By the time you get to Tarfside you’ve bumped into and rubbed along with any number of great new friends. You’re never short of a topic of conversation when on the Challenge. There’s where you started, your subsequent route, “where were you when we had the blizzard?” and “how are your blisters?” just for starters.
Then there’s the thorny question: Do you actually follow your planned route to the coast, or do you just follow the trade route down the North Esk?
Phil had planned our route to nip through the Clash of the Wirren and on to the White & Brown Forts and Brechin. Andy and me were fine with this, as neither of us had seen Brechin. Then, at the Masons’ the doubts began to creep in:
“Brechin? Are you sure?” and “What? Brechin Campsite? Is your gear insured then?” and “There’s no where to eat in Brechin,” “What a hole – it’s really run down” and lastly “I wouldn’t leave your tent and stuff at that campsite – It’ll all be gone by the time you get back from the pub”
It seemed no-one had a good word to say about Brechin. We eventually came to the same conclusion. As George V famously (almost) said:
Plan B was swiftly cobbled together: The Blue Door Walk.
DAY 13: RED PECKED ROUTE - CLICK TO ENLARGE
Phil & I must have woken about the same time and after a coffee and hot chocolate we discussed breakfast. Recently St Drostan’s has had a nasty habit of running out of beer & bacon at the most importune times – when we arrived in the afternoon for beers or no bacon for breakfast.
This year, we decided, we were not going to go without our pork products. So we nipped off early, before eight o’clock, to see if there was any bacon left. It was just as well we did, as as we arrived it was announced that the last bacon rolls were up for grabs. I think we had the very last bacon rolls. Alas, no seconds, so we had to make do with an egg roll. But the tea kept on coming – a vital rehydration regime. Then it was a wash & shave and clean teeth and back to the playing field to pack up.
By the time we had packed, Andy was still on his way to St Drostan’s (only to be bitterly disappointed) and Phil decided that he was off back to St D’s to have contact with porcelain. I mooched off slowly and we agreed that we would meet somewhere along the river bank before the bridge for the Blue Door Walk.
I popped into the Tarfside Church, to find the interior almost a replica of that of the church in Braemar. Very simple and peaceful.
Then I was off down the road to visit the sand martins’ burrows. I enjoy this most years but this year there were considerably less birds – it must have been down to the poor weather earlier in the month.
It was now beginning to warm up so I had a little snooze at a conveniently positioned fishing marker that make a good back rest. After a little while, the usual suspects turned up and we all sat watching the river bundle busily past.
PHIL'S PIC: CROYDON, ME, ANDY & GERRY, NORTH ESK
Then we were off once more, with quite large shower clouds brewing behind us, which before too long caught up with us as a gentle reminder that Scotland hadn’t finished with us quite yet.
We took the new bridge over the river and on the track the other side came across this little chap:
ANDY'S PIC: "SNAKE, SNAKE!" Hmmm SLOW WORM – CLICK TO ENLARGE
And then we were on the Blue Door Walk. Carved out of solid rock by French prisoners of war in Napoleonic times, this is a little gem. I know, gentle reader, that you have read this on here a few times before, but I am constantly amazed that Challengers would prefer to walk down the south shore of the North Esk when there is this fabulous walk to follow.
ANDY, PHIL & GERRY, BLUE DOOR WALK – CLICK TO ENLARGE
PHIL'S PIC: ME, BLUE DOOR WALK – CLICK TO ENLARGE
We had lunch at one of the larger semi-circular benches set into the rock wall, but Phil decided he was on a mission to have lunch at the cafe at Edzell and so carried on.
ROCKS OF SOLITUDE, BLUE DOOR WALK – CLICK TO ENLARGE
We trundled along, enjoying the splendours of the velvety soft tree canopy, the crashing waters in the gorge below and the cool mosses along the path sides. This place fills your senses.
BLUE DOOR WALK – CLICK TO ENLARGE
Every so often there are comfortable well built benches to tempt you to linger. I could happily spend a day here, sitting and listening.
BLUE DOOR WALK – CLICK TO ENLARGE
Eventually we cut away from the river, just before the suspension bridge, to nip up to Edzell and the Tuck Inn. Phil was already halfway through an excellent beef and ale pie with chips and vegetables,so after pinching more chips than he realised, I was tucking into the same. Phil then followed this with the biggest most piggiest knickerbocker glory I had ever seen in my life and then still had room to demolish a large pot of tea. The lad must have worms.
After a visit to the shop to pick up cans of beer, a Swiss roll and a fruit cake (a well balanced meal) I was off down the road to North Water Bridge. It’s a seventeen mile or so day, and the worst of it is this last stretch. It’s tarmac bashing in a dead straight line for miles and miles.
But soon, the tents are up, and you can have a gentle snooze before joining the benched throngs of hardened Challengers having the traditional last party before Montrose.
PHIL'S PIC: VICKY, TOBY & JAMES, NORTH WATER BRIDGE
Before too long I had reached my cold threshold once again (a kidney thing) and retired, so I missed Andy’s last test of sobriety. “If I can balance this full can of Guinness on my head for five whole minutes I must be sober!”
I’ll let you be the judge of that.
PHIL'S PIC: ANDY NORTH WATER BRIDGE
A lovely day, with two lovely blokes.