TGOC 2011 Strathcarron To St Cyrus (again)

TGOC 2011 Days 0 - The Journey UP

Wed 11th May 2011

Today started around 5.00pm with the arrival of my chauffeur Phil (M'Lord) Lambert.
A short drive to Al's house in Hemingford and we awaited the arrival of the taxi to take us to Huntingdon station and the start of our adventure (at this stage we did not know how much of an adventure it would be on some days, but we will come to that).

The taxi duly arrived and off we went to get the train to London. I realised as I looked at the size of Al's pack and felt the weight that I had yet again packed too much stuff. 
I would need to have a look at Strathcarron, but that was a long way a way and there was nothing I could do.
So off we set and after arriving in London, did the short-ish (bloody heavy this pack) walk to the Italian restaurant with the stunningly lovely waitress near Euston Station.

On route Al took a few photo's of me. =====>

It is not true despite the rumour on his blog. I did do the Challenge, and did not spend a fortnight at Pole dancing clubs in London. Although had I known the weather was going to be that interesting I might have been tempted.
Having said that, and seeing this photo, I did need to go, just to loose weight.

Anyway, back to the restaurant and the waitress.
She was still there (obviously a year older, but none the less just as good looking ... old men eh ... )
We had our food (cannot remember what I did have but it did taste nice), a few beers (training) and then
SHAP arrived with the coffin. He's the chap wot did make it init and a fine job as well. It looked just like the real thing. This caused great interest at both the restaurant, and also the station, and although light? it was still quite heavy.
How high were we going to carry this bloody thing?

There was quite a wait at the station, and at this stage Al did not even know if they would allow it on the train.
Well anyway, to cut a long story short we did. 
They put it in the Cycle carriage (must have freaked out a few cyclists), and we put our stuff in our bunks.
I was meant to be sharing with an unknown person, but as luck would have it, they did not turn up and I had the whole sleeping compartment to myself. So stuff spread out, it was off to the buffet car for a probable encounter with beer.

Several beers later (hydration is crucial on the Challenge), we eventually headed off to bed, to awake the next morning in Inverness.
It was a noisy night, I have no idea what they were doing next door, and too polite to ask.
Time for Z's

Thu 12th May 2011

After a pleasant cup of Coffee or something similar, we pulled into Inverness.
It was time to get off the train, pick up the HEAVY rucksack and collect that Bloody Coffin.
So off we went. I again collected a bag with Al's stuff in it. He liked leaving it on trains, maybe he didn't want it. Phil and Alan got the coffin.
I tried very hard to avoid them, but unluckily got roped in to carrying it again.
We headed off to the entrance to find the chap , that was going to take it to Ault na Goire.
So we waited for a while by the entrance with more onlookers and questions that had to be asked.
Eventually David Hamilton arrived with his van for the coffin, but woe alas, now confusion. There was another possibility. It would now be taken to Ault na Goire by Katy, Alex and Janet Sutherlands daughter who also happened to be a press photographer.
So we set off to Morrisons for a bacon butty and a coffee to wait for Katy. 
Actually it was quite pleasant in Morrison's. 
Katy duly arrived and we set off to the Council buildings to take photo's of coffin carrying and stuff. I was in Katy's car with the coffin, and Al and Phil went with David. 
We arrived there in no time flat, Katy knew the roads round Inverness, but no sign of Dave and Al and Phil. Time was pressing, we had to get back to the station to get the Strathcarron train.
Still no sign, mild panic and then they did turn up........
So out again with the coffin and many photo's were taken. 
Then back in car and back to the station. 
Easier said than done that, since now the back door on Katy's van would not shut. 
Actually it would not open either. Bashing it a lot (it's a bloke thing) solved the problem in the nick of time and we headed back to the station. 
Actually panic was pointless, there was loads of time. In fact, enough time for me to go and buy a bit of shot cord to repair the broken rivet on my Crocs. 
Always good to have to repair kit before you have even started.

No worries, train arrived and by now a rather large motley collection of folk were ready to get on the train to Strathcarron. 
The weather was fine and all was well.

Off we went for the long train journey. It was a loooooooong train journey, but with so many great people on the train, it flashed past, and were soon at the hotel in Strathcarron, with the weather looking like it was going to close in.

I had booked but Al had not. It looked like camping for him. 
We had a beer or 2 and a game of pool or 2 as well whilst waiting for my room to be ready. 
 As the afternoon and evening progressed many more folk arrived. 

Sorting out room and food was in order, as was getting ready to get the collection and card signing for Roger. Al had volunteered me for this job. For this particular job it was a pleasure not a burden, and as the evening progressed, and having put in some large notes to start the pot boiling, we gained a lot of signatures, and a good collection for Roger. 

Cullen Skink soup (I have no bloody idea how to spell that or even if it is close to what I actually had - but my earlier attempt at spelling was corrected by Humphrey) at the pub was excellent. So excellent I had 2 bowls, and a jolly fine and sociable evening was had by all.

Outside folk were arriving with tents in the rain and wind. 
John Hancock had a tarp. 
Lucky him I thought smugly thinking of my nice warm bed.

I would love to mention all the people I met there, but I just cannot. Sorry! You were all very nice though!

Eventually it was time for sleep. I had already been through my kit to sort out the unnecessary, and as we shall see tomorrow, had stuff to send back.
Unfortunately I appeared to have packed 2 hats, and 2 base layer tops. No bottoms, just 2 tops. I also had an enormous towel and some other pointless crap. It was going back home in the post first thing tomorrow.
So off for a final nights sleep in a real bed under a real roof. Excellent!

Al had looked long and hard at the weather outside (approx 15 secs) and decided he was NOT going to put his tent up.
So since I am a nice chap, and despite his later nagging about leaving at precise times, and whinging in the morning about the post office delay, I let him sleep on the floor in my room.
(See by 9.30 the next morning he had forgotten this noble gesture and the use of my bathroom and shower and .... and just went on and on about waiting for me and for the post office to open.)

I watched a bit of telly, and went to sleep.

It was almost time to start and there was NO going back!

For an Interactive Map of the Route Across Click HERE

DAY 01 FRI 13TH MAY 2011
Strathcarron to Maol Bhuide Bothy 
Distance    18.1 Km    Ascent    691m

Well after a night of rain, followed by rain and Al on my floor all night we left the hotel at about 8.50. All nicely packed. I had my stuff for the Post Office. I had tried to send it the previous day, but they shut at 1.00 on Thursdays. So I waited for the 'man wot does Post Office things' to arrive!

Which he did at about 8.55. "Fantatstic" I said, "I have a parcel to send please."
"Can't do that yet, I have the post to do."
"Not a problem", says I, "I have to get an envelope to put it in. I'll look for an envelope and wrap it up while you do the post"
"Can't do that he says, I have to do the post", and disappears inside to do I know not what.
So I waits, as Al (remember Al, he slept on my floor and used my shower and ...), gets impatient to leave (understandable of course).

So I waits, and waits and waits, and ....

By now it is 09:10, and still no open door or sign of the Post Office Man.
Must be one shed load of post every morning in Strathcarron.
So I wait....

Luckily at this point a nice lady, who may or may not be related to the man in the Post Office, arrives to open the shop, and lovely lady as she is, let's me in, and finds me an old bigger envelope than the A5 size biggest that they have, and even let's me use the sellotape roll.
Mean time Al is pacing up and down outside, and the man in the Post Office (wot is busy doing God knows what), has finally materialized to accept my parcel.
Then, after a bit more faffing, accepts said parcel, and I pay over the money to have it sent home.
And I am away.
So at last we start the Challenge
We have another photo taken and off we head.
Myself, Al and Pete (Lilo).

Hmmm. "There is a bloody long way to go, but at least it is not raining.", prophetic words those as it happens........

We walk down the road and off onto the track that will take us away from civilisation and into the cathartic wonders of the Challenge.
Oh and a wee bit of weather!
The weather is a bit on and off as we travel along, and after a pleasant mornings walk with varied comings and goings of assorted waterproof gear, we start to drop down to the river and Bendronaig Lodge. Pete was with us just before this, but suddenly vanishes.
Al has also disappeared into the distance whilst I was putting on my waterproofs (again).

Pete just after the putting on of wet gear, and before he vanished

He's a man on a mission, but I finally catch up with him just before the bridge.

Here a fine bearded chap Bill Archibald appears from the mist and the hill with his lopsided rucksack. He has been for a wander to look at the waterfalls.
We take a picture or two of the foaming stream under the bridge and head round the corner for the bothy.
Still no sign of Pete (He'll be fine! Honest!).

Al on the bridge and Bill with his lopsided rucksack just heading off

Bendronaig lodge is a rather fine bothy, with water and toilets and rooms and fire and (a dart board?)

We have a brew and a game of darts with the worst darts ever made (my excuse for losing), and wait for Pete who turns up eventually having stopped for a rest and some food.
The chap who was there when we arrive is heading off in another direction.
(Seemed ok to me, but Al found him a bit odd), and we are ready to stride off to Loch Calavie.

The weather has brightened up a bit, and I decide to not wear my coat, just the paramo shirt.
Nuff said, it starts to rain.
Can't be doing with more rain, so I put my coat back on and of course it stops raining.

Bugger it, leave it on.

Which I do ,and we wander along to the Loch and across the beach at the end.

Bill has headed off now, and we are ready to cross the stream and head down to Loch Cruoshie.

It's at this point we encounter the wire bridge.

Al does not like these bridges. Al does not like many bridges to be honest!
He does not like bridges without handrails, nor ones with windy bits, nor rickety ones, or wobbly ones,  or ......
He going to meet a lot of bridges he doesn't like.
And to be honest, they are far better than the ones that are not there at all coming shortly in another paragraph.

Me on the wire bridge! Piece of cake!

Me again

Put uses the less orthodox crossing method. (He's a hairdresser you know)

Pete and I cross the bridge (fun it is and anyway the water is not that deep).
Al decides to walk on water and wades across the end of the loch.
(The first of many wades).

So safely across, we stop for a snack and a snifter of assorted whiskey's

Note to self here, sort out the bad hair thing that is going on

Then we do the short yomp over a bit of boggy, but not that boggy ground to the bothy.

First however, there is the crossing of the water at the head of Loch Cruoshie.

Now this is normally a nice little wade, but it has been a bet wet the last few days and the water level is rising.
It is also heading along the bank we are on at quite some rate.
Not a problem the other side, but we are on this side, and need to get to the other side.
So we have a bit of a wander and I decide that discretion being the lesser part of valour, must remove said trousers and shoes and stuff and attempt to get across, whilst Al and Pete look for an alternative. We dally around at the fast running bit with various attempts, but no success.
I have a crack at getting across in the deeper water.
This is ok, but by step three, I am up to my thighs and the poles are below the handles.
Also the next step takes me into water 2 feet deeper, and about another 2 feet of silt below that. At this rate I'll be stuck and up to my neck, and the water is rising and ....

Bugger that for a game of .......

I return to shore and the original crossing point.
It is an interesting place to cross.
All you need to do is place your foot into the water about 6" to the left of the rock you must land on so as to not be swept away downstream. Then repeat the same movement with great rapidity on the next 2 rocks that are about 12" below the surface, and finish with a leap to the shallow bit.

SEEMPEELS ! And it was.

After the first step there was only one option, so I went for it.

"Hooray! See chaps easy!"
I attempted to encourage Al and Pete across at the same point, but they were having none of it.
"I'm going to die!"

It doesn't look that fast or that far, but trust me it is, and Al has Looooonnngg walking poles.

Could I get them across. Could I buggery.
So they stood on the bank umming and ahhhrring.
And I stood in the water in my pants freezing my *&^* off.

To assist with my pending hypothermia, a small squall of hailstones and stingy rain swept through. That's not sunburn on my legs, it's blood, they have been flayed by rain.

Well truth be told, after a period of about 20 minutes that seemed like about 2 hours, we all got across and made our way to the bothy.
What a fine bothy it is. Well it is once you can get through the door with the dodgy bolt it is anyway.
The weather is brightening up briefly, and we get out kit sorted out, and socks and shoes out to dry.
Pete at this point brings out his set of Pound Shop mousetraps.

That's my foot that is with the blue Croc. As you can see, Pete has taken his right leg off and it is lying on the floor. That's what I call Ultra-light backpacking.

This is a man with an agenda this is.

It is just after this, and maybe a dash of Al's rocket fuel (English Whiskey), that we spot a man (later to be know as Robert) in the distance looking to cross the rive (remember the river?).
Now this is NOT a river to cross on your own, so I decide to nip off down there to give him some moral assistance and encouragement. Especially as he has by now done an extra 3 Km up and down the bank.
Well I was, but it started to rain, so I came back for my waterproof, and headed off again.
The intention was good, but by the time I got half way there, he had made it.

We have no images (best not to it was agreed) of this man in his underpants walking up to the bothy. Fine legs, but NOT for public consumption on the Web.We gave him a whiskey and we all settled in for the night.Kit reasonably dry. Food on the go, and all nice and warm in the smart clean bothy (with mousetraps).

Pete at the Bothy

Evening view from the Bothy. If you look very very closely, you can see a herd of deer swimming across the far end of the loch. No you can't but they really are there!

It was to be a very stormy and wet night, which was to make us consider our route for the next day. We had already decided, that the original plan for the
Mullardoch 4 (An Socach > An Riabhachan > Sgurr na Lapaich > Carn nana Gobhar > Mullach na Maoile) was a bit of no goer, but we were now thinking that the FWA might be out of the question as well. Maybe the FWA for the FWA was in order.
We had a think and came up with a plan.

We'd decide tomorrow.

And we did!

DAY 02 FRI 14TH MAY 2011

Maol Bhuide Bothy to Loch Mullardoch

Distance    22 Km    Ascent    640m  (But it seemed a lot more)

It was time for a decision, so we decided that we would decide later, when we got to the river.
It was a plan of sorts and it worked for us. We were not going high today.

So eventually after waiting for Pete (see, it's not always me!), I think he was checking his mousetrap, we set of East along the South shore of Loch Cruoshie.
It was not a bad path, and although single file, the weather was ok.
It did not take long until we arrived at our crossing point.

Our intended crossing point, and not the eventual crossing point

We looked at the weather and the stream, and made decision 1.
We would stick with the FWA.
It was a nicer option and would not require a later road yomp.
Well it would, but nowhere near as long.
After a bit more discussion, it was fairly apparent, that we were NOT going to cross there.
A look at the map told us that we needed to head South along the bank and look for an easier crossing point.

So Myself, Al, Pete and Robert started our journey South and then later a bit Southwest, to find a place to cross. It was not a bad track, although not as easy as the track on the other side would have been. The one we were NOT on.

We'll not be crossing here either then

So we headed along a bit further, until we found a suitable place to cross.

It was quite pleasant on the feet as well, and the Crocs elastic repair job was holding up nicely

At the other bank, Pete left us. He was heading over towards I think Struy. (He may correct that later), and we continued South to Coire Nan each and Loch Mhoicean.

Al checks the map just before Pete departs up the hill

It was pleasant walking, and at the moment the weather was holding up nicely.

View along Loch Mhoicean

At the loch we crossed a small sand beach and headed up over towards Loch Mullardoch.
At the top just before the decent, we stopped for lunch. The sun had come out and although a bit chilly, it was a great view.

Rob and Me heading up from the Loch

Just as we started down after lunch, the weather changed back into it's irregular patter, and it rained again. As it happens, it was a short shower, and we were to be lucky for the rest of the afternoon. Well until we were about to pitch the tents that is.
Let me say this now.
Although it is reasonable walking, it is a BLOODY LONG WAY along Loch Mullardoch.
I will probably say that again.

