My son and I were in the Ochils, not far from where we live, for our November camp. We were going for his camp-once-a-month-for-a-year challenge. This was his 11th month.
But life is busy. He had a rugby match in the morning, I did Parkrun, and by the time we'd had lunch and packed up, it was early afternoon.
We headed up past Stirling, and stopped at the Dunblane Marks and Spencer for pastries and snacks. We then headed up into the Ochils, parked at the side of the Sheriffmuir road, and walked in to an informal camp in the trees. There's a little sign there indicating that the camp is called 'Camp Runamuck', and a picnic table and fire ring.
At 4:30, we got in the the tent to escape from the rain. I'd brought in some kindling for a camp fire, and put it under the picnic table. Unfortunately, it wasn't a night for a fire.
The weather forecast, at least as far as I could recall it, had indicated that it would be partly sunny with a low chance of rain.
However, shortly after we'd set up the tent, the first rain drops started to fall. It strengthened, and rained for hours. Even in the middle of the night when I awoke, I could hear heavy drops on the tent fly. In the morning, the rain was intermittent, and finally paused.
It was a little chilly with the wind, so we ended up in our bags. We continued a book that I'd been reading to my son - Natural Born Heroes - which describes a WWII mission to kidnap a German general on Crete. The story is compelling, and the author includes quite a number of digressions, so we've been reading on and off now for about a year.
Later, still in the rain, I warmed some bacon in the tent vestibule (with the vestibule door open, of course). The warmed bacon butties were welcome, and somehow tasted better than at home.
We played Risk on my kindle. We were both a little tired, and after 8 p.m. turned in.
In the morning, finally, the rain eased a bit. There was a little water on the tent floor where the fly didn't quite cover the tent, but otherwise my old tent held up well again. With our inflatable Therma-rests, our sleeping bags escaped the moisture.
There was an inversion, and the valley below was still in cloud.
Mist in the morning, after a rainy night
We bundled up and headed into the hills. We ticked off another Ochil (we're trying to do them all). The hill was a broad peat bog, and the route was cross country, but it was good to get out. We headed back to camp and packed up.
And that was it. We'd been tent-bound from 4:30 p.m. until about 8 in the morning, except for pee breaks. One forgets how long the nights are at this time of year, but it's also a time for relaxing and enjoying being tent-bound in the rain.
I was awoken by the footsteps of two hillwalkers, passing near my tent at 6 a.m. They'd must have had an early start, as I was a few miles from the nearest road.
I packed, brewed my coffee, ate and headed down the track towards Glen Muick. The track led through a pleasant forest and past a large house. Glen Muick was flat, and featured many deer. I headed past the car park at the Spittal of Glenmuick, and its useful facilities, and then along a stream into the hills. Near the Glen, there appeared to be a number of ruins, presumably from a previous village. It was warm, again, and I started to sweat a bit with my trousers on.
At the head of the stream the path faded, and I navigated by compass. I was aiming for the Shielin of Mark bothy, and emerged from the peat haggs about 200 meters to the left of structure. There was smoke coming from the fireplace there, and I could see people outside, so I headed over.
A mother and her adult daughter had spent the night in the bothy, along with a male work colleague. The latter two worked at the same outdoors shop, and asked me about what I was carrying. They were friendly, and made me a cup of real coffee, and shared a few granola bars. The man had gone with a pretty light sleeping bag, and had been cold in the night.
Eventually, I headed off up to the ridge of Muckle Cairn. From there I headed downhill and cross-country to a track.
I descended down into Glen Lee, and followed the track along the river. My left leg, sore since the big day into Braemar, continued to be an annoyance. The wind was gusty here, but I eventually emerged near Loch Lee. In a hill nearby there was smoke from a fire. It seemed unlikely to be deliberate, as it was on a steep portion of of this mountain.
