This is the final blog post of my TGO Challenge, I hope I havent bored anyone to death but i’ve tried to keep the typing to a minimum and concentrate on the amusing bits of our crossing. So far the last time….here we go
Breaking camp for the last time we all actually managed to be ready at the same time, it only took 14 days but we were now a tight unit of super experienced hikers, erm okay.
The walk to Stonehaven was mainly through conifer plantations, finding the right route can sometimes be tricky as the tracks constantly change each year. After an amazing crossing weather wise Scotland had one final trick up its sleeve, in the middle of a lovely hot sunny day we were hit by a hail shower that took us all by surprise(see here for the weather forecast).
Freakish weather aside the walk to Stonehaven was pleasant enough and seeing the coast gave us all the energy we needed to reach our goal. When I reached the coast I broke off from the others and splashed about in the waters of Stonehaven, it’s a great place to finish and the setting couldnt have been better.
We stayed at the local campsite with a few other challengers and headed off to find some drinking establishments. Waking in the morning the real world came back with a bang, some local vagabond had stolen a persons bike from the campsite and ruined the guys weekend, it’s no fun attending a cycling event without a bike.
We caught the bus to Montrose, sitting on the top deck lets you take in all the sites of the East Coast finishing points and gives you plenty of ideas for future crossings. We headed for Challenge control and with a handshake from Roger Smith it was all over. We hung around challenge control for an hour and then our thoughts turned to the evenings events.
The local campsite at Montrose was a big let down but seeing all the other challengers more than made up for it. At the challenge dinner our table flowed with banter and wine. Our new friends Ken and Shap joined us at our table. Gill made an emotional speech to all the challengers and I had to wrestle her away from Roger after pulling the short straw with Pete and Paddy.
Back at the campsite Mike Knipe joined us for the last wee-nip of the crossing and it was late, real late when I put my head down for the night. And so ends my account of the TGO Challenge 2010. I will be back, but not in 2011, other challenges beckon and I now have a more the able side kick in my son to continue the fun. I hope someone reads this and decides to sign up for the Challenge, I had an amazing time and the spirit of the event lives up to every inch of its reputation.
Whats next for me….The Great Glen Way in October then who knows !!
Waking up to the sight of the River Dee was nice and I enjoyed cooking my breakfast and watching the world go by. My thoughts turned to home and my lovely fiancée and son who I had not seen for close to 2 weeks. The Challenge for me had been in a slow wind down ever since we walked out of Braemar, the coast and completion was the only thing left.
About midday we reached a great pub called The Feughside Inn, a very nice place indeed well suited to walkers and bikers alike. After a few swift ones we were on our way again. POP went Paddy’s Platypus bladder which had been filled with cider, important lesson to be learnt here folks, never fill a bladder with a fizzy liquid.
After quite a bit of road walking on the B974 we turned off toward Heatheryhaugh. The whole trip for Gill had built up to this point. When the route was initially decided Gill insisted we had to try the basket crossing of the river at Heatheryhaugh, this was her moment. As the lads sat smoking on a log, Gill headed off looking for the basket crossing. I remember praying it was still there, WOOF WOOF came back the call somewhere in the distance (I gave her a calling sign of barking like a dog when the basket was found).
The basket crossing itself was a laugh(see here) and we setup camp about 20 metres away and close by the river. We pooled all our food together and finished it off barring a few soups and some chocalate.In the night I heard strange animal noises and rustling but I was too tired to care ZZzzzz.
Pete’s feet were killing him so after a heated debate we choose the cycle path to Aboyne instead of a hike up to Mount Keen. The group dynamics were stretched to breaking point at this time and I just wanted to get going rather than dwell on our decision.
I needed something to take my mind off Mount Keen so the group agreed to join me in a drink fuelled ramble to Aboyne. A quick stop at the local co-op provided us with Peroni, cider and brandy which is the preferred tipples of the FC Hikers.
The cycle path took us through the Muir of Dinnet, it was similar to a walk around the local park. We stopped at a hotel for drinks and discussed our camping options for the night, the girl behind the bar told us about a camping spot close to the bridge in Aboyne so we agreed this would be our destination. Somehow Peter managed to miss this information, he seemed rather taken by the Swedish bar lady that spoke to us, maybe he was day dreaming.
Bored and wanting the coast to come as quickly as possible I pushed on by myself and located the wild camping spot which is on the banks of the River Dee close to the bridge. I quite enjoyed the location of this camp, it was directly opposite the pub across the river.
Paddy and Gill turned up but Pete, unknown to us had plodded along to the campsite at the opposite end of town, the heavens opened up and Pete was nowhere to be seen. A few hours passed and with darkness closing in I sent two local youths out on bikes to try to find Pete, who luckily bumped into them. Not the best day for Team F.C but we were moving ever closer to the East coast and our ultimate goal.
A night in a bothie has the added advantage of not having to pack away the tent but the downside to this is having to endure snoring that some have taken to an olympic standard, luckily I came prepared with ear plugs. We quickly tidied up the bothie and hit the trail.
