Friday 12 June 2015

TGO 2015 Shiel Bridge to Dunnottar Castle

The year of the Rock Star.

Years ago, in the Old Forge, in Inverie, on Knoydart, I was enjoying a quite drink when a complete stranger came up to me and asked me if I was a Rock Star. I did look like a Rock Star and the question was appropriate. I gave him my signature and continued with my drink.

This year was good. I started where I intended and I finished where I intended. And, I will never go via North Water Bridge again!

And, I walked in some excellent company, especially on the early days, but all in all great pleasure was had on this, my sixth TGO Challenge.

For maximum comprehension this should be read along with other Blogger's Blogs - that is those who were on the TGO Challenge, this year. Especially, Andy Walker's and Carl Mynott's, although you may have to wait a couple of years before Carl does his write up.....

Before the start.

I arrived in the Bree Louise having been to the Diwana Bhel Poori House, just around the corner. Last time I was there was over 30 years ago. The food was just as good.

Jeremy came in and, sure enough, had two map cases around his neck. Much talk ensued and soon it was time to head for the Sleeper to Fort William.... and, and, and....... it had 16 coaches.

I shared a cabin with Fred. It was a bit cramped, but I managed to get some sleep.

Before, as I was having a whisky nightcap, the train whizzed through Tamworth station. Considering that I had left Tamworth for Euston via Birmingham, I found this somewhat amusing and rang my wife to say hellooooooo.... the train was going fast!

Fort William was noticeably cooler! In fact it was cold most of that day as the coach wended it's way to Shiel Bridge. There was a brief snow shower and then clear skies.

This is the view from the hotel.

I had a room booked in the Trekkers lodge. So did Carl, in the same room. despite the concerns from both sides, there was no noticeable snoring.

Loads of folk were starting at Shiel Bridge. But, I had arranged to say hello to one in particular. A Twitterer whom I had only been in Tweet communion.

I said I would be wearing a red carnation. So I waited for Vicky and Toby to arrive so that I could show my red carnation and say hello to Vicky. We had never met.

Over the meal that evening, with loads of folk, I thought ............ erm, what is a carnation?

I know, I'll ask for a tin of Carnation milk.
They only had Co-op milk.
But, after I explained my story, I was told that the flowers on the table were carnations (I didn't know).
Cue, man with  red carnation. Vicky and Toby came in and I got a big hug - from Vicky.

Friday 8 May

We set out to get to the top of Beinn Fhada, but didn't quite make it. OK, we reached 900 metres, but the snow was too much for us in our trail shoes. Well, Andy and Carl had micro-spikes, but I didn't. We turned round.

It was a superb day. The start of many good days.
Andy was on No:10. Carl had diverted and sociability was high on the list.

We had a great time at Alltbeithe. Hannah greeted us and made us feel well at home. Soup and whisky were consumed into the early hours. The whisky belonged to a "psychopath" who wasn't there, but his mates were keen to see the bottle was well used.  Later, early in the morning I heard a minor commotion and shrugged it off. It was only Andy who had missed the step and nearly broke his leg. Fortunately, he didn't and we laughed.

Pat, a first timer, didn't. He was waiting for the big yellow budgie..... A dislocated shoulder.

Saturday 9 May

We left early to avoid the psychopath who was to find that his whisky had been sampled - a lot.

We made our way on a very pleasant day to Cougie.

The last time I was there was 6 years ago. Sasha had not changed one bit. Iain and Sasha made all welcome and our sleeping place for the night was well detached.

We got a fire going in the big metal fire machine and within minutes it was roasting hot.

I shared a room with Pat. His comment in the morning was that my bed made a noise. but, it was me getting up during the night. I blame the beer.

Roger and Peter had the bunk beds next door. The top bunks were about 78 cms from the ceiling! Luckily, there was no one else to occupy those.

Sunday 10 May

Two days were collapsed in to one. It started, none too bad, but finished with rain being chucked down. We reached Torgyle Bridge at 2pm. A good place to camp, but, not in the rain and not so early in the afternoon.

So Morags was good for the three of us to share. The Lock Inn had the only real beer in town, so that was where we ate and drank. There were many many Challenge folk around and to save missing any names out, I'll not put any down. Suffice to say a good time was had by all and all those who met me will not forget me. I'm a Rock Star!

