch. We had a good chat. He had met another Challenger on his way to Shiehallion. He was on his way to the Corbett I had come over: respect.


 Meall Gharb gave great distant views of Shiehallion.



Shiehallion is well know for being so distintive and visable for miles..
Meall Gharb was the starting point for my descent towards Kinloch Rannoch.

 



After about 1.5k of rough downhill I joined the track in Glen Sassunn. This made it's way down towards Kinloch Rannoch, which I reached at around 1700. Now, it was early and I knew about the camp spot near the memorial. But, I thought - what about a B & B?

 

I popped into the Post Office/Store and popped the question to the lady behind the counter.
Talk about going the extra mile to be helpful. There was no B & B in Kinloch Rannoch. The hotel, just over the bridge was closed. But, she knew Jim, down the road had a B & B. She rang him for me, explained she had a single walker looking for a room and then put me on to Jim. Jim Wilson and his wife, Tina, run The Gardens B & B which was some 4 miles (!) down the road. My feet were none too happy, especially, as I had to decline the offer of Jim coming to pick me up. At least the 4 miles walked were in the right direction and took 4 miles off the next day. I got to The Gardens around 1845. It wasn't quite 4 miles and the roads were quite. Sure enough, it was tucked away from the road some 400m down a track.
Tina showed me to my rooms. Rooms, as in bedroom, bathroom and lounge with TV.
The house had originally been 4 cottages and Jim had bought them to transform them into one big house.
And, there were other Challenge folk staying: but, I didn't see them until the morning. Margaret and David Brocklehurst as well as Bernard and Margaret Fowkes. Bernard and Margaret had pulled out of the Challenge, as Margaret had hurt her leg. They were still driving to the various places they had booked for the Challenge crossing.
I pampered myself and sorted out my feet, ready for the next day's punishment (sorry, feet!)

Thursday 14 May Dunalastair to Blair Atholl

Back to the not so civilised world with a hotel to die in.

After a few Ks of road walking towards Tummel Bridge, I turned off onto a minor road that then led me to a track heading for Easter Bohespic. Never found out why it was called this.
The track led me East with some great views over Tummel Bridge.
 











Sheihallion still took centre stage until the descent towards Blair Castle.

I reach Loch Bhac. There appeared to be no way around the Loch and I thought I'd have to go back some way. But, just a few metres back I saw the waypost  that would get me out of the woods and over the expanse of heather that was host to a faint path, before a more distinct track that took me to Balnansteuartach. From here a track ran parallel to the busy A9 until I was able to cross the road and find the footbridge that led me in to Blair Athol.

 


I had a parcel waiting for me at the Blair Castle campsite. I also had sore feet. Thinking that a good bed and a good meal would help my poor feet, I came across the Bridge of Tilt Hotel. If you are ever in this area - don't!
I was shown to my room where I dumped my pack, noticed there wasn't a TV and headed down to reception on my way to pick up my parcel. The young ladies in reception said they would have the TV back before I came back. Good.
I picked up the parcel and came back to my room. The TV was there; no remote control. "Oh, someone took it, but, the buttons on the side operate it OK." Well, no, the buttons were on top and even standing on a chair, were hard to see. And the TV had not been re-tuned in!
I was not happy. I wanted another room. At first I was offered a chalet room, but, when I came down with my pack I was told room 9 was now allocated to me. This room was OK with three beds and did have a big TV with remote control. There was no shampoo - "we don't supply shampoo".
I went down for a meal. This hotel is a coach party hotel - big mistake. I sat away from a coach party and ordered steak and a bottle of wine - the one that was about five down on a list of six. "Sorry, we've only got Merlot". I asked to keep the cork for the bottle: "we need this to know what we've sold". Erm, just make a note. I had a glass and eventually took the wine back to my room - with the cork. The steak was good. The chips had been fried to death and the veg was ...............
Breakfast was crap too. Poor presentation and cold baked beans. I heard a couple behind me complaining about the TV in their room not working and checked: it was not the room I was first in. They were staying for 3 nights. I just wanted out.

Friday 16 May Blair Athol to Tarf Hotel

Back to where I had last arrived pretty much exhausted. - and a good social night.

The day was very windy, but dry. Not a day for going over the tops. I followed the signs for Glen Tilt and had a fairly easy walk up towards Falls of Tarf. Richard Will caught me up and we talked for a few minutes before I headed off towards Tarf Hotel, the bothy by the Tarf. My original plan was to camp by the Falls of Tarf, but I wanted to get to the Tarf Hotel. It was early, and I wanted to get there feeling somewhat better than when I was last there (knackered after a wet trudge from near Gaick Lodge).
I crossed the river to meet Martin Banfield coming down the Tarf and later met Andy Wright.





