The Road goes ever on and on; Down from the door where it began;
Now far ahead the Road has gone; And I must follow, if I can;
Pursuing it with eager feet; Until it joins some larger way;
Where many paths and errands met; And whither then? I cannot say.

[JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings]

Saturday 31 May 2014

WCP: Rhyl to Greenfields (Holywell)

Saturday 31 May (0700-1440)

Distance: 20.5 miles

Weather: Overcast start clearing to wall-to-wall sunshine

Setting out for a walk with low expectations often leads to a pleasant surprise, and so it was today. From the map, the Wales Coast Path along this north coast looks to me like it features far too many hard surfaces and, today in particular, more than its fair share of tacky seaside resorts.

My perception of Rhyl was based upon its 1980’s reputation, rather than first-hand knowledge and thus, when I found a resort which is obviously investing substantial money into modernisation, I was pleasantly surprised. Admittedly, I didn’t investigate the town at any length. Having walked the mile and a half from the campsite back down to the coast (lovely campsite; pity it’s not nearer to the coast!), I only walked about a mile along the promenade before taking to the huge beach.


Beaches then featured highly in the day, as I’d caught the tides right, and thus I almost bypassed Prestatyn too, only deviating to the prom for a while when I got fed up of sinking to my ankles (and beyond) in mud when crossing the many streams which run down the beach.

The spot I chose for second breakfast turned out to be the very end (or very start, if you’re southbound) of Offa’s Dyke Path, then back down to the beach I went, skipping back and forth between beach and concrete depending on the firmness (or lack thereof) of the sand.

My efforts at removing sand and mud from inside my shoes and socks at second breakfast time had been nugatory, as more beach wanderings saw more streams and more sinking into mud. Just as I was getting fed up of having half the beach inside of my shoes, and mud up to my knees, I looked at the map and realised that I had a river crossing coming up and if I wanted to cross via a bridge then I needed to be heading 90 degrees to my right.

Such was the level of gloopy mud on my shoes and sand/silt inside of them, that upon finding a pond on my route to the bridge…

IMG_4006…I took a break to give my shoes and socks a good wash. My feet felt much more comfortable when I continued and, more importantly, I managed to avoid deep sandy mud for the rest of the day.

People were out in droves on the beach at Talacre, where the old lighthouse makes for an interesting landmark, but once I turned the corner at that lighthouse, I was on my own again.


Having passed the unattractive industrial site (chemical factory of some sort??), at 11.30, hunger was getting the better of me, so I plonked myself down for an early lunch in lieu of elevenses, but before I got started, I just thought I’d give Mick a call to see where he was. It turned out that he had just left the campsite, heading in my direction, and as I was about to walk the road for a while, it seemed sensible for him to meet me and for me to enjoy a cup of tea with my lunch, whilst sitting on a comfy sofa (not to mention changing into dry socks and shoes Smile)

After lunch, I had intended to head inland a little way, where an official alternative route avoids walking along the A-road for a while, but suddenly an attack of laziness came over me causing me to plump for the road. I’d had a pleasant morning of soft surfaces, so I decided I didn’t mind a bit of tarmac, further justifying the shorter route on the basis that it does run nearer to the coast and this is supposed to be a coastal walk. Whilst some of that chunk of the road was along a pavement, a significant chunk was far enough away from the road such that it wasn’t visible or intrusive.


Part of the ‘along the A-road’ route – the road’s out of sight to the right

Back on the edge of the sea, it looked to me like there was a ship in front of me, but initially I thought it must just be some industrial building. Getting closer, I remembered Conrad’s blog post from when he circumperambulated Wales, and realised that this was the Duke of Lancaster – a decaying ‘funship’ which has now been decorated with some impressive street-art. You can read more about it (on Wikipedia) by clicking on this very sentence.


After battling through a herd of cows, and with views of the Wirral often obscured by the sea defence formed by tall piles of huge rocks, suddenly Mick was before me, reporting that I didn’t have much further to go. Sure enough, after making our way through another herd of cows, which seemed intent on standing exactly in our path, we were back on the mud flats and, a hop, skip and a jump later, we were back at Colin, parked exactly where Mick had picked me up yesterday.


A view-blocking sea defence (and proof that I was there!)

It had been a fine day of walking, in unexpectedly fine weather.

WCP: Chester to Greenfield (Holywell)

Friday 30 May (1015-1640)

Distance: 17.5 miles

Weather: Overcast, but dry and warm

It occurred to me yesterday afternoon that, as all of the things which were meant to be occupying me at the moment have either been postponed or cancelled, there was no excuse to continue in the laziness that has come over me since the end of the TGO Challenge. Our daysacks and Colin were swiftly packed, and this morning we wended our way to Chester for three days along the Wales Coast Path.

Our packing had, perhaps, been a little slapdash in its hastiness. On arrival at our destination (which happened to be Aldi’s car park) we found that our flasks of tea, Mick’s wind-shirt and our sunglasses were still at home. Aldi was able to resolve Mick’s lack of a light jacket, but not the other two omissions.

The feeling of ‘this isn’t a very good start to the trip’ didn’t abate as I started walking. A lack of footpath maintenance meant that to reach the point where the border intersects the River Dee, I had to climb a gate, wade through thigh-deep grass, then don my over-trousers for nettle protection (whilst fighting my way through hawthorn at head level) in negotiating the stile on the other side of the field .


Once onto the bank of the Dee, the going was perfectly straight-forward: a tarmac (oooh, my favourite!) cycle path. I said a few dozen greetings to passing cyclists and sped along until, about five miles later I crossed a bridge, per the Coast Path Signs.


A few minutes later, I crossed back, upon finding the coast path to be closed. It would have been nice if a warning of the closure had been given on the east side of the bridge, where a perfectly viable alternative route existed by continuing along the cycle path..

By the time I got to Connah’s Quay, Mick had parked Colin at Flint Castle and had made his way back to meet me, our path intersecting outside of the church. In other circumstances, we would undoubtedly have stopped on the bench in the (very well kept) churchyard for lunch, but as a wedding party had just come out of the church for photos, we didn’t think they would appreciate our presence. It turned out to be a Very Long Time later when we got to a suitable lunch spot, and I was mightily hungry!

