Pages

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

TGO Challenge 2018: DAY 7


When we planned today's walk, neither Phil nor I had expected anything special; on the map it appeared to be a good day, walking in fairly remote country. In fact, had we not chosen to walk between Northings 60 and 70 on our maps I doubt we would have come this way. That would have been a crying shame.

As an example, here's a short video of what we found within an hour of setting off:




Let's start off by looking at the route for today:

CLICK TO ENLARGE

It was a gorgeous day, so we chose our High Level Route, which has about three miles of Rover Roads, eight miles of open country with between  two to two and a half thousand feet of ascent. So - on the face of it, not too arduous. New Challengers should note that it's important to plan a sensible day after a cheese and wine party in case one should feel 'tired and emotional' in the morning.

Here's a thing: Six years ago the Dutch estate owners decided that this would be an excellent location for a massive wind farm. Objections flooded in from the world over, and eventually (through a legal complication) their application was thrown out. You can read about it here: 


These money grabbing bastards would have destroyed this wonderful place to trouser a few million quid that they didn't really need as they were pretty rich already.

Here's a few pictures taken in the morning that illustrate just what we would have lost:

ALLT AN LUIB BHAIN


ANDY, ROBIN & PHIL, BLOCKING A STUNNING, IF SLIGHTLY HAZY BACKDROP  [CLICK TO ENLARGE]


SIMILAR VIEW WITH FOREGROUND REMOVED



LORD ELPUS


MAMBA COUNTRY: MILES AND MILES of BUGGER ALL



ANDY & ROBIN ATOP BEINN BHOIDHEACH



LEAVING BEINN BHOIDHEACH FOR BEINN MHOLACH. LOCH RANNOCH IN DISTANCE


BEINN MHOLACH (CENTRE LEFT) AND SCHIEHALLION [CLICK TO ENLARGE]

PHIL & ME IN A MAGNIFICENT PLACE [CLICK TO ENLARGE]


FEATHER, AT LEAST TWO FEET LONG

And so we come to our lunch spot, on a fabulous viewing platform south west of Beinn Moholach.

LUNCH

We spent quite a while here, as we were in no particular hurry, to enjoy the warm sunshine, the great views and to gird our loins for the pull up to the Corbett immediately afterwards. The next seven pictures are of, and taken from the top of Beinn Mholach. You can click on each of them to see them at a decent size. It's a fabulous spot.




ANDY'S POLES, ROBIN NEXT ONE TO THE TOP


YES, THAT'S SCHIEHALLION.

UTTERLY FABULOUS! LOOKING NORTH EAST


THE CREW


DRINK THAT IN.


WE'RE GOING THAT WAY!


As you can see, we spent a good deal of time up here, luxuriating in the splendour of the place. This is Scotland at her best. 

In England, whenever you hear of Scotland in the news it's invariably about Nicola's push for another referendum, tensions at a football match or supposedly hundreds of thousands on some march or another. It's all incredibly dismal stuff. The TGO Challenge gives the British, and others from across the world a chance to see the real Scotland, not political bollocks. Scotland is a magnificent country.

Just as we are about to leave, who should pop up to the trig point but the wonderful Tattersalls. 

JOHN & SUE TATTERSALL HOVE INTO VIEW

I'd included a visit to Duinish bothy (non-MBA) on our route in case the weather had ben dreadful, as a bolt hole to dry out after a really good soaking on our FWA (Foul Weather Route, for the uninitiated) and ploughing through knee-deep bogs. As it happened the weather was glorious and the ground conditions perfect, but we still fancied popping in to see the state of the place.

We left the top of the Corbett, and headed up and over Creag nan Gabhar - a friendly rough and tumble little top - and headed down to Duinish. To be fair, it wasn't much to write home about:

DUINISH, JUST RIGHT OF CENTRE IN THE SHADE


DUINISH, INTERIOR


DUINISH, EXTERIOR

I had toyed with stopping here, as tomorrow's walk was quite a short one to the hotel, but a few rotting carcasses of sheep and deer about the place and fairly brackish water encouraged forward motion.

The Tattersalls were setting up camp a little further on at the Allt na Duinish but we pressed on to take a wonderful cross-country yomp over to the ruin that is Saunich. It was a lovely early evening stroll.

