Choosing a start-point for my route this year I decided to go to the south of the Challenge area and start in Oban. I thought it would be good to explore an area which, although I have driven through it on family holidays, I have never walked there.
Ron accompanied me to the start, and we arrived in Oban late on the Thursday evening. A quick stroll along the prom led to us bumping into a few Challengers – but I was surprised by how few I saw. On reflection, this is probably because they were camouflaged in amongst the wider population. On my previous crossings I have been to little places – and the swell caused by Challengers is immediately obvious. In Oban there were just too many tourists, so apart from a small handful of known faces, Challengers blended in.
Friday 12th May 2017
Signing out from the youth hostel I crossed the road along the prom, dropped down a set of steps which were handily placed there and dipped into the sea. Ron took pictures, then I headed off out of town.
The first part of the day saw me climb the minor road up Glen Lonan. Pretty, but nothing remarkable. As the day wore on I realised how dry the land was. Streams were down to trickles, or dried up completely. It wasn’t much more than three weeks since I had been a bit further north on the Cape Wrath Trail, where I had been contending with rivers too swollen to cross, and had been flooded out of my camp one evening. Obviously this area of Scotland was currently in the grip of a drought.
It was not possible to collect water in my filter bottle – so I was a bit concerned, but in Taynuilt luckily caught a tea-room open (about five minutes before their closing time) where I was able to refresh myself and buy a bottle of water.
I found my way through Bonawe and crossed the first wobbly bridge of the Challenge then climbed up through the country Park above Inverawe House.
I was intrigued to see what looked like the top of an ancient tank peeking out from a patch of boggy ground. It looks like someone has a rope ladder in place to get in and out – but I didn’t feel like exploring.
By now I had got to that point in the day where I was beginning to wonder about where to camp. It was fine, and warm, with quite a stiff breeze. Although a bit tired and achy, I felt I could still walk for miles, so headed on north-east along the track through the woods, high above Loch Etive. I saw a couple of Challenger tents tucked down a side path, but didn’t stop to chat. I was looking for two things: water, and a nice place to pitch. If I could find both in the same location I would be delighted.
Some of the trees had been cleared and there was the inevitable mess left behind. I didn’t want to camp near these ravaged moonscapes – kept pushing on. My last water ran out, and I started to feel hot and bothered, cross with the world. I lost height, and was approaching the loch – but realised it would be salt water.
Suddenly I heard the trickle of water. I followed my ears and found a miraculous pool, the deep point in a stream-bed. The water was still running under the stones, and running fast enough for me to have confidence in it. Out came my filter-bottle, I plunged it into the pool, then drank deeply! Looking around I realised that the stream should run under a little bridge in the track and beside it there was a perfect lochside pitch for me. Without further ado I pitched for the night.
Saturday 13th May 2017
I had gone to bed last night without any though of midges. There was a stiff breeze blowing at the lochside and there was no sign of the menace. However, by 4am the breeze had dropped and I woke up being bitten viciously. I scrabbled for the Jungle Formula and my headnet, made a hasty breakfast and quickly set off on my way.
All around the drought was in full swing – nowhere more obvious than at this ford where the water was running under the concrete roadway itself – never mind the bridge for times of flood!
My impression of the morning is rather blurred. Tracks above and around the headlands, and views across Loch Etive, with warning signs in the sky that the weather was on the change. I was surprised by the number of bluebells I saw. In previous years I was conscious of primroses and violets on the first days of the Challenge, and did not see bluebells until I got over to the area near Tarfside. Perhaps it was an early spring – or more likely the fact that I was walking further south, but bluebells were in abundance.
Whenever I got under trees the midges got biting. I saw a few Challengers, but was not in the mood for chatter.
I got very excited when I saw a slow-worm beside the track I had seen adders many times, but this is the first time I had seen a live slow-worm.
Glen Kinglass was impressive. As I walked up the glen the change in the weather became much more apparent, with a ferocious wind. I found a lovely quiet spot behind a bridge abutment to have my lunch and air my feet, then pressed on.
The inevitable rain arrived, and I wrapped myself up and trudged on.
