|Crossing Loch Ness, one of the Challenge's pleasanter obstacles, given the use of a boat is allowed.|
It was Tuesday and Day 5 of the Challenge. We were supposed to walk from Struy to Drumnadrochit over the area of high ground called “The Eskdale Triangle”.
After a couple of miles along the road our route took us along a track and up into a forest. Except it didn’t. The landowner, known for his flouting of the Scottish Access Code, had installed a deer fence across the start of the track. This was on top of a small vertical bank. And directly behind it he had planted a number of saplings, all of which made it look like any attempt to climb the fence would be problematic. Al suggested a diversion that would mean walking several extra kilometres. We saw no alternative, and both reluctantly agreed. The road was eventually left three km further on, when we could head up another track through the forest. The first deer gate was unlocked; the second was locked but easily climbed; the third was also locked and leaning. I was about to try to climb it when Al spotted a smallish triangular shaped gap in the wood work.
“We can get through that”, he said.
I put my right leg through the gap. But the opening was too narrow to get my left leg through; that or my knee was not bendy enough. I tried it with left leg first. No joy.
“Head first”, said Al. “Go through head first then you don’t have to bend your legs”.
For the life of me I do not know why I didn’t just climb the fence. Against my better judgement I knelt down, then started to wiggle through, head first. The gap was some way off the ground. I had my head and one arm through, but I could not reach the ground with my hand. My other hand was bent backwards and my wrist felt ready to snap. If I went any further I would fall through, flat on my face. At this moment I realised that the bastard, for that is the only way he can be described at this moment in his life, was sniggering out loud and was taking photo after photo from behind me as I wiggled and squirmed, my backside sticking up in the air on one side of the fence, my head down on the other, making it look like I was trying to eat a grass sandwich. He asked me to turn my head around so that he could capture the look on my face. "You have to see the funny side, he said. And you're not pouting". I somehow extracted myself, tried it again leg first and managed to get through.
It was Al’s turn. I made him wait until my camera was ready. Revenge would be sweet. Then do you know what the bastard did? He climbed through with the grace and elegance of a ballet dancer. As I said. What an utter bastard.
The bastardry continued, although to be fair to Al the next time it was unintended. It was Thursday. Day 7. This was a long day, taking us ten and a quarter hours to walk the 30km, and climb almost 1000m, to get from Glen Mazeran to Aviemore. As we approached the top of Carn Dubh Ic n Deoir (750m) we spotted a new electric fence on our side of the cairn. Fortunately there was a gate which allowed us through and we sat in beautiful sunshine for thirty minutes having a snack at the cairn.
We set off again, back through the gate, then down hill for fifteen minutes, walking parallel to the fence. We then realised we should have stayed on the other side of the obstacle. Was it on? Al decided to test it, doing this in a very British way. He prodded it with his metal walking poles. Nothing happened. He then tapped it lightly with his finger.
"It's off", he announced.
By placing a boulder near the fence we reckoned our legs were just about long enough to step over it. Al went across. I, too, then tapped the wire with a finger. Nothing happened. I started to follow. I realised that the top strand of wire was that bit too high. It could be dangerous to my manhood, such as it is. I then grasped the wire to push it slightly lower. I jumped back with a high pitched yelp. The sort of yelp you might let out if you’d just got an electric shock. In fact, it was exactly that sort of yelp. I do not understand electrickery but somebody later explained something about intermittent pulses. Well, all I can say is I wish those pulses were more intermittent. I walked back up hill to the gate,
darkly laughing happily about life’s little twists and turns.
|Fording a very low River Orrin|
|Al walks on water|
There are pleasanter obstacles to be overcome on the Challenge, providing that the weather is benign. Water and peat are two. The dry conditions in Scotland in the weeks before our crossing meant that rivers were low. Thus, fording the delightful River Orrin, which was wide but shallow, just after the Luipmaldrig Bothy was possible. This allowed us to avoid a short but marshy detour upstream to the bridge. Clad in trail shoes I just walked across; Al in his boots managed to rock hop and remain dry shod throughout.
|Descending through the peat|
Peat is another notorious obstacle in the Highlands, making for slow progress on some trackless ground. It can potentially add significant distances to a planned walk as you must detour to get around the hags. The exceptionally dry ground this year made our lives much easier. Indeed, Al led us for long distances down gullies in the hags that would normally be impassable. What could have been tortuous sections of our route became thoroughly enjoyable. As a result of Al’s ingenuity and cunningness in this matter, I have taken him off my list of bastards, which he went on temporarily after the incident of the deer fence. Mind you, if he publishes those photographs of me attempting to get head first through that gap his name will be straight back on the list. In capital letters.
|Al laughs to himself as he thinks up a shocking fate for me|