Thursday 13 June 2019

Decline and Fall: The TGO Challenge 2019

(With unashamed plagiarism of the great Evelyn Waugh's first novel)

Four men of revolting appearance were approaching from the glen. They were low of brow, crafty of eye and crooked of limb. They advanced with the loping tread of wolves, peering about them furtively as they came, as though in constant terror of ambush; they slavered at their mouths, which hung loosely over their receding chins, while each shouldered on his ape like back a burden of curious and unaccountable shape. On seeing the ultralight American backpacking vloggers they halted and hedged back, those behind squinting and mouthing over their companions' shoulders.

“They’re surely going to die, those fellows”, the band of four muttered, “for no-one can survive in the Scottish bogs without a decent set of nine inch gold Eastons. Or at least seven inch Groundhogs”.

“Nor without a good, sturdy gabardine mackintosh”, whispered Philbrick, doffing his recently purchased Black Watch tartan ‘I love Scotland’ cap to the hikers from the world’s only remaining superpower.

(Adapted from Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh)

Paul Pennyfeather reflected. It was supposed to have been wall-to-wall sunshine for at least the first week.  He called up the stairs of the Lochaillort Hotel to his delightful group of walking companions. “It’s peeing down chaps. Overtrousers time”.
Paul Pennyfeather at Locahaillort: A mild mannered, naive chap, and generally modesty personified, despite his somewhat narcissistic tendencies. And damned handsome to boot.
They sat in the bar and waited 20 minutes in the hope that the rain would ease. A semi-darkened hotel bar at 9.00 am is a cold and unwelcoming place. It was hopeless trying to get the team together for a group photograph. Eventually, Dr Fagan decided that they would leave.

“Typical of Grimes, he’s never ready when I say”, said the Doctor. Philbrick grunted in assent.

“Steady on Doctor”, said Pennyfeather, “he’ll be along soon. He’s waiting for Prendy”.

“Prendy’s hopeless at early starts. He knew what time we were supposed to be leaving. So did Grimes. Come on, they’ll just have to catch up. In any case, Prendy might be a decent sort, but he’s not in our team. He’s not Grimes’ responsibility”.
Sir Solomon Philbrick, a man with a mysterious past and Doctor Fagan.
According to Evelyn Waugh, who thankfully can not be sued as he is dead, Philbrick may have been the former owner of a London pub and safe cracker; or a wealthy ship owner and slayer of a Portuguese Count; or a Cambridge educated novelist. None are likely to be true. Waugh describes Doctor Fagan as the Headmaster of a third rate private boarding school in Wales, allegedly with three PHDs and an expert in many things. Only the latter is true.

Ravaged by time and a misspent youth, Captain Grimes suffers from appallingly high levels of fitness, despite Waugh's belief that he had a wooden leg. Note that Pennyfeather would fall over without leaning on those trekking poles having just managed to keep pace with him for almost a whole killer metre.

The three set off along the side of the road, soon caught up by Grimes and Prendergast. Pennyfeather was in front at this point dodging on to the rough verge every few seconds in the face of frequent, fast moving traffic; Dr Fagan and Philbrick never varied their distance from the kerb, but stared into the whites of the eyes of the drivers of the passing vehicles. The pure menace inherent in their look forced most cars to give them a wider berth. Grimes simply shouted obscenities at any unabashed motorists. Prendergast just smiled at all and sundry.

Prendergast: A rare photo this, in that he is not smiling. But he is still oozing pleasantness from every pore.
Police Constable Isla McTavish’s Volvo sped round a bend, almost wiping out the five Challengers, and skidded to a halt. She wound the window down. “Walk on the verge”, she commanded. “No”, replied Dr Fagan. PC McTavish sped off. Her match had just met her.

They reached the ridge heading for Glas-charn, at what the Ordnance Survey suggested was just 633 metres above seal level. In his exertions Pennyfeather thought this was clearly nonsense. It was quite evidently at least the height of a lofty Munro. The bog closed in. Then the clag came down, the temperature came down, the rain came down and finally sleet and hail came down. A line of old fence posts pointed the way to the summit, but via many a bog and several fierce ascents and descents. Grimes stomped ahead; Prendergast smiled throughout, matching Grimes step for step, being kind and supportive and generally coming dangerously close to stealing the sobriquet of ‘the veryveryniceman’ from Pennyfeather.

Heading up Glas-charn: Clag, bog and water. But not a drop to drink.
Pennyfeather, meanwhile, was tired. Extremely tired. That dog walking along the Shropshire Union canal towpath had, perhaps, not been quite adequate preparation for the event. He could not easily keep up with Grimes and Prendy, but to his surprise the Doctor and Philbrick were left far behind. And was he thirsty? Yes he was. He reflected that those who say there is no need to carry much water when walking in Scotland are perhaps just repeating an old canard. If enough people say something, believe something, it does not make it true.

“I’m sure we’ll start to bond as a team as the days go on”, he said to Grimes.

“Hmmm”, was Grimes’ ominous reply.

“I wonder why they’re so slow”, mused Pennyfeather, adding “anyone would think they are hatching some dastardly plot”. Grimes looked at him, pity masking his ravaged features. “You’re a good egg, Paul, but you are rather naïve”, was his reply.

The top of Glas-charn: The forced attempt at a smile speaks volumes

The day couldn’t end soon enough for Paul. He and Grimes pitched up at a spot by a new hydro scheme that was far better than its stony appearance warranted. Philbrick and Fagan arrived 30 or 40 minutes later. Fortunately, looks cannot kill. But remember. If the Doctor ever tells you where to stop for the night then stop there for the night. Or, if you do not, wait until he’s had a large scotch and is tucked up in his sleeping bag with a cuppa soup inside him before begging forgiveness.
First night camp spot
Despite team orders from the Doctor and Philbrick, Pennyfeather couldn't bring himself to sniff his own socks but he did hang them in his tent to dry out
It got better over the coming days. Much better. The weather that is. And the terrain. Not that Pennyfeather became less tired. The forty five minute stop for bacon butties at Glenfinnan Station after just an hour’s walking the following day was welcome and deserved after the privations of the first day; the second stop, for thirty minutes for coffee and cake at Glenfinnan Visitors’ Centre did not, he felt, really seem to have been truly earned.
Dr Fagan and Philbrick believe that the keys to a happy and successful TGO Challenge are regular rest breaks and sniffing your own socks at frequent intervals. By the look on Philbrick's face this sniff suggests that he's in for a rough afternoon.
Gleann Fionnlighe was rather splendid. Prendergast left the team for higher things; Grimes pointed out that the weather hardly warranted the decision of his three companions to follow the Foul Weather Alternative. He was right, of course, but wisdom and the previous day's exertions got the better of them. Grimes harrumphed and headed upwards at the speed of sound; the others trudged the glen and over the col to the Glensulaig Bothy at the speed of snails. Pennyfeather found Grimes camped and unpacked by the time he arrived. To his credit Grimes then did what he is a master at. He shovelled shit. Piles of it. The cattle variety. He cleared it from the best camping spots reserved for the Doctor and Philbrick who arrived somewhat later. And it was finally good.

The Glensulaig Bothy: A splendid spot to camp and hardly a cow pat in sight

To be continued......probably. I have a holiday to attend and a house to move.