Monday, 9 July 2012

TGO Challenge 2012 - The Trip Report

Thursday 10th May - Day Zero

After consuming the best mixed kebab on naan that I’ve ever eaten as well as several lagers with Stuart and Josh the night before I woke up feeling fairly good, and just a little bit giddy about what was to come. We had plenty of time for a brew and some last minute checks of the rucksacks and then Stuart gave us a lift to Queen Street station for our 10:10 to Inverness.

I expected Queen Street to be full of other TGO’ers but I only saw a handful, we grabbed a nasty coffee from one of the kiosks and retired outside to top up the nicotine ahead of the journey. Time was almost up so we headed for our carriage, found our seats and met our first fellow Challengers of the trip, Mike and Marion Parsons, or “We just stopped for an early lunch” as we later referred to them. We had a good chat on the way up, their routed sounded much more adventurous than ours and we were probably 30 years younger than them, “We’re keeping it nice and simple for our first crossing” was our excuse.

The connection at Inverness was fairly painless and we were soon chugging westwards through some pretty baron landscapes along Strathconon Forest, a rip off eight pound odd for a 4 mile ride and we stepped off the bus at Sheil Bridge bus shelter. The camp site was a few hundred yards away so we headed over and got booked in, not the fanciest of camp sites but the basics were there, plus they sold cold beers in the shop.

Tarp setup at Sheil Bridge camp site

After having some grub we took a stroll up the hill behind the campsite, enjoyed a couple of cold ones and discussed the plan for day one.

River at the back of the site

Friday 11th May - Day One

Shiel Bridge to Glen Affric

14.53 miles (planned)
775 metres of ascent (planned)

17.42 miles (actual)
862 metres of ascent (actual)

Friday morning was wet, cold and grey, I’d slept really well though so got up to face the elements and take a stroll over to the shower block. By the time I got back Mick was unzipping his tent and was getting up. I noticed some of the likely looking one man TGO tents had already disappeared, it was only half seven and we had to wait until nine before we could start the Challenge, maybe the others new where we could get a decent breakfast from? Into the rations then for breakfast, golden syrup porridge with granola and milk powder, washed down with a Kenco 3-in-1. 

Walking to our sign out at Kintail Lodge Hotel, that’s a Llama I think? 

Dipping the toes in the west coast ocean


Mick, steady

Walking under Carn-gorm on our way to the Mountain Rescue Post

Turning SE into Gleann Lichd 

Approaching Allt Grannda waterfalls

Heading for Fionngleann

Looking back to the west, Alltbeithe roof reflecting

We’d pushed on for a couple of extra miles on the first day, not for any particular reason other than we were being a bit fussy about campsite selection. Although we were following the river down the valley, the obvious campsites we’d spotted in the planning were either under water or looking very soggy. We made our way down the glen as the landscape started to change again, we could see trees in the distance which meant we were getting close to Loch Affric. A quick check of the map showed a couple of promising spots, the first one being a large crescent shaped beach with flat drained grassland behind it, it was perfect. Tent and tarp were pitched and we relaxed in the last couple of hours of daylight. Another challenger arrived as we were about to retire, Julian was his name, we would refer to him as Wing Commander. We found out later that he was actually in the forces, total fluke that one.

Campsite for night one, Loch Affric

Saturday 12th May - Day Two

Glen Affric to Coille an Tuathanaich

14.76 miles (planned)
559 metres of ascent (planned)

19.67 miles (actual)
834 metres of ascent (actual)

Despite a couple of showers during the night, Saturday started bright with blue skies and sunshine. I’d slept really well again, we’d gone to our beds fairly early but were kept awake by some weird creature of the night. I’m guessing it was an owl of some kind but it sounded like a six year old kid doing an Indian war cry, whilst running around our campsite every minute or so. I ended up putting my mp3 player on to drown it out.

View from the tarp in the morning

On our way up Glen Affric, beach camp visible

After climbing the bogs of Allt Garbh, looking back down to Loch Affric

Interesting Landy bridge

We called in at Cougie Lodge to meet TGO hero Val, just in time for a fresh batch of scones too, result. We sat and ate chicken and veg soup with bread rolls, followed by cups of tea and warm scones with jam.