SAUNICH, JUST LEFT OF CENTRE

Saunich suffered with animal carcasses littered about the place; It must have been a harsh winter.  There are decent enough camping spots but not that many. We made a home for the night and finished off what remained of the supplies for the Cheese & Wine Party.

ANDY'S NOTCH & SAUNICH


TRAILSTAR, AKTO, NOTCH & DUOMID - A DECENT SELECTION OF SHELTERS

As I said at the start of this piece, none of us had expected today to be anything other than a fine walk in some remote country. However, by the end of the day we all agreed that this had been one of the finest hill days we could remember on the TGO Challenge. The hills were not big and hairy, they weren't well walked, but they provided views to die for. I had also walked with the finest of companions in a fabulous landscape. It really doesn't get better than this.

And lastly, in the spirit of Old Mortality, some happy music from Dr John:




Tuesday, 21 January 2020

TGO Challenge 2018: DAY 6


At the time you never really appreciate how being miserable is good for you. As I might have mentioned earlier, I hated with a vengeance every waking moment spent at Loch Ossian Youth Hostel. Here it is, below, looking every inch a wonderful place to stay, whereas it's actually a wonderful place to leave.
HELL IN PARADISE: LOCH OSSIAN SCOTTISH YOUTH HOSTEL

With every step taken walking away from this place and into today's walk my spirits lifted. It was a glorious day. The sky went forever upwards into the deepest blue and the horizon was filled with snow-capped mountains. I was strolling along with the best friends you can possibly hope for and on the way to collect another who had doubtless had a peaceful, restorative sleep at the first iteration of Corrour Shooting Lodge, now a ruin, letting the views over the vastness of Rannoch Moor seep into his soul. All in all it felt bloody good to be alive. The contrast with the previous night was total.

Here's today's maps. You'll see that we we head south east to collect Robin at the the ruin of the first lodge, continue over Scotland's East-West watershed and then head directly at the invisible boundary that is Northing Sixty. Our route does not allow us to cross this line, and so rather than walk on the track to the junction with the path that takes us nicely eastwards we have to scramble over rough ground and cross the Allt Gormag to regain the path once safely heading away from the electrified grid line.

CLICK TO ENLARGE


CLICK TO ENLARGE

I'll let the pictures do the talking for a little while, and I'll catch up with you again later.

LYNSEY AND ME, THE MAMORES, BEN NEVIS AND LOCH OSSIAN



ESTATE NOTICE EXPLAINING THE HYDRO-WORKS & THEIR FUTURE REINSTATEMENT



PETER'S ROCK


VIEW BACK TO BEN NEVIS - FAR LEFT


VIEW FROM THE ROAD TO THE ISLES OVER RANNOCH MOOR AND BLACKWATER RESERVOIR


THE OLD CALEDONIAN SLEEPER, DWARFED BY THE LANDSCAPE


THE ROAD TO THE ISLES

And now we come to the turning point, at Northing Sixty. But first, here's the classic view of Schiehallion, captured rather well by Phil.
SCHIEHALLION & LOCHAN SRON SMEUR

I should mention here that Mad'n'Bad was, as is his wont, streaking ahead of us here and had to be shouted at to stop exactly where he was, as he was perilously close to teetering over the extremely high voltage Northing Sixty. It put me in mind of Hilaire Belloc's 'Jim'.

MAD'N'BAD SCREECHED TO A HALT


AND SAFELY GUIDED BACK ON TO THE STRAIGHT & NARROW

There was a boy whose name was Jim 
His friends were very good to him 
They gave him tea and cakes and jam 
And slices of delicious ham
And chocolate with pink inside 
And little tricycles to ride 
They read him stories through and through 
And even took him to the zoo 
But there it was the awful fate 
Befell him, which I now relate 
You know (at least you ought to know 
For I have often told you so)
That children never are allowed 
To leave their nurses in a crowd 
Now this was Jim's especial foible 
He ran away when he was able
And on this inauspicious day 
He slipped his hand and ran away 
He hadn't gone a yard when BANG 
With open jaws a lion sprang
And hungrily began to eat 
The boy, beginning at his feet 
Now just imagine how it feels 
When first your toes and then your heels 
And then by varying degrees 
Your shins and ankles, calves and knees 
Are slowly eaten bit by bit 
No wonder Jim detested it 
No wonder that he shouted "Ai" 
The honest keeper heard his cry 
Though very fat, he almost ran 
To help the little gentleman 
"Ponto," he ordered as he came 
For Ponto was the lion's name 
"Ponto," he said with angry frown 
"Down sir, let go, put it down!" 
The lion made a sudden stop 
He let the dainty morsel drop 
And slunk reluctant to his cage 
Snarling with disappointed rage 
But when he bent him over, Jim 
The honest keeper's eyes grew dim 
The lion having reached his head 
The miserable boy was dead 
When nurse informed his parents they 
Were more concerned than I can say 
His mother as she dried her eyes 
Said "It gives me no surprise 
He would not do as he was told." 
His father who was self-controlled 
Bade all the children round attend 
To James's miserable end. 
And always keep ahold of nurse 
For fear of finding something worse.

