TGO Challenge 2013 – Days 4 to 7

by backpackingbongos

Day 4 – 25 kilometres with 1,160 metres ascent

Day 4

For some reason I slept badly in the exceptionally comfortable double bed.  When I opened the curtains in the morning I was surprised to see that there were snow flakes mixed into the rain.  Although the hills were shrouded in low cloud it was evident that they were also covered in fresh snow.  Rather worryingly this was down to around 400 metres.  I began to wonder about the feasibility of my route across the Monadhliath mountains.

The breakfast room in the hotel made me feel a bit of a billy no mates.  I originally picked a nice table by the window but was quickly shooed away to a table for one facing the wall.  I was definitely the scruffiest one in there and looked like the only hiker.  Food was good though.

Checking the mountain forecast before setting off was an unhappy experience.  The winds on the summits were predicted to gust to 70mph over the next couple of days with snow showers and the possibility of thunderstorms.  With the heavy rain during the night I was not sure about how easy it would be to get across the river Tarff that afternoon.  Sadly it was looking like I may have to take the Foul weather alternative of my foul weather alternative.  I would make a decision during the day on which route to take.

Upon leaving the hotel I was greeted by a heavy shower as I climbed up the track that would take me to Bridge of Oich.  This had much more climbing than I had anticipated and I was soon sweating in my waterproofs.  When the rain was replaced by blue sky I made the mistake of removing them.  Within minutes it was pouring it down again, a pattern that would remain throughout the day.

At the bridge of Oich an upleasant trudge along the main road was spent trying to avoid being mown down by fast moving traffic.  This meant that the Thistle Stop cafe was a very welcome sight indeed.  Graham was already comfy inside enjoying a cooked breakfast.  I had just finished one so decided on cake instead to fuel me up for the climb ahead.  The owners were very friendly and spent a while chatting to us.

The new Beauly Denny pylons were visible on the hillside a few miles away, huge structures in comparison to the old ones.  Directly ahead was the Millenium windfarm with giant 125 metre structures sitting redundant on the high moorland.  They had been in full view for two days now and not a single turbine had been turning.  With more turbines consented, this part of the Great Glen is turning into a bit of an eyesore to be honest.

I left with Graham and started the climb up the track behind the cafe.  Height was quickly gained and we paused to admire the view down Loch Oich and towards the Ben Tee hills, covered with fresh snow.

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Even at this low level the wind was strong and line after line of heavy showers were waiting on the horizon to batter us.  I therefore made the decision to cross the Corrieyairack rather than spend three days of trackless walking across the Monadhliath.  A hard decision to make but I did not fancy my original route in this wind.  So instead of heading directly for Blackburn bothy I walked with Graham along the track on the western side of Glen Buck.  This is a lovely glen and the bothy on the other side looked like it occupies a cracking position, one to return to one day I think.

The track soon ran out and I decided to have a bit of a play with my phone, blast off a few tweets and take some photos in between showers.  Graham continued ahead and I said that I would try to catch him up (I did not see him until the following morning).

A steep contouring climb gave excellent views down the Glen and across to snow-clad hills.  The sky would darken as showers tracked past, turning to snow now that I had gained altitude.  Despite the strong nagging wind it was all very atmospheric.

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At the watershed I surveyed the expanse of flat moorland ahead of me to try to pick the best line.  What followed was bog trotting at its best / worst as I squelched my way across rough waterlogged ground.  I passed an interesting spring that looked like a burst blister, water gushing out like a broken mains water pipe.

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A new access road for the Beauly Denny pylons gave easy progress towards a derelict old hut.  The whole area was frankly a bit of a mess, the new road a major scar on the landscape.  Vehicles were busy going up and down and heavy machinery littered the moors in the distance.  I hope that the new track will be covered over or at the very least landscaped.   I was thankful that the original Military road over the Corrieyairack had been left alone.

The hut gave shelter whilst I had my lunch, during which Stuart and Maria popped their heads in.  I had met them during the 2011 Challenge.  A quick chat and they headed off to climb the pass.

