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Sunday, 7 April 2019

Private Secret Diary: TGO Challenge 2018: Ardnamurchan Point to Kinnaber Links, Direct! DAY 1

It's the same at the start of every TGO Challenge, every single year. Breakfast, a lie down with a cup of tea. Stagger downstairs beneath an unfeasibly heavy load, append your signature to the signing out sheet, bash the hotel doors/potted plant/pictures with rucksack/walking pole/elbow/knee and then stand outside for the mandatory photographs.

It's then that it hits you. You have a very long way to walk. No-one else is going to do this for you. It's going to be all your own hard work. I've completed umpteen crossings of Scotland on foot, yet without exception those first few minutes standing out in the cold after a nice warm hotel feel just like when you were a child queuing at the door of the school hall to do those bloody exams. What the hell do I think I'm doing here?

Why do I feel like this? I'm a pretty fine walkery bloke, even though I say it myself, and I've never failed to finish. But each year...

Anyway, either Lord Elpus or Mad'n'Bad usually bowls in at around this time with a few bon mots that cracks this bizarre mood. Quite a few years back, we had just left the Morar Hotel, with a very committing route ahead of us. No more than twenty yards into the walk, as we crossed the railway line, Andy said "Well chaps, last chance to duck out of this nightmare, and take the train home."

Twenty yards! That's why we love the bastard.

*****

After yesterday's fabulous weather, today's looked decidedly grim: Strong westerlies with rain forecast for late morning and getting steadily nastier in the afternoon. Hopefully we would be over the north slopes of Ben Hiant before the rain but then we had accepted that the afternoon might be pretty crap, cold and possibly miserable. Any previous thoughts of nipping up to the top for the best views in Christendom were very thoroughly scotched. Our excuse ran along the lines of The wind up there is going to be ferocious. Wimps? Possibly...

I print each day's route in two halves on my A4 sheets of paper to make handling the things a bit easier. Nothing worse than having a map-faff as it's peeing down in a blustery gale. You can click on each map - and every picture - to make them a gobsmackingly beautiful 1600 pixels wide so you too can see what we had set ourselves for each day, or examine in minute detail the latest rucksack/walking shoe/ garish hat that Andy is sporting this year. Lord Elpus has no such fashion foibles - oh, wait. There is of course the new Paramo jacket with the electric blue insides and the rather fetching lime green rucksack which is bigger than His Lordship....

CLICK TO ENLARGE

CLICK TO ENLARGE

On the other hand, I'm wearing a rather fine Alltrail rucksack given to me absolutely for nothing from those splendid chaps at Thule. After a complete disaster with my replacement brand-spanking-new Osprey Talon 44, which tore itself apart after leaning against a wall, I had taken, rather emphatically, against stupid, stupid, stupid mesh external pockets. This pack had none of that, and is built to last. It does feature a rather lurid red harness, but you can't have everything, can you. And besides, as Lord Elpus will tell you in ascending tones - "But, it was free...Free... FREE!" There's a story behind that quote and if you ask politely, I'll tell it one day.

L-R: A HANDSOME BASTARD (ME), A MAD & BAD BASTARD (ANDY) AND LORD ELPUS (AKA PHIL)

We were to be on our very best behaviour today, as Lynsey, a beautiful lady was to be our carer for the day. I know what you're thinking; we'll get her to do all the map reading and carry the heavy burden of responsibility for the team's well-being. I suppose that's about right. Whenever Phil & I walk together it's often noted that neither has our map to hand. It's always stowed somewhere slightly inaccessible. This puts the onus, and thus blame when it all goes horribly wrong, of navigation upon the first person to crack and break out their map.

And what about Andy? No. He never bothers with such trifles as maps. He follows, usually a few hundred yards ahead, it has to be said, anyone who remotely looks like they know where they're going. A bit like a Labrador in an orange anorak.

