Monday 18 September 2023

Pieman's 18th TGO Challenge 2023


Oban Harbour
It is written that amongst the wise, repetitive implementation of the same , or similar plans expecting a different result. but merely encountering the same result repeated, but yet doing it again, and yet again, is a sign of madness.

And so, having been let down by Northern Rail on Durham Station by a train that refused to move and was overtaken, at some speed by the train I was supposed to catch was the first sign that doing the same thing again (that is to say, relying on a train service to get me where I am supposed to be at the time I am supposed to be there) was just the first incident from which I ought to learn. Northern Rail have done it before and, I expect, will do it again. But, by running about like an eejit at Waverley station and Glasgow Queen Street, I eventually managed to arrive at Oban at, close enough, the time I was supposed to be there.

Glen Lonan ( nice, innit)

I've started from Oban before - but this time, I did something different. I walked to Taynuilt with Kate, a first timer from the far North who somehow knew JJ. Everybody knows JJ, though, so maybe no surprise. I had a light pack, so I could keep up with her youthful pace. And the reason I had a light pack was because I had a train ticket from Taynuilt back to Oban. We parted in Taynuilt and I returned to Spoons where they fed and watered me and didn't make jokes about the kilt.

Glen Etive

Loch Drizzlybum aka Loch Dochart

This plan had worked well. In the morning, Spoons fed me a huge breakfast which I couldn't quite manage and Scotrail whisked me back to Taynuilt where I plodded off up Glen Etive, turning Right at Glen Kinglas. I walked some of the time with Rolf, an anglophile European and was passed by Lindy and we met some others too. There were four of us camping at the head of Glen Kinglas. It rained. Then it rained some more, followed closely by a damp spell. This is not particularly unusual. In the morning I bashed on to the West Highland Way and followed it South surreptitiously, hiding behind tussocks or pretending to tie my bootlaces if it looked back. I arrived at Tyndrum where I had a bed in a hotel, busy with West Highland Wayfarers and some TGO challengers who didn't want to talk to me. So I repaired to a pub where I allowed some bikers the chance to worship the ground that was still stuck to my boots when they learned that I was 78 years old and had taken three days to walk from Oban when they'd done it in 40 minutes. I'm not actually 78 by the way, but why spoil a good story and the chance of free beer?


Another discreet camp next to Loch Tay

The previous three pictures are completely in the wrong order by the way.

So orf I jolly well went down the west Highland Way again and then at Auchtertyre, I heaved myself up the glen to the North, getting a bit lost for a while and then, after passing easily through the Gleann a Chlachain Mountain woodland, where it chucked it down in a big way, I passed over the bealach into Glen Lochay. This goes to Killin, after a bit of discreet camping next to a very nice beck burn. I allowed myself to be exploited a bit in Killin to the tune of a nice lunch and some tea , before joining the Rob Roy Way and completely missing the turn off I was supposed to turn off at and walking all the way down the road to Ardeonaig where I found a lovely camping spot next to the loch, just below a roadside sign which said "No Camping". I considered that this probably didn't apply to me and in any case I was hidden from the road and there wasn't much traffic anyway.

Glen Tilt

Sign near Mar Lodge

International TGO ers snooze break

Aberfeldy came and went and provided food and a camp site and the Rob Roy Way continued without incident or accident to Pitlochry where I became slightly mislaid on the High Street, ultimately fullfilling my gastronomic desires and the purchase of fresh supplies of rough whisky. I took the path through the Pass of Jimmy Krankie through to Blair Atholl where I didn't like the food and the service was rubbish. The Pass, though was fandabbydozy. As was Glen Tilt. Gloen Tilt was heavily populated by TGO challengers and cyclists and just some of the time, I walked alone. I camped with four others at Bynack Lodge - a ruined hunting lodge and a fandabby (don't start that again) cracking place to camp. And in the morning and bits of the afternoon, I wandered through to Braemar and the campsite and the cafe and the pub.

Ballater was a long way next and somewhere during this stage, I met up with Jo, a Japanese chap with shin splints and (?Mark) , an American without shin splints. He was a Monty Python fan, so we got on. The King was out at Balmoral and Ballater was better than Braemar, providing scoff, beer, shelter and a breakfast and nobody mentioned the kilt.

