I was feeling quite positive initially when I got home on Tuesday 14th May. I had made the only decision I could but I’d been having such a brilliant time. As I deep cleaned my gear on Wednesday, I became more and more miserable. Why had I given in so easily? Why hadn’t I just continued regardless? David was well aware of this and soon, a plan was hatched. We already had a room booked at Kingussie for a night of comfort halfway across, we’d take a day out around Aviemore and stay there as planned. So long as I was well enough recovered and my gear organised (I could borrow his Rab Neutrino 400 bag as mine still needs to be sorted out) David would then take me to Braemar on Saturday to meet up with Laura and finish her Challenge with her as planned.
We left home and dropped the two Saturday workers early and had an interesting journey through damp, low cloud, thinking of those I knew in the area that would perhaps be wallowing through bog and clag. We drove passed a field full of black grouse en route, I was utterly delighted! What a start to this slightly odd adventure.
So I found myself in Braemar amongst dozens of Challengers making their own ways across Scotland, although I felt a little on the outside of it all. Laura arrived and as it was raining quite heavily by now and we didn’t fancy camping, we headed off in search of accommodation. At our first port of call, the Braemar Lodge Hotel, we enquired after B & B. They had nothing available but they did have a lodge free that they would let out for £100 for 2-4 people, or £120 for 6. We snapped it up and trotted off to the Fife Arms to persuade four other wet souls they’d like a bed for the night. Alan Sloman and Andy Walker were not hard to persuade, then a dutch couple decided they fancied a comfy bed too, a deal of £20 a head seemed too good an opportunity to miss. It was quite fun teaching Alan and Andy how to use the reclining seats in the lounge of the lodge and Gayle and Mick popped by to use the kettle and have a comfy seat to eat their main meal in the dry before returning to the flooded campsite to move their tent. A very pleasant evening (including a visit to the Fife, again, where we found Challengers, Alan, Andy, Phil, Nicole, Colin, Norma and John and lots of nameless others!) was had by all.
Sunday 19th May 2013
Braemar to Ballater
17.2 miles 1172 feet
(There are no photographs today. I felt disconnected at this time)
We perhaps didn’t get off to a flying start, but by 10am we were on the road to Ballater, intending to stop for lunch at Laura’s on the way. Laura and I have walked through the Ballochbuie Forest before, so were relaxed and chatting all the way to Balmoral. The weather was relatively kind to us all day, in fact, quite warm and dry. We met Cathy Cain having lunch by the side of the path and later Tina and Graham, having lunch by the burn at Connachat. At Crathie, we popped in for tea, soup, toast and a gear change before the road plod to Ballater.
At the campsite we found quite a gathering of Challengers and after throwing up the tents I quickly stepped into the shower before we went in search of food. Unfortunately the pub had stopped serving, so we made our way to the Italian restaurant. We had a lovely meal (although it was a struggle, what with an Italian restaurant not having pasta and giving a vegetarian parmesan after having requested none…) before returning to the pub for a bit of socialising. Tony, Lee, Norma and John, Adrian Fortune and Colin were there and a few others who I’ve forgotten (sorry) and we had a lovely time laughing and swapping stories and explaining for the umpteenth time that I’d retired because I didn’t want to die alone in a tent in the middle of the Monadliath. Eventually we were unceremoniously thrown out of the pub (I seem to remember a similar event last year, they don’t really like us) and we failed miserably to tip toe back onto the campsite and make no noise after 10.30 pm…
At this point, I also remembered I’d not blown up my Synmat. I was giggling even before I tried this tricky manoeuvre of lying on my back blowing up the mat on top of me, then trying to reverse the situation, all inside my Laser. After just one breath (and giggle) I came up with a cunning plan. The toilet block! Off I went, soon to return with the now inflated mat tucked under my arm (all I needed was sun, sea, sand and string bikini and I could have been on my holidays) only to realise I now had to get it through the tent door into my tent. Fun!
It would have been a good nights sleep but…
Monday 20th May
Ballater to Birse Castle
11.1 miles 283 feet
(No photographs, see above)
We were woken at some unearthly hours by some ignorant campers getting up and chatting way too early and I was a grumpy bunny! This was to become a bit of a theme. Laura and I had a plan to eek out our food. We would pack, strike camp and find breakfast in Ballater before a quick shop and off towards Aboyne. As we left the site, we were given the troubling news that nowhere would be open for breakfast at this time, but this turned out to be duff information as we found The Bothy cafe open and cheery, so in we went for a good start to the day. After porridge and an egg butty (Laura), bacon butty and yoghurt, granola and fruit compote (me) tea and fresh orange, we powdered our noses and went off to Co-op to resupply for lunch. Not that we could find anything that particularly tickled our fancy.
