We'd arranged a three week family holiday in Los Gigantes - in April.
Straight out of the how-not-to-prepare-for-the-TGO-Challenge book.
However, I had a plan.
Where we stay is not far up from the sea. The road up through the village is all up hill; the path that goes past the banana plantations towards Santiago del Teide was all up hill. On 14 days I walked up hill for exactly one hour - then back. By the end of the 14 days I had travelled much further in the hour than when I started.
It wasn't all hard work.
I chose Kilchoan as my start point for this year's Challenge, as it had the attraction of not being my start point for my walk across Scotland.
That was Ardnamuchan Point - the most westerly point on the mainland.
It also involved a more interesting way of getting to the start - both of the walk and the Challenge.
My trip north started on Wednesday 8 May when I caught a train from Tamworth to Crewe. After a short wait at Crewe, it was first class to Glasgow. Well fed and watered I left the train and headed to Tisos. Here I met Dara, his wife and his son Liam. And Peter and, I think, Mario. I had first met Dara on the Corrieairack Pass last year. It was good to meet Challenge folk so soon.
I eventually made my way to Queen Street Station.
My train to Oban arrived at 1943 and I had arranged to meet up with William Burton for a meal. In fact, William was there to meet me off the train. I was especially looking forward to meeting William and to a good meal at the seafood restaurant on the front - Eeusk. It turned out that a lof of people also liked Eeusk and it was fully booked. We went next door to the pizza and pasta restaurant and had a good meal and chat - which continued on and off for the evening. A pleasure to meet and chat with William.
Thursday 9 May
My room for the night was in the Corran House Hostel where I had stayed before. Single room, en-suite, but without breakfast.
I don't normally drink or eat in Weatherspoons, but, that morning I decided to have breakfast there. It was excellent! Something like £5 for a full breakfast and endless coffee.
(Minor claim to fame - I used to drink in the very first Weatherspoons - in Colney Hatch Lane).
The ferry to Craignuir is big.
I'm not sure how many cars and lorries joined the ferry, but, there were hoards of foot passengers - most of whom seemed to be Italian. The journey to Craignure was very smooth and I sat outside near the back.
My bus connection to Tobermory was waiting just off the landing pier. Most of the Italians were herded onto coaches. There were few people on the bus.
Tobermary was as picturesque as I expected and I had a great sandwich and coffee near to where the Kilchoan ferry would depart.
Three campervans boarded the ferry followed by myself and one other foot passenger. We didn't talk to each other until just before the ferry landed in Kilchoan. Turned out he was a walker/backpacker - off to Italy the next day and that he had met Alex Roddie at the start of his CWT earlier in the year. His car was parked on the road nearby and he gave me a lift to the hotel. Our chat continued for a while after we arrived at the hotel and I eventually said goodbye.
The plan was to check in, and then head for the lighthouse at Ardnamuchan Point. The hope was to get a lift.
I checked in - filled a water bottle - and set off for the lighthouse. About a few 100m down the road there was a right turning to the lighthouse - about 6 miles away. A car came from the opposite way and started to turn left before stopping to ask me for directions - to the lighthouse. The very first car I saw became my lift and I had a very good chat with the couple who had not heard of the Challenge before.
They stayed for about 20 minutes. I stayed ages and had a one-to-one tour of the lighthouse. The guide was very informative. It was a clear day and apparently I could see islands around 16 to 18 miles away.
Timing was good. I'd had a good look round the lighthouse and museum. The road walk back to Kilchoan was going to be dry and it had good views. I was also going to get back in good time for dinner. Had I not got a lift things would have been different.
I enjoyed the walk back to Kilchoan; and even had to turn down two offers of lifts - one from the lighthouse guide.
When I walked in to the hotel bar/reception, I recognised Simon who was talking to John. We had a brief chat and then I went off to have a shower and change.
