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Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Pieman and Son’s TGO Challenge #2

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After surviving a wet night by the River Loyne, which was only slightly more full in the morning than it was last night, we bade farewell to the Barnard Castle Ramblers “A” Walk and paddled off over the bealach towards Tomdoun in heavy showers. Tomdoun Hotel is now a posh house, although not yet occupied but the International Communications Hub aka phonebox is still there and, I dare say, somewhere there’ll be a post box too.
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I was missing LTD somewhat and Larry The Gull wasn’t much of a replacement as he was always somnewhat distant, either high in the sky or being mobbed by crows. My supply of life-supporting chocolate bars had suffered no further damage, apart from being scoffed at brew-stops and the interval between showers had increased to seven minutes, so, all was well with the world and we made good progress in an approximate Easterly direction till we arrived at Faichem campsite some seventeen miles later. Not too long later, a taxi arrived and me and The Lad and two oher TGO challengers (who had arranged the taxi) were off to the local hotel for a quite expensive dinner and severalteen pints of frothy. Other TGO challengers, including JJ, accompanied by an infected Shetlander were also in there.
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We walked with them the next morning to Fort Augustus. The Shetlander generously shared his upper espiratory tract infection and I spent the next few days attempting to sneeze, cough and pour boiling water into a food pouch all at the same time. Or sneeze, cough and urinate to leeward. Or sneeze, cough and swallow porridge. Or sneeze, cough and not knock my new stove over.  This did not always go well. On the upside, Larry was heard to screech in the way that seagulls often do when spotting an open bag of chips in, say, Hartlepool or Whitby and then sneeze from high above in the way that seagulls almost never do. He was last seen heading West, coughing in the general direction of a magpie and, what appeared to be a Caledonian version of a carrion crow. (Thats the grey one). The attractiveness of the perfumed food bag (the Big Bag) to wandering mammals – you know – cats, dogs, foxes, mice and so on, remained and even the choccy bars still had a pescatarian edge to them. (Look it up!)
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And so, after fish and chips and some light shopping, where we met Chrissiedixie on a rest day,  me and The Lad investigated stove shops. There was just the one. The lad inside sold me a Camping Gaz stove wot you can take the canister on and off (marvellous what they can do nowadays) and, as we were now officially ahead of oursevles, after a pint we marched off up the Corrieyairack to Blackburn bothy, which was full, so we camped outside. I had to buy the canister, obviously but I still had a full Primus one which seemed that it was just going to be dead weight. But for now, the stove problem was solved.
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The next couple of days were intended to be a wild traverse over the high land to Newtonmore. And it was. Mainly anyway. We began in warm sunshine which soon deteriorated into a fierce Southerly gale with driving rain, which pushed us on over a few minor tops and the odd Corbett to Lochain nan Sidhean where the weather suddenly calmed down. A bit higher than our camp, though was a new road, driven across the face of Meall na h-Airse at roughly the 800 metre mark and on which tipper trucks, rollers JCBs and vans were seen to be trundling backwards and forwards. The traffic stopped at six o’clock and only restarted as we crossed the road the next morning, a frosty, sunny, promising sort of morning. Several drivers waved cheerily. So much for the wilderness.
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The next section was still wild, though and we hopped from hill to hill till Carn Ban and then dropped down into Glen Banchor to a B&B, beds, showers, pub food, a parcel of socks, maps and breakfasts and lots and lots of TGO challengers. Some locals, enjoying a  night in the pub and enquiring as to the meaning of the letters “TGO” went away with the idea that it meant “Two Girl Orgasm”. No idea where they got that notion from. Look – I’d had a beer or two, right? I should probably apologise. This wasn’t my worst by the way…. Whoops…
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The next day would be day 7. We had covered 89 miles out of 188. Almost, not quite half way, but crossing the A9 and the River Spey always seems like halfway.

