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Thursday, 20 July 2017

TGOC2017 Day 2: Baobh-bhacan Dubha to River Meig

What does our VeryVeryNiceMan Mr Williams and the Leaderene have in common? (I do like Leaderene. The term was invented by Norman Singeing Sideburns) As I can hear David choking on his kedgeree, I'll supply the answer immediately. Both enjoy/enjoyed perishingly few hours of nighttime sleep.

With this valuable knowledge stored away, just before lights out last night, I asked David to call me at a quarter to six so that we can be away by eight. This routine is normally performed by Lord Elpus who is also an early riser but now the blighter has absconded this duty has transferred to my remaining companion, along with opening plastic packaging and letting me know the name of the present incumbent of Number Ten, just in case of accidents. I wouldn't want them to think I had lost my marbles.

CLICK TO ENLARGE

CLICK TO ENLARGE

David is no slouch in matters mathematical and within a split-second came back with 'That's two and a quarter hours!' and  'David Cameron.'

But this is a holiday! I enjoy a lazy stretch, two or three drinks and a decent breakfast by the pool in the sunshine. I suppose the morning routine could be performed at a slicker pace, and on occasion it has, but that way the day gets off to a poor start.

However, this morning doesn't start well. I wake to rain spattering on Trinnie's flanks and a decidedly cool brisk breeze. Of our yesterday evening's sparklingly clear blue pool, barely twenty yards away, there is no sign. We are in the clouds.

The weather forecast of a couple of days ago has turned out to be correct. This morning is supposed to be 'Cloudy, Windy and Heavy Showers' and we have a very steep descent from Sgurr na Feartaig to contend with on a very long wet grassy slope to Bealach Bhearnais. A few years back, a very experienced Challenger had taken a life-flashing-before-his-eyes hurtle down such a grassy slope, resulting in substantial injury. He was wearing trail shoes. His experience has lodged in my grey matter. David's in shoes. You can't dig your heels in to get bite in grass, wearing shoes.

David and I talk today's route through and happily we agree quickly to continue on our lower Foul Weather Alternative. Same distance, less ascent, no steep descents on wet grass but a lot more off-piste rambling up to Bealach Bhearnais. Our Fine Weather Route, over the top of Sgurr na Feartaig would actually be a far less demanding day. Choosing our FWA today also means the next day's route is a less onerous walk. But you'll gather this from the maps when you take a look.

We start the day heading west, not the natural bearing for Challengers, before dropping down to the bothy to have a nose-about. Then it's a delightful stroll following the Abhainn Bhearnais upstream to the bealach. Occasional rest stops are taken where food bags are nibbled, to no apparent reduction in their size.  

VIEW FROM BEALACH BHEARNAIS, BACK TO YESTERDAY'S CREAG A' CHACRAINN

The bealach arrives in surprisingly good time and we pause in the decidedly nippy wind to look back and congratulate ourselves on progress to date. On the climb up we had spotted a couple of backpackers in the distance. We amble over the top for some shelter and come across them - a young couple from Austria. They are flying a small drone with a camera to record their walk. It is very light and with the charger they also carry it has enough juice for over an hour's flight - plenty enough between stops where it can be recharged, It isn't noisy and folds away to a small size. The whole caboodle weighs a couple of pounds at most.

AUSTRIAN COUPLE ON THE CAPE WRATH TRAIL

The rivers are very low so we follow the path all the way down to the wire bridge as it looks considerably easier walking than the route we had mapped out for ourselves. We watch as the first, and then the second Austrian attempts the wires, Both now have wet backsides. We rock-hop across the very low water, dryshod and wave goodbye as they are heading west.

It's a dull four km on a track to Glenuiag Lodge (a holiday home) and the hut, but a milestone is reached as we cross Scotland's East-West watershed. This means, surely, it's all downhill from here? 

HUGE RUFTY-TUFTY DAVID AT THE TINY GLENUIAG HUT

More inroads are made into the still gargantuan food bags, still to no apparent effect. Ahead of us is a distant lone walker, in pale blue strolling at a leisurely pace. The walk down Gleann Fhiodhaig is a delight, following the River Meig. Occasional smartish showers sweep through to keep us on our toes.

VIEW EAST FROM THE GLENUAIG HUT DOWN GLEANN FHIODHAIG

The path, sketchy at times, is a delight and we are overhauling the pale blue lone walker remarkably quickly.

BORED WITH POSING FOR PHOTOGRAPHS, THE BOUNDER ATTEMPTS TO ESCAPE FROM THIS PICTURE

It's Humphrey in his pale blue cashmere sweater, of course. He tells us of a 'difficult' morning on the tops in tricky crosswinds, very little visibility, heavy rain and alarming drops. He gave it up as a bad job and dropped down to the glens. I'm sure he won't mind me saying this, but he looks about done in. So, with true Challenge Camaraderie, we leave him for dust when he makes the mistake of telling us that Emma can only be a few steps ahead. Emma or Humphrey? Humphrey or Emma? I mean... Come on!