There were so few of us starting at Kilchoan; most of us sat down for dinner together. Good beer, food and conversation lasted into the evening. Only David ( arriving from Tobermory in the morning ) and one other were not there. It was great to meet so many of the Kilchoan starters in one go. Most retired early and only Clive and I were left - finishing off our pints, before also retiring for the night.
Friday 10 May
The hotel breakfast was good and there was further chat about the forthcoming adventures. Before it finished David arrived and joined us for a coffee. Then it became time for the off. What I didn't plan for was the walk that most set off on; inland with some going on to Singing Sands. I think Roger caught the ferry to Tobermory. Before I left I slipped a portion of marmalade into the net on my pack. I was the only one who was to take the road heading towards Ben Hiant and on towards Loch Laga. After a couple of k I left the road and continued on a track, then faint path, then rough ground heading east. Ben Hiant was shrouded in cloud and rain looked likely - I gave it a miss. Sure enough the rain set in and was a steady downpour lasting about 2 hours.
I left the track and joined the road leading to Glenborrowdale. There was an interesting viewpoint near Cnoc Breac which had a board giving the volcanic history of the area including Ben Hiant. The rain continued until I was not far short of the Natural History Centre at Glenmore - and a cafe. Just in time for lunch. I enjoyed a sandwich and a couple of cups of coffee.
Back on the road it wasn't long before I rolled in to Glenborrowdale. The map showed a track just past the Castle. I couldn't find it. There was a turning to a bunkhouse and outdoor centre, but it didn't appear to be my route. I walked back and managed to talk to a woman on the other side of the castle wall/railings. She directed me back to the bunkhouse turning, but said that there was also an industrial estate on my route. When I got past the bunkhouse there was a track, but, it did lead to a small set of industrial buildings. I asked two workers about the way to Loch Laga. They said that there were locked gates ahead, and queried whether I was going the right way. I was, I explained, referring to the map. Sure enough I came across a couple of locked high gates that were blocking my way. These were easy enough to climb over. The faint track continued on towards Loch Laga.
The intention had been to camp by Loch Laga - or just past it. Trouble was the ground was rough and there was very little, if any, flowing water. It was getting on, but, a look at the map showed a few burns converging further along and I decided to continue for another couple of k to where the track crossed the Allt Beithe. Just to the north of the crossing was a water trap construction of some kind - and an area of perfectly flat, if somewhat stony ground. Ideal camp site.
It was a cold night, but, I was able to get a good relaxing night's sleep.
Dinner, for me, lasts ages - soup; main dehydrated meal; custard - with water heated on my bio-ethanol Caldera Cone/Stormin' stove. Whisky comes later - while listening to music. I switched off around 2230
Saturday 11 May
A bright sunny start to the day.
I had originally arranged to meet John at Dalelia and be ferried across to Pollock at 1430.
However, on Thursday evening Simon said that he was aiming to be at Dalelia at 1230. David also said that he would aim for this time. I didn't know how I would progress, but said that I too would try to get there for 1230.
After turning on to the main road at Archaracle I was making my way towards Shiel Bridge when I saw two figures about 300 metres ahead of me: Simon and David. We had a very relaxing walk to Dalelia and met John at almost exactly 1230. The crossing was superb. John charged us £10 each and it was the best £10 I've spent in a long while.
We found a bench just up from the pier and had lunch. Not long after we sat down a small group appeared and started to chat. One, at least had an American accent, although it turned out she lived in the UK. They went one way and we continue on our way round to Polloch. A while later were walked down the track and saw the same people in the car park. Their route was shorter than the way we went. The American woman was a real Trail Angel and gave us tangerines and apples - gratefully received.
The road past Loch Doilet was fairly level, but for the last 2 k up towards the mast it got steeper and steeper. It was hot and tiring and when we reached the point where we were to turn off, we had a very welcome break. There was a very rough fenced field to our left - well ploughed up by cattle. We set off contouring round above Bellsgrove Loch and steeply down to the north of the burn that ran down towards Chreagain. The ground was hard going over rough cattle ploughed lumps.
