Monday 30 June 2014

TGO Challenge 2014 Day 11: A Bacon Butty of a Day

Distance 19 km, height climbed 305 metres, 5 hours 35 minutes. Weather cloudy at first but turning out nice again.

Day 11 Route: Part 1

Day 11 Route: Part 2

Heading away from the Shielin of Mark

 I made a reasonably prompt start in the morning, the plan being to head up Muckle Cairn and then to arrive at Tarfside whilst the bacon butty stocks were still high. John Sanderson was also heading to Tarfside, but he was first going to walk over several kilometres of heather and bog and up Mount Keen. We set off at the same time, with me jokingly saying that it wouldn’t surprise me if he arrived at Tarfside first.  I forded the stream at the bothy, and then turned round to wave to John. In the time it had taken me to get across a 3 metre wide stream he was a mere speck in the distance, striding out across the heather and vaulting peat hags, showing that his experience of walking the Pennine Way whilst barely out of nappies had stood him in good stead.

Looking back to the Shielin of Mark bothy (top left) from the slopes of Muckle Cairn. For the camera geeks, I took this using the zoom on my Kodak Instamatic Box Brownie

I walked, or rather stumbled, at a more leisurely pace across the boggy ground by the stream, through the modest peat hags at the foot of Muckle Cairn, and then tripped my way up hill through the heather, distracted by the mountain hares, which were leaping around as madly as if it were still March.

I had asked Ian Sommerville on the previous evening what “muckle” meant, Ian being a Scot and so is someone who knows this sort of stuff.  It means 'many' or 'large', apparently. Well, all I can say is that there is only one cairn at the top of this particular hill and it isn’t very muckle.  Indeed, it is one of the most pathetic cairns I have seen in muckle a year.
The not so Muckle Cairn, dwarfed by my ULA Catalyst pack

A track begins soon after the summit, and as I descended Richard caught me up, fuelled by his breakfast of sausages. I was sure I could still smell them as we walked down the hill. I salivated at the prospect of the bacon rolls waiting at Tarfside…. Richard then proceeded to make matters worse by telling me of his culinary techniques, the spices he carried to liven up his steaks and other fine food that he had with him. He also alerted me to the dangers of spreading a breakfast oatcake whilst holding a tube of Primula in one hand and toothpaste in the other.
Glen Lee in the murk
Richard pressed on alone, but Ian Sommerville arrived soon after, so I broke into a trot, and thus had another fine companion along Glen Lee and then over the small hill to Tarfside. The clouds dipsappeared, and we walked the last few kilometres in lovely afternoon sunshine.  As you arrive at the lane in Tarfside there is a five bar gate. Ian went through, and I turned to fasten it shut. There, 10 metres back along the track was John Sanderson. If my lunch stop had been 30 seconds longer he would, indeed, have beaten me to Tarfside despite walking far further, climbing higher and having taken a rougher path. It is not a race, but shades of inadequacy would have enveloped me, except for the fact that it was good to see him.
Team Tarfside. That's Keith in the centre starting on the gin. He's still laughing at how he almost emptied my hip flask on the first evening
We went straight to St Drostan’s Hostel, and hit the mugs of tea and bacon butties before bagging the best spots on the sports field and lazed in the sun, awaiting the opening of the Mason’s Arms and our evening meal back at the hostel. John and I had both at this stage of the Challenge run out of the excellent Gehwol foot cream. No matter. We used an old trick learnt in my military days ie the School Combined Cadet Force (CCF). When we used to go on CCF 'Arduous Training'  weeks, and get foot sore from long days in the hills in poorly fitting, leaking boots we used to rub our feet with processed cheese, which was always available in our '24 Hour Ration Packs'. The fat content both protects and moisturises, so it was out with that most versatile item carried in our rucksacks, the tube of Primula.  The very best flavour for feet, I have found, is Primula with Chives, as the chives have a cleansing and deodorant effect, but unfortunately, I only had plain. Still, it worked a treat and then it was off for nosh and beer and the good company of those already named, and the later arrivals such as Gordon Green and Alan Kay who added to the enjoyment of the evening.

