Wednesday, 28 December 2011

So, how was it for you and what’s next?

This year has been a funny one, kind of average interspersed with the odd event.

It all started well, when David was told we would be here till the end of his career. A week later, we were told he was moving. Great.

In May, I did my first Challenge. I’d first heard of the Challenge in 2008 and started planning. I knew I was in no way experienced or fit enough to enter in 2009, so David and I took an unexpected opportunity and entered as a pair in 2010. Unfortunately, we weren’t successful in the draw and didn’t manage to stumble off the top of the stand by list, so had thought we would have to wait until the children were much older and could be left to fend for themselves. Until I wondered out loud if I could possibly manage alone… My entry was successful and in May, I set off from Shiel Bridge for my own little adventure. I had a blast.

During the summer, our eldest took her Standard Grades and got five 1s and three 2s. How proud we are!

As a family, we had a fantastic holiday, staying in a luxury cottage on Orkney. There was wildlife, tourism, a little walking and a bit of geocaching. Fabulous.

There was then a bit of a quiet time whilst I entered and then waited for news for Challenge 2012. My successful entry and Rhiannon’s sixteenth birthday was all around the same time, so there was plenty to celebrate and then planning to finish off before submitting a route.

As for Christmas, David was able to get home in good time, just as I started with a cold. Luckily, that peeked on Christmas Eve. Unluckily, I was struck down with a migraine on Christmas Day, but late on, so at least I didn’t miss any of the festivities.

So, on to the New Year, and what’s going to be new?

We’ll continue to ‘manage’ with David being down South, although I have to say it’s not much fun. He’s going back to his OU studies, to pass the time and to give him another string to his bow. Oh, and he’ll have a Significant Birthday in April…Rhiannon is studying hard for her Highers, so I’m sure she’ll have great success there. Aedan is doing extremely well in both his archery and shooting, as well as maintaining his studies, which doesn’t come so naturally to him. Ciara, well, Ciara smiles and the world smiles with her and Conall seems to jog along in the same way.

I’ve decided on my next OU course, but I won’t start it until after May. It’ll give me something to do in the post Challenge downtime instead of planning my next route! The Challenge? Ah yes, I’m really looking forward to that. This route will be more testing, of both my abilities and my character, but I don’t feel anywhere near so nervous or doubtful this time. Now I have all my accommodation booked (didn’t I mention that?) all I need to do is buy a few supplies and I’ll be ready. Oh, and the getting fit bit, might have to work on that.

So, there you go. And so does another year, gone, just like that. How was yours? All the very best for 2012 and maybe I’ll see a few of you somewhere along the way!


Sunday, 25 December 2011

All the very best

Happy Christmas everyone!

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Best boots, calorie counting, frustrating forecast and rear reducing, not necessarily in that order

(The calories and the rear are not necessarily connected in this particular post!)

The frustrating forecast forced my favourite friend and I to forego our foray into the fresh air until next week, if the forecast is more favourable.

(On a roll!)

The slippery, slushy conditions have caused me to concentrate considerably on every step, thus producing a rear reducing regime.

(I’m bored now.)

I have also been spending time on subjects more Challenge related.

I am determined to wear my Merrells on the Challenge next May, but every day I walk in my Brashers and I love them so much, I am expecting a little wobble come D day! Every day I put them on and it’s like the bestest, comfiest slippers. They are just my favourite footwear, but I know there’s a good chance of a repeat mega blister on my tricky heel, so I must wear my Merrells, equally comfortable, lighter and they will dry more quickly in any wet conditions I ‘might’ encounter. Merrells it must be. But I do love my Brashers!

(I feel disloyal.)

Calorie counting has become a little bit of an obsession. Not from a rear reducing point of view, I might add! After my Challenge in May, I realised I had a couple of days, well, a few maybe, when my mood had been affected by ‘something’. As I thought about this in more detail, I realised a common theme.

The first day I’d noticed a downer was day two, the day dear Hugh enquired as to how my day was going and I burst into tears!

“Do you have any chocolate? Eat chocolate!” was his advice and whilst I had initial misgivings, he was, of course, proved correct as my mood improved.

Half way through day five, I suffered another downer, just as I met David and my replacement rucksack. The reaction of my TTS? to feed me. Mushroom soup, Baby Bel, fruit salad and Jaffa Cakes. A short while later my fighting spirit had returned (although, initially it was a determination to prove my shoulder hurt too much, ahem) and I strode off into the distance, a spring in my step.

Our arrival at Tarfside was another obvious food failure day, despite having stopped for hot soup at lunch, along with my lunch staples. We stepped into the teeth of the storm with renewed vigour, but didn’t have shelter enough to snack on the way and arrived at Tarfside decidedly droopy. The mug of hot soup thrust into my hands to warm them soon filled the hole in my tummy before I launched into my evening meal which perked me up.

So, I have been looking more closely at my body fuel and decided it is lacking, but finding the right things that I might fancy and eat (rather than lug across Scotland because they’d be good for me) is proving tricky. I’ve currently totted up 2323 Kcals per day weighing in at 1.579kg for two days, plus the next day’s lunch and snack. So I’m still working on another 700 Kcals per day, preferably without adding too much to the grams!

