.............. I wasn't going to write up my TGO 2018.
But, here it is - a year later.
Pre - 11 May 2018
The beginning was to be in Plockton. A lovely village on the West coast - facing East.
Sleeper from Euston to Inverness was OK, but, not first class travel - the old rolling stock was a bit jaded, as were the staff. Put me off sleeper trains. The journey to Plockton was scenic. A lot of folk got off at Strathcarron - where I kicked off my first Challenge in 2009.
I felt a bit of a nostalgic pang. I think everyone remembers their first Challenge with particularly good memories. Even if they had a bad time: they come back.
The Plockton Hotel was good and my room was in a little annex down the road. Not many of us started at Plockton. A good meal and a few pints and time for bed.
Friday 11 May
I remember getting into a few conversations with a few other Challenge folk. What I fail to remember is the names of these folk. Put it down to time and a senior memory. After signing out I made my was up through the village and out towards Sean-chreag via minor roads and tracks. I walked in to Sean-chreag - wrong. I had missed the path heading towards Letter Hill. In fact, there was no path.
I had heard horror stories of having to hack through the forest. But, there is a path marked. Anyone who has walked in Scotland knows that such paths may have existed, or, may not. What I did confront was at least 3-400 metres of felled trees with boggy bits in-between. I decided to get as close to Gleannan Dorch as possible. Here, there was less trees, a fence and the faintest of faint paths - not very well used. I emerged at a fence below Letter Hill.
It was a rough slog to rise North to the rise between Letter Hill and Beinn Raimh and further pathless roughness over Beinn Raimh and on down to the A 890. A brief road walk led to Gleann Udalain and a track heading NE for a few K. I eventually found a small gate in the fence and had a wet crossing of the burn on to more rough pathless hilly stuff. Feet were wet and it soon started raining. I made my way in the direction of Lochan Dubhe and on rough boggy pathless ground. In the distance I saw 3 landrovers. They all saw me and began to make their way - from different directions - towards me. One eventually came up for a " What on Earth are you doing out here in the middle of boggy ground in the rain? " type chat. I explained what I was doing and he was OK. I made my way in the general direction of Allt na Feithe Buidhe - aiming to avoid the steep descent towards Nonach Lodge. It didn't take me long to come across a deer fence leading to even rougher, peat hag-ly ground. I managed to climb this and as I put my foot down - it went down into the boggy mire. Trail shoe came off - reached out to a low wire to gain balance - got an electric shock! None to pleased, I expressed my opinion on my situation with words that contained letters like k-c-u-f! I managed to put my arm down deep in the mire and found my trail shoe.
After putting it back on I made my way down in to Glen Ling and on towards Glen Elchaig. It had been a long tiring day. At least the rain had stopped and I found a good camp spot near a bridge about 1k from Faddoch. I slept well.
Saturday 12 May
My plan had been to go up onto the Mam Sodhail ridge with some lovely - un-climbed by me - Munros. And, I don't know why I didn't! Think I got news of bad weather? - wrong. Anyway, I went up by Falls of Glomach and in to Gleann Gaorsaic.
It was a lovely day and I was in Glen Affric. Not above Glen Affric. I was not happy with myself - one of the reasons it has taken me so long to write up this account. I was also not really hill-fit and this may have been at the back of my mind. If you don't have your mind in gear .............. I camped by a burn about 1k short of Alltbeithe Hostel.
Sunday 13 May
The day remained fine. The walk to Cougie was uneventful and I arrived to meet Melanie Pocock - who looked exactly the same as when I first met her in 2009. I got a room and had a great meal - with beer.
Monday 14 May
My plans were all over the place. I decided to stay at Morags in Fort Augustus and headed that way. I was a day ahead, already. Fort Augustus was out of real beer!
Tuesday 15 May
I had a resupply parcel waiting for me at Faichem. It was an easy walk along the Caledonian Canal to Bridge of Oich and then through the forest to Invergarry. On the way I met Esther who was heading towards Fort Augustus. We had a brief chat. I reached Faichem, pitched and decided to walk back into Invergarry for a meal and a couple of pints in the pub.
