Day 8 – 19.5 kilometres with 540 metres ascent
I had a second sociable night in the Tipsy Laird, this time with an Aussie couple who were staying in the same b&b as me. They were spending a few weeks touring the UK and were about to head off towards the Lake District the following day. A good meal, a couple of pints and a comfy bed back at the b&b saw me feeling much better in the morning. My foot was still sore but the swelling had gone down. If I kept to my foul weather route it would be an easy three day walk into Braemar. Once again I would reassess things there.
I rang the b&b that I had booked in Braemar many months before and let them know I would not be arriving. The chap I spoke to was not too happy about that but agreed that I could still come and collect my parcel on the Sunday. They were fully booked that night and could not swap my booking. A call to my wife requesting she find me a vacant room and I set off along the road to Tromie bridge.
A cyclist stopped and chatted with me for a while. He was a local who has been watching many people pass through on the Challenge over the years. It is something that he has been thinking about doing for a while now, although now retired he can no longer be bothered. He left me with the compliment that I appeared in a much better state than some that had already come through this year!
I left the road at Tromie bridge and took a track into the forest, coming out at the rather nicely situated but derelict cottage of Baileguish. It looked to be in a poor condition which is a bit of a shame. With a bit of TLC I would be happy to call it home.
You may have noticed by the photo that it was a gloriously sunny day, the first in which my waterproof stayed in my rucksack. A walk though another plantation led me to a tarmaced track which I followed to the bridge over the Feshie. It was whilst walking this track that the casual observer would have noticed me doing a strange little jig, involving me waving my Pacerpoles around frantically. This is because a large wasp (it really was rather large) had decided that it wanted to land on me and would not take no for an answer. I believe such things should be avoided at all costs.
I crossed the bridge and found a comfy grassy patch sheltered from the wind. It really was rather idyllic so off came my shoes and socks and I made some couscous and a cup of coffee. It was the sort of moment that I had hoped the Challenge would be full of, just a shame that I had to wait until day eight.
The path on the other side of the Feshie was a joy to walk, twisting and turning its well built and narrow course through the heather. I passed a couple of much older Challengers, making me hope that I will still be that active a decade or two after retirement. The woman was walking at a formidable speed, her small frame dominated by her rucksack. Her husband looked like he was constantly playing catch up. I saw them a couple more times on the Challenge and she was always marching purposefully a few hundred metres ahead.
The newly laid path and track never really appeared to match exactly what was on my map but was easy to follow. Dense forest interspersed with open sections.
Ruigh Aiteachain bothy soon came into view, rucksacks lining the outside wall. The MO was in residence, offering all new comers a cup of tea. I have to say that both him and the MBA have done a fine job in maintaining this bothy. It positively gleamed and is very well looked after. I enjoyed a spot of food from the comfort of a chair whilst a selection of Challengers came and went. One being Mike Knipe who attempted to charge rent of £5 for each inhabitant. It didn’t work so he sat down and ate some cheese instead.
I had planned to stop at the bothy for the night but it was barely past lunch time, far too early. I decided to continue up the glen for a while and find a pitch past the landslide. The scenery above the bothy is absolutely breathtaking, a picture postcard image of the perfect Scottish glen.
The path crossing the landslide did not give any problems, but the slopes above looked pretty precarious. I would imagine that the ground there is often moving judging by the trees and boulders that had fallen into the river. I found a clearing about fifteen minutes away and spent a while walking around looking for a good pitch. This was harder than I thought it would be due to the vegetation underfoot. It was either dry tussocks, small shrubs or bog. Perseverance paid off and I found a good patch of soft tussock free grass on which to pitch the tent.
I have to say that this was my favourite wild camp of the whole Challenge. A combination of the location and the best weather so far meant that I spent an idyllic afternoon and evening before going to bed. I was pleased that I had not given up in Kingussie. I enjoyed the weather even more knowing that the forecast for the following day was meant to be rubbish. In fact by the time I bedded down for the night the tops of the hills had been enveloped by cloud.
Day 9 – 22 kilometres with 440 metres ascent
It was grey and murky when I got up but the rain had not yet arrived, my tent was bone dry on both the inside and outside which was a bonus. Walking up the glen I met Antti, a Finish Challenger. He was revelling in the wide open spaces that Scotland has in comparison to the endless forests of Southern Finland. I think that he became well know amongst other Challengers as the guy who tried to lighten his crocs by giving them a bit of a trim. He conceded that this approach does not work!
I walked with him for a while as we climbed high above the river to avoid a ford through the deep and fast flowing water.
With differing paces we soon parted company but we would end up crossing paths for the rest of the day as each of us stopped and took in the views.
As height is gained the stunning scenery of the Upper Feshie is replaced by a more familiar scene of heather moorland. Not terribly exciting but still very pleasant, especially with the odd Scots pine dotted around.
The landscape became bigger as I approached the ruined pony hut before the watershed, with glimpses of large hills hidden in the clouds.
A faint path started behind the pony hut and took me via various bogs to the bridge over the River Eidart. This felt much further than the map suggested. The bridge was above a thunderous waterfall that was throwing spray into the air, it was mesmerising standing on the rickety metal bridge looking down at the foaming waters.