A fire in the hills (Craig Nann) near Loch Lee
I listened to a backpacking podcast as I followed the track along Loch Lee. Beyond it I followed a road past the ruins of a 16th-17th century castle, and along the water of Lee. It was a pleasant Sunday afternoon, and a lot of day walkers were out.
Invermark Castle, near Loch Lee
I left the road and headed along a farm track that goes over a hill and directly to Tarfside. I'd taken this route before, as it cuts off a stretch of road, but coming at the end of a long day it felt tiring (as it had when I did it previously).
I arrived at Tarfside, and checked in to St. Drostans, where I was to spend the night.
Pack explosion in my dorm room at St. Drostans
I showered and then joined the volunteers and a few Challengers in the kitchen for a welcome home-cooked dinner (fish pie!) and a beer or two. Over the walk, I'd been accustomed to eating a bit lighter, typically ramen noodles or equivalent for dinner, so the dinner felt like a vast amount of food. It was great to meet and chat with the legendary Roger Smith, involved in the Challenge since its inception, and the first editor of The Great Outdoors magazine.
I had a bacon butty and some coffee early, settled up, and then head up the road. I listened to a history podcast - The Memory Palace - as I crossed the river and followed farm tracks through the Glen.
12 miles to Edzell, and then another 12 to the finish in Montrose
There was, again, a headwind, but the walking was otherwise easy.
On the track through Glen Esk
My lower leg was now an issue. It was particularly painful on any downhills, where I almost had to hobble. I did my usual 55 minute walk/ 5 minute rest, but I was concerned. It would have been gutting to come this far and not finish.
In Edzell, I stopped at The Tuck Inn for lunch. Afterwards, I found a elastic type wrap for my leg, and wrapped it up tightly. This, and some ibuprofen, seemed to help.
Looking back at Edzell
I pressed on, hobbling across the A90 and up along the minor roads.
It was a full day of walking, but in the late afternoon I eventually reached the Montrose basin.
I made my way through town, and to the Park Inn to Challenge Control. There I was presented with my finishing certificate and a welcome cup of tea.
And that was it. I hobbled to the train station, and boarded a train home.
I joined Thilou and Rob for breakfast at The Bothy, a restaurant associated with the Braemar Mountain Sports shop. They weren't under the same time pressure to finish, and were considering staying put for the day. I took my leave, headed back to the campground and packed up. Once done, I took my water bottle to the washing up sink to fill up, and then headed across the road and up into the hills.
It was warm. After a good climb the trail leveled out in the forest, and I reached for my water bottle. It wasn't there. I'd left it back at the campground. I considered my options, but there wasn't really an alternative but to retrace my steps. I stashed my pack in the woods and jogged back down the hill and to the campground.
I walked this road three times as I'd forgotten my water bottle at the campground.
Back at the campground, I found my water bottle right where I'd left it. I then fast-walked back up the hill, retrieved my pack, and headed on.
The woods were lovely. On one occasion I took a short-cut that ended up being blocked by a deer fence. Later, I headed up a forest track which I thought was correct but wasn't.
Eventually, I found where I needed to go, and followed a faint path up through the woods. It was very warm.
The trees dissipated as I reached the high ground, and I then followed a track through the heather. For one of the first times ever in Scotland, I took my umbrella out to shield me from the sun! As I walked, I was startled by a small adder near the trail.
Looking back at Royal Deeside
I eventually came to a track, and rested in the shade of a small shelter.
A little shelter near the track
I pushed on and reached the Gelder Shiel bothy. It was well kept, and is definitely some place I'd like to come back to. I had a late lunch there, and pushed on, as it was too early to stop.
At the Gelder Shiel bothy
A faint path led through the heather. I had my rain trousers on, and my legs were sweaty. The trail was too overgrown, however, to proceed without this leg protection.
Eventually, I reached another track that led towards Lochnagar.
The afternoon had passed, and I was getting weary. My map suggested that there weren't likely to be many good places to pitch my tent once I started to descend towards Glen Muick, so I found a place a spot near a trail towards Lochnagar.
