Friday, 28 May 2010

To the end...

Foolishly as my phone wasn't sending emails I didn't bother writing anything else up.  As it's now decided to co-operate I'm writing this from memory, those of you who know me, will know this isn't a very good idea.

Anyway, the night at Tarfside was great, a real unexpected treat, the bar was basic and very welcoming and packed with challengers all of whom seem to be having a wonderful time.  It felt late when I left (gone 10pm!) and the moon was out but the sun was still pushing a little bit of light over the horizon.

Awoke with a slightly thick head due to the exceptionally low price of malt whiskey the previous evening.  This was cured in the traditional way with a full cooked breakfast at the retreat and also to pick up my last food parcel.  Again it was really lovely sunny day and a leisurely stroll down the river took me into Edzall for a pub lunch.  The good work of the previous week was rapidly being undone.

Then it was the long straight road into North Water Bridge, whatever you've read about it, it's true.  It's not a hard walk, it's not dangerous, it's just tedious and very very straight.  On first appearances the camp site looked basic but it was one of the best and the cheapest of the trip.  Full of challengers all having a look at each others tents and shelters.  Henry Shires was answering questions about the Scarp 1 and his prototype Moment and a good night was had by all.

The next day was the bimble to the coast, I set off by 8am and was at the coast by lunch time and finished the walk with Henry and Mike.  We all took loads of photos of each other, which I'll add when I get home.  We where then joined by Carl who was delighted to finish after three years ago being practically unable to walk due to an ankle problem which had been fixed by a very good surgeon.

It's always nice to finish a trail, but this one was something special.  I was unsure about the challenge before starting, but as time went on you start to meet so many people and make genuine friendships which hopefully will go on into further challenges and beyond.  I was genuinely delighted to have finished and finished with friends too, I'd recommend the experience to everyone.

Day 11

It was a windy night last night at Loch Brandy. The wind changed direction during the night and gave the duo mid a good pounding. The front guy line popped off due to the shock cord coming undone, my knots rather than a failure of the tarp.
I was walking by 7am after having a restless night with the wind. The pull from Loch Brandy to the tops is quite steep but not too long. At this point Scotland thought she'd get her own back for me going on about how nice it's been. Wind, rain and worst of all mist. This meant navigating my way across the tops, my compass decided to develop a bubble which has now gone? The plan was for a last day in the hills, but the weather was poor and a couple of small navigation errors put me in mind to get to the track north of Loch Lee which I did by 11am, at which point the sun came out.

The last five miles into Tarfside were spent with a variety of challengers and on our arrival it was beer and bacon butties at St. Drostans.

The sun remained out and the sports field started filling with tents and shelters, including four duo mids, and a couple of Henry Shires creations, one of which was occupied by Henry himself.

Tonight there's a bar at the masonic lodge across the road and tomorrow it's off to North Water Bridge for the last night of the trip. Perhaps I'll be able to get a phone signal..?

Day 10

It's been an easy one today but also a sad one, my spork broke. It's the first and only spork I've had and we've been together through many terrible dehydrated meals. But today I have two barely functional bits of plastic. Please lets pause for a moment for the spork.

Also today it rained, for two whole hours, I've a good mind to write to TGO Towers to complain. It started when I woke up and carried on until mid morning. It was still pretty warm and hardly a breath of wind so by no means horrible.

A quick word here. If you study insects go to Glen Doll. This morning when I woke there were at least six different types on the bug netting, a variety of slugs on the fly sheet and quite a few beetles and ants in the waterproofs. Also if you study insects don't use solid fuel tablets for your stove. They're non toxic to humans but not so, it would seem to our six legged friends, a very good way of clearing the tent of unwelcome lodgers.

On paper this was the easiest day of the trip and it has proved to be. I was at the Glen Clova Hotel by 11.15 drinking tea because of the quaint Scottish licensing laws. However as morning turned into afternoon I fueled up on stewed venison, beer and Laphroig (excuse the spelling I'm new to this). This malt was recommended to me by Bill or Stan yesterday. He explained you'll love it or hate it from the first taste, if you hate it you'll never learn to love it. It's love at first taste or nothing. It is spectacular. Nothing I've ever tasted tastes like the earth, trees and wind from where it was made more than this. They're wise men them two.

