We left home for Inverness before lunch, thinking I might have some last minute panic buying to do. By the time we’d bought a hip pouch (as I wasn’t using my Pinnacle, I knew I’d miss the hip pockets. I have an OMM chest pouch, but I find this tricky to manoeuvre alone), looked at various lightweight mugs and tried on a few soft shells, it was lunch time, so we headed for Girvans. We still had loads of time, so went on a crockery hunt (for home), bumping into an old friend in Argos, like you do. The last hour and a half were hard to kill, coffee was taken at Starbucks before returning to the car for the pack, panic pee, (not in the car…) last minute purchase of zip lock bags and water, in case of travel sickness then making our way to the bus station. The other Challengers became apparent and David chatted to a couple as I bagged a seat on the bus, then we were off.
No sign of Anxious Foot at this stage
It was hard to leave The Trusty Sidekick behind
A rough journey to Shiel Bridge, which was wet and shrouded in mist on arrival. I collected my key to the Trekkers Lodge, then got lost. I was eventually pointed in the right direction and found my room, unpacked and returned to reception to book breakfast and ask for directions to the bar! There I met John and Sally Dodwell who had been on the bus and they invited me to sit with them while we ate and had a beer. When David phoned to see if I’d arrived safely, he mentioned he’d been speaking to a couple who’d said they’d look after me and it turned out to be the lovely couple I was sitting with, we had a pleasant evening.
Jane Eggleston arrived in the bar and joined us, in between ‘chugging’ other Challengers. We chatted a while and she invited me to walk with her the first day as the burns and rivers were in spate and this was one of my concerns.
After a nice meal that I was too nervous to eat, I retired to the Lodge and found some more Challengers in the kitchen area, who I believe were Ted and Jenny Spiller. I went to bed, but would I sleep?
Friday 13th May, 2011
Shiel Bridge to Glen Affric
Shiel Bridge to Glen Affric
13 miles 2356 ft ascent
(All distances and ascents will be approximate and in statute)
It took a little time before we were ready to set off today. As I stepped out of the Trekkers Lodge, the damage caused by the recent wildfires became apparent. I can’t imagine how frightening that must have been. After I’d popped down to the water to dip my toe, I discovered breakfast was running late, which delayed my final packing for a while. Jane was busy collecting money so it was past 9 am before we left. It was showery all day on and off and breezy at times too. It started off warm enough, but cooled later in the day.
Before the showers
Once we continued down to Glen Affric, the path became less distinct and more boggy, quite a slog at times. We eventually arrived at the youth hostel and popped in to the porch to shelter from yet another shower before continuing on along the river to find my first wild pitch of the walk, just short of Cnoc Fada. Didn’t feel too bad at the end of the day, but had picked up a hot spot. Also found the tent was being invaded by tiny ticks, but I already knew Glen Affric was infested, so this was no surprise, just a bit of a nause having to find, squish and dispose of all the little blighters! I had to wait for a break in the showers to organise dinner and to use the en suite before bed. Not a bad first day, but still felt a little stressed, what with one thing and another.
Saturday 14th May, 2011
Glen Affric to Cougie
9.5 miles 1394 ft ascent
It was a very wet and windy night, but the tent was solid and didn’t leak. I was very pleased. Jane, however was wet. Her, her sleeping bag, her spare pants. She’d also stopped short of where she’d wanted to be and had a lot to do in the next two days. I started to fret that I was holding her up unnecessarily, especially as we’d crossed the burn the had been worrying me and I was now quite comfortable. We set off after a panic pack and everything was just wrong. There was much floodiness around and what had been a tiny stream was now full and wide. My pack wasn’t on properly, I’d forgotten to take my medication, Jane disappeared ahead of me before I had a chance to tell her to carry on without me. I began to feel more stressed, but eventually managed to catch Jane and told her to carry on alone.
After sorting my pack and medicine, I happily carried on along the familiar path along the side of Loch Affric. After a short while, however, I started to feel quite homesick, how absurd! I desperately wanted to phone home and beg to be collected from the car park, but I had no signal. I felt demoralised and questioned why I’d ever imagined I could complete the feat ahead of me, what had I been thinking!
Eventually I happened across a couple and a chap having a break, Hugh and Barbara Emsley and Stuart ? and they cheerfully greeted me and asked “How’s it going?”
I burst into tears.
This may not have been the reaction they were expecting. However, they boldly carried on and made brave attempts to cheer me up.
“Do you have any chocolate? Eat some.”
