TGO Challenge 2011 Shiel Bridge to St Cyrus

Thursday, 12th May, 2011

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
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.

Fire damage
 Before the showers

The obligatory toe-dipping

We had a few map conflabs, but it was mainly straightforward. Jane seemed surprised I appeared to know the route so well, but I had studied it quite closely, so there were no surprises for me. We heard the first cuckoo of the walk around Innis a Crotha, then started to make our way up the gradual climb Gleann Choinneachain towards Bealach an Sgairne. It’s a good path all the way and we met several Challengers on the way, including Mary Jones and Fiona Findlay, Mike Armstrong and Vanessa Ling (I think…). We were soon at the Allt Coire an Sgairne, which was in spate as expected. Jane tripped lightly across ahead of me, in her shoes that are designed for wet feet. I took my time and a little care, but fairly easily found myself on the other side, where I wanted to be. Onwards through the Bealach.

Looking back

Doesn’t really show the reality

This was a slightly more rugged path, but still quite clear and easy to follow. We agreed to drop over the top before a break for lunch, where I enjoyed oatcakes and a tin of dressed crab. Or perhaps lobster. It was lovely anyway.

Loch a Bhealaich

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.


Sputan Ban

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.

The right track

The first of many ‘interesting’ bridges of the Challenge

There is a tiny green tent in a nice pitch

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.

Spot the wet decking

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.

Checking the map

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.

Not too nibbled

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.

Nearly over the top

Not a muddy bit

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!)

First glimpse of Fort Augustus

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.

Kit explosion

It was a breezy, damp day, which did not improve. We made our way to the Corrieyairack Pass, which started the way it meant to go on, a stoney, unpleasant path, quite steep on the way up. Steep on the way down too.

The last view of Fort Augustus

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.

As we got closer to Melgarve Bothy, I became suddenly freezing cold. I was ahead of both Hugh and Barbara at this point and I desperately needed to carry on to warm up or get into shelter. I had to go on, but felt bad not waiting to tell them. I also had Allt a Mhil Ghairbh to cross by myself. There was a bridge with a few missing planks which I’m sure others would have strolled across, but I preferred to ford. I picked my route and struck out. I made a really good job of it, until the last step. Whether my pole or foot slipped first, I’m not sure, but I suddenly sat down hard (ahem) on the rocks behind me and watched as my right foot floated in the river in front of me. Pants.
Turned out it wasn’t just a wet foot and a bruised ego, I later discovered a fist sized bruise on my bottom. I also upset my already sore shoulder, so I wasn’t a happy bunny. My soggy foot and I soon found ourselves outside Melgarve Bothy and Colin was a welcome sight, shepherding me to the back door of the bothy with the promise of a fire and hot water for tea. What a star!
Inside, I found others, sheltering from the dire weather. Pat Deane, Peter Molenar and John and Helen Dixie were enjoying tea and hot food, and I whipped my jacket off and waterproof trousers round my ankles to I warm myself by the fire. Bliss. Colin kindly kept an eye out for Hugh and Barbara, I was worried they may not realise the bothy was open, as the door at the front was padlocked. In between times, he helped me sort my kit and find somewhere to sleep, as I decided Garva Bridge was no longer beckoning me. He also ventured out into the elements to find fire wood, without suitable tools. He was a real star.

Pat, Hugh and the Dixies


John, Alvar and Colin

I rather liked the rainbow with the table and accoutrements silhouetted, although you don’t really get it in this photograph

Natasha, Jayme with drying clothes and a pile of wood

The roaring fire

When the others arrived, Barbara was evidently exhausted and unwell. She managed a little to eat and drink, but was soon tucked up in a warm sleeping bag, sleeping.

Soon, we were joined by Jayme Morgan and Natasha Gahoojamanian and another couple, and I believe Emily Rodway’s team stayed close by, although I think only John Chivall popped into the bothy and did some extremely useful wood collecting aswell. It was a while before the names of the other couple were mentioned and I suddenly realised they were my vetters, Ann and Alvar Thorn, who weren’t supposed to be at the bothy either, but at least I was on my route, if a little short of my proposed stop. All such lovely people! This was beginning to become a bit of a theme.

A very pleasant and relaxing evening ensued, before I retired to my bed. It’s been a long time since I shared a room with an older man other than my husband.

