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21 September 2022

TGOC '22: Days 8 & 9: Blair Atholl to Braemar

 

DAY EIGHT, FRIDAY: BLAIR ATHOLL TO BYNACK LODGE

Having cleared two toast racks ("mixed, please," thus avoiding the awkwardness of choosing white death or sack-cloth and ashes with the granary-wholemeal-brown option) fresh fruit and a hearty fry up with posh sauces, great coffee and fruit juices, I was once again set up for the day. 

I recommend Dalgreine Guest House

I hadn't managed to unscramble the cats cradle of the pitchlock end of my tent, but I could always sort that out when I got to Braemar, or perhaps Clova, or Montrose? Note: I've been home some months now and it's a little job that still hasn't been crossed off my 'to-do' list. That's life.

STARTING A DECENT BREAKFAST

At half past eight I found myself (there was no-one else to find me) at the junction of the main road through Blair and the minor road that heads up Glen Tilt, buoyed up by the promise of a lovely day heading up the Tilt and meeting up with Jayme, Peter and Mario, who were at this very moment ploughing into a decent breakfast themselves. 

The route I had submitted to our Glorious Girls to pass on to the Vetters had me heading directly north east passing beneath Beinn a' Ghlo, then down to Daldhu then northwards to almost Fealar Lodge and heading to Braemar via Miadan Mor and Carn Dearg and onwards to Glen Ey. This held no terrors as Phil and I had passed this way in years gone by, when we were well over ten years younger and before either of us had been under countless surgeons' knives. However, after only just managing my first week I thought Glen Tilt was a wiser route selection; it was still a longish day of some seventeen or eighteen miles. Happily, Sue agreed with me.

DAY EIGHT, FRIDAY MORNING: RIGHT CLICK TO ENLARGE IN NEW WINDOW
Distance: 28km
Ascent:    800m

The walk up lower Glen Tilt is beautiful in any weather with the main attraction being the river tumbling down its rocky chasm, cloaked in wonderfully fresh foliage. It would be an unusual fellow who could not let this sylvan bliss seep inside his soul. Every step of the way your pack becomes a little lighter, your problems melting away into oblivion as you peek around the next corner to find the scenery shifters' next tableau. This is nature's theatre on steroids.

THE TILT

LOWER GLEN TILT: BEAT 2

LOWER GLEN TILT: WHAT'S ROUND THE CORNER?

LOWER GLEN TILT. MORE BLISSFUL AMBLING

I had my mandatory twenty minute break after six kilometres just before Gilbert Bridge at the side of the track, and tucked in to my planned but uneaten pudding from last night and a glass or two of water  before hoisting my pack and sauntering off once again up the now more open glen.

I'd often wondered how Marble Lodge came about its name until I looked closely at the sash window to the left of the doorway where you can see the remnants of marble facings either side of the top sash. Similarly, the sash window head to the right of the doorway. Over the years it either succumbed to the harsh winters or the Estate decided it was too grand for the incumbent? Let's hope it was the harsh winters.

MARBLE LODGE - YOU CAN RENT THIS AS A HOLIDAY HOME

I beetled onwards up the glen, passing a flurry of tree fettling around Forest Lodge following the storms earlier in the year. If you're a half decent tree surgeon or forester you'll be busy for years up here as there's huge amount of fallen timber that needs clearing to make the plantations safe.

I had a good half hour for lunch as I lay against an old wire fence at the edge of the plantation where the footpath zig-zags crazily up the hillside heading for Carn a' Chlamain. I watched a highly skilled JCB driver clear fallen trees with the gentlest of encouragement. These guys earn their money.

DAY EIGHT, FRIDAY AFTERNOON: RIGHT CLICK TO ENLARGE IN NEW WINDOW

Distance: 28km
Ascent:    800m

It was a bit cooler now, with the wind freshening and bringing with it some heavier cloud. I was in no particular hurry so set off at my standard pace. I'd had lunch just shy of halfway to my intended overnight at Bynack Lodge, but once there I had only to pop up the Notch, have a bite to eat and get some rest so there was plenty of time.

