Thursday 8th May.
Well at last the waiting and anticipation is over. Preparations and last minute checks are finally past, commitment now to the journey is total. Met up with Darren and his mate Martin at Euston. They had been at the station for some time whereas I turned up just as boarding began. The lads settled down in the sleeping berth next door to me, I was fortunate and had a complete compartment to myself. We arrived in Glasgow early and strolled up to Queen Street station. Darren had booked us on the 12 20 Mallaig train, so we settled down for the long wait. Gradually other challengers began to drift in. Rucksacks and people began to crowd the concourse. Old friends exchanged greetings and hugs. People mingled to meet and greet. There was a certain degree of cheerful chaos as we almost overwhelmed the train. Challengers far outnumbering other travellers. The train conductor pleaded on the tannoy for the corridors and doorways to be kept clear of luggage. There was a party atmosphere as we headed north west, many folk supping beer and wine. For me it was something akin to a home coming. We passed through many familiar areas. Several evoking special memories. Rannoch station where once I had staggered in to the station tea shop after a difficult crossing of the moor. Corrour, before the bunkhouse had been built, cold dark nights waiting for the train. Many places, each with their own special memories. Quiet emotive really. We have been booked in to a hotel here in Mallaig. A last night of luxury. The three of us are now off to the chippy for fish and chips.
Friday 9th May. Sourlies.
The day started with a cooked breakfast and then the signing in to officially start the TGOc. Down to the harbour area, pick up the ferry tickets and join the milling throng. Cameron was there, with camera, as was a small film crew. The weather was amazing, warm, clear and sunny. Some forty plus folk where heading for Inverie. A swelling mound of rucksacks began to fill the bow area of the ferry as people boarded. Many headed in to the pub in Inverie for an early lunch! Darren, Martin and myself stopped only briefly for a shandy. Having felt the weight of Martin's rucksack I felt some concern at how heavy it was. it felt at least around the forty pound mark. Also, Martin had only just purchased it and therefore was not familiar with it. It was amazing to see the mass exodus of humanity leaving Inverie, individuals and groups, all heading for the hills. As we headed up Gleann Meandail it soon became apparent that Martin was in difficulties with his rucksack. The hip belt constantly slackened off, this in turn meant Martin was bearing the main load of his pack on his shoulders. With the weight of gear he was carrying, plus the warmth of the afternoon our progress was a series of stop start up the hill and also heading down again to cross the salt flats heading around to the bothy area. Little has changed since I last passed this way. The same wobbly bridge that leads on to the salt marsh area. The old path across appears to have vanished but there where no difficulties really. Everyone camped here that I have spoken to has remarked on how tired they feel. To be honest I expected nothing else, all the emotional build up, the long journey. For me, it takes a day or two to settle down and get in to a routine. Everyone is turning in for an early night.
Saturday 10th May. Camped Glen Kingie.
The day turned out be a harder one than anticipated. A heavy overnight dew meant damp tents this morning. It was a late start, past 0800. Low clouds covered the tops. it was all quite atmospheric as we began the steady climb up Mam Na Claich Airdre. it is a route I quite enjoy. Oddly I have never descended it, usually having come over the tops and dropping off the ridges down to Sourlies. The last time I went up through, conditions where similar, much wetter though. Martin was severely hampered by his troublesome pack and in turn this meant frequent stops. It caused me to fret a tad. Normally I am not one for timetables and rigid routines, however it was becoming obvious we where running far too late to make our intended destination. It was 1600hrs as we headed down Glen Dessary. In reality we ought to have gone through somewhere around 1400hrs or earlier. A quick Chinese council. Darren was concerned because we where due and expected at Invergarry the next night. He suggested I push on and try to make while he brought Martin on at a slower pace. Now I really had to push to make up ground. Kept up a steady pace up and over to Kingbreak bothy. Got there by 1900hrs, however, stopping there would mean some thirty plus miles tomorrow. Pushed on a bit further, crossed the river Kingie ok. According to the map there is a path up to the main track on the other side of the glen. Unable to locate it I attempted to pick my way across the the bog. Though I was doing fine until a bit of seemingly firmish ground opened up and tried to swallow me. Went in deep too, almost to my waist. Trying to remain calm, I managed to half belly flop onto a large tussock. It quivered under my weight but held me; with the trekking poles laid across the clump I gradually leaned on them and wriggled out,yuck, my trousers are water resistant and I was not too wet apart from my feet. Stopped when I made it across to the main track and decided it best to stop soonest. Thus, have made camp for the night short of where I was heading for but certain I can make Invergarry tomorrow night. Notice after my dip in the bog that I initially went in deep enough to wet the bottom of the rucksack. Tired tonight.
