Lord Elpus: It's a hundred and six miles to Braemar, we've got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it's dark, and we're wearing sunglasses.
Mad’n’Bad: Hit it.
DAY 3: MORNING ON LOCH QUOICH – CLICK TO ENLARGE
Lying all snug in Oook & Trinnie, drinking my breakfast Ovaltine, I’m looking at the maps and thinking about the next two days. Yesterday’s shortfall has consequences:
- We’re now quite a bit behind our schedule.
- I’ve had very little sleep because my knee aches like hell. Every time I turn over there’s a sharp jabby pain.
- We still have a good couple of hours to slog our way around the boggy shoreline of Loch Quoich before we reach the Loch Hourn road.
- The weather is turning decidedly cold and squally.
- We have a B&B booked in Fort Augustus in two night’s time.
TGO2014 DAYS 3&4 – CLICK TO ENLARGE
It’s time for a re-think. After yesterday’s epic we need an easier day today to recover, but we still need to get to Fort Augustus on schedule for our night of luxury in a B&B. Our original route along the ridge above Glen Garry now looks too big an ask, and so after a bit of a conflab we decide that once the road is reached we’ll trundle along the length of Loch Quoich and then continue to the Tomdoun Hotel. After the Tomdoun it will be a bigger day through the forest, to Invergarry for a late lunch and then a bit of a slog up the canal to Fort Augustus. Phil had done this day before,with David, his brother-in-law, ten years ago.
There is a brief hysterical moment when both my cartographically challenged companions try to convince me that our current position is a good two hours further west, and that even our current night’s target of reaching the Tomdoun will be a complete bastard. Until, that is, I point out that we had already crossed the nasty gorgey river last night at half past eight in the evening in the pissing rain.
With that, happiness returns once more to our merry band of brothers. Andy reminds us that we need to call or text Alistair, to let him him know we are not going to be where intended as we were due to meet and camp with him on the ridge.
PHIL'S PICTURE: INCOMING – CLICK TO ENLARGE
As expected, the shoreline around the rest of Loch Quoich is a bit of a pig. but it’s taken steadily. We are lucky with the last river before the road; We tip toe across it in our shoes on a little stony built path. We make the road in reasonable order, just as the first squally rain shower hits.
I BEG YOUR PARDON?
So now it’s an amble along the minor road alongside Loch Quoich – and the weather goes from this:
MORE INCOMING – CLICK TO ENLARGE
to this, with Phil rolling up his sleeves and me with my sun hat on.
ANDY'S PICTURE: BRIEF ROAD RESPITE – CLICK TO ENLARGE
There are a couple of small River Hydro plants just completing construction along the way, and so we settle down for a good spot of lunch at the second. The weather is now gorgeous.
PHIL'S PICTURE. LUNCH AT 2ND HYDRO PLANT – CLICK TO ENLARGE
Eventually the horrid business of shouldering our packs and trudging down the road pushes its way to the fore. Ticking off landmarks, we come across the turning for Poulary and the track from Kinbreack Bothy, and wonder if we were going to see any Challengers. Sure enough, right on cue, up pops Jim Taylor: A truly lovely man, Jim is ninety one and three quarters years old. His pack is covered by an old bin liner. He has had a dunking in the Kingie and had taken things off to dry but had left his new pack cover hanging from a tree. He has bent his waking pole quite badly but has bashed it to more-or-less straight again.
We ask him if he would like a cup of tea at the Tomdoun, as we are likely to get there well before him. He politely declines, saying that he can’t be bothered with stoves and hot drinks. He’s quite happy with his oat cakes and a little water. (Jim went on to finish his twentieth Challenge, a day ahead of us.)
FORLORN TOMDOUN HOTEL – CLICK TO ENLARGE
After our sixteen mile day, we arrive at the Tomdoun at a reasonable sixish o’clock and decide that there’s no point going any further as we know the next day is “do-able” with no obstacles. We’re joined by Andy, who parks his Akto in front of the bar, and Jim, who parks his Laser Comp around the side with Phil. Jim dives into his tent and we don’t see him again until morning. My knee is feeling no better at all and to be perfectly honest, this was enough for today. I need a good rest now and a decent night’s sleep.
PHIL'S PICTURE – ANDY (x2) AND ME, TOMDOUN HOTEL
The Tomdoun’s been closed and on the market for a few years now. If it’s not sold soon I can’t see it ever being sold as a hotel again. Already some down-pipes are broken, slates are missing from the roof and when peeking inside it looks very damp as ceiling paper is hanging down and large water stains are evident everywhere. It’s dreadfully sad, but I suppose its decline was inevitable, as it’s stuck half way along a dead end single-track road in the Western Highlands. It would make a fabulous building plot for a new house or group of houses, which is what I expect will happen.
TOMDOUN DINING ROOM
TOMDOUN BAR – NO TOP-SHELF CHALLENGES THESE DAYS.
TOMDOUN B&B – CLICK TO ENLARGE
There’s quite a lot of condensation this morning as it has been a damp, still night. Jim’s away a good hour before us and the other Andy follows shortly after. We get away at a respectable (for us) time of before eight o’clock. We’ve a biggish day to do, but decide on a strategy of a quarter of an hour rest every five km, with an hour for lunch, which should get us to Fort Augustus around six thirty.
