From Bein Liath Mhor — I shall be strolling down this wonderful ridge on day one!
Today is the day when I have finally realised that everything is under control. I still have a few things to to but a lot of time to do them in. I’m prepared and have time in hand to deal with any unforeseen circumstances.
As a result I have gradually sunk into a zen-like mode, composed, relaxed and ready to go. OK, the bad weather has meant I’ve not as many miles as I would like in the bag, but then it’s only walking. I’ll get fit on the Challenge. The gear is all here and mostly the food is prepared. I’ve even taken the decision to replace the Tilly Hat — I wouldn’t want to disappoint my public.
I can now spend the next few days anticipating the joys of the first days of walking, hours and hours each with nothing else to do but to walk and blank out the mind. Of course, there are always things to see and do, food to prepare, toilet stops to navigate, photos to take and so on. But the days are long and everything will take its place in a leisurely map of priorities. There will be time to take in the view, to marvel at mountains, to gaze down from summits, to stop and watch wildlife. Of course, this assumes good weather but of course this year it will be fine, clear, sunny and with just a gentle wind to help things along. I know it will.
If your are currently preparing for your first Scottish coast to coast you are about to have an amazing first few days. The North West is always the highlight of the trip. Blue skies and matched with blue water and green and gold hillsides. Climb that hill and take time to look out West, gaze across to Skye and a host of other islands.These views, these climbs are exhilarating.
It is one of the great luxuries of life to have nothing to do but to walk and soak in the atmosphere. On day 2 of my first Challenge I remember strolling through the woodland at the top of Glendessary. The sun was flickering through the foliage. I stop to eat on a grassy bank and then back and took a nap in the gentle and warm afternoon air. When I got going again I met a retired guy who was returning from a walk in the upper glen. He was a volunteer responsible for spotting birdlife and he had his patch which he patrolled every couple of week, compiling reports of what he had seen and reporting back to control in Inverness. It struck me this was a pretty nice way of spending your retirement. Somehow, the challenges of the North west seem to fade to the back of the memory. There have been several sinking experiences in bogs, torrential rain storms and even lightening. But somehow I know that I’ll be spared these this year.
My route this year will be a pretty quiet one until I reach Drumnadrochit. Of course, there are people to consider but they will be put in their right context.
There will be fun and games on the way to the start, folks to meet in Inverness off the sleeper, breakfast to be found in some greasy spoon, gear shops to invaded and the wonderful second hand bookshop and map shop to be explored. There will be the comradeship of the train journey to Strathcarron and the post bus to Torridon. There will be beer to drink and a last meal to eat in the pub and then off we will all go the next morning.
The North West will put me in the mood for encountering my fellow Challengers. Some need a little preparation for. For example, there is Sloman’s party no doubt stomping across the country in a slightly inebriated fashion. Al and Andy Walker seem to have conned one of Al’s oldest mates to come along with them; he had a bit of a dress rehearsal for a few days last year but I just hope his constitution is up to the task!
As I intend to miss Braemar this year (but you never know) I reckon I’ll meet most people towards the end of the trail or even at the end. But I am looking forward to catching up with you all. There’s Laura who seem to be preparing in France. The Rev David and his hillwalking hareem. It will be good to catch up with David Lintern and meet his partner. Then there are other first timers such as David Pettifor and Bryan Waddington and Carl the loco man _ it will good to finally but faces to the email addresses. I shall look forward to meeting David Towers and hope to find him in good spirits. And then there is Phyl and Lou again. I shall take my traditional photo of them once again in the bar of the Park Hotel.
And how about Mick and Gayle who are confusing all of us by taking a big chunk of time to do a whole mix of walks and walking stages. I’m looking back to spending some time in Mick’s laid back company while Gayle no doubt presents graphs and pie charts showing how many inches of rain she has walked through this year. If anyone ever sees a foldable and lightweight white board, for goodness sake don’t tell Gayle!
And then there are the lightweights —and no doubt we will have to take stick again from those who feel they are only men if they are carrying a semi detached house on their back. — such as Rob Slade. There are the funny men like Dennis Pidgeon and this year Sam Hacket is back — I always like bumping into Sam. And, if I’m really lucky, I might even encounter the lesser spotted Chris Townsend!
And of course there are many more besides.
All this, two weeks and walking and I will be facing the highlight of the whole trip. I shall struggle up the stairs of the Park Hotel to Challenge control and to be greeted with the traditional volley of Yorkshire abuse from Deputy Dog Manning It will make everything seem worthwhile.
What can go wrong. The weather will be fine and the company grand. The beer will be cheap and the venison casseroles sublime. The camp site showers will be wet and warm. The red squirrels at Glenmore café will have been practising their entertaining routine for weeks. Birds of prey will soar above the Monaliadth without a care in the world. The electric fences will have their charges switched off and every deer fence I encounter will have a gate in it. The rivers will be running gently and I’ll be able to skip across them. The skies will be clear but the nights not too cold. Nessie will make an appearance as Gordon ferries us across the Loch. The tea and biscuits and Alt na Goire will be waiting. And there will be a free table at Ballater’s Alexander Hotel.
Bring it on. For those of you approaching your first crossing with mounting excitement, here are some pointers of what you will see!