11 December 2021

TGO Challenge 2021: DAY 11: To Clova Hotel

Today we're taking on Jock's Road, a lovely walk over to Glen Clova in great weather, which is helpful. It's by no means the most difficult route out of Lochcallater Lodge, but it's not a route to be complacent about as it rises to over 3000ft for quite a distance and so is very exposed in poor weather. Amazingly we leave without a hangover, which is highly unusual! 

Oddly, Lindsay & I are not the last away this morning and we're soon strolling alongside Loch Callater in warm sunshine, on our way to Jock's Road. Before too long some younger and fitter types (Jess springs to mind here) flew past us as we make our way past the huge bowl of Coire Loch Kander and around and into the morraines at the head of Glen Callater. 

A decent rest is taken, with plenty of rehydration and the water bottles filled to the brim. This next section is always hard work and today will be tougher than normal because of the heat. Over the years I must have been this way three or four times and have invariably missed the crossing point of the burn to collect the zig-zags up the grassy headwall. It's the same today but it's just a matter of heading up the centre of the grass until you hit either a zig or zag, so that you can continue with decent footholds on the very steep path. 




I tell myself that it's important to take plenty of rests as this is the grunty bit of the day and it's best to get to the top without blowing a gasket. It's an opportunity to take some snaps whilst your heart tries to burst out of your chest cavity. Lindsay's very patient and together we make our way to the break of slope, which seems to take considerably longer than it used to. 

But make it I do and the girl kindly takes a rare snap of me before we head off up the moor to find the old fenceline that steers us to Crow Craigies. As it hoves into view we spot the three Challengers who had passed us on the way up disappear over the horizon, not to be seen again until the hotel in the evening..


It's an airy amble from Crow Craigies with the occasional steep descent where care is taken, but the sense of space and freedom is all consuming. From their cries, crows, buzzards and larks seem to fill the sky yet few are seen. This is glorious hill country. We meet quite a few walkers coming the other way, one a Challenger from a few years ago. One such meeting that has stuck in my mind was a father and young son heading up at a cracking pace. The boy was all smiles and Dad was trying gamely to keep up. 

The next stop was Davey's Bourach - the emergency shelter that has recently undergone a major renovation - and I was glad of the shade. The interior must now be three times the size of the original shelter. It's constructed from hefty timbers that support the metal cladding roof that is in turn covered by peaty soils and heather, to blend in to the surroundings. 



It's now a direct line that slices diagonally down the hillside, crossing a refreshing splash beneath a waterfall. This is a great descent but it can be very slippery in the rain and we're soon at the entrance to the planted forest. There's not much can be said of the forest - it's a traditional planting, with little light filtering down to the floor. The track is softened by the pine needles but it's straight, with occasional boggy and rocky sections to slow any racers. 



We make the car park and picnic area and head straight for a bench for our last stop before the seemingly endless trudge down the road to the hotel. The sunshine is still warm and we spend an age luxuriating in not walking. Neither Lindsay nor I make any attempt to get up and get it done. 

Eventually one of us cracks and we find ourselves easing back into walking mode. Any views are off to the right across the valley as to the left we have a scree fest with sour grasses. It could all do with a bit of a tidy up if I'm honest. Eventually the hotel arrives and we dive into reception, with lots of Covid precautions all over the shop. 

Before too long I'm in my room and waste no time trashing the place and washing away a couple of days of trail grime. There's no phone signal, so I email Challenge Control to tell them all's well. 

Then it's back downstairs to be organised into socially distanced dining. I know all this is necessary, but I hate it. 


The Dining Room, it's fair to say, is mostly made up of TGO Challengers in varying hues of 'au de armpit' amplified perhaps by my own wonderful freshness. Of course everyone wants to eat together, which is anathema to an organised kitchen, but by dint of a miracle and everyone ordering similar food it sort of happens. 

I'm not the greatest company as I am well and truly shagged after what for me in my present condition has been a big day. It's as much as I can manage to agree a time for breakfast with Lindsay before I head back up to sleep like a baby. 

I owe Lindsay a great deal. I have been walking with Lord Elpus on the Challenge for over twenty years, and we know each other well enough to be able to tell when the other is not firing on all four and we each make allowances and cajole, bother, and beast each other as required. Lindsay, bless her, has looked after me at nowhere near my best and has done so with good humour, kindness and the occasional boot up the backside. 

Cheers, Missy! 


  1. Hi Alan,

    This is really useful as I'm planning to do Jock's Road myself in early June, starting in Braemar (hoping I might get a lift to Auchallater car park but not sure) and finishing at Glen Clova hotel. May take a short diversion up Tolmount if I have the time. How long do you think I should allow for this walk? I am an experienced walker and have done most of the National Trails, but am not a mountaineer. Any advice you can give would me most welcome!

    1. Hi Pam
      Just how long is a piece of string?
      Will you be carrying camping equipment or is this a day trip?

      Twenty years ago I walked from Braemar to the Clova Hotel carrying all my backpacking gear. It was a longish day but I was younger and fitter.
      You certainly don't need to be a mountaineer, whatever that is; it's a good day's walk. Adding in Tolmount should hold no terrors.
      Walking it in June will mean that however slow you'll make your destination in daylight.
      Just take it steadily, take enough rests and make sure you eat and drink regularly. And of course keep an eye on the weather as a storm can easily overtake the unwary. It goes without saying that you should have with you all you need for any slips and enough gear to keep you warm and dry.
      I hope you have a lovely day.

  2. Hi Alan,

    I'll be carrying all the stuff I need for my 2-week trip, but am staying in B&Bs/hotels so no camping equipment required. I am guessing that it will take me between 8 and 11 hours. As you rightly say though, however long it takes it will still be light when I arrive!

    I have actually done this walk once before, years ago when I was in Outward Bound at school. We did it over 2 days and camped halfway. Apart from that, sadly I don't remember much about it, but am looking forward to doing it again!

    Many thanks for your advice.


  3. Brought back some memories of a winter trip to the now sadly defunct Glendoll hostel and a wild New Years Eve in the Clova Hotel. Walked Jocks Road a couple of times in full on winter conditions. Looks a bit different in summer!

    1. Hi Andy,
      When you are finally able to apply for the TGO Challenge you'll be able to stroll across the highlands with nothing but a pair of shorts and a smile, Sir!

  4. My God, Davey's Bourach has changed!! Describing the place as an emergency shelter used to be a bit of a stretch.

    1. Hi Brian
      Whenever I poked my head inside it always gave me a bit of a shiver. I would have had to be in truly dire straits before spending time in the old shelter. But now, you could happily fit a bunch of fiends in there for a cosy night.

  5. Nice to see Jocks Road, we walked from both ends to do various hills. We need to go and do it complete as you did. I note that both your 2021 & 2019 report end at a hotel some way before the coast. Is this a new style of reporting ? You recommended going to the Fife when restrictions were eased. My good lady and I stayed for two nights earlier this week - excellent. Great wine list. Are you in training for this years TGO ? Have you chosen a hotel at which you will end your report, before you teleport to the coast?


    1. Hi Cedric!
      I have finally finished a TGO Challenge report at the coast!
      I'm glad you enjoyed the Fife - it's bloody wonderful!
      As for training for this year's Challenge - Well that's a bit tricky at the moment as four weeks ago I had an extensive incisional hernia repair and tomorrow I'm under the surgeon's knife again having a carcinoma removed. I should be recovered in time for the 13th May start this year, but I'll have to get fit on the walk... Plus ca change!


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