 



Marcus and Phillip crossed over for a brief chat before I made my way to the bothy. Greg and Dougie were locals who were up for the night before walking back over the tops the next day. Peter (Kenyon?) and Barbara camped outside along with Ellie and Derek Goffin who were not on the Challenge. Derek had come to Langdale some few years ago to look at my Trailstar. He never did buy one.
I had the middle room and Greg and Dougie were next door. My room had a table and it was here that we all ate. A fire was soon flickering away and music was randomly pumped through a little speaker that Dougie had attached to his phone. Whisky was consumed and conversation enjoyed until it got quite late. I slept well. My feet forgot to complain - much.

Saturday 17 May Tarf Hotel to Spittal of Glenshee

History repeats itself and I throw up.

I left the bothy early to be greated by a dry and bright day. I'd said bye to Greg and Dougie and immediately waded across the Tarf to pick up the faint track down on the other side. I passed Derek, Ellie and Co on the way down towards Falls of Tarf. The map showed a track, but it was trackless over heather and scrub before descending back in to Glen Tilt.
I missed the obvious track leading to Fealar Lodge and took a sheep track running over a steep and deep cutting. I concentrated and was OK, but, when I heard, later about David Albon's fall, I realised how lucky I had been.
I reached Fealar Lodge and took the right path SE towards Spittal of Glenshee. The day got colder and heavy rain soon ensured that I would arrive in Spittal of Glenshee much like I did the last time I was there. Wet, with sore feet. No chance of doing any Munros on the way.
I even sang 10 green bottles, like I did last time. And, I was in good spirits.
The hotel had for weeks been impossible to contact. Just an answer machine. But, it was open. It was also the finish point for the Cateran Race. 56 miles of hard running, or, 112 miles for 8 runners that started the night before! It was full, as was the back lawn where I had camped before.
I had  spotted Gulabin Lodge had rooms. When I hobbled in to the Lodge it was deserted. I knocked the door of the adjacent house and got the phone numbers for the Lodge (moblie and land-line). These I rang and got an answer machine. Darren, who ran the Lodge rang me back and told me which room to stay in. I gave him my card details and made myself at home. I did see two others in the Lodge, but I had a room of 4 beds to myself. I never met Darren. I could have stayed there without paying if I had had the nerve and cheek!
The hotel was doing food: a buffet. This started at 1900. When I went to sit down Alan Jordan said hello. I must confess, I didn't recognise him at first. It was great to meet him again. We chatted and then made our way to the buffet. It looked good and tasted good. I had pate, followed by fish, and, steak pie mixed together by me - and some veg. We chatted futher before I headed back to the Lodge. Just as I lay down, I felt that feeling - I'm going to throw up! I made it to the loo; twice that night - and spewed up the good (not so) meal I'd thought I enjoyed. I did sleep well after.

Sunday 18 May Spittal of Glenshee to Clova Hotel Bunkhouse

Mayer and Driesh, via Monamenach, and an airy stroll down to Clove from the tops.

Getting started was hard. I was hobbling for the first 20 minutes. Then my feet forgot to complain so much and I embarked on my best day of the 2014 Challenge.
I took the track leading towards Black Hill, but ended up heading up to Monamenach, via Glack of Glengairney. Another Corbett, and another remote hill. The way down to Dalhally was a faint track and OK. I messed up finding my way here. The house said "Private" so I went looking for the right way. I soon realised that I had to walk past the house, through the "Private" gate. Route finding was easy. Follow the track to Mid Hill and then on to Bawhelps.




From Bawwhelps to Mayer was a long way round the watershed overlooking Mayer Burn. There was a fence most of the way and I didn't see anyone until I got close to Mayer. The wind was very strong. Not enough to blow over, but, enough to make it not so easy making progress. I remember too, hanging on tight to my map in case it blew away.





At last, I reached Mayer; No: 205 on my Munro list.




And, Driesh was No: 206 on my Munro list. My forth Munro on this trip.


There were a few people about, but, after I left Driesh I had the hills to myself. Hill of Strone led me towards Cairn Links, before a steep descent towards Cairn of Barns.
At the bealach, I aimed down towards Clova Hotel.






Glen Clova was magnificent.


I arrived at the hotel feeling on top of the world. My feet were tired, but, had worked well and I was looking forward to a good meal and a few pints. But - the meals were fully booked! Oh, go on - just one. OK ..... at 1945. They stopped doing food at 2000.
I made my way to the bunkhouse and heard Julie Harle before meeting Steve and Alan. I had a room to myself. Weird bunks - made for midgets able to perform contortions.
The beer was good and the 4 of us had a good chat in the bar. Steve, Alan and myself had great food (they made the effort to serve the three of us) - well presented and an example (take note Bridge of Tilt Hotel) of how to keep the customers satisfied.

