Walking Faithfully

Rob Hausam's blog about walking and other means of wilderness travel, the environment, faith, and the connections between them

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May 27th, 2012 · 2 Comments · Uncategorized

Well, so much for posting more frequently.  I guess I’m probably pretty much convinced by now that blogging regularly in more or less real time during the course of a walk like the Challenge isn’t very feasible – at least for me.  But maybe I can find some better strategies for the next opportunity.

It’s now Sunday afternoon in Louisville, Kentucky where I’m writing.  On Thursday just after noon I made it to St. Cyrus, walked down the cliff to the beach, and put my toes in the water – the official end of my journey!  My original plan was to finish at Dunnottar Castle near Stonehaven (same as in 2007), but because I was still running just a bit behind schedule I thought it would be best to alter the plans slightly and walk from Tarfside to St. Cyrus (via North Water Bridge) to finish there, rather than try to make it to and through the Fetteresso Forest and still get to Montrose at a reasonable time on Thursday.

I walked the last leg from North Water Bridge to the finish at St. Cyrus with Freddy Campbell, who I had met initially at Newtonmore and had walked with earlier a couple of times.  Freddy also had a pair of Vibram FiveFingers with him – he just hadn’t worn them all the way across as I did.  It was nice, though, to find someone else to confirm that maybe my idea of wearing them wasn’t completely crazy (but you’ll have to confirm with Freddy to see if that’s what he really thinks :) ).

After my toes got wet in the North Sea and I climbed back up the cliff (a rather significant cliff, actually), several of us had a bit to eat at the cafe down the road in St. Cyrus and then caught the bus to Montrose.  I signed out at Challenge Control in the Park Hotel and was handed my certificate, pin and T-shirt – making it all official.  After setting up camp for the last time of the trip in the caravan park down the road in Montrose, I got cleaned up and changed into non-hiking clothes and got ready for the Thursday Challenge dinner.  Prior to the dinner I met with Andy Howell and some other folks in the bar.

The dinner itself was pretty decent (I thought), but mostly it was good to hear the speeches and comments and have the opportunity to chat with more folks.  I did get the opportunity afterward to meet another US Challenger, Ron Moak (founder of Six Moon Designs), which I had been hoping to do.  My first ultralight pack was a Six Moon Designs Starlite, which I used on my first Challenge in 2007.  Lisa and I also used a SMD Lunar Duo tent on our 2009 Challenge attempt (we didn’t finish that year).  Anyway, it was a pleasure to be able to meet Ron.  It sounded like he had a pretty interesting crossing, as most of us did in one or more ways – hopefully we’ll be able to hear more about it. The evening was rounded out with a conversation that David Lintern and Tanya Morgan and I had with Chris Townsend – always a pleasure.  We covered quite a few topics, beginning mostly with David’s new work with the John Muir Trust and various environmental issues related to Scotland, particularly in the highlands.  After that I popped into the hotel bar for a few minutes where quite a few other Challengers had been congregating, but it was actually closing up time by then, so I made my way back to the campsite to get some quite needed sleep.

Additional notes (11 June): Just four days left to the end! – I’ll finish them up now.

Day 11 (Monday, 21 May): Loch Callater to Glen Clova
Monday morning at Loch Callater looked like it was going to be quite nice – and it was.


Morning at Loch Callater

I got up and was packed up fairly early, and then wandered by some of the other tents as I was heading toward the lodge for a bit of breakfast – one of the again legendary “bacon butties”.


Tents along the loch shore - looking northwest


David and Tanya at Loch Callater

Jeannette Tennant added even more hospitality – preparing many bacon butties for a considerable group of hungry and very appreciative Challengers! A great way to begin the day.


Jeannette, and Andrew Walker


Bill Duncan - a wonderful host!


Other Challengers preparing to head out - after having had their bacon butties, of course!


A beautiful morning leaving Loch Callater!


