The Great Outdoors Challenge 2015 Dornie to Johnshaven

I had intended a far more southerly route, but Alan Sloman was celebrating his last Great Outdoors Challenge Cheese and Wine further north, so I had to adjust my route accordingly. Luckily, having had to retire in 2013 due to an untimely asthma attack, I had a ready made route that could be easily adjusted for a new start and that's just what I did. I was still able to cover quite a bit of new ground and lay some demons to rest at the same time.
So, onward with the adventure...

Part One
To the Start...

Day 0
Thursday 9th May
Home to Shiel Bridge

Had to get up early to allow time to nip down to the town hall to vote, the only 'nipping' I would be doing for the next two weeks.
Cross made, I then returned home for my pack, loaded it into the car and drove to the station. Unfortunately, the car park was full, so I drove out and back round the corner to Tesco, where I abandoned the car for David to collect later. Ciara had come with me to wave me off and take the keys home with her. Slightly more complicated arrangements than usual, but I was soon installed on the train at a table with two business ladies. Somehow I managed to engage them in conversation (something they said gave me a fit of the giggles. No idea...) and we were soon chatting about The Challenge. I made my first sale!
The station was surprisingly devoid of Challengers, but I had to do a double take as a familiar figure caught my eye, Dougie Vipond was just going onto the platform. Dougie presents the television programme The Adventure Show which featured The Great Outdoors Challenge in 2008 and first sparked my interest. A sign of good luck perhaps?
Off I trotted (not much of that over the next two weeks either...) to Craigdon Mountain Sports to get a gas canister before making my way to the bus station where I was hoping to bump into a few more Challengers, including Vanessa Ling and Carl Mynott.
As it turned out, I was a lonely Challenger a while longer, poor Vanessa's bus had broken down and the replacement would mean a very quick pit stop for her before catching her onward bus. We had moments to say hello, goodbye and good luck.
Not too long after, Jim Davidson appeared who I recognised from the journey to last year's Challenge start at Shiel Bridge with Laura. We got chatting and were planning to go for coffee when Carl Mynott arrived. We adjourned to the café for refreshments (it was Baltic outside!) and Jim and I minded Carl's pack while he ran a few errands, including some minor admin to change his bus ticket so he could travel with us instead of hanging around like a bad smell in Inverness for a few hours. I caught sight of another familiar figure passing by the window as we chatted and ran outside to intercept the dependable Colin Reid. Luckily, he knows me well enough not to be too unsettled by my over excited greeting and happily allowed me to drag him into the café to join the boys.
We were soon on the bus with lots of other excited Challengers for the journey to our start points, Glenelg, Shiel Bridge and Dornie. I had opted to stop over at Shiel Bridge for the social and because I like the Trekkers Lodge at the Kintail Lodge Hotel, so I would be catching the local bus in the morning to my sign out at Dornie.
On arrival, in the usual chaos, it became apparent that Patrick Deane's booking had gone astray and he had no bed for the night. The only available was the spare in my room, so of course I agreed to share in the circumstances. I was given the bottom bunk as I'd booked linen and that was the one made up, fortunately for me.
Carl and Andy at the bar at the Kintail Lodge Hotel

A pleasant evening was had as I chatted and shared a meal with Carl, Andrew Walker, Gordon Green and Richard Flint, but went off to my bed shortly after 9 pm.
Part Two
The walk begins...
Day 1
Friday 8th May
Planned: Dornie to Gleann Sithidh
13.7 miles 2721 feet ascent
Actual: Dornie to NH 051 290
12.2 miles 2322 ft ascent

I was up in plenty of time to pack the few bits and pieces I'd had to unpack for the night and eat breakfast before taking myself and my rucksack up to the side of the road to wait for the little local bus to take me to my start point at Dornie. Sure enough, at 9 am the bus arrived and I made myself comfy for the short drive to the Dornie Hotel. I had a lovely chat with the elderly local lady I found myself seated next to and she was most impressed with the adventure I was about to embark on.
At Dornie, Colin Reid was waiting to take my seat to make the journey to his start point of Plockton. We said a brief cheery hello as our paths crossed and then I was alone outside the hotel on what was shaping up to be a glorious day. Once I found the entrance, (the Reception sign should have been a clue...) I found the reception deserted. The signing out register was on a low table with a pen and a small, plastic box bearing the message 'Shortbread for Judith and Louise from Martin and Sue' (or words to that effect). How fabulous and what a wonderful start to my sugar fuelled crossing of Scotland. Thank you Sue and Martin! At some point I will rectify your missing pieces of my cake...
After the obligatory faff, I went in search of a suitable place to dip my toes in the water so that I could really get started on my Challenge. A short way along Loch Long I found a little gap between a wall and a fence where I could get down to the water relatively easily. It was like a mill pond and incredibly clear, beautiful.

Toes dipped, I set off in earnest, along the loch, accompanied by sandpipers and wheatears. I ambled at what I hoped would become my Challenge Pace and before long I was crossing the bridge over River Glennan and following it up the glen. It was a very pleasant walk and I paused regularly to enjoy the views, especially those of the loch disappearing and the distant hills of the Isles of Skye behind me. It was wonderful.

I was aware of a walker, probably a Challenger, behind me and expected them to catch me up quite quickly. Fairly soon, I was joined for a short while by Ian Cotterill. We chatted briefly, but he was soon drawing ahead of me. Every so often he would turn and take photographs of the splendid views behind us, with a wide angled lens so hopefully I will appear as an unrecognisable dot... The glen becomes steep sided and narrow as it climbs towards Camas-luinie.
 The last view of civilisation...

Along the glen to Skye

After going through the new gate at the top, I walked a few metres along a path before realising it was going away from my chosen lunch stop at the parking area below and contouring the hill. I retraced my steps and started again, but the path I wanted was tricky to see. With a clear view of the houses below, I made my way carefully down the steep, rough ground before crossing a bridge and going through another gate that left me on the road that goes between the small collection of dwellings. At the car park, there were a couple of picnic benches and I chose the least dilapidated to sit at and enjoy my lunch and a good break. I took advantage of the spectacular weather, knowing full well it was unlikely to last for the entire crossing. I even applied sun cream.
After a good 45 minutes, I was on my way again, taking the track that runs along the south side of River Elchaig, where the path was wet, muddy and winding, until crossing the bridge at NG 968 277. It was a much more pleasant wander along the road than last time in 2013, when the weather was more unsettled and cooler. I received a huge fright as a woman ran up behind me silently and spoke as she passed me by. I may have accidentally said a naughty word. I apologised.
A while later a man with an enormous rucksack was walking towards me, which I thought a little odd. As he approached, I asked, "Are you another Challenger?" "Yes." he said. "Oh, hello! I'm Louise." "I'm Robert McKay. I've missed my turn off to the Falls of Glomach, I think it's 200m this way..." and he wondered off.
West along Strath Duilleach

I continued on my way and eventually arrived at my nemesis, Iron Lodge. I was greeted by, "By the hat that must be Louise!". Craig and Vicky Gulley had pitched their tent at the western gable end and were making themselves at home for the night. As I went to get some water, Craig kindly fetched me a chair from inside for me to sit and take a break whilst I decided whether or not to camp with them or tackle the Zig Zags so I wouldn't have to face them (the zig zags, not the delightful Craig and Vicky!) in the morning. After a good chat my decision was made to carry on up the Zig Zags and at least make an effort to stick to my route sheet for the first day at least, so off I went.
The Zig Zags are vicious, but I soon had them conquered and continued along the path towards the first spot I thought might be quite nice. It was! It was also already occupied, by John and Norma Keohane. Being the exceptionally lovely couple that they are, and despite the fact they usually camp alone, they happily welcomed me to share the bowling green of a pitch we'd found and I duly pitched my little Laser for the first time this Challenge. It took me a while. I fetched some water and we chatted as I fired up my Flash, rehydrated my meal and disembowelled my rucksack.

We all settled down quite early and Sir Ian McKellan was soon lulling me to sleep, reading Michelle Paver's Wolf Brother. Bliss.
A wonderful first day with fabulous weather and little but delightful company.
Day 2
Saturday 9th May

Planned: Gleann Sithidh to Gleann nam Fiadh
11.9 miles 4674 feet
Actual: NH 051 290 to Athnamulloch (FWA)
10.7 miles 2531 feet ascent (cum 22.9 miles 4853 feet)

I never sleep well the first night in my tent, so I wasn't too surprised to be tired in the morning. It was, however, promising to be another glorious day, which was enough to put a smile on my face and eventually motivate me to make a move. John and Norma left as I was making a meal of packing up and drinking coffee and they were shortly followed by Craig and Vicky, but I wasn't too late leaving, it was not long after 9 am. Maybe.

I had far better views of my surroundings again today and it was really rather wild and lovely. I passed Loch an Droma, looking for somewhere I might have been able to pitch had I continued towards my intended stop over the night before. As I walked, I caught occasional glimpses of Vicky and Craig way ahead of me on the track, but Norma and John would have been well on their way along the north side of Loch Mullardoch.
I eventually caught up with the Gulleys as they had a long break and I joined them. Craig suggested we stayed together for the ford, especially as I'd been this way before. The ford in Gleann a' Choilich hadn't posed any problems for me last time and I was confident that the recent good conditions would mean an easy crossing this time too, but I was glad of the company and we strolled along amiably and getting to know one another. The ford was soon upon us at the mouth of the glen. The hills around us seemed to have a bit of snow on the tops, confirming my decision to stick with my FWA of the Bealach Coire Ghádheil. The ford was straightforward, as expected, and as I sat down to change back into my boots and have something to eat, the Gulleys decided to walk on into the glen and make their way to the bealach.

 Craig and Vicky Gulley lead the way
Successful fording
After lunch, I continued along the 'good stalker's path', a mixed affair of good path and boggy ground, but a vast improvement on last time when it had thought it was a small burn. Gleann a Choilich is a long glen running beneath towering, snow capped munros, however it doesn't really take as much time as I imagined it would to start making it's way steadily up to the bealach where once again I joined the Gulleys and stayed in their company till the end of the day. Craig did an excellent job of scouting the path ahead and staying bang on it as Vicky and I enjoyed the views all the way up, (code for breathing...) during one such moment we spotted a body toiling their way up the path behind us, they seemed to be catching us.
The head of Gleann a' Choilich
 The first glimpse of the hills over the bealach

Craig and Vicky at the bealach
We made the bealach and congratulated each other on our efforts, taking photographs and selfies, before making our way carefully down onto the path that would eventually take us into Glen Affric. I remembered this part seemed to take an age last time, but it could have been the weather at the time. Part way down we were joined by the figure that had been chasing us, it turned out to be fellow Challenger Ray Disson, in whose company I was to spend quite some time over the rest of the Challenge. We all made our way down until close to the end, when Ray went ahead while Vicky and I took a comfort break before heading to our camp spot for the night at Athnamulloch. On the way we met my pal Colin Reid, who was looking quite exhausted and Robert McKay, who had planned to be at Cougie and was behind. When we arrived at Strawberry Cottage, the usual camp was busy, very busy! Including a couple of vehicles. There were two groups of tents, we assumed the ones by the vehicles weren't Challenge related and besides, from quite some distance away, I had recognised my old Challenge pals, Jayme Morgan and Peter Molenaar, so I made directly for the old bothy and plumped for a bearable pitch between the boys (someone had to...) and started to organise myself.

I managed to persuade the boys to take a granola bar each, which they devoured and appeared to enjoy, but mainly they lightened my load. We had finished slightly later than I normally like, and I was being nagged about eating dinner, but I eventually finished faffing and socialising and settled down with Sir Ian. A very satisfying and enjoyable day.
Day 3
Sunday 10th May
Planned: Gleann nam Fiadh to River Enrick
16 miles 2135 feet ascent
Actual: Athnamulloch to Cannich (FWA Mk II)
16.7 miles 1985 feet (cum. 39.6 miles 6838 feet)
Again, not much sleep was had and I didn't find the sound of gentle rain on the fly sheet exactly encouraging, but as everyone else was making the effort to move on, I thought I probably should too. I think Ray was the  only camper left when I hefted my pack and set off, once again, along the south shore of the loch. It was a damp start to the day. I was caught up by Ray quite quickly  and we in turn caught up with the Gulleys and had company for the rest of the day. The weather was wet. And it got wetter. In the end, I was wetter than a wet thing. I was also feeling a tad low at times.

A last look back
We walked on, chatting and getting wet and found Robert, again heading in the wrong direction having missed the turn off for Cougie (...which is signposted...) He seemed to think someone had told him there was a better path. The signed one is decidedly wet and muddy. We wished him well and continued on our way. Ray had been discussing his route and took a turn to the Glen Affric car park, although I did mention that I thought he'd really wanted the Dog Falls car park. Later, as we took a damp and chilly break, Ray re-joined us. I hate being right. Onwards, ever onwards, another break was eventually taken when we found some rocks to perch on by the side of the track and later still, not long before the Tomich turn off, we were joined by Peter and Jayme.
There was much discussion about routes, the boys and the Gulleys were all headed for the hotel at Tomich, I was headed beyond to pitch near the Enrick bothy and Ray was headed to Cannich. I was giving my choice some thought. The weather was miserable, and knew that once everyone stopped at the hotel, I would feel less inclined to continue. However, that would leave me 16 miles to reach my B&B the next day and I prefer to arrive in good time to make the most of accommodation that I have booked. It occurred to me that if I headed to Cannich (...again) it would mean only a 12 mile day to Drumnadrochit. This was more appealing. So at the Tomich turn off, I headed off with Ray to the Dog Falls car park.
There was more wet chatter as we discussed dehydrated food options and the personal challenges of The Challenge and once we were at the car park, we made use of the facilities. Then we had a brief discussion about our onward route, by road, quick, straightforward but dull and bad for the feet, or the Kintail Affric Way, newly signposted, new ground and less sore for the feet. We took the latter option. And immediately complained about a) heading in the wrong direction (west) and b) the amount of up! Still, we persevered and were rewarded with a fairly pleasant woodland stroll with at least no traffic or tarmac until the end, even if it was still damp.
Family and genealogy was the main topic of conversation on this stretch and I hope Ray enjoyed my company as much as I did his, it was very entertaining. We arrived in Cannich roughly at our predicted time and after a short debate (pub, campsite, pub, campsite) we headed straight for the campsite to pitch and have a quick wash and brush up before heading for the pub for suitable refreshments.

There were several Challengers on the campsite, including John and Norma, Ian, Colin, David Albon, David Brown, Lindy Griffiths (horribly late and bedraggled arrival) and others. Poor David Albon had had an airbed failure and was trying to mend a puncture in the laundry. After I'd finished my faffing and ablutions, David was ready for the pub, so as I made a call to TTS we walked that way together.
The pub was quite busy with various Challengers enjoying a meal. Phil Lambert and Alan Sloman made a brief appearance with tales of hard to reach hills, lost poles and taxi rides, but were soon on their way to Drumnadrochit for the night. I had a coke (The Crave of this Challenge) and beef burger and chips (no bun) with salad followed by two scoops of vanilla ice cream. It was rather yummy.
We returned to the campsite, suitably replete and retired to our tents where I snuggled up with Sir Ian.
There are few photographs of today, can't think why...
Day 4
Monday 11th May

Planned: River Enrick to Drumnadrochit
12.3 miles 1061 feet
Actual: Cannich to Drumnadrochit
12.2 miles 1316 feet (cum. 51.8 miles 8154 feet)

So, Monday dawned and yet again, I had not slept brilliantly. I gradually packed up and then went to the café for breakfast with John, Norma and David Brown. Beans on toast and a can of coke (bit early in the day perhaps...) set me up nicely and I was on the road, literally, by about 9.40 am, my latest start of this years Challenge (except for my half day off later on) It's a long, persistent hill that takes you up and out of Cannich. It goes on and on and is wet when it rains. And it was raining. It always rains when I walk up that hill, I need to stop going there.
After a while of road walking and vehicle dodging, there appears the turn off for Corrimony, which is where I would continue on the Kintail Affric Way off road. On the corner is a concrete bus stop and I decided to take a break from the rain inside. Whilst I sheltered I was joined by John and Norma and David Albon. As we prepared to make a move, a white van came down from Corrimony towards us, with a front passenger waving manically at us. Poor Norma thought I'd been squashed when she heard me squeal, where as in actual fact, I had recognised the maniac, TTS! Neither of us knew either of us would be at that place at that time, it was an incredible coincidence and a wonderful surprise and after a quick chat and a snog, we were once more on our way, only this time I was floating along with a huge grin on my face.
Once on the Way, I believe it may have rained on and off as we made our way along pleasant woodland tracks. A pause in another bus stop at saw us collecting more  Challengers, Colin, Ray, Greg Lindstrom and Gordy Matthew. Our merry little group snacked at the picnic tables at Lochletter and discussed the onwards route. It's a pleasant enough track through the woods, with some undulation, but is time consuming. I had decided to take the quicker option of the road, again conscious that I wanted to make the most of my accommodation, and others soon followed my lead (never to be recommended!) and the little Challenge Crocodile was mobilised. A little over an hour later, we made our way into town and dispersed to various establishments. Ray and I both had bookings at Fiddlers, so we headed to the coffee shop to book in.

left to right Ray Disson, David Albon, Colin Reid, Norma Keohane, Greg Lindstrom, Gordy Mathew and John Keohane

The tent was dangled over the wardrobe...

My room may not have been en-suite, but it was large and had a double bed. There was plenty of room to spread out and dry a few things. Especially after I'd washed them. But first, the wardrobe was duly decorated with my lovely Laser and various other bits liberally distributed before I went to enjoy a neck deep bath. Bliss. Later, after popping to the post office, a little hand-washing and neatening up my liberally distributed belongings, I made my way across to Fiddlers pub to meet David and Ray for Dinner, and my friend Susan from Drumnadrochit who was going to join us for a drink.
A very pleasant evening was had before I returned to my room, made the all important phone call home, then settled down with Sir Ian.
A day that had started with the glums ended with a lovely warm glow.
Day 5
Tuesday 12th May
Planned: Drumnadrochit to Allt Mor
12.2 miles 2512 feet
Actual: Drumnadrochit to Glen Mazeran
18.4 miles 3069 feet (cum. 70.2 miles 11,223 feet)

So, for some reason in the midst of my planning, I'd decided that the early ferry was a brilliant idea. In the event, the best bit was the cheese and salad doorstep I was given in lieu of breakfast. It lasted  me two days. I was also given a packet of Tyrell's crisps, a mini bar of Green and Black's milk chocolate and a carton of orange juice. Brilliant.

The lunch
I left the B&B at 7.25 am and just at the corner, met John and Norma. Together we made the walk to the pier to catch Gordon's ferry to Inverfarigaig. We were joined by eight other Challengers (there were two missing in the end), including Ian, Jeremy Burrows, Jim? Reinoud Wolter? and Richard Batteram?, Greg and someone else... We had a lovely little trip across the water and disembarking at the other side wasn't too traumatic, nobody lost their Pacer Pole overboard this year, and we were all soon our way up another never ending hill. First though, the all important stop at the posh loos. Then upwards, ever upwards.

It didn't seem to take too long to stroll along the road to reach our turn off. Well, it was a bit of a struggle, but in good company. The weather was a bit miserable, raining off and on and quite breezy, but struggle on we did. We soon caught brothers Peter and Roger enduring a similar struggle, hampered further by ill health, but still struggling on. We were looking for some shelter, from trees, a wall, bank, bus shelter, phone box, anything! Anywhere to give some respite from the chilly breeze to rest our feet and have a snack.
A lone walker came into view, walking towards us and not carrying a pack, so obviously not a Challenger. A walker wearing a Paramo jacket of a colour I only know one person owning. No, surely not...but yes! Gayle had known my route and was out looking for me in order to take me to Colin and ply me with tea and cake. Who am I to refuse? It was wonderful, sitting in the warmth and comfort of this familiar little van in great company devouring any cake offered and washing it down with mugs of tea. Wonderful. Soon, another figure hove into view approaching the van, Emma! She was waved into the van and she too enjoyed the delights Colin had to offer. We were just thinking about making a move when another figure toddled along the road towards us, Lindy. We vacated the van to give her room and peace, it was nothing she had done or said, honest. I believe Colin did a roaring trade that afternoon, thanks again Gayle, a real treat!

Amazing Gayle
Off we went again in fine spirits, now with Emma keeping us company, and soon the turn off along side the Allt Mor came into view and we were off into the hills once more, this time heading for the shooting hut at the top of the track which was planned as my overnight stop. My companions were much fitter and stronger than me and I encouraged them to leave me behind at me painfully slow pace, but in the end, we all approached the hut together. It gave me a bit of a fright. From a distance, the roof was wrong, it was slate. And appeared to be sitting on a stone building, not a wooden shack. Horrors. Was I in the wrong place? It was a completely new build, such a posh hut must be locked, oh no! Not a bit of it. There were people inside. Challengers? Indeed! Ian and Kirsten Paterson were enjoying this palatial lunch hut, and what a splendid lunch hut it was.
Norma, Emma, the well brother, John, Ian and Kirsten P.

We needed no invitation to join them and piled inside where there was the most impressive oak table and benches and a stove with the hugest pile of wood. Ian and Kirsten P. were soon on their way and we enjoyed a good break, soon being joined by Peter and Roger. Later on, Lindy also joined us at the hut. She was bushed and intending to stay, I was still feeling quite perky and decided to give Lindy some peace and make some headway into tomorrows route, so I tagged along with Norma, John and Emma to make our way over the top. A short bit of up was soon climbed, then it was a little bit of bog hopping before we finally crossed the watershed, picked a burn and followed it down. It was actually quite pleasant, certainly in the company.
Emma and I did a bit of catching up as we bog hopped together and before we knew it, the track was in view and we dropped straight onto it. The track led us into Glen Mazeran, but it did seem to take quite some time and we took a break seated on a grassy bank, trying to get out of the keen wind. We spotted Ian and Kirsten's pitch and a nice spot it was too, but we continued on to try to find a pitch recommended to Emma. We crossed the last bridge before the lodge and started to cast around for a pitch. We wandered a short distance away from the bridge and found a reasonable spot amongst a few trees, sheltered by a low bank. It was good enough, although a bit wet in places and obviously regularly frequented by deer, we had seen a few large herds in the glen already.

We were all soon pitched, water was fetched, meals rehydrated and eaten and hatches battened, it was a tad breezy. I settled down with Sir Ian.
Another fine day.
Day 6
Wednesday 13th May

Allt Mor to Insharn Bridge
15.6 miles 2199 feet
Glen Mazeran to Inverlaidnan
11.5 miles 1776 feet (cum. 81.7 miles 12,999 feet)

Emma and I were ready around the same time and set off together before John and Norma (this may have been the first and last time this happened). We had a really good catch up, chatted to some ponies aaaaaannd missed a turning. Goodness knows how! The tricky bit should have been getting over the bridge to avoid the lodge, ho hum, but it was worth it to make a fuss of the ponies, then we were soon on the right track, looking all innocent as we were caught up by John, Norma, Phil and Alan.

Off our little group went, all intending to take the track up to Carn Ruighe Shamhraich. Again, I toiled up the track, along with Peter/Roger (one of them...) and everyone shot off ahead of me, passing my turning and heading for the Wendy House for lunch. I decided to stick with my planned route, otherwise there would be some extra yomping and I already had enough ahead of me, so I took the short track heading east and dropped down to a little bridge where a nice sheltered spot enticed me to have lunch and a boot break by the Allt Lathach. I rather enjoyed my solo break, but soon it was time to be on my way. I crossed a slightly broken bridge, it wouldn't take a vehicle, but I figured a small, solo Challenger would probably be safe enough. I walked up to the main track and turned briefly south before picking my burn to follow up and round the side of Carn Phris Mhoir.
I had thought a lot about this part of my route during the planning of it as I knew there was an electric fence running down the centre of the Monadhliath further south and suspected there would be one here too. I had a few ideas of how I was going to deal with this. Following the burn up made the yomp fairly good fun and I made really good progress. As I neared the top, I could see a fence over to the right of me, soon there was a fence over to the left of me. Shortly after, there was a fence directly ahead of me and to my great delight, there was a gate! I could not believe my luck. Once I was standing next to it, I marked a POI on to my Viewranger so that I could pass this useful information on to Sue and Ali, then continued on my way, following a burn down now to meet the path below me. It took a little while and a little contouring to avoid some juniper, common in this part of the world, but soon my path hove into view and I dropped neatly on to it, feeling a little smug.

My lunch stop
 The broken bridge

Somewhere back there is the Wendy House
The gate!

I took my time strolling down to Insharn Bridge, my intended stop, but was dismayed upon my arrival to find the building marked on the map occupied. They also had a small menagerie with crowing cockerels and barking dogs. A peaceful night would not be had in this environs, so I decided to move on, but first I would wait for the Keohanes and Alan and Phil.
I waited. I snacked and waited some more. And then I waited just a little while longer before I decided they would probably make a similar decision and I strolled on a bit. As I turned a corner past the house, John and Norma could be seen coming down the track, so I waited just a tiny bit more for them to catch me up. I was right, they too thought Insharn was not the spot, maybe Sluggan Bridge would offer something better, but after walking a while and taking another squint at the map, we saw another option and instead, made our way to Inverlaidnan. Again, as we approached we found the two buildings marked on the map to be occupied and the surrounding fields occupied by sheep, but we were confident there was plenty of space between the fence and the bridge where there were some trees for shelter. At first it all looked a bit muddy and wet, but we soon found two perfect pitches (well, mine was, I never actually saw where John and Norma pitched), mine beside the river behind a small clump of trees and hidden from the view of the houses. It was the closest I've ever had to a solo wild camp. Norma came to say goodnight and then I never saw them again until the next afternoon. They wouldn't have found me as I moved my tent that I'd pitched on an ants nest, doh!

I had a nice evening, faffing with my stuff, fetching water, pumping up my airbed, rehydrating and eating my meal, oh, and mashing a tick to death with my ultra sharp Swiss Army Knife. It wasn't on me, but making it's way along my ground sheet. It was the only tick I saw on the crossing. It is a tick no more...
I settled down with Sir Ian before 8 pm.
Day 7
Thursday 14th May
Planned: Insharn Bridge to Nethy Bridge
14.6 miles 1029 feet
Actual: Inverlaidnan to Nethy Bridge
11.7 miles 741 feet (cum. 93.4 miles 13,740 feet)

I was awake at a reasonable time but after having had a rough, cold night, nodded off again. It was about 9.40 am by the time I set off and the Keohanes were long gone. It was straightforward to follow the track up to the road and after a short while, turn off and go through a gate to join the General Wade's Road through Beananach Wood, then on towards the Kinveachy Lodge and this was the route I chose, despite my planned route being to walk into Carrbridge, lunch, resupply and then follow the cycle path. This alternative was a really pleasant walk, mostly, and I made really good time until I neared the point at which I intended to cross the A9. I managed to make a real fist of finding the track I wanted, confused by a building that didn't seem to be on the map and couldn't have been the lodge. The obvious track ran directly passed the buildings, which I was therefore uncomfortable to take, so I eventually took the upper path and cut down over rough ground after having passed the house. (Having looked more closely, I can now see the buildings marked on the map, but they are heavily disguised) I crossed the A9 with little difficulty, although I have to say I always hate this bit...The track then takes you down to the A95, which is also a bit tricky, but I was soon safely strolling along the cycle path that would take me to Boat of Garten. Here, I went straight through the village, ignoring the campsite and its attached shop and instead popped into the little shop and post office opposite The Boat Hotel.
A typical General Wade's Road


The Lairig Ghru
Maps were parcelled and posted, then shopping could be done. There was quite a large selection of food and snacks, it took me quite some time to decide on my purchases, but I eventually selected a Clava Brie (from a dairy just up the road from where I live) for the C&W, plus some Babybel for me, a couple of rolls and the obligatory can of coke. They also sold some lovely fresh rolls and sandwiches and a cheese and tomato roll was just the ticket. I sat outside at a picnic bench, with boots off, to enjoy the sunshine (shaded by a huge parasol) and eat me lunch.
After a good break, I packed up my belongings and new purchases, hefted my pack and made it as far as the hotel before finding Kirsten P, dropping my pack and taking a seat. We were joined by Norma and John after a short while, out for a stroll from their B&B. After Gordy wandered passed, we decided it was time to go, so up went the packs and off we went. We soon caught Gordy and strolled on together, chatting amiably, for quite some time along the Speyside Way. Gordy dropped back and I suddenly got a signal and a few messages came through, including a voicemail from my DofE boss, so I had to pause to make a call and send a few texts, Kirsten disappeared into the distance and Gordy didn't reappear. I eventually arrived in Nethy Bridge and took advantage of the benches by the bridge to take a breather and call home (albeit accidentally whilst doing something else with my phone...)
 ...DON'T believe it...

Speyside Way through the forestry
Finding the Lazy Duck was straightforward, having driven passed it several times and it does have the odd signpost. It was very peaceful as I arrived and you are requested to ring a bell for attention. It's loud! And certainly gets you attention. I was shown where I could leave my pack at the hostel whilst I was given a tour. It's an unusual place, very quiet, clean and tidy, but I can't say I found the hostel ideal as a backpacker. It was already occupied by two couples, sharing the bed space upstairs, who had obviously been there for a week and had taken possession of the hostel. The hostel itself is an unusual open plan affair, so I was unavoidably disturbed by the young people who were neither backpackers nor walkers (and cheated badly at Scrabble.) I didn't even get to use the kettle. Very bizarre.

Still, I showered, I got my parcel containing The Cake for the C&W, I did some washing which got a blow on the line before decorating the bunk beds and I ate my meal before retiring behind the curtains of my chosen bunk with Sir Ian.
Another great day. (There seems to be a theme here. Wait till tomorrow. Ugh.)
Day 8
Friday 15th May

Nethy Bridge to Water of Caiplich
Planned: 12.4 miles 2178 feet
Actual: 16.1 miles 3023 feet (cum. 109.5 miles 16,763 feet)

After another not so brilliant night, I was soon up and ready to sneak off (I wasn't going to clang that damn bell so that someone could 'wave me off', however sweet that might seem!) so off I snuck at 9.10 am. My planned route would have taken me along to Dorback Lodge, then up Geal Charn Beag, across the top and down the burn to cross the Water of Caiplich in time for the C&W. However, I had spotted a more appealing route which would take me along a the road to Bynackbeg, then pick up a track that would take me to Abernethy Forest and then to a the Bile Buidhe track. So that's where I headed. I had a lovely time, it was a really enjoyable walk, expecially when I reached the forest, one of my favourite places and a part of it I've never visited before. It's a beautiful, peaceful place and I relished my solitude.

Towards Strath Nethy
After sometime, I arrived by the end of Loch a' Chnuic and it seemed like the perfect spot for lunch. A nice springy patch of grass was found, pack dropped, boots and socks off and lunch enjoyed. It was fantastic, one of the best things about the Challenge is having the opportunity to really appreciate your surroundings like this.

After a good long break, when the sky started to cloud over, I decided it was time to make a move, boots on, packed hefted and I was off again, following the track to Bile Buidhe. Unfortunately, this is where things started to go pear shaped and all because of a drop of rain. I reached the end of the track and the weather started to take a really nasty turn, it was now very windy and heavy showers were blowing through. I had to stop to put on my Paclite trousers and then made a bad decision. A really bad decision. Caught in a heavy shower, I didn't pause to check my map, convinced as I was that I knew where I was going. I just headed off down a burn, I wanted to get out of this miserable weather and I just didn't follow the rules.
 Eag Mhor


A lone tree on the skyline

After toiling down over some rough stuff I eventually hit more level ground and continued along the river, having to take the odd detour around meanders and large patches of juniper. I came across an old fence line, which I wasn't expecting...alarms quietly sounded... A while later I decided to climb up and over a small rise to avoid the narrow, steep sided section of the river and as I popped out at the top, I realised things had gone horribly wrong. I should not have been able to see any tracks. Or a shooting hut. This was wrong and the alarm bells were at full volume. Especially as I had a sneaky suspicion that I'd been here before, it was all very familiar.
I headed to the shooting hut in the hope that it was open so that I could get some respite from the weather, eat something and gather my thoughts. It was indeed open and as I entered, dropped my pack and whipped out the map I should have looked at sooner, my fears were confirmed. I was the wrong side of Geal Charn.
What. An. Idiot.
I was so cross. Such a stupid, unnecessary mistake, just 'cos I was lazy and the weather miserable. Ugh!
Still, people were expecting me, I needed a plan. Out came the real map (having walked off my print out) so that I could accurately weigh up my options. I could either yomp up the end of Geal Charn, which is steep and heathery, then yomp across the top and head down the burn of my choice, or I could do a shorter yomp across to the Allt Mor, ford it (not difficult) then take the path up to the other shooting hut and beyond to Geal Charn Beag, yomp across the top then down the burn of my choice. I decided on the second option which, whilst it was longer, it involved less yomping. Off I went, still very cross with myself, but at least I was in control of the situation and safe. I made good time along the track, took a quick break at the other shooting hut, then headed up the steep track to Geal Charn Beag. It is steep and rough in places, towards the top it gets quite vague, but I was soon making my way (...on a bearing, thank you very much) to the burn of my choice. At this point things took an unfortunate turn. It was very wet and windy and as I was poised to step yet another peat hag, I was caught off guard by a huge gust of wind and was blown over the side, hearing a crack as I fell. Fortunately it was a smallish hag. I lay briefly, happily now sheltered a bit, as I feared the worst. This was not where I wanted to be if I was injured and definitely not how I wanted my Challenge to end!
I wriggled my toes.
I gingerly rolled my ankle.
It all moved. There was no more searing pain (although I can't say it was pain free) I decided to see if it would take my weight. Luckily, as that was two stone lighter than last year, I thought there was a pretty good chance it would, gathered myself together (again) and headed off again (...on the bearing...) and it wasn't too long before I was at the head of my chosen burn (...I checked, carefully...) and I was finally able to head down and out of the wind a bit. Of course, the ground was still rough and I was tired and emotional, and careless. I turned my ankle another three times, with much cursing and a few tears before I finally made it down to the bottom. From a vantage point before I crossed the water, I got a great view of the C&W Gathering, took a photograph, then made my way to the river, where the adorable David Albon was waiting to encourage me from the opposite bank, what a treasure. I crossed safely, a boots off job, and got a huge hug, before Jayme, Carl and Andrew took away my lovely Laser to pitch it for me, in return for the cake of course, cupboard love. What stars they were, and my tent was perfectly pitched, "Bomber!" as Andrew put it.

After much faffing in my tent to organise myself and get my warm clothes on, I joined the party and a brilliant time was had by all. Such lovely people and great fun and  Challenge Cake.

Later, there was the After Party, attended by Carl, Lynsey Pooler, Phil and me in Alan's party tent, a little more wine was enjoyed and I inadvertently kissed a slug before I made my way at about 11  (in the dark) back to my lovely Laser and snuggled up with Sir Ian again.
Bit of a mixed bag day!
Day 9
Saturday 16th May

Planned: Water of Caiplich to Tulluchmacarrick
16.9 miles 1855 feet
Actual: Water of Caiplich to Daldownie
14 miles 1743 feet (cum. 123.5 miles 18,506 feet)

Okay, so we've got used to the idea that sleeping is not my thing, and when I finally started organising myself I thought I should take a look at the ankle. It was quite pretty, a nice bruise was coming out and there was a fair amount of puffiness. Well, swelling, quite a bit of swelling. A quick delve in my first aid kit produced a blue, self-conforming bandage and I proceeded to bandage my poorly appendage. Quite tricky it turns out, bandaging your own ankle in a confined space, but I managed to get up and away just after the main group and before Alan and Phil, Norma and John and Jayme and Peter. *I took my time following the river, I had to go very close to the river's edge at times and sometimes right along the water line, but I quite enjoyed picking my way through the rocks and over the rough ground, even if it was time consuming taking care of my poorly ankle. I was not too surprised to be caught up by Jayme and Peter, who promptly yomped ahead, then Norma and John. John picked a good line along the old fence and I was pleased to follow them, it took the pressure off and I could concentrate on taking care. We were soon at The Castle along with Jayme and Peter and we walked together as a group for the next few miles.
Just the start of it...

 Looking back to the camp

The boys, making a break for it

Glen Builg
We all took various breaks, or strode ahead and eventually during one such break Phil and Alan caught me up. I then joined them for a break by the river and we won't mention the brief navigational error. I walked with Phil and Alan for quite some time, there was a little chatter, but mainly grumpiness as every time we took a break, the sky clouded over and it snowed, rained or hailed. We had three river crossings to do, which were of course boots off jobs, so the bandage had to come off. I didn't have time to replace the bandage, so I tightened my boot to give some extra support, just till the end of the day.
Shortly before Corndavon Lodge, Alan needed some privacy, so I left them to it and strolled on, now on a really good track and my legs just wanted to stretch. I didn't want to stop at the lodge and in the event it was very busy, but I knew I was unlikely to make it to my intended stop, so I started to look for a reasonable place to stop. Eventually I came to the bridge that Alan had mentioned earlier and found a couple of tents pitched either side, Carl and Lynsey on the north bank and Shap and the Keohanes on the south.

I decided there was more room on the north bank and pitched between Carl and the bridge, on a slightly lumpy, slopey pitch, but good enough. Water collected, I zipped myself into my tent, had my dinner and realised I was just too tired to go back out again and socialise, even when I heard Gordy arrive, so I snuggled up with Sir Ian, again.
Not a bad day, all things considered.
*The diary exert reads "Sleet, rain, snow and that bloody wind!"
Day 10
Sunday 17th May

Planned: Tulluchmacarrick to Ballater
8.31 miles 792 feet
Actual: Daldownie to Ballater
11 miles 959 feet (cum. 134.5 miles 19,465 feet)

We know how the sleep went, so I was up and ready to leave just as Norma and John were, so the lucky pair got my company, again. We plodded along together, the track not being too unforgiving for my ankle and soon we found Robin Evans, although initially we didn't recognise him in his rather bright wind-shirt. We weren't going to lose him! We continued and chatted and decisions were made, hills or no hills. We chose no hills, but Bob Cartwright and his entourage chose hill.

Before Gairnshiel Lodge
At some point we picked up Carl and Lynsey, although for some reason I can't actually remember where, rude! A loose group was formed and although the Keohanes paused for a boot break, we all went on in the same direction with Robin leading the way as he'd been here before. Lots of chatter about the route, the weather and gear. Actually, that was me and Lynsey, discussing packs and sleeping bags. We were soon on the road just over the bridge from Gairnshiel Lodge, dodging traffic. I was so distracted by the traffic I wasn't paying attention to my feet, the next thing I know, I'm over the edge of a pothole, searing pain in my ankle, pulled forward by my ridiculous pack and flattened underneath it on my left knee.
Ouch! OUCH, ouch, ouch, ouch.
And then there was the embarrassment and dented pride. Not to mention the wave of heat and nausea.
Despite being appalled at having hurled myself at the tarmac with an audience, I was immensely relieved to have such a wonderful bunch of people around me at the time. My pack was removed and taken away by Robin, after I'd removed my handy painkillers that I keep on the shoulder strap. My poles were removed from underneath me (hadn't even noticed I was sitting on them...) I took my boot off and rolled my trouser leg up. The foot and ankle were swollen and my knee was gouged, bleeding and full of grit. Carl held me till I'd calmed down a bit, then out with his first aid kit and the cleaning and patching up began. The initial and most sensible plan was to get me to the stream to get my foot in water, but once I'd been helped off the road and reunited with my pack, I just wanted to get in to Ballater. I can be a bit, um, determined (?) at times and in order to fulfil my wishes, the boys insisted on lightening my load. My tent, water bottles, map and camera were removed and Robin helped me on with my pack. Our little group were then on the way to Ballater and at quite a reasonable pace too! My ankle was good so long as it was flat and straight, so I tried to stay off the wrong camber and any loose stones. The knee was sore. It was a good track and we just paused occasionally for a breather or to check our route. We found many abandoned bicycles along the way and most of the vehicles had missing wheels. Bit odd.

On the way to Ballater

Glen GairnAbout three kilometres out of Ballater, the Keohanes had time to kill before they could get in to their B&B so they stopped for a lunch break, Robin joined them. I just wanted to get into town, a bit concerned that if I stopped, getting started again would be difficult and Carl and Lynsey were intending to get into town for a coffee before pitching at the campsite, so we walked on together. Once installed at The Bothy, they were kind enough to mind my pack so I could pop into the Coop for medical supplies before I joined them and Phil and Alan. I had a rather lush cheese and tomato sandwich with crisps, but couldn't eat the salad with its wholegrain mustard dressing, yuk. Oh, and a tin of coke.
When I eventually made my way to the Habitat Hostel, where I had a private room booked, I found it locked and no one available to let me in. I couldn't be bothered to move, so I left a message at the number written up outside the hostel, popped my pack in the porch and sat on a bench across the alley from the entrance. I was there a short while before a gentleman arrived who was obviously already staying at the hostel and he had a magic card to gain entry. I put on my best smile and asked if, seeing as I was due to be booked in, would he mind letting me take shelter in the communal area of the hostel? What a lovely chap, he did indeed let me in and I installed myself on the comfy settee in the lounge. I was eventually joined by another Challenger who had gained entry, Geoff somebody, a first timer. We chatted a while and were gradually joined by the kind gentleman who'd let me in and his son, a few Walking Festival participants and Jayme and Peter, who were a day ahead. Eventually, the hostel warden arrived and after a bit of pottering about, agreed to let us into our rooms. I can't tell you how fab it was to get into that room and get myself settled, showered, washing done and to have a bit of a lie down before it was time to go out for a meal. Just lovely.
The boys gave me a shout when they were ready to go to the pub, but I wasn't quite ready. Carl and Lynsey also messaged me when they were ready to eat, but it was another fifteen minutes until I'd finished speaking briefly to TTS and made it in. They had already ordered and I then had to wait a few minutes for the kitchen to catch up with orders before I could order my cheese burger and chips. When it arrived it was lush. The bar was full of Challengers, I couldn't move up the bar without having to stop and say hello to another friend, so I gave up and stayed seated with David, Andy Howell, Carl, Lynsey, Humphrey Weightman, Mike Akin-Smith, Robin, Jayme and Peter.

