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A happy chap who likes a walk every now and then

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

The TGO CHALLANGE 2014.....DAY 11 (Muckle cairns and Muckle Guinness)

Day 11
Shielin of Mark to Tarfside 11 miles

 I was up, sausages on, broon sauce and hovis wraps laid out in a smart and soldier like manner, boots polished, hair combed and the tent packed away at a very reasonable hour (for me), it looked like it was going to be another decent enough day, I cant believe how lucky ive been with the weather on the crossing so far, long may it continue. There was quite a bit of movement down at the bothy where I suspect they were all gathered naked around a tesco food bag (cut in half and inside out after the previous evenings custard) of crushed corn flakes (corn removed for weight savings) and red top nido powder, culinary murder.

  The first task after getting squared away was to get across the burn, preferably with dry feet and then head up muckle cairn, it was pretty much the only climb of the day, a nice change getting the climb done first thing in the morning.  From the top it would be downhill all the way to the village of Tarfside where I had planned tonights bivi with hopefully the possibility of a drink or two if the bar was open. 

I debated following the Burn down past the bothy for half a mile (ish) on easy ground before crossing and following one of the green streaks/wee burns directly up the hill, as it was I didn’t really think there was much point in going down to climb back up so i selected the grassy strip that looked like it went closest to the top and just headed directly towards it through the heather and peat hags, some of the hags were easy going but some of it was pretty damp going, if the weather hadn’t been so good recently it would probably have been a big mistake going this way, as it was I made decent time to the base of the hill, with only one or two bad words used (very good for me). My navigation was spot on, probably because I could see my target the whole way across the flats, I arrived at the point I was aiming for and headed straight up the burn line.

A couple of snaps from the "green streak/burn" route that I had scientifically selected earlier. The view is back down from the slopes of muckle cairn towards the Shielin of mark bothy, in the bottom picture its in the green scar (the burn) in the middle ground.  Away in the distance you can see Lochnagar, Conachcraig and Meikle Pap as well as a fair skelp of the white mounth plateau

I couldn’t believe how lucky I was with my choice of route to follow up the hill, it was like walking in a park, the grassy bits were fine and even halfway up the peat hags that had to be negotiated had dried out a lot making for really good underfoot conditions the whole climb up, the only danger seemed to be from the kamikaze white hares that were bounding about all over the place. The rough animal track I was following through the burn line led me straight to the cairn atop muckle, a few yards from the cairn was the beginnings of a LR track and a few yards further on was David making his way off the summit.

On top of muckle cairn, dont quote me but I think thats the general direction of Broad Cairn, another of the White Mounth munros. 

Just about to start the decent off the top, there was a bit of snow lying across the way, it also looked like the weather might change for the worse (it didn't). I caught up with David on the steep decent into Glen Lee and we chatted away as we wandered along, just before the stables of Lee, David stopped for a break, I had earlier planned on making the stables my first stop of the day but for some reason when I got there I just kept going down the glen, a couple of land rovers full of Invermark keepers passed me heading up the glen, probably away to set up punji stick traps for those following on behind.  

Fairly easy walking heading down to the Lee plantation

A swift look back up towards the plantation, a sneaky photo but really a covert swatch back to ensure i wasnt about to be mugged for my powdered milk bag

Glen Lee is a stunning glen with scenery on a par with anywhere and a thoroughly enjoyable walk in its own right.

Especially when you get round to Hunt Hill and Craig Maskeldie.

  The Brides Bed on Craig Maskeldie, after this Glen Lee opens up again with the water of Lee flowing sedately through to the Loch. It wasn't long before I reached the head of the loch, I looked behind and noticed a couple of other folk catching up with me pretty rapidly. 
I decided it was about time for a break as i must have clocked up a few miles by now, the wind also seemed to have gained a chilly edge that i hadn’t noticed earlier, I wandered along the loch side looking for a decent boulder to get in behind out of the breeze, there's some monstrous boulders lying in this area, but none of them were the perfect match to my strict comfort criteria, by the time I was happy with my choice I was nearly halfway down the loch. I sat and had a snack and 30 minutes with the bergan off, bergan and boots off stops are worth their weight in gold, surprisingly no one passed by so I presume they had had the same idea and also stopped for a break

 At the bottom end of loch Lee with a couple of familiar looking challengers hard on my heels.