LOOKING UP THE TRENCH TO THE LAST PLANTATION

LOOKING BACK DOWN THE GLEN. THE BRIDGE AT NORTHING 763 LEADS TO A GREAT CAMP SPOT

It was just shy of eight clicks of easy walking to Bedford Bridge and so I made that my target for my next stop, where I thought it was probable that Jayme, Peter and Mario would overhaul me. There were a mountain bike couple who stuttered past me as I neared the bridge; I really don't get mountain biking at all. The man was miles ahead of his partner and both looked a sweaty, muddy mess. They were aiming to see the Falls of Tarf and then they were to peddle back again, all the way down to Blair. 

BEDFORD BRIDGE, SPANNING TARF WATER

Within a quarter of an hour of my arrival at the bridge and climbing into my shell clothing to cut out the now strong cold wind the three musketeers hove into view along with their very own D'Artagnan in the shape of Paul Edmondson.


L-R: PAUL, MARIO, PETER AND JAYME

We sat and chatted for a good half hour or so. They had also hardly seen a soul on their crossings. I declared quite soundly that I had hated the 25th Challenge because I had hardly seen a soul with the Challenge split into two halves, and this year's Challenge was an even more extreme split of start days. Because the Covid precautions in Scotland were far more extreme than those of England, purely for political reasons and not medical, I understood why the decision was taken - and made a good six months before the Challenge was to take place - to split the Challenge into smaller groups, but this did not stop me loathing the result with a vengeance. 

Today I learned that next year's Challenge is also going to be split into two start days - and it appears that we are to be given the start day and not get a choice. I'm going to hate that too, as in effect we're chopping the Challenge in half once again so there will be half as many Challengers you're likely to bump into - and bumping into like minded souls was one of the key foundations upon which Hamish and Roger built the event. 

This is an incredibly poor decision.

*****

Paul was the first to move as he was planning to make for the new red bothy currently being refurbished at the Geldie Burn. Within a few moments the international gang of three also got to their feet as stopping wasn't their style. I happily let them go as they were far quicker than my gentle plod and I had boots to tighten and food to stow away. 

As I climbed away on the single track up the glen's gorge I looked back to the incoming weather. It didn't look inspiring but it was coming from behind so this was likely to be a pleasure after the frontal onslaught of the first few days of the walk.

FIVE MINUTES PAST FIVE, LOOKING BACK AT THE INCOMING WEATHER

TWENTY FIVE MINUTES PAST FIVE. INCOMING!

The first shower arrived around five thirty, but it was nothing to get worked up about - it was actually quite pleasant. After the initial front passed it was light spotty stuff that didn't require a hood and so all was well with my world.

TEN TO SIX - THE FIRST SHOWERS HAVING PASSED.

FIVE PAST SIX - ABOUT A MILE TO GO

As I turned up the track to the ruin of Bynack Lodge the heavens opened. It was straight down stuff the size of pennies. I had a brief chat with Jayme who braved the downpour for a moment, and then set about flipping up Nathalie Notch, having first cleared the ground of half a hundredweight of Larch branches, general twigginess and rabbit and deer droppings that would make life uncomfortable as a camper. 

I lay back in my little tent of happiness quite pleased with how the day had gone and within moments had crashed out until I woke in the very small hours, so climbed into my sleeping bag for another solid slab of slumber.

TONIGHT'S LODGINGS





DAY NINE, SATURDAY: BYNACK LODGE TO BRAEMAR

(or, An easy day to the Fife Arms Hotel bar)

DAY NINE: RIGHT CLICK TO ENLARGE IN A NEW WINDOW
Distance: 20 km
Ascent:    230 m

Now then, sit up straight at the back and take note: Today you'll see quite a few pictures of Challengers. This is my ninth day of fourteen on the TGO Challenge and at long last I'm bumping into other Challengers! I know I've already introduced you to Paul, Mario, Peter and Jayme, but today I'm going to be walking with and seeing many more! After a veritable drought, there's now a flood of wonderful people all battling the elements, all suffering tweaks and pulls, and all sporting smiles and suntans.