Strolling along the slightly boggy path (and this is in dry weather, remember) to Lochan Sron Smeur - what a wonderfully evocative name - Phil & I tried to persuade the exceedingly fortunate to be alive Andy to nip up Sron Smeur with everyone's cameras to snap Schiehallion from the best vantage point in Scotland, but the Bounder wasn't having any of it. Mates, eh?

We had lunch leaning against the doors of the boathouse, sheltering from the quite sharp breeze.

LOCHAN SRON SMEUR

Our route had us following the south shore of the lochan, but this looked unappetising and so we diverted along the northern shore instead, which was a lot easier. You'll see from the annotated map that should the weather be kind and the river levels low, there's probably a better route indicated in red.



You'll also have noticed that our route for the next five miles is wonderfully trackless until we reach the dam at the south end of Loch Ericht (one of only a handful of reservoirs in Scotland dammed at each end). The rough stuff is fine but must be taken at a moderate pace to conserve energy. Those who hammer their way through it invariably finish in a lather of sweat and biting cleggs. Lord E and I love a bit of off-piste travel and we take our time to enjoy the lack of man-made stuff as we plot our way through. We crossed the Allt Coire a' Ghiubhais by means of a new bridge I'd found on Bing Aerial View that hasn't yet found its way onto the OS maps.

Frequent rest stops were taken and we elected to take in Meall an Uillt Riabhaich because it was a glorious sunny day and we could. Wonderfully, Mad'n'Bad also took in Meall Liath na Doire Mhoir as he was, as usual, miles ahead and so scaled the wrong hill.  How we giggled.





HILLTOP LASSITUDE






BEN ALDER & LOCH ERICHT, LYNSEY & ME

With all this fabulous lassitude, beautiful weather and lovely company, time was gently slipping away and so it was with some reluctance that we ambled down the hill to the internal corner of the forestry to scale the deer fence and work our way through the boggy fire-breaks to climb the next deer fence to arrive at the dam.



Here we joined a Rover Road to stroll up to camp opposite the ruin at Ruighe Ghlas, where Craig from the USA had already arrived and pitched camp. Unfortunately Vicky hadn't made it this far on the Challenge, and she was missed.  We drank her health.



Craig had excelled himself, bringing wonderful provisions to the party, all the way from the USA! As we lay around in the evening sunshine Paul arrived. He had walked a truly massive day to be here and we were all full of admiration. A true Cheese & Winer, of the Finest Tradition.


TGO CHALLENGE 2018 CHEESE & WINE PARTY HAPPINESS

And lastly, of course, in the Spirit of Old Mortality,, something beautiful to listen to.


Sunday, 12 January 2020

TGO Challenge 2018: DAY 5

Here we are again, then. The run up to Christmas was incredibly busy, hence the radio silence. Still, that's all over for another year and we can all now get back to our normal lives again.

We need to cast our minds back a year and a half. I left you with a clutch of Challengers camped at the south end of Loch Eilde Mor, which I'll have you know is home to a pair of itinerant red throated divers. Their cry is hauntingly morose. Phil puts this down to their private parts being bathed in ice cold water. He may have a point.

Below are the maps. Click on them to blow them up to a decent size. Our destination today is a place I had wanted to visit for some twenty five years, and happily, Phil - our Accommodation Officer - had managed to book us some beds!

On the first (and second as it happens, as there's an overlap) map you'll notice that I've written in red ink 'YES!' Note this for later on in the narrative.






