Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Challenging Amnesia


This water near Strathcarron is a tidal inlet of Loch Carron and the Atlantic Ocean - honest


I remember being born.  That might sound fanciful but it's true. I'm not going to explain further here. If you want to know more you will need to read my autobiography. I shall be writing that once greatness is thrust upon me. But given the fact that I can remember my earliest moments in this world it may be all the more surprising that I cannot for the life of me remember much of the detail about my walk across Scotland last month.  This is partly the fault of my excellent walking companion, Alan Sloman .

My three previous TGO Challenges, in 2013, 2014 and 2015, were undertaken solo.  I planned those routes completely by myself, and was entirely responsible for navigating successfully from west coast to east coast.  In 2017 Alan and Phil Lambert did almost all the route planning, and on the walk, I am afraid to say, I let Alan take the lion’s share of studying the map every few minutes. Thus, I was less involved with the thinking that goes into such a walk, both before and during. In addition, having Alan as company every step of the way meant that a good deal of chatting took place. When you walk solo you are possibly more aware of your surroundings, although Alan frequently reminded me of the importance of enjoying the Challenge. This means regular pauses to stop, take in the views, the shape of the land and so on, both that under and around your feet, and also that which stretches to the distant horizons.  So for these reasons I recall less of the walk.  Alternatively, it may just be that my brain has finally become completely addled.

As my recollection of events is hazy I am not planning a day-by-day account in a succession of blog posts.  Instead I will provide a jumble of random thoughts and memories about the 2017 experience.  This approach means that I will not have to embellish or make up any interesting anecdotes to pad out my posts. Every word that I write will be true. Every word, mind. Every single one.  

Mick 'Crocodile' Dundee, who hails from Croydon in New South London. Or something like that.

So let me start with Mick Dundee from Croydon, South Australia.  Why?  Because the day before the walk proper started Mick and I pottered along from the official start point at the Strathcarron Hotel to the sea.  Well not exactly the sea, as the bit we got to looked like a small river, but the OS map showed it was a tidal inlet, so that was sufficient for me. 

Now, Mick is an extraordinary man. Let’s face it. He looks completely radgered.  His, clearly, was not an easy paper round.  When he is walking he always appears to be completely done in, and he never looks like he’ll survive the day, yet alone get to dip his toes in the North Sea.  But Mick was almost always ahead of us on the walk and, more importantly, he is one of the most generous and entertaining of Challengers. He is also one of life’s philosophers. He asks questions that put you on the spot and makes you think. Thinking is a dangerous pastime. I try not to do it more than is necessary.  But we walked together in the sunshine and Mick asked me questions, in that strong Australian accent he has, and I answered.  When Mick asks you a question you answer.  You have no choice.  You answer.  It just feels safer that way.


Al and Mick. Just before Mick wisely headed towards a valley whilst we headed upwards. That hat went walkabout later in the Challenge. Mick was not best pleased.



The next day Alan, Phil and I headed off.  Phil was feeling well below par and decided to go back. Al and I continued. By mid afternoon we came to this ridgy thing we were supposed to follow. It was called Creag a Chaorainn. Indeed, it probably still is called this. The topography is complex. The ridge is divided by a series of seemingly deep valleys coming in at odd angles. Overall route finding was easy. The day was sunny and it was obvious where we were heading; but we constantly had to tweek our direction to minimise the myriad of uppy and downy bits.  Well Al tweeked, with me usually in front on this last part of our first day.  Al was just behind.  “Left a bit”, “right a bit”, “head towards that boulder”, “go to the left of the lochan” and so on.  He was Sandy Shaw.  I was the puppet on a string.  It could have been irritating.  But it wasn’t. I’ve been hill walking now for the best part of fifty years. I like to think I have some skill based on those years of experience.  Yet it soon became apparent that Al has a sort of sixth sense when it comes to picking out the best line to take. A sixth sense, together with the experience of twenty-two Challenges as well as a walk from Land’s End to John O’Groats under his belt.
Al also kept whipping his camera out and stopping me with requests such as “I need some perspective in this photo.  Drape yourself over that boulder…..Come on, pout for daddy.  That’s lovely”. Or “Wow! Look at the view north. Just go and stand over there. Oh come on. Look heroic. And I’ve told you before. Pout.”  I stood on the exact spots, just as directed. "Left. No. Right six inches. Yes, just there". I also had to sit on boulders, and my pouting became so practiced that it would have made Kate Moss look like an amateur.

