TGO Challenge 2018 Mallaig - Montrose

Day 0. Thursday May 10th. Newtonmore - Mallaig.

My wife Cath had very kindly agreed to drop me off in Mallaig before heading slowly homewards. We drove past the cafe and hotel at Dalwhinnie and dropped a second bag of food off, after I had looked at what was on offer in the garage shop the day before - much as I love pies and sweets I decided that I needed a bit more for the four-day leg over to Glen Clova from here. The weather over the past week had been quite cool and well before Fort William it was raining heavily with fresh snow visible on the Ben and surrounding hills. Before Glenfinnan a panicked stag in a roadside garden caught my eye, before it almost caused a collision as it dashed over the road. We passed some slow traffic and then had a clear run until we pulled off the main road and stopped for lunch in lovely Arisaig. The rain had passed and washed the air clear, giving wonderful views out to the islands of Rum and Skye. After lunch we walked through the dunes to Camusdarach beach and clambered on the rocks along the coastline. Later, after checking in to the Marine Hotel we had tea at a cafe before saying goodbye.

I soon met up with a few other challengers and spent a pleasant evening eating and drinking beer together. Then back to my room which had the worst view in Mallaig but no matter, that was about to change. My highly original plan was to follow the ridges, hills and glens east to Tarfside and then to head more easily down Glen Esk to Montrose.

Mallaig Harbour
Nearly off...

Day 1. Friday May 11th. Mallaig - Sourlies. 15 Km.

Before breakfast, I walked down to the waterfront. The wind was forecast to become quite strong but for the moment looked okay and the sea was calm and sheltered from the worst of the southerly wind. I had breakfast with Graeme Dunsire and my route-vetter John Plume.

Meall Buidhe & Sgurr na Ciche.
Inverie chain-gang.

Soon a crowd had gathered at the Western Isles Cruises boat and we dropped our rucksacks off to be piled up and covered with a tarpaulin for the crossing to Inverie. Out of the shelter of the North Morar ridge the sea became a bit choppy and those standing at the front of the boat moved back to get some shelter from the spray. It really is a great crossing with views far ahead to the waiting hills. Docked at Inverie we made a chain-gang to pass the bags up the steps.

Meall Buidhe
Heading onto Druim Righeanaich.

Then walking at last, people headed up the track towards the hills. After a few kilometres, I branched off the Mam Barrisdale track and crossed the bridge over the Inverie River. I walked with Heather for a bit who was heading up Meall Buidhe too but I soon split off to head up onto the ridge above the Druim Righeanaich. Soon I wished that I’d filled up my bottle a bit down at the river as I struggled to find much on the dry hillside. Even the obvious streamlines were dry but I found a small, hidden pool by comically sticking my leg knee-deep in it.

Meall Buidhe from An t-Uiriollach

By the time I had reached the top of An t-Uirollach it was raining and quite windy. I put my jacket on but left my overtrousers off as I knew that I would have to wade the Carnach later. I met Heather again coming from the opposite direction, between the two main tops of Meall Budhe, she was heading off northwards to camp. Then on down the ridge and on down the steep, convex hillside threading my way between jaggy little crags and some huge boulders to meet the path east and slightly below the Mam Meadaill.

Descending under Sgurr Sgeithe.
Beinn an Aoidainn, Sgurr na Ciche and the old Carnach bridge.

The Carnach which had caused a quite a bit of discussion and re-planning for many of us due to the old bridge being removed turned out to be only ankle deep. I could have swum across as I was already soaked from the wind-driven rain. After the Carnach you need to cross an amazingly flat and boggy plain towards the graveyard island of Eilean Tioram where a herd of deer were grazing. Reaching Loch Nevis I waded around the rocky coastline for a bit until the water got too deep forcing me to cross a bit of the small headland that bars access to Sourlies bothy. Then back at sea level you walk under some fine crags to reach the bothy which is in a lovely, grassy, remote position by the loch.

River Carnach at the old bridge.