Simon and David decided to continue on further, while I decided to camp near the ruins ( my original plan ). Simon was planning to climb a couple of Corbetts the next day and was aiming to be further still into Glen Gour. After looking around, I decided to be more sociable and rejoined the faint path that they had taken. A wise decision: David had found a superb camp spot - not much further on - and I joined him for the evening.
Sunday 12 May
I had pitched facing East and the Sun was up good and early for a magic day. David and I set off up Glen Gour on easy ground, but, without much of a path.
In the distance we saw a tent and soon arrived to meet Simon having lunch. He had climbed his two Corbetts and was relaxing in the warm sunshine. After a short break we agreed to continue towards the Corran Ferry, with Simon catching us up later. David and I reached Ardgour and popped in to the pub for well earned refreshments. Not that long after Simon joined us. There were loads of walkers outside, but, no other Challenge folk.
Unusually, the ferry is free for foot passengers. I peeled off to my Bunkhouse just past the ferry. I had a single room and the bunkhouse reception was first class. The bunkhouse was spotless. David had a Bed and Breakfast place arranged, whilst Simon walked on to camp near the car park, just up the road from the Inchree pub. We met up for a great meal and a few pints later. Simon got talking to a guy on a canoeing course who had an interest in the Challenge and he later joined us for a further chat. A good evening.
Monday 13 May
The weather was settled and warm and sunny. We had agreed to meet up at the Inchree pub and walk together for the best part of the day.
Our route took us up forestry tracks towards Lundavra. The tracks were easy going and we arrived at a bridge before setting off across by the burn towards Lundavra. The going was easier that I had anticipated and our trio was soon wading through hoards of multi-national folk heading to Fort William on the West Highland Way. It was a warm day. I'll never forget one woman who was walking with a pack - wearing a down jacket (done up) over a fleece. Others were more appropriately dressed.
Simon had planned to spend a couple of days in Kinlochleven and left David and I where the WHW drops down into the village.
David and I continued past Mamore Lodge - sadly closed - and on to our planned camp spot by Loch Eilde Mor. There was a burn near by this site, but it wasn't flowing that well. We both set off towards the loch outlet. After getting my feet thoroughly wet, I gave up, but, David went on to find good flowing water - and a new bridge: for our crossing in the morning. The water from the nearby burn was OK and it was a great evening. Strangely, we saw two figures way back towards the track but never saw them again.
It was another chilly evening, but, I was warm and comfortable. Choice of gear for this trip turned out to near enough spot on.
Tuesday 14 May
I had said to David that I was not an early starter in the morning - no rushing around. We were getting our gear packed when we saw Simon on the track in the Distance. He was off to do a couple of Mamores.
David and I set off on the path that crossed the bridge and then wound it's way round to Meall na Cruaidhe and then on to the bothy at Loch Chiarain.
The day was hot. The bothy was a welcome respite for lunch. Time for decisions. David had a route which took him along by Loch Chiarain. Mine took me up towards and over to Leum Uilleim. I decided to keep to my planned route and set off - over the stepping stones and on to rough pathless uphill-in-the-heat ground.
The rewards for my effort were tremendous. I'd been up Leum Uilleim many years ago and remembered how it was so well situated to take in the surrounding mountains. Aonach Eagach, Ben Nevis, The Mamores, Grey Corries and the Munros either side of Loch Treig.
Then, of course the Munros to the East of Corrour Station. I headed down the north-east ridge of Leum Uilleim and after crossing more rough ground arrived at Corrour Station Restaurant.
A pint of lime squash and a bottle of beer. The squash went down in one. Then Sue said hello. I had met Sue at Cougie last year - she had the room next door to mine. Some people have fantastic memories. Sue was walking with John and Ali and after saying hello, I continued on to Loch Ossian Hostel to check in, have a shower and prepare to come back for a meal at the Station.
David was also staying at the Hostel and we both joined Sue, John and Ali for a superb meal later.