Allt an Loch


Looking back


Continuing on along the Allt


Beginning the Jock's Road climb - other Challengers ahead

Jock’s Road turns out to be quite a climb – a very nice and fairly dramatic one, at that. As far as being a “road” – I think that must be some Scotsman’s idea of a joke. :) For parts of it there isn’t even a discernible path, much less a road (which is perfectly OK, actually).


Looking back - from higher up

I met up with John Farrell (the Irish whistle player), Andy Dawkins and Chris (from Wales) about halfway up the Jock’s Road climb. Tim Nixon was also in the group with Andy and John, but at that point I didn’t manage to catch him in the photos. I ended up spending most of the remainder of the day walking with them – again, a very enjoyable time, and just a part of the TGO Challenge serendipity!


John, Andy and Chris - time for a break!


Moving higher - a bit of snow


Still climbing!


Another look back

One of the highlights of that part of the walk was spotting and watching a golden eagle flying rather majestically and beautifully overhead.


Golden eagle overhead - awesome!

There were some beautiful views along the way.


A long look back - Loch Callater and snow-capped Cairngorms


Nearly to the top - more Challengers on the horizon

And more lovely views at the top.


View of the Cairngorms from the top

After a rest at the top, we then began heading on toward Glen Doll, and ultimately Glen Clova. That’s where Andy, John, Tim and Chris were heading, anyway. I was still about a half day or so behind schedule. Theoretically I should have been getting to Tarfside today – but starting from Loch Callater rather than Glen Doll would surely make that far too long of a day. The blister on my right foot was still noticeable, which definitely didn’t help. So at this point I just continued on with the rest of the group toward Glen Doll and Glen Clova, which was on my planned route, anyway.


Continuing on the path toward Glen Doll


Nearing Glen Doll


Another rest stop


Heading down into Glen Doll


Moving on into the forest

Once we emerged from the Glendoll Forest and into Glen Clova, we were back on the dreaded paved road again – definitely not much fun! I think everyone struggled with the road walk in one way or another – it definitely aggravated the discomfort from my blister. John had been having a bit of discomfort, as well, and took a bit of a slower pace. The goal now became getting to the Glen Clova Hotel. At that point there was a promise of a nice rest, beer, and food, if desired. That became my goal, as well. A good way back I had ceased entertaining any thoughts of going farther than Glen Clova. Tarfside would still be going in full force on Tuesday – that’s probably when the largest group would be there, anyway.

So, in the latter part of the afternoon all of our group arrived at the Glen Clova Hotel. We did have the beer, and Andy inquired with the hotel staff if we could camp nearby. The staff were gracious and accommodating, and allowed us and a few other Challengers to camp in the open field just across the road from the hotel. That worked out well. A number of additional Challengers, it turned out, were staying in the bunkhouse just in back of the hotel. A bit more conversation was had that evening, and then it was time for sleep.

Day 12 (Tuesday, 22 May): Glen Clova to Tarfside
We woke up to another very nice sunny morning.


Tim, John and Andy - breakfast time


The Glen Clova Hotel


Camp at Glen Clova

Some of the Challengers were having breakfast in the hotel, and I decided to join up with Lee Wells and Tony Bowe and several others, not in too big a hurry. After breakfast it was time to head out. I was heading to Tarfside – Andy, John, Tim (and Chris, I think) had headed off in a different direction – ultimateley to Arbroath. Probably the largest group were going the same way as I was, toward Tarfside. The first step was the climb to Loch Brandy.


Heading to Loch Brandy


Looking back at Glen Clova


Loch Brandy


More Challengers on the path


Me, at Loch Brandy


Toward Glen Lee


Lee and Tony


On top


Continuing on


View back - Cairngorms

I joined up with Lee and Tony, and also Bernie Roberts, on the way from Loch Brandy. Bernie is one of the true Challenge veterans – this was his 19th crossing! Rather than take the most typical path on the track from Muckle Cairn down to Loch Lee, our group had decided to go with a different route which would bring up into Glen Effock, and then on into Tarfside. The track on the top wasn’t very distinct, and at points wasn’t there at all. In the course of navigating toward Glen Effock we did a bit of back and forth in trying to get to the correct track.