My plan had been to camp in the upper reaches of the valley, but the reality of the weather was that it was mightily exposed, and I just didn’t fancy pitching anywhere. I had made good time during the day, so decided to go over the watershed and seek somewhere near Loch Dochard. I crossed another wobbly bridge …
… and pressed on.
Loch Dochard was just as inviting as upper Glen Kinglass. The wind was strong, cloud was low, and all I wanted was to find some shelter. I walked on. Eventually I dropped down to the crossing of the Allt Suil na Curra, and in the trees there found relief from the wind, and a little pod of Challengers. Too tired to do much more than say hello I got my Trailstar up, ate and went to sleep.
Sunday 14th May 2017
After two long days I slept hard, and by the time I woke up (rather late) on the third morning the other Challengers had gone.
Just before the location where I pitched camp in the trees was a bridge across the main river. Another crossing was marked just downstream, so rather than back-track I went for the lower one. Mistake! It turned out to be a ford with huge boulders to use as stepping stones. I HATE these!
Luckily the water was low, so for most of the way I was able to cross in the water, just clambering up for a short deep section. If there had been much water in the river I would have had to use the boulders – and some of them were a wide stretch apart for someone carrying a heavy rucsac. I must remember that if I ever come this way again it would be better to use the bridge higher up the valley!
The rain came and went, and contributed to rather muddy paths down the riverside. I was in good spirits however, having slept well, and heading towards a short section of familiar ground from Victoria Bridge.
Arriving at Forest Lodge someone had a parasol up beside a Range Rover, and cheekily I asked the people there if there was some kind of celebration going on. They replied no, that it was a way station for a sponsored walk from Kingshouse to Tyndrum. I got chatting to the people, who turned out to be from Renfrew Rotary Club., walking to raise funds for the STOP Polio programme.
I was very interested (as my Dad had been affected by polio as a boy) and gave them a donation. Kindly, they gave me a cup of tea and some ‘dumpling’ – a type of heavy fruit cake. I took a photo of this kindly group. Just as I set off again David and Margaret Brocklehurst turned up and they were being offered refreshments too.
I wimped out and had a happy trundle down the road from Inveroran Hotel to Bridge of Orchy, rather than going over the hill. It was noticeable how low the water was in Loch Tulla.
I stopped to chat to a chap who was doing a water fowl count. He makes a count from a number of positions around Loch Tulla on a monthly basis, and sends the data off to one of the national organisations.
At Bridge of Orchy I called in for a lovely meal and picked up a resupply parcel.
Well fortified, I followed the West Highland Way southwards for a short distance. With a full tummy and a full load, as a result of my recently acquired parcel I wondered if this sign was applicable as I approached on of the old bridges….
My objective for the day was the railway viaduct across Gleann Achadh-innis Chailein. Soon it came into view. At the back of my brain was the ‘will I be able to collect water’ worry, because even though it had rained, it was obvious that the streams were not yet replenished, as there were lots of dry rivulets beside the path.
I knew the main river in the valley was running, so I ought to be able to gather water from there if necessary.
Despite having an easy day with lots of stops, plenty to eat and drink. I was feeling weary, so reaching the viaduct, and finding a neat little stream close to had I quickly pitched right underneath! When I bought my Trailstar I went for a colour that would NOT stand out on the hill. This photo shows just how well it blends in against the stone of the viaduct.
The rain had ceased, but once again there was a mighty wind blowing, and I hoped that it would not change direction during the night.
Monday 15th May 2017
Today looked like it would be an ‘interesting’ day from the map. I would walk up the valley to its head, then through the pass at Srath Tarabhan into Glen Lyon. It was my plan to walk the south shore of the loch then see how far I could go beyond the dam at Lubreoch.
As I set off the wind, which had been strong all night, continued blowing. Luckily it was behind me, blowing me uphill. Squalls blew through, and soon I was being reminded of the difficult days I had experienced in April on the Cape Wrath Trail.
I took brief respite from the weather in a sheep-shearing shed at Ais-an t-Sithean before pressing on into the gale. I thought it was a sad reflection on the economy of farming that there were a large number of last year’s fleeces abandoned in the shed.
As the valley turned from a north-easterly direction to easterly the wind changed, now full in my face. The previous help it had been now was a serious hindrance, with gusts threatening to bowl me over. I jammed my sticks in the ground, bent over into the wind … and still felt myself being blown backwards. After an almighty struggle (although it was on a path that was in good condition) I got over the pass and started dropping down into Glen Lyon.