There was a small group of tents and I added mine to them before lying down for a snooze. There wasn’t much point in changing out of my wet gear as my dry things would have just got wet too but the rain had stopped and the weather seemed to be clearing as promised by the forecast. I stuck my head into the bothy expecting it to be rammed but there was enough space to cook, so I gathered my things and cooked and ate. People gradually left, leaving only Jim And Chris who were kipping in the bothy and Jim kindly shared a dram with us (even having micro-tumblers with him). It was tempting to stay in the bothy with them and the bothy rat but I hadn’t slept in my shelter yet so I headed back there. I left the door wide open to try to let some of the damp out and watched as the light slowly faded on the loch and steep hillside opposite, which had sprouted a fine, long waterfall.

It had been a really good first day despite my legs complaining bitterly at having to walk uphill and my knees moaning pitifully on the descent.

Loch Nevis at Sourlies.

Day 2. Saturday May 12th. Sourlies - Strathan. 18 Km.

I woke to a gloriously sunny morning. Some shelters had already gone by the time that I surfaced. I talked to a few people including including Amy and Mike before heading off slowly myself. After a short, flattish section I crossed the Finiskaig river by a little bridge and climbed up the old stalkers path by the Mam na Cloiche’ Airde where I met Jim heading back to look for his cap (he found it, I later found out). Then up towards Sgurr na Ciche, entering a hidden valley that heads up to the gully and col between Sgurr na Ciche and Garbh Chioch Mhor. I passed a stag that had died, probably exhausted, in a bog (an end that most challengers can relate to I’m sure) and a little lizard. I’d seen a slowworm the day before but saw quite a few lizards on the crossing, not something I remember seeing in Scotland before.

Old Stalkers path by Finiskaig River.
Hidden glen by the Allt Coire na Ciche.
Sgurr na Ciche.

The gully between the peaks is a bit bouldery but with a little burn running down it there was no need to carry water yet. Then after after a sit-down and bite to eat I climbed up to the top, to amazing views off in all directions, letting me see where I'd come from already and far away beyond the Ben to where I was heading in a few days' time.

Lizzie lizard.
Upper section of Sgurr na ciche.
Loch Nevis, Meall Buidhe and River Carnach from Sgurr na Ciche.
Sgurr nan Coireachan from Garbh Chioch Mhor.
Gulvain & Ben Nevis with Loch Arkaig just visible.

Now from here to Sgurr nan Coirechan doesn’t look very far at all, but with all the ups and downs passing over the Garbh Chiochs it takes a while. Being a sunny Saturday, there where quite few walkers out on the ridge including a young woman almost running along. It was warm and sunny and as good a ridge walk as you could hope for, and I sat at one point and watched a pair of birds circling and gliding along the ridge. The grassy descent from Sgurr nan Coirechan seemed to take ages and I was thirsty and quite tired by the time I reached Glen Dessary. I stopped by the Allt Coire nan Uth for water and soup to rehydrate. I thought everyone passing by Sourlies would be well ahead of me by now so I was surprised when Mike and Amy appeared out of the forest. Their day hadn’t gone quite to plan but they’d had a very close view of a golden eagle thermalling by.

Garbh Chioch Mhor & Sgurr na Ciche.

There was a tent pitched by the river below A’ Chuil bothy and I was tempted to join them but knew that I needed to make it to Strathan if I was to have any chance of completing my plan for the next day. So I kept going along the boggy path and onto the much easier track and road passing sheep, cattle and deer grazing in the fields until, after a final bump, I could see Strathan and the tip of Loch Arkaig below. There was a cleanly cut grass landing strip that looked like a golf course fairway and a microlight flying around the hills in the now calm air. I cut across this very boggy section and set up my tent alongside the river. A bit later, I saw Mike and Amy arrived and hesitated to cross the swamp but after a bit they walked round by the house and pitched on the grass near to me.

Damp morning near Strathan.

Day 3. Sunday May 13th. Strathan - Glensulaig bothy. 13 Km.

It rained gently for a while in the night which left a slightly damp and drizzly morning. My mind and body were coming up with many good reasons for walking out by Loch Arkaig rather than traversing Gulvain but this was a day that I had really looked forward to as it crossed an interesting and probably relatively little visited piece of ground. I said goodbye to Amy and Mike who were heading towards Fort Augustus and waded the shallow river. From here there is an awkward section of swamp to cross to reach the ruined croft of Kinlocharkaig.