A First glimpse of the Loch

We traversed down to pick up the intermittent path along the North shore
The going is reasonable easy, but a bit tedious at times, although some of the views were stunning, with the moody weather.
I had somehow twisted my foot, and was getting a pain in the top walking on the heathery tufts. Al had disappeared into the distance, and Robert and I were bimbling along at a reasonable pace, if I had not kept on stopping to faf around with my shoes.

Eventually we caught up with Al at the ruined building at Am Mam where we met Carl.
He had just finished a break and was about to head on.
We said we would see him later, had a brief stop, and then headed off.

Carl took the lower track, but this is actually much further round, especially if you stick to the shore, and we headed off up and over.
A short sharp climb, but much quicker.
As we dropped down to Glen Cannich and the buildings we could see Carl just coming round the headland.

View from the top before dropping down to the bridges

There is a great little building with a Veranda just here, although it is locked.
There is also a very wobbly rickety bridge that Al was dreading (remember Al's bridge phobia). Well, as it happens, there is NOT a rickety old bridge here anymore.
Indeed, there are two rather fine new bridges here. Which is just as well, because it would have been a long walk up to find a crossing place.

Rob crossing one of the new bridges. Still no hand rails, but big and wide and strong.
Al got across with no problems.

And the remnants of the old bridge

At the building we met Brian Shepherd. He had started in Dornie, and come across today from Iron Lodge. He has a few Challenges under his belt does Brian, but none for the last few years. He had pitched his tent under the veranda, and was looking somewhat knackered. We offered some help, but he said he was OK. Eventually we left him there, but promised to ring into control for him the next day, and also check he was ok.

He did make it to Cannich, but unfortunately had to drop out at that point.
Well, we still had a long way to go. And it is a Bloody Long Loch (did I mention that?).
You walk along a bit, go round a bit of headland, and there is another bit of headland, and then another bit, and another. It is like cycling up hill in the Pyrenees, only a lot wetter.
So we carried on along the shore.
To be honest, it is a bit of a slog, but the views were great, and my foot had stopped hurting which was nice.

Wonderful moody view back along the loch

We carried on to the next crossing point.
There were two more possible problem crossings along the loch. We had decided that we would not get to the end today, so we would camp just after the next crossing, once we found a suitable spot.

The crossing point actually turned out to be fine.
Rob somehow managed to get across by acts of extreme balance.
Al just waded through as he did quite a lot,
And I spent forever changing into crocs and walking across, and then drying my feet and then rushing to catch up. That is why the photo is so distant. Al was almost at the camping spot when he took it.

Me crossing just before the Camping spot above the small copse

After this crossing, the actual track goes up much higher, but we were all pretty tired by now, and anyway it looked like it was going to rain, so we needed to get tents up. I could see Al and Robert in the distance looking for a spot just above the copse of trees, but it took me (what with drying feet and stuff), about 10 minutes to catch up with them.

There will be NO photo's of this campsite.
Unfortunately no one took any, and also it rained a bit.
It rained so many bits that they added up to a LOT, and it was a bit windy.
Well, we though it was windy, actually later on we were to discover what windy really was.
So I took Wendy (she's the tent), out of her pack and got ready to put her up.

This was the second outing for Wendy. I had brought her off Mick and Gail, and given her a bit of a test in the Lakes just before the Challenge. She was a fine specimen of a tent, and huge as well as robust, despite only weighing in at 1.3Kg. (And ED! Nothing wrong with her colour OK)

Now real ultralight guru's will sniff at Wendy's bulk. But she is a 2 person tent, weighs less than an Akto, and is just as robust. Also for the extra .5Kg over a tarp or whatever, what you get is a PALACE!
One you can cook in, with room for all your kit, and you don't need a bivvy bag and .......!
If you want to hear another hours worth of facts ask Al about Wanda.
Anyway, take it from me, she is very accommodating.

HOWEVER... (capitals here for effect), having had to pitch her on boggy moss, I did discover that she was a bit incontinent. Yep, Wendy had a 4 cm perforation in her bottom.
Normally this would be fine, but on very wet moss, in rain, this was a veritable fountain.
Not a problem I have Duck Tape.
Now let's discuss Si Nylon Groundsheets.
There is pretty much BUGGER ALL that sticks to them. Well I had bugger all that stuck, and we tried all sorts of tape. There is a lesson here. Take tape that sticks. Spinnaker tape or tape that does stick to the bloody stuff.

I have learnt a lesson, and my kit now include such equipment.

Luckily, I did have a big microfibre towel, and a space blanket that acted as a barrier and all was well, apart from the lake underneath my sleeping mat the following morning. (We'll come back to that tomorrow).
The space blanket was the business though, and after a few hurried shared whiskey's and food cooked inside Wendy with the DOOR SHUT, all nice and warm, it was time for sleep.
In the interim, Carl had arrived and put his tent up.
Unfortunately, Carl had left his camera somewhere at the ruin earlier. This is a real shame, because you need your camera on the Challenge. Maybe someone will find it and hand it it, which would be nice.
So, we had had a chat amidst dodging rain drops, and soon everyone was snug inside their tents as the rain and wind got more and more and lashed into us. It turned out to be a pretty windy and wet night, which always makes the 2.00am toilet requirement an arduous affair. I didn't bother, but I was desperate by the next morning. We'll come to that as well.

So, that is it. Day 2 was over. It was not a long distance, but it had been a long day.

Music on, and sleep. Wendy shook a bit that night, but she was fine.

DAY 03 SUN 15TH MAY 2011

Loch Mullardoch to Cannich

Distance   19.4 Km    Ascent   271 m  (It's a bit Roady)

So anyway, the plan was to be away by 8.00 (that's am).
We had agreed to this, which means I had agreed to this, so Al has a fair point!
It has been a wet windy night.
I am awake at 7 and lying in my bag desperate for a pee.
It is still a bit wet and rainy outside and I am holding out as long as possible.
I can hear movement, and breakfast stuff going on outside, and Al has rattled my tent to tell me to get up.
I have acknowledged this, and I have the best of intentions, once I can get my body to get out of the sleeping bag.
Well eventually I did crawl out and I get MOST of my stuff sorted out inside the tent.
At last I pop my head out.
All I need to do now, is pack the last few bits away, and get them into the rucksack, and put the tent down, and the most important thing of all that I have just discovered must be done and really NOW!
Is have a jolly good $&1T.

So I crawls out of my tent, and there are Al and Robert, all packed and tents away and standing in under the trees, in the cold ready for the off.
"Just need a $41*", says I "and I'll be right back."
Al is NOT a happy man.
There are reasons for this.

It is now 8.05
He is ready
He is getting Cold
AND... I am not ready, not packed, tent is still up and .... 

OK, he has a point here (sorry).

A meaner nastier person would have said ("see you later"), but Al is fundamentally a jolly nice bloke, and so stood getting colder and colder while I dug holes and filled them and came back and took down my tent and packed my tent, and packed my stuff and put on my gaiters and got ready and  .................

Al you see does NOT run Hot. Indeed quite the opposite. If I have 2 layers on Al has 4 or 5.
If I have just a shirt on top, Al has a base layer and a fleece and maybe something else.
What I am saying is that he froze his nuts off waiting for me and I should have been ready on time.

So there you have it Al.  SORRY,

It's 8.20 or maybe 8.25 and we are away.
Just one more river crossing (we hope not) and then the end of the loch, and then it's going to get a bit roady!

Time to introduce Robs tension straps. These had actually introduced themselves the previous day, but I decided not to mention them until now, lest Rob consider it a complaint, which it ain't (poetry already).
Rob has a case on the front were he carries stuff that he needs to be accessible.
Actually, a casual glance round Robs rucksack where all the other things he needs to be accessible are attached, or dangling, or stuffed in pockets, would make you wonder if he needed to pack anything inside it at all.
Don't get me wrong here I am not having a dig. Rob is a good bloke. I walked with him quite a bit this year, and also funnily enough quite a bit last year with Roger and Nigel, and we had a good time.
But this year he brought these tension straps that hold on this pouch thing that always lose their tension.
On a bad day, this is approximately 4 minutes after they have been tensioned up.
On a good day, about 5 minutes after.
We'd have got to Cannich about 2 hours earlier without Robs tension straps.
I exaggerate. Quite a lot really, but that is poetic licence.

As luck would have it, we did cure them at Cannich with some micropore tape.
Well I think we did, because I did not bump into Rob again until the Larig Ghru, and I should point out that the straps were not the reason.
So where was I? Oh yes we are on our way on day 3.

A look back to the Dam from near Mullardoch House

It was not going to be one of the most fantastic days walking, there being quite a lot of road in it, although there were some nice little bits, and to be honest the weather was not half bad.
We stopped on route a couple of times just to take the tarmac ache from our feet and also to re-hydrate (water ok) and of course there were Robs $%^&^ tension straps.

I had been walking in gortex socks for much of the shore line (it was quite wet under foot) but now that we were on tarmac they actually made your feet worse and sore, and a switched back to my old faithful X Socks (brilliant they are).
More about kit later. Much later actually. In fact right at the end. You'll have to wait a bit!

The river on the way to Cannich
Pretty little pond, just off the road.

We carried in with many a conversation (too many to remember or recount here, but it took the mind off the walking).
Quite a long way up, near Craskie (a bit after the sock and coat change), we caught up with Ed(whose name cannot be spelt). He had been with Jack, but had gone off to do some higher stuff, and they were meeting up again in Cannich.

We also bumped into a herd of cows being led down the road.
Mainly mums and young ones.
Last time I was here back in 2006, I met the same herd (well not the same herd to be honest, but a similar one none the less), although some of them may have been babies at the time.

None of them recognised me though

We waited for them to pass, and had a chat with the farmer, whilst several cars waited for us to stop talking and the herd to move off, and then we then carried on to Cannich.
Here Ed headed off to the campsite, and Al, Rob and myself sought out hydration materials.
The first and later better pub was closed so went on up the road to the Slater's Arms.
I sorted out a few things on my rucksack whilst Al and Rob went in.
I followed a bit later and brought a pint at the bar, and had a chat with the barman. He seemed ok, but apparently they had not been so welcoming to Rob and Al.
Later we were to hear that this was a bit of a theme with Challengers. Considering the amount of custom in Cannich, you'd think they'd bend over backwards to make you welcome. Oh well.
So we had a pint or it may have been 2, I think I only had the one actually, and a bowl of soup, which was quite good.

As we sat there, familiar faces came by with bags of litter.
This happened to be Bill Howden and David Albon. They also came in for sustenance, and I believe a similar welcome.
But it was good to catch and and we had a bit of a chin wag and stuff, and then headed off to the shop next door for a few supplies before going to set up at the camp site.

I bought some jelly babies or something similar.
Bill Howden helped the nice shop people to take out a Slow Worm that had somehow found its way in (shame I had no camera with me),
and Al bought heaps of stuff (cos it was on offer), which included 3 Nan breads, and assorted pies. It would help him get to the camp site.

Then feeling much lighter of foot, but not of rucksack we headed off to the campsite to book in and set up.

They are really nice at Cannich Campsite and are extra helpful if they can be.
They also have a lot of great facilities, and electricity for charging stuff, and a cafe and coffee room, and drying room, and washing machines and showers and ..... It was great.

Wanda and Wendy all set up

Now I like my tent, and although I did not choose the colour (Mick and Gail did), I can find nothing wrong with it. But despite this Ed insisted it was a dreadful colour.
Like do you mean it isn't Akto Green? He'd probably consider my old Competition dreadful too, because that was Red.
Just joking Ed. You are of course entitled to your opinion, regardless of how dreadfully wrong it is!
Well, we set up, charged up, cleaned up, abluted up, dried up, dried out, sat up, sat down, lay down, and in every way were fresher and cleaner than we had been on arrival.

I should also at this point like to thank Bernie Roberts, for letting me dry my towel and pants in his washing, (cos I had forgotten to do them when I did mine earlier).
What a Gent!

Rob also managed to partially fix his tension strap problem, by using some micropore I had, to stop the strap running through the clip (Al's idea that!)

A lot of Challengers arrived over the next few hours (including Pete who we had left earlier the previous day). There are too many to name. but you know who you were.
And thus it was eventually time to go down to the Pub for a meal and hydrating fluid.
This time we went to the other Pub, the closest one to the campsite, whose name I have forgotten, but it is the first one that looks a bit shabby, but once inside it is great, and welcoming, and good food, and a warm atmosphere and a fire and well worth a visit!

Here we bumped into Brian Shepherd again, who had at last arrived.
He said he was going to withdraw the next day.
We tried to tell him it was fine, and he should sleep on it, before making a decision.
We had a chat, and he did sleep on it, although we later heard that he did withdraw.
There is No shame in that. Just starting it is good. There's always another time.

Al, Brian, Bernie, Carl, Pete and some others whose names I am afraid I have forgotten.

Al and I (I must do something about my hair next time!)

Anyway, suffice it to say, we had a jolly good night, and eventually all returned to the camp site, for a midnight Whiskey and Sloe Gin.

I had forgotten about the Sloe Gin. Al had brought some of Phil's and I had a bottle that my Mum had made. We had started in on it on the first night at the bothy, and bloody good stuff it was.
Smooth with a light kick. Not the Wumph of Al's rocket fuel.
And then it was time for sleep.
We would be up early the next day to get to Drum for the early ferry.
The wonderful people at the camp site, agreeing to open up at 6.30 so we could have breakfast.
It had been a road walk, but it had still been a great day, in great company as always with the Challenge.

Three days in now, the initial shock of lugging that pack had subsided, and fitness was settling in.

The Challenge was On!

DAY 04 MON 16TH MAY 2011

Cannich to Ault na Goire

Distance  23.9 Km    Ascent  412 m  - (Now where was that path meant to go?)

Well after yesterday, I just had to get up early and be ready on time, and I was. Spritely me!
A look at the fine weather and also the pending wet weather, showed that a rapid decamp would allow for a nice dry tent pack, and this was definitely the correct decision, because by the time we were ready for breakfast, there was rain. Not a lot, just another shower, followed by a dry bit and another shower. I HATE packing my tent in the rain, so this was a no brainer.

All up and tent packed and down to the breakfast stop for scrambled eggs on toast with a bit of bacon. Just the think to start the day. None of the muesli stuff.
In fact so spritely was I , that I was ahead of Al, and that is a tough challenge.

So suited and booted, and fortified for the day ahead, Al and I set off after a breakfast in fine company. My original original plan was to go through forest and stuff, but since we wanted to get to Drum early, it was decided to add a bit of road and go down and see what had happened to the Bearnock Tea rooms. So off we set!

It is not a great walk down the road, but one thing is for sure, it is rapid, and at this time in the morning there is very little traffic, so less chance of a lunatic sweeping round one of those bends and wiping you out, well apart from the prat in the bus later in the day, but we will come to that in good time.

I will need to postpone my Balmacaan route for another challenge, and just hope that I can manage it before they build that ridiculous bloody great wind farm on it. (Lunatics and Vandals!).
Also I think that the route into the Balmacaans is better done from Cougie and across.
Also you get to stay at Cougie, which is an absolute MUST DO, if you have never been there.
Unfortunately, no pictures of this first bit, but it was an adventure all the same.
So, we walked along the road for a while.
As excess breakfast fluids dictated, it was probably time for a stop, we did and apart from a pee, I also did a shoe faf.
Now a map of where we pee'd is probably too much information, but there is a story attached so bear with me on this.