I mostly walked with Lee and Tony. At one point Bernie wasn’t quite satisfied we were where he thought we should be, so he went in a bit different direction. This is a good reminder regarding group navigation – there are some pitfalls to avoid. I think it’s a bit too easy to go along with the group and not pay close enough attention yourself. I’ve done that on more than one occasion. Generally you trust that the others in the group know what they are doing, and in a group like this they almost always do (as they did in this case). But I still think it’s easier to make mistakes than it would be if you were giving the navigation your full attention – it’s something to keep in mind. This wasn’t a big deal in any way, but, as I said, we did end up needing to do a bit of backtracking.


Finding the track?

Bernie made it to the correct track first, as I recall, and then we all joined up again and began following the track in the right direction down into Glen Effock and toward Tarfside. Lee and Tony struck out and went on ahead – I believe the promise of the food and drink waiting at Tarfside was probably just too alluring. :) I was at first a bit ahead of Bernie, but then he passed by me, as well. I was going slower for a couple of reasons. This was a long, rocky descent, and I just didn’t want to take a chance on beating up on my feet too much with all of the banging down hard on the rocks. That is somewhat of a limitation of wearing the Vibram FiveFingers – I found that on long, steep descents of many of the man-made and very rocky tracks I simply needed to go a bit slower. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad tradeoff, overall, but it is a limitation and it’s something to keep in mind. I’ve been wondering if a FiveFingers model with just a slightly thicker, but still very flexible, sole wouldn’t be exactly what is needed to make the FiveFingers an even better choice for trips like this on probably any terrain. I’m hoping to be able to discuss that with the Vibram company at some point in the near future. I think it would be great to be able to come back next year wearing a prototype of a FiveFingers “expedition” model!

Another factor that slowed me down at this point was that May 22nd wasn’t just another day, at least for me – this was actually my 36th wedding anniversary! I wanted to try to call Lisa as soon as I was able – but I needed to wait until it was a reasonable hour in Utah (so at least mid-afternoon in Scotland), as well as when I had a mobile signal available (or some other communication option). So, while I was still relatively high up on the hills, I wanted to see if I would be able to get a mobile signal – unfortunately, even though I tried at several locations, it just didn’t work. Occasionally I could detect a weak signal, but I was never able to make a connection. I finally gave up on that effort for the time being, and decided that I was going to have to try something else, most likely it would have to wait until Tarfside, and hopefully something would be available there.


Toward Glen Effock

I kept on going down the track. Soon the prominent monument on the Hill of Rowan was in view, which meant that Tarfside was not far away.


View of the monument on the Hill of Rowan


On down the track into Glen Effock

Once I got off the track and through the remaining bit of Glen Effock, what was left was another road walk for the rest of the way through Glen Esk to Tarfside – what fun – not! :) It didn’t take too long to travel the remaining distance, though, and I did arrive in Tarfside at a reasonable time. In fact, my timing seemed actually quite good, as the ladies from The Retreat Museum in Glen Esk had just arrived at the sports field (the designated camping area) and were beginning to take food orders!


The Retreat Museum ladies - taking food orders!

A number of Challengers were taking advantage of this service, and I did, as well. I had a realization shortly thereafter, though, that I also wanted to see what was being served at St. Drostan’s. While I waited for the food order from The Retreat to be delivered I set up my TrailStar on the sports field and then walked over to St. Drostan’s to see what was happening there.


Camping on the Tarfside sports field

A bit later, back at the sports field, I ate the meal that I had ordered from The Retreat. After that, I then went back to St. Drostan’s and also had some soup and bread. It was a bit more than I needed, really, but all of it was good, and it all worked out.

