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Monday, 27 April 2020

TGO Challenge 2019: DAY 10: Braemar & the Fife Arms


The Fife Arms has been a traditional watering hole for the TGO Challenge for nigh on forty years. I can recall over twenty years of wild parties, late night sessions (we were all residents, of course...)  and meeting all the characters of the Challenge within those hallowed portals. We all held the old girl in our hearts as a place of warmth and good cheer.

COMPLETELY BY CHANCE, A PICTURE OF THIS YEAR'S TEAM TAKEN IN 2013 IN THE FIFE ARMS

However, over those years she had become more and more worn out, with ownership passing from one coach company to another, each trying to wring as much cash out of the business with as little investment as possible or none at all. In short, if the hotel had been a family pet, the kindest thing would have to put it of of its misery with one last trip to the Vets.

Miraculously for a knackered Highland hotel a shining white knight came over the horizon in the form of a wealthy owner of an art gallery who fell in love with Braemar and the Fife Arms in particular and so once again the Fife had new owners but this time ones who wanted to breathe life into the hotel and the village.

After years of ripping out rock, structural alterations and extensive refurbishment, the Fife Arms had reopened this year. This was our first look. She was mightily impressive. We had tried to book a table for dinner yesterday evening in the Clunie Dining Room but had failed as it was completely full, which was hardly surprising as it was Saturday evening. As luck would have it they did have a table spare for Sunday lunch.

Phil and I snapped it up.

We heard that the Architect and Project Manager - local brothers Ben and Tom Addy - would be giving a talk this evening at the Village Hall about the design, project management and reconstruction of the Fife. Both Phil & I had spent a major part of our working lives in civils, design, project management & construction and so we immediately signed up for it.

Of course, this did mean that we would have to miss the annual gathering at Lochcallater Lodge, which we had missed for a couple of years previously due to our routes not going through Braemar. We did feel incredibly guilty about this but as we tucked in to a fabulous lunch our guilt melted away. We have no shame.

For those not familiar with the Fife Arms I've included some photos I've lifted from the Fife's Facebook pages so that you can get a flavour of the place.




THE FLYING STAG PUBLIC BAR



CLUNIE DINING ROOM


CLUNIE DINING ROOM



REAR LOUNGE AREA


THE DRAWING ROOM

Lunch was bloody wonderful. We were on holiday and so went for it. The food was beautiful and the service friendly and efficient. The wines were perfect. So much so that we retired to Elsa's Bar for coffee and then decided to go for cocktails. I know, I know...

ELSA'S BAR

The standard of fit-out and craftsmanship throughout the hotel is superb. For art lovers there's work from Lucian Freud, Bruegel (the Younger), Picasso, Martin Creed, Man Ray and a host of others. You could quite happily spend a few days inside the hotel, before venturing outside to explore the wonders of Deeside. 




THE HEIGHT OF FASHION IN LONDON, APPARENTLY.



ROBERT BURNS FIREPLACE

I've always believed that if you're having a bloody good time, there's absolutely no reason to stop. With this piece of life-guidance to the fore after several cocktails we decided to retire to the Drawing Room for Afternoon Tea. A cornucopia of cakey pleasures were presented, admired and accepted, with lashings of Earl Grey. The afternoon was an absolute delight, sat sitting, as were were, beautifully on our behinds, having our every need and foible attended to by wonderful staff.

I remember wondering if I could just manage one more wafer when Lord Elpus froze.

"Don't move, Al! He can't see us if we don't move."

He'd obviously been watching too much David Bloody Attenborough about lizards or some such nonsense because even though we had turned to stone, the apparition pressing its face to the outside of the window could definitely see us. He caught my eye.


LORD ELPUS, THOROUGHLY AT HOME

I waved the Gent inside to join us for tea. It was great to see Martin, and we generously shared the remains of our cakes and sandwiches. In truth, I could not possibly have squeezed in another crumb. 


You see, all this walking is all very well but you have to learn to enjoy the stopping as well. That's pretty important on a long walk as it adds colour, contrast and recuperation, ingredients often forgotten by those rabidly intent on getting to the next destination. I can thoroughly recommend the Fife Arms Hotel for all three. So much so that we had booked half board for our TGO Challenge the next year - 2020 - until it was cancelled by the gaping maw of Covid-19.

