Day 6, Wednesday: Drumnadrochit to Glen Mazeran
It's two kilometres to Temple Pier from our hotel. Okay, so our rucsacs are topped up with our resupply parcels and all the sandwiches, cakes and pork pies bought yesterday evening in Drumnadrochit. Let's call it a twentyfive minute walk. David's unhappy with this; his inner VeryVeryCautiousMan is running alongside his inner VVNM. So, yesterday evening we agree on a 7:30am start to catch the boat at 8:00am.
At the appointed hour, David taps on my door.
I'm still in my shreddies, wrestling a food bag the size, shape and weight of a Kenwood Chef into my rucsac. Now you may be wondering why I'm always in my shreddies when David comes to call. Have you ever tried to pack a rucsac in a hurry? It's hot and sweaty work.
'I'll meet you at the pier, Al..'
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Today is a very big day. Yesterday, after the blocked access and diversion nonsense, was also a very big day. But today, and tomorrow for that matter, is even bigger. Actually, tomorrow is biggerer still. Lorks!
The information is on the map; it's 30km and 810m of RouteBuddy ascent. That's none of your MemoryMap or Anquet metres. Oh no. These are Big Boy Routebuddy metres of ascent, that are worth twice those other wussy mapping metres. It's probably the equivalent of climbing Nanga Parbat or Mont Blanc in real money. To add to the challenge an hour or so is stripped from our walking, enjoying Gordon Menzies' delightful boat trip across Loch Ness.
|TEMPLE PIER. C/O SUE FOSS|
I stroll nonchalantly (only down the ramp, it has to be said) to the pier with a few minutes to spare. I've also had time to enjoy a couple of sausage sandwiches for breakfast on the way; I'm insufferably smug.
Gordon's been very busy over the winter and has fitted a swanky new engine in his boat so that there's no longer an engine compartment jutting into the passenger accommodation. He had to raise the deck a fraction, but the result is a more powerful boat with loads more room for everyone. Gordon is one of the TGO Challenge's heroic support team and has been ferrying us across Loch Ness since time began.
Here's a few pictures of some of the Challengers in Gordon's boat. (Edit: 9th August '17: I really am hopeless and couldn't remember a lot of Challengers' names, but you all chipped in splendidly and so now the captions are complete.Thank you!)
|THE SPLENDID SUE FOSS, WHO SUPPLIED ME WITH NAMES & PHOTOGRAPHS!|
|RUSSELL CRAIG & DAVID MILTON|
|NOTICE THE NEW CLEARED PASSENGER SPACE. PICTURE C/O SUE FOSS|
|RUFTY-TUFTY MR WILLIAMS|
The stroll up the gorge that is the Pass of Inverfarigaig goes particularly well. It's best done in the morning when you're fresh and the sun isn't beating down upon you. Walked in the evening the rocks have all day to absorb the sun's heat and the place can be like an oven. You'll see from the picture below that David looks as fresh as a daisy. But a chair is a chair, and should never be passed by.
|HACKED OFF, DAVID THROWS DOWN HIS PACK AND WAITS FOR A BUS|
It's about eight miles on minor roads from the pier at Inverfarigaig to our turn off onto the Rover Road that will take us up alongside the Allt Mor, where we have a proper rest. It's blissfully sunny, so it's shoes and socks off time, to air the tootsies. Cashews and cranberries, bread and cheese and a gaggle of late-starting Challengers from Ault-na-Goire catching us up.
Re-girding our loins we're away for the next 1,200 ft climb up the track to the beautiful estate shooting bothy at Easting 654. The huge downside to this part of the walk are a multitude of monstrous blades of the Dunmaglass wind turbines rearing up and down in a chaotic fashion just to our right over the near ridge. To be honest, it's heartbreaking.
It's hot work and soon all our water's gone until we make the cool shade of the bothy and replenishment. Then it's a second lunch, or is it an early afternoon tea? The Ault-na-Goire crew include the excellent Darren, who is always smiling. That's the thing about Challengers; they're inevitably smiley people.
|FOUR I CANNOT REMEMBER, RUFTY TUFTY MR W AND DARREN LONG|
David's impatient to be off as he'd quite like an early finish so we head off, and rather than take our map's looping route to the start of the caochan that will take us down the other side, we head directly up the hill on a faint path that serves the line of very smart grouse butts we follow.
We're going to notice this gentrification a fair bit in our crossing of the Monadh Liath. In recent years a lot of money has been invested in this grotesque business, with upgraded tracks (a more accurate description would be roads) and refurbished shooting butts. The chinless bastards who enjoy murdering birds for fun are obviously none too keen on walking or getting covered in dirty soil in their five star butts. There is now a great deal more predator traps than there ever used to be and significantly more muirburn. What with the wind turbines, the once glorious Monadh Liath has become industrialised. Nature has lost its grip on the place.