The climb to the top of the pass started off easily along the well constructed track.  However I soon found that snow had covered the track and there were many detours through boggy ground to avoid it.  Wet snow and trailshoes are not a very good combination!

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As I started to approach the higher reaches of the pass the sky behind me turned black.  I could see fingers of snow trailing below the clouds and realised that I would soon get a pasting.  I really was not prepared for the viciousness of this squall.  The snow came on winds that nearly took me off my feet and made me stagger onwards like a drunk.  I was thankful that the wind was behind me, however I still felt like I was being pebble dashed.

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As I was enveloped by the mist I started to worry that it would turn into one of the predicted thunderstorms.  This would have been less than ideal as I was following a line of high voltage pylons!  Thankfully it did not but I continued to be hammered as I crossed the pass, eventually getting shelter on the other side.

Earlier in the day I had started to get a twinge on the top of my foot, I had put this down to perhaps tying my laces too tight.  As I began the descent it really started to bother me and walking became rather painful.  The dramatic view down the snowy glen helped take my mind off it for a bit.

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I had heard bad things about the state of the Coirreyairack track, however it had been repaired meaning that the descent down the zig zags was nice and smooth.  Ahead the Creag Meagaidh hills looked inviting in the afternoon light.

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I was limping pretty badly by the time I reached Melgarve bothy.  I popped my head in to find that it was rammed with Challengers.  There was room to sleep as it’s a pretty big bothy, but I am allergic to snoring.  I went back out and found a nice pitch below the bothy next to the stream.  By the time I went back to the bothy many had left to go and camp at Garva bridge.  I sat inside and chatted for a while but was keen to get back to my tent, get my shoes off and rest my feet.

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With a bit of late sunshine I passed a pleasant evening in my tent reading my kindle before having a very good sleep.

Day 5 – 24 kilometres with 380 metres ascent

Day 5

I awoke to mechanical sounds, construction for the Beauly Denny powerline was taking place a few hundred metres behind the bothy.  I got up and walked to the nearby forest to do my ablutions.  My foot felt no better, in fact it felt worse, the tendons on top and around my ankle were bruised and slightly swollen.

Graham passed by as I was packing up, he had sought shelter from the wind behind the forest further up the glen.  The night had once again been very windy.

With my pack on my back I started the long and painful process of walking towards Laggan.  Unfortunately the track soon turned into tarmac which made every footstep feel like purgatory.  There is not much to say really, except that I hated every minute of it.

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Getting close to Spey Dam I bumped into Stuart and Maria and walked with them into Laggan.  It was good to have company for a while as it took my mind off the discomfort.  They were heading for the Monadhliath hotel which had now become the Monarch (the story goes that the new Aussie owners could not pronounce Monadhliath).  I decided to go with them and see if the hotel had a spare room.  I enjoyed walking with Stuart and Maria and they adjusted their pace to accommodate mine and stopped for breaks when I requested them.

The thought of a bed for the night kept me going until we reached the hotel.  My spirits were really dashed when I found out their last room had been taken an hour previously.  I consoled myself with a drink in the bar.

I was in a bit of a no-mans land with regards to accommodation.  There was a hostel nearby but as I mentioned earlier I am allergic to snoring.  There is no way I want to go to prison because I have murdered a snorer in the night!  I decided to continue on and see if I could get to the Glentruim campsite a few miles down the road (can you hear the violins playing a sad tune in the background?).

I’m sure that my foot started to squeak as I walked along the main road before turning off at Catlodge.  I would manage to walk a couple of hundred metres before stopping to lean on a farm gate.  Eventually I noted a lovely expanse of flat green pasture below me next to the River Spey.  With a tumbling burn nearby I decided that it would be my home for the night.  I realised that it was close to the road and I was surrounded by livestock, perhaps less than ideal.  With my tent up and the weight off my feet I had another pleasant evening, the sun providing warmth in-between beefy showers.