These are desperate times.

THE MAGNIFICENT MARTIN RYE, AT EASE.

At some point in the late afternoon we tumbled from the Fife to buy pies and whisky for the remainder of the walk. Phil was also desperate to visit the crackingly good Braemar Mountain Sports shop.

A quick shower and supper taken in the Flying Stag sent us on our way to the presentation in the Village Hall. It was well attended by seemingly the whole of the village. 

BEN & TOM ADDY


If you click on the link below you should be able to hear the two brothers describe how the project came about and what was entailed to turn an old lady on her last legs to a front line destination hotel. Well worth a listen!



I recall a few beers in the Fife on the way back to our B&B where Phil very proudly produced his latest purchase from the outdoor emporium. A new Afrika Korps cap.







Wednesday, 8 April 2020

TGO Challenge 2019: DAY NINE


DAY NINE: TO BRAEMAR

As forecast, it is pouring with rain. We have twenty miles ahead of us today, the first four trackless, following the streams down hill. We'll be clambering over river bluffs and thick heather. To add to the mix there's potentially a big river crossing and a large wet bog to negotiate.

Quite a few would baulk at the prospect. I've never understood why but Phil & I seem to relish the challenge. We plan the day ahead by breaking it into manageable sections with short stops for food and drink. The first leg is about 6km or an hour and a half, whichever comes first, with subsequent sections of about an hour and a quarter with fifteen minute breaks. 

In the past, our companions very often don't 'get' the first stop after only an hour and a half because they feel as right as ninepence and are eager to get on and get the mileage done. I sense their frustration but I'm afraid I *know* that this system works and works well for Phil & me because we're stopping before we need to rest. If you get to the point when you really need to rest, I believe you're doing it wrong; by the end of a very long day you're going to be knackered and footsore.

There's also the psychological aspect to consider; a very long day broken down into chunks is nowhere near as intimidating as a massive twenty miler across rough country.

We're heading eastwards, always a good idea on the TGO Challenge, with the wind and rain coming from behind. We bounce our way down Caochan Dubh and splash our way across the Upper Upper Feshie dry-shod. Luckily, it's been so dry the previous week that the peat is soaking up the rain rather than shooting it straight into the streams.

The boggy watershed between the River Feshie and the Geldie Burn goes surprisingly well for the same reason. We're cantering along at a good rate and all is remarkably well in our little half worlds - we both wear glasses and so invariably can't see in too much detail what lays ahead in the rain and mist.

We cover the miles in excellent form and as we approach White Bridge in the distance we spot two figures laden down with enormous packs leaving the shelter of the abutment. They appear to be going very slowly. We're both of the same mind. Challengers and probably in need of a  bit of cheering up. In surprisingly short order we're catching them and we realise that they're not in fact huge packs but instead the Challengers are incredibly small with normal size bags...

Could it be?

Gloriously, the answer was a resounding YES! We'd caught up with Lou & Phyllis LaBorwit from Bowie, USA. I say gloriously because these two Challenge Legends are shining examples of Never Ever Giving Up to age or infirmity. They must love each other to pieces because they invariably bicker their way right across Scotland and have been doing so since time began. Lou's first Challenge was in 1994, when he crossed with the magnificent Reverend David Towers. Phyll's first was the following year, with Lou. Back in 1994 Lou had just started retirement. On this Challenge they were 89 and 87 years old and were on their 17th & 16th Challenges. 

I love them both to bits.

ME, LOU & PHYLLIS LABORWIT

We spend half an hour or so together - we need to know that they're doing okay - as we stroll along at their pace catching up with their walking adventures in other parts of the world. Whenever you part with them, you feel the world's a better, kinder place. They're also fun, charming and thoroughly decent. This is to be their last Challenge and so it's wonderful to be able to walk with them for one last time.

