In May 2013 I backpacked across Scotland. This is part four of the trip report which covers the final day from North Water Bridge to St Cyrus on the east coast and my reflections on the Challenge.
This is Part 4 of my TGO Challenge 2013 which picks up the story on Day 13 after a final overnight stay at North Water Bridge campsite, just a few miles from the east coast. If you missed them you can catch up on the previous parts as follows:
Day 13, Thursday 23rd May
Route: North Water Bridge to St Cyrus
Distance: 13km (Total 322km)
Amazingly the 230g gas canister I set out with lasted up until coffee on the final morning. I had bought a 110g canister in Aviemore but it had sat unused in my pack until now. In retrospect I could have missed out on the final brew but as it was I fired up the stove on fresh fuel and enjoyed my final dose of caffeine.
Once I unzipped the tent I found that people were in various states of packing away, most in waterproofs as the occasional drizzly shower drifted through. I made a slow start and packed everything up inside the tent. By the time I emerged the rain had mostly stopped.
Outside the shower block I met Bob Cartwright from Backpackinglight.co.uk and the Outdoors Station and had a brief chat with him before setting off from the campsite at around 8:30am. The day now promised to be a good one with sunshine and a stiff breeze.
I followed a group of Challengers along the road and crossed the fairly quiet A90 to reach a minor road heading east towards Hillside. At the last minute I had changed my plan to get to the coast and rather than take the more direct route to St Cyrus I chose to make my way down to a point where the Aberdeenshire Coastal Path could be joined for a run north along the coast to the beach.
This involved plodding along the Hillside road for a while, enjoying the sunshine over the fields and the odd rainbow, until I spotted a side track that led me between fields and woodlands and then down another track into a back road of Hillside near the pleasant estate of Rosemount.
Pavements were followed through Hillside and then it was along (what I thought to be) the coastal route, past the maltings plant and then to the junction with the A95.
At this point I was parallel with an old railway line and thankfully after a short way beside the main road I was able to join this as it crossed the River North Esk via an impressive high level bridge.
I was now on National Cycle Route 1 and followed this as it descended steeply to a farm road running beside the river.
I followed this along the marshy flats near the estuary passing by various farms and B&Bs and saying hello to a Challenger who was making her way on foot back to Montrose having finished north of St Cyrus the previous day.
Eventually the visitor centre for the Natural Nature Reserve at St Cyrus came into view and I followed a small waymarked path that led to a boardwalk across a boggy area and then up to the dunes.
The disadvantage of this route was that the sea was largely kept hidden from me but it was with a final joyful step that I crested the dunes and finally gazed out over a sparkling blue North Sea.
Beautiful piles of clouds stood above the water and the pale sand stretched away in either direction. I took the last steps of my Crossing until the first lapping waves of the North Sea touched my feet. It was done.
There were still some heavy showers around and one of these had just passed over St Cyrus and was rumbling out to sea. I returned to the dry beach and took a few photos. Then I sat down, gazing out at the sea and thinking back on all the incredible experiences I had enjoyed over the previous twelve and a half days. That Saturday lunchtime in Plockton felt a long time ago, and a long way away.
I called home and shared the good news.
With another dark cloud moving in I gathered my things and set off down the beach to find the cliff path up to St Cyrus. A couple arrived just after me and in amongst the wind and rain I just about managed to take their picture for them. By the time I arrived at the feet of the cliffs it was warm and sunny again. This Challenge weather certainly wasn’t going to let up!
The cliff climb was steep but the views were outstanding as I gained a bit of height. You could see down the wide sweep of coast line beyond the North Esk estuary to Montrose.
To the north the cliffs swept around to a craggy headland. I chatted with a few folk as the area was busy with Challengers going to and from the beach and then headed through the village to the bus stop, arriving just in time to catch the 11:52 into Montrose. In Montrose it was just a short walk from the high street along to the Park Hotel.
Immediately I spotted Martin Rye sitting with a few folk, including Gordon Green. I headed upstairs to officially complete the Challenge, enjoying a chat with John Manning and collecting my assorted goodies. Upstairs it was very convivial and I was plied with tea and biscuits and chatted to a few folk, including Nicole from Inverness, whose blog I am a big fan of.
Eventually, after enjoying chatting with people previously only known through blogs and Twitter, and as people started to disperse for lunch, I headed along to the train station to finally close the loop. It was just a short wait on a windswept platform before I was heading back up to Aberdeen.
I arrived back, managed to grab a taxi straightaway and was home and in a hot shower. A couple of hours later I had a beer and a jumbo sized portion of fish and chips to celebrate. The TGO Challenge was complete.
I really enjoyed almost every minute of my 2013 TGO Challenge. There were certainly a couple of low points but each time I rallied myself and got on with it. Having a very simple focus for each day was a wonderful, liberating experience and having a good plan with sensible alternatives for foul weather made it possible to make progress without invoking a lot of stress.
I loved the experience of moving through a landscape, watching as mountains came and passed by, receding into the background to be replaced by yet more mountains ahead. It was addictive and gave me another level of appreciation for the jigsaw puzzle that is the Highlands. A few more pieces now fit together in my head. My horizons have been broadened and there are new places I would love to return to.
Though the weather was less than brilliant, especially in the first week when it was a slight disappointment not to get up onto the Munros as planned, it was never beyond my kit or capabilities and I never had any problems with being too wet or too cold.
I was pleased that I was able to feed myself without resorting to food parcels and though I had a hearty appetite when I returned I think I maintained a good calorie intake through the trip. My gear functioned very well and the couple of failures I experienced were minor and largely due to unavoidable outside influences. Socks were my biggest problem. I'll do a separate post on gear thoughts at some point.
Would I do the Challenge again? Absolutely! Though it will probably be a few years until I return (I'd like to do long distance walks in other places beyond the UK) I will definitely be back for another Crossing in the future.