Archive for July 3rd, 2011

July 3, 2011

TGO Challenge 2011 – Days 11 to 13

by backpackingbongos

If you’re reading a TGO Challenge report wanting tales of high mountain crossings, spectacular wild camps and numerous fine photos please stop now.  I don’t want to be wasting your time.  However if you want to read about a rash, blistered feet and the trials of navigating through rural Aberdeenshire then this may well be up your street.

Day 11 – 12.3 miles with 170 metres ascent

I woke up in the middle of the night to silence.  The wind had dropped and there was no sign of rain, the calm before the storm?  My arms were really troubling me, if I had them out of my sleeping bag they would get cold, however inside the material would make them burn even more.  I slowly drifted back to sleep.

The rain woke me in the morning, it was coming down with a determined persistence.  I briefly stuck my head out into a grey world, the surrounding hills covered under a blanket of heavy clouds.  The wind had yet to arrive but there was definitely a breeze picking up.  I ate my breakfast and packed my gear with the tent firmly zipped up.  I could hear the surrounding Challengers packing and leaving and by the time I finally exited fully dressed in waterproofs they had all left.  My tent was down in a couple of minutes and I dashed for cover to pack my rucksack properly.  Dry bags within a rucksack liner, you can never be too careful!

The pharmacist took one look at my rash and suggested that I get it checked out by a doctor, he had no idea what it was.  The doctor’s surgery was located and I asked the receptionist if I could have an appointment even though I was not local.  I could but I would have to wait until the end of the day.  I was feeling more positive about finishing the Challenge and knew that I needed to push ahead.  Rather than waste a day festering in the rain in Ballater I decided to walk on to Aboyne and try my luck there.

The Doctors surgery was close to the start of the Deeside way and I was soon marching along its easy surface.  The wind was now really picking up, roaring down the open valley from the hills.  With everything clagged in, heavy rain and dangerous gusts meant it really was not a day to be up high.  I was thankful that I was not struggling over the shoulder of Mount Keen as originally planned.

The wind kept building and building as I walked, thankfully it was mostly at my back and gave me a bit of momentum.  On the positive side the rain soon cleared and was replaced by the odd bit of sunshine and vicious heavy showers.  I took the opportunity of a sunny interlude and a well placed bench to sit and contemplate the River Dee.  All being well it would be my companion as I headed to the coast.

Back on the cycle track I was soon walking with Bert and his wife (Sue?).  Bert was carrying a large black bin liner and was picking up litter on the way using his walking pole as a spear.  The bag was nearly full and he had only started it at Ballater.  A great effort by Bert and I have to say it made me feel guilty as I really could not be bothered to stop and pick up rubbish that had been discarded by others.  Bert however did draw a line at discarded tires and bits of vehicles that had somehow become detached.

A long straight bit of former railway track took us away from the road and through a lovely area of heather moor interspersed with birch.

The Cafe in Dinnet was closed so four of us tramped our wet selves into the Loch Kinord hotel.  We were served by a waitress who looked like she had been slapped by a wet fish, she had perfected the art of being both snooty and miserable.  Perhaps this was down to the fact that another group of Challengers had recently departed after a break, and she had just finished hoovering up after them.  A smile still would have been nice though!

I set off into the wind on my own, getting increasingly worried as the trees next to the Deeside way were thrashing around in an alarming manner.  I found myself dashing past them during brief lulls, ready for a tell-tale creaking and cracking noise.  I was relieved when I finally arrived in Aboyne and set off to find the b&b that my partner had managed to book for me.  The elderly lady that ran the place could be called a ‘character’ and the b&b itself ‘characterful’ but it was very cheap and pretty much the only one in the village.  Two other challengers whom I last met at Coogie (as usual names escape me) were staying there.  I set off in search for the village health centre.

I really have to give credit to the Scottish health care system.  I managed to secure myself an appointment within an hour, even though I was not registered there.  The doctor was excellent and diagnosed that I had an extreme allergic reaction and that my skin was reacting somehow to the sun.  Although he was unsure what I had come into contact with.  I was sent on my way with steroids and creams to hopefully get rid of the symptoms.  On the way out I bumped into one of the TGO vetters, Colin Tock.  He had managed to injure his wrist whilst getting into his tent one night!  He was staying in the same b&b and we had a sociable night in the Indian Restaurant with the other two Challengers from the b&b.  I have to say that a couple of beers, good food and enjoyable company lifted my spirits no end.  I was ready to finish the walk.