By good fortune, on his outward leg to meet me, Mick had missed a turn and had ended up trespassing his way for a while. I say that was good fortune as he was able to take me back the same way, which put us nicely through some woodland and then on springy salt marshes, rather than following the official route further inland, along an A-road. I’d recommend the trespass, even if it does involve ignoring quite a few ‘No Public Access’ signs at the power station.



Past Flint Castle (where I paused for a cup of tea in Colin before continuing), I became even more glad of Mick having found such a viable off-road trespass, as I unexpectedly found myself treading tarmac again, on one of the few bits of the day which should have been on a soft surface. I had come upon some substantial barriers with a notice simply saying ‘No Access to Flint Cob’, but without any accompanying official path closure notice nor any information as to the extent of the closure, nor any hint of a diversion route. So, I resigned myself to a couple of miles of diversion along the cycle route which runs adjacent to the A-road.

By chance, I rejoined the coast path exactly where the closure ended. The barrier at that end did have an official closure notice, but no useful information and no map because (according to the notice): “There is no alternative route available to pedestrians.” What absolute tosh! I’d just walked the perfectly obvious alternative.


Having skipped ahead of me and walked back, I bumped into Mick again just before Greenfields, and although I had intended to walk another mile or so, I was so thoroughly tired by the time I reached Colin that I swiftly decided to add the remaining distance onto tomorrow’s walk.

The ‘not quite to plan’ aspects of our day weren’t quite over. Having arrived at our intended Certificated Site campsite for the night (we stay on a lot of CS’s; they’re generally very good), we found that we were expected to pay £15 for a skanky bit of an untidy car park, without any facilities and (most crucially to us) without access to a tap from which we could fill up Colin’s tanks. Ignoring the fact that the site’s location was reasonably handy for tomorrow’s continuation, we made a swift exit and I now type this from a campsite (immaculately trimmed grass, toilets, showers, dish-wash, hook-up, water: £16.15) at the end of tomorrow’s route. That means I’ll walk tomorrow’s walk backwards (not literally…).


(You’ll notice that I’ve just chucked in a selection of photos taken today; they are in approximately the right places chronologically, but don’t necessarily relate to anything said in the text. If I wasn’t so tired as I type this, I would try harder!

This post isn’t going to get posted tonight either – I’m too tired to think about getting the dongle out now to sort myself out with some internet access.)

Sunday 18 May 2014

Day 10 - before Rosehearty to Fraserburgh

Sun 18 May (0645-0850)
Distance: 6.5 miles
Weather: overcast and breezy, but dry

We were away earlier than intended this morning and enjoyed the final few miles walk to our finish point before anyone was out and about.

The first couple of kilometres of the day, into Rosehearty were perfect walking, on trim grass, right on the coast edge, with a smattering of little bays below us.

From Rosehearty we were along the road, but still hugging the coast and with a very small handful of cars passing.

Fraserburgh was still sleeping as we got there, so we snuck through to Kinnaird Head and, making sure that we were on the east (not the north) coast, found our way to the sea. Our finish point was laughably unpicturesque: a patch of wasteland beside the harbour. I'm sure we could have found something far nicer had we gone a little further south, but we weren't moved to do so. We'd finished exactly where I'd said we would, so we took what that spot gave us, and we did have the view of the lighthouse to the north of us (per the photo).

With nowhere open at that time on a Sunday morning, we made our way to the bus station, where it was momentarily alarming to find that the bus I thought we were catching doesn't run on a Sunday. It was only momentary alarm, as examination of other Aberdeen-bound timetables revealed plenty of others going that way. We didn't have long to wait - just long enough for me to do a round of the public toilets of Fraserburgh and establish that one is not permitted to wee in the town before 10am on a Sunday.

So, there we go, our 5th TGO Challenge successfully completed.

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Saturday 17 May 2014

Day 9 - before Banff to before Rosehearty

Sat 17 May (0700-1615)
Distance: 20.5 miles (Tot: 172)
Weather: sunny intervals and warm this morning, full cloud cover by elevenses, cool afternoon with one prolonged shower ended the walking day.

During yesterday afternoon, it occurred to me, based on what I could see around me, that the route I'd plotted for today may not be feasible.

The bit into Banff, through Banff and through Macduff was problem free, as you would expect walking pavements through towns. The bit straight after Macduff was fine too, as we walked along the manicured edge of a golf course. It was the next bit where the reality turned out to be as I'd come to realise yesterday afternoon.

It seemed that we couldn't follow the seaward side of the fences that marked the edge of the farmland, due to gorse running right up to the fence. Following the farmland side of the fence meant negotiating field boundaries, crop fields without margins and barbed wire fences, and that clearly wasn't going to work either. We weaved around the edges of a few fields to get us to a road and resigned ourselves to 3 miles along it. It wasn't as bad as expected; although a B road, it was very quiet.

Rejoining the coast west of Gardenstown, an absolute meal was made of finding a way down to where we needed to be. For the benefit of anyone reading this who may chose to go that way in future: it's quite simple! Follow one of the tracks all the way to St John's Church, walk along the south wall of its cemetary and follow the obvious path back south - even though it doesn't look like it's taking you the right way. It zig-zags and takes you down to the beach.

It was down that path that a major killer dog incident occurred. Having run at me, the only thing that stopped this border collie from sinking its teeth into my leg was that I managed to get my walking poles between me and its bared teeth. Its owner, having first said it had never done that before, then immediately decided it was my walking poles which had caused the incident, turning it around from his fault to mine. Being a jibbering wreck by this time (I have issues with killer dogs approaching me so aggressively), the owner then pointed out that I would meet other dogs on the beach if I continued the way I was going, implying that I was inviting further attacks. Had I not been a jibbering wreck I might have pointed out that of all the hundreds of dogs I've encountered over the last couple of months of walking, his has been the only one that has tried to bite me.