Cheaper than Gewhol and almost as effective

Tarfside Sports Field. Note Ian Sommerville in the background easing his feet with some borrowed Primula. You can't do that with real Cheddar, Ian.

Friday 20 June 2014

TGO Challenge Day 10: Masterchef at the Hard Rock Cafe

29 kilometres walked, 1036 metres climbed 8 hours
Weather: Fair to middling to very pleasant

Day 10 Route: Part 1

I had arranged to depart with Ian Sommerville for today’s walk, and we set off out of Braemar as soon as we were able to get through breakfasts at our respective B and Bs. It is absolutely untrue to suggest that we took a slightly wrong turn soon after, and started to head up Creag Choinnich by accident rather than taking the direct path to the Lion’s Face. Oh no. We both had an instinctive feeling that if we took that path we would meet Martin Banfield coming down and could walk back with him for a while and, do you know, that’s exactly what happened. In any case, walking directly to the Lion’s Face from Braemar is so over rated.

The three of us then headed off through the Balmoral Estate. Despite the fact that I was jogging to keep up with Ian and Martin, we were still overhauled by John Sanderson and the Chuckle Brothers, Dave and Graham, just as we were returning from our exploration of a very nice small path that had not, strictly speaking, been on our route plan. But as I always say, it is important not to be a slave to the route plan. 

We stopped at Connachat Cottage for a break, as this is where our routes diverged.  Martin, Dave and Graham were heading for Ballater; John, Ian and I to Gelder Shiel, then on to the Spittal of Glenmuick and the Shielin of Mark. Dave Wishart looked wistfully at us as we stood up to go.  I think his words were:

“I shall forget, to have thee still stand there, remembering how I love thy company”.  He said this in a Geordie accent, obviously.  I replied on all our behalves “and I’ll still stay, to have thee still forget, forgetting any other home but this”. Now Graham, overcome with it all, added “I would have thee gone, and yet no further than a wanton’s bird, that lets it hop a little from his hand”.  Parting is indeed such sweet sorrow, as an old Elizabethan poet and playwright might once have said.

Well this wasn’t getting us anywhere, so with tears in all our eyes through the emotion of it all, and with white handkerchiefs fluttering a symbolic good bye, the three of us headed onwards and slightly upwards.
Seb Coe and Steve Ovett

We then proceeded to walk quite a long way. I say “walk”. What I mean is John and Ian walked; I ran at my top speed and managed generally to keep up with them. We by-passed Gelder Shiel and had lunch soon after. Ian produced some very fine extra mature Cheddar from a small dairy on the Isle of Mull. I out did him with my tube of Primula with Ham. He looked longingly at it but I pointed out that he had the chance to buy his own  in Braemar, but had not done so, and that he could go whistle.  It is dangerous to get between a man and his Primula.
Lochnagar in clag

Day 10 Route: Part 2

The sun appeared as we started down towards the Spittal of Glen Muick. I have always been fascinated by geology and, being interested in the rock formations on the path, I decided to have a closer look.  Despite the cheese rage incident at lunchtime, Ian was very kind and got his first aid kit out, and helped me clean the blood off my head afterwards, and after a bit of a sit down for the old crock to recover we got ourselves to the Spittal, and the drinks machine in the Visitor Centre without further mishap.  
Towards the Spittal of Glenmuick
 All that was left of the walking was to follow the Allt Darrarie up to near the Shielin. I had read that navigation can be tricky at the top. Well, I have to admit that it was a nice clear day, but it did seem to be a piece of piss to find the bothy, it being hand railed by streams for all but a few metres.  No doubt if I ever go again I will get hideously lost.