Sir Dave at Edzell 

Nobody mention the kilt
Following the successful scoffing of a Full Scottish in Ballater, I followed the Deeside Way for a bit, teaming up at some point with Emma and we walked into Glen Tanar to be interrogated by the Ranger. I'm afraid I might have been forced to admit to being a member of the County Durham Peoples Liberation Front , or possibly the Front foir the Liberation of the People of County Durham (actually, I am a secret member of the Ramblers Association) and I was forced to take an oath that I would not disturb the local Very Randy Capercaillie who could get quite vicious, apparently. So I changed tthe route to coincide with Emma's, which went to a  locked bothy with two Yorkshiremen camping outside. Apparently, when they were little they lived in a cardboard box in't middle o't road which they had to lick clean with their tongues every morning before working 28 hours down t'pit. Anyway it was windy and nobody made any kilt-based remarks.

The came Tarfside. In a previous year, I had almost walked out of the hostel at Tarfside when there was an anti-kilt pile-on  during which skirt-wearing men's masculinity was challenged. I expected the same and, my plan was not to stay there anyway - mainly because of the pile-on, I would say. I went in anyway and was met with "Oooh look its that man in a frock again  gigggle giggle hehehehehe". No names, no pack drill, but expected. Its childish stuff, but I found that in Scotland, its not all that unusual to encounter the kilt on a man and most people I met, including yoofs, who you have thought the most likely to take the mickey, were very complementary. Its just the odd eeeejit, and it's very very annoying. and I walked straight out again and marched off down Glen Esk, to find a lovely spot by the river and leaving me with only a short day the next morning....

....Which was to Edzell, where it was steaming hot and the pub was closed. Eventually it filled up with TGO challengers, including Sir Dave, the beaver. Its a long  and heart-warming story which I guess has been told elsewhere.

The walk finished at St Cyrus, where the pub was open and nobody said anything bad about the kilt.

The final pic, below is Sir Dave receiving his accolades at the Challenge dinner.

Thursday 7 September 2023

Goodbye to LTD. Welcome to Ringo

Unfortunately Blogger's functionality is getting worse, which is a big shame for this particular post. Anyway, I will try to soldier on and see what is produced in the end. The preview suggets that the pictures are all over the place and one has randomly disappeared.

Fans of LTD (Lucky The Dog) may well be upset that he had to be euthanised in July. I noticed, sometime in June that he was getting lethargic and just after a routine visit to the vet he was collapsing and fitting. Various medicines were tried and, in the end some steroids returned him to normality for a few weeks. But the fits began again and he became very fragile and unable to walk very far.

We had a final wild camp to Druridge Bay but in the morning he was clearly struggling to walk back to the car. 

After more fits, he made the final journey to the vet.

LTD had been my dog since August 2014. He'd bagged more than 1000 hills and been on many backpacking trips. He specially enjoyed the bits of camping that involved snuggling in his woofbag and not really doing much else until it was time to pack up and go - and he was often a bit reluctant to leave his bed.

He was a friendly dog, except to other dogs, who sometimes got too close. And he hated water and would walk around puddles. There was never any chance of him swimming other than by accident. Apart from attacking other dogs, he was no bother at all.

And then came Ringo. Ringo is a border collie and  a failed farm dog. He came from a farm in South Tynedale, just a bit North of Alston. I don't know why he failed. He's very playful and inquisitive and we're slowly forming a team. At the moment his walking on a lead is hard work but he's very friendly, even to other dogs, which is a Good Thing and a nice change.

One of us will die first. The nature of these things is that, if you have a dog, and you get attached to the pooch, that almost inevitably the dog will be the first to go and that you will grieve. Grief is the tax to be paid on love. I'm beginning to believe that it isn't a negative emotion at all, no matter how uncomfortable it is at the time. 

I hope that, in time, I will grieve for Ringo, although at my advanced age, there's a chance that it will be the other way around. Maybe we can both slip into dotage together and neither of us will be capable of recognising that one of us has gone.

Or perhaps we will be rewarded by the honour of being the subject of somebody's grief.

In the meantime, Ringo has had 3 tent nights, bagged 24 hills , and walked a couple of hundred miles with me. I think we'd best try to get on with stuff whilst we can.

