I chose to start at the village of Dornie which is situated nicely beside Loch Alsh and the wonderfully restored Eilean Donan castle.
|Eilean Donan Castle|
Following night of relative luxury in the Dornie Hotel, I signed the register and set off on a deliberately planned steady first day. The route took me beside Loch Long and then straight into the country via the River Glennan and Glen Elchaig as far as Iron Lodge. I was in and out of company all day with other Challenge walkers along this popular route. A few of them branched off for the Falls of Glomach and a few more for the head of Loch Mullardoch. Following a lunch stop at Iron Lodge I pushed on for a few km's to Loch Mhoicean where I pitched the tent for the first wild camp of the trip.
|Badly pitched tent at Loch Mhoicean|
A restless night under canvass as is usual for my first wild camp of the trip.
The loch is a windy old spot and it rained in the night. I was out of practice in mastering the art of pitching a tent, meaning that I had about 3 hours of fitful sleep all night.
The main reason for camping at the loch was to put me in a good position to tackle the Mullardoch ridge which has four Munro's along it's 10km length and is one of the finest ridge walks in Scotland.
The rain had fallen as snow on the tops and I was unsure that the ridge was a good option as the sky promised more snow. I ascended to the bealach between Carn na Braebaig and Meall Shuas to assess my prospects of either a hill day or the notoriously awful trudge beside Loch Mullardoch.
A few moments to consider the options....There was only ever going to be one outcome really.
I decided to do An Socach and see what conditions were like on the tops. I could always backtrack if the going was too severe.
Up ahead I noticed Julie ad Daniel, two of the Challenger's that I had met yesterday and set out in earnest to catch them up.
I eventually reached the top of An Socach just as the weather closed in. as I was approaching the trig point, another walker came towards it from the opposite direction. It was, of course another Challenger, Heine, who had ascended the North ridge having started out at Strathcarron the day before.
There were now 4 of us up on the ridge and we stayed close together for what was quite a battle over the Munro's We had snow, hail, rain and heavy wind bursts to contend with all the way, A proper Mountain day that will live in the memory for a long time to come.
|An Socach and the ridge beyond|
|Taking shelter on Sgurr na Lapaich|
A short day along a pleasant enough minor road to Cannich. Stayed on the excellent camp site there and unwound in the village pub that night along with plenty of other Challenger's. Slept well, in a slightly inebriated condition and awoke with the first hangover of the trip
Another relatively easy day, quite warm with blue skies. Picked up paths to Loch Riabachain where I bumped into Julie and Daniel again, with the help of some dubious group navigation we eventually found the forest track leading to the ancient Corrimony stone circle. Corrimony Stones from there it was forest tracks all the way to the "Nessie" village of Drumnadrochit to pick up supplies and enjoy a welcome pint before tramping along the road to Temple Pier for the boat ride across Loch Ness.
|First boat load of Challengers depart Temple Pier|
I caught the 2nd Gordon Menzies boat across the loch to Inverfarigaig and enjoyed the minor road walk to Ault-na goire, where I camped along with many other Challenge walkers, whisky was passed around until darkness fell and we all retired for the night..a good day.
Up and off early on a glorious morning. Short road walk to Loch Mhor, then over Meall Donn, where the path ran out and more dubious navigation had me tramping through knee deep heather to eventually emerge accidentally, in the back garden of a modern, turreted monstrosity of a mansion, no doubt owned by some millionaire who "entertains" here occasionally. No one at home today though, luckily, so I wandered through the manicured grounds to pass through a gate proclaiming "Strictly, No Entry"...oops.
From Loch Connagleann I followed a track to Carn Odhar for first views of the Cairngorms. The network of tracks lower down are a bit confusing, quite a few of which are not shown on the map. The River Findhorn came into view and this was followed to a wild camp at the magnificently named ruins at Coignafeuinternich.
Pitched the tent and then sat by the burn enjoying a few drams whilst watching a huge deer herd coming down from the hills to graze.
Another fabulous day.
Followed the Allt Mhuilinn and Allt Spioradail to the River Dunlain, lunch in the Red Bothy and then off on the long haul up the Burma Road. Ticked off my first ever Corbett, Geal-charn Mor which gave excellent views of the Cairngorms.
|The Cairngorms from Geal-charn Mor|
Another very hot day and I was feeling fine until I hit the road into Aviemore, where I hit something of a brick wall, my feet were suddenly in bits and I had no strength at all, all the signs pointed to dehydration. The mile or so into Aviemore must have taken me over an hour. I needed a bed, a shower and some food.Plenty of food options in the town and I stayed in the Youth Hostel, showered and slept very well.
I was half a day ahead of schedule and used it up by lounging around in and around the hostel, before a leisurely stroll along a cycle track to Loch Morlich and the campsite there. Met up with Colin and Gus there and we had a pleasant evening in Glenmore Lodge, returning to the campsite after dark. A welcome short day after the low point yesterday.
I'll let the pictures tell the story...
|Cairn Gorm ski slopes still open for business|
|On Ben Macdui with Caburn|
|Beinn Mheadoin and a frozen Loch Etachan|
|Well pitched Laser, Derry Lodge camp|
Outrageous day. 3 Munros, Cairn Gorm, Ben Macdui and Derry Cairngorm. Great wild campsite at Derry Lodge where I was treated to a superb Golden Eagle sighting. Heavy rain and thunder as I settled down in the tent..
Another epic day. Stroll along Glen Lui then cut across to Glen Quoich via the Clais Fhearnaig, a lovely spot for a dip.
|Quoich Water in spate|
Ahead of schedule again so just a short walk, mainly on roads to Ballater, following an early start I was sat down in a cafe at 9 a.m enjoying a full Scottish breakfast, mugs of tea and reading the papers, very civilised. Stayed on the campsite in Ballater with many other Challengers and had a nice evening in the pub, eating, chatting and drinking Guinness.
I could not get moving this morning, I was one of the last to pack up and then mooched around in the village for a while before eventually setting off on the Mounth Keen path as far as Lach na Gualainn, followed a burn down to Etnach and onwards through the forest of Glen Tanar. No spring in the step today, felt very tired following the hard days over and through the Cairngorms.
I camped beside the Water of Feugh just below Birse Castle where I slept, fully clothed for 12 hours solid.
|Sleepathon camp site below Birse Castle|
All the exertions were over now and it was just two steady days to the coast. Still ahead of schedule I decided to walk along the road to Strachan and try to get in a B&B that had read about. The road walk was pleasant enough and the MP3 player kept me going at a good pace into the village. I found the B&B at the far side of the village but unfortunately it was full. Decided to push on to Banchory where I managed to get the last room in the Royal British Legion which offers comfortable rooms and good food at a very good price. Slept well in only the second bed of the walk.
I was off route now and had no option other than to tramp along a minor road and then the A957 Slug Road. Nothing else for it, head down and get on with it. Back on minor roads at Mergie to walk with other Challangers for the last few miles to Dunnottar Castle which is a suitably spectacular place to finish the walk.
I stayed on the campsite in Stonehaven and the following morning caught the bus to Montrose for the party at the Park Hotel. Great to meet up with friends, old and new and the party went on deep into the night.
Roll on May 13th when I will do it all over again on what will be my 5th Coast to Coast crossing of Scotland.