Why hadn’t I thought of that. So, I did.
They made me promise to meet them in Cougie and went on their way.
I ate more chocolate. Then I followed and soon found them having a lunch break, sheltered under the bridge before the turn off to Cougie. I joined them, in much better spirits and we were in turn joined by Patrick, who was having a hard time. He’d somehow pulled his back and seemed to be in quite some pain. He had blisters too.
The Emsleys and Stuart ? left and I followed shortly after, taking the signed path up the side of Allt Garbh. This is quite a seriously boggy path and continues uphill for quite a way. I met Mike ‘The Cowboy’ again and another chap who turned out to be James Boulter. At the top, I trusted my instincts and memory and headed ‘left’. When the lochan came into view I was quite pleased with the decision. This is quite an easy track with lovely scenery and a feeling of remoteness. It did seem to take a long while to reach the forestry where I was expecting to find Cougie, but I found the foot and hoof prints and piles of horse droppings reassuring that I was still headed in the right direction.
I eventually found a steading and made an educated guess that this was the oasis of Cougie. Sure enough, when a young lady appeared from the back door and I enquired as to my whereabouts, I was ushered in to find a table laden with food and tea and surrounded by Challengers. Jane was standing in the kitchen and greeted me with a huge hug. When she’d arrived earlier, Val and her family had swung into action and dried all her soaked belongings whilst she’d sated here appetite for tea and cake.
I soon found myself seated with a mug of steaming tea. Hugh and Barbara left to make themselves comfortable in their room, Stan Appleton chatted amiably and there were others. It soon became apparent there were beds available. Stan succumbed. Then I weakened and asked about pitching my tent. Suddenly, Virginia mentioned there was a spare bed in their chalet. Could I? Should I?
Yes! What a brilliant decision. A bed, a shower, hot food, breakfast, a packed lunch and brilliant company. In addition to Stan, Hugh, Barbara, James and Virginia, there were Stuart and Maria Scott, Janice Thomson, Emma Warbrick, Patrick, Colin Reid and The Cowboy. There were six bookings and fourteen of us accommodated in the end. (To my shame, I can’t remember the name of the tall chap that was also there, despite the fact that I came across him several times on my crossing. Sorry!)
In one night, this turned my Challenge around.
But near disaster was, again, just around the corner.
Sunday 15th May, 2011
Cougie to Fort Augustus
16.7 miles 2066 feet
Just before we left Cougie, I slipped and fell on the decking outside our chalet door. I sustained a shoulder injury which was to plague me for the next few days.
A small group of us opted not to follow the forestry track to Hilton Lodge and down the landrover track, but instead to go ‘over the top’, following a path along the Allt na Muic. The Stuarts, Stan and Emma were much faster movers, whilst Hugh, Barbara and I brought up the rear with a little bog hopping and squelching. We found the gate through the deer fence onto the forest path before taking a break.
Soon, we reached tarmac and made our way to Torgyle Bridge, where the fast group had just had lunch. We preferred the picnic bench at the start of General Wade’s Road to Fort Augustus, although there were a few midgies around.
We had a pleasant walk, at least some sort of track most of the day, although the forestry track was somewhat chewed up. The weather was mostly kind. We soon found ourselves heading down to Fort Augustus, a welcome sight.
I soon found myself buying supplies for breakfast and lunch then heading to the campsite for a shower and hot food, before meeting Barbara and Hugh in The Bothy for a well earned pint. (Which reminds me, I still owe Hugh a pint and poke of chips. Next time!)
The shoulder was increasingly sore all day, but I decided to buy some Ibuprofen in town (which I rarely take without TTS around) to get some relief.
Monday 16th May, 2011
Fort Augustus to Melgarve Bothy
12.3 miles 3046 feet
(Some really rubbish photographs!)
I was in some pain in the morning, so a few pills were popped, but I got off to a good start, getting packed up in time to dry the tent out draped over the rope by the toilet block. I also met Ian Shiel by my tent that is green (I’d briefly seen him in The Bothy) and we spoke. I think.
We enjoyed a break at Blackburn Bothy, quite a pleasant place, or maybe it was just the shelter it provided at the time. Colin dropped in too and we bumped into him several times during the day.
Blackburn Bothy, quite sweet
Barbara and I toiled up the hill and Hugh waited and encouraged us. He was very gentle with us. It was quite a long day that became more miserable and it became apparent that Barbara was struggling more than previously. The wind was strong and gusty and threw rain at us from the side most of the way. There were burns to cross and boulders to sidestep.