The path went close by an estate building with big signs warning people off – then mercifully, there was another sheering shed. Exhausted by my battle with the weather I gratefully went inside and found a chair, just inside the doorway! It was obviously destined for me to rest here!
I got out my stove and brewed up, using water spilling from a gutter off the roof. As I recovered I wrapped my storm shelter around me to keep the draughts off, and I managed to avoid getting chilled. Presently I dozed a little. Waking, I mused about staying there, out of the storm. For the next couple of days I had easy distances. I could afford to stop awhile to wait out the storm, and catch up later. I must have sat there for a couple of hours, dozing, waking and eating a little, dozing again. Every time I looked out of the doorway the rain was slamming down into puddles in the yard.
Eventually the rain eased to a drizzle, and the wind dropped. I started to pack up ready to go. Two other Challengers, David and Julie, arrived at the shed, also seeking shelter whilst they ate lunch. They did not seem to have had such a rough time on the pass as me, but had been knocked about earlier by the weather on the way up from Bridge of Orchy.
I set off down the loch. Despite my rest I was feeling battered and slow. It may have been raining hard, but the loch was very low.
There were some ‘interesting’ streams to cross, freshly in spate as a result of the morning of heavy rain. I wondered how long it would take for there to be some impression on the low level of the loch.
Eventually I got down to the dam and hydro buildings, looming out of the mist. By the time I got there the wind had dropped considerably, and the surface of the loch was like a mirror. How conditions can alter, in the space of a few short hours.
The roadway down from the dam to Lubreoch was very steep – and viciously eroded. Half-way down the hill a small white van went pelting past me – only to nearly sop a few yards further on when the tarmac all but disappeared and gaping potholes ate into both sides of the road. The perils of motoring on little-used mountain roadways!
From Pubil I followed the road eastwards through farmland, eventually making a difficult pitch (too much gravel under the turf) near a memorial to Robert Campbell a local man, who had emigrated and then done some significant exploring for the Hudson’s Bay Company in the mid-19th Century.
Tuesday 16th May 2017
This day was one of walking gently down the valley by way of little used roads and farm tracks.
There were quite a few things of interest, such as ancient shelters, (above) and the hydro scheme at Stronuich (below)
The Bridge of Balgie ran over a lovely stream, and suddenly seemed to bring me from mountain into tourist land.
A tea-shop at Bridge of Balgie was a brief delight, not least because if brought me into contact with other Challengers. However they were all heading north towards Rannoch, so I was soon on my own again. From Bridge of Balgie there was a lovely farm track to the south of the river. I was happily set in trundle mode as I covered the miles, looking for somewhere to pitch out of the wind.
Normally I would not go near a sheep fold, for fear of ticks, but I was fed up of the wind, and it didn’t look like it had been occupied much recently, so I chanced pitching in its shelter. A stream ran nearby, and I was tired. Decision made.
Wednesday 17th May 2017
Someone switched on the sun whilst I was asleep. I woke on Wednesday morning to a sky washed clear, a crystal early morning. I struck my Trailstar and put it to air on the wall of the sheep-fold, whilst I breakfasted in the open air.
Setting off with a spring in my step I soon got to the end of the farm track at Dericambus and found a lovely, unexpected picnic bench just before the bridge, where I had a second breakfast.
Joining the road it was obvious that this was farm country, with a fair amount of traffic, but with drivers happy to wave and smile. I had a chat with a farmer on a quad bike, who was familiar with the idea of Challengers passing through the area.
For a while I followed the river, in one place intrigued by ancient, gnarled trees, full of character and mystery. Definitely a place to be in full daylight, not passing through by torchlight on a misty night!
Not far from here I caught sight of a pheasant posing in the sun on a log.. Although he knew I was there he waited like a supermodel turning his head this way and that., while I snapped shot after shot till I got the one I was happy with.
I stopped beside the river for a long lunch break, brewing tea and enjoying the place. Just as I was starting to pack up someone began working close by with a chain saw. What a racket that made. So different from the peaceful atmosphere that had been there before.