UP AND ABOUT AT 6:20AM

I'm up and about at a sensible time and poking around the ruins to see what I had missed last night as I pitched Nathalie in the pelting downpour. It's an atmospheric spot with decent shelter from bad weather and top drawer views from your pitch. Baked bars and orange juice for breakfast and I was ready to pack everything away.

LOOKING DOWN THE BYNACK BURN

6:30 AM. BACK IN THE WARMTH OF MY BAG

I was away by a quarter past eight and made light of the Bynack Burn, which bode well for the Geldie as they're usually in synch with each other in terms of crossability. As I strolled north towards the Geldie Burn I bumped into three early risers from the Backpacking Club who were heading towards me. You do meet good people in the hills and they cheerily let me know that the Geldie was a pussycat this morning.

 THE BYNACK BURN AT A QUARTER TO NINE

LOOKING BACK UP THE BYNACK BURN TO BYNACK LODGE

When in spate the Geldie Burn can be a real problem requiring extreme care to cross safely. Today, my Backpacker Club friends were spot on. After a brief inspection I was soon wobbling my way across from boulder to boulder, very aware that on the far bank there were three souls I thought I recognised, who had whipped out their cameras and phones to record my imminent demise, so sure were they of my headlong plunge into the ford.

LOUISE'S PICTURE: NINE O'CLOCK, STARTING TO FORD THE GELDIE

EMMA'S PICTURE, 9:01 

Swiped from the good Doctor's photo album: "We met Alan who was coming up Glen Tilt - no one else can rock that acid yellow look."  Acid yellow? I had always thought it was saffron. A cheerful colour for the gloomier days?

And lastly, here's Louise's video of my stick-thin legs wobbling over the rocks. (Spike: "His legs hung from his underpants like two pieces of knotted string.")

LOUISE'S VIDEO

The malevolent trio who wished me nothing but misfortune can now be introduced: Barry, who it should be said is in fact a sterling fellow and had not produced a recording device during my wobbles over the Geldie but through association is doomed nonetheless, Louise - a known cad and bounder who recorded still and moving images, and the Doc, who to her credit only took an image or two, preferring to watch the actual submersion through her own eyes. 

This was a wonderful meeting, as I do not believe any of us were on our route sheets' fine weather routes. They had been camped at the soon to be new bothy, no more than a couple of hundred yards away, having had the luxury of porcelain to make their overnight experiences complete. 

We headed off, Emma teaming up with Barry, as I learned of the dramas Louise had encountered earlier on in her trip. I recommend a read of her blog of the trip - she certainly had an interesting time!

PHOTO C/O EMMA: WHITE BRIDGE, WITH BARRY, LOUISE, AND ME IN A NATTY SAFFRON JACKET

We were of course overhauled by racing snakes Mario, Peter and Jayme - I'm not quite sure what had happened to Paul, but each looked well fed and all sported new gear.

PHOTO C/O EMMA: AT TOMNANMOINE - MARIO, BARRY, ME PETER, LOUISE & JAYME

BARRY

PETER & JAYME'S BEARD COMPETITION

LOVELY MARIO

LOUISE

LOOKING TOWARDS THE LINN OF DEE

TARMAC, THE LINN OF DEE AND A WELCOME NOTICE FROM MAR LODGE: RIGHT-CLICK TO BLOW UP IN A NEW WINDOW

Mar Lodge is a lot further than memory allows and so the stretch of tarmac on the map between the Linn of Dee and the Lodge is another candidate for the scissors. Louise, Barry and the musketeers strode on ahead  to scoff the remaining biscuits laid on by Mar Lodge. It was as well that Ben Dolphin, in his new role as a permanent ranger at the lodge, had noticed the ravenous hordes' scandalous behaviour as just as we collapsed into the waiting chairs he topped up the biscuit plate. 

THE MAGNIFICENT BEN DOLPHIN AT MAR LODGE

With time on our side we spent almost an hour and a half in our chairs, blissfully happy. This walking lark is all very well, but after all said and done, you only walk to get somewhere and this seemed like an excellent somewhere to cherish.