Still, a miss is as good as a mile, and with my leg happily intact we continued on to Gardenstown (interesting harbour-side dwellings there), where we found big red 'Danger - Coast Path Closed' signs. We duly ignored them (or at least decided to go and see what the issue was). There's a hole in the middle of one of the concrete walkway sections. It's been covered over with one of those heavy-duty metal covers used for road works, and it's been cordoned off. We walked around it and continued on our merry way.

Steeply down then steeply up (a repeated theme of today) led us, via some tracks, to our next off-path adventure. It was only half a kilometre, but it took us an absolute age to negotiate. It was the second time today we'd found ourselves backtracking in the face of impenetrable gorse barriers and having to climb over barbed wire fences (my sit mat now has many holes, having been called into action to protect us against the barbs).

We got through in the end (with perhaps slightly less difficulty and back-tracking than the pre-Gardenstown thrash), and were duly deposited back on the B road we'd left some miles earlier, although this time for less than 2 miles.

Leaving the road again, advantage was taken of a phone signal to try to arrange accommodation in Rosehearty tonight. No room was to be had at the one B&B and the price quoted by the other was above budget (and well above the price I knew it could be booked for online). We might have pitched on the closed-down campsite, if it hadn't been a Saturday night (I associate weekends with a higher chance of disturbance by bored youths or night-time drunks). Begging some water from a house we passed gave us some flexibility and we thought we would find a pitch about a mile before the village.

Returning to the coast again, we immediately came upon a fine pitch, but, as we were still a mile short of where we had earmarked, we passed it by. Five minutes later, on finding another fine pitch, we decided it was foolhardy to shun such opportunities, when stopping another mile short would still only leave us with 7 miles to go tomorrow.

Up went the tent, our scheduled call to Challenge Control was made, then Mick noticed that he had a voicemail. It was the second B&B calling back to say that, actually, on reflection, they could do us B&B for £49. Bargain! So, did we pack everything back away and walk on for a night in a comfy bed and a full-cooked in the morning? Nope. That room will no doubt remain empty tonight; we are remaining on our sea-side pitch.

(Fogot to take a photo during the day, so the snap above is of tonight's pitch.)

(Conrad: it was a council run campsite last night, but we've found the same attitude almost universally - even when we're the only people on a whole site. I'm sure that they reckon that if they give us a pitch with access to electric we'll suddenly whip a hook-up cable and microwave out of our backpacks.)

Click here for Day 10

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Friday 16 May 2014

Day 8 - Findochty to before Banff


Friday 16 May (0730-1600)
Distance: 19 miles (Tot: 151.5)
Weather: sunny and warm. Patchy high thin cloud this afternoon.

That was a splendid day of walking, in splendid weather, that took us through various little picturesque fishing villages, along spectacular coastline, and into lots of little remote sandy coves. It's a wonder we got through such a warm day, involving so many perfect little coves, without indulging in a brief dip in the sea (I'm sure that the sea temperature would have ensured it was very brief!).

In contrast to the last few days, more effort was involved today. Gone are the long flat beaches and in their place the coast has become lumpier and more rugged, thus climbs over headlands were followed by descents into coves. One of those descents was on stone steps which I noted, on my way down, were well made and perfectly pitched (none of the common failings of steps so long that you're always on the same leg, nor so tall that you have visions of giants being the designer's model user). At the bottom was a large memorial to the man who, in 1987, apparently built those perfect steps single-handedly.

As well as the increased lumpiness, we even had some periods of boulder hopping and bog-trotting today, to make us feel more like real Challengers!

The most effort was required this afternoon, when, shortly after lunch overlooking Portsoy (where they neither make port nor soy sauce...) we walked off the end of the path marked on the map. For a while, a path did continue, but when that ran out we stayed in coast-hugging mode regardless (and at one point probably wouldn't have got away with our route through a quarry (straight under its conveyor belt) if it hadn't been a Friday afternoon with only a couple of people left on site).

The afternoon need not have involved quite the amount of effort we expended; we did weave up and down unnecessarily at times, when we could just have held a sea-level line. We must have excess energy to burn (it must be all the butteries* we're eating, thanks to the regular supply of shops along this route).

After the village of Whitehill, the final mile of the day, along a tarmac cycle track, was fast and easy, and we could see our campsite ahead of us. Cruelly, we had to walk the entire length of the site to reception, only then to be sent all the way back to the place we had originally entered. I did ask whether we could have a nearer pitch, but apparently, being a tent, the rules prohibit us from pitching anywhere other than the 'outcasts' area - even though there are plenty of empty 'touring' pitches far closer to both the reception and the facilities. Sigh!

I should mention today's photo: I'm not sure how well you can make it out in this little snap, but it caused an 'oooh' when we spotted this ruin atop a rocky outcrop. A nearby information sign told us that it was Findlater Castle, dating from the fifteenth century, and the artists impression showed that it must have been an imposing place in its day.

(*Butteries: a Scottish bakery product that I would describe as a cross between a croissant and a flattened bread roll, with a slightly salty taste. They go down very well for second breakfast, the only shame being that we don't have any marmalade to go with them.)

(BTW - for anyone who thinks I witter on far too much, I'd just like to say that I only wrote three brief paragraphs about today. My proof-reader rejected it as being too short and asked me to add more.)

Click here for Day 9

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Thursday 15 May 2014

Day 7 - beyond Lossiemouth to Findochty


Thurs 15 May (0730-1450)
Distance: 15 miles (Tot: 132.5)
Weather: a dry day, after overnight rain. Overcast but relatively warm

Yesterday we walked all day into an easterly wind (a very gentle breeze, really). When we came to pitch, that wind had died, but as it had been coming from the east all day, we pitched accordingly. Half an hour later it picked up again - from the west. We gave about 2 seconds contemplation turning the tent around, but we were comfy as we were, so we just put our faith in it not picking up to a strength that would bother us.

This morning, which dawned dry after an unknown amount of rain in the night (I was too busy sleeping to notice it more than for a couple of brief periods), we continued along the beach-side of the dunes which run from Lossie to Kingston.