After a three hour lunch stop I went the last 2km to Loch Brandy, disappointingly it's full of water. But it's a cracking spot and I managed to find the probably only flatish spot for a tent around the whole shore. The 1:50000 maps leave a little to be desired on this sort of detail. I was hoping to see a few other challengers, but again I think I'm still a day ahead of most.

It's a windy spot, the gulls are trying to fly into the wind but give up, lazily turn to their side and shoot off back across to the other shore. It's the last wild camp of the trip and it feels like it's all coming to an end.

Day 9

The day started off slowly. I was in no rush as I was only doing 18km today over Jock's Road. As I was packing Andy asked me to do a pod cast for I was not in the best of form from the night before and just went on about how brilliant everything was, which it has been. Whether it gets in the final cut or not is another matter.

Packed up and headed out of Braemar through the golf course and to the start of Jock's Road. It's a steady pull from the start but eventually you get the infamous Lochallerter Lodge, run by Stan and Bill. I'm not sure what the arrangement is but they plied me with tea, biscuits and a lovely cool can of beer. It's been very hot today, mid 20's I'd guess. They wouldn't take a penny off me and I was given the guided tour of the lodge and listened to many of their tales for a couple of hours. They're TGO legends and quite rightly so. There was room at the lodge and I was invited to stay but I've got chance for a couple more wild camps on the trip, tonight being one of them.

I left them sitting in the sun waiting for tonights batch of challengers to turn up. Then a beautiful walk past the loch and up the remaining part of Jocks Road. I decided to be a clever arse on the top and miss the dog leg path out an take a short cut. I had been warned it was easy to get lost up there, which I promptly did. Ten minutes of studying the map and realising I'd gone a couple of hundred metres to far before going over the crest of the hill. Having to back track and avoiding some large patches of snow and after listening of tales of people falling through the snow on the Lairig Gru a couple of days before I went the long way round and then I was back on track.

I was going to camp at the mountain shelter just over the top into Glen Doll but there wasn't really any good places to pitch the tent. The shelter is erm basic. It's built into the side of the hill and covered in turf, a door about 3 1/2 foot high leads into a little cell, with a corruated roofing sheet for a sleeping platform, a foam mat and an old biscuit tin with emergency supplies. In a winter storm it'll be a god send but it's not for holidaying in. The valley is also very narrow and steep, it didn't feel very friendly. I pushed on for a couple more km and pitched up just before the forest in Glen Doll. It's a bit close to the stream if there's a major downpour but there's not many flat areas to choose from and the forcast is good. Another short easy day tomorrow, with a pub lunch thrown in.

Day 8

Today was a day of relaxing, meeting up with people again and having a few beers.

I bumped into Steven again and with him was Phil Turner who's blog I read quite a bit. They had set out early that morning to be first in the queue at the Old Bakery. They had been patiently waiting for quite a while. I didn't recognise them at first and mistook them for day walkers as their packs were so small. Eventually the bakery opened and everyone was fed and watered until bursting point. London backpacker another blogger joined us and it was off to the Fife Arms for a few.

I met Mike whom I'd shared the trip to Inverness with, he was having a good challenge. I also met Andy Howell another blogger and fellow Mountain Laurel Designs owner. Most people went off back to the camp site I guarded the table at the Fife Arms. However when I did go back to the camp site - what a view. Three duo mids, two of which were cuben and Steven's trail star. The trail star is brilliant, I invited myself in during a brief rain storm, loads of room and rock solid protection. I'm going to make one as a next project.

Then back to the pub for a few more for the road.

Day 7

Today was a day of just getting the miles in to get to Braemar, for a shower, rest and a few pints. Most of the day was following land rover tracks along side the Geldie Burn. There were a couple of miles of walking through the heather and bogs to find the path that led to the track. Speaking to others in the campsite this evening that took the same route is that the map shows the path being a couple of hundred metres further away from the burn than it actually is.

Most of the day was spent walking by myself until lunch time when I met Oliver who had been walking since 4am and had come up from the bottom of Glen Feshie. I tried to keep up with him for the rest of the day. A quick cup of tea at Mar Lodge, thinking we may bump into some more challengers but it seemed we were the first through this year. I chased Oliver the last 6km into Braemar for a couple pints and a pitch on the camp site where three others including Barry who I met last night at the top of Glen Feshie where pitched up.

Oliver, Barry and I went for a few pints in both the hotels which I have to say are a bit wierd. Rest day tomorrow and the forecast for the next few days is warm.