Day 12 – 14.9 miles with 390 metres ascent

Somehow I had managed to pick up a blister on each foot during the previous day.  I don’t know if it was to do with the steady march along the cycle track or the fact that I had forgotten to put on some Gehwol foot cream.  It was annoying though, especially considering that I had managed to walk through the mountains for 10 days without any.

I left the b&b with Colin and we went our separate ways.  I headed straight for the Hilltrek outdoor shop as I wanted to ask some local advice with regards to my unplanned route to Banchory.  For some reason the Deeside way that runs from Aberdeen to Ballater misses out a major section in the middle according to my map.  I wanted to check to see if the section had been completed yet.  Unfortunately it had not.  The guy in the shop was very helpful but I left having no more of a plan that when I went in.  It looked like it was going to be a day mostly walking along a busy A road.

I did manage to find a path out of Aboyne though Bell wood and fields for the first couple of miles.  A pleasant start to the day, especially now that the wind had dropped and the sun was out.  However purgatory awaited me on the A93 on the way to Kincardine O’Neil.  The road was fast and busy and I feared for my life as vehicles travelling at 60mph passed within inches of me.  At a set of bends I abandoned the road, ignored a ‘Private’ sign and descended to the River Dee.  It was a tranquil spot feeling far from the busy road above.

The good times came to an end rather quickly as a steep bank made onward progress impossible and I headed along the road into the village.  Just outside the village I made a pleasant discovery as there was an as yet unopened section of the Deeside Way.  Headphones on and with the sun shining I was soon yomping along, hopeful that I could get to Banchory quickly and with ease.

At Potarch bridge the Deeside Way came to a sudden end and I made a bad decision.  In hindsight I should have continued on into Banchory south of the river.  I could have made use of minor roads and forestry tracks, further to walk but much more pleasant.  Instead I spent ages doggedly trying to walk along the river bank, giving up to walk through fields, climbing over barbed wire fences and at one point found myself briefly popping out into the garden of some posh estate house.  Whilst I was deep in a forestry plantation trying to find a track marked on the map Martin called.  He had just finished his crossing and was sitting in a cafe relaxing.  We chatted for a while and I congratulated him whilst I sat on a fallen tree feeling a bit sorry for myself.

I survived the forest and found myself on the busy A93 once more.  Once again it got too much to bear so I clambered down to the River Dee, this time finding a good path which eventually led to a private garden.  No one was at home so I dashed through, finally walking along the edge of a golf course.

I was knackered by the time I got to my b&b, it felt like I had walked twice the distance I actually had.  My blisters were really sore and I had to hobble on the hard pavements through town.  I was not sure if I could face another day.

After a hot shower, beer and food I came up with a cunning plan.  I would book another night in the b&b in Banchory and dump some of my heavier gear.  I could then travel nice and light to Aberdeen and bus it back in the afternoon.

Day 13 – 19.5 miles with 360 metres ascent

I was off walking before 9.00am which is pretty early for me!  The blisters that were on the bottom of my heel felt like pebbles had been put in my shoes.  My feet were well taped up and I dosed myself with codeine.  Thankfully there were no navigational issues as I simply had to follow the old railway line east in Aberdeen.

There is not a lot to say about the walk towards the coast to be honest, the miles just stretched on and on before me.  Progress thankfully was swift and by about 2.00pm I was entering the posh suburbs of the City.  The track was busy with cyclists and local residents and I found I had to stop saying hello to those I passed as I was getting ignored!  The friendliness of the Highlands was far behind me and I had to readjust to being in an urban environment.

The Deeside way finished at Duthie Park and I thought about finishing my Challenge there.  Surely the Dee would be tidal so technically the Sea?  I then realised that I had walked across Scotland so I had better finish properly.  Heavy traffic and noise accompanied me as I first walked towards the docks and then through the less than salubrious, rather run down harbour area.  Suddenly some cottages appeared and I spotted the beach beyond.  I had made it!  I walked to the sea, quickly dipped in a toe and walked up the beach to find a step to sit on.

It was all a bit of an anti-climax to be honest.  All I felt was relief that it was over.  I should have been on the lovely beach at St Cyrus but instead I was on a grey beach in Aberdeen with a ferris wheel and tower blocks as a backdrop.  I phoned control to let them know I had finished and then wondered off to see if there was a bus back into the centre.  Via the power of Twitter I was pointed in the right direction by Nick Bramhall and was soon having a bus tour of Aberdeen’s beach side retail parks.

I collected my t-shirt and certificate from Roger Smith and John Manning the following morning in Montrose.  “See you again soon?” I was asked.  “I am never doing a Challenge again” was my reply as I limped out of the door.

The weird thing is that now, whilst sitting and writing this I can’t wait to do another one!