View from Oban Bothy

View from Oban Bothy

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

TGO Challenge 2017, Part 2. May 2017

Tuesday 16th May, Fort Augustus to Chalybeate Spring

A fine Morag’s Lodge breakfast set me up for the morning. I met up with Neil in downtown Fort Augustus and after a last minute shop for wine (Neil) and cheese, pate and crackers (me) we left the town behind.

The day’s route wasn’t promising, Glen Doe and Glendoe Forest have been largely industrialised: a new reservoir had appeared since my last visit, the wilderness had suffered new metalled roads, wide enough for the heaviest of HGVs, and there were windfarm construction sites as far as the eye could see. I recognise the need for alternative sources of energy but this intrusion just seemed over the top.

Whatever….

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Loch Ness

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Our route was initially on tarmac and footpaths around the south end of Loch Ness before what the map suggests is a Land Rover Track. It’s actually a main road up Glen Doe.

Glen Doe SSE Map

The SSE map of the Glen Doe workings

Walkers are advised to call into the security lodge just to get up to speed with the situation on the tops. A polite and helpful security man gave us the low down, it was nothing unexpected – watch out for large waggons and try to keep out of their way, that sort of thing.

The road climbed – so did we. The Manchester Crew were ahead, moving at quite a lick. They were probably trying to get a move on to try to miss the promised bad weather. Somehow they’d discovered that there was to be a bit of a gathering at Chalybeate Spring and they were headed there – and they were well prepared for it.

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The weather was still dry when we eventually caught up with the Manchester Crew – we only caught them because they’d stopped for a break.

We’d missed the morning rush hour so the traffic wasn’t too heavy, even so there were some large HGVs buzzing around.

The Manchester Crew set off and we followed on soon after. Then it started raining and it chilled quite a lot. And it got windy. Thank heavens for Paramo.

Neil had pulled ahead, I was faffing around with my camera, unsuccessfully taking lots of very imaginative photographs.

I got hungry. The rain got heavier and I got hungrier. There was no shelter to be seen – not until I spied a tunnel about 50ft below the roadway. The tunnel was making talking-type noises. The voice-type noises were the rear party of the Manchester Crew, they’d sought shelter for their lunch break and the tunnel was their saviour. Okay, it was dark and there was a stream running through it, but there were plenty of rocks to sit on and as long as I was careful I could dry off a bit.

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A lunch of cheese butty, some fig biscuits and a mug of tea warmed me up, even so I put on an extra layer, a very thin merino long-sleeved top, under my Paramo, ready to face the cold wetness outside.

My compatriots moved out, leaving me to finish my lunch and prepare to meet the horribleness outside.The rain didn’t last that long although the cold did, I was glad of the extra layer.

I marched onwards, alone, allowing my mind to wander where it wanted and enjoying the solitude….until a couple of enormous waggons went past. They weren’t speeding, but their sheer presence was enough to wake me from my daydreaming.

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Loch Ness

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The low cloud base

There were some views, not particularly brilliant, and certainly not good enough to be accurately represented with my (lack of) photography skills.

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The SSE Welfare Building at the W end of the new reservoir

The rain had now completely stopped, the cold wind got windier and remained cold. Approaching the eyesore of the SSE Welfare Building, a real blot on the landscape, I began imagining there being a cafe there to serve the needs of the workforce. Perhaps a Cafe Nero or something….?

The security man on duty came out of his lodge to greet me – I assumed to advise me of works in the area. He asked me if I fancied a sit down and a warm-up. I declined, telling him that I needed to get a move on to Chalybeate Spring for the arranged soiree. His reply was that about en of them wouldn’t be there yet – they were all in the Welfare Building drinking tea & coffee and warming themselves up!

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Not the best photo, the camera lens had misted badly.

Well, it could be considered rude not to, so I did. Two mugs of tea and a visit to the, er, washroom later, I was (almost) ready to face the outside world again.

We all left the building together, it was still a good way to Chalybeate but the break had done us all a bit of good. We sped off….sort of.

The last few miles weren’t without challenge. It wasn’t always clear which tracks we should be following, the copy of the map I was carrying wasn’t up to date. After a few false trails and a good bit of heather bashing we picked up the right track and eventually arrived at Chalybeate Spring.

We were by no means the first to arrive, the advance party of the Manchester Crew were already there plus Andy W and his team.

Jayme’s Cocktail Party:

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There were a total of 21 shelters, at least one of them was a fully occupied two-man tent. A gathering of this size was no mean feat – especially considering that it had only been arranged the previous evening.

