The road to Ben Nevis Nov 2009

The road to Ben Nevis Nov 2009
The road to Ben Nevis Nov 2009

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Thursday, 31 May 2012

TGOC - The Pictures

Morar & The Way East!
  Here's a link to some of the pictures. They look good in slideshow mode, but 1 by 1 you can see the map locations.Click on picture below ....

2012 May TGOC

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Saturday Bread

After 2 weeks of withdrawal in the Scottish Highlands and Lowlands during the TGO Challenge its good to return to homemade bread and find the starter is still working!

Friday, 25 May 2012

TGO day 13 the east coast!

After Edzel it becomes a typical UK farming landscape with fields of green wheat and barley and the bright yellow of blooming rape.

My final destination was St Cyrus and the route was along country lanes. One fellow clipping his hedge said 'you'll be the first today!' - as if he and other locals follow this annual event. I knew I wasn't the first because less than half the tents were remaining when I left the caravan park at North Water Bridge.

The approach to St Cyrus gives no indication that the coast is nearby. No glimpses of the sea. No change to the landscape. The first sign was 2 challengers waiting at a bus stop. The land rises before the coast up past the local tea room and a primary school with children having their lessons out in the garden. Then the coast path.

And a stunning view down the cliff to a wide wide stretch of sand backed by sandhills and a few tiny figures walking along the glistening shore.

Sand between the toes on a bright sunny day is a true joy and a paddle in the sea. All enhanced in the knowledge that the target is met!

TGO day 12 the green fields from Tarfside

Tarfside, just a few miles away, is famous for a TGO welcome with bacon rolls and cups of tea.
I scimped on my camp breakfast and started walking soon after 7. A little down the valley with sun streaming down I caught a vision of a girl standing up in the heather next to her brightly coloured tent - brushing her teeth. Like a Colgate advertisement. And I recognised one of my omissions during the camping.
This turned out to be Diane on her first TGO and a 'good morning' brought Dave's head out of the tent. I'd last seen him coming down Sgurr na Ciche as I was struggling up to the bealach for that Munro on day 2.
3 hours later I was sat in the kitchen of St Drosten's hostel at Tarfside with a bacon roll an Orange and a cuppa listening-in to the TGO gossip.
This small building with 12 beds is rented out by the TGO for the week and staffed by volunteers from the 'over the hill club' to provide encouragement and support and some food at cost price for the many TGOers that get funnelled through here on their way to the coast.
Many people camp nearby in the village, and few manage to rent beds in the hostel. Quite a social place for those that stay over with a community hall opened in the evening with a bar for challengers. This was the first I heard about the record number of drop-outs. Apparantly 53 of the 300 that started gave up - most defeated by the weather of the previous Saturday night and Sunday.
The path beside the river doesn't go into the village so I missed seeing the informal campsite on the green. After a couple of hours following the tracks through the grazing lands of the lower valley I sat down by the river for a sandwich. Removing my shoes and letting my feet dangle in the freezing stream is one joy to savour, and another - an hour or so dozing in the sunshine on the grass.

As I started off again I saw two figures in front of me. This turned out to be Dave and Diane, suffering from the heat.
The first place on this side with any facilities is Edzell. Here, in the local bakery supermarket I found myself buying lots of homemade cake and oat biscuits and eccles cakes. Then I went to the Tuck Inn cafe for steak pie and chips followed by ice cream dessert.
It was after 5 o'clock and with a couple of other challengers we discussed the camping options. I'd decided to to hideout in a nearby field or woodland, but after talking through this option I changed my mind and opted for the caravan park at North Water Bridge.
The camping here didn't look attractive on the map and in practice it seemed an extraordinary place for a campsite. With main roads on both side there is traffic noise all night. I was one of the last chalengers to arrive that Tuesday - '20 tonight' I was informed by the owner, but his sister who helps in the hall at Tarfside said that upto 60 might be coming through on the Wednesday.
It was possible to shower which in itself was no bad thing. And it was good to get advice from another Trailstsar user about pitching. A campsite setting like this gives a good view on a wide range of light weight tents which can stand-up to the Scottish weather. The compromises between weight and size and stability not to mention cost can demand much study.

