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TGO Challenge 2009 - A Third Walk Across Scotland

Day 3 - Sunday 10th May
Loch Monar to Cannich
(18 miles/975 metres ascent)

TGO Challenge 2009 - Part 3

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I slept quite well, despite having to press my little Whizz into service three times (!) during the night. I first woke at about 0500, but I drifted in and out of sleep until 0700, when I finally sat up.

The previous day, the day walkers Caburn and I had met had told us that the forecast for Sunday was for a beautiful day, but even so I was amazed and delighted to find, upon unzipping the outer, a truly lovely morning, with a bright blue sky and sunshine, even at that early hour. I poured some water into my little mug and put it on to boil, for hot chocolate, and started packing a few things up inside the tent.

Hot choccy finished, I made my way down to the river for a bit of a wash and to scrub out the Kettley thing from the night before. Fortunately the remains of the macaroni cheese hadn't dried to concrete, and it was pretty easy to clean up.

It was clear from conversation with the others that Andy, Kate and Doug were all heading for Cannich, while Caburn intended to strike off to the left some way along the track in order to take in some more Munros. I was anxious to make good progress, because my plan was to get beyond Cannich to a hostel near Loch Meiklie, to which I'd sent a parcel. The plan involved a hike of almost 20 miles, and I wasn't particularly looking forward to having to go that far, mainly because I was aware that I'd be leaving the other Torridon and Strathcarron starters behind in order to take the Monday morning ferry across Loch Ness. This was all part of my plan to get to the Cairngorms in time to sleep in three haunted places before arriving in Braemar on Saturday, in time for the Saturday night bash...

Anyway, I had a quick breakfast of bread and saucisson...


...and then nipped out to start packing up in earnest.

Packing up at Loch Monar

It was about 0915 when we got away, and the lovely morning was fast developing into a quite fantastic day.

Leaving our camping spot on Loch Monar

We enjoyed a stroll along the path at the side of the loch towards Monar Lodge...

...stopping several times as we approached the head of the loch to take photographs of the beautiful scenery we were leaving behind us...

View back along Loch Monar

...as well as that which lay ahead.

Looking towards Monar Lodge

Doug was keen to get to Cannich before the shop closed, if at all possible, and so about 45 minutes into the walk he proposed going on ahead at speed. Anxious as I was to press on to Loch Meiklie, I asked if I could accompany him, and he agreed. We therefore set off together along the path, saying goodbye for the moment to Caburn, Andy and Kate.

My plan had been to take in a couple of hills on the way to Cannich, but Doug knew of a faster, lower route, and by now my main priority was to make fast progress, as I was expecting to have to get up at about 0500 the following morning to make it to Drumnadrochit from the hostel in time for the early ferry. I was therefore very happy to follow Doug, who'd been that way before, and we pressed on as fast as our little legs would take us. We did stop for the occasional photo, though...

Looking back to Loch Monar again

...because the views were just too wonderful to ignore.

Eventually we arrived at Monar Lodge. As we made our way towards the buildings we encountered a gate all wrapped around with barbed wire. It was so difficult to open that had I been on my own I suspect I might just have left it ajar, so extremely unfriendly it appeared to be. Doug is more restrained than me, though, and he managed to open it and then close it securely behind us.

Gate at Monar Lodge

After fighting our way through the gate we each took a layer off, as the day was growing hotter by the minute.

Doug packs a layer away in his rucksack

Then we pressed on through the very attractive grounds of the lodge...

Grounds of Monar Lodge

...and, after that, along the broad path above the River Farrar towards the point at which we planned to strike south.

At some stage we stopped for a wee rest and a snack in the sun. Doug put down his waterproof on the grass, but when he picked it up a couple of minutes later he saw several ticks on it, and dashed them to the ground. Eek! I felt my toes curl within my Roclites, and I was almost afraid to sit down! I saw no ticks, though, so either I was lucky in my seat or my eyes are too poor to spot the little buggers. No matter... as long as I don't find them crawling on me I'm more or less okay with them...