I met Fred - with whom I had shared a cabin - on the sleeper. He was not in good spirits. But, a good Bed and Breakfast, a meal and a drink saw him back in good spirits.

Did I mention Andy's string vest?

Monday 11 May

That morning we were getting ready to go. Not too far as we had put in two days yesterday.

As we sat chatting in the reception area, Paul, from Liverpool, joined in and asked the classic question "Are you a Rock Star? You look like a Rock Star" I explained what happened in the Old Forge.

Suffice to say, that by this time I was well educated in the birds and the insects, thanks to Carl and I was getting pretty adept at taking the piss out of Andy's string vest (Brynje as worn by the Norwegian forces and folk who are auditioning for a part in the group - Right said Fred).

My Bed and Breakfast, with Phil and Clare, for the night was near the top lock and was top class. I had a great room and as my shelter was still dry, I didn't have to create too much mess. The Holt had a little conservatory that overlooked the river. Roger and Stuart had the other rooms. They arrived late and I was without my pack standing on the road when they arrived. I knew that they were staying at The Holt. They didn't know who I was and thought I was their host, Phil. I explained that I was not. Roger looked a bit like a Rock Star too, but I didn't mention it.

The Lock in failed to have any real beer that night, so a bunch of us enjoyed the Bothy which did have real beer. There were two real beers! Strange that the Bothy failed to have any real beer the previous night. A fair amount of beer was consumed and helped the conversation. No names need be mentioned, all will remember the Rock Star!

Tuesday 12 May

At breakfast in the conservatory, I was greeted by my host, Phil, wearing a very smart white top - as worn by waiters. A nice touch.
I left The Holt, and made my way towards Glen Doe. I immediately took a wrong turn and headed the wrong way down a dead end that led to the loch. I quickly realised my navigational challenge and headed back to the main road. Good timing, as it happens, as Andy, Carl, Lynsey and Robin were coming down the road. I bid them good morning and we all walked as a happy bunch towards Glen Doe. Only, it was not a good day. Soon it started to rain and the wind also ensured that it was cold and damp.

Not long after leaving the road and joining the track to Glen Doe we came across a hut that had other Challenge folk in. So, they piled out and we piled in.

It was a welcome respite from the elements.

We left the hut and climbed higher as the track made it's way over to Glen Doe. 

It was too cold for me to take photos, but we did pass through huge banks of snow on either side of the track. Attempts had been made to open the track across to the new reservoir, but had been given up. After passing the reservoir I looked right and saw the ground was a horrible, haggy mess. The decision, a good one, had already been taken to be sociable and join the rest at Chalybeate Springs. Except Robin who headed off left towards Glen Markie.

It was blowing a hoolie, it was raining on and off and the river was too high to cross. We found an area to pitch. As it happens, I had my evening meal and whisky and remained in my shelter all night. I listened to music. All the Rolling Stones singles got a good hearing. Rock and Roll! Carl, Andy and Lynsey were being more sociable, next door, but all had a fairly early night's sleep. 

I never used ear plugs before this night. But, the wind and river were noises too much. I stuck the ear plugs in and soon had one of my best night's sleep for ages. Wind continued, but became less. It was a cold night, but, I was warm and extremely comfortable.

Wednesday 13 May

We were able to pack and set off in the dry. It turned out to be a great day. 

Overnight, the river had dropped by around 30 cms and we were able to cross with dry feet. But the wet conditions underfoot soon ensured that feet were moist.
We headed towards the Monadhliath and across some white bits. When Carl post-holed the first action was to whip out the cameras. I was not nearby, so I missed it. He was OK.

We soon got within striking distance of Carn Dearg and left our packs before heading to the top. It was so easy, as we were already high. 

Note: the Rock Star.

It being a sociable year for the TGOC, I decided to head down to Kingussie with the others, having phoned from on high, where it was possible to get a signal. My original plan had been to camp up high. The Tipsy Laird was full of Challenge folk. Andy and I ended up sharing a twin room. 