Sunday 11th May. Invergarry campsite.
Well today has been a long one. Slept in this morning when really I needed an early start. Some rain during the night but the morning was dry, if a little gray. Down through the forestry I tapped out a steady pace. It still took in the region of and hour to make our original intended stopping place. Met several other folk heading down the track. Cheery exchanges made as we passed each other. Almost everyone said they never enjoyed forestry walking, glad to see I am in good company. There should have been a path heading off just before the bridge. There was something there but it looked suspiciously like a deer track. (I found out later it was the actual path) Others where looking for it too. Rather than take chances I headed out on to the road and came down by Tomdoun. A merry band of happy hikers and a plethora of rucksacks scattered around the drive of the hotel indicated that many challengers Had made it their stopping point for the day. Stopped briefly for a shandy. One or two folk where a wee bit concerned about the distance I still had to cover. It was now around 1500hrs. Carried on down to the bridge and on to the track leading up to Greenfields farm. A sign post indicated Invergarry at another 10 miles. It was a case of simply keeping on the move and maintaining a steady pace. Once past the farm a closer eye had to be kept on the map, there where a few turn offs to be avoided. A few spots of rain turned to a more persistent downpour. On with the waterproofs, head down and push on. Met two other guys further on. They had gone wrong on their map reading or had been mislead by new forestry tracks and ended up quite adrift and way behind time. Joining forces we set a steady pace on to Invergarry. Fortunately the rain stopped. Logging operations had left one area akin to something close to the aftermath of a catyasclismic explosion. One again, close attention to our map reading was called for. The two guys where heading for a bunk house while I swung around by Whitebridge. A quick dash up a short section of the main road to the road that would lead around to the campsite. A sign said 600yards to campsite. Those where an awfully long 600yrds, plus reception was at the top of the hill, just what a weary body needs!! Booked in, rang control and am now about to sleep the sleep of the weary. (Checking later, covered some 28 miles, a lot of distance.)
Monday 12th May. Invergarry.
A day off waiting for Darren and Martin. A group of other challengers had been camped here last night but had been off early this morning. A luxurious shower this morning and surreptitious wash in the hand basin of a few bits of clothing. There was a laundry area up in reception but I had no need of a washing machine.
Later in the morning a lady from a mobile home approached me. "Are you one of those people in those tiny tents?" I admitted that it was so and gave a brief outline of the TGO challenge. She hesitated a moment and then asked. "But what do you do for washing?" I thought for a moment and then answered. "Well now, it really depends on the weather. If the weather is good I may have a strip wash in the tent. However, if it is cold it just a wipe over with baby wipes." A look of horror on her face and she rapidly stepped back three paces. "But what about changing clothes and everything, you know, underwear and everything?" I just grinned. "The same concept applies." She staggered back a further few paces. "Oh that is so disgusting, how awful. I mean, well, I bathe and change my clothes every day!" There we have it folks, not only am I mad, bad and dangerous, now I am uncouth, unwashed, unwaged and unloved. Ah, beware the wandering clan of the Great Unwashed. We dwell in tiny tents, humble bothies and lowly bunkhouses!
