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TGO Challenge 2009 - A Third Walk Across Scotland

Day 14 - Thursday 21st May
North Water Bridge to Nether Warburton (and then Montrose)
(13 miles/185 metres ascent)

TGO Challenge 2009 - Part 13

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I'm not quite sure now what time I woke up, but once again when I poked my head out of the tent I was met by the sight of what looked like hundreds of Challengers standing around in the sunshine, eating breakfast and beginning to pack up their tents. It was hard to believe that the last day had finally arrived, but I made myself the usual mug of hot chocolate, climbed back into my Paramo trousers for the last time and crawled out to meet the day.

John's tent was next to mine, and he was looking considerably livelier than I felt. I remembered to ask him to take a piccy of me with my tent before I took it down...

...and then I wandered off to say good morning to some of the revellers with whom I'd spent the night before.

I was just in time to see Russ Manion leaving, dressed in an extremely smart kilt that he must have carried all the way over from the West coast. Impressive stuff! Colleen was also packing up his things into an extremely large rucksack, and I spent some time turning over a wealth of very interesting-looking things that he had with him just in case they might be needed. He wasn't planning to head straight for the coast because he wanted to check on some bridges before making his way to Montrose. Ali, Sue and David, though, were planning to head for the nature reserve at Nether Warburton, and I was quietly hatching a plan to return to St. Cyrus, where I'd endured enjoyed an extremely exhilarating swim with a bunch of other Challengers back in 2005.

It took me as long as it ever does to pack up, which was quite a while, but on this last morning some of the others were even slower than me, and when John and I eventually hoisted our packs and set off some time after 9am we left quite a lot of other people still getting their things together.

Goodbye to the campsite at North Water Bridge

On our way to cross the A90--or perhaps it was just afterwards: even now I'm confused by the map--we crossed the River North Esk...

...and very bright and sparkling it was in the early morning sunshine. After that we set off along an attractive country lane. I'd given up all pretence at map reading by this stage, and happily followed where the road, and John, and those in front seemed to be leading me, blithely assuming that all roads led more-or-less directly to St. Cyrus :)

En route to Gallery

It really was another very beautiful morning, and I stopped to enjoy the sight of the sight of the vibrantly yellow rape fields framed by pretty flowers and lush vegetation at the sides of the road.

John and I chatted away about this, that and the other as we made our way towards the coast, and at one stage I remembered to get out the little recorder and ask him how he felt to be approaching the conclusion of his first Challenge.

A little later some ploughed fields provided an opportunity for a bit of play with the camera, though my own attempts didn't come out very well.

The road snaked along ahead, drawing us steadily on...

...until eventually we had our first clear view of the sea. It had been worth waiting for, and once again I began to wonder whether I might repeat my swim of a few years earlier.

We still had some distance to go, though. If I'd been watching the map I'd probably have noticed that in order to get to St. Cyrus it was going to be necessary to head left at some stage. I was content to just drift happily along the road in the general direction of the sea, though, enjoying the flowers and colours in the hedgerows and fields around us.

I'm not sure precisely where we were when it finally occurred to me that this didn't look much like the approach to St. Cyrus that I remembered, but at that stage it became apparent that we were south of the mark, and closer to the nature reserve that Ali, Sue and David had mentioned than the place I knew, at which a flight of steps leads steeply down to the beach. It didn't matter, though, because wherever we were it was beautiful, and so John navigated us over the A92 and onto the narrow lane that leads down to the reserve, and we settled down to enjoy the last kilometers of our Challenge.

We passed an interesting sign, and stopped to take a photo.

Warning! Giant toads at large!

A little further on we passed a house with a fantastic collection of bric-a-brac of just about every conceivable sort--a sort of perpetual car boot sale, perhaps...

...and then a large caterpillar crossed our path on its way to the other side of the road.

Very soon after that the road became a sandy track, and from there it was a short step across a boardwalk to sandhills...

Shirl and Little Peewiglet -- almost at journey's end

...and then finally we arrived on the beach.

A very lovely beach it was, too. We both took off our shoes...

...and the sand was warm and silky soft beneath my feet. John went off to explore a little...

...and then we both decided it was time to take a closer look at the water.

John ventures cautiously in...

...and quickly heads straight back out again!

Enticing as it had looked from a distance, the water turned out to be even more bone-chillingly cold than I'd remembered it being back in 2005. It was Absolutely Bloody FREEZING!!! I could virtually feel frostbite setting in by the second, in the very short time I spent standing there...

