Dinnet to Tarfside
(17 miles/841 metres ascent)
TGO Challenge 2009 - Part 10
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Tuesday dawned relatively bright, and it was rather luxurious to have somebody cooking breakfast for me. Yum! I was disappointed that the staff didn't know whether the sausages and bacon were free-range or not, because it meant I couldn't have them--which was a pity, since I'd seen free-range pork on the menu the night before--but what I did have was pretty good, and it was particularly good not to have to wash up :)
Colin was now re-established on what had always been his intended route, and he planned to do a day's road walking and finish the Challenge on Wednesday. I dislike road walking and was keen to continue until Thursday, and so we agreed to part after packing up and meet again in Montrose.
After breakfast I therefore set off along the road that had led me with Colin towards Dinnet the night before. I hadn't quite decided whether to aim for Tarfside or Charr Bothy. I was keen to visit Charr Bothy again, but I was also keen to stay at Tarfside since I'd never stayed there before, and besides: I was hoping to see Colleen Tock, as in our pre-Challenge email exchange he'd indicated that he was going to be at Tarfside on the Tuesday night, and we've never actually met on the walk itself. I decided to start walking and make a decision as the day progressed.
At first it felt strange to be walking alone, as although most of my walking is done solo I hadn't actually walked alone since I'd left Torridon over a week earlier. I took advantage of the good early weather to text Uncle Roger and ask him to put aside a Challenge fleece for me, having seen and admired several earlier in the trip, and he texted back to say that he'd done so. Excellent! After that I texted Dee and Piglet, and then I got out my little recording device and recorded something for Bobs. And then, of course, there were photographs to take...
Wet bee :)
Heath Spotted Orchid, perhaps?
Soon after that, though, I realised that I seemed to be lost. Uh-oh... I'd been following the map quite carefully until I'd begun to play with the recorder, but at some stage I'd clearly made a mistake of significant proportions because a closer look at the map, with the assistance of the compass, demonstrated that I was now heading north towards a sawmill, when I should have been heading south towards Millfield. Drat...
Unfortunately, a small hillock covered in trees and bound up in barbed wire fences now stood between me and where I was supposed to be, and so it wasn't possible to move directly in the right direction. I therefore had to do the best I could, skirting the edge of the wood and scaling the occasional wire fence and barbed wire topped wall. It was an unpleasantly muggy experience, as the ground was (perhaps inevitably) wet underfoot, and at times it wasn't easy to see where I was going as I struggled through great scratchy bushes and clumps of brambles and similarly aggressive foliage. I'm not sure where it all came from!
Eventually I got onto clearer ground, though, and finally I came out at what appeared to be an electric fence next to a gate. The gate opened onto a track, and I breathed a great sigh of relief and promised myself to pay closer attention to the map for the rest of the day...
There were still flowers to be photographed...
...but now I made sure to go straight back to the map after fiddling with the camera.
Despite recognising some of the ground that Colin and I had travelled the afternoon before, I still managed, inadvertently, to take a different route on the approach to Millfield, and found myself passing the Glen Tanar Equestrian Centre on my way to the bridge I'd identified on the map. Unfortunately, the road to the bridge lay along what was clearly marked as a private drive, and I had to adapt my plans to take a different route in order to cross the river via two different bridges instead. At that stage it was still a pleasant morning, though, and so once sure that I knew where I was walking I didn't mind very much.
I was soon established on a clear and broad forest trail...
Path through Forest of Glen Tanar
...and I took advantage of the opportunity to record an interview with a wee creature I found lying at the side of the path :) I also found a magnificent beetle, but sadly he wasn't willing to be interviewed.
A little later I stopped for some lunch at the base of a tall tree...
...but as I was sitting there some spots of light rain appeared, and pretty quickly the rain set in properly and became steadily heavier. Although I didn't realise it at the time, this was to be the start of the wettest, coldest and generally most misery-making afternoon's walking I've ever endured on the Challenge :(
I started packing up as soon as the rain began, and began to make my way along the path. Soon the path began to rise, and I eventually emerged from the forest on what the map refers to at the Firmounth Road, and continued the climb up a hill which had begun about half a kilometer earlier.
It was quite steep at first, but then it levelled out for a while. Not long after that, though, it became steep again along the approach to Tampie. I didn't mind the gradient, but the wet conditions were beginning to get me down. The ground had been so thoroughly soaked that the paths all resembled small streams, and attempting to walk to the side on the heather instead was precarious, amidst the usual tangle of bushy stems and wiry roots, concealing slippery rocks and potholes. My shoes filled rapidly with muddy water, and I pulled my hood up to cover my head in order to prevent the rain from pouring into my jacket around my neck. I was glad of my MP3 player, and resigned myself to as fast a tramp as possible with the prospect of a hot drink and cheery company at St. Drostan's to keep me going.
Reviewing it now on the map, the walk over from Dinnet to Tarfside doesn't look much. As I rose ever higher into the cloud, though, it seemed set to continue forever. At some point I became aware of a landrover parked in the middle of the path ahead of me, and when I eventually drew level it turned out to contain two men with a very fit and eager looking Border Terrier, which immediately reminded me of my own wee Piglet--hopefully warm and snug inside, and playing with her pals Blink and Buster.