The gathering was a very pleasant do indeed, it was good to be able to make the acquaintance of some of the first-timers – a great lot, all of them!

The sky cleared beautifully – the temperature dropped too. I was hoping for a few night shots of a starlit sky….but I went to sleep. Oh well.

After a long 30km day it was a very cold night – I woke at a very early hour and needed to pull some extra clothing on. I slept cosily once warm.

Cuckoo Count: 1 (in F.A.)


Wednesday 17th May, Chalybeate Spring to Newtonmore

Rupert, Neil and I were away at 9.30am, we weren’t in a rush. Our intended route was to take us over 3 munros: Beinn Something-or-Other, Carn Thingy, plus a few other wonderfully forgetable hill names. The hills themselves were quite splendid and totally unforgetable. What’s in a name, eh?

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Rupert and Neil

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The weather couldn’t have been better: fresh and breezy but nice and sunny. Rupert, who knows a thing or two about Munros and stuff, was our guide for the day. He did his very best to explain the difference between Munros and Munro tops….I’m still not 100% sure of the difference. What I do know is that they’re really quite big and in the right conditions many of them can afford wonderful views.

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A camera-falling-over photograph

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A Very Big Hill

We chatted to a hillwalker on the top of Carn-Whatever-it-Was, Rupert was delighted to find that this recently retired man had taught at his old school – and that there were still one or two teaching staff from his days working there. Small world, eh?

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Former pupil and former teacher

The conditions on this particular day were excellent and the views equally excellent.

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Panoramic views

Our descent from these wonderful tops wasn’t without incident. Our plan was to aim for Loch Dubh and then pick up a footpath which would ultimately deliver us into Newtonmore.

As we lost height we slowly became separated – Neil up front, Rupert in the middle, me taking up my usual and rightful position at the back.

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I spotted a frog – a frog worthy of a photograph I thought. Camera out, I zoomed in and squatted down to snap the beastie…when I slipped and took a tumble on some wet and slimy ground. This fall badly jarred my L knee (the poorly one) and I really thought that this was the end of my Challenge. A sit down to gather my thoughts and to massage my poorly knee convinced me that I should continue. The knee was quite sore but it was bearable.

I continued my descent, passing Rupert who’d decided that he deserved and sit down and a quick brew & a bite.

After a good mile or so I looked at my map….only to realise that I no longer had my specs. When I slipped I must have gone one way and my specs had gone t’other. I dropped my pack and hobbled back to search. After well over an hour I gave up – a pair of brown-framed specs hidden in heather aren’t the easiest things to find.

Feeling quite sorry for myself, I hobbled painfully down to Newtonmore, I was tired and hungry. And then it started to rain.

I didn’t arrive at Sue & Ali’s Newtonmore Hostel until around 9pm – quite knackered. Sue and Alvar were brilliant: tea and cake were dished up in very short order. I was put in a dorm with Andy W’s team, the only berth left was a top bunk. Andy, being the star he is, agreed to let me have his bottom bunk…..although he later admitted that he only moved because he didn’t fancy me falling on top of him during the night if I couldn’t safely get out of bed with my poorly knee.

I still owe him a pint though! 

And the photo of the frog wasn’t that good after all.

Cuckoo Count: 0


Thursday 18th May, Newtonmore to Ruigh Aiteachain Bothy

I should say something about Sue & Ali’s Newtonmore Hostel but I’m struggling to find enough superlatives: It’s wonderful, warm, comfortable, very welcoming and has excellent facilities. It’s always nice to have a comfy hotel or B&B, but given the choice in Newtonmore I’d much prefer the hostel.

Newtonmore Hostel

Newtonmore Hostel

(Image nicked from the hostel’s FB page)

My knee had improved overnight, it only hurt a bit. I was happy that a short and easy day lay ahead. It was late when I eventually dragged myself away from the hostel and I was now in the company of Neil and Croydon. The weather was gloriously warm and sunny and it was nice to wander down Newtonmore’s main street (Main St) and not feel hurried.

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This was my first time in the town and also the first evidence I’d spotted of the local bloodsport:

A quick re-supply at the local Co-op (pr: Qworp….but you knew that) and we wandered north on tarmac into Kingussie for further re-supply – gas for me and a new hat for Croydon.

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Service Sports, Kingussie’s outdoors shop is very good, the staff know what they’re talking about. They stock a wide range of goodies and their prices are sensible. I know from others that it’s been the savious of many a Challenger when their kit has failed.

