Whiteburn's Wanderings

One man's wanderings backpacking around Scotland plus the odd digression

TGO Challenge 2014

Well that’s the TGO Challenge 2014 done, dusted and written up.

My completed route pretty much stuck to the ‘Route Sheets’ submitted back in November 2013, I did add in a couple of extra Corbett’s into the mix since they were just off route and the weather was good.  The route turned out at 325km (201mls), according to Routebuddy software, and included 5 Munroes and 6 Corbetts. I had planned to complete the route in 14 days but ended up shortening this by a day; the weather was generally quite good apart from a wet few days at the start, I even had the sun hat on for a few days.

No tales of tornadoes, blizzards or battling sabre toothed tigers just an enjoyable couple of weeks walk with convivial company popping up along the way. The worst thing that occurred is that I lost a pair of £15 X-socks along the way which for a Yorkshireman is close to a disaster.

Well here’s how it went:

Friday 9th May – Strathcarron to Bealach an Sgoltaidh, 15km

Friday morning, as planned, I jumped on the train to the NW after stopping for last minute essentials on the way, enough fresh butteries to last until Fort Augustus (at ~300 calories each they’re better backpacking food than oatcakes and they last for days).  I arrived after lunch in the company of Rodger who was heading for Torridon. Signing out from the Strathcarron Hotel at 12:40 and browsing the ledger there seemed quite a few who had spent the night there and set off earlier in the day.
The weather wasn’t looking too bad, the forecast was for intermittent rain over the next couple of days and the sky looked as though that would come true. On the path over to the Bearneas bothy I met with John who was heading to the bothy for the night. I’d originally planned to do the same but on getting close by 3:30pm decided to press on up the hill to Bealach an Sgoltaidh (between Tharsuinn and Cheesecake) and pitch up there for the night.
The crossing of the Abhainn Bhearnais was an easy splodge despite the recent rains and the route straight up to the bealach wasn’t too taxing just really soggy. I soon found a reasonable pitch around 50m from the old wall, it was a bit tight for the Trailstar with the side stakes into the banks of the narrow stream gulleys that ran either side.
I chucked all the superfluous stuff into the TS and headed off up the misty slopes of Beinn Tharsuinn getting to the misty summit when the rain really set in. I didn’t hang around, a quick lap of the cairn and it was back to my temporary home for the night. It was great to dive under cover get a brew on and listen to the rain batter down on the sil-nylon.
It rained continuously throughout the evening, I finally got horizontal about 8:30, watched the rain and listened to the gurgling of the streams a couple of metres away until I drifted off. Some don’t like sleeping next to a stream or waterfall, I find it quite soporific, the white noise seems to knock me out; someone snoring in a tent 10m can keep me awake all night

Saturday 10th May – Bealach an Sgoltaidh to Maol-bhuidhe bothy, 13km.

8:00am, the rain had stopped but low cloud enveloped the tops, I didn’t fancy the steep direct ascent of Bidein a’Choire Sheasgaich with a laden pack particular since it would probably be a very wet and greasy ascent so I opted for the ‘right hook’, an ascending traverse across the NW slopes and up an easy grassy gully to the summit; nothing to see when I got there, the low cloud and light rain reduced the visibility to 10 – 20m.
The crossing to Lurg Mhor was uneventful, if a little damp and misty, really dreich day.
IMG_0616 Lurg Mhor
Later the rain did stop for an hour or so, long enough for me to enjoy lunch down by Loch Calavie before heading off to the bealach at the west end of the loch for the ascent of Beinn Dronaig. Lots of crags got in the way of a direct approach to the summit but they were easily outflanked them by a rising traverse west. Half way up the slopes I was back in the mist with intermittent rain, visibility was 20 – 30m making route finding fun, I probably didn’t end up the most efficient route but I got there in the end. The rain stopped as I dropped back below the cloud line about half way down the easterly descent giving a nice view across Loch Cruoshie to the Maol-bhuidhe bothy.
The crossing of the River Ling near the outfall of the loch was straight forward, though the first stepping stone was well underwater, and I arrived at the bothy around 3:30pm. Mulling options over a brew I decided rather than press on in the hope of finding a decent pitch ‘down the road’ I’d stay the night.
Later that evening I was joined by more Challengers’; the trio of Peter, Matt (Outdoorsmh) and Lee (all bearing wood for the fire); plus Mike travelling solo.
More rain fell through the evening and night just to top up the underfoot sogginess.