Day 6

I was up early and out the hostel, across the road to Happy Days Cafe for a full cooked breakfast for £2.95, but NO it was closed for the day. A steak pie from a posh butchers, probably a better bet than a cheap breakfast, and I was off. The plan today was to walk 25km from Kingussie up Glen Feshie and camp next to an old hut at around 1500 feet. It's a lovely spot but if the weather turns it'll be quite lively.

The walk up Glen Feshie was one of the most beautiful walks I've ever done. It took me ages to get through as I was just taking everything in (photos to follow on my return). If you're into walking it's a must do. I really needed a walk like that after yesterdays marathon slog into Kingussie.

I've seen quite a few challengers today too, none of whom's name I can remember, a couple with a ripped tent and a chap carrying a rucksac I would have difficulty lifting and going at about twice the speed I could comfortably manage.

Tonight Ainsley Harriot has prepared some Leek and Asparagus rissotto for me, snake and I will read for a bit and then it's an easy track into Braemar tomorrow for a couple of nights boozing and a rest day in between.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Technological Breakdown

For some reason I can't send the saved messages from my mobile.  As I didn't have a signal for last week until I reached the east coast I've got lots saved and no posts.  I'll try and sort it out once I've got back home.  The crossing was fantastic, brilliant company and superb weather.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Day 5

No photos today, it's been a hard one. The wild camp last night was just brilliant. Clear blue sky and the temperature dropped. I ended up using both sleeping bags and a down jacket. Got everything in the big bivi that I didn't want to freeze solid and went to sleep. The morning dawned and I thought I would awake to a frozen fly sheet and water bottles, but no. Either all my equipment is broken or I'm getting soft, I've a funny feeling it's the later.

The camping spot was 6km short of the bothy where I was going to stop. When I finally got to the bothy around 9.30am I was so glad I didn't push on. It was in a very sorry state and in a boggy little hollow, the stove had fallen to bits and the sleeping platforms had been ruined. Reading the graffity on the wooden walls (western red ceder, worth a fortune!) some of it dated back to 1921, so for 90 years old it was in pretty good nick I suppose.

So today was 37km which took nearly 14 hours, a lot of which was proper wilderness walking, over peat bogs, across snow bridges and fording rivers. I'm totally knackered. But I'm in a hostel attached to a pub in Kingussie drinking very nice beer, eating peanuts and listening to rock anthems. I'm sleeping in tomorrow.

Day 4

It's been a day of contrasts. First off the bloke who does the ferry across Loch Ness couldn't do a second run this morning. So myself and my new friends Ali, Debbie and Mike were all stuck as we had to wait for parcels. In the end though things fell into place. We jumped onto a bus to Inverness (I didn't see Amy Pond though), had one of the best bacon rolls ever, the others said the same about the mini cooked breakfasts and then got a taxi to the other side of the Loch to where the ferry was to drop us off. At this point we said our goodbyes as we were all taking different routes. Hopefully we'll meet up before Montrose.

So by this time it was 11.30 and I had 20 miles to do, the first 14 on roads. The motivation was lacking but a couple of lunch stops, the first by river where I watched trout leaping about and the second at Whitebridge hotel for a liquid second lunch and motivation juice.

Eventually I got to the end of the road section and got off road up Glen Markie. After the first boggy climb the glen steadily rises and it has some cracking wild camping spots. I met Caburn at a very lovely spot a couple of miles up then glen and then found a rather nice spot myself a mile further. I've managed about 18 miles and when I stopped at 8.00 it was still warm enough to get in the nip and have a wash in the stream. Just.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Day 3

It's been an easy day today. After a good nights sleep in a unusually mouse free bothy it's been forest paths for the majority of the day in warm sunshine.

I seem to have overtaken most of the other challengers taking this route apart from a lady called Sue who I bumped into again today after last seeing her on day one. In fact it was Brian her husband I bumped into first as I emerged from a forest track. He was supposed to be walking but after a knee injury he was meeting Sue on a few points over the next two weeks, he greeted me by name as I approached which was unusual and explained Sue had said the previous evening she'd been walking with me. A lengthy lunch in the sun followed and then the final few miles in Drumnadroichit to pitch the tent at a riding school.

Tomorrow I'm doing battle with the postal service and ferries, both of which are conspiring to keep me here an extra day as I've got to pick up a supply parcel. It's either feet up or entering into the mountains for wilderness walking and wild camping.

