Thursday, 3 October 2019

Knipe and Knipes' 2019 TGO Challenge. Roadwalking to the end

 The last bits of a TGO challenge usually involve quite a bit of roadwalking. However, we had cleverly planned a route over some heathery moors to take us to Fettercairn, a plan which went wrong in it's early stages. We rolled up at a cottage up a side road where a friendly old chap described the two deer fences we'd have to cross with our big packs on (that is to say , we'd have to climb over a 12 foot high wobbly fence) - and gave us an alternative route avoiding the trouble. So we set off on the new route and promptly decided to go a different way missed the turning and ended up walking along the road all the way to Fettercairn. This wasn't as bad as it sounds and we found a nice place in some woods for lunch and a woman stopped her car for a chat. This kind of thing often happens on a TGO Challenge by the way.

 We got to Fettercairn in good time and got a lift with a woman and her dog into Johnshaven where she allowed us to use her shower, took us to the pub, let me walk the dog and gave us comfy beds for the night. In the morning she returned us to Fettercairn. Her name was Mrs Knipe, which was an outrageous coincidence as my wife has the same name. And, oddly enough, she had a collie/staffie cross mongrel which answered to the name of "Lucky", just like my dog. Remarkable. Worra small world.

 Back at Fettercairn the next morning, we marched off to Laurencekirk where we broke the cardinal TGO Chally rule by not stopping at the tea room nor doing any shopping at the supermarket. We managed to get off the road for a bit but returned to it to cross the hill to sea the see, or even to see the sea...

 This is dangerous country in a morning, folks. This is riskier than the wind up your tartan in the Cairngorms. The roads are quiet and empty. This encourages the local drivers to consider that as they've been driving the lanes for the past thirty years without spotting any pedestrians, that there won't be any around those blind bends.  We made it to Benholm which was closed. The only thing moving was a fluffy kitten. We navigated to the "beach" (it's a lot of rocks)

 I found some rhubarb growing wild on the shore and picked some to take to Johnshaven.  We were invited into a bungalow for a cuppa, which we accepted. They were the Mum and Dad of a TGO challenger who had finished the previous day but had not  apparently yet visited challenge control..  We wandered along the coast path to Johnshaven where a Mrs Knipe agreed to give is a lift into Montrose to check in. So that's what happened.

 And that was the end of that. We went to the Friday dinner at the Park Hotel. I took Mrs Knipe's little dog for a walk or two. We dined at the Anchor in Johnshaven. Mrs Knipe let me sleep with her and took me and The Lad home to County Durham. We'd done 192 miles. It was James's 4th TGO Challenge and my 15th. I ought to try for 20 now, I suppose.

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Knipe and Knipe's 2019 TGO Challenge - Fleshpots: Mar Lodge, Braemar and Tarfside

 As I was saying: the superb  warm and sunny weather would now probably last all of the next few days and see us to the finish. This morning's raindrops would probably be just a temporary hiccup in The Big Drought of 2019 which had clearly started last Saturday. So, we fished out the waterproofs and marched off down Glen Derry to Mar Lodge where there was a strong rumour of tea and biccies.

 I'm not allowed biccies, obviously, but I did have a cuppa at Mar Lodge and we enjoyed a brief but entertaining bit of socialising before joining the procession into Braemar. Braemar provides almost everything a TGO challenger could possibly want: beds, music, drinks, meat, pies, more drinks, sweeties (I'm not allowed these) phone signal, campsite. And drinks.

 And , in the morning, having acquired a rather disappointing weather forecast which would surely see us taking a foul weather alternative from Callater, we decided to alter the route and head for Gelder Shiel and then the tiny, cold and draughty Shielin of Mark bothy from where we could access our original route, as recommended by Mr Grumpy,  our vetter and thus enter Tarfside from the correct direction without getting all wet on Lochnagar. We would in fact, walk around Lochnagar. We told control.

 And after a substantial Full Scottish breakfast in Braemar, we wandered through the forests of Balmoral and ended up, early afternoonish at Gelder Shiel Bothy which was occupied by challengers. We camped outside alongside several more challengers, one of whom played a penny whistle briefly. . I had a plink on the bothy guitar and the radio decided to play Jimmy Shand music which was, in fact Just The Thing for a relaxing evening's camping with a lovely view. I had replaced my depleted in-tent entertainment supply of cheap whisky with some more cheap whisky and my dinner was a lovely pie from the bijoux beef boutique (butcher shop)  in Braemar.

