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Thursday, 2 April 2020

TGO Challenge 2019: DAYS FIVE, SIX & SEVEN


DAY FIVE: GLEN TURRET TO OPPOSITE MELGARVE

If you recall, we called off the high level cheese & wine party at the end of Day Three after Alastair had reported a huge dump of snow at the proposed high level location. it's amazing how much can change in two days as now there was very little snow in evidence there. However, once changed you can't change the location again and so we accept it, as disappointing as it is for Phil and me. This was the third time we had missed out on our planned ridge walk from the Window to the Spey. We'll manage it one day...

This meant that today was an easy stroll to our low level cheese wine location, through Glen Roy and over into the upper Spey valley, to camp on the opposite bank of the Spey to Melgarve bothy, a total distance of ten miles or so.


THE FALLS OF ROY AND A VERYVERYNICEMAN WITH AN AFRIKA KORPS HAT.

FALLS OF ROY

If you've not been this way before, give it a go. It's a gorgeous walk on decent paths and tracks for the most part and the miles roll away as you slip your mind into neutral.

PHIL'S PANORAMA


THE THREE AT THE FRONT

THE ONE AT THE BACK WITH THE BROKEN, DUCT-TAPED WALKING POLE

THE TWO AT THE FRONT

Luib Chonnal's a cracking little bothy that's been refurbished to a good standard over the years. It was good to see that Lord Elpus' vital rock was still there from years before. It very handily holds the stove's chimney vent open to the perfect aperture to allow maximum fire-box heat against minimum fuel burn.

A VERY DRY ALLT CHONNAL

THE ONE AT THE BACK & LUIB CHONNAL


LUIB CHONNAL

LOCH SPEY

TWO LOVELY DUTCH BACKPACKERS NOT ON THE CHALLENGE

PHIL & THE SPEY

At some point the Two at the Back became the Two at the Front, as we'd remembered that the path to Shesgnan could be a tad boggy, so we took a drier route alongside the Spey. We noticed two idlers waving madly from the shadows outside Shesgnan in our direction, but we ignored them as Phil needed to visit the next woodland to answer a pressing call of nature. 

THE TWO AT THE BACK

All around these parts there is extensive tree planting going on. I hope this is the start of bringing the Upper Spey back to a natural habitat once again. However, to do this deer numbers will have to be drastically lowered.  

Just as the track veers off towards Melgarve we bumped into Malcolm from Canada, who I'd been in contact with prior to the Challenge and so together we made our way to the bridge over the Spey, then over a deer fence to reach the broad sweep of grass inside a bend in the Spey for the C&W Party. 

This was sweaty work and no sooner had the shelters been put up than Lord E ran as naked as the day he was born, arms legs and various appendages flying in every direction, to leap into a warm pool of the Spey. 

Several hundred tiny fish had the fright of their lives. It's a moment that I'm sure they and the rest of our team will never forget.

LORD ELPUS. INDEED...

HOME FOR THE NIGHT

As we were setting up the tablecloth for the party, John arrived, having walked a considerable distance carrying amongst his supplies for the party a box of grapes! We were delighted with the contributions from John, Malcolm and Martha who had each gone above and beyond in their efforts. Thank you to each of you.

MARTHA, MALCOLM & JOHN

MAD'N'BAD

MARTHA

MALCOLM

JOHN




DAY SIX: OPPOSITE MELGARVE TO BALGOWAN

Some of the party-goers rose as the Eagles and Oyster Catchers were still coughing, wheezing and lighting their first Woodbines of the day. Lord Elpus, who took the snap below after his morning constitutional behind a drumlin, captured Martha & Malcolm setting off across the Spey, having already breakfasted and packed up.

The VeryVeryNice Man would have been awake at this early hour for quite a few hours by now as, rather like the Iron Lady, he never sleeps and would have been getting very twitchy seeing M&M setting off and hearing nothing but loud snoring from the other One at The Front's Notch. 


Phil would in all probability stroll - a much happier man - back to his tent and set about the first of his many morning cups of tea, stretch out in his sleeping bag and let out a very confident and extremely loud fart. This is his signal to give me my early morning call. If we're to set out at, say eight o'clock, Phil would very kindly give me a call at 5:45 as it always take me that long to have my two cups of coffee, a hot orange and my breakfast and then pack up. We're on holiday you see, and there's no reason for any undue haste, unless there's an obscenely large distance to cover that day. Phil has to leave his tent to give me a call as the extremely confident fart would have driven him out.

Seeing M&M disappear into the blue would cause the VeryVeryNiceMan to crack. He would wake Andrew immediately. To his everlasting credit, ever since I walked with Andrew for the first time, when the bastard was late every sodding morning, I don't believe Mad'n'Bad has been late in the morning since. You can wake him now and he's packed and ready to go faster than you can clean and polish your tent pegs. You *do* polish your tent pegs, I hope? 