I had discovered earlier that, if I hung far enough out of the window upstairs, I had a signal. I phoned David and asked him to meet me at Laggan with rucksacks, on the pretext of changing mine to help my shoulder. I intended to ask to go home…

So, my first ever night in a bothy!

Tuesday 17th May, 2011

Melgarve Bothy to Newtonmore
18.4 miles 1136ft ascent

What an odd day!

I knew I’d have a big day as I hadn’t made it to Garva Bridge, but it should have been quite easy as it was a mostly level and even surface, but as I walked on, my shoulder, neck and back became more and more painful, shooting pains into my spine at times, others times just achy and horrid. It was seriously getting me down as the day went on.

The Spey from Garva Bridge

The walk itself was actually quite nice. I don’t mind road walking as I do quite a bit of it on a daily basis and I find my feet quite comfortable. Except the blister, but I’ll come to that. It was quite a nice day too, not too cold and I don’t remember many showers.

Soon, David hove into view and I cried. TTS had come to my rescue. We said goodbye to Barbara and Hugh as they were staying at the Monadhliath Hotel and made our way to Laggan and the infamous Laggan Stores. I plopped down onto a bench further up the hill and continued to blub, like the pathetic heap that I am. David’s response? He force fed me. Mushroom soup, more oatcakces, Babybel, Jaffa Cakes, fruit salad and painkillers. What a star. He nagged me into emptying my Wildcat and filling his Panther and once I had it on my back, I discovered I was in much less pain. My plan of escape was disintegrating. Another Challenger stopped and offered painkillers before giving some really useful advice. I was to happen across him several times and I’m not sure, but he may have been Andrew Wright. Sorry if you weren’t!

At the Stores, we bumped into Ann and Alvar again, and Hugh and The Cowboy. After picking up a few supplies, I agreed to walk to Newtonmore to give the rucksack a far trial, David would drive ahead then walk back to meet me so that I could decide. It was really nice, even though I was strolling along a busy road, and it was even better when I met up with David and we chatted. Soon, Newtonmore came into view. I made my way to the campsite and upon arrival, decided it wasn’t for me. I collected my parcel and the lovely lady was very understanding when I decided to seek a comfy bed to rest my shoulder again.

On my way again

We found the Glen Hotel and enquired after a room. The chap was a little puzzled as to why a single was required for a two people, but we explained and acquired a room. David waited whilst a kit explosion and change of clothes ensued, so that he could join me at the bar for a pint as I ate before he left me to my fate once me. My hero.

Another kit explosion

Using an old trick to dry washing

I wasn’t alone for long as Emma appeared out of nowhere and joined me. When we’d both eaten, I had to take my leave. I was suddenly overwhelmed by tiredness and had a desire for a warm, relaxing bath before bed. Bliss. My blister needed attention and I was quite concerned by the condition of my heal, so photographs were taken on the mobile and sent to TTS, Compeed were applied and I did my best to put them out of my mind as I tried to watch the news to get the weather, but had to give up to sleep. The best night’s sleep I’d had for quite a while, although still somewhat fitful.

Wednesday 18th May, 2011

Newtonmore to Ruigh-aiteachain Bothy
14 miles 1174 ft

This started as a very positive, bright day. I tried, yet again to eat breakfast, but as had happened at the Kintail Lodge and Cougie, it appeared I was finding this tricky. Nerves, I think, although not the sort that was going to cause trouble, just a little natural anxiety. Doesn’t help much with the eating bit though.

When I’d stuffed all that kit back where it belonged, I settled my bill and set off for Glen Feshie. I was going to enjoy today, my first day alone again, I had hoped.

The cyclepath

Not far out of Newtonmore, my heal was giving my grief. I had to have a Compeed faff, which was a bit of a pain and during the delay, Emma caught me up. We sped along the cycle path to Kingussie and to my dismay, took the right turn to Ruthven Barracks without first visiting the High Street to find tea and cake. Oh dear.

Onwards, over Tromie Bridge and to Drumguish before entering the woodland which had been snowbound when TTS and I were last here. The forest track was much improved and Emma and I eventually stopped for lunch in exactly the same place as the TTS and I had before, before turning the corner into the wind.