I stopped to say hello, and check that I was on the right path. The men confirmed that I was, and said they were waiting for a break in the weather in order to get out and do a little shooting (I think) of some sort or another. It was nice to make human contact out there on that bleak and rain-swept hillside, but I knew I wouldn't get to Tarfside if I stood around dripping and so again I put my head down and pressed on.
By the time I'd been settled into the descent for a kilometer or so the rain had managed to make its way through every layer of my clothing, and even my underwear was wet. That was disappointing since I was wearing Paramo-style clothing, and although my jacket was relatively light the trousers were actually heavier than the Paramo Cascadas I'd left at home. I couldn't see a great deal ahead, established, as I was, in the clouds, and in fact it wasn't absolutely clear to me that I was still on a real path, because the water was streaming so fast down the hillside that almost everything even half resembling a path could just as easily have been a stream bed. My hands were cold but I got out my compass and managed to take a bearing, just to confirm that I was heading in the right sort of direction, and it appeared that I was. It was so wet that for once I'd stowed my sopping camera inside my pack, so there was no prospect of taking a photograph to record the occasion, even if my hands had been warm enough to fiddle with the settings.
After what felt like days I eventually began to drop down from the cloud, and the path ahead began to clear a little. The rain lightened, although the wind was still keen, and at last the prospect of actually getting to Tarfside began to feel more of a reality than a dream. I spotted some sort of buildings ahead, and when I got there I took off my pack and propped it against a pile of some kind of rubble, because by then I was in desperate need of a loo break. I'd been too cold to manipulate the various fastenings in the wind a little further up the hill.
Loo break satisfactorily completed I felt a little better, and as I hefted the pack and settled back into it I hoped there wouldn't be too much further to go. By now I was regretting the absence of my Lowe Alpine Mountain Cap, which I'd foolishly sent home from Aviemore. A Buff's a useful thing, but in truly horrible conditions a warm hat is really a necessity.
I found it surprisingly difficult to work out which path to take on the other side of the buildings. I'm not sure why I was surprised, since all evidence on the point confirms that I *always* find that sort of micro-navigation confusing, but hey ho--I continue to live in hope :) Eventually I did find the path, though, and set off again.
Tarfside -- somewhere...
Looking back up towards where I'd come from
Only having passed quickly through St. Drostan's once before, I wasn't sure where I would find it once I eventually arrived in Tarfside. I was pretty sure I'd be able to work it out, but at the same time I was anxious to get there as quickly as possible because I really was chilled right through to the bone, and foresaw no prospect of warming up until I'd had a hot drink.
In the event, some 45 minutes or so later the path I was following dropped quite suddenly to a bridge, and on the bridge were some cheery Challengers who told me where I needed to go. What a relief! I arrived at the little building, made my way around the back to dump my pack and take off my shoes, made my way in through a fuggy room filled with steaming bodies and eventually arrived in the kitchen. Wonderful! There I found Ali and Sue with David Albon, and David immediately organised a mug of tea for me as I lowered myself thankfully into a space at the table.
I think I spent about 45 minutes in the hostel, chatting mainly with Ali, Sue and David but also with some other familiar faces I spotted around the table. I had two mugs of tea--whoohoo!--and by the time I'd finished them I felt better equipped to go out and find a place to put up my tent. I still wasn't properly warm, but at least my fingers were now moving again.
It isn't far to the camping field, and upon my arrival I was met by the sight of what looked (but surely can't actually have been) like hundreds of tents! I passed Bob and Rose on the left as I made my way along to where Ali and Co. were heading, and popped over for a hug and a brief catch-up. They were tucking into some sort of food provided by the delivery service now operated by The Retreat, the community owned restaurant a couple of kilometers further along the road, and they pointed to a couple of young women taking orders for the next delivery. I dashed across to order two chip butties, and then returned to my pack to find a place to put the tent.
It didn't take long to get the tent up, and not long after that my dinner arrived. I collected it, and as I snuggled down into my NeoAir mattress and wrapped my sleeping bag around my knees I felt truly comfortable for the first time since I'd left Dinnet that morning.
One of my two chip butties
I *still* wasn't warm, though, and after I'd eaten David lent me a super-duper ultra-snuggly hat that he'd imported from (I think) the USA, to help me throw off the last of the chill. It was very lovely indeed--thanks, David!
After that I sat around chatting, and watching other people catching up with pals...
...and finally I took a couple of piccies of the tents on the field.
I've read a great deal about the little hostelry at Tarfside since I returned from my first Challenge in 2005, and I had fully intended to go over and check it out. Once I'd finally warmed up, though, I found that I really didn't want to leave the tent again, and instead I lay down for a wee rest. The wee rest soon disolved into sleep, and when I woke up I decided to get changed and call it a night. So! The little pub at Tarfside is a pleasure that remains to be enjoyed by me on some future occasion :)
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