20 October 2021

TGO Challenge 2021: Day 2: To Allt a' Chroinn


Setting off at seven, there were still a few midges around in the lulls in the breeze, so packing up is a bit of a rushed job. When they came it was in their hordes. The Smidge repellent seemed to work; they'd settle for a short while and then choose somewhere else to settle - my head net. The morning was overcast, for which I was grateful as yesterday I had caught the sun on the back of my neck and top of my hands, as I use walking poles. I wasn't sure what to apply first, the sun cream or Smidge; it all mixed together in one delightful slick.

Distance: 22 km
Ascent:    820 m

It was 4km down the glen to the next route finding point - the start of the stalkers path up the side of Carn a' Choire Gairbh, which meant I could ease my body back into walking mode, instead of old-git-lying-down mode, at a leisurely pace. Six years ago Phil & I had taken this path to bag the Corbett Aonach Shasuinn. We were both younger and much fitter than I found myself today. There had been a couple of very small cairns at the side of the Land Rover Track marking the start of the stalkers path. They seem to have disappeared and the path was quite difficult to locate at first. 

Immediately below on the beach at the west end of Loch Affric I could see three or four Challengers packing up - one of whom was definitely Paul. A couple left their camp spot as I started my ascent. It's very steep to start with and then takes wonderful zig-zags up the hill side.



I deliberately took things slowly as I knew this could well be a bit of a struggle. However fit you are it's worth taking your time as the views opening up are wonderful. You shouldn't really lose the path but you do have to keep your wits about you to locate the double-backs, as animal tracks can lead you astray.



The path peters out where suggested by the mapping and then there's a fair bit of rough ground and bogs to reach the bealach which has the remnants of a Victorian fence along the ridge. I recall both Phil & I were very relieved to reach this spot last time, and celebrated  by having lunch. 

However this year I was all too aware that I still had quite a long way to go in the afternoon and the clouds were now lifting, so it was going to be a lot warmer. It's 750 feet of a plunging descent at first, to the Allt Garbh below where I would have lunch and fill the water bottles. It's tough on this Softy-Southerner's unfit, untrained knees.



Clearly, in the intervening years I had forgotten what a bastard the ascent to Bealach an Amais had been last time. It's a mere six hundred feet of ascent over half a mile, but over the roughest, boulderiest (yes, that's now in the dictionary - well, mine at least) and peat-boggiest ground you can imagine. Foolishly, this time I took a more direct line than that chosen when I planned the route (look up at the map) which meant climbing the bogs by cutting up and across the very steep side of the hill. It was stupid, and stupidly tough going. When I finally made the bealach I was just about all in. 

Cursing myself soundly I sat and took on lots of water, chocolate, jelly babies and cashew nuts as I was well and truly bushed. Anything really, to try and cheer myself up. Giving the map an intense scrute, I established that I had about eight and a half miles to go, most of which would be downhill. It was only 12:30, so the afternoon should be okay. To make life easier, the track up from Gleann Fada had been extended by almost two miles virtually to the top of Bealach an Amais to make the walking that little bit more relaxing.

Now, what was it that Lionel Blue said again?


The extended track from the bealach was in fact all rather horrid. It comprised lorry-loads of rounded cobbles loosely scattered, broadly resembling a track. From far away it indeed looked like a track. From close up it was an ankle turning nightmare. But hey, it was down hill so as long as I kept my wits about me it'll be fine. As there was lots of time available I sauntered down the glen in a fairly relaxed manner, taking lots of stops for drinks and snacks, determined to decrease the weight of my rather large food bag.

I very quickly exhausted my supplies of water, picked up from the Allt Garbh, when about four miles down the glen, just past the rather nasty Glen Doe Run-of-the-River small hydro works, that now seem to be infesting the Highlands. It was also getting very warm as the clouds had disappeared and the sun blazed down on me. No problem I thought to myself, I'll get some water from the Doe...

Oh no you won't! came the stern reply. Obviously, when permission was granted for the hydro works a condition must have been set to 're-wild' this part of the glen. The river was the other side of a very sturdy, very tall timber and steel wire Berlin Wall. No gates. No stiles. I could hear the water gushing  to my left as I trudged disconsolately down the track, I could almost smell the water, but there was not a drop to drink. And by now it was getting very hot and I was quite thirsty. The streams coming in from the right were all completely dry. 

It really isn't a grand idea to get this thirsty as it's a sign that you're quite dehydrated, and I had Megan's new kidney on board to look after. New kidneys should be looked after, wrapped in cotton wool, loved and cherished. A few beers perhaps, to cheer it up? At my turn-off two or three miles later there's a bridge over the Doe. I'll get down to the river there, I thought.

No. That was behind iron curtains as well. No matter, I'll get some from the very large Allt Bhuruisgidh, I thought cheerily to myself.