The next section across the watershed and along the upper Geldie reminded me of parts of my trek last year in Arctic Sweden. Huge empty expanses broken up by whaleback hills gave a sense of scale that is rare in the UK. Truly magnificent open country. Saying that after a while I found it all a bit dull, I often had the sense of not moving. I would walk for twenty minutes and find that nothing had changed, progress on the map felt painfully slow.
I waded a large stream and chatted for a while with a couple of Challengers who were going through the boots then crocs then boots again process of river crossing. There is something liberating about trail shoes when you can splosh through anything. We chatted about how lucky we had been with the weather considering the forecast.
I soon regretted the weather conversation as within minutes it was raining. As I progressed down the track it got heavier and heavier, a sense of purpose to the heaviness of the rain. The rain meant business.
Soon my brand new shiny waterproofs were overwhelmed, I could feel trickles of moisture where moisture should not be felt. I could feel my pack get heavier as it slowly filled with water. A sign warned of a nearby building being unsafe and telling me not to enter. I did and found a couple of very soggy Challengers having a break. They had plans to head to Mar Lodge where they had booked for the night. They left and I stood and dripped for a while whilst deciding what to do. In the end I made a decision to head to White bridge and look for a place to pitch.
Anyone thinking of pitching at White Bridge? Don’t as it’s a bleak and exposed place, especially when heavy is being blown into your face by an enthusiastic wind. I carried on down the glen for a while, eventually finding a huge patch of flat close-cropped grass near a plantation.
I got the tent up, collected water and put my rucksack in the porch. I then stood there for a while in the pouring rain working out the best method of getting inside without taking water in with me. I did the remove your waterproofs as quick as possible jig and dove in. I sat for a while in my damp clothing feeling rather sorry for myself. If things had gone to plan I should have checked into a b&b by now and would soon be heading to the pub. However after a change of clothes, a hot drink and some food I actually started to enjoy the miserable weather. There is nothing better sitting cosy in a tent whilst the weather rages outside. I slept remarkably well that night.
Day 10 – 14.5 kilometres with 240 metres ascent
I woke in the morning to silence, the wind and rain had stopped. I popped my head out of the tent to find that the world had disappeared into a thick mist. It was disappointing that I had no view but at least the rain had stopped.
I packed the sodden tent into the equally sodden rucksack and continued towards Mar Lodge. I was looking forward to sitting somewhere dry for a while and hopefully get to chat with other Challengers. It can be lonely sometimes crossing on your own.
In the grounds of Mar Lodge I came across Vicky and Toby and then John and Sue. We all exchanged tales of how wet it had been the previous afternoon. It made me feel better knowing that there were others out there going through the same experiences.
The gun room had an urn where we could make a hot drink. I enjoyed sitting in good company, then all of a sudden it all got even better. There had been a wedding the night before and the leftovers were brought in. We all dug in like we had never seen proper fully hydrated food before. I felt like the cat that had got the cream as I made myself a salmon cob (you may choose to call a cob either a bap or roll) and filled a plate with salad. A great introduction to Mar Lodge, I think I will have to visit on a Challenge again.
I walked most of the way into Braemar with Vicky and Toby, chat making the miles quickly disappear. All of a sudden the clouds evaporated and it actually became warm, I could even be bold and say that Sunday afternoon was hot. So much so that Braemar faintly resembled a cosmopolitan European town (if you ignored the fact that in Braemar you are not trusted to drink out of a glass in the open air) with people eating and drinking in the sun.
I was greeted by David and Martin and dragged into the Fife Arms where some Challengers had returned after partying the night before. Mr Sloman ensured that I was lubricated with a pint of Guinness before him, Andy and Phil set off for further socialising at Lochcallater Lodge.
I went off in search of my b&b. I do feel the need to point out that not all b&b’s are created equal. After my lovely stay at Homewood lodge in Kingussie this one was a bit austere, how I would imagine a 1950’s seaside boarding house would be. The owner was friendly though and I soon had her moving washing on the line so I could hang my tent and hand washed clothes.
After a doze and feeling much fresher and cleaner I met David and had dinner at the Old Bakery. After a big and cheap portion of food each we retired to the Fife Arms and sat with Chas and Dave. Then all of a sudden a very strange thing happened. In fact it was so odd it is just a feathery blur in my memory. We were chatting when there was a commotion behind us. Without warning a mallard duck flew over our heads and crashed into the window next to us. The duck fell to the table we were sitting round and had a bit of a panicked flap. Then like an expert duck wrestler Charles grabbed it by the neck and calmly sat there with the duck at arms reach. The duck also seemed to realise that being calm was the best thing to do. The duck was retrieved by a member of staff and that was that. Except it was not. The table was covered in duck crap which to be honest smells like something nasty has been dredged from the bottom of a particularly stinky pond. David and I were very concerned that our Guinness had been tainted. Chas and Dave just continued eating their food. I discovered I had duck shit down my nice clean trousers.
It then turned into a nice convivial evening with David, Chas & Dave, Vicky & Toby and then Martin Rye. There may have been others but my memory is rubbish. We moved tables by the way as the duck crap remained. That best sums up the Fife Arms to be honest. They can’t summon up the energy to wipe shit off a table.
You may have noticed that I have not mentioned my dodgy foot for a while. This is because although it still caused discomfort there was no longer the pain of previous days. By walking slow and steady I had made it so far. I was now quietly optimistic of getting to the east coast. I had factored in five easy days from Braemar, so the plan formulating in my mind was to condense them down to four. I would see how far I would get the following day.