Friday 19th May, Ruigh Aiteachain to beyond White Bridge
I was up and about at a reasonable hour, my trick of wearing a blindfold in my tent in the summer was working – I wasn’t waking up at 4am anymore.
Workmen arrived to start work on the bothy before 8am, they were a decent bunch but the noise they generated was enough to encourage an early-ish departure. So we left late-ish, just before 9am. It didn’t matter, we had a lovely day of Glen Feshie and Glen Geldie ahead of us.
Soon after leaving, and brimming with confidence, we made the first error of the day: we took the low road when we should have taken the high. Anyone who’s travelled that way will know what I mean.
The Low Road-End
Rather than turn back, we opted for the stupidist option of clambering up the not-quite vertical precipitous and treacherous hillside. Mick went first. Obviously. Ten minutes of slipping, sliding, clambering and generally cursing saw us on the rightful pth. We’d have done better to turn back.
More fun lay ahead, the world-famous Glen Feshie Landslips.
Actually, the landslips weren’t as bad as I remebered, or maybe most of the land had now slipped and there was nowt more to slip. Whatever, it was still dodgy. Mick went first – he was more experienced after all.<koff>
Infant River Feshie
It was warm at first, we enjoyed good views (it says ‘great views’ in my diary….but I’ll settle for good) an we passed a good few mountain bikers going tother way. Mountain biking has gained popularity in recent years. Even as recently as 6-7 years ago a mountain biker in Glen Geldie was a rarity. Now they’re common. Not wishing to pi$$ on anyone’s chips, but they’re a bloody nuisance – soft ground often becomes quagmire because of all the passing traffic. Plenty are polite and allow you safe passage as you pass, I’m afraid others couldn’t give a stuff and just barge past. Bad form. I reckon that we passed 30 or more cyclists between he Eidart Bridge and the ruin north of Bynack Lodge.
I should point out that I’m a cyclist – a fairly keen one at that.
Pretty flahs in Glen Feshie
17, that’s SEVENTEEN miles to Braemar!
The Eidart Bridge. And mountain bikers. They didn’t let on.
Glen Geldie flahs
Talking of passing people, we also passed Minna, a first-time lady Challenger from Finland. Poor Minna was struggling with wrecked feet. She announced that she was going to have to bale out at Braemar – we offered help but she’s a determined lady and wouldn’t hear of it.
The climb up the watershed is very gradual, there’s a bit of undulating up and downery but it’s generally easy going with just a few burns to cross – even they were easy because of the recent low levels of rainfall. In fact I didn’t need to take my boots off for any of this year’s river crossing over the entire Challenge.
Although the first part of the day had been warm, it chilled noticeably once over the watershed. Clouds soon gathered and we sensed it wouldn’t be long before the Great Wetness would begin. We’re quick like that.
The area around ruin at the confluence of Bynack and Geldie Burns was playing host to a number of Challengers, perhaps 6 – 7 tents. We stopped to chat but we wanted to get a wiggle on to get to our intended camp spot before the rain arrived.
White Bridge was virtually devoid of tents, most unusual. I hoped that most had pitched earlier at the ruin and hadn’t carried on to our intended and rather small pitch.
It stayed dry until we got our tents up. Although we weren’t the first to arrive, it wasn’t a crowded spot. There were a few familiar faces around, notably the Backpackers Club Enforcement Team: L&L from Stockport and Frank from Northampton (I think). We must have passed muster – they didn’t give us too much of a hard time.
A warm but wet night followed. And there were slugs – one of which was a great big black dobber that managed to weedle it’s way into my tent. I’m afraid I knelt on it, the squashed remnants took ages to get off my groundsheet. My trousers will never be the same.
Cuckoo Count: 3
Saturday 20th May, to Braemar
But she wasn’t on the Challenge this year – maybe next year Lynsey?
My tent was wet through, it was going to need a good drying out – after I’d (tried to) remove the slug snot from the groundsheet.
Mar Lodge was the customary tea, coffee & biscuit stop en-route to Braemar. Challengers have always been made welcome here but this year there was a definite change in the air. We were routed around the back of the grounds to another entrance. Perhaps the sight of a few dozen Challengers was offensive to The Great and Good….although The Great and Good were nowhere to be seen.
Mar Lodge – note the appalling lack of biscuits.
A couple of mugs of tea plus one and a half biscuits later we left for Braemar. Anyone arriving after us would have to survive without biscuits. Shocking.
The tarmac trudge into Braemar is just that, a trudge. A dreary trudge at that. A study of the map shows a detour away from the road and up into Morrone Birkwood, a National Nature Reserve - think Rioja Grand Reserve but with footpaths and Land Rover Tracks. Nice.
There’s not much in it distance-wise, but it’s a lovely alternative. Before you know it, you’re in Braemar and searching out somewhere to eat, drink and do other stuff.
I’d booked into Kate’s bunkhouse – Rucksacks Braemar. The bunkhouse is wonderful - Kate is even wonderfuller. She’ll do your laundry, shout at you when you misbehave, will offer a wonderful shoulder to cry on and generally plays Mum to all us rufty-tufty Challengers who whinge about blisters, sunburn, trench foot and all the other things that draw us back to the Challenge every year. I always stay at Kate’s when in Braemar.
A decent nosh at Gordon’s Tea Room saw me right for the rest of the day. Chips may have been involved. Quite a lot of chips actually. I passed on the pudding though.
In the evening I wandered down to the Invercauld Arms for a quiet pint. The place was heaving with Challengers. There may have been songs. Maybe a bit more than a (one) pint…..thanks Ian!