The anti-landing defences marked out our approximate path, with the occasional pillbox and (rather larger) gun emplacement buildings. Of more interest (to me, at least) was the undulating great mounds of stones, washed up by the tide, that lay between us and the sea.

We couldn't possibly have kept count of the vast numbers of shoes, gloves, tyres (almost all with holes cut through and threaded with rope - i.e. used as fenders) and bits of rope that littered the path and its margins. The gloves, tyres and rope were obviously from boats, but surely fishermen and sailors in general aren't that careless with their footwear?

The beach ended where it met the Spey at Kingston, sending us inland for a short while to take a decaying old railway bridge to the far bank. There we picked up the Speyside Way for a short while, until it wanted us to walk along a road, whereas we prefered to take to the grassy land behind the beach (another huge-mound-of-stones beach).

Having passed Portgordon, a convenient bench enticed us to elevenses. It was a fine choice of bench, as we sat there watching the seals frolicking just a few feet out to sea.

Buckie was the next settlement on our route, where we needed to pop via the Co-op. Handily there was a coffee shop right across the road and the intention of Mick having a cup of tea and sitting with the bags whilst I shopped morphed into two pots of tea, to which we then added two orders for lunch, then to top it off we selected cake from their fine selection. Then I went to the Co-op. It was a long old break, but we were hardly in a hurry.

I didn't pay much attention for the first mile out of Buckie, as I took the opportunity of a good walking surface to read the blogs I had downloaded in town. There are quite a few journeys I'm following just now, including 3 other Challengers.

Then, before us was Findochty (which, for those unfamiliar with the place, is pronounced Finnechty). It's a nice looking fishing village, and the campsite is right on the water's edge. Alas, it's that annoying layout that has the static caravans next to the toilets, with the touring caravans next nearest, then the tents (i.e. the only units without in-built sanitation) right at the opposite end of the site. We couldn't be any further from the facilities.

(Completely forgot to take a blog photo today; the one above is looking down on last night's pitch.)

(Conrad: we've dashed the average mileage with today's 'short' day.
Hannah: our route on this occasion isn't taking us in the direction of Aberlour, but we have passed through on other trips.)

Click here for Day 8

Whilst I’m editing this post to put in the clicky-link for the next day, I can’t resist adding a few more photos:IMG_6896IMG_6905IMG_6907IMG_6910

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Wednesday 14 May 2014

Day 6 - by Findhorn to beyond Lossiemouth


Wed 14 May (0740-1720)
Distance: 20.5 miles (Tot: 117.5)
Weather: mainly sunny morning, clouding over as the afternoon went on.

As we set out on the 6 mile stretch of beach between Findhorn and Burghead this morning, we agreed that, as TGO Challenges go, this one feels like we're cheating. Whilst the majority are yomping through bogs and hauling themselves over passes and/or summits, here we are having a beach holiday on the Moray Riviera, in the sunshine, without any taxing navigation and with easy walking.

Assuring ourselves that we're not really cheating (we're within the Challenge area and walking a route that has been vetted and approved), we got on with the important job of enjoying our surroundings. The Moray coast is a mighty fine place to be, and the added interest of that section to Burghead is the evidence of coastal erosion. Aside from trees which have fallen from the edge of the forest onto the beach, as the ground supporting them has been undermined, there are wartime pillboxes and anti-landing defences sitting in the middle of the beach which must (surely?) have originally been on the coast edge.

Reaching Burghead something occured which I had been anticipating: we bumped into someone Mick knew. It happens on every single trip to this area. (For those who don't know, Mick spent the best part of his working life flying on Nimrods mainly based at RAF Kinloss - hence he knows a lot of people in this neck of the woods. One of the photos above is of one of the few remaining Nimrods, which happened to be sitting within feet of this morning's route.)

Soon after passing the incredibly ugly distillery in the otherwise pleasing Burghead, we paused for elevenses. Having covered half of the day's distance in the first 3 hours, we clearly needed to slow down and take more breaks.

Setting back off, we found ourselves on a tarmac cycle path for a while. It was only last August that we were on that section of path and it was unsurfaced back then. A sign told us that the 'upgrade' to a tarmac surface was to encourage both cycling and walking. Does anyone realy prefer tarmac to a dirt surface for walking?

On the approach to Lossiemoth, and through acres of flowering gorse, first a white look-out tower, then a white lighthouse, stood out as attractive landmarks against the blue sky. Caves, coves and cliffs also caught our attention, keeping us in a state of being happy walkers.

High tide prevented us from walking the first bit of the beach to Lossie, so we took to the dunes, pausing along the way for lunch. With cheese placed on the oatcakes, but before a bite was taken, along came two ladies who stopped for a chat. It turned out that one of them was a good friend of someone Mick knows from his Kinloss days...

The pause for lunch gave time for the tide to recede, so along the beach we went to Lossie, where a coffee shop called our names as we passed. If I'd known there was a popular ice cream shop around the corner, I would have opted for ice cream over tea (somehow, it didn't feel right to have both). It was outside the ice cream shop that we passed another ex-colleague of Mick's (it sometimes seems to me that he knows half the population of Moray!) and stopped for another chat.

From the relative bustle of Lossie, we soon got beyond the range of the dog walkers on the beach, and continued on another couple of miles in solitude before looking for a pitch. I do believe this is the first time that I've ever camped on a beach - albeit we are on a grassy bit just before the dunes start. There's a tall bank of washed-up pebbles between us and the sea, so we can clearly hear the waves, but don't have a sea view.

Click here for Day 7

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Tuesday 13 May 2014

Day 5 - before Nairn to by Findhorn



Tues 13 May (0735-1445)
Distance: 17.75 miles (Tot: 97)
Weather: sunny morning, then a few passing showers

Waking to a sunny, but cool, morning, we strode out of the campsite looking forward to some quality coastal walking - and we got it.

As soon as we reached the coast (about a mile and a bit due north of where we had stayed last night) we had a beach below us and gorgeous flowering gorse all around us as we walked on the perfectly cropped grass.

Many a 'Good Morning' was exchanged as we passed the early-bird golfers on the course at Nairn, before stopping for a second breakfast of butteries just after the club house.

