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Thursday, 17 April 2014

TGO Challenge 2014: PreWalkDaunder: Day 1

The night before and the team pose for a record photograph, albeit not a very walkery one, of this year’s crop of Daunderers, enjoying a quiet night at the Old Crown, Hesket Newmarket. They are, from right to left (and why not?) Morpeth, Croydon, Phil, Lynsey, Andy (with a face on), David and me.

A FULL SET OF DAUNDERERS

A FULL SET OF DAUNDERERS, HESKET NEWMARKET

I’m not sure why Croydon is fondling Phil’s leg but Phil seems to be enjoying it. But it could be because Lynsey is holding his hand? Croydon, a versatile chap, is also giving Morpeth a foot massage. Curiously, you’ll note that Phil’s, Andy’s and my glasses are almost empty. A well matched team for the forthcoming TGO Challenge.

Surprisingly, after a blustery night, with sheep giving birth all about us, bang on time the Daunderers transformed themselves into the shabby bunch shown below. At least they now look all walkery.

SEVEN DAUNDERERS @ THROSTLE HALL

SEVEN DAUNDERERS @ THROSTLE HALL

For those interested in such things, you can see the route that we set ourselves below:

We set off up some godforsaken boggy hillside or other for the old explosives hut at 440m (you can zoom in to the map to find it; this is an interactive postmodern blog, you know) where the weather took a turn for the decidedly horrid. It was very cold, extremely windy – with heavier gusts – and with some light rain thrown in for good measure. We had a brief second breakfast and set off once more, with the weather getting even horrider!

Quite wisely, Morpeth was having none of this, and while Croydon was leaping over the Caldbeck Fells chasing after his orange rucksack cover, he decided he really had not recovered from his very nasty chest infection. The lad was struggling and so he very sensibly plodded back down the hill to a warm cafe in Caldbeck before ringing home to give Diane time to kick out her toyboys before his arrival. Happily, he was reunited with his packed lunch that he had left in the fridge.

HIGH PIKE DAUNDERERS

PHIL’S PICTURE: HIGH PIKE DAUNDERERS

Ordinarily it’s not an onerous walk up to the top of High Pike, but today’s was a bit of an epic. I practiced my Titanic pose, arms akimbo, with rucksack, leaning into the wind at a good thirty degrees to the vertical, before regaining my marbles and diving into the little shelter. It was now much more than horrider; I would venture to suggest it was now bordering on horridest.

We had to kick out (in the nicest possible way) a very friendly group of Cumbria Way walkers, who had passed us on the way up. (I think it was Lynsey’s fiercest stare that did it) to gain sole possession and being as we were, on top of the world, thought it best to celebrate the occasion with lunch. The truth of it was that no-one could really face leaving the shelter and besides it was a good way of reducing pack weight.

HIGH PIKE WIND SHELTER DAUNDERERS

PHIL’S PICTURE: HIGH PIKE WIND SHELTER DAUNDERERS – CLICK TO ENLARGE

We put it off and put it off but eventually we headed out into the possibly horridest weather for the mile to the Lingy Hut, whereupon we set about evicting those really lovely Cumbria Way walkers again.

LINGY HUT DAUNDERERS

LINGY HUT DAUNDERERS

It was nice in there, with the place finally all to ourselves. But there were Daunderers who were keen to get on (I won’t name them, to save their blushes) and they insisted that we get up from our comfy armchairs and get back ‘out there.’ Croydon, the Chair of the Daunder Discipline Committee, will be having a discreet word with them later.

It was whilst I was outside having a pee that I noticed a faint path heading straight down to the bottom. This meant that we would have the wind behind us, rather than being battered from the side until finally turning left down Grainsgill Beck on the Cumbria Way.

DOWN TO GRAINSGILL BECK

PHIL’S PICTURE: DOWN TO GRAINSGILL BECK – CLICK TO ENLARGE

Of course, this slight shortcut, and with gravity and our heavy packs assisting our descent, meant we were soon evicting the Really Splendid Cumbria Way walkers once again from the information board about the history of the mine. We had puddings here, rounded off with Jelly Babies. The smiles in the photo below can be attributed to the sugar rush.