Monday 19 May Clova Bunkhouse to Tarfside.

How to get lost and how to ensure survival of my feet.

I left the bunkhouse after Julie and Steve. The day was dry but it got very misty on top. This mist made for some interesting navigational challenges and I met them with my usual - oh, hell! I got to Muckle Cairn through the mist and over electric fences. There followed, East Cairn, Wester Skuiley, then Skuiley. I only saw Skuiley and caught sight of Loch Lee. I think I spent about 20 extra minutes sorting out which way to go as I went onwards from Muckle Cairn.
I decided to drop down to Loch Lee and walk along the shore track that would eventually send me in the direction of Hill of Rowan and on to Tarfside. Just before I got to St Drostans I was caught by Martin, Mole and Andy. They were just a bit more sprightly than me. I must admit that after the magnificent walk over to Clova, my feet had suffered quite a lot.
St Drostans is fantastic. A great welcome. I had 2 bacon sandwiches and booked a meal for later. I also took a room. The weather was good, but I was not so good (my own fault!).
I had a shower and hobbled back for the meal: for me - baked potato and beans with cheese. Delicious! Loads of folk were there, including Rob Slade, Jim Davidson and David Milton.
The Masons was in good swing when I got there and met some folk I had wanted to meet including Alan Raynor and David Williams - fellow Bloggers. I left fairly early for a good night's sleep; hopefully. It wasn't and I woke up a few times in some pain (sorry, feet).

Tuesday 20 May Tarfside to North Water Bridge.

I will not go to St Cyrus...................

The restorative powers of a bacon sandwich and a cup of coffee were tested to the full and after saying goodbye to excellent hosts, I left St Drostans with David Williams. At first I kept pace with him, but, this didn' t last for long.
Strangely my feet were past the worst. I was none too bad making my way to Edzell. I popped in to the Panmuir for a pint and then down to the Tuck Inn for a good meal. Susan and David Tooth were outside when I arrived and Mervyn popped his head out of the door.
North Water Bridge eventually reached, I settled down for a quite evening. Most folk stayed in their tents as there was a chill breeze blowing.

Wednesday 21 May North Water Bridge to Montrose.

I didn't go to St Cyrus ..... and my feet were anticipating the end by feeling much better.

I was the last to leave NWB at 0830.
I was in Montrose at 1200.

 


 A great welcome and I met loads of folk; too many to mention.
I made my way to the campsite and found a tiny area had been put aside for Challenge folk.
I pitched under the trees, near Rob ....and Joe Valesko and Co., Shap and Andy and Mole were also nearby. It was a good set up and luckily no tents were harmed in the hours that followed.
I did notice a superb Cuben fibre tarp/shelter and knew at once that this was Colin Ibbotson's. Colin eventually appeared and we had a long chat about his tarp/shelter and his plans for later in the year. Colin was going to run off a few versions of his shelter: I am No: 3 on the list of purchasers to be.
One of the Z Packs tents was not so taut.

 


 
Pitch Perfect.

 

That night saw a bunch of us make our way to the curry house. About 10 of us were soon joined by another 10 or so, ensuring that the curry house orders were slow in arriving. Still, it was a good night and the meal was superb.
The wind changed direction that night; but, I didn't bother re-pitching.

Thursday 22 May Park Hotel

As usual, the Park was fully booked ages ago. But, I had rung up on Sunday, last, to see if there were any cancellations; and, got a room. So I packed up on a dry but windy morning and left my pack in the Park Reception. I then met loads of folk and chatted, as you do. Before the evening meal, I went back to the curry house and had another delicious meal. Later a few other Challenge folk arrived, but the service was much better.
I then sat chatting in the Park bar before standing at the back of the function room. It was great to see and meet folk I had met before, including Martin Angell and Willem Fox among many.

Friday 23 May TGO Express and Home

I'm none too good a saying goodbyes, so I just had my breakfast and made my way to the station in good time for the TGO Express. The 1033 to Kings Cross. I met Matt who had walked with Peter and Lee, but Peter had left earlier and I didn't get to meet them. Peter had come to Langdale to see my Trailstar some years back; he's used it well over 200 times since.
I travelled First Class and opposite Alan, Andy, Phil and Robin (who I'd only just met that morning). I was back in Tamworth by early evening.

The End

Challenge No: 5

 Despite the way I treated my feet I enjoyed this one. I enjoyed the solitude on the hills and the great company from the various folk I met over the days of the Challenge.

Now, where to start from next time?

And finally

A special thanks to Barbara, my wife, who puts up with me going off on these trips.