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Monday, 14 August 2017

TGOC2017 Day 12: Fee Burn to Airlie Memorial Tower


or... A tougher day than expected

Overnight our moor has been scrubbed clean and then hurled back inside an industrial washer for an extra rinse cycle. It's morning and we wake to air that brushes silently along flysheets, the kettle's steam slips across the porch to freedom. Everywhere is complete silence.

THE FEE BURN THE MORNING AFTER A WILD NIGHT 

FABULOUS MORNING FRESHNESS 

Our storm-filled mossy mattress is slowly draining into the now bubbling caochan. It is a perfect Highland morning. Clean sunshine warms my chilled fingers as I fail to capture the feel of this place with my camera. I could happily spend the day right here, letting this place seep into my bones.



But the Challenge, our challenge to ourselves, insists that we move on. The route sheet states very simply that today is 24km with 750m of RouteBuddy ascent. We are to finish the day 450m lower down along this ridge, so that sounds good to me. It's all down hill...

FEE BURN CAMPSITE, BOTTOM RIGHT. [CLICK TO ENLARGE]

CLICK TO ENLARGE

AIRLIE TOWER CAMPSITE TOP CENTRE [CLICK TO ENLARGE]

You'll notice that David is wrapped up warm. Underneath all that black clothing he's wearing his beautifully soft, cream Liberty Bodice. It helps with his posture.

MR WILLIAMS, FACING AWAY FROM THE FEE BURN. 

Strolling up Mayar - it really is a stroll - we have a spring in our step. Compared to some of the monster days we've had on this trip, this day looks to be comfortable. I have visions of lazing around the Airlie Memorial Tower mid to late afternoon. I'm in a very happy place.

ZOOMING INTO LOCHNAGAR

All around the views are fabulous. This is what the TGO Challenge is about. This is why I come back year after year. This is backpacking heaven. David is also grinning; I've never seen him so grinny! We're on top of Mayar, our first Munro of the day, before 8:30 in the morning. We have the place to ourselves. In the far, far distance, at the very end of our ridge, we can just make out the needle that is our destination - the Airlie Memorial Tower.

RUFTY TUFTY ON MAYAR [928M]  1ST MUNRO OF THE DAY AT 8:30AM 

ZOOMING TO MT KEEN

We take lots of pictures. I have a strange flashback to my first TGO Challenge, back to 1995 with my tiny Pentax compact film camera with one spare roll of 36 pictures. That worked out at about five pictures a day.

CAIRN, MAYER

The video, below, was taken on Mayar. It's simply a 360 degree pan from the cairn. I've watched it a few times since I've been home; It makes me smile every time.


VIDEO FROM MAYAR


It's a fine stroll of just a couple of miles over to our next Munro, Driesh and the views to either side of our ridge are uplifting. The pull up to Driesh actually feels good - my legs want to push, they want the effort as the rewards are so splendid.

LOOKING INTO COIRE KILBO & GLEN DOLL

We take a leisurely second breakfast sheltered from the cold wind. A vacant perusal of the map throws up an oddity; To the south of us is Glenclova Forest, which is mildly confusing, as it is actually in Glen Prosen. Glen Clova is to the north of us. I wonder to myself if this is one of those deliberate Ordnance Survey cartographic cock-ups, designed to take out opposition map makers in court?

Any knowledgeable types who feel they have the answer, please leave a message in the comments section. Thank you!

SHELTER ATOP MUNRO DRIESH [947M] @ 10AM

Before setting off, we make out the Airlie Tower once again. Strangely, it seems no nearer. The going hereabouts is good to firm and we positively canter, to start with, down the eastern slopes of Driesh to the bealach above Corrie of Farchal. Then it becomes a very careful step by step lowering down very steep slopes. All quite unnecessarily so, if you ask my knees.

LOOKING EAST ACROSS CORRIE OF FARCHAL INTO GLEN CLOVA

Of course, this very steep slope down is immediately followed by an equally unnecessarily steep grind back up hill to gain the Hill of Strone. This, surely, is not what we ordered! Someone should take it back immediately and return with more gentler inclines. This is a beastly five hundred foot grind.