Soon we were on the Deeside Way along which we plodded happily all day. We met a couple who we have yet to identify, John and Norma, another threesome we have yet to identify and Richard and Rosemary (?) along the way. We had a few pauses, including a pit stop at Cambus o’ May bridge and tea, scone and panini at the hotel at Dinnet.
It was quite a warm day again, although there may have been the odd short shower. We paused again at picnic benches beside the airfield, watching the gliders gliding. At this point, the air was thick and humid and dark clouds were gathering right over where we were headed for a wild camp near Birse Castle. We were not thrilled. As a bit of a joke, I said to Laura “Of course, we could just get on a bus at Aboyne and go to a little B & B I know at Crathie and get the bus back tomorrow…”
“Brilliant!” was more or less the reply. I reasoned that an evening with good food, a bath and a comfy bed in familiar surroundings would be relaxing and more reviving than a night in a tent when we felt there might be stormy weather on the way.
We made good time to Aboyne and caught the bus. We were back at Laura’s a little before six and searching through cupboards and freezer for something simple but appealing. The excellent chef produced a simple fried rice with onion, peas, cashews, ginger and soy sauce. It was delish and hit just the right spot! Baths were had and the route discussed (it morphed a bit each day) before I was in desperate need of a couple of matchsticks to prop open my eyelids and I had to bid my favourite hostess goodnight and retire to my cosy, comfy bed for the night.
Tuesday 21st May
Aboyne to Tarfside
14.1 miles 2895 feet
We had the best start of our walk together today as we had to catch the bus at 8 am. We made it in good time and were on our way through Aboyne to the Fungle Road just after 9 am.
This was another mainly fine, sunny day but the wind was a bit of a taster of what was to come over the next two days. There was some referring to maps and GPS, just to make sure we stayed on track, but it wasn’t a technically difficult day, just a little physically demanding as we plodded up hill, and a bit more up hill, on paths of varying states of repair, but mostly good and clear. In fact, it was quite a nice day’s walking, except I was very aware of the pain Laura must be experiencing with each step. There were good bits, we disturbed a meadow lark’s on its nest right on the edge of the track. We peered into it’s nest to see a clutch of tiny eggs just quickly, before leaving it to return to sit on its precious treasure.
It took quite a while before we reached the area we had intended to wild camp the previous night and really this affirmed that we would not have happily made it there the night before. In fact, we would not have made it there the night before! We’d made the right decision.
Around about here we managed to find a place just about suitable to stop for lunch, but we were a little short of water and the river was not easy to get at. We both had soup, I had a coffee and as I’d also carried a small bottle of coke (my emergency supply) I was more than happy for Laura to use the rest of my water as we walked if we didn’t find another supply.
On the way to Gannoch
The track now took us off the Fungle, which was deemed too steep for a while, and off over Gannoch and Tampie before meeting the Firmounth Road and heading down to Tarfside.
There were views!
Windswept and interesting on Gannoch
There may have been some dancing when we reached Tampie and joined the Firmounth. We were briefly joined by another Challenger avidly avoiding Tarfside and looking for a camp spot after a ‘tough day’ coming over Mount Keen. He disappeared quickly over the horizon, later to be seen lurking by a burn way off the path. I don’t think the mad dancing woman coloured his opinion. He hadn’t noticed her I’m sure.
Going down hill was slow and painful. The newly repaired path should have been a delight, but Laura was convinced it had been surfaced with marbles. Even when the path eventually levelled out, it was still somewhat slow progress as we were both tired by now.
Joining the Firmounth
At Tarfside we were greeted by tent city and were utterly delighted that we weren’t the last to arrive (although others may well have travelled longer and further) the tents went up (my turn to whinge) food rehydrated and scoffed, comfy clothes donned, feet nursed and then off to the Masons.
Another lovely sociable evening with so many faces to remember! Alan, Andy and Phil, Mole, James Boulter, Graham and Tina, Stuart and Maria Scott, Ann and Alvar Thorn (Ann came and had a lovely chat, they too had had to retire and it was lovely to see them) and so many others, I need to get the list to check them all! As usual, there were so many people that hadn’t really intended to be there, it’s always the way. Sue Banfield also turned up for a social and we had a nice chat by the tents.
Another late evening and we eventually decided we really needed our beds. We had another disturbed night, with Wiggy being poured into his tent in the early hours and then chatting and singing to himself for quite some time.
Wednesday 22nd May
Tarfside to North Water Bridge
15.9 miles 710 feet (sure that should be more?)
We were disturbed early again by early risers and a chap talking and laughing very loudly in his sleep. He nearly got a kick.