It’s important though, so I’ll not be skimping. Maybe just imaginative.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

So far, so good

SDC11189 Just visualise the little green tent in a sheltered spot

Well, I had an email from John this morning, I am vetted, yey! My route has drawn some compliments, “an interesting” and “really nice” route and the sort of helpful advice and tips you’d expect and hope for from people far more experienced and knowledgeable than me. I’m delighted! Nothing to change and lots to look forward to.


Now, who’s turn is it to organise the weather?

Friday, 2 December 2011

An ‘L’ of a day

I was, as usual, a little late, but as Laura drove up the, er, drive behind me, I was pleased that we had both timed our arrivals to perfection! We parked at Revack Lodge, a little south west of Grantown on Spey, donned walking boots and gaiters, hoisted our day packs and off we went.

This was a bit of a magical mystery walk, not entirely planned by myself, but with a little help from a site I sometimes use, Walkingworld, I’d simply mad a linear walk to Nethy Bridge a circular, by linking with the Speyside Way for our return. Easy.

We were too busy chatting to take the short track to the viewpoint, so continued on. We were soon consulting maps and GPS to pinpoint our location, not entirely where we were expecting, but not lost. We soon arrived at a signpost we were expecting, but found a new barbed wire fence without the expected style.

SDC12336Useful (although the fence probably doesn’t show in the photograph)

We’d passed a gate with a track leading in the right general direction, so we backtracked to take that. A truck and trailer arrived noisily, the driver of which got out and proceeded to open the gate and Laura, being the friendly type, engaged the rather handsome young man in conversation. He explained that they had ‘had’ to replace the fence and providing an access point was complicated by those requiring access with wheels, so a gate was going to have to be inserted near the vehicle access, which would normally be locked.

SDC12337It was a beautiful day

We soon found ourselves crossing a little bridge, slithering our way up a track to then climb the grassy, slippery hillside to join another forestry track, with a couple of noticeable erratics, all the while discussing our last Challenge, routes for our next, gear, Laura’s recent trip and family.

The path eventually reached the road to Nethy Bridge, so we turned west  and headed to Castle Roy, where alongside the remains of the castle there is a pretty little church and church yard.

SDC12338 Castle RoySDC12341Laura photographing Castle Roy. Note the professional pose

SDC12339 The views south, to the hills

SDC12340 Pretty church

We decided this was a good place to lunch and whilst this bench looked like a lovely place to stop in the sun, we rather fancied this little shelter in the graveyard.

SDC12343 Cosy

This wasn’t the only advantage to taking a picnic with unusual company.

SDC12342 Convenient!

Well, it saved us from finding a handy bush on the side of the Speyside Way.

Along the road a tiny bit more we took a farm track to join the Way and headed back east. This was an easy stroll back to the lodge with great views of the hills and of the Spey, looking a little full and fast flowing.

We passed another interesting feature, left behind by the long since disappeared railway.

SDC12344 A railway relic

SDC12345 The lowering sun

As luck would have it, we got back to the cars mid-afternoon and the shop and cafe were still open, so we moved the cars closer to the entrance and made our way into the warm. The shop was full of sparkly Christmas decorations and bling jewellery, but the call of a hot drink was louder. Quite how we ended up with a free coffee and mince pie with brandy butter a piece is a long story, but it certainly made for a cheery end to a wonderful day!

According to the GPS it was 7.6m, although the map suggests nearer 8.4m. It was around 894ft ascent. We walked at about 2.3 mph for roughly 3 hrs and 19 mins with 1 hr and 28 minutes resting. Near enough.

I had a great time.

Monday, 28 November 2011

It’s the little things

I went on my usual Monday Girly walk today. It’s nothing special, but it’s usual a good time for a chin wag. I was a little surprised when, as Alison was walking ahead of me, I saw a small, furry creature scurry across the path just behind her heels.

I squatted down and peered into the undergrowth and sure enough, there it was, just nosing about, minding it’s own business. It came back out into the open, despite us having a very badly behaved beagle with us (she was a rascal today) and wandered up the track a little and back into the undergrowth.

It was obviously a vole of some sort and when I consulted my reference books, I concluded (without too much difficulty) that it was a bank vole, but a very relaxed one!

On the downside, the neighbours opposite our home have decided it’s time for Christmas decorations. Every outdoor surface is now bedecked with multi-coloured lights and a flashing Merry Christmas sign.


Friday, 25 November 2011

Starting to walk

A very good friend of mine was telling me the other day about her young grand daughter starting to walk. As I was out walking today in the somewhat foul weather, I got to thinking about this and went off on a bit of a tangent.

When did I start to walk?

I don’t mean as a toddler, I mean as a Walker. Could I even remember my first Walk?

Well, after a bit of pondering, I think I can. And, oddly enough, it may have been in Scotland.

When I was about four, we came to Scotland for our summer holiday. We stayed at a farm house, which would have been a B&B or Guest House (and may have been around Aberfeldy?) and at a Guest House in Kingussie, which I believe is still there.

I remember quite a lot about this holiday.

I remember dad parking the car by the road near a loch and taking me with a little fishing net to, er, get wet probably (there is a bit of a history of certain family members throwing themselves into various bodies of water and then needing to be hauled out. I wasn’t the only one…). I remember a tiny frog in the fishing net, which had probably been surreptitiously placed there, and running back through the heather to show mum, who’d stayed at the car. Needless to say, I fell over (a lifelong habit) and the froglett escaped. I don’t think it was squashed. I was devastated. I don’t know where my siblings were.