Sunday 11th May – Maol-bhuidhe bothy to Glen Affric – 26km

The weather looked to have taken a turn for the better, broken cloud but no imminent threat of rain. It was really soggy and in less than 2 minutes from the bothy feet were thoroughly wet through. I suppose this could be a good thing when in trail shoes as it saves a lot of messing about; once wet there no reason for zigzagging or hesitation, just take a straight line and to hell with it.
A straight forward enough day planned mainly on old LRT’s, a couple of rivers around Mullardoch to wade but the water levels were reasonable .
The highlight of the day was a long lunch break in Gleann a’Choilich when the sun came out, it was off with the shoes and socks and get into slob mode for an hour.
This did have the unfortunate consequence of delaying my ascent to Bealach Coire Ghaidheil just long enough for the rain to return for the steep bit.
I eventually ended up pitched at the head of Loch Affric, not a bad spot with space enough for 50 tents, though the grass is a bit tussocky in places. The breeze had died to only a breath and I awaited the dreaded midge attack but zero, nada, not a one.
IMG_0622 Affric pitch
Another Challenger, Alistair (Al’s Outdoorworld) turned up later and pitched 50m away.

Monday 12th May – Glen Affric to Ceannacroc Bridge – 27km

Another fine morning. Directly south of my campsite I climbed an old stalkers path that zigzags up the blunt north ridge of Carn a’Choire Ghairbh. I quite enjoyed the ascent; the path is never overly steep, though a continuous 630m ascent from the valley floor to the unspectacular summit, reasonably dry underfoot and it does provide nice views up Glen Affric.
IMG_0625 Upper Affric
Heading across to Sail Chaorainn I did find a couple of ‘snecks’ that were still completely bridged with snow, this one had 45 deg snow slopes running down maybe 150m into the coire below, firm enough to kick good steps into but not too hard.
The well trodden, and dry, footpath over Sail Chaorainn, Sgurr nan Conbhairean and Carn Ghluasaid was very pleasant underfoot, a bit of sunshine and light winds made it even nicer; even the descent to Lundie was pleasant despite the odd boggy bit.
Once down to the road there was no time for hanging about as there was still 10km to go before the day’s planned end. The first 2km down the A887 wasn’t exactly a quite bimble down a country lane, car and trucks hurled past at 70+mph, and I was glad to finally turn off on the OMR. It took a little time to register…….someone had been riding motor bikes on the OMR……then it struck me, the Scottish Six Days Trail! An annual motor bike event which hundreds of petrol heads seek to destroy tracks across Scotland, all the wet bits of track were churned to muck. To make matters worse it had started raining, a fairly constant light rain interspersed with persistent bouts of the stair rod variety…..all in all a depressing end to an otherwise great day.
I ‘lost’ the OMR in a forest quite close to Ceannacroc Lodge and I had to bushwhack the last bit to the estate road. No reasonable camping spots locally but I didn’t have to go far, 15-20mins, ending up in a sheep pasture down by the River Morrison just off the old road.

Tuesday 13th May – Ceannacroc Bridge to Fort Augustus – 17km

Waking around 6am the pasture was cloaked in a thick mist, zero breeze and the Trailstar was unusually dripping inside and out. I thought about leaping into action but lethargy took over so I rolled over for an hour. By 8am the sun had burnt off the mist so instead of being on the road I took some time to move the TS into the sun to dry while I had another cuppa.
IMG_0631 FA pitch
By 8:30 I was packed and off, heading east down the A887 again, I hate black top walking but at least it was only for an hour and most of the drivers were quite considerate giving me wide berth; some drivers however seemed to be asleep at the wheel forcing me out of the gutter and onto the rough verge despite there being nothing else on the road.