Kingussie has a public loo – with a difference. It offers hot showers. Had I not spent the previous night at Sue & Ali’s I’d certainly have used this unexpected facility….even so, there was at least one Challenger who was grateful for this unexpected luxury.

Bert hobbled over to us. He’d had to retire from the Challenge, his feet were in a dreadful mess. He’d had medical attention and had been told in no uncertain terms that continuing his walk was not an option. Looking at the way he was walking I don’t think he could have continued even if he had wanted to.

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We left the town on very quiet tarmac and headed to Ruthven Barracks and beyond.

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We didn’t turn left. Honest.

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Note Croydon’s new hat. And my poorly L knee.

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Good tracks from Tromie Bridge delivered us to Glen Feshie where, after a lunch break, Neil left us to head north to camp around Loch an Eilein, his route was to take him over the Lairgh Ghru.

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Flat walking through forestry towards Glen Feshie

Once on the eastern side of the Feshie we turned south, following the mostly good track. apart from where the track had been washed away by the river:

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Snow shower

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We weren’t the first to arrive at Ruigh Aiteachain by any means and actually considered moving on, many of the good camping spots had long gone.

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The bothy is currently undergoing major refurbishment and is closed, not that was a problem for us. I’m not a lover of sleeping in bothies unless conditions are really bad, I much prefer the convenience, comfort and privacy of my tent.

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What I do like about Ruigh Aiteachain is it’s water supply and it’s outside loo. All terribly civilised.

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A sociable evening followed. The were lots of familiar faces spending the night here and there was plenty of catching up to do.

The night was clear and quite cold. Once again I’d planned to take some photographs of the night sky…..but I went to sleep instead. This was my only effort, taken at 7.30pm, hardly night time::

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Cuckoo Count: 0

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

TGO Challenge 2017, Pt1. May 2017

Thursday 11th May. Home to Mallaig

It started well and just got better. Mostly. Unless you’re a mouse.

A Stupid O’clock taxi ride to Manchester Piccadilly was a pleasant affair – the roads were virtually deserted. The sun was rising, illuminating the city quite beautifully. The light in the early morning really is a gift to photographers…..those fortunates that know what they’re doing anyway. Unlike me.

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Manchester Piccadilly in the early morning

My First Class journey to Glasgow was a rare luxury…they call you ‘sir’ and give you lots of tea, coffee and snacks. No breakfast though, this was Transpennine Express – Virgin East Coast were to do a far better job of catering on the return leg.

As always, it was lovely to catch up with Challengers at Glasgow, there were far too many names to mention, but some of the first to see were Martin, the very fine Russ Manion, Colin, the lovely Brocklehursts, Denis & Mary, and Lou & Phyl who aren’t Challenging this year….they reckon that they’re too old. So they backpacked the Great Glen Way instead. There were a number of unfamiliar faces wandering around the station, many of them were Challenge virgins and wondering what the hell they’d let themselves in for.

I didn’t take any photographs in Glasgow, I was too busy meeting my fellow walkers…..but not THAT Walker, he’d travelled via Inverness I think. Martin had a look at my camera and took this snap of me, if you look carefully you might spot some of the usual suspects lurking in the background.

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The final leg of the journey to Mallaig was a jolly affair, the train was rammed with Challengers all heading to their respective sign-out points. It was a long journey but quite probably the most scenic rail route in the UK. We didn’t arrive in Mallaig until around 6pm but time passed quickly, such was the good company on the train – and the tremendous views of course.

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View from the Glasgow to Mallaig train

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Over the sea to Skye

The weather had been excellent all day, pleasantly warm and sunny, with a few clouds scudding across the sky. Ideal walking weather.

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After an excellent meal with the Pigeons of Glasgow the process of essential hydration began, the Skye Gold was particularly nice. I slept rather well.

Cuckoo Count: 0


Friday 12th May, Mallaig to Runival

The following morning was predictably dull and a bit damp, this was Scotland after all. If you don’t like the weather here just hang around for a couple of hours and it will surely change. I did and it did.

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The 10am(ish ferry over to Inverey was quite full. Denis and Mary were onboard, they’d booked themselves on a tour around some of the islands – a nice trip but I’m sure Denis would much rather have been joining the throng heading to Montrose.

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Not our ferry. Skye in the background.

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The Madonna, erected in 1946 by Sir O. Crosthwaite-Eyre. 
And a fishing boat.