Ruthven Barracks

From Tromie Bridge

Looking north

Looking south along the Feshie

Another Challenger passed us by, cutting the corner and continuing without stopping to say hello. We were soon battling with the wind as we followed the clear, narrow, exposed path along the Feshie. We crossed the burn with ease that had bothered me before and soon, Ruigh-aiteachain Bothy hove into view. A man stood at the door, disappeared and reappeared as we got closer. It was Pat! “Water’s just boiled, help yourselves to tea!” was his cheery welcome as he manly battled to chop wood with a handleless axe.

The tea was most welcome before we explored our new surroundings. I’d heard tell of the ‘toilet’ and it was duly explored. The bothy itself had two rooms. Pat was in the second room, with a sleeping bench and the wood burning stove. We took the first room, after Emma had eventually decided not to camp outside. This had a wall of sleeping platforms and plenty of space.

The bothy

The facilities

The instructions for the facilities

Enough said

Unusual place for a beautiful door

Pat’s room

Our sleeping platforms.

We had a jolly pleasant evening, during which others arrived, all of which decided to camp. Mary and Fiona popped in to say hello, as did Bill, but, yet again, I’ve forgotten a name as there was another chap too. Oops.

The shoulder was much better today, still some pain and discomfort, but a definite improvement.

Thursday 19th May, 2011

Ruigh-aiteachain Bothy to Mar Lodge
18.7 miles 1991 ft

We left the bothy before 9 am, after Pat and Steve?, but before Bill, Mary, Fiona, Ann and Alvar, (they’d stopped further along the Feshie). We made our way along the glen, which is really pretty, but there are some slightly tricky landslips. We saw a golden eagle above the skyline opposite and ‘wild’ horses across the river. Emma wasn’t for stopping and we stepped along for quite a while, burns were forded, bridges crosssed and bogs hopped, (not too many of those really). It was a nice day mostly, but breezy and occasionally showery. On and on we went, until eventually I decided I was stopping for a ‘late’ lunch and Emma stopped too.

Looking back along the Feshie

Feshie rushing by

Some of these bridges are such fun

A lady Challenger appeared out of nowhere, “Is it one of you ladies that had a new pack?” “Er, yes!?” “Can I have a photograph?” What? How on earth?

Ann and Alvar caught up with us and we all walked together as a loose group for a while. Alvar and I chatted at quite some length. Alvar tried to be the gentleman and pull me up out of the peat when I slipped. Emma and Ann laughed and took photographs that will be published, apparently. Kind. We saw an adder, my first.

Onwards until, surprisingly, the temperature suddenly dropped. We reached the dangerous building at NO 002 869 where we found Bill had already pitched. Ann, Alvar and Emma all decided to pitch, but after so much mincing, my legs were glad to be stretching on the LRT, so I elected to continue. I’d already decided that I was unlikely to stop at White Bridge as planned, which was lucky as I totally missed it when I crossed it! I continued on. I almost leapt off the hillside as a chap on a bike approached me from behind and spoke, but managed to regain my composure for a brief chat when he told me we weren’t far from Linn of Dee. Mar Lodge was within reach, so on I went.

I used the GPS for the first time on this trip to check the GR of the turn off, as I do not know this neck of the woods at all. I soon found myself approaching the impressive Mar Lodge and was then in a quandary. How do you get in? As I pondered this dilemma, another likely looking Challenger approached from behind and he seemed to know the way, I fell into stride along side him and we chatted. As a second time Challenger, he recognised my inexperience and was happy to steer me in the right direction to the rear of the building where there was the door to my shelter for the night.

Approaching Mar Lodge from behind

Our approach must have been observed, as a chap soon appeared through the glass door to our left. A chap I recognised. As he opened the door, I exclaimed “I know you!” “Louise!” “Mick!” What an absolute treat! Gayle duly appeared by his side and an enjoyable evening began. My companion turned out to be Robert and when we went into the kitchen with the promise of tea, I found Pat was already enjoying his evening meal.

We were soon both allocated a room and both took time for a kit explosion before revisiting the kitchen to make the most of an electric kettle to boil water to rehydrate our evening meals. Tea, coffee and chocolate were all enjoyed with much chat and catching up. Gayle gave her approval of my recently purchased (and now received) PHD bag which I was grateful for.