Having survived the A887 it was nice to be finally on the OMR and it was probably only 0.5km that I took a break and admired some of the surviving engineering.
IMG_0633 OMR bridge
A little further up the OMR and the motor bikes had got there before me; not too much damage but the wet bits sections a bit chewed up. The rest of the run to Fort Augustus went straight forward enough, I did briefly run into Alistair again before heading into the chipper for lunch and then for a pint (part of the calorie controlled diet).
The supermarket was poorly stocked (like 2013), the garage shop proved a little better and I picked up enough to get me to Aviemore. Once at the campsite I enjoyed the afternoon sunshine; strewing the contents of the pack across the grass to dry thoroughly, do the laundry, have a relaxing shower and generally slob around.
I did met up with a few Challengers later (along with Colin and Alan two of the Challenge Vetter’s) while enjoying a meal and beers in the ‘Bothy‘.

Wednesday 14th May – Fort Augustus to Glen Markie – 32km

Despite being in the pub until 11:00pm I managed to be on the road by 8:00am, it looked like being a nice day and Loch Ness was almost mirror flat.
IMG_0635 Loch Ness
I found the new Glen Doe track (for the hydro project) to be monotonous but an efficient way of eating the km’s.
At a lay-by at around 600m elevation I met up with Peter, Matt and Lee again. Pete and Lee were intent on climbing a hill and on consulting the map I noted that they were heading off towards the Corbett of Carn a’Chuilinn around 2km away, the weather looked good so I dropped the pack and set off after them. Peter and Lee decided to turn back at Point 781m, I continued to the summit with a great view across the Monadhliath.
IMG_0637 Chuillin
The little deviation from my planned day probably took around 1 ½ hrs so once back at the pack it was a quick bite to eat and then off up the grey road again. The route across to the Allt na Craidhleig and downstream to Glen Markie proved pretty easy but quite scenic, Stronelairg Lodge and the bridges across into Glen Markie were reached quite quickly.
The path leading up Glen Markie, as marked on the OS map, isn’t that clear on the ground but it didn’t really present a problem. I pitched up about 3km up the glen by a derelict building (~ NH 564080), the grass was a little lumpy but the ground dry and I had a burn to sing me to sleep.
IMG_0641 Markie pitch

Thursday 15th May – Glen Markie to Red Bothy – 32km

07:30am and on the road again, not 200m further up the glen (and for a couple of hundred metres beyond) there was a plethora of great camping spots, much better than by the ruin. There isn’t any defined path up this part of Glen Markie but there’s a green ribbon of soft grass on the river banks that’s beautiful to walk along.
The green trail continued over the bealach to the River Eskin where I soon picked up the LRT down the glen. I found the road from above Dalbeg down to past Coignafearn Old Lodge a bit of a drag, great scenery but it seemed to go on too long. Lower down the valley there was plenty of ‘twitchers’ with huge camera lenses seeking eagles, without joy.
After crossing the Findhorn I pulled up for lunch at the ruins of Coignafeuinternich, a nice little spot well protected from the stiff wind that had been building through the morning, no need to dry the socks but it was nice to kick off the rail shoes and enjoy the location for 45 mins.
After lunch I headed across the moor south of the minor forest picking up a faint old path leading east to a crossing of the Allt a’Mhuilinn.
The estate track had recently been extended so it was a bit of trial and error to find the ‘right’ take off point for the cross country trek across over Carn Caol to the Dulnain. The crossing wasn’t as boggy as I anticipated, not nearly as wet as up in the NW, and in a little over an hour I was descending another newly extended LRT down into the glen.
At the Red Bothy I met up with Kirsten who had the fire going trying to dry out her boots. A little later Darren & Stuart, who I’d ran into in 2013, turned up having been crossing the high ground all day, they pitched up next door.

