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A happy chap who likes a walk every now and then

Thursday, 22 October 2015

TGO CHALLENGE 2015 IT'S ALL DOWNHILL FROM HERE (metaphorically speaking) DAYS 8, 9 & 10

After a very pleasant night, a great sleep and a full fat lads breakfast we sat on the front steps of the Cairngorm hotel and donned our boots in glorious sunshine. It looked like being another cracker.

Day 8
Aviemore to Faindouran lodge 19 miles ish

Today's first leg was from Aviemore up to Loch Morlich, (funnily enough, where I learned to canoe in 1987, it will be forever embedded in my memory, as the course started by learning Eskimo rolls, after spending a day upside down in the loch, its easy to see why Eskimos find igloos cozy).

Leaving Aviemore began with yet another crossing of the Spey

I didn't expect to be over enamoured with the path which parallels the Cairngorm road, but it turned out to be a very pleasant start, fine weather, easy paths, scenery,  and especially the second breakfast at Glenmore.

A few challengers also leaving Aviemore turned off the road early to head through the forest towards the Lairig Ghru,  or maybe up and over the Braeriach plateau for the more adventurous.

Bonny loch in the Ryvaon pass, I'd read years ago that Lochan Uaine has loads of leeches, I don't know how true that is, but its a good story (with added embellishments) to give your walking parther the willies. 

Out of the pass and back into the hills

Pretty much at the start of the climb up Bynack More. Its still a nice day although the glorious sun of the early morning had disappeared and clouds coming in from the west looked rather ominous. 

All of a sudden the wind kicked in, the rain came on and the temperature dropped to "dashed nippy"

Detouring around Bynack More, the path splits hereabouts,  right for mountain goats, left for the weak, we went left.

Every now and then I had to check my partner was still there, the camera was the easiest option, turning my head in the wind would have resulted in whiplash. 

The wind around the east/south side of Bynack became pretty mental, if anyone at the cheese and wine party got smacked in the head by a bright orange, size small osprey rain cover, sorry. The story of why I even had a small osprey rain cover on a montane 55ltr bergan is a story for another day. Needless to say it made no difference being without it for all the good it was doing. 


The last mile or so into the Fords of Avon were rather uncomfortable underfoot, along with a head on gale there wasn't much scenery enjoyment going on. I had offered Suz the chance of a shortcut by going cross country and up and over the saddle on Corie Riabhach, her feet decreed that sticking to the path was probably the best option.  

Looking through Strath Nethy.  It had been planned route into the Fords but the other (north) side where we intended to enter the glen looked decidedly wet underfoot,  hence a spur of the moment change of plan, up and around Bynack More instead. The strath remains as the one route into the Fords of Avon that I've never stepped foot in.

Heading down to the fords of Avon bothy, in reality an emergency shelter, a beautiful place on a nice day, nae much fun on a day like today. There were a surprising amount of folk milling about and a couple of tents already up, quite impressive as the ground is pretty rough and always soaking in the bowl. TBH, I couldnt think of a worse place to stay in this weather, Suz was knackered but even she demanded we push on and get somewhere slightly more three star.

As soon as we turned down Glen Avon the relief from the wind was instant

Pretty wet and knobbly underfoot for the next few miles, there was a spot here and there that would have been plenty comfortable enough to bang up a tent, but Suz had got a second wind and decreed we would stop at Faindouran lodge and not before, thats was me telt then.

Back up towards the fords, snow in the air.

It seemed a long three miles from the fords of Avon to Faindouran,  mostly due to the underfoot conditions, but every step was worth it, we arrived to three tents already up and a couple of hardy folk in the remaining bit of the bothy. We had the scarp up in record time, and were into our doss bags with a couple of XL tomato cup a soups within about 10 minutes of arriving. Happiness is boots aff, wrapped in a down bag with a cup a soup

Day 9
Faindouran lodge to Corndavon lodge Renatton
13 16 miles  

This early start thing is becoming a habit. Looking back to the lodge where most folk were still purring in their PJs, the slow and steady crew needed a head start though. The path had now become a LR track, not so much fun, but easier going.

We noticed quite a bit of fresh snow higher up this morning, that made us a bit smug at our decision to keep going last night and get a bit lower.

White hare in there somewhere, quite a few around the glen.

Hinds keeping an eye on the dafties in the glen.

Just before we reached the bridge, we were faced with a choice of following the road that went up and over a wee hill, we left the track and followed a wee path alongside the river, pretty easy going, until the bank become a 20/30 foot sheer (ish) cliff with a fence at the top, we weren't going back so hanging on by our teeth, fingers and remaining toenails we traversed along like real adventurers. (Probably not that dramatic really, but its my story.)

Between the bridge in Glen Avon and the junction of glens at Glen Builig we started bumping into the "cheese and wine crew", big ginger brutes, all scarred and battle hardened, we shuffled past without making eye contact as they jeered and threw tangerine segments.

