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.


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.





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.


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.


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!


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.



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.


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.

Sunday, 24 November 2019

TGO Challenge 2018: DAY 4

I've no idea what you have been up to since I last wrote on here but I do know it's been seven months since I last put pen to paper.  I hope you've been behaving yourselves. What's that? Really? Oh... 

Since my last entry I've walked another TGO Challenge, cycled around Provence for a week of glorious gourmandising, applied for next year's TGO Challenge and was savagely rejected. Okay, maybe not savagely, in fact the letter of rejection was very carefully phrased so that rejectees wouldn't hurl themselves from the top of tall buildings.  For weeks on end there followed the Slough of Despond of the Standby List, which was followed by the ecstasy of the 'you can come to the party' email. 

Needless to say, life has brightened considerably since that email. The blogging mojo has returned.


You've probably forgotten all the little  rules of this place so here's a refresher:

  • You can right-click any picture to open it up in glorious C H A L L E N G E  V I S I O N  ie, at a healthily happy size so you can peruse it in more detail to your heart's desire.
  • At the end of each blog entry you are invited to comment. This is a genuine invitation and all comments are published unless I believe they are of a malevolent nature. People who make such comments don't get a warning. They go straight into my little black book, to be dealt with at my leisure, when I shall hunt them down like dogs. The comments brighten the blog considerably as otherwise the content will be just my incoherent ramblings and no sane person would want that. Think of this place as fertile ground for a good conversation with bright folk who have something to say. It's not like twitter; you can have a coherent conversation here.
  • This blog attracts an awful amount of comments from various far-eastern spammers which means your comment will not appear immediately as I moderate all comments to filter out the spam.  
Right then. Off we go again!


Here we both are then, seven months later, but back in May 2018. We're about to set out on Day Four of the TGO Challenge. If you recall, we had set ourselves the daft task of walking across quite a wide bit of Scotland from west to east between two imaginary lines drawn on a map exactly 10km apart. Where's the sense in that? But there again, where's the sense in most things we bash away at in life. 

I'll start by saying right from the off that the pictures of this particular walk have been taken by my companions and me. It's not obvious who has taken them, but I do have a full list of the photos and who snapped them should someone want to know. They'll have been taken by either Phil, Andy or me. 

The maps are mine. They're not the Ordnance Survey's anymore as I have damn well paid for them. The fluffy cuddly Ordnance Survey once threatened to take me to court for using maps that the general public had paid for through Government grants since before time began. They have only recently become more commercial (some would say money-grabbling). It should be noted that since becoming more commercially minded the quality and accuracy of their representation of the footpath network has got far worse.

I lugged the print-outs of my maps all the way across Scotland and what you see here are scanned images of those same maps, annotated every so often to jog my memory in the future.


The morning's a lovely walk, slowly gaining height to join the West Highland Way, which we then follow eastwards to above Kinlochleven and onwards and upwards to camp at Loch Eilde Mor.

Here's a picture of a Highland Cow. It's expected on any blog of the Great Outdoors Challenge.

The next snap is of the delightful waterfalls above Inchree, which you'll only find by taking the small footpath above its gorge, rather than the LRT which is the more obvious route.

After leaving the comparative shelter of the forest you come upon the wide open spaces of Lundavra. You'll thank me as I've chosen a tasteful photograph to illustrate this section of the walk. I could have chosen an image of a semi-naked Lord Elpus wafting his underwear in the delicious breeze to cool his overheated very private parts. I don't mind the Ordnance Survey coming after me, but the Obscene Publications Squad are quite another kettle of fish.


You'll only see pictures of Phil today, as Andy had joined the Fragrant Sue to go Corbett bagging. I'm pretty sure Andy was delighted to chance upon Sue (tugs forelock as I type as Sue is a Joint Coordinator of the TGO Challenge and must be obeyed) as he was getting a tad ratty at Phil's and my more leisurely pace. 

Here's a thing. Phil and I always get the miles done each day, and invariably arrive fresh and smiley at our intended camp spot to bump into our hare-like companion who has pitched camp, had dinner and knocked off a few hills before we arrive. As the walk goes on the two tortoises carry on in their own sweet fashion, always looking dapper, tidy, well fed and rosy cheeked. The hare on the other hand has achieved phenomenal mileages and ascents but looks half dead.