Soon the road tucked itself in close to the hillside, and I saw a sight that filled me with amazement. I have mentioned the bluebells before. Here there were acres, and acres of bluebells, with the whole woodland seeming to glow purple, wherever I looked. I have never seen such numbers of flowers in one place. Stunning.
I hoped that I would find a tea-room, but this did not come to pass. The road walking was taking its toll on my legs, and I was getting a bit fed up, despite pretty countryside. I pushed on, looking forward to arriving at the farm where I had booked a real bed for the night. A shower was also high on my priorities. Wet-wipes can only go so far, and I was desperate to wash my hair.
Finally I arrived at Boreland and could not find anyone anywhere on the farm. There was a phone number on the sign by the door.
Wondering if I had a signal I switched my phone on and rang …. and discovered that the bunkhouse was currently’ unmanned’. I was given a door code, and eventually got it to work. Inside I found a lovely bunkhouse – but that the hot water was not working. I had a wash using water from the kettle, cooked a meal and even watched the telly for a little while. Seeing a weather forecast was a bonus. Unfortunately the parcel I had expected was no-where to be found. Luckily I had not eaten all my supplies from Bridge of Orchy, and had just enough to stretch out for the next day to get me into Aberfeldy.
I went to bed in a bed. Luxury!
Thursday 18th May 2017
I had a lot of choices about route to Aberfeldy. As it was quite warm when I set off, despite being early, I decided to go through the trees as much as possible, to get shade. I also did not feel like climbing too much. I chose a route parallel to the main A827. To begin with it was fabulous. A clear track through woodland, easy to follow, interesting wildlife and flowers everywhere.
At one point I heard the noisy chatter of a nest-full of baby birds. Seeking the location of the nest I scanned the trees and was rewarded with the sight of an owl swooping towards the noise, complete with a mouse drooping in its beak. I have never seen that before – and in daylight too. I never saw the nest: I reckon it was in a hollow in the tree, at the far side and facing away from me. At another point I came upon a group of deer, who scattered quickly at my approach.
Annoyingly, this fine trackway suddenly came to an end. Considering what to do, it was difficult to get off the track, because there were huge piles of logging debris. I had to backtrack about 50 meters before I could drop off the track, down the steep slope towards the road. It was a very steep slope, so I angled my way carefully across the slope, not wanting to slip and end up on the main road below. Without expecting it, as I picked my way carefully downhill I suddenly came on a level patch – and realised it was another roadway, half-way down to the road. Again I moved forwards, for a few hundred meters. Vegetation closed in, and I put on my wind shirt and gloves to protect hands and arms, despite the warm day. Working my way through the brush I eventually came out at the side of the road itself – and found myself just a short distance away from a car park and information centre.
Here I met a group of people preparing to go for an open-water swim in Loch Tay. They told me where to find footpaths to take me to the Mains of Taymouth and Kenmore. As I arrived there I passed a complex which had once been a fancy residence, which looked as if it had been converted into holiday lets – perhaps a time-share development. Rather up-market. Not really in keeping with one who has been wild-camping in the mountains for the better part of a week! Before I know it I was sitting in a lovely café with a pot of tea and eating cake. I felt really out of place, surrounded by conventional tourist families having fancy breakfasts,
The swimmers had made me aware of a nice riverside path to Aberfeldy, with a short stretch of road at Comrie bridge. I had a lovely morning. I discovered this monument buried in the woodland.
Later, following the riverside I found a fisherman’s shelter and stopped to brew up.
Sitting there and enjoying the river I was joined by David & Margaret, who soon pushed on after a short break, as they were aiming to get beyond Aberfeldy for the night.
Finally I stirred my stumps and took myself the final few miles to Aberfeldy and my hotel. The shower was hot and I found a fine pizza in the “Three Lemons”. What more could a girl need?
Friday 19th May 2017
My original plan had been to take Friday as a rest day in Aberfeldy, moving-on on Saturday via the Rob Roy way, heading towards Brechin then the coast.
By this point in the proceedings, I was heartily fed-up of my own company, and realised that although the countryside was very pretty it was not what I was looking for as a Challenge.
On Friday evening I had rung Challenge Control and told them I was going to head north, making for Tarfside and Northwater Bridge. The only real downside of this was that I would have to sacrifice my rest day.