After much drinking and talking a bunch of around 15 of us sat down for a meal and overwhelmed ours hosts. The orders were all placed at the same time and it was clear that this was proving a bit difficult. But, the food was good and it all got resolved to everyone's satisfaction. As I was making my way back to the room, mine host anxiously caught me and asked for my payment - room and food. They needed this as there was no check out in the morning - you just left your key. I paid, OK.

Thursday 14 May

Just across the road from the Tipsy Laird was a superb coffee shop. Andy and I went in and met Steve. We ordered coffees and then I saw this most fantastic egg and bacon roll coming my way..... for Steve. I wanted one of those. Andy, had arranged to meet the others and left. I enjoyed my coffee and egg and well done bacon roll and the fact that all cost only £5!

I was all by myself as I headed back up to the Monadhliath hills and a pleasant walk along the ridge. Not. It was a hot day and the walking was mainly pathless through rough heather - after leaving the top track.

Not long after leaving the top track, I saw a mountain rescue dog and it's handler, both in red.

It looked like a mountain rescue dog and it's owner looked like his handler and sure enough, they were: from Kendal! 

They were doing the TGO in reverse. No dogs are allowed on the TGO, so he had decided to walk in the opposite direction to the TGO lemmings all heading east. We had a long conversation and then set off in opposite directions. It continued hot. I made my way very slowly across the tops, but, time was getting on and I worked out that I would arrive in Aviemore near midnight, if I continued along the heather strewn tops.

I got to the track beyond Cnoc an Tiumpain and headed down to the road. Past a sheep dog display........ and coaches of folk all enjoying a dog rounding up sheep. The road into Aviemore was hot and went on for ever.... until I arrived at the Hostel. I had a single room and had a shower. Rather than spend loads on a meal, I ate one of the meals I failed to use the previous night. Then along to the Cairngorm Hotel where Tweed were playing some great music. Tony and Lee were there with Rose and Bob. Bob smiled.

I chatted with 3 Danish guys, Michael, Rasmus and Thomas. We talked gear. ( I failed to remember their names until I looked them up on the final details). I had a few drinks and enjoyed Tweed. An early night and a good sleep ensued.

Friday 15 May

It was a pleasant stroll down to the cafe by Loch Morlich. A goodly bunch were enjoying coffees and eats etc in the sun.

The walk over to the shelter by the Fords of Avon is easy to follow. It skirts by Bynack More. I stopped for a break and a couple approached me. They were from somewhere in Europe and had made it a good way up the path. "Is this the Red route?" (Easy walks in the area of Cairngorm Lodge) Well, no.... I explained where they were going and they turned round. 

Later it started to rain. Near to the shelter I saw Jeff and Joke walking towards me. They explained that they were told the burn further down by the Avon was impossible to cross. I thought this odd, especially as the Avon looked lower than when I last saw it. So, while Jeff and Joke did a sweeping detour I headed down the path to the burn. It was no problem. 

At Faindouran Lodge there were a few tents either up or about to be put up. It was windy. All the advice had been that the bothy was closed because the chimney had collapsed. But, it was open. The chimney was down, but the place where it was, was boarded up - to make the downstairs in the bothy habitable. David and Graham were making some hot drinks and kindly offered me some. I saw the sleeping bench was free and decided that I'd use it that night. Later Jeff and Joke came in and decided that they, too, would sleep in the bothy rather than outside. They slept on the floor.

Later Joke had said to me that it was a pleasure sleeping with me that night, but, you would have had to have the context explained!

Saturday 16 May

It started windy, but was not a bad day. The track leads down to Glen Builg. Here by the bridge the remnants from the Cheese and Wine Party joined Jeff and Joke. I think 22 were at the CW Party. Pretty good considering how windy it had been that night.

It was a convivial lunch stop.

I went on and others followed as we made our way past Loch Builg. Here the track took folk down by the Gairn and on towards Corndavon Lodge. Not long after Loch Builg a met a father and daughter who were out day walking. We had a chat and they expressed interest in the Challenge. I said - go for it! It's great. The girl looked around 18, but was over 21.... we talked about the age profile on the Challenge. An attractive young lady would be a good addition. Andy turned off to Braemar and did a 34k day!

