Today (ok yesterday, as I’m posting this the following morning) is day 7 on the Virtual TGO Challenge, and we’re halfway across. The crossing of the A9, at least for those in the Newtonmore to Aviemore area, seems to symbolise the halfway point. Of course, if on a more southerly route, you’ll have already crossed the A9, as I did on day 5 in 2018.
But before we get too wrapped up in the celebrations, let’s pick up where we left off…
Day 4 has in two of my three crossings, very much marked the end of the beginning, and even had a bit of an end of trip feel to it. Both have been characterized by some uninspiring road walking, largely dictated by the fact that Day 4 often ends in a settlement of some size. Day 4 fits naturally as a re-supply point, a chance for an actual bed and even a shower. And beer, of course. The goal of day 4 always seems to be to get to the end of that day’s walk rather than enjoy the walk itself. Of course, I need a larger sample size of routes before this can become a hard and fast rule.
The only time day 4 hasn’t conformed to this pattern was in 2018, on a more southerly Oban start. Day 4 saw me wake up from the most stunning camp of the trip on Rannoch Moor, and trudge my way into Rannoch itself to single-handedly try to empty the tea room of food. There then ensued a rather tortuous route north east of the tea room over Sron Smeur. A steep descent, a lot of bog and leaden legs brought me to a camp at the bottom of Loch Ericht with nothing left. It was still the second best camp of the trip, but I was too drained to enjoy it fully.
Day 5 that year continued to be a slog, making up lost distance to Ben Alder Cottage and then my FWA alongisde the loch itself, dicing with the treacherous rock on the loch side. My arrival at Dalwhinnie was a huge relief.
But day 5 in the other years has been a day of renewed vigour – the start of a new phase: the Monadhliath. My first one was the “standard” crossing of Loch Ness and walk up to Aberarder to climb over the watershed into Glen Mazeran. A long day, but one filled with company, as we all leapfrogged each other and gathered spontaneously at the road/track side as our desires for a break coincided. A gathering in the shooting hut deferred the plod across the peat. A lovely camp in Glen Mazeran.
Day 5 last year was, on paper, nothing special. We walked up the road out of Fort A to climb up on the Glen Doe track. It was hot, dusty and we stopped frequently. It was a companionable day. But it was also an unhurried day, a day when there was an unspoken agreement to take it slow and to defer the gratification of those hills. Darren split off for Chalybeate Spring, leaving Paul and I to camp a bit sooner along the Allt Odhar.
In 2018, days 4 and 5 had taken it out of me. I’d felt under pressure both days, having stopped short the night before, and added to the fact I was walking a route designed for two, by myself. I was starting to crack up. A rest at the Loch Ericht Hotel certainly helped matters, and I resolved to take it easy. After a pop up to Kingussie to get provisions early day 6, I started the walk from Dalwhinnie late, and only made it to just the other side of Carn na Caim.
Day 6 the other times has been one of total immersion in the Monadhliath. Last year, Paul and I sauntered through Glen Markie on another glorious day.
It was one of those days, you could quite happily keep going forever in such scenery. Even the boggy bit at the head of the glen didn’t dampen spirits. It was just a perfect day.
Two years earlier day 6 was about walking up the Findhorn to Coignascallan to climb up and over the watershed to the Dulnain. I turned my foot at the top of Allt Steallaig, and opted for an early finish to rest it.
Day 7, and despite it being “halfway day”, there’s little pattern here for me. In 2017, it was day of the Burma Road and Aviemore. I was so relieved to have got halfway across, I went on a, for me, massive bender. I probably did another half day’s walking zig zagging my way along Aviemore’s main drag.
2018’s day 7 saw me finish in Glen Feshie, after a tortuous walk across from Loch Cuaich to Bhran Cottage and then the direct, but demoralising way into Feshie. I rocked up late in the day to Ruigh-aitechain and collapsed in my tent. Luckily there were a few faces I recognised there which helped. None of this would have been a problem if I’d had my walking partner.
Day 7 last year, saw me behind the curve, as we planned our route to make the most of the whole time available. An extra day in the Monadhliath, saw largely a repeat of 2017’s day 6, except we were going the opposite way to Coignascallan at the start. We stopped at Red Bothy, giving ourselves an easy half day into Aviemore the next day
What if this year had happened ?
If 2020 had happened for real, day 4 would have been a repeat of the walk from Cannich to Drumnadrochit from 2017, except we planned to get an evening ferry rather than wait for the next day. So that would have been an Allt na-goire overnight stop
Day 5 would have taken us back to Glen Markie, and it’s fair to say we’ve been looking forward to that camp for the whole year since we first walked there last year.
Day 6 would have taken me to Carn Dearg and a high camp nearby.
Day 7 would have been a straightword follow the tracks sort of day into Kingussie for a wash, a bed and a beer (not necessarily in that order).
It would have been great.
The Virtual Challenge
Oh dear. On day 4 I hit a big patch of Can’t Be Arsed, a occupational hazrad of lockdown, and consequently fell behind on my walking plan. Indeed, technically I’m still in Drumnadrochit by my distance conversion. It’s all rather stalled.
But I did manage to keep up the camping out for 5 nights.