Ultimate Challenge 1987

West to East and North to South

For my fifth Challenge, prior to receiving the initial details, my idea had been to consider another route from Mallaig taking in the early joys of Knoydart. However, the inclusion of Torridon as a new start point changed my thinking to a route which would be new to me north of the Great Glen. This was country that I had driven through on my way to Loch Maree but never walked. Having established that I would start from the most northerly start point and, as a previous Challenger, being urged to finish at some other point than Montrose, the most southerly finish point became for no other reason than it was there.

The planning of a public transport route to Torridon is an interesting exercise to begin with. The train journey is simple enough, with three changes between Bristol and Achnasheen or Strathcarron, but from then on things became quite complicated. A bus service does serve Torridon from Strathcarron, but only on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I wanted to travel on Thursday for a Friday start. By careful examination of timetables I found it was possible by Post Bus from Achnasheen with a change at Kinlochewe.

The publication of Final Details gave me more room for thought. There were 13 other people planning to start from Torridon on Friday and if they were all to travel there the way I had planned, it seemed unlikely that the Post Buses would cope with the numbers. A telephone call to the operator of the Strathcarron bus service confirmed that if a number of people wished to travel to Torridon on that day a special service could be arranged provided I telephoned from Inverness before the train departed. In the event there were only David and Shirley Emerson and two of the "Rainbow Girls" and we decided to take a chance with the Post Bus.

This is one journey not to be missed. An unbelievable amount of mail had been loaded into the 16 seater bus at Achnasheen, but there was just enough room for the five of us and our rucksacks on the non stop journey to Kinlochewe. There with an hour to wait we thought it would be nice to have a bar meal in the local hotel. Unfortunately due to an "administrative error" the hotel was not permitted to sell alcoholic drinks at that time so it was venison burgers washed down with Ginger Beer! If only Bernard Marshall could have witnessed this after the slanderous reputation he had been giving me in Ultimate Challenge circles! We eventually reached Torridon after visiting just about every house in Kinlochewe and its surrounds to deliver the mail.

I enjoy walking the old drove and military roads and the one from Torridon to Strathcarron is very good. It's a track with great mountain scenery, and in particular spectacular views of Ben Alligan. I dropped down to the Strathcarron Hotel hoping they would be open and able to serve drinks suitable to my false reputation. I was lucky, not only to get a convivial drink, but also to be drinking it during the only heavy shower of rain that day. I had intended to camp that first night near the bridge south east of Attadale, a nice spot I had picked out from the map. At 4pm however I decided that it was much to early to pitch for the night. The walk over the pass to Glen Ling was one that I shall long remember. The sun was shining, I was already in front of my programme and going well, in most pleasant scenery. As a bonus the pitch I found by the River Ling was soft, level, and grassy.

On Saturday morning I left at 7am and made good time to Killilin. It was a good walk up Glen Echaig and I stopped just short of the Falls of Glomach for an early lunch. John Hinde had warned me of the difficulties on the steep path up the falls when he vetted my route. I found the nose of rock he warned me about did present problems for anyone who wished to pass below it. There is however a perfectly good route over which involves a small amount of climbing, and although solo, I felt completely safe and secure. In my opinion anyone using this route would be well advised not to attempt going by the lower route if they have any wish to complete an Ultimate Challenge.

The campsite I had planned was again reached much to early as I had made the top of the falls in an hour. My route up Glen Gaorsaig was through the most evil peat bog that any Challenger could wish for to keep the feet cool and damp. The river is crossed at the outfall from the loch and presents no problems. So down to Alltbeithe where I decided to stay the night in the hostel, and an event occurred which still gives me pleasure whenever I recall it. Having been an avid reader and re-reader of Hamish Brown's books and articles on food supply organisation when planning challenges, I have suffered an inferiority complex when I have considered my efforts in this respect. What a joy it was therefore, on the second evening to find Hamish without any teabags for his evening brew! I felt real pleasure in being able to give him 10 in the knowledge that I shouldn't find myself in the same predicament. At Montrose I was able to give him 10 more to get him off to a good start next year!

Sunday was very much an uneventful day. Light rain was falling when I set out from the hostel and continued through to mid afternoon. It was never enough for me to don wet legs. These were only used on this crossing for sitting on to make a brew. I arrived at Cluanie Inn just before lunchtime and decided to wait for a good "value for money" meal. The fresh fruit salad with cream is not to be missed when visiting this welcoming hotel. I not only walked the military road that day,but also spent the night sleeping on it. Approaching Achlain I spotted a nice patch of grass among silver birch trees and found it to be part of the road which the years had treated with liberal amounts of leaf compost, enough in fact for the pegs to hold for a quiet night. I was now so far in front of my programme that a day off on Wednesday was now a real possibility.