After setting up my tent, I followed several trails to grouse butts, but none led to water. Eventually, reluctantly, I retraced my steps on the track back to the last point at which I'd seen a dribble of water coming from the peat. I watered up, and returned to my tent to cook dinner.
It was a lovely evening, but once I'd settled in to my sleeping back, sleep came quickly.
I left the hostel in Newtonmore and headed up the cycle path to Kingussie. The sun was out, and it warmed quickly. I knew that I'd be heading away from civilization for the next two days, so I took the opportunity to pack in some calories: a tin of Coke and a sausage roll.
My pack and my mid-morning snack, in Kingussie
I headed up the road, past the Ruthven Barracks ruins, and into the woods. The track through Glen Feshie was a delight.
The track through the woods
Eventually, I came to the refurbished bothy at Ruigh Aiteachan. The friendly keeper was there with his daughter, working outside, but they invited me in for a tea. This was most welcome. The keeper showed me around the building, and the interior featured new wood panelling throughout. This has to be one of the nicest bothies in Scotland.
It was mid-afternoon, and so I pressed on for a bit. As the trees began to thin out, I sought a good place to pitch my tent. I was keen to stay among the Scots Pines of the Glen, and camped near the end of them.
I used some river water to soak my sponge, and wiped off. Inside the tent, with the sun, it was almost too warm. I left and walked up the trail a bit, but a river crossing made it impassable. I slabbed along the river for a bit, and found an inviting swimming hole which would be fun to explore with my son some time. Back at my tent I read, looked at my maps and dozed.
In the early evening, I heard someone calling from the path. It was a Challenger from Korea, an older woman, looking for her son (who'd apparently walked ahead). I'd seen his tent pitched up ahead, but warned the woman that the path they were on would lead to a river crossing. Her husband arrived, and I guided them to the alternative trail that avoided this crossing.
River Feshie, near my tent
I was up and moving early. The trees of Glen Feshie gave way to the open moorland of Glen Geldie. The sun was out, again, and I was making miles.
A few hours in, and I reach the footbridge over the River Eidart (a tributary of the River Feshie). Following the Eidart up into the hill looked inviting, but I had a country to cross, and so this was left for another trip.
Falls in River Eidart
The path through Glen Geldie was suprisingly dry.
The trees of Glen Feshie give way to the open moorland of Glen Geldie
The miles passed, and I stopped for lunch at a small group of trees. On my way I'd passed a conservation group, working on one of the old structures in the Glen.
I continued, and as the miles mounted I started to fatique a bit. Eventually, I reached the trees on the approach to the Linn of Dee. The sun was so bright, it was hard to see my phone to take photos.
Back in the trees, on the approach to Braemar
A right of way sign confirmed that I was 27 miles from Kingussie. On my reckoning, I'd done 20+ miles from Glen Feshie, and still had a few miles to go to Braemar.
A big day from Glen Feshie
I walked through the grounds of Mar Lodge, and then along the road to Braemar. I was beat. I rested every hour, and needed to filter more water from a stream by the side of the road. I fell in with another Challenger, Andre, leaving Mar Lodge, and we chatted for a bit before he took a more scenic route into the village.
In Braemar, I stopped at the Co-op, and purchased some crisps and a Coke. As I was eating these outside, I was hailed by Thilou, who I'd met
on my TGO Challenge four years earlier. With her and her partner, we pitched at the Braemar campsite. I showered, and then met other Challengers at the pub. There, with a welcome dinner and some Cairngorm beers, we passed a pleasant evening.
With Thilou, her partner and other Challengers at the pub
It was a good day, but the miles had taken a toll. Walking to and from the pub in the evening, I was slightly hobbled by pain from my lower left leg, near the ankle. I turned in for a comfortable night in the campground.