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TGO day 11 mountains' end

The cacophony from birds was rather special in this area. Through the night a cuckoo called continuously. Occassionally an owl. And at dawn as the cuckoo stopped a hundred other birds took over.
I started off early and soon caught up Charles and Brian, senior TGOers who stayed in the right place - a bothey just a 30 minute walk ahead of where I stopped. They were roughly following my route to Tarfside but were taking 2 days over it.
At the top of the pass I reached a 19 timer Chris P. He was planning to leave his bag and go up a 'newly elevated munro top' at the end of the Lochnagar ridge. I munched a breakfast sandwich as more and more people arrived from Glen Muick carpark in the valley ahead.
Lochnagar bright with its covering of snow dominated the near view to the west.
I headed on down to the valley below where daytrippers were arriving. Their route crossed mine as they walked up to Loch Muick. I followed a minor path up the other side tracking the burn up to its source some kilometres distance and several hundred metres in elevation reaching another trackless watershead by late lunchtime.
Every curved hilltop and meandering watercourse looks similar up here so this was one of the few occassions I needed the GPS in order to identify the slight depression which indicated the route to the next valley down.
The Waters of Mark is the name of the stream in this glen. It starts in a grassy sheltered landscape populated with deer. I stopped for a sandwich and to watch a group of them grazing. Before I knew it I was asleep in the warm sun - waking up with a start wondering what had happened to roof of my tent.
As I was finding time and again on this trip the valleys were longer than they seemed on the map. This delightful lead into the eastern side of Scotland and out of the mountain area presented no path for another 2 or 3 hours, by which time I was ready to rest for the day.
Tarfside would have to wait for tomorrow. I found some level sheep-nibbled ground by Queens Well where another path joins from Mount Keen - one of the favourite TGO routes.

After an hour or so I was joined by Herman who announced that Russ was following and had twisted his knee, so they would stop nearby. Russ was a pipe-smoking senior veteran of 11 challenges while Herman himself had also done it before.

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Thursday, 24 May 2012

TGOC day 10 Braemar

The weather had set fair so the night spent at the top of the Geldie burn was cold but not threatening.

My plan for last night was Mar lodge down in the valley. I got there about 11 this morning after the last TGOers that stayed over had left. Its nice to see signs specifically welcoming those on the challenge, and Jane who I had emailed about my reservation was on hand to provide me with a pot of tea and a yoghourt and an orange.

On the map Mar Lodge and Braemar are quite close, but it is still 1.5 hours to walk. I had formulated a plan for my feet which required the sport shop to be open.

Braemar found many TGOers chilling in the hotel and cafes. I walked passed them all to reach the mountain sports shop at the end of the town. Here I bought a pair of Innov8 Roclite running shoes with Sealskin waterproof socks and some wool liners. The shop agreed to send my painfully heavy Scarpa SLs back home. I transferred the Superfeet footbed across first - and that was my feet sorted.

I called control to confirm my plan to use my lower route - despite the practices of many other challengers I'm not so keen to use this sort of shoe when its very rough underfoot.

I floated back up the village main street to the Old Bakery with their special menu. Double egg sausage and chips followed by chocolate cake with the TGO malt.

Now about 4 I was anxious to make a start on the next leg of the journey - through part of the royal estate at Balmoral. My revised plan gave me the rest of this day and the following to reach Tarfside. I would cut out the impressive snow covered Lochnigar ridge.

Camping in the Balmoral estate is frowned upon - I found out afterwards.

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TGO challenge day 9 to the top of Feshie Burn

We have to call 'Control' regularly so that our progress is monitored and to pickup messages about weather and conditions. We were told 'too much snow on top of Cairngorms please use foul weather alternatives'.

This suited me and my poor feet. A gentle stroll on the track up the Feshie valley and down the other side was a much better prospect than 4 or 5 mountains the trackless terrain of my 'plan A'.

At a B&B it is impossible to get away early, and I hobbled off at around 9 o'clock. Soon I heard the tap-tap of walking poles behind me. IOW Colin from Dumfries was charging along and I managed to join him for a few fast kilometres. But eventually I had to relent and listen to my painful feet which demanded a much slower pace.

There were many footprints from challengers that had passed here the day before. This is one of the funnel points from west to east especially in bad weather.

Much of the Feshie valley is wide and attractive with green grass, Cyprus style conifers, and a pleasant track to walk on.

It was a little later that I fully noticed my planned distances were not correct. Measuring a map using straight lines is not accurate at all. By early evening I reached a bridge at the top of the valley with a sign reading Bramar 17 miles - and I was expecting just a few more hours to go!

Another night camping high and cold although fortunatey without wind this time.

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TGO day 8 to Kingussie

The route out of this area involved some pathless navigation up one valley to the plateau and then down another valley eventually to join a track about 10km away.

In theory this sort of navigation should be relatively easy driven by the direction of the valleys. In practice, on the ground, it is not so straight forward especially when visibility is limited. I've noticed an illusion effect several times on this trip where I've thought I was travelling uphill when in fact the stream beside me was going down!