This section of the walk brought me out with Horse's Burial. Seemingly hundreds of West Highland Way walkers stumbling towards us, burdened by very large packs and each with at least three feet covered in blisters. Sadly, we didn't meet many smiley people coming from Kinlochleven. 

Just as sadly, we've come to expect the next picture everytime we walk anywhere near Fort William on the TGO Challenge. This is because each year Fort William hosts literally hundreds of motorcyclists who tear around the highlands in these parts a week or so before our walk, ripping up the fragile peat soils. It's the Scottish Six Days Trials, and may they rot in hell.

There's the beginnings of local resistance to the event, as can be found HERE but I doubt if it will amount to much, as the Scottish Government have in the past given serious money to Fort William to help the event along.

The walking hereabouts on the WHW is speedy, if a little dull, until you near the crumbling remains of the once great Mamore Lodge Hotel, and then there's the spectacle of the fabulous view down Loch Leven. Unfortunately at the time of our visit the place was heaving with earth moving equipment and civils contractors, building yet another small hydro scheme, with its concomitant widened and  strengthened access roads. It was a bit of a mess, but the contractors were, as always, polite and good people. 


We were flagging a little on this last stage and slightly irritated that the estate thought it necessary to bypass an estate cottage by instructing walkers to scramble down the hill along the fence line of the property, to then scramble up the other side. Really? Is this really sensible?

We muttered dark thoughts to each other, but it couldn't break the happy place we'd been in all day.

We made Loch Eilde Mor in good heart, and no sooner had we made camp when we were joined by Robin Evans - joining us for a few days walking -  and Lynsey who we had last seen a few days before as she headed out alone into the wilderness.

It was a little while later that Andy and Sue arrived, having done their Corbett, and a very big day to boot. I believe Sue muttered something along the lines of "If I ever mention tackling another bloody Corbett on this walk, someone fetch the bolt-gun..."

Watch this space.

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Private Secret Diary: TGO Challenge 2018: Ardnamurchan Point to Kinnaber Links, Direct! DAY 3

I thought I would start today's post with a flashback to when Phil & I spent the night at virtually the same spot on our Challenge in 2005. So here's a picture of Phil, carefree and thirteen years younger. You'll notice that in one hand he's sporting a can of lager and in the other my Sigg whisky flask. Perhaps that's the reason he's looking so cheerful... He was carrying a two man tent. He was right 'ard.


And so we come to today. There's great planning, and there's great planning, though I say it myself... Here's a tip for new Challengers: Always plan a readily achievable third day. It's on the third morning that you wake up, and it's invariably peeing down with rain, and it's thrashing in high winds against the side of your tent. You've probably been awake most of the night, wondering if your shelter is going to be in Montrose twelve days before it's due there. So you're knackered. your shoulders are sore from your pack because it's way too heavy and your legs ache because they're not used to clambering up forty five degree bogs for hours on end.

It's then that you realise that you've still got another twelve days of this madness and the world is looking like a very bleak place indeed. And, bloody hell. How far have you got to go today? Eighteen miles? Was I mad when I planned this?



Today's walk is a happily achievable 20km with just 250m ascent. And, wonder of wonders, the morning is to be spent walking up the delightful Glen Strontian, with carpet like grass, ambling up the river and, there's a proper bed at the end of the day, with pub food and a cooked breakfast seated on chairs at a table, and you don't have to eat everything with your spoon.

You can thank me later, chaps. No, no. it was nothing. I wouldn't hear of it. Oh, well, okay then, just a small glass...

The day then gets better still, as we collect the Fragrant Sue, and John who we last saw heading off into the wilds of North Ardnamurchan. It was a very happy group of five old bastards that strolled up the glen.


Just before the watershed, there's Lochan a' Chothruim to let you know that you're not lost and all is well. 


And then the day becomes even more fabulous. Glen Gour is just bloody gorgeous. You have between two and three miles of the most beautiful river scenery in Scotland. Plashing water tumbling over angled polished strata, billions of bubbles that catch the light like diamonds, honey-coloured stone glistening through crystal clear, life-giving water. Deer-trods to guide you along the soft earth banks.