Darren and Martin came strolling in early afternoon looking suspiciously fresh and perky. After all my concerns about them having a hard day I find that they had opted to stay for a night of luxury in Tomdoun hotel. Roast beef dinners and the such. Grrhh, they could have at least brought me a beef sandwich.
Tuesday 13th May. Invergarry campsite.
An enforced lay over. Was violently ill last night. A local gp has said it was vertigo. Most odd at night but it seems violent movement can trigger it. From what I can recall I was having a bad dream and woke up suddenly. The doctor wants me to drop in to the surgery in Fort Augustus tomorrow when we pass through. Still feeling a bit rough but better than I was.
Wednesday 14th May. Blackburn bothy.
Was up early as intended, still a tad woozy but ok. Martin had headed home yesterday and now it was just Darren and myself. A quick conflab and we had agreed that our quickest route was straight down the road to Bridge of Oich and the follow the canal up to Fort Augustus. We where away by 0730. Fortunately traffic was not too bad. We held a steady pace to F.A., arrived by mid morning. A cuppa and a sandwich in a cafe. Darren had a few things to attend to so I nipped in to the doctor's surgery. Amazing, I was in and out within fifteen minutes. The doctor checked me over, he was concerned on how long the attack had lasted, re several hours. He said I still had a residue of vertigo. Prescribed some pills, which I collected from reception. Picked up another gas cylinder and a few bits of nibbles, re a large rich fruit Selkirk bannock bun. We left Fort A. by 1230, the day was now becoming warm and sunny. A leisurely, relaxed stroll up to the bothy. Much better than last time I came this way. Arriving early, I opted to camp while Darren headed for the bothy. A new experience for the lad, I think he is rather taken with the idea of bothies!
Thursday 15th May. Bunkhouse Laggan.
Today was hard. Once more we where away by 0730, it was a somewhat grey morning with low cloud on the hills.it is a steady pull up to the bealach. It was something I had warned Darren about. The way ahead is obvious, not steep or difficult in any way, just a long plod. It took us three hours to get up and Darren agreed I had not been exaggerating in its length. Down through the zigzags to the washed out area. Apparently until recently it was used regularly by four four drivers and that is the reason it has not been repaired. From what I gathered later a sturdy gate had been put up further down the glen but had been wilfully ripped out. It is so irresponsible. One would think off road drivers would have a little more respect. By causing so much wilful damage and with such a narrow minded, selfish point of view they have caused untold damage to a Scottish national monument. It is a sad state of affairs. By the time we got to the tarmacked section of the road the day was once more becoming warm. The section of road down to Laggan had been bugging me for some time. On my initial study of possible routes, I had spent many hours poring over maps to find an alternative route. That road section bothered me. That is why I came up in February, the Corrieyairick itself was no problem but that road section bothered me. When I walked it earlier this year it had proved to be very tedious and hard on the feet. Also it had seemed endless. Because of that I put superfeet insoles in to my footwear. Darren was worrying me a little, we where both becoming tired and that was obvious but Darren was also starting to limp. it was a hot,tired and sweaty pair that walked in to Laggan. Rather than camp we both wanted a wee bit of luxury. Unfortunately the hotel was full. The Mondaliath appears to be an excellent hotel though, with rooms at £30 a night and food at very reasonable prices. They where even prepared to offer us a spot to camp in the chapel ruins complete with room service. We opted for the potteries bunkhouse though. mainly because we craved a hot shower. We had to wait a bit until the lady running the bunkhouse returned from sorting out her car. Luxury though, the bliss of a hot shower. A lot of miles covered today.
Friday 16th. Upper Glen Feshie.