Brief stop over, we yomped off down the hill. It is not a steep hill, but it is down, and so for about 3/4 of a km we headed down at a goodly pace, at which point I realised I had left my TGO Hat on the fence post. This is my only TGO hat, and they are no longer available so I had to go back. Al said he would go on slowly (Al's slowly is NOT that slow, but never mind), so I headed back up, Al carrying my poles.

Now, an intelligent person would have stashed the rucksack by the side of the road, and gone back UP with no pack, but I did not. No sir, I lugged that pack all the way back up (AT PACE).
In the distance I spied another rucksack descending the hill, and as luck would have it, stopping in said same spot and going in to look, at I hoped said same hat.
They came out, and I increased pace as I could see Al vanishing in the distance.
Eventually, about 400m from the hat place I met Morven (excuse me if I get the name wrong), who was descending with an enormous pack.
"High I said", puff puff. "I left my hat just back there" (hoping it would be in her hand or bag).
"Oh, yes, I saw that" she says, "I wondered who it belonged to!"

So off I went back to get my hat!

Of course it was still there, so retrieved I headed off back down the hill AGAIN at even greater pace. Indeed, as Al had now vanished completely from view I ran (not a good idea as we shall see).

I quickly caught up with Morven.
Now ideally I would have rushed on, but this is the Challenge, and you cannot just overtake Challengers, without a good old natter, even if they have left your bloody hat on a post!
So we walked down for a while at a brisk pace (she doesn't hang about does Morven), discussing this and that, and the weight and size of her pack, that has been leaking and is wet and stuff. Morven lives in Aviemore, so she is going to change kit there and get a replacement sack.
Anyway, we carry on, and Al slows and eventually we catch up with him for more chat.
Chatting is great when road walking, because it makes it go much quicker.

As we get to the turn off for the Corrimony track or it may have been the Shenval one, Morven heads off, and we continue our quest to the Bearnock tea rooms.

Well, we get there and it says Open, but they are shut.
Indeed, they are NOT a tea room anymore, but a hostel.

But, at that moment, the chap who looks after them appears, and we tell him we though they might be open, what with the sign in the window saying open and all that, and wonderful man that he is, says.
"We don't do coffee, but, I'll let you in, and if you want to make yourself a cup that is fine".
So he let's us in, shows us where everything is, and we make a brew, and rest our tarmac tires legs and feet.
What a great bloke.
We stick some money in the charity box, and pick up our packs to complete the journey.

Just up the road a small bit, the track heads off south, where the old path into the forest is/was! (See map above)

So, up the track we went to the house that is having a massive amount of work done on it.
There are a few tracks now that depart from said house, and we took the one that may or may not have been the right one.
Following this along and through a gate and along a bit further to encounter a herd of cows, with young'uns.

Al is not good with herds of cows, (have I mentioned that).

"They'll be fine", says I, "Just go slowly past them, no worries".

Well Al goes through the gate to the left of the track to circumvent the cows, and go via the barbed wire fence at the end.
I am not sure about this strategy, what with Al's track record with barbed wire fences and all that, but that's what we did anyway, as the herd thundered off back up the track.
Cows are not the most intelligent of animals you know!

Luckily, the barbed wire negotiation is uneventful, and indeed unnecessary, because the cows have legged it, or should that be hoofed it away, and we can go back through said same gate and carry on through the other gate, it being the one that we wanted to go through all along.

And so we carry on to the end of this track.
There appears at this point to be no known direction, and no obvious track.
We attempt a soirée via the woods, but decide that is probably not the way, and then go round via the field (what has more cows and heffers and things in it).
But this is NOT looking hopeful, so we decide that we need to get over the wall, and go along where for all intensive purposes, it looks like it may have been a track once.
Now however, it is muddy, and overgrown, and full of fallen trees and such, and to be honest bloody hard work.

So looking at map, and for the first time, checking location on GPS gadget, we decide the the best way is just up through the forest (about half a Km), and there we will find the track.

Now, this is not any old forest.
This bit is old, and un-tended, and of Amazonian density, so with pack and poles catching everything above, and assorted branches, debris, and God alone knows what forms of insect and other Indiana Jones like life forms dropping into our hair, and down our shirts, we bludgeon our way the short, but knackering distance to the track, from which we finally emerge.


Time to get all the bits out.
That's all the unknown horrors, that have managed in such a short distance to stick to us, and also work there evil way into the deepest crevasses of our nether regions.

We didn't take any pictures of this bit, on the grounds of decency, but trust me, it was not nice.

Refreshed and itching we carried on along the track to the end, where the car park is, and where several other Challengers, inc Bernie, and David Albon (who is not invisible) were having a break.

A brief chat, and then Al and I headed off out of the forest to do a bit more tarmac.
The others were going via the forest, but having done that before, and feeling the lure of the fleshpots of Drumnadrochit, we went for the fast and furious route, and the road.
Now, on my map, I have marked two possible place, that we may have hit the road, but in the excitement of the moment, I cannot remember which one we used, although I believe it was the first based on how much my feet ached when we got to Drum.

It is at this point, or just after this, that I should mention the bus again.
There are a few corners on the road, and on some of them, there is little choice but to stay on the road, there being no real verge and all that.
So that is what we did on the corner with the bus coming.
OK, I may have leaned a lot further out of the way than Al, but he is not a man to be bullied by public transport and held his ground with fervour, and widespread poles.
The bus did eventually slow down, with the driver shaking his fist, on the grounds that we should have leapt over walls to allow him to do his journey quicker. (Prat!).

Well, the rest of the journey was uneventful, and with conversations of many things to put right the problems of the World, and Al running his phone battery down to zero, by talking endlessly to BBC, and German TV and many other people about the forthcoming (Tomorrow), 
Wake for the Wild
 coffin protest, we wended our way to Drum and the lovely little coffee shop.
I had also stocked up on Jelly babies from the local shop.

JJ (John Jocys) arrived and we chatted.

I also posted some excess food back home.
I was getting another delivery tonight at Ault na Goire, so did not want to carry it.
OK, it did cost £2.00 to send it, but it was £12.00 worth of meals so it's quite acceptable.
Then we went to the Pub for Lunch (as you do), and a wait for the Ferry.

I should also mention running along roads with a great big pack on.
BAD idea.
By the time we reached drum, I had really achy shins, and was actually a bit concerned that I might be developing shin splints. Luckily, once we got off tarmac, the pain went away, and with a bit of stretching caused no more real problem, but be warned!

After lunch we sat on the green, and did other stuff, like checking kit, and leaving boots off, and generally doing nothing, because, there was nothing to do until about 4.30.

Al me and Denis on the Green, just before heading off to the Ferry.
The invisible chap leaning on the seat is David Albon

So off we went to the Ferry, having rung and booked it the day before (actually Jack did that, good chap).

For those who have not been on the ferry, always ring and book, don't just turn up.
You will get across, because Gordon is a top bloke and will take you across, but without booking, you might have to wait a bit.
It does not take long to walk to the ferry, but always best to get there early.
So, I grabbed some money from the cash machine, and we all trundled off.

I will not bother with yet another set of photo's of the ferry journey but we all got on ok and headed off to the rickety pier at Inverfarigaig and the walk along the road to Ault-na-Goire (Alex and Janet Sutherlands home), where my food parcel was waiting.

Well, just one

Or two

It is a pleasant little walk. There was a possibility that we might get turned back, because the forestry people had closed the road, but fortunately, it had been opened for the Challenge and all was well.

The weather was ok, and we set up tents along with the other Challengers, and about 4.5 million midges. It's at moments like this, that you regret not putting in your midge net hat.
On arrival, we had been given tea and scones, and this is a fabulous place, rather like Cougie, Alex and Janet being fantastic hosts.

Tea and Scones, and Alex's weird and amazing sculptures

Despite the attempts of the midges to spoil the party, we had a great night and an excellent meal, of gargantuan proportions, as well as a few beers and things that had been delivered.

Al, Jack, Alex, David and Rob at the meal

Later, Denis would blag himself a meal.

Wonderful view from the house towards where the Wind farm abomination is intended to be

What a great place.

Fortified, we eventually drifted to our tents.
It was time to tension up Wendy, so a bit of a bugger, when her strap came loose, and I had to refasten it using a head torch. In normal circumstances this is NOT an issue, but a head torch at night in Scotland, surrounded by 1,000,000 midges, it ain't good.

So, after climbing in my tent, I spent the next 20 min killing the little £u$%&^s.
Let me tell you, that going for a pee at 2.00 am was also an adventure.

But all was good, and tomorrow I would be able to carry the coffin up a hill!

DAY 05 TUE 17TH MAY 2011
Ault na Goire to Coignafern Lodge (Findhorn)

Distance  26.6 Km   Ascent  847  m  - (The Wake for the Wild Protest Day)

Funeral For a Friend by Dream Theatre
Today was a bit of a lie in (luxury), because the Wake was not due to start at the Loch until 10.00, so having taken down tents and packed kit ready, a leisurely breakfast was had before heading up to Loch Mhor. This was a bit of road but fine. Al went up with the coffin in Alex's car, before coming back to collect his kit, and walk up to past Errogie to the shore of the loch.
I walked round to the other side near Farraline ready to meet them and take some pictures. I will not go into all the details here regarding the Wake for the Wild, because that is done much much better, and with greater detail in Alan's blog, so I will just concentrate on my take.
I am also including a photo of the Loch taken at night in 2007, because it shows the Loch in it's beauty as the sun sets. To be honest, the weather was similar to this year, and coincidentally, we had camped almost where the boat was to arrive on the shore.
Loch Mhor from the bank near Farraline - Taken May 2007 (too good not to include)
So, Alex and Alan and the Times photographer and a local lady, went across in the boat. I waited on the far shore along with the German film crew and a few others who were gradually arriving,
as the boat was rowed across the loch, with Alex playing the fiddle.

Apart from needing to row an interesting line to stop being blown way off course, all went well, and amazingly, the boat arrived with music at the exact spot (more or less). Disembarking with the Coffin was also an interesting manoeuvre,  but all made it ashore in one piece, and the procession began (with a few pauses for photo's) up to Farraline, where local folk were assembled. An activity that 30 min ago looked like there were hardly any takers, suddenly had a huge support group.

At Farraline with only a few takers to haul the coffin, I started my stint up and over to Dunmaglass. With the additional handles (courtesy Alex) it was actually quite easy with 4 people, and we made great time. In fact it was almost easier with the coffin than without.
Unfortunately I have no photos of my stint with the coffin from Farraline up and over to Dunmaglass, so if anyone can send me a photo or two of this, that would be brilliant.
On the way over

Over the hill to Dunmaglass

Greeted By Police

You cannot see them hiding behind the windows

At Dunmaglass, we were rerouted round the Lodge, and on arriving on the road at the bottom, were met by 2 very nice Police Women (although they are apparently Police Officers not women, but not wanting to be sexist in any way, they looked like women to me)
There were also some heads hiding behind the windows in the Lodge. I guess they did not want to come out, because when we pointed our cameras at them to take photo's, they rapidly disappeared. The police were fine, and after a bit of a chat and a welcome rest we were all off again to take the coffin up high. Well, just across the river really for the lunch stop and first reading. It was here that the nice chap from The Times, who had also rowed across the loch (well a lot of it anyway) decided it would be nice to take some photo's of us going under the bridge. This he did, again, and again, and again, and again .... I lost count. It was a lot. In fact some people had finished their lunch by the time we finished. So it is thus doubly annoying that none of these pictures made themselves into any papers at all, and definitely not The Times. I was only there for the FAMEnot the cause! I told Al.
And that is why I am writing this you see.

At the end of lunch, words were spoken about the Wake, and the reason for it, and David Albon said some words and read a fantastic little poem. If you want to read it then you can find it on Al's Blog HERE. Very moving, and I have to say it brought a lump to my throat, and a tear to my eye.
Well done Daveand not bad for an invisible bloke!
Eventually it was time to go, and to go high.
We had been told (Al had been told), that the coffin must NOT be left on the estate, because it might harm the delicate ecology. Nor could it be burnt on the Estate.
Bloody priceless that, from an Estate that are going to Bulldoze bloody great tracks over the hills. Destroy enormous tracts of wild land. Pour in thousands of Tons of concrete, and make a lot of money from erecting 30+ 300' plus Wind Turbines, that will of course be in complete harmony and balance with nature. If you also go up to the top hut at the end of the LRT, and look at the amount of bags of half used and discarded builders crap, it makes it even more ironic.  I don't think that they will actually see the irony. Too blinkered by the ££££££ signs.
Rant over!
Where was I?
Oh yes we headed off up the track ( a long, long, long track ) towards Carn Odhar.
It was a long way, and I have no Photo's of this bit, but I can say, that everyone did their bit, and it was a fantastic group effort. Near the top a few left because they were heading in a different direction, and as AL says in his blog, the final stop and Wake Reading was made a little way from the top, before we carried on (with a long long way to go still), and the Coffin was taken back down again by those not on the Challenge to be used again.
I have to admit, confess that I did not walk off the track to the final reading place of the coffin. I did stay nearby, but assuming it was a short few words, and then off, had a chat with Norma, and adjusted shoes (as you do). John did go to have a look, but after about 10 minutes, with no sign of folk re-appearing, and a long way still to go, we decided to walk on slowly up to the hut at the end of the track, and stop for a rest. So John and Norma walked on, whilst I did something that probably entailed removing stones from my shoes, because I hadn't done this when I tightened them. I then set off, and caught them up, and we walked to the hut. It was actually surprisingly windy on the way over the top.
They're putting a bloody turbine up here to stand another 300' high. Perfect for killing Eagles!

At the hut we stopped and had a snack of something or other, that I can no longer remember, probably peanuts, a drink and a rest on chairs out of the wind. It is a nice hut, and has had wood burning stove put in it since I was last up that way. It provided good shelter for a while. A pity that they have left so much rubbish lying around outside. I expect it is special ecological rubbish though. Just as we were thinking about heading off again, Al arrived, along with other windswept folk. Rod Ross, Bernard Forrester, and Steve Miller. They should have been walking with Alan Hardy, but Alan was unfortunately injured and had to withdraw, and when a man with 23 crossings to his name has to withdraw, you know he was in trouble.

Al was going to have a brief rest, so I headed off slowly with John and Norma. I knew Al would soon catch us up, once he got up to heather bashing speed. There is no distinct path from the hut, other than vaguely East, but the terrain is fine. There is a track of sorts that meanders all over the place, but roughly in the right direction, made by a bulldozer. Not sure what this is for, but probably early preparation for pending wanton destruction and Wind Turbines.
John and Norma bashing Heather
It may be a wilderness, but it is a stunning (was) wilderness of assorted wildlife, and wonderful little valleys. It does not have the magnificence of the Western Hills, nor the vastness of the Cairngorms, but in its way, it is a special place. Such a pity, then that it is valued so little by Scottish parliament, and some (not all I might add - See Al's Blog)  of the estates.
Rod, Bernard and Steve after leaving the hut. (Go East young man Go east. It will become a theme)
It is just full of these wonderful little valleys
At the bottom I encountered this chap in a green Paramo, who I had last seen having a rest. He had not taken the scenic route, he had taken the direct route, and he had taken it at pace! He's a man who loves his heather!
Even with Sloman in the distance, it is still a beautiful place

It's a long way down to the bottom. There are a lot of new Land Rover tracks as you try and drop down to Coignafern New Lodge, from the top. It is also very easy to follow them and get dragged off to God knows where. Much better to stick with the stream, that definitely goes where you want to go, and also is much much prettier.
Grouse Nest by the edge of the track, discovered by John K. He has an uncanny nose for stuff like this. I would probably have walked straight past and not noticed.