Accordingly, I had a lazy morning, eating a hotel breakfast, then doing shopping and chores for the rest of the morning. Just after lunch I set off again, paralleling the main road to Grandtully on an old railway line …
… then taking the B898 to Balnamuir. I got there mid evening, and sought permission to camp on the riverside. Unfortunately this was not given, as the estate does not like camping on the river bank, but I was told I could go under the bridge and camp out of sight round the other side.
By going under the left-hand span of the bridge I found a very acceptable pitch just over into a field, fitting my Trailstar onto uncultivated ground just before the ploughed area.
Saturday 20th May 2017
Waking early I struck camp in the rain and quickly set off across the bridge. The old railway bridge has been adapted as a local estate road. The upper surface is decked in wooden planking. It is wide enough for one car.
I got away from the main road at Logierait and Ballinluig, climbing uphill steadily in the rain. I went through the grounds of Tulliemet house, checking with a farmer that I was on the right track.
The rain eased off during the morning, though showers kept running through all day. Following the track I soon went past Loch Oisinneach-Mor and Loch Oisinneach, and then over Creag Gharbh,
I then followed a marked path to Kirkmichael which took me east down to Dalvey rather than the route I had originally thought of north to the Mains of Glenderby then east. It was probably about the same distance in the long run, but was on a marked path….
Arriving in Kirkmichael I had a cup of tea in the shop/café and then looked for somewhere to stay. I was feeling soggy and tired and would have loved a bed, so went to various places suggested by the lady in the shop. However there was a cycle race in the area on the Sunday, and everywhere was booked fully. The Strathardle Hotel did let me camp in the field beside the hotel, and I had a very nice dinner there. When I eventually crawled into my sleeping bag I was both warm and tummy-full.
Sunday 21st May 2017
I had mistakenly expected the first part of the day to be fairly easy, but it proved to be difficult ground for me to walk on, over rough pasture and boggy ground. I took far longer getting from Kirkmichael to Lair than I would have expected, although it was a lovely route.
The pattern of stiles used locally is worth remembering. They are some of the nicest that I have ever encountered, not only because they have a hand rail, but also because there is room to stand securely on the top whilst turning around to descend.
Between Lair and Cray I had a halt beside the river where I brewed a cup of tea, then pushed onto Meikle Forter where I turned up Glen Isla. There is a lovely old castle house there.
The walk up Glen Isla was a bit of a trudge along the road, and I was not really looking forward to the climb when I got to Fergus. So many contour lines on the map, so close together!
The track proved to be in good condition, however, and the ascent was not too punishing.
My original plan had been to take the ridge path from Craig Lair as far as Tarmach Cairn then to drop down into Glen Prosen via the Glack of Balquhadder, camping at Kilbo ruin. As it turned out, I stopped much sooner than that. A huge squall loomed when I was halfway up to Craig Lair.
My instinct was to get under shelter – quickly. As I was in the open, but close to an open patch of ground, I speedily put up my Trailstar and hurried under cover as the first huge drops smashed into me. I had not had a chance to collect water, so could not make my evening meal while I waited out the storm, but at least I was out of the worst of the rain. The Trailstar has been a fabulous, reliable shelter for five years. That squall was the beating of it though, as the seam-sealant gave up against the pounding. Before long I was sitting mopping up leaks like I was in a shower! It was better than being outside though.
I spent time looking closely at my maps and decided to stay put where I was for the night. Tomorrow I would stay high on the ridge and head for Mayar (at 928m a Munro) then rejoin my planned route via the Kilbo path into Glen Doll then Gen Clova.
Monday 22nd May 20177
Rising early I soon climbed up to Craig Lair and onto the ridgeway track. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, loving the views, the terrain and the easy rhythm that walking took with a decent surface underfoot most of the time.
Getting to Tarmach Cairn I expected to have to start heather bashing as the map said the track would end there, but I discovered that the marked track been extended northwards. It was heading away towards Dun Hillocks when I left it to cut east to Mayar.
Before turning off towards Mayar I rested at an intriguing shelter build of stones and earth-banking.
Although not a ‘complete’ shelter with a roof, it was so warm that when I sat down inside, I did not need to put on extra clothing, as I would usually do, despite a stiff wind. I know it was the impact of the shelter, because the moment I stood up it was like I had been sliced into by a knife of ice!