Tuesday 7 March 2023

Ridge Romping in the Howgill Fells

Ridge Romping In The Mind in a Suntrap on Kensgriff
I will admit to dozing off at lunch. The ground was frozen and the wind nithered in a particularly nithering kind of way, drifting over the North Sea from somewhere vaguely in the direction of Bergen. So, when we dropped off the top of Kensgriff with the decision whether or not to chance the stupidly steep grass of Yarlside unmade, we (me and LTD) came across a spot sheltered from the brrrrrreeeeze and warmed by the sun. And on top of all this, a skylark was up in the sky being all cheerful and happy. So we (me and LTD) settled in for the egg and tomato butty and banana, or , in the case of LTD, a handful of gravy bones. As for me, I'm not all that keen on gravy bones and LTD is not a big fan of tomatoes. It was a lovely spot. We drifted off into cosy dreamy snoozy land where every day is a day of sunlit hills and happy larks. And, in the case of LTD, quite a big handful of gravy bones.
Who's that playing in the shadows?

Leathgill Bridge
I'm not sure how the decision to revisit this route on the Howgills happened, except to say that I left home with the appropriate map and a very good weather forecast and an intention to walk somewhere with lots of contours. I seem to have lost a bit of fitness over the winter and replaced this with some wobbly flab and a telling-off from a Diabetic Nurse Practitioner.  So here we were, parking by the main road just a bit to the left of Ravenstonedale (looking North) and heaving our obesenesses up some of those brown lines that join all the places of the same altitude together. We puffed. We panted. We cursed. We coughed. We spluttered. We wished we would soon be at the top. And, soon enough, we were. We bashed on with heavy legs.
LTD on the top of

Fearsome iced grass shows the way up Yarlside.
And soon - well, not really all that soon, to be fair, we crossed the Leathgill Bridge and were stood standing on top of Randygill Top. A short descent and another short yet vaguely painful ascent of Kensgriff brought up to our warm and cosy lunch spot wot I've mentioned above. The decision to be made was whether or not to climb up to the top of Yarlside or to find another way. Through the gap between my boots, the climb up Yarlside looked Steep, with a capital "S". I've been up there before and it is steep. It seems to me that grass couldn't get much steeper and the now wobbly and achy state of my legs would see this as a challenge, if, indeed, legs had eyes to see, which they don't, of course. An alternative course around the hill to the left was less steep but involved more contours and a descent to the right would put me in Bowderdale and a likely early return to the car. We slept on the decision. The skylark sang away. The sun was warm and all was well with the world.
The top of Yarlside

Cautley Spout
Maybe I would just follow the path down to the hawse/bealach/bwlch/pass at the bottom of the hill and decide there. So that's what we did and, on achieving the bottom of the slope, it didn't look all that steep. The map suggested it wasn't such a big climb anyway and the skylark suggested that I would regret not giving it a try and I could always come back down.  LTD wondered if I had any more gravy bones. So we set off up the slope. It wasn't too bad. At first anyway. The grass was frozen and there was a suggestion of slipperyness. The slope got steeper, but previous boots had dug some steps in the turf. There was scree. Hands and knees were employed and there was a very brief moment of wishing I'd cleared my internet browsing history before embarking on this, when the slope began to ease off. Eventually we were at the top and, dissuaded from hanging about by the arctic drift at the summit cairn we headed down to Bowderdale Head, an easy descent with a view of Cautley Spout.
LTD at The Calf

If he hadn't scoffed all those gravy bones he wouldn't have been so thirsty
Next on the agenda was a visit to The Calf. This is the highest part of the Howgills and my most visited - according to my log this would be visit number 30. Actually getting there from Bowderdale Head with legs who's opinion (if legs do have an opinion, which they don't) was that it would be much better to follow the bridleway back to the car and anyway, we'd all been there before and what's the point? I meantersay, what is the actual point? That's what they would have said, if they could speak, which they can't. 

So, ignoring the whingeing lower limbs and joints we suffered mightily and very very slowly up the steepness to the bridleway. This is where we met two walkers having lunch, so we had to pretend, briefly, that everything was fine and that no pain or discomfort at all was being felt and wasn't it lovely? After a brief spurt of effort, which almost killed me if I'm honest, we continued painfully and with harsh words to the bloody trig point where we go a lovely view of bloody Morecambe Bay with the bloody tide in. LTD cocked his leg on the trig. And serve it right, too.