LOCHNAGAR ON FAR SKYLINE, AND ACHARN IN GLEN DOLL TO THE RIGHT

I resort to the old hillman's trick of taking photographs of the view to regain composure and wipe the sweat from my brow. The faint path misses out the cairn atop Hill of Strone but I can tell that David needs it (He's done all the Wainwrights, you know, almost twice...) and so we walk to the very top and touch the cairn. It's what Baggers do. From the picture below you can see that he is delighted. It must be on some list or other. In fact, we go to every single cairn today on this ridge.

HILL OF STRONE [850M]

The views from this ridge are far reaching, with May's donkey-brown hills stretching in every direction. However, beneath our feet there's a riot of colour that makes for soft footfalls. My skull cinema plays a loop of David Bellamy on his knees, burying his fingers up to his knuckles in the mat.

The Airlie Memorial Tower is still a very long way off. It seems to be walking at the same speed as us, away from us.

CARPET OF FLOWERS 

It's another very steep drop down from Cairn Inks to the bealach above the Clova Hotel. If you ask me, this is a very poorly arranged ridge. It's not yet midday but here we take a break. As you can see from the picture below, the Clova Hotel is within touching distance. In just half an hour and a gentle stroll down a soft hillside, instead of chewing slightly stale pita bread we could be enjoying a fine lunch and a few thirst-quenching pints. If Lord Elpus was here right now, there would be no more of this fierce up and down nastinesses...

LOOKING TO CLOVA HOTEL

However, David has the bit between his teeth. He's in Rufty-Tufty Bastard mode and I can see he wants this ridge. As we begin the three hundred foot clamber up Cairn of Barns, I look back wistfully to the hotel.

CAIRN OF BARNS [651M]

The next four kilometres are very hard work. The path peters out and we're forcing our way through heather, alongside wire fencing. We're tiring and just in time David stops me from heading down a wrong spur. At Coremachy, our vetter has suggested we head towards Elf Hillock to collect the path rising from Glen Clova. On the ground we don't like the look of this advice as the ground to be covered looks as rough as hell. We have an aerial view of the ground between us and the path junction we need a mile or so distant and so in preference we head down steep ground to collect the stream that heads to our destination. This is better. We're trackless and picking our way along a break of slope and stream bank to stay on drier ground. I love this stuff, but it is knackering. Driesh, a long way behind us now, seems like a colossal lump. She's an imposing hill.

On reaching the path we take a break. We're both tired and looking at my watch I realise that we have still over five miles to go with about 250m of ascent and so my dream of an early finish has evaporated. We also have to drop from the ridge quite a way to collect water for tonight's camp. Thankfully we're now back on good paths.

It's time to knuckle down and get it done. This last section isn't fun, which is a shame as I'm sure the walking is fine at any other time of the day. It's a long way down the side of the hill to collect tonight's water from the small trickle and a longer trudge back up to our rucsacs.
 
AIRLIE MEMORIAL TOWER. SMALL, OR FAR AWAY?

How David remains so cheerful is a mystery. He's a strong chap and I coattail him to the Airlie Memorial Tower. I'm just about all-in when we get here. We pitch in as good a place as possible. It's been a ten hour day and much tougher than I had expected.

AIRLIE MEMORIAL TOWER AT THE END OF A LONG DAY

But this is no time to be down-hearted! I empty my food bag and scavenge for happy food; chocolate and tasty things, and wash it down with a few glugs of Bowmore lung-inflator. That's considerably better. In fact, things aren't bad at all. I set about making dinner, a Real Turmat job. Happiness.

It's been an interesting day. This morning we were in the heart of mountainous country, camped up in a glorious spot, away from everything and everyone. Now, we're camped at the very edge of the coastal plain. This is dog-walking country and a place for family picnics.

Drifting off to sleep I spool back through the day. 'Bloody well done, Al', I think to myself. And 'I'm bloody glad that's over!'

