A blog about a hike across Scotland (and possibly other things)

Category: Scotland 1 (Page 2 of 4)

Scenes of country life

Here are some pictures of things I’ve seen along the way.

There are many ruins, all of them mysterious and evocative.

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A 200-year-old bridge along the military road.

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Farm buildings.

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Vegetable-of-the-day for the next eight months:  turnips.



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Mother and child.


A bell curve of wool scrapings.



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A field of flowering rapeseed oil plants.

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All that remains of a settlement.

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A letterbox that will be hard to decommission.

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A tiny shepherd’s hut, like something out of a fairy tale.


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Castle keep, last occupied  in 1790.

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Two monuments

Just to the west of Tarfside, before you get to the village, is the Hill of Rowan. It is bare of trees and has on its top a conical stone monument that can be seen from far off.  Several people on the walk commented they always mean to go up and look at it.  But the lures of Tarfside–pub, hostel, socializing, the removal of boots–conspire to put a visit off until next year.

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Not knowing whether there is going to be a next year, I decided to go up it.  I was with two other soloists, Andy and Lindy.   We walked along the north shoulder of the hill until a trampled path appeared going up through the heather.  They weren’t tempted to go.  The path was steep, it was hard to judge the distance to the monument, and it was after 6 p.m.

“I may regret this,” I said as I dumped my pack on the ground and the other two went on.

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It wasn’t as far as it looked and the view, unobstructed except for the monument, was spectacular.  The  monument is the usual brown and gray stone, with a plug-like cap in white stone, probably quartz.

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It is built for the ages.  A narrow iron gate opened into a chamber where there were some soggy furniture cushions but nothing more.  The chamber is about 12 feet high and the monument 50, so it seems to be mostly solid rock. There was no plaque anywhere.  On the grass outside were stones arranged in strange, runic designs.

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I was back at my pack 38 minutes after I left.  It was definitely worth the detour.

In the tent city on the green a couple of people asked me what the monument commemorated when I told them I’d gone up to see it.  I told them I didn’t know; there was nothing explaining its purpose.  The bar tender at the pub offered one, which I confirmed the next day at the museum down the road.

The monument is known as Maule Cairn, built in 1866 by Fox Maule, the 2nd Baron Panmure and the 11th Earl of Dalhousie.  He and his wife had no children.  His brother, who would have inherited the title, died of cholera in the Crimean War in 1854.  The earldom was “moving sideways” to a nephew.  The monument was to Maule’s soon-to-be-extinct line of the family.

The bar tender had added that there use to be a plaque on the monument.  But when the crofters had been forced off the estate to make way for sport hunting some of them had gone up and smashed it.

I couldn’t confirm the latter in a brief web search.  But from what I’ve learned of Scottish history in the last two weeks, it sounds credible.  In any case, it seemed like an Ozymandian memorial.

The next day, walking out of Tarfside, I passed another monument.   From it you can see the Maule Cairn in the distance.  This one, however, was in memory of the local parish’s soldiers who died in World War I.  They were listed by rank, one sergeant of the Gordon Highlanders and 6 privates of the Black Watch, two of whom had the same last name.

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At the bottom it says:  “They did their duty and their bit”

“Their bit.”  They and 8 .5 million other men.  The modesty could break your heart.

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Lost and found

I haven’t lost anything yet on this trip (I suspect not even weight, given the 2,800-calorie per day meal packs I ordered).  But it hasn’t been for lack of trying.

In  Braemar, I spent the afternoon in the great room of the Fife Arms Hotel reading and writing.  When I got halfway out the door I realized I didn’t have my hat, so I went back and got it from under the chair.

I got partway back to the B&B and remembered I’d left the phone and iPad charging cable and plug adapter plugged into the wall behind the chair–a potentially disastrous loss.  So I went back and got them, too.

The next morning when I left the B&B I did some rearranging of the small compartment in the top of the pack where I keep high-accessibility items.  That required spreading things out on an outdoor chair outside.  I finished, hefted the pack and got halfway down the driveway when I remembered I didn’t have my trekking pole.  I went back and got it from the front hall.  As I walked past the chair, I saw my wallet sitting on it.