Then it was straight up the tussocky hillside to eventually reach the Monadh Ceann Locharseig, the ridge that blocks access to Gulvain from Loch Arkaig. Gulvain looked big and still quite far off but I saw that if I reversed my plan and climbed the SW summit first that I could at least lose a little less height crossing Gleann Camgharaidh and the cloud was gradually clearing from the hills to give a fine day. I traversed gradually down into the glen and rested by the lovely burn, feeling a million miles away from anyone. I left some food for the deer to lighten my load and slowly climbed up towards the steep, little ridge of Gulvain’s south summit. There were a few snow patches to steer round but the rocky ledges helped to ease the climb and it was more fun than slogging up the long hillside below. I reached the top just before a couple out walking for the day. Then along the fine ridge to the higher top to the north. It was easy going for once as there was a good path to follow.

Gulvain SW top from Monadh Ceann Lochairceag (I went up by the skyline ridge).

After the summit, I needed to descend the south-east flank of the hill to reach the watershed between Glen Mallie and Glen Fionnlighe. At first I had to pick my way through fields of small, boulders to reach the grassier slopes below. These looked easy but time after time a clod of the dry surface would slide off on the wetness beneath and I would fall. I made it to the bottom in one piece and stopped for a drink in the quiet glen.

Glen Fionnlighe.

All that was left was to cross the bealach on a good track and on down the other side to Glen Sulaig bothy. From above I could see two people and a dog roaming about outside. They turned out to be a lovely couple from Yorkshire at the end of a two week tour of various bothies. After dinner they kindly offered me a dram but I badly needed to be horizontal. I drifted off to sleep listening to the gentle murmuring of their voices from the next room.

Glen Suileag Bothy.
Glen Suileag Bothy.

Day 4. Monday May 14th. Glensulaig - Spean Bridge. 23 Km.

I woke to a fine, sunny morning and soon headed off up the glen, following my nose along intermittent wet paths through the heather. At some point Glen Sulaig spills over into Glen Loy and I climbed up a little to reach the track that eventually becomes a metalled road at Achnanellan. I’d had three brilliant days coming over the hills but it was good to now move more quickly and easily eastwards. The narrow road winds its way down the glen with occasional houses and a rocky little river. I passed a couple of walkers that were both wearing perfectly clean looking white shirts and they even smelt clean so heaven knows how I must have smelt like to them.

Glen Loy.
Ben Nevis North Face.
Moy Bridge.

The views open up to to Ben Nevis and Aonach Mor and beyond to the Creag Meagaidh hills bringing back good memories of the many days I’ve spent on them. Glen Loy ends at the B8004 which I followed until I could see the swing-bridge over the Caledonian Canal at Moy. I could see that the bridge was open but cut down through the fields to the canal to see if I could get across somehow. The bridgeman kindly came across in his inflatable dinghy and gave me a lift across. I sat on the grass, ate some lunch and chatted to a couple from Germany who were heading to Roy Bridge for a few days. There were quite a few cyclists going past along the towpath and a few clean-looking walkers with small packs that may well have been doing the Great Glen Way.

Moy Bridge.
Caledonian Canal & River Lochy.

At Gairlochy I came across three folk with big bags and, like me, looking like they had been in the hills. It turned out to be John Hutchinson and his companions Dave and David. I walked along with them to the caravan park at Torness where they knew that Ian Shiel was waiting in his campervan to feed and water any passing challengers. I’d never met Ian before but ended up wishing that I’d waited to have lunch as he produced a feast for us. The tea and ginger beer I drank went down very easily and were greatly appreciated as was the good crack as we sat around the table.

Cafe Ian Shiel at Torness Caravan Park.

Then we all wandered along the road, past the Commando Memorial and down to Spean Bridge where I left them as I had a room booked at the Aonach Mor Hotel. After cleaning myself up I wandered along to the The Bridge Cafe where I had a really good meal of soup, steak pie and salad. Later I went back to the Spean Bridge Hotel for a beer but didn’t meet anyone and was quite happy to go back and laze away the evening in my room which was festooned with drying gear.