Friday, 11 August 2017

TGOC2017, Days 10 & 11: Braemar to the Fee Burn


DAY 10, SUNDAY: BRAEMAR TO LOCHCALLATER LODGE

Back in the mists of time Lord Elpus and I worked on the thorny problem of the venue for this year's Cheese & Wine Party. Traditionally it is held in a remote spot, to ensure that only Challengers made of the right stuff attend, so everyone rubs along well together. In December of last year Lord E put the following invitation on the Challenge Message Board.

THE INVITATION POSTED ON THE CHALLENGE MESSAGE BOARD, 1ST DECEMBER 2016

As you can see, the party is scheduled for Monday night, high up on the ridge on the south side of Glen Doll. Right now, it's Sunday morning and we're about to check out of our B&B. It's our last chance to check on the weather forecast. Today we're heading to Lochcallater Lodge. However, tomorrow (Monday) the route is high and wild on the way to the C&W party.

The forecast at 9:50am this morning for tomorrow says the day will start with blustery winds and showers, strengthening in the afternoon, followed by gale force winds, rain and thunderstorms in the evening and night. These are pretty poor conditions for a Cheese and Wine Party.

We never know who is likely to turn up and first-time Challengers are told that they are particularly welcome as they are the lifeblood of the Challenge. Without first-timers, in very short order there would be no TGO Challenge. Based upon the forecast and the fact that I do not know the party-goers' experience of camping in dreadful conditions I decide to cancel the party on grounds of safety. The Challenge has an enviable safety record and I don't want to ruin it. I ring Challenge Control and ask them to let as many people know as possible and I also post a message on the Challenge Message Board.

At the moment our own plan for Monday is to nip up and do three of the four Munros and in the afternoon slip down into Glen Prosen and camp near Kilbo before the weather turns really nasty. We now have plenty of time in Braemar to let as many Challengers know as possible that the party is off.

We leave our B&B a little downhearted and head into the metropolis that is Braemar for coffee, cake, some retail therapy and a spot of lunch. This is very cheerful stuff and in no time at all we are both proud owners of new hats that David says are perfect copies of the Afrika Korps cap. Mine is a dusty blue, whereas his is desert sand. I'll leave that with you.

CLICK TO ENLARGE. [FOLLOWING 'SUNDAY FWA']

Having filled my new-this-year rucsac to the brim with pork pies, pita bread, cakes, cheese and chocolate bars I haul it from the ground and promptly tear the rear mesh pocket on the very fierce pointy wall of Braemar Mountain Sports. Tenacious tape does the job and so at least now she looks broken-in. Deep inside I'm silently heartbroken.

It's a pleasant stroll up the golf course road and then along the track up Glen Callater, which seems to get slightly longer with each passing year before Lochcallater Lodge hoves into view. What a fabulous location!

LOCHCALLATER LODGE, WITH THE MBA BOTHY ON THE LEFT

A SHELTERED SPOT

There's a fine complement of lightweight shelters already pitched next to the lodge and so we cast about further afield, away from the snorers to find a sheltered spot a hundred yards past the lodge. 

LOCHCALLATER LODGE KITCHEN, WITH MICHAEL IN COMMAND. NOTE: THE LODGE IS LIT BY GAS LAMPS

We spend a wonderful evening in the lodge, fed like kings by Michael Glass and the whole party is run like a swiss watch by Bill Duncan. Chaps are playing with their instruments in the kitchen and there's singing and entertainment in the sitting room cum bar.



I'm only ever a year away from the Lodge but at each visit old friends pick up where they left off like it was yesterday.

BECOMING COLD & GUSTY. RAIN ON THE WAY

LEFT TO RIGHT: IAN COTTERILL, THE PIEMAN, AND BILL DUNCAN


IAN COTTERILL'S PICTURE.  LOCHCALLATER LODGE. L>R: SABINE A COUPLE I REALLY OUGHT TO BE ABLE TO NAME , THEN JAMES KNIPE AND ME

A huge thankyou to Bill and Michael for their friendship and incredible hospitality. I know of no-one and nowhere else like  it.