HEADING FOR THE LINN OF DEE

Our next objective is Mar Lodge. The Mar Lodge Estate is owned by the National Trust for Scotland and for more years than I can remember have offered shelter to weary Challengers. For the last few years they've provided tea, coffee and biscuits in the Stable Block for a small donation to a charity. As we drop our packs outside and peel off our wet outer layers I'm delighted to notice Ben Dolphin pull up in an NTS vehicle.

BEN DOLPHIN: AT THE TIME, RAMBLERS SCOTLAND PRESIDENT

I first met Ben in 2011 when I organised the 'Wake for the Wild,' a protest against the rapidly increasing  industrialisation of the Highlands caused by the proliferation of wind farms in Scotland's wild places. I called it a wake as I realised even back then there would be no stopping the SNP led Scottish Government's determination to carry through this act of destruction. The protest involved carrying a coffin through the most recent estate to have been bribed by the millions on offer by the energy businesses to the top of the Monadh Liath. There, a wonderful Humanist Celebrant Janet Donnelly read a piece she had prepared over the coffin. 

I make no apology for reproducing Janet's fine eulogy here:

We have come here today because we are the lucky ones. We are lucky because we are the last generation who remember and who have had a chance to be inspired by the Scottish landscape and everything it represents.
Take a moment now to look around you – really take in what you can see because this may be the last time that you will be able to experience that extraordinary feeling that comes when we feel ourselves dwarfed by the magnificence and splendour of the unspoilt wild land around us.
As more and more swathes of the Scottish wilderness are pillaged in the name of sustainability, we mourn their loss as if they were dearly loved friends who taught us valuable lessons in life like the fact that there is more to life than 9 to 5, the daily grind and keeping up with the Jones’s. Up here we permit ourselves to escape just for a little while and allow the splendid isolation to lift our spirits as the realisation dawns that we are indeed just a tiny speck on this incredible planet.
This land is in our hands, in trust for our children and our children’s children and if the politicians and the fat cats have their way, they will look back on our stewardship of the land and hang their heads in shame.
The politicians would have us believe that there is no other way and nobody denies that something must be done to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and nuclear power but we contend that the destruction of the Scottish landscape for ever is not the answer.
The technology is flawed, the sums don’t add up and the claims of large scale onshore wind power station supporters just don’t stand up to scrutiny. Add to that the news that we – the taxpayer have paid nearly a million pounds to the turbine owners to switch them off at times of peak output and we have the makings of a first class farce.
It isn’t funny though – nobody is laughing - unless you count those on their way to the bank. Let’s call a halt to the desecration of our wild landscape and the knee jerk reaction that says ‘do something – anything and we’ll think about the consequences later.
John Muir said: “Keep close to Nature's heart... and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean”
I invite you all to look around you now and try to work out where you will go to wash your spirit clean when all of this is gone.
Could you all please raise your glasses – hip flasks – mess tins, whatever you’ve brought with you?
A toast:
To the wilderness – may it continue to inspire us, arouse passion in us and provide sustenance for our souls. May those who seek to destroy it hear the voices of those for whom it is an integral part of life and may it long be regarded as an asset rather than a resource.
The Wilderness.


Ben was right at the front of the protest and helped carry the coffin all the way to the top of the Monadh Liath. Bless, him, he also carried it all the way back down again, along with Chris Townsend and all the supporters who turned out for the protest so that it could be reused at protests throughout Scotland.

BEN CARRYING THE 'WAKE FOR THE WILD' COFFIN WITH JJ, DENIS AND ME, IN 2011

The protest was covered by the Times (and a couple of Scottish newspapers) with a magnificent photograph and a good write up. Two German and French Television companies were also there to record the proceedings. Unsurprisingly the 28Gate BBC didn't want to touch it. They're still rabidly pro-wind and virtually the official outlet for outfits like Greenpeace and WWF. It will doubtless continue to be so until it is finally broken up and sold off. It won't be a moment too soon.


CLICK TO ENLARGE


Ben has an excellent website, Benvironment, well worth exploring. He became the massively popular President of Ramblers Scotland and works hard on their behalf. Amongst his many activities he spends summers as a Ranger at Mar Lodge and writes for Walk Highlands. Visit his site. It's a mine of wonderful blogs, vlogs, pictures and everything to do with the Scottish Outdoors. He really is an inspirational fellow. It was a pleasure to catch up with him again.