Somewhere along the path from Loch Monar to the bridge

As Doug and I enjoyed our break there was a sudden noise from behind, and as we turned to investigate Andy and Kate whizzed past at a very impressive rate of knots. They said (at least I think this is what they said--the echo of their voices was carried back to me on the breeze created by their rapid passing) that they were planning to stop a little further along, and so we waved towards their rapidly retreating figures and hoped to meet again later in the day. So much for our speedy crossing!

Lunch over, we gathered our things together and pressed on once again. I'd happily have stayed on the little track all the way to wherever it goes--Stonehaven, quite possibly--but fortunately Doug knew that we needed to turn off, and where to do it, and so in due course we turned right across a field towards a suspension bridge that I hadn't even seen.

Doug crosses the suspension bridge

On the other side of the bridge we found Kate and Andy enjoying what looked like a very comfortable rest stop and wee snacklet in the lush grass as the side of the river. We stopped for another quick chat, and Doug passed on some information he'd been given about the best route down the other side of the hill.

Kate (concealed behind tree) and Andy

Then we continued towards the climb. Doug had been there before, and was pretty sure that the correct path was on the left of the stream. That's the one we aimed for, but on the way I spotted an extremely exciting dragon fly in the grass, and stopped to take a picture.

I've had three compact digital cameras but until recently I've been unable to get a clear picture of small things (flowers, insects etc) even when using the macro setting, which is largely why I've kept changing them. I began to panic that I was going to cock it up again, since I love dragon flies and this was the most impressive specimen that I'd ever seen, all sturdy and multi-winged like some sort of miniature biplane. I asked Doug if he'd have a go, and he managed to take a lovely, clear picture for me.

Lovely dragon fly (piccy by Doug)

Doug also managed to solve the mystery of why it was that I'd never been able to get a clear picture before, when he found that I was using the zoom as well as the macro lens, rather than simply moving the camera close to the subject. Naturally, any hand shake is magnified a thousand-fold when one's using the zoom. Doh... I tried out the new method on a pretty little white flower and it worked! Thank you, Doug :)

Little white flower

After that we began to press on up the hill. It was steep, and flanked by lush vegetation, and in the hot weather the climb was muggy and tiring. Keen to get it over with, though, we pushed on up as fast as we could, passing the bleached remains of a dead sheep at one stage...

A bit of a vertebral column. I hope this wasn't a former Challenger...

...and eventually we arrived at... a broad expanse of peat hags! Aaagh...

Peat hags are horrible things, I always think, and I confess that I felt a little cheated to find them lurking on top of our little col, in place of the broad green sward I'd been anticipating. Worse still, they were very gloopy, since there'd recently been so much rain, and every step was suddenly hedged about with the possibility of disappearing up to one's neck (or worse) in liquid peat. I tried a bit of hag hopping, attempting to avoid the gloopy bits at the bottom, but that didn't work well, and so in frustration I climbed down and decided to just drive forwards as quickly as possible, resigning myself to wet feet and shoes filled with gop.

It rapidly became clear that that hadn't been a terribly good idea when I suddenly sank to my knees in a particularly sloppy hag. It was just like all the scary stories I've ever read about people drowning in bogs, because each time I tried to move a leg I simply sank further, and I'm quite sure that if I'd been on my own it really would have been quite impossible to get out! I stopped moving fast, and fortunately Doug was there to save me!

Totally stuck in a peat bog!

I leaned forwards onto the bank, and manoeuvred myself out of my rucksack. Doug then took hold of my hands and pulled as hard as he could. For a while absolutely nothing happened, but Doug's efforts eventually bore fruit and my legs began to come away from the mud with the sort of loud squelching sound that I've previously only heard in Tom and Jerry cartoons. I lay around on the grass for a little while, like a beached whale, but the whole thing was so funny that suddenly I didn't really mind the peat hags any more, and after getting back into my rucksack I went forward with a lighter heart.

The peat hags eventually disappeared, and in their place came boggy ground. I spotted a number of very attractive little frogs.

Attractive little frog

And another one

The path began to make its way uphill, and we came to a point at which it narrowed and made its way through shaley ground above a very steep drop. There was a large clump of earth that seemed to be the only thing to stand on. I wasn't keen to stand on it, though, because it looked to me as though it was on the verge of giving way. Doug had skipped across with the agility of a mountain goat, but I faffed about for several minutes, trying to find a way to get across slightly higher up the shale bank. I failed, though, and so eventually I took a deep breath and went via the clump. I got safely across, but later that evening Andy told me that it had given way as he'd trodden on it, and he was pretty lucky, I reckon, not to have had a nasty fall.