Speaking of pagan ceremonies, I shot my first Stag on the middle hump of Craig Dullet across the other side of the Loch, tradition decrees that after such an event you are bled with the beasts blood. I know now, being much much older and dare i say it maybe slightly wiser that the majority of the time its usually just a couple of fingers streaked across the cheeks, back then though I was the young dafty (probably why they bled me when i saw my first stag shot as well, bastards) who knew nothing and was always available for kicking the arse right out of it.

Hence the reason I arrived back at the stables and larder encrusted from top to tail in congealed and dried blood (along with a black eye and cut eyebrow, I didn’t bloody know what a rifle recoil was like, I ve learnt). Unfortunately I had hair then too which ensured the gunk knotted and stuck to everything just fine.

 Looking back probably the biggest mistake I made was trying to take the head keeper with me as I was pounced upon, auld Fred was the epitome of an old highland keeper, an utter gentleman to all, he also happened to be kinda big, stronger than an ox and forever up for having a caper, unless of course a 7 stone wet through pony man thought he could bleed him too.

 Eventually I left the loch behind and started passing the Invermark estate buildings, the low building with dog kennels attached was my home (not the kennels the two bothies at either end) while i was employed as a pony man through the stalking season, half a dozen of us shared the two bothies for four months.

 It was a very basic set up, heated by the wee fire, which we also did the majority of our cooking on, i cant even remember if there was water, we probably borrowed from the dogs. It was a great time in my young life, working hard out on the hills every day, fishing the Esk and ferreting rabbits for supper, plus the odd hunk of fresh venison and liver that somehow found its way onto our open fire (ha you didn’t know that Fred). I enjoyed walking through here alone with my memories, a short period in my life but full of big influences on how my future panned out, I was kinda hoping to bump into some of the old keepers but I found out later they have all gone now (in more ways than one).

A bitty further on and with dry eyes, I wandered around a corner just before the ruins of Invermark castle and straight into two wifies that hadn’t done the “make sure nae one is coming, im bursting” check, schoolboy error. I suitably adopted the “im actually looking at the wonderful views” pose, before bending to tie that pesky bootlace. Needless to say rosy cheeks abounded as we did the obligatory walkers nod on passing.

 Just after this encounter David and Ian came flying around the corner behind me, puffing away and out of breath, but they were just to late for the strippers, more effort boys. We all wandered along to the bridge where they decided they were having another lunch break (in a huff then).

 I kept going and took the shortcut to Tarfside between Cairn Robbie and the Hill of Rowan, walking along this pleasant track It seemed like every peeweet in the country was nesting in the vicinity and every bloody one of them saw me as some sort of master egg thief, bring back the cuckoos, these things make mair racket than women at the NEXT January sales.

 As I got to the high point between the two hills I could see down towards Tarfside, the Milden estate spread away out before me, its been many a year since ive been up here and I just couldn’t believe the devastation that has been wrecked upon the estate, huge scars all across the hills with basically two lane roads everywhere. Not just one track either, they were criss crossing each other everywhere, none of them were on my map either, which might make tomorrow fun.

Milden estate was my first proper job, I understand how much the locals across the Scottish rural community rely on sporting estates, im all for them but these “super moors” are as much of a disgrace to this country as the wind farms that are being bulldozed into every spare hill and moor. The most beautiful country in the world and its wildlife being systematically destroyed for ever to satisfy the greed of the precious few, who will no doubt move on when they get bored of their hobby, leaving devastation in their wake.

A couple of local wifies had been up on the hill of Rowan walking their dogs, our paths crossed and we started chatting as we walked down to Tarfside, as we gossiped away they mentioned that the roads had been rushed through as there was a worry that the government were going to pass a law requiring planning permission to be sought before these hill motorways could be built, id seen a very similar situation over between the river Bulig and Corgarff a few months earlier where a huge 360 digger was actually sitting on top of a mountain gouging out tracks on another drug induced grouse moor

 There was also mention of a bridge mysteriously becoming unsafe, which of course sadly discourages folk from crossing the Esk to the other bank, im not sure where it is but I presumed it was near to Tarfside. At least the local raptor population is safe around here (PS, I ve heard cuckoos eat five grouse at a sitting…actually maybe that’s true and the real reason I haven’t heard one for a day or two).

