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Wednesday, 21 September 2016

TGO Challenge 2016: The Park Hotel Challenge Dinner

There is a very large gathering of Challengers at the Park Hotel in Montrose - the seat of "Challenge Control" on the last Thursday evening of the Challenge. Those who finish earlier or later have smaller gatherings on the Wednesday and Friday, but the Thursday Dinner is the Big One.

Every Challenger is toasted, either in their year groups or their country of origin. This year's Master of Ceremonies was Humphrey Weightman who shall henceforth be known as Katie Boyle, such is his mastery of every conceivable language known to mankind. With his encyclopaedic knowledge of music and European politics he really should have taken over Eurovision after Terry Wogan retired.  

At these occasions I try to snap as many Challengers as I can, but I prefer not to use the flash on my camera as it's a bit of an intrusion. This does mean that a lot of these pictures tend to be slightly blurred as I use a pretty standard little compact camera with quite a small aperture and a pretty cheap sensor. But nevertheless, I enjoy snapping away. 

THREE MAGNIFICENT CHALLENGERS

SHE OF THE RASPBERRY WINE ELIXIR

STEFAN & MICK [CROYDON]

LINDY

EMMA, STILL SMILING

LOUISE [NOT, PERHAPS, THE GREATEST PHOTO EVER...]

BARBARA. 

WILLIAM

BILL

SUUS

THE GODFATHER - HAMISH BROWN

CHRIS TOWNSEND

KATIE BOYLE / AKA HMP3

TOBY

TONY WOO-WOOH! THE FIRE STARTER

KATE. [WHY DID SHE DO IT???]

COLIN

ALAN / GANDALF

COLIN, BACK AFTER A LONG SPELL AWAY

TOM, WHO IS CARELESS WITH HIS WALKING PARTNERS

UNICYCLIST, BALLOON TWISTER, AND OUR YOUNGEST CHALLENGER

AT THE START OF AN EXCITING NEW JOURNEY

THE DUTCHESS 

NGUMO / CHARLES

ASK HIM WHAT HIS FATHER DOES

NIK

ROGER, WITH TEN *MASSIVE* CHALLENGES UNDER HIS BELT

HE'LL ALWAYS BE 'DOHA JIM'

NIK

MAD''N'BAD

VICKY

THE EXCELLENT BILL OF LOCHCALLATER LODGE

This is invariably a very late night with some Challengers finally getting to bed as the birds start up the dawn chorus. It's a wonderful night - not to be missed. Besides, lost sleep can be snatched on the long journey home the next day.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

TGOC 2016, Days 13 & 14: Waterside to Lunan Bay

DAY 13: WATERHEAD TO BRECHIN - AGED AND MELLOW

In the TGO Magazine and right across the blogosphere, a great deal is written of the fabulous days to be had on a foot journey across Scotland; Indeed, reading my own account back, I have eulogised along with the best, and worst of them. Probably the latter.

This probably sits well with aspiring Challengers; It may be the catalyst that propels them to seize a biro and fill out the TGO Challenge application form, to join the ranks of the stinky and the lame that will make up the Class of 2017 Challengers.

Yes, the walking is good and yes, the views are top drawer and yes, you won't meet a finer band of brothers, anywhere. However, most writing about the Challenge pay nowhere near enough attention to the most visceral of pleasures: The simple act of stopping, flipping up your shelter and lying there in the middle of no-where, staring into space, your body slowly letting go the cumulative aches and pains of the walk. 

Whisky flasks shared with a good friend and as you stare into views so vast, you realise that you're not in the middle of no-where at all. You are at the centre of these vast horizons, and this time, right now, is precious and entirely your own. Evening bubbling curlew and as time melts into dusk, snipe drumming, surprisingly close-by. The soft hiss of the stove as you prepare a bedtime drink. Deep, deep indigo skies and the hills softened beneath a billion stars in the colossal swathe of the Milky Way. 

This is what draws me back, year after year.




Which brings me nicely back to the here and now. Lying in the morning's warming sunshine, sheltered from the decidedly nippy wind. We both enjoy taking a while readying ourselves from waking to pulling on our shoes. There's no mad rush ~ I take a couple of hours from the realisation that I've made it through another night to the first steps of the day's ghastly slog through bog and barbed wire fences. 

And this morning brought with it another lovely day.