Day 1

Just a perfect day. It rained throughout the night and stopped around 7.30am just in time to get up and pack up. The site at Sheil Bridge is basic but has all you need and is cheap. After signing out of Kintail lodge with 65 other starters I had a splendid day walking and chatting to as many people as I could, everyone was incredibly friendly.

I reached my days end at Alltbeithe youth hostel at 3.30 which isn't the end of the day so after pushing on for a total of 25km for the day I've camped at the west end of Loch Affric in glourious sunshine and a sparkling golden sandy beach and one other TGOer a Mr Steven Horner, who I understand was walking in Finland with Hendric a few weeks ago.

After admiring his trailstar and making a few mental notes on how to make one for myself the sun retreated behind the hills and I've retreated to the warmth of the duo mid.

If all the wild camping spots are like this it's going to be a cracking two weeks.

Day 2

Last night it rained. It rained hard, all night. I wasn't looking forward to getting up, but at 6.00am it stopped and the sun came out and shone across Loch Affric.

Today's been very different from day one, a much lower route, which in a way is good as last night's rain turned to snow higher up and there was a pretty good dumping.

Most of the day was following woodland tracks. It's pretty dry under foot and apart from a few showers the sun's been out for most of the day offsetting the cold wind.

It's been an easy day. I got to Tomich which was supposed to be my overnight stop at about 2.30. It's a lovely little village, very friendly and the Hotel sells wonderful beer. The girl behind the bar explained that a couple of other challengers were pitching their tents in the beer garden and I would be most welcome to join them. Now I'm not a religious man but if there was a heaven God would own a really nice pub in the Highlands or the Lakes and if you'd been good he'd let you camp in the beer garden. It was tempting but a 2.30 finish is a bit too early.

After studying the map there looked to be a nice flat spot next to a small loch about 6km away. As I got there I realised the whole glen had been churned up by cows, not a square foot of flat ground anywhere. After turning down a beer garden I was feeling a little grumpy but fortune favours the brave and just round the corner was a really nice little bothy, loads of wood, really clean - result. There does seem to be a snake in here and it seems familiar...

52km in two days and feeling good!

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Day 0

After 11 hours of travelling I've arrived at Shiel Bridge campsite, got the shelter up and it's chucking it down hence the grumpy photo. Fingers crossed for day 1...

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Measure twice, cut once...

As with most kit geeks shelters and tarps along with stoves make me get unduly giddy. Over the previous winter my mind turned to the shelter that I was going to take on the TGO. I ended up with the MLD Duo Mid that I previously wrote about. What I was considering was a hybrid mid shelter in a tarp tent style, i.e. with a built in ground sheet and bug netting, such as the Henry Shires Contrail. My only concern was there wouldn't be anywhere to cook with the built in ground sheet. So the above attempts are mids with extended porch areas to accommodate cooking. The white mid with five sides was my preferred design however it's a foot to short. The other shelter is designed for two poles to extend the porch out, however it presents quite wide flattish sides and I don't think would cope all that well in high winds. It's also a right pain in the arse to get a good pitch.

I'm not all that good with CAD packages so these were worked out on paper and made with any old thin plastic sheeting I could get hold of and gaffer tape.

Despite the problems with these prototypes I've not wasted much money and it's time much better spent in the winter months than watching the telly.

Winter 10-11 should see a final design, if that is I'm heading to Scotland during midge season.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Comments are go!

I've had the comments turned off whilst I was putting the blog together but as I now have real life people following me they're back on.

Welcome gibsonmcg and Martin!

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Making Moment No. 2

Having decided at short notice to take my boys on their first wild camping trip I realised that I didn't have a shelter big enough for a woodland camp for three. I also didn't want to take any of my light weight tarps as we would also be having a fire. Tarps and fire do not get on. So the giant 9'x9' 4oz square yard pu coared nylon tarp was whipped up in an hour and a half.

As you can see from the photos the guy lines were attached by tying marbles tightly in the material and leaving little loops to attach an assortment of odd guy lines too. I've read about this before and it's worked very well. No slippage throughout the night.

I've not hemmed the tarp at the moment mainly due to time and also as this material doesn't fray. I will hem and attach tie out loops to it in time. The centre seam is one that Go-Lite use on their shelters. I like it as each row of stiches passes through three layers of material and is in my opinion the most water tight seam you can have without seam sealing. Again we had steady rain throughout the night and not a drop through the seam.

A big tough tarp for woodland camping in an hour and a half.