The coast path there becomes a concrete promenade, so we joined the dog walkers on the beach and, except for an slight inland detour around the harbour at Nairn, we stayed on the beach until it was time to head inland into Culbin Forest.

What a contrast that was to yesterday's forest 'adventures'. Every track and every junction on our route was exactly where it should have been. Making the experience even better, most of the distance through the woodland was on old grassy tracks, rather than the more common road-esque forest tracks. That's probably because the forest isn't the commercial, managed plantation I had envisioned. It's an old forest, with space between the trees, giving a far more open feel and allowing plenty of sunshine through.

Enjoying the sunshine as we were, it was a surprise when a shower snuck up behind us. Neither that shower or any which followed was heavy enough to force us into overtrousers, but the jackets were called into action a couple of times.
A shower caused us to curtail lunch, which was had a the wonderfully named Cloddymoss, just before we were due to leave the forest. We didn't leave the forest via our planned route; a signpost was spotted, and it told us that the path to the left would take us in the direction we were headed, whereas I had us treading tarmac. Not being one to tread tarmac unnecessarily, we went on a mystery tour and followed the well waymarked set of paths. As I suspected it would, it brought us out back on our planned route, from where it was just a few short miles to our night-stop.

We're being royally looked after tonight, as we're pitched in Louise and David's back garden (not that Louise is here - she's Challenging herself at the moment). I cannot tell you how comfy this sofa is, having not sat in a soft chair since our train ride north a week ago.

Click here for Day 6

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Monday 12 May 2014

Day 4 - N side of Beauly Firth to before Nairn


Mon 12 May (0705-1630)
Distance: 22 miles
Weather: a morning of sunny intervals followed by an afternoon of wall-to-wall sunshine.


If you'd asked me yesterday which looked to be the harder day on paper, I would definitely have said yesterday rather than today. The only 'hard' factor in today's walk was the amount of tarmac, whereas yesterday well and truly exercised the muscles and the lungs with lots of yomping and plenty of up. Yet I found yesterday relatively easy and today very hard indeed.

I'm sure today's difficulties were mainly in my mind, although the lack of interesting features in the day probably didn't help. The two aims in the route we are currently walking were: 1) to start a Challenge at Torridon; and 2) to walk along the Moray Firth Coast. The resulting route had the three spectacularly scenic days we've just walked, followed by a 'linking' day to get us past Inverness and over to the Moray coast. Today was that linking day and it featured walking along more miles of trunk road than is reasonable on any Challenge route.

Before we hit any main road, we took the tiny lane along the Beauly Firth to the Kessock Bridge and that lane (almost on the water's edge) was perfectly nice, with good views and very little traffic. I quite enjoyed the bridge too, even though it was busy with morning commuters.

Having reached the other side of the bridge we opted to stay along the A9, so as to speed us to our next focal point: Tesco's coffee shop. Whilst I bought supplies Mick would put away a bacon sandwich and we would both drink pots of tea. We'd been looking forward to that since yesterday afternoon.

So, it probably goes without saying that Tesco's coffee shop is currently closed for refurbishment. That was such a blow, and probably marks the point at which my positive mental attitude started to wain.

Even in the absence of tea and butties, we still managed to spend the best part of an hour in the store, including shopping and sitting eating and drinking some of that shopping. Then it was onwards to Culloden, where we took to the forest.

The next 8 miles through forest were a source of frustration as reality and the maps were far apart. Worse, I'd committed the ridiculous error of drawing a straight line through about 300 yards of forest where no track existed (a mistake I've made so many times that it confounds me as to how I keep doing it; or maybe I did it based on aerial mapping and just failed to make notes on what I'd seen). We thrashed around a while, going back and forth, around and about before cutting our losses, leaving the forest (when we found an exit) and re-entering it a bit further down the road. That added back on the distance we had cut earlier in the day.

The differences between map and reality continued to hound us as we went on. There was one happy moment when I thought I'd misjudged where we were as one particular junction refused to appear in front of us. It turned out it didn't exist as, whilst I was still looking out for it, we hit a road - a mile further on! Always nice to find you're a mile further on than you'd thought.

With the trials of the forests behind us, and having passed the very pretty Loch Felmington, we got to the point where we had a choice. I'd put a note on the map to "consider going this way", but hadn't put it as our primary route as it involved a track which crossed a railway without any mention of a bridge or level crossing. I feared that the track would be a relic which ended one side and started again the other with no way across, and a back-track of the magnitude in question would have made my bottom lip quiver at the very least.

Notwithstanding the danger of sulking, we decided to go for it ... only to change our minds at the last minute and opt to go the long way around. Part way into the 'long way around', we spotted a track which looked useful (but wasn't on the map), so we took it - and it led us to the very same point on the railway. Happily, the level crossing did exist, but being pedestrian only, isn't marked on the map.

The verge of the A96 didn't give nice walking for the final couple of miles of the day, but there was no other way to get to our night-stop without a lengthy detour, so along it we yomped.

The campsite appeared not a moment too soon and I'm rather looking forward to sampling the showers after tea :-)

(Today's photo is one of the few glimpses of a view of the Firth seen from the forest today. Unfortunately we were walking through a construction site at the time, hence the green pipeline also in the photo.)

(Conrad: that bit coincided with our LEJOG too. There were midges about on the evening after Strathcarron and in Torridon, but only a few and they weren't too hungry.)

Click here for Day 5

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Sunday 11 May 2014

Day 3 - W end of Orrin Reservoir to N side of Beauly Firth


Sun 11 May (0735-1730)
Distance: 19.75 miles (Tot: 57.25)
Weather: much better! Just showers today
Number of ticks found embedded in my person: 4 (one in the middle of my back, so I'm glad Mick was here to assist)

If I wasn't feeling quite fit just now, I think I would have found today to be long and hard work. It started off (in the dry! After a night of rain, it actually stopped as we packed away) with a pathless yomp, across ridiculously boggy ground, alongside Orrin Reservoir. It turns out the reservoir is there, just dramatically reduced in size, compared to the map, by a low water level.

