30 Years On...

Geoff and Ali met at the GWC 30 years ago and although they couldn't take part in the usual GWC this year  they did manage to celebrate the occasion with the help of Ali's sister Emma.  Here are their stories:

Ali & Emma

My sister Emma Johnston and I were keen to do the 13 mile event this year on what would be her 22nd GWC and my 32nd if my calculations are right, but as we weren’t sure if we’d actually make it to Poolewe we decided to do a circular 13 mile walk from my home in Newtonmore. There is a lovely varied walk which takes in one of General Wade’s roads, and although there was no bog to negotiate or midgies to slap off (we did get attacked by some angry bees), we had a lovely day out.

The following weekend marked 30 years since Geoff and I met at the GWC 30 years ago, but as Geoff had decided to spend it doing his 25 mile effort on his own I persuaded Emma to come to Poolewe  to do the 7 mile route with me.

We stopped to eat our lunch at the wee bridge where the last checkpoint usually is. There may not have been any marshals giving out drinks and oranges, but the midgies were there as usual.

We also missed the piper at the end and of course the lovely welcome over the finish line and the wonderful spread in the hall afterwards, but we still had a nice day out.

And to finish the weekend Geoff did take me out for an anniversary dinner at the Old Inn in Gairloch after I picked him up from Dundonnell.

Geoff - Turus Annasach

I remember years ago the description “Turus Annasach” appearing on the GWC T-shirt. I can’t remember the year, but I asked a Gaelic speaking friend (Bom) at the time who told me it means “Unusual Journey”. Anyway, it provides an apt description of my effort for the virtual GWC this year.

These days I would struggle to run 25 miles without being injured for days (or weeks) afterwards so I decided to walk instead. I’ve recently been surveying some routes for the Scottish Rights of Way and Access Society (ScotWays) in advance of their publication of the next edition of the “Scottish Hilltracks” book and one of the routes is Poolewe to Corrie Hallie. I’ve also been bagging Corbetts and Grahams so I thought I would combine the walk with ticking off the 3 Corbetts and 2 Grahams on the route and kill 3 birds with one stone. Obviously, I wasn’t going to achieve this in a day so I carried a lightweight tent for an overnight stop (or 2 if required!).

I left Poolewe on a beautiful, sunny Friday morning and walked in past Kernsary to the Strathan Buidhe stream where I gratefully left my heavy pack. From here, I did a traverse of the 1st Corbett Beinn Airigh Charr, the Graham Meall Mheinnidh and the 2nd Corbett Beinn Lair before dropping down by the Bealach Mheinnidh to rejoin the path close to the causeway at Carnmore. Unfortunately, I had to go back to the Strathan Buidhe to retrieve my heavy pack so by the time I got to the causeway between Fionn Loch and Dubh Loch I decided that was enough for the day so I pitched my wee tent on the north end of the causeway.  Just as I arrived a cyclist appeared who, having cycled in from Poolewe to climb Beinn Dearg Mor, was now making his way back. His was the only company I’d had all day apart from a herd of wild goats on Beinn Airigh Charr and a herd of deer on Beinn Lair – who said Scotland was busy?

I was rudely awakened early on Saturday morning by a group of cyclists commenting very loudly on my “fantastic camping spot” and “how quiet it must be!”. “Well it was…” I thought but refrained from unzipping my tent to tell them so, as it was about time I was up anyway. I walked up the steep climb to the plateau, passing the welcoming committee at Carnmore, to the lochans, where I again ditched my pack before heading up the Corbett Beinn a’ Chaisgein Mor and then on to the Graham Beinn a’ Chaisgein  Beag. Up to this point I’d been lucky with the weather again today but then the mist descended and, with visibility down to about 50 yards, I had to use some micro-navigation to find my way back to where I had stashed my pack. After looking behind various rocks, I eventually found it and I couldn’t even see the path or the lochans even though they were only a few yards away. Then it started raining and it just got heavier and heavier for the next couple of hours. Having had such a prolonged dry spell, the ground was baked hard and the water was just running straight off the hills – all the paths on the descent down the Gleann na Muice Beag had turned into rivers and the Abhainn Gleann na Muice was a raging torrent. My small tent isn’t really designed for anything other than sleeping in and the idea of trying to cook outside with the torrential rain and midges wasn’t too appealing, so I started to entertain the idea of staying at Shenavall bothy – if it was open! During lockdown all the bothies were closed and not all had yet reopened. However, as I approached Larachantivore a more pressing concern was whether I would be able to cross the river. The water was up to my hips and there was a very strong current, however, with the use of my walking poles, I was able to cross to the other side. After crossing the bog towards Shenavall, I was pleased to find that the Abhainn Strath na Sealga wasn’t nearly so high and mightily relieved to find that the bothy was open with only one group of young lads from Edinburgh staying there.

The next morning started misty but soon cleared to be another beautiful sunny day. I had previously arranged with Ali to come and pick me up at Corrie Hallie and by the time I got to the twin Cairns she had walked in to meet me with a welcome lunch.

I have to say what a delight it was to walk the course (albeit in reverse) and have the time to enjoy the beauty of Fisherfield without being abused by Alec Keith as he passes you wearing only one shoe (or some such). It used to take me about 3½ hours to do the “25” compared with 2½ days and 44 miles this time. Definitely an “Unusual Journey”!

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