The Hostel had a good number of Challenge folk staying and was full. Some, who couldn't get a bed, were allowed to camp outside. I half wished that I could have camped outside too, as the Hostel is so tiny. But, I slept well.
Wednesday 15 May
Another hot day was in store. I had breakfast and then had 4 large glasses of water. I had extra weight - not the best idea for hard climbs. I had packed my four days of food - a parcel I had delivered to the Hostel. Quite a few folk left early while I waited to see if Vanessa would be able to get some advice on her feet from Ali. Vanessa had plans to take a day out in Fort William as her feet were getting infected.
Time went by and I left without knowing whether she did or not. At the end of Loch Ossian was a new track leading up to a small dam. When this ran out it was back to the usual rough path before cutting up over rough pathless ground towards Meall Glas Choire. Earlier I had seen a figure take a faint track in that general direction, but lost sight of that person.
Then, higher up I met Janet. She too was walking the four Munros. I had a brief chat and walked on. Then Janet stopped to get some water from a patch of snow ( and have a brew ) while I continued onwards and upwards.
I had climbed all four of the Munros, but, not in one go. The day was superb and Beinn Eibhinn, Aonach Beag, Geal-Charn and Carn Dearg were a joy to walk over.
I was able to pick up water in the burn to the east of Geal-Charn and continue on down the steep, but, easy north-east ridge and on to Carn Dearg. Here things went a bit unplanned. I went down to the north-east a couple of 100m before heading directly towards Culra Lodge.
I didn't realise just how steep this would be and slid and slipped my way down. At one point I went forward on my right knee and let out a yelp! Bugger! I limped to camp down near Culra Bothy.
It was a quite evening and despite my poorly knee, I slept well. I was reluctant to take any tablets - which may not have been the best decision.
Thursday 16 May
I had always wanted to walk the Fara. It was another warm day and I set off towards Ben Alder Lodge trying to decide whether to do it or not. My right knee, although a bit sore, wasn't too bad and when I reached the point for cutting up towards the Fara, I took it.
No path and boggy ground and then a deer fence to climb over. I saw 3 or 4 deer on the other side of it. It was a very long drag up to Meall Cruaidh where I quickly pulled on my wind jacket and Buffalo Mitts. The wind was strong and cold. The walk along to the Fara was superb. My original plan was to drop down quite steeply from the high point, by a wall.
Yesterday's mishap made me decide to take it easy and I eventually came off near Allt An't Sluic Lodge and made my way to the Dalwhinnie Hotel.
There were loads of Challenge folk here, including David, Sue, John and Ali as well as Martin and Keith. A chance to catch up with folk. Ali confirmed that out of date paracetamol were OK-ish and I had a big roll and a couple of pints before taking some paracetamol and Ibuprofen.
It was tempting to stay at the hotel, but it was fully booked - and there was a horse on the area to the back where I had camped a few Challenges ago. Nothing for it but to stick to my route. Up to camp by Loch Cuaich. Sue, John and Ali also made their way along by the Aqueduct but then continued on a bit further.
It was quite windy early in the evening, but this soon died down. I had to laugh when Martin had, earlier, showed me a Facebook ( I think ) post by some folk who had changed their route because of the wind. They were in the shelter business.
This was one of their shelters at Montrose campsite in May 2014.
Friday 17 May
My FWA for the morning would probably have been worse than going on my intended way over Meall Chuaich. I chose the Munro. It's an easy walk up and the views were magnificent.
I made my way down to the track which led to the bridge by Bhran Cott. Here I had a break before continuing on the track past the lodge over the bridge. Then, I thought, no - wrong way. I retraced my steps and started looking for the path by Allt Bhran.
There is an old path here, but, it was not easy to find and was little used. If only I had taken the track leading up to the weir. But, I didn't. It was very hard going and I eventually decided to cut across to the wood that had a path leading to a track.