Eventually we stopped climbing and the other side of the hill arrived. Thank goodness!

Downhill at last!

Doug had heard of a landrover track somewhere to the left, and afer a quick scout about we found it, and began to follow it down. The journey down was much easier than the climb up had been, and we were soon down to the road. There we turned left and struck out for Cannich.

As we walked we chatted about all sorts of things, and eventually the conversation turned to food. I find it often does, as the day wears on :)

We began to fantasise about what we might have for dinner that night in a pub, and I began to give real thought to the possibility of staying in Cannich rather than pressing on towards Drum. On the one hand, I was very reluctant to give up my long-cherished plan to sleep in Corrour bothy, walk up (not down) the Lairig Ghru to the Chalamain Gap, follow the Gap to, and sleep in, Ryvoan bothy and then make my way, via Cairn Gorm and Ben Macdui, to Loch Etchachan, to spend the night with the Big Grey Man and a bunch of Challenge pals. On the other hand, in order to get to the Cairngorms in time to do all that and still get to Braemar for Saturday I'd have to walk on past Cannich tonight, leave the hostel at about 0530 in the morning in order to get to Drum in time for the early ferry, and leave behind all the pals I'd been walking with over the course of the last few days. I was torn, but eventually I decided I was going to stay in Cannich and give up either Corrour or Ryvoan bothy.

Decision made, I was able to participate much more actively in the 'pub for dinner' discussion, and Doug and I decided to find the nicest pub and eat there together. Yum!

The road walk was very pretty, as road walks go, and we passed a lovely little loch...

Lovely little loch

...and a particularly lovely woody glade.

As we walked I looked up to the hills to our left, and wondered how Caburn was getting on up there. They looked fabulous, in the perfect conditions.

Doug remembered from a previous crossing that the road eventually made its way downhill into Cannich, and just as we got to the point where the hill began my sister rang. She wanted to chat about my father, and so I suggested to Doug that he should go on and settled down at the side of the road to talk to Caroline.

Conversation finished, I made my way down to Cannich and looked for the pub. I soon found one, but Doug wasn't there. I asked if a tall bloke carrying a large pack had been in, and the occupants told me he'd gone on to the campsite. I followed, and 5 or so minutes later I found Doug putting up his tent on a very attractive flat, green camping ground amongst a whole bunch of other Challengers.

It was about 1830 when we arrived, and Doug and I were keen to get along to the pub. It sounded from conversation with the others as though the one I'd seen on the way in served the best beer, but that the Slaters Arms, at the other end of the village, might be producing better meals. Food is always my first priority (no matter how it might sometimes appear... *g*) and so I persuaded Doug that we should go for the second one. After putting up the tents we therefore parted temporarily from Terry Leyland, with whom I'd been reunited upon approaching the site, as he was planning an assault on the real ales.

Doug and I arrived at the Slaters Arms to find it absolutely heaving with Challengers, and the staff apparently on the verge of a series of nervous breakdowns attempting to cope with the unexpected influx. We were soon provided with drinks, though, and shown to a table where we happily settled down with the menus.

I often find that a sneaky scanning of what other people have got provides the best information about what I'd like to eat, and so I put aside the menu and had a look around. I very soon spotted what looked like a fantastic burger at a nearby table, surrounded by a mountain of golden, crispy looking chips. I don't normally eat burgers these days, since I've never found one in a pub that's been made from a happy animal, but I'm afraid that my conscience deserted me in Cannich, and the burger is what I ordered.

It was delicious when it arrived. Sadly I'd forgotten to take my camera, so unfortunately I'm unable to show it to you, but I can promise that it was very good indeed, as was the Greek salad I'd ordered to accompany it. Doug's fish and chips looked a little less impressive, but he happily engulfed them and we steadfastly continued our carbo-loading with another pint of beer :)

Coffee followed, and then we made our way back to the camp site. I settled into my tent and recorded a little update for Bob. Then I got out my book and settled back into my snuggly NeoAir mattress, and very quickly I fell asleep.

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