We went on a walk that may have been on some kind of nature reserve. It was marsh and bog, with plank bridges over the worst of it. My brother gave me a fright, shouting “Stop!” at me as I was crossing one of the little bridges.

I screamed.

It turned out I had been about to step on an enormous, hairy, black caterpillar.

I recovered.

I think the caterpillar survived.

Later on, my siblings were running ahead on a track through forestry, despite having been told not to. I doubt I was doing as I was told, I just couldn’t keep up. At some point, my sister tripped or slipped and twisted her ankle, tearing a ligament. Ouch. We got a lift back in a landrover. Or tractor. Or some other robust vehicle. (I was only four, remember) and the holiday was quite quiet after that.

A couple of years later, we went to the Yorkshire Dales. For seven out the following eight years we stayed at the same Guest House in Bainbridge, the proprietor of which was recently a WI judge for Masterchef. She was pretty good in the kitchen department.

We walked in the Dales. To waterfalls. Around abbeys. Along rivers, Gunnerside Gill being a favourite. Buttertubs Pass, Askrigg Common, Malham Tarn, all over. The next most memorable walk would have been around the Ingleton Waterfalls trail.

It seemed like quite a long way to my little legs, but I didn’t mind. Until it started to rain. It really rained. Really wet stuff. We wouldn’t have had proper walking gear, it would have been trainers, jeans and a t-shirt, perhaps a towelling hoody (remember those? Mine was stripy!) and cagoule. The pack-a-mac type. The sort that isn’t really weather resistant. We got wet.

The five of us piled into dad’s Astra when we got back to the car park and proceeded to remove wet clothing, all those arms and legs everywhere, a bit of writhing. No wonder the local bobby tapped on the steamed up windows to enquire “Is everything all right sir?”

Nothing much seems to have changed when I walk…

Sunday, 20 November 2011

…And breathe…


So I found out on Friday via a link on the TGO message board, and then officially by letter yesterday, that I am lucky enough to be on the Challenge next May.

I am very excited.

But I am doing my very, very best to remain calm and in control.

This is in keeping with my motto for next year’s Challenge:

More Style, Less Drama Queen.

We’ll see how that goes.

I have managed to get a little ahead of myself however. Knowing that accommodation at my intended start point can be hard to come by, I’ve booked a room already. I could camp that night, but I don’t really fancy starting the walk with a wet tent, which is, after all, a possibility!

My route sheets and admin form are filled in and poised. I’m trying to resist clicking the send button. I’m going to force myself to go over my distance and ascent calculations with a fine tooth comb before sending them off with an apologetic email, but I’m sure there won’t be that many other sad obsessives ready at this point. Maybe?

I’ll try to restrain myself…

So looking forward to seeing all my new friends and making some more along the way. It’s going to be fabulous!

Monday, 14 November 2011

Happy Birthday!

Sixteen years ago today, our beautiful little girl arrived a month premature, looking like a skinned rabbit, weighing in at 5lbs 13oz.

These days she’s a bit bigger, but just as beautiful.

SG103000-edit1 Happy Sixteenth Birthday!

Friday, 11 November 2011

Oh, p-lease!

The day started so well! Well, sort of.

No ‘plop’ on the doormat when the postie delivered the post, but at least a present and card for the eldest daughter’s  impending 16th birthday on Monday.

I dared myself to go online and check the message board, no one else had had one either, phew!

On my brisk morning walk I made myself pause to finally identify the bird who’s song I hear regularly. Sure enough, as the little bird darted through the branches of the pine trees, the sun eventually peeped out from behind the clouds for a moment long enough to make the little bird’s crest glow. A gold crest! Thought so, good stuff.

When I returned, I had time to anoint the Christmas cake that I baked yesterday with brandy before the two minute silence and when I popped it into my dark, cool cupboard, I happened across another Christmas pudding! I thought I only had two left, bonus.

So, on to buy a couple of books with my National Book Token.

Oh, if only! Nope, you can’t buy books with them online. That is not convenient.

Eldest son has asked to go skating with friends in town on Sunday, but it clashes a little with the parade that Ciara is going to, being a good Guide, so I thought he could go by bus, virtually door to door. Well, apparently not on a Sunday. Going by train means I’ll have to drop and collect him from the station, my trips onto town have now doubled. Ho hum, so much for trying to be green (and save cash).

But none of this distracts me from the fact that every available digit is still crossed…

(Life’s a bit dull around here, can you tell?!)

Wednesday, 2 November 2011


Today I saw something totally unexpected that I’ve wanted to see for a long time.

As I was on the return trip of my morning brisk walk, a creature ran across the road ahead of me and into the undergrowth. It was around two feet long with short legs, a very bushy tail and a deep, rich, reddish brown colour with a pale blaze on it’s chest.

I’ve been trying to convince myself otherwise, but the only conclusion I can reach is that it was one of these

pine-martenA pine marten


Friday, 21 October 2011

Who’s a Mrs Grumpy?

David managed (was strongly encouraged) to take last minute leave this week, so as the children were in the middle of their Tatty Holidays, we thought it was an ideal opportunity to pop down to visit his family in Fife. His dad has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's and is quite poorly, so it’s good to visit from time to time as they can’t travel up here so easily. An added incentive was that his middle sister was away for the weekend and happy to loan us their house so we could enjoy several short visits over a few days, making for a more leisurely weekend.

