Eleven days of the 2014 TGO Challenge have passed and there are just three to go. This has been a Challenge of contrasts. For the first time in many years I set off with a companion, Tony Hobbs, who accompanied me from Plockton by way of the thunderous rain and snowmelt filled Falls of Glomach, the beautiful forests of Glen Affric, the canal town of Fort Augustus, and the now sadly road-threaded Monadhliath, to a finale on his first Munro, Carn Dearg, before descending to Newtonmore. This had been Tony's longest backpack in both distance and time and his first in the Highlands. Unfortunately he came down with a cold and sore throat in Newtonmore and decided it would be unwise to venture on into the Cairngorms.
Unexpectedly alone I headed for Glen Feshie and then the vast Moine Mhor on the sunniest day of the walk so far. And also the windiest. Some gusts sent me staggering sideways. Without trekking poles I'd have been flat in the peat bogs. The next day the winds eased a little but the clouds returned and with them the rain. After three stormy summits I stayed low, curling round the mountains to a lovely camp in the Glen Derry pinewoods. From there a linking of passes and glens and one cloud - shrouded hill led here to Ballater.
Whilst the big views have been mostly absent in the cloud and haze the walk has had other rewards. Water in rivers, burns and falls has been a dominant feature, rushing and roaring and sparkling. Birds and flowers and fresh-leaved trees have made nature feel prolific and bountiful, even in the over - grazed, over-burned, over-managed Monadhliath and Eastern Cairngorms. A big dark golden eagle flying low over peat hags, sandpipers calling shrill by burns, lapwings wheeling over meadows, bubbling curlews, croaking ptarmigan, repetitive cuckoos - the birds give life to the land.
The unsettled weather is forecast to continue and with it my unsettled plans.
The picture shows my camp beside the Allt an t-Sodhail after the windy day on the Moine Mhor.