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!

23 Comments to “TGO Challenge 2011 – Days 11 to 13”

  1. Well done for overcoming all the extra challenges! Great read.

  2. So much for your holiday in Spain next year then, Mr Boulter? No sun, sea and sangria for you. No, you’ll be wanting to march through tick-laden bogs with blisters on your blisters and raging hog weed rashes on your extremities; wind driven rain, sleet and hail drenching you through to your frozen core… But if you do it again, you’re bound to have an easier time of it, surely? You’ll be back.

    Great post, great pics, great rash ointment!

    • I think that Spain may have to wait a few more years Pete. The bogs, ticks and blisters are calling me back! My camera stayed safely tucked away in my rucksack those last few days. There was not much inspiration to take it out.

  3. Actually, the pics weren’t that great, were they? Not much you could do about that by the looks of things…

  4. I enjoyed all that, James. That was quite a challenge, all in all. So, congratulations for finishing despite all the aggro!

    After seeing the doctor in Aboyne, a more pleasant alternative might have been to nip south of the river and make your way to Strathan and then canter through the Fetteresso and out to the coast at Stonehaven. No horribly busy roads and some great places to stop over. Dunnottar Castle makes a great finish point.

    But that can be done on another Challenge, eh? Go on…. You know you want to…


    • Thanks Alan, it most certainly was a Challenge! Since getting back I have come up with loads of routes to the coast from Aboyne that are much better than the one I walked. A lack of maps made planning on the hoof rather difficult though. Another Challenge? Certainly!

  5. Good read, James, well done. Not the easiest of Challenges !

    • Thanks Mark. Not an easy crossing, I would have preferred two weeks of sunny weather so that I could have gently ambled across!

  6. Thanks for a great read, James. I can’t believe you encountered so many ticks – my greatest fear backpacking in Scotland. So far I’ve avoided them – more by luck than judgement. I like the tick test: must remember that.

    It’s amazing what we’ll put ourselves through and say “never again”. The trouble is, once you’ve done one Challenge you’re hooked! I hope the rash was a one off – this year there wasn’t much sun, but, if it were to be very sunny, the last thing you’ll need is an alergy to sun.

    I’m already waiting below the letter box for the next TGOC entry form – well, not quite! Then there is the chore of planning a route and the small matter of doing it. But, Scotland is such a great place for backpacking and it can never be as bad as this year was – weatherwise? Well let’s hope not quite so bad!



    • Glad to hear that you enjoyed it Gordon. For so many ticks I am lucky that as far as I know, none attached themselves to me. Some places have loads of the little blighters and some have none. Will it be your first Challenge next year? I hope that you manage to get on and the weather is kinder than this year. The route planning is half the fun, a good way to while away the dark winter nights!

      • Hi James,

        Next year will be No: 3 …… if I get on! Last year I was No: 113 on the reserve list – so no chance!

        My account of this year is at

        I agree route planning is all part of the fun build up. Trying to link up Munros for a really good crossing is easy: then the weather decides not to play. Both my previous Challenges were with a good number of linked Munros, but, not many were done. Third time …..


      • Thanks for the link to your blog Gordon, It is on my google reader now. I look forward to reading your Challenge report.

        Fot your third Challenge the sun will shine every day, the temperatures will be nice and cool and there will be a gentle caressing breeze…………………

  7. Hi James,

    Thanks for writing your very interesting trip report – I’ll have to try and find time to read other 2011 TGOC trip reports now.

    Again, very well done – you showed a very high degree of mental toughness to get through all that you suffered.

    Re the ticks – it really is a bloody awful year for them in some places: We were over at my brothers place in Glenurqhuart at the weekend and within minutes of my four dogs charging through the undergrowth in his garden they were covered in them. One of my labs had six on his face alone. Fortunately there was a nice breeze so at least that kept the midges away!

    My brothers garden is surrounded by a deer fence and so no deer but has huge number of ticks. My garden has no deer fence but deer wander through it all day long and yet our dogs (and me) only pick up about one or two ticks a day maximum.

    Well James, next time you are in Scotland in insect season I hope you have tickfree camping, keep totally away from Giant hogweed and the sun shines for you!



    • There are a few good Challenge reports out there Rob. Are you tempted to enter next year? I find the idea of having ticks in my backgarden horrifying! Probably no chance as the wildlife seems to be limited to the odd fox and noisy magpies. A tick free environment is maybe a benefit of living in the middle of loads of concrete (although I would much rather have a tick infested garden in the Highlands!). Thanks once again.

  8. Hi James,

    I’ll have to see how my leg and foot behaves over the next three months before deciding whether to enter. It has taken ages to get my leg back into reasonable condition after an injury in April which necessitated me withdrawing. That on top of an injury in January has made this year a bit slow.

    Last Tuesday my wife dropped me off at Tormore distillery and I walked the length of the Cromdales – about 21K and my knee, leg and foot were fine – but I now have to build up to multi-day 20K trips again and if I’m O.K. I may well put in for 2012. At 65 next year I won’t be too old as that seems to be about average with a lot of older fellows entering and finishing too!

    Re the ticks…that is the downside but having badgers, foxes, deer, pine martin and wild cat travelling through our wildlife garden makes it all worthwhile.

    Have a good summer.



  9. Ticks seem to fear me and leave me alone. After Terry’s tale I did have a nightmare about them but that is the worst I have had. Great report and enjoyable read all the way. I am missing the Challenge next year but hoping 2013 will be my next time. When is your next application going in?

    • Have you checked the back of your knees Martin? I recon that all the ticks are hiding out there, just where you can’t see them! Not sure whether to enter for next year, it will be either the Challenge or the Arctic Circle Trail. Can’t decide which I would prefer to do.

  10. And so ends an epic tale! So much to comment on but I’ll just focus on the wild campsites you found. It is by the far the greatest pleasure in backpacking to find “that” spot where everything seems to fall into place. It looks like you found some stunning spots even if the weather was a bit brutal at times. I too have a passion for the glens of NE Scotland, those grassy spots on the river bends next to a broad river take some beating. The valley just south of Gaick Lodge between Kingussie and Blair is my personal favourite (Flickr photos here:

    Congratulations – you’ll be doing it next year, you know you will!

    • Looks like a great campsite from your photos. I have never been to the area surrounding Gaick lodge but have admired it on the map. Those steep sided valleys look great, another place to add to my ever growing list!

  11. James, what a brilliant read! Thoroughly enjoyed your write up. It certainly was a challenge but I loved it in the end and can’t wait to reapply, maybe see you somewhere along the way?!

    • Thanks Louise. Apart from those last three days I really enjoyed the Challenge, and what a Challenge it was! Trying to decide at the moment whether to apply again next year. I am sure that our paths will cross again in the future.

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