Some people are on the park, they think its all over (i hate where that wee statement comes from, the biggest injustice to mankind ever, booooo) two of the afore mentioned bloggers chilling out by their tee pees, using the tried and trusted method of keeping the midgies at bay with the feet and arse bared to the wind system.

I wandered over to the toilet block for water, just as the two women who had been caught short earlier pulled up in the car park, we came face to face again at the block, im still not afy sure if my "sorry, I didn’t recognise you with your clothes on" comment was taken in the light hearted manner it was meant to be, ach well, im sure they will eventually have a chuckle about the day they met the fat lad as they walked to Loch Lee.

The 3rd member of the coven (the evil Delia Smith as i heard him referred to later) had by this time been shunted away by himself into a wee corner of the park, every now and then a harsh cackle could be heard from that direction as i suspect another bonus lump was found in the custard. 

 I think there was one other tent before we arrived, later on a lot more would appear on the scene and it got pretty busy, most folks had had a lot longer day than us, I was glad of the short day as it had turned into a right decent afternoon and stretching out in the sun for a few hours was an unexpected bonus. 

 Eventually though all good things have to come to an end and the barman turned up to open the bar, i felt obliged to put the North Face baffies on and head over to partake in a drink or two. The barman was localish and we knew the same folk and each others family, he gave me the locals run down on what’s been happening, who was doing what and who had moved on from the Glen over the years id been away.

 The bar filled up as the night went on, every now and then someone would nip out for half an hour to knock up a souffle or some such sustenance, returning later to carry on soiree, there must have eventually been 20/30 challengers in there enjoying themselves, I was told that the next night would be a lot busier... If i had any sort of memory i would be able to name all of the really fine folk i chatted to that night, unfortunately i don’t, but to all that were in the Masons that night i thank you for a grand evening and great company, If i borrowed money you’ve been scammed, sorry.   

Day 11 Thoughts and Impressions

Short days are good, break track for toilet breaks, peeweets are the new cuckoos.


Sunday, 26 October 2014

THE TGO CHALLENGE 2014.....DAY 10 (Bonny birds and pagen chefs)

Surely the soul of the hero rejoices,
And rides on the wind o`er his own Highland vale.
Round Lochnagar while the stormy mist gathers,
Winter presides in his cold icy car.
Clouds there encircle the forms of my fathers;
They dwell in the tempests of dark Lochnagar. 

Day 10 Braemar to Sheilin Of Mark 18 miles

A long 18 mile day

A very relaxed start to the day, shave, shower (very warily) and a haircut before ambling downstairs for breakfast, the queue was rather long, blue rinse and horn rimed specs abounded with I doubt anyone under 60 in it, I just assumed they were all challengers…. It later transpired that it was a coach party that had stayed overnight in the hotel. 

As soon as the doors opened they were in like locusts, you could just make out the subtle (you get a seat, I’ll empty the bacon) nods and winks to each other, as an extremely well planned operation was executed with only one or two sweary words used. It was probably planned at 0300Z, while they enjoyed the beautiful sounds of the karaoke drifting up from the bar below. The hotel staff were immediately on the back foot but recovered well when they noticed my young handsome tear stained face quivering at the back, on realising that a couple of innocent hungry bystanders had been caught up in the excitement, and to stave off further bouts of PTSD they bravely ushered us through to a side room, where we received table service and a very fine relaxed breakfast. In the back of my mind though, I knew it was going to be a long day and I should probably get a gildi on and make smoke. 

While the coach party flash mob were cuffed and ushered onto their bus and out of town by the local paramilitary police force, we checked out and headed along to the Coop for my extra supplies, unfortunately some cheap skate suverners had bought all the £3 made out the back whiskey, so I decided to settle on the cheapest of cheap vintage red imported direct from the world famous vineries of the Indian sub continent. 

I was happy enough with my selection process until the lassie at the counter reminded me it was Sunday and they cant sell Alcohol until 1000, (I think its maybe 1000 everyday, I don’t know as im not usually in the habit of purchasing booze that early on any day, the challenge does strange things to you.). Bugger I was to busy enjoying myself the day before that the thought of buying it then hadn’t even crossed my mind, never mind I don’t suppose a cold lonely night on the hill chomping on the finest of Aberdeenshire sirloin with diet coke will kill me, much..

I said cheerio to Mrs McT (not real name) and headed off through the village, past the wee school to begin the climb to Lions Face. There was a surprising amount of folk with bergans on considering it was still relatively early and the amount of alcohol that had been imbued the previous night.

