TGO Challenge 2017, pt 4. (Loch Muick to St Cyrus)

Day 10: Loch Muick to Tarfside

Blue skies early in the morning are a false dawn; a breather for the rain, but also a chance to capture a great view and rare blue sky down Glen Muick. Grey skies return on the climb up Allt Darrarie. After nine days of walking and climbing, the poor weather is water off a duck’s back and strangely invigorating as, walking over the top of the bogs heading for Shielin of Mark bothy, the wind and rain hits my face as the scene opens up across to Lochnagar.

A couple in their late fifties have made the isolated bothy their weekend retreat. She Nottingham English and he Glasgow Scottish and, judging from our conversation, they are disconcerted by the arrival of two more walkers. Three left half an hour earlier. I move scattered belongings from a bench to make room to sit down and sign the bothy book as they cook breakfast. The chap kindly heats water on the fire, although where he found fuel for the blaze he does not say. As Ian, me and a chap called Greg, who we guide through the bogs heading for Glen Lee, climb, we spot the woman leaving the bothy with a trowel. We can see that her routine is about to be disturbed yet again by more walkers that she cannot see, trekking along the river.

Into the glen, the wind subsides but the rain persists, past the empty Stables of Lee and alongside Loch Lee, and the cloud remains low, but the isolation stays high. Auchronie and Invermark Castle signal a return to more populated environs with a half-full car park.

A mother sheep bleats beside the unnerving sight of a dead lamb with its eyes pecked out near an abandoned farm at Westbank. On my first visit to Tarfside, food, beer and a great craic make the evening flow.

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Early morning looking east along Glen Muick – the rain is still falling
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Discreet pitch – the Troookstar is just visible above an old wall where Ian’s gear is drying off
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The route to Shielin of Mark – the scattered stones are part of an ancient settlement
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The rain overnight has barely made an impact on the burn to the right
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Looking across to Lochnagar from the pitch by the burn
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Up the Allt Darraire and a bouncy bridge
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An Allt Darraire’s bouncy bridge from above
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Looking back while climbing on a bearing to Shielin of Mark
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Rain clouds make another move
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Lochnagar in the distance
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Shielin of Mark bothy, where a procession of challengers upset the routine of a couple who had made it their home for the weekend. They boiled water for my brew all the same
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Shielin of Mark bothy, which is at 2,100 feet above sea level, revealed in its glorious isolation
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Heading over the top, at 2,500 feet, from the bothy to Glen Lee
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Top end of Glen Lee
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View from a bothy with an earth floor in Glen Lee that was not on the map. The area had previously been wooded, so maybe the cartographers never spotted it.
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Stood at the doorway of the bothy. Ian comes to have a look. Next stop the Stables of Lee
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Greg, who we bumped into at Shielin of Mark and guided through the bogs, poses for a TGO logo. We met up again for beers in Montrose. Top geyser
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Falls of Unich in a rubbish focus
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Craig Maskeldie to the left of the waterfall
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Loch Lee – shortly after spotting three French children chasing sheep – very worrying
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Loch Lee and Craig Dullet opposite
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Invermark Castle
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Heading for Tarfside – slowly because my right leg was playing up with the first stirrings of gout in the knee
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The rain clouds over Tarfside look threatening, but the downpour held off
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Willie, a Scot, and Gary, a Yorkshireman, look in opposite directions with a post-dinner look of satisfaction – they’ve not had a tiff – at the retreat called St Drostan’s. It is named after the holy man who became a hermit in Glen Esk
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The Tarfside volunteers – all veteran TGOers and all top bananas – doing the washing up. We walkers should have been doing that
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Goodnight, from downtown Tarfside – apologies if I snored campers

Day 11: Tarfside to North Water Bridge

The rain clears by mid-morning and after two rounds of bacon sandwiches Ian and I head east for Edzell but are forced onto the road by agitated cows with calves that block the way on the Gannochy Estate. A sign on a gate that we climb over to avoid the cattle says: Beware, ticks, snakes, bulls and bullets. Welcome to Scotland.

The walk via the Rocks of Solitude and down the river Esk to Edzill feels like the end of the walk because we are on flat farmland with only road walking to the campsite at Northwater Bridge. This is a TGO trade-route campsite and won’t be visited again by me. Overnight a deafening, thunderous and torrential electric storm makes the purgatory of the site – the noise of the A93 – pale into insignificance. The Trailstar entrance is closed in on itself for a second time this trip as the torment plays out.

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View over to the Wirrens at 7.20am
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Hill of Rowan
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Blue sky view from the camp – the day has the feel of a sunny one
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Hotting up heading down past The Retreat
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Rocks of Solitude walk – 1
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Rocks of Solitude walk – 2
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Rocks of Solitude walk – 3
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Blue door thinking – the odd top-heavy, yet weirdly appealing entrance on the River Esk
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From the bridge by the blue door – 1
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And another from the bridge by the blue door – 2

Day 12: North Water Bridge to St Cyrus & Montrose Bay

The brightness of the morning and freshness in the post-storm air is clouded by news of the bombing and deaths in Manchester. Suddenly I am not looking forward to my visit home to the northwest. The wander into St Cyrus is a cake walk, along unremarkable minor roads, but – after breakfast in the village pub turned cafe – the stunning beach that greets us is worthy of the hour we spend there in the sunshine, paddling, taking photographs and just sitting enjoying the sea, the birds and the satisfaction of completing the walk. The ease with which we walk back up the steep cliffs makes me realise how good physically I feel, yet sad because the wandering is over.

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North Water Bridge – the morning after a thunderous electrical storm. No problems with the campsite, apart from the noise of the A90, but the route in is grade A rubbish. Never again
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The old bridge on the A90 heading out of North Water Bridge
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Quiet roads … and big pink things
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… and views back towards the hills across the A90
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Furrows for OCD sufferers on the road to Marykirk
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Old tree on outskirts of Marykirk
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Bridge too For-far? – railway line near Marykirk
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Griffin-door at Pitbeadlie. Cloudy but hot
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St Cyrus approaching – smell the sea
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St Cyrus church within touching distance
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Saint Cyrus Church …
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… and its graveyard above St Cyrus beach
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The road, Beach Road (?), leading to the sands and cliffs, just 100 yards away
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St Cyrus beach – recommended as a finish point, whatever the weather. Simply beautiful.
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St Cyrus beach with Montrose in the distance
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St Cyrus beach and gorse on the path down
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That’s it – a beautiful sunny finish followed by an hour sat on the sands soaking up the air.
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Dun roamin’

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