Friday 16th May – Red Bothy to Coylumbridge – 18km

Minor panic when I started to pack up, my pack liner was missing. The only explanation I could come up with was that it had been blow out of the open doorway of the Trailstar during the night. I found it in the river about 100m east of the bothy……lucky for once. I was finally on the road around 8:00am, Kirsten was away at least an hour earlier but the boys were still having breakfast.
It was a bit blustery climbing up the Burma road and even wilder on the short deviation up Geal-charn Mor but it did provide a great view of the Cairngorms.
No trail lunch today but the luxury of roast Lamb with all the trimmings in the Cairngorm Hotel in Aviemore accompanied by a couple of pints (just topping up on the calories again). After lunch it was the shopping ritual, I got most things I was after on the second circuit around the aisles and then retired 3km up the road to the Coylumbridge campsite. I ended up pitching next to Kirsten. For £10 a night I wasn’t impressed by the tent camping area; sloping, bumpy and the ground was as hard as a forestry track, I was wishing I’d brought my Vargo Ti Nails to beat into it. The Reception did stay open late especially for the TGO and were providing a phone charging service which was good of them on both counts. After laundry and a shower I settled down to the hard work of slobbing around, snacking and drinking wine until bed time.

Saturday 17th May – Coylumbridge to Glen Builg – 37km

8:00am, as I set off I did find it a little bizarre to see campers in pyjamas and dressing gowns wandering off to the shower block clutching wash bags half the size of my pack.
I’d quite a benign plan for the day, a simple bimble over the Lairig an Laoigh, up an over Creag Mhor and then down to the Faindouran bothy for the night, an easy 24km across home territory, all of which could easily be accomplished on auto-pilot.
I didn’t take a break until the crossing of the Glasath burn on the east flank of Bynack Mor a nice little spot for lunch sheltered from the stiff wind; I didn’t even have to dry out the socks…….I’d had 4 days with dry feet, a real novelty for Scotland.
At the head of Lochan a’Bhainne it was a sharp left turn and an ascent of 150m to the very windy summit of Creag Mhor, the cloud had lifted a bit so I had a reasonable view across the Barns of Bynack.
A quick nip NE across the plateau and a descent following the Caochan Craobh a’Chuimeneich straight down to the Faindouran; I arrived at around 3pm. Too early to call it a day so after a short break I headed off down the glen.
I pulled up 3hrs or so later, I just kept bumbling onward until I finally decided to push on to where Ballater was easily achievable the next day. Another Challenger was already in residence, hunkered down against the strong south-westerly that was ripping down Glen Builg.

Sunday 18th May – Glen Builg to Ballater – 29km

I was up and away before 8:00am, my neighbour had already departed. Once past Loch Builg and on the good LRT I cruised down to near Daldownie I met up with Robin (Blogpackinglight) and Dave, they’d managed to find a sunny sheltered spot next to the track so I joined them for a short break. Our ways soon parted as I was taking a high route and they were to follow Glen Gairn straight into Ballater.
The route over Geallaig Hill proved a very pleasant diversion, once I’d crossed the OMR a LRT wound its way easily to the top
I following the LRT east over Carn Dearg before turning off down a path which was heading ‘my way’ (east), I lost it after a km or so and ended up with a steep descent though woodland to the road, Ballater was an ½ hr stroll, a day’s earlier than planned.
A sunny Sunday in Ballater, not much going on but quite a few tourists wandering about. The campsite had a few Challengers already in residence and a lot more turned up as the afternoon progressed. Not much to do other that the laundry, shower and slob around until it was time to go and eat. The Alexandra Hotel provided good food and a few pints of Orkney Dark Island, luxury.

