A Sploshing Dutchman in Scotland - The Ultimate Challenge 1990

Willem Eikelboom.

It had been raining during the afternoon, most of the night, and when I woke up it was still raining. I wondered: What am I doing here? Derek Emsley (who had tricked me into this) explained that it's all part of it: "If you want to do an Ultimate Challenge and keep your feet dry it may take a month, so lets get up and go".

So I got up and went.

Two days before we set out from Kintail Lodge I had arrived in Scotland in beautiful weather, blue shies and a lot of sun. I thought some exercise would do me good so I did two walks on my own in nice warm weather. On Friday morning the 4th May I had a splendid breakfast in the Kintail Lodge Hotel and a little later my companions, Derek Emsley and Lloyd Clark, both from Bristol, arrived.

We left in the same good weather and headed for the South Kintail Ridge. We camped later that afternoon on top of the ridge with lovely views all round. I thought I would be lucky again with the weather but in the evening clouds came drifting in. At five in the morning the tents were covered in clouds and there was no visibility at all. Only between 9am and 11am did the clouds lift and we had some good views, the rest of the day it was thick with clouds, a cold wind came up and later it started raining. Only because we had left very early were we able to do the ridge and get off at the far end, after climbing up and down six tops. It was good walking. Looking for a campsite at the stream we ran into peat bogs and produced the, in my experience, typical Scottish sound of "splosh, splosh, splosh". My boots were soaked, my backpack was wet and the rain was even getting at my sleeping bag. We pitched the tents and by leaving the inner tent out the three of us had a relatively comfortable meal underneath the flysheet (one of the many rice and curry dinners).

Via Tomdoun and Invergarry we went through the Corrieyarick on to Garva Bridge and Newtonmore, where bath and bed were waiting for us in the Lodge Hotel. In Tomdoun I was surprised to see Challengers drinking beer at eleven in the morning. I'd never do that! Three days later I was having beer at noon in Newtonmore. You seem to get easily accustomed to that sort of thing (except the Haggis of course). Tall stories were told in Tomdoun. Waking up in your tent in a bath (a cold one) because during the night a seam had gone. Disappearing in a peat bog up to your thighs etc. At some point we decided to do a short cut through peat bogs and pick up a path to the Corrieyarick Pass. Though it was wonderful to see some wild deer on the way the walk was hard while rain came pouring down on us. It took a few hours (I ask myself if this short cut was any shorter at all) and as we finally left the peat bogs Derek shouted "this is the second time I've let myself be persuaded to go through the peat bogs, never again!' It was a long walk to Garva Bridge that day and only the next day we found out that we were just ahead of a motorbike trial in the Corrieyarick. Imagine walking there while 150 bikes pass you on all sides. I could never have explained back home that I had a traffic accident in the middle of the Scottish hills. At Garva Bridge, friends of Derek, Jim and Yoland with their children visited us. Not only that, but they had brought a wee dram as well. In the sunset we were hanging over the fence of a lambing field chatting and drinking. That was fun!

Next day we walked on the road to Newtonmore; my feet were very sore by then. One of the things that made the Challenge special for me was that I never have any foot problems whatsoever. But crossing Scotland in nine days keeps you walking regardless of the weather, so I had to pay some attention to my feet to make sure they would carry me to the east coast. Because Lloyd had trouble with his knees and they had become very swollen he sadly enough had to decide to stop. So at the Lodge Hotel the three of us had our last night together. We had got along quite nicely until then, so we celebrated with venison, beer, and whisky. Getting into his bed Derek said he didn't feel like sleeping yet, three seconds later he slept. It's hard to describe the funny noises he made in his sleep, sucking in air and letting go of it, smacking his lips and snorting. Bad as it was, it inspired Lloyd - and he joined in. Combine this with, to say the least, smelly socks and you may get the idea.

The next morning we said goodbye to Lloyd and headed for Glen Feshie. This beautiful walk ended at a pitch you can only dream of, a small patch of green grass protected by the hills against the wind, a stream running by the front door... Superb! As we were enjoying a brew (tea with whisky from Derek's hip flask) we were passed by Duncan Paton from Dundee. We talked about the way the Challenge was going, he and I being first timers. When he understood that it was Derek's 8th Challenge he looked at him and said "you must be the guy that's 81 years old". At first Derek (who is just over 60) looked offended, then took out his teeth, gave Duncan a big smile and said "yefff I am".

The road to Braemar was long and it was raining cats and dogs. So we decided on a B & B. After a warm bath we had a good meal at the Fife Arms (not another curry mind you) and chatted with a couple of other Challengers about how hard it is at times, our terrible bruises (how brave we are) and how much fun it is as well. The weather was expected to stay the same though colder so I was worried that we would have to stick to roads for the last three days (I hate walking on roads). Luckily the sun was shining in the morning so we managed to do another five tops (with unspeakable names) southwest of Braemar.

We had some wonderful views off and on , and the rest of the trip the weather improved every day. From Glen Doll we climbed Green Hill and renamed it Mean Hill because of the hard cold wind. By that time Derek had changed my name from Willem to "The Dustbin", he had brought food for three and since we were two I ate Lloyd's portion as well. Gradually we made our way out of the hills into farm land and ended after nine days of walking in St Cyrus.

Looking back the Challenge has given what it promised, beautiful scenery and different types of weather, good companionship and friendly people on the way. And wild life as well , we saw grouse, ptarmigan, deer and at the Shieling of Saughs we wondered if we saw a couple of golden eagles. We changed our route a couple of times because of the circumstances, saying to each other that the art of the Ultimate Challenge is to get to the east coast.

I can't say I felt like a flying Dutchman, but I certainly enjoyed it, Crossing Scotland is a special experience indeed. I may try it another time.

Willem Eikelboom.

Amsterdam, 22nd July 1990

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