I spent more time talking with folks at St. Drostan’s. I got quizzed a bit about my FiveFingers, and how they had been working out – some reactions seemed to be amazed/impressed/skeptical, or a combination of those, or maybe they just thought that I was completely crazy but were mostly too polite to actually say that. :) But actually there were some good questions, which I was happy to answer, and some at least tentatively positive responses. I talked with John Donahoe for a while about various things, including his interests and work with the John Muir Trust on various environmental issues. I asked if he had met David Lintern, but up so far they hadn’t met up yet. John really has a wealth of knowledge on apparently most things relating to Scotland – past and present. After a bit of further conversation, John invited me to come along with him to the pub at the Mason’s, which I had already been planning to do. I hadn’t been to the Mason’s pub before, as I don’t believe it was operating in 2007 when I had passed through here before – or even if it was in operation that year I hadn’t actually heard about it, and probably would have preferred to rest my sore feet, anyway. But since 2007 I had heard quite a bit about this gathering from various Challenge accounts, so this time I was more than happy to go along. It’s one more of the social gatherings that have become a tradition on the Challenge. This is actually a once a year event, where the pub is opened and operated specifically for the Challenge folks who are passing through on these two (or three?) days in May. I hear that it actually provides quite a bit of revenue for the town’s yearly budget, so it’s definitely a win-win situation. There pub was quite crowded, and there was a lot of conversation. Among others, I again spent some time with David and Tanya, but didn’t yet get the chance to introduce David to John.

One more item still needed to be taken care of before the day was over. It was after 2300, and I still needed to call Lisa for our anniversary (of course it was only just after 1600 in Utah). When I got to town I had checked, and there was, in fact, no available mobile phone service (which is the way I had remembered it – so apparently no change). I also wasn’t able to detect any Wifi networks – not a big surprise, but it could have worked, if there had been one that was accessible. So it looked like the only available option was the phone booth, which conveniently was just across the road from the Mason’s and adjacent to the sports field. I gathered up some coins, as this wasn’t going to be anywhere near the cheapest call that I would make to the US. After figuring out how to actually make an international call from the booth, I dialed Lisa and we were able to connect and have a brief, but good, conversation. Even though this wasn’t the way I would have preferred to make the call, it was definitely worth it! Also certainly it wasn’t the ideal way for us to be spending our anniversary, several thousand miles apart. At one point I had hoped that maybe Lisa could join me in Scotland, and we could have an anniversary celebration and then she could also join me for the last bits of the trip, including the gathering at Montrose. That hadn’t worked out. But even though we weren’t actually together, I think that having the opportunity to talk still made it a happy anniversary!

After the call with Lisa, it was time to end the day and get some sleep.

Day 13 (Wednesday, 23 May): Tarfside to North Water Bridge
It was cool first thing in the morning, but Wednesday promised to be another beautiful day in Scotland!


Waking up at Tarfside

I packed up and headed back over to St. Drostan’s for a bacon buttie – needed that energy! I decided to stop to take a photo of the sign welcoming the Challenger’s to St. Drostans’s – more TGO Challenge hospitality!


A very welcome sign for tired and hungry Challengers!


Some of the wonderful and incredibly helpful St. Drostan's crew!


With me, as well (and rucksack in the foreground)

One thing I had to do today was make a final route decision. My planned finish was Dunnottar Castle, near Stonehaven, via the Fetteresso Forest – the same route that I took in 2007. The big advantage of that route is that the exit from the Fetteresso Forest is the closest that you can get to the east coast with the least amount of “civilization” that you need to cross. I really did want to do that route again. The problem was, the way I had it planned and the way I had done it before, the likely spot to get to from Tarfside was Spittal Cott, just outside the Feterresso Forest, with still a fairly long day to go through the forest the next day to finally get to Dunnottar Castle. But, since this was already Wednesday morning, I really needed a rather short day on Thursday. I had to finish on Thursday, as I needed to make it to Edinburgh on Friday and fly out very early on Saturday morning. And for that to work, I had to be able to get to Montrose at a reasonable time on Thursday. Camping somewhere inside the Fetteresso might help, but my thinking was that it wouldn’t likely help enough to make it really work out all that well. So, the best course appeared to be to actually change my plans and finish at a different location. The most likely candidate for that would be St. Cyrus. In fact, that was what Lisa and I had planned to do in 2009, if we had made it to the end of the walk. So, in that sense, I actually had already planned this (sort of). Plus, I was OK with the idea of doing something different this time around. With all that, before I was ready to leave St. Drostan’s (actually probably the night before), I had made the decision to head from Tarfside to North Water Bridge via Ezell on Wednesday, and then on to St. Cyrus on Thursday.