Commando Memorial.

Day 5. Tuesday May 15th. Spean Bridge - Loch Ossian. 31 Km.

During the excellent breakfast, I met Joanna and Ollie who were heading along to Loch Ossian too. I shopped for food at the Spar and was back to a full load again. From Spean Bridge a little road runs alongside the River Spean and up past the farm at Corriechoille. Several van loads of young people and their minders passed me on the track and a little further, on the edge of some woodland I came across Ollie and Joanna, again who invited me to stop for a brew. I stayed with them right through the Lairig Leacach and a stop at the bothy for lunch. Just past the bothy we came across a smiley man pushing a heavily loaded bike and we stopped to talk. He was doing a brilliant trip over to Skye and back onto the mainland through the hills in preparation for the Pamir Highway making our little walk look very unadventurous. Just before Loch Treig the path suddenly passes through a curious little rocky valley and pops out by the loch near the abandoned Creaguaineach Lodge.

Cruach Innse & the Grey Corries.
It's a sign ...
The Wee Minister.
Cruach & Sgurr Innse from the Lairig Leacach.
Passage to Loch Trieg.
Creaguaineach Lodge.

Then round the head of the loch the track climbs up the hillside to run alongside the railway. Soon we came to a bridge and Joanna and Ollie split off to head directly to Loch Ossian whilst I stayed on the boggy path to visit Corrour Station. They had been great company and the day and distance had flown past.

Loch Trieg Monster?

Crossing the wet moorland I passed a tent and then a couple traversing the hillside and ignoring the path. I gave them a wave and carried on. Then a deep, whirring noise and two Apache helicopters appeared, skimming slow and low over the heather, impressively powerful beasts.

Apache's on the horizon...
Corrour Station.

At the station I was very pleased to see the ‘Open’ Sign at the Cafe and and went in to find a throng of people. I joined a table of folk on the challenge, though the only person that I knew was Sue Oxley. I had a massive plate of fish and chips and salad along with tea and coffee. A really great place and a slightly bizarre oasis, almost in the middle of nowhere.

It's open!
Loch Ossian Youth Hostel.

Full of food I walked along the track to, past the Youth Hostel where a lot of people would be staying and along the north side of Loch Ossian. I was surprised when a big lorry loaded with cement came along the track and stopped to ask me if this was the way to Corrour Lodge. I told him that he’d come too far and that there was a place to turn not far away. He re-passed me with a wave.

Bealach Dubh & Ben Alder from Loch Ossian.

Further along the lochside, I came across a perfect area to camp with a flat spot in the trees, a stream and a little bench, fireplace and woodpile. I stuck my shelter up, made a fire to keep me company and drank some tea as the light slowly faded. It had been another really good day's walk with only a little light rain at times and it was looking as if it might be clear in the morning.

Loch Ossian camp.

Day 6. Wednesday May 16th. Loch Ossian - Loch Pattack. 19 Km.

It was as bright as I’d hoped in the morning and I was soon under way and past Corrour Lodge, a great glass and metal structure. All the tracks hereabouts seemed freshly worked on and tidier than most estates manage. I was soon able to quit the path and head up towards the broad ridge leading to Mullach Coire nan Nead. Lazily, I’d made my usual mistake of not taking water from the main stream and soon realised how dry the hillside was. I half-filled my bottle from a very small and slow trickle but by the time I reached the first top I decided that it tasted too bad to drink and dumped it. There were plenty of snow-patches so I knew that I could melt snow for water if needed. I re-filled my Platypus at one of the tiny lochans below Beinn Eibhinn. The surrounding hills were starting to look very familiar again and I could see for miles in the clear air.

Loch Ossian, Buachaille Etive Mor & the Blackmount hills.
Aonach Beag from Beinn Eibhinn.

From quite early on I’d seen a figure ahead of me nearing the top of Beinn Eibhinn but it wasn’t until I’d crossed that peak, gone down the connecting ridge and up to Aonach Beag and along to Geal Charn that I caught up with them. Ellie was on the challenge too and had camped in the glen below the Bealach Dubh. We walked together for a while, dropping down the little ridge that leads on to Carn Dearg before she stopped for lunch and I continued on to Carn Dearg and down to Culra bothy.