Monday, 29 May 2017

Pieman and Son’s TGO Challenge #1

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To quote Homer Simpson “Doh! This just gets worse and worse.” Wise words indeed.
It started with a few almost imperceptible negative omens. The first one, just after pitching the tents at the rather lovely little headland on which Glenelg’s war memorial stands, was not paying attention to the stove whilst the Very First Brew of the trip was heating up. It wasn’t till I noticed black rubbery-smelling smoke that it was clear that the tube connecting the stove to the cansiter was actually on fire. This did nothing at all for the efficiency of the stove and some rather weak attempts at mending it failed badly and on each subsequent tests, flames were seen to be emerging from places where flames should not be emerging. Had I been alone this would have caused a real problem for my 13th TGO Challenge, but The Lad had a similar stove wot I’d bought him for Christmas, so we shared that. My old stove went in the bin.
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Standby for omen #2. This concerned kippers. I had taken along a boil-in-the-bag kipper or two for my first day’s breakfast and the internal pressures of my stupidly crammed pack had made the bag-in-which-to-boil-the-fish develop a slight leak, allowing the buttery and fishy juice to leak only slightly into my “Big” foodbag. The kipper was very nice. The food bag now had a definite kippery whiff about it. Several seagulls also noticed it, in particular one very beefy-looking herring gull who I shall name Larry (Laridae)
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Thus, our fishy route from Glenelg up Gleann Beag began as a plough might – being accompanied by a small coterie of squealing  and hungry seabirds.
We progressed, noisily past the Gleann Beag tearooms where an antipodean lassie served heart-starting coffee and some cake and we heaved and groaned our way beside the pylons and over the bealach into Gleann Dubh-Lochain where it was announced that we had “done enough” and where we camped for the night. There were five tents in all at Gleann Dubh-Lochain, including two from the far South West (But not Cornwall, oh, no, heaven forbid anybody should suggest Cornwall) and a chap who kept having semi-accidental  and qquite impressive grass fires intended to keep down the potential for any ticks biting his legs or other parts. For additional security, a couple of seagulls wheeled and squawked overhead. Dinner that night was Chilli-Con-Kipper followed by Apple, Kipper and Custard and a brew of smoked-fish tea. Happily, the scotch tasted not of fish but of Bells.
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In the morning, I noticed that during the night I had accidentally rolled on to my supply of Cadbury’s Twirls and several of them appear to have suffered compound fractures. Despite this set-back, we decided to carry on. Being a Yorkshiremen born in Lancashire, all our family are resilient and spunky. In fact, when I was about fourteen I used to regularly…   .  Ah yes, the sixties, who can forget?. (Or even remember…?)Two of the gulls and also left and only Larry remained loyal to the quest.
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We pressed on to Kinloch Hourn where we found that the cafe had run out of everything except teabags and some cake, but the chap was unsure of the type of cake it was. It was fruit cake. We ate it all and marched on to Alltbeithe which had been ruined by mammon, and thence to the crossing of the River Loyne where not only did it begin raining, but a small deputation from Barnard Castle Ramblers turned up, probably stragglers from their “A” walk, I shouldn’t wonder. Dinner tasted of kippers. A solitary gull patrolled high above.
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This might take a while. More later… but before I press the blogpause button, I’d just like to say a big “Tar!” to Chrissie and Geoff for the lift from Glen Shiel to Glenelg in their palatial camper-van, without which we would have had to walk with the big bags and extra food over the twisty and steep road which would have made us tired, late and very grumpy, a condition which we saved up for later-on in the walk. And they didn’t mention the smell of fish. Chrissie, of course, also did her own TGO Chally from a bit further up the road.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Forever Stars–TGO Challenge

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Its about that time that peeps doing the TGO Challenge finalise their packing, send off parcels and say goodbye to their love ones for the setting-off on the TGO Challenge.

I’m attempting a crossing this year with my son Jim-Jams from Glenelg on Friday morning. And we’ll be travelling in hope rather than expectation – it’s James’s 3rd crossing and my 13th, so we’ve no doubts about how difficult it might be.

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The difference this year, for The Lad anyway, is that he’s doing it for charity. In this case, it’s Forever Stars, a bereavement suite in Nottingham for parents who have lost a baby, either at birth or just after birth. In a previous life, I worked on reception in an A&E department at Airedale General Hospital – as a mere lad, and one of the things that helped me grow up a bit was witnessing the absolute devastation wrought by a neo and peri-natal deaths even though , in the three years I did that job, I only had contact with, maybe, three or four of these, one of which was specially traumatic and sometimes, occasionally, haunts me even now.

So, it’s a good cause.

Brief info about Forever Stars is here

If you feel like relieveing yourself of a few squids you can do so here, in support of Jim-Jams’s cause. Click here

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Some Buttermere Baggings

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The Very Next Thing for me, but not, unfortunately, for LTD, will be the TGO Challenge and I’ll be setting off on Thursday morning for the long journey to Shiel Bridge and then Glenelg, meeting The Lad in Inverness, probably in a pub, I shouldn’t wonder…

In the meantime, I thought I could slip in a day in the Lakes, although there’s no time to do anything else before Thursday.

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And so, I unloaded LTD in the reasonably-priced (£4) car park at Gatesgarth and we wandered up the fabulously enjoyable West-facing ridge of Fleetwith Pike. I’d forgotten just how much fun this climb can be, specially on a really nice, sunny day. It’s an absolute joy when the legs are working properly, which they seemed to be on Tuesday. It has some easily scrambled bts, fine views and a couple of shoulders for the sitting about on.