The track wound it's way down towards Glen Feshie. I noticed a Trailstar pitched by Lochan an t - Sluic and it was getting a good dose of wind. David later pitched here too. I went on and waded across the very low Feshie, to arrive shortly after at Ruigh Aiteachain bothy.
My original plan had been to go up the Minigaig and on to the watershed for an airy crossing and two more Munros. The forecast for Saturday made me change my mind.
There were a few Challenge folk at the bothy, including Carl who I hadn't seen for some time. Rob H also popped over and said hello. The bothy was superb and a lot of folk stayed in there. I had a relaxing meal and whisky in my Tramplite. There was hardly any wind.
Saturday 18 May
It rained overnight. It stopped for a while to allow me to pack up and then continued for most of the morning. I set off later than most and made my way up Glen Feshie - still a fantastic unspoilt Glen.
It was wet but not too windy. Around lunch time I came across a few Challenge folk taking shelter in the remains of a hut - the roof was more or less intact. I had a good chat with Matt and Mel and Rob joined us later. Then it was time for moving on. I knew the rough path was uphill, but, almost immediately walked into very wet ground. I came back and found a less boggy way up to the path. Of course, this made no sense as my feet were wet, anyway. This was not far short of the Eidart bridge. Waters were in full flow.
The rain stopped. I continued on to the red roofed " dangerous " building further down the Geldie Burn. Here I met up again with Mark and Jack. Mark kindly offered me a cup of coffee which was welcomed. I think they planned to stay there. I left and not long after collected water before heading up by the Chest of Dee to a great little camp area.
Later that evening a small herd of deer came down, but, as soon as they became aware of me, they disappeared.
Sunday 19 May
The walk in to Braemar was in dry weather. On the way I met Dara and Liam again and a few other Challenge folk. The Youth Hostel was open for folk to use the lounge etc. but not check in. Here I met David again and a few others who were just relaxing before check in.
Ian, the Hostel Warden opened up before 1700 and I was able to get the last bottom bunk in the room I was allocated. Unlike Ossian Hostel, there was plenty of room to organise gear. It was good to have a shower too.
Earlier, I had called in to Gordon's Cafe for lunch ... and a beer, or two. After, I went along to The Bothy and met up with a large bunch of Challenge folk.
Gordon's doesn't normally open in the evening, but, had opened especially for the Challenge folk passing through. I sat with David, Matt, Paul and Ed and we had a good chat. They did a good meal and it was washed down with a couple of beers. Outside The Bothy a rough plan had been hatched to meet up in the Invercauld Hotel for drinks. When I arrived, there was no draught beer. They did have bottled Newcastle Brown at £2 a bottle. I asked why it was so cheap. It was out of date by about 3 months. Still it went down well and filled a gap until a real beer pump kicked in.
There was quite a few Challenge folk there and I had a good chat with Rob, who I had met on my first Challenge and a couple of times later.
Monday 20 May
My planned route was to go to Shielin of Mark. But, I had a sore knee and the forecast was for rain later in the day. David was heading for Ballater and was finding it hard going with his blistered foot. I decided to head to Ballater with David instead. I was looking forward to a curry at the excellent Indian on the Green. Although it wasn't planned, we soon met Martin, Keith and Janet and set off on the path towards Lion's Face before joining the road for the walk to Invercauld Bridge. There was a turning just before the bridge and this led on to the tracks which eventually found their way to Balmoral and the cafe. Here David and I sat outside under an awning while it rained quite heavily. Very touristy. I had soup and a coke and we had a brief discussion about security for the royals. The American guy sitting nearby didn't quite know what to make of us. We had sharp poles and I had a rocket launcher strapped to my back.
Not long after the rain stopped David and I continued on our way on the back road to Ballater. The campsite here is always very welcoming and we were soon pitched. A lot of Challenge folk were further down the campsite, but we pitched in the area before reaching the toilet block.