The rain hit again whilst I was climbing to the summit of Mayar, and I did not linger. Hurrying away east was like following a motorway, as so many feet have stomped across the ground.
The visibility really closed in here, and it was only possible to see a few yards ahead. I kept a close eye on my compass and kept checking my location against GPS. Soon I realised that with a few steps I would be on the infamous Shank of Drumfallow section of the Kilbo path.
I have to be honest. I hated it. I am not very good with exposed pathways. Being exposed to a huge drop, in cloud that keeps shifting and showing the near-sheer drops of hundreds of feet is close to a nightmare. I kept going, kept going, kept going. Eventually the end was in sight. Unfortunately in my pleasure at getting off the goat track like path, I had forgotten how steep, and how long, the paths down through the woods would be, but eventually I got to the bottom. My poor knees were protesting loudly by this time.
Carelessness then hit me. I followed what I thought was the path, and found myself on the wrong side to the river! Having earlier seen a sign about bridges being washed out downstream I chanced crossing the river – and managed to do so with my boots on, as the recent drought meant it was really shallow despite the recent rain. Crossing the river left me stranded in the middle of farmland, with no obvious gate except into a farmyard. Cheekily I headed into the farmyard and out onto the road. Luckily no-one challenged me.
I called into the Ranger Station at the Glen Doll car park, and had a cup of tea while chatting to the warden. Then it was road-slogging down to The Glen Clova Hotel. Knowing what I was in for I plugged my i-pod into my ears, put on some up-beat music and set off down the valley. That straight stretch of road ALWAYS seems unending, but the relief of actually seeing the hotel is wonderful.
I was able to get a room in the bunkhouse, have a nice shower and an amazing meal in company with other Challengers, before my eyelids drooped completely.
Tuesday 23rd May 2017
Past experience has told me that the climb up past Loch Brandy to Green Hill(870m) just goes on, and on and on. There seem to be a whole rash of false summits. On the whole it really reinforces my view that I don’t like climbing big hills, but once up there, on the plateau I love it. I was lucky this time to end my climb in company with Geoff Cantrell and his friend (sorry I have forgotten your name yet again) and soon after to be joined by Mike Knipe and his son James. A rare mountain photo was taken of me on the top of Green Hill - rare because I am usually in the hills on my own.
Talking with other Challengers the night before I had expressed my loathing of the descent at Inchgrundle – a steep, loose route down with nothing to commend it. I had decided this time to press on and try to find a way through, following the ridgeway to Cairn Caidloch. On the map it looked straightforward. Do not turn with the path at East Cairn. Keep to a compass bearing. Find the ridge and go with it.
I was having great fun following the path – the regular cairns must have taken years of work in times gone by. White Hill and Muckle Cairn (826m) came and went, but at East Cairn my brain went on holiday. Why I do this I don’t know, but I decided to ‘follow the land’ and look for a route on the ground. Mistake. I should know better. Before I knew it I was embroiled in peat hags and then dropping height rapidly down into Glen Effock. That was NOT sensible. It is too steep to contour successfully, and I ended up having to climb the hill again. I re-established the ridge path just east of Burnt Hill, having spent far too much time and energy fossicking around.
From there I stuck religiously to the path, up Cairn Caidloch (647m)...
... and down the knee-punishing path to the farm at Gleneffock.
I have to go back and do this route again, to prove to myself that I can do it without making such a mess of my navigation.
Despite the dodgy bits, I had a wonderful day, and added to Monday’s ridge walk, the two days really were the high spot of this year’s Challenge.
Suffice to say that having come off the hill at Gleneffock farm I trooped down the road to St Drostans at Tarfside, and was mightily pleased to arrive in time for the last sitting for dinner amongst one of the most convivial atmospheres in the world. Being able to have a shower and stretch out my sleeping bag in the conference room, having had a swift one at the Masons Arms was the perfect end to a wonderful day.
Wednesday 24th May 2017
I left Tarfside fairly early, taking the road down the valley. Passing the green I saw Challengers packing up, and reflected that as my Trailstar had sprung a leak a couple of nights ago I was glad not to have had to sleep out last night.