Towards the bottom, Al and eye could feel the lure of the campsite, and with aching feet, we upped the pace. However, as we approached the Findhorn, from the track, we decided, it being a rather grand day, and also because we were knackered, to have a sit down and a rest and just admire the fantastic views in the valley.

It was about 6.30 by now, and after a rest and rubbing aching feet (our own, I mean why would you!), John and Norma caught us up, and together we descended the last bit down to the track, and followed the Findhorn up to the bridge at Coignascallen. You can camp here and I have done in the past, but this time our final destination was going to be the small patch of ground by the ruins the other side of the river.
As we approached the bridge, there were deer waiting to cross the river. There was also a small camper van just by the bridge. We wandered down to the bridge, and as the people were looking out of the window, a walked over to say hello. I assumed they were having a cup of tea. Indeed, that they might even be Challengers or related and offer us a cup, so being a hospitable chap that is what I did.
"Hello, lovely evening"
"SSSSHHHHHH!", says they looking at Al and I as if we are the spawn of the Devil.
"Hello, says I", in a whisper, "Lovely evening"
"SSSSHHHHHH!" says they even louder, and MUCH louder than my whisper
"The Deer are trying to Cross the River!", they said in an accusing way.
Anyone would have thought that we had turned up with bagpipes playing, and a Kalashnikov on our shoulder ready to shoot them. I have NO idea what they expected us to do. Maybe sit down and wait for 2 hours whilst the deer crossed, so that they could watch. Who knows? Anyway ......................................
"I know!" says I with a smile, "They're Deer, they cross it every night about this time, they do it every day"
And Al and I walked across the bridge, as they stared at us, went off to brew tea, and probably make effigies to stick pins in, because we had ruined their lives. They were still there the next morning. And do you know, the Deer crossed the river! Amazing.
So, off we headed to the ruins, arriving just after 7.20, where several others including Maria, and Bernie were already set up. Despite asking, no one made us a brew though. Mean lot.
The forecast for the night, and the next day was WINDY, so we pitched our tent in as sheltered a position as possible. John and Norma handed out some Red Wine, and we also shared Sloe Gin, and Whiskey, cooked up out meals, and relaxed. As the sun went down, the rain closed in, and the wind increased in its severity. Sadly no pictures of this, but if anyone has one or two, and would like to email them to me, then that would be great. Rod and Co had decided to camp a bit earlier up near the Lodge (in the windy corridor), and I would meet up with them tomorrow.
And, so at last after a rather long day, it was time to plug in the ears and drift off to a well earnt sleep. Apart from the blustery night. It was going to be another long, but hopefully magnificent day tomorrow, and I was rather looking forward to it.
I didn't even hear myself snoring! 

DAY 06 WED 18TH MAY 2011  
Coignascallen (Ruins) - Aviemore

Distance  24.5 Km   Ascent  807 m  - (I remember why I love the Monadhlaith)

After a rather blustery night, we decided on an early start, there being a bit of a walk on today, and having had something or other for breakfast, tents up, and away by about 8.00. Actually I cannot remember the actual time, but it was about then, and anyway, it doesn't really matter. The weather was quite good, and the tents were reasonably dry. Not dry, just reasonably dry, which means damp.
Al and I headed round the north end of the wood, and across to the river. We needed to get to the LRT along Allt a Mhuillin. The river was a little more full than normal and we had to go upstream on this side a bit before crossing. There was an interesting bit with a dodgy fence that I traversed and Al more sensibly went round, and then we were across onto the wide LRT that leads up to the bridge.
This is another pretty Monadhliath valley.

At this point, the weather was good, but quite breezy. Luckily down in the valley you are quite sheltered. At the other side of the bridge, the track winds up quite steeply. There are various route options from here, but it was decided to stay on the slightly lower path and go round. This is not shown on my map, but there is a track there.

You can head up and over Allt Mor, Via Capchan Ei, or go further along the Allt Tarsuinn and then up and over the top. Just before the Capchan Ei junction, there is another new track that heads South. We had gone past this, and were heading along, when it started to rain. It was one of those short sharp showers that you get. So waterproofs on, we then continued. Since the track was not on the map, I decided to take a GPS reading, and we checked our position. Al decided we were drifting to far NE and headed back. I was originally going to go up Capchan Ei aand across to the Lochan's, but just as we got to the track that Al was going to take, we bumped into Rod, Steve and Bernie. Rod, who has done a few, and been this way before said that you could carry on this track and then bash over the top to the Red Bothy. So, this seeming like a plan to me, Al and I said a tearful farewell (no we didn't, we're 'Ard we are), and Al headed off up the track. He was off to Kincraig to stay at Val's and my end point for the day was Aviemore, so it was time for different routes for a few days.
Thus, I headed off up the track with Rod and co, until we got round to about where the river forks again. At this we could have tried to follow the river futher, but it was a lot easier just to gain some high ground and then take a bearing, so we headed up. To be honest, I am not exactly sure where we went up. The weather was good, and the visibility excellent. I had a small compass, and knew where I was heading, so it was really just a matter of taking a bearing and heading that way, with a few minor corrections.
Rod Steve and Bernie as we head over the top

It was wonderful wild land. I love heather bashing over this stuff. I was on a roll today, and going at a good pace, and loving it. I seemed to be pulling away from Rod, although they had I think stopped to check maps and stuff. I was working in trusty compass mode, and the fact that I could see for miles. I knew from the map the geography. It was just a matter of not getting suckered off into the wrong valley, and staying high. I headed Just South of East. I knew that if I kept high, I would eventually arrive at the Dulnain, and be able to see the Bothy, so on and on I went.
The ground underfoot, was not that wet, and nice and soft and springy. The only difficulty, was the very gusty wind.
Indeed, although I was not to know this, but before they got to the Red Bothy, the wind, and heather bashing was going to cause Bernie's tent to fall off his rucksack, where it was on the outside. Unfortunately, he was not to notice this until they were a long way across, and the top of the Monas, is not a place that it is easy to go back and find dropped items, even if they are as big as a tent. Sadly this was to be the fate of Bernie's tent. Not exactly lucky. but at least fortunate that the nights stop spot was going to be Aviemore, a place that he would at least be able to replace his tent. A very expensive accident, but it could have been a lot worse if intending to camp high that night.

The wilderness of the top

Heading to the Red Bothy

Just before the descent to the Bothy

Dead wood on the way down

Sheep Pens before thr red bothy
I just love it up here. And actually it was a great place to be walking on your own. Quiet, and in the middle of a wilderness, but knowing exactly where you were heading. If you've never gone across the Monadhliath Mountains, then do it at least once. And do it soon, before they completely bugger it up.
It was a wonderful bumpy heather bash down to the bottom, with small lochans, and amazing colours, despite the fact that it looks like it is all brown in most photos.
Amazing coloured moss, on the way down
Inside the Red Bothy

When I arrived at the bothy, there was just Bernie Roberts there, (Good chap is Bernie). He had just finished his lunch stop, and was heading over to Aviemore. I was later to catch him up at the top of the Birma Road.
So, no one about, I took off my shoes, to rest my feet, and had a nice break. 
The weather outside was still good, although the wind was picking up. 
I had a break for about 20 min before packing up gear and heading off. 
I was suprised that Rod had not arrived by now, and when I looked back I could just about make them out a long way up the hill. I had not at this point realised the problem with Bernie's tent, nor the fact that they had been asked by the sheep farmers, to wait up the hill until they had herded the sheep to the bottom.
As I left there were quite a lot of sheep and dogs there, and three farmers who had been rounding them up. I had a brief chat, and then headed off to the bridge to go over to Aviemore in every increasing blustery winds.
The bridge across by the bothy to start the Birma road

So across the bridge, and the rather tedious walk up and over the track to Aviemore.
The never ending Birma Road

Somewhere between the start of the track, and first small bridge, an enormous gust of wind had taken my rucksack cover, at the speed of sound in a northerly direction. I did not even notice it go, and it was not coming back. So, lesson 2 for the day, attach you rucksack cover with some shot cord or something. Lesson 1 being:   
Don't have your tent on the outside, and if you do make sure it is secured like Fort Knox.
On the way up, I could see Bernie R in the distance. I also encountered an enormous digger, that was flattening the track and filling gaps with sand. There is a huge amount of money spent on maintaining this track and making it smooth. So big was the digger, that I had to walk off the track on the heather to get round it.

It is a long way up the track. As I reached the top, I caught up with Bernie. A brief chat and as the weather suddenly changed into a squally shower, it was time to head off on the equally long journey down.
It is a bit mindless this bit, and so I plugged my headphones in, and boogied on down to something rocky. 
I think it was Michael Angelo Batio
If you want to find what that sounds like, then check out the link.
So, there I am drifting down the hill in boogie mode. Hood up to keep the rain and wind out, and 3 off road vehicles full of farmers and dogs in convoy behind me waiting to get past as I walk down the middle of the track. Luckily I did eventually notice, and moved over to let them pass. They waved and smiled as they drove off, but were probably thinking wa?ker!
I have no idea how long they were waiting, but according to Bernie, 2 or 3 minutes. OOPS!
I boogie on a bit more and at the bottom sat down for a shoe adjust and a read. Bernie caught me up at this point, along with another couple of Challengers who I apologise for not remembering, and together we walked to the end of the track and down the road past Lynnwig.
From here (to quote Al), it is just a half mile and a bit to Aviemore. Unfortunately, it is a LONG TEDIOUS ROADY bit and the bit part is about 6 or 7 K although it feels like about 15 miles.
I have no pictures of this bit, because you do not want to be put off.
And thus it came to pass that we arrived in Aviemore, at the pub next to Aviemore Hostel. Bernie was off to the campsite, but was lured into the pub by me, and also by the siren like call of the amber nectar. It was here that we met Jane Egg, and Alan Hardy. Alan had injured his back, and had had to withdraw. 
He was off to the Chiropractor in Inverness the next day. 
Jane had yomped here at an insane speed, carrying a large pack, and wearing what looked for all the world like slippers. No wonder her feet and legs ached, but she's well 'ard is Jane, she wasn't going to let aches and pains stop her.
We had a beer, and I booked into my hostel bunk, and Bernie headed off to his campsite.
After sorting out my stuff, and putting my shoes and Wendy (if you remember she is nearly dry from earlier, but now damper than when she went into the rucksack) into the drying room. I then washed up some undies and stuff and then took them to the drier.
This needed tokens that you collect from the pub, or the hostel.
So in pops the token and ......................... Nothing!
Back to the pub to find the nice girl who had let me in, and given me the tokens. Fortunately she did manage to get it going after a bit of a struggle with the token tray, and washing in the drying machine, along with loads of other stuff dangling over hot water pipes, I headed into Aviemore for supplies, and to get to tent seam sealant, and a few other bits and bobs. 
Oh yes, a rucksack cover!
I had a mince round Tesco, as you do, got some rolls and cheese and sweets, and a half bottle of Whiskey.
Job done, back to the hostel to have a sort out, and pack stuff, and then down the pub for food and a pint.
The hostel is good, with good facilities, and near enough to town to get stuff, and just far enough out to make the next days start easy. 
Interestingly, the dormitories are mixed, which is a new twist, not that it makes any difference, and the one I was in had a full contingent of people on the night. 
A couple who had been climbing, and some others who were walking or cycling. 
I say nice although, admittedly, the shower door was hanging off, and also the hot tap had more water coming out the top than the spout, but it was still fine. 
Luckily I had arrived early enough to have the pick of the bunks, and also to spread my stuff out and get all the packing done.
As it happens, I packed my rucksack ready that night, apart from essential morning kit, so that it would make for an easy departure. 
After this I had a jolly fine shower, minus door, and then that was the time to go down and have a pint.
When I arrived, Alan, Rod, Steve and Bernie were already there and about to order food. I joined them at the next table, and also ordered some food and had a pint of cider. I just fancied a cider!
A few other challengers arrived and we spent a pleasant evening, in a pub that was absolutely heaving with folk. A popular place.

It was still heaving in there when I finally left to go and get some sleep, and that was at about 11.00. 
So I snuck back to the hostel, and on the way, realised that I had not rung into control (oops). 
I rang through and spoke to Avril. 
The forecast for the next day was not great, and people were being advised to do their FWA. My original plan was to go down to Loch Einich and then high over Coire Dhondail. But this seemed unlikely. 
However, my other alternative was via the Larig Ghru. 
Now officially, this is not a FWA since it goes over 800m, but I decided again, that I would make the final decision in the morning, once I had got up and had a good look at the weather.
Which I did!

DAY 07 THU 19TH MAY 2011     Aviemore - Derry Lodge
Distance  28.3 Km   Ascent  760 m  - (A stroll up the valley - Quite a big valley)
At 7.00 I was already up, and the weather at the time was ok. It was a bit showery, but the weather was ok.
I had to make a decision as to final route.
The weather forecast was for wind and rain, and snow on the tops, with high winds. Even if this did not happen, there was a chance that it would.
So after breakfast, I decided it was time to go, and packing up gear, left about 8.10. I wandered down the road as far as the road that goes down to Glen Feshie. It was time to make a decision.
I rang Avril at mission control. The weather looked ok. I had been through there before. I was not going to Coire Dhondail. I was going through the Larig Ghru.
Decision made! As Avril said, "You're the man on the ground, I am happy with your decision!"
Absolutely, and many thanks, and I was going that way.
So, off I went down to the track that heads to the Larig. The weather here was ok, and I even managed to lose the Paramo jacket.
There is a very pleasant walk down through the forest to the Cairngorm Footclub Bridge. I seem to remember seeing Morven near here, but I was too far away at the time to see.
Thus there was now only one route to do, and the game was on.
Just before the footclub bridge I was overtaken by some cyclists. When I got there, they were trying to take a timed photo. And this was also to take in the river view as well.
It was not going to work.
"Give us the camera boys" I said "You'll end up with a picture of 2 faces, half a bike, and his arse"
"Thanks", they said, and I took some photos for them.
As they rode off, I headed over the bridge. In the distance the Larig beckoned.
The view from the Cairngorm Footclub Bridge

In the forest on the way to the Larig

view to the dark moody clouds that were over the Larig. Even when it was sunny through the forest, the clouds were sitting over the mountains.