We camped by a lochan on a bealach in the sun.  We woke to clag and rain.  We abandoned the planned Corbett and did our foul weather route.  No soft touch as it involved several trackless kilometres and a steep pull up to the Bhearnais Bealach and then a long trudge by the River Meig to a super camp spot with lovely Emma already in residence, smiling away and brewing up for us. Soon after, lovely Humphrey also arrived and then spent the evening doing his impression of the most chilled and relaxed man on the planet.

Not a bad spot to make dinner. On the shores of the lochan at our first night camp spot

The first wild camp of  the 2017 Challenge

Having been forewarned about my snoring, Al pitches his trail star at the minimum safe distance to my Scarp

21 comments:

  1. Do you snore too then? Geoff obviously didn't hear you when you were out together. Looks a nice tent spot for the first camp,I like a nice lake...

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    1. It is alleged that I snore. I am unconvinced. Mrs Fellbound is, however, very convinced. I have told her that it is the cat but she will not believe me.

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  2. Excellent. Can't wait for next week's thrilling episode 😊

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  3. Thrilling? I'm not writing to thrill, Geoff. I'm writing as a good deed to help insomniacs everywhere. I feel a great affinity with insomniacs. Especially at
    3 a.m. o'clock. In the morning.

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  4. Great stuff. I love that first picture of Mick. I had visions of him doing the whole walkabout with nothing but that cardigan and knapsack while cowboy camping the whole way. The next picture spoiled the illusion. He is human after all.

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    1. Mick? Human? I believe certain people have challenged that assumption. Never near Mick, mind.

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  5. Excellent read and plenty of hilarity I'm guessing.

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    1. Thanks Andy. The hilarity was there - as was the pain!

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  6. Another masterpiece sir.
    Love reading your posts.
    And Mick.. A true gentleman. And always answer the question. Oh yes.
    I learnt everything I know about approaching hills and going up them from Al. I like to think I too am now a master. I have tried to teach this skill to the young padawan Keith.
    Shame about Phil, as he is a wonderful companion. I look forward to the remaining installments.

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    1. Thank you Andrew. Not seen your trip reports yet. I suppose you'll blame that on having to work for a living. Feeble excuse.

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  7. It was great to see you both that day. Sadly, I wasn't feeling very lovely the next day. I am enjoying your write up and looking forward to reading more.

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    1. Hi Emma
      It was sad indeed that you were ill on the Challenge. We missed your company.

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    2. Hi Emma
      We were mortified having discovered our abandonment. We had darted for the cover of the trees when that monster stormlet arrived, without realising we needed to cuddle and empathise. (Well, cuddle. Blokes aren't too good at the empathy thing)
      I hope you are bright and perky once more.
      😊

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    3. Yes Emma. Alan is accurate. There was much gnashing and wailing from both of us when you did not appear.

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    4. Just seen your comments. Thanks, guys. To say I was gutted would be an underestimate. Most people don't realise that when I say 'I am really not feeling very well', I am actually on the verge of collapse. In the end, I wasn't fit to go back to work for over 2 weeks, so I really wasn't well at all.

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    5. Well you done dead well Emma. And thanks again for making that brew when we arrived at your camp spot. Really appreciated.

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  8. This 'sixth sense' thing. It's because I'm congenitally lazy, and so try to pick lines of least resistance.
    Any idiot can pick a difficult route... I've had years of experience of doing that...

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    1. You are, indeed, correct there Alan. And there is nothing you can teach me about idiocy. I have demonstrated it on many occasions in the hills.

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