One of Val’s dogs

After leaving Cougie we were down the track, over Garve Bridge and then taking a right at Plodda Falls and up through the forest. We met Gary at Cougie who was also on his first crossing, we walked and chatted with him for a while but he soon shot off when he realised how slow we were, we’d forgotten his name later in the day so he was now called Donny, because that’s where he came from.

We’d planned to camp at the top of the woods originally but it was only around 13:30 as we reached the gate on the perimeter, we’d heard about the impending weather for Sunday so we made the decision to keep going. Big mistake and our only real cock up of the whole trip!! It was here that we picked up a row of powerlines for the first time, they’d feature heavily over the next couple of days.

Our route was straight forward and it had recently been made even easier, a new service road had been gouged out of the hill exactly on the course of the original path.

Navigation couldn’t have been simpler but this turned out to be our worst leg of the whole crossing, the track just went on and on, false horizon after false horizon. The landscape was bleak moorland too which made it even worse, and then the constant taking off and putting on of waterproofs every ten minutes was tiresome. Bright yellow plant machinery was dotted all around as well as the orange plastic fencing and H&S signs, the wind picked up from the west bringing more rain and then we started the descent from Beinn Bahn.

My feet were already pretty sore and my left knee was starting to give me some gip, Mick was in much the same way and so the long descent was an absolute killer. We’d split up near the end, Mick was really struggling and I was eager to find somewhere to camp for the night before it got too late, we couldn’t get lost as the track was so obvious so I pulled away at the front. As I came round a final left hander there was a small area of closely grazed grass in view at the bottom of the hill, not exactly flat but it was the best we’d seen since we left Cougie about five hours earlier.

I had my Trailstar pitched and was collecting water by the time Mick arrived, he pitched up between the showers and gales and dived into my party tent for some grub. In pain and totally knackered we called it an early night, I was unconscious about five seconds after my head hit the pillow.

No photos were taken after Cougie sorry, I was in no mood to take any shots even if there had been anything to look at.

Sunday 13th May - Day Three

Coille an Tuathanaich to Fort Augustus

17.09 miles (planned)
737 metres of ascent (planned)

10.36 miles (actual)
362 metres of ascent (actual)

I was woken by the sound of a Transit van driving up the track twenty metres from my tarp, another great nights sleep on the deck. My feet were tender though, big hot spots on the outside of each heel and then a giant one on the ball of my left foot, right up under the toes, not blisters yet but after two long days my townie feet were suffering. I gave them some TLC with a bit of Gehwols and got my stuff packed, considering Sunday was supposed to be a horrid day it was actually quite a nice morning. By the time we’d had a brew and packed away the rain was just starting, we took a wrong turn in the woods and had to bushwhack our way out, no biggy but ten minutes wasted.

Down into Glen Moriston and into the next big forestry, our vetter advised us to take an alternative route which turned out to be a bit out of date. We were supposed to pick up the powerlines again and follow them straight up the hill, we found them but there was no path, we checked the GPS and we were right where we should be. The obvious track to our right was fenced off, padlocked and out of bounds, that meant we had to work our way round and bog jump and scramble up a good 90 metres of ascent. The rain was really hammering down by now, the wind was howling through the tree tops too, but we knew once we’d reached the top and found a track we’d be into Fort Augustus in no time. We did find a track eventually and it was going our way, we stopped under the cover of some big pines and smoked a soggy rolly. The forestry paths were easy to follow most of the time, a couple of new routes would throw us off sometimes, especially at crossroads which weren’t on our maps.

We missed a crappy little left hand fork when we’d done all the hard work for the day, it was barely noticeable at the time but it would have saved us a good hour and a half of zig zagging along tracks. By the time we reached Fort Augustus it was midday, we found the campsite and a bunch of other Challengers already there in the lodge building. We managed to grab one of the twin rooms in the lodge and we were even happier to collect the food parcels we’d posted up. All the soggy gear was washed and hung up in the drying room, and we spent the afternoon eating, showering and chatting with folk about routes, alternative routes and mostly about the weather. The little portable telly in the lodge had the footy on so we managed to see City beat Utd to the title which cheered us up a bit, back into the soggy gear and out to the pub. It was still torrential outside, folk were talking about 100mph winds and a months worth of rain that day, I was dead chuffed that Mick talked me into going halves on a room instead of camping.

