I wake from a terrible night’s sleep, courtesy of some late night banging next door and lots of raised voices. It’s lucky I’m awake early as it’s a very early start. I have to catch the ferry at 8am and it’s a couple of miles walk to it. Somehow I’m at the pier in good time and chatting with Mike and the Jackson family, suppliers of this year’s youngest Challengers in the form of their offspring. Lisa catches me just as I arrive at the pier, and little do I realise how much of here I’m going to see over the next day. Chris and Jessica arrive enabling more names to be put to faces.
The disembarkation at Inverfarigaig is every bit as intrepid as I’ve been led to believe – a climb upwards onto some rocks held in place by a wire gabion. Hikers and rucksacks are temporarily parted as a chain gang is formed to pass kit ashore and to steady us on our vertical scramble. All survive the ascent. Gordon disappears back to Temple Pier and we mill about a bit working out who’s stopping a while and who’s ready to set off.
As usual I’m powering up the road, and find myself walking with David Clark briefly. We’ll be spending a lot more time together later on. The group fragments further on the long roadwalk up to Aberarder House and the River Nairn, but we keep coming together as chunks of the party pause for a break, or scurry down into rivers to collect hats blown away by the wind. Most of us are making for Glen Mazeran so we’re likely to see each other on and off all day.
Finally, well over half the day’s walk done on roads, I step onto a track and the pace of the surroundings slows again. Deer flee in an adjacent field. I don’t have that much energy though and flop on a rock for a brew. I’d have a sleep too if I could find a patch of comfortable ground and didn’t think I’d wake up as a tick’s recreation ground.
I can put it off no more and begin inching my way up the track. Lisa is just ahead of me and I use her as a virtual husky to pull me up the hill through the power of company and chat. A heavy rain squall hits us and we hurriedly don waterproofs. The shower isn’t long lasting but we take refuge in the shooting hut anyway. Various members of the party are in there. Brews and snacks are consumed. It’s tempting to stay a lot longer, but Lisa and I make an effort to get going. Our route is a vaguely easterly one across the peat hags to pick up a stream bed that will funnel us into Glen Mazeran. Passing a little lochan, my declared campsite for the night, I’m glad I’m not stopping there. It’s pants. Susan from Montana catches us as we weave our way across the moorland, Kathy (on her 10th Challenge) shortly after. One of the ladies likens it to walking on chocolate brownie.
We descend into the Glen and spread out again, although Lisa and I are still walking as a pair under an unspoken arrangement for the rest of the day. We weigh up and reject a few spots and opt to camp right at the bottom of the Glen, finding Kathy already installed there. We put our matching Scarps up a respectful distance away. Susan arrives a little while later and a 3rd Scarp is erected.
It’s a chilled camp, largely because after a long tiring day we’re all a bit glad just to rest and stick mainly to our own tents. I do however trade some whisky and the loan of a tent peg to Lisa in exchange for some teabags – my buffer now being replenished. The burn gurgles and the local avian wildlife makes their various assortment of noises, lulling me gently to a very welcome sleep.