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On the top, there was a nithering gale blowing off the North Sea I shouldn’t wonder and we bimbled over to Fleetwith’s subsidiary top Black Star, where we found a cosy nook in the sun and out of the wind for a boiled egg salad butty and a choccy bar.

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With wind-assistance, we wandered over to Little Round How – a rocky eminence just next to the main path to Haystacks and achieved by a short scramble up grippy slabs, followed by Green Crag, another rocky tor next to the path. So far, I’d bagged just the one new top and LTD had scored four.

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Boggy bits followed for a half a kilometre splodge to Great Round How. Great Round How in much bigger than Little Round How, obviously. Great Round How’s main face appears fearsome, but fearty walkers can go round the back. We went round the back.

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Another half a km or so brought us to Seavy Knott – Knott to far off the Coast to Coast route and sporting cracking views of Ennerdale and, specially, Great Gable and Pillar.

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We now headed for Haystacks South East Top at 544 metres and another unnamed tor at 545 metres. The 600 or so metres from Seavy Knott to the 545 metre top is even more of a joy than Fleetwith’s West ridge. A thin path winds it’s way through rocky blocks, boggy bits and small tarns and, on the day, was empty of humans (apart from me, that is) whilst the main path up to Haystacks was heaving with Wainwright-baggers keen to geta  bit of dust in their eyes, or, at least, on their boots.

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Our final top of the day was , in fact, Haystacks, which oddly, we had to ourselves. LTD had 8 new top ticks in his bag (actually, he doesn’t own a bag), and I had four.

We celebrated by allowing LTD watch me drink a pint of shandy at the Riverside Bar.

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Arriva Bus services celebrated by demolishing the bridge parapet at Grange and closing the road. A pair of stranded bus passengers  and their little dog were transported to Keswick since I was in a good mood….

Only six miles and 2800 feet of ascent.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Spending the Bank Holiday in the Ettrick Hills

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Me and Dawn… Dawn and I had a bit of a trundle around the Ministry of Defence ranges at Otterburn the other day. (This is not too risky at the moment as no firing is taking place and members of the hoi-palloi can wander reasonably freely, specially if they stay on the public rights of way.)
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Anyway, the point is that it transpired that Dawn was intending to wander off somewhere remote and tussocky to spend the bank holiday and, after some discussion we cooked up a plan to have a static camp somewhere quiet and carry out a few forays into whatever hinterland we could reach from the tents.
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And so, Saturday lunchtime, we abandoned the knipemobile in Moffat High Street and followed the Southern Upland Way/ Reivers and Romans route into the forests bordering the Ettrick Hills. It began to rain and Saturday Afternoon Lassitude began to set in, so, after about six miles, we spotted a spot in the little valley holding Birch Sike and put up the tents. The Birch Sike site was well defended by steep and slippery slopes, old, rotten forest brash with new plantings and deep and unfiendly heather and tussocks. Only night-time deer visited us.
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We stayed till Tuesday and despite the fact that we were in partial view of the Southern Upland Way and it was a bank holiday, we saw only a small handful of people passing by – maybe five or six in 3 days.
Saturday night dinner was chicken tikka with basmati rice followed by chocolate sponge and custard and quite a bit of Glen Moray. Slept well.
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Foray #1 (Sunday) was a walk up to Selcoth Burn where we thought we might have camped but didn’t make it on Saturday. This would have produced a some fine camping spots, specially in the large sheepfold there. Maybe another time…  After this, we pressed on to the summit of Loch Fell at 688 metres, and then, it’s outlier, West Knowe, returning via a stupidly steep descent on grass and bilberry for a dinner of corned beef hash with petit pois, onios and cheese and (for me) christmas pudding and custard. Yes, folks, none of this dehydrated stuff for us….  Finished the whisky supply, unfortunately.
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Foray #2 (Monday) was the bagging of Ewelairs Hill, a 525 metre heathery lump approached via a stupidly steep path from the ruins of Garrogill, a shepherd’s house which would make a fine bothy if somebody chucked a lot of money at it. This time , we used the Romans and Rievers Route wot nobody has ever heard of, but it seems to go from near the village of Ae to just outside Hawick and links with various other long-distance routes. A blurb about it is here. No other walkers were seen today.
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The afternoon was spent snoozing in the warm sunshine they have in Scotland at the moment.
Tonight’s dinner was beef bourguignon and smash (yes, I know..) followed by lumps of cheese cos I was fullup, innit? No after dinner drinks left. Me and LTD shared some cheese.
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On Tuesday, we walked back to Moffat where the car was still where we’d left it. On the way home we visited the wooden hut cafe near Tibbie Shiels and met a (?French) walker who’d waved at our tents a couple of days earlier. Small world…..
A fine and relaxing time – just 21 miles covered and 4700 feet of ascent.