Several hours of tramping through snow brought me to the system of track on the South side of the Monaliadth and by 2pm I had moved from the stark winter of the high ground to the bright spring of Kingussie golf course.

Time to give myself and my sore feet a break!

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Tuesday, 22 May 2012

TGOC day 7

I woke to whiteness outside. The rain had turned to snow.

There's a big water project at this end of the Monaliadth. A project that has gone slightly wrong. So the reservoir on my map was empty of water. Instead through the cloud and snow flurries I could see earth moving equipment with flashing lights and men with high-viz clothing directing unexplainable actions - like a sci-fI movie.

I and a few lost sheep followed one of the construction roads to the east of the site. Then a compass bearing to find the top of a pathless valley heading east.

This terrain was remarkably desolate. The distances long. And progress was slow. The only buildings were abandoned. After making contact with a distant track and following this for an hour or two it was time to head south. Much later in time than planned, but with much less distance covered I finally pitched the tent.

A cold night. I woke in the morning all covered in snow.
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TGOC day 6 - the joy of packing standing up

The Great Glen Hostel has good facilities and it was possible to do some washing and drying as well as access the internet.

The Great Glen Way follows the Caledonian canal at the point, and I joined it to Fort Augustus at the end of Loch Ness.

One of the first sights at Fort Augustus is the multiple locks which in 5 or 6 steps lower boats down to the level of the Loch. Across the lock is the bright yellow signage of the fish and chip shop just powering-up for lunch time. 'One fish and chips and a cup of tea please!'

From here there's a quiet valley heading east towards to one end of the desolate area called the Monaliadth. There's a pleasant and little used path which winds its way above the water course through the birch trees that border the steep banks.

At a certain point the river swings round to the north and here, by some ruins is some reasonable camping.

This is the point to commit to the Monaliadth or choose a shorter easier route. I took the former.

I was rewarded that night by a well kept but perilously ancient and worn wooden hut to spend the night in.

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TGO day 5

Day 5 was another one of two different halves. First a long trek along a valley following tracks and paths partly in forest. The next part was to follow a ridge of tops leading over to the next valley and civilisation of a hostel.

Catching up the lost kilometres from yesterday took more than two hours. Then the early part of the path that followed was quite unused extremely wet and very hard going with feet sore from the previous few days.

By 2pm I was near the approach to the ridge, but after 7 hours of walking it felt an impossible target and I stayed low. A signpost indicate the direction, but there was no path. More than 3 hours later I reached the other side.

I spent time planning my moves for the evening. First stop at the famous pub on a barge. A large drink. A meal something traditional rather than exotic. A bottle to take down the road to th hostel.

When I finally crossed the Caledonian canal at Laggan Lock I saw a big sign 'closed' on the barge. My fantasy dashed I limped on to the welcoming hostel and ate one on my rehydrated meals sitting on a chair at a table.

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TGOC day 4

The greenhouse miraculously had an old but partly functioning gas heater so I could dry much of the contents of my pack.

Did I mention my little mishap? Towards the end of the yesterday I came to an unusually wide stream to cross, made furious by the rains. And there on rocks on either side were little piles of stones to say 'wade in here!'. Without my usual caution I started and in the middle I was thrown off balance. Complete immersion including pack! Fortunately everything was tied on otherwise some would have been taken by the waters.

It was interesting to see my splendid Paramo gear dry before my eyes while the equally splendid (but very different) merino took forever to become only almost dry. Fortunately I had no cotton!
There is a special technique for such crossing worth reaching for an instruction book if you need to know.

Day 4 started with less rain and the prospect of returning to the normal planned route. This required a march of 3km on road to the start point.

A few more km alongside Loch Cuaich brought me to the start of the path up to the Spidean ridge. A hard hall up lead to the snowey top of another Munro with views along to Spidean and across the distant valley to the north with a long long ridge with 7 small peaks.

It is probably safe to say every Munro will have a path. At the second peak the path ended, but my route continued along the ridge to the end where - would join a track going from one valley to another.

Slow going meant I had to pitch my tent a few km before my planned destination.
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Saturday, 19 May 2012

TGOC day 3

Morning came with no let-up in the weather.

We had been asked to prepare 'foul weather alternative' routing. Both my routes for day 3 started with the pass over to the next valley Glean Unndalain

This pleasant path had many swollen streams crossing it. The bigger ones to be waded in Crocs. In fact every part of every path was a major stream with water rushing down in all directions!

The whole rigmarole of taking off gaiters, boots and socks, and putting them on again after a crossing easily takes half-an-hour. One crossing was impossible and required retracing my steps re-crossing the river higher up and then negotiating pathless on the other side of the narrow valley. A 90 minute walk became 4 hours or more.