***

DAY 11, MONDAY: LOCHCALLATER LODGE TO THE FEE BURN

From Callater Lodge the party drawn from all points west splits into myriad routes eastward. Some fly in the direction of Carn an t-Sagairt Mor and Dubh Loch others to Lochnagar, a few to Broad Cairn, another handful over Jocks Road, some cut through the hills to Ballater but our merry band head mostly south. That's an odd direction for people who are walking to the east coast, but there you are.

CLICK TO ENLARGE [FOLLOWING 'MONDAY 18KM, 830M']

CLICK TO ENLARGE [FOLLOWING 'MONDAY 18KM, 830M']

There are five happy souls on our route today - David and me, (Of course. We're still on speaking terms) a very capable and likeable Mike Jones from Wales, and Rosie & Dickie Fuell. Quite a few Challenges ago Dickie saved our skins in a beleaguered, packed Gelder Shiel bothy in the teeth of a hurricane. And he is to be a life-saver today as well.  


It's a walk up a land rover track virtually all the way to the top of our first Munro, Carn an Tuirc. Of course, there are grunty sections, as Landrovers can scamper up virtually anything. We, on the other hand slow to a steady crawl up those sections.

LOOKING BACK DOWN TO LOCHCALLATER LODGE

GRITTY, IF POORLY PROCESSED SHOT OF RUFTY-TUFTY BASTARD DAVID

This year Dickie is carrying a water filter the size of a diver's oxygen tank. He has lugged this all the way across Scotland. I know this because he certainly had it on Day 1 from Plockton, as Robin Evans availed himself of its life-saving effusions.  

Today is a long stretch of upland and after we had emptied our water bottles with the biggest drink a chap can decently take, Dickie very kindly pumped us litres of water to refill our bottles from a peat ditch. It was all done with very little fuss and remarkably quickly. If he comes across this post he may like to leave a comment, as from what he says the logic of carrying such a beast means you carry less weight, not more.

ROSIE & DICKIE FUELL

FIRST-TIMER MIKE JONES & DAVID, WITH MAGNIFICENT COIRE LOCH KANDER BEHIND

Knowing that the weather is going belly up and all rather quickly, I am in two minds whether or not to head over very rocky ground for our first Munro, Carn of Tuirc, as it's an out and back trip. But, because it's there and we're almost within touching distance, it seems rude not to. And so we do. Is it worth it? I'm not a bagger and the views are not that marvelous but it is a bit of fun. Fun. Ah yes. I remember...

MIKE JONES, ROSIE, DAVID & DICKIE ATOP MUNRO CARN AN TUIRC (1019M)

And now the clag sweeps in and it's quite a bit colder, and wetter. But we head back across the moonscape and head for the next blighter: Cairn of Claise a couple of miles away. Compasses are employed for the first time on the Challenge. Strangely, very few of us seem to be navigating. This often happens in groups! Still, very little can go wrong up here. The Baggers' paths lead you in the right direction.

MIKE & DAVID, MUNRO CAIRN OF CLAISE (1064M) WEATHER TURNING...

ROSIE & DICKIE, CAIRN OF CLAISE

This is a bigger blighter at 1064m (For the metrically challenged, that's almost 3,500 feet up) It's another jumble of boulders to get there but this time there is a tear in the clouds and there's actually a great view down into Caen Lochan Glen. 

A BRIEF, SNATCHED VIEW FROM CAIRN OF CLAISE, LOOKING SOUTH INTO CAEN LOCHAN GLEN

A small wall that leads to the cairn gives a modicum of shelter but we don't stop for too long as it's a bit nippy. But there's always enough time for a Leerdammer and pita sandwich, stuffed with dark chocolate.

DICKIE, ROSIE & DAVID. CAIRN OF CLAISE

At this point we finally head east for the first time today, down a long delightfully soft slope. We briefly drop beneath the cloud, with the views now only hampered by strengthening rain and wind. Back in Braemar we had decided to cut Tolmount out of today's schedule and it's the right thing to do as the weather is now not so great.

DAVID, HEADING TO OUR NEXT MUNRO.

It's now gone midday and it's pretty shitty weather, so I let everyone know that once we're over the other side of our next Munro, Tom Buidhe - an easy job at a mere 957m - I'll put Trinie Trailstar up for a bit of shelter so we can have lunch in some comfort. This certainly lifts my spirits and I hope others' too. 