Looking Back

Heading into the Larig Ghru
One of the great things about the Larig Ghru is the fact that it is impossible to get lost.
I say that, but back in 2006, the first time, and indeed the only other time I went through there, in ironically worse weather conditions, I was with my neighbour. Well, ex neighbour! It had not been the most harmonious of crossings, and we are now divorced.
Anyway, at one point along the Larig, her had said to me. "Are we going the right way?" Now call me mad, but ......................
How in the name off all that is holy, can you get lost along there? What I actually said, I think was.
"Are you £^($ing nuts?"
You see why we are divorced eh!
Well that and the fact that I love my wife (but that is an earlier blog).
As I headed into the gorge proper, I spotted this chap ahead walking with no gear at all. Is he MAD I thought to myself.
Anyway, I grabbed some water, and eventually caught up, to discover it was Robert!
Remember, he was with us earlier.
It transpired, that he was not walking with no gear. He had lost his handkerchief, and had gone back to find it. Quite a long way back to be honest. I was also thrown by the fact he had a new jacket and some other new gear.
I feel a bit guilty now that I left his hanky by the side of the track. (Just joking! Or am I?)
I was double grateful though that he had completely resolved all the issues with those ^&*(ing tension straps.
It's a stunning gorge, the Larig. 
An immense rift carved out with the massive Cairngorm Plateau on either side.
Robert in the Larig Ghru

Me in the Larig Ghru

The weather was actually good, and the wind was not high as expected. I did not even need the jacket, just walking in a T shirt. As we got near the small shelter at the top, it seemed a good time to stop for a lunch break. Typically, this was when the squall from nowhere arrived with rain and sleet. It did not last long, but we were grateful for that little shelter. I had some rather fine smokey cheese from Tesco in Aviemore and also some rolls. Excellent.
The squall passed as quickly as it had started, and soon we were over the top and heading back down again. 
Last time I was here, there was quite a bit of snow, but this time only a few sporadic patches, and the going was good. We could see someone walking towards us in the distance. 
It turned out to be a German girl, with many knee supports. She did not like boulders, and was asking if there were many. "You are not going to like the other side" we said, "but they are really not that bad."
She had come up from Bob Scot's that morning. That was my preferred destination, although if the weather had closed in I had corrour as my first option.
So off we headed, past the Pools of Dee

The path down here in good weather, and this was make no mistake good weather, is easy going. Last time I was into driving rain and sleet, and ended up very grateful for the bothy. That was back in 2006 when I had arrived wet and cold. This time it was a very pleasant walk down. Great views of all the high peaks, and I was thinking to myself, the my original route would probably have been ok. Although by next morning, and hearing from others, I might have made the right decision. There is always another time for high stuff.
I should have been the other side of that lot!

Devil Point and Corour just visible

View towards Glen Geusachan from just past Corrour bothy

Trouble is, that when you are down there, you always want to be up there. Well I did! BUT.... I was down here, and there was a way to go, so Robert and I carried on down towards corrour.

This was where I was going to exit tomorrow, but I was here today.
Just before here, we saw to challengers by the side of the track having a break. This was Jane E and her partner Hoff.
Jane was resting, and Hoff was eating from an enormous Tupperware bowl of pasta. This was a bit of a domestic situation apparently, because having carried it from Aviemore, he was not sharing it. Not ones to get involved, we didn't. 
He had met up with Jane in Aviemore, and they were walking through to Braemar together (it might have been Ballater).
So at corrour at about 4.30 or something like that, we decided to head on the Derry Lodge. Indeed, Robert had a plan for Mar Lodge, there being a spare bed there tonight. I thought about that, but I was already a day early, and was officially booked into Mar Lodge for Sat night. Even if I stayed in my tent, or the bothy until midday tomorrow, I would still be arriving at Mar lodge a day early, so my intention was Derry Lodge.
It looked like it might rain, but it didn't, and we made excellent speed round Glen Luibeg.
The river near Luibeg Bridge
Common Dog Violet near Luibeg Bridge

It was turning out to be an excellent day
The river just after Luibeg Bridge

Tree on the track to Derry Lodge

As we arrived at Derry Lodge, there were a lot of people camping near the lodge. I had already decided to stay at Bob Scott's bothy (assuming there was space), and there was. Loads of space
Rob just past Derry Lodge

At the lodge there were two Scott's lads Rod and Sandy. Indeed there was actually Rod and Ruby, and Sandy and Roxy. Ruby being a chocolate Labrador, and Roxy, a highland terrier, or at least a terrier.
Rod, Sandy, Ruby and Roxy through a rather wet lens. It was not wet inside, but I had been outside and forgotten to clean it.

They had just started a brew and great chaps that they were, offered us a cup, and never one to pass up a brew like that, especially after a long walk, we accepted. Rob was umming and arring whether to stay, but in the end decided to head off to Mar Lodge. The other chap that we met just before Derry Lodge also headed off, having just popped in for a look, not realising that the bothy was there. Indeed a lot of people do not realise it is here, and it is a brilliant bothy, with a fantastic wood burning stove, sleeping platform, and outside toilet. Amazing considering how close it is to civilisation.
Rod and Ruby

So Rob had headed off, and I got my stuff sorted out. As the evening wore on, the weather started to turn to rain showers. A few assorted folk stuck there heads round the door, but none stayed.
Jane and Hoff, who we had left earlier finishing their rest also turned up. They thought about staying inside, but for some reason, elected to put up their tent on the edge of the woods. 
Looking at the weather, and since the forecast was for high winds, add to that, that there was a lot of dead wood high in the trees, I would not have camped, but there you are.
Indeed a few people were camped in the woods, under the trees. 
It was quite (very) windy that night, and I hope that they were alright.
So after another brew, Jane & Hoff went off to tent, and we decided it was time to cook up some food. Rod and Sandy offered me some of theirs, but I had extra food anyway, and needed to cook some of mine. This was their last night, having been here since the start of the week, doing assorted trips up to the plateau.
Roxy and Sandy's feet

Rod was a big wood burning stove man, and as the weather got worse, and wind and rain increased outside, the stove provided a huge amount of heat.

Indeed, it was so hot that I slept on top of my sleeping bag. 
Quite a long way from the chaps camping up high, who were by morning under a pile of snow. Even in the Feshie and Gelder Lodge it snowed. 
Next morning you could see a good dump on the tops.
Well, we were snug as a bug, and spent a great evening chatting away. Classic bothy night really, especially after the Whiskey came out.
I had half a bottle from Aviemore, and Rod and Sandy had just over half a bottle between them. It was just blended whiskey, so leant itself rather nicely to being mixed with honey.
The evening sped by. The whiskey flowed. The stove burned brightly. And we had a cracking time.
Indeed I think it was nearly 12.45 before I got off to sleep.
We'd solved all the world's problems. Rod and Sandy were a great couple of guys.
That's what bothy's are all about. Job done!
A was really glad I was not in my tent.
Really Really Glad!

DAY 08 FRI 20TH MAY 2011  
Derry Lodge - Mar Lodge

Distance  6.9 Km   Ascent  53 m  - (T'was but a gentle stroll)

I was actually awake quite early.
I say quite early. About 8.00 (am OK)
The weather was actually quite pleasant, which compared to the wind and rain overnight, was quite a surprise. Rod and Sandy were packing ready to go, and after a chat, and breakfast, it was time for the off. We bid each other farewell, and they headed off back to their car which was parked at the start of the track.
Rod and Sandy as the start on the track from Bob Scott's bothy

I was about to leave, but as I started I was overcome with the overwhelming desire to check out the toilet at the bothy.

Bob Scot's Bothy
 Mind and body told me that this must be done, and more importantly it must be done in the next few minutes. There are times in your life when certain things have to be done, and this was one of those moments. It is a toilet, but in the Greek sense, for those that have used toilets on some Greek campsites. I haven't actually been to a Greek campsite for at least 20 years, so they may have got better, but in those days it was a hole in the ground. It is only one step away really from the hole with the trowel. Aim is everything, and stance is imperative. Handles would be useful. You get the picture? Well, you will be pleased that I did not take any.
Shortly after this revelation, the moment had passed, along with other matters, and cleansed and lighter it was now truly time to head off.
Just one more photo back to the hills through the woods. You can just see the snow on the tops.
View back to the hills from behind Bob Scott's. A little Oasis

There is NOT a lot to say about the walk out to Braemar and the road. I should maybe have taken more photo's, although those that have been to the web album will probably disagree, so there is little to show on the route.
The weather was good, and I set off at a good pace. I encountered a lot of cyclists heading up to Derry Lodge. More than I would have expected on a Friday.
As I got to the bridge at the end of the track, I knew I needed to go straight on. But Captain Paranoia was on my shoulder.
"Are you sure it is not over the Bridge, I think you need to check"
"It's ok Captain, it is straight on!"
"Yes, but are you sure. Remember last time you didn't check!"
"It's fine it is definitely straight on! ............ Ok I'll just get the map out and check"
After a week in the hills, you do start to talk to yourself. Don't you?
As I got to the bridge, there was a chap there (whose name I should remember and someone will hopefully tell me). He was from America.  Actually, one of the southern states. I knew it at the time, but in the intervening weeks, it has lapsed into the grey memory areas. His map was not as good as mine, and he was also checking his route. I told him it was straight on, and just about that moment, John Hancock also arrived. We all agreed, it was straight on, and Captain Paranoia was nowhere to be seen. I had last seen John, back at the Wake for the Wild at the start. I was at the time, wondering how he had got on with his tarp.
So, we all headed off up the river, towards Mar Lodge. This is NOT a big day, but in that time, we did discover that he was on his final year of examinations at University over here, and had decided to walk from Aviemore to Braemar between exams, just to help wind it all down. When he finished, he was going home, and hoping to walk the Appalachian trail with his father. There is a picture of him at Mar lodge a bit later. If you can remember who he was please add a comment.
It is not far to Mar Lodge. If you fancy a diversion, there is a nice little walk up the hill into the woods and back down to exit exactly opposite the other entrance to Mar Lodge.

As we arrived on the road at the end of the track, there were other Challengers coming along.

Jane and Hoff arrive at Mar Lodge ,American Chap behind - (I need a name for the other man next to Jane)
John and Chris

From the weather today, you would not have known that last night, it had snowed quite heavily higher up, and over in the Feshie.
So, we all arrived at Mar Lodge. If you go past Mar Lodge on your Challenge, always drop in. They provide a wonderful service, with Tea and Biscuits and Cake and stuff. It is always full of Challengers, and a little oasis for a chat before finally plunging into the fleshpots of Braemar.
Chris, Hoff, John, Me (with seriously bad hair and in need of a shave), and others in the kitchen
The American chap! (Who was he?)

So having arrived and partaken of tea and stuff, it was time to go and negotiate on the room. I was due here tomorrow, and I had heard that there were no rooms tonight. But if you don't ask! So I did!
I explained the room thing, said I was OK if they didn't have a room, but I would not be staying tomorrow, if anyone needed a room. On the other hand, if maybe they had a spare room, and I could change my booking that would be jolly fine. I expected maybe in the bunk house if there was anywhere. Well, wonderful folk that they are, they said no problem, they would find me a room. And they did!

My palatial room at the Lodge before unpacking. This was just one corner. It was huge!

Well, as you can see, the room was of monumental proportions. So I unpacked stuff, hung bits to dry, and draped Wendy out, and gave her perforations a jolly good going over with seam sealant. Now this takes 10 hours to cure, so this was perfect. It is also nice to be able to unpack everything in a space this big, and have a jolly good look at kit. 
And I washed stuff like undies and tops and ....... Brilliant!
Oh yes, the Shower! Big old bath and hot shower. All clean! Nice !
All sorted out, I collected my parcel with goodies in and re-stocked my food and other bits. And then it was time to pop back down and see who else had arrived, and the plans for the evening meal.
Back in the kitchen (picture courtesy Ian Cotterill I think)

As I arrived in the kitchen, who should be there? None other than Mr Sloman. He had spent an interesting night with snow. Being a nice chap, I offered him my second can of Abbot. (Especially delivered all the way from the Fens - It's the little luxuries you know)
It's the sort of thing you do for mates that is. Now of course I could have offered it unconditionally, but there was the time debt thing that I had somehow accrued earlier in the Challenge. It was an opportunity that could not be passed up, and so it was agreed, that the 1 hour + time debt would be written off in exchange for the dark nectar from the Bury St Edmunds brewery. This was agreed as a verbal contract and can was collected and given to Al, who I must say did not take long in consuming it. I'd have given him the beer anyway!
Chatting ensued, and then it was time for Al to head off to Braemar for two nights of rest (and probable drinking). I had contemplated this as an option earlier in the day, but decided that  I would not survive two nights in Braemar, followed by a third night at Callater Lodge.
So Al headed off, and I went for a wander round the Lodge. The weather was excellent, although not that warm in the wind, but beautiful and sunny. It wasn't going to last as we were to find out.

View from Mar Lodge

There are some spooky old corridors in Mar Lodge
The number of Stags heads is unbelievable. Everywhere you go. If you get a chance, have a look in the main banquet hall. I cannot remember the actual number, but it is wrong on many levels. This picture used flash, but in reality the whole corridor is as dark as the far end.
This was taken on my 2010 crossing, when we were allowed to look at the hall.
See what I mean!
Impressively WRONG!

The rest of the day was spent doing NOT A LOT, until much later we had our evening meal. There was a choice of meal and  I had Stovies.
The meal on Friday night. There were a lot of people in tonight.

A pity this year, that there were no functions on. Mar Lodge can only supply alcohol, if there is a function, and they have a licence. You need to bear this in mind if you are staying there, and fancy a beer or wine. Luckily for us, someone was going into Braemar, and we managed to get some for later in the evening. This was spent in the Gun Room, which is along a small corridor, behind the kitchen. An evening spent with a roaring fire, and great company.
The fire in the Gun Room

I managed to get a bottle of white wine. I had a couple of glasses, and left the bottle for sharing. Sharing is important on the Challenge. A pity that not everyone there understood that, when Bert was going to have a can of beer.  We will not dwell on that, it has been mentionedyou know who you are! Anyway, we had spare wine and whiskey, so it was ok.
A fine night, in fine company, and a  nice rest. Tomorrow I was off to Braemar. It was not going to be a long day. Indeed, Friday, Sat and Sunday were all going to be very short days.
BUT.... Monday and Tuesday were going to make up for that.

DAY 09 SAT 21ST MAY 2011
Mar Lodge - Braemar
Distance  8 Km   Ascent  175 m  - (Nice morning, shame about the weather)

I woke to another nice day.
I had dropped off quickly the night before, but woken at about 3.00am and could not get back to sleep, so I read a book about Scottish Clans that was in the room. Bit of a ruthless lot some of them I have to say. In particular the Campbell's (Glencoe Massacre) and the McDonalds to name but two. So I read up about them. Not a lot of Scottish Loyalty between the clans, not a lot of love either.
I must have read until about 4.30 am and then finally managed to drift off again. Weird!
Finally got up at about 8.00 went down for a fine breakfast, although not quite as good as last year, and then got kit ready for the stroll into Braemar. The forecast was for rain later, but it was looking good, and as I hate putting my tent up in the rain (have I mentioned that before), it was time to go. Since there was no one about (I wasn't being antisocial honest), I walked in on my own.
As I strolled down the drive in mar Lodge, I was pondering on the need for something to perform at Callater. You need to know about this, because Mick will get you otherwise. So having a small harmonica in my pocket, I decided a bit of a blues ditty would do.
Not sure I can remember it all now, but I will try and do that in time for the Callater Blog. Failing that I will put something in similar, and I will apologise for the swearing now.
As I approached the gate, with Harmonica blaring, and lyrics sung a bit too loud, I noticed that there was a chap walking along the bank of the river fishing. I had not noticed him until that point. He must have wondered what the hell was going on. As I crossed the bridge I just nodded to him, and we carried on our way. I waited until I was a bit of a way down the road before starting again. I thought it best.
If you go up through the Woods, it is a lovely little walk into Braemar. A lot further to the cut off into the woods than it seems, and easy to miss if you are not concentrating. Luckily I was concentrating. There are two main tracks up into the woods. You can take either. The higher path goes almost directly right to start with, and then curves round and up. You have to be careful further up to then turn left, and not get dragged up too far into the woods. Tip here is look at the geography. The lower track is straighter, but they join up with each other just past the small lochan. One above and one below it.
Once the paths join they head east, and eventually come to the start of the Morrone Birkwood. It looks when you get near here, that the path drops down, but it does not. You need to take the right fork, and a short distance further on you will get to the stile into the woods proper.
Into the woods

View from just over the stile. Stormy clouds forming. It looks like rain

As I got over the stile I saw a small (about 18" so not that small) animal scurry across the path. It was hazel/ginger colour, (a bit like our old cat, but that is no help to you). It was too fast to see, and although I managed to dig my camera out, by then it was long gone. It could well have been a Pine Marten. This is not the same one             ==========>> 
But it was similar.
So, I carried on my walk. It looked like it might rain later, but it was ok for now. I was hoping I would be able to get the tent up in time.