A MAGNIFICENT PICTURE OF LOUISE (TRUST ME, THERE WERE WORSE!)

BEN'S PICTURE OF BARRY, LOUISE, ME & EMMA

However, the boys rushed off towards Braemar, no doubt via a few Munros and Corbetts such was their zeal for progress.

Eventually, shamed by other Challengers arriving and then departing whilst we luxuriated doing absolutely bugger all - an art in itself, perhaps we should apply to the Arts Council for a grant - we stirred our stumps as Louise fretted over her impending marathon clothes washing session.

REFURBISHED VICTORIA BRIDGE IRONWORK

It was a lovely stroll into Braemar via the Tomintoul view point with its beautiful toposcope and we bumped into 'normal' people out for a walk. This was odd, as it brought back a brush with the real world after over a week in our little half-worlds.

STEELY EMMA WITH IRONWORK

"IT WASN'T ME, MISS!"

EMMA'S PICTURE: LOUISE, BARRY AND ME

BARRY, LOUISE AND A CHAP WITH AN INCREDIBLY LONG RIGHT ARM

ENROUTE TO TOMINTOUL VIEWPOINT

VIEW TO THE CAIRNGORMS FROM TOMINTOUL VIEWPOINT

A GOOD VIEW OBSCURED BY THREE CHALLENGERS

It's a wonderful downhill walk to the village of Braemar, and it took no arm-twisting whatsoever to find ourselves in the bar of the Fife Arms. Because of Covid, it was waitress service so we bagged a large table, much to the alarm of the rather well-heeled guests already working their way through their afternoon or champagne teas. Rucksacks were piled against waiters' furniture and then moved after a polite request from the staff. 

As we waited for our order of beers and ciders to arrive I noticed furtive sniffing of armpits at our table. Everything was fine and to their credit the waitresses were charming and efficient. However, Louise fretted, knowing that her clothes washing was a priority. Sadly we left our little pool of luxury and headed off to our various overnight stays.

Some months earlier I had bagged a table at a favourite restaurant and subsequently invited the lovely Emma to share it. After a furious session of showers and suds I made it on time to escort her to dinner in fresh clean clothes and a big smile. Then it was a trip to the pub for a few snifters. Okay, she's not Phil, but she made a good fist of it. The time flew by.

These last two days were wonderful, finally making up for the ghastly start to my Challenge.



AN AMAZINGLY TIDY B&B AT BRAEMAR


WORTH A LISTEN

04 September 2022

TGOC '22, Days 6 & 7: Bridge of Gaur to Blair Atholl

 

DAY SIX, WEDNESDAY: BRIDGE OF GAUR TO TOMANBUIDHE

After returning home and reading other Challengers' accounts of their walks, it seems I picked a good night to be indoors, pampered, and generally spoiled rotten. There was quite a storm on Tuesday night of which I was blissfully unaware tucked up in fresh cotton sheets lying in a wonderfully comfortable bed. I do recall a bit of thrashing on the Velux roof light in the bathroom but gave it no heed at the time as I slipped into beautiful oblivion.

There was a big ragged sky as I set off at Bed and Breakfast hours, with heavy showers all about me, slipping past and kindly missing this lonely wanderer as I trundled along the north shore of Loch Rannoch. 

This is generally the unfavoured shore for TGO Challengers as it a 'B' road rather than the seemingly more attractive option of the little yellow minor road along the southern shore. I'd walked both on previous Challenges and definitely come down in favour of the option I'm walking today. This road is very quietly trafficked and has the advantage of a lot more visual interest, as you pass by more houses and you're constantly in eyeshot of Schiehallion, a wonderfully cone shaped hill from this direction.

   SHOWERS AND SCHIEHALLION ACROSS LOCH RANNOCH

Today was to be road walking and so my plan was to take it steadily along Loch Rannoch, with gentle footfall and a few stops to air the tootsies and head for a late lunch / afternoon tea at the cafe at the far end of the loch at Kinloch Rannoch and then re-gird the loins to continue along the road for a late afternoon plod until I found somewhere that I fancied to camp stealthily with access to fresh water. 