I sent Robert off for his bath/shower so that I could then have mine before retiring straight to bed. The shoulder had been much better. However, by now, my heel was not pretty and in fact, during the course of the evening I had become aware of an unpleasant odour emanating from it’s general direction. Before bed, I’d had a closer look, trimmed the current Compeed and applied more where necessary. All I needed to do was get into Braemar, then the heel could have a rest and TTS could give his valued opinion.

I knew it wouldn’t lead to a good night though.

Friday 20th May, 2011

Mar Lodge to Braemar
4.79 miles 458 ft

I was right, I spent a lot of the night fretting about my heel. It was throbbing, hot and disturbed me numerous times, but that could have been my over active imagination!

When I got up and ventured downstairs, we were all up, but plans were again being slightly altered. The weather was miserable, it even appeared to be snowing from time to time. Mick and Gayle delayed their departure so that they could ‘pop up’ Morrone, some of us decided on a more sedate plod to Braemar, Pat left early regardless of the weather, doing a fine impression of Nanuke of the North! Much tea and coffee was consumed in the meantime.

We were soon all on our way, although more Challengers were discovered enjoying the pleasures of the kitchen before we left, including Stan.

Mar Lodge, from the front

As Robert and I strolled along the road, chatting, we caught up with a slow moving, green rucksack cover with legs. When, for a brief moment, the rucksack cover turned to the side, I recognised the profile. “Laura!” “Who’s that?” “It’s Louise!” “Hello!”

Quite a nice day

My pal Laura

So the three of us chatted and strolled into Braemar in search of coffee and cake, which we found after Pat sent us on a wild goose chase. Then we found Mick and Gayle, then egg and chips followed by the outdoor shop. We decided it was time to make for the campsite and I got such grief for wanting two pitches.

How dare I want two pitches?

Hardly stuffed to the gunwales. Yet.

We made our way back into the village and ended up in the Fife Arms only for David and the children to arrive mid drink. We retired to the campsite to pitch both tents and consume chicken curry. I didn’t fancy much wine, I was too cold and ended up going to bed, tired but happy.

Sunday 22nd May, 2011

Braemar to Allt-na-giubhsaich
14 miles 2207 ft

Today, I set off with Laura, because this is her neck of the woods and she knows the way! Actually, more because I enjoy her company, but I wasn’t going to let on.

It was another funny day, sunny, showery, breezy, warm turning to quite chilly. Actually, the breezy became more like really windy at times. We bumped into lots of people and Colin walked with us for a while.

Invercauld House

The woodlands of Braemar estate are jolly fine and we took a lovely break amongst the trees, followed by a bit of a gear faff by me. Soon, we struck out into the open to find a shed for another break, having decided we would bypass Gelder Shiel. It was quite a long slog up the hill before turning a corner and making our way down the other side, which included a river crossing where sandals were deployed. It was really quite gusty in the late afternoon and we were beginning to have difficulty at times.

 Lunch stop

Sometimes it was nice

An unusual view of a rainbow

We came upon a tent village at Allt-na-giubhsaich and after much milling and discussion, decided that we would also camp in this naughty place. By this time, it was obvious any other shelter would be hard to come by. Although it was quite early, at 4 o’clock, it would probably have taken at least another two hours to find alternative shelter and given the worsening conditions, this could have been quite exhausting. Little did we know…

We were in bed by 7pm, maybe a little extreme, but there was little to do and we hoped for a good sleep. My heel was feeling much better since David had doctored it the night before. This was the only night I felt a little chilly in Millicent, but not for long.

Monday 23rd May, 2011

Allt-na-giubhsaich to Tarfside
15.4 miles 1837 ft

We could hear the wind during the night, but the woods were very sheltered and we had been able to enjoy the conversation between a pair of Tawny Owls as we’d nodded off to sleep. It began to rain lightly before we got up, but it was nothing compared to what we could see along the exposed track towards the Loch Muick visitor centre. Ah.

We broke camp in good time and made our way along the windswept track by 8am, only to take a break at the visitor centre. We enjoyed the use of the temporary loos and a hot orange drink before persuading ourselves we really had to get on with it and made our way up Allt Darrarie.

Oh my, talk about in spate, it was wild. There was much wet and plenty of bog. And there’s that flimsy, side-less bridge to cross. Deep joy. Onwards.