For a while I did think I’d lost something–a green and yellow camp towel with my son Will’s name tag ironed on to it.  He took it to camp one year.  It’s quite handy, given that none of the microfiber garments I’m carrying and wearing actually absorb water.

The towel was in the load of laundry the people at the B&B in Newtonmore kindly did for me.  Or at least I thought it was.  I didn’t have it the next time I looked.  I thought it might have been mistakenly returned to Pete Little, the coffee-shop manager and fellow Challenger who’d spent the night there too.  But when I saw him a day later he didn’t have it.

I have found some things, however.  Or people, I should say.

My route took me through Tarfside, a village in Glenesk that allows hikers to camp on the commons.  It has a hostel in a church, a few houses and rental cottages, but no store.  The  Masonic Lodge has permission to function as a pub for a couple of nights during the Challenge.

After dinner, I went up there and had a couple of pints.  I brought along the office–a small dry bag with the iPad mini, keyboard, cables and papers in it.  I thought there might be a corner where I could catch up on some writing.  But it was standing room only, so I put the bag on the floor next to the bar and proceeded to socialize.

After a while I left and went up to the hostel where Marion Mitchell had been serving dinner to hikers earlier in the evening.   As readers of previous posts might recall, she is the wife of Alan Mitchell, the father of the father-and-son team I’d hiked with for two days early in the walk.  Marion, his second wife, is reputedly descended from John Brown, the martyred Covenanter from whom I’m descended through my mother’s mother.  There’s a monument to John Brown, shot in cold blood by an officer of the English army, in a moor south of Glasgow.  Marion and Alan had visited it, as had my parents years ago.

At the hostel I was directed to the kitchen, where five women were washing large pots.  I asked for Marion and introduced myself.  She had heard of me from her husband.  (Alas, he and his son, Colin, had “retired” from the walk several days earlier because of a flare-up of an Achilles tendon injury of Colin’s).

As I was standing next to the sink going over geneology, I leaned on the counter with my right hand.  There next to the dish drainer was Will’s camp towel.

“A young man brought it by in case you stopped,” Marion said.

That was Pete Little.  His parents, who are hopscotching in front of him in a car, found it at the B&B and handed it off.

Marion said she is descended from a woman named Christian Brown, one of John Brown’s children, she thinks by his first wife.  The geneology book I’d consulted mentioned that Brown’s first wife had died.  I’ll have to reconsult it when I get home to see if Christian is mentioned.

As we were talking, I mentioned that my maternal grandmother’s maiden name was McCormick, so I probably had Scots ancestors other than John Brown.

“I’m a McCormick,” said one of the other women.

So I’d found two (possible) distant cousins.

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Marion has done 10 Challenges, the first one in 1986, the last one five years ago with three other women.  She doubts she’ll do another one.  I asked her why she did so many.

“It’s in the blood.  I suspect that may be why you are here,” she said.

When the clean-up crew was finished they had a wee dram and invited me to join them.  I talked with a man named John Donohoe, a Scotsman of Irish ancestry (as he says many Scots are, although they don’t like to admit it).  He told me about cutting and drying peat, the universal fuel in the west of Scotland, which has few trees.

As a consequence, the ridgepole of a house, made from driftwood or the rare felled tree,  was a precious possession.  When people moved, they sometimes took it with them.  And when the laird wanted to move the tenants off, he only had to burn the roofs of their cottages.

I finally bid them good night and staggered off to bed in the one-night tent city on the green.

The next day when I packed up, my pack seemed less full that usual.  I looked around and wondered what I could be missing.  Then I remembered:  the office bag.  Basically all the electronics.

I walked up to the Masonic hall, which was locked tight.  Hanging on the door handle was the bag.  With everything in it, of course.

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Braemar and beyond

Braemar, the terminus of Day 9 was the site of my “rest day”–actually a half-day off, the next day.

I spent the night at a B&B that used to be the priest’s residence for St. Andrews Roman Catholic Church.  But there hasn’t been a priest in residence for at least 25 years, said Carole, the woman who lived there and had recently opened it as a B&B. I was the only guest.

