26 May 2008

TGOC 2008 Report: Second Week

DAY EIGHT: Blair Atholl to Gleann Mor:
The walk out of Blair Atholl is an absolute honey. Eschewing the trade route up Gen Tilt we chose the more direct option, taking the fine track beneath Carn Liath and Beinn a' Ghlo, with magnificent views of the summer pastures and Loch Moraig. We met Two Glasgow lads who were off to conquer four big hills that day and took shelter from the strong morning sunshine in the hut below Carn Liath.

Then it was back out into the scorcher to plunge my left leg up to my knee into the Allt Coire Lagain, much to Phil's delight as it gave him an opportunity to take pictures of me wringing out my socks.

The track beneath Sron na h-Innearach (nose & ear-ache?) was a bit harder than I thought it would have been (having not looked too closely at the maps, it has to be said) and so I was looking forward to Glen Loch for a spot of lunch, which we made bang on time; just as the heavens opened giving us a very soggy, cold luncheon.

Right on cue, the rain ceased as we were packing to leave to head off piste once more beneath Sron Chrion a' Bhacain (nose of the weeping bacon?) to regain a track north over yet another bealach beneath Carn an t- Sionnaich. The showers kept coming and going, but mostly coming as we headed round the corner again off-piste and headed down into Gleann Mor, beneath Carn an Righ. It felt great going down hill on the boggy stuff but even as we were descending, the clag, murk and heavy rain was coming down even faster.

We gave it up as a bad job and soon had the Wendy houses up on a tight little patch of green amongst the peat hags.

The noise in a little tent from the rain beating down can be incredibly loud, but I started to hear strange deep rhythmical grunting coming from somewhere close by, outside my little Wanda. At first, I put this down to Lord Elpus' straining, blowing up his Thermarest. But the noises went on far too long, for even his Weakened Condition, I started to think that perhaps we had pitched too closely together for Phil's sexual comfort.

Still, his regularity was impressive and his bellowing became stronger and longer until, at last, I snapped! A loud reminder that we were only feet apart in our tents brought the rejoinder that he thought it had been me kicking up the dust!

I poked my head out of the tent, and there, only yards away, was the most enormous stag I have ever seen, bellowing away at us, backed up by about three hundred of his harem!

As soon as he clocked who we were, he wheeled away and the whole hill-side moved off with him. Quite Magical.

DAY NINE: Gleann Mor to Braemar:

Today's the day for the dash to Braemar. But first, (I know, Marian, I know!) we had to make up the missing 6km we didn't manage yesterday afternoon in the rain. Those deer of last night know a thing or two about the best way through trackless terrain, and so we followed their expert trails up the valley, skirting the worst of the bogs and gloop, finally making Loch nan Eun (it had been on my route sheet three or four times in the past!).

Picture courtesy of Lord Elpus
It has to be said, in the weather we were experiencing, Loch nan Eun was not the best Cheese & Wine venue we could have picked, but we did note the one or two fine little pitches for future years.
Then it was fine traverse above Glen Ey to head for the most direct route to the Baddoch Burn and a wonderful yomp down the mossy banks to finally make solid ground of the track and a nip down the Golf Course Road down into Braemar.
As we were fair belting down the road in the now hot sunshine, the other side of the valley a motorcyclist pulled up, removed his helmet. Even though we were a good two hundred yards apart it was obviously the peculiarly wobbly outline of Gavin Meldrum on his clubs Grand Highland Tour. It's strange how we all recognised each other. Perhaps Phil & I have similarly odd silhouettes.

The evening was spent at a tremendous do organised by Challenger Doug Bruce with two good real ales and an excellent local rock group, nattily named "Bingo Wings"

DAY TEN: Braemar to Lochcallater Lodge:

We spent the bulk of the day generally swanning about, taking in the delights of the Hungry Highlander and a deep-fried Steak Pie (delicious!) and trying to cram as much real food into the pack for the next few days.

We bumped into Darren, Dawn and Duncan mooching about looking suspiciously like they were enjoying themselves enormously. And quite right too!

With a fine bottle of beer on board and an excellent Ardbeg stashed away for Stan & Bill, we headed off up to Loch Callater for a great evening with Stan, Bill and about forty other Challengers, all in fine voice.