I love my Tramplite shelter! A superb design and very easy to pitch. It is a cuben masterpiece.
Not long after Loch Builg I met Martin and Keith. When we reached Corndavon Lodge (a ruin) I decided to stay. A good opportunity to show the Tramplite off to Martin and Keith ... and others.

Well, the wind was gusty. The Tramplite developed a tendancy to flap around all over the place. I developed a tendancy to find it difficult to locate the correct corners and had to give up my pathetic attempt to show how EASY! the Tramplite is to pitch. Martin and Keith were not impressed by the demonstration. 

A couple of Ks on and there was a good level area where a number of us pitched. Martin and Keith had headed off to somewhere else and missed me pitching the Tramplite shelter quickly and easily!

Sunday 17 May

It was a breezy night. I was last but one to leave the area and made my way down the track to cross the Gairn by the road bridge. Here I met Shap and we continued together through the maze of tracks towards Inverenzie. Here we met Kirsten ....and John also joined us. 

Ballater campsite, as usual, was superb.

Kirsten and I got there after a visit to the Alexander Hotel. Sadly we past the burnt out station building. The Hotel opened at 12. We were a few minutes early. But, time soon went by and a couple of pints and a full burger meal later I was ready to pitch.

I knew there was an Indian Restaurant in Ballater. I didn't know where. This soon became apparent and went along to look in. I asked about booking... of course, I had no idea how many for.

I think around 17 from the Challenge were in the Indian on the Green. Food was superb and I enjoyed the great company of Stan, Roger, Peter, David and Ian.

The dishes were unusual. We had soup in tiny bowls  and nibbles provided, free, before the meal.
 I had scallops for starters followed by venison in a very tasty sauce. Service was first class and I'd recommend here to anyone.

Monday 18 May

I had a day where I didn't walk with anyone. First through the woods and out towards Pannanich Hill. The views were fantastic. Towards Glen Tanar it started to rain and then wet snow.

I met a new friend on the path to Glen Tanar. There in front of me, about 6 meters away was a tiny little mouse, shuffling along and sniffing the air. I stood very still. The mouse continued shuffling along and sniffing the air and was coming towards me along the path. It stopped a few times..... it must have seen me, but, it continued along the path until it was right in front of me. Then, sadly, we parted company. It came right up to my left shoe and sniffed it. Too much for the poor mouse....... it ran a mile! They were new on when I started the Challenge!

Mt. Keen was covered in mist and fresh snow had fallen up there. As it worked out, I wisely decided to skirt round Mt. Keen. I heard later that it was very slippery on the rocks on the top.

The rain was lashing down most of the way towards Tarfside. Then, just as I entered St. Drostan's it stopped. JD greeted me and I, like many others enjoyed the legendary bacon rolls washed down with a variety of liquids - I chose beer. The Hill and Mountain Walking Club members were superb in their hospitality.

Well refreshed I made my way to the camping area and pitched in the dry.

I did go to the Masons but was careful not to drink too much. There were 3 Tramplite shelters at Tarfside. Shap's, Rob's and mine. Almost half the total number in existence!

Tuesday 19 May.

On my previous TGO Challenges I had finished at St. Cyrus or Montrose. This year I was determined to finish at Dunnottar Castle.

I did! And... I will never go to North Water Bridge again.

The route to Mt. Battock was superb. Good tracks made route finding easy and the views were magnificent. Just as I arrived at Mt. Battock a heavy hail/snow shower whipped in on strong winds. It was here that I met the Norwegians. Norwegian 1, 2 and 3. They tried to tell me their names, but I couldn't pronounce them. We actually spoke a bit later in a hut which gave respite from the wind and showers. Before the hut, however, was another building that was all locked up. Not knowing about the hut, I stopped here and had lunch on the sheltered side.

Had I known, the hut was only a short distance further on. Here I met up with Ian, again, as well as Nils, Halvard and Kyrre (easy when you have the final details in front of you).

The guy in the orange top made his own gear, including his own shelter.

Ian and I walked on together and we were to see the Norwegian guys later, as we were misled by my navigational error.

Clachnaben has a rocky outcrop and Ian and I scrambled up to the top, having left our packs lower down.