When we returned, we hoped the weather would be good enough to do some walking, but perhaps not as much as I would have liked. I would have loved to visit Glen Affric this time of year and take a stroll around the loch, but it’s a long journey from here for a day out, so to warm up our legs on a low level walk, David and I stayed local for a walk on Wednesday around Romach Hill and the  loch there that we’ve done before. It was a pleasant enough day, not too cold, but with an unexpected snow shower! A total of 13.5 km, 315 m ascent and 3 hrs 32 mins, so a reasonably quick sprint and nothing remarkable, except none of the children could be bothered to get up and join us!

Yesterday, we attempted our third assault on Bynack More. Again, I thought we were being a little ambitious. It’s a walk that David and I could do very comfortably and even with the start of winter in the hills, I wouldn’t have been too worried. We could easily have set off at 8 am to make an early start in the hills. The problem was, this was supposed to be a family walk…

Needless to say, we didn’t set off from Glenmore Lodge until nearly 10.30 am, so it was fairly clear from the beginning we weren’t going to achieve our preferred goal. We should have made for a different venue given we didn’t make the early start we’d wanted, but we merrily made our way towards Ryvoan Bothy before turning off for Bynack Stables and stopping at the bridge for lunch.

SDC12322Ahead of our leader

SDC12323Our leader, bringing up the rear after a GPS battery faff

SDC12325Looking south-west towards the Chalamain Gap. I’ve been there!

SDC12327 Looking north, towards Abernethy Forest

SDC12328 Meall a Bhuachaille, my favourite Corbett

SDC12330 Heading for that path in the distance

It was not a bad day at the start, bright, a light breeze although chilly at times. There was low cloud around and snow on the hill tops with the risk of some precipitation and this was all going to be taken into account.

We passed several people out and about, this is always a busy, popular area. Lots of people seem to mountain bike out to the foot of the hills and then make their way on foot to the summit and back. There was a chap and a couple out with their dogs, a large group of men and a second group of  a father and three teenagers, all equipped for winter camping and a couple with their two children. Our children all carry a small rucksack with food, water, waterproofs and a few extra layers. I took the opportunity to try out my Exos to carry a few bits for them, given the conditions. I like them to carry their own gear, but not so much that it puts them off. The young family we saw had no kit with them except a small rucksack carried by the father. Maybe I tend to be over-equipped.

SDC12332 Looking south along Strath Nethy

There were plenty of red grouse seen along the way and the resident herd of reindeer were seen in the distance. On way up the path, Conall suffered a clothing malfunction. The popper on his waistband un-popped and wouldn’t stay popped, thus allowing the zip to unzip and the trousers to fall down. Not good. Luckily, in my rather well equipped first aid kit, I have a couple of safety pins that were used to effectively resolve the issue.SDC12335 Still heading up

SDC12334Catching up after the clothing malfunction

We didn’t make it all the way up the hill.

We reached a point where the boys both stated they’d had enough. I was pretty sure we weren’t going to make it off the hill before the weather became more moist and I’m never in favour of cajoling the children much to continue as it becomes painful and miserable for all. I think maybe David, Ciara and I have the determination and the boys aren’t really fussed.

We turned back.

Around 11.62 km, 275m ascent and 4 hrs 18 mins.

Today, poor TTS is spending a miserable day in the city, waiting for the car to be MOTd and serviced.

So, who would be Mrs Grumpy? Well, it was me, briefly, yesterday, when our walk had a different sort of outcome from that intended, especially as this was our third attempt. I don’t want this hill to become some kind of nemesis, I have visions of just ‘having’ to pop up it as I pass by on my route, if I’m lucky enough to get on the Challenge next year.

All in all though, it was a nice couple of walks and I now know that my new Exos is indeed comfy and stays on my hips where it should be, one of my main objectives. My Paramo was also comfy and effective, but I still haven’t tried it out in torrential rain. I’d like the confidence of knowing it can cope, just in case I have to deal with conditions similar to this year’s Challenge again.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Oh. That didn’t help

I have still been pondering rucksacks. I took the advice offered about trying out a rucksack with all my gear on board, but felt weak at the idea of doing this in the shop. I still have confidence issues and I knew I would feel too self-conscious. However, I came up with a plan.

I like to use websites that offer free P&P including returns. On this occasion, the best site I could find offered free P & P excluding returns but at a good price for both the Exos 46  and 58 in Ember (I don’t like the green). After a quick perusal of the Post Office site, it was still cheaper to pay for a return than to travel to my closest dealer (Aviemore or Inverness) and pay parking (ok, so I can find free parking in Aviemore). So that’s the option I took.

Ordered Sunday afternoon and delivered this morning, not too bad for the north of Scotland. I felt a little nervous at first and put off loading them up by doing some housework (must have been absolutely desperate!)

I tried the 46 first, but perhaps was a little too gentle and couldn’t quite fit it all in, so on to the 58. Everything fitted in neatly and logically, but I had a little room to spare. Bum!

Back to the 46, this time using a pack liner (another dilemma, liner or cover?). It still didn’t all fit, although I was more brutal (tricky when being careful) but I’m still not convinced I could, even with a bit more squeeze.