After dumping my things I went up to the Fife Arms Hotel in ther village, which I was told was a Challenge gathering spot.   It was true; the bar was full of hikers.  There was a  championship soccer match on television and much merriment.

I went into the great room off the lobby, a big place with prints of Scottish folklife on the walls and a fireplace burning wood and coal at one end.  I set up shop and spent a couple of hours eating lunch, writing and reading e-mail. The room eventually filled up–every table taken–with gray-haired men and women. They went into the dining room in shifts and  came back later to talk, sip wine and play cards.

I didn’t meet Carole until the next morning. She is a wonderful woman of indeterminate age–sixties to seventies.  A devout Catholic, she looks after the church next door in addition to running a sweets shop with her partner, David, who apparently lives elsewhere. She is a longtime widow with four children. She has lived in Braemar for about 15 years; why she came I don’t know.

Her house is filled with Catholic iconography–crucifixes, paintings of Jesus, photographs of popes, religious ephemera tacked to the walls. Braemar used to be a town of two faiths, the Catholics on one side of the river and Protestants on the other. Now there is a bridge, but almost no people.

Fifty years ago the church was full for Mass; 250 people or more. Now a priest rides circuit. He was there Saturday night to say Mass.  Sixteen people attended “and a couple of them were visitors,” Carole said.


St. Andrew's Roman Catholic Church, with one-time priest's residence to the right

St. Andrew’s Roman Catholic Church, with one-time priest’s residence to the right

After breakfast (which included my first taste of “black pudding,” which is blood sausage) I settled into her sitting room next to a coal and wood fire and wrote and uploaded until 5 p.m. I had only a little more than 8 kilometers to go to my next spot, Lochcallater Lodge, a hunting lodge on the Invercauld Estate.

I had dinner in town and set off at 6.45 p.m., needless to say the latest start so far.  It was a nice evening, cool and starting to drizzle when I arrived at the lodge about 8.30 p.m.  I was the last person in.

Lochcallater Lodge, with tents

Lochcallater Lodge, with tents

One of the reasons to put this place on your route is that volunteers make chili and rice for Challengers.  It’s also known for heavy drinking and carousing, relatively speaking, of course.

I got last of the chili (the rice was gone), set up my tent in the rain, and then went back into the lodge for a while.

Unelectrified, built of stone (of course) with small rooms, it once housed a family working on the estate.  Now, it is a day lodge for deer hunters. With four-wheel drive vehicles. there’s no reason for even them to spend the night.

In one room, labeled “men’s bar”–it seemed redundant, as I saw only one woman in the house the whole evening–a person was playing traditional music on a guitar.  There was singing and occasional recitation of ribald verse.

After a while, the chief guitarist. a man from the south of England named Mick, moved into the kitchen. He sat next to the fire and played mostly American rock and roll–several Buddy Holly numbers, “Big Yellow Taxi” by Joni Mitchell, some Crosby, Stills and Nash. It was an interesting selection from a grizzled Briton in his sixties.

I didn’t stay up too late. Or at least not as late as most of the revelers. It was time to sleep by 10.30. And that was a late night.

The next morning

The next morning


Looking up Loch Callater

Looking up Loch Callater



Glen Feshie

This is out of order, but unless you study the map closely you won’t know.  I seem to have hit Publish rather than Save Draft for the post I just finished, “Characters.”

In any case, Glen Feshie is better seen than described.  It’s one of Scotland’s most beautiful glens, according to just about everyone–a long unspoiled river valley, the hills on either side with few trees, and lots of heather, and streams–“burns”–tumbling down their slopes.  Along the bottom is an intermittently grassy plain with groves of hardwoods.

The estate that encompasses it–many, many square miles–is owned by a Danish man who, I was told, is Scotland’s second-largest landowner.  You could look it up.  But I haven’t.

Here’s what it looked like a couple of days ago.

A handsome couple out for a walk on the way to Edinburgh.




Looking up the glen.




Gorse, a needle-defended plant that smells like coconut.




Find the frog.




Lindsay Bryce, Scotsman, former Alaska North Slope oil worker, and unofficial keeper of the bothy in the glen through four estate owners, serving coffee, tea, bread, cheese and apple pie to grateful Challengers.








Liz Robertson fording the river.