Bright but breezy
We weren’t too slow in leaving and made our way to the Retreat for breakfast, having decided that the path we could see on the opposite hill, that would have taken us to Brechin as planned, didn’t seem appealing. We had a lovely full cooked breakfast and tea (you may have noticed that eating was no longer an issue for me at this stage) before setting off for the riverside track to Edzell. Another lovely day, but the wind gradually increased all day.
Having decided we would rest our feet and snack regularly we didn’t and it was four hours later at a grassy patch near the Rocks of Solitude before we dropped our packs and lay down in the warm sun for half an hour to recharge our batteries. It was a very pleasant stop.
A quick look at the map and we were off again to find the more direct footpath down into Edzell. There were many boot prints this way and at one point someone had kindly drawn an arrow and TGO to direct the tailenders the right way, but I was confident of the route. We were soon in Edzell dropping our packs in the small pile outside the Tuck Inn and joining the odd Challenger inside. Tony, Lee and Bob were there and a few others that I can’t name, again. We enjoyed a repeat of the meal we’d had here last time, Cheese Toasty with crisps and salad, powdered our noses and then went off to the dangerous bridge, which this year was safe.
I had a quick waterproof faff as I noticed the rather foreboding clouds behind us but the walk was straightforward and we plodded on our way along that long, straight road. After about an hour, Tony, Lee and Bob stormed up behind us and after just overtaking Laura, Bob was called away to The Shortcut. Laura couldn’t get my attention, (wind noise, traffic and perhaps a little distance) so we continued, although I did notice they’d disappeared when I paused to let Laura catch up and have a water break. A Shortcut? On a straight road? We were happy to trudge on.
As the flags of the campsite hove into view, we could see the boys across the field along side us. We headed into the reception ahead of them and as they arrived, after we’d booked in, I commented to Laura that it was a most excellent Shortcut that we must remember next time. (Perhaps Scenic Route would be a better name as it does at least avoid the busy road, but having measured them, they are both 1.5 miles. I don’t know how we beat them as they have legs up to their armpits and ours stop at out knees…)
We were glad to have come this way, despite it being North Water Bridge, again, because the wind got up and was really gusty as the day went on, we would have had a rough time going over the Clash of Wirren. Another time.
It was cold. Very cold. Having pitched the tents, squeezed in between the closely packed others, I showered in the dark (why didn’t I remember the light pull?) and Laura washed socks. We sheltered in various warm places before deciding we weren’t hungry and didn’t want to join frozen Challengers however sociable they were being, so we went to bed. The chatting in the background lulled us to sleep and I woke later thinking I’d gone deaf, surprised to find they’d all been beaten by the cold and gone to bed. I was woken once or twice during the night by the odd enormous gust of wind but otherwise slept well until…
Thursday 23rd May
North Water Bridge to Montrose
8.57 miles 361 feet
Other ignorant, selfish campers were up again, enjoying friendly chat, foul language and banter at 6 o’ b****y clock! I’m not anti-social but believe in good manners. Arrrrgggghhhh! If I was not so well brung up I’d of given them a piece of my mind, grumble, mutter. It wasn’t until after Laura had showered, my second coffee and we were striking camp when Mole mentioned we weren’t our usual cheery selves that I had a minor rant and felt a bit better. Still, note to self, PICK YOUR PITCH MORE CAREFULLY! One of them put his muesli in with his coffee, divine retribution, ha!
Our route sorted (another variation) we were off. We could feel the pull of sandwiches and cake and made really good progress along this last section of road walking.
Sunshine and showers
It wasn’t too busy and wasn’t too unpleasant and eventually we fell into the coffee shop at the soft fruit farm that Laura vaguely remembered the route to. We had roasted vegetable and cheese paninis with salad and crisps followed by carrot cake with strawberries and cream and a coffee each. Superb! Especially as it was Laura’s treat (thank you Lovely!!) and after the obligatory powdering, we were off to find the beach.
That was more tricky than it should have been (having looked closely at the maps since, sorry) although as we found out later, the howling gale and high tide would have made the beach walk tricky, so our alternative route along the golf course and climb over the dune at the end to the new board walk was a good ‘decision’.
Laura was soon dipping her toe in the sea, having completed another successful Challenge. Well done Laura!
New boardwalk, Scurdie Ness and Laura
A windy, sandy finish
We went off to find The Park, stuffed with Challengers. I booked into our room and went to rescue my parcel. After an amount of socialising and a fabulous time with Mike Knipe and Peter Molenaar having a delicious curry, we went to bed.
It was an emotional day. I should apologise to those who bore the brunt. Thank you.
Next time, I have a cunning plan…