This little pool was a bit further on.
Wood Anemone by the side of the track

Trig Point

The view from the trig point before the track down to Tomintoul.

I almost wandered straight past the trig point, not concentrating you see. You can go straight on, but you will end up in the Golf Course a lot further down the road to Callater. Best to turn left at the trig point and follow the track down that eventually comes out on the road into Braemar. As I got to the road there were a few spots of rain, and I hoped that it would stop later to get the tent up. It was also getting windier (an omen).
On arriving in Braemar, I firstly popped into the Fife (as you do). There were a few there already, cannot remember exactly who. I needed to go up to the shop to organise some new underwear. I was having an elastic malfunction in mine, and this was causing issues with the left tackle area. But first, it was important to get down to the Campsite and get booked in. So I headed down the road. The shins were playing up again (might have been the road walking, or the pace of the last bit), not sure of the cause. As I went down the road to the campsite, there was a B&B on the left with vacancies. I was tempted, but resisted. That was a mistake because it would have been really nice to be in a B&B later that day. Too late though, I didn't.
At the campsite I was told to find a pitch and then put up my tent. I found a pitch between 27 and 28 and went back to report.
"You cannot put it between pitches, it has to be on a number".
This was crazy, because they could have got a lot more in if you didn't have to do that. The pitches were for great big tents, and we were single tents. Apparently it was a Health and safety issue or something.
There is a LOT to be said about the Health & Safety Executive. NONE OF IT IS GOOD!
So I went back to find a pitch which I did. It was near a tree, which I was not happy about. I could also not get the skewers in because of the roots. And it was getting windy and a pain to pitch.
I decided to move, and went further up on a flatter bit of Grass, but more open area. No trees you see, no falling branches.
(Health and Safety ???? You cannot pitch too close to another pitch, but you can pitch under trees where the branches could fall on your tent! Bloody Madness! Whatever!)
So, I pitched on PITCH 4. I went back and reported I was on pitch 4.
"Someone on that Pitch", they said. "Yes a chap called Sloman"
Well to be honest, I knew that, but it was all getting a bit silly, so I said
"Sorry, I though he was on pitch 5", on the grounds that his tent was nowhere near the number 4, but quite close to the number 5. "I'll come and have a look", says the bloke in charge
Now I was not trying to stitch Al up here (honestly). I was just trying to get a sensible pitch, amidst weird rules.
"That's fine", said the chap. "You are nowhere near him"
Common sense had prevailed over mindless jobsworthing and he gave me No 32! (still trying to work that out now).
What I am saying is, that it is a good camp site, and the folk there made a good decision.
So, tent up and gear unpacked
AND it was still dry!
Wendy finally up  

One of the biggest problems was the wind when putting up the tent. The ideal way to erect the Stephenson, is with the back directly into the wind. Which is what I did. And of course, the wind then immediately moved through about 50º. Too late, I left her as she was, it would only have changed direction again.
Cute Ducklings at the campsite. They were obviously a prediction of the weather to be.

I went back into Braemar, for shopping and pants and stuff. I also met Al and many others. I cannot remember the exact sequence of events now, but I do know that it was getting windier.
I do remember that I met Phil having a coffee, so popped in for a Chat. I had not seen Phil since the train to Strathcarron. The lucky bugger was booked into the Fife. I was now really regretting not going to the B&B. Especially as the forecast for the next 3 days was not good. Bloody awful springs to mind.
So after coffee, I went to get the new pants. Important!
Just after this, I bumped into Al. He was waiting for Dave. Dave is his mate from schools, and was coming up to walk from Braemar to the coast, with a view to doing the Challenge at some future point. He had come to the Lakes with us in April, and had a good time. The next few days as we shall see, were going to test the metal of the lad.
Anyway, Dave arrived on the coach, just as it started to rain. It was going to rain more.
It was decided that we ought to get Dave's tent up, so we went back to the campsite. and this was order of the day. Dave was using Al's old Red Akto, so with a bit of instruction this was done, in the rain, after which at some point we went back into town to the Fife, and maybe elsewhere.
At the Fife, seats were hard to come by, at least where everyone was sitting, so Dave and I having asked the lovely bar lady if they might put the Heineken Cup final between Leinster and Northampton on the TV, and the wonderful bar lady asking the man in charge, and the fantastic man in charge saying YES, sat down the far end and watched the match, as the wind and rain swirled outside. What a great way to spend an afternoon. Well almost, because Northampton lost.
So, let's discuss English Rugby, the blinkered use of the set piece, rather than the ability to play what is in front of you, and the primary cause, which is the English Academy system, mainly run by those poorly qualified to choose, where younger generations are plucked from their clubs, and taught to play formulaic rugby rather than learn and read the game. It is a counterproductive elitism based on size and not on skill. No wonder we get hammered by the Southern Hemisphere and Ireland.
Whew! - That should get a reaction (Note Austin Healey has this opinion as well, and Will Greenwood as far as I can tell)
It was great afternoon.
The next stop, was down to the Hungry Highlander for Fish and Chips.This is a place where small is not understood, but BIG portions are standard. It is the sort of meal that can fortify you for the next 2 days.
A short trip back to the campsite, where I seem to remember standing in the laundry area for quite a while, because it was nice and warm, and the weather outside was crap. It was a long day of doing not a lot after, but it was relaxing. Probably!
Finally back into town and off to the Moorfield House Hotel to grab a pint, and watch Bingo Wings. This a bit of a way out the other side of town, infact on the road you come in by if you come in via Tomintoul. It is also a bit of a hike in crappy weather, but it did make for a good evening. Now I am not necessarily a fan of these things, but I have to say it was OK, and great fun was had by all. Especially Shirl, who wasn't even there, and had a request played to her live via Al's mobile phone. Woo Hoo! (See U Tube Clip at the end - Not Bingo Wings!)
Al & Jim as Al talks to Shirley
Shirl talking to Bingo Wings Singer

Mick and Al doing Dad Dancing

Press run to listen to Woo Hoo song (Song 2 by Blur) 
A good time was had by all.

After this we somehow ended up back at the Fife.
I was soundly thrashed by Dave at Pool (3 - 0)
Then back to the campsite (It was still raining), and some sleep.
I say sleep, because along with Ducks quacking, and the Sheep bleating, various birds tweeting and stuff, and assorted operatic snoring, along with a lot of wind and rain, it was not the sleep of the blessed. Even with the storm supports attached, Wendy still rocked and rolled that night, and it wasn't to music. I am not sure where John Hancock slept. He might have slept under his Tarp, but if it had been me, I would have gone to the Information Room, or the Drying room and slept inside.
All that said, and despite the noise, and the wind, and a bit of shaking, Wendy was warm and cosy, and pretty much bullet proof.
And her bottom was not leaking after surgery at Mar Lodge.  

But tomorrow, the celebrations would begin. 
Tomorrow was Callater Lodge!  
And then it would be  


DAY 10 SUN 22ND MAY 2011
Braemar - Callater Lodge
Distance  10.2 Km  227 Ascent   m  - (Nice morning, shame about the weather)

Not a nice night.
It was not necessary to get up early today. BUT...... it was necessary to pack the tent up in the dry. So, it was necessary to get up reasonably early. Mick and Gale were already packed up when I got out of the tent. Had I mentioned Mick and Gail? They had been in Strathcarron, and I had not seen them again until yesterday.
They had also changed there plans, and were moving on quicker than their original route because of the weather front predicted for Monday. A lot of people changed their plans because of this. Actually a lot who had planned to go to Callater today, planned to move on faster.
But Al and I had promised ourselves that we would be going there tonight to stay. We owed it to Bill, and we owed it to the memory of Stan, and we owed it to Jeanette and the rest of Stan's family, and come HELL or HIGH water, (as it happens both would visit us tomorrow), we were going to be at Callater Lodge tonight, even if we died trying.
And it was that important!
Back to the story. It is a story. Remember, I never went on the Challenge. I spent the fortnight in a Pole Dancing club near Euston. It says so on Al's blog!
I digress.....
I spent quite a lot of time after packing the tent in the warmth of the toilet block, laundr7y area and drying room. It was quite cosy there. I also spent a while in the information centre. There is a vicious rumour that that was John's H's bedroom, but you didn't hear it from me. RIGHT!
I also couldn't leave yet, because Al was not up when I had finished packing the tent (sweet). And, I needed to get my phone charged. Eventually however, we had to leave, and we made our way into Braemar.
That will be Me, Al and Dave.
There were places that needed to be visited for breakfast. AND, I had to go to the post office and get a card for the dog.  
I did not send a card to my family OK. I did ring them though. But I did send a card to my dog Jasper. I got it from the Post Office. They are really nice in the Post Office.
During the morning there was weather. Lot's of other things happened, but I cannot remember them, and I did not write them down either. We were killing time!
After lunch, whenever that was, we finally wandered down to Callater Lodge slowly by the back road, over the little bridge and then down the track. This is much nicer that going down the main road. On the way down we caught up with Judith. She was popping into Callater, but not staying.
Al and Dave on the way to Callater, Judith just walking up.

The weather was good. Actually hot at the time. Considering tomorrow, that was a surprise. Actually, the weather was not that bad. OK, it was not a great crossing weather wise, but it was not dreadful. It was wetter in 2003. It was just that this year we had a few extremes.
The river on the way to Callater. Even now it was quite full of water, but nowhere near as much as tomorrow.

It was a pleasant walk up. Apart from the squall that arrived just before we got to the lodge. Then it cleared, and most of the afternoon was fine. It was pretty cold in the wind, but the sun was out, and everywhere looked nice.
On arriving at the Lodge Bill was outside with Big Mick. Luckily for Al Dave and Myself, we were early enough to bag some beds inside rather than the bothy, or needing to put up a tent.
Sometimes it is nice not to put up a tent. Sometimes it is nice not to take one down. Tomorrow morning was going to be one of those days.
Callater Lodge
Jim, Seth, Phil, Jeanette & Dave at Callater. I have NO idea who the hands belong to, they might be Ian's

I am not going to go through the afternoon and evenings events at Callater.
When we arrived, we had the normal brilliant hospitality. Bacon rolls and sandwiches, tea, conversation, friendship. Big Mick was making the Chilli. As the day wore on we moved into the back room with the fire. This is where Mick brought the Chilli to cook, on top of the wood burning stove.
In all honesty, I cannot put Callater into words. It is an experience and a place that defies explanation. Nothing you can write will really capture the warmth and friendship there. It is a fitting memorial to Stan, and I was honoured to be lucky enough to be there this year in his memory, and in appreciation of Bill and everyone else that makes it what it is.
Mick (Croyden) and Pete (Morpeth) arrive

Before the evenings entertainment really started I managed to sneak out and get some pictures of the loch and also the start of the moving in weather front. A big thanks to Ian C here, who gave me some advice on how to take photo's of the loch. Heed photographic advice from this man, because he does know a thing or 10 about photography.
Dark clouds move over the hill behind Callater Lodge
Sunset behind the hills above Callater
View 1 of Loch Callater from near the Lodge

View from the Shore of Loch Callater How beautiful is this place?

Is was getting cold as I finished and it was time to head back in for food, and a very very sociable evening.
A friend remembered
But never forgotten
Jim does his incredible rendition  

Ian does his ode to Robbie Burns (I think) 
Baggio does his thing

Mick sings a song for Stan  
Seth fails the test of staying with the old school (that's a bit of cheese that yellow thing)

Many songs were sung that evening. Many lines recited. Friends remembered And a few tears shed
It was not a sad night. It was a celebration!
But eventually it was time for bed. The whiskey had flowed, and I for one was getting just a bit tired. I do not know exactly what time Dave and Bill and few hard men stuck it out to, but it was after 3.00am, I know that.
How sad would I have been if I had missed this? 
I do not know, and I never will know, because I was there. The next day was going to be hard, and it was going to be wet, but I would not have changed a thing. Decisions were made, and they were the right ones.
Many thanks to Bill and Stan's family, Ross & Jeanette and everyone else at Callater for a wonderful evening!
Stan with John Donahue  Courtesy Andy Howell
In memory of Stan!

DAY 11 MON 23RD MAY 2011
Callater Lodge - Gelder Shiel (The Long Way)
Distance  23.5 Km   Ascent  328 m  - (Tell me Why I don't like Mondays)

There are not a lot of photos today. (Well, there are a few)
The weather was a little damp, it was not the sort of weather you took your camera out in.
This is our corrected route (Al's comment) via Connchat Cottages.
The one that was here I think I used in 2005.
It was all a bit head down

It had been a wet and windy night, but we were inside so we didn't notice.
We rose quite early, since there was a long way to go. Got kit sorted and went down for a nice bacon butty breakfast and cups of tea. The kitchen was quite full, as were some of the other rooms. It was NOT nice outside, but you had to stick your head outside to appreciate how NOT NICE that was, and for full immersion as to NOT NICE, you needed to take your whole body outside.
This is a necessary evil in order to have a pee, let alone anything else. I decided that a pee was enough, and anything else would need to wait a bit. We'll come back to that.
After a fine breakfast and saying goodbye and thanks to Bill and everyone else at the lodge,  it was necessary to decide on a route.
There are several options from here, and most of them were a definite NO.
Even the normal FWA was a NO, as indeed was the FWA of the FWA, although some did do that one, and whatever they say about it being alright, I reckon it was hard, and that is hard without the extra tea we had.
We decided on a long march back to Braemar. This was further than any up and over variation, but with predicted winds gusting up to 130 mph on the tops, safety seemed best. Add to that that it was intermittently chucking it down, the road route, as horrid as it was, looked like the best option, so that is what we eventually did.
Back to the main road and then the long trek back up to Braemar.
It was wet at the start, it got wetter on the way. Just at the end of the track, I caught up with John. Then Al and Phil arrived, Dave having gone on one of his high speed missions.
These will be discussed in more detail tomorrow.
At the road, after pondering options, Phil said farewell, and headed off for rather a lot more road. He was heading eventually much further south to Glen Prosen. 
We turned right up the road, and hoped to avoid the traffic thundering along in poor visibility.
By the time I got half way along the road, I realised that I definitely needed new waterproofs, or I needed to do something to these ones.
There is a hut half way along, and by here I needed to lose some excess tea intake. It takes a while in the wind and rain just to get ready. By the time I had finished I was even wetter, and I didn't pee myself, I checked which way the wind was blowing. I can say this, I was sure glad I wasn't a lady.
So, now I had to catch up, and this took me half the distance again. These were not nice walking conditions, but eventually we got back to Braemar. And now, it was time to use a public lavatory. 
There were necessary operations that cannot be done by the side of the A93. Also, it was warm in the toilets, and there was a hand dryer (which was nice).
We were just a short hop from the Fife coffee shop, and it seemed silly not to go in, especially as we were all pretty wet (very wet).
Interestingly also, no one objected to this idea.
Just as we were going in, there was a chap who looked like he must be on the Challenge walking up. I waved hello, and as we were dropping our packs in the porch area to go in, he started talking to us, and telling us all about the Challenge, just in case we did not know. His audience being Al, John and Me, plus Dave. We nodded and went in.
We had met TONY!
Tony will feature again shortly, and later on as well. I am not going to have dig at Tony, nor say anything nasty, because he is a very nice chap, and also a very well meaning chap, but as we shall see, he does have his quirky side.
As we had coffee, a few more bedraggled Challengers arrived. In a brief conversation Tony (remember Tony)  mentioned that 33 people had had to drop out. We knew this, but it was ok information.
He followed this up with "that's got rid of the wimps"
Now, bearing in mind, that anyone who does the Challenge is NOT a wimp, and that dropping out is worse than doing it. I know, I have had a couple of DNF's, 2004 springs to mind when I broke my leg on day 3 (wimp).
So I was not going to take this lying down. I pointed out to him, that for one, no one likes to withdraw for any reason. It is usually injury, and no fun. Also that 3 of those were Vetters, and another one was Bill Roberts, and that between just those four, there were something like 100 crossings.
So, Tony withdrew this remark.
We all said cheerio, after warming ourselves by the fire, and headed off up the road to Invercauld Bridge. 
The rain had stopped (briefly), for a moment the sun had popped his hat on, and all was well with the world.
The walk up the road was fine, and at one point I considered removing the old Paramo Jacket (that had remarkably dried - it's wonderful stuff isn't it?) But it stayed on, and just before the bridge we cut off the road, onto the track and the long walk up to bothy.