Carn Dearg & the Fara.

There, after making some soup sitting in the sun and out of the wind behind the bothy, I fell fast asleep. I woke up a short while later feeling so relaxed that I struggled to move at all. A couple of people passed by on their way to climb the hills the next day, one of them putting up his tent near the bothy.

Culra bothy & Meall Cruaidh.

Rousing myself I followed the track along to Loch Pattack and met Neil Fraser camped at the first spot. He’d seen me dozing at the bothy and left me to it. I camped on a lovely spot, with it’s own little beach close to the rickety bridge over the Allt a’ Chaoil-Reidhe that flows down from the Bealach Dubh under Ben Alder and into Loch Pattack.

Loch Pattack.

Darren Long arrived and set up his tarp not far away, then came over to say hello. In all there were about eight shelters dotted around by late evening. I’d had another really good day's walking, with the ridge that I’d followed much easier going than I’d expected. I’m sure that a lot of people who normally pass over the Bealach Dubh would enjoy this too.

Loch Pattack camp.

Day 7. Thursday May 17th. Loch Pattack - Dalwhinnie. 14Km.

Yet another bright morning. Scotland’s weather spoiling us with yet another fine May. I was managing to sleep with the door of my Solomid shelter open to reduce condensation inside. It started off looking fairly neat when I first pitched it but by morning would often look more like an old wizard's crumpled hat.

Bridge at Loch Pattack.
Ben Alder hills from the Fara.

Then, off over the rickety suspension bridge and along the track looking for the way up onto the Fara. At first this is a very boggy climb up between the forest and a fence but soon climbs out onto heathery hillside. Higher up I caught up with Sue Oxley who had been camped on the other side of the bridge and woke to a tent that was frozen inside and out. Once up Meall Cruaidh the Fara ridge stretched out for a couple of miles and gives amazingly soft, mossy walking with occasional little rocky tors to give variety.

The Fara & Loch Ericht.
Oh deer ...
Dalwhinnie & Meall Chuaich.

From the highest point on the ridge I headed straight down the wet hillside and through a firebreak in the forest to reach the road beside Loch Ericht. Then easily along this in the sunshine passing the rather baroque house - The Shieling, which is just the right side of bad-taste to make it look fun rather than ridiculous.

The Fara from Dalwhinnie.

I was soon passing under the railway and arrived at the hotel in time for coffee and a chat with Ellie who was heading south to meet her friend Barbara at Balsporran. Then a bit of comedy as I managed to lock myself out of my room and had to be let back in. I washed out my bog-filthy clothes and went for lunch. The two Davids and John Hutchinson turned up as well as David Mercer and his friend Ian Webb and several other challengers passing through.

After a siesta I had dinner and a good few drinks with Ian, David and William, whom I had met outside the hotel making a very relaxed evening.

Dalwhinnie Hotel and Cafe.

Day 8. Friday May 18th. Dalwhinnie - River Feshie source. 27 Km.

There’s a curious thing that happens hereabouts because although you are only in the geographic centre of Scotland you are now entering the East and best part of the country.

A few people had decided to drop out at Dalwhinnie due to their bodies and life getting in the way and it was sad and slightly unsettling to see them go. I'd had such a good first week and was so close to Newtonmore that I could have happily stopped and done something else but knew that I'd regret it if I did.

Aqueduct & Meall Chuaich.

I passed under the A9 and followed the track beside the aqueduct which leads eventually to Loch Cuaich. There were a couple of people packing up there, probably Darren and Rob but I kept going slowly up the zig-zagging and vague stalker's path onto the moorland below Bogha-cloiche then over this until the ridge leading to Sgor Dearg appears. Here the landscape changes dramtically with ridges and steep slopes on either side of the Gaick pass. I followed the stalkers path down to the riverside and stopped for lunch.

Loch Chuaich.
Sgor Dearg, Gaick & Beinn Dearg.
Gaick Pass.
Sgor Dearg & Gaick Lodge.

