|On St Cyrus beach|
As I walk along the streets of Penrith, or the lanes of NE Wales, I am often stopped by strangers with the question “Mr Fellbound, do tell us what the Challenge means to you. Share with us. Do”.
It seems presumptuous of me, a mere two times Challenger to give my views and reflections. Actually, I do not believe what I have just written. It is not at all presumptuous. It’s just that these are based on my limited involvement in this great event. So they are the views of someone who has limited involvement in this great event. Ok?
Without a doubt the vast majority of Challengers are lovely people. Of course you meet some absolute ars*holes, and I am sure that some Challengers will think I am one of these, but we ars*holes are few and far between. It is not just the friendliness of the Challengers that you meet. Or the many acts of kindness you see or benefit from. It’s also their inspirational determination. You constantly observe, or learn by chance, of superb feats they have achieved. Ultra long distance walks such as Lands End to John of Groats, the GR11, the National Trails and so on. Overcoming serious illness. Climbing high mountains in far off places. Long Challenge days ticking off large numbers of Munros, whilst I struggle along in the glens. Walking for three days with the sole coming off their boot. Walking for the best part of a couple of weeks with blisters or a hurty knee or similar. Of my thirteen days of walking this year I only had two days where I walked completely on my own. On all other occasions I had wonderful companions. You know who you, are so thanks.
For the second time I took a lowish level route. What some would regard as merely a lengthy stroll was still, to me, a Challenge. And that is what matters. Each to his or her own. So whilst I sometimes feel I should have planned some tougher, longer days, I was happy with my route. There was, though, one massive, prolonged disappointment that I had partly anticipated from my route planning, but which was far worse in reality. My route from Torgyle Bridge to Garva Bridge was absolutely blighted by the impact of industrial scale development in the most unsuitable of landscapes. For two days I followed massive, bulldozed tracks, with enormous lines of new and old pylons all around me. And on every horizon around Fort Augustus there seemed to be wind farms. So the walking in these places was easy on the feet, but not easy on the eye. I silently fumed throughout these days, my emotions oscillating between sadness and anger.
Best day? I know it was short and easy, but walking alone along General Wade’s Road from Phones to Kingussie in lovely sunshine. Absolutely gorgeous
|I have no pretensions of being a photographer but I was very pleased with this picture of the early morning at Garva Bridge, captured on my Kodak Box Brownie Instamatic|
My Food and Drink
Best tasting meal? The Gathering Place Bistro in Braemar. Worst meal? A Mountain House Chilli Con Carne. Nicest coffee and cake? That café on the A889 between Laggan and Catlodge. Most expensive coffee and cake? That café on the A889 between Laggan and Catlodge. Best whisky? That’s a close one. Toss up between the malts Hugh Emsley and John Sanderson were carrying – and I can’t remember the names of either. Best pudding? Birds instant custard made in a plastic food bag at the Shielin of Mark bothy. Luxury food item? Tube of Carnation condensed milk. Most versatile foodstuff? Primula Cheese Spread.
My pack was about 13kg with 3 days food. For many that is very heavy. This is partly because of a number of deliberate choices.
Tent: So glad I took the Scarp 1. It’s just brilliant, and I don’t care that there are lighter shelters about. Headroom is excellent and it is nice and airy, and those long corner struts keep the fabric well away from your face at night.
Pack: The ULA Catalyst pack is far too large according to many. I don’t care about that either. Its hip belt sits on my hips, and I’ve not yet come across another rucksack so good for someone who is 6 foot 3 inches.
Sleeping bag: Rab Neutrino Endurance 400. When will I get it into my thick skull when buying sleeping bags that manufacturer’s comfort ratings are a joke for someone who sleeps as cold as I do? I reckon they are at least 5 degrees too optimistic. This bag should be ok to freezing point. So why was I so cold when it got down to one or two degrees even wearing a hat, PHD down jacket, fleece top, trousers and socks in the bag? It’s not even light at over 900 grams. I was cold most nights.
Sleeping mat: Neoair X Lite large size mat. This has now done two Challenges and a number of other overnights. Great. And it didn’t go down. As I keep saying, the large size is wider and far more comfortable than the regular size.
Footwear: Inov8 Terroc 330s, new style, with the insoles they came with. Absolutely fine, and they drain and dry well despite some of the gloom mongers' prophecies when the upper fabric was changed this year. X socks. Brilliant too. Mind you I wouldn’t wish the smell on anyone after a day in wet peat.
That’s enough about gear.
|Early morning brew: bliss|
And to conclude:
So will I apply to do the Challenge again in 2015? I’m not certain. For me, between getting a place in November and setting off in May it becomes all pervasive, dominates much of my thinking and possibly intrudes too much into real life. I am sure I must bore my ever supportive wife silly in talking about it. I can’t really explain this notion properly or even articulate why this pervasiveness is a problem. Nor is the Challenge cheap – the way I do it. Fares, dehydrated food, new bits of gear, 3 or 4 nights in B and Bs, 4 or 5 meals out, pub visits. Yes I could cut out most of that but….
The other factor in my mind is the route. I can’t see myself doing much in the way of big hills or miles of trackless stuff. I’m not physically or mentally up to that, certainly if walking alone, or if the weather is dubious (and in Scotland it normally is). This is a limiter, because I would also want to seek to avoid the pylons and the wind turbines and that is becoming harder and harder to do. The Scottish Government might think that it is scaremongering to say that such development could harm their economy but I am sure that it really will start to drive tourists to other places. I may be one of these. Perhaps they do not care.