The River Feshie, looking down the glen.





Soaking the feet in an icy burn.








Spume rising off the Falls of Eidart.




A “stalker’s”–hunting guide’s–path, which turns out to be a not-insignificant source of routes across the Highlands.




A late afternoon rest on a hill coming out of the glen, not a person in sight, the only sound the wind and the birds.






I walked for a while today with a Scotsman named Bernie Clark, who lives south of Glasgow and is marketer of industrial design software for the aviation industry. This is his fourth Challenge.

Bernie is hefty. He’d spent the night at a tent near mine at Lochcallater Lodge and started out the day with Dave Pickles, a police officer from Devon, in the southwest of England near Cornwall. Bernie had fallen behind Dave and Dave had caught up with me.

Dave and I walked for a while talking about many subjects–policing, the Scottish independence movement, whether World War I was inevitable.  We eventually got onto his family.  His mother had recently died and he’d been going through her stuff.

During World War II, she had been evacuated from London into the countryside, to very near where Dave lives now, in fact. She was about 10. All four children in her family were sent off. She and her sister were sent to the same town but weren’t told and never saw each other.

Dave’s mother and the children with her were housed in the attic of a large house.  They were an embarassment. The girl’s mother–Dave’s grandmother–eventually heard about this and came and got her and brought her back to London.  Love trumped risk.

“No matter their age, the war was the most important event in their lives,” he said of his parents.

Dave, who comes on the Challenge “because it’s a good thing to do in May,” was going on a slightly different route from mine, but toward the same destination, the Shielin of Mark.  I followed his for a way, and bagged my first two Munros, which are hills in Scotland over 3,000 feet.  (Only 280 to go).  It was foggy and cold on top and there was no view.


Dave Pickles on the top of a Munro

Dave Pickles on the top of a Munro


And again

And again

We walked along the upper edge of a dramatic horseshoe-shaped gorge that looked down on Lochnagar, a lake surrounded by gray rock with a tail of three ponds where it flowed out into a burn. A lake of meltwater–there was still snow in the gorge–and a place where I suspect summer is very, very short.



We descended a boulder-strew hill, with a view far off of a patch of woods beyond which was an ascent into the peat hags where the bothy was hidden. It was going to be a long day.

It was eventually clear I was slowing Dave down, so I told him to go ahead and he did. I immediately stopped, took off my boots and soaked my feet in the freezing stream–“icy burn therapy.” I fired up the stove and had a cup of mushroom soup and three cups of cocoa–lunch. I’m getting tired of the oatmeal energy bars, which the pre-packed meal bag features for every lunch.

After a leisurely lie-down, Bernie appeared on the dirt road above me. He took off his pack and got a drink. I packed mine and we walked together for a while.

I asked Bernie why he kept coming back, which is an obvious question in a difficult event in which there are far more repeaters than first-timers.

“It’s my two weeks of exercise a year, so I can justify 50 weeks of laying about,” he said. He added, “I don’t really enjoy backpacking. Although it is nice sometimes.”

What the Challenge provided, he said, was forced removal from technology: the telephone, the Internet, e-mail, Google, television–basically contact with things too far away to touch or talk to unamplified.

“It gets you in touch with basic things like food, shelter, warmth and light,” he said. “It gives you chance to stay with your thoughts. To think about what you’re doing, what you ought to be doing, what you haven’t done.”

I would agree, although I would add that I am tiring of my own companionship. Too many of my thoughts are the same old thoughts, without great progress being made. If I do this again I will bring an iPod to listen to books or music or podcasts–something in the intermissions from rumination. This, of course, may be like hitching a ride, against the rules (or at least against the spirit). But I spend too much time with my own thoughts and I’m sure a break would do me good.

We walked right by a house at the moment a couple and two dogs came out and said goodbye to a guest. They didn’t bat an eye at us. No American boss there, I guess.

Soon after, two roads diverged in a green field and Bernie and I went separate ways.

I walked along the open flat–not quite fields and not quite bog. The sun was out. It was nice. Soon I got to a place called the Spittal of Glenmuick. It had an interesting old building that exemplifies how little stock the architecture of a 150 years ago put on windows. This one had no openings on one of the two long sides and one tiny window on one of the ends. I’m sure there’s a good reason. Shortage of glass, difficulty of construction, heat transfer–something. But it must have been a dark and smoky life indoors.