RIGHT CLICK TO ENLARGE IN A NEW WINDOW
Distance: 27 km
Ascent:  350 m

The last time I'd been along here was with Andy Walker - Mad'n'Bad - and we had quite a long day and were massively grateful to camp in Bohally Wood along with a colossus of the Challenge, Roger Boston. If you click on that link you'll see that I was singularly unimpressed with the events of that day. Today I was set on a more sensible mileage that I could accommodate with more aplomb.


I didn't count them but along the north shore of the loch there were around a dozen designated 'wild camping' spots where you are invited to overnight in the spirit of wild camping and leaving no trace. I recall walking along here many years ago when these spots were full of fisherman who were obviously here for a good while and all about was a mess of discarded beer bottles, barbeques, and all manner of rubbish. Today there was just the one spot being used by a young couple in a small tent who were on their way to the 'far north' having started their journey in Brentwood, Essex. Their spot was in perfect order. 

Full marks to whichever authority that championed this initiative.

 ROADSIDE MIRROR PICTURE SELFIE

1948: I DO HAVE A SOFT SPOT FOR THESE LITTLE BEAUTIES


TALLADH-A-BHEITHE LODGE

I've posted this picture of a rather smart Lodge that sits on the north shore of Loch Rannoch, with the single purpose of shaming the money grubbing bastards who own it. Around ten years ago this Dutch couple put in a planning application for a large wind farm, the Talladh-a-Bheithe Power Station in the most extraordinarily inappropriate place. The locals were up in arms! I wrote about their application, which you can find by clicking on the red link. I don't know if they still show their faces amongst the local community but they should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. Happily, even the SNP-led Scottish Government didn't have the brass neck to push this one through.

IMPORTANT EDIT: 
Many thanks to an anonymous comment in the comment section below this piece: 

"if I may clarify a point regarding the owners of Talladh bheith lodge, they were never involved in the wind farm application as the lodge was sold off from the estate some 25+ years previous, it is owned by a German family who seldom visit unlike the Dutch estate owner who is still a regular !!"

So, the owners of the lodge have nothing to do with the dreadful Talladh a Bheithe wind farm application!

PLAY ME

It really is a rather pleasant stroll along this road, so take two minutes to join me on an entirely uneventful stroll along the loch side. You see the wind in the trees, a few glimpses of the loch and the backing track is made from the wind and some birdsong. It does it for me.

SLOW DOWN, AL, CIVILISATION AHEAD!

I was the sole occupant of the cafe at Kinloch Rannoch and I have to say I did not enjoy the place. I had coffee and cake in a funereal atmosphere, served by an apprentice undertaker. The sugar shakers were solid; no sugar had been shaken from these beauties for quite some while. There were amateurish daubings hung about the walls with fantastical price tags. Even though a pleasant day outside, the windows were tightly shut against it and the atmosphere was definitely on the frosty side of unwelcoming. I wish them well but there needs to be some changes.

Continuing down the road, things brightened considerably. It was still warm and the wind had died down so the afternoon was now officially 'quite pleasant'. Approaching Home Farm, almost at the top of the hill, a very smart four by four slowed down and a guy leaned from the driver's window and asked if I wanted a lift. We chatted in the middle of the road for a good half an hour, moving to one side when a coach full of well-heeled pensioners squeezed past on their way to the hotel in Kinloch Rannoch.

He had had a pretty interesting life. Originally from the south coast he had spent his childhood in Australia and then ten years or so on cruise ships until, by an intriguing route, he had been tempted to the Highlands to set up a business looking after holiday homes in the area. Having passed a fair number on the walk this year I suggested that he should be quite busy. He loved his life in Tummel Bridge and was raising a family in beautiful countryside. Here there was no overcrowding, no knife crime and the air was fresh and clean. This man had finally found his own version of paradise; and good luck to him as he was a thoroughly decent sort.