We are settling down to a regular routine now. By 0730 we where on the road, literally. It was going to be a day of long mileage. The morning was bright and clear with the sun already promising a hot day to come. Darren does not do heat, he suffers badly, I am not at my best in hot weather either but my concern was with Darren. Yesterday had proved a hard day and it was apparent that Darren was suffering a tad. A short section of main road down to Catlodge and then on to a small back road. It wound through verdant woodland of beech, oak and other broad leaf species of trees. The road led down to glen Truim. A short walk along the cycleway that follows the busy main road. Taking advantage of a lull in the traffic, we nipped across and on to the track that leads up to Phones. By now it was growing hot and we stopped for a welcome break beside a gurgling burn than runs down by the lodge. So peaceful, so relaxing, the temptation is to linger. However, there where many miles yet to cover and so we pushed on. The old military road along the moor gave us a few miles of gentle, rolling track that allowed a steady pace. At one point we surprised a hen grouse with her chicks sunning themselves right on the path. Grouse are not the most intelligent of birds, she flew off in one direction, leaving her chicks to cower in the heather. They looked so cute, small, fluffy balls. The temptation was to stop and take photos, not wishing to cause the birds any more stress we resisted and moved on. Back out on to the trunk road for a quick dash down to pick up the road that leads up past Ruthven barracks. Darren and I discussed the merits of turning it in to a bunkhouse, an ideal money spinner??? Followed the road down to Tromie Bridge. Darren was now obviously suffering, a break was called for. Nipping over a fence I sscrambled down to a burn for water. We stretched out under a large, gnarled, old Scots pine savouring the moment; glad to stop, even if was only a temporary break. With a sigh we soon shouldered packs once more and headed in to the forestry. Having been through the lower sections of the forestry tracks before I was well aware that what was on the map did not exactly correspond with what was on the ground. A few new tracks had been opened up and one or two lost. Map reading in forestry plantations can often prove tricky. Darren grew a wee bit techy as I regularly stopped to check the map and the lie of the ground. to be honest, I could understand his frustration. The desire now was just to make Glen Feshie. However, it is when you are tired, your concentration can lapse. A map reading error could have lead to unnecessary miles being walked. Finally we dropped out of the forestry on to the road that leads on to Upper Glen Feshie. it was as drew near to the higher bridge over the river that tthree mini buses passed us. They where full of school children. My heart sank, I had a gut feeling they might be heading in our direction. The bridge over the river was in a bad way. Obviously winter floods had badly damaged it, part of the bridge was badly twisted, the timbers damaged and in places missing. A notice warned that the bridge was in a dangerous condition. Darren kindly(?) waved his hand, "Ladies first." Was that a look of disappointment in his eye when I made it across ok? It was with a sigh of relief that we made the bothy. Since I last came this way it has been almost totally rebuilt. There is also now a primitive loo, re a little shed, a drain hole in the floor that runs to a septic tank and a bucket of water for flushing. Not so easy for us women. Darren headed for the bothy where other challengers had a fire going. The lad is becoming a regular bothy dweller! Unfortunately for personal and practical reasons I am unable to use them much. Wandered off to pitch under a big old Scots pine. They are trees I am quite fond of. To me they are benign and even friendly in a way. They offer ground around them that is usually firm and good for pitching a tent. it is only a matter of sweeping the pines cones out of the way. As I was pitching suddenly troops of youngsters began flocking past the tent on both side sides. Rucksacks, large bags, even a two wheel trolley device. Worse yet, they began setting up camp just across from me. Ok, ok, it sounds as if I am being grouchy. My excuse is that I am one tired old lady and just want some peace and quiet. Yes, it is good to see kids being introduced to the outdoors but oh my, a large pack of them descending on such a place as the upper glen is a tad daunting. The guy in charge came around and explained things. he was well aware of the TGOC and later a group of girls drifted over to say "H!" Give them their due, they where polite and asked sensible questions. So, I spent a bit of time explaining about the challenge and talking about the concept of going lightweight. So folks, I am not a totally grumpy old woman. Later, the garrens have wandered up, soft nickering, rumbles and the sound of grass being munched. These ponies are certainly tent savvy. It was fascinating to sit in the tent and watch as a pair of them nibbled their way down each edge of the tent. big, soft roman muzzles, teeth tugging at morsels of grass. A snicker at the from of the tent and there was another pony gazing wistfully me with its big eyes. Obviously people have given them hand outs before. Tired, tired, tired, the kids are letting off steam, quite a few of them are yelling and shouting as they run loose, even though it is now quite dark.