A few steps? We bump into Wonderful Emma. Her tent is pitched, she's finishing a brew and yes, she's been here ages. She is a darling and in the matter of a moment she's made us cups of tea before we even start putting up our shelters.  

RUFTY-TUFTY BOUNDER NOW HAPPY TO POSE WITH A PERFECT MODEL AT OUR CAMP SPOT

And now, a few campsite pictures. 

HMP3, SETTLING INTO HIS OVERNIGHT ACCOMMODATION

TWO IDLERS WITH NOTHING TO DO WHILST EMMA DINES

HMP3 TALKS PROUST. EMMA POLITELY FEIGNS INTEREST

We're here at a very reasonable hour. I feel in great shape and it's been a cracking day. That's two bloody good days on the trot. Some showers rake the glen as I drift off to sleep, a happy chap.

THE VIEW BACK WEST

Sunday, 16 July 2017

TGOC2017 Day 1: Strathcarron to Baobh-bhacan Dubha

It's nine o'clock on Friday morning. A queue of intrepid Challengers are signing the register in reception to officially start the 2017 TGO Challenge. Some have a very big day ahead and are keen to be off. Others, on the other hand, are still at breakfast.

More toast, Al? 
Don't mind if I do, ta, Phil. Have we any more butter and marmalade? Ooh - thank you.

The south of Great Britain doesn't really do mountain ranges and peat bogs. Not like oop north. Oop there Challengers have honed physiques: The result of days on end racing whippets across the bleak moors. Reflected in the blighters' bathroom mirrors are images of muscular masculinity. It's the same for the girls. Whereas Lord Elpus and I see only saggy sadness in ours. 

No. We prepare for our first day's march with a full British Breakfast. Followed shortly after by a lie down, to ready ourselves for the rigours of the day.

START PHOTOS DON'T GET BETTER THAN THIS...

That VeryVeryNiceMan, Mr Williams, (this will be abbreviated to VVNM in future, as it takes far too many keystrokes to describe the blighter) stares incredulously as Lord Elpus and I climb the hotel staircase as I lob Right then - Off to pack. Down in about an hour? in his general direction.

With a minute to the allotted deadline, a tap at the door heralds David's entrance. I'm in my shreddies, trying to fight a foodbag the size of a three year old child into my rucsac. I'll be down in a jiffy, Sir! I smile, as I continue the unequal struggle.

As you can see, the start photo didn't go quite to plan. I was rushed.

CLICK TO ENLARGE. IT SHOULD OPEN IN A NEW WINDOW

Discerning members of the congregation will recall that Lord E and I prefer a realistic first day. Realistic for soft, saggy and sad Southerners, that is. You'll see from the map (Click on it to make it handsomely huge and beautiful) that today we have merely twelve glorious kilometers and 740m of uppishness. That's proper Routebuddy uppishness, not those other dud software packages' estimates of nigh-on 2,000m, to torment our pathetic frames. 

The scanned map, presented here in all its glory, has journeyed right the way across the barren wastes of Scotland. It's seen a few things. There are handwritten notes to jog my memory and help you relate more to the awful trudge we endure on your behalf. With it and this blog you won't need to go to all the fuss and bother of actually doing the damn TGO Challenge. No. With this fabulous pairing you can lower your lids for a few seconds and imagine yourself all the way across. So much easier, and no dirty washing to deal with afterwards. 

THAT VERYVERYNICEMAN MR WILLIAMS

I've described the physical characteristics of both me and Lord Elpus. However (drawing a deep breath and bracing himself) that VVNM Mr Williams, even with his jelly legs, is an altogether different kettle of fish. This man is a giant. See the top photograph for proof. Not only in stature but in stamina, strength and sheer northern grittiness. For yes, we are walking with a Shropshire Lad, who trains in the borders, legging up the Long Mynd and clambering over Clee Hill. The bounder has a hideaway in the mountains where he spends long winter nights alone, amongst the shrieking wind and tussock. He can be best described as a right hard bastard.

RUFTY-TUFTY MR WILLIAMS AND THE AWFUL NEW HYDRO TRACK

Having established that today's stroll holds no terrors for our rufty-tufty companion, you should be aware that our food bags are filled with four and a half days of rations. Food is heavy. Very heavy. I usually carry about a kilogram for every day. So today we are setting off with four and a half bags of Tate & Lyle crammed tightly. bulging all over the shop in our packs, from sea level up and over some high lumpy bits and then slightly down to our camping spot. This spot has been selected for the magnificent views it promises.