No pictures of day 3, it was just so wet I had to keep the camera tucked away in a dry bag. It was wet, grey and windy.

Monday 14th May - Day Four

Fort Augustus to Melgarve

12.38 miles
913 metres of ascent

Day four was going to be high so we were a bit concerned about the recent weather, neither of us were kitted out for winter walking but the only alternative was a forty odd mile detour on tarmac. We woke to a cracking day though, everyone at breakfast was raring to go again, we recovered our dry toasty gear from the drying rooms and packed up and left.

Heading for Glen Tarff, the rivers are looking a bit high today

Sunshine and blue skies

General Wades Military Road, a nice varied route as it turned out

One for Mick’s kids, apparently it looks like Balamory?

Looking west

Looking east over Loch Ness and Fort Augustus

The start of our climb up the Corrieyairack

The Corrieyairack Pass was a pleasant surprise, having watched some vids and read about it during our planning, the surface had been sorted out recently and the going was good. We stopped off at Blackburn bothy on our way up the pass, it was a really nice place but a couple of folk had been stranded here the night before and had to turn back. We met second time Challengers David & Sue, had a quick brew and some scoff and we were on our way again, a fast flowing river crossing in the first few minutes got the legs going. Up and up we went, switchback after switchback, eventually we reached the level of the clouds and into the snow showers. The cloud got thicker and thicker as we went up, snow was starting to appear on the ground and I was wishing I was wearing boots rather than light trainers.

Corrieyairack Pass, nearing the summit (still following powerlines)

Descending down the other side

Following the military track down the glen

A welcome sight, Melgarve bothy


We followed David and Sue all the way to the bothy, they stopped for a brew but then pushed on to Garva Bridge I think. As the afternoon went on folk would come and go, by the time Mick and I called it a night there were four Challengers upstairs, two in the office room, two more outside in a tent, plus the other guy who’d turned up on his bike expecting it to be empty on a Monday night.

Tuesday 15th May - Day Five

Melgarve to Glentruim

15.78 miles
372 metres of ascent

Sleeping in the main room of the bothy we knew we probably wouldn’t get much of a lie in, when I woke up around 06:30 I gave Mick a shout and we got up and got sorted. I had a breakfast of cereal bars and Kenco while Mick was still persevering with the porridge. The other folk upstairs soon came down and the bothy was back to being busy and noisy again. Not wanting to waste an early rise we pressed on.

Hairy coo

The long straight road stretch down to Garva Bridge made my feet sore again in no time, I’d step onto the grass verge whenever it was flat enough just to give them a spongy break. The lad with the bike from the bothy came driving past in his car after half an hour or so, he offered us a lift which was very tempting but we had to decline of course.

River Spey below Melgarve

River Spey from Garva Bridge

Garva Bridge

Mick & Martin near Sherrabeg


We were still following the course of Wades Road although it wasn’t as obvious now, sometimes it was lying under tarmac and sometimes it just disappeared into a field without any sign. “We stopped for an early lunch” had apparently told Mick on the train up that if we see any large round stones laid down then it’s likely to be the original road surface from the early 1700’s.

Old road

We seemed to be going in a different direction to a lot of folk once we neared Laggan, Martin took the popular road to Newtonmore while Mick and I headed for Glentruim. Much of it was road walking again, the later stages along quiet country lanes beside a river which wasn’t too bad. We stopped off at a posh pub and grabbed a coffee and some lunch, I can’t remember what was in the sandwich but it made a nice change to the dehydrated meals we’d been living on.

We reached the campsite at Glentruim in good time, too early to catch the shop open so we got the tents up and chilled out in the sun. Once the shop opened we were glad to see food parcel number 2 had also arrived, along with shower gel, a fresh can of deodorant and a new gas cart for my stove. The evening was spent in my Trailstar doing some admin stuff and generally pigging out on surplus supplies.

Wednesday 16th May - Day Six

Glentruim to Ruigh-aiteachain bothy

16.77 miles
546 metres of ascent

On paper this was going to be one of our nicest days, a mix of heather and woodland leading to the stunning Glen Feshie, from the pictures I’d seen it looked very similar to the Lin of Dee area I visited in the winter. After we left the campsite we picked up another branch of Wades Road and followed it across the heather moorland of Nuide Moss and on towards Ruthven.