We knew we followed the stream until it split, then follow the right hand stream, negotiating the end of it (bog) through the gap and left again to find the Shielin of Mark. There it was! It was a bit wild getting there, the river was full to bursting and the rain came sideways. As we approached the bothy, there was a group of chaps across the river. They shouted to us, offering help to cross the raging torrent. This was a sensible option, but we needed shelter for lunch, of which there would be none until much further on and we needed to eat. It was before midday and we felt sure others would be along to help and if not, we would shelter at the bothy. We thanked them and reluctantly, they left us there.

We took shelter and had lunch. The bothy was dark and cold, not a place to linger. Soup was on the menu for both of us, along with oatcakes and anything else I could find! I took my jackets off and put on my down, bit daft but a sure way to warm up. We were soon joined by two chaps, Lee and Tony, who also brewed up, then Emily, John, Carrie and Dominique.

After a bit more faffing, we were outside, with Lee and Tony, pondering the raging torrent in front of us. After first going upstream heading in to the gales, we turned downstream to find a crossing point. I admitted my nerves, I’d never done a crossing like this before, but the boys were brilliant, finding a place they thought we could all cross, Laura and I with their help. They went first, followed by Laura, then me, fully dressed, no point in deploying the sandals this time. They encouraged my every step, constantly reassuring me. When I reached the opposite bank, there was one step into deep water, then I was hauled out by our heroes.

Laura and I poured water from our boots and wrung out our socks before continuing on.

Tony and Lee went on ahead, waving in the distance from time to time to show us the way. I carried on quite happily, even though it was uphill bogginess. Laura was flagging a little, but having a ball nevertheless. The weather was fun, apparently!

When we eventually caught up, we urged them to carry on at their own pace, but they refused to leave us until we had crossed the next burn at Stables of Lee. As we continued on up Muckle Cairn, the winds just got ridiculous. I have never been outside in anything like these conditions and I will never forget them. Laura was blown over, but managed to right herself and we continued up and then down the hill, being buffeted and blown and rained and hailed upon.

We reached the LRT and continued down the hill where we found the boys were right. We did indeed need help to cross the burn, but it was easier this time, narrower, so over more quickly and maybe not quite so deep. Confident we were safe, they left us and we had a brief break in the Stables. When we carried on, the wind was worse. It came from all directions, stopping us in our tracks, throwing us around, pushing us forward. We were soaked, had faces stinging from hail and were beginning to tire. I was glad to get to the road after Kirkton and the decision was made not take the footpath, despite being a mile shorter, as the road seemed to offer more shelter.

It felt like a long road to Tarfside. I began to worry about our condition and situation, we needed to find shelter and soon, but I did at least feel sure that if we just kept going, we could get there.

When we did, oh the relief. No matter that St Drostan’s was full, no matter there was no power, there was still hot food and friendly faces. Mike Knipe met us at the roadside and guided us inside, Mick, Gayle and Colin were soon at our sides, helping to unclip, remove gloves, coats, boots. A mug of hot soup was soon pressed into my hands by Gayle, horrified to find my hands replaced by lumps of ice. They’d also decided to share their tiny room with us, although in the end, Laura shared with Pat and Frank and I with Gayle and Mick.

The Fabulous Ladies of St Drostan’s conjured food and everyone that wanted was fed. We were reminded to be extra careful as the hostel was overfull, but there was an easy, friendly, relaxed atmosphere as we were all safe and well. There was some anxiety for others that we knew were still in the hills, we hoped they all had shelter.

Today was strangely exhilarating. The conditions and the way it affected the landscape was extraordinary. I’ve never been in such punishing conditions before and at times, I’m not afraid to admit, I was frightened, but at others, we laughed, “Pah to the wind!” we said. You had to laugh or you’d spend the whole day sobbing and distraught.

We took a risk and survived.

Surprisingly, there are no photographs of the days events…

Tuesday 24th May, 2011

Tarfside to North Water Bridge
16.9 miles 682 ft

Surprisingly, the next morning, most of our kit was about dry. I was impressed, seeing as my rucksack had been soaked through and my boots were just ridiculously wet, again. I used David’s big woolly socks that were padding my collar bones to stuff my boots and they successfully sucked up a vast amount of water. My dry bags also appear to be excellent at their job and my borrowed sleeping bag had been dry when I’d climbed into it the night before.