Tom Buidhe really is a doddle and at the top, in the pouring rain we meet a real-live Munro Bagger in the flesh, and he very kindly takes our group photo with my camera. Then he fairly gallops away in the direction of Glen Callater, muttering something about mad dogs and Englishmen out in a midday storm...

UNPLEASANT WEATHER ATOP MUNRO TOM BUIDHE (957M)

THE SCENERY HEREABOUTS. EASY WALKING, DRY UNDERFOOT

It's an easy gambol down the slopes of Tom Buidhe and in the rain David and I have Trinnie up in a flash, whilest Dickie heads off with his filter and our water bottles to replenish supplies for lunch. That man really is a star.

You've never seen 'The Famous Five in a Trailstar', have you? That's probably because it's a bit of a squeeze, and even Enid, who apparently liked a bit of bodily contact might have thought that this was beyond the pale. However, we are out of the wind and rain. Halfway through lunch the wind and rain stop and blue skies appear. Still, it was a good break.

POST LUNCH, HAPPY, ABOUT TO HEAD FOR LITTLE KILRANNOCH

The next section, over Little Kilrannoch and Dun Hillocks is an absolute delight. I dawdle a little on this section as the sun is out, the larks are singing their little hearts out and navigation's an absolute breeze. This is perfect Challenge walking. Up high, great views, easy going underfoot, and mostly downhill.

MIKE JONES. DUN HILLOCKS

We are now in sight of the Fee Burn, our proposed location for the Cheese & Wine Party. David and I decide to go down and take a look at the site, as neither of us have been this way before. Aware of the forecast, Mike, and Dickie & Rosie decide to carry on over Mayar and then drop down to a valley, but we let them know that we may actually stop here. We say our goodbyes and head off down the Fee Burn, which is  bloody good walking.

DICKIE & ROSIE

By good fortune the Fee Burn is an absolutely brilliant spot for a Cheese and Wine Party. There's lots of good water and plenty of excellent spots to pitch shelters.

Both David and I are still concerned that some Challengers may not have got the news that the party has been canceled. This helps us make up our minds. We'll camp right here, so if anyone does turn up we can have a makeshift party. Our own shelters are pretty bombproof and so the forecast weather shouldn't be a problem for us.

THE FEE BURN (TAKEN NEXT MORNING)

This is possibly the best stop of our whole trip. We're in a reasonably sheltered spot on soft dry-ish flat turf with a gurgling stream beside us. At the moment the weather is glorious. It's still early afternoon and I have a wonderful late afternoon doze, polish off an enormous rather tasty meal and then slide into blissful slumber.

I'm aware at some point in the night that it is absolutely heaving it down - it's the noise that wakes me, but Trinnie is rock solid and so I slide back into Audrey's arms to get back to where we had left off.

All in all, a fabulous day, done.

Monday, 7 August 2017

TGO Challenge 2017, Days 8 & 9: Aviemore to Braemar


DAY 8, FRIDAY: AVIEMORE TO GLEANN LAOIGH BHEAG

Thankfully, the weather forecast isn't too bad; it's certainly good enough to abandon any thoughts of our very lengthy (60km) Foul Weather Alternative of two days to Braemar via Glen Feshie. It's overcast with showers later. Hopefully, by then we'll be over the top and heading downhill.

But today's not plain sailing by any means. We've just had two very long days and so we're starting today's sixteen or seventeen miles over the Lairig Ghru with those 60km still in our legs. Thankfully David's jelly-legs and my dodgy knee seem to be holding up remarkably well.

CLICK TO ENLARGE

CLICK TO ENLARGE

David taps on my door at the appointed hour. I'm still in my shreddies stuffing a food bag the size, shape and weight of a size 45 leather hiking boot and a bag of Cox's Orange Pippins into the top of my rucsac.