PHIL, LYNSEY & ANDY

I'll let the pictures take you along the morning, and I'll catch up with you again at lunchtime:

LOOKING NORTH


A WIDER PERSPECTIVE


YOU CAN'T FEEL IT, BUT THE WIND WAS MIGHTY RUSHING AGAINST US IN THIS SMALL GAP


CRACKING LITTLE PATH DOWN TO THE ROAD


YOU SHOULD BE ABLE TO SEE WHERE WE ARE FROM THIS PICTURE


LOOKING BACK TO BEN HIANT


QUITE WONDERFUL!

Right then! I'm back.

Just as it started to get incredibly blustery and much colder, the heavens started to open. And at that very moment we happened across a little oasis, mentioned briefly in yesterday's blog post, the Ardnamurchan Natural History Visitor Centre. It had enveloping, squishy, comfy settees set around a wood burning stove. It had coffee tables. It had coffee. It had excellent food. It had exhibits to walk around to gain some insight into the beautiful place we were walking through. It was heaven on earth. The plate glass windows were being thrashed to within an inch of their lives by the heavy winds and huge splattery rain. And we were tucked up in the warm, at Smug Factor Eleven, with just a trace, no, let's say a huge dollop of schadenfreude thinking about those poor, poor Challengers who were out there, battling heroically against the elements whilst we were eating cake.

After a couple of hours Lynsey could take no more of this complete bliss. She's right 'Ard is Lynsey. She insisted we move our fat backsides and join with our heroic brothers and sisters of the Challenge. As it seemed to be brightening up a tad, we reluctantly agreed. It should be whispered that Phil had been making enquiries as to the availability of rooms, with crisp white cotton sheets, deep bathtubs, a few bottles of decent wine. This is a man to stick with. He has life's priorities well and truly sorted. But Miss Lynsey was having none of this. Besides, we still had our packed lunches to consume.

So we trudged outside into the suddenly bitter cold, to wend our reluctant way eastwards.  After a quarter of an hour or so, we hove to, under the shelter of very fine conifers that lined the drive presumably to a very fine home.

There followed a bit of a trudge in occasionally sunny, but very mostly pretty horrid weather up a track into the hills, to take a wonderful balcony path around to Loch Laga (see below) and thence onward to our camp spot.

LOCH LAGA

Whilst Andy was still faffing to find the perfect spot for his latest pride and joy, a Trappist Moment, or something like that, Lynsey, Phil & I had our shelters up and sorted. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed Phil disappear around the side of the hill with a trowel. Perhaps those treble whiskies from last night, or the lashings of double cream in the cafe had caught up with him?

Be that as it may, after a short while, Lynsey, Phil and I assembled in the Great Hall (Trinnie Trailstar) and then, quite miraculously, Phil produced a chilled bottle of Champagne AND some Champagne flutes!

Outside, in the cold, Andy was still deciding where to pitch his Trappist Instant, whilst Lynsey, Lord E and I were supping fine fizz that Phil had buried a few weeks earlier when on holiday with Miss Whiplash. Top Man!







THE GREAT HALL CELEBRATIONS

We did actually save a drop for when Andy finally made it to the party. We're all heart. Having emptied the bottle we set to on the contents of my flask, with a few snifters of Laphroaig Quarter Cask.

PHIL & LYNSEY LOOKING PARTICULARLY PLEASED WITH THEMSELVES...

Well then. What do *you* think? Should we have told Andy earlier?

All in all, considering the rather rotten weather, we came through the first day with flying colours. It's always good to get the first day out of the way. We slept like babes that night, dreaming of rufty-tufty adventuring, tales of derring-do, heroic squid fights and grappling with voluptuous women who had designs on our innocent bodies.


2 comments:

  1. A wonderful read.. 🙂
    There should be more cafés in desolate spots imo.
    I am much better at pitching the Trappist Monstrosity now.
    My really big flaw day one, was forgetting to properly attach the inner. Phil did bring me a smidgen of Shampoo to my tent. He probably heard the sobbing.
    And as to my navigation sir.
    I know exactly where you chaps are going. I turn round to check every now and again. I'm not completely mad ;-) 😂

    ReplyDelete
  2. A great read as always, if a little later than planned! Look forward to more tales of squid and voluptuous women :)

    ReplyDelete

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