Of course, the five star bothy we have just left is absolutely appalling...
|LOOKING BACK TO THE VERY SMART SHOOTERS' CABIN AND BEYOND (IT'S THE CABIN THAT'S SMART...)|
The peaty ground is a delight. It's wonderful to have a natural elastic surface underfoot again after two days of hard tracks and roads. There's not a gloopy spot in sight as we amble over the peaty bealach. If your fancy takes you there are camping spots to die for, in weather like this I might add. However I would advise you to park your shelter with your door facing away from Dunmaglass, as you'll get a first rate view of the colossal wind farm from here.
|2,300 FEET UP IN THE GLORIOUS MONADH LIATH. FABULOUS STUFF!|
Over the top and it's time to head down. And what joy there is now. We follow the peat groughs' natural fall on bouncy soil, zig-zagging at first and then careering happily onwards as they make way to become a caochan, bouncing from bank to bank, jumping the kettle pots with the wind in our faces. Photographs are taken.
|NOT THAT WAY!|
|THAT'S BETTER. NOW, POUT!|
|FOLLOWING THE FABULOUS CAOCHAN DOWN TO GLEN MAZERAN|
A mile from the top we hit the track which we tramp downwards for another four miles to our chosen overnight spot at the edge of woodland in Glen Mazeran. Regardless of how magnificent it has been I'm ready to stop. We dither a little, trying to find the least lumpy spot next to the footbridge and finally flip the shelters up for a well deserved rest. A good day, done.
Day 7, Thursday: Glen Mazeran to High Range Hotel, Aviemore
Waking to sunlight highlighting the patterned ice on Trinnie's flanks tells me it's been a cold night. The picture below was taken about an hour after my early morning call. Click on it and you'll see the remains of the ice.
|MORNINGS DON'T COME BETTER THAN THIS: DAVID, GLEN MAZERAN CAMPSITE. CLICK TO ENLARGE|
As I mentioned yesterday, today's walk is tougher than yesterday's. It's the same distance but with more ascent, this time taken in two large hills. However, we don't have a boat trip taking a slice out of the day, so that balances things up a little. But we are doing another big day after two previous big days, so before going to bed last night we agree on a slightly earlier departure of half past seven. When we reach Aviemore we'll have the usual routine of clothes washing, bathing and going out for a meal. And we're aware that the next day is the Lairig Ghru, so we'll need to be well rested for that.
Who on earth designed this route?
|GLEN MAZERAN. CLICK TO ENLARGE|
Happily we're away by 7:20. Obviously, with my food bag now the size of four grapefruits it means that the rucsac stuffing is considerably easier.
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As we leave we notice a few Challengers still camped further back up the glen and assume it's the crew from the smart shooters' bothy.
It's another glorious sunny day as we amble down the glen to meet the Findhorn. I'm secretly hoping that it's peeing down with rain somewhere on the Challenge. Phil would be proud of me.
After turning south onto the very sketchy (at first) grassy track we pass through a gate and the blighter becomes extraordinarily steep. All quite unnecessarily so, if you ask me. Someone should write a letter about this. It's the little clamber up the side of An Socach, in case you were thinking of coming this way. Be prepared. We call for a ten minute break to admire the view and recover our composure.
The track now relents and it's a simple walk up onto Carn RuigheShamhraich with ghastly views back to the Monadh Liath's oldest wind farm, Farr. These turbines are tiddlers compared to the monsters planned these days but they are still a confusing eyesore. If you enlarge the picture below you will see construction vehicles on the new roads they're building for the Farr Wind Farm's new extension. It's called Kyllachy and apparently is a completely different wind farm to Farr. Of course, the Farr Wind Farm developers reduced the number of turbines in order to get planning permission. When Kyllachy went in for planning the developer used the fact that the landscape was already trashed by Farr, so a few more couldn't possibly hurt. That's the way these bastards work. The resulting wind farm will be colossal.
You can blame Tony Blair, Ed Miliband, and especially Alex Salmond for this excrescence, and all the right-on green luvvies who believe that screwing our countryside saves the planet. Bloody idiots.
|FARR WIND FARM. WITH VEHICLES WORKING ON KYLLACHY WIND FARM, IN REALITY FARR'S EXTENSION|
We take a break and a chair at a table at the lovely little shooters' cabin at Northing 217. If it wasn't for the shooting industry this wouldn't be here. Anyway, it's good to get out of the sunshine for a while.
It's a Land Rover Track all the way to the top of Carn Dubh 'Ic an Deoir, but it's still hard work. These Range Rovers (shooters like their comforts these days and the old Landies no longer cut it) have much more powerful engines than my 50cc two stroke and I find some of the gradients fierce in the sunshine.
|LOOKING TOWARDS THE BURMA ROAD & THE CAIRNGORMS|
The trig point is now surrounded by electric fences, solar panels and battery boxes for the fences. Last time I was up here with Phil there was just a simple cairn. That seems to have got considerably larger as well. They really are going out of their way to screw the place up.
|A GATE & AN ELECTRIC FENCE NOW DISFIGURE CARN DUBH IC AN DEOIR. AND MY BOOTS..|
|SHANE, IDLING, ATOP CARN DUBH IC AN DEOIR|
|GRINNING HANDSOME BASTARD MARSHALLING HIS RESOURCES ATOP CARN DUBH IC AN DEOIR|
All good things come to an end and we have a long way yet to go. The electric fence runs down the southern ridge from the trig point but as we want to head south east at the end of the ridge we walk on the eastern side of the fence, which is now a double line of fencing. It's a fine walk but after five hundred yards or so we notice that the fence dives off due east. We continue hoping for either a gate or a stile. There's nothing. We're now quite a bit further on and the electric fence is in our path. We'll have to get over it.