The boat journey soon passed and once on t’other side Challengers duly lined up on the slip to wet their boots and pose:

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L>R: Tim, Denis, T’other Lindsay, Mary (the lovely Mrs Denis)

Tea, coffee, cakes, bacon butties (and lots more besides) were consumed as a sort of Last Supper ritual before the throng headed off to enjoy endure two weeks of dehydrated meals, rain, wind, sun, bogs, ticks, clegs, midges and other delights that only the TGO Challenge can provide. What’s not to like, eh?

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L>R: Denis, T’other Lindsay, Me, Paula

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For Alan R

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The Brocket Monument, erected 1937, marks the family’s ownership (of Knoydart?)

The weather was fine as the crowd dispersed in a generally easterly direction, some were headed to Sourlies whilst I took a more northerly route up Mam Barrisdale and over to Loch Hourne – duplicating my 2004 route, my very first TGO Challenge.

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Gleann an Dubh-Lochain

It was a long but quite straightforward climb on good paths up Mam Barrisdale. There were other Challengers following the same route but most of them were well out of sight….apart from Brian & Leslie from Florida. We teamed up and I was to enjoy their good company for the next couple of days.

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Loch Hourne and Barrisdale Bay coming into view

The descent from Mam Barrisdale wasn’t quite as pleasurable as the ascent. Despite Shockstopper Footbeds and a support my L knee was objecting to downhill impact. Ibruprofen, a knee support and rest came to the rescue. I like rest. Rest is good. I’m not so keen on taking pills to mask the pain though. For all that, the views on the descent were grand.

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Barrisdale Bay

It was a relief (to my L knee) to get onto flat ground once again. Brian & Leslie were doing brilliantly – especially considering that they’d not long since arrived in Scotland, their body clocks must have been grumbling at the time difference.

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I’d considered camping at Barrisdale Bothy but the area was quite crowded and I prefered a slightly quieter place to spend the night. Happily both Brian & Leslie were in agreement. My second choice of pitch, where I camped in 2004, was badly overgrown and the stream that was quite full back in 2004 was now quite low. There was one tent there but the site didn’t look at all inviting. My final choice, close to Runival, was to prove the best. Others were also camping in the area but It was flat(ish) and there was running water close by. A good choice.

A good meal of home-dehydrated curry & rice followed by fruit & custard and lashing of tea sorted the inner man. It was a still and quite warm evening, added to which there was lots of water close by. And I didn’t bother packing insect repellant. Idiot.

The views at dusk were quite lovely, if it hadn’t been for the midges I’d have slept with the tent door open.

Cuckoo Count: 2


Saturday 13th May, Runival to somewhere near Kingie. I think.

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Brian & Leslie

Next morning, after a breakfast of muesli and lots of coffee, we were away. My Plan was to follow the mostly very good path along the s shore of Loch Hourne.

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My Plan was to stop at the cafe at Kinloch Hourne for tea & cake. I wasn’t able to stop here in 2004 but this time around I was in charge of where I wanted to go……tea & cake it was. It’s good to backpack solo…..although it’s also good to backpack with others.

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Kinloch Hourne Tea Room

The cafe was an unlikely looking place, but the tea & cake were just the job. Others came and went as we slurped and guzzled – a couple of Challengers plus a few ‘tourists’. One elderly backpacker who joined us in the cafe but who wasn’t on the Challenge, proved to be very interesting. He’d been doing some serious walking in Knoydart and, like us, had called in for tea and cake. He was well retired, but in his working life had been responsible for overseeing the building and commissioning of power stations all over the world. He was a fascinating character and I would have liked to have spent more time chatting with him.

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Don’t even think about leaving the cafe without paying

The weather so far had been fine, dry and overcast. As we left the plush cafe it was clear that the clouds were considering an early dumping of their contents.

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Neil in foot maintenance mode

My Plan to head north up Allt Coire Sgoireadail was abandoned, it looked horribly claggy and murky up there so we marched purposefully eastwards. I was now in the very excellent company of first-time Challenger Neil from Shetland who had also been troughing in the cafe. Neil had once toured on a CX500 so he was clearly made of the right stuff.

Our lower level route proved a good choice: easy walking and lovely views towards Loch Quoich. The tops were well hidden by thick cloud but as the day wore on the mizzle began mizzling on us.

And then we got hungry.

Everything came together just at the right time: a flowing stream, some nice grass to sit on, a dry spell in the afternoon….and rumbling, grumbling stomachs. Lunch time. All manner of goodies were revealed – I ended up with a cheese butty washed down with a cupasoup and a mug of tea. There may have been an Eccles Cake involved, but I wouldn’t want to admit that – I’d reserved it for my tea. But I was very hungry.