I was up early, and made a cup of coffee in the hostel kitchen. I had a quick shower, given that I likely would not get another chance for a day or two, and then changed into my hiking clothes - running shirt, swimming shorts, waterproof trousers, running sox, and approach shoes.
I left the hostel with Stuart, Lorna and a friend of theirs. We stopped at the Co-op grocery store, and bought fresh sausage rolls. We then walked to the pier on the other side of Drumnadrochit.
We were joined by a few other Challengers, and boarded Gordon MacKensie's boat to cross Loch Ness. It was a calm, clear morning, and the Loch stretched to the horizon. I received a text from Charlie indicating that he'd missed the boat, but was reconsidering the walk because of his knee.
We landed at an old pier on the other side of the loch at Inverfarigaig, and I passed our packs to Stuart, who was off the boat first.
We walked together for a mile or so along a road into the forest. My route headed South at that point, so I said goodbye to the others, and headed out on my own. I was a little sorry for this, as it had been a lot of fun walking with them.
The road through Glenlia
The road led up a hill, and I was warm when in the sun, but chilled when in the shade. Next to the road ran a small burn, and it was a pretty walk through the forest. I stopped after the hill under some inviting trees, and made a cup of coffee.
Coffee break under the pine trees
I continued at crossed through the hamlet of Whitebridge, which featured a bridge build by General Wade in 1732.
The Old Bridge at Whitebridge
I then headed towards the hills. I took a minor road for several miles towards Garrogie Lodge, stopping for lunch near a shed, and then reached a track the led along Loch Killin towards the Monadhliath Mountains. It was a long afternoon's walk, and I passed the time listening to an American political podcast The Axe Files.
View back through Glen Killin
I took the track up the hill, and shortly after a junction in the road, came to a newly built, small shooter's shelter. It was open and unoccupied, so I went in for a rest and to take a compass bearing. Though I was on a track, there were several other tracks heading off in different directions, many not shown on the map (the Monadhliath being an active site for windmill construction). I took my bearing, and then continued up into the hills.
The Monadhliath is a great place to practice navigation skills
I eventually came to the end of one track, at what may have been Chalybeate Spring. It was marked on the map as such, and I confirmed my coordinates with the OS app on my phone, but it was a trickle of water coming from a peat hag. Nonetheless, I found a non-boggy place to pitch my tent, near a burn.
A nice evening in the Monadhliath
It had been a day of sun, and the evening was mild. That said, I was up high and there were the remnants of snow drifts just behind my tent. I took a sponge bath, cooked, and explored a little bit. Above my camp two streams converged, and in one I saw small trout. This would be a long walk in for some fishing, however.
Evening in the hills
The next morning dawned a little overcast. I did my normal morning routine of making coffee before leaving the tent, and then packing up.
Morning view from my tent
I took a compass bearing, and headed cross-country. The sky eventually cleared, but there was a stiff breeze. I concentrated on taking a bearing, walking to a feature ahead on that bearing, and then taking a bearing again.
There aren't many distinctive features on the Monadhliath plateau.
My target was Carn Dearg, a Munro, and I made it to the summit before lunch.
Cornice remnants near Carn Dearg
I then descended, crossed a boggy stretch, and headed to Newtonmore. I arrived in the early afternoon, met Sue (one of the T.G.O. organisers) and booked a bunk. Together with another Challenger, I headed to the pub across the street, and this morphed into dinner with a larger group. Another excellent day on the Challenge!
I'm currently attempting to camp once a month for a year.
June was my 10th month. However, it had been chock full of responsibilities, with my wife being a away for 11 days. Also, I was to travel for work during the last week of the month.
So, I needed a camp, and I needed to do it on a weekday. That meant going after work.
I decided to stay close. Indeed, I wanted to walk from my house.
So after dinner, I packed up my sleeping bag, sleeping mat, tent, stove, fuel, pot, mug, and a Starbucks Via instant coffee. I'd also bought two tins of craft beer for the evening, and some almond croissants for breakfast.