The Avon is pretty impressive here

I really really like Glen Builig,  i wish it was a bit longer, theres always wildlife of some variety, last year I watched as a pair of sea eagles worked the hills right above me here and through into glen Gairn, sadly they weren't about today.

The burn needs fording a couple of times while walking through,  today it was easy enough, last time I passed through I got wet feet.

Loch Bulig, as bonny a loch as you'll see hereabouts.

A raft of colour as a very civilised lunch is taken, note the bergan cover, what sort of fool carries two...

All to soon we were passing through the huge deer fence out of Glen Builig and into Glen Gairn,  we followed the land rover track and burn down to Corndavon Lodge, our evening stop over. It was early afternoon so we sat against the old lodge and debated our options over a bag of cashews, two tents were already up, but we decided to keep going down to the railway bridge and see how we felt once there.

The old railway bridge over the Gairn, i rekon there isn't actually a proper railway for at least 40/50 miles in any direction.  Local legend is that this bridge was destined for the Aberdeen to Braemar line, until Queen Vic said "they'll be nae bloody railway passing my wee hoose". Hence the now defunct line stopped at Ballater and the buckshee bridges from the Balmoral section were sold at car boot sales to the local estates.

At the bridge a couple of fine upstanding fellows were scratching around, we presumed in the hunt for the perfect pitch, so we decided to just wander on a bit, another mile and a half as it turned out.

 The two chaps were right behind us as we indicated left and turned off at Renatton, A nice pitch beside the ruin gave a bit of shelter from the wind, the other lads pitched just across the garden.  A lovely sunny evening,  but a biting wind and random squalls ensured another early night.

Day 10
Renatton to Ballater
9.5 miles

Again up early and rather surprised to see about 9 tents pitched, its a very large area so everyone had plenty of room to stretch out. The bigger surprise was the iced up tent and frost on the ground, there had been a few chilly nights, but last night had been more February than May. Looking back to the hills it was fairly obvious there had also been a decent dump of snow higher up.

A mile or so on LR track took us to the road at Braenaloin, from there it was a simple wander along the road past Gairnshiel lodge.

Second year running ive come across a car wreck in the back of beyond,  this one looked very recent, looks like we weren't the only ones surprised by the frost this morning

Just after Stranlea we left the road and crossed the burn on the footbridge,

Away from the road, the going became very pleasant again

 a steady climb along tracks and paths through inverenzie saw us top out at Lary

where we joined a quiet wee road that would take us all the way down to Ballater.

A mile or so down the road we came across the only traffic we encountered.

No passing places but he/she? kindly moved over to allow us past. Last seen heading north up the middle of the road.

Ballater,  straight across the road and down onto the riverside path for a pleasant last mile into the square.

It was a very early arrival, but the barrel was open so we popped in for a swift livener and a bag of crisps, friendly bunch in there who made us feel very welcome (does sarcasim work in print?) Changed days, it was once "the" bar in Ballater.

After the fastest relaxed pint ever we headed round to the Alexandra. Different class, a fantastic lunch, very friendly service and loads of good company as challengers started coming in, We disappeared after a couple of hours to check in to our digs, the Deeside inn, more on that later.

After a laundry and shower we headed back to the Alex for a grand supper, again in fine company, the place was wall to wall challenge legends, all enjoying the atmosphere and local fruit juices.

CLICK TO RETURN TO DAY 6 & 7     Click for Day 11 & 12

Thursday, 20 August 2015


We woke up fine and refreshed in Dalwhinnie bunkhouse on day 6 and it wasnt even raining, thats just wrong.

 Yesterday had been a bit of a ball buster and that combined with a big tasty meal, a couple of drinks and a toasty room had knocked us out about 3 seconds after finishing doing our dhobi and hanging stuff up.

First thing to fix this morning was Susans blisters, which seemed to have feet growing out of them, needles, tape and compeed soon patched her up as good as it was going to be, next on the agenda was a full Scottish, food of the Gods and hikers, it didn't disappoint, I really can't recommend the bunkhouse any more, fantastic hospitality and probably saved Susans (and mine) challenge.

Day 6 Dalwhinnie to Inveruglass 17 miles

Agh, the old squad average technique, "I think we're here ish" fellow challengers preparing for battle, while leaving a bacon softie unattended,  sacrilege...

Bit of an unusual route for us compaired to most passing through Dalwhinnie I suspect,  we were now about to head north again instead of the more traditional east. We were bound for Aviemore to meet our daughter who was driving up from Aberdeen, bearing gifts hopefully (haribo cola bottles and compeed).

The initial plan had been to wander up to Loch Cuaich and then cross country it to Glen Tromie, but being a compassionate kind of guy I reset the satnav for the easier option, via the falls of Truim, then across the A9 to follow Wades (spits loudly) road to Ruthven, hopefully getting a bivi spot somewhere about Loch na Failean.