One window

One window

As I started to head up the stream valley looked to my left where there was, surprisingly, a small nature center for walkers. This was on an “estate”–landholdings that measure in the dozens of square miles–where there’d been a lawsuit almost a century ago that ended in the “right of access” laws opening Scottish private property to transit by walkers. The estate now seems to pride itself in its accommodation of strangers, so maybe that’s why there was a nature center.

In any case, shouldering packs there were three men I first met on the boat from Mallaig the first day. Andrew, Alan and Phil are Englishmen who’ve done the walk many times. They are tireless and witty, very witty. The accents help, of course. But every time I run into them they strike me more and more as a kind Monty Python Goes Hillwalking.

I’ve spent the most time with Andrew, who generally cracks on ahead of his two friends, sometimes sleeping farther down the route than they, to be reunited the next day with  opprobrium and imprecations flying in all directions.








Andrew, who is 60, is a self-employed software writer who lives outside Cambridge, England.  He has sharp features, snaggly teeth and a theatrical manner–Engish all the way.  He did his first crossing in 1995 with the woman who is now his wife.  She was 19 weeks pregnant at the time.  He proposed enroute.

“I was carrying her rucksack over a deer fence.  We were both knackered.  ‘I suppose you won’t marry me after this,’ I said.  She said, ‘I’ll think about it’.”

I guess the answer was yes by the time they got to Braemar, as they bought a wooden cat–“an engagement cat,” Andrew calls it–that still resides in their sitting room.  Their son Ollie, in utero at the time, is about to move to Australia to play professional rugby.

“I think he became addicted to endorphins on that crossing,” Andrew said.

At one point (it was walking up the Caledonian Canal path) we were talking about the complicated hydrology of the Highlands.  How we were constantly going over hills where the watershed changed, with rivers flowing in a new direction.  But it seemed unlikely the east-flowing streams were going to end up in the North Sea, as the Cairngorm Mountains were still ahead of us.  We gave up figuring it out.

“Water goes pretty much where it wants, really.  Mostly into your shoes,” Andrew said.

On the night I stayed at the Dangerous Building (so named by a sign outside) a mile short of my destination White Bridge, he appeared the next morning alone.  Liz Robertson, the Jehovah’s Witness who was also camping there, asked him where Alan and Phil were.

“I killed them,” Andrew said.  “Finally got fed up.  Couldn’t stand it any longer.  Stabbed them to death with the scissors on my knife.  Took friggin’ hours.”

Today, a mile out of Tarfside–a choke-point rendezvous that each year features about 40 tents pitched on the village common land–I stopped at the local museum that also has a tearoom.  Many Challengers stop there for breakfast, and the place was very busy.  One middle aged woman and an older man were waiting on the tables and they were almost breaking into a jog up and down the dining room.

Andrew ordered a cup of tea.  I ordered a glass of orange juice, a bacon biscuit and a cup of coffee.  Were sitting at an incompletely cleared table that had a single piece of cold toast in the toast holder–a device that looks like what one used to keep opened letters in back  when mail was worth keeping.

We waited as the waitress came and went a half-dozen times from the kitchen.  She finally came up to us and said, “I’m sorry, I haven’t put your order in.”

After she left, Andrew looked at me with genuine astonishment.  “That’s brilliant,” he said.  “I don’t think in my whole life I’ve ever had a waitress tell me she hasn’t put the order in.”

When we finally got our order we commented on the workout the two servers were getting.

“I bet they have to go down to the gym and work out before the Challenge.  Run on the treadmill with a tea tray,” Andrew said.

A funny guy, and like I said, the accent helps.

Alan is also funny, but his punch lines are harder to remember.  His story isn’t.

He is on his 19th Challenge.  Officially, that is.  This is actually the 20th, but the event was shortened the year of the hoof-and-mouth disease outbreak in Britain in the 1990s in order to prevent walkers from spreading the disease from farm to farm with their boots.