Nuide Moss

We screwed up with the map reading once we’d crossed the moor, taking a left too soon and ending up on the grass verge of the A9 about half a kilometre too early. It wasn’t much fun walking head on towards trucks and getting a face full of dust, ten minutes or so later we managed to jump a fence and get off the main road.

Sign at Ruthven Barracks

We stopped for some lunch at the barracks, enjoying the sunshine between showers, I had peanut butter and chocolate spread on oatcakes, Mick was playing safe with Primula.

Lunch over

Wooded path near Tromie Bridge

Easy going forestry tracks

Brew stop at Baileguish

Bridge over the Allt Fhearnasdail


Out of the last forestry and into the head of Glen Feshie

Sticks and gorse

River Feshie

Ruigh-aiteachain bothy, and some random horses

Home for the night

All the mod cons

When we reached the bothy we were surprised to find it unoccupied, we knew it was a popular route through to Braemar but it looked like we were going to have the place to ourselves. I checked the guestbook to find David and Sue had already passed through earlier in the day, and another Challenger who I’d heard pulled out at Blackburn bothy and had to retire, good on him for getting out again.

There was a huge pile of logs stacked up outside the door plus an axe and a good selection of saws hanging up. We got our kit laid out on the two sleeping platforms in the main room and chilled out by the fire. The damp pine logs would burn but it was a struggle to get much heat out of the cast iron burner, we found it best to keep the logs small and stacked them up around the outside of the fire. We’d go outside every now and then to watch the rain bounce down and to see if there were any Challengers limping in. One of the wild ponies had a bad case of wind which was hilarious, I suppose you had to be there though.

Nobody else showed up that night so we were spoilt, we later found out that the night after there were sixteen Challengers staying at the bothy, ten or so on the sleeping bunks and the rest outside camping.

Thursday 17th May - Day Seven

Ruigh-aiteachain to White Bridge

13.96 miles
588 metres of ascent

Even though we couldn’t get the bothy warmed up very much we both spent the night cosy and dry on the sleeping platforms, our soggy kit was spread out overnight and had dried nicely by the morning too. Only having the sleeping bags and mats to pack away we were on our way in good time, the weather wasn’t great so we were togged up to the nines.

The route was going to be mixed again, starting off in Feshie we’d enjoy more of the Caledonian forest but would soon find ourselves on an exposed and very soggy moorland, not forgetting the twenty eight possible river crossings for the day.

On our way

Heading south along Glen Feshie, Carn an Fhidhleir Lorgaidh centre of shot

The rain was on and off but progress was good along easy tracks

Climbing up

Once we reached the south west end of Glen Feshie the landscape immediately changed into a bleak and windswept hell hole, one of the guys at Fort Augustus lodge had already given us some warning but we didn’t really have an alternative route.

Going was really tough, constantly jumping over little streams and looking for dry land to step on, I think this was our coldest day too with a biting headwind that cut straight through our damp clothing. We’d reach a high point or corner every now and then only to see more of the same stretch out in front of us for as far as we could see, talk about demoralising. We found the remains of a wooden shelter after a couple of hours so we stopped to take a break, it only had two sides left so we huddled in a corner while we scoffed some food.

We finally started dropping down again and could begin to make out patches of woodland through the fog/cloud/snow/rain. We were both really struggling with our aches and pains as well as the weather and the soggy terrain. It seemed to take forever before we reached Geldie Burn and eventually White Bridge, a final river crossing was up past the knees and nearly had us both for a swim. White Bridge was supposed to be our campsite for the night but when we got there it didn’t look too great, we knew it was popular with Challengers but today it was just another bog submerged in a foot of water.

We pushed on for another mile or so, looking for a campsite which was high enough to be dry but also sheltered from the snow showers and cold winds. Mick found a nice little ledge next to a plantation, after eight hours of bog jumping in the wet and cold it looked good enough for us. We got the tents up in good time and that was it for me, I got out of my wet gear and dived into my sleeping bag, it was the first time I’d felt warm all day and I soon passed out. Three hours later I woke up to Mick shouting at me, we’d hardly eaten all day and he was making sure we didn’t try to sleep on empty stomachs. I stuffed my face with chilli and rice, a couple of cereal bars and a hot chocolate, then I passed out again.