There’s nothing included that I didn’t take on this year’s Challenge, although there have been one or two swaps. I’ve packed my tent into a smaller bag and it is now quite a bit smaller. The only two bits of kit that would warrant change are my Prolite mattress and my tent. Despite the bulk, I love my Prolite, it’s comfy and robust. I would be paranoid using a Neoair or the like, especially at the cost. My tent. I’m not planning to replace Bill (my Coleman Kraz) anytime soon. He has his faults, but they are all minor and easily dealt with. He’s comfy, cosy, watertight and suits me. I don’t intend to buy another tent until David and I can Challenge together when Maisie will be replaced (I’m not hoofing even half of Maisie across Scotland, she’s no lightweight!) That could be another eight years hence. (By which time, I might need a new, smaller rucksack!)

So, a decision must be made.

It all fits in the 58 although there is unnecessary extra space. I can’t see me happily squeezing everything into the 46 to save 90g and I’m not likely to pack in extra items just because I have extra space. I have a list and I stick to it. (I have a thing about lists…)

I’m going to sleep on it (the thought, not the rucksack) and make my decision in the morning.

I hate decisions.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

An unexpected find

I’ve had a fairly random start to my day today.

For the past few weeks I’ve been missing the swifts screaming around the house tops as they hunt and the swallows twittering as they swoop around me as I stroll across the marshes, but they have been replaced by the geese as they gradually arrive in ever increasing numbers and gather in the estuary. It’s all part of the changing seasons. Sadly, with the geese come the men in camouflage with their shooty bang sticks and I tend to take a different route straight up the cycle path and back to avoid being shot!

Yesterday I was hacked off to find two of the wildfowlers’ vehicles parked on the cycle path, leaving room to squeeze by but, nevertheless causing an obstruction. I took a photograph on my mobile phone and carried on my walk, grumping to myself.

Today I passed one of the cars parked in a different place, but the other was again across the cycle path. I thought nothing much of it and continued on my way, somewhat grumpily.

As I returned about 30 minutes later (a short walk!) I could see the car had gone. Imagine my horror as, when I passed the spot they’d been parked, I find a gun, discarded by the side of the track onto the marshes!

What to do.

This was urgent, but perhaps not an emergency? 999 seemed extreme.

I don’t (but will soon!) have the local number for the police in my phone, why would I ever need that?

I couldn’t raise the occupants in the cottage across the road (they are always in, why not today?!)

If  I took it home to keep safely whilst contacting the police I would then be illegally in possession of a firearm. Not good.

So, I rang TTS for advice.

He contacted the RAF police for me and they arrived about ten minutes later. They in turn contacted the local plod and we sat and waited. And waited. And waited.

After about ten minutes, the wildfowlers returned, claiming to have been horrified at finding a gun missing and returning immediately to find it. They realised they weren’t going to get away with this ‘mistake’ as soon as the local bobbies arrived.

About an hour after my find, I was “Free to go” and made my way home.

It was a totally bizarre situation, I would never have thought I would find a gun, just lying on the ground. I felt quite sick at the thought of what could have happened if it had got into the wrong hands.

And I’d always thought it a bit of a dull walk…

Monday, 26 September 2011

Distraction techniques

Having finished planning my route for a possible future Challenge, I decided to step away from the maps before my tweaking went a tweak too far! I’ve worked out distances and ascents, food parcel drops and accommodation.

Instead, I took a sideways step towards gear. Oops.

I happened to heft my Karrimor Wildcat 60-65 at the same time as David’s Jaguar 65 the other day and realised that, despite being of sightly lesser capacity, mine is heavier. A whole 400g heavier. No wonder I felt relieved when I swapped packs at Laggan! So, I started vaguely casting about for a replacement. I had been considering Deuter and Osprey packs and decided Osprey was the likely winner. That was the easy bit.

I like the women specific packs, Ariel 55 and 65, mainly because I have a problem with hip belts. Due to my shapeliness, I tend to find it tricky to keep a hip belt in place and I thought a specific one might help. I also like having a separate compartment for my sleeping bag.  However, neither of these packs are lighter than my current pack, the 65 is obviously a similar volume, so they were duly discounted.

That left me with the Exos 58 or 46. I’m concerned that  (despite my guide kit list weighing in at around 10kg, it’s quite bulky,) I’ll never squeeze it all into a 46, so the 58 may be a better bet and is still over a kg lighter than the Wildcat. However, it has been pointed out to me by a far more sensible and less impulsive person, that spending that amount of cash warrants taking my kit to a retailer and trying one. That’s the plan.

To further distract myself I’ve been reading up a few previous Challenge reports and on Shirley’s I found a reference to this hostel. I haven’t changed my route, just my stop over that night!

Still at Shirley’s, I found myself investigating her favourite bits of kit. Quite how that led me to this isn’t immediately obvious, but I then made another sidestep from a new pack to a new tent! A particularly tempting offer on both the one man and two man versions, so I need to go and cook dinner. Now!

All in aid of distracting me from my annual fasting blood test tomorrow.


Wednesday, 14 September 2011

C’est la vie

Or divine retribution for the world’s worst daughter. (Well, I have been practicing for 43 years!)

We survived the first weekend, but not without trials and tribulations sent to test us. Aedan’s D of E expeditions were cancelled, due to his group not having completed their camp craft training. (I knew this to be the case, but why did it take until the afternoon before for someone in charge to realise? Poor communication and organisation is always a disappointment.) Ciara was off colour for a few days, after she perked up, Rhiannon was off colour with something else. The boys managed not to kill each other, mainly because Conall left Aedan to sleep on his bedroom floor and decamped onto the girls’ bedroom floor, so all four children were disturbed, deep joy. I then lived up to my lifelong reputation of world’s worst daughter and caused major upset with a difficult decision. Hmm.