Wednesday 16 May
I was roughly back on route. I made my way back to Bridge of Oich and then took the track leading into Glen Buck. I reached Eilrig before deciding to head over to the Corrieyairack Pass. Ground was rough, pathless.
I reached the track and decided to press on to Garva Bridge. Another long day.
Thursday 17 May
I remained on route as planned. I had a bite to eat at Laggan stores, just before they closed up and then did the road walk to Glenruim campsite - where a parcel was waiting. The day was fair and I had a good night at the campsite.
Friday 18 May
My route had me crossing a bridge in Glen Tromie - only thing was, it didn't exist! I went over to Phones and took the track which eventually leads to Ruthven Barracks. Here I took the road to Tromie Bridge and then took the usual route on towards Ruigh Aiteachain bothy.
The bothy was superb. The man who was overseeing the renovation even left out a bottle of gin for Challenge folk.
Saturday 19 May.
The route towards Braemar is well trod by Challenge folk. Unlike a number of such folk, I didn't camp at White Bridge. Instead I camped a little short of, and to the left of the track in a sheltered area - Chest of Dee. I had a superb pitch and fetched my water from the Dee.
The night was still and a large herd of deer came down to graze on the level ground in front of me.
It was too dark to take a photo of them - and once they realised I was nearby they seemed to just disappear from sight.
Sunday 20 May
From my superb camp spot it was a simple walk into Braemar where I was booked in to the Youth Hostel. I got there early afternoon and faced a long wait before the hostel opened - at 1700. I was not prepared to wait for a shower and change and so decided to stay in a small hotel just down the road. I was able to check in and shower/change before having a long rest in my room. The day had been warm, but my room was hot. The radiators were off, but, there was a hot water pipe running down one wall.
The Invercauld Hotel did a good meal and had Trade Winds on draft. Quite a few Challenge folk had made their way there and good food and drink went with good conversations.
My room - when I got back - was still hot. I slept with just a sheet over me.
At least breakfast proved to be good.
Monday 21 May
Braemar to Ballater campsite via road and track walking and Balmoral. The campsite was still recovering from the flooding and the Indian on the Green was too. I had a meal in the Alexander with a few good pints to wash it down. A good crowd of Challenge folk were around and good conversations ensued.
Tuesday 22 May
I took the route over Pannanich Hill before the usual walk in to Tarfside. I by-passed Mount Keen. Not long before Tarfside it poured down and paths became rivers. Then it stopped just as I reached Tarfside. I pitched and decided to say hello to the folk in St Drosdens. They were very busy and I was quickly ushered out :-(. I had a couple of burgers by the Masons as well as a few cans of beer. Sleep was easy.
Wednesday 23 May
Northwater Bridge. I once said I'd not go this way again..............
Thursday 24 May
I had - a few days before - decided to give the Fetteresso a miss. It had been particularly dry and I was concerned about getting good water in the forest area.
This was not one of my best Challenge Crossings and my mind was not totally in gear. Loads of excuses etc.
One thing I was not going to do was go to St, Cyrus. A lovely place to finish, but, I had been there too often. So I walked towards Montrose and took the route leading to Kinnaber Links - passing, but not stopping at Strawberry Cottage.
It was a simple stroll back along the track leading to Montrose and a room at the Park. I enjoyed the evening and met many more folk.
I did say that I wouldn't write up my 2018 Challenge account.
I was not really hill fit and I made all the excuses I could to make it a lot easier than I had wished it to be.
An event like the Challenge is a physical test of backpacking and hill skills, but, it is equally an event that is as much a mental challenge.
I was not in the right frame of mind and although I did the Challenge, I knew I could have done a lot better.
It made me determined to ensure that I was hill fit and mentally prepared for 2019.
I was..... and I was.....
But, more about this later........................