RIVER CALDEW

RIVER CALDEW – CLICK TO ENLARGE

Every Daunder has a schism. This Daunder was to prove no exception. Phil & I decided we would aim for the intended camp spot slightly earlier than planned, to take in a delightful yomp across thigh deep heather, a crossing of the infant Caldew, and then more thigh deep heather to Salehow Beck. This led to utter confusion in the remaining ranks of Daunderers. With Phil and I dumping our packs and filling water bottles for a very deep drink (it was now decidedly humid, and all that heather bashing was thirsty work) we noticed that they were all now heather bashing, and seemingly not enjoying the experience, towards us. It was Phil, I believe who mentioned that they must have believed we were about to put up our shelters. In fact the opposite was true; the intended camp spot was indeed a fiction of tussock and bog and Not Very Good At All for sleeping upon.

CAMP @ SALEHOW BECK

CAMP @ SALEHOW BECK – CLICK TO ENLARGE

Eventually, David came to the rescue, redeeming his earlier faux pas, and found a spot that he knew about all along and was absolutely sure he had told everyone about earlier. By the time the shelters were pitched and the first flasks passed around and everyone was friends again, it was again very gusty, as you can see from the shape of the shelters in the above picture.

TRINNIE TRAILSTAR

TRINNIE TRAILSTAR, SOLID – CLICK TO ENLARGE

It was 7:55 for 8:00 for cheese & wine at Trinnie’s so I had a little while to take some snaps, before returning to Trinnie for a bit of dusting and hoovering.

BLENCATHRA

BLENCATHRA

 

SKIDDAW HOUSE

SKIDDAW HOUSE – CLICK TO ENLARGE

Again, it was a Pooler who saved the cheese and wine party. Andy & I had drunk all the wine, scoffed all the quiche, eaten the Amoretti, licked clean the lamb skewers, leaving just Humphrey’s wonderful, if now slightly ripe cheeses and oatcakes. Lynsey supplied the wine, bless her, and everyone else piled in with flasks of whisky. Humph, (The Lord bless him and keep him!) had met us for a few fleeting seconds at Berwick upon Tweed railway station with Magnificent Mary, to hand over a wonderfully cerise pink carrier bag full of the wonderful comestibles listed above, only days earlier, on our trip home from the Monadh Liath Leg-Stretch. In return, I covered Mary with kisses.

LORD ELPUS, CAUGHT IN FLAGRANTE

LORD ELPUS, CAUGHT IN FLAGRANTE, THROWING AWAY THE FLASK

 

TRINNIE'S DAUNDERERS

TRINNIE'S DAUNDERERS

As I drifted off into the bosom of Audrey Hepburn, I recall the outside world getting really very windy indeed with a few handfuls of gravel chucked in for good measure. I slept very well that night, with the Daunder now wonderfully into it’s customary swing.

All was well in my little world.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Freaky Dean & the Dulnain; a Monadhliath leg-stretch: 3

There were sudden freaky-rainy-gravel-chucking-squally things in the night, but Trinnie and Oook shrugged them off with aplomb; hardly breaking step as they snored & snuffled gently together through the long night. These girls are perfect partners for a chap out in the wilds.

I soon had a warming fire going in the bothy and then, and only then, would Mr Walker surface and be polite company. He had been singing along to an interminable Cliff Richard medley, tucked up in his HexPeak. I lit the fire out of desperation when he started on Abba.

If the midges are out for the Challenge, they will eat Andy alive, as midges really hate Cliff Richard.

Miserably, all good things come to an end, so we trudged out of the lovely warm bothy in reasonable shape, out into the Scottish weather, heading for Aviemore’s pleasure-domes.