We survived a weekend camping with the Guides at Brodie Castle. I only have one Guide, but as I’m a disclosed Brownie Assistant that doesn’t mind camping, I have become useful at Guide Camp too. Sadly, the boys had to come this time, as David was not home to look after them. They loved it! They were given the job of looking after the camp fire and they built and maintained the most magnificent example ever. My boys! I had a frustrating time with two Guides who, when they couldn’t find the bin compound to dispose of a couple of bags of rubbish, decided to hurl them into the undergrowth! I was incensed, discarded  rubbish is one of my most hated things and so they were route marched to the scene of their crime to reclaim the bags and then shown where the bins were. To annoy me further, they giggled through their reprimand, if a child of mine behaved so disrespectfully and with such bad attitude I would be disappointed and ashamed. The fact I had the beginning of a cold by then did not improve my mood. We returned home with nine gnat bites (all mine) and a tick (unattached and crawling up a leg, not mine!).

David had managed to get home Saturday night, so we planned another assault on Bynack More on Monday. As luck would have it, there was Torrential Rain and Strong Winds. I didn’t have to feel guilty that we couldn’t walk because of my cold, I was a poorly girl! Instead, we whiled away a few hours wandering around Aviemore, drooling over gear and savouring soup and jacket potatoes at the Cairngorm Hotel (highly recommended).

At the moment I’m struggling slightly. I should have  been for a gentle stroll (cold almost better) and done a small pile of ironing, but I am suffering the recurrence of the trapped nerve in my neck. As I type, I have my warm cherry stone bag against my shoulder blade and neck to try to relieve the inflammation and prevent the muscle spasms which cause the real problems. With some gentle exercises my physio taught me last time, things should improve.

Although, obviously, I probably deserve it…

Thursday, 1 September 2011

A short intermission

Sadly, not because I’m going anywhere nice.

I have a visitor this weekend, (the weekend that is intensely busy what with a practice D of E expedition, mending a puncture, preparing for Guide Camp and other ‘stuff’) and whilst I can happily blank out the sound of children taking lumps out of each other as I merrily browse the internet, the Subtle Huffing and Tutting from the corner tends to hack me off after a while. It’s easier (and far less painful) to catch up in a few days.

Dare say you won’t even notice.

Now, where’s the gin stashed?

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

What fun!