View from a joyful romp

Somebody over there just opened a bag of crisps

And then , it all became quite wonderful. Apart from anything else, it was downhill. More walkers were met. LTD did zoomies and greeted them enthusiastically. The seemed a bit grumpy about it. They were going uphill after all. So we followed the path down the long long ridge North, straight into the refreshing breeze. We had the place to ourselves again. Mile after mile of superb ridge walking passed easily. This was, in fact, a joyful romp of a ridge. It's true, there were a few bits of uphill contours, which began to tell on the wizzened old legs. But the larks sang and the ridge meandered off in the rough direction of Glasgow. The bogs and other squishy bits were frozen and there were no regrets.  13 miles and 3400 feet of ascent.

Hopefully, I'm a few contours fitter. I'm certainly not any lighter just now.

I once wrote a sort of guide thingy to the Howgill Fells - 12 months in the Howgills, published only in Doodlecat, by the redoubtable Phil Lambert. The version was lost a while back, but I wondered, during this little trundle whether I should write that again. It is well out of date now, and I think , maybe I could make a better stab at it. I started it in the September. Maybe I might do that again. I asked LTD and his opinion was that it would be all right, providing a proper supply of doggy treats would be available. I should ask the skylark, I think.


Wednesday 11 January 2023

Turn On Tune In Drop Out


The usual thing to do in a walking blog at this time of year is to review the previous year and map out some plans for the rest of this year. Whereas I do have some plans (TGO Challenge (again)), bag some more hills, walk about a lot etc.), I'm not going to do that.

In fact, I'm not entirely sure how to express just what it is I want to express, So this blog post will be a kind of exploration of whatever it is that's been tickling my mind bollox over the recent Christmas period and beyond, in a retrospective sort of way. To put things into perspective, I am now 71 years old with a dicky ticker, type 2 diabetes and a lump in my thigh where a lump shouldn't be, caused by slipping on some wet grass a few years ago and detaching a muscle, which has now disappeared somewhere into my leg, leaving a bump. The leg seems to function well without that particular lump of meat, except that occasionally, such as if I attempt a particular contortion, it hurts. 

I suppose the idea is that, whilst I've had a very long hill-walking career so far - the first entry in my walking log being at Easter 1964 (I believe this qualifies as a long time), at 71, as Mr McCartney indicated in the song "Two of Us" on the Let It Be album, "You and I have memories, longer than the road that stretches out ahead" The "you" being everybody else and LTD that I regularly walk with. To be fair, it's more relevant to Lucky The Dog, who's future is much much shorter than his past. (This is what happens with pet dogs - he's my 5th or 6th)  Basically, This Can't Go On Much Longer, at least not as long as everything that went before - all that getting lost, setting off on an unknown journey with butterflies rampaging around the innards, being too knackered to think straight, being hungry and wet and cold and hot... and all that......

It's the time of year when people plan ahead and, sometimes, make a list. When time is predictably very short, a bucket list may be drawn up. my old dog Bruno the Superdawg had such a bucket list in his final few weeks of life, at least until he couldn't do any more.  I'm not ready for a bucket list just now (phew).  But predictable time is on a countdown, maybe longer than I suspect, potentially a lot shorter, should I, or the wagon driver about to pull out into lane two  briefly lose concentration on the A1(M) the ability to wander up some contours could be seriously inhibited. So,  Stuff has to be Got On With. And the stuff I'd specially enjoy getting on with, so I have come to realise, doesn't really involve anybody else, other than the dog.

I'm not going to abandon any friends or the Ramblers (at least not yet) but it's not really possible to Turn On, Tune In and Drop Out with chatter going on, or discussions about The Route, or people who don't want to stop and have a look at nothing in particular when I do want to stop and have a look, or people who do want to stop when I don't. And people need to be spared the skinny-dip in a deep, green pool on a hot day.  Or people getting scared and twitchy when it goes dark. All that stuff.
So, this year's TGO challenge will be entirely solo and, should I be spared, and the TGO challenge continues,  so will the next two TGO challenges. And so will the long, dawn to dusk walks in the summer. There will be much sitting about. Larks, meadow pipits, curlew and snipe will be allowed to entertain me and there will be snoozing. LTD enjoys a snooze. Snoozes near waterfalls are particularly enjoyable.  There will be long, dark and windy winter nights in little tents, parked in sheltered spots, not far from streams of clean mountain water. This is what I want to do.
At the moment it's chucking it down outside, so the main motivation is to light the fire and drink hot tea, maybe, even have Just The One McVities digestive, as LTD snores and emits noxious gasses close by. But quite soon, I'll be off on a short backpacking trip, probably just a bit up Weardale. I'll tell myself that it's training for the TGO challenge. I might do a blog post.