Of course, the refreshments were enjoyed by a stream of Challengers who came through the door. The chap in the picture below has a fascinating life, globetrotting with incredible entertainers, but still choosing to spend the larger chunk of his holiday walking across Scotland with the rest of the bewildered and bedraggled. There's something about the TGO Challenge - it attracts some amazing characters.

ANOTHER CHALLENGER WITH A FASCINATING LIFE, AT MAR LODGE

All good things come to an end and there's nothing for it but to shoulder the packs and head out into the weather again to make Braemar.

LOOKING BACK OVER THE DEE TO MAR LODGE

Our good intention of heading straight to our excellent B&B in Braemar went out the window as we entered the portals of the fabulous, newly refurbished Fife Arms Hotel. More on the refurbishment later, but I love the humorous take on Scotland's heritage so beloved by VisitScotland and their ilk. The main bar has been renamed the Flying Stag and I love what they've done!.


LORD ELPUS WITH THE FIRST OF A FEW THIRST QUENCHERS

Eventually we did find our B&B, and once again Andy & David had chosen to let the Two at the Back have the better of the choice of rooms. However, time was getting on and after a desperate search for somewhere to have dinner, the wonderful Fiona at the Braemar Lodge Hotel came up trumps again, and Lord E and I did it in some style. Thank you, again, Fiona.


The weather had been poor all day, however the dramatic cloud draped land we covered and the people we met today made it a day to treasure.


Here's a little more bliss from the blissful Lucia Popp:




Saturday, 4 April 2020

TGO Challenge 2019: DAY EIGHT


Observant members of the congregation will have noticed that some days in this year's write-up are bunched together. The main reason for this is that they are similar in nature and so fall naturally into one blog post. Today's write-up has a post all of its own because it stands out in my fading memory as one of pure joy.

*****

Bizarrely, we start the day as a united team and decide to head for breakfast at the Sugar Bowl - a first class cafe in Kingussie High Street and happily right next door to one of the best butchers & pie shops in the Highlands, in King Street.

ANDY, THE SUGAR BOWL

DAVID, THE SUGAR BOW

As we tucked in to our Full Highlands a group of American Challengers arrived. I'm afraid I can't tell you their names as they each have trail names that went in one ear and straight out the other. They seemed like really nice guys. Their rucksacks were incredibly small and obviously very lightweight. They also looked like they could each walk several Challenges in the time it would take me to complete one.

Walking out of Kingussie on the way to Tromie Bridge Lord Elpus and I fell into a philosophical conversation. Should we rethink what we carried ourselves? At this point our Colonial Cousins overtook us and strode away effortlessly. 

Over the years we had steadily chipped away at how much we carry. Back in 1995 on my first Challenge I recall my pack weighing in at over 41 lbs with food and whisky for 3 days. Over the years it fell to around 27 lbs and has since risen slowly to around 33lbs. Most of the increase was down to additional comfort: A heavier and warmer sleeping bag, a more comfortable pack, hotel trousers and shoes, and more warmer clothing. However a fair bit was down to whim: A more windproof cooking system, heavier camera gear, electronic apparatus and associated chargers. More heavyweight waterproof stuff sacks. You can never be too safe you know...

Lost in conversation neither Phil nor I noticed that the Two at the Front were beetling along at a fair rate of knots until we rounded a bend in the road and saw them standing, looking back at us both ...

ANDY & DAVID - THE TWO AT THE FRONT

The day was now brightening up considerably and so layers were stowed in packs and we ambled onwards. This was a well worn route for us; I've lost count of how many times we've headed this way to the Feshie. It's a lovely, effortless walk. The morning passed with birdsong, sunshine and a great deal of happiness.



I'm not quite sure how, but around Corarnstilmore - the old sheepfold - the Two at the Front became the Two at the Back, and it was only when they re-passed us as we were tucking into an early lunch that this became evident.