Oh what little we knew.

The river here was on the foamy side.
Normally it is quite docile, it was an indicator of the rest of the streams we would encounter

Just past the main bridge, we caught up with Richard.

A fine man is Richard, and as we shall see, a life saver. He's very into lightweight kit and gear as well. Only problem is, he carries it all with him, which could explain his pack being up near the 40lb mark. That and the number of Turmat meals he had. I cannot remember if it was 7, 8 or 9. This was probably too many considering that there were only 4 days left. His feet were playing him up as well, which in not surprising with a that pack weight.
So we walked a while and chatted.
The sun was still out, so we decided to stop for a drink and a spot of lunch, while the going was good. Richard went on ahead
John, Al and Dave

We did not stop for long, because there was still a way to go, and the forecast was not great. Sadly, I have no more pictures after this, because shortly it would become a tad too damp to get out the camera, but I might borrow one or two off another Web Album (Ian).
A short way up the track from here, we bumped into Ian C, Tom, Bill, Seth, JJ, and a few others who had not taken the road route, but had just dropped down through the forest having possibly come over from Callater via an Sluggan and Glen beg Burn (this was an option we considered), although on looking at Ian's Photo's and after Al's comment, I think it must have been via An Saigert Mhor and then down the Burn.

We stopped briefly for a chat and then carried on.
I cannot remember the exact route that we took through the forest. I came this way back in 2005, but then the weather was absolutely brilliant, and I had done Inverey YHA to Glen Lee in a day.
Down in the trees, it was quite sheltered, and although wet, reasonably easy going. But as we got out from the shelter of the trees, the wind and rain hit us like a train. You had to lean into the wind to stop being moved sideways.
I have no idea what it was like on the tops, and I have no desire to find out.
At one point as we looked forward, we saw enormous branches flying out of the woods horizontally. These were not little branches, these were 4 to 6 inch branches that had been ripped off by the wind and blown away.
The little streams by the side of the paths had all become a rolling maelstrom of foam. The tiny ditches just off the track, had become streams. As you walked along, the rain stung as it lashed into our faces. It was fortunate that most of the time it was sideways. Even then we were looking through a small hole on the front of the hood. My waterproof trousers were not cutting it here, but there was nothing that you could do but push on.
As we neared Gelder Shiel, there is a small hut just on the corner. I did not get a picture of this, but I borrowed this from Ian Cotterill's pictures. I hope he doesn't mind, but I had no pictures of the hut, or the foaming burn. Ian and a few others would be arriving at the bothy a bit later. WET!

Jim JJ, Tom, Seth, Bill and others at ANOTHER hut. Al has pointed out that this was not our hut, but it is similar, as are the dreadful weather conditions. You could sleep in that hut!
Also Courtesey Ian Cotterill

Feindallacher Burn courtesy also Ian Cotteril

If it was moving fast here, you should have seen it at the bothy.
After a brief stop at the hut, we had to brave it to the bothy. It was ok (bloody wet and horrible) until we turned to head up to the bothy. Then it was in your face. 
You had to lean into it to make progress. There was no opportunity to talk, you just walked.
Within 100 meters, I had decided that the bothy would be the stopping point for me that day. By 200m I think we had all individually made the same decision.
And so a very wet while later, we arrived at the bothy.
There was ONLY 1 person there, and that was Hein. This was fantastic, because we now knew that we would be able to
a. Stay b. Have a bunk
We unpacked our kit quickly and got as much stuff sorted out as we could. We knew that there were going to be quite a few more arriving (it was surprising how much later they arrived), and we wanted to clear as big a space for them to use.
Also we wanted to keep it as dry as possible inside, because everyone after the first 8 would need to sleep on the floor.
I went out to get some water. I did this from the burn, trying not to slip in and get dragged downstream. I fear that anyone falling into it that day would probably not have survived.
It was a big pity that at that point, I had not spotted the tap behind the bothy, by the toilet. That would have saved me some hairy moments. But, I did get the water, all was ok, and back inside we decided a brew was in order.
Shortly after this, Richard arrived with his bag of everything, and also 2 more people, whose names I did know, but I apologise for not remembering who they are.

So, by this point, there were 8 of us already in the bothy. The weather was getting worse, and still no sign of Ian and co. 
We thought that they may have changed plans, and headed over to Ballater with JJ, but eventually wet & weary, they arrived.
It was just as well, we left the big space, bacause everyone managed to get in and dry and sorted out with some room for their kit. We set up some extra washing lines for hanging dry stuff. Found some wood under a bunk to block the gap under the door, were water was driving in, and everything was looking good, with stoves producing both food and heat.
In fact, the only thing that would have been nice in the bothy was fire. Not that there would have been any dry wood anyway. As it happens, we nearly did have a fire, but I'll come to that in good time.
Ian, Jim, Richard and Al. That might be a bit of Bill
Tom (he's young) and Me, and is that Alcohol in that Lucozade bottle? Al and Dave are lying in their bunks. I think this picture was taken by Ian, it is not one of mine, but whoever it was can you make me look better next time! I know what you'll say Cotterill!

With I think 13 or 14 were in by now, and it was pretty cosy. Everyone was warm, had a space, had been fed, and the wine and whiskey (mainly whiskey) was flowing.
It was getting near to something like 8.00 when the door burst open, the elements flew in, and Tony arrived, in flurry of wind and rain.
He said he was going back outside in a minute to put his tent up. He was just going to stay long enough to make everything wet.
I am not sure where he was thinking of putting his tent. You couldn't stand out there easily, let alone put up a tent. We told him to forget it and stay inside, but he was quite insistent and off he went.
Time passed, and after a while, Tony arrived back at the door, with arms full of bits of everything he possessed, soaked and with surprisingly, no tent up, with an almight crash as stuff dropped on the floor just outside.
"It's ok", says Tony, "It's just the PETROL for my stove"

Click the Clip Right Now! (It's for effect you see)
Anyway, in he came flailing water and equipment everywhere. This is the Challenge, and it was hell out there, so we did our best to find a spot for him, and get his gear into the bothy without everyone becoming cold and wet, which we did.
I think Richard made him a brew, and we left a space on the table for him to get his cooking stuff out.
By now, most of us had gone to our bunks because it was getting late, and tomorrow was going to be a long day, and also with NO FIRE, it was getting a bit cold .
So Tony, started to cook his food. First step was to get his ageing Petrol based stove out, get some fuel in it, and then pump up the pressure. Which he did. A pity therefore, that he had not noticed that with each pump, that very same petrol was pumping back out all over the table and the fumes were filling the bothy. Never one to give up, Tony carried on, after first attempting to fix the stove (with the missing valve), and wearing his wonky glasses, I think that they were broken too in an earlier accident, I cannot be sure, and then giving it another go. With the same result. By now, everyone was awake. About awake as anyone can get in the face of an imminent explosion and instantaneous death by conflagration.
Tony was offered another stove to borrow, but undeterred, he got out his lighter, ready to ignite his stove I say light, but in reality detonate. The Stove, the table, everyone in the immediate facility, Gelder Shiel Bothy and possibly half the Balmoral Estate, starting with the petrol lake that was the table.
Now, Down & Hollow Fibre Jackets, and in particular Nylon covered sleeping bags ,are not the best defence against a fireball that is about to engulf you, so there were a few nervous people sitting up in their bunks at this point. I say nervous, but more terrified. There were a few laughs, as you do in that moment of terror just before death. It was an interesting scenario. Have you seen the end sequences of Carrie.
Well, it is at this point, that we must all bow down and pay homage to the deity that is Richard. Richard being a nice chap was doing his best to look after Tony, and as it happens all of us, because Richard stopped the spark, mopped up the petrol and saved our lives, and to Richard we all say a   HUGE THANK YOU.    
Ok, I may have gilded the Lily on that story a bit, but trust me, you had to be there, or more likely, you didn't.
Anyway, we were all saved. The petrol was mopped up. The door opened for a while to let out the fumes, and then Tony's food was cooked on a stove that was not a threat to Western Civilisation.
Eventually we all got to sleep, mostly with one eye open, just in case.
I was hoping for better weather tomorrow. It would not have been hard to be better though.

As Vinny Jones said - "It's been emotional" 

DAY 12 TUE 24TH MAY 2011 Gelder Shiel - Tarfside

Distance  32 Km   Ascent  869 m
In which 3 go for a walk, and Dave discovers why he needs better shoes
As you can tell, I have survived the hernia operation! Don't get one, they are fine, but the post operation hurts like a B!£c&

It was time for an early start today.
So Al and Dave and I were up, packed and away by 7.30. We wanted to be gone before Tony cooked his breakfast!
So along with Hein we headed off to Spittal of Glen Muick. It is a bit of a way, but the weather was good. What a change 12 hours can make. There was a goodly dump of snow on the top. There is a track from the bothy, but it is easier just to yomp up and over the heather to pick up the higher LRT.
Lochnagar from near Gelder Shiel
It is a good track over to the Spittal of Glen Muick, although very gusty winds higher up. If we had been doing a shorter day, in better conditions, I would have considered taking the track up to Lochnagar. But today was not the day for such an adventure.
By the top of the track, we were making good time.
Dave was not yet in full yomping mode, and so sometimes he had rushed on ahead, and others he was walking with us, and others behind. Actually, it is good walking with Dave when he is not at top speed, because we can talk about heaps of stuff.
As we arrived at the bottom, we got to where the track crosses the Alt na Guibhsaich. Today with a bit of care, this was quite crossable, although poles helped, and I lent mine to Dave. I can only imagine what it must have been like yesterday. Un-crossable possibly.
Soon we had dropped down through the wood, and past the buildings to Cross over the flat plane to the Spittal of Glen Muick.
Rhododendron bushes just before crossing to Glen Muick
Al had gone off at speed. This may have been the lure of the toilets in the car park, or it may just have been that Dave and I were chatting away. As we got half way across, Dave realised that he had dropped his gloves. We could see them lying on the track. So I took some photo's, walked very slowly while Dave received his gloves at some speed. It was very windy crossing, and as we went across, there was a brief shower.
Looking back to the Rainbow as we crossed to the Spittal
The river half way across, from the bridge
By the time Dave and I got to the information hut (the refuge for at least 12, the previous night), Al had headed to the car park. So Dave and I dropped our packs, and also headed to the car park, where the temporary toilets are sited.
I will admit now, that I used one of the ladies toilets.
I did go into one of the men's, but this was not a pleasant place, and far be it from me to even try and describe it. No sir, that image you do not want. Ever!
The weather was still good, but very very blowy, and it was now time to head up the path and over to the Sheilin of Mark. This is a very nice little track up by the river, crossing about half way along on a small bridge. One of Al's favourite types of bridges, narrow, and with no rails.
And today it was windy. Very windy, and interesting. 
You had to wait for a lull in the wind to get across quickly. 
I wondered why Al was standing there, as I was coming up.
Al had gone on ahead, but Dave had taken a tumble, and so we were a bit slower.   Fortunately, he did not hurt his ankle or knee, when he fell. He did almost lose his rucksack cover, but we persuaded him to take it off at the bridge.
Dave gets water at the bridge
The river just past the bridge
Al and Dave on route
  Visibility was great, and we were soon heading over the top to the bothy.
I think the bearing is approx 105° from the end of the river. Despite the weather, it was actually dry, and nice walking. Al was off on a mission again, and Dave although he did not say anything until much later in the day, was struggling with blisters.
View from the top on the way over to the Sheilin, looking back to Lochnagar
Al and Dave heading over to the Shelin of Mark bothy
At the bothy, I removed my thermal top and allowed it to dry in the breeze. Then we collected some water, and made some soup for lunch. Although the weather was good, it was still very windy, and the bothy gave a nice shelter. Just after we got the soup on the go, Ian arrived.
I seem to remember something about English Whiskey as well.
It is a nice bothy, although quite small. Dave is applying another layer of socks. Maybe not the best socks, being cotton.
We set off fortified to go over Muckle Cairn. On a good day, this is not a bad route. The ground underfoot was still surprisingly dry, and the river crossing easy.
Looking back from the top of Muckle Cairn
Just over the top, we had a brief pause and a sit down, before descending to Glen Lee. This was mainly so that I could have a shoe and gaiter faf. Well, a shoe Faf and take off my gaiters.
At the stables of Lee, we met some other Challengers. We could also see another Challenger in the distance who turned out to be Maggie.
Me Al and Maggie in Glen Lee
We set off towards Loch Lee, in intermittently blustery conditions. Ian would overtake us, then take some photo's, then overtake us .......
There were waves on the Loch, and it was a fine view Al and I were really cracking along at a goodly pace. Indeed I had fallen out of Al's slipstream, and was now being buffeted by the wind.
Meantime, Dave had fallen off the pace, and was struggling with sore feet. These were blisters that were on the increase. Later at Tarfside we would discover that he was developing some fine Blisters  
Along Loch Lee
Waves on the shore at Loch Lee
Just at the end of the Loch, we hankered down behind the wall at the end of the Loch to get some shelter from the wind. Dave caught us up, and admitted to foot issues. Just as we were about to do the final run into Tarfside,  Maggie caught us up.
So together we set of along the short bit of road before cutting up by Westbank. Al and I were chatting, and Dave was walking with Maggie.  
The Keep at Kirkton. Al stopped for a Pee just round the corner, by the sign that says danger falling masonary.
It was time to carry on. Dave and Maggie were almost with us, but we headed off again discussing earlier crossings, and Al reminiscing and stuff, and anything to take the mind off the aching feet, as the Tarfside Ladies, (and I include Pieman in that group) beckoned.
It is a nice little stroll over via Westbank. I have promised that one day I will go up to the monument. One Day!
Just as we dropped off the track into Tarfside, we met a nice man in a pinny, or not as the case actually was. This was the bearded Lady of Tarfside, known as the Pieman, alias Mike Knipe.
We were also rather looking forward to a can of Tarfside Ale, and a bacon butty. On the way down, Al and I had deliberated on tent first, or St Drostans, but eventually came down on St Drostans, on the grounds that this involved, Tea, Biscuits, Beer, Bacon Butties, and booking the evening meal early. As well as a reunion with all those wonderful Tarfside Ladies.
So imagine the shock and horror on our faces when Mike told us that there was no power there. 
Now had we been talking to any other man, we would have believed this immediately. But this was the Pieman, so of course we just assumed this was a windup.
Mike insisted it wasn't, and then to our utter horror, showed us the tree branch lying through the power lines.
But we went in anyway, and of course even though they only had a single twin camping gas stove, they were still managing to churn out the bacon, and tea and coffee. And there was the beer as well, and the company.
So it was all ok (well, apart from the evening meals), and normality was resumed (almost)
When we got to Tarfside, there were quite a few tents in already. So we got our tents up quickly lest it rained.
Wendy and Wanda on the green in Tarfside
There was quite a lot of interest in Wendy & Wanda at Tarfside. It is not often in the UK that you see one Stephenson Warmlite, let alone two side by side.
So we got our tents up and so did Dave. It was at this point that Dave's feet needed some attention. I went to have a look at his blisters with my blister packs. Dave's blisters were to say the least, impressive. Unfortunately, Dave had left his feet without care and attention for too long. This was compounded by cotton socks, shoes that were just not fully up to the job, and water ingress during Monday, and having no First Aid Kit. Result, wet feet, then blisters, then bigger blisters, then more blisters.  SO.. minimum sympathy deserved really, but a steep learning curve for Dave! I suggested new skin, or decent size padding and also draining the blisters. I was going to have a go at the sorting them out, but in the end I left it to Dave. They were after all his feet, and he is a big boy. I do not think he drained them, but to drain or not to drain is an individual decision. Eventually, Nurse Maggie came to Dave's rescue, and administered chiropody and bandages. This was good thing on two counts. Firstly, I did NOT want to really go near Dave's feet. Secondly, it was much better for someone else to sort him out, so a big thankyou from all of us there!
By this point, it was getting a tad windy outside and since there was no food at St Drostans, (because of the power line issue), it was either cook your own, or get some food sent up from The Retreat.
Some waited for the Retreat delivery, I decided I would cook some food up, and as I had not allowed for an extra nights food, Al gave me a bag of his fine own dehydrated food. So fully sustained, it was time to head over to the Mason's for one or pints of something or other.
We tried to lure Dave out of his tent, but he had temporarily plummeted into Blister Depression. So we popped into the Masons, and managed to grab the last few cans of Guinness. While Al was acquiring these, I got a can of Mckewans, and headed off to try and lure Dave out of his hermit like state.
It is amazing, the therapeutic power of the Golden Ale, and within another 15 minutes Dave appeared. Result!  
  Al, Ian, Jim and Dave in the Masons
TeeTotal Nights
No idea Bad photo Where did I get that nose from?
It was another fine night at the Masons, and we all went back to our tents relaxed and watered.
Only two days to go, the adventure was almost over now for another year.
We just had to get Dave's feet to the coast!