We went down to the Alexander Hotel for a couple of pints, said hello to quite a few Challenge folk and then set off for the Indian on the Green. Thankfully, it was open. Last time I was here it was still closed after the horrific flooding. The meal was superb. Our host was very attentive and assured us of VIP treatment next time.
I can't remember when it started, but, it rained heavily all night. I got back to my Tramplite and listened to music before getting a very good night's sleep. The thought of being up at Shielin of Mark did cross my mind.
Tuesday 21 May
David had planned to walk the Deeside Way to Aberdeen - finishing on Friday. I set off for Tarfside. It was still raining as we were packing up, but soon stopped.
I was very impressed with the path up to Mount Keen ..... and the by-pass path. A lot of work had gone in to making it more boot friendly and the workmen were having a break as I walked up to and over Mount Keen.
The walk down into Glen Mark is stunning.
On the way to Tarfside I met up again with Esther, who I'd last seen near Fort Augustus last year. We walked in to Tarfside chatting away. Good to meet her again.
When I got to St Drosdan's it was just too late for a bacon sandwich. Things were very busy. I checked in - for Challenge Control purposes - and decided to use up my spare meal that evening. The decision was partly because it also started raining heavily. The Mason's were doing a barbecue, but, by time it stopped raining, I was happy to just pop in to the Mason's for a chat and a few Highland Park malts. It was good to meet lots of folk that I knew - too many to name. Although I did meet up again with Ian and Clive who also started at Kilchoan. I wasn't too late in getting back to have a good night's sleep.
Wednesday 22 May
Unusually, for me, I wasn't one of the last to leave Tarfside campsite. It had been very cold overnight, with a frost on my shelter, but, by morning it was raining. The rain didn't last too long.
Back on plan, I walked down to Milden Lodge before heading up the track to the west of Whups Craig leading towards Water of Dye. There is a path leading off this track towards Water of Dye - on the map. It does not exist! Geoff and Russell were ahead of me and I was soon doing the same as them - in battling my way over heather, bog and mire, plus a double fence. I caught up with them where the track ends - they were having a break. They set off and I followed some way behind. An estate worker was very friendly and explained that the weather forecast was for no more rain in the next couple of days.
A bunch of us had lunch in Charr bothy. Geoff confirmed that there was a bridge near Spital Cott. I thought that I would have to go up to Bridge of Dye. This fell well, as I was able to join a track leading eventually to the wind-farm. Previous ventures in to the Fetteresso were much tougher going. The track/paths let up to the big flapping monsters and was fairly easy going. Geoff and Russell caught up with me and went ahead. I don't know where they peeled off to camp, but I walked down through the wind-farm to where Cowie Water started. Time was getting on, but I decided to walk another 3.5k until I arrived at an open area suitable for a camp.
There were already two shelters there and I soon said hello, again, to Martin and Keith. I found a good pitch among the clumps of grass and settled down for my last night under my Tramplite. Water, from the swiftly flowing Cowie was brown.
My dislike of popping pills meant that my right knee was very uncomfortable. I still slept well though.
Thursday 23 May
Martin and Keith were soon packed and off. I was more relaxed about making progress as I was looking forward to a pint in the Marine Hotel. Willem and Hinne walked by on the nearby track. I set off for three and a half hours of slow painful progress. My knee had not got any better and I was still not popping the pills.
On the way down in to Stonehaven I did take time out to book a skiing holiday.
The Marine Hotel does their own beer and I had a couple of pints and their delicious Salmon Skink - served in a hollowed out loaf of bread.
I also booked a taxi to the station.
I checked in to The Links hotel - a massive room - and made my way over to Challenge Control. I met and caught up with so many folk. Simon and I eventually shared a bottle of wine at the dinner. 40 years of the Challenge.
This was a great year and full of memories.
I'm looking forward to next year - as I know I've got a place.
My thanks to Barbara, my wife, for letting me get away.
My thanks to all involved in running the Challenge.
My thanks to all the folk that I met - they, as usual made the Challenge what it is - Magic.