It’s about fifteen miles on good paths, tracks and minor roads to Braemar from our camp, with the cheery promise of tea and biscuits at Mar Lodge. The weather didn’t look too good; it felt like there was rain on the way and the clouds were already building from the southwest. So we didn’t hang about this morning, even though it was to be an easy day.
[DAY 9: CLICK TO ENLARGE]
Now’s probably a good time to talk about Sally Solomid, that I had borrowed from Martin Rye. The first night in Sally had been a bit of a struggle as I had pitched her when knackered and in the pouring rain. That night I found taking my wet weather gear off and getting organised, in a shelter that was far smaller than my normal Stephenson’s Warmlite 2C, had been a bit of a struggle.
However by now I had had four nights to sort myself out and get used to living with the young lady (We had also spent two nights in bothies, a night in a bunkhouse and a night in a hotel) and I have to say I was quite taken with her now. She is very quick to erect – about the same time taken to get an Akto up in good shape, perhaps a teensy bit longer, but much much quicker than it takes to erect a Trailstar and inner. She is easy to put up in bad conditions as you just have to peg her four corners and rear mid point out and simply lift with the poles and she’s up and storm-proof. Then it’s the simple matter of attaching the inner, which I now had down to a fine art. There’s loads of room to stache rucksacks, boots and wet gear in the full length protected space at the front of the inner, leaving plenty of room to cook under cover if the weather forces you to do so.
There is room alongside your sleeping mat to store all the contents of your rucksack inside the Oooknest. Sally was sturdy and shrugged off blustery winds with aplomb, the ‘A-frame’ pole configuration giving impressive stability. My only criticism, which is quite minor, is that it feel slightly claustrophobic with the inner mesh quite close to your face when you are lying down.
Overall, especially when considering how little she weighs, I think she ‘s an excellent lightweight choice. You can see our little encampment below: L-R: Andy’s Treeza Trailstar, Sally Solomid, and Phil’s Akto.
[TUCKED IN BEHIND SHELTER AT THE GELDIE, 1700 FEET UP – CLICK TO ENLARGE]
Our first mini-break was at the slightly derelict building that provides excellent shelter at the junction of the Geldie and Bynack burns. Phil took a great deal of care framing this next picture.
[PHIL'S CAREFULLY FRAMED PICTURE]
The walk to the Linn of Dee is very exposed but we were lucky with the weather and had the wind coming at us from the side and behind. It would be quite brutish from the front as there is no cover at all. We were quite surprised at seeing absolutely no Challengers at all on this stretch – there are usually a hundred or so coming from all directions converging on the metropolis that is Braemar.
We stopped for a more substantial snack in the beautiful woods just before the road at the Linn of Dee, before a light drizzle encouraged us on our way once more.
[LOOKING FOR A WINDSCREEN TO LICK AT THE LINN OF DEE – CLICK TO ENLARGE]
Mar Lodge was heavenly. The Gun Room offered teas, coffee and biscuits for a charitable donation. There was an armchair, that was low and comfortable and I found it impossible to leave its warm embrace. Andy & Phil were poppets and waited on me.
We stayed a lot longer than all the other Challengers who popped in. We just couldn’t understand the hurry – Braemar was now just an hour and a half’s stroll down the road. So we had yet another cup of tea and alright, just the one more chocolate hobnob and okay – I will have that pack of “Biscuits, brown” as others strapped on packs and laced up boots and disappeared into the Great Outdoors.
With civilisation now a very real prospect I found the bathroom and washed a few days of grime from my face and brushed and flossed my teeth. I was a new man!
As we lurched awkwardly outside into the all too fresh air, we noticed that it was raining. It was that thin, concentrated showerhead rain. Looking about and out west it seemed like there was quite a bit to come. Perhaps this was why the more recent arrivals had made such a short pit-stop. As Phil and Andy were climbing into their over-trousers, I made up my mind that it was probably just a