It was a nice day today, all day. Even the breezy bits! We left Tarfside just before 8.30am, Mick and Gayle having already vacated the room and headed off about 7am. They like an early start. We soon reached the Retreat where we stopped for breakfast. Yet again, I just couldn’t quite manage to eat. Damn these nerves of mine! Colin joined us, but managed to finish and leave before us as we took a last moment to enjoy with porcelain. We were soon on our way and successfully found the track down to the bridge across the river. It was a very different river today.

 A great stop for breakfast

Not so raging

We made good progress all day, had the odd snack, water, gear faff and got to Edzell in time for a late lunch at the Tuck Inn, which was smashing. We bumped into lots of Challengers, Colin, Frank, Jim and all the boys whose names I have forgotten. It’s an age thing.

After lunch, we had to negotiate the Unsafe Bridge we’d heard tell of. Sure enough, there were barriers, but we soon scaled those and made our way across, oops! The loose board was right at the other end, I found out. There followed a bit of a road slog to North Water Bridge, but I didn’t really notice as I was behind Laura so wasn’t focussed on the long straight road.

Well, we got to the other side

Tent village

Tent city

There were many Challengers at the site and yet another pleasant evening followed with showering, washing, dinner, chocolate, spectating table tennis (oh Mick, that was sooo close!) maps perused, plans made and route agreed. Me, Laura, Mick, Gayle and Jon would head out together to finish in St Cyrus, a day ahead of schedule for me. Amazing.

Wednesday 25th May, 2011

North Water Bridge to St Cyrus
8.21 miles 605 ft

We made a good getaway from the campsite, aided by the edge of a rain shower which saw all the tents disappear as one. Jon Hancock and Colin joined us and we wended our merry way along country lanes towards the sea. Colin took an alternative route as we headed over the Hill of Morphie, Mick was following his nose for a tea room. It failed him.

 How did that one sneak in?
On our way to the sea


When we reached the village, we headed for the beach, joined by Mervyn. First we climbed down the cliff face. We dipped toes, we congratulated one another, we hugged, shook hands and photographed.

 Toe dipping
Think that hat is wearing me
Mervyn, Jon, Laura, Gayle and Mick

Then, we climbed up the cliff face. That took a while. On the way up, we met more Challengers. Mick was absolutely gutted to find the tea rooms he'd so looked forward to had closed down. Disaster! Instead, we joined an ever growing crowd of Challengers in the queue for the bus. The driver was not so happy to see so many single fares with £10 notes.

We made it to the Park, where we were greeted by Roger and handed our certificate, badge and t-shirt. Tea and biscuits were enjoyed before I decided to enquire after a room for an extra night. Success! Then Laura got one. Then there was a bit of bed juggling and Mick and Gayle had Laura’s room and I sub let my twin bed to Laura.

Many Challengers arrived, there were kisses and handshakes, tea, beers. The evening meal was arranged and after some ablutions, a group of nine went for a curry. We were joined in the restaurant by several other Challengers.

 There are rather a lot of bottles there

Curry night

Upon our return to The Park, Laura and I retired to our beds, the excitement was just too much for us. I believe others may have indulged in more drinking.

Thursday 26th May, 2011

The Park Hotel

Much milling about, eating, retail therapy, drinking and celebrating went on today, not least because it was my birthday! I don’t think there’s any need to go into great detail, but I was touched by people’s kindness, especially Gayle and Mick and Barbara and Hugh for their cards and bubbly and Laura for my beautiful TGO fleece. It’s purple and soft and cosy and I love it! Thank you all.

I went to the meal in the evening, delighted to be able to sit with Mick and Gayle, slightly worried to have been asked to present Roger with his handmade card as a representative of all first timers. Thanks so much Alan, what a treat, over 300 people sang Happy Birthday to me, not at all embarrassing.

Cheers Roger

There was eating, drinking, clapping, cheering, speeches photographs. In fact, it’s all pretty much a blur. I finally met Martin Banfield in the bar, along with a few others, like Roger Boston. I’m sure there were others, but we’ve already established I’m rubbish with names. It was gone twelve before Laura and I made our way to bed.

Friday 27th May, 2011

Today was the day to go home. Laura decided to join me on the train and so off we went to the station. There were many other Challengers, but they were going the other way.

 Photograph wars

Then there were none

They went that way

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