No sooner had I left him to continue in the warm late afternoon, than on the descent from the hill I met an elderly cyclist coming from the other direction, pushing his rather fine steed. He was catching up with the group that I'd met at the Bridge of Gaur Guesthouse, after having time out to be checked out for a suspected heart attack. He was fine and now intended to have a bloody good time with his friends on their journey northwards.

RIGHT CLICK TO ENLARGE IN A NEW WINDOW

I recommend my camp spot in the red circle on the above map as it is quiet, well out of the way of passing traffic and close to a good source of water just a little further along the track at the 'F' of 'Ford'. It's an old logging platform or turn-out so a little stoney underfoot and you need to be careful to avoid one or two little boggy spots. The pegs don't go in very far, but you're well protected from the wind by the surrounding trees. I had an excellent night here, with owls and drumming snipe.


It had been a fine day with seventeen miles under my belt in lovely weather. Things were definitely on the up, with two consecutive good days. I had still not met any Challengers but the chance encounters with others on the road was making up for it. 

Here are the usual stats:





DAY SEVEN: THURSDAY: TOMANBUIDHE TO BLAIR ATHOLL

I must have needed a good sleep as I wasn't away until around nine this morning. I still wasn't eating properly as I couldn't be faffed with cooking a meal last night, digging in to my lunch / snack food instead. I took on lots of fresh filtered water and set off down the track back to the road that would take me eastwards once more.

Today should be an easy day as I've been this way quite a few times in the past, often from Kinloch Rannoch, some 6 miles behind me. It was around thirteen miles to Blair and so I had a leisurely stroll ahead. 

RIGHT CLICK TO ENLARGE TO FULL SCREEN IN A NEW WINDOW
Distance 21 km
Ascent  410 m

All the temporary works from the construction of the Beauly Denny pylon line seem to have settled down now, leaving just the line itself, but a completely trashed landscape full of enormous wind turbines in its wake, with more and more turbines in the pipeline to ruin yet more wild land. 

You can blame all the engineering-illiterate morons for this, with their fixation with the impossible 'net Zero,' and the appallingly ignorant and weak politicians who haven't got a fucking clue about energy generation, distribution and the subsequent cost implications. Europe is now in the clutches of a cunning madman in Russia who has been pulling the strings of all the green zealots across the Western World for fifteen years or so.

You want green energy? Well now you can bloody well pay for it, through the nose. With the destruction of Britain's coal fired and Germany's nuclear generation, Putin has you by the bollocks, and trust me he is not going to tickle them. The only way energy prices will ever get back to what everyone refers to as 'normal' is by toppling Putin's corrupt regime. For 'normal' you can substitute "before all these tossers decided that renewable, spasmodic energy was the way to go and blew up our coal fired plant, refused to invest in nuclear (and so losing all our class leading nuclear engineers) and destroyed our gas storage infrastructure."

Society needs affordable dispatchable power supplies to survive. God help the poor. God help our soon to be completely trashed economy, our spending on health, infrastructure and education. Every single piece of this is self inflicted and all egged along by the NGOs such as Greenpeace, WWF, Friends of the Earth and all the other bleeding hearts along with Greens, the Liberals, Labour and the Conservatives because none of the bastards understand that energy is the prime building block upon which society is based.

We don't need Boris, Liz Truss or any of the leaders of the present shambles. We need a party leader who understands engineering. Full stop.

*****

And calm...

And now some pretty pictures of the morning's walk:

SCHIEHALLION

TIMBER EXTRACTION - GOING TO DRAX POWER STATION TO MASSIVELY INCREASE OUR CO2 EMISSIONS?

FINALLY, A SMILEY CHAP HAVING A GOOD DAY

My first break was at the transmitter: See the map you've clicked on to make it bigly-huge in the new tab. I like stopping at transmitters because there's always a locked substantial gate that you can lean your pack against and a guaranteed mobile signal. I rang Challenge Control who were just arriving at the Park Hotel after leaving Newtonmore to let them know of my rude health and location. Sue seemed to be in fine form but the numbers of Challengers who hadn't made it to their start points and the numbers who had dropped out in the first few days were unprecedented and a shock to me.