Cold camp

No pictures from the moorland crossing, I was keeping my gloves on and the camera was staying dry.

Friday 18th May - Day Eight

White Bridge to Braemar

9.94 miles
248 metres of ascent

Thursday night was cold, much like the day had been, our pitch was fairly sheltered though so we managed to dodge most of the gusts that came through. I woke up a couple of times during the night and listened to the snow hitting the tarp, it was a different sound to the usual rain but I never bothered to look out and see how heavy it was. I’d chosen a pitch which looked okay at first but it wasn’t great for sleeping on, the tarp didn’t quite pitch as well as I would have liked because of the dip I was in. I found myself slipping down my groundsheet a couple of times too, waking up with my feet poking out of the end of the tarp. Overall I was pretty knackered when I woke, I was glad we had one of our shortest days ahead of us.

Snow turning to rain again

Heading for Braemar

Looking back to the west, our camp is centre of shot

As we neared Braemar it was great to get into the woods again, the Lin of Dee area is stunning and it was good to be back. I told Mick about some of the hammock camping I’d done with Pete as we wandered along the track.

The rain was on and off but the day felt a lot warmer, we were encouraged along by the signs inviting Challengers to call in at Mar Lodge for tea and biscuits. Making our way up the drive to the lodge I couldn’t believe they actually invited stinky wet hikers in, but they did and they even let us use the drying room while we sat around the open fire in one of the trophy rooms.

Bridge over Lui Water, Lin of Dee

Mar Lodge

Victoria Bridge, a nice shortcut which is usually out of bounds

Shortly after we strolled into Braemar village, first stop was the pharmacy to get pain killers for Mick and tape and padding for my feet. We bumped into David and Sue again who were just about to leave for Ballater, both were in good form despite the weather.

We found a cafe on the main street and dived in for sausage and egg sarnies and a pot of tea, consumed with ease we headed back out and went to find the campsite, relieved again to pick up our third and final food parcel.

We spent the rest of the afternoon doing some admin, washing clothes and generally lolly gagging about the place, the evening was spent in the pub and sampling the brand new take-away which was opening that night. We chatted to various folk about their crossings so far, some had trudged through waist deep snow over the Lairig Ghru, some had been washed away trying to cross rivers and we heard about one chap who’d taken a tumble in Glen Feshie and had to be airlifted out.

Quiet campsite

Challengers for sure

A few more arrived as the day went on

A peak inside my shelter

Saturday 19th May - Day Nine

Rest day

0.00 miles
0 metres of ascent

Saturday was a really lazy day, I’m not sure what time we woke up but it wasn’t very early, to make things even better the sun was out. We walked into the village and had full breakfasts at the cafe, so much better than porridge or cereal bars. The afternoon was spent kicking around the campsite enjoying the sunshine, lots of Challengers had turned up by now and the site was really filling up. I wandered around the campsite chatting to some of the lightweight guys about kit and getting a bit geeky about saving grams. In the evening we headed back to the Fife Arms and watched the Champions League final, with a few jars of Guinness for good measure.

Sunday 20th May - Day Ten

Braemar to Glas-allt-Shiel

14.91 miles
865 metres of ascent

We both slept really well aided by the alcohol and another take-away on the way back to camp, a quick visit to the drying room to collect our kit and we were off again. There had been lots of talk about the possible snow conditions for our route today, some folk were bagging Lochnagar but we were just skirting around it, as it turned out is was a beautiful day and we never encountered any snow.

Castleton woods

Ballochbuie Forest near Invercauld Bridge

Heading for Gelder Shiel

Gelder Shiel and Lochnagar


Looking north over Balmoral

As we reached the path that lead up to Lochnagar we branched off left and headed over Monelpie Moss, more bog and stream jumping but it didn’t seem as annoying when the sun was out. After an hour or so we were across and looking down onto Loch Muick, a river turned into a waterfall which then dropped 300m all the way down to the loch. The descent was tough on the knees but the track was great, a couple of slippery rocks but nothing too dodgy.

Down into Loch Muick


Stopping to rest the knees

Loch Muick

When we reached the bottom of the path we meandered through the woods directly behind Glas-allt-Shiel. We checked out the bothy area but it was dark, damp and it looked like somebody was already in there, a sleeping bag was hanging up and a bottle of milk on the table.