Phil waves us off. He's going to drive around to Braemar whilst we stagger through the wild stuff. I think he has the better deal... However, the weather's holding up and we have a fine four miles of gentle walking through the Rothiemurchus up to the Cairngorm Club Footbridge. Here we bump into Jayme & Peter's party who are aiming to head up onto the tops on their way to Braemar. They're welcome to that and I sit myself down to make inroads into the food bag as we have set out with no breakfast. A hefty Naan bread from yesterday evening, stuffed with cheese fills a hole nicely.

David's itching to be off and so reluctantly I stir my stumps and we set off again. 

THAT WAY

If you've not spent time in the Rothiemurchus I would encourage you to visit. It is a magical place but the Rothiemurchus Estate is doing their utmost to screw it up, clear felling whole areas, and building a new town opposite Aviemore. And the Cairngorm National Park Authority, the supposed guardians of this magical place backs this behaviour, despite howls of protest from the public. Only in Scotland...

THE ROTHIEMURCHUS FOREST

It's a steady plod uphill with the breeze in the tree tops and birdsong as our backing track. Down to our right the Allt Druidh is tumbling over its rocky bed. This really is fabulous walking.

THE TOP END OF THE ROTHIEMURCHUS

It's a brief couple of miles in the forest and we now emerge into the lunar vastness of the Lairig Ghru. Here are some interesting facts about the Lairig Ghru: 

  • It would be possible to fit the entire London Underground Tube system within the void that is the Lairig Ghru (Not including the stations.)*
  • It would be possible to fit the combined populations of France and Germany within the void that is the Lairig Ghru. (Some say that this is a splendid idea.)*   
  *One or more of the above interesting facts may be a figment of my imagination.

IT DOESN'T LOOK THAT FAR...

We stop for a sheltered lunch immediately before the very top of the pass. The intermittent sunshine is warm, the persistent wind bitingly cold. The boulders are a bit of a bastard in the wind; I've been through this place in very poor weather with Lord Elpus quite a few years ago. I recall them being quite a challenge then. As it is today, it's merely quite tricky, only very nearly breaking my neck a couple of times. David breaks his in four places, but I tape it all back together with duct tape and the lower sections of his Pacer Poles. If you squint, you can barely notice it.

MR WILLIAMS ATOP THE LAIRIG GHRU

We are making steady progress down the ramp from the Pools of Dee when we are overtaken by two wild-eyed speed merchants. One of them is Tim, who you will meet later. They're heading off to Corrour bothy to dump their packs and nip up the Devil's Point. It takes all sorts, I suppose.

LOOKING INTO GARBH CHOIRE

I spent a night in Corrour Bothy back in a summer in the mid Seventies. I recall it being a pretty ghastly place back then. It had an earth floor and mice. But it was preferable to being outside as the midges were voracious. 

CORROUR BOTHY COWERING BENEATH THE DEVILS POINT

From about here I'm rather hoping we are not. In fact, I'm rather hoping we are three miles further on and about to camp. Eventually, and this does take quite some time, as we approach the Luibeg Burn we can actually see where we're going to stop for the night half a mile the other side of the burn.

At this point, in celebration David tumbles forward, head first, down the steep hill and hits the very hard track like a sack of spuds. He breaks his fall with his arm, on a very well constructed stone cross drain. On impact my heart is in my mouth. It looks sickeningly painful. We sit for a few minutes to recover our senses. Surprisingly, nothing's broken. It's just as well as I have used up all my duct tape fixing his blasted neck.

As I finally climb into Trinnie Trailstar for a lie-down the rain starts in earnest and continues for most of the night.

That was a bigger day than expected. But it's done. I sleep very well indeed. Braemar tomorrow!

   

DAY 9, SATURDAY: GLEANN LAOIGH BHEAG TO BRAEMAR

The Rufty-Tufty Bastard is surprisingly perky this morning. I put it down to the promise of a sniff of a barmaid's apron in Braemar. We pack in the rain which turns gently to a soft drizzle. It's all quite lovely. It's a little over ten miles into Braemar on easy tracks. We should be there for lunch!

CLICK TO ENLARGE

CLICK TO ENLARGE

I forgot to take a snap of our campsite last night, what with the rain and all, so I make amends this morning. You'll have to use your imagination a little, but you get the drift. The picture below is of a naked Trinnie.