Monday had its joys but also its problems. I left at 7am to take the military road over the pass to Fort Augustus. It had recently been used for the Scottish 6 Day Trials so that the path was clearly marked with tyre imprints. I have to say that this year the area I saw had been completely cleared up rather than left in the mess I saw when crossing from Fort William to Corrour in 1985. With the water running low Allt Phocaichain was no problem to cross and I arrived in Fort Augustus for a late breakfast and made the telephone calls I had promised.

I was looking forward to the Corrieyarick Pass and the views it would hold on such a pleasant day. I was not disappointed and the camera worked overtime as I walked towards the summit. However at 4.30pm I came across an accident, one of two elderly walkers had fallen and it seemed they would need assistance if they were to be out of the hills before nightfall. They were very near the summit and not wishing to retrace my steps to Fort Augustus in a tired condition, I estimated that Garva Bridge was as close and in the right direction for me to keep going. I also knew that there were some younger challengers not far in front of me and I hoped they had stopped for a brew. I was lucky, they were just over the summit and we agreed that they would make better speed to a telephone than I could. Having given them the details we decided to camp together that evening so that we could all be sure that a call had been made for a mountain resue team. Trudging along at the rear it was 0pm before I reached Garva Bridge to learn that David Beer had pushed on and raised the alarm. I had walked from Glen Morrison to Garva Bridge in the day, some 33 miles. I slept well that night.

A short pleasant walk on Tuesday morning got me too the Craigdhu Hotel soon after 11am. I had planned to be there for an overnight on Wednesday evening. Having never enjoyed a "day off" on my four previous crossings it was nice to relax with the hospitality this hotel provides.

On Thursday morning I passed though Newtonmore and Kingussie for food and money before heading for the joys of Glen Feshie, the first time I had walked through on a Challenge. Although there was little sun I again used the camera to record the views in this one of Scotland's most beautiful glens. The scenery must have spurred me on because I was soon ahead of schedule. I stopped at the bothy for a brew and decided to push on to camp about a mile shorty of Geldie Lodge after a long but very satisfying day.

In Braemar while enjoying an excellent lunch of Roast Beef in the Fife Arms I pondered which route I preferred through the Cairngorms. The Larig Ghru, the Larig an Loigh, and now Glen Feshie had all given me pleasure. Where have I walked in Scotland when pleasure had not been felt? But I suppose my favourite pass remains the Larig Ghru from the Aviemore side. Leaving Braemar I took the very gentle stroll that afternoon up to a point well beyond Loch Callater where on a previous crossing I had noted some very good piches for an overnight camp.

Saturday dawned early and although there was some mist about on the tops a lovely day seemed likely. I set off over Jock's Road in the knowledge that, because of the finish point I had chosen, these were to be the last of the wild hills on this crossing. Jock's Road on a bad day can be very rough as I have experienced, but on a day like this with the sun shining, the terrific views, and me still going strongly, it was great. I arrived at the Clova Hotel around mid-day to be greeted with the usual hospitality that the host accords all Challengers. It was pleasant that afternoon to be sitting in the sun outside the hotel, pint in hand, watching a big clay pigeon shoot. I spent the evening with a group of challengers, ably led by Jerry Knights who took great pleasure in keeping the party going until they were sure that I had had a glass in my hand for a full 12 hours. Another Ultimate Challenge legend that will lose nothing in the telling as the years go by. One first time Challenger enquired as to what time the bar closed, to learn from me that it was when the till was full, only to be informed by the owner that it would be October!

I ask myself now, having done it myself on other crossings, why do so many challengers walk into Montrose from Clova? Unless you are a superman it's a two day walk and Arbroath is a couple of miles nearer. I found that by careful selection of the byways over the hills I experienced very little traffic. The views were good, although very different from the high hills, and it was nice to see some well kept gardens on the way. I spent Sunday night in Forfar and felt so fit and well on Monday morning that I walked the last fifteen miles into Arbroath in four hours.

For me the north-south trek had been well worthwhile. I had seen so many faces of Scotland all with something to offer. No Challenger is likely to say that any one route is better than another and I am the same. Every route you do is just different and I shall remember my fifth crossing with a lot of pleasure.

Derek Emsley.
U,C. No. 129.

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