Saturday 17th May.
Well, some fellow challengers where certainly up and away early. Somewhere around 4am. Unfortunately they woke up their fellow bothy dwellers and me as well. A third day of quite long miles and we where both starting off a bit tired. The upper parts of Glen Feshie are beautiful. It is a pity really to be just passing through. So many areas just cry out to explored, foaming waterfalls, deep gorges, deep rock pools, the high ridges above the glen. A steady ascent up to the bealach. The much publicized landslip proved to be no difficulty. A bridge over a foaming torrent thundering down a narrow gorge and a boggy stretch across the bealach itself. Soon we where heading down the Geldie burn. A figure further down the track turned out to be Duncan coming up to meet us. Bless him, he was carrying goodies for us and just before White Bridge we stopped for a lunch break. The lad did us proud, peperoni sausages, jaffa cakes, chocolate. Duncan, it was much appreciated, thank you, and thanks for all your support and encouragement. Down to Linn of Dee and then the long last lap, a weary march down to Braemar. Duncan sped on ahead in his car to book us in to the Rucksacks bunkhouse and managed to grab the last three places. We are in debt to you, the bunkhouse was just what we needed. It was two tired bodies that walked in to Braemar, encouraged by Duncan with promises of fantastic fish suppers and long, cold drinks in the pub. Darren was in obvious trouble, his feet are blistered. Hopefully a rest may help but blisters take time to heal and in all reality we have to push on. A cold soft drink in the pub for Darren and myself and a beer for Duncan, (he worked for it?) Fish and chips all round which we carried back to the bunkhouse. Huge portions and cooked as we waited, fantastmagorical.
Sunday 18th May. A rest day.
Our original intention had been to pick up our food parcel from the campsite and have an easy morning in Braemar and head up Loch Callater in the afternoon. However, Darren's feet where in a bad way. His first reaction was to attempt to finish as soon as possible by going via Glen Cova and head straight down to Montrose. It was the nearest we got to having an argument. Looking at the map it was obvious that this would involve many miles of road walking. Thus I put my foot down and disagreed. Darren was not happy with me but in all fairness I have had many years of walking behind me and know fairly well what is feasible and what is not. Fortunately, and thanks to a couple of other guys that where in Braemar and knew Darren, persuaded him not to attempt it. Some map study, a few amendments and route changes and we had a new and easier way forward. Time was getting on bit and Darren took little persuading that that it would be best to spend another night in Braemar. So, we have had a full rest day which really and truly speaking is quite benefitial. So tonight we are once more staying at the bunkhouse.
Monday 19th May. Sheilin of Mark.
Away by our usual time of 0730. Down the main road to Bridge of Dee. A lapse of concentration on my part led to a slight error in navigation. No harm done and soon we where on tracks leading through the Balmoral estate. A pleasant walk through Ballochbuuie forest. Once more, a track marked on the map was not to be found on the ground. A quick lunch break at Gelder Shiel bothy and the steady climb up to Clais Rathadan and a rough, stony drop down and across to Spittal of Glen Muick. It was pleasantly warm at the information centre and we stretched out for a short break. Entertained a group of pensioners wandering up from the car park. Told them of the challenge and of the wandering clan of the Great Unwashed. Tried to persuade them they where supposed to throw buns and other goodies at us. No joy though. A few other challengers soon appeared and we spent a few minutes socialising and exchanging news before heading up and over to the Sheilin of Mark bothy. The path runs out part way and Darren was a little concerned as we navigated just by the map. Thus nipped up on to the higher ground, a quick check of map and compass led me straight to the bothy. Darren had been a tad worried about the time I had gone and had climbed up to see where I was. Gave him a shout and led the way over to the bothy. It was starting to rain arrive as we arrived. Several other tents are scattered around the area but I have left the socialising to Darren. he is much better at it than me.