Reaching the point where we were supposed to have stopped last night, and after fording another cold burn, we started diverging from the water's edge, to pick up a path marked on the map.

The line of the old path was clear to see and to follow, once we reached it (through more bog-wading), but it wasn't feasible to walk along much of the path itself. It has long fallen out of regular use and now varies between being a stream, being overgrown, and being that breed of moss-on-mud which is guaranteed to cause a slip. Next to the old path was reasonably good walking, though.

Just at second breakfast time, we reached a modern track and, with poor timing, the first shower of the day (quite a violent one) hit as we were sitting. The result of some pondering over second breakfast was a deviation from our intended route. Rather than following the line of the old path, we decided to indulge in a bit of easy-going for a while, albeit at the cost of more distance, and take the new track. The bigger cost of that deviation was that it would require a mile and a half of completely pathless yomping later in the day, across terrain that the map suggested would be boggy.

Boggy really doesn't come close to describing the reality. A snorkle wouldn't have gone amiss. I can't think that we've ever walked through such sustained wetness for such a distance. It was laughably wet (and, actually, quite good fun).

Finally we met a track, which (unfortunately) then became a super-highway for a wind-farm which has only just started construction. Still, it boasted good views of the Beauly Firth and it sped us to Muir of Ord where we tarried outside of the Co-op before continuing on for our final miles of the day.

What looked suspiciously like a minor road on the map turned out to be a disused railway line, running through old woodland, which gave us surroundings and under-foot conditions far more pleasant than I had expected for that section.

A couple of quiet lanes then saw us heading into woodland, where a building on the map, which is depicted no differently from the little Gatekeeper's Lodge just down the track, turned out to be the castle shown in the photo. We were so taken with it that we visited it twice. Perhaps I should have paid more attention to our intended direction the first time we left it...

Before we left the woodland we scouted out a pitch for the night. What we found is as flat, level and grassy as you might find on the best commercial campsite. More excitingly, since we pitched (2 hours ago, as I type) it hasn't rained, so we've even managed to get some of our wet stuff slightly less wet.

Click here for Day 4

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Day 2 - Glenuaig Lodge to W end of Orrin Reservoir


Saturday 10 May (0740-1655)
Distance: 17.5 miles (on paper, the reality was somewhat more; we wiggled around today)
Weather: rain, interspersed with light rain and heavy rain.
Number of other people seen: 1, in a 4x4, on an estate track. Not a single other person.


The rain that fell for many hours last night started again just as we were packing away this morning. Looking on the bright side, our packs were made lighter by wearing all of our waterproofs. On the not-so-bright side, the wind was easterly and we were heading east, straight into the rain.

Having been spoilt by good paths and tracks for the entirety of yesterday's walk, today we were far from spoilt. Slow progress was made along the patchy path, interspersed with significant sections of yomping across waterlogged ground. It made for slow progress, such that 3 hours into the day we had covered under 5 miles.

At that point a clearly visible track, in the direction our route-sheet said we were going, enticed us to revert to the original plan. During the morning we had decided to go a different way, but both were unknowns as to underfoot conditions, so when we saw the path, we worked on the principle of "better the devil you know" (or, in our case, can see) and off we veered. That required us to ford a very large, although not swift moving, river, hence a delay as we searched for somewhere suitable to cross and then carefully picked our way across its 3 braids.

My goodness, that water was a bit parky! I can't think of a time my ankles have been colder.

Half an hour later (a half-hour of dryness on a rainy day) we were the other side, but had still only covered 5 miles. I decreed that, as we were powerless to make the ground easier or faster, we wouldn't worry about the intended mileage for the day, but simply walk until 5pm and pitch at the first available spot.

That seemed a good tactic, as the track up to the pass was patchy as well as steep in places so our pace didn't increase.

Down the other side was not only easier, but we knocked a kilometre off our day (only to add it back later when we took a diversion to avoid a bogfest) by leaving the path to dead-head to the loch below us. That loch shore, once reached, gave us the most blissfully easy miles of the day and we strode out all the way along. If the rain had stopped we probably would have appreciated our surroundings more, as they looked mightily fine.

The path along the River Orrin was (as was the theme of the day) patchy and, where it did exist, of varying quality. It was still faster than the morning's miles, though, such that by 2.30pm, it was looking like we would reach our intended night-stop by 5pm.

Our resolve wavered as we saw ahead of us a building that looked like it could include a bothy. It was only half a kilometre off our route, and we considered detouring to take a look. The final decision, however, was that even if there was a bothy, we ought to carry on, so as not to leave ourselves too big a day tomorrow, so I shall now have to rely on Google to tell me the background of that building.

Across a bridge that would make Health-and-Safety-Man recoil in horror we went, before continuing pathlessly along the other side of the river. I expected the Orrin Reservoir to soon become visible and was surprised when it didn't. Then I became suspicious. Then I pored over the map. It turns out that the reservoir as marked on the map is missing at its west end. Where we are camped tonight should, according to OS, be under water.

We didn't quite make it to our intended night-stop, nor to 5pm. At 4.50, the rain stopped and we wasted no time in seeking out a good pitch and getting the tent up in the dry. It's raining again as I type this, but in the intervening period we've had the longest dry spell of the day.

I do hope tomorrow is a bit drier...

Click here for Day 3

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Day 1 - Torridon to beyond Glenuaig Lodge


Friday 9 May (0730-1630)
Distance: 20 miles (Mick reckons 20.5; he's often right)
Weather: morning - rain; middle - sunshine; afternoon - frequent showers
Number of outer-layer-changing faffs today: 9


The positive slant on today's weather is that there was no wind, so the rain came straight down, and that it was a warm day, so no gloves were required (not even for me - perhaps a first) and for most of the afternoon I opted to get wet rather than don overtrousers.

The negative slant on today's weather is that there was no wind, so showers took a long time to pass and that it was warm so I sweltered in my waterproofs when going uphill.

There was plenty of uphill too. I missold the day to Mick as I told him it was a 3-pass day, with two this morning and one late this afternoon. After a recount (when I got suspicious that the path went up again after the second pass), it turned out there were three this morning and one this afternoon.