The previous evening had been reasonably social, even though Andy & the Fragrant Sue were completely whacked after their lengthy Corbett detour. Whisky flasks were emptied as we had parcels arranged for collection at the Corrour Station House restaurant. We had slept soundly. Today's weather forecast started not too badly but the weather was closing in with the cloudbase falling  quickly. It didn't look to be too arduous a day, with about twelve map miles and either a chunky ascent or a not so chunky climb with more of a bog trot for the Foul Weather Alternative.

LYNSEY CHECKING FOR MISSING TENT PEGS

Almost as soon as we had set off we came about the inevitable quagmire that the hundreds of Scottish Six Day Trial motorbike riders had left in their wake. Each rider should be hung by their testicles and left to rot on a midge infested moor until their eyeballs are eaten. 



Whilst noting the red 'Yes!' on the map, the more astute reader (yes, that's you) will also have spotted 'UTTERLY FABULOUS' which is what the next half dozen pictures will try (and sadly fail) to illustrate. Pictures can rarely give you the feel of the place, the sharp clean air, the pinching breeze, the extraordinary light and the views that stretch to eternity. You're just going to have to go there to see what I mean. Phil and I had walked this morning's route back in 2005 for my tenth Challenge and we had always wanted to return to experience its delights again. It didn't let us down. I'll leave you with the pictures for a while. They'll blow up quite large if you click on them.


BLACKWATER RESERVOIR


LORD ELPUS & :LYNSEY


MURIEL GRAY IS CORRECT. THE POINTY ONE IS SCHIEHALLION


PHIL'S FAVOURITE TREE, WHICH GROWS STRAIGHT OUT OF A MASSIVE ROCK








It's a great little walk as the tiny path snakes around the shallow spurs of the Corbett Glas Bheinn at an elevation that gives commanding views. Do go there. I promise you'll not come away disappointed. Do you remember Sue saying that if she was to ever mention going up another Corbett someone should fetch the bolt-gun? Fortunately there was none to hand as she scampered as fast as her mightlily shot knees would take her right to the very top of Glas Bheinn. 

The path turns a corner and drops us beautifully onto Loch Chiarain Bothy, a perfect shelter for a spot of lunch. If you click on the picture, you'll see the stepping stones at the outflow of the loch.

LOCH CHIARAIN BOTHY























By the end of lunch the cloudbase was dropping quite quickly. The Hard Brigade shot off to the stepping stones after barely nibbling their energy bars to try and beat the weather to the top of Beinn a' Bhric, whilst the more sedentary, and some might venture to say more wise, decided to have an unhurried repast and take the Very Clever Route Wot Alan Had Spotted Many Months Ago... And yes, the capitals are important here. And here's why:

Take a peek at the second map. Between the bothy and Corrour Station there is a very large hill in the way. Now, Corrour Estate owns all the land hearabouts. If you wanted to visit your bothy from the direction of Loch Ossian (HQ for the estate) would you really want to drag yourself all the way down to Loch Treig (at the very top of the map) and then all the way back up Glen Iolairlean and over the bealach to Loch Chiarain? No? Well, neither would I. A sensible chap would try and work his way round the northern shoulder of the great lumpy hill that's in the way. With that thought process to the fore, I set about scrutinising Bing Aerial View  for signs of vehicle tracks that would take that route.

Before too long there was a shout of Ulreka! (ka-ka-ka-ka-ka) as I found exactly what I was seeking. I carefully transposed the said route to my maps to create a gpx file and Bob was my Aunty.

Now, back in the real world, none of my walking companions - who I had convinced to come with me on my trek of discovery - had seen this track on Bing and so I was burdened with the heavy responsibility of locating this mythical track on the very real, very rough, heavy-going ground. The first aerial vestige of track started at the dot circled in red and annotated with 'YES!' All that had to be done now was to head away from the very nice track that we were bowling along at a good rate that headed to the bealach, drop down to the river, cross it and struggle up rough country to the last known position of the start of the track. The others did follow me, but it has to be said, somewhat reluctantly and hanging back slightly in case I was to turn around and shamefacedly admit defeat...

It's odd, isn't it that when you're climbing to a defined location the climb seems to drag interminably. Eventually and with a heartfelt whoop of joy, I found the very same mythical track. To call it a track would be a slight misrepresentation of the truth. In reality, it starts as tyre-bruised grass the two bruises about the width of a quad-bike. But track it most definitely was and it led us unerringly bang on the gpx track I had plotted!

The relief I felt was mixed with pure joy.