DAY ELEVEN: Lochcallater Lodge to Shielin of Mark:
During an incredibly late night of entertainment, ably lead by Croydon and tunefully assisted by Mr Jocys, I will never forget the poignant moments when Bill sang to his friends of his recent loss. I know we were all 'tired and emotional' but Bill truly caught the moment and there were lumps in the throat and huge chunks of grit in the eyes of all present.
After breakfasting on sausage & bacon rolls washed down with coffee, Lord Elpus and I made our very best efforts to stay with Martin & Sue on their clamber up yet another Munro, but discretion got the better part of valour and we decided to make our own way up - a far better plan. Dan joined us for a while while we sat looking down on the success of our labours - the climb up from the Lodge) but we let him slip away as we daundered down to Dubh Loch.
Lord Elpus bottled out, quite unreasonably, from taking on the huge water slides on his bouncy thermarest, so instead we took regular boot breaks in the sunshine.
Lord E's Piccie
It's a great walk down to the Glas-allt-Shiel and we brewed up in the bothy just catching some faster Challengers before their departure and making a brew for an arrival just after our own. Then it was off again to the Spittal for a cup of hot chocolate and to catch up with the two young Dutchmen (nice chaps) with their very lightweight gear, along with Russ and a whole host of others, all of whom looked very chirpy.
We carried on up the Allt Darrarie in the rain, passing a whole host of pitched tents in the showers. We were expecting great numbers at the Shielin, but when we arrived, there were only a few tents, so we decided we had done enough for the day.
We had only the one bottle of 'Low Flier' between us so we made good in-roads into it assisted by the late arriving JJ.
All in all, a pretty fine day, tackled with just the right amount of exertion considering the circumstances of the start point!
DAY TWELVE: S-o-M to Tarfside:
With the promise of comfy beds and showers, we were up early for a 6:30 departure from the Shielin and we had soon cantered past the late risers at Stables of Lee and picked up Stuart & Maria to walk merrily into Tarfside well before mid-day. We washed clothes, showered and started our tab with the Tarfside ladies (Elizabeth, Janet, Anne & Carol). The Goddards were given time off for good behaviour from Control and popped in to say 'Hi'. They must be saints to forgo their places on the Chally to man Control - so a Huge 'Thank You' to them both for doing an excellent job.
I am becoming increasingly concerned that the voluntary efforts of people helping out on the Challenge are being taken for granted. It's as if some (and I do mean a very small few) have paid their 'subs' and expect the services offered by theses volunteers (such as Stan & Bill and the Tarfside Ladies) as a 'right', rather than a privilege offered to them out of the kindness of the individuals hearts. This attitude really should be nipped in the bud now, so perhaps the notes next year should make this more clear?
Anyway - the Ladies did fabulously well and were helped out handsomely by Jules E, Martin & Sue and other kind souls who realised that the ladies were beginning to struggle with the effort - they had been on their feet this particular day from 7:00am until about 9:00pm - an exhausting schedule for even the most able bodied!
After four sittings of main meals, we hot-footed it to The Masons, who were also providing excellent hospitality of the more liquid kind, but the cumulative effect of four very late nights took their toll and we wimped out just before midnight, back to our beds at St Drostan's.
All was well in our worlds.
DAY THIRTEEN: Tarfside to North Water Bridge:
Quite late leaving the Lovely Ladies, we strolled down the road to visit the Sandmartins (happily, more than last year, so making a bit of a comeback!) to cross to the south side of the North Esk for a while, before Phil makes an Executive Decision.
My lips are sealed on the route he took us on, but the locals know it as the Blue Door Walk - a Victorian Gem of a walk that I had never experienced before. It was absolutely wonderful and we daundered through the woodland and rocky gorges with red squirrels and all manner of wild life for company. It was stunning.
Consequently we made Edzell later than usual and so spent a little longer in the Panmure Arms after buying our strawberries and cream from the General Store.
Then it was the gentle stroll across the suspension bridge and the Airfield Road to make whoopee at the campsite to see Man U beat Chelsea on penalties in the European Cup Final and finishing up the last of the whisky.
Tent Inspections were carried out on the fifty or so tents pitched on the site. It has to be said that most were pretty good, with just one or two glaring exceptions (The World's Best Vetter's was APPALLING!)
We slept jolly well and was only woken by the rumble of traffic from the nearby trunk-road.
DAY FOURTEEN: NWB to Tangleha':
Tangleha' was chosen as a few years ago I had promised Uncle Roger that after ten finishes at St Cyrus I would make more of an effort to find new finish points. Cannily, Phil had chosen a point only a mile or so from St Cyrus and so honour was satisfied!
Not much can be said of the walk this morning, but we strode out in fine form and finished in good time. Tangleha' itself is a fine little spot - a natural tiny harbour in the rocks with a few small boats scattered on the foreshore. The walk back up to the pub on the map is a disappointment, as the pub is long gone!

So it was a short taxi ride into Montrose to sign in with Uncle Roger, shake a few hands and prepare ourselves for the night's festivities.
A magnificent year for the Challenge in great weather and excellent company.
Cheers Phil - A True Shiny Star!


  1. A most admirable summary of our adventures, Al. Well done mate!

    Great walk, great company - here's to the next one.



  2. I resemble that remark about being wobbly but is it not uncanny that even travelling at just below Warp factor 3 on the Glenshee road I spotted Sloman and Lord Elpus and even more uncannily recognised them at that distance. There is one distinguishing feature that makes Slowman stand out and that is the legs. As the late, great much lamented nutter S Milligan once wrote" did you write these legs?" "write a better pair".
    There that's the way to recognise challengers.. by their legs.

  3. Hi Alan
    I enjoyed your account, and well done for getting it up so quickly, as the A said to the B.
    C U next time...
    Have Fun

  4. Great account Alan!

    I like your translations of hill names from the Gaelic.


  5. great fun, thx for making the effort!

  6. Nice walk you had there. Looking up your blog and its good stuff. I see you’re a Cambridgeshire man. East of England man myself over in Norwich, Long way from the hills I know, but hey absence makes the heart grow fonder.

  7. Thanks everyone, and welcome, Martin.

    With it being the 30th Challenge next year and an increased entry to 360 I can see that it will be quite oversubscribed.

    However! Faint hearts, etc. It's time to start thinking about next year now - but the possibility of new start points is intriguing, which makes forward planning slightly problematical!


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