And in the morning, the glaur was back and clouds covered the hills, with the occasional severe wetting. We bashed on over the hill to Loch Muick where the visitor centre provided some brief shelter and some fairly unpleasant machine-produced "soup" (the inverted commas are important here).

Onwards to Shielin of Mark, where it brightened up a bit and, it still being early and us now well ahead of our schedule, we decided to rub it in and press on with part of Mr Grumpy's route. This involved crossing the moors to  the Water of Unich - a substantial river which we might cross and then camp. As we passed over Easter Balloch, and started to descend to the river, we disturbed  a White-Tailed Eagle which sailed out over the glen and flapped off into the distance. It was here that we felt the first few drops of a new rainstorm, so , having achieved the riverbank, we took the first reasonable camping spot just by a bend and on a little rise and settled in for a wet night.

At around midnight, The Lad expressed some concern that the river was getting a bit lively and that we might be in a vulnerable position. I had a look. He was right. At 2:00 am I had another look and it was worse. We packed up  for a quick getaway and sat in the tents till it started to come light. At 4:00 am (ish),  headlights on, we left, the river by this time  being in a very bad mood indeed and the rain continuing to do what rain does best. There was no way to cross the stream to continue with Mr Grumpy's route, and any attempt would probably entail a very quick  and bumpy journey towards the beach at Kinnaber Links,  so we followed the North bank down by the Falls of Unich (impressive!), passing Bernie's tent and turning up at Tarfside at 9:00 am, just in time for breakfast and lots of tea.

Tarfside has several attractions: the field, where it's possible to camp fer nowt, St Drostans, which is taken over by TGO challenge peeps and which provides some beds, tea, breakfast, evening meals and beer and the Mason's Arms which provides more beer and chats and is managed by locals. So we had a relaxed day's camping after breakfast, dinner at St Drostans and a Bit of a Do at the Masons, during which time it chucked it down outside. We were now just a day and a half's walking from the finish at Benholm Haughs.

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Knipe and Knipe's 2019 TGO Challenge - Kilts Up The Cairngorms

And now it was Time For The Best Bit - crossing Cairngorm to get close to the fleshpots of Braemar. We rose in time to wait for the Glenmore squirrelarium and café to open for another Full Scottish Cholesterolfest. Fab stuff - and sufficient calories for hours and hours of hillwalking fun.
 But first we had to get a bit lost on some paths which set off in the right direction from the right place but then stopped in some deep heather and bilberries and Scots Pine. Eventually, though, after metabolising 2 sausages and a fried egg, we emerged, blinking into the sunny Cairngorms. It's always sunny in the Cairngorms, obviously and, usually quite warm and today was no exception. We bashed our way upwards very very slowly, finally, after several hours and some metabolised bacon and several pieces of heavily buttered toast, we achieved a summit - the Munro Top they call Cnap Coire na Spreidhe 1150 metres which roughly translates into Knipe's Cwm of Marmalade, and which is not far from the summit of Cairngorm, at which we arrived a bit later. 1244 metres, our high point of the TGO

 After not hanging about much, we descended Coire Raibert to the fabulous Loch Avon (aka Loch A'an). The descent being characterised by several slabs which needed to be slid over and a strong updraft, neither of which did much for the  kilted modesty. It's a good job no girl guides were on their way up, that's all I can say.

 Having arrived by the shores of Loch Avon, we brewed briefly and crossed the Feith Bhuidhe, a substantial beck swollen by the melting snow and which required the removal of boots and quite a lot of gasping. It was refreshing in a brutal, vicious kind of way that is probably really good for the soul and athlete's foot.

 And so we climbed up the other side to Loch Etchachan (Gaelic translation refers obliquely to the midge infestations which apply here in late summer - The Loch of Itching) and then  a short descent to the Hutchinson Memorial Hut - a small bothy occupied by several Dutch people preparing proper vegetables for cooking. Various other challengers passed by - one in a kilt and several other Mancunians intent on making it all the way to Derry Lodge today -  and some camped on a squishy, slightly bouncy platform near the bothy (which was full anyway) alongside our tents. I'm not entirely sure they were TGO challengers because they didn't want to talk to us.

 And so, the superb weather had continued. We'd covered less than 10 miles today, but it was the best day's walking of the whole trip. It was absolutely perfect.

Nothing could be better than this. The weather had been settled for day after day of glorious blue skies. Obviously, as we were getting much closer to the end, it was pretty certain that the fabulous conditions would continue for the remaining time....   nothing could go wrong now.