Sunday 31 May 2009

TGO Challenge 09 Part 3: Winding Down

I always feel as though I am leaving the hills when I wander out of Glen Doll and down Glen Clova. The big hills, the Munros, are behind and slowly dwindling heather moors line the glens. Showers and a cool breeze accompanied me and the Glen Clova Hotel was a welcome sight, the first open hostelry since Dalwhinnie five days previously and one with a Climber’s Bar for outdoors people with muddy footwear and wet clothes. I dodged the wind and wet for a while over coffee and scones, it being too early in the day for a beer and also too early for the hotel to be serving meals or even sandwiches. Beyond the hotel the last big climb of the walk led up to Loch Brandy, set in a deep corrie below craggy slopes and alive with the sight and sound of common gulls. Above the loch I crossed the moorland to the last hill, Ben Tirran. Here a depressing sight met me – a double fence, one part still under construction, running along the crest of the hills and passing just below the summit. A gap for 4WDs, which had left ugly scars on the hillside, allowed me through but I could see no sign of a stile or gate for many miles. What price the access legislation when such barriers are being built? This needs to be stopped. Descending north to the long Water of Saughs glen I became depressed and angry again. An old narrow landrover track ran up this glen to a small stone shelter, a track mossy and grassy with age and not really much of an intrusion. Now a new two lane packed dirt road is being built, a cambered road with deep ditches either side. Two huge diggers were at work scraping away tons of peat and rocks and hurling it in great gobbets to either side. The new road runs at over 600 metres for many miles, a great scar high above the glen. Spur roads, equally hideous, ran up to summits and down to the river. I had come this way on the very first Challenge. I will not do so again.

The Water of Saughs leads to West Water and the start of the final road walk to Montrose. Actually, West Water is a pleasant quiet glen, with little traffic, and the road is less of an intrusion than the high level one above the Water of Saughs. I wandered down the glen under clearing skies admiring the meandering river and the changing pattern of clouds over the moors and watching the birds in the meadows – lapwings, curlews, oystercatchers and more. Near the foot of the glen the land becomes fenced. Just before this point I dropped below the road to pitch the tent y the river on a rough grassy bank shaded by birches, a pleasant final wild camp.

The road walk to Montrose, via a café in Brechin, passed uneventfully. With fast traffic roaring close by at times it was probably the most dangerous part of the walk. Soon though I was treading the familiar streets of Montrose to the Park Hotel, heading upstairs to the TGO Challenge control room and being congratulated by Roger Smith, just as I had twenty-nine years earlier. Then it was an afternoon and evening of talking, drinking, eating, and listening to the roll call of successful Challengers at the dinner, a crowded, social end to another fairly solitary crossing. I was happy to be meeting old friends, making new ones, discussing experiences, sharing stories. This communal gathering is an essential part of the Challenge and I would not want to miss it.

Photo info: West Water winding its way out of the hills. Canon EOS 450D, Canon EF-S 18-55mm IS@20mm, 1/250@F5.6, ISO 200, raw file converted to JPEG in Lightroom 2.


  1. Couldn't agree more about the roads. Camped at the Sheiling of Saughs and then followed the new road along the Water of Saughs and saw three bits of plant that would have looked more at home on the M1 - all to get the grouse men around the place more quickly I presume? Saw similar and fences on Mount Battock a few days later. I hope time will soften these scars but the size and lack of subtlety in the construction makes me doubt that.

  2. Wonderful image, amazing DofF for 5.6, I guess the wide angle does that naturally for you.
    I notice you used spot metering, is that usual for you? Did you use a ND filter?
    Best wishes

  3. Tony, the smaller sensor also helps with depth of field. 20mm on the 450D is equivalent to 32mm on a full size/35mm sensor so it's not very wide angle. With the 18-55 lens F5.6 produces the best results so that's my default aperture. I use whatever metering seems appropriate - it's very easy to switch on the 450D. I didn't use a graduated ND filter on this shot as the land was quite bright but I do use one quite often.

  4. Great account of the TGOC Chris.

    Out of interest, do you use walking poles when doing a long walk?

  5. Steve, glad you liked my account. I've used poles for many years on long walks. My favourites are Pacerpoles.

  6. Love the photo. I've always gone for a higher aperture to give more room for error on the focus on landscape shots.

    I'd heard about the fence - a walk report was submitted about it on Walkhighlands (click my name to see it) - very depressing.

  7. Came across some of the tracks you describe last year while TGOCing.

    Made me wonder if the estates are putting in the infrastructure for wind farms before putting the planning applications in - after all, if they can argue that the necessary big plant access is already there, and that the hills have already been degraded, then they've got a head-start on winning the planning authorities' agreement.

    Those roads are big enough for dragging Apollo space rockets into the hills, let alone Land Rovers!