Wednesday 13th May Laggan Locks to Garva Bridge(note1: click on a picture to enlarge it ...
Push and pull the map in the window below to see the route (days 5-9) in blue. The route walked was slightly different from plan!
The hospitality at the Great Glen Hostel provided a welcome respite. Year by year they implement improvements to set it apart from the old youth hostel that is used to be. Most of the TGOers coming this way were here one or two days before me and a photocopied route is available showing the quickest way back into The Wilderness.
Across the road from the hostel is the South Laggan Forest which rises up the hills protecting Glen Turret. I ziz-zag up the forest track, then follow a path onto the open hillside until I reach a deer fence. I didn't find a crossing point but climbing over was not too difficult.
A couple of kilometres of open hillside leads to Glen Turret, with a track on the NE side of the river. I find myself on the opposite side expecting to use a bridge shown on my OS map - unfortunately this does not exist. Near to Brae Roy Lodge there is a high bridge across the gorge and then lower down a bridge carrying the road to the Lodge.
From here I take a track to Annat, a small house with a well protected garden and some new animal pens. Across the glen to the north are clearly visible the "parallel roads" - a phenomena created during glacial times, but from a distance looking like tracks contouring high up on the hillside.
Here there's a wonderful stalkers paths which traverses the hillside, eventually turning south following the Burn of Agie.The path reaches Dog Falls, a striking channel of smooth inclined rock which takes the river on a ziz-zag path over 100 metres or so. Here I wade across the stream following the route to the NE side and as I dry my feet I see, just a little higher upstream, a bridge.
The sun is now shining and this delightful and deserted valley inclines gently over 4 or 5 kilometres all the way up to munro territory. My original plan included a high camp here beside a couple of small lochans and a side trip up Creag Meagaidh. Today the lochans are just patches of snow and I am a day behind. The impressive view triggers my memory - that I can take pictures with my 'phone, as long as I can conserve the battery.
|There's a lochan here, somewhere! Looking back towards Glen Tilt from the bealach below Creag Magaidh|
|Stob Poite Coire Ardair summit|
|The crags below Creag Magaidh from Stob Poite Coire Ardair|
This is pleasant walking, with firm ground underfoot and good views across the surrounding countryside. There have been two sets of footprints in the patches of snow on the route and I imagine I might catch sight of someone in the distance once I'm on the ridge, but I see noone. Probably the prints are from an earlier day.
By 7pm I am getting tired and try to avoid ascending yet another small top by traversing around on an imagined path. This diversion leads me to a small outcrop on the wrong side of the ridge, and the promise of rough and steep craggy ground to regain the top. At this stage in the day I succumb to the temptation to head downwards to find a camp spot.
With judgement impaired by tiredness I eventually pitch at 8pm on a 'flat' spot that was actually sloping. With Garva bridge in sight in the distance, the map shows that my misadventure will add 3km or so to my journey tomorrow.
Thursday 14th May Garva Bridge to NuideOn sloping ground the problem with a Trailstar and a silnylon groundsheet that you spend the night trying to recover from sliding under the walls of the tent. Although cold the weather remained fair fortunately night.
As I decamped in the morning I could see some figures in the distance walking down the track to Garva Bridge. This was day 7 and I have seen no TGOers since day 1! Was this about to change?
With a new spring in my step I traversed the hillside across to the road and, after about 3 kilometres I caught up with two female first timers. By scanning the lists I think this must have been Elaine and Linda Duncan. They started on Sunday at Shiel Bridge and planned a short day meeting friends who would deliver their tent.
|The road to Garva bridge with ridge to Stob Poite Coire Ardair|
I moved ahead with breakfast in mind for Laggan Stores, just 7 km further on. I later found Tony and Jackie Ford famous for their honeymoon TGO trip a couple of years before. They were breaking camp with Sue Foss and Robert McKay. Two of them would follow me down to Laggan Stores while the Fords were keeping south of the River Spey.
I reached Laggan about midday to find the Stores still under renovation. A temporary operation was set up in a hut across the road, but with no running water and limited space all they could offer was drinks.
The shop was manned by 4 children who were all anxious to help an old walker. I had sent a parcel there with some food and maps. And they made me tea and found some cold orange drink, and some snacks. They explained that although they had spent eight years in Scotland they had kept their Canadian accent because of home schooling, which limited their contact with the local dialects.
Their mother was helpful too, and anxious to take note of what we might like to purchase next time when they are fully operational. It was comfortable to sit here and see to locals come and go, but I had to press on. A local bridge was closed to traffic which created a bit of a jam at this road junction. I'd been told it was no problem for walkers and I found that a large drainage ditch had collapsed, but I could just walk across an adjacent field to avoid the problem.