Our party sets off up the hill, as they call bloody great mountains in Scotland, in a contemplative state. Each is wondering how they are going to cope this time. None is any younger and each has health issues that could stymie the whole affair. Fortunately, me being a bear with very little brain, these thoughts are fleeting. However, I know that David and Phil, who are far brighter and wiser, will be turning these thoughts over and over. 

PHIL POINTS BACK TO STRATHCARRON

Surprisingly, we catch up with Croydon, Paddy & Gillian on one of those new Hydro Scheme roads that are currently being blazed throughout the length and breadth of the Highlands, destroying yet more of the wild quality that has been such a magnet for so many years. After a bit of a dither where the new road has obliterated the old stalkers path, we clamber up the side of the cutting and carry on our way, deeper and higher into the hill. 

Another hour or so passes and Phil calls a halt, with 'Al, I'm going to stop now.' I wonder if it's to let the others carry on, as neither Phil nor I like walking in a column. I drop my heavy pack readily and ease myself down for a good rest and a few nibbles. But there was something unusual in the way he said that. 

Are okay, mate?

Well, actually no, I'm not. I mean I am going to stop here. I'm not carrying on. I can't put my finger on it, but something's not right. Just not right. I can't risk walking into the middle of sod all for another day if things aren't right... 

I've known Phil for some thirty years. There are times when we can josh each other out of an odd mood or bout of self doubt but it was the way he said this. His whole demeanor is different. I know that it is absolutely pointless trying to talk him round. I'm worried about him and I need to know that he's okay about this and okay to make the trip back down to Strathcarron. It's not far at all, but still...

We rest for half an hour, and with a magnificent show of cheer, he's back up on his feet and we're saying goodbye to each other. It's all a bit emotional. And Phil walks back down the hill.

TWO RIGHT HARD BASTARDS

For the next half hour as we're climbing into the hill, I'm looking back constantly to catch sight of him; thankfully he's making good progress. I finally lose him as he nears the road. 

THE VIEW NORTH UNENCUMBERED BY FOREGROUND CLUTTER

We're an oddly quiet group as David, Mick and I make the lochan at the bealach over to Bearnais. I try to persuade Mick that he should come along the ridge with us, but he sticks to his plan to try and get as far as possible toward Bealach Bhearnais. The views hereabouts are pretty good, so from the ridge they should be superb.

LOOKING WEST TO SKYE

CROYDON & ME C/O DAVID


DAVID & CROYDON AT THE PARTING OF OUR WAYS

As we clamber up the side of the Creag a' Chacrainn we watch Croydon stroll jauntily down the path to Bearnais. Our clamber is wonderfully rewarding, with views to the north and west to die for. It's all off-piste stuff, but the ground is dry and the rock grippy. The ridge has lots of shaggy up and downs to keep life interesting. I'll let the pictures do the talking for a while.



DAVID, WITH BEALACH BHEARNAIS CENTRE LEFT.





LONG ZOOM TO BEINN LIATH MHOR


VIEW DOWN THE RIVER TAODHAIL


LOCH AN LAOIGH


DAVID ON EAGAN


STUNNING STUFF


FUAR THOLL AND BEINN LIATH MHOR


ROCKY

THE SHOULDERS OF SGURR NA FEARTAIG FROM EAGAN


DROPPING TO OUR CAMP SITE, BAOBH BHACHAN DUBHA

We make good time along the ridge and it's a great scamper down to the lochan. There are a few good places to pitch but the ground is very stony and it takes a while to get Trinnie anchored down securely. There's good running water just to the north and before long we're relaxing in the sunshine with coffee and a few snifters.

OUR LOCHAN ON BAOBH BHACAN DUBHA




WITH HIS KNICKERS AROUND HIS ANKLES DAVID LOOKS FORWARD TO A BREW


THE VIEW SOUTH


ZOOMY ZOOMY SOUTH

THE VIEW NORTH

I make the most of the balmy evening for photographs as the forecast for tomorrow is not so good. I'm quite tickled with our efforts today as we have made excellent progress, and have pitched up at an early hour, to have a relaxing evening. I'm feeling in great shape and demolish one of my larger evening meals, as it's the heaviest. It doesn't seem to make a scrap of difference to the size of the food bag.

TRINNIE TRAILSTAR, IN HER ELEMENT


RUFTY-TUFTY DAVID, WITH CYNTHIA SCARP.

IN SHOCK, DAVID STUDIES THE MAP FOR THE FIRST TIME AND ASKS ABOUT THE BROWN SQUIGGLY LINES

With Phil not being here, there's now an odd feeling of being on a completely different walk. I think I know David reasonably well, but there's going to have to be a lot more discussion about route selection. With Phil and me, we understand pretty much how the other chap is thinking about the day and the likely decision process going on in the other's head. This makes joint decisions a reasonably quick affair. David isn't so vocal, so I'm going to have to watch how he's doing, and also be clear and make sure to let him know if I'm feeling radgered.