Glen Gour is fabulous. Don't take my word for it. Plan your route to take you there one day, hopefully for your third easy day to the Corran Ferry, a couple of pubs, comfy beds with cool white cotton sheets.

You're there already, aren't you? I'll let the pictures do the talking for a while. Click on them. Blow them up to see the water, the life.






Your heart will probably leap, just a little, when you notice a Rover Road marked on the map, so you ease your way over to the other side of the glen to collect it. In fact it's a sad thing, stony, waterlogged and unloved in paces and certainly no match for your earlier stroll along the river banks. But, it's fairly direct, but you're away from the life force of the river and so dull, dull, dull. The view forward is rather splendid though - some compensation.


I was very lucky to be walking with John at this point, as the frequent flooded sections of the track were alive with Palmate Newts and John's a bit of a Gussie Fink-Nottle when it comes to newts. We dragged way behind the others as the little creatures were photographed and examined in minute detail by John. It's amazing what you learn from other Challengers. I almost turned into a newt-fancier myself today.


It's then but a stroll to the road, and, delightfully, beautiful fresh deciduous trees, bursting with vibrant colour and new life.

The next section isn't pretty, it has to be said. It's along a fairly fast section of main road, but we diverted off for a poke around delightful Clovullin where the general store was shut for the afternoon, it being Sunday. People were out and about, cleaning windows and tidying gardens in the glorious sunny afternoon. It's a little sanctuary of calm, beautiful trees and general tidiness.


It was then just a question of a few pints of re-hydration in the pub before taking the free ferry across to the other side. There's a fair old rip current flowing through the Corran Narrows and so we crabbed our way across to the East Side and our B&B, food parcels, another pub, a shower and lots of washing of smelly socks, pants and shirts.

Hmm. Back to reality after three days of blissful escapism. And so it goes.

Sunday, 21 April 2019

Private Secret Diary: TGO Challenge 2018: Ardnamurchan Point to Kinnaber Links, Direct! DAY 2

We had slept upon 'interesting' ground in the night, but I managed to contort a shape that accommodated the lumps and bumps that the NeoAir couldn't control and so slept reasonably well for a first night out on a new adventure.

A remarkably chilly morning with a cutting wind, but glory of glories, some sunshine! This was more like it; in fact it was perfect walking weather.


Where are we going today then? enquired Andy. I'm sure he never looks at his maps... In case you were pondering this very question, the maps are below: Today's walk is 25km with 630m of RouteBuddy Uppishness. As a number, the height gain is invariably quite a bit less than anyone else's mapping system., So if you're used to the O.S, MemoryMap or (spit!) Anquet that's probably more like 800m of uppishness.

Confused? Join the club. I've spent my life in a constant state of confusion. I've been ready for the Home for the Bewildered for quite a few years.

The day is broken neatly into two halves by a boat trip across Loch Sheil, from Dalelia to Polloch. This necessitates an earliesh start to ensure we make the boat in time. Phil very kindly let another group attach themselves to our crossing, and so being late would not only inconvenience the boatman - an incredibly nice smiley man - but also the gatecrashers. Not being a chap to let anyone down, we set off in really good time, so that we could amble at a sensible pace to be well in time and enjoy this beautiful weather.


Seemingly after only ten minutes in our company our wonderful carer, Lynsey, decided that she had had enough of us and headed out across the heather and bog to get away. She was muttering, between gritted teeth, something about a chap call Ben Resipole and heights of ecstasy. After this Challenge dalliance there was a throw-away comment something about seeing us suckers later on.

Fortunately, I managed a snap of our heroine before she went gadding off to goodness knows where and what pleasures of the flesh.


Three vulnerable chaps, of that difficult age then had the walk to themselves. Luckily, it's a delight, with good views and more importantly a very gentle descent on a grassy path all the way down to Acharacle, where upon arrival we sat upon a stone garden wall like the gentlemen of the road we resembled, and watched the village go about its Saturday morning business, whilst we took occasional slugs from our flasks.