Following my vetter's counsel I took a road and track route towards Ruthven (Kingussie). My feet were sore from my boots and the road walking was a good opportunity for respite by using trainers. Because of this I skipped the plan to head down to Falls of Trium and Etteridge and took a slightly shorter option keeping on the road until it joins the A9.
|Memorial at Glentrium|
The small road from Catlodge was too busy with traffic and despite the pleasant surroundings it was good to get over (actually under!) the A9 and onto the track on the other side.
|Path under A9 near Phones|
This was sunny and pleasant walking with views of the Monadliath across the Spey valley to the left. By 6pm I was ready to camp and a field within sight of Kingussie provided an ideal spot. Shortly later Colin Tock came by on a repeat of his aborted trip from last year; he and Robert McKay - both deep in conversation, found time to stop and say hello before pressing on to their respective destinations for the evening.
|Gen. Wade's Military Road between Phones and Luibleathann|
It was a still and very cold night with ice forming on the surface of the tent. In the early morning I was surrounded by a great variety of different bird calls, and hares played in the field down below.
Friday 15th May Nuide to White Bridge
|Camping at Nuide beside Gen. Wade's Military Road|
As I munched my biscuits along came the first challenger of the day - Andrew Partington. I expected to see him again further down the valley.
A little distance along the path I found a mystery man repairing a bridge. He advised me to go into the bothy further down the valley and help myself to tea with fresh milk. I arrived to find hot water and tea and coffee and bananas. Already partaking was Andrew P. and Barbara Sanders from Burnley. I later learned that our mystery man stayed nearby in a tent and entertained challengers at the bothy in the evening with drinks and chocolates, turning a camp meal into a proper dining experience.
A couple of mountain bikers arrived soon after me but were in too much of a hurry to drink tea. I was to have them in sight for most of the day as they struggled to push their machines and a trailer over the path.
After a short break I headed off soon to be surprised by a number of people wading across the river towards me. Challengers of course! Apparently following the 'normal' route from Dalwhinnie.
I caught up with Barbara and we walked together for several hours. After 7 days with just my own thoughts to accompany me this made a nice change. I lost her when we stopped for a snack, for me a ten minute job whereas B. needed a brew and a chat with the Frenchman Cyril Huart who had pitched camp early near the bridge marking the highpoint and the transition from Feshie to Geldie Burn.
In spite of my stops the bikers were still just a few hundred metres ahead and this continued downhill until we reached the track along Geldie Burn; then they got on their saddles and peddled away.
As the slope started to head downwards I saw a figure following a few hundred metres behind me. I slowed to allow them to catch up, but they got no closer. So I speeded up again, and they seemed to speed up too. After 30 minutes of this caper I decided to stop and wait to ensure there was no misunderstanding. Along came not Barbara Sanders but a new actor Alan Jordan. He was on his 15th challenge and was looking for his camp site which soon appeared below the path.
My planned camp spot was by a ruined building designated Ruigh nan Clach on the map. Here my high route would have deliver me down to the river side. At 7 o'clock there were already 7 or 8 tents mostly Atkos here already zipped up against the wind. Two challengers were finishing food they had cooked in the ruined barn. I recognised Humphrey Weightman, half in and half out of his tent full of praise for some new German dehydrated meals.
By the time I was eating everyone else was zipped up (this is something you can't do in a Trailstar). They didn't see the snowy owl that almost landed on a tent before having second thoughts; or the heads of the deer that appeared above the rising ground a few yards away sensing that something was different here tonight.
Saturday 16th May White Bridge to Callater LodgeI was first to leave at 7am along with Mike who was was starting ahead of his two companions on account his sore feet making him slow.
From here almost every flat piece of ground had one or more tents with TGOers.
For many TGOers the first bit of civilisation after the Cairngorms is Mar Lodge, run be the National Trust. Traditionally they welcome TGOers with accommodation, camping, and even meals. This year however there were other events taking place. Hospitality was limited to the use of a meeting room in a corner of the estate with a tea urn and some water biscuits. Best of all though was the use of a toilet and washbasin with hot water!
The room gave an opportunity to swap notes with Challengers from several directions, and to take stock before the road walk to Braemar. This was a convivial affair with Mick Croydon and David William with a few other people weaving their paths in and out of ours.
With the Fife Arms hotel closed for refurbishment there less reason to stay in Braemar. After a fried meal, an injection of fresh fruit, and a small resupply shop I found the road to golf course which eventually leads towards Glen Callater.
Traditionally the crowd gathers in Braemar on Saturday and part moves on to Lochcallater Lodge on Sunday evening. I had the path to myself that afternoon. It was so quiet that I began to doubt that the place was open and functioning.
|Biagio P. tests out his new hips at Lochcallater Lodge|
But I didn't need to worry. On opening the door I was greeted warmly with a mug of tea. Would I be camping? or in the bunkhouse? or did I want a bed? We were 7 walkers there that evening, outnumbered by the helpers and visitors included the famous artist Denis Pidgeon. Also present was Biagio Pellegrini who was all set to take part in the challenge when, with only weeks to go he was called-in for a hip operation.
Plates of pasta were handed out. And some beers. Whiskies were tasted and savoured.
President in residence was the host Bill with a supporting cast of Mike, George, Ian, Ali, & Janine; walkers included Issy & Les Silkovski, Frederic Maillard from France, Maggie Herns and Vickie Allen.