The previous evening David had received news of his Mum's declining health and over the course of the morning he'd come to the conclusion that he could trim a day or so from the walk and get back home earlier to see how he could help. Sadly, this was to be the last time Phil & I would have his company this year as he was about to set off on a very large day with Andrew as part of this plan.

The re-established Two at the Back continued onwards into Glen Feshie and a couple of delightful stops at pathside streams and beneath sheltering Caledonian Pines. The already lovely day was now about to come a magnificent day. The map will help with the story. Right click on it to open it at a larger size in a new tab, for referral. You can click on all the pictures to blow them up to a decent size.

THE AFTERNOON'S MAP - CLICK TO ENLARGE

The next eight photographs are of the wonderful climb on the footpath up Slochd Beag. Leaving the shade of the wonderful pine at Ruigh-fionntaig the path isn't immediately obvious but soon becomes a single track amongst the heather. It's overgrown in places, but if you keep heading in the right direction it's clear enough.

LOOKING BACK TO GLENFESHIE LODGE

The next picture (if you blow it up) shows the nature of the path well as you slowly gain height.. There's nothing gut-wrenchingly steep; it's a beautifully crafted stalker's path.


There are a couple of really good zig-zags - steepish in places -  that could be easy to miss if you're not paying attention but the views are now getting better and better as you enter the narrow chasm of Slochd Beag.










This has to be one of most rewarding little climbs on the Challenge - an easy gradient, not too much of a climb, around 900 feet of ascent, and totally joyful! Sections of the path are becoming slightly overgrown or subject to inundation from soil and stone from above but it's always fairly obvious where you're going.


Spend time on this. Enjoy it. Don't go at it like a mad thing. Take pictures. If your pulse starts racing you're doing it wrong. It's bloody wonderful so make the most of it. We certainly did.


We finished our flasks of water at the top as from here on there's no need to carry any, as you're going to follow a beautifully constructed little path alongside the Allt Lorgaidh up into the Glenfeshie Forest. You'll have noticed from the map that there are footbridges shown - indeed there are far more than the map suggests, each beautifully built over the gushing little side streams. You're slowly gaining height on this section of a couple of miles of the most fabulous walking. The air was full of bird song, chiefly skylarks and buzzards. The water is crystal clear and the sunshine, blissful.

ALLT LORGAIDH

At the head of the Allt Lorgaidh you contour round above the peat hags to collect the defile Clais Bheag which supports the fabulous Caochan Dubh. We didn't see another soul all afternoon and yet we were never more than a mile or two from the Great Trade Route up Glen Feshie where countless Challengers, and others would all be on their way. Our route involves an additional 500 feet of ascent and probably another three or four miles of walking, but for both Phil and I there is no comparison in the quality of the experience.

PHIL, CLAIS BHEAG

I've extolled the virtues of Caochan Dubh in the past on here, but it's charm lays in the fact that it is made up of sections of blissful downhill walking on springy turf, punctuated with little rocky drops of no more than a metre or so that herald the next section of grasy bliss. You can pick your way over the gurgling caochan to your heart's content as it is barely a foot or so wide and very often quite a few feet underground in tunnels in the black peat. 

CLAIS BHEAG

ME, CAOCHAN DUBH

ME ALONGSIDE CAOCHAN DUBH

We walked on a little further than our intended stopping place, just in case Andy and David had come this way, as they hadn't let us know that their plans had changed. We'd assumed they had, because we were sure we would have spotted them climbing up Slochd Beag had they been following the route sheet. But they are a pair of racing snakes, so there was a chance that they had, so we continued until we caught sight of the Upper Upper Feshie in case they had stopped there as we had discussed this as a possible overnight spot. As they were not, we found a couple of lovely spots either side of the caochan and made our homes for the night.

OUR CAMPSPOT, CAOCHAN DUBH - CLICK TO ENLARGE

It had been one of the very best days of my twenty four TGO Challenges. In fact, it was perfect.

CHEZ LORD ELPUS


CHEZ MOI


SUNSET AT CAOCHAN DUBH


In the spirit of Old Mortality, to finish a perfect day here's musical perfection: Lucia Popp at her very best. You'll need to turn your speakers up as for some reason it's been recorded at a very low volume.



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: