The Great Outdoors Challenge 2016 Oban to Stonehaven

I should probably start, for those who have not read or heard about the Challenge before, with an explanation of what it's all about.
The Great Outdoors Challenge is an annual event largely sponsored by The Great Outdoors Magazine and one or two other outdoor companies. Each September, over three hundred and fifty folk apply to take part and a draw for places is made around the end of October. Three hundred or so folk gain a place and an unlucky few will be placed on the Stand By List to fill the boots of those that have/choose to withdraw before the end of March sometime. Each Challenger or group (of up to four) submits their own route, starting at one of the thirteen start points on the west coast, making their way across Scotland to finish anywhere on the east coast between Fraserburgh and Arbroath, then catch the train, bus or walk to Montrose to sign back in. The start points are Torridon, Strathcarron, Plockton, Dornie, Shiel Bridge, Glenelg, Mallaig, Morar, Lochailort, Acharacle, Oban, Ardrishaig and Kilchoan.
Four phone calls must be planned and made to Challenge Control to check up on progress, phone calls must also be made if major route changes occur, or if someone is unlucky enough to have to retire from the event (horrid, horrid phone call to make...) There are few rules, no running (why would you?!), no dogs, no unofficial crossings and no accompanying walkers to do an entire crossing (friends and family can join you for few days) I personally think that Challenge is a rather unfortunate title. It is absolutely a challenge, but an entirely personal one and is in no way a competitive event. Many participants choose to do a high route, weather and mishaps permitting, but many others chose to stay in the glens and along the lochs. Neither option is superior nor inferior, my Challenges have tended to test my determination, endurance, fitness, navigation and skills, more than enough to leave me feeling happy at the finish.
This year, I decided to do a more southerly route, so I chose Oban as my start point. I had previously plotted a few routes from Oban, but went back to my original plan of heading east and taking a longer, more gentle walk into the hills. I wanted to visit places en route to the east coast at Stonehaven that I didn't already know, and with a start this far south, that wasn't actually hard. This area is far from my usual stomping ground and going to be an adventure. I wanted this Challenge to be a really good experience as it is more than likely going to be my last solo Challenge.
So, onward...

Day 0 Thursday 12th May
To the start

My regular walking pal, Laura, had also planned to start from Oban, so we had arranged for her to leave her van at my home for the duration of the Challenge and we would travel together to Oban, sharing overnight accommodation and parting our ways soon after leaving Oban.
David was able to give us a lift into Inverness and we were nice and early so had time to powder our noses before catching the first of our two buses of the day and we left Inverness on a grey, damp, somewhat cold morning. Turned out I'd booked us seats on the Gold bus, so we had a only the one stop at Perth and were treated to coffee, cakes and a soft drink. Luxury! As we travelled south, the skies cleared and the temperature warmed up. At Glasgow, we had enough time to powder our noses again before at last beginning to meet a few more Challengers catching the same bus, Les and Irene Aird, Marianne Grootveld and Karin Dehl from the Netherlands and Liz Robertson, who I'd limped to the coast with last year.
Our journey continued without delay and we arrived safe and sound in Oban mid afternoon, with clear blue skies and much warmer than when we'd left in the morning. On arrival, we rather handily drove passed our B&B and the bus stopped at a temporary bus stop not far away, so we were able to quickly find our way back and book in.
We had a big enough room, especially as we did not need to unpack our rucksacks. We had plenty of time to relax on our respective beds watching afternoon television, contemplating our journey ahead and looking forward to meeting up with old friends for dinner that evening.

No kit explosion

We left in good time to meet Emma Warbrick, Ray Disson and Alistair Pooler, then we were off to find a restaurant to enjoy beer, pizza and pudding. We had a very entertaining evening, full of chat and laughter, before the boys decided to go to the pub and the girls decided to retire to their respective accommodations.

Ray, Laura and Emma

The only mountain Ray intended to climb in the next two weeks

It was a beautiful evening

On the way back, I saw a man walking towards us that looked decidedly like David Albon. That's because it was! He and Heather Thomas-Smith had arrived late and were on their way to find food. We tried not to delay them, but we were soon joined by Jeremy Burrows who also paused to say hello before they all left to continue their evening's socialising. I decided to do the Toe Dip.

Boots in the water

What would tomorrow bring?
Day 1 Friday 13th May
Planned: Oban to Port an Dobhrain
15.7miles 2092ft
26 km 628 m
Actual: Oban to Glennoe NN 054 343
16.9 miles 2146 ft
27.2 km 654 m
8 hrs inc. breaks

We were both awake in good time to get up and organised before our sufficient breakfast. We decided to stroll down to the SYH to sign out unencumbered by our rucksacks, Emma had decided to do the same. We were passed by Alistair, on his way to catch the Lismore ferry. We wished him good luck without delaying him and strolled on to the hostel where we met Sue Oxley with her husband, waiting for Heather to arrive 'early' so that they could set off for the first hill of their Challenge. There were many other Challengers, including Ray, Pat, Kevin Everett, Scott Rae and one or two others. I signed out at 08:53, then we returned to our B&B for the last time to change into the walking gear that now seemed appropriate to the weather, heave our ridiculous packs onto our backs, take a final setting off photograph and off we went, to Co-op.

Courtesy of Emma Warbrick
Ray, Pat, Scott, me and Laura

Or not, as it turned out. We obviously looked a little lost (...great start...) as a lovely local lady asked if we needed directions. It turned out the Co-op had been demolished to make way for a new Lidl, which was unfortunate as we had arranged to meet Ray and Emma there to walk out of Oban together. Ooops. The Tesco was nearby however, which would adequately supply my rolls and camembert to last the next few days, then we had to find The Team. As luck would have it, they had waited at a sensible place, the junction on the way out of town, so they were easy to find and we were soon leaving town together, perhaps a little later than intended.
We hadn't actually walked far out of town before Laura left us at Glencruitten, I wouldn't see her again until Tuesday morning. A merry team of three now continued on into Glen Lonan and we heard our first cuckoo of this years Challenge. It was a lovely day, although as the afternoon went on, the stiff breeze developed a cold edge to it. We walked and chatted for quite sometime before Ray mentioned he'd like to stop at a specific bridge for lunch and to recreate a photograph of the last time he was there some twenty-five or so years ago. It always takes a little while to find a suitable place to perch, there is a grading system, but rocks were eventually located and bums placed. A few Challengers passed us by, but we didn't catch their names, until Jean Turner and Fred Campbell happened upon us as we were preparing to move on. We walked together as a group towards Taynuilt, although Jean left us to camp at a convenient point to meet her son in the morning.

Saying goodbye to Laura

Heading into Glen Lonan

We arrived in plenty of time to visit the local tea rooms, Robin's Nest, where we bumped into Jeremy, again. Obviously, it's against the rules to pass by any open tea rooms or pub, so we dragged ourselves inside to sample their wares. Inside we found Fred and Peter Milner and promptly gate-crashed their tea party. A large pot of tea was shared, Emma nabbed the last scone, leaving poor Ray with dry biscuit and I had a rather lush cheese sandwich. Cheese features heavily in all of my Challenges.
After much chat and banter, Ray decided to call it a day and try to get a room at the hotel where Peter and Jeremy were already established, Fred was off to conquer a nearby hill and Emma and I were heading off together to walk as far as we could manage up the side of Loch Etive.
We found our way passed the Bonawe Furnace and to the footbridge with ease, we then crossed said footbridge, which I did not like, and made our way through the Inverawe Smokery car park to continue into the forestry. It was feeling good, casually strolling with an old friend, catching up on all their news

Bonawe Furnace

Courtesy of Emma Warbrick

Not a nice bridge

There were not many camping opportunities early on by this track and we soon found ourselves heading out of the cover of the trees and towards a little wooded knoll that Challenger friends Robin Evans and James Boulter had both previously camped, so we decided to take a look. We aimed for the lowest part of the little hill and found a pleasant, flattish spot on the northern side, from where we could see the Dutch ladies waving at us cheerfully from their rather beautiful pitch in a small meadow below us. After much dithering ( we do dither well together) we decided to investigate their pitch and made our way back down to the main track and into the little field opposite Glennoe Lodge. It was idyllic, so we stopped. Whilst chatting with Marianne and Karin to ensure they didn't mind us joining them, they told us they'd found the lodge to be empty and to have an outside water supply, all very handy, so after pitching our tents we went off to investigate and fill our water bottles.

Emma's pitch

Courtesy of Emma Warbrick

My pitch

Our view of Loch Etive

A rather pleasant evening was had, chatting, laughing and enjoying our evening meals before we settled down for the night, our first wild camp of the Challenge.

That's the way to start a Challenge.

Day 2 Saturday 14th May
Planned: Port an Dobhain to Glen Kinglass
12.2miles 1905ft
20 km 563 m
Actual: Glennoe to Allt Suil na Curra NN 233 416
15.3 miles 2201 ft
24.6 km 671 m
9.5 hrs inc. breaks

We woke in good time and were relatively organised, considering it was my first wild camp for sometime. I hadn't been cold in the night, but I had been suffering a little discomfort in my hips and the outside of my thighs, something I would have to keep an eye on. The Dutch Ladies were away before us, and some fella waved as he passed us by (at a somewhat inopportune moment!) but we were soon on our way, around 09:30, along the track that would take us to Glen Kinglass. I'm sorry to say I was a little glad of poor Emma's misfortune of having had a bout of pneumonia in the spring, as it meant she was slowed down to my pace by a lack of fitness. We strolled on in sunshine under the huge blue skies, this can never last we thought. Soon we were making our way along Glen Kinglass, following the river into the hills. We looked for sometime for a nice place to stop and eventually made do with a grassy bank shaded by some silver birch. If we'd walked on another 50m, we could have sat on a bench at a fisherman's hut. Tsk. Not long after that, we happened across Kevin, who joined us for the rest of the day. At Glenkinglass Lodge, we found the Dutch Ladies again, just leaving their rest point. They warned us of ticks, but had also found another outside tap near the out buildings of the lodge, but none of us needed water at this point. We avoided their tick ridden spot and stayed by the river for a boot rest and snack stop.

Looking towards Glennoe

Loch Etive 

Look very carefully, there is the hut with the bench

Courtesy of Emma Warbrick
Me and Kevin

It was not far from here that Kevin and I were both due to stop for the day, but I had already decided to join Emma at her pitch, a spot I'd earmarked as a possible camp with more shelter, so Kevin decided to walk on with us too. At this point Val Hadden rocked up and it was a merry band of four that made our way to the new bridge over the river. Val stopped for a break and the three of us continued up and over Coire Beith and then along to Loch Dochard. We didn't think this was the place for us, but we did have a short break on a handy grassy bank before moving on to a bank of trees that gave us the second wild camp of the Challenge. It was another wonderful evening, filled with chat, laughter and food before we all settled down for the night.

Another excellent pitch

Day 3 Sunday 15th May
Planned: Glen Kinglass to Glen Cailliche
15.4 miles 3902ft
25 km 1193 ft
Actual: Allt Suil na Curra to Ais-an t-Sithean (FWA) NN 354 391
12 miles 1410 ft
19.4 km 430 m
9 hrs inc. breaks

We woke after what appeared to have been a chilly night, with a thin layer of frost on the side of Emma's tent. Again, I'd suffered some pain in the night and resolved to take painkillers before bedtime tonight. I would also tape the inside edge of my heels, as they were getting a little tender, although not blistered.
It looked like it was going to be another spectacular day as we packed up and were joined by Val. As we chatted, Ray rocked up, and it was a party of five that finally made a move towards the ford at around 09:30. Kevin made it look so easy, followed by Ray and then Val and Emma. I don't mind fording or crossing stepping stones, but not when they have such huge steps as these, so I took my time and made quite a meal of it, however, we all safely reached the other side and continued along a reasonable track all the way to Forest Lodge where we took a good boot break.
Many, many West Highland Wayers (WHWers) passed us by, most spoke, some (mainly the cyclists) did not. The vast majority were carrying day packs, as they were on organised trips. Some were foreign travellers. The irony of our resting point was not lost on most of them.
Emma and Kevin decided to head straight for Gorton Bothy, but Val decided to detour briefly with Ray and I and enjoy a nice lunch at the Inveroran Hotel. There were many, many WHWers, some dressed in garish lycra clothing, doing odd extra sprints up and down the steepest parts of the track ahead of us. They're welcome. It was a hot day, too hot of over-exertion.

Courtesy of Emma Warbrick

Me, Kevin, Ray and Val, ready to roll

 Stepping stones

There's no stopping us challengers!

Civilised lunch at the Inveroran Hotel

After a good break and powdering our noses, we said goodbye to Val as she headed back towards Forest Lodge to join Emma and Kevin at Gorton Bothy, whilst Ray and I continued along the WHW south to Bridge of Orchy, going in the opposite direction to the WHW caterpillar. One lovely German lady commented on my carrying the same pack as her, an Osprey Exos, and also that I should not carry more than 10 kg in it. I pointed out that mine was actually the larger version of the pack, unlike her 46 ltr, and that I was happily and easily carrying a shade over 12.5 kg, thank you politely.
We continued.
On arriving at the Bridge of Orchy Hotel, Ray offered to buy me a drink and I gratefully accepted a pint of orange juice and lemonade. It was a hot, hot day to have been walking on the lumpy, bumpy, stony and mainly up path we had been following. I can honestly say the WHW does not appeal to me. Whilst sitting at the hotel, I rang in to Challenge Control and spoke to my vetter when I was a first-timer, Alvar Thorn. We had a lovely catch up and I decided I didn't want to drag my sorry carcase up that bealach in this heat, I would follow my FWA along Gleann Achadh-innis Chailein, joining up with my main route the next day.

My proposed bealach looks do-able from here...

After our break, we sped along the WHW towards our turn off, where we would again be able to enjoy a peaceful stroll rather than this busy track. Ray may have made a small navigational error as we left the Way, but I'm a problem solver (I refused to backtrack...) and I found a bit of fence that was crossable, made my way down to the river, stepped across a few handy rocks and joined the correct path. Ray followed. We took another short break on a handy, grassy bank and then continued up this quiet glen, looking a for a suitable place for our overnight stop. There wasn't much to choose from in the end, and we eventually plumped for a flat area of ground beyond some empty sheep sheds on a slightly damp patch of ground. It was good enough.
As I pitched my tent, I was aware of ravens 'cronking' overhead. As I lay on my groundsheet protector to decide which way round to pitch my tent, I looked up to the sky to see a golden eagle being mobbed by two ravens. This made me smile.
Tent pitched and chores attended to, Ray tried unsuccessfully to lighten the load of his rucksack by offering me some of his food. He was worried by my unusual choice for supper, a cheese roll followed by apple and custard, but I did explain this is just an occasional choice, comfort food, and that I had plenty of variety in my food bag, this was just what I fancied tonight.
We soon settled down for the night and I was delighted to hear my first (and what turned out to be my only) snipe of the trip.

Not quite such an excellent pitch, but it would do

Day 4 Monday 16th May
Planned: Glen Cailliche to Innerwick
15.4m 1360ft
25 km 476 m
Actual: Ais-an t-Sithean to Innerwick NN 576 484
18.8 miles 1675 ft
30.3 km 511 m
10.5 hrs inc. break

I had a reasonable night, the painkillers had definitely helped, and whilst I was padding around, doing my chores, I spotted several wheatears. They kept me company as we packed up our tents and we were off again at around 09:15. I had a big day planned today, to get me back on track, but I wasn't worried about arriving at my intended pitch quite late as it was potentially quite a public spot and the later I arrived, the better.
As we made our way towards the loch, we were glad we had stopped where we had, as we would have had to have walked a far distance to find another decent pitch. It was quite a long way down to the eastern end of Loch Lyon and took a while to reach the southern shore and make our way towards the dam at the western end. It struck me that the waterline was quite low, a sign of the relatively dry winter and early spring we had enjoyed perhaps. We chatted as we walked, stopping occasionally to take photographs and to enjoy the views around us. I tried to spot where my route would have taken me had I followed it. We took regular pauses through the day, the first proper boot stop was just before the dam. Ray consulted his maps and decided he would miss his planned camp and walk on with me, despite me pointing out it was much, much further than he needed to walk and with his sore feet, this might be a mistake. Whilst we were resting, Ray asked me to apply a plaster to his foot. He doesn't know me well. I gritted my teeth and applied the plaster.

Alas, poor Yorick!

 Looking east along Loch Lyon

Looking west

We moved off after greeting a very posh pair of walkers, soon we passed by their Mercedes car, parked neatly in a 'convenient' place. We took the track down to the back of the dam to cross over the river, the men that were working on the other side were happy to let us pass and we continued on our way. It took a long time to walk along the road in Glen Lyon, even with good company. We sat on a seat simply because it seemed rude not to. We passed a man camping near the place Ray should have been, but had difficulty getting him to acknowledge us and gave up, not knowing if he were a Challenger or not, although it seemed highly likely. There were dippers and grey wagtails along the river. We chose to stay on the road rather than take the river path through Meggernie Castle grounds, I just don't like potentially causing upset.

Would have been rude not to

Plenty of history along Glen Lyon, remains of homesteads at Dalchiorlich

Memorial to a pioneering son of Dalchiorlich, Robert Campbell

Ray was seriously flagging by the time we got to Bridge of Balgie and he insisted on taking yet another break on the handy benches belonging to the Glen Lyon Tea Rooms, despite being only a little over a mile from our night stop. When we finally arrived at around 19:30, we were pleased to find a reasonable place to pitch, benches at which to sit and make dinner and toilets. These facilities were going to be my reason for camping here, should anyone ask what we were doing. The sign requesting 'No Camp Fires' seemed to suggest we could camp, so long as we didn't burn the place down, we did our best not to. I was concerned by Ray's exhausted state, and quite surprised by my own, perfectly reasonable state. I did my chores and wolfed down my dinner (after having nipped away from the bench for a few minutes to return and find my cooking gear had been moved...don't' touch my stuff!!) I decided to have a look at my taped heels and was surprised to find some fluid under the ridge of skin that runs along the inside edge, so I lanced them to let the fluid out and stuck on some of my special blister dressing, just for a bit of protection. I was ready for bed, but hung around long enough to retrieve Ray's lost filter system tube from the disabled toilet for him and to ensure he had hot food and drink inside of him. I went to bed as soon as I was sure he'd eaten, but listened out to make sure he stumbled into his own tent a few minutes later. It would only be a relatively short day tomorrow, albeit with a reasonable climb to start with and with that thought, I settled down for a reasonable night.

Day 5 Tuesday 17th May
Planned: Innerwick to Dunalistair
13.7 miles 1684 ft
22 km 528 m
Actual: As planned!
8.5 hrs inc. breaks

I woke after a reasonable night, I'd started off quite warm, but had felt chilly during the hours of darkness and had popped on my power stretch fleece and had taken my insulated jacket into my sleeping bag with me. I find this more effective than actually wearing the jacket. I was still struggling with pain in the night, but not during the day, taking painkillers did help. I got up at 06:45 and it was a joy to be able to get dressed in the toilet block standing up and to have a tap, even if I did still treat the water. As I packed away, I made sure Ray had a good breakfast and was well rested as I had to crack on to meet Laura on the track as we did a north/south crossover. I left him in good spirits at just gone 09:00. This was the first day I'd done any walking alone and I thoroughly enjoyed it, taking my time on the uphill climb to enjoy the views. Alvar had mentioned that rain was due today, but there was no sign of it yet and there had been little change in the temperature, even though I'd been promised it was going to cool down.
After about an hour, a familiar figure hove into view and Laura and I were soon dropping our packs to have a good catch up before setting off on our separate ways again. I was not expecting to see her again until we reached the east coast.
After climbing the pass, Lairig Ghallabhaich, that runs through from Glen Lyon north to the Rannoch Forest, the path takes you down into really pleasant forestry and I enjoyed strolling through to the car park. I may have had a minor navigation moment (..."I wasn't expecting a pond there...") but as hoped, when I arrived at the car park there were benches and even a shelter where I was able to remove my pack and sit at a table to eat my lunch. There were one or two folk around, but they weren't all that friendly, apart from the fat, black lab, Toby, who was very interested in me and my food. His lady owner need not have feared, I do not share my food, with anyone. Ask my children. I pottered a while, organising a small packet to post home containing maps and some unused handwarmers, but soon decided it was time to be on my way. The toilets were shut and there was a sign giving directions to the nearest facilities at the camp site next door, but I was in no need and continued down to the road. It was easy to keep the loch to my left and just keep walking, but I hadn't gone far before two scruffy individuals could be seen on the verge, they turned out to be Emma and Kevin who had waited there deliberately to see if I popped out from the forest onto the road. How fortuitous!

Innerwick War Memorial

...feels like I'm being followed...

Looking back

Towards Rannoch Forrest


We walked on again, having a good catch up and a giggle as we went. The time flew by and soon we were at the village shop and post office, bumping into the Airds outside. Quelle horreur! The post office was shut! Oh well, not a disaster. There were, however, plenty of goodies to choose from in the shop and I was able to find a nice roll and a mini-brie for lunch the next day and some chocolate (although, I can't actually remember what...) Next, we found the tea shop and fell inside. We dumped our rucksacks out of the way and found a table by the window. Tea and lemon drizzle cake was ordered by Emma and myself, Kevin had a tuna sandwich. Strange boy. As we left, Fred appeared out of nowhere, and with no idea of where he was going next. We left him to it, Kevin was going to the hotel and offered to post my parcel in the morning, thank you Kevin, and we were headed to a B&B we had both booked, without prior knowledge of each others plans. By this time, it was raining, quite persistently, so we plodded on along the road, still catching up and periodically leaping out of the path of a variety of vehicles, including some rather huge lorries. We arrived at the B&B in good time, and whilst talking to our hostess, Tina, mentioned our plans to get a taxi to the hotel to dine with Challenge friends. Tina would not hear of it and insisted on driving us down herself and returning to collect us whenever we were ready. What a star. Emma had no pressing chores, but this was my first accommodation since leaving Oban, I had washing to do and had intended to bath but in the event, a quick shower was enough to freshen me up and we were soon sitting in the bar with Marianne, Karin, Val, Kevin and Ray, enjoying good food and beer. We met a few other Challengers, Dov and Karen from Canada, Janet Chubb and another lady who introduced herself and abruptly announced she was the membership secretary of the Backpackers Club and I missed her name completely.
We had a lovely evening, but after waiting forever for a dessert menu, then for someone to take my order, then for my dessert to arrive, I had more than had enough and was ready for bed. The receptionist called Tina and she soon arrived to whisk us back to her home and we were off to bed, after booking breakfast for 08:00 (Emma had suggested 07:30, I thought this a little extreme)
A wonderful evening.
Only spoilt when I tried to ring home and remembered David was on lates and I wouldn't get to speak to him. Gutted!
 Now that's a good pitch!!

Day 6 Wednesday 18th May
Planned: Dunalistair to Loch Moraig
16 miles 2108ft
26 km 643 m
Actual: Dunalistair to Blair Atholl Campsite
13.6 miles 1427 ft
21.8 km 435 m
8 hrs inc. break

I was awake for some time in the night, as is normal when I sleep in a bed after being in a tent for a few days. The legs were not good. I eventually nodded off, but was awake in good time to potter about my suite (yes, we each had a suite of rooms!) and make sure my washing was dry, collect my belongings together and organise my maps. I was forming a plan, having seen the weather forecast for the next few days, but I needed to speak to Emma first before finalising any plans. I found Emma already chatting with Tina when I went downstairs for breakfast, but I wasn't late, Emma was just eager to crack on. We had a good breakfast and then returned to our suites to pack up our belongings and make a move to leave. We returned downstairs and chatted some more with our hosts, each of us being invited to choose a small, polished stone from a dish to remind us of our stay. Without seeing what Emma had already chosen, we each picked a small, amethyst. It seemed wholly appropriate.
We finally took our leave just after 09:00 with an easy day ahead of us. We strolled along the road to Tummel before reaching the car park at NN 762 593. We had hoped for a bench, or at the very least a large rock, but it was a small, dismal affair and we decided to just search out the path we wanted that would take us on a short cut up to the main track through Bohally Wood to Loch Bhac. The walking was easy and the surroundings very pleasant, but soon it was time to find a lunch spot. Luckily we had arrived at the loch by now, which is a popular fishing loch and there was a jolly handy bench with a table placed in front of the loch with a fabulous view of the Atholl hills. So good that as we ate our lunch, we could see the rain clouds rolling in...We had a good rest and I asked Emma if she would mind if I re-routed due to the bad weather forecast and joined her in Glen Tilt, as this was new to me and another route I'd been wanting to do for a while.


Lunchtime view

Courtesy of Emma Warbrick feet didn't touch the ground...

 The Atholl hills

It was a while before we decided to make a move, just as it started to rain. One of the fisherman was just going into their hut for shelter and he asked if we'd like to join him, rather than get a drenching. I'm rather glad we joined him. He was a very friendly chap and we spent an interesting fifteen minutes or so sheltering there until some German fishermen joined us and changed the subject to fish. The rain was lighter now and we chose to move on.
The path over the moorland was a delight, speeding us through the heather until we eventually began to drop down toward the A9 that we needed to cross and Blair Atholl. During this section, we met Val Machin, a friend of the Challenge who was looking for the Other Val. We spoke for a while before we needed to crack on. At the gate at the bottom of the hill, we paused just long enough for Sue and Heather to catch us up. We were soon joined by the Airds and as a loose group we made our way along the track that runs parallel to the busy main road before eventually dropping us into a layby so we could gird our loins in preparation for the A9 Dash.
We made it.
A small path leads to a footbridge which gives access to the lane where the Watermill Café resides, sadly on this occasion, shut. We decided our best move was to book in to the camp site. The receptionists were lovely and we had one whole pitch between us, right next to the toilet/shower block, all for just £16. Bargain! Once pitched and showered we strolled across the road to the fish and chip shop and decided to eat in. We both had a haddock supper and shared a large pot of tea, which I drank most of. Fred appeared as we finished our meal and related his interesting story of camping in a walled garden and a mislaid path, but we were both ready for bed and took our leave as he ordered his meal. Neither of us were looking forward to the early start promised by the nearby rookery, but we were soon settled and cosy in our tents.

Huuuge pitch for two little tents

Day 7 Thursday 19th May
Planned: Loch Moraig to near Kirkmichael
15.5 miles 1952ft
24 km 1532 m
Actual: Blair Atholl to Bynack Lodge NO 000 855
16.6 miles 2599 ft
26.7 km 792 m
8.5 hrs inc. breaks

I had the best night sleep in a tent, ever. Even with the rooks. Even with the unusual early morning pee (due to all the tea...) which led to a late wake up of 07:20 getting me off to a slow start. I also had a couple of calls to make, one to Habitat@Ballater, the hostel I had a room at on Sunday, to see if I could get an extra night there, and one to Control. I spoke to Alvar to explain my change of plans, making him laugh when I promised to draw in chalk round my feet if I had to get the bus from Braemar to Ballater and back again to find somewhere to stay to make sure I walked every step as required.
Everything sorted and packed, I decided not to re-tape my heels (the tape had come off in the shower) as there had been no recurrence of the fluid, no sign of rubbing and no pain, so I thought they'd be okay. It was time to set off, at 09:40! Ooops. Still, we set off, taking the riverside path to Old Bridge of Tilt, then into Glen Tilt. We were soon passed by a young man on a mountain bike, who stopped and asked if we had seen some more cyclists. We had, they had taken a different road. We introduced ourselves and got chatting and he explained they were planning to visit a geology site further up the glen, but they had become separated. He asked what we were doing so we explained about the Challenge, including quote of the Challenge, "Oh, we can camp, B&B, hospital...". After which we all went on our ways, we'd promised to send his friends on to him should they appear. We continued walking. It wasn't too long before Sean returned to say he'd finished the trip and was going to find his friends. He also told us the weather ahead was not so nice. He was not wrong. It was raining now, blowing right into our faces. Ugh.
We walked on. We managed to find excellent shelter in a little spot Emma knew, just passed a bridge and after something to eat, we decided to layer up a bit as it was quite chilly now. With no major climbs, we were unlikely to generate any heat to warm us up.

The Bedford Bridge at the Falls of Tarf

Emma taking photographs

The view from Bynack Lodge

Emma, Chris Reid and Paul

I must admit there was not much talking for a while after Marble Lodge, especially as the track became a path of my least favourite type, a mincing path through heather. Emma is use to me not enjoying this type of path, so we just trudged on. We crossed the Bedford Bridge at the Falls of Tarf and stopped for a quick break. Suddenly, two figures appeared and came towards us, Heather and Sue! We had a quick catch up before we plodded on again, the other two soon crossing the burn to join the path to Fealar Lodge and we continued to plod on, and on, and on towards Bynack Lodge. As luck would have it, the wind direction changed about now and the rain was now blown at our backs, much easier to bear. We did start looking for a suitable pitch, but there was nothing that afforded enough shelter. As we got over the watershed, the path improved and eventually became a decent track and we started to chat again. Okay, I started to chat again! Looking at the map and the landscape, we decided Bynack Lodge was just around the corner and sure enough, it soon hove into view. There was obviously going to be plenty of shelter here.
As we arrived, it became apparent there were already occupants at the site and they turned out to be Chris, who Emma had met at Gorton Bothy, and his mate Paul, who hadn't been able to Challenge this time. We agreed where we would pitch and started to get organised. I collected water, visited the en-suite, then excused myself to my tent, not least because these two were real Bothy Boys that liked a fire and Paul had walked in with the means to have one, even though this was a ruin, not an enclosed building and the ground around was bone dry, despite todays rain. I wished they'd asked if I minded. I was concerned about sparks being blown onto the tents, as it was still very windy, but I was so tired, I knew I would eat then snuggle into my sleeping bag and go straight to sleep.

Sheltered pitch

Day 8 Friday 20th May
Planned: near Kirkmichael to Kilbo
15.5 miles 3313ft
24 km 866 m
Actual: Bynack Lodge to Braemar
12.1 miles 811 ft
19.5 km 247 m
7 hrs inc. breaks

I did not have a good night. I was woken by nightmares, strange people were taking things from my tent and I was trying to scream. Emma later told me I had been making some strange strangled sounds during the night. My subconscious was trying to wake me as my tent had filled with smoke from the boys' campfire and I was struggling to breathe. It was only 22:50 when I'd woken and I had to take my inhaler. Considering the problems I'd had just three years ago, I was really concerned and angry that my Challenge may have been put in jeopardy, I managed to doze fitfully for several hours, further disturbed by huge gusts of winds in the night.
I eventually woke around 06:00 and we managed to get up and be ready to leave by 08:45. It was not a bad day, still a chilly wind and maybe a bit threatening at times, but on the whole a nice day. We soon reached the first ford, which caused no issues as we crossed dry shod. Fording the Geldie Burn was a little more interesting, we crossed to a little island first dry shod, but decided to boots off and sandals on for the second bit. There was a rather odd pile of shoes by the river, for which we came up with several possible explanations, but nothing conclusive.
Off we went again, making our way to the Linn of Dee before popping in to Marr Lodge for tea and biscuits. We bumped into Steve Smith, a former Challenger himself and he would also be in Challenge Control next week. We also met a foreign couple who asked us about whether the 'big road to Aviemore' was this side of the snow-capped mountains we could see. Were there any places to stay on the way there. We did our best to put them off walking that way as they were not at all equipped and had no clue where they were or where they were headed to. We hoped they listened.

Shoes, abandoned by the Geldie Burn

 The 'Dangerous Building'

Courtesy of Emma Warbrick
Look closely. It was cold

Courtesy of Emma Warbrick
It was unwise of Emma to tell us to look happy...

A rest stop was called at the Linn of Dee car park and while we were there, Chris and Paul caught up with us. As Paul collected his car, Chris joined us to walk to Marr Lodge. He commented that we were going at a good pace, if we weren't trying deliberately to go at his pace. We weren't.
Marr Lodge was, interesting. The route in was different, and we hadn't been to the Stable Block before, so when the signs disappeared, we got mislaid. Emma sought help and we were put straight. When we found the stable block, we chuckled that Paul, who'd arrived before us, had not boiled the kettle in readiness, but he did supply Tunnocks Tea Cakes. This was a boots off tea and toilet stop, but after leaving a message for Heather on her parcel, we continued on our way to Braemar. I decided to join Emma on the path through the Morrone Birkwoods for a change, instead of the road plod that I usually do. She did take me on the wrong track to begin with, but we were soon back on track and it was indeed a very pleasant way of walking in to Braemar.

Through the Morrone Birkwood
 At the viewpoint

I was hoping that, when we arrived in town, Kate at Rucksacks would have a bed available for me tonight, as I didn't fancy the camp site and the other option would be to draw around my feet in chalk, then catch the bus to Ballater, camp there, then return. As luck would have it, she did and she also offered to do my washing for me. She is a little shiny star. Another Challenger was at the hostel, John Jacklin, and we talked routes for a while. A shower was had, washing handed over and then a little sorting and shopping before I met Emma and we dithered over where we would eat. I had been dreaming of egg and chips at the Old Bakery Café so was dismayed to find it was closed due to a family bereavement. We eventually settled on a walk up to the Invercauld Arms. We found Chris and Paul there, Chris bought us a drink and we ordered our food, a slightly disappointing fish and chips, but it filled a hole. There were other Challengers around, including Jim Davidson who came to say hello and Val, but by this time, we were both struggling to stay awake and took our leave, wishing everyone well for their onward journeys. Emma and I also said goodbye for the time being, we were not due to meet up again until the Fetteresso Forest on Wednesday.
Back to the hostel and my gear was still drying under shelter, so I withdrew to my bed.

Kit explosion

Day 9 Saturday 21st May
Planned: Kilbo to Glas-allt-Shiel
9.12 miles 1724ft
19 km 967 m
Actual: Braemar to Ballater
17.4 miles 950 ft
28 km 290 m
7 hrs inc. breaks


I did not have a good night, as expected yet again, due to being in a comfy bed and my painful legs. After paying Kate, I was on my way by 09:10 and looking forward to a day walking alone. I have walked with Laura to Ballater before, but from Balmoral Castle I intended to walk the quiet back road instead of the busy A93, which is never a pleasant experience. I made my way to the path across the Lion's Face, which is very straightforward and when I reached the gate at the other end it was locked as expected. Rucksack off and climb through the gap, as usual, and then a tall, slim man appeared on the other side of the gate, carrying a small rucksack.
"Oh!" he said.
"I climbed through this hole." I said, helpfully.
"Are you a Challenger? I'm Louise"
"Yes, I'm Colin"
Ah, Colin Ibbotson! An ex-colleague of my husband. We started the usual Challenge Chat and continued on our way together. It turned out I was taking a route through Balmoral that Colin had not been before and he was keen to see which way it went, I was just going the same way Laura and I always do, she knows her way around here. We walked and chatted and dodged orienteers who, it turned out, were competing in the Scottish Championships. I might have taken a slightly alternative route around the castle, but we were soon heading out on the quiet back road to Ballater. It was a little while before I decided I needed a break and started to look for a good place to stop. Apparently, Colin doesn't do this. He just sits. And sit he did. So I sat with him, in his damp lane off the road. I rang David whilst we were there, I couldn't resist.

A damp lane

I love old sign posts

We were soon on our way again, this time we were dodging cyclists. It soon became apparent that these cyclists were also taking part in an event, but they were distinctly short of women until we were much further along the road. I called another halt and Colin again employed his approach of just sitting. I found this amusing. I wished I hadn't looked at my map as I now knew we were only about 4 km from Ballater. Still, it was nice to sit for a few minutes. Soon, we were back on the road and found ourselves walking through streets of utter devastation on the way to the camp site. It was heartbreaking to see all the houses waiting to be refurbished and we tried to imagine the distress and anguish the residents of Ballater must be experiencing.
When we arrived at the site at around 16:00, a sign told us the tent area was full and our little hearts sank. We decided to ask anyway and I promised Colin I could cry on demand if required. As it turned out, we were allowed to pitch and were delighted to find the site in such a good state, the toilet/shower block was exceptional and although the ground was hard, Colin was able to find rocks suitable to use as a hammer. Ian (not allowed to give any further information) was on site and there were a few other Challengers. We mooched about a bit, had tea with Ian, welcomed Stephen Rouse, had our dinners and retired early, surrounded by orienteers and children that Colin wanted to put in a room underground...

Look at that pitch, just look at it!!

Day 10 Sunday 22nd May
Planned: Glas-allt-Shiel to Ballater
12 miles 692ft
18 km174 m
Actual: DAY OFF!!!

So now I was in Ballater a day ahead of myself. Today I would have to strike camp and kill time before I could book in to the hostel at 16:00. Colin had kindly offered for me to leave my pack in his shelter so that I didn't have to lug it around town with me, which was very kind of him and much appreciated. Especially as it turned out to be such a wet day! We had breakfast together along with Stephen at The Bothy, then I packed up my belongings and left them at Colin's shelter. I did some re-supply shopping and got Ian his 'messages', then I wandered around town, scouting out the start of the Deeside way hidden behind the burnt down railway station and looking around the stalls on the village green until the heavens absolutely opened and I took shelter under a lady's gazebo.

Fella 'pitched' that and slept in it...

Sheltering in Colin's shelter

In the end, I returned to the camp site and loitered under the 'bandstand' shelter there for a good while until I could stand it no longer and went to grab my pack. Andy and Kate arrived just as I was getting ready to leave. We had a brief chat and I left. As I did so, there was a huge clap of thunder. I was glad to be heading indoors. The hostel was open and I was able to get straight in to my room. I had no washing to do, so I just showered and relaxed a while before popping across to the Alexandra Hotel to meet up with other Challengers. There were plenty to choose from but I stood near Ian while I ordered a pint. Lindy appeared and we were soon catching up on our recent adventures. I was waiting for Alistair to arrive so we could eat together. He was later than expected and having been given a table I then had to give it up again so that Suus and Bert could eat. He did arrive eventually and we had a good meal, then Pat appeared followed by Humphrey who had plenty of tales to share.
It was soon time to go to bed so I was off back to the hostel.

Not quite exploded kit

Day 11 Monday 23rd May
Planned: Ballater to Glen Tanar
11.4 miles 1297ft
19 km 274 m
Actual: Ballater to The Fungle Road NO 514 920
14.3 miles 1828 ft
23 km 557 m
8.5 hrs inc. breaks

I set off after paying for my room and having a chat with the hostel owner who told me they have sold up and the new people will be offering adventures alongside the accommodation. Might be harder to get a bed at short notice in the future.
It was just before 09:00 when I left and headed out along the Deeside Way. I was on my own, enjoying the fine weather, until I reached the Cambus o' May bridge, now badly damaged since the storms over the winter.

Colin taught me to track trail shoes and boots yesterday...

Blue skies, with cloud over Lochnagar in the distance

More storm devastation

Love old ironwork

Poor old bridge

I met Brian Whiteman at the bridge and we walked together for the rest of the day, since it turned out we were planning the same overnight stop. We tried to have scones at the hotel at Dinnet, but at 11:00 they claimed to have run out of scones. We had a pot of tea. We left the hotel and left the Way, heading south from Dinnet over the bridge. We ignored a signpost to Glen Tanar and followed my route by Netherton and Newton then heading towards to Home Farm. The path was a little vague in places where it was overgrown with gorse, but mostly passable. We did have a little fun with gorse and a small burn towards the end of this stretch, but being true adventurers, we persevered and made our way through.

The view north over from above Newton

The first, and easiest, gorse adventure

More fancy ironwork

Aaannd looking back from the other side of the tricky bit...

We thought that once we hit the tracks in Glen Tanar things would be more straightforward.
At a crucial junction there was a temporary sign, track closed due to territorial capercallie. What?!
Seriously, we were not going that way, a lunch stop at the nearby viewpoint was called for so we could look at the map and decide a new route. Whilst there, a chap from the north east of England, Brian's home ground, who lived locally happened by and stopped for a chat. We talked about the Challenge until Brian asked his advice and he suggested we could reach the farthest end of the track and pitch there. Brian decided that was what he would do, but I was still feeling good and thought I would just walk on a bit further.

Brian, modelling his waterproof kilt...

Pick a route

We took the Firmounth Road for another 2 km before we were once again stopped in our tracks, the path ahead was roped off and the same warning was posted. We discussed briefly that Brian could just nip the 200 m beyond the tape to his desired camp, until he noticed the camera trap on the tree behind me. No, he'd come with me. So we set off further along the Firmounth Road another kilometre and a half until a sudden, unexpected, sharp left hand bend in what should have been a straight track. Ah. A quick look at the map revealed we had not been at the junction we had thought and were now in fact heading east below Baudy Meg. Bum.
Nevermind, says I, all is not lost. I had been intending to contour Hill of Duchery, instead we would contour the 466 spot height and drop onto the Fungle Road. This would nicely place us to find the posh shooting hut at NO 514 920. The going was made easier at first as we could follow a well used ATV track leading to a Larson trap, but the ground was rougher and wetter when that petered out. And it began to rain. Hard. Still, we followed the dampness that was really a burn and after some thrashing about did indeed drop on to the Fungle Road, just before the steep incline to the stone built hut. It was a nice pitch though and after I did the chores and pitched my tent, we enjoyed a pleasant evening, sadly cut short by a sprinkle of rain. My waterproofs were now dry and I wanted them to remain that way, so I retired. I had had a very nice day in Brian's company.

The view from my tent towards Carnferg

That was where my tent was....

Day 12 Tuesday 24th May
Planned: Glen Tanar to Feughside Campsite
13.3 miles 1568ft
21 km 459 m
Actual: The Fungle Road to Feughside Campsite
9.92 miles 380 ft
16 km 116 m
4.5 hrs inc. breaks

Brian likes to get up and off at a good time, but after not a bad night, I still managed to be up in time to see him off. In fact, I was ready to leave just after 08:30, quite impressive for me! I knew I had a really easy day today, once I'd negotiated the paths around Birse Castle so that I could head east through the Forest of Birse. As I passed woodland south of the castle, I saw a kestrel, followed soon after by a kite! That was a treat. Laura and I usually accidentally herd sheep when we walk together, today I was suddenly aware that I was being followed. I turned to find a ewe and her lamb, trotting along bleating loudly behind me.

I continued east along the track passed Ballochan and the car park, then on to Burnfoot. Laura was planning to stop somewhere around her tonight and I was a bit concerned that there was nowhere really suitable for her, but shortly after I saw a gentle slope leading down to the tree lined Water of Feugh and guessed that might be a nice spot. I continued on, passed a small memorial fountain and then found a plinth mounted with an information board about the Birse of Commonty. I was looking for somewhere to perch and this was a perfect height and position. I knew, however, that despite only seeing one vehicle on the road this morning, as soon as my bum hit the plinth, I would be seen. I was passed by three cars and a BT van. I hope I didn't cause offence by sitting on it.

I was glad I wasn't going over those hills like Brian...

The footpaths avoiding the castle are well sign posted, there is no need to cause offence


More signs

The first of two memorial fountains

Signs of a wild fire and recovery

Plaques on the plinth

Surviving Jaffa Cakes...briefly...

I was soon off again, passing by another memorial spring and an old sawmill with a waterwheel, just out of view, but I could see the water routed to it to power the wheel and hear the wheel turning. I can't remember exactly where, but at some point (after I'd been given a filthy look by a motorist) I spotted a secret path behind the hedge on the other side of the road. A sign would have been useful. I followed it until it ended at the next major junction. The road wasn't too busy at this point, but a road none the less. I attracted a crowd as I walked, the cattle were surprisingly interested in me.  An elderly lady, complete with furry bonnet, tartan trousers and a pair of walking poles was walking towards me on the opposite side of the road, "Great minds think alike!" she called to me, "The only way to travel!" I replied. I eventually arrived at the camp site, just after 13:00. I had to walk up the road a short way to a house to book in, but the lady was lovely, obviously used to Challengers although somewhat bemused by what we do. I made a joke whilst paying her about needing to hang on to my small change now for bus tickets and ice lollies, "Would you like one?" she said. How kind!

The sawmill

The second fountain

No camping...

My treat!!

I spent the afternoon showering, washing some clothes as I had a washing line and pegs available to me and eating all my spare food as I was a shade peckish. Well, after I managed to get passed the key code on the toilet and laundry room doors. I was on my own for quite sometime, except for the black spider lurking under my ground sheet. I rang in to Control as my vetter had suggested and spoke to Roger Smith. When I said I was continuing on my route as planned through the Fetteresso tomorrow, Roger joked, "There there be dragons!" "It's okay Roger," says I, "I've packed my shield and sword!" Roger chuckled.
Eventually Nicola and Victor Slawski arrived and soon after three more Challengers, Paul Southward, Jim Cowie and one other, who had great difficulty locating the toilets and the water tap, which he'd pitched next to. I chatted with Nic and Vic who I'd never met before and they invited me to join them when they went to the pub before the meal they had booked, so that I didn't have to walk in alone. How kind! We had a very sociable evening, joined first by Paul and then Russ Manion, someone else I'd never met. We had a great time.
Soon it was time for bed, I walked back to the camp site with Nic and Vic. I was hoping for a quiet night.

Nice pitch. Except for the spider...

Day 13 Wednesday 25th May
Planned: Feughside Campsite to Cowie Water NO 764 873
10.5 miles 1274ft
17 km 376 m
Actual: As planned!
5 hrs inc. breaks

Not too bad a night and I was up and off not long after Nic and Vic, at around 08:45. It was a rather busy road I had to walk to Strachan, I seemed to spend as much time leaping out of the way of cars and huge lorries as walking along. It seemed to take an age to reach the quiet minor road that would take me to Mosside and my turn off towards the Fetteresso Forest. I caught up with Russ having a short break, but I didn't join him as I powered on up the road. My turning seemed to arrive way before I expected, so I double checked to make sure. While I was at it, I sent a text to Control to confirm my dinner ticket for the Thursday night. I was then caught by Russ photographing a daft notice, he offered help as I think he thought I was navigationally embarrassed. Nope. Just daft.
I followed the wide, stony track up towards the forest, where I climbed a gate and the track became kinder to the feet. After a spell through the forest I popped out to an area of clearfell, and not far ahead I could see the wooden shack labelled as Glenskinnan on the map. I knew Laura was intending this as her overnight stop, but as I approached I could hear the banjos playing. I hoped she would walk on, but it was unlikely she'd stop as there nowhere to pitch in this inhospitable place. I wasn't liking the Fetteresso so far. A short spell of moorland track was pleasant, where I found a perfect perching place, but didn't need it. Then I returned to the forest to walk a dark, damp, dismal, depressing stretch of path. Eventually it improved and opened up, I turned a corner and lo and behold, there was Emma, sitting as though waiting just for me, hurrah!!

By the road in Strachan

Model aircraft hazard, to add to the list of hazards


I could hear the banjos...


Sock twins!!

We had a boot break together, some snacking ensued and we were passed by Will Renwick and Sam before we decided to carry on to our planned camp spot, catching up on the news since we'd last been together in Braemar. I began to like the forest again at this point. We had a little struggle along a track almost blocked by fallen trees, but it was possible to find a way around them with care, and possibly a little squealing. We were soon onto nice open tracks again before we eventually rounded a corner to find our pitch. And Stan Appleton waiting for us. It was only about 14:00 and we had time to kill, snacking on any remaining food before we could have our evening meal, not wanting to eat it too soon for fear of becoming hungry again after. Canadian Bill passed camp, calling to us that Laura was on her way.

We like signs

Here she is!!

Heather and Sue!

Poor Heather, her sore feet forcing her to rest as Sue did the chores

There was much chatter, tent fun and hilarity as everyone arrived, Laura, Emma and I pitched close together, mainly forced by the lie of the land and the lumpiness, but also because we didn't mind being closely grouped and able to talk between the tents. When David arrived, he must have wondered about us giggly girls. We could at least eat our supper now, having waited a long time. Mashed potato for me, followed by a Cadbury Caramel bar. I suddenly realised I had not taken any painkillers since Monday. This was good! Maybe walking shorter days was better for me. We were soon tucked up in our tents, trying to supress our excitement for tomorrow, the last walking day for us.

The last wild camp

Day 14 Thursday 26th May
Planned: Cowie Water to Stonehaven
8.25 miles 542ft
14 km 210 m
Actual: AS PLANNED!!!!
4 hrs inc. breaks

The day started way too early. I'd heard Heather talking and then needed to visit the en-suite. As I sleepily exited my tent, intending to return to bed, I heard Emma giggling, then Laura started to move around inside her tent. No, I did not get to return to bed. I couldn't be grumpy though, as I returned to my tent, Emma stuck her head out and wished me a happy birthday. That made me smile. She then explained she'd be giggling at the radio.

Courtesy of Emma Warbrick
Emma had just reminded me it's my birthday!

We were all up now, might as well crack on! Heather and Sue were away first, followed by David, then Stan. We left just gone 07.30 (what???) and Emma took the next turning right as we followed the main track out of the forest and on to Mergie.

Courtesy of Emma Warbrick
All packed up and ready to go

First view of the sea

The best way to cross the A90

Goodbye, Fetteresso Forest

We made slow, but steady progress to the coast, occasionally being stopped and congratulated by well wishers. A lorry had a little difficulty getting passed a deaf digger driver, but we perched on the edge of a ditch for as long as possible to stay out of the way. It was a really easy, straightforward stroll towards town, the mad dash across the A90 easily avoided by taking the flyover, then on passed the station and down though town to the sea. We paddled and took photographs, we'd done it!
I think I 'd succeeded, at last, to finish My Challenge with More Style, Less Drama Queen. I'd finished with no food, no water, no gas and more importantly no blisters and no plasters. I'd had a fantastic time, I made decisions that suited me and I'd thoroughly enjoyed my route, visiting places I'd never seen and meeting up with friends old and new.


Boot in the sea

179.94 miles 18,793 ft
289.6 km 5729 m
98 hrs

The end


Emma said...


Louise said...

Thank you!
Ps. You're a fast reader...L

Craig said...

Great adventure. Glenskinnen actually saved us as it had great rain water barrels. We had no water walking through the cow pastures to that point

Louise said...

Did the banjo music not put you off? Spooky place 😨

blogpackinglight said...

Very enjoyable read! Some route ideas stored away for future use ;-)

Willem Fox said...

Intended to start early this's 11:00 am now.. Thanks for the great write up. So this will be where I'm going next year; route ready ;-)

Louise said...

Thank you Robin, you were missed this year! We nearly camped that first night where you did before I think, but the meadow below was pretty 😄

Louise said...

Ha! Yeah, I only got dressed 'cos the man was delivering my new fridge! Thanks Willem, you'll have a great route and a great time 😃

Kevin Everett said...

Hi Louise, I've really enjoyed your blog and have read every word (well I am at work). Just to prove how attentive I've been: 'Scruffy Individuals' - indeed! 'Strange Boy' - possibly! When I crossed the Geldie a day later it was knee high! Love the sheep vid! The pitch you used at Bynach Lodge, I was going to camp there but would have had nightmares at the gable wall collapsing on me! Finally I believe it was Dov rather than Duvv.
Hopefully see you on the hill again, regards Kev

Louise said...

Hello Kevin! Thank you. Dov, well so it is! I'll change that, at some point.
And it's 'Bynack Lodge'...

Kevin Everett said...

Oh no a typo from puuuuurfect Kev lol

Louise said...


Phreerunner said...

An excellent read Louise. Sounds like a well planned and well executed expedition. You are becoming an expert. And you had a great and very sociable time.

Louise said...

Thank you Martin! I had a great time 😊

AlanR said...

Nice one Louise. Great read and should make the TGO mag. A bit worried though that you can find your way across Scotland but get mislaid between 3 buildings at Mar Lodge. Especially when the sign clearly says "TGO Challengers, Tea and Coffee in the Stable Block, next building down".
So Kate M is doing single nights again at Rucksacks.

Louise said...

The signs stopped, nowhere near the stable block. I don't think they wanted Challengers to find it...although I've always maintained buildings make navigation harder.
Didn't know she wasn't? Haven't been to Braemar for three years, not keen, but Kate is fab.

blogpackinglight said...

I thought the woods were a little more "subtle" but the meadow looks nice especially in sunshine ;-)

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Louise said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Louise said...

Ness64 said:
Hi Louise, what a great report with gorgeous photos!

I really enjoyed reading it although I must admit I'm a bit jealous of the great weather you seem to have had - probably the best in years which makes me even more sad to have missed the Challenge this time :(

The route I had planned was identical to yours on most days, and just like Willem said, at least it shows me where I'll be going next year :)

Thanks again for this and all the best!

My reply:
Thank you Nicole and my pleasure!
We did have good weather this year, I was only chilly at night a few times, never frozen cold, once or twice I was verging on really warm!
Didn't get drenched, just fairly damp at times.
I can't wait till next year to read about your next Challenge route, it'll be fab!
Good luck and take care. Keep in touch!

FellBound said...

Well done that woman. I'm hoping to be back in 2017 and with an Oban start :-)

Louise said...

Thank you David! It was a great start, quite different from the other, quiet starts I've done. This place felt so big and busy by comparison! And as for the fifty odd starters there (or however many it was...) only saw a select few. The best thing is possibly the choice of exit routes. Oh, and you can break yourself into the hills gently, rather than an immediate killer climb, like all the other starts I've done!
Enjoy :-)

Soop59 said...

Thanks for writing your account Louise, I really enjoyed that. As I had to withdraw last minute from this year's Challenge I only have other people's stories (sniff . . .). Great pics too.

Louise said...

Thank you! Well, you must re-apply so you can write your own account for us to enjoy! :-)

Alan Sloman said...

So good I read it twice - but the first time was on my phone. I needed the full horror of the full strength pictures.

As Martin said - a well planned route executed very well!

To AlanR: The notice on the door at the usual watering place at Mar Lodge had Lord Elpus and me horribly confused, as the next building down was a church. It seemed like the left hand had no idea what the right was doing - the signage was excellent at drawing Challengers into the grounds of Mar Lodge then bloody hopeless thereafter. No signs at all to give a clue where the new watering hole was to be found. I've been going there for years - Lord E too - and whilst we thought it is jolly nice of the Trust to give smelly hikers a cup of tea we felt that over the last few years this welcome has all but shrivelled to bugger all.

We shan't be bothering with it next time.

Louise said...

I think the last time I popped in must have been two years ago, this was the third room I'd been to for tea...eventually... I had the distinct impression we were a bit of a nuisance, but that they wanted to appear welcoming. It did not feel that way.
And thank you! I thought so too ;-)

AlanR said...

Re Mar lodge. Sheila and I were there the week after the chally passed through. We walked round the back as you do but the signs pointed to the stable block next building down. It was clearly signed and we walked to it.
However we sat and had lunch on the benches outside the old place with the big fire pit. Quite a few folk from the estate spoke to us and not once asked us to move or questioned why we were there. I did get the impression though that work was being done in the old building and I guess that was probably the reason why the venue had moved. If they want challengers there or not I do not know but if they don't then all they have to do is stop providing tea and coffee. I hope they don't though because the place is wonderful.

Alan Sloman said...

So good, I've just read it a third time.

Louise said...

You are a sweetie, glad you enjoyed it, again!
I should read it sometime...

Andrea Wilkins said...

The Great Outdoors Challenge certainly seems like a fun event. It is a good way to test determination and fitness. I like the fact that those who participate can plan their own route. Those phone calls to check in are very important. If something happens to someone, it will be easier to find them quickly and get emergency assistance to them if that is required.

Andrea Wilkins @ Getaway Oudoors