It was a very enjoyable evening, but eventually it was time to go back to the hostel and snuggle up with Sir Ian.
...a rather mixed day, what with one thing and another.
Day 11
Monday 18th May

Planned: Ballater to Shiel of Glentanar
6.38 miles 1713 feet
Actual: 6.41 miles 1612 feet (cum. 140.91 miles 21,077 feet)

There was no need to rush off today as it was only a hop, skip and a jump to the foot of Mount Keen, but I was really not impressed to be disturbed around 5 am by some ignorant git who thought it was fine to bang about in the kitchen at that time and then to have a conversation at full volume with his git of a friend, not to mention the banging of the drying room door, next to my room. I was not a happy bunny!
I lazed around in my bed, not keen to get up and determined to rest my ankle for as long as possible. I eventually got up and popped out to post a parcel and pick up a few lunch provisions for the next couple of days, then back to the hostel. The boys arranged to leave their packs at the hostel, I took mine with me when I went to get breakfast at The Bothy. I sat with Stan for a natter and ate my favourite Challenge breakfast, baked beans on toast. There were a few other Challengers around and we were soon joined by Carl and Lynsey, who had agreed to walk with me for the next day or two, to keep me company. I know Robin had been concerned for me and suggested I'd walk his route, I was touched by all the caring.
Eventually, we set off, but immediately Carl realised something was missing. His poles. He returned to collect them from the campsite and Lynsey and I strolled over the bridge to wait for him. We were joined by the boys and the five of us made our way up the road to take the slightly easier route up the hill. It was wet. It didn't let up all day. In fact, it got worse. Anyway, at this point we walked and chatted. We were soon at the turn off for the pony hut and decided (although I hate detours...) to take shelter for lunch. It was pretty miserable. A strangely friendly red grouse joined us and even waited outside the hut to walk with us again. Bit odd, we thought.

It was a cold lunch, but we were kept amused by the boys antics. After a short while we were all cold and ready to go, so packed up and off we went. The boys left us to bag a hill and we took the classic path to the shiel, following a clear path over rough and sometimes wet ground, but mainly good going. It snowed. We felt a bit sorry for the boys. We kept going until eventually the camp hove into view, already populated by several tents. You can see the pitch from quite some distance, so it takes a while to reach it, but we made good steady progress all the while and were soon deciding where to pitch our merry little group. Once we were pitched, the boys arrived and joined us. Most people seemed to have been here and in tucked up in their tents for a few hours, I was glad to only spend a short time zipped into my tent and then, it stopped raining!
We were soon out of our tents and having some fun. Well, we were, the rest of the campers stayed in their tents. Phil, Alan and his brother David came to join us, as did Colin. Jayme performed a miracle and made Pavlova/Eton Mess, having carried in meringue nests, raspberries and squirty cream, Peter had brought blueberries. Carl had Gin and Tonic and Lynsey had Pimms. It was an absolute stroke of genius and so, The Pimms and Puddings Party was born, as a tribute to the Cheese and Wine parties that, without Alan, will probably be no more.

 The Naughty Corner
 Eton Mess and Mount Keen for scale...

David's Perfect Pavlova


The skies above Mount Keen cleared to reveal the summit

We were having fun!
It started to get cold as the evening wore on and eventually we all retired to our tents for what was going to be the coldest night of the Challenge so far. Sir Ian lulled me to sleep in the meantime.
A brilliant time. A brilliant day.
Day 12
Tuesday 19th May

Planned: Shiel of Glentanar to Tarfside
10.4 miles 2102 feet
Actual:10.3 miles 1552 feet (cum. 151.21 miles 22,629 feet)

The plan was to go over Mount Keen. Carl and Lynsey were way ahead of me and decided to strike camp for me whilst I went for a pee, then we all set off. I made good, steady progress up the hill, at my pace. I was very aware of Carl and Lynsey drawing away from me, but I wasn't too bothered about that. The weather was looking a bit grey and sure enough, when the first shower hit we wisely donned our waterproofs. Despite being terribly slow, I was coping with the ascent really well, managing to keep my foot flat even on the rough, rocky path, except for one, tiny little knee. It was quite battered and bruised as well as the deep gouge in my knee cap, and each step as the incline increased caused serious pain. I realised quite quickly that the climb was making me utterly miserable, and what was the point in that? I don't climb hills for the sake of it, for a tick in the box. There has to be a view. And preferably no pain and suffering. Even if I summited, I would feel no joy, so when I reached the first fork in the path, I'd made my decision and called ahead to Carl and Lynsey that I was going round.

 The two dots in the middle on the horizon are Carl and Lynsey

Track alongside the Ladder Burn
At first, the decision made me more miserable. I was about to call David when I found I had a signal, only to realise it was Tuesday morning and he'd be at work. That made my bottom lip wobble. Still, I pulled myself together and continued on, by the time I reached the second fork, my mind was made up and I contoured around Mount Keen.
Once I started on my path, I settled into my stride and positively enjoyed this route, even the squally showers that hit didn't unduly bother me, although I did feel a bit sorry for those on the top that would be enduring the full force. In between showers the views around were stunning.
When I reached the point where the Mount Keen path joined mine, I left a note in the sand so the others would know I'd passed by safely and was ahead of them. I did not want them to wait and worry. I continued on my way. It didn't take as long as I remembered to get off the hill and there was only the stretch of path by the Ladder Burn that was particularly rough and I had to take great care to keep my right foot flat and straight to avoid shooting pain. Then there's the walk out from Queen's Well. Now that takes for-e-ver. Strange thing, a landrover appeared along the track before I got to the cottage and parked up on the expanse of grass by the river. After I'd passed the cottage and was some way along the track, there was a gun shot (just one I think, but I can't actually remember) and a short while after the landrover came back along the track and passed me. I've not seen or heard anything quite like that before, bit odd.
Anyway, I just kept walking. I passed a couple obviously out for a day walk and knew I was getting near the end of the track and then, there it was, the road appeared ahead of me along with a backpacker, surely a Challenger? Indeed, it was the lovely James Boulter, who I haven't seen for some time. There may have been some excited exclamations and a huge hug, James whipped off his waterproofs, then we continued walking together. We were joined briefly by Justin LaFrance, a  young first timer from Canada and I'm sure there was another Challenger taking a break in a small copse further on, but essentially James and I wandered along together having a good catch up. That last stretch through the little glen to Tarfside passed by barely noticed.
We went straight in to St Drostan's and headed for the kitchen to grab cup of tea and a nibble, James headed for cake, I had an apple. I know how to live. I chatted with Justin as he sat next to me and when we both enquired about a room we caused a bit of confusion, no, we were not together, but thanking for thinking it possible! Both settled with a single room, the chatter continued, I managed to catch Ann Thorn's eye and we had a lovely little natter. After I'd finished my break (I may have been escaping another Challenger...) I was shown to my room, St Margaret's, then immediately made myself familiar with the showers. After making myself more comfortable, I returned to the lounge to do some lounging, but I had some uncomfortable company and had to be rescued by Bob Cartwright. Thank you again, Bob. The lounge eventually began to fill up with newly arrived Challengers and those waiting for the first sitting of dinner. I was waiting for Lynsey and Carl so that we could adjourn to the Mason's.