Tuesday 20th May Tarfside.
Away early as usual. Darren gave me a shout at 6am. A couple of guys had already left and he wanted me to note the route they had taken to join up with a track that led to Glen Lee. Sometimes I feel that Darren does not trust my navigation. Having spent many years hill walking in areas that have no proper paths or tracks I have enough confidence in my map reading to know where I am going. Besides, I had already done a check of map and compass the night before, just in case the cloud came down. Muckle Cairn would have been hard to misss. As we ascended toward the ridge Darren suggested I was veering off route but in reality I was just picking my way up through the bog and tussocks. It had been in my mind to walk up to Muckle Cairn itself. It does have a huge cairn. Darren though was after the bacon butties at Tarfside and so we had to press on. Down past loch Lee and on to the road and straight on to Tarfside. There is a religious retreat here and local ladies open the doors to us, serving bacon sandwiches, tea, beer, fruit cake; all at reasonable prices. They also offer a few rooms and hot showers. Thus the reason the lads shot off early this morning. Crafty chappies, they where making sure of bagging themselves a room for the night. Darren also has managed a room while I am camped out on the local playing field with the mob. Tonight, as folk drift in from different places it is estimated there are some fifty to sixty tents pitched here. A first as far as I know; the local hotel has come up to take orders for food and is doing a kitchen to tent delivery service. people are even ordering wine from them, amazing. It is staggering to see this amount of challengers all congregated in one place. A party atmosphere prevails.
Wednesday 21st May. North Water Bridge caravan park.
It was something akin to a pilgrimage this morning as folk headed down the road. A steady stream of challengers leaving Tarfside. the numbers thinning as everyone settled down to walk their own pace. Darren was moving slow, his feet painful. there was no rush though, we had all day. We had a pleasant walk along by the river and down to Edzell. Rucksacks piled high on the pavement outside a local cafe indicated others of the clan. We joined them for a slap up lunch, or at least a proper cooked lunch. After lunch and some faffing with a useless cash machine it was the last leg down to the camp area. A nasty bit of road walking. despite much searching on the map it was the most direct route. A long straight road with heavy traffic thundering past. Looking back I could see Darren, head down and making much use of his trekking poles, hobbling alog. There was little I could but set the pace that suited him best and keep moving. It was with a sigh of relief when finally we arrived here. It is really a caravan park but we where permitted to camp on all the carefully manicured areas around the caravans and also given free access to the showers and facilities. Goodness knows what the caravaners thought of this invasion of their turf. The main A90 is close by and traffic noise is horrendous. Me, well, I snuck off to find a lovely little spot behind the toilet block which blanks out much of the traffic noise.
Thursday 22nd May. Montrose.
Well we did it, crossing complete. Darren gave me a shout at five am. Fortunately I was already awake and having breakfast. Underway by 0600. A stroll through the lanes to St Cyrus. Tradition demands one at least wets ones boots in the sea at the finish. The cliff path down to the beach is naughty little sting in the tail. The water was cold but I enjoyed a quick paddle. Darren rang control to confirm our finish. Once done it was on the bus and to Montrose to sign the book. Certificate presented, also a T shirt and badge. We where quite fortunate and managed to get acouple of rooms in a pub. That was something I really wanted. It allowed me a proper a proper bath and a chance to wash my hair. At the moment I have left the socialising and mingling to Darren. It is really his victory. Next year, if he decides to do it again, he will have the grounding of experience, lessons learned, skills learned, or to be learned. Those feet need to be sorted, blisters can be a walkers worst enemy and feet do need toughening up before a long walk. As for me, well, a few bits of kit change next time but the majority of my gear is tried and tested. Possibly I may need more support on my feet. having arthritis in both feet, they do get a wee sore at times.