Fat chance. I was faced with a very large diameter concrete pipe - part of an old Large Hydro Scheme from the thirties, I would guess, presumably intercepting rivers, starting with the River Doe, to take to a large Hydro Electric Power Station's reservoir miles away. There was absolutely no way I could get to the stream. I had noticed when planning the route that this track I had chosen to follow was beautifully level, I had not realised that it was to service this massive concrete pipe, that was not marked on either the 1:50 or 1:25k maps, that I was now to follow for the rest of the day. 


At every stream interception there were ancillary works that swallowed up the water into the pipe. Some very, very parched two miles later, the ghastly pipe allowed a small amount of the Allt a' Chroinn to run over the track to a little weir to fall into a mini reservoir. The rest it swallowed greedily.

With a little effort I managed to fill my large water container from the inch-deep water running over the track. I reached my camp spot around an unexpectedly late six o'clock, very dehydrated and very very tired indeed. I must have been walking at a snail's pace. Since the Bealach, including stops I had averaged two and a half kilometres an hour - downhill!


I was so knackered I couldn't be arsed to fire up the stove and cook, so decided instead to finish off the rest of today's snacks and have tomorrow's lunch instead. Lunch tomorrow would be this evening's meal. Oddly I didn't miss having a hot meal at all... Ian definitely has something here.


You will have seen a picture of cattle looking down at me from atop their hill. That was a mile or so back along the track. To the left of my camp-spot photo you can see there's a bit of hay scattered about the ground. The cows came to visit me at about three o'clock in the morning. There was some very loud breathing and grass being ripped by its roots just next to my head. I lurched out of my shelter to shoo them away - I'd heard tales of cows rubbing themselves against a tent thinking it was something solid to have a good scratch against, and promptly flattening the tent. I had had enough of hospitals for a while so I didn't fancy that outcome at all.

Note to Self: Find out if there is any truth in that.

Tomorrow had to be better day, surely?


  1. I've had similar parched experiences in hydro electric areas in Wales. Knowing that the water is there, but unable to reach it. I recall a dreadful night trying to eke out 300ml of "emergency" water.
    I hope you have a better day tomorrow!

    1. Rather foolishly I walked the Imber Range Perimeter Path last September, in one of the driest spells on Salisbury Plain for a very long time. There was no water to be had, whatsoever during each of the three days or so, and it all had to be carried. I had a night very similar to yours. It's not a pleasant experience at all.

      We're supposed to know what we're doing...

  2. As one who has had a variety of circumstances preventing me from visiting the Highlands for far too long I am with you every step - all very evocative. What is the tent? I note you are using walking poles in lieu of tent poles.

    1. Hi Conrad. Your experience of the Highlands is vast when compared to mine. I'm glad you're enjoying these tales.
      The tent is made by Tarptent, an American outfit. It's made from what I remember is called Dynema fabric - the stuff expensive racing yachts use to make their sails from. I believe it now has a new fancy name, but I cannot for the life of me remember what it is. It's very light and doesn't absorb moisture so it's always light to carry, and very strong indeed. The tent model is Lithium Notch (Lithium to denote the fabric or weight of the thing, I think) but it's the old model - the new one now sports a fancy zippered door and a solid roof to the inner tent, the lack of which hasn't so far presented themselves as a problem. It was "reassuringly expensive" as a beer company once described its product...

  3. hmm, no access to the water, something doesn't seem right in light of the Scottish access code....

    1. I'm not sure the Access Code says anything about right of access to water that's already been swallowed up a hydro scheme many years beforehand it was drafted, Craig.

      But it was a complete and utter bastard!

  4. So glad you've started writing. This day 2, I love it: the optimism, even heroism, felt when drawing the route, creates a debt that has got to be paid. You don't bail out.
    On copying routes: anyone who copies TGO routes doesn't know the joy of imagining a route. On the other hand: this silly bit of route out of Affrica sure is copy-worthy.

  5. Hi Klaas!
    'Optimism.' 'Heroism.'...
    I reckon you're thinking about someone else!
    But yes, I did finish the day. Just.
    I often write about snippets of routes that really should be walked, and the clamber up and down and then back up again to Bealach an Amais is one worth writing about, as the views from the Bealach are to die for as these pictures show from six years ago:

    LINK and LINK

  6. We had a similar experience to your cow scenario but it was with horses. They were flattening the tent and we had to unpeg it and pick it up and move it in one piece to another spot. It wasn't a nice experience.

    1. Hi Al,
      Ah - a real life experience. I think horses might be more worrying then cows, who generally bugger off when told to go away with an air of authority. Horses are sly buggers who like to bite and kick. I've never trusted them!

  7. It seems rather odd (and beyond bloody annoying!) that you can't get access to water in as wet a place as the Scottish highlands. I'm with you, Cows I can deal with, Horses genuinely scare me!

  8. Really enjoyed your posts of your first 5 days Alan looking forward to the rest.
    A brilliant read as always.

    PS Your sister has now joined my hero and heroine list along with your brother who is already there.

    Go well, Sir go well


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