I tap it with my walking pole. Quite why, I've no idea. Nothing happens.
- NB: My understanding of all things electrical is woeful. As a schoolboy I once did an experiment to find out how much current a car battery could produce. I had an ammeter. I had a car battery. I attached one of the crocodile clips from the ammeter to one of the terminals on the car battery and the other crocodile clip to the other terminal. At this point my thumb still attached to the crocodile clip started burning. I recoiled in shock. My physics teacher - Mr Bayliss, if you're interested, who was only ever one page ahead of us in the textbook - whacked me round the head with said textbook and called me an idiot. To this day I still have no idea why my thumb caught fire.
I touched the fence, gingerly with my finger. Still nothing. I beam with delight. 'It's off!' I declare happily. With David's help we lift a large rock to the fence, next to a wooden fence post, to give ourselves a sporting chance of saving our dangly bits from castration from the top strand of wire. As the chap who pronounced the beast safe, I step over the fence first. No, it's nothing, really. You're too kind. It's what any chap would do.
I'm now in no-man's land between the two fences. Is the second electrified? I give it a careful look. It looks safe to me - no sign of any electrical insulator gubbins. David now steps over the first fence. He bounces back with a very loud squawk! You B*st*rd! he exclaims. 'It's bl**dy live!'
I'm not sure if David wants anymore children. Luckily, I gather he already has a set. He's no longer keen on crossing the fence and prefers to walk all the way back up the hill to the trig point, go through the gate and walk all the way back down again. You'll see him in the video below, taken to while away the time. He does have a jaunty gait. It must be all the extra energy the fence supplied. He's lucky his plums didn't catch fire, really.
Reunited once more, we continue down the gentle ridge to Carn Thearlaich to pick up the LRT down to the Red Bothy on the Dulnain.
- Note: If you do this walk in crappy weather you'll be pleased to know there's another smart new hut a little way down the track from Carn Thearlaich to provide shelter.
The Red Bothy, sometime referred to as Dulnain Bothy Number Four, is an oasis. Various Challengers have been through, some having spent the night here. We take a break outside. I'm stuffing myself with Picnics, flapjack and the last of the pitta bread rammed with wedges of Leerdammer as I know I'm going to have to muster energy for the upcoming Burma Road.
Just as we're about to set off, Darren arrives. I must ask him how he dealt with the electrified fence.
|DARREN WITH RED BOTHY LASSITUDE. DAVID ITCHING FOR THE FLESHPOTS OF AVIEMORE|
It's the usual plod up the Burma Road and we're making quite reasonable time. Neither of us appear to be lagging and we make the top in good time and in very good order.
|LOOKING DOWN THE FINDHORN FROM THE BURMA ROAD|
As we actually crest the rise, a familiar silhouette graces the skyline. Lord Elpus!
This beautiful man has spent the night somewhere hereabouts in his tent. Not only that, but he has also lugged an additional two kilograms of beer up with him! We take pity on him and insist that we reduce this heavy burden forthwith. Old Speckled Hen. A life-saver. I could happily spend an hour or so here. All the hard work is now done. It's just a four mile-ish plod down the hill now to Aviemore. However, David's restless again and it's suddenly got a bit blowy and cold. And sure enough, the first spatters of rain arrive. We set off, our team happily reunited once again.
|YEE HAH!!! LORD ELPUS ARRIVES WITH 2KG OF OLD SPECKLED HEN ATOP THE BURMA ROAD|
|ABOUT TO HEAD OFF ON THE LONG DOWNHILL TO THE A9 WITH THE THREAT OF INCOMING SHOWERS|
|TWO WET DOGS IN THE RAIN. CAIRNGORMS BEHIND IN SUNSHINE|
|A GREAT VIEW OF THE CAIRNGORMS WITH SWEATY FOREGROUND CLUTTER|
|NO. I DON'T KNOW EITHER. IT'S A MAN THING, OBVIOUSLY...|
This is one of those Photoshop jobs that David is rather good at. I think he asked us to pout...
|WITH ALL OUR BEER STOPS DARREN CATCHES US UP, SO WE WALK TOGETHER TO AVIEMORE|
Happily, what with our Beer Lassitude stops and all, Darren catches us up and we stroll down the hill to Aviemore together.
I had forgotten about the last awful trudge along the road to Aviemore. It's barely over a mile, but it feels like ten. Phil, in charge of booking accommodation this year, played a blinder tonight. The High Range Hotel is the very first building you come to upon arriving in Aviemore. We part with Darren who is staying further along in the village.
I fall onto my bed in the room absolutely knackered. It takes three or four cups of tea before I can be persuaded to stand up and sort out the washing. Then it's out on the town to the Indian restaurant, passing what looks to be a perfectly good fish and chip cafe. Quite a few Tiger beers later, we stagger back to the hotel for a deep sleep.