Monday, 9 June 2014

TGO Challenge 2014 Day 4: A Very Good Death

Monday 12 May 9 hours 5 mins, 28km, 1048 metres climbed
Weather: Lovely for most of the day, then very soggy

Day 4 Route: The First Bit
Day 4 Route: The Second Bit
I had an embarrassing time in the splendid Booth’s Supermarket in Penrith the other day.  I had popped in to replenish my stocks of Primula Cheese.  I seem to be getting through several tubes a week of the stuff these days.  Anyway, at the checkout I was accosted by a whole bunch of shoppers, clamouring to know when the next instalment of my TGOC 2014 adventures would appear on the blog.  I apologised for the delay, explaining that I had been quite busy, but this didn’t placate them and I feared that there was a real danger the situation would turn ugly. Fortunately, the lovely girl on the till distracted the crowd with details of the store’s new improved loyalty card (a free drink in the café daily, irrespective of whether you buy any groceries, other supermarket loyalty cards exist but, yes, they really are inferior) and I was able to make my escape, lock the car doors and race out of town, keeping below the speed limit at all times, of course.

Actually, I need to confess that nobody actually mentioned my blog to me, but it was obvious when standing in the exceptionally short queue for the till (I have a theory that if I praise Booth’s enough they will let me have a free ‘trolley dash’) that this is what my fellow shoppers were thinking.  Thus, I resolved to set aside the writing of my MA dissertation and get the next instalments of my Challenge story written.  Well after walking hyperdog up Arthur’s Pike and Loadpot Hill, obviously.  And Branstree and Selside Pike. And doing the hoovering.

So after that bit of scene setting, which was designed to send all those who want to read tales of long macho days and big hills, accompanied by high quality mountain photography, off to peruse (good word that) better and more serious blogs, here is my account of Day 4.

Splendid Companions: The lovely Hugh and Barbara

Bloke wearing grey, with a jaunty flash of yellow

It was a very enjoyable, day but with a slight sense of disappointment, as will become apparent.  I took the trade route from Fort Aggy over the Corrieyairack Pass. My route plan had me camping at Melgarve Bothy, but in the end I went on to Garva Bridge.  I was fortunate enough to be able to walk all day with the wonderful Hugh and Barbara again, which made for a most enjoyable few hours.

I had never been over this pass before. The disappointment was the ugly line of pylons that we followed all day, together with the even newer pylons that are currently being built, with the accompanying new track, and the massive yellow trucks that crawled up and down on this construction work.  Another great engineering feat, but another nail in the coffin of Scotland’s wild landscape. Whilst our track was parallel to the new one it was still wide and well surfaced, making for very easy walking underfoot and so led to the inevitable mixed feelings.

Not Very Wild: Just waiting for a top layer of tarmac?

As we started up the pass we were passed by Chris Leach, walking with Chris Wittig who was a representative of the Challenge sponsor, Earwig, the German boot manufacturer. Earwig Chris, a thoroughly nice chap incidentally, seems to spend his Spring and Summer doing events like the Challenge all over Europe and the States.  Nice work if you can get it.  They soon raced off, and we pootled along happily at our more dignified pace.  Hugh had announced at the bottom of the pass that we would have elevenses at the Blackburn Bothy and, blow me, if we didn’t walk through the door just as Big Ben chimed eleven times.

Blackburn Bothy

This is about as far as you get from those pylons
Later we were passed by two Dutch guys, who I was later to learn were Sybren and Ronald.  They steamed passed us, but we caught them up at lunchtime and our paths were then to cross off and on for the next few days.  Lunch was in the shelter of the old hut at the top of the pass.  I tucked into my staple, wraps and Primula, with gusto.  Sybren and Ronald had just finished cooking a three course delicacy of some sort when we arrived, displaying yet again just how cool Dutchmen appear to be.  It was slightly surreal sitting down at this altitude for a break whilst workmen sat eating their sandwiches in the cabs of their big trucks just a few yards away.