The Allt Darrarie

After we got our tents up we were joined by other Challengers – Mervyn, Alan Rayner and JJ, and also by Richard. As this blog hasn’t got an 18 rating I cannot repeat almost anything that Richard had to say.  Suffice to say, that although the letter “e” is the most frequently used in the English language, Richard is a Scot and a soldier, and the letter he uses most is “f”.  I did learn that the correct name for the grassy tussocks that can make your sleep so uncomfortable on wild camps is “babies' heeds”.  More accurately, “f…ing babies’ heeds”. Hills are "cheeky" or " cheeky" depending on their degree of steepness.   Richard proceeded to pitch his Scarp just upwind of the rest of us, as he was going to fry steak for dinner and sausages for breakfast, and he wanted to make sure we could all smell it. That’s what I call thoughtful.

Camping on small babies' heeds at the Shielin of Mark

Most of us cooked in the bothy that evening. Ian knows a thing or two about food and even has a food blog in which he writes about it.  He watched with a kind of transfixed horror as I ate my commercial dehydrated meal out of the bag and later I made up some instant custard in a plastic food bag to save washing up. Alan, who has forgotten more about bag cookery than I will ever know, then proceeded to pour hot water into an Alkosac to rehydrate his meal. Poor Ian came close to hyperventilating at this point, but I suspect it will not be long before he, too, is downing tubes of Primula and eating Oats so Simple from a Tesco sandwich bag. It certainly saves on the Fairy Liquid

It had been a long day. I had fallen and bumped my poor head. But the company had been superb. Thanks guys.

Tuesday 17 June 2014

TGO Challenge Day 9: New Depths of Depravity

Saturday 17 May: 8.1 kilometres walked, 187 metres climbed. 2 hours 30 minutes

Weather: Fair

Packing up at Mar Lodge

Route Day 9

It being a very short day into Braemar, I  made a leisurely start, having several brews in my tent and on the lawn before the off, whilst John Sanderson had another flier, heading off like Roger Bannister on speed about 30 minutes or so before me.

I left other Challengers on the lawn, also packing away in a leisurely fashion in these majestic surroundings, crossed Victoria Bridge and set off along the road.  To my surprise, as I approached the place where the track leaves the road to climb through the forest to the small hill and viewpoint of Tomintoul, who should I see but Johnboy standing by the gate.
Marion and Graeme, David and Margaret
 “Hi”, says Johnboy, “you going up to the viewpoint?”

“I am indeedy. Thought you’d be in Braemar by now”, says I.

“Nah. I have just done a nice little circular route in the forest”, he replied. “Very pleasant.  Very pleasant indeed. Just what I needed, a circular walk back to the road. Very pleasant. You got a GPS with you?”

“I have indeedy”.

“Good. Get it out would you. I’ll follow”.

Now I couldn’t for the life of me make out what this was all about, but I did as I was asked and we had a lovely walk up through the wood, then across to Tomintoul and down to the fleshpot that is Braemar in Challenge week.

 John and I were out of whisky. We both had nalgene hip flasks from Backpacking Light which held about half a bottle. We decided to go into partnership to replenish. There was a mild disagreement about what should go in it.  John wanted a very nice, but expensive, malt.  I was worried that Keith might be in Braemar and might get hold of my flask again, so I was all for a bottle of some blended stuff that was on sale for £6.49 a bottle.  We eventually split the difference and went for Famous Grouse. It was now about 10.30 in the morning. We stood on the pavement outside the offy, decanting our purchase into our hip flasks. We discovered that they held less than half a bottle each. What could two men such as us do? We stood on the pavement slugging back the remaining contents of the bottle, watched by some elderly ladies who, to their credit, were giggling rather than tutting. I took the bottle back into the shop to ask the chap behind the counter to recycle it. He agreed, then pointed out that there was still some left.  He unscrewed the top and polished it off.

John at Tomintoul, just before he heard I wasn't prepared to slash out on malt whisky
It was then what is for many a typical Braemar day.  Pigging out in the Old Bakery on bacon rolls or all day breakfasts and free tea.  Popping in and out of the Fife Arms.  Chatting to fellow Challengers.  Sorting out in the B and B.  Generally enjoying life.

