Some say the Cheese and Wine Party was first thought up in Mrs Miggins' Pie shop, under the influence of London Gin. All we know is that it's a celebration of everything Challenge.
The Cheese and Wine Party is a combination of the wonderful social side of the walk with the solitude of wild and empty places; places where deranged peat-stained loners can be found digging trial graves in cold, wet boggy places.
This year's party is held in such a spot - at a wide tussock-rid bend on the Water of Caiplich in the north eastern Cairngorms. Challengers, as a rule, come out of the west and head east. And indeed, for this party some did indeed come from the west. Others came from the north west and some from the far-flung northern reaches of Challenge Territory. That latter group would be Louise, who first headed south, then east, then north, then west and then south once again...
|LOCATION: THE MIDDLE OF SOD-ALL|
Phil and I found ourselves unintentionally entangled with an anarchic bunch of Very Experienced Challengers, and the capitals are important here. First to catch us was His Holiness the Irreverend David, a victim of some seven Challenges. This was no surprise to Lord E and me, as this gent has his god on his side (having saved his neck after a fearful fall down a mountainside on last year's walk) and legs up to his armpits. The man floats over the hills like a gazelle.
|JOHN & NORMA, CLAMBERING UP BILE BUIDHE|
We are next overhauled by the magnificent John and Norma, with Thirty (yes thirty!) Challenges beneath their belts. Norma has that rare ability to emerge immaculately presented after a rough night camping in stormy weather in the middle of sod-all. Eleven Challenges.
|IMMACULATE, NORMA IN BILE BUIDHE SHELTER|
John has been Challenging since before time began. Calm, quiet and unperturbed by whatever the weather slings at him he is rumoured to carry Norma's dressing table deep in the bowels of his rucksack. Nineteen Challenges.
|JOHN: BILE BUIDHE SHELTER|
As we are tucking in to Phil's whisky in the surprise shelter - when I say shelter, do not rely on this refuge being here after another few storms, as quite a few planks are missing from walls and roof - we are caught by the cosmopolitan pairing of Peter and Jayme, with twelve Challenges between them.
|HIS HOLINESS THE IRREVEREND DAVE, LORD ELPUS & A HANDSOME BASTARD|
Jayme tells a story of turning up at a B&B with Peter and being offered a room with a double bed. "I have nothing against Peter" he says "but I was affronted at the suggestion that I was Peter's lover - I mean; Look at him. I can do so much better than him!"
|PETER, JOHN, NORMA, THE REVEREND, & JAYME|
It's a wonderful yomp over the top of Bile Buidhe and down to the Water of Caiplich, first picking our way through rough ground, then threading our way through the groughs, picking up a bubbling caochan and bouncing from bank to bank on nibbled turf, down and down and down for ever. It is glorious!
|THE USUAL OFF-PISTE BOGGINESS IN GLORIOUS COUNTRY [c/o PHIL]|
|PETER, JAYME, PHIL, NORMA, JOHN & THE REVEREND|
We paddle across a quiet Caiplich to find that most of the party-goers are already there, Wendy Houses pitched,and I have to say, all quite well. We are roundly abused by all and sundry for being late to our own party.
|CHEESE & WINE ENCAMPMENT|
This encampment is a backpacking tent-nerd's wet dream. We have the original Hardboys - the Aktos, the Young Pretenders, now with greying temples - Laser Comps, a quirky Rainbow, a couple of Rufty-Tufty Trailstars, a sexy Solomid, Scarps and a Moment, and an ageing Grandpa - a Saunders.
|THE ENCAMPMENT, WITH THREE LATE-COMERS PITCHING|
|CARL'S PICTURE: SOME OF THE CHEESE & WINERS|
Okay, I'll do my best now. Above: From bottom left, clockwise: Lord Elpus, Jayme, Margaret, Mike, The Rev, Robin, Sandy, JJ, John, Norma, Jim, A Handsome Beardy Bastard, Peter, Kirsten, Mad'n'Bad, Lindsey. (Missing is photographer Carl)
|CHEESE & WINERS|
And in the picture above: (From the bottom, clockwise) Phil, Jayme, Margaret, Mike, The Rev, Sandy, Robin, JJ, John, Norma Jim, Louise (missing from the preceding picture) Peter, Kirsten. Andy and Carl (missing from the previous picture as well)
Also missing in action - pitching their tents, are Jean, Ken and please forgive me, but I cannot remember his name, a friend of Jean. All in all, twenty one of us made it to this fabulous location. Twenty one glorious people!
It's always perishingly cold at a Cheese and Wine (partly because they are usually roughly two thousand feet up) and this year the mizzle held off until about a quarter to ten, when some turned in, and a few rufty-tufties made it to the After Party Drinks chez Trinnie Trailstar.
|AFTER PARTY DRINKS [c/o PHIL]|
|AFTER PARTY DRINKS [c/o CARL]|
This was planned to be my last Cheese & Wine 'do' and I have to say it was the best. Ever. Thank you, everyone.