Allen is doing this one 11 months after a kidney transplant.  He got it last June, just after the walk, which he did with a hematocrit of 25 percent.  Hematocrit is the percentage of the blood volume that is made up of red blood cells.  In men it is normally about 50 percent.

“It was a difficult walk,” he said.  “Very tiring.”

His brother donated the kidney.  The match was good and Alan is on a low-dose of two immunosuppressive drugs.  I asked him if they made him feel lousy.

“Not at all,” he said.  “In fact, it’s amazing how good I feel.  It makes me realize how bad I used to feel.”

Next year will be his 20th Challenge.  You get a whisky drinking cup and accolades for 20.  He is trying to persuade his brother–who doesn’t have good memories of childhood backpacking trips–to come too.

“We’d like to get the kidneys back together,” Andrew said.  “So they can both say they’ve made the crossing.”




Catching up

There’s a lot of catching up to do. So I’ll try to make it quick. But given the source, you might want to make yourself a spot of tea.

So today, Thursday, Day 7 (hard to believe) here’s what happened.

I spent last night in Newtonmore, or a couple of miles outside it, at an exceptional B&B called Crubenbeg House, run by a couple, Irene and John. Exceptional because it was perfectly clean and well appointed, with wonderful food and continuously running stand-up comedy act of John, who has a particular soft spot for Kim Jong-un.

I staggered into Newtonmore from Garva Bridge, a fine spot on the River Spey (along which “Speyside whisky” is made, although I did not pass a distillery). It had been a flat 16 or so miles, past fields full of ewes and their lambs, curious, cute but shy. I have many pictures of the hind ends of mother and child. Most of the ewes have one lamb, a few have twins. However I passed one field in which nearly every offspring were twins, and there were even triplets.

On the way I passed Cluny Castle, which is important in a complicated way to the Clan Macpherson, which has a museum in Newtonmore . (Alas, I was only able to visit for half an hour before it closed). All I know is that there are Macphersons all over the world, and that some important ones lived in Cluny Castle.

To satisfy a request, here is a picture of me taking a snack break at the entrance to the castle, whose gates have the locks on the inside (the side of the occupants) not the outside (the side of the public).

And what I was looking at when I was a bit more attentive.


The hostel in Newtonmore was serving tea and cakes to Challengers. I stopped, of course. As I have lost my list of B&Bs I’ve booked with, I asked a woman named Allie who was serving the names of some local establishments. He mentioned Crubenbeg House; I remembered this was the one that was a couple of miles out of town. She kindly called there and John came out and picked me up.

As it turned out, a Challenger named Pete Little, who had come over to my tent the night before–I was the last one in–to greet me was staying at the B&B with his parents. They are from Cumbria, in England, and are meeting him a couple of places along the way. They hiked up to a part of his route and hid behind a rock to greet him that day, an experience that he found surreal. Pete manages a coffee shop in England and is training to be an outdoor guide. He’s an extremely nice fellow.

I was hoping to write and upload, but when I turned on the iPad it said it was disabled. What happened is mysterious, but I clearly put it away still on, by mistake, and that enroute it got the idea I was trying to unlock it, so many times it shut down permanently. No amount of hitting buttons in different order, or turning on iTunes on the phone did anything. Another guest kindly lent me his laptop and I went on the Apple Support forum. It was clear I needed to connect the iPad to a computer to set things right.

Pete’s father, Phil, drove Pete and me to Newtonmore in the morning. We were both heading to Kingussie (silent “g”), the village to the east. I said goodbye to Pete as he headed on his route and I farther into town to the computer store. It turned out to be closed for two weeks, proprietor’s father ill. The next nearest shop was in Aviemore, 10 miles at least down the road.

That was in the right direction–east–and I considered rerouting myself for the next three days. But after consultation with maps in the bookstore I decided to just take the bus to Aviemore. A worker in the store, Aiden, gave computer advice and kindly called the computer shop to confirm it could do the work.

I boarded the bus, dropped the iPad mini off, had lunch, looked around, had coffee, and two hours and 50 pounds later the thing was fixed, although scrubbed of the unposted posts, which I am reconstructing,

I got back to Kingussie and began my day’s walk at 3.40 p.m.