Aaaaaaaghhhh!!! Get me out!!!!!

...and I immediately realised that nothing on earth was going to persuade me to strip down to my undies and frolic around amongst the invisible icebergs!

Chastened by our encounter with the North Sea, we both hobbled back to the conveniently situated small log next to which we'd left our rucksacks, and sat down to thaw our frozen tootsies out. What a relief!

John, Shirl and Little Peewiglet -- Finis!

Lovely as it was to luxuriate on the beach we still had to get back to Montrose, and so eventually we reluctantly pulled our shoes back on and began to make our way back along the lane towards the road. Along the way we met David, Sue and Ali, who must have been surprised to find us at the nature reserve when I'd told them I was planning to head for St. Cyrus! Doh...

David, Sue and Ali approach the end of their trek

We stopped for a brief word, but we were all keen to press on to the finish by that stage, and so soon afterwards John and I continued towards the main road while the others headed for the beach.

I knew from my experiences in 2005 and 2006 that buses pass along the A92 towards Montrose, and initially we decided to see if we could get one. There wasn't a bus stop where we re-joined the road, though, and so we decided to walk towards Montrose and attempt to stop a bus if one approached us along the way. Unfortunately, circumstances appeared to be conspiring against us, because there wasn't a safe path on the left of the road, as a result of which we were forced to walk on the right: not the best place to be for flagging down passing traffic.

As things turned out, though, we were lucky to have missed the transport, because we hadn't gone very far before we spotted a sign for a coffee shop with home baking just a little further along to the right. Yum! We decided to investigate, and to get something to eat if it looked like a nice sort of place.

DO NOT Miss This Place under any circumstances -- Fantastic!

Well, talk about under-selling itself! The little 'coffee shop' turned out to be attached to a farm, and it provided us both with the yummiest food we ate on the entire trip! We got a table out in the sun, and Little Peewiglet and I settled down to enjoy an organic raspberry smoothie...

Little Peewiglet with raspberry smoothie

...and John some sort of extra-delicious lemonadey thing...

John with lemonade

...while we waited for goat's cheese and sun-dried tomato salads.

They truly were quite wonderful. I love salad and goat's cheese, and always miss them when I'm backpacking, and if somebody had granted me a magic wand and invited me to conjure up the meal of my dreams at that stage then I'd have wished for exactly what they eventually provided us with.

The loveliest goat's cheese salad in the entire world!

While I sat and tucked happily into my lovely lunch, I swapped a few texts with Colin, who by then had arrived in Montrose. He said he was at the campsite, and it sounded as though quite a few others had already joined him there. We arranged to meet either there or at the Park Hotel later in the evening, and eventually John and I decided it was time to go, and began to drag ourselves away from the scene of our fantastic lunch.

John very kindly treated me. Thanks, John! I can honestly say that it was the culinary highlight of my entire trip :)

Fortified as we now were by fine food and drink, the remainder of the walk into Montrose didn't feel particularly arduous. It was no more than a few kilometers, and the time passed very quickly indeed. Amost before I knew it we'd arrived on the outskirts of the town...

...passing some quite amazing fungi at the side of the road...

...and not an awfully long time after that we were on the final approach to the Park Hotel. Just before we turned off the main road I spotted Doug and Howard, with whom I'd shared the taxi from Strathcarron to Torridon a fortnight earlier, and I dashed across to say hello. In fact, I found myself dashing across a road that was actually quite busy with traffic, and realised that some degree of mental readjustment was going to be necessary before I was safe to be out in a town again!

Arriving at the Park was great fun, as it always is. We left our packs outside, and went in to join the queue for a kiss from Roger. Well, I'm not sure that John was after a kiss, but I certainly was :) In addition to my kiss I was provided with a wee bottle of my favourite whisky--Bowmore--and then I collected my certificate, my t-shirt and a super-smart Challenge fleece from the table at the side.

I like to stay at the Park after the evening celebrations, because it avoids the need to walk home afterwards, but I'd been too disorganised this year to book a room in advance. I'd rung a few days earlier, though, and asked to be put on a waiting list in case anybody dropped out, and--joy of joys!--I'd received a phonecall from the hotel a few hours earlier, as we were leaving the nature reserve, to say that a single room had become available. In addition to that, Roger had confirmed that there was a place for me at the dinner, and so I retreated outside with my bundle of exciting new kit, secure in the knowledge that I wasn't going to have to trog over to the campsite and put up my tent.