There was no bloody sign of this Man-Made-Global-Warming: It was still decidedly chilly, with low cloud and sheets of drizzle wrapped in a batter of stiff breeze that’d shrink your head to the skull-bone as soon as lifting your cap. We abandoned our high stravaig along the watershed. It would have been a miserable affair and this was a trip of warm fluffy kittens and happiness. We’d have no misery here! So we set off once again, down the broadening bottom of the Dulnain.

JENNIFER, JUNIPER, SITTING VERY STILL

JENNIFER JUNIPER, SITTING VERY STILL ALONG THE BROADENING DULNAIN

The Dulnain changes around these parts from a vigorous tomboy to quite a leggy girl with a glint in her eye. I would imagine her to be quite a handful in a storm but fortunately there’s a sturdy bridge a short hop below the next bothy downstream, Bothy number (you’ve guessed it already, haven’t you; we only have intelligent readers in this congregation) Four, sometimes known as the ‘Red Bothy.’

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. First we have to sample the delights of this magnificent oasis.

BOTHY NUMBER FOUR, THE DULNAIN

BOTHY NUMBER FOUR, THE DULNAIN – CLICK TO ENLARGE

Supplies were low and so rations were shared and a short break to read of past passers-by in the bothy book, was enjoyed. This place is the Grand Central Station of the Monadh Liath; There cannot be many who have enjoyed these fabulous hills who did not stop here for a last quiet break before the noisome clash of Aviemore.

I’ve heard walkers complain of the dreadful trudge up the Burma Road, but, given time to savour the views it can be a wonderful stroll. Please don’t rush to the top in a lather; Look out and back for the views – they fill your head with loveliness.

CAGGAN, FROM BURMA ROAD

CAGGAN, FROM BURMA ROAD – CLICK TO ENLARGE

On the stroll up, we witnessed the heartless destruction of a fen trap; three gigantic burly men heaved rocks at it until the trap was sprung and bent way out of shape. Good for them! Some furry little blighter with jolly big teeth will live to fight another day. We were not going to argue the legalities of the occasion with them, such was their colossal size and aggressive demeanour.

 ANOTHER MISTY-MOISTY VIEW OVER THE DULNAIN

ANOTHER MISTY-MOISTY VIEW OVER THE DULNAIN – CLICK TO ENLARGE

I’ve often heard the hills of the Monadh Liath described in disparaging tones, but I always find them wonderfully approachable; they are curvy long-limbed beauties that afford fabulous views from their shoulders. The walking along the tops can be tough at times, but for the most part, if you pick a good line, you are treading short alpine mosses and shattered stones. Perfect for backpacking in fine weather. Unfortunately, today was cold and grim with strong gusty winds, so we admired Geal-charn Mor from below.

GEAL-CHARN MOR

GEAL-CHARN MOR

Here are two gigantic burly men I happened to bump into on the way down from the Burma Road. That’s the Cairngorms behind them, all wrapped in clag and mystery.

TWO GIGANTIC BURLY MEN

TWO GIGANTIC BURLY MEN

After a bit of a road-bash, we made Pleasurama Central, otherwise known as the Aviemore Youth Hostel. This is a fascinating emporium: On its plus side, it has a wonderful drying room, lovely staff and it serves beer. It is warm and the common areas are spacious and comfortable. The showers are okay, with just a bit of mouldy ceiling to give the shabby-chic hostel effect.

On the downside, the rooms are tiny, there is no-where near enough hanging space, storage space for gear, no place to keep your specs when you’re sleeping and just the one feeble central light. Why are there no individual bunk lights? This is a fairly modern hostel; it really needs to be looked at from their customers’ perspective and sorted out. It’s no surprise to me that hostels are struggling if they are getting the basics so wrong. The room felt cramped and poorly designed.

Later on that evening, I was force-fed a Scottish delicacy – the deep-fried Mars bar, with ice cream. I now understand why the Scots are such a healthy nation. Full of vitamins, nutrition and fibre. They’ll need all of that to keep their winters at bay.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Freaky Dean & the Dulnain; a Monadhliath leg-stretch: 2

It’s the little things in life that fascinate.