My planned trackless ridge route was out of the question with high wind. My FWA followed a 'very pleasant' path round the edge of the Loch from Barrisadale to Kinloch Hourn, so this was the way I went.

Of course many rivers and streams empty into the loch and pass over the coastal footpath, so this route was tremendously challenging with very slow progress.

By 6 or 7pm I had been walking for almost 12 hours. My boots were full of water. I was soaked through. I came over a small headland and looked down on a small plantation of pine and a patch of level ground near the water with a building. I had to stop.

There was no-one home only a group of deer sheltering under the trees. All the buildings were locked except for a green house. With old furniture and blooming and fragrant pink roses and currants and herbs this seemed of recent solid construction. This was just as well as that Sunday night the gale was intense.

I sheltered there until morning.

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TGOC day 2 reprise

Day 2 started three hours or so behind the plan. This was made a little worse by an unscheduled rush up a top towards the end of the ridge from Tarbet.

Its easy to forget that its not only time that is a constraint but also energy and body wear-and-tear. Daylight hours are very long at this time of year, but the body does not have any extra strength to take advantage.

The pressure was on today to make the most of the weather as rain and gales were forecast for the west Highlands starting on Saturday night.

After 10 hours of walking I had covered 4 tops on 3 different ridges and I cut directly off the side of the last ridge towards a recommended camp spot.

On the south shore of a small North-South lake this was not ideal with gales expected from the north in the night.

Unfortunately an hour spent running around the area did not reveal anywhere sheltered. I got the tent up on the lake shore and the sides normally straight under tension were curving in dramatically with the increasing wind.

This was a severe test of the design of the MLD Trailstar which it passed well. The only mishap was when one peg became loose and flapping - it moved so fast in the wind it was impossible to see it - when I recovered it there were a couple of small holes it had made in the fabric.

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Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Day 1 TGOC

Morar Hotel mid-left with Loch Morar to right behind

Morar is just one of 13 starting point for the TGOC and here like at the others signing out can happen from 9am on Friday until sometime on Sunday.

There were about 20 names on our list and when I got down at 9 oclock 4 or 5 signatures were already done.

I headed off with Bristol Bob down the lane beside loch Morar. The thick grey cloud ahead of us became less threatening as we got closer and soon there was some sunshine and eventually a bit of blue sky. The view behind us included the mountains on the Isle of Skye and Egg and Rum were clearly visible. Ahead a jumble of mountains some of the tops covered in snow.

View from above Tarbet
This is a day of 2 halves. The first half part road then track follows the edge of the loch. The path ends at the tiny settlement of Tarbet which is normally reached only by boat. Here our route goes pathless up onto a ridge.

Bob adjusts his pack ready for the tramp up on the ridge above Tarbet
 Bob found a lochan to his liking and decided to pitch his tent for the night. I was well short of my target 7 km further on so I continued for another hour or two along the trackless ridge with views of loch Morar on my left and Loch Houn on the right.

Eventually I realised that the next valley was not reachable so I too found a lochan to my liking and tried to shelter my tent nearby from the driving west wind.

This was the first time to use my new Oook inner tent which combines a groundsheet with a midge proof space above it. If I had time for a test run I would have remembered how slippery the Silnylon material used for the floor. I spent an uncomfortable night with my sleep mat sliding downhill away from me.
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Sunday, 13 May 2012

Day 2 TGOC

Day 2 had been rationised (ie shortened) on the advice of my vetter. So although I was a few km behind I should be able to catch up.

Saturday was the one day with a good weather forecast before gales on Sunday so I wanted to make the most of it.

As I marched along the ridge I realised there was a little top just after the spot where I should head for the valley. Sgurr nadh Aide was added to the list.

Descending trackless always takes longer than expected and despite a 7 oclock start I didn't the valley and the beginning of my route until after 10.30.

An hour later I was on the side track heading up to the bealach between Sgurr na Ciche and Garbh Chioc Mor. Slow going with my pack on my back over rough country, I was glad to leave it at the pass while I moved to the top of the first munro. Snow underfoot covered with cloud and blowing a gale this was not a spot to linger.
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Thursday, 10 May 2012

DBB@40 quid - Exploring Morar

The train from Glasgow to Mallaig snakes through the Highlands for 5 hours. Probably the most spectacular train journey in the UK.

One stop before the end is Morar.

A few houses, a hotel, and beaches with fine white and golden sand.

A chance for a last practice at walking in the rain before the real thing. To adjust the pack. To revise the route.

And then to return for a hot shower and a good cooked meal.

To the Challenge - the Prequel!

Its an uncomfortable wait at Euston for the sleeper. It doesn't leave until almost midnight long after my bedtime.