As I was leaving St. Drostan’s, thinking of beginning the road walk to Edzell, Bryan Waddington approached, heading the opposite direction from the sports field. The encounter with Bryan turned out to be quite serendipitous, as it gave me a chance to walk with him for a while, plus he steered me in a better direction. Rather than walking on the road, he had planned to take the “less traveled” route, crossing first to the south side of the River North Esk and then following a series of lesser paths and tracks to Edzell. It’s actually what I would have wanted to do, if I had spent enough time to actually plan it well. But since this was an unplanned change in route for me, I really hadn’t spent much time at all on working it out, and I was preparing to simply do it the “default” way.


Bryan Waddington approaching from the sports field

The first step along the “less traveled” way was to cross the “unsafe” bridge.


The "unsafe" bridge

But it really wasn’t all that “unsafe” – at least we both made it across just fine, single file. :)


The bridge - still intact

Bryan and I walked together for a while, then he went ahead as he was moving a little faster. We still bumped into each other a couple more times along the way to Edzell. I also ran into several other folks at various times along the way.


River North Esk


Along the road less traveled


And even less traveled!


Lovely fields and hills

At Edzell I stopped to get some rest and refreshment, along with a number of other Challengers doing the same thing.


Entering Edzell

I also met up with other folks, including, again, David and Tanya. They had taken a different route over the Wirren hills to arrive at Edzell. On the whole, I have to say “very well done” on their route selection – they seemed to take pretty much any opportunity to make interesting and challenging, but still quite reasonable, choices. And those were most often “less traveled” choices. My hat is off to them for that, and hopefully they may serve as a bit of inspiration for me for the next time around (which assumes, of course, that there will be a next time!).

David, Tanya, Stefan Laetzel (from Germany) and I left Edzell in the early evening to head on for North Water Bridge. It wasn’t a whole lot farther to go, but there would be walking on some roads. We did take as much of the “scenic route” as we could – Stefan was essentially guiding us, as he had done it before (last year, I think). My blister did hurt a bit, again worse while on the road, but I did OK with it.


Outside of Edzell


Sunset approaching


Not a small place!

Day 14 (Thursday, 24 May): North Water Bridge to St. Cyrus


Another beautiful morning, on the final day!


Hill of Morphie - the last one!


The church at St. Cyrus - not far now!


Freddy Campbell


The beach at St. Cyrus


Ready to head down for the finish




Well done!


Lovely place to end a wonderful adventure


Still a cliff that needs to be climbed!


FiveFingers all the way - toes in the North Sea!


Time to kick back


And savor the moment


Now back up, and on to Montrose


Climbing back up


Looking good, after nearly 200 miles


This one also looking good

In Montrose


Camping at Montrose

The Day After (Friday, 25 May): Leaving Montrose


Morning at Montrose - the day after


The Park Hotel


At the station in Montrose, ready to go our separate ways


Nearly time to leave - last chance to chat!


2 Comments so far ↓

  • Freddy

    Hi Rob
    It was a pleasure to walk in your stimulating company.
    Crazy? Not a bit of it. Pioneering, innovative, brave would better describe your choice of V5s. I hope Vibram act on your ideas on how to improve the soles of the Trek model.
    You proved the point that the crossing was possible in comfort and safety carrying 14lbs ish particularly as the weather we endured at times was extreme. I haven’t combed your site yet for your kit list but would love to know the details. Our packs got pretty heavy at times. Well done mate…….Freddy

  • Rob

    It was a pleasure getting to know you and walking with you, as well, Freddy. I appreciated your support and encouragement then, and now. I will finish putting together the the kit list and will post it shortly. Overall the Challenge this year was another great experience, and I again met many great people, including you. I would add “well done” for all of us.

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