Unfortunately, we didn't get to see much of the first three as this morning we suffered rain and low cloud, which was a shame as, from what little we could see, the area looked worth seeing. It did at least give another answer to the question as to why we had opted to start in Torridon rather than Strathcarron (given that in so doing we backtracked up to the pass we had taken out of Strathcarron yesterday): at least we had seen some of the surroundings on the walk-in yesterday. The other answer to the "why did we start in Torridon" question was answered by the attractiveness of Torridon itself. It's well worth seeing. As an added bonus, the place boasts a free campsite complete with toilets, showers and hot water, making it the best value for money campsite in our history.

Having made it over Pass No 3, the cloud suddenly lifted and mightily fine views were gifted to us as we made our way down towards Achnashellach.

It was just at the top of that descent that I fed Mick the second bit of misinformation of the day, which deflated him no end. I said that in the 3.5 hours we had been walking we had only covered 6 miles. Even with our slow progress, we made time to pause for elevenses and as a result of a recount whilst we were stopped, it turned out that the 6 miles was a miscount; we had actually covered nearer 8. Mick's morale was duly reinflated by the news.

Lunch was had in a not-very-attractive spot in a felled forest (but there didn't look much hope of finding somewhere better within a reasonable distance), but at least the sun was out. It was the last of the sunny period of the day, as we'd not long restarted when the heavens opened. That was the start of a very showery afternoon.

Having passed through Craig (where quite a few of the Torridon starters were aiming today) our route took us through the site of some on-going hydro-electric works, thence on to our final pass of the day. It wasn't high, and it was a long, gentle ascent, but it was warm work in today's weather.
After having passed by dozens of prime pitches alongside the burn on the up-side of the pass, we hoped to find something equally good on the downside. Alas, nothing was doing at the spot we'd earmarked and a shower had us hurrying on hoping to take shelter in the 'shed' bothy at Glenuaig Lodge. There we found another Challenger (who had started in Strathcarron) - the first we'd seen since the two chaps who we followed out of Torridon this morning.

We didn't stay in the shed (it sleeps two and there was already one there - plus bunk beds and a double quilt don't go well together). As soon as the rain stopped we continued on, but only for as long as it took us to find a pitch. The tent was thrown up as another shower approached, and the moment it was up, down came the rain again.

If there could be a little less rain tomorrow, that would be just fine with me.

Click here for Day 2

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Thursday 8 May 2014

Day 0 - to Torridon



Thurs 8 May (0930-1600)
Distance: 8.5? Miles
Weather: overcast but only one (slow-moving) shower
Number of cuckoos heard: maybe just one, but it's very persistent (24 hrs) and following us!

Today was a good day in absolutely gorgeous surroundings and in excellent company.

However, so much time has been spent being sociable this evening that I've run out of time to write about it in any detail.

So, no tales today about the nice bothy, picturesque lochs, stunning, towering hills and good paths.

Some of today's surroundings will feature again tomorrow, as we will retrace our steps back to today's highest point before going off in a different direction. I'll try to reserve some time for a proper post tomorrow.

Click here for Day 1

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TGOC Day -1: Strathcarron to before Coire Fionnaraich bothy

Wednesday 7 May (1945-2105)
Distance: almost 4 miles
Weather: overcast but dry

Having not been in a position to book our travel until we got home from Anglesey, the available train tickets dictated that we couldn't achieve a journey that was both cheap and of short duration. The solution was to travel as far as Edinburgh on Tuesday, then continue on to Strathcarron on Wednesday (via a very drawn out journey), to then walk over to Torridon on Thursday.

Having not arrived in Strathcarron until quarter to eight in the evening, we might have just plonked our tent on the first available spot, as just 12.5 miles lay between us and Torridon. However, we knew that JJ, AlanR and Viv were ahead of us on the same route and we had said that we would walk until either we found them or ran out of energy or daylight.

Alongside the river we went, past some newly born lambs and then through the forest, and the decision was made to continue along the road and a little way up the Fionn abhainn.

9pm came and still no tents had been found, but we weren't flagging so we agreed that we would continue as far as the Bothy about a mile and a bit further on, and if we hadn't found them by then, would stop. Five minutes later we came over a lump in the landscape and found tents in front of us.

JJ, being the very nice man he is, had the kettle on within moments and after popping the tent up, drinking tea and chatting, all of the light had gone out of the day and it was well after our usual backpacking bed time.

Today we have just a short walk over to Torridon ahead of us. The surroundings are quite lovely and it promises to be a nice walk.

Click here for Day 0

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Saturday 3 May 2014

Whoop, whoop!

At approximately twenty past nine this morning, whilst walking the Wales Coast Path around Bangor (which, in the main, isn’t on the coast and is significantly lacking in interest value), I hit my mileage target for 2014 (1100 miles).

So, I can now withdraw from the TGO Challenge and sit in my chair and do absolutely nothing for the rest of the year …

… or I can set a new target of 1825 miles.

I think I’ll do the latter.

The early achievement of my target was helped significantly by a record-breaking April, during which I walked 523 miles (which is only 143 miles fewer than I walked in the whole of 2013). April is obviously my month for walking, as the previous record month was set in April 2008. Here’s how the Aprils compare to each other:


Thanks to April’s miles, my daily average isn’t looking too shoddy either. For the year to the end of April it stood at 8.85 miles:


The red dotted line is now irrelevant, as that was related to my 1100 mile target. The pink line is now the important one.

Friday 2 May 2014

Day 7 – Malltraeth to before Menai Bridge (completing the circuit)

Friday 2 May (0710-1420)

Distance: 20.75 miles (Tot: 133.25)

Weather: Overcast

There was no lack of enthusiasm this morning. I bounced out of bed and strode out of the campsite before most people were out of bed, ready to complete what I’d started last weekend.