After easily wading the river, I walked through Gaick Lodge without seeing anyone, though there was a pickup truck parked outside and horses in the fields. There is another faint stalker's path that climbs steeply up the other side of the valley and I followed this onto the tops. This was my most weary day so far and it seemed to take a while to cross the six or seven kilometres of up and down moorland to reach the Minigaig pass and the twin tops of Leathad an Taobhain nearby. I had crossed the Minigaig before in a more conventional north-south direction. From here you get a great view across to the southern Cairngorms and Cairn Toul.

Cairngorms from Leathad an Taobhain trig point.
River Feshie ( I camped by the first snow patches).

It was early evening now and I decided to drop down to the north to find shelter from the steady southerly wind. At around 700 metres beside one of the little burns that soon become the River Feshie I found a flat spot beside a couple of snow patches and set up for the night.

Allt Leac an Taobhain camp.

Day 9. Saturday 19th. Feshie source - Gleann Mor. 23 Km.

Still sunny the next morning, I had another quick breakfast of tea and malt loaf and set off towards Beinnn Bhreac, back up the hillside and across the undulating moorland between. This sort of ground is never quick to cross as it tends to be riven by steep-sided little stream valleys and covered in heather and peat hags.

Beinn Bhreac.

After the summit I dropped quickly down to meet the Tarf Water. I could see two figures approaching along the burn so I sat and waited. It was Darren and Rob and we walked along for a while, criss-crossing the small river to find the easiest walking and to avoid the periodic steep banks.

Tarf Water.

I stopped at the Tarf Hotel for some lunch and a wash and was joined by Rob and Darren and after a bit by William. We had all come interesting and different ways from Dalwhinnie.

Tarf Hotel.

After lunch we left William and moved on along the Tarf. After an hour's walking the route passes through a little glen that leads to the Falls of Tarf. There’s not much of a path and it’s quite rough, rocky ground where you are sometimes right by the lovely river and sometimes quite high above on the hillside.

Heading to the Falls of Tarf.
Beinn Iutharn Mhor, Glas Tulaichean & Carn an Righ from above the Falls of Tarf.
Falls of Tarf.
Falls of Tarf, Glen Tilt.

At the Falls of Tarf I met a woman running through Glen Tilt to be picked up at the Linn of Dee. Then I said goodbye to Rob and Darren who were heading up the glen to Braemar. It was quite windy again and I knew that it would be preferable to find a sheltered camp rather than my planned one right under Carn an Righ. By following the obvious path rather than looking at my map I blundered on a gate, little path and old suspension bridge (not marked on the maps) that crosses the Allt a’ Ghlinne Mhoire below Fealar lodge. It has a very sheltered flat area on the far side that was good to camp on. Again I was tired and glad to eat and lie down. I think I was horizontal just after 6pm and hardly moved again until the morning.

Gleann Mor.

Day 10. Sunday May 20th. Gleann Mor - Glen Beanie. 29 Km.

Fealar Lodge.
We do it for the views ... Carn an Righ.

I woke to a dull morning and the day's walking started with a steep climb up the hillside to reach the track leading to Fealar Lodge. Beyond, the intermittent path crosses a shoulder to reach the burn that flows under Carn an Righ. The ‘path’ continues up the tight valley between Carn an Righ and Beinn Iutharn Mhor. Just before the path turns the corner under Mam nan Carn a steep burn flows down directly under the summit of Carn an Righ. I dumped my sack by this and climbed more easily up into the mist and strengthening wind to reach the viewless top of the hill. Then straight back down as it was a bit damp and windy for hanging around. Next I followed the path around the corner until it was time to cut off towards the north-east shoulder of Glas Tulaichean. It didn’t take long to reach the top, in very thick mist now and quite windy. I kept going over the summit and fairly soon dropped out of the cloud and worst of the wind.

Glas Tulaichean.

On the way down towards Glen Lochsie I passed a mountain biker in shorts who was in for a shock when he got higher up. Then a very smiley family making their way upwards. Glen Lochsie is really quite pretty but doesn’t look particularly good to camp in should you ever plan to pass this way.

Glen Lochsie.
Sheep near Dalmunzie Hotel.
Spittal of Glenshee.
Cateran Trail near Spittal of Glenshee.