For example, a small child picks up his tommee tippee mug full of warm milk and shoves it in the general area of his face, and his teeth remain intact! I believe that muscle memory plays a part in this; The more they perform this act the easier it becomes. The muscles link with the brain and learn the incredibly complicated route and actions required to guide the cup to the mouth from the highchair table to the destination. And the child does not drown in milk. It is a bloody miracle – I mean – have you ever tried to spoon baby-food into a baby’s mouth? Whenever my wife put me in charge of this act with our two boys, within five minutes the kitchen resembled the Somme,

What has tommee tippee to do with the Freaky Dean & the Dulnain trip? Well, it’s been almost a year since I had been backpacking and so all the simple things that just come automatically when backpacking had to be re-learned on this trip.

Exhibit A: In the bothy on the first night, I realised with absolute horror that I had brought nowhere near enough whisky. This was very distressing. In a nice warm bothy, whisky makes the evening run along perfectly. Fortunately, Mr Walker had bought generous supplies. I am indebted to the gentleman.

Exhibit B: The body can function perfectly well without little pleasures, but the inclusion of jelly babies, cuppa-soups and hot chocolate make life go with a swing. And of course, more whisky.

***

It had absolutely pissed down with rain in the night and it was still pretty horrid in the morning, and to add to the misery, I left a warm bothy with a weedy lightweight spade without a handle, when the required implement was a sharpened heavyweight Spear & Jackson job. Such is the fun of living in the outdoors.

The route up and over to the second lunchtime hut was abandoned (well, if truth be told, I unilaterally abandoned it on behalf of the team – I’m all heart – but there was not a murmur of dissent in the ranks) in favour of a fine daunder down the Dulnain. The Upper Dulnain is a wondrous beast. And speaking of beasts, now would be a good time to remind everyone that it was in these confines (Humphrey reliably informs me) that the last wolf in Scotland was killed.

THE UPPER DULNAIN

THE UPPER DULNAIN – CLICK TO ENLARGE

This is all trackless stuff, but as with all trackless stuff in the Highlands, there are plenty of deer tracks to help unlock the puzzle of finding a good route though boggy bits. It felt wonderful to be out again in the cold wet air with just the elemental sounds of water and wind as your backing track.

DOWN THE UPPER DULNAINDOWN THE UPPER DULNAIN – CLICK TO ENLARGE 

I’m always entranced by the constant shifting of the rivers in these parts. They’re like wayward women bed partners; hogging the entire valley floor, rushing from one side to the other, forcing you up on top or trying your luck teetering over her boulders alongside the maelstrom.

This next chap had had a bad winter. The birds and foxes might have pulled though with his help.

DEATH ON THE DULNAIN

DEATH ON THE DULNAIN – CLICK TO ENLARGE

We had a seated lunch in what remains of Dulnain Bothy No 2. See if you can spot the clue to its name from the picture. Prizes for the correct answer will be dished out by Mr Walker.

BOTHY No. 2, THE DULNAIN

BOTHY No. 2, THE DULNAIN – CLICK TO ENLARGE

Quite why Robin & Andy decided to dress as Smurfs today escapes me.

Inevitably, having started at Bothy No 1 in the morning and lunching in No 2, we came across Bothy No.3 a little later on, where we decided enough was enough and it was time to put the shelters up and be proper backpackers, and not bothy bums.

DULNAIN BOTHY 3 CAMP

DULNAIN BOTHY 3 CAMP – CLICK TO ENLARGE

Shelter Nerds may want to enlarge the above picture, to examine if we pitched the things correctly. From left to right we have Robin’s grey silnylon Trailstar with a solid Oookstar inner. Andy & Robin are standing next to Andy’s new baby from Bob Cartwright – a silnylon HexPeak & mostly mesh inner, and on the right is Trinnie Trailstar in olive brown, with a 50/50 Oookstar inner. They went up with very little trouble at all. They were first outings in the field for each of us.