This was the first morning on which I didn’t have an alternative route to get back onto the coast path, and thus half a mile or more of back-tracking was required before I reached the shared walk and cycle way heading towards Newborough Forest. Views over the Snowdonia hills were clear to see from that cycle way:


Had this been an ‘A to B’ type of a walk, there was a much shorter way to have crossed Newborough Forest, but as the coast has been my objective, I duly followed the forest’s edge, sometimes from within the trees:


Sometimes by walking along the huge beach:


By 9am, it was feeling like time for a banana break, and a handy picnic bench provided me with a seat (actually, it would have been handier if I hadn’t had to clamber up from the beach and over the railing!):


The walk along the beach had been fine, on firm sand, but then the coast path took me along this soft sandy affair:


I’m not a fan of ankle-shaping soft sand!

It was just at the end of that path that I came across a band of 12 women, who I quickly surmised was the same group who had set off just after me when I finished elevenses yesterday. They didn’t half walk quickly for such a large group and I spotted them behind me quite a few times as the day went on, although they didn’t quite catch me.

Even these huge stepping stones didn’t seem to affect their pace:


The lane walking was minimal, and those I did walk were perfectly pleasant. This one had a hedgerow one side and a bank the other, and that bank was home to a very pretty bluebell community:


So close to the end of my walk, I nearly came a cropper. Someone had ‘kindly’ stood the broken lower step of this stile upright so that it looked in good repair. It fell as I committed my full weight to it and I thanked my lucky stars that I hadn’t done myself a mischief. I removed the step completely so no-one else suffers a worse fate than a bit of a stumble:


The next lane ran along the sea wall of the Menai Strait, and there was evidence of a high tide:


I thought the name of the boat (Uphill Struggle) was particularly appropriate for its position.

Second only to my dislike of walking on soft sand is my dislike of walking on shifting pebble beaches. However, I still opted for the beach route when I had the option of beach or lane:


Then the route deviates significantly away from the coast. Plas Newydd, a National Trust property, lies in the way and no route (permissive nor RoW) runs through it. I was half tempted to see if it was possible to trespass through, but I couldn’t face the possible back-track, so I duly walked up the lane as the waymarks and map indicated.

I didn’t follow the coast path in its entirety. For less distance along the lane, there’s another public footpath, which ends up in the same place as the official route. The reason it’s not the official route is clear: it goes through someone’s front garden, past their front door, through their side gate and into their back yard, before going out through their back gate. I’ve noticed that planners of long distance routes tend to avoid sending hoards through people’s gardens. I took the route all the same, and the first part of it was quite pleasant:


By the time I got back to the coast I was tiring (having kept up quite a pace for some many hours), and upon seeing the final bullet point on this sign I decided that if the tide was obscuring the path (and I knew that the tide was approaching its height) then I would just wade if I safely could, because I was so close to the end now that I didn’t want to be faffing around finding an alternative (which would likely be the main road):


My feet didn’t get wet; there was plenty of beach to spare … even if it was shingle again!


The canoeists in the Strait were having fun too! I’ve seen quite a few canoeists/sea-kayakers this week.


Finding myself in between the Britannia and the Menai bridges, all that remained for me to do was to pass by the graffitied split-faced lion and find a way up to the road.


As it happened, the path took me up to the road of its own accord and about fifty paces later I was crossing the point where I had started last Saturday lunchtime and climbing into the awaiting Colin.

And so my journey around Anglesey was over. I shall post some concluding thoughts separately. There will be just one more short walk tomorrow before we head home to prepare for our return to Scotland.

Thursday 1 May 2014

Day 6 – Rhosneigr to Malltraeth

Thursday 1 May (0800-1325)

Distance: 12.5 miles (Tot: 112.5)

Weather: Dry start with some vague hints of the sun trying to burst through. Continuous rain last 3.5 miles, combined with sunny spells. Rain stopped the moment I reached Colin!

Number of snails on the path through the dunes behind Traeth Llydan: about 8 billion, which made not stepping on any quite difficult.


I set out this morning sluggishly and with a large degree of can’t-be-arsed-ness. As one who enjoys walking so much and, moreover, as the Anglesey coast has been such a joy to walk, that was a highly unusual state of mind for me and one that I cannot rationalise.

Had I been at home, I no doubt would have merrily gone for a walk for at least a couple of hours today and in so doing would not have trodden any ground that I haven’t trodden many times before. That walk certainly wouldn’t have involved pretty flowers clinging to every nook and cranny of sea rocks, nor the interest of a chapel built on a man-made mound, on a rock-bed out in a bay, nor would I have had glimpses of the Snowdonia hills when their cloud shroud allowed me to see them. Objectively, everything around me was most pleasing. And yet there I was feeling so little enthusiasm for the short distance I had to cover.

Today’s short distance wasn’t related to the missing enthusiasm. Rather, with around 32 miles left to walk to complete the circuit, and with today’s weather forecast being so wet, I decided to have a short day, leaving the bulk of the distance for tomorrow’s better forecast. The fact that there was a campsite handily located only about half a mile out of my way at Malltraeth decided where I was going to stop.

Seven miles through the day the path took me up the side of a gorgeous inlet, at the top of which was a welcome sight: Colin (with Mick inside, boiling the kettle). An egg bap, a hot drink and a whinge to Mick did me the world of good and by the time I re-donned my wet socks and shoes (it hadn’t rained by this point; wet grass was to blame), I was happy to be setting off for the last few miles to the campsite.

The surroundings for most of those final miles were rather lacking. Since my map (which was only bought last Saturday) was produced, the route of the coast path has been moved. Whereas it used to go across farmland, it now takes to lanes instead. I opted to take the old line in preference to tarmac, and discovered that the old line lacked merit (other than not being on tarmac). I also discovered that, if those paths are any indication, footpath maintenance away from the coast path is appalling.

No photos were taken in the last hour and a quarter of the day. Having left Mick in sunshine, I got to a point where it was quite clear that I was about to walk into the rain. Behind me was blue sky; ahead of me it was most obviously wet. I can’t really complain, can I? An hour and a quarter of rain in six days’ walking in Wales is a pretty good record, isn’t it? Particularly on a day when the forecast suggested rain the whole day through.

The rain stopped as soon as I reached Colin, and as I type this the sun is beating down.