As David had a Bank Holiday weekend and the children were at school, (well, they were until the senior school didn’t open due to a burst pipe…) we had intended an assault on Bynack Mor. When we eventually set off (late, again) the weather was quite interesting. The forecast had been for buffeting winds, showers and low cloud until the afternoon, but we decided to drive down anyway and adjust our plans accordingly.
I could barely see the top of Meall a Bhuachaille as we passed and Bynack was lost, so after a comfort stop at Aviemore (middle age gets you) we consulted the maps and decided on a lower route from the car park NH 985 074 through the ‘Chalamain Gap’ to join the Lairig Ghru, back north to Rothiemurchus Lodge then hot foot it along the north side of Loch Morlich and back up the road to the car.
So, off we went.
SDC12290Looking south from the footbridge
SDC12291And north
There was a lot of faffing during the first part of this walk and very little of it was done by me, apart from a few photographs! David soon stopped to don his Paramo. The couple ahead of us left the path to look through the gate to the reindeer enclosure, returned to the path and went ahead, faffed, then returned to the gate, an elderly couple behind us faffed with waterproofs, then we both faffed with our waterproof trousers. It could be a long day.
On we went, the elderly couple never caught us up. It’s quite a nice, well looked after path and I daresay with less cloud, there would be some lovely views. I felt the drifting cloud and ever changing views added atmosphere and mood.
SDC12293 Couldn’t see a lot behind us at this point
SDC12292 Looking south along a moody Allt Creag an Leth-choin
We wended our merry little way and soon came across a small group of people crossing from the north of Castle Hill and making their way onto our path. Interesting looking route they had taken, but they didn’t pass us so we didn’t get to know why. They were wearing jeans. It was a very pleasant path.
SDC12295 The Chalamain Gap
Looking at the Gap from a distance, I had commented to David that it was difficult to imagine a path through. How prophetic.
SDC12297Meall a Bhuachaille, from the Gap
SDC12300 Still hoping for the path on the map
SDC12301“I think we find our own way.”
As we got closer it became clear this bit was going to be ‘fun’. As we scrambled our way over the boulders I giggled and called to David, “Two years ago, what would I have done?” “Cried, sworn. Turned back.” Very amusing to think that here I was now, relatively happily picking my way round and over these enormous rocks, almost enjoying myself! I say almost, I did, but as you can occasionally catch a glimpse through the gaps in the rocks to the depths, I found it a little unnerving. But fun!
We were eventually overtaken by two ill-equipped young men (no daysack, waterproofs or map…), but the elderly lady behind us was in difficulty and we think the couple turned back. The two young men disappeared ahead only to return shortly after to take the path up Castle Hill. Maybe a map would have helped?
As we made our way through the Gap, we occasionally thought we heard a dog barking. As we passed the foot of Castle Hill we did again. Never saw a dog, so it was a bit odd.
The path continues on and down, eventually meeting with the Lairig Ghru. David was ahead of me at this point and I was a little concerned when he headed south down the path, but when I spotted the large rocks placed neatly by the burn, I realised his sandwiches must have been calling to him from his pack and he’d spotted the *perfect picnic spot. We lunched.
SDC12310Looking south along the Lairig Ghru
We then headed north. The path was a but rocky and muddy at this point, but then improved. Sadly, we opted to leave it soon after to take another rocky, muddy path to the Lodge, but at least once we reached there, we were on good tracks all the way to the road.
Rocky and wet
SDC12315 Better
There were occasional breaks in the cloud, but I wouldn’t have wanted to head south today. There was a distant, but familiar sound as we made our way north, a rescue helicopter hove into view. It tried to head south at first, but they must have realised they couldn’t as it circled round Carn Odhar and came low past us.
SDC12318 Someone needed help
It circled around  by Castle Hill and up the Ghru a few times, but then we didn’t see it again. We hoped they found who they were looking for safely.
The track from the Lodge is straight forward but I had never seen anything like these before.
SDC12319Brightly coloured, plastic bee hives?
It became a bit of a route march from this point as, as usual, we were up against time and as we’d been a shade tardy, again, we were running late for a couple of evening activities. Not to mention trying  to fit in an evening meal. Oops.
It felt a long way on the road up the hill to the car park, but our concerns for the lost someone were heightened when a car drew up along side us and the driver asked us our names. Actually, he asked us three times, I caught it the first time, but because the man was not asking us what David had expected him to (“Would you like a lift?”) he couldn’t comprehend the question. (Age thing again?) The chap had hoped we were the people the Mountain Rescue were looking for who had been heading up Coire an t-Sneachda. Not something I’d have thought wise in the rotten conditions. We couldn’t help as we hadn’t been that way, but we haven’t heard any news. I hope they were safe and well.
All in all, I loved it. Towards the end was hard, because we had to pick up the pace, but yet again, I found myself doing things I would never have done before, or would have found challenging and perhaps even refused to attempt.
As  to my kit, I wore my new Merrells and my new Paramo. The boots were surprising. Despite the odd wet, muddy patch, my feet remained dry and comfortable, however, they were never fully submerged. I suffered no discomfort or hot spots at all, not even on my funny big toes (funny peculiar, not ha ha). I did notice a slight ache in my arch, which I used to always suffer before I invested in my green Superfeet. I am using these in my Merrells, but maybe I need something more in them. However, the ache didn’t last and my feet were fine when we got home. I think maybe my feet need to get used to the souls of these being thinner than my Brashers. They were lighter too and although my right hip grumbled briefly, it settled again. This could have been down to the weight of the boots, perhaps.
The Paramo was great. The weather didn’t rain persistently or heavily, but enough to get one wet, but I wasn’t. It dried quickly in between damp times. I was comfortable at all times (until the route march) with long and short sleeved merino tops on. I think we will be happy together.
Forgot the statistics (age again?)
Roughly 16.8 km 517 m ascent and approximately 4 kph
* Well, it would have been the perfect picnic spot if there hadn’t been the rubbish left behind and just before we left, we discovered somebody had felt the need for the toilet in rather a large way just in the gap between two rocks, a few feet from the burn. Lovely.
Why? I will never, never understand.
SDC12321 I have taken to taking other people’s rubbish home if I have the means to carry it

Monday, 29 August 2011

A filthy day

Aedan is doing his D of E practice next weekend so we took him out yesterday for a little navigation refresher.

It was a wet, windy and generally miserable day.SDC12289Discussion

I wore my Paramo with a couple of merino layers (I knew there would be a lot of standing around!) and I was warm and dry, but I want to wear it for longer in filthy conditions to be fully confident.

Maybe a day like today…

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Has anyone seen the forecast?

A couple of weeks ago, I booked our annual boat trip with Ian and Sam at Gairloch. David is home for a long weekend due to the English Bank Holiday weekend, so we had decided to take advantage of extra family time together.
During the past week the weather forecast for the the north east of Scotland had been looking a bit grim, but as we were heading over to the north west, it all looked fine. It still looked fine on Friday night when we went to bed, but as we got up on Saturday morning, the forecast had changed and the amber weather warning had been extended. Ah. Sam phoned about ten o’clock and asked if we were on our way and if we could get there any sooner as they would have to cancel the three o’clock sailing but could fit us on the twelve thirty instead. She kindly agreed to delay the sailing to allow us a little extra time to get across and just after one o’clock, we boarded the boat and began our cruise.
It was actually a lovely trip, not too rough and with good light for spotting. As we are later in the year than usual, the nests have all emptied so there wasn’t a huge amount of birdlife, we saw Great Skuas, Shags, Red Throated Divers and a few Comorants. There were three pregnant Grey Seals and a real treat of Common Dolphins! Ian was a star and as we’d made the trip just for his boat trip, he gave us a little extra time to get a good view of the Dolphins.
SG103248 Moody Torridons
(Spot the Slioch, Beinn Dearg and the Horns of Alligin, I think)
SG103239Great Skua
SG103252 Red Throated Diver
SG103257 Grey Seals
SG103267 Trust me, it’s a Common Dolphin fin!
As we’d not had time for a catch up with Sam before boarding, he invited us to their home for tea and cake, which was lovely and Sam baked a fresh cream and raspberry sponge especially. A boat trip and cake, what more could a girl want! We had a lovely time and I look forward to going back next summer (at a more leisurely pace!) and spending more time in one of my favourite places.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Here we go again