Monday 19th May – Ballater to Glen Tannar – 21km

I’d decided on a lazy start, I’d rescheduled the remainder of the trip, still 3 days to the coast but with differing halts. Today I’d planned an easy 21km walk over to Glen Tannar and I needed to do some shopping for supplies. The campsite was fairly empty as I finally left at around 10:00am.
The Deeside Way (old railway track) is a pretty effective way of piling on the km’s but quite boring, the 11km to Dinnet took about 2hrs
Time for lunch, I joined a few others in the Loch Kinord Hotel. An overly priced Panini and a couple of beers later I was wandering off up the road with Ray and Dave towards Glen Tannar. We’d 10km to travel and on a sunny afternoon we dawdled along enjoying the day.
Ray nearly stomped on this fellow, a 40cm slow worm, right in the middle of the track, first time I’ve seen one in Scotland.
The campsite I knew higher up the glen by the Water of Allachy was already inhabited when we arrived but the area has plenty of pitches in the neighbourhood. Call me anti-social but I opted for a solo spot amongst the pines to avoid any snoring and I get my own en-suite.

Tuesday 20th May – Glen Tannar to Glenskillan – 34km

I was awake around 6:00am as the sun hit the TS, for a brew.  All was quiet apart from a couple of Capercaillie calling a little higher up the glen and roe deer barking.  I was packed and away before 7:30 heading for the Firmounth, the little camp ground nearby was still quiet as I passed, from conversations it seemed like they were heading the 15km over to Tarfside so could afford the late start.

It took less than an hour to reach my take off point for the crossing over to the Fungle and the Forest of Birse, an easy 0.5km to a LRT on the Hill of Duchery.
Once down the Fungle and around the Birse Castle, despite the scenery and the sunshine, it was a pretty boring trog down the glen to the sawmill. I left the road here and headed off along unfamiliar farm tracks SE over to the Water of Aven. The track had pretty much faded out by the time I met the river which was a simple ankle deep wade across, what I hadn’t anticipated was a 1.8m high deer fence between the river and LRT; I decided on a lunch stop (I can recommend the butteries from the bakery in Ballater) to dry the socks before scaling the fence.


Within a couple of km of crossing the Aven I was on familiar territory again, back on auto-pilot for the wander through the forest to the ruins Tillfumerie overlooking the River Dye and the Fetteresso.

The old foot bridge here looks a bit dodgy but it’s quite robust.
I’d originally thought to camp in the pasture but it was still early so I pushed on. No path from the bridge up to the Builg Road but the woodland was open enough for it not to be an issue. I plodded on over Kerloch heading for a pitch by the Burn of Dennetys (NO 721875) but on getting to Glenskillan lethargy took over and I ended up pitching up in a gateway.

Wednesday 21st May – Glenskillan to Stonehaven – 24km

8:00am and over the hill to Dennetys, I ran into a few Challengers still packing up, a number had already hit the trail.
Just beyond Dennetys the Builg joins the main Fetteresso forestry/ wind farm tracks and it getting boring, miles and miles of this:
Not exactly great scenery but with cruise control engaged it does have the benefit of getting speedily to within a couple of km of Stonehaven without having to walk on any black top.
The end of the TGO came as a bit of an anti-climax, sitting in the Marine Hotel enjoying the ale I didn’t feel on a high. The mood change had probably been building (or sliding downhill) since Ballater with the end just a hop skip and a jump away.  I enjoy being on the trail so I guess having a trip end is very much a negative message.  I didn’t really feel like celebrating so once I’d bused to Montrose, got the formalities completed and some more beer consumed, I ended up just taking a bus home………….I’ve got to start planning the next little outing.


5 comments on “TGO Challenge 2014

  1. Robin
    May 30, 2014

    Nice one. Good to meet you. Hope we bump into each other again.

    • Paul Atkinson
      May 30, 2014

      Our casual meeting along the Gairn was short but I’m sure we’ll cross path again, maybe next TGO 2015?

  2. Martin Rye
    June 5, 2014

    Get planning and enjoyed that report. All the best in 2015. I hope to be back on it.

    • Paul Atkinson
      June 7, 2014

      The planning for 2015 has already started, may see you on the trail.

  3. Pingback: TGOC-14. A list of blogs « Daunerin' Aboot

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This entry was posted on May 29, 2014 by in TGO Challenge 2014, Trip Reports and tagged , .

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