"LO! HE COMES WITH CLOUDS DESCENDING." LORD ELPUS ON TRACK.

We fairly bowled along this magnificent wheeze of a route, with the clouds dropping almost onto us, but we remained wonderfully cheerful and wonderfully dry. Good views of Loch Treig opened up below us and I was pretty thankful that we had not had to go all the way down there to only come back up again. It's fair to say we were having a pretty damn good time!

LYNSEY, ROBIN & PHIL, WITH LOCH TREIG WAY BELOW. ON TRACK!

With perfect timing, just before we arrived at Corrour Station we bumped into our Summit party at the junction of the Fine and Foul Weather routes! They had earned our respect for they had done the Fine Route in pretty dismal conditions, and looked pretty wet as they had been in cloud the whole time. We, on the other hand were joyous smug bastards. The Summit Party had also picked up a rather nice pair of Challengers, who we'll bump into again later on the trip.

As we crossed the railway to get to the Station House Restaurant, we bumped into two pretty nifty bits of military helicopter pieces of kit, heading right towards us. Then they both sank to within a few feet of the ground behind the Station House, shot back up again for a few seconds, and then dropped back down again. After a few minutes hanging about, they then shot off in the direction of the Bothy.

It was pretty impressive flying and someone in our party explained that this is how they blast the opposition to smithereens on the battlefield. I was pretty glad that they seemed to be on our side, as they look pretty angry creatures.












This is what they are and what they are capable of:




Once in the restaurant we collected out parcels that the Estate had very kindly held for us (if you're thinking of doing the same, it's quite a tricky logistical operation to organise a parcel drop here, as Lord E will testify) and tucked into one of the finest Cheese Burger and Chips in the Northern Hemisphere. Washed down with decent ales. We also bought bottles of wine and fine cheeses from the wonderful chef for our upcoming Cheese and Wine Party in two days time.

SHE WHO MUST BE OBEYED


THE TATTERSALLS, DRYING OUT AFTER BEING FOUND ON A VERY WET HILL.

It was with reluctance that we left this oasis of calm, company and culture and headed off into the outside to continue to our final destination, the fabled Loch Ossian Youth Hostel. Very happily, we bumped into Darren who was having his second night here. Robin had arranged to walk with us quite a while after we had booked the hostel and so continued to walk onwards to camp further along our route, so he could have a lie in tomorrow until we caught up with him.

THE FABLED LOCH OSSIAN YOUTH HOSTEL

If I was to write a review of the Loch Ossian Youth Hostel you would have to bear in mind that I had been looking forward to staying here for twenty five years, and perhaps I had built this place up to be far more than it should be. You must also bear in mind that I'm an old curmudgeon who likes a bit of comfort, space and organisation. With those caveats in place, here goes. And I do warn you, this won't be pretty reading.

I hated, with a vengeance just about every waking moment spent in this place.

It was packed to the rafters with walkers. The bedrooms (sorry, dormitories) had bunk beds squeezed in so tightly that there was virtually nowhere for everyone's kit. As for unpacking to get the stuff you need for your stay, well, it was nigh on impossible as there was no laying out space. I'm sure POW camps in the Second World War had more room for their occupants.

The place boasts about its friendliness to the environment. If you call drop toilets that smelled so foulsome that the stench made you physically retch, then as far as I'm concerned you can stick your environmentalism where the sun doesn't shine. It will be less loathsomely stinky up there than it was in those toilets.

Because the hostel was full to the brim, there was very little space to sort out a snack supper or breakfast. I said that I hated every waking moment. The truth is that that was virtually the entire time spent there. The rooms were so cramped and full of raucous snorers and belchers and farters that sleep was nigh-on impossible.

My recommendations: Strip out half the bunk beds from each dormitory. Provide more chairs in the dorms so that you can organise your kit. And get rid of those disgusting, foulsome toilets. The place must surely be a health hazard.

This overnight stay was the lowest spot I have ever experienced on any TGO Challenge, and I've done twenty three of them up to this Challenge. The SYHA sings lyrically about this place. God Alone Knows Why. It's a squalid, overstuffed insanitary hell-hole. Ending on a positive note, (why not, eh?) it's situated in one of the most beautiful places on this planet.


*****


And in the spirit of Old Mortality, here's a dinky little number from the Fab Four, celebrating my birthday in December.