TRINNIE TRAILSTAR WOZ ERE

Fortunately David is clothed in the next picture and is actually smiling!

GLEN LUIBEG

The weather enhances the place. We're soon at Derry Lodge, where we bump into Jayme and Peter's team and for the first time, first-timers Rich and his brother. (Pete?) 

GLEN LUI

I spend most of this section walking on my own, as I dislike large groups, and stop frequently to take all these moody snaps. It appears that the National Trust for Scotland, when it isn't threatening/bullying small Scottish gear manufacturers with highly dubious legal actions, is doing a grand job hereabouts. The place certainly feels more natural than the last time I was here.

GLEN LUI

GLEN LUI

GLEN LUI

GLEN LUI

It's still raining as we make Mar Lodge, via the Tradesmen's entrance to sit at tables and on chairs to drink teas and coffees. It appears the whole TGO Challenge has been through here so far. Well, sixty five of us if you believe the five bar gates on the white board. (See the picture a few below here). I snap away merrily. There are more people, but I don't like using flash and a lot of pictures are beyond unusable.

COLIN, MAR LODGE

FAZ. MAR LODGE

SABINE, MAR LODGE

PAULA, MAR LODGE

IAN C, MAR LODGE

JAYME, MAR LODGE

ROB & REBECCA, MAR LODGE

FAZ & TIM, MAR LODGE

PETER M, MAR LODGE

NTS MAR LODGE WHITE BOARD

David chivvies me along as he's keen to get to the fleshpots. But not too keen, as he drags me away from our scripted route of a very sensible dry and flat minor road and instead we clamber uphill on forest tracks. The situation is considerably improved as we are walking with a bright young girl called Issy, who David is convinced is our youngest Challenger. She's very flattered by this but remarks that she remembers Lloyd George's maiden speech. Still, she's great company and much much prettier than the grumpy, rufty-tufty bastard I'm usually looking at.

COLIN, ROAD TO BRAEMAR

ISSY & DAVID, ENROUTE TO BRAEMAR'S TOMINTOUL VIEWPOINT

A RARE SNAP OF DAVID & ME


THE VIEW FROM ABOVE BRAEMAR, BEFORE YOU GET TO THE VIEWPOINT

As it happens, the walk to the viewpoint is rather fine with misty vistas of Deeside. If in the future you decide to come this way I strongly recommend that you snap your views before you get to the actual viewpoint, as there you will find all the views obscured by the tops of very vigorous birch trees.

PITY: ALL VIEWS NOW OBSCURED BY BIRCH TREES

ISSY & DAVID

Finally we make Braemar and head straight to Gordon's Tearoom for a slap up lunch. Sadly, Phil has been and gone, kindly leaving my small food parcel in our B&B.

Once in the B&B it's the usual grind of clothes washing, and generally destroying the place with mountains of smelly outdoor gear festooned about the place. Trinnie Trailstar enhances the decorations in the shower, and the spare bed is used to marshal my mounting food mountain.

We hit the Invercauld Arms at six for a few sharp Guinnesses, and then move on to the Gathering Place to meet up with Hugh and Barbara, who I have heard of by reputation but meeting them surpasses expectations. What a wonderful couple.

IAN, BRAEMAR'S INVERCAULD ARMS

BERNIE ROBERTS, THE INVERCAULD ARMS

MIKE KNIPE - THE PIEMAN

MY DEHYDRATED FILLET CAME UP TRUMPS, THE GATHERING PLACE. DECENT BOTTLE OF RED.

MAD'N'BAD, THE GATHERING PLACE

After dinner the night is still young and so I head back to the Invercauld Arms for more Guinness and a sing-song led by the exceedingly talented Croydon. The place is still rammed with happy Challengers, all in very good form. The bar staff encourage us to leave around midnight and I actually find my way back to our B&B the very first time of trying!

JAYME, THE INVERCAULD ARMS

All in all, another excellent couple of days and we are still bowling along nicely. We've no blisters and we're getting fitter by the day. We've had half a day off today and we decide to take the morning off tomorrow and take our Foul Weather Alternative route to Lochcallater Lodge. The rest will do us both a bit of good.