Up and packed early, we were soon dropped off by the side of the road ready to go. Having arrived a bit early we decided that a team photo was in order and so Cerys set up the camera on a post and failed to find the timer button twice. On the third attempt we almost had it but the camera fell over at the crucial time so all we have is a blurred shot of sky with some faces laughing at the bottom, not exactly an auspicious start! The first couple of legs today were basically hiking straight up a hill keeping a huge forest on the right and so we set off reasonably sure not much could go wrong with a plan so simple. We are now older and wiser. Recently it has rained heavily so when we came across what was supposed to be a stream on the map, which we imagined skipping over without a problem, was in fact quite deep and fast. We followed the river towards the forest looking for a place to cross and eventually came across the deer fence on the forest edge. Luckily there was a good bit of fence bridging the stream at this point and after an initial trial run by myself it was deemed structurally viable to walk across with rucksacks.
The higher we climbed the stronger the wind became, until (after making a detour to avoid a fence) when on the top of the ridge (Speinne Beag) we were lucky to stay on our feet. The terrain underfoot was hard work and very sodden and after a short inspection of my boots it became apparent that waxing one of them had been a waste of time as the sole was slowly parting company with the leather upper! Opps. A couple of sweets later and we struggled up the ridge with a murderous cross wind and many boggy patches. I can't remember exactly when people lost their leg to a patch of bog as it happened quite often so if you picture our struggle over the four days don't forget to insert the odd wet leg now and then. Eventually we came across the trig point at the top of Speinne Mor and were glad of the small stone wall affording some protection form the wind. Fine views were to be had all around and it soon became a resting place while we ate. Our route should have continued along the ridge, however we decided to head straight down towards Loch Frisa to get out of the wind.
To demonstrate my lack of short term memory when our stop was over I forgot about the wind, stood straight into the gale and followed standard operating procedure in this scenario: fell over backwards. A more cautious approach and we were all standing and staggering down the hill. Just to prove that now all ideas are good ones the ground soon became much steeper than if we had followed the ridge but with no turning back now we plodded on regardless. It took some time to get to the hard road at the bottom, with many patches of fallen logs to clamber over, not to mention the small crags to scramble down or the ankle breaking terrain. Once on the road we made good time to the fish farm at the end of Loch Frisa.
We now had the joy of crossing some open ground to try and reach a road about 1km away, surely not so hard? Yes it was and don't call me Surely. We passed the spot height 96 but failed to find it on the ground so plodded on. I almost stepped on an adder which didn't have the manners to move when he heard us coming but we declined to rouse it anymore with tales from Ian of adders being able to rear up on the last 2 inches of the tail still ringing in our ears. Finally we came to another stream to cross. Well to be precise we came across the marsh next to the stream first but after some optimistic wading we overcame that hurdle. The stream wasn't going to be quite so easy. Timmey found a couple of logs conveniently fallen across the stream and so with a distinct possibility of loosing an eye to a branch we scrambled across. We got to the track which lead to the road and strolled alone muttering dark curses about streams, bogs and terrain in Mull in general. In a layby we found Aidi and Lorraine and collapsed for a spot of lunch, when along came Jon and Helen to join the tea party.
The afternoon promised to be a challenging walk up to the top of Cruuachan Druim na Croise across 2km of featureless terrain but with clear weather we could see where we were heading from miles away, which may or may not have been a good thing! With smile all round we headed off. Having plodded to the top without incident we continued along the ridge, with forest either side until we came to Crioon Larach. At this point we were meant to head down downwards the road, along an open piece of ground cutting diagonally across the hillside. Sounded so easy when we were planning, but we had forgotten the contour lines and peering over the edge gave us a good view of an impossibly steep slope with almost no passable open ground. The alternative was to go down the other side of the ridge, cutting off a couple of km off the day and getting into the campsite about on time. This is the stuff that dilemmas are made of. We decided to stick to the route and try to pick a way down the hillside. All thoughts of following the open patches of ground were soon lost as we made our way down which ever way looked easiest with various crags to slide down and things to clamber over determined to make our life harder. It is no underestimation to say that we fought our way down and there were times when we were unsure whether we would win but eventually we came to the road at the bottom, only to look up and exclaim 'bloody hell!'. Still smiling we set off to finish the day and set up camp a few km away.
The other group, while walking a different route, were camping at the same place as us and were there to greet us when we came in. The choice of camping spots were limited and eventually we opted to camp next to them. Sadly the little lake we had planned to take our water from turned out to have more greenery than Hyde Park so we went down the hill to find a very brown and muddy trickle of moving water form which to drink, plenty of fuel was spent on boiling the water. Soon Jon and Helen came along to check us in and seemed genuinely pleased that we were all knackered but in one piece. Just as we finished cooking the rain came down which prompted an early night. The wind was still strong and Angela's and Cerys's tent looked a bit shaky to say the least, but thanks to a bit of construction work from Timmey with a couple of walking poles it stayed up all night. There was still a good chance that the rain would get in and it was only when Timmey was crawling into bed did he have the idea of using a survival bag between the inner and outer of the tent to help keep the water out. It's a tribute to his selflessness that he got up and went out into the rain again to set this up for the lasses.
Each Gold expedition must have a purpose, something to give the whole affair a bit more of an aim than just plod round 80km. We had chosen to try and test our mental capability at the end of each day through a series of aptitude test we had carried round with us. At the end of each day we had 40 questions ranging from numerical to spatial reasoning. Angela scored many negative Brownie points when she went to bed before doing her test while the rest of us struggled with long division in our heads, needless to say we didn't let her forget this in a hurry!