From the Dalmunzie Hotel a small tarmac road leads pleasantly all the way down the lower glen to reach the Spittal of Glenshee. I was now in much softer, lowland grazing country. The hotel at the Spittal burnt down a while ago and the cafe at the Outdoor Centre, as expected had a ‘closed’ sign outside. The road was busy with cars and bikes and I sat on a low wall by the church feeling exactly as I knew I would when I had planned to come this way months before - that civilisation should have cafes and pubs! Feeling cheated I crossed the road and took to a section of the Cateran Trail along the east side of Glenshee. After passing through a few gates I realised that I was feeling knackered and lay down for a bit propped on my rucksack. A couple of people with big rucksacks were walking along the main road with the traffic having to slow and stop to avoid them.

Mount Blair & Lower Glenshee.

At the farm of Westerton of Runavey I turned up the hill towards Loch Beanie. At first all of this section is good walking in great countryside but the ground becomes wetter and wetter as you approach Loch Beanie. Along at the loch there is a fisherman's hut and inside I found a rusty tin of bean and sausage breakfast, two years out of date but still more appealing than my freeze-dried food. There was a tin opener there too which I took as sign …

Loch Beanie.

Then wetly on over a little col into Glen Beanie which has a lot of interesting (for a climber) but overgrown boulders. Lower down the glen not far from its junction with Glen Isla I pitched my tent on the track as it was the flattest area and hadn’t been driven over for years. It was raining gently and I spent another quiet evening lying in the tent and dozing off to sleep.

Glen Beanie camp.

Day 11. Monday May 21th. Gleann Beanie - Glen Clova. 24 Km.

The morning weather had returned to normal - sunny - and I wandered down the glen and along Glen Isla getting waves from the occasional passing car and a ‘hello’ from a woman outside her house. I turned off, crossing the river at the estate houses of Fergus, passing by without even disturbing the guard dogs that a welcoming sign warns of.

Glen Isla.
Caenlochan Glen.

The track here climbs up through mature pine trees with great views up towards Caenlochan Glen. Gaining height, the views opened out back towards Glas Tulaichean that I hadn’t really seen yesterday and over towards the coast where clouds were trapped under an inversion. Higher up, I had a slightly strange experience. I could see someone not far ahead, apparently going more slowly than I was and coming in from a track on the right. When I got there, there was nobody and I left the track thinking they had maybe stopped off the track for a rest. I could see all the ground for miles around. It must have been my reflection somehow but the sun was off to the east still and not behind me. It’s the second unusual experience that I’ve had in the Clova area. I kept going over Bawhelps looking back behind me from time to time.

Glas Tulaichean.
Early morning near Bawhelps.
Mayar & Driesh.

I crossed over Mayar and Dreish with fabulous, distant views in the clear air and down into Glen Prosen where we holidayed once when I was young. The grassy ridge continues over the Hill of Strone and Cairn Inks until I could drop down another wet hillside to reach the little B-road at the bridge over the South Esk in Glen Clova. There is a road up both sides of the glen at this point and the traffic generally uses one side as the up road and the other to go down.

Glen Clova.

I had a room booked at the Clova Hotel and fortunately I could move straight in, washing myself and my dirty clothes and hanging gear up to air. I went down to the bar for a second lunch and a pint after phoning in to challenge control. Later in the afternoon I walked outside and got talking to Bob and Harvey who had just arrived coming down the glen from Jocks road. We ended up drinking and eating together until quite late, along with lots of other people on the challenge including Rob and Darren who I hadn’t seen for a few days.

Then off to bed feeling fairly clean at last after several showers.

Clova Hotel.
Misty Glen Clova.

Day 12. Tuesday May 22nd. Glen Clova - Tarfside. 21 Km.

Breakfast next morning had something that I’d not seen much of for a while - fruit - and this, together with the traditional cooked breakfast, went down a treat. There were a lot of challengers around; too many for me to get to know them all at once.

Loch Brandy.