And then I was off.
I walked up my street, across the main street, and headed into the woods along a riverside path. Some teenagers passed me going the other way, as did the occasional dog walker. The path led up to an aqueduct, and I crossed over the river there.
It had been one of the best summers in the U.K. for several years, and I've found myself slipping into a pleasant sort of drowsiness, a state I've occasionally experienced on hot afternoons.
After a bit of looking around, I found a good spot to pitch my tent near a tree. I inflated my Therma-rest, and unloaded my pack. Up along the trail a short bit I found a bench to sit on and enjoy my tins of beer, while watching the evening progress.
I thought I had the place to myself, but one dog walker emerged from the trail. The dog came over and gave me a lick, I said "hi", and they moved on. I wondered if the dog walker had noticed my tent, but it was possible she came up a different trail to this point.
Returning to the tent, I read for a bit, and then turned in. It was a good night for sleeping, with a breeze keeping things cool and comfortable.
In the morning I lit the stove, and had a cup of coffee while packing up.
Then, I walked the few miles back to my house, showered, and went to work.
I began this blog post at a happier time. In the interim, my father passed away. He was unwell, but things progressed much more rapidly than any of my family anticipated.
I'm still digesting this. But I like to think he would have enjoyed hearing about my camping out. My father was increasingly housebound over the last few years, but he enjoyed the outdoors, even if it wasn't really accessible to him.
I remember him visiting when we car-camped nearby in the summer a few years ago. I think he enjoyed sitting by the fire for a bit, and being near the woods. My sister shared a similar view on a backpacking trip we took together - "Dad would have liked this".
I'm back home now, far from my home of origin. The mornings are getting cooler as the summer starts to fade.
Loch Duich and the Kintail Lodge Hotel at the Shiel Bridge start
I did a half a day's work, and then changed, in my office, from my work clothes to my walking clothes. I then caught the train to Inverness, meeting a few Challengers in the carriage. At Inverness, I met an American couple doing their first Challenge, and then picked up a sandwich for dinner, and some Permetherin to spray on my clothes (to repel ticks).
The 5:00 bus from Inverness was busy, and it was just over a two hour ride to Shiel Bridge. Their, I walked to the campground, and immediately bumped into Tim, who I'd walked with last year. He was sporting a new Tarptent, and had driven up from Wales with his parents.
View from the Shiel Bridge camground
My tent, with my Permethrin treated clothes drying in the breeze
After pitching my tent, eating, and chatting with Tim and Katie, another Challenger, I walked over to the Kintail Lodge for a pint. There I met Barbara, the oldest Challenger this year (at age 81), and her colleague on the trip, Kevin. Later, three Challengers from Michigan arrived: Ray, Chris, and Chelsea. We chatted for a bit, and then I headed back to the tent in the dusk.
I packed up and head to the Kintail Lodge Hotel to check in. The check-in form was only available at 9 a.m., so I had a coffee and chatted with other Challengers as we waited. I was then off, and headed up the road and into Glen Licht. There, I headed into a stiff wind up the Glen.
In my pack I carried: my one-person tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, a change of walking clothes, sleeping clothes, an umbrella, a rain jacket, a lightweight down jacket, hat, gloves, stove, fuel cannister, toiletries and a trowel, a portion of a used paperback book, maps, a torch, pocket knife, food for three days, water, a water filter, some first aid items, cash, my debit card and a mobile phone. I carried walking poles.
After a few hours, I reached the head of the Glen, and took shelter in a shed by the hunter's lodge there. I sat with two other Challengers, and made a tuna wrap for lunch. Later, I realized that my pocket knife must have been left there.
Waterfall on climb out of Glen Licht
View back above Glen Licht
I pressed on, and at the plateau above Glen Licht met Bob Cartwright, owner of backpackinglight.com, and podcaster at The Outdoors Station. I'd listened to his wonderful podcasts for several years, and it was a pleasure to thank him for his work.