PHIL'S PICTURE: TOMDOUN – CLICK TO ENLARGE
PHIL'S PICTURE: THE WAY AHEAD – CLICK TO ENLARGE
It’s a lovely day again, if a touch chilly and soon we’re crossing Loch Garry on the Bailey Bridge.
PHIL'S PICTURE: LOCH GARRY – CLICK TO ENLARGE
We pass a few camping Challengers (David Brown & Emma?) and have our 5k rest stop a little further on.
ANDY'S MICROPORE CHALLENGE – LAST YEAR EVERY AVAILABLE DIGIT WAS COVERED IN MICROPORE
At this point the Lovely Emma (this girl is always smiling!) comes along. Phil trips her over. Andy sits on her. I ply her with Werther’s Originals and Jelly Babies. Finally she agrees to walk with us through the deep dark forest. It is as well we have polite company as our crew have now been together for over three days and frankly we are sick to the back teeth with each other.
EMMA, ANDY & PHIL – CLICK TO ENLARGE
We are all very brave. We face bovine perils with no more than a nod to the head honcho as we weave our way through their hairyness:
DADDY HAIRY COO – CLICK TO ENLARGE
LIFTED FROM EMMA WARBRICK’S PHOTOS
Emma took this picture, because the back drop is the ridge where we should be, had things gone rather better on the second day. Notice the beautiful Millennium Wind Farm. The Scots sure know how to respect their landscapes…
None of us have our maps out as we all know this bit of Scotland like the back of our hands. We have fallen naturally into two groups, usually within eye-shot of each other, the fast pair in the front (Emma & Andy) and the rest dragging up the rear. I realise something is wrong when I can hear heavy traffic on a road above us to our right. There is a river flowing towards us on our right. There is a house that I have never seen before. This is bizarre. I ask Phil to pull the map from my rucksack lid, and sure enough we are in The Wrong Place. There is no sign of A&E and so after waiting for their inevitable return to see what was up, which does not materialise, we backtrack to where we should have gone straight ahead on the track over the bridge (that we do not recall) over a river.
Andy will be fine. He goes off on his own all the time. He’ll understand our not turning up.
Anyway. We then spot a riverside path on the map that will cut off a few hundred yards and link up with the minor road to the Mandallays. This is brilliant, except after ten minutes of increasing bush-whacking, the path peters out into stones and riverside bog and then finally to nothing at all. Backtracking once again, we find a new track that leads us to a new foot bridge over the river. The forestry track bridge has gone, which is why we did not spot it - either torn away in a flood or blown up, or taken away by aliens. Whatever the reason, its absence has just added over a mile to our already biggish day. Ho hum.
Phil & I fall upon the Invergarry Hotel and order enormous baguettes and three pints apiece, for valour. Ordinarily, faced with a plateful this size I would have baulked. But not today. Three and a half day out in the muddy wild and this baby was mine! I can thoroughly recommend the Invergarry Hotel’s baguettes.
After a little while Andy joins us. He is fine. No. Honestly, he is fine about being left in the middle of sod-all explaining to a pretty woman that it was perfectly normal for your mates to leave you in the lurch and that it happens all the time. Then the party gets bigger with the arrival of Alistair and then David Brown. This is all quite lovely and we really don’t want to move from this wonderful place.
ANDY'S PICTURE: WE’RE FEELING MUCH BETTER FOR THAT - CLICK TO ENLARGE
So now we’re joined by Alistair as we trudge, nimbly, I might add, up the ‘A’ road towards Bridge of Oich. It’s still a fine day and waggling your pointy waking poles seems to deter the motorists and truckers. Apart from one, who with nothing coming from the other direction almost wipes us out. He could have had great fun picking Paramo and Osprey out of his radiator grille when he got home.
We make the bridge in good order and pause to take photographs of the swing bridge and the old bridge:
PHIL'S PICTURE: BRIDGE OF OICH – CLICK TO ENLARGE
PHIL'S PICTURE: SWING BRIDGE – CLICK TO ENLARGE
I’ll be honest – there is little pleasure in the last four or five miles along the Caledonian Canal. My knee is starting to bitch like hell and the general knackeredness from the first three days is catching up with me again. Our party is slowing up, but still broadly on our schedule. We take a long break on a pathside bench, and Andy covers his feet in yet more Micropore.
PHIL'S PICTURE OF ANDY'S MICROPORE
Alistair has a phone call to make to his children in Fort Augustus and so zooms off at enormous speed so he can read them bed-time stories. What a lovely man. Then from behind we are overhauled by David Brown. He’s going well.
DAVID BROWN ON THE CALEDONIAN CANAL PATH – CLICK TO ENLARGE
I limp into Fort Augustus completely knackered, dump the rucksack at the B&B and wander down the lock staircase to buy some cheese & wine for tomorrow night’s party. I bump into John & Norma, who both look fresh and relaxed. I feel like a train crash alongside them!
However, a shower, a few coffees, and the washing done and I’m back up to speed again and down to the pub, where the Usual Suspects are gathered. A huge fish & chips later and a few pints and all is well with our world.
At last, we’re back on track.