Reprobates, you have been warned!

The Mason's was initially quite quiet, but after a short time it did begin to fill up with all the usual faces. There was some drinking and much talking and maybe just a bit of laughter, I had a nice time sitting in the corner just watching and soaking it all up. Soon it was time for me to go, I snuck in to St Drostan's and into my room and soon was snuggled up with Sir Ian.
Despite the initial disappointment, a really lovely day.
Day 13
Wednesday 20th May

Planned: Tarfside to Fettercairn
14.3 miles 1037 feet
Actual: Tarfside to North Water Bridge
16.8 miles 789 feet (cum. 168.1 miles 23,418 miles)

Today should have seen me heading to Fettercairn, but I had little desire to go hunting for a wild camp in such a rural area, although I know others seem to find good pitches with relative ease, so it was a stroll to North Water Bridge once again for me. I set off with James and we headed directly for The Retreat for breakfast. We joined various other Challengers, enjoyed a good breakfast, then set off in earnest. The road walk to the bridge was barely noticed and soon it was time to wish James a good day as he headed for Fettercairn and a nice hotel room. I spent the rest of the morning alone, but I actually quite enjoy this section along the river as it's quite gentle and there's no traffic, so good time was made. I caught up the main group having a lunch break and decided to join them for the rest of the afternoon and we walked as a loose group to the camp site, including of course The Blue Door Walk and the inevitable, almost compulsory stop at The Tuck Inn, Edzell.

Shopping had to be done as we had a celebration planned for Lynsey's birthday, then we took a slightly different (but no shorter) route to avoid a vast amount of the road walking to the camp site. Once there, I pitched my lovely Laser alongside Ali Ogden whilst we discussed various ideas and tips of the best pitching and modifications for our little tents. Then it was off for yet another cold shower at North Water Bridge (I always get a cold one here...), I phoned home to reassure TTS that I had survived with no further injuries, then we celebrated with the birthday girl.

...I am not entirely sure why the Birthday Girl looks so miserable, but it's the only photograph I have of the birthday party!
I was away to my tent before the hardcore party goers, but I didn't hear a thing with Sir Ian's comforting tones in my ears.
An easy day.
Day 14
Thursday 21st May
Planned: Fettercairn to Johnshaven
12.4 miles 840 feet
Actual: North Water Bridge to Kinnaber Links
7.11 miles 342 feet (cum. 175.12 miles 23,760 feet)

I definitely slept, I woke up at about 1.45 am with Sir Ian about to read the final few chapters, so I switched him off, rolled over and went back to sleep! I was woken a few hours later (and a shade early, as usual) by other campers, but it was time to make a move, so off I went to the shower block. There I found Liz Robertson, making arrangements to spend the morning in her tent until her family could collect her, she was retiring from the Challenge with an ankle injury...or so she thought. I offered my commiserations and then thought better of it. I found Ali, told her of Liz's plans and the Great Challenge Family was once again mobilised, arrangements made and Liz was on her way to the coast to finish, swept along by the enthusiasm and concern of others and her own True Grit and determination. What a trooper.

 The Challenge Family

Liz didn't need this hazard (look closely at the sign...)
It was a fairly unremarkable but steady walk all the way to Kinnaber Links, because of the pace we were able to walk without breaks and arrived in good time for a lunch stop at Charleton Fruit Farm. Rather lush it was too. As we were preparing to leave, our group now having diminished to Liz, Ali, Freddy Campbell, Darren Long and me, we bumped in to the wonderful John and Norma. Arrangements were quickly made for them to come and collect Liz after they'd lunched and we'd dipped and then we were off on our way to the sea.

How many Challengers in one kissing gate?

Ali, Freddy, Liz and me

 Darren and Freddy, into the distance
It's quite a short, direct walk from the fruit farm, just the road to cross and then a few sand dunes to contend with and then a (careful!) totter over some pebbles and...we were there!
That was it.
And of course, it was raining a bit, again.
But we were there, on the beach at Kinnaber Links, after fourteen days walking across Scotland. Maybe not through hell and high water this time, but each of us with our own struggles and triumphs, trials and tribulations. There perhaps should have been tears of pain and relief, but there were big smiles and hugs and photographs.

Then off to find John and Norma, who so very kindly gave a lift to Liz, Ali and myself.


Anonymous said...

Enjoyable read. Good to meet you. Hope your knee and ankle have healed.

Louise said...

Thank you Robin, it was lovely to meet you too. The knee and ankle are getting better, but I'm going stir crazy with all this enforced rest!

Phreerunner said...

An excellent read, Louise, and very quick, if you didn't write it as you went along. (I assume Sir Ian got preference - is he still chattering away?) Quite a similar route to ours, but you were a day ahead and Much More Sociable, though we did our best...
Well done.

Louise said...

Thanks Martin. It was a very sociable route, but that seems to be my way. The advantage of having to rest my ankle is that I had time to do the write up, and having a birthday gave me another excuse for a lazy day.
It was good to see you both, I hope Sue's neck is all sorted now and you'll both be back next time.

Alan Sloman said...


A tour de force, Ma'am! Enjoyed that, apart from the hurty bits. Good to hear how you extricated yourself and found the Cheese & Wine - That must have felt like a huge day - and knocks your confidence for a while - so Jolly Well Done!

I'm currently deleting all the crap pictures from the camera - trouble is, there won[t be many left for a write up! Here's hoping Phil will have some good ones!

It was lovely bumping into you.

Louise said...

Thank you Alan. Yes, That Day was memorable. I was so cross with myself for such a basic mistake, but actually quite chuffed in the end with my solution and the sense of acheivement.
I'm sure you have lots of fine pucs, you usually do, and I'm looking forward to your write up.
It was a pleasure to catch up with you and to spend some time walking in your company. It would be good to catch up another time.
Best wishes Alan, to you and yours xx

Phreerunner said...

Thanks Louise
Sue's neck (muscle problem) doesn't seem to have been aggravated by the Challenge, so it is likely that we'll both be back next year.
I now need to plot another route with B&Bs every third night. It worked very well this year.
Hoping your injuries recover quickly and you find some nice weather to do all that Munro/Marilyn bagging that could become an addiction!

Louise said...

Good plan, works for me!

Willem Fox said...

Thank you Louise, for this very enjoyable write up!
It seems we were walking one day behind the Herd...
Hope to meet next year again

Louise said...

Thank you Willem, I wondred why I hadn't seen you!
Next time.

Unknown said...

Really enjoyed your account and pictures, Louise. It was lovely walking with you to the finish! Maybe next year?

Louise said...

Thank you Liz, it was lovely to have the chance of a good chat! Definitely next 'time' 😁

AlanR said...

Well done again Louise. A mighty read but very enjoyable.

Louise said...

Thanks Alan 😊

Louise said...

Thanks Alan 😊