It was as we were strolling along the north shore of Loch Shiel, that the first text messages arrived, followed by phone calls. Bloody technology, interfering with our little wilderness ramble! The messages all come through to Andy, who is a bit of a techie geek and is always in touch with the outside world via SnapChump, Titter, or Arsebook if he's not watching a blockbuster he's downloaded to his phone, listening to it via small plastic ear plugs attached by an umbilical chord to his device.

Apparently, It's JJ, one of the Gatecrashers. Andy says: "The gatecrashers have got to the boat super early and are wondering if they could have our boat..."

Before he could finish his relayed sentence I cut him off mid flow. "Tell them to F*ck Right Off. It's our F*cking Boat, and they're not going going without us because we're on time. Tell him! Exactly what I said. Tell the b*st*rd! Tell him to F*ck Right Off!" To be honest, I'm amazed JJ has used a device as commonplace as a phone for his communication. His usual style is to rig up a sixty foot aerial and communicate via whales, basking sharks and satellites on a wind-up ham radio. "Come in Tokyo!" springs to mind.

"JJ says it's okay as he'll send the boat back to us after they've finished with it"

'You didn't tell the tw*t to F*ck Right Off,' I repeat, more menacingly this time. 'Give me that bloody phone. I'll stuff it down his f*cking throat!'

Andy is tense. 'Boss, he did say he will send it back...'

Phil and I exchange glances. How could they! What are they thinking! We start doing mental arithmetic, at breakneck speed. A boat travels four miles up a loch at say, six miles per hour. It unloads its bastard ungrateful sodding cargo, with a load of faff, because JJ's involved, and then mooches back to Dalelia. How long does this take? A lot f*cking longer than it will take us to get to the boat ON TIME.

We're twenty minutes away, and On Time. The capitals are important here... Lord E and I come to the same conclusion. We both chorus 'Tell JJ to Sod. Right. Off!"

Of course, JJ and his deceitful, treacherous, gang take the boat. We're stuffed.

However, what we hadn't taken into consideration was that the Very Lovely and Considerate JJ had obviously been standing next to the boat and noticed its two sodding great Rolls Royce Merlin Outboards strapped to the blunt end. He had realised all the time that this is no ordinary Dunkirk job that bobs up and over the choppy seas . No, this thing's an E Boat that slices through the waves without even a splash, blasting its way through the waves at breakneck speed. Four miles? Eight minutes, tops.
Two minutes to unload, eight minutes return. Back with two minutes to spare.

JJ. Forgive me. Whoops!

We leave on our sailing, bang on time...


It's a fair old climb up to the top of the road next to the communication mast. Phil and I had done this stretch before, back in the mists of time. It had been a boiling hot day back then and we were younger and less experienced in the gentle art of cadence walking and resting.

However, today was also a bloody hot day and we are older, more infirm with every year, and our knees laugh at the very idea of walking in an any semblance of cadence. We're screwed.

Still, we know there's a gorgeous view-point two third of the way up the climb with a bench, and benches are what chaps of our age look forward to more than a night of passion with Elizabeth Taylor.

And here is that Beautiful Bench!


However. In the intervening years since our last visit, those trees on the slope just beneath the viewpoint have grown by a good twenty feet. There is now no view.

Well, a bench is a bench and we must take these small mercies where we can. We'd seen the view years ago.


At last, we had sweated our way to the top of the hill and could finally enjoy a little off-piste strolling, in a general down-hilliness direction towards our intended camp spot.

This was not how we remembered this particular stretch of loveliness at all! The ground resembled a battlefield. The Somme, perhaps Paschendale? It was incredily chewed up, with pock-holes a good six inches deep separated by narrow slumping clay/muck/ooze to the next pock-hole. It was a nightmare to walk over.

Then we came to a sign. Cows. Highland Cattle had been let loose here in quite dense numbers to do exactly what we had found. This ground is far more welcoming for natural tree growth - so native species would recolonise this barren landscape once again, without the need for man's intervention. This should produce a hardier tree-stock that's likely to thrive in this cow-built nursery.

Be that as it altruistically may. It was still a nightmare to walk over.




We somehow got suckered into a bit of a ravine, followed by a tree bash on a very steep slope down to the bottom. I was knackered. Totally. I ate, and promptly fell asleep, doors open and happy that the day was done.