Getting near the top of the pass
I had not walked the Corrieyairack before.  There was a lot of up, but the gradient was pretty gentle and the section down to Melgarve, whilst a little steeper at first has, I was told by Hugh and Barbara, been much improved and so the walking is very straightforward. Hugh and Barbara were heading to Garva Bridge so I continued with them adding another 6km of road walking to my planned route, but this would mean 6 km less of roads the following day. Melgarve also looked a fairly inhospitable spot and it was just starting to rain when we passed the Bothy. It then hammered down for the next few hours so we just got our heads down, got to the bridge, got* the tents up in the wet and cooked and ate in our tents. Finally, some evening sunshine appeared, and Challengers emerged from their tents to share a few slugs of Scotch before bed. I drifted off to sleep, fascinated by the sight of two dead flying ants on the inner of my tent.  They had, apparently, died in a moment of ant ecstasy, still joined in loving union, unthinkingly squashed as I had packed up the tent thirty six hours previously.  They reminded me of the photographs of the victims of Pompeii, who were fossilised in their moment of death, only to be gawped at by strangers long after the tragedy had occurred. Is it too obvious, though, to point out that the these ants had what is known in the medical profession as "a very good death"?

(* that's three "gots" in one sentence. Pull your socks up or go and collect your cards. Ed.)

Garva Bridge: It had just stopped heaving it down when I took this photo


  1. "..a very good death"
    I prayed for one of those on quite a few days when Mr Walker was just a dot on a distant hilltop and the sun was burning down on my bonce. Lord Elpus refused point blank to dispatch me with a sharpened walking pole muttering something about not being in the mood for digging bloody big holes.

  2. His Lordship is going soft. I wouldn't dream of stopping to bury a walking companion I had just butchered. Leave 'em for the crows I say. I want to hear about your hurty knee. I only learnt of this the other day. Do you think you weakened it in the heather near Sale Beck?

    1. Surprisingly, my knee survived an almost full immersion in the suppurating remains of a sheep. It survived the first of the unexpected gorge scrambles. It was not however, third time lucky when shimmying up a crack in the second unexpected gorge choked with boulders the size of houses. It took a very nasty knock.
      Was there sympathy? Was there heck.
      I carried that knee, I did, for the rest of the Challenge.
      I don't recall moaning about too much though.

      I'm sure the Rufty Tufty Sale Beck Heather Experience toughened everything up. Only wimps and laggards complain about Heather Bashing.

    2. "I don't recall moaning about too much though."

      Let's wait to hear Mr Walker's version of that, shall we, before we make a judgement? Although I freely admit that if I hurt my knee or anything else I would whinge constantly for months.

  3. It was a terrible and tragic accident Al's knee.
    But for an act of God, he could have fallen 1000's of feet.
    Well, that and the fact that he was only 3' off the ground.
    Actually Melgarve bothy is OK, but the unsightly views that are the scar of the Pylons and access road are another Scottish Industrialisation horror. (Rant over)

    I shall start to write mine up soon. Probably. I am being tardy this year.
    But I have done videos with live music in my defence.

    1. Ah yes, your taste in music. Far too sophisticated for me. I'm more a Showaddywaddy or Shaking Stevens type myself. They were true rock gods, they were.

  4. Al has a hurty knee? I had no idea, bless him, hadn't heard a thing about it, he never said.
    Barbara and Hugh are wonderful company, I spent the best part of two days with them on my first Challenge.
    Melgarve was a haven on an horrendous day on said Challenge. There were eleven of us in that bothy that night and at least five more outside. It was beyond wet. We had a roaring fire and good company that night and I had a mobile signal when I hung out of the upstairs window!

    1. I understand that Al didn't mention his hurty knee until Andrew had his knee operation and then Al got all jealous that Andy was getting lots of sympathy so he let the cat out of the bag, so to speak.

      What does "beyond wet" mean? Can things be wetter than wet? I shouldn't have asked that. Martin Rye will be along later and say that Paramo can be.

  5. Oh, trust me. 2011 was wet beyond your wildest nightmares, wetter than a wet thing. As luck would have it, I was not wearing Paramo on my first Challenge, I was in Montane and I was wet between my Quattro hard shell and my Dynamo soft shell. I was fine when walking but cold when I stopped. I've since got my Paramo (as you know) and I love it, even when it does occasionally get wet, I'm still warm! Each to their own, however.
    Alan had a sore knee you say?

    1. I wore my Paramo the other day in the Lakes, Louise, as it was a bit drizzly when I set off. Within 30 minutes of going upwards the sun came out and I was hotter than a hot thing for the next three hours. I then had a brainwave and took off my jacket and carried it. Couldn't do the same with the trousers without fear of arrest. I NEVER seem to be able to choose the right time to wear it.

    2. So true!
      I will be making a return to Berghaus Ortler trousers and Paclites instead of the Paramo Quito trousers next time, they didn't work for me. My Paramo Velez is my best friend.

  6. I think my trousers are Velez as well as my smock. Never been tested in very bad conditions, though. And there is nowt wrong with Paclite. It is much maligned but works for me.