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I felt disappointed that I had missed out the Monadhliath which I was really looking forward to.  However I was glad that I was now close to civilisation.  The idea of lurching across bogs and tussocks was now no longer appealing.  I would have to reassess things in the morning.

Day 6 – 6 kilometres with 170 metres ascent

Day 6

I was woken at 6.30am by the sound of an engine and shouting.  I popped my head out of my tent to see a quad bike followed by a border collie heading directly for me.  Thankfully they passed by, I was expecting a telling off considering I was effectively in a livestock field.  Thankfully things are more relaxed in Scotland compared to England or Wales.  I went back to sleep for a couple of hours knowing it was now unlikely that I would be moved on.

It now felt that the worst of the weather was behind me and the forecast was good for the next couple of days.  I packed up and continued along the road to a memorial and a handy bench.  This provided a great spot to rest for a while and enjoy the view back up the Spey valley.

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Stuart and Maria soon came along and joined me.  They had tales of how good the food had been in the hotel the night before.  I had to remind them that I had camped out and eaten freeze-dried food!  My foot was no better, it had swollen even more and had now gone an unpleasant shade of yellow.  I was glad to have some company on this section towards Newtonmore.  Chat makes the miles disappear quicker.

A plod brought us to the Ralia cafe just off the A9, a seat taken in the sun to refuel on coffee and a sandwich.  Maria introduced me to a couple of Challengers who happened to be nurses.  Stuart and a chap whose name I have forgotten (I’m rubbish with names, if I have not written it down I will forget it!).  They had a quick look and suggested that I should get it properly assessed.  My foot was not meant to be that shape and colour!  I decided there and then that it would be wise to visit a medical centre as soon as possible rather than walking on.  A call to the Kingussie taxi and I was being whisked to the nearby medical centre.  In my mind the Challenge was over.

This is the second time that I have had to access medical attention whilst on a Challenge, the first in 2011 when my arms and hands blistered.  Both times I was amazed at how quickly I was seen.  This time round there was no doctor available at the surgery but the nurse saw me within half an hour of arriving.  It was a bit embarrassing taking my shoes and socks off in that warm room.  I was a bit grubby and fragrant.  She said that I had overworked my foot and that my trail shoes were probably the culprit.  She felt that my foot needed more support and my big toe was doing all the work.  She suggested rest and ibuprofen and told me to get a support bandage.  I hobbled off to my B&B relieved that it was nothing serious but also concerned that I would not make it to the east coast.  I made a decision later that day, I would take tomorrow off and see if a bit of rest would help.

A sociable evening in the Tipsy Laird with David Williams and Graham helped take my mind off it.

Day 7 – 7.5 kilometres with 90 metres ascent

Day 7

I was staying at Homewood Lodge in Kingussie and I have to say that the landlady Jennifer was an absolute star.  She took my dirty washing off me the night before and returned it clean and dry the following morning at breakfast.  B&B’s can sometimes be awkward and often strange places to stay.  My stay at Homewood lodge was nice and homely.  I enjoyed slobbing around my room in my undies reading the paper and dozing in front of the telly.

I was aware that I had finished prematurely the day before, ground that I would need to cover before continuing.  I phoned a taxi at lunch time to drop me back off at the Ralia cafe.  I took my pack with me minus some heavy stuff from it.  Dosed up on Ibuprofen I slowly walked back to Kingussie, my foot grateful for not having too much weight on it.

I was now just one day behind schedule.  I had my fingers crossed that I felt up to starting the crossing to Braemar the following day.

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22 Comments to “TGO Challenge 2013 – Days 4 to 7”

  1. Ouch! Poor lamb. A very good thing that you didn’t head into the Monadhliath with what your foot had in store for you. Your recent TGO experiences put me in mind of a wee catchphrase that TLF and her friend Gazza have from earlier backpacking experiences: ‘Scotland Maims’…

    Heart-warming that you had good company and friendly B&B landladies in your hour of need.

