Day Four – zero miles
Morag’s Lodge in Fort Augustus is a great hostel. Not only are Colin and Dave staying here as well, I meet up with Challengers I already know – JJ and Andy Walker – and a whole load I’ve never met before. The place also does a good breakfast and evening meal.
But my feet need a rest and some serious tlc. I have two big blisters on each foot – on my little toes and the ones next to them. I’m competitive, stubborn and I like to win (ask Geoff…) so I’m not about to let them get the better of me, but nevertheless, I need a plan.
First off, I book another night at the hostel. I have a day in hand, so I can cope with this. Then Colin comes up with a brilliant suggestion. Three days down the line I’m booked in at Newtonmore Hostel. Why don’t I order some toe socks over the internet and have them delivered there? And why didn’t I think of that myself? No sooner said than done, and I have something really exciting to look forward to!
I’m not the only one here today. Andy Walker is on a day off – but only because he’s a day ahead already – and another Challenger is spending the day catching the bus to Inverness and back, to buy some new boots.
So, I potter about. I empty the Chemist of Compeed, eat lunch at the local outdoor cafe and bump into more friends – Mike Knipe and his son, James. They appear to be buying whisky and wine, and pouring it into their water bottles…..???
I pamper my feet and sort a regime for getting through the next few days. This involves antiseptic wipes, Savlon and Gehwol on an evening, then antiseptic wipes and Compeed on a morning.
And somehow, a large block of chocolate marzipan finds its way into my possession.
Day Five – 5.6 miles
A good breakfast and I set off for Newtonmore. I’m allowing myself three days for this, going over the Corrieyairick Pass.
The weather is pleasant enough as I pick the track up, but gets breezier the higher I get. Looking back occasionally, there are good views of Loch Ness.
I’m expecting pylons shadowing the route – they’re marked on my map. But in reality, these old pylons have been removed and replaced with another set paralleling the track, several hundred yards away.
Once again, I’m on my own. I don’t mind at all, I sing all the time when there’s no one around! I don’t have a huge repertoire so there’s a bit of repetition (unless it’s Christmas time, when I know oodles of Carols all the way through…) but I keep a watchful eye out so I can stop as soon as I see anyone.
The wind strength increases. It’s nothing horrendous, but enough to notice it. The clouds are darkening, too. I’m thinking that Blackburn Bothy might be a nice spot for lunch.
￼It is, and it’s very pleasant inside.
No sooner do I get lunch out, than the rain starts. Nasty, horizontal stuff, lashing the windows. Five minutes later, and three sopping wet guys burst through the doors. Challengers, of course, friendly greetings are exchanged and two of them immediately sit down and start tending to their feet. One of them is rubbing Vick all over his….
The third guy makes some tea, offering me some as well. It would be rude not to! Discussions follow. Do they stay the night here, or push on over the Pass? In the end they push on, but by now my mind’s made up. It’s cozy and dry in here.
Making myself at home, it’s not long before another guy turns up. This is Patrick, on his umpteenth Challenge. He comes in having already made the decision to stay the night and do the Pass tomorrow. I make him a brew while he sorts his stuff.
Conversation flows easily and we pass a very pleasant evening. 9pm is plenty late enough for both of us for bedtime, and Patrick makes us both a hot chocolate to set us up for the night. What a gent.
Day 6 – 11.8 miles
Setting off this morning, Patrick and I are happy with our decision to cross the Pass today. Sunny and just slightly breezy, the weather is much nicer than yesterday.
We’ve both slept well – only disturbed by mice a couple of times – and breakfast is a very civilised affair in the bothy.
We start off walking together, but our paces don’t match at all, so we’re soon well separated out. Patrick is very quick on the flat, but then I overtake him as I’m much faster once the climbing starts.
It’s pretty much ‘up’ all the way for the next four miles to the summit, and the pylons start closing in.
The wind isn’t particularly strong, but it’s pretty Arctic with the wind chill and I feel the need to zip everything up and cover any exposed skin.
The descent down the other side is totally different. Lots of switchbacks, it takes me quickly down into the corrie itself, and then a very gentle slope, finally ending up alongside the River Spey.
I stop for a long break at Melgarve Bothy.
Just as I’m thinking of setting off again, Patrick catches up with me. We have a good chat, and he says he’s decided to spend the night here. I need to go further though, as I don’t want to be walking 20 miles into Newtonmore tomorrow. We’re both booked into the Hostel tomorrow night, so will no doubt meet up there again, if not on the way.
So, I continue on to Garva Bridge, where I am totally amazed to be the only tent there. Another very peaceful night!
Day Seven – 14.6 miles
I wake at about 3am, shivering. There’s ice on the tent, so no wonder I’m cold. I put another layer on, plus my Prism trousers (which I’ve brought with me just for clear, cold nights like this) and go back to sleep.
Waking again at around 7am, it’s clear it’s actually going to be a gorgeous day.
Clear, cold nights seem to be the one thing that produce an awful lot of condensation in the Enan. Even the inner is drenched and the foot of my sleeping bag is also damp. I surface slowly, allowing the sun to come up properly and start drying stuff out. By the time I’n ready for the off, my bag and the tent inner are fine, but the fly is still wet. Once again, I split the tent to pack it.
It really is one of those Good To Be Alive days. The temperature is just perfect for walking in, and the views are far reaching and gorgeous. The ‘track’ is now tarmac, but I really don’t mind that. It’s flat and smooth, and quite easy on the blisters, to be honest.
I see a load of deer scampering across the road at one point. You’ll have to look very carefully to spot them in the photo mind, never seem to get them on film successfully!
Enjoying my usual private sing along, I round a bend and spy a guy up ahead, walking towards me. Time to be quiet again! Carrying a large rucksack, he’s obviously out for a backpack, but can’t be a Challenger, he’s going in the wrong direction.
He greets me and asks if I’m a Challenger. I look at him and answer by asking him if he’s John Sanderson. Of course he is, he looks just like his avi. He’s going in the wrong direction because he’s one of those Super Challengers who do a million miles a day and go all over the place. We have a lovely chat for a few minutes, then continue on our respective ways. Another unexpected little meeting that is making the Challenge so enjoyable for me.
I gradually eat up the miles into Newtonmore, the journey only marred slightly by the traffic on the last few miles of road.
Patrick is already at the Hostel when I get there. Having not slept so well, he’d got up early and set off at about 5am, passing my tent on his way, while I was still fast asleep.
And since I’m turning up at Newtonmore a day later than I originally planned, there’s no room left for me in the actual Hostel. Shame. I am given a private room in the house – with a BATH! – instead. I just about manage….