A group of us agreed to eat in the quite refined surroundings of the bistro called The Gathering Place. The food was pretty good.  So was the company – Hugh, Barbara, Ian and three or four others (sorry about the lack of names). I sat next to someone who shall have to remain nameless. For the purpose of what follows I shall call him Fred. Someone mentioned ticks and Lyme’s Disease. Fred listened attentively and with concern. "What do they look like?”, he wanted to know. Suddenly he rolled his trouser leg up and examined it closely. Then he let out a yelp. “Tick”, I’ve got a tick on my leg”, he shouted at the top of his voice. He levered his bare leg up onto the table between the wine glasses and plates. “I’m going to get Lyme’s Disease”, he yelled. “Get it out someone, get it out”. Other diners shuffled. I muttered. Fred carried on in this way for a few more minutes. Ian Somerville finally silenced him with the following statement, which perfectly demonstrated the sympathy of Challengers to their fellow men. “It’s ok, Fred. I know about these things. The worst symptoms of Lyme’s Disease take 20 years to develop. So at your age you’ll be dead long before then”.  Nice one Ian.

It was a super meal. We popped over to the Fife Arms later. Regrettably I only managed the briefest of chats with Alan, Andy, Phil, Croydon, Louise, Laura, and Mike Knipe and didn’t see Vicky and Toby Grace at all.  I should have stayed longer, but I just couldn’t take the heady pace, especially as there appeared to be a large lady pole dancer being projected on to the big screens above the bar. So I went back to my B and B to get shut eye. Long day tomorrow!

Looking down to the Dee Valley from Tomintoul

Monday 16 June 2014

TGO Challenge 2014 Day 8: Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll

Friday 16 May, Distance: 28 kilometres. Height climbed: 512 metres. 7 hours 45 minutes.

Weather: Fair in the morning; bright sunshine in the afternoon

Day 8: Route

Ok.  Before we go any further I have to confess. The above title is salacious trickery and has nothing to do with this post. As far as I was concerned there was an almost complete absence of the above on the Challenge, although I know that a few paracetamol were consumed, and some Challengers did use Compeed quite a bit, but that's hardly a Class A substance. However, I have a theory that my blog posts get far more hits if I use a title that suggests it is something other than an account of a walk across Scotland. Thus, I am now carrying out some empirical research and will try to gauge the impact of the title on the numbers of hits.   Look, I know I should be able to pull in readers by the quality of my writing, the intricacy of the plot, the appropriate use of the apostrophe, and the strength of the characterisation, but it just doesn't do it folks. So if smutty headlines work, expect to see my future inspiration coming from the Daily Star.

Actually, I did start the day with drugs, but of the prescription variety. I have been suffering for a while now with twinges in my right shoulder caused by osteo-arthritis and the doctor has prescribed some medication which, unfortunately, can make you want to throw up. The plan today was to walk with Dave Wishart over to Mar Lodge. We had arranged to set off at 8.00 am. I was ready a good few minutes before this. So I explained to Dave that I would wander off slowly, what with me feeling rough, and he would catch me up.  A kilometre or so up the glen I was overhauled by Graham Weaver who had come from the bothy. I introduced myself. He introduced himself. I then proceeded to chunder.  Loudly. It’s not how people greet each other in polite society but hey ho. Graham was clearly embarrassed, assuming that it was his horribly bright orange jacket that was to blame, and then politely pretended he hadn’t noticed and kindly slowed his pace to mine ie rather slower than the proverbial snail.