No time to stop at Ruthven Barracks, an 18th century installation, to look around,


I caught up with Tony and Jackie, people roughly my age, who went on their honeymoon last year on the Challenge. Jackie’s parents, whose combined age is 167 years, were attempting their final crossing but had recently “retired.” It was a bridge and a bog too far.

I eventually caught up to a woman named Liz Robertson, who had been walking with a friend who had also retired, because of sore feet. Badly sore; they have to be to quit in this crowd. Liz had done the last two days a couple of years ago with a torn tendon in her foot.

We walked along and talked. She told me about her family, her parents (both conscripted in World War II, her father into the Army Signal Corps, her mother to work in a munitions factory), and here life as a Jehovah’s Witness. For the next three hours I learned almost all I know about the beliefs and history of the Jehovah’s Witness movement.

We were both aiming for the same destination, but at 7.30 (“half seven”) Liz said she was stopping, a few kilometers short. It was all I needed to hear. We crossed the River Feshie at Stronetoper Bridge.

Who came out to greet us but Pete Little. He seemed happy to see us. He’d been there for many hours, driven to whittling a stick to pass the time.


Proper knackered

Invergarry Hotel was only halfway to that’s day destination–Fort Augustus and a bed.  The whole day was close to 20 miles, a lot of it on road, which I am beginning to realize is much less pleasant than walking on almost anything else.  On the feet, that is.

I got to the Bridge of Oich, which has an unusual suspension design that allows it to remain standing even if some of the cables break.  It was designed by a brewer turned engineer in the mid-19th Century.


On the river there was a fisherman.


Here, the route turned northeast along the Caledonian Canal that goes up to Loch Ness at Fort Augustus.  It was raining lightly and I was very tired when I arrived in the village.  I remembered that the B&B where I was booked was a half mile out of town.  The phone was busy for about a half hour so I walked.

Reladen with a food package delivered to the B&B, I headed off as heavy as ever the next morning.  The route when a short distance on the paved road, then onto a dirt road along fields and farms before coming out onto another paved road.  There are beautiful stone walls here, architected with round and flat rocks in courses, not just piled like the ones in New England.


I took a turn at a path in a break in the wall that turned out to be a few hundred yards short of the one I should have taken.  It led through the woods onto a dirt road that eventually opened into a clearing with a new house, a statue of a buck and some farm machinery.  A road went up under an old stone bridge to the right; the map suggested I could regain the route there.

As I was approaching the bridge a pickup truck drove up and the man asked if he could help me.  I told him I was on the TGO Challenge, just passing through.  He told me I was on private property and shouldn’t be there.  I told him I was under the impression that one could walk across private property in Scotland.  He said that was wrong.  You can walk on private land in the hills but not near houses.  He said his boss was an American, and that as an American I should know not to be trespassing.

I apologized, he directed me to the road I wanted and I headed on.  Very soon after, the route I’d charted had me opening a gate and going within view of an even bigger house, a pink castle surrounded by scaffolding.


I decided against doing that and continued up the gravel road I was on.  It climbed up some bare hills, then across the tops.  I took a path down to a stream and scrambled up a muddy cow path on a very steep slope to what I was trying to reach, something called on the map “General Wade’s Military Road.”  It was built in response to the Jacobite Rising in the early 1700s.  I know nothing more about it than that.  And I hope personally not to see it again anytime soon.

The views were beautiful and after four days in a timeless landscape, strangely modern.  A power line went over the hills the whole route, and a second one was being built.  Work crews were using heavy machinery building the pads for the towers.  The construction sounds carried a long distance.

The road was rocky.  There was the occasional stone bridge and ruin.  The road climbed relentlessly.  Every corner where I thought it would finally level out revealed another climb.  I obviously hadn’t spent much time looking at the contour lines on the map.  It turns out I was going over something called Corrieyairack Pass.


I finally got to the top and headed down, which was less tiring but no less painful on the feet.  When the crews knocked off at 5 they came down the road in two green ATVs.  The second one stopped and offered me a ride.  I was tempted, thanked them, but told them I couldn’t.  Not allowed in the Challenge.

The shadows were very long, it was getting cool and it was after 8 when I arrived at Garva Bridge  for the night.  It was about 18 miles.  I was completely exhausted, or as they say over here, “proper knackered.”