We sat in the sun on a beach below the bothy, a few walkers came by but nobody stopped, would we get the Queens bothy to ourselves? We weren’t sure where we were supposed to camp so left it fairly late in the day before setting up, one pitch was perfect but there was a 20ft widow maker caught up in one of the huge pines. Mick found a nice spot next to the stream so after clearing the deer crap out of the way we got setup.

We were joined by a couple of Challengers later but nobody ever returned to the bothy.

Quiet afternoon by the loch

Camp for the night, preferring our tents to the bothy

Monday 21st May - Day Eleven

Glas-allt-Shiel to Tarfside

16.97 miles
755 metres of ascent

Amazingly when I woke up it was sunny again, for the third day on the trot now, I’d even kicked off my quilt during the night as I was too warm. I grabbed my breakfast tackle and walked down to the loch, nobody else was stirring so sparked up the Jetboil round the front of the bothy, my porridge and Kenco actually tasted better in the sun.

Sunny view from the tarp

The Queen’s bothy, locked down until she visits

Calm morning loch

Bothy through trees, Mick showing his face

We set off quite late, we had a long day ahead with some interesting navigation along the way but we were in no great rush. The track along the side of the loch was hot and pretty boring, the views behind were great though.

Looking back down Loch Muick, we were camped in the trees centre of shot

As we reached the Spittal of Glenmuick we took a path SE up a gully and into moorland once again. The path was easy to follow along the side of Allt Darrarie but shelter from the hot sun was non-existent. We took regular stops to take on water and dehydration tablets, it would have been good to give the feet a soaking too but I had mine freshly strapped up.

Climbing up alongside Allt Darrarie

Looking back to Lochnagar and Meikle Pap

After negotiating giant peat hags we had to take a bearing once we reached the bothy at Shielin of Mark, we stopped for lunch by the river before our climb and got mobbed by a handful of persistent midges.

Heading for Muckle Cairn

Looking down into Glen Lee, a welcome sight

Glen Lee was stunning, I’ll have to come back one day

Craig Maskeldie standing guard

Loch Lee

Castle remains near Kirkton

Looking back to Glen Lee from Westbank

We reached the camping grounds at Tarfside in good time, in fact the girls from the local pub arrived as we were pitching our tents, they were taking orders for food and beers which they’d be back with shortly after. Chicken goujons and chips with sweet chilli sauce made a nice change to our usual rations, three or four bottles of local brew went down very nicely too. We took a walk down to the nearby river and chilled out in the last of the days sun, I took the chance to give my feet some much needed TLC by sticking them in the cool water. Tarfside is another popular choke point so there was a good number of Challengers present, we chatted to folk we’d met at different stages and heard more tales of their adventures. It turned out a lot of folk had headed for a pub which we thought was shut, never mind though as I don’t think I could’ve managed too many anyway.

Tarfside sports field awash with Challengers

Tuesday 22nd May - Day Twelve 

Tarfside to North Water Bridge

16.64 miles
318 metres of ascent

I fell asleep to a chorus of cuckoos and shotguns going off, Mick said it was like camping in Beirut at one point, hunting must be the main hobby around here. By the time I dragged myself out of my pit and looked outside it was obviously knocking on, half the campsite had packed and gone. We skipped breakfast straight away and headed off down the road towards Edzell, my feet were tender to say the least and Mick’s calves were giving him some grief. We tried to pick up a track which crossed the river and took us away from the road, we ended up cutting through a farm but the crossing was a deep ford and neither of us fancied it. The only option was to back track passed the campsite and around the end of the village, stuff that though, we’d come all this way walking east and we weren’t about to turn round and start heading west.

We’d stop every couple of miles to get a rest and take the weight off for five, it was hot in the sun again so we made the most of any shade we passed. Progress was slow, especially on my part, Mick would carry on and then stop while I caught up again, the tarmac road and no grass verges was a killer. We must have looked a right pair hobbling down the main road.

We reached an area called The Rocks of Solitude which seemed to be a bit of a local beauty spot, a poorly illustrated sign suggested we could get off the road and continue on our course along a riverside path, we checked the maps and it looked like it would work. It was so nice to get off the tarmac, the path was up and down causing Mick some trouble but it was definitely much easier going.

We followed the North Esk river down the valley, keeping out of the sun under the cover of huge beech and oak trees.