THE VIEW SOUTH FROM THE TRANSMITTER WITH THE SEEMINGLY INNOCUOUS BEAULY-DENNY POWER LINE

THE VIEW BACK WESTWARDS

After quite an enjoyable stroll through the forest my long lunch break was at the bench at Loch Bhac. This is an idyllic spot and very popular with local fishermen - a local angling club issue the permits, which aren't cheap -  for two boats which are powered by silent electric motors. As I was tucking in to my salmon wraps both boats decided it was time for their lunch. One of the couples sat with me and I spent a lovely hour or so chatting with them. 

One was an elderly gentleman, the other a fellow about my age who had bought the day's fishing for his companion as a birthday present. If you've ever watched Paul Whitehouse and Bob Mortimer's "Gone Fishing" our hour together ran along very similar lines. Fishing was the vehicle for a conversation ranging far and wide, generally putting the world to rights in a kind and thoughtful manner. Both had had health issues in their past and both were very grateful to wake each morning and they would try to make each day more enjoyable and satisfying than the day before. These men were absolutely adorable.

LOCH BHAC

As we said our goodbyes they boarded their little boat and I hoisted my pack. I felt lucky to have met them both.

THE TWO FRIENDS IN THEIR LITTLE BOAT ON LOCH BHAC

The single track path down across the moor from Loch Bhac to Balnansteuartach is four kilometres of bliss. I'll let the pictures describe my heavenly descent:

GLEN TILT LEFT OF CENTRE


BLAIR CASTLE COMING INTO VIEW

BLAIR CASTLE

The descent finishes at the farmstead of Balnansteuartach but then you have a grassy trod that runs parallel to the A9 below you that lasts about a mile too long before you finally drop down to cross the road and dive down the bank to the footbridge that carries you across the River Garry.

FOOTBRIDGE TO BLAIR ACROSS THE RIVER GARRY

It was early afternoon and so my first thought was for some rehydration and so I found the back bar of the Atholl Arms Hotel - usually a pretty safe place to bump into all manner of Challengers enjoying respite from the sunshine. Inside, out of the sun, it was deserted, with incessantly cheerful accordion music so beloved of Highland Hotels blasting through the place. Why do tourist watering holes think it's a good idea to cram as much bloody Scottishness down the throats and lugholes of every available tourist, who, having probably spent the best part of a week so far journeying around Scotland, is now fairly sick of the sound of this piped rubbish. They know they are in Scotland; they chose to holiday here. They don't need this.

In a fairly traditional Scottish welcome, a lady with a Chinese accent invited me to sit at a particular table immediately beneath one of the blaring speakers. I chose another table as far from any of the speakers as possible. I asked the barman if it was possible to turn the volume down slightly as we were the only inhabitants of the bar. He very politely and very firmly refused.

Hospitality - a lost art it appears in Bonnie Scotland. I drank up my beer and left, determined not to come back to this hell hole this evening.


I had been planning to spend the night on the Blair Castle campsite but on my longer than expected stroll along the grassy trod above the A9 I had managed to book myself a room in what sounded (and indeed turned out to be) a very comfortable B&B. I fancied a long soak in a shower, a comfortable bed and a look at one of the pitchlock ends of my Notch to try to untangle the webbing straps. I also needed to wash my increasingly smelly clothes after two days of hot sweaty walking. 

Happily I achieved all this with time to spare to wander back into town for fish & chips and beer at the odd but very efficient "Food in the Park."


A GOOD ROOM, TRASHED



Back in my room I received a text from Mario - of Mario, Jayme and Peter - inviting me to join them for breakfast the next morning before heading up Glen Tilt. In my current shambolic state of zero fitness and low blood count I politely declined, suggesting that I would be setting off early and that they would definitely catch me up. It was incredibly heartening that I was finally going to be meeting up with three bloody lovely Challengers.

MY B&B's LOVELY GARDEN - AND MY FOREARM