It was windy.

Bridge of Dye was our next target, except that Ian had an idea: there was a "crossing" marked on the map. 

This was it... and it was locked. Still we didn't walk far off our route.

Not long after I made a slight navigational error ..... with my Viewranger GPS map! This is when we saw the Norwegian guys heading the right way into the Fetteresso forest across the Builg Burn. I was totally off line! OK, the first time I had used Viewranger for real and I was trying to cut a corner ........... and failing miserably!

I had a mental image of the tracks through the Fetteresso. How wrong I was. They were very rough as we made our way to Cairn Kerloch. By the time we reached there we had our eyes blighted by the new wind turbines. However, we were to have their company for the night.

Ian knew of camp spots down from Cairn Kerloch .... towards the burn that runs near the turbines. It meant a bit of rough heather crossing. Ian found a small flattish area for a pitch and I found one about 150m further on.

There were no other obvious areas to pitch. The water in the burn was reasonably quick flowing and was OK to drink (another fear of mine about the Fetteresso). The woosh of the windmill blades soon became background noise and I had a good night's sleep.

Wednesday 20 May

The route to Stonhaven did not involve too much road walking and Ian and I arrived at the Marine Hotel at lunch time.

John was there ... and in a place just down the road. William, from Barbados was also there.

The food was great. I had a Cullen Skink dish made with salmon and it turned out that the "bowl" was half a loaf of bread. Very tasty and very filling.

This was not my finish point.

After a couple of pints I had to drag myself up on to the cliff path to Dunnottar Castle. It was worth it!

I was able to dip my feet in the sea and say hello the the Norwegian guys.

That night, I had arranged to camp on a site by the shore. When I arrived where I thought it was I was totally confused. There was no reception. I came back and mentioned this to Jim and Charlie who were enjoying some fish and chips.

Not to be defeated, I asked in a nearby building. I was at the wrong site.

Further along was a superb Caravan Club site where the welcome from all, bar one, was superb. I was shown to a smallish patch of grass in between the various posh mobile homes.

The Norwegians were there, as was Jim and Charlie ... and others. The shower block was ace and I had a couple of good conversations with some of the residents. They were very friendly.

To get to the Marine Hotel, quite a long way away, I crossed a few stones which were surrounding this not quite as posh mobile home as some of the other mobile homes.

"Would you be so kind as not to walk on our pitch!"

I apologised trying hard not to be too sarcastic.......

Later others walked on their precious stones and there was hammering on the window. Beam me up Snotty! I think she was pissed off that smelly people were camped near her precious tin can.

The Marine Hotel had it's own beer and great food.... and a number of us enjoyed the evening there.

Thursday 21 May

Robertson's did a great breakfast. I made my way through town and stopped to ask directions to the station. The elderly man I spoke to explained that it was a long way to walk. I explained that I had just walked across Scotland. We had a wee chat. He asked where I was from and it turned out that he had relatives from the Midlands. He offered me a lift to the station, but, I thanked him for the offer and continued walking. I made the station with minutes to spare.

 It was Andy's 10th!!

It was great to meet so many people at the Park. Far too many to possible mention, but they will know I was there as I was the Rock Star. (OK, I didn't go on about it).

I enjoyed the evening.

Post Script

The first class trip to York and then a couple of more trains saw me back home to my wife, Barbara. She's very good putting up with me going away on such trips.

A week or so later we flew to Ibiza and stayed in the Hard Rock Hotel. First class! You are treated like Rock and Roll royalty. Nothing was too much for the staff and we were thoroughly pampered.

On our return I received an email from the Hard Rock Hotel. Effectively it said that, as we had stolen two beach towels, my credit card was docked 40 Euros.

This was not the way to treat a Rock Star!

The mistake was rectified and apology accepted.

Rock and Roll!!


  1. Nice to catch you again Gordon and glad you had a good time. Onwards to the next time.

  2. An excellent report with equally excellent photographs.....mostly!
    The cullen skink in the Marine really is good, the best I've ever had :-)

    1. Good to have met you both. The Marine Hotel is my new St Cyrus, only the route there is more interesting.

  3. Wow, so many great photos. Loved looking through them and reading about your travels