In the dark in the rain outside the station a figure in a T-shirt with a cigarette and a funny hat makes a proposition - "TGO? I'm Freddie! I'm just going 'round the corner for a beer".

2 hours later a party of 5 challengers were the only occupants of the bar on the train.

The journey has begun!
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Monday, 7 May 2012

Darning done! Next - Trailstar Transformation!

All week I practiced my sewing skills. Measuring small bits of silnylon, cutting, and sewing seams on into the small hours. And discarding the results. Eventually I decided enough practice - time to commit. Seam sealer is adhesive - so I cut the patches to size and glued them in place with the seam sealer.

In my previous excursion gale force winds landed a branch on my tent piercing it in several places. The fabric is impregnated with silicon for proofing and requires some special handling. Silvent 'seam sealer' was the right stuff.

On the next day I sewed around the edges. and then seam sealed the stitching. Job done! I don't remember why I put the patches on the outside. It seems wrong now, but at the time ...

Yesterday I collected my bug protection from the post office. This inner from Oook in Cumbria turns a spartan piece of weather protection into a real luxury residence. I've spent one miserable night beset by midges and when I heard that they're already in training for the influx of May visitors to Scotland I decided to take evasive action.

Oook make this with fine mesh on top of a silnylon bathtub style ground sheet. It is sized generously for one person and takes up about half the interior floor space of the MLD Trailstar. Once the Oook is set-up the Trailstar suddenly transforms - there's a front and a back, a vestibule, and a sleeping area.

So do I still need my bivvy bag? I think not! But will the thin Silnylon floor really survive the rough ground? And what about emergencies?

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Small Welsh and Blond - Training for TGOC #3

I keep imagining more challenges that will face us next week. Take Hummocks. My experience of Scotland indicates that as soon as you go off the beaten track there's more than a 50/50 chance you'll be in a landscape of large grassy clumps with various degrees of wetness in between.

For this 3rd little practise I decided to go off-trail in the Brecons. I'm sure the Hummock were smaller than I remember from up North, and the colour - I don't remember this attractive blondness.

Small blond hummocks
I hoped to test out my Oook mosquito protection on this trip, but unfortunately it hadn't arrived. A bad weather forecast however meant I could looked forward to some excitement. Also a chance to test out the Spot mapping with social hiking.

Parking is usually helped by Google Street Map.  I found a bit of road within a short distance of the wild, and then checked around to confirm that the spot was overlooked. This time the folks at Meyrth Tydfil Golf Club did the honours.

An hour into the hills found a suitable site shared only with a troop of wild horses.

The next morning I headed north east - trackless - the going was not too difficult. Is everything a bit smaller this far south? The hummocks, the bog, the hills.
A Swallow Hole?
The map shows many 'shake holes' and some 'swallow holes' in this area. What are these?!


After a few hours I had ascended a hundred metres or so and the cloud had descended. Here was a trig-point with a large Terra Nova tent nearby. 

And then I was back on paths. And with paths many people.

It was Saturday, but the weather was poor, so hats off to the Welsh folk for getting outside - in their hundreds! In case I felt a little special with my pack of 14kg there were several soldiers running up and down the hillsides fully laden. Pack weight? - 'about 65 pounds" I was told.

Down the valley I could join the 'Roman road to Hereford from Merthyr'. Up to the next ridge and I was tempted to make a diversion to the right and up a hill called Fan Y Big. In the cloud at the top I consulted a local munching a banana about the meaning of this name "big 'ill" he said.
On Fan Y Big

Then back and along the ridge top to Pen Y Fan,

Pen Y Fan
 and eventually down through the cloud and crowds to cross the road and onto a quiet hill on the other side.

from Pen y Fan and Corn Du looking over Fan Fawr
It is hard to imagine why Eagle Star Insurance owned these mountains. It seems they donated them to the National Trust in 1965!

The long route from Fan Fawr pointed down to the forest in the valley floor and it was here I eventually found a tempting spot to pitch the tarp.

After 9 hours of walking I was exhausted but it was still only 4 o'clock. So here's a reminder to take some reading material next week.

By nighttime the occasional gusty wind had become a continuous blow even in the area I had picked in the forest. It was a noisy night and with debris falling on tent, I didn't sleep so much. I was outside when a branch pierced the fabric.

The devestation in my part of the forest was awesome. I had to crawl on hands and knees under the fallen trees along part of the track. As I walked further, on both sides trees creaked under the power of the wind and then heaved over.

In the relative calm of the lower valley there's some lovely carvings in the forest towards Merthyr. These by Tom Harvey.

 And many distinctly unartistic displays of beer cans.