The tracks up the hill through the woods are very pleasant and in the main easy going, with  only a couple of short sharp climbs to ensure any previous evenings excesses are quickly sweated out, every now and then you come across white hares hanging in trees, pretty normal stuff really.

 I didn’t see any other challengers on my path up but when I got to Lions face itself there where three or four folk just moving off after having had a wee “take in the view” stop.

 it is a lovely view out over the Dee and away up towards Ben Avon, there’s also a fine bench at the view point for those requiring 5 minutes R&R

Going down hill towards the A93 I took a wee shortcut, when the path zigs back on itself I just kept going through the woods, I knew there was a style (ish) a bit further on, every half mile saved and all that, I climbed over onto the road and saw a few single challengers spread out ahead, on looking back it seemed like half the challenge were streaming along the road, I can just imagine the reactions of the on coming traffic, they must have thought someone was doing a retreat from Stalingrad remake (on the cheap). 

There's actually a pretty decent verge and the majority of the walk down to Invercauld bridge was done off the road

The old bridge of Dee, just after the Invercauld bridge

Although it was only a very short section and not to much of a problem it’s always nice to get away from the road so the gate into the Balmoral estate was a welcome sight, I actually worked on the estate many years ago so was quite familiar with the area, no chance of getting lost today thankfully, in fact looking back I've only been navigationally challenged the once that I can remember and that was in a car park in bloody Spean Bridge.

Walking through the estate there seemed to be folk everywhere, its easy pleasant going through the estate and it didn’t to take long to get to Connachat cottage, Im sure my vetter had mentioned to be aware and ensure I take the right track here, aye whatever I stayed here, heck i even once reversed a LR through someones garage doors just 1/2 mile further along the track, Im a local, I ken what path to take…. 

Hence the reason I took the completely wrong track and started heading up the side of Craig Doin, when I got to the wee shed at the top/end of the track my suspicions were confirmed. Decision time walk back down and pretend i had gone that way deliberately or head through the woods and cut back onto the LR track above the Connachat burn.

I took the woods route and enjoyed it, at one point I just about stumbled over three hinds they seemed to be pretty used to lost navigationally challenged walkers, they ran off a bit then just stopped and had a laugh at my expense. If you look really carefully you can pick them out, my camera had decided to go tits up so all the photos are on the phone which doesn't really zoom that well, but trust me they're laughing. 

 There wasn’t a proper path through the woods but it was a mature section of the Caledonian forest and they are usually pretty easy walking with plenty of animal trails to jump back and forth on, this was no exception and it wasn’t that long before I came out where id hoped, lost naa just going scenic, honest.

Around about this exact spot many years ago I dragged a stag out onto the road, at the same time a little old wifie came around the corner driving a range rover, nae crown on but the boss and her sister jumped out (regally) and we had a grand chat for a good 15 minutes or so, pretty surreal stuff.

Happily zipping along on the right track again I skirted Ripe hill and headed towards the Gelder burn, once there I got off the path, filled the water bottle, got the boots and socks off and sat down to some well deserved biscuits and cheese. There was a slight moment of panic when whilst daydreaming I attempted to utilise the wrong spread on the biscuits, luckily I had one of those “what are you doing” moments and stopped myself, thankfully I don’t require to carry tubes of anesol, or I would have looked a right arse…

A few folk wandered past but they all seemed to be heading for Gelder Shiel bothy (in the wee wood, with Lochnagar and meikle pap behind), quite a short day I thought, but maybe the sensible option after the previous days shenanigans. I've slept there a few times over the years and know that the path from the Bothy up towards Conachcraig can be a bit of a pain, my plan was just to stick with the LR track to the east of the Gelder and bypass the bothy completely.

 I chatted to this bonny wee bird for a while

 Ive never understood the lucky foot thing, theres a three legged furry beastie running around the hill, missing a limb and probably not exactly feeling overly lucky.

The small wood in the foreground hides the Gelder, the wooded hill behind it is ripe hill.

the track up to the Belach between Conachcraig and meikle pap is a lot longer walk than I remembered, there was no one either in front or behind although I could see quite a lot of folk heading along to the Gelder Bothy on the track below me.

For the first time on the challenge I plugged in my ipod, ramped it right up and listened to the Shamen for a couple of miles whilst head banging and conducting the band with my walking poles. 