Later, I fell in with Stuart and Lorna, retirees from the police force in Scotland, and we had a good chat about their walking club and great places to visit as we made our way to the Glen Affric your hostel. There, we enjoyed scones and lentil soup. I pushed on from the hostel just as the first drops of rain began to fall.
I walked for another kilometer or so, keeping an eye out for a good place to pitch my tent. It was only around 5 p.m., but I didn't want to get soaked by the rain on my first day of walking. Also, I knew from my previous Challenges that there were somewhat fewer ideal places for pitching the tent further up Glen Affric. I found a good, flat stretch of grass near the river, and set up quickly to get out of the rain. Inside the tent, I rested on my sleeping mat as heavy gusts of wind slammed into the tent fly-sheet. Eventually, I roused myself to boil some water for ramen noodles, and ate these with a ciabatta roll. Later, I unrolled the sleeping bag, studied my maps for a bit, and then drifted off to sleep.
My first night's tent site
I was up early, and breakfasted on instant Starbucks coffee, an oatmeal bar, and some nuts and raisins. I packed up, and continued up the track. In the distance behind me, I could see a few other tents from Challengers that had arrived after I'd pitched yesterday.
I stopped at a mountaineering club hut, and chatted with some of the group that was there. The sun was out, and it was a promising day weather-wise.
Later, along Loch Affric, I caught up with Stuart and Lorna, and chatted with them for a bit. They'd had an early start, and then a long break in the sun to eat and air out their tents. We crossed paths for the remainder of the day.
I also met Charlie, an academic from Illinois, who was on his first Challenge. In addition to being a scientist, he was also a photographer, and some of his impressive photos can be seen here.
View back through Glen Affric. My pack is on the right.
I went my own way for a bit, but after crossing the river by Dog Falls, I caught up again with Stuart, Lorna and Charlie. Now, it was actually hot out, and we rested in the shade with our shoes and socks off.
Our route was on the Affric-Kintail way, and this took us up into the woods. I'd left Dog Falls, after dipping my feet in, and caught up with Charlie on the road. We chatted, and occasionally rested, and the afternoon passed. Eventually we descended into Cannich, and pitched at the good campsite there. Stuart and Lorna arrived a little later. In all, we'd covered a good distance.
I showered, and then Charlie and I headed to the pub. Later, Stuart and Lorna joined us, and we enjoyed our Saturday evening. Around 8 p.m., someone who could have been a Challenger walked past the pub, head down and looking beat. I never did find out who it was. As I went to pay, I was greeted by Rob and Thilou (the latter who I'd walked with for several days on my first Challenge). Thilou was struggling with back pain, but was keen to continue the Challenge. They walked back with us to the campground, where they were also staying.
Somehow, I took a long time getting out of camp in the morning. Eventually, by 10, I was packed up and I headed out with Charlie. Our next destination was Drumnadrochit, and again we traded places over the course of the day, chatting a bit about Charlie's college years in California. Leaving Cannich, there's a long climb on the road, and it began to rain. I pulled out my umbrella and rested occasionally during this, so as not to overheat.
En route, we stopped and checked out Corrimony chambered cairn, and several thousand year old burial site.
Corrimony chambered cairn
Later in the afternoon, Charlie's knees were starting to give him grief, and he waved me on. I arrived in Drumnadrochit in the late afternoon. I checked into the hostel, resupplied, and stopped at the lively pub at the back of the Benleva Hotel. I then met Stuart and Lorna at the Loch Ness Inn, and we had a very nice meal. We also ran into Thom, who I'd met two years previously. He was dressed in his jacket and hat, and has continued with his excellent blog on the Challenge. Thom was having problems with his knee, and was worried that he would not be able to continue.
Thom, at the Loch Ness Inn
I didn't want too late of a night, so I took my leave and returned to hostel and my comfortable bunk.