THE WAY AHEAD

I've shown two maps for today; The first shows our route, (but not all the way to Brechin) which is a splendid ridge walk and the second is provided by the developer of a proposed wind farm all along today's ridge walk. Happily, between planning our route and the walk iteslf, the wind farm - seventeen truly enormous wind turbines with a massive access road the width of a trunk road - was thrown out. 

CLICK TO ENLARGE / RIGHT CLICK TO VIEW IN NEW TAB OR WINDOW


THE PROPOSED NATHRO HILL WIND FARM

With the knowledge that this particular battle had been won and a sunny, if very nippy, morning in prospect we regain the track to a faint and slightly miss-able path and gently find our way to the bealach before sliding over the side of Mount Sned, on a beautiful path, to the ridge walk.

CLIMBING TO THE BEALACH

RAVEN

There are ravens. Well, one raven. This area is quite heavily managed for the shooting industry and the variation in flora & fauna is woefully small. You get the feeling that this is marginal land, but only so because of the industry it supports. Left to its own devices there would be woodland in the valley bottom and sides which would support all manner of wildlife. But the chinless wankers who kill birds for fun rule the roost around these parts and so we are left with a barren, seemingly lifeless upland desert.

PATH AROUND MT SNED, LOOKING TO HILL OF GARBET

You need to keep your wits about you to make sure you're on the correct side of the electrified fences or barbed wire - which could be a little tricky in the cloud, but we are fortunate and have good visibility. Here's a picture of Phil with his Evil Twin just centimetres behind him. You will never know the fight he has with his demons. He's in control. Just.

PHIL, WITH HIS INNER DEMON.

Just after Peat Hill we hunker down for elevenses. It isn't much of a stop as it is bloody cold. You can tell that from the pictures as Phil is wearing just about everything from inside his rucsack. Apart from the dusky pink tutu. That's reserved for evening wear.

PEAT HILL

The path that drops in a beautiful curve down to Tillyarblet is a gem. Soft underfoot and with sweeping views over the the Black & White hilltop forts all the way to the North Sea.

DROPPING TO TILLYARBLET



We make the minor road, and start the stroll to Brechin, when, framed in a first storey windah of a (non) burning building, appears this 'uman 'ead! (To be spoken in a south London accent. I'll get Croydon to learn this for next year at Lochcallater Lodge)

"Jump into this 'ere net what we are 'olding, and you'll be quite all right!" we don't shout.

In fact it is a rather fine chap, Guthrie, who invites us in to his splendid new home and plies us with tea and cakes. We spend a happy couple of hours in his comfortable sitting room, with views of the Caterthuns and the sea, hearing about his life teaching in the RAF, all over the world. He had also been a keen basketball player. It is with reluctance that we leave to continue our plod to Brechin. Aren't people lovely?



The walk, mostly downhill apart from the climb up to the picnic bench for a second lunch or perhaps afternoon tea, between the Caterthun Forts, to Brechin is all very pleasant and makes a pleasant change to the slog down the Airfield Road to North Water Bridge. Beautiful established trees and well managed farmland. And, as I said before, all wonderfully downhill, and two old blokes are rather grateful for that.

BRECHIN

We fall into the supermarket on the outskirts of Brechin and re-burden ourselves with essential pies, doughnuts, cheeses and bread rolls. There might be chocolate involved. And fruit. And more cake. Whatever, my rucsack is now full to bursting, with less than a day to walk to the coast.

BRECHIN

We can recommend the bar at the Dalhousie Hotel. A nice bunch of locals, with beer on a handle. We tarry here for a few. We also commend to you the excellent Indian restaurant on the High Street. We spend a happy time here as well.



It is a very relaxed brace of hikers who wander through the streets of Brechin to the campsite next to the river. Again, mercifully downhill. You probably didn't know of Brechin's importance in winning the Second World War. Be honest now...

STICK AROUND. YOU LEARN STUFF HERE

It is as I am emptying my rubbish bag into the bins at the campsite that I notice that there is a discarded pair of boots at the bottom of the bin. Perhaps a Challenger is walking to the coast in his camp shoes tomorrow.

CONTENTS OF THE BRECHIN CAMPSITE BIN




DAY FOURTEEN: BRECHIN TO LUNAN BAY (AND A NICE CAFE)


BRECHIN CAMPSITE

Onward! It's a simple enough stroll this morning along quiet roads and paths down to the very smart new cafe on the beach at Lunan Bay.