Eventually I reached the top with Glen Muick spread out below me, off to my right there were quite a few day walkers heading up the well worn path to Lochnagar. 

Looking back down into the Gelder, you can just make out the Gelder Shiel bothy and ripe hill away in the distance.

Still a wee smattering of snow around up here, a couple of weeks back there was a lot, I was wondering at the time if it would thin out before the challenge.

From my vantage point I could see all the way across the glen to muckle cairn, and the rough area of my planned over night spot, Glen Muick has become like another second home over the last few years, most weekends through the summer we drive up the deeside road to enjoy the glen and surrounding hills, so again I was on pretty familiar ground.

Going down the LR track into the glen can be pretty dodgy as it has a couple of steepish sections with very loose shingle underfoot, if your not paying attention you can quite easily find yourself coming a cropper. Normally when doing Lochnagar we climb up this track and decend the mountain by the Glas Allt Shiel path to Loch Muick, but there was no way that route was in my plans for today. So straight down to the glen floor it was.

 Then straight across (avoiding the grouse crossing without looking) to the Spittal of Glenmuick keepers cottage. Swinging the lamp again... I also used to work in Glenesk many years ago as a trainee keeper, I lived with a keeper and his family and by coincidence, one of the sons that I lived with is now the keeper in the cottage at Glenmuick, small world.

I didn’t stop in the glen as it was really busy, a lot of folk drive up and just have a wander around the immediate area, there’s usually a herd or two of red deer hanging around so its popular with families, walkers and bikers. I kept going past the keepers cottage and followed the Allt Darrarie for a few hundred yards before stopping for another wee break, my usual rule of thumb involves a stop roughly every 5, 9 and 13 miles but today was a bit longer and id forgotten my own rules

Following the Allt Darrarie was very enjoyable and easy going, I was vaguely keeping an eye out for prospective camp sites, there were plenty of wee spots that would have done if required, but I was enjoying myself and not overly tired either, so the planned trek up to the  Shielin of Mark bothy was still on, i just kinda like to have fall back spots, in case of mishaps. 

I hadn't seen another challenger since the Gelder Shiel, I half expected to see some around here, but I seemed to be the only one about, I did notice a couple of tents in the field beside the rangers hut at the Spittal,  I suspect they weren't challengers though plus I'm sure we are asked not to camp in that vicinity anyway.

Looking back down the Allt Darrarie from near the top end, it looks pretty hard going but in reality there's a fine easy path all the way.

The spot where you leave the Allt Darrarie and follow the burn of Muhamad for a short bit, its quite narrow with a bit of scrabbling around as the path gets a bit more vague in a couple of spots, I was trying to guage the best bit to cross the wee burn and climb out of the mini glen.

I seemed to pick the right spot (more luck than skill) and followed a tiny wee burn up through a fine green bit, there was a couple of soggy patches but it the main it was a very pleasant walk

You pass through a couple of peat hags and then all of a sudden the ground in front of you drops away to the burn that eventually becomes the water of mark. Its quite a steep, high embankment and rather than drop down into it, I stayed high and carefully made my way along the bank allowing myself to slowly decend as I went, 

Just as I was beginning to doubt my map reading for the second time in one day, the bothy appeared about 300 yards in front of me. 

As I wandered up to the bothy I noticed 4 tents already there, I had inadvertently stumbled upon a coven of bloggers,  (Ian Sommerville, John Sanderson and David Williams), probably the nicest thing they've been called for a while... I had a quick chat but quickly realised it was far too dangerous pitching close by as it became frighteningly apparent that pagan rituals would be talking place with plastic bags, custard, cooking whisky and other evil foodstuffs, I disapeared back up the burn to a fine wee patch, got the tent up and rustled up a quick sirloin, hopefully the nasty smell didnt travel to far downwind. 

Suitably sated I felt brave enough to go back down to the bothy and confront the demons, they actually seemed all right once they had finished the rituals, I enjoyed the company and learnt quite a lot from the group of experienced wanderers. As the evening progressed a couple more tents sprang up and even more frighteningly basterised versions of school dinners appeared.

Day 10 Thoughts and Impressions

A long day, but a very enjoyable one, started and finished off in great company. Again no cuckoos, apart from the crazy folk at the bothy. The vetors advice is valuable and definitely worth paying attention to. I love Lochnagar.