Still, I'm a very happy camper as I drift off to Audrey's bosom in the magical fading Highland summer light. It's just a bloody shame Phil isn't here.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

TGO Challenge 2017: Coming, ready or not!

I am to be found snoozing on a park bench in Russell Square after a lovely lunch, relaxed and happy. Ahead of me lies a holiday in Scotland, with the finest minds, the sharpest wits and the sunniest friends you could wish for. 

Unfortunately they couldn't make it, so instead I'm to be lumbered with Lord Elpus and Rufty-Tufty Bastard David. That's life, I suppose.

RUSSELL SQUARE, LONDON

The title of this post 'Coming, ready or not!' describes the preparedness of each of our party pretty well. Without going into too much detail, David has been having a worrying time for a few years with his 'jelly legs,' I have been off the road for half a year following my Challenge in 2016 with Plantar Fasciitis, and Phil has had a very stressful year for all manner of reasons.

If you were to add together our medical conditions on a piece of paper and hand it to your GP, I'm pretty sure he would recommend the bolt gun. It would be a kindness.

RUSSELL SQUARE, LONDON







UCL INSTITUTE OF EDUCATION

However, it is what it is. I've been in worse situations so I'm making a fist of it and I continue my stroll northwards through Bloomsbury, snapping away with the camera to try and remember how the thing works. 

SOAS, LONDON



I'll let the pictures do the talking for a while. Take a look around as I make my way to the Bree Louise.

WOBURN SQUARE, LONDON



WOBURN SQUARE GARDEN, LONDON

GREAT BRITAIN

JEZZA, THE BREE LOUISE, EUSTON

Here we are then. Let me introduce you to Jeremy B. Sadly, this will be Jezza's last Challenge for a while as he is about to retrain as a maths teacher, and the timing of the Challenge means that he won't be able to join us in his new career. He's in his work attire as he's not traveling until tomorrow. Everyone's going to miss this wonderful bear a lot. He walks big walks, in some considerable style. And I promise him that I won't mention his predilection for ladies' knickers.

OLD SWEAT & CHALLENGE VIRGIN. THE BREE LOUISE, EUSTON

And here we have old sweat Darren Long, who is now on his third Challenge along with newbie Mike Jones. It happens that we're going to bump into these excellent gentlemen quite a few times on this trip.

MICK, AKA 'CROYDON', THE BREE LOUISE, EUSTON

And now the Class of '95 has arrived. Mick (aka 'Croydon') is a Challenge legend. He's had a wide and interesting life, from fighting the Mau Mau and the Koreans, and discovering the potato. He's a lovely man, and should you ever get to meet him you must ask after his father and what he did for a living. 

ROB, ABOUT TO SET OFF ON HIS TENTH CHALLENGE

And here's Rob Slade. He's about to set off on his tenth Challenge. Strangely I don't recall bumping into him on past walks, but that's just chance, or my rotten memory. He seems a decent sort.

MAD'N'BAD. THE BREE LOUISE, EUSTON. HE'S LOST COUNT THESE DAYS

And now, bursting through the door in a flurry of packs, flailing poles and and plastic bags appears Andrew Walker, aka Mad'n'Bad. So much has been written about this fellow that anything I say here will be superfluous. However, I should warn you not to think of adding anything new as he is extremely litigious.

Strangely I don't have a picture of Lord Elpus as I have been distracted since his arrival by my TGO Challenge walking partner of 1996 & 1998, Richard White, who now is a Very Important Person in the world of academia and not the old scrote whose entire reason for being was taking the piss out of me and generally being highly disreputable.

THAT VERY,VERY,NICE MAN RUFTY-TUFTY BASTARD DAVID WILLIAMS, STRATHCARRON HOTEL

And now you find us assembled in the bar in the Strathcarron Hotel, somewhere on the northwest coast of Scotland. A miraculous time shift, I know, but that's the magic of a first class ticket on the Caledonian Sleeper. David is writing his last will and testament in an email to his wife. Apparently I am to inherit a rucsac full of dirty socks and soaking camping gear. It's his insurance policy to encourage me to look after the blighter.

The picture below is actually taken tomorrow. Clever, eh? But it's here as proof that we have all made it to Scotland at the right place and at the right time. 

Here we are then. Poised and as ready as we're ever likely to be. What happens next? You'll have to tune in for another exciting episode in a few days' time... 


THE TEAM: L>R: DAVID WILLIAMS, ALAN SLOMAN, PHIL LAMBERT