Well, the October copy of TGO Magazine plopped onto my doormat this morning. The wrapper was duly ripped off, pages thumbed and the entry form carefully torn out. It has been filled in, (much easier this year!) the cheque signed, popped into a stamped, addressed envelope and posted.
I know there’s no prize for getting the form in quickly, it’s more of a ‘strike while the iron is hot’ thing. After two and a half months of consideration and asking “Do you really want to?” TTS agreed to my application, on the understanding that I can cope with crushing disappointment if I don’t get on.
Speaking of The Challenge, the observant amongst you may have noticed a new button on the right of my blog. I have now made a separate page for this years Challenge, a time consuming copy and paste procedure and uploading each photograph in blogger (I usually write in livewriter, but having read Alan’s comments here felt this was the best option for me). No longer will anyone who might happen along have to read my account back to front!

And another

David found himself on a weeks adventure training at Grantown on Spey this week, so rather than return south with ‘The Boys’ on Friday morning, I drove down to collect him en route to another big hill, this time Carn Dearg, 945m on the edge of the Monadhliath.

The weather was promising at the start of the day, but as we made our way to Newtonmore it became more cloudy. It was still warm however, so I didn’t need to don a jacket until we reached the cairn and it only rained towards the end of the walk. We were a little later setting off than I would have liked, due to my own lack of planning, but we soon found ourselves parked in the same place as we had last year when we tackled the children’s first Munro, A Chailleach.

There were midgies as we faffed by the car, so whilst we were faffing, Smidge was applied. This seemed quite effective, there were still midgies, but not so much nibbling.

Off we set.

This time we left the car park and crossed the bridge over the Allt a Chaorainn, then before the bridge at Glenballoch, we took the path heading north westish, following the Allt Fionndrigh. This  is not a bad path and we made good progress until we stopped for lunch after crossing the river by an unmarked bridge. One of those interesting types.

SDC12251 Looking south east (ish) along Allt Fionndrigh

SDC12253 Looking ahead, the two pimples just off centre are our goal

SDC12255Not keen, but crossing regardless

SDC12256  Lunch spot

There is a large rock, just off centre on the above photograph, where we perched for lunch. We watched an eagle soaring above Creag na h-lolare opposite.

I knew once we set off again that the path would soon disappear, which it did, and we then had to navigate some ‘rough ground’ along Gleann Ballach to the foot of Carn Ban. It involved a bit of bog trotting. Quite a bit, but if we hadn’t had such a prolonged dry spell at the beginning of spring, I think it would have been worse. (Or maybe, having the crossed the bogs that I did in May, it didn’t seem so bad!) We squelched our way along for a while before we started the climb towards Carn Dearg. Somewhere in the middle of this bogginess, I found a lizard. We also started to see quite a few frogs.

SDC12260 Still looking happy at this point

SDC12266 You can see the uphill stripe we were heading for

SDC12268David got well ahead of me, it was the nose wiping faffs what did it

SDC12274Views from the top look promising

SDC12275 The much bogginess we’d crossed

SDC12279 The moody views towards Sherramore and Aberarder Forests

There doesn’t appear to have been a photograph of me taken at the cairn, it was chilly and breezy when we got there, so we only paused briefly for me to don my Paramo and then we were off again, descending the southern side of Carn Dearg in search of a path. As we paused, I was a merlin chasing a small bird. Wow! David missed it.

We headed for Loch Dubh, en route to which there was a lot of discussion as to the best way. Some bits were steeper than I’d expected, even though I’d acknowledged the closeness of the contours.

We bashed on and found one or two vague paths that took us to the head of the loch, but the hut or bothy marked on my map did not appear. Not in itself a concern, but I’d hoped it would help us locate the path we were looking for. No path materialised. This meant we struggled on for what seemed like an eternity, following the Allt an Lochain Duibh along Gleann Lochain. It was hard going, we occasionally found a vague path that would then peter out and this continued well into Glen Banchor and along the River Calder. It started to rain as we made our way along the river, but I tried to think of it as trying out my Paramo! (I liked that I didn’t feel as hot wearing it as I had on the Challenge in my Dynamo and Quattro, but I accepted at the time, I was over-wrapped!)

Eventually, after I’d started to stumble and fall a couple of times, we got to something like a reasonable track before we found ourselves crossing the bridge at Glenballoch house and heading back towards the car park.

SDC12287 The head of Loch Dubh and the threatening skies

I had enjoyed the first part of our walk and even the climb to the summit. Getting to the head of Loch Dubh was ok, but after stumbling along the rough ground for a while, my patience was wearing thin. However, even I noticed some remarkable advances in my attitude to walking. Just a few years ago, I found going ‘off piste’ quite disturbing. Being an Englishwoman, it felt decidedly wrong to stray from a path and I would be worried we were doing something wrong or unacceptable. Yesterday it didn’t even occur to me, I didn’t feel remotely misplaced or disturbed by it. My approach to fording is vastly improved. I might still prefer to find my own route across rather than following David, which is quite normal for anyone, but I will then cross with much more confidence and with barely a second thought. Much less time wasting!

Roughly 18.6 km 767 m 3 kmph

(About 12 km across rough ground and bog)

(Very roughly, still not good with metric, but I’m trying!)