There is little to say about the route finding from Tarfisde onwards. The way always seems to go on and on and on, but as motivating factors there is the 'Tuck Inn' in Edzell and the party atmosphere of the camp site at North Water Bridge.
I took a short break beside the river, filling up with water in my filter bottle, as it was getting hot.
Pushing on down the Rocks of Solitude I enjoyed the shade under the trees – and noticed just how low the water was here.
The Tuck Inn was a great success, as always. The staff are wonderful, and the fish and chips I had was so huge it could only be described as ‘Whale and Chips’.
A quick visit to the shop led to a huge shock when I saw the newspaper headlines telling the story of the Manchester Arena bombing. My heart sank. So many people I know go there. I hoped no-one we know had been involved. I thought back to all the people I know who had been involved when there was the bomb at The Arndale. For a while I got quite emotional – but then realised that if anything terrible had happened Ron would have found a way to get in touch with me.
That just left the last slog across country to NWB campsite. Once again I resorted to my i-pod, setting it on shuffle, and just bouncing along to the music. I was in a strange mood – happy, to be nearly at the end, yet sad, with another nearly over.
It is difficult to describe both the atmosphere and environment at NWB. Everyone crams in to the central grassy area, and the picnic tables become the centres of mini-parties. Tales are told, friendships deepen and the Challenger spirit abounds – along with humbler liquid spirits too. My abiding memory of our ‘party’ was when my Baby-bel cheese became the centre of attention. Someone had hear that it was possible to make a candle out of the wax from a Baby-bel. We decided to test it out. A piece of tissue was rolled into a wick and then the wax moulded around the wick. A suitable stone was found to sit the candle on, and then with due ceremony it was lit.
It quickly became apparent that this was no idle party trick, that this was a serious candle, and timing of the burn continued in earnest.
In the end our Baby-bel candle burned for 18 minutes.
It was wondered if having a thinner wick would have led to a slower burn – but we could not find another Baby-bel to test the theory.
Thursday 25th May 2017
Last year I had discovered a nice walk through woodland between Crago and Hillside, so I had decided to do it again. I had also been told about a garden centre which did lovely scones, and had plans to find this place. With that in mind I struck camp for the last time. There is always a bitter-sweet emotion about that final packing up.
Not a lot can be said about the trudge through North Water Bridge and Mains of Gallery to Broomley. Reaching the main road I followed the footpath down to North Craigo and stopped briefly on the bench beside the war memorial. Pushing on, I was prepared for a short road walk from the end of the footpath at the last house, to the start of the roadway through the woods. Then I noticed – possibly because of a newly fallen tree which had cleared the view into the woods, that there was a slim path down the narrow strip of trees edging the road.
Delightedly I left the road, for although traffic there was not heavy, it was still too dominant a factor to relax. Under the trees was lovely. This slim corridor led down to a farm road. I stepped out onto the main road, around a wall beside the road and followed straight on down the roadway I had been aiming for. I think it must have been the old road, which has now been by-passed by the current loop of road which goes around the outside of Hillside.
Musing whilst I walked, I soon found myself in Hillside, where the Post Office turned out to be the source of great treasure: a chilled bottle of Sprite from the refrigerator. Crossing the main road and following JJ’s instructions I wended my way to the scones emporium, Charleton Fruit Farm. From the number of Challengers passing through, this place is a highlight on many routes to the coast!
Making a slight pig of myself I had a pot of tea, a bowl of asparagus soup with a cheese roll AND a scone with cream and jam. I figured that I had worked hard over the last fortnight and could afford a bit of a nosh!
Fortified, I checked the route to take to the beach and set off on the last lap to the water. That last mile seemed to take for ever, but finally I made it through the dunes to the beach at Kinaber Links and out to the water. For once it was a lovely day to be on a beach. I dipped my toes and took a number of photos. I was just turning to go when another Challenger, Mark, turned up. He kindly took a picture of me.
Having quickly rung home to say I had finished, all that remained was to find my way into Montrose itself to sign in at Challenge Control. Once I had received my finisher’s T-shirt I was off to Boots to buy nail varnish to match my Challenge T-shirt, to paint fingers and toes for the bun-fight that evening, then settled into my hotel room for a wallow in the bath. The Challenge was over for 2017.