A few miles down the track I joined the lads from Edinburgh to bag the Corbett top of Conachcraig, we ditched the bags and headed through heather towards the top. Cloud had settled on the top but it didn’t spoil the magic of bagging my first Corbett with some new friends.
I spent some time boxing with a punch tree, its spongy bark was something I had not come across before. When we reached the splitting of paths at Allt-na-giubhsaich we said good-bye to the Edinburgh lads and we headed North towards Ballater.
The path to Ballater took us through Glen Muick and past the Lynn of Muick waterfall. The local campsite was easy enough to find and a few other challengers dotted the site. The evening was spent in the Alexandra, myself and Pete ended up in the restaurant enjoying a candlelit meal for two, the amazing food and the romantic atmosphere was enjoyable and but I had to draw the line when Pete started playing footsie with me.
In the bar we asked Ken Knight to pull up a stool to join us in some late night revelry, Kens a good bloke and his stories of American trails gave us plenty of banter for the night. We had the decency to make sure Ken went back to his lodgings full of merriment, it’s a service we try to roll out to all our new friends.
A quick shower blew away the cobwebs of yesterdays strenuous activities. We decided to use one of our 2 rest days to walk to Gelder Shiel bothie to shorten a long walk. Breakfast turned into a farce first for the veggie brigade and then for myself when I realised I had lost my mobile. It took a while but I eventually bumped in the campsite warden who had found my phone which contained all of my photos and videos.
Dont go to Gordon’s tea rooms for breakfast, the service annoyed us to no end and breakfast was eventually sourced from the Hungry Highlander . Peewiglet recorded a podcast interview with the gang, it’s quite fun meeting people like Shirley who you have gained advice and ideas from via blogs and websites.
We left Braemar via the road and passed Braemar castle which I thought looked much more impressive than the two up two down along the road that the Queen resides in most of the year. Turning off at Invercauld Bridge we headed into Ballochbuie Forest which contained some rather aggressive ants.
Leaving the forest we were treated to the impressive sights of The Princes Stone and I soon spotted the amazing Lochnagar, which I hope to return to one day to tackle the amazing horseshoe-shaped ridge walk. The bothie was literally surrounded by tents, funnily enough the bothie still had bunks and we shared with the lads from Edinburgh; Kenny, Ally and Stuart. The lads passed around a wee nip of whiskey and we shared some banter, I was especially interested in their tales of a winter climb on Lochnagar. A guy from Buffallo / USA amused me to no end due to the fact he didnt like hiking, which did beg the questions how he had come to find himself camped in the Scottish highlands on a hiking event.
We awoke early with a plan, we split into two groups and myself and Gill heading off early with the GPS on a mission to find a replacement for my old friends the NorthFace Hedgehogs. We really did cover some ground (see here)on our way to Braemar, I think Gill would do quite well at a mountain marathon event.
On the way we stopped at the Linn of Dee to take some pics, another quite beautiful spot that Scotland has to offer. As we closed in on Braemar challengers were dropping down off the hills from all angles and all heading for one place The Fife Arms. We arrived for opening and sat outside in the amazing sun with hordes of other challengers. I managed to convince Gill that it would be a good idea to hydrate ourselves after the mornings fast paced walk, she agreed it was a good idea, I came back with 2 pints of lager and the days debauchery had begun.
Andy Howell dragged me over for a podcast interview for backpackinglight.com, after a few uneasy moments it was all over. Andy and Shirley talked me into buying some trail trainers as a replacement for my now knackered boots. So off I went to the local gear shop and 20 minutes later I was returning to the Fife with some brand new sneakers.
Pete and Paddy turned up and the drinking accelerated to a canter as the cider now flowed in the glorious sun. Humphrey Weightman joined us and we gained instant kudos with our tales of being barred from LFTO. Life really was great and we chatted with many challengers all enjoying the fabulous weather on this years crossing.
Some time around 6 I seem to remember Paddy getting a bit of a wobble on, now this really is the time to either stop drinking or find some food. So on the recommendation of many challengers we headed for the hungry highlander for fish and wips. Myself and Gill pitched the tents at the local campsite then headed back to the gang, on our way out of the campsite we bumped into the internet hiking legend that is Mr Mike Knipe who somehow recognised us instantly, after a few hugs and handshakes we rounded up the troops and decided to get ready for the evenings events. Paddy commented as only he can on the tent situation.
A question was posed, how do you rid yourself of the effects of drink and freshen up at the same time? Peter found the ideal solution with his amazing fully clothed shower technique that left him dripping like a broken tap. At the Breamar party we shared drinks with Mike and Peiter and foot tapped along to the sounds of bingo wings the local rock group. We watched on as a rendition of the Proclaimers “500 miles” blasted out of the party tent, I seem to remember Shirley, Alan Sloman and Andy Howell doing the 500 mile dance as the party closed.
When we reached the tents Mike Knipe gathered us all together for a wee-nip of whisky, I awoke in the morning half in and half out of my tent with a mouth as dry as Gandi’s flip flop.
Awaking in Glen Feshie is something magical that all hikers should experience at some point. It didn’t take long to pass the washed out bridge that our vetter’s warned us about. For those that don’t know each TGO challenger must submit a route which is then painstakingly looked over by a vetter. A thankless task but an essential one that keeps a lot of challengers out of danger, we certainly heeded their warnings.
