Sunday 30 June 2013

Night and Day

David has been supervising another D of E Silver group Practice Expedition this weekend. The group was from another local school so we didn’t know any of the participants, although it did turn out that David knows the parents of one of them. I didn’t volunteer to assist him this time, but as they were going to be in the Glen Fiddich/Glenlivet area, almost half way to Ballater, I offered to pop by to help with the car shuffle and stay over at the bothy Friday night and then I could finish the other half of the journey and go for a little stroll with Laura. Seemed like a plan.

The expedition didn’t go quite to plan. One chap dropped out after lunch on Friday feeling unwell and David had to walk him back out and return him to Dufftown for collection. We met at a car park in Glenlivet before walking in to Suie bothy and once there, found that one of the girls had struggled during the afternoon and had now also decided to drop out. The plan was for her to be walked out in the morning to meet her dad.


Calum had a fire lit


David, doing what Supervisors do best

The night at the bothy was unremarkable, I did notice the wind get up in the night and I did briefly think I should have been in a tent (it would have been easier to gauge how the group were coping if I was experiencing the same conditions) however the thought didn’t last more than a split second and it was gone, I went back to sleep…


The bothy cat


Suie Bothy


The Bochel

In the morning, the Assistant Supervisor (Calum) was up nice and early (6.30 am…) to pack and sweep out the bothy (helpful) and the group were up and breakfasted soon after. I went to say hello and found the five of them dealing with their tender shoulders and blistered feet. They were a nice bunch. The retiring girl had made her mind up but as I chatted with her seemed quite up beat and determined to complete the Qualifier Expedition. After breakfast and packing, David and I were on our way by 8.30 am, leaving Calum to walk the retiring girl out.

6.94 m and 498 ft round trip

We were soon in Tomintoul parking the spare car and visiting the powder room before I dropped David off on the road to the Clash of Scalan and then I continued my drive over the Lecht to meet Laura for a stroll, a little behind schedule by now. A little treat as I drive up across the moorland between Corgarff and Gairnshiel Lodge, a peregrine falcon flew across the road in front of me, wow!

I found Laura chatting with a friend, not feeling too abandoned and lonely and we quickly came up with a plan. Coffee. And something nice. Which turned out to be Date and Ginger scones.

After a good chat and powdering our noses, we went for a stroll, taking the path along the river out of Ballater but heading the other way from the direction I’m used to! It was a very pleasant day and we had some lovely views. There are a couple of bridges that have been added on this route which Laura wanted to see and she also wanted to try out her new shoes. Although she wasn’t very thorough with this I thought.


An incredible pig


An impressive cockerel


A shy one

We made some friends along the way, although the guard jack russells were not quite so friendly. After crossing the Polhollock bridge we realised lunch was missing from our tummies and as luck would have it, just as we started to rate little grassy tussocks out of ten as potential lunch stops, we found a bench, woo hoo! We sat, chatting a little more, eating sandwiches and crisps and trying to identify a sneaky bird that was just outside the reach of our (somewhat doubtful) vision. The consensus in the end was a woodpecker.


Laura celebrating the new bridge


Walking sensibly over the next and very substantial bridge



Threatening to bounce on the Polhollock bridge


Picturesque path


…am I missing something?!

We continued on along this lovely woodland path until we met a road, which we then followed. I had a flash of recognition and realised I’d walked this road before, again going in the other direction. After a brief pause at the bench, we continued along the road to Ballater, then we had The Incident with the ovloV Man…

Now, Laura and I had a few issues towards the end of the Challenge with ignorant and careless drivers, we waved nicely to those that were considerate and not so nicely to those that weren’t…As we strolled along this relatively quiet lane, a shiny, new, silver ovloV drove towards us at speed. The driver made no effort to pull out or slow down, despite there being no traffic approaching in the other direction nor any obstruction to his vision along the road. We waved accordingly. A change in the engine sound made me look over my shoulder and to my dismay the driver was braking and slowing down. Oh dear. A few moments later my attention was drawn by the sound of an approaching vehicle and sure enough, it was ovloV Man. He drew along side us with his window lowered, “Is everything alright ladies? You seemed to wave me down, I thought you were hitch hiking but you would normally hitch in the direction you want to go!” The reply went something like (we spoke at the same time…) “We’re fine thank you, but it’s nice if drivers slow down and pull out when they drive passed, you were a bit close!” “Oh that’s alright then” and he drove away, turned at the bridge to Ballater and returned. Laura trotted across the road and left me to be almost mown down as he drove closer and fast than before. Too fast for me to catch the registration. Git!

At the end of our (mostly) delightful stroll, we needed refreshments, but I had been a bit clever and brought some maps with me for planning purposes, so we needed space as well. We decided that Laura’s Kitchen could provide lashings of chilled ginger beer  and a table top to work on, so that’s where we went. A rough route was easily agreed, despite me *expressing surprise that having thought I’d taken all the maps I needed for the route I had in mind, I’d left a crucial map behind. And then, after some pop, planning and powdering, it was time for me to make my way back over the Lecht and home again.