North Esk river

When we reached Edzell I asked one of the locals where we could find the Tuck Inn cafe, a popular gathering place for Challengers apparently. We followed the directions to the main street and sure enough found a cafe with a giant pile of rucksacks outside the door, inside was crammed with sweaty smelly Challengers, perfect. I ordered a full English and Mick went for sausage and egg butties which he’d been craving for the last couple of days, washed down with a pot of tea and a strawberry milkshake for good measure.

Leaving the cafe we made our way down to the river again and followed our route on towards North Water Bridge. We passed through a dairy farm at Arnhall with some huge bulls roaming about, we’d been given a short cut in the cafe to miss out some road walking which was most welcome. Cutting through pasture land and a freshly furrowed field we crossed over the busy road at Northgate and onto our final track of the day, it was a really straight track which seemed like it would never end.

Not too shabby

Long straight road

When we reached the campsite at North Water Bridge we pitched the tents collapsed on the grass, a couple of brews and then it was shower time. I managed to womble a bottle of Bold 3-in-1 from a bin in the laundry, after two weeks my socks were in much need of some lavender and camomile.

It was quite amusing watching the curtains twitching in the caravans, I don’t think they knew what to make of us lot invading the tiny camp site.

Invasion of Challengers

We didn’t get up to much for the rest of the evening, with no pub or shops nearby I was happy to sip on my sloe gin whilst Mick persevered with his spiced rum.

Wednesday 23rd May - Day Thirteen

North Water Bridge to St Cyrus

8.71 miles
195 metres of ascent

Waking up on the last day I was both relieved and quite sad that the trip was almost over, the mood around camp was much the same, folk packing up quietly and heading off to their finish points. Our route was along winding country lanes with one last hill to conquer, at only 148m the Hill of Morphie was a sting in the tail, knowing that the sea was in spitting distance we never got a peak.

Crossing the Esk one last time

Looking NW towards Edzell

Hill of Morphie, “Broadsword calling Danny Boy” I thought

Even though we could smell the sea we still hadn’t caught a glimpse of it yet, we dropped down into St Cyrus village keeping our bearing on the church spire in the distance. We passed the Old Bakery cafe and were tempted to stop and join some other Challengers who’d already finished, we wanted to get it done before relaxing so we pressed on.

13 days and 174 miles later, the east coast

Happy and sad, Mick & Shewie

Down to the beach

Almost there

Job done


  1. A great write up. A nice sociable route too.
    So then - Coming back for more?

  2. Thanks Alan

    Yeah I'll be back, it eats into the hols too much so it won't be next year. Solo next time though I reckon :)

  3. Good photos and a fresh account from a first time Challenger. There will never be another first time for you but you have another 11 start points and no end of finishes to keep you occupied through the long winter nights until the next one. Solo is the best way to go but you have no one else to blame when things go t*ts up and you can include a few nice tops along the way as you'll have no one complaining about how hard the route is. Well done Shewie, maybe we'll meet on the hills before I pop my clogs.

    1. Thanks Pete, solo is definitely the way to go I think

      Hope to meet you on the hills one day, hopefully not the day you actually pop those clogs though :)

  4. Cor, that took me back to 1994 when I did my first from Shiel Bridge with Lucy.
    Pretty much the same route, but different stop points, all the way to Braemar.

    After Braemar, we were only a bit behind you this year.
    But we got lured into the fleshpots of Callater for Sunday night.
    There is a nice decent off Lochnagar to those waterfalls and the bothy.

    Maybe not next year but you know you'll apply.
    Of course come September, temptation will be great.

  5. Like Andrew, this took me back. In my case just to 2011 and my first challenge. I walked solo for all of 400 metres from Shiel Bridge until I met another solo first timer and we just sort of got along. Emma and I had much the same route as yours to Braemar but then she followed yours all the way. We took a more direct route from Cougie to Torgyle Bridge that avoided the 'roadworks' that you found.

    Solo or duo. There's no right or wrong way. Different strokes for different folks. For me, I've made a great friend and a trusted walking companion so that first year's route will always be a bit special to us both.

    It's good to hear that Corrieyairack might have had some TLC, the descent to Melgarve was in a dreadful state last year. Pity that the Upper Geldie path is now getting trashed instead.