I believe Phil took the picture below of David, packed and ready, with Andy peering into a bottle. He's probably wondering if that's pee from the previous night or some sort of devilish energy drink. Phil will have been lying in his sleeping bag finishing off his second cup of tea and wondering whether or not to have to smoked mackerel pate on canapes or the kedgeree for breakfast.

Either way, the Two at the Front decided not to wade the Spey and instead head all the way back to the deer fence, slog up to Melgarve and then head down the road to our B&B. I believe I waved them off. I couldn't possibly imagine where they were going to at this unearthly hour, as we were going to our B&B only a shortish day's stroll away. Besides, it's ungentlemanly to arrive at a B&B before it's time for a welcoming Gin and Tonic.


THE SPEY BELOW MELGARVE, LOOKING UPSTREAM

At the appointed, very reasonable I might add, hour Phil and I picked our way across the Spey dry shod in our boots and ambled down the tarmacadam. Today was nearly all on very minor roads. However, there was the promise of the splendid Laggan Stores - under new ownership -  being opened especially for the TGO Challenge. This would make an ideal target for afternoon tea.

GARVA BRIDGE. LIGHTWEIGHT BACKPACKERS ONLY, PLEASE.

GARVA BRIDGE

Phil took these pictures whilst we were having our second breakfast and a light snooze in the sunshine, sheltering from the quite sharp breeze. It's a pleasant amble down the road past the forlorn little Wade Bridge, now sadly redundant since the Spey had been dammed and the road rerouted. 

A WADE BRIDGE

We had ear-marked a pleasant little clump of pines for a lunchtime snooze. It offered soft grass, some cooling breezes as it is perched on a hillock and plenty of backrests to support the packs for a decent snooze position. By now, the day was becoming a bit of a scorcher and so we may have extended our stop to take into account our general slothfulness. Only mad dogs and Englishmen etc...




Phil and I enjoyed a very restful and peaceful stroll today, and stopped for various snacks and snoozes depending upon who would crack first. 

The extremely fine Laggan Stores was indeed open for our business, and I hope we did them proud. I recall ice-creams, various slices of cake, Coco Colas, pots of tea and mugs of coffee. Quite a few folk were sitting outdoors at tables and chairs in the sunshine. Were these people out of their minds? We'd had plenty of that outdoors madness and sunshine, thank you very much. Now was the time to take advantage of the call of the Great Indoors, with table cloths, cutlery and chairs out of the madness of the sunshine and fresh air. You can have too much of a good think, you know.

When we finally left this magnificent establishment, we were on a main road. Here it is below: You can see that we had absolutely no trouble with any traffic, as the very resourceful Lord Epus had discovered a traffic management device at the bottom of his pack that allowed us unimpeded progress for the rest of the afternoon.


We made our wonderful B&B at Balgowan at a respectable time to arrive. The Bounders at the Front had been there for hours, had been through the family's photograph albums, snaffled more cake and tea that was decent and had done all their laundry and phone calls home by the time we arrived. They had also, very handily arranged a take-away from I know-not-where so that we could dine in some style at the family's breakfast table that evening. The family had even organised beers! 

It was as if we had arrived at the Pearly Gates with a Gold Card. I wondered where the seventy two virgins were hiding themselves. Phil opted to take the single bed.

THE USUAL 'EXPLOSION IN A KIT SHOP' B&B LOOK.


DAY SEVEN: BALGOWAN TO KINGUSSIE VIA GLEN BANCHOR

I'll start today's write-up with a tip: If your accommodation provider ever offers you a shortcut for the start of your day, nod and thank them politely. Take notes if necessary and draw it in on the map in front of them to show that you value their help. Wave kindly at them as you leave your lodgings and smile happily.

Then ignore it completely. Carry on with your very carefully planned route as the last ten minutes of conversation had not happened.

If only we had heeded this advice.

The Front Two - Mad'n'Bad and the VeryVeryNiceMan - set out a good half an hour before Phil & me and we were not to clap eyes on them again until the bar in Kingussie later that afternoon. Quite why they were in such a rush to leave that morning defeats me. Again, the planned day was not arduous and there was a comfy bed and dinner waiting at the end of it. All their washing had been done the previous night. We could see no sense in it and so retired to our room after waving them off, to have another cup of tea, polish off the remaining biscuits and inspect the porcelain one more time.



Our route today takes us up into Glen Banchor and then down to Newtonmore for a cup of tea and a slice of cake at the Coordinators' lovely Newtonmore Hostel, and then a gentle stroll along the footpath to the Silverfjord Hotel in Kingussie. Nothing could be simpler.