In previous years I’d have gone to the Fife Arms for a beer but it’s been closed for renovation for the last couple of Challenges.
The Fife Arms
The word on the street is that loads of lolly is being thrown at the place by someone who made ooooodles of dosh wheeling and dealing in the art world. The Fife will eventually be quite a posh place – they certainly won’t want Challengers in. Worryingly, the Invercauld Arms has been bought by the same man and will almost certainly suffer the same fate.
We got chucked out of the main bar sometime after midnight, I left everyone to it – my comfy bed beckoned. A good night’s kip followed.
Cuckoo Count: 2
Sunday 21st May, Braemar to Callater
A decent breakfast at Kate’s preceded a second breakfast in Gordon’s Tearoom.
All was well with the world today: My L knee was sort-of behaving itself, I’d slept well, my tent was dry (and therefore lighter in weight) and Kate had washed and dried my dirties.
I’d sent a food-parcel to Kate’s but I also felt the need to buy a few extra goodies from Braemar’s Qworp. Important stuff like Eccles Cakes. And Mars Bars.
Braemar’s Memorials to The Fallen
lonely as a cloud up the golf course road to Auchalater and then on the LRT to Callater Lodge where I received a hugely warm welcome – (nearly) EVERYONE gets a hugely warm welcome at Callater. Thanks Bill, Michael, Ali, Jeanette……..
Ali, Masseuse and Yoga expert extraordinaire, was offerning her massage services in return for a donation to help with the Lodge’s running costs. If she offers the same service next year I’ll definitely be taking advantage of it, the lady knows what she’s doing – even my knee improved.
An unwelcome visitor to the Lodge was the cause of much consternation, anger even. Said visitor came up under cover of darkness and caused some quite malicious damage.
But the word is out….
Whatever, a very sociable evening followed with a fine mixture entertainment provided by members of the attending congregation, in particular some bloke who’s Dad works for the corporation waste disposal department.
A lady with pink hair
I had a fairly early night, turning in before midnight. Others stayed up until daybreak.
Callater’s stereo convenience
Cuckoo Count: 0
Monday 22nd May, Callater to Spittal of Glen Muick
Loch Callater in the (very) early morning
I awoke, always a good thing, feeling a bit grotty and lacking energy. Situation normal? There was no obvious reason for this mallaise, I’d had 2 small beers the previous evening and I’d eaten very well, thanks to Michael’s culinary skills.
I pulled my boots on, the right boot felt a little damp – perhaps it had sprung a leak, and wandered downstairs to join the throng and grab a bite to eat.
After a couple of Michael’s bacon butties and far too much caffeine than is good for a chap, I set off. I had a couple of choices: over Jock’s Road to Clova or to climb the lofty peak of Lochnagar. Whichever route I would chose my lack of energy meant that this would be a slow walk.
Lochnagar was pulled out of the hat and off I jolly well went. The weather started out dry but as the morning progressed Lochnagar became shrouded in cloud. The wind soon got up and then it started to rain. Nice.
Lochnagar in the murk
As the visibility and wetness became horribler I changed my route, opting to take in a few slightly lower tops that weren’t as badly affected by the clag. My new route over Carn an t-Sagairt Mor > Fafernie > Carn Bannoch > Cairn of Gowal > Broad Cairn lengthened my day somewhat but it was worth it. Only Broad Cairn suffered the clag but even that cleared as I got close.
Sod’s Law dictated that the weather would improve once I’d gone the point of no return, and so it did. Having said that, Lochnagar’s top was still hidden in the murk.
The tops on my new route were quite easily attained – I’d already done the bulk of the climbing, it was just a matter of bimbling along, going from top-to-top. Broad Cairn is always a bit of a bugger, the rocky slopes around the top make the descent far more difficult that the ascent. The views are worth it though.
I took a break on my descent and was caught up by fellow LDWA member Janet, on her first Challenge. Everybody catches up with me.
Janet, looking far too happy
I dropped down to the pony hut, the rocky descent was playing merry hell with my L knee. I planned on having a cuppa and getting some food down me but water was scarce – I ended up using the contents of my platy to brew my tea.
The wet and windy weather returned as I descended further, it became really quite grotty. I met a lone backpacker walking the other way. He was hoping to pitch soon but the ground there wasn’t very suitable. I hope he managed okay, that weather was not very nice at all.
By the time I got to the Spittal of Glen Muick I was totally knackered. I’d contemplated pitching low down but camping around there is a bit frowned on – although I camped there 2 years ago without a problem. Plenty of running water now so I made a cuppa and guzzled a Mars Bar….and maybe an Eccles Cake too.
Revitalised, I began climbing up Allt Darrarie. After 20 minutes or so I came upon a cluster of tents pitched on some nice flat ground – adjacent to a nice fast-flowing river. It was late, well past 8pm and I’d had enough. My tent was up in no time – just in time as it happened, the rain returned with avengeance.
I was glad to get out of my wet weather gear. My right sock was thankfully quite dry – my boot probably hadn’t sprung a leak after all. I made a decent meal of home-dehydrated chicken curry & spicy rice, followed by dried fruit and custard. It’s important to keep a record of these things.
I sat back on my new toy, a Thermarest camping seat, and enjoyed a pint of tea, when a newsflash on BBC R4 (LW) announced the terrible terrorist bomb attack in Manchester.
I felt helpless – my home town had been attacked and there was nothing I could do to help, I couldn’t even phone home.
Cuckoo Count: 0