We left Dalwhinnie and dawdled along on the back (wades) road to the falls,  it was very quiet and easy going, although a bit strange not being clad in goretex. No rush and no real milage requirements today, just wander along until we get hungry or tired.

 It didn't seem too long until we came to the A9 crossing point, even that frightning prospect was fairly uneventful and previous visions of finishing the challenge as a HGV bumper ornament were thankfully unfulfilled

Wades road was a bit of a revelation,  it started with a few miles through birch, grassland and heather, very pleasant walking and an abundance of wildlife, and then you burst out onto the vast grouse moors to the east of Kingussie.

A Roe sleeping just off the path didn't notice our approach,  until I got a bit cocky

Just about to break out onto the grouse moor

 Monument in remembrance for one of the estate head keepers.

Look no jacket, as an added bonus the day just continued to get warmer.

Huge sky, angry hair

Nearing the end, you have to keep your navigation wits about you, as there's a multitude of tracks crisscrossing here abouts.

A novel idea, I think its known as a bridge, it'll never catch on. Thon Wade fella must have been adverse to wet feet to...

After coming off Wades road, we had another A9 dash and then another 500 meters later, the second crossing was via a handy underpass and came out near Ruthven Bks.

We took a 20 minute break at the barracks, sitting on a handy bench in the sun, allowing the feet some fresh air, so far it had been a cracking day and we only had about two miles to go to the spot i hoped to call home for the night.

We started walking again and soon came across the Badenoch way,  I hadn't planned to use it (but then I hadn't planned to come this way at all tbh), but it seemed like a good idea, and so we started to follow it. Soon enough I told Suz that we were at our rough area of exploitation for the day, but she insisted she was feeling good and we were plodding along just fine so lets keep on going.

The Badenoch Way came back to the road at Tromie bridge, I remember being here years ago, sitting on the bridge and watching salmon after salmon louping around in the river below, sadly today there was no sign of the fish

We kept to the "way", soon passing through Drumguish, after the village we decided to call it a day and bivi up, a wee bit of a chill in the air now and hunger decreed it was time to put up the hoose for the evening.

Unfortunately there were no suitable spots at all and very little running water anywhere. It wasn't until we passed Inveruglass that a decent patch appeared just off the track in the middle of nowhere. Tent up, water collected and scoff scoffed we settled down to the nightly blister fixing sesh, just as an irate farmer appeared to let us know we "were on private land", I was nice, we stayed...

Day 7 Inveruglass to Aviemore 10 miles

Up, packed and away before 0700, a wee bit of a chilly breeze to ensure we were awake.

Walking down the Badenoch way towards the back of Inch

Another early riser

We crossed the Spey at Kincraig,  it was still earlyish and we weren't having the best of mornings tbh, we were both pretty tired and we had only walked four odd miles at a painfully slow pace.

Our lethargy disapeared when we spotted the coffee sign outside the post office,  mind you every tradesman within the highlands seemed to be going in and out for their morning snack.

We went in and got some bits and pieces of morale (mars, coke, coffee), as we got to the counter we noticed the "hot snack" thing, only 2 sausage rolls and a scabby dried out pasty thing left though. An 8 foot highland joiner had just snaffled one, his two 9 foot mates were just about to fight over the last one when an unamed hungry female hiker used her feminine guile to have it bagged and payed for before they realised they were now left arguing over a minging pasty.

15 minutes sitting on the bench outside with a brew and half a sausage roll each soon brought life back into our weary bodies.

Back on the Badenoch way, from Kincraig,  the first few miles were on a very new looking path, lots of little short sharp hills, but the day was really nice now and the scenery was fantastic.

Around about wester Speybank the path, signed route and map all went to pot, signs pointed one way, obvious path went another and the map wasnt sure, we were on one side of the railway, on a good track while a new path ran on the other side, a bit confused but not overly concerned tbh. We eventually came out in the middle of a holiday park, we did the "pretend we belong here" routine and walked straight through and out the front entrance, nice looking site mind, but bloody huge.

A sharp right took us over the railway and back onto the way again, it seemed to be under construction,  turns out it was, and it wasn't even open yet, can we claim a first?

Whoo hoo, suns out and its Aviemore for lunch, straight to the Roos leap for a monster burger and guinness,  then across the road to book into the Cairngorm,  a good choice, good room, good food and great service.

We'd made it to the middle ish bit,  a lot of hard work but that just made the satisfaction meter rise considerably, 3 days back we were nearly a day behind schedule and flagging badly. Now we were half a day ahead and it was boots off, bergan off and recharge for a few hours (after fixing suz's blisters and doing a washing).

We had a right fine meal in the Cairngorm which was very busy with tourists, locals and challengers all enjoying the evening. We were really bad and stayed up to 2230.

CLICK TO RETURN TO DAY 3, 4 & 5                                             CLICK FOR DAYS 8, 9 & 10