The bothie was empty when we arrived but the log book showed just how many challengers had passed through this amazing Glen. A member of the MBA was on site to keep tabs on the bothie and we spent a good hour chatting to him about his rather envious lifestyle.
Pushing on through the Glen the ancient trees were a real talking point, very rarely I am dumb struck by natures beauty but today I spent most of the day just gazing and taking it all in. The ancient trees became less frequent as the River Feshie bent SE then East, we made light work of a river crossing then crossed a bridge with an amazing waterfall beneath it.
The wildness of Scotland had hit me, this is what i had signed up for. We passed a flock of Atko tents over the river and pressed on, White Bridge was still about 45 minutes away when i spotted a fast approaching rain cloud. After a quick discussion we pitched the tents (here) just as the heavens opened up. We ate and drank inside Paddy&Gills lightwave tent which was has a great porch to chill in when the weather is bad. I awoke in the middle of the night and popped my head outside, we were in thick cloud, the other tents were not visible from 10 metres. Sorry about the amount of pics but I really enjoyed Day 8. Any ideas were the nearest boot shop is ?
I knew i was going to enjoy todays walk after reading countless tales of the Cairngorn mountains and especially Glen Feshie. After leaving Newtonmore we headed cross-country to Kingussie to resupply. Team FC can handle most things but once I run out of food and gorp the whole expedition falls apart.
The trail took us away from Kingussie and once we crossed the River Spey civilisation began to become a distant memory. (Mental note to ones self – when I make my millions I must come back to buy a house on the edge of Cairngorns).
The snow topped edges of the huge wall of mountains that was the Cairngorns loomed ever closer, Pieter from Rotterdam joined us as we wandered towards the magical Glen Feshie. Our plan for the night was to stop at the bothie in Glen Feshie but when we hit the bridge a few wise old heads told us of the amount of challengers heading that way. A decision was made and we camped at around the half way point between the bridge and the bothie.
Now I have read a lot of things about wild camping and grumbled about the term “wild” so I would like to describe our pitch for the night as “perfection camping” a flat pitch in one of the most beautiful glen’s in Scotland. Once the fire was lit I was in my element and we spent the night warming ourselves in front of the camp fire. Even a crafty little tick couldnt spoil my fun.
Waking up early has no real advantages for team FC so it came as no surprise that we were the last challengers to leave Garva Bridge. We were treated to an amazing morning sight of 20-30 deer romping along the valley. Navigation would be easy today, basically follow the pylons to our destination never straying far from the small road/track.
A fishing lake gave us a perfect opportunity to relax alongside and fellow challenger Humphrey Weightman thought it such a good spot he decided to join us for a chat. Humphrey was a very likeable chap and helped the best he could in trying to fix Peters walking pole in exchange for a roll-up. Saying our farewells to Humphrey we pressed on along the road to the small village of Laggan.
Laggan’s local shop is amazingly well supplied for its size and a perfect spot to pick up provisions. Sitting on benches outside the shop we ate and the sun wasreally belting down, life was good. I spent the rest of the day stopping every 15 minutes to use the binoculars to track a stag that seemed to stay with us for hours.
When we reached the Mains of Glentrium we headed North alongside the A9 which eventually brought us into Newtonmore with our campsite being nicely located over the Spey bridge. £4 a night for camping and a hot showerto gett me ready for the night. We filled our empty stomachs at a very nice truckers cafe, it was now 9pm so we decided to get a drink in each of the local drinking establishments. Luckily when it comes to closing time myself and Paddy are both experts in the art of landlord persuasion and we managed to secure some late night scoops in Cameron McNeish’s local. As we walked home Gill danced like a techno viking which gave the curtain twitches something to look at and me something to laugh at.
Refreshed, well fed and ready to rock we rolled out of Stravaigers lodge into glorious sunshine. Peter was back on form and his pack was a lot lighter due to some adjustments. The walk out of Fort Augustus gave up some brilliant views over the loch, it was shorts and t-shirts weather.
The stroll along to the base of the Corrieyairack pass was nice and gentle, Gill had to negotiate her way past a group of highland cattle which is always amusing. I headed off on my own up the Corrieyairack pass to stretch the legs, stopping at the top to chat to some fellow challengers. If the pass had been kept open as a road it would be the highest road in the UK at 2526ft. The top of the pass still held quite a bit of snow and some kind of telecom building helped shield the wind. Going up the pass was really enjoyable but coming down was not so nice, the path has seen better days and must claim several twisted ankles each year.
I reached a bothie and decided to wait for the others, a nice chap was setting up his bed for the night and we chatted about the days walk. I can t remember the guys name(see photo), maybe someone can help, retired ex-army, the guys walking pace is legendary, someone commented he always had the kettle on when you reached your destination.
I got the bushbuddy going and then chilled in the sun outside the bothie. Quite a few of the challengers were staying in and around the bothie but when the others turned up we pushed on along a track towards our camp site for the night, Garva Bridge. Around 20 challengers were pitched up for the night and I enjoyed chatting with them beside the river as the sun set on a quite glorious days hiking.