    • Yep, Scotland can maim, I always end up with some sort of ailment or other after a backpack there. There are some good folks on the TGO Challenge, one of the pleasures of doing such a walk. Respect to any landlady who is willing to take clothing that has been worn on the hills for a week!

  2. The Glen Buck bothy is a little honey. Sensible route selection, bearing in mind the weather and your poorly foot.
    I agree totally that some B&B’s are home from home.
    More great pictures too – I’m really enjoying this!
    :–)

    • Real shame that I missed the Monadhliath, not sure I ever want to do the walk to Laggan again in my lifetime! I had a weird b&b in Braemar which balanced out the excellent one in Kingussie. You never quite know what you will get. And good luck with your new body part this week, hope all goes well.

  3. Sounds like a tough old hike so far, but there are some beautiful photos and hopefully the views helped to alleviate some of the pain!

    • Its the views that kept me going. It all gets a bit more cheerful from now on (well mostly!). I even start to enjoy myself!!

  4. Great stuff, great story, great pictures! Having said that, I need to voice a complaint! You mention big ugly pylons, big ugly turbines, big ugly tracks, but then all your pictures depict an idyllic, unchanged Scotland that could be a VisitScotland advert. It’s your blog, of course, and you may well not want to remember the ugliness, but I think it’d be good to see pictures of the outrage that is being perpetrated in the Highlands. People have no idea. When they think turbines, they think graceful white structure spinning against a blue sky. They need to be shown the grossness of it all, the large dirt tracks, the huge new pylons and so forth. Rant over.

    For the rest, respect, man!!

    • Guilty as charged Andy. I have to say that I wished I had taken some pics of the devestation being done to the Scottish hills. An alternative post to provide balance to those picture postcard views. Something for me to bear in mind next time I see ugliness mixed in with natural beauty. Thanks for your comment.

  5. You do put yourself through it on these challenges. Not exactly what you wanted I suppose but it does make for a good story. Pretty impressed with the miles you covered with a dodgy foot and the weather, I’d have given up!

    • There is no giving up for Mr Bongo! My mileage is very modest compared to other Challengers who would have done the same by breakfast……..

  6. Excellent write up again and super, atmospheric photos.

    Real shame about the ankle – do you think it’s just coincidence that it’s the same one that you went over on last summer, or might it be connected? Either way, hope it’s all sorted for your trip this weekend. 🙂

    • No sure if it is coincidence Chrissie. It is still twinging a bit (more the tendons on top of my foot rather than ankle) feel there is something mechanical going on. I’ll see how it goes this weekend and then maybe think about getting it looked at properly.

  7. Glad you managed to get a wee bit of enjoyment out if it all as well! 🙂

  8. Have just caught up with your reports, James. They convince me more than ever that my ‘dry feet’ policy is the one for me, with trail shoes being for things like the Pembroke Coastal Path in June. I admire your tenacity though.
    Looking forward to the next instalment.

    • Dry feet are good Martin, yet even with ‘proper’ boots I fail miserably when backpacking for more than a couple of days. I do like my leather boots in winter though, warm feet I am a fan of!

  9. Loved that. Oh Scotland how I am missing it. I think you are able to murder someone who snores – no crime at all. Love that tent of yours. I hope the foot is better – anything even slightly wrong then get the pros in. No Bongos yet on my trip – where will the first one be?

    • Snoring is one of my pet hates Warren, can’t stand it. Funnily enough I don’t mind the dog snoring though………

      The foot is mostly better but I may get it checked out anyway. Thinking about it I have had minor trouble with it for while, especially when driving of all things. I reckon the first Bongo will be when you reach Dover?

  10. Enjoying the write up James. I was really pleased you managed to continue despite your ankle injury. The Tipsy Laird evening was enjoyable – much better than being Billy All On His Ownsome.
    David

    • Aye being billy all on his ownsome is no good David. I enjoyed your company in the Tipsy Laird. I better get typing the nest part!

  11. We all missed our Monadhliath plans sadly but the next time maybe will be better. Get planning.

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