Oh, alright then; Here’s another shot of the shelters, looking down the Dulnain:

HEXPEAK & 2xTRAILSTARS, BOTHY 3, DULNAIN

HEXPEAK & 2xTRAILSTARS, BOTHY 3, DULNAIN – CLICK TO ENLARGE

Any day now, the Reporter will be publishing her decision on whether or not a disgustingly huge wind farm will be built, bang opposite this wonderful bothy – the Allt Duine wind farm. There is one reason, and one reason only, why this wind farm is being proposed: Money. The three Estates who own the land will benefit to the tune of many millions of Scottish or English Pounds each, each year for a bare minimum of twenty five years. The company that owns the wind farm will pocket over a hundred million in subsidies over the life of the thing, paid for by you and me (who can least afford it) from the “green” levies on our electricity bills. How anyone with even half a brain cell can call this ‘green energy’ when it is totally fucking up this beautiful landscape is beyond me. They are the lunatic eco-warriors, the Eco-Nazis, who have forgotten all about ecology and environmentalism in their quest to ruin capitalism at any cost.

And this next picture shows what is to be lost. This is looking straight up Allt Duine, up to the high ridgeline that borders Strath Spey and the Cairngorm National Park:

ALLT DUINE, MONADH LIATH

ALLT DUINE, MONADH LIATH – CLICK TO ENLARGE

The Monadh Liath are a wonderfully remote, lonely place; A place to escape from the humdrum, a place to have space and time to think – commodities that are given very little value in modern life. It is a disgrace that the Scottish Government is even thinking about industrialising fabulous places like this.

Of course, not all hill walkers agree with this point of view, as seen in the bothy book, by a Challenger, no less: David Smithers.

DAVID SMITHERS' ENTRY IN THE BOTHY BOOK

DAVID SMITHERS' ENTRY IN THE BOTHY BOOK – CLICK TO ENLARGE

Happily, the very next entry from the excellent Colin Crawford put the man straight.

After flipping up the shelters it was getting cold again, so Robin disappeared into his as yet un-named Trailstar to prepare dinner whilst Andy & I got a roaring warming fire going in the bothy and cooked in the warm, with a few snifters to help things along.

DULNAIN 3 HEARTHDULNAIN 3 HEARTH 

Not many miles, but a glorious trundle down the Upper Dulnain. All was well in my world.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Freaky Dean & the Dulnain; a Monadhliath leg-stretch: 1

 

RIVER DULNAIN FROM FREAKY DEAN

THE DULNAIN FROM CARN AN FHREICEADAIN (FREAKY DEAN) - CLICK TO ENLARGE                             

Ten months ago Brother Dave did an incredibly brave and generous thing; He gave me a completely new start in life by giving me one of his kidneys. For over thirty years my own had been slowly, very slowly, packing up, leaving me with a kidney function of just under 12% That’s like chucking away one and three quarters of your own wonderfully plumptious kidneys, leaving you with just under a quarter of one kidney to get by with. It wasn’t a good place to be and I was constantly knackered and generally in very poor health. Of course, this degeneration happened over time, and so I learned to live with it, but latterly, my kidneys headed south at an alarming rate, and so walking with a rucksack up Scottish and Pyrenean Mountains proved to be one hell of an ask.

So on D-Day in June of last year, Dave and I were both under the knife at Churchill Hospital, Oxford. He came out of hospital a few ounces lighter and I came out a few heavier. Superficially, all we have to show for his wonderful act of generosity are a couple of scars that look like a shark’s had a nibble. However, I cannot even begin to tell you the difference Dave has made to my life.

With the TGO Challenge coming up in May, I thought it was probably time to try out “Our Kid,” as we have named Dave’s kidney, and so I booked train tickets to Scotland for the first week in April. The plan was to have a wander around the Monadh Liath - with no fixed targets – just to see how I coped. There was also the small matter of getting used to Trinnie Trailstar and her little sister, Oook.

Wonderfully, Mad’n’Bad Mr Walker and Blogpackinglight’s Mr Evans also wanted a bit of an airing and before too long they had their train tickets as well. Local knowledge should never be underestimated and after a bit of arm-twisting, Vivacious Val & Diamond-Geezer Dave agreed to join us for the first day as well.

With the team selection over we found ourselves in a pub in Newtonmore, downing pints of Wildcat, straining like greyhounds in our traps. Well, okay, more like big fat bastards working our way through the menu, before collapsing onto our beds at Sue & Ali’s wonderful hostel at Newtonmore.

The game was afoot!

This map will show you the route we took, so sit up smartly at the back, pay attention and experiment with it. You can, should you so desire, blow it up to full screen, in a new window, by clicking on the green text “Freaky Dean and the Dulnain: April 2014” (which will turn purple when you hover your mouse pointer over it) and then you can zoom in & out, pan all over the shop and have a jolly good time playing with it.

The route starts at Kingussie Railway Station and finishes at Aviemore.

In pictures, this is how it went on Day 1:

THE CAIRNGORMS, CLIMBING OUT OF NEWTONMORE

THE CAIRNGORMS, CLIMBING OUT OF NEWTONMORE – CLICK TO ENLARGE

 

DAVE, ANDY, VAL & ROBIN

DAVE, ANDY, VAL & ROBIN

 

LUNCH HUT

LUNCH HUT – CLICK TO ENLARGE

 

POST-LUNCHEON CAIRNGORM VIEWS

POST-LUNCHEON CAIRNGORM VIEWS – CLICK TO ENLARGE

 

FREAKY DEAN & ME

FREAKY DEAN & ME – CLICK TO ENLARGE

 

FREAKY TRIG & PARTY

FREAKY TRIG & PARTY – CLICK TO ENLARGE

 

RIVER DULNAIN FROM FREAKY DEAN

RIVER DULNAIN FROM FREAKY DEAN – CLICK TO ENLARGE

 

MAGNIFICENT MONADHLIATH 1

MAGNIFICENT MONADHLIATH 1 – CLICK TO ENLARGE

 

MAGNIFICENT MONADHLIATH 2

MAGNIFICENT MONADHLIATH 2 – CLICK TO ENLARGE

 

DULNAIN BOTHY No. 1

DULNAIN BOTHY No. 1 – CLICK TO ENLARGE

 

INTERIOR, DULNAIN BOTHY No. 1

INTERIOR, DULNAIN BOTHY No. 1 – CLICK TO ENLARGE

 

DAVE & VAL START THEIR LONG MARCH HOME

DAVE & VAL START THEIR LONG MARCH HOME

 

MR WALKER'S NEW BOOTS (AND SOME SNOW)

MR WALKER'S NEW BOOTS (AND SOME SNOW) – CLICK TO ENLARGE

 

EVENING LIGHT AT BOTHY No. 1, RIVER DULNAIN, MONADH LIATH

EVENING LIGHT AT BOTHY No. 1, RIVER DULNAIN, MONADH LIATH – CLICK TO ENLARGE

And so to bed. Day 2’s adventures will follow shortly.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Social Hiking Trial

I’m trying to embed ‘Social Hiking’ maps onto the blog. This is technology and I’m a technophobe…

For the members of the congregation that are not rabid beardy walkers and who have not come across ‘Social Hiking’ before, (no sniggering at the back, please!) you can zoom in & out of the map, and by clicking and holding your left mouse button you can scroll the map to wherever takes your fancy – in fact anywhere in Britain, should the fancy take you. Impressive stuff.

These three maps are those for this year’s PreWalkDaunder, which is being held in the North Lakes for no better reason than the start point is very close to an excellent pub.

PWD 2014 DAY 1

 

PWD 2014 DAY 2

 

PWD 2014 DAY 3