Graham Weaver at the Pony Hut: The only Challenger with a louder jacket than Andrew Walker

The Eidart Bridge - look closely and you will notice Graham is crossing the bridge

So it was off and up to the Pony Hut, more up, then across the Eidart Bridge and then over the watershed. Just after the bridge we were caught up by John Sanderson and Dave and we walked on. Well they walked. I was jogging at their heels to keep up, but feeling better by the minute. The scenery was fab, the weather was getting fabber, the entertainment value of my three companions was fabbier still. I seemed to recall quite a bit of laughter on this stretch of the walk, and not all at my expense.  We lunched at the ruined building by the Geldie Ford, wolfing down Primula and the last of my wraps, in the knowledge that tomorrow we would hit Braemar and could replenish our stocks

I can't remember what had been said but I literally fell backwards with laughter at this point. Look carefully and you will see Graham Weaver on the left of the picture in his rather quiet jacket

The walk from the Geldie to the Linn of Dee seemed shorter than last year. That’s because I had earlier kept reminding myself that it was a lot further than those OS guys made it look.  Half way along and we were clearly going to be at Mar Lodge quite early, so I stopped running to keep up with the other three, and sat down for a snack and a nice ‘shoes off’ sunbathe in a lovely little sheltered spot. The others strolled off, effortlessly it seemed, covering the ground rather faster than Usain Bolt could manage on a good day, or so it seemed to me.

There are two jokers in every pack: Graham Weaver and Dave Wishart aka The Chuckle Brothers

Looking back towards the Geldie from near the Linn of Dee

At the Linn of Dee
Mar Lodge. It was now warm and sunny. Rebecca from the NTS did a booze run for us, taking our money and alcohol orders down to Braemar. And amazingly she came back too! The lawn in the walled garden rapidly filled up with Challengers.  An idyllic spot to camp.  John Sanderson asked to ‘borrow’ the last of my Primula. He had noticed some of the seam sealant had peeled off his Trail Star and I watched, fascinated, as he smeared a small amount of Primula over the affected seams as a temporary repair. Apparently, the fat content of Primula is highly water repellent, as he had learnt whilst on a climbing expedition to Patagonia, when it had been used successfully as an emollient to protect hands in the ice cold streams flowing from melting glaciers.  Old friends appeared – Ian Sommerville, the Brocklehursts and the Dunsires from last year; Hugh and Barbara from earlier in the week.

Nice bit of turf that
Some of us had booked for the Mar Lodge meal, at a tenner a head. We tucked in to venison casserole and fruit crumble in the kitchen at trestle tables.  Last year we had eaten on a highly polished table in an oak panelled dining room, surrounded by the Duke of Fife’s butchered stag heads. The food tasted just as good.  The numbers who could have the meal were limited. Those who couldn’t get a place were told they could have any left overs. I had three helpings in a valiant attempt to make sure that those who hadn’t paid didn’t get a freebie at my expense, but it was to no avail.  There were pans full of the stuff left, and when we finally retired to the Gun Room to finish off the booze, the others were all there already, licking their lips and smirking in a smug, self-satisfied sort of way. Cats and cream came to mind. I was very late to bed – it was after 9.00pm when my head hit the Exped inflatable pillow.

These foolish folk (me included) paid for our meal

Sunday 15 June 2014

A Clarification

Virgil Tracy.jpg
Virgil Tracy

I feel that it is necessary to issue a clarification regarding my recent public apology on this blog.

After issuing the apology, I was contacted by a reader who is a great fan of the 1960's classic televison programme called 'Thunderbirds'.   This reader has taken great offence at a comment I made.  I feel that there has been a misunderstanding, and that a clarification is necessary.

The reader in question has stated that Virgil Tracy, despite being extremely well educated, "is a happening sort of guy" who would never speak in Latin, as that would be at odds with the image of the astronaut in charge of the space rocket that is Thunderbird 3. Nor would it, apparently, be in keeping with a thrusting and modern international rescue organisation.

I have no hesitation in apologising for the confusion caused.  I was, of course, quoting from  the writings of Publius Vergilius Maro (70 BC –  19 BC), otherwise known as "Virgil", who was a well known poet in the days of Ancient Rome, when it was not very ancient.  He is not to be confused with Virgil Tracy who, along with his brothers Scott and Jeff,  appeared in all thirty two episodes of Gerry Anderson's supermarionation.

Publius Vergilius Maro (Virgil)