Death and remembrance never take a break, even in the middle of nowhere.


Be warned, people and dogs.



Avoiding the rare trout-fishing fatality.


The Scrabble set in Scotland is different.


Would we expect anything less?


Seems more like Spey Fish Hell.


Future foretold.



It was sunny when we left Kinbreack bothy.  Jim Taylor left before us; the tents outside were long gone.

We climbed a while, then descended on the north side of the River Kingie. We entered the woods and it started to rain lightly.  The trees are all planted and so close together it would be impossible to get through them without a path. We were on dirt road–two ruts and a grassy hump in the middle.  We passed Jim Taylor in the woods.

We continued on many miles to Hotel Tomdoun, a hostelry whose closure several years ago is much regretted by many Challengers. It is on a hillside with a great open view of the river and the glen. There was still some furniture inside. An official notice on the door said that people with property inside should collect it by a date in January of this year.

My original plan was to camp on the hotel lawn (or “garden” as they say here), but I was worried about the 18-20 mile day coming up so decided to go a mile or so farther.  Alan said there was a flat spot near a bridge ahead where he’d seen people camping. They were going on about five miles to keep on plan, although Colin did not seem wild about the idea.

I did find an acceptable spot in the floodplain at the foot of the bridge near a pile of brush and a fire ring.  I felt a little sorry to see them go on.  But the Challenge is for solitude and chance encounters, so I didn’t want to attach myself to any group too much.

This turned out to be a good choice, as the next morning–a clear one, although I believe it had rained a little overnight–I looked up and saw Jim standing on the road above, about to cross the bridge.

I asked him if he wanted some tea, and to my surprise he accepted. I had just filled my thermos (a hopeless indulgence in the eyes of many fellow walkers) so I came right up.

He sat down on his pack and I reintroduced myself. He seemed in a far more talkative mood than the night I had met him. He’d spent the night on the hotel grounds. He mentioned stopping at a farm at some point to talk to people there; he said he had a kinship with farmers.  And that got us started.

I had the presence of mind to pull out my phone and start videotaping.  I wasn’t sure the sound would be audible, but it was fine. You can even hear the ducks and seagulls flying overhead. I interviewed him for 24 minutes.  But unfortunately I can’t find a way to put any of the video on this site.  The previous post is the highlights of it.

He moved on and I had breakfast and broke camp.

The walk was bucolic and agricultural.  I passed lots of fields with ewes and lambs, houses and farm buildings but, surprisingly, no farmers and residents. I did, however, meet Alistair (or perhaps its Alisdair), an Englishman who was walking alone. After a while we overtook Jim Taylor. He was taking a break. I took one too and Alistair moved on.

We were entering a forestry preserve where long-haired, long-horned Caledonian cattle roamed freely, part of a plan to restore the land, at least somewhat, to its primordial state where large herbivores browsed the undergrowth and kept everything in balance. I took off alone and soon encountered a herd of them, about half standing or lying on the road.  They looked like what I imagined aurochs looked like.


It was hard to guess how aggressive they might be.  But they didn’t move as I approached, so ceded them the road, getting one foot wet jumping over a little stream onto a boggy bank.  Going up the hill I looked back and saw Jim walking right by them.


I was actually off course, having crossed the foot of Loch Garry onto the south shore instead of proceeding on the north. What I took was the way the traffic was going (namely Jim and the person who passed us) and was, in any case, less of a thoroughfare than the north shore.

I trudged on down a hard unpaved road, flat, not very interesting but painful on the feet. Much of it was through eighth-growth woods. I finally got to a place where I thought I was going to have to go onto the paved road. But then I noticed a path parallel to both the road and a stream.

I took it and it was delightful, reminiscent of the lower-elevation parts of the Long Trail in Vermont, lots of moss-covered hardwoods and a few flowering plants along the path. There were many trees with big burls.




I passed two women and a dog and eventually came to a section where one could look up and see back yards. I climbed up to the road very close to where I had hoped–Invergarry Hotel. I cooked up (after a fashion) my lunch of pasta carbonara and had a pint from the bar, both earned, I thought.


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