DAY 13 WED 25th MAY 2011    
Tarfside - North Water Bridge
Distance  26.7 Km   Ascent  186 m 
In which Dave runs off and we walk the Waters of Solitude
A Bit Dark on route
For completeness, I have put in all the maps, but the first bit of today is just road. As it happens, rather a lot of road.   An awful lot of road.
Got up quite early, the weather being good, and you already know how I feel about packing tents in the rain. Then went over to St Drostans with full kit for breakfast, and to say goodbye and thank you. There were quite a few in, and several cups of tea later, plus a can of beer that Al was donated from Denis, we set off.
I do not know where Denis acquires beer and lager from. His pack seems to have a Midas capability. Indeed Denis was decanting another bottle of whiskey into half a dozen smaller bottles. I do not know if that was the days ration, and it seemed rude to ask, Denis being a Legend and all that.
I have done many routes from Tarfside in the past. Indeed the only two I still want to do from there, is Stonehaven, and Clash of Wirren down to Brechin. But that is for another year.
This year Al suggested road to the Rocks of Solitude.
Not having done this, and having seen Phil wax lyrical about it, and even though I really hate road walking, I agreed, and off we went. I will not discuss the road walking, or give pictures because to be honest it is dull. But it is quick!
By just before Milden Cottage, Dave was in serious foot trouble. He had been well bandaged that day, but was in rather a lot of pain. Having no medical kit at all (he was on a bit of a Challenge learning curve), we stopped and I gave him assorted pain killers. These would not cut in for a while, but you would not have thought that from the pace that Dave took off. One minute he was with us, the next he was gone. 
Al and I have learnt over the years, that roads need to be done at an even pace, and softly on the feet, so we resumed our gentle stroll down the road.
At one point we stopped briefly to watch the Sand Martins in a large sandbank by the side of the road. I cannot remember where this is, but Al I am sure will be along in a minute to fill in the gap.
By Auchmull, Dave was long gone.
A few sweets later, we were almost at the start of the Walk by The Rocks of Solitude. And not a moment too soon, because I was now Losing the Will to Live after all the road walking.
Now whether the walk by the Rocks Of Solitude is worth all that road, is a very subjective, but it is a very pretty walk, and definitely worth doing. If I did it again, I would go down the river on the other side and then come back across, because I am not a road fan, but anyway, here are a few of the pictures of that bit, the rest can be seen on the web album.
Rock hewn out by hand to make the walk
Deep Gorge
Add caption
Al by the seats part way along, with Denis's Lager gift
By the time we got to the seat, it was time for a sit down. At this point, there was a light shower, but with all the cover, we could not feel it, just see the rain through the trees.
It is a very pretty meandering walk along the river, and over small bridges. Towards the end, the main path moves away from the river briefly. Here you could see the devastation caused by the wind on some of the trees. It brings into perspective just how strong that wind was.
 Looking back along the river just before the blue door exit and the road
Once you get to the road, it is a quick cross to the other side of the bridge, and then the river path carries on along the other bank, all the way to Edzell, coming into Edzell past the bridge across the river.   A really nice way in.
There was quite a bit of evidence of storm damage on this side too, and on several occassions we had to step over or round fallen trees and branches. Definitely a great little route.
On arriving in Edzell, we went to the cafe for a cup of coffee. We met Dave just as we were arriving. He had hobbled his way in at jogging pace, and was just off to the campsite. We said we would see him later.
There isn't really much in Edzell, but the people here are really friendly.
So, after a goodly rest, and sustenance, we popped over to the shop to get some cakes. Well I got a pasty thingy and Al bought heaps of stuff I seem to remember. Only problem was, we couldn't get any beer there, and there is none at the Campsite. Eventually we discovered that they sell it at the shop just down from the Post Office, and so on our way out, we headed there to buy some bargain price Ale.
After this, we headed back to go over the bridge. This was actually closed for maintenance work, but it being a bloody long way round unless you go over the bridge, and since there were no workmen on it now, it was the way to go, and it would appear that everyone in Edzell just ignored the notice as well. Also, earlier, there had been workmen working on it, so how dangerous could it be? We still went across one at a time, and did not bounce up and down on it. Normally this is possible, because it is one of those really springy suspension bridges.
The bridge, taken last year
Having sprung across the bridge was wandered through the farm, and then headed up the road to the campsite. This is a very very long road, and although conversation is sometimes nice, this was time to plug the ears in and head off at boogie speed.
So, out with the Music Player, and off we went. Al was ahead, because I was faffing around finding the right track. Eventually I decided on Clapton & Windwood doing a Live version of Voodoo Chile. Well, it would do for starters, and it does have road boogie all over it.
Click to Boogie
And thus it came to pass that the road was done.
There were some people coming along one of the tracks to the right as I danced past skipping and stuff. On the grounds that one of them was walking with a decided limp, I apologise for dancing past.
We caught up with Dave and Maggie who were just turning left near Northgate to pick up the back road/track to the campsite. It is about the same distance but no traffic.
Al and I were on a roll now, and anyway I was oblivious and boogieng, so we stuck on the road. And then we were at the campsite.
In no time flat, we had booked in, and tents were almost up by the time that Dave and Maggie arrived. This was just as well, because shortly after that it started to rain again. Which it did for quite a while. This was not really a surprise, there had not been one day without rain.
At this point, I would normally put some photo's in, but alas I did not take any. I know not why. If anyone who reads this has any photo's of the goings on, then please send them to me via the blog, or message board.
Since it was raining, I decided that I might as well have a shower. This turned out to be a good move as it happens, because soon after, there was a big problem with the heater and the timer on it, and the hot water for showers ran out.
There were a few disgruntled people, and even discussion of formal complaints, which hopefully never happened. This is a great little campsite, and has done us proud for years, when many campsites no longer accept small tents. It would be a calamity of huge proportions if North Water Bridge campsite was not available.
After shower I spent a while in the room at the campsite. I charged my phone, and then had a game of Pool with Al, or maybe Dave.
I say a game, we did draw an audience, but this was mainly because of the appalling quality of our play. What was a game of Pool, descended into a comedy duo.
After us a few more played, and then Dave came in to have a game with the reigning Champion.
Now Dave is not competitive (YES HE IS!), and eventually after lulling his opponent into a sense of false security, cleaned up. Well that's what he said anyway, because by then I had finished my diary writing, and headed off back to the tent to cook some food.
Then amidst rain showers and other things, there was a small birthday party and cake cutting ceremony, followed by a shared bottle of Whiskey, and it was time for bed.
Tomorrow was going to be the Coast and the End of the Challenge.    

DAY 14 THU 26th MAY 2011
North Water Bridge - St Cyrus

Distance  13.6 Km   Ascent  208 m   
Dave survives and Roger retires
We rose to another pleasant morning.
Although we had a lot of time, it was nice to get away reasonably early, although a lot of people had gone by the time we left.
We had a chat with the owner. He apologised for the showers, but we said it was fine, and there should be no repercussions, and we set of along the road. I had planned to go to Johnshaven, but you know how it is, somehow, St Cyrus beckoned. So we set off via the Hill of Morphie. Dave's surges from the previous day appeared to be over or so we thought.?
After a gentle start, it soon appeared that Dave was in pain. Actually just after the first left turn near Pert. Al and I were shambling along at a very sedentary pace when we realised that Dave was not there. We waited for him to hobble up. Then Dave and I walked for a bit.
Ian C caught us up just near here, and was soon heading into the distance on his self destructing shoes. Ian seriously motors on roads. I mistakenly in 2010 tried to keep up with him on the way to North water Bridge, just after electrocuting myself on the electric fence at the end of the track at Chapleton, and he destroyed me.
But it appears Dave could not take this, and Dave not being competitive remember headed off in hot pursuit of Mr Cotterill. We should have warned him, but he would not have listened.
I carried on, and caught up with Al. It was road, so we were again walking in softly softly foot mode. We needed to turn right at the railway bridge to go towards Marymill.
We had no idea where Dave had gone, he was riding on the crest of agony in his feet, and the competitive need to track down and beat Ian, or something like that. We thought he might have gone straight on towards Montrose, possibly in a hallucinogenic state brought on by blister induced endorphin or maybe adrenaline overload. However, as we got to the bridge, Dave had stopped just round the corner.
Ian was long gone!
So we headed over the bridge and off to the hill of Morphie. That nasty little sting in the tail of the road walk to the Coast.
I walked with Dave for quite a while after this. Al in the meantime had long abandoned his schoolboy chum and was gone.
As we headed up the track at Morphie I left Dave and headed off to try and catch Al, so we could go to St Cyrus together.
It was not to quite happen like that, but I just needed to get over that hill.
It is a long way over the hill.
One of the really noticeable things this year was the Rape fields, or rather lack of them. Normally the fields are bright yellow on the east, but this time because of the earlier good weather (not I hasten on the Challenge), they were very patchy. The field below is the view from the top of the Hill the first time I went over this way. This year there was hardly any yellow at all.
We stopped at the top to wait for Dave, and then headed off across the road and the final run down to St Cyrus. Al had gone off again, and I was doing a bit of shoe adjusting and Music selection. I was feeling good, and in no time flat had Al in my sites. Dave did not have to go to the beach, having only been here for a few days, (painful days admittedly).
And then we had arrived.
We left Dave at the top and headed down to the beach.
Now, I have to say that I fely very very guilty at this point. On the way from the Hill of Morphie, I had motivated Dave with talk of excellent Coffee shops and cakes and a delightful rest. So when we got there to discover that the Coffee Shop had closed down, it was not a good thing.
Dave wandered off to find anything, or maybe just console himself, and Al and I headed off on the long walk down to the beach.
To take the pack down or not is always a subjective decision, but we were both of the pack must go down school which is what we did.
And it is a long way down.
At the bottom we walked to the sea for photo's.
In the past I have done the full immersion thing, but this time I was just going for moist sand. I took a picture of Al first, and then he took one of me.
The hair is still $&1t
Mates! How far had we walked together? So he waited and waited to take the photo. He waited until a wave came in and washed over my shoes and feet!
I then drew the customary finish circle which Al and I signed.
Time to head back up, collect Dave and get the bus into Montrose.
We set off up the path to the little seat half way up.
We still had quite a while until the bus, and I needed a pee, so we sat down. Now I do not mean I sat down for a Pee. I mean we sat down after I had had a pee, nowhere near the seat. Anything else would have been vandalism and a bit uncouth. Al found some fine Ginger cake he had bought the day before, and I spirited a cunningly hidden can of Lager from my rucksack that I had carried from Edzell.
So cunning, that it would have fooled a Fox who had taken an O.U. course in cunning.
It's the little things you know!   I shared this with Al, despite the fact he deliberately waited for the wave to soak my feet!
We didn't tell Dave about the beer! It would have been unkind.
Refreshed, and with a bus to catch, we set off to the top, collected Dave, and waited briefly for the bus to Montrose, which strangely when it arrived was full of a lot of scruffy looking individuals with great big rucksacks.
In next to no time we were in Montrose.
I grabbed some cash from the machine on the way, and then headed down to the Park Hotel.
The old and the New guard at the Park  (Roger and John)
I collected T Shirt etc, and then after a cup of tea or three, headed down to the bar.
Shortly after this, Dave headed off home. His car was parked in Montrose, in fact at the Park, and he had a long way to go, so we said farewell.
Only time will tell if Dave comes back for a full Challenge Time and forgetting the pain!
Al and I had to find Humphrey, so that I could hand over the Strathcarron collection, and signed card that had travelled across with me, and they could sort out all the other details.
I won't go into these here because Al has it all documented far better on his blog and 2011 write up. But a goodly sum was collected and more importantly, a lot of signatures.
Eventually it was time to head off to my B&B. This was a bit of a trek out of town. I had stayed there last year, and it was an excellent B&B.
When I arrived it was time for a long shower. I got my stuff set out in my room, and also hung Wendy up for an airing in the garden. It was pretty windy, and she needed to be tied down well for fear of ending up in Montrose Harbour. She was pretty wet, on the grounds that there was quite a lot of rain last night, and she had not had a chance to dry out. In fact she came out like Tent Soup.
Showered and clean, in fresh clothes, and with Wendy all nice and dry and packed, I headed back into the Park Hotel at about 6.00 to the meal, and a bit of socialising.
On arrival, Al said, get your coat in there on a seat, which I duly did, and then after a chat with a few folk, it was time to go into the meal. An important meal, it being Roger's farewell.
So bottle of wine purchased it was time.
A pleasant evening spent, many speeches and all round congratulations.
Apart from the splendid presentation to Roger, there were of course all the new Legends, and the paintings.
Heather, Ron and Phil
Rogers Speech
Denis's brilliant picture
And then it was suddenly rather late, and time for a long walk back to my B&B.
I watched TV for a while, not being able to get to sleep and then it was over!
One Day you are a million miles away and it seems like forever, and then it is all over.
Some say that it was the worst ever weather, and a hard Challenge. But really it was just a Challenge with a bit of weather.
It had been another excellent adventure.
Once upon a time many years ago I had said never again. But I was already thinking of my next start point!
Many Thanks Roger!  
And, Many Thanks everyone I met who yet again made this such a fabulous fortnight!  
See you again soon I hope!  
Craig Erickson Doomsday Blues

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