Both the Front Two and the Two at the Back tried to follow the very carefully explained shortcut up to Glen Banchor. Both teams gave it up as a bad job realising it was complete rubbish as they stood besides an admittedly very lovely little stream but miles from where they should have been. The promised path never materialised; it was a figment of a wild imagination. Both teams then set about bashing their way up across very rough ground to rejoin the route as described on the route sheet. A lesson learned. Again. Lord only knows how many times we've done this.

However, it was a lovely "Hullo clouds, hullo sky" sort of day. Young Fotherington-Tomas would have been in his element today with all the scents and sounds of nature all around.

And it was in attempting to get closer and record this nature that I took the picture of the moth-eaten petals above. As any fule kno, it's a damn sight harder to get up than it is to get down to take blasted photographs. Master Lambert took great delight in my umpteen efforts to regain verticality. I'm not getting any younger.


If you've not walked through Glen Banchor, think about incorporating it into your Challenge route. You will not be disappointed. I'll leave you with some pictures for a while. I'll catch you further down the page.






INJUNS!!!
LOOKING BACK UP GLEN BANCHOR


After popping in to Newtonmore Hostel for a light snooze and some tea and cake, we eventually strolled into Kingussie and found the Silverfjord Hotel Bar. The Two at the Front were of course lounging in the sunshine on comfortable settees, both having joined in with Adrian, John and Skippy in their marathon Boozathon.

They had apparently washed yet more laundry, written up their diaries, called loved ones back in England and had time for a snooze. The VeryVeryNiceMan was making a determined effort to catch up with Skippy's severalteen pints of beer. This heroic gesture was of course doomed to failure. After polishing off a plate of seafood and a few more thirst-quenchers Skippy's team left as the sun was slipping below the horizon for Ruigh-Aiteachain...some thirteen miles away.

It's said that they made it!

ADRIAN & DAVID

JOHN & SKIPPY

*****


Here's a little bit of musical history for you:



Saturday, 21 March 2020

TGO Challenge 2019: DAYS THREE & FOUR


DAY THREE: GLEN SULAIG BOTHY - TORNESS

The Ordnance Survey say there's a path up Glen Sulaig and over into Glen Loy which becomes a track at Achnanellan (or Achanellan if you're using a 1:25k map), a distance of about 6km. Admittedly, on the very odd occasion there is bruised grass, but never in your wildest imaginations could it be described as a path. However, the sun was shining, it was warm enough to start the day in shirtsleeves and the day ahead was not arduous.  We decide to leave at a leisurely eight thirty.

Andy forwent the ridge today to walk with his pals. There's a first for everything.

The recent weather had been kind and so the ground was gently soft. I would imagine if it had been wet this first 6km over the gentle bealach could be a bit of a morass. 

7:00AM AND IT'S ALREADY WARM

ALL SMILES

LOOKING BACK TO THE BOTHY

POSSIBLY THE PATH

JELLY BABIES & PEANUT TREATS BREAK

We had an early lunch stop at the car park a little after Achnanellan/Achanellan. All about us was the sound of birdsong, the gentle plashing of the River Loy and a breeze whistling in the silver birches. Imagine if you will, sun dappled shade and warm earth to lie upon.

And then, out of the blue we were besieged by hordes on touring bicycles. Now, I don't know about you, but if you and your London and Home Counties chums were out on your bicycles in a beautiful Scottish glen and you came across four hikers gently slumbering in the sunshine you wouldn't go about the place shouting to each other and disturbing their peace. You wouldn't stand so that your shadows fell across the otherwise blissfully happy, warm slumbering walkers, would you? No, of course not, because you're a decent sort. This crew of middle aged, entitled tossers who had no manners whatsoever obviously have different standards to you and me. 

They happily wrecked my blissful happy place for a good ten minutes before they fucked off, noisily. I just wish they had fucked off twenty minutes beforehand. I hated them. And I'm fluffy and cuddly. Honest. If I'd had one of those big red buttons I'd have happily pressed it for each of the chinless idiots so that they disappeared in one magic "Pouff!" of purple powder.

I felt djangled. I felt abused, rattled and generally pissed off. My lovely stroll down this idyllic glen had been well and truly ruined.

Andy decided he was going to find a track in the woods so that he would not have any more tarmac bashing. I assured the good fellow that according to my maps there wasn't a track to be found on this side of the river for at least another quarter of a mile. However he was having none of it and plunged in to the birch and bog in an uphill direction in search of softer ground.

I didn't see Andy for another five miles or so. I believe he had a torrid time of it fighting birch, spruce and bog for quite some time. You really mustn't laugh. It's not kind.