CLICK TO ENLARGE / RIGHT CLICK TO VIEW IN NEW TAB OR WINDOW

However - and this is a big 'However' - there is a glitch, large enough for deep disappointment for the unwary. This is annotated on the map. You'll need to click on it to make it larger. But first, the good bits:

LEAVING BRECHIN

Overall, we were impressed with Brechin. It is a proud, if a little battered around the edges, city.  And the roads leaving it to the coast are splendidly lined with wonderful trees. It's undulating peaceful countryside, soothing after a night with a few beers as company. Grand houses behind estate walls abound. There is real money in these parts.




And now, to the glitch: You may wish to enlarge the next map.

CLICK TO ENLARGE: ORDNANCE SURVEY *MASSIVE* GLITCH

We trundle along cheerfully down the track until we arrived at the place of the large blue circle. Here, the track finishes abruptly with a metal five bar gate. Beyond is a gorgeous house and a beautiful garden with a lovely lawn where the Ordnance Survey insists  the track should be. 

We stand there.

We mill about a bit, studying the map with a forensic eye. There is definitely no way through. To continue would be to walk across someone's beautiful garden and would definitely be encroaching upon the house's curtilage. And that garden is established. It's been that way for many years. Ordnance Survey are clearly years and years behind the reality on the ground. If they spent less money trying to be a business and more money updating their maps life would be better for everyone.

Our alternative will be to turn back to walk on the marked footpaths to rejoin our route. Blast. 

At this point, a lovely lady appears from the house and we discuss our dilemma together. She scrutinizes the map, with an intense scrute. There is nothing for it, she smiles, and opens her gate to let us through, asking that we walk around the lawn and be on our way. It's lucky my husband isn't here, she says.

As we walk around the beautiful lawn, leaving no footprints we have a skull cinema moment. 

Clad in his shooting jacket, deerstalker, brogues and breeches, the portly Laird chases after us with his trusty Purdey firing furious clusters of shot at the two serfs who have the temerity to alarm his dear crinoline-clad wife. His bloodshot face purples with rage as he spies the deep footprints in his manicured croquet lawn. Are those baying hounds we can hear?

It does make me wonder though, at the sort of life she leads, that perhaps she feels she shouldn't let her husband know that she let a couple of walkers through her garden. Other people's lives, eh? A nice lady.

And before we know it,  we are staring down at the North Sea. The East Coast. Lunan Bay.

LUNAN BAY

Of course, it is still perishingly nippy in the sharp northerlies and so for a while I shelter in the dunes to take pictures and a short video of Phil heading off into the North Sea, with I'm sure, a determination to end it all, so that he never has to do this damn walk again. 


LORD ELPUS, STRIDING TO OBLIVION




Finally, I take those last few steps myself. When I say last few steps, I actually mean the bloody long walk down to the water's edge because the tide is out. That's poor planning.

LORD ELPUS, FINISHED, LUNAN BAY. TGO CHALLENGE 2016

LORD ELPUS, FINISHED, LUNAN BAY. TGO CHALLENGE 2016


ALAN SLOMAN, LUNAN BAY. TGO CHALLENGE 2016

With pictures taken we stagger back up the beach to the wonderful cafe, for a delicious light luncheon washed down with Ginger Beers. During our repast, Phil mutters something about 'just going outside and may be some time' and heads out in the direction of the sea. 

It does cross my mind that this might finally be it, that he has finally cracked, Titus Oates / Reggie Perrin-like, and to be honest I am relieved he has left his rucksack outside the cafe, as I need only to step through the door to rummage through his kit and snaffle the best bits before the Forensic Team arrives to scour the area looking for clues to his disappearance. And the inevitable police interviews.

But no. He's back within minutes, still fully dressed. He has been out there on top of the dunes in the nithering icy blasts to get a faint phone signal to call a cab.


LUNAN BAY KITE SURFERS

We leave the kite-surfers to their certain deaths as we climb into the luxurious interior of one of Montrose's finest hackney carriages. In a matter of a moment we are deposited at the Park Hotel to stand in line to receive the badge and t-shirt. 

So with thirty four Challenges under our belts, Phil turns to me and says "How about a Strathcarron start, Al?".