Brian and Leslie soon shot off ahead of us. They were a little (!) younger than us and wanted to get a move on.

The rain got rainier but it certainly didn’t dampen our spirits. Good conversation ensured that we didn’t get bored with our FWA.

The familar faces of The Kinks (Ray & Dave) appeared out of the murk, Dave was on his 10th Challenge so he HAD to complete.

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Ray (Left) making sure that Dave (Right) gets to Montrose in one piece

(Photo c/o Neil)

They’re both very experienced so I had full confidence in their ability to finish successfully….and have a great deal of fun on the way. They headed north, we continued east.

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Glen Quoich in the pouring rain

As we marched on we hit a problem that we really weren’t expecting, almost unheard of in Scotland: a lack of water. The recent dry spell resulted in some normally gushing streams to be virtually dry. Not good, I was glad to have packed my Sawyer Water Filter.

We began searching for a suitable pitch. It wasn’t easy, the ground wasn’t good at all – and we were still searching out sources of good, flowing water.

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As if by magic a bit of flattish ground, married to a nice flowing stream, presented itself. Brian & Leslie were already in residence. The weather still wasn’t marvellous and we were glad to get our tents up, collect water and get under cover. Oh, and eat. home dehydrated bolognese seeing as you were asking. No pudding though.

A wet night followed but my poorly L knee was much less painful.

Cuckoo Count: 3


Sunday 14th May, To Invergarry

Brian & Leslie left early, the rain had stopped and the day was looking quite promising. Neil and I dragged ourselves away at around 9.30am. Our route took us past what was the Tomdoun Hotel, it was now a rather grand private house.

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The former Tomdoun Hotel, once a magnet for Challengers

We soon turned south and crossed the bridge over Loch Garry to follow forest tracks to Invergarry. The bridge area had been my intended pitch for the previous night – that’s the thing with the Challenge, you can fly by the seat of your pants when you want to – flexibility is the name of the game.

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Another one for Alan R

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Mummy Coo & Baby Coo

The weather was mixed: very hot sunny intervals interspersed with very heavy rain showers. The walking was easy and we arrived in Invergarry at 3.30pm. Invergarry hadn’t seen any of the rain that we’d endured over the previous 2 days, just blue skies.

Neil needed a proper bed for the night and he managed to get into the Invergarry Hotel. Wild camping in the area was difficult so I turned to Stealth Mode, filling my water carrier at the hotel.

We arranged to meet up in the hotel early evening for a meal. The place was playing host to a myriad of Challengers: The Pieman & Son, Bert (suffering with very sore feet) and many others. We enjoyed a good meal, good beer (Skye Gold) and good company.

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My Stealth Pitch for the night

I slunk off to pitch my tent as the light faded, rolling into bed at 11pm. My L knee was ok, just a bit tender.

It was a very warm, windy but dry night.

Cuckoo count: 3


Monday 15th May. Invergarry to Fort Aggie

I awoke at 5am but stayed put until 6am. A breakfast of muesli set me up for the morning. The dry and windy night ensured I was able to pack a bone dry tent. I met up with Neil at 8.30am, and after I’d managed a stealth wash-down using the hotel’s facilities we wandered off along the Great Glen Way (made famous by Lou & Phyllis) in the direction of Fort Augustus.

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Caledonian Canal

We were now in the company of Pieman & Son who were intending to continue a bit further than F.A.

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The weather forecast wasn’t brilliant, waterproofs were needed. Probably.

The walking was very easy indeed, hardly any up & downery. It was also a short day too, we arrived in F.A. at lunchtime, just in time for a pretty awful chippy lunch. The town was heaving with tourists of all nationalities. The difference between them and the Challengers in town was that they probably didn’t pong as much as us.

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Challengers enduring an awful chippy lunch

I checked into Morag’s Lodge Bunkhouse whilst Neil found himself a hotel in town. We arranged to meet up in the evening for a beer.

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Other Challengers were staying at Morag’s Lodge, notably Chrissie, Rupert, Colin and Dave…and a couple of others who’s names I don’t know.

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The pub meeting was a jolly affair. Amongst others, Jayme & Co were in residence. Arrangements were made for a cocktail party to take place the following evening at Chalybeate Spring. This was on my route anyway and it promised to be a quiet, select affair.

At 11.30pm it was a later night than I’d intended, but a nice bunkhouse bed ensured a good night’s sleep.

Cuckoo Count: 2