I'm not quite sure how but the remaining three also split three ways over the road walk. I spent a happy time lying in the woods next to the river just shy of Errocht. Phil had disappeared for a call of nature, and the VeryVeryNiceMan had ambled off in his own world.

Then there was the foot tunnel beneath the Caledonian Canal to negotiate. It's actually quite long and dark after the bright sunshine. It was also full of water to a depth of *just* below my boot cuff. I emerged blinking into the sunlight at the south eastern entrance happily dry-shod. Others in the party might not have been as fortunate. 




We finally reassembled on the cycle path alongside the Caledonian Canal as soon as was practicable. Today we were expecting to be joined by Robin for a few days together, as we had done the previous year. But there was a disaster! Robin had done his damaged knee in again and was currently hobbling around Fort William wondering what to do.

Lord Elpus took control of the situation with his customary aplomb. Robin was required to gather as much provisions as he could possibly muster for the cheese and wine party that he would no longer be able to participate in in two days' time. There was to be all manner of cheeses, various flagons of wine, some nibbles, chorizo and bread sticks. Olives! Yes, and don't forget the cashew nuts and napkins... Robin was required to do the shopping and get a taxi to join us at Torness, where we would sort it all out between us.



Of course, by the time we strolled into the campsite Robin was already there, pitched up, showered and immaculate, as only he can be. He did look to be in some considerable difficulty as he had a pronounced limp. We very generously offered him a few snifters of the drink that he had just bought, for medicinal reasons, only to realise that the Gent was off the booze as it gives him chronic migraines... He gets our Shiny Star of the Challenge Award for efforts above and beyond.

The camp site has all the facilities required but the pitches are a stony horror. Pegs can be bashed in to a total depth of a couple of inches at best. We prayed for a calm night, which was incredibly stupid thing to do as the midge promptly swarmed and we were eaten alive in the evening and the following morning.

Who should then show up but  Pooley Bridge - that incredibly nice fellow. He had tales of woe. He had been High that day and had noticed that the ridge where we intended to have our Cheese and Wine Party in two days' time was completely slathered in deep snow. This was Not Good.

After a quick conflab, a phone call was put into Challenge Control to let them know that the location of the Cheese and wine Party would be changing to the river bank opposite Melgarve Bothy. There was still time to warn party goers of this change. Very kindly, Control passed this message on to all those intending to attend.



DAY FOUR: TORNESS - GLEN TURRET

After saying our farewells to Robin our day started with an easy path through cow pastures, Now, one of the Font Two - yes Alastair had abandoned us again -  is none too good with cows and so Mad'n'Bad shooed the calves away from the mothers just to make things a little more exciting for the VeryVeryNiceMan.

After a respectful rest in barbed wire bovine-free corridor we made Glenfintaig Lodge and the lung busting tarmac climb for a few hundred yards up into Glen Gloy. It's a delightful three mile stroll up the glen on the public road and the Lord only knows how, but someone managed to snap a picture of Andy when he was actually behind us. This was a rare moment.

A RARE PICTURE OF ANDY BEHIND US

At Upper Glenfintaig Lodge Mad'n'Bad took the Andy Fine Weather Alternative route and headed once more up to a sky line to our east to meet us later in the day. This left the new Three at the Back, or perhaps a new Three at the Front. Either way we strolled up the fine track bathed in sunshine and a cooling breeze. 

A VERYVERYNICEMAN & ME

THE PARALLEL ROADS CAN BE SEEN QUITE PLAINLY HERE

At some point near the head of the glen, paths peter out and we picked our way over the shallow bealach to collect the Allt a' Chomhlain. I love this sort of country. It's a boggy tussocky sort of place within open woodland, fallen trees and meandering water courses. It's a puzzle and I adore it. I'm not sure my companions feel the same way about these places but for me it was the highlight of the day. 

Eventually a fence crosses our path, and I seem to remember a stile. It's wide open country up here with clean air, insects lizards and all sort of tiny creatures that choose to make their lives here. It was then a simple matter of collecting the upper Parallel Road where we also collected Andy, who we had seen descending from the ridge for a good half an hour beforehand. It's wonderful walking. A straightforward descent into Glen Turret later and were were very soon tucking into our suppers on a shallow river terrace.

Inroads might or might not have been made into some of the Cheese and Wine supplies, as it was deemed a sensible thing, indeed a right and proper thing to do for another day done, and well done too. We toasted Robin, Robin's knee and absent friends. There seemed to be quite a few of those to raise our glasses for and so it was deemed appropriate that a few more reserves from the Cheese & Wine Party storage facility should be released from bond.

AKTO, TRAILSTAR, NOTCH AND STATOSPIRE


TWO SMILEY CHALLENGERS. ANDY INSISTED THAT WE FINISH OFF MY WHISKY TO LIGHTEN MY LOAD