Outside I spent a happy hour or so catching up with friends who had already arrived, and cheering those who were still coming in, and I think I'd just said hello to Lou and Phyllis La Borwit when out of the corner of my eye I spotted a familiar face. I thought the face belonged to somebody I'd known via the internet for some years but hadn't actually met, and so I dashed across, excited, to ask the newcomer whether he was Chris Townsend: my backpacking hero! He was, and it was truly a joy to meet him after all these years :)

Chris Townsend -- My backpacking hero!

I'm not quite sure what time John and I arrived at the Park, and I can't now remember exactly when dinner began, but there must have been a gap of at least a few hours. The time seemed to pass in the proverbial twinkling of an eye, though. First Colin arrived, complete with red socks and knee-breeches...

The Best Vetter in the World, with his unfeasibly heavy pack!

...and kindly allowed me to try his pack on :)

Rufty-tufty lightweight(ish) backpacker tries on a *real* pack for size!

He then agreed to be photographed in my pack with Little Peewiglet, but only on condition that I promised never to show the photograph to anybody else. Uh-oh... heh... *g*

Little Peewiglet meets a backpacking hero!

Colleen, Little Peewiglet and HMP3 discuss serious matters

Laura then arrived...

PW and Laura and LP -- reunited :)

...and after Laura came Weird Darren!

LP, Weird Darren and PW

I had the pleasure of meeting Gayle and Mick for the first time...

A bunch of reprobates -- Andy, HMP3, Mick, Gayle (invisible), Kate and Weird Darren

...and while we were chatting Judith finally showed up!

LP, Judith and PW

Eventually some people began to drift off to put up tents, and/or wash and change for dinner, but it was only about 30 minutes before the deadline that I finally nipped up to my room with my pack and jumped into the shower.

One of the best things about the Challenge dinner (well, for a scruffy bugger like me) is that it's only necessary to get clean and then change into the t-shirt with which the organisers have throughfully provided us in order to be ready. No faffing about with smart evening clothes is necessary. Thus it took less than 30 minutes for me to get out of my walking things, into and out of the shower, and into my second pair of trousers and the shiny new red t-shirt, and then I made my way down to the room where we were all going to eat. After that I made my way straight back up again to retrieve my forgotten camera, but finally I was down and ready to start looking for somewhere to sit. A group of pals had kindly saved me a place, and so I sat down.

It's fair to say that nobody in their right mind attends the Challenge dinner for the food--it's all about the fun and the famous cameraderie--but this time I have to say that The Park excelled itself by providing the most utterly pathetic vegetarian 'meal' with which I think any of us had ever been presented. While the carnivores tucked into chicken, new potatoes and vegetables--hardly an offering likely to set the culinary world on fire, but at least the sorts of food types that one might expect to find sharing plate space--we were presented with a bowl of pasta with... carrots and peas. WTF???

Rose takes a very deep breath indeed...

Here is was in all its grisly non-glory.

Yum! Not...

Thank goodness for my salad at lunchtime! I didn't attempt to eat the revolting mess, but heaven help any veggie who'd actually been looking foward to dinner. Fortunately, we were all provided with profiteroles after that. They're not everybody's cup of tea, but I was grateful, at least, that mine didn't come with a sprinkling of kidney beans, and a smear of tomato puree on the side.

After the food came Roger, though, and things rapidly began to look up. As ever, Roger welcomed everybody, and then went on to introduce each group of Challengers and invite them to stand up and take a bow in turn. Roger's speech is always very funny, and it was no time at all before people were laughing and cheering, and settling down to enjoy the real business of the evening.

My ability to manipulate the camera began to get away from me at this stage, but I managed to capture a couple of moments.

Bobs takes a bow (sort of...)

Cameron congratulates Russ on completing his 10th Challenge :)

When the presentations were over we all retired to the bar to continue the celebrations. I met up again with Doug...

Moi with Doug Cockburn

...and after that I slipped out to smoke a few crafty cigarettes with HMP3 and assorted other evil-doers. Then there was chatting in the bar, and finally, after most people had left, a group of die-hard revellers settled down around a table to consume all remaining alcohol, not wishing it to go off overnight...

The last of the last

I'm not sure what time it was when I eventually got to bed, but I know it was late, and it felt like hardly any time at all before I woke up the following morning to the realisation that my TGO Challenge 2009 was effectively over!

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