5.48 miles and 333 ft at a very gentle stroll speed.

What a lovely day out! Thank you Laura.

* I realised later I had had it with me, but as it was the Ballater map, it was in the map case in my day sack in the car. Doh!

Friday 14 June 2013

Sunny days

It was a big weekend last weekend for my Bronze D of E group. It was their Qualifier Expedition weekend. The planned route was circuit from Inverdruie to Loch Morlich campsite and back via the Cairngorm Footbridge. The first day certainly was not navigationally challenging, although a diversion through Badaguish did give the group a few decisions to make. After a night of relative comfort at the campsite (spent separated from the main collection of campers) they set off again, taking a route on the track to Rothiemuchus Lodge and then off to the footbridge and then before reaching Loch an Eilein taking a minor road back to Inverdruie car park.


Setting off

Over all, I think the girls had a good time. The weather was fabulous, although not perhaps the best for walking with a huge rucksack. However, they looked after themselves and each other, like a good team should, and no one suffered from dehydration or sunburn. There were navigational issues either, which I wasn’t expecting anyway.


We pitched behind the toilet block below My hill, Meall a Bhuachaille



Doing what supervisors do best!

As supervisors, David and I met up with them a couple of times on both days. Once each day to cross the road (not because they can’t do this, but to adhere to safety and welfare practices), after few junction decisions on day one to make sure they were happy and not lost and at lunch stop on the second day as this was by a fast flowing river, in case they wanted to paddle and cool their hot feet. They did!


Glean Eanaich


Tall trees


At the end of the day


I’ll never make a ladypop!


Across Loch Morlich


Cooling their feet


Towards the Lairig Ghru

The assessor met up with the girls at the beginning and end of the first day (although she didn’t check their pitch or that they ate a hot meal, which is a stipulation of an expedition) and then again as they set off on the second day. That was it. I was a bit disappointed she didn’t meet up with them at the end for a debrief but we were there to congratulate them and reward their efforts with an ice cream. Well done girls!

Tuesday 4 June 2013


When on the Challenge, your tent becomes your home and I like to be comfortable in my tent and on the walk in general. What did I take this year that made a difference?

Well, my tent, for a start!

My new tent

My tent was wonderful. It was tested to an extent in rain, wind and snow and I had no leaks or major problems with condensation. I felt confident with the pitching and didn't lose any pegs or pins. So I was happy.

I took a different cloth this year to wipe the tent down when wet, a spongey yellow one. It was brilliant, extremely absorbent and I could more or less wring it dry after use. It was also useful for drying my feet after fording in the first few days when I wasn't carrying a towel (I was wild camping all the way to Bearnock, seemed little point in carrying it, so I posted it to myself...)

Speaking of feet, my boots! My beautiful boots. My Meindl Burmas with green Superfeet were the bees knees. I know I only walked the first four and the last five days, but I didn't have a mark on my feet and for the last two Challenges, I've had the beginnings of blisters by the end of day two. I think I've cracked it!

I had my own iPod this year, a tiny little Purple Shuffle. Sir Ian MacKellan read to me every night and as on the odd occasion I may have woken up and realised I'd missed a bit, I think it worked!

The only other change would be the hand warmers. I carried my reuseable ones on my first Challenge and despite being cold on several occasions, didn't use the handwarmers because I would have had to boil them. Last year I carried a few disposable ones. I didn't use them either because:
a I'm stupid
b I didn't think of it and
c I'm stupid
This year I'd had one or two frights and was determined not to get cold. I carried enough handwarmers (and posted some on) to use a pair in the morning and pair in the evening, if necessary. That's nearly 24 hours of warmth if required and once or twice I did use them morning and evening. Once or twice I didn't need them in the morning, but did at night and used both pairs at once! It was bliss, waking a few times in the night and just moving the handwarmers around my body to the next chilly bit. Brilliant! I won't ever be cold on a backpacking trip again, yey.

As for Home. I was worried that when I came home, having failed to complete my Challenge, I'd be on a slippery slope again. I felt quite awkward at first when I joined Laura at Braemar, I wasn't quite 'one of the gang', I was an outsider, a bit of a misfit. As we walked however, it all fell into place, we walk so well together, Laura and I. After a couple of days I felt so much better, we were laughing and having fun, despite Laura's pain and discomfort and my disappointment. Once in Montrose at The Park I had a brief moment of upset (sorry for the damp sleeve Alan) but after we were settled in our roum and had met up with a few friends, we went out for a curry with The Pieman and Peter and had a brilliant evening. All was well with the world again.

Once home, I was happy. Happy I'd had a good time and happy to be back safely with my family and I had a head full of plans.

And planning has been done! I have the best walking partner ever booked for next year and I have a route. Happy, happy, happy!