There is a new-looking path up to Loch Brandy that eases the climb up. The cloud was down on the hills again and at the plateau it was quite chilly for a time too in the wind. I’d met Peter down at the loch and we walked together briefly before our routes diverged in the mist. After this I navigated over past Muckle Cairn, though you can’t really go badly wrong here as you would just end up in one of the glens sooner or later. Eventually I could see down into Glen Lee and the cloud slowly lifted. I threaded my way quite easily through the peat hags and along the blunt ridge to Cairn Caidloch. From here the track bends easily down to the farm at Glen Effock and I cut cut the corners on softer, grassy ground to save my aching knees.

Cairn Caidloch.
Down to Tarfside.

After the farm I crossed the fine old, metal bridge and down the road to Tarfside, keen now to get there. Just short of St. Drostan’s I could smell the bacon cooking and went inside. It was much busier inside than when I was there the year before but just as friendly and I sat down to coffee and a bacon roll folowed by tea and one of Ann’s fresh scones. There were plenty people to talk to, some that I knew already but lots of new faces too.

Glen Effock Bridge.

I put my tent up at the back of the field that must have had thirty or forty tents by evening. Then back along to St. D’s for soup, chilli, tea and cake. Afterwards I headed along to the bar at the ‘Masons Arms’ which opens every year when the Challenge passes through and must briefly be the liveliest pub between Aberdeen and Dundee. I chatted at the bar for a bit then got into drinking with Harvey and Bob when they appeared.

St. Drostans church, Tarfside.

Day 13. Wednesday May 23rd. Tarfside - Montrose Bay. 41 Km.

Even after the late night and all the whiskey I woke up early as usual and wandered along to the Retreat for breakfast. I was a bit too early and sat outside chatting until the owners turned up and began to turn out breakfast for the hordes that were now arriving.

The Retreat cafe near Tarfside.

I’d already decided to run my final two days together and head down to Montrose that day. I followed the glen down crossing the river on the first bridge at Dalhastnie then down through the green fields, with the constant sound of birds and sheep and cattle grazing on the fresh grass. I caught up with Rob and Jim and we walked together along to the Rocks of Solitude path. Then I met Sue Oxley and Mark from Kalamazoo. I'd met up with Sue so many times along the way thay she must have thought that I was stalking her.

River North Esk near Edzell.
The Blue Door.
River North Esk.
The long straight leading to North Water Bridge.
North Water Bridge.
Almost there...

By Edzell it was lunchtime and I stopped at the Tuck Inn for a bite to eat. It was quiet inside but soon to get busy as the throng from Tarfside arrived. I left with an ice-cream to lick along the way and crossed over the river. Then sailed past the turn-off to Arnhall farm just to make the long straight to North Water Bridge even longer. It was yet another fine day and I sat in the sun at North Water bridge for a bit. Then after miles of road walking I followed the track from Hillside into Montrose then through the town centre and out to the beach at Montrose Bay. I took my shoes and socks off and paddled my hot feet in the sea.

Montose Beach and Scurdie Ness Lighthouse.

All that was left was to check-in at Challenge Control in the Park Hotel. The hotel let me camp outside in their garden which was great news. The warm welcome when you get to Challenge Control is brilliant and really makes the end of the trip special. I put my tent up for the last time and walked into town for a curry. The Indian restaurant looks a bit Fawlty Towers as it has several letters missing from the sign outside. Inside I found Rob and Peter and joined them for dinner. The food was really good and afterwards I contentedly wandered back to the glampsite at the hotel.

The Park Hotel, Montrose.

Thursday May 24th. Montrose.

The next day passed very easily in Montrose and hanging out at the hotel. I went to the dinner which had warm and funny speeches and people received their awards for making ten or even twenty crossings. It was almost 2 am when I got back to my tent and the Challenge was over for another year.

Friday May 25th. Montrose - Newtonmore.

I travelled back by train to Newtonmore sharing part of the trip with Mike who was heading to Grantown on Spey. At Perth station I had a final wildlife experience as one of the station workers shooed a family of ducks out of the station and into the garden next door.

Duck walk, Perth Station.

Back at the platform I spoke to another challenger who I recognized from the blue T-shirt that we all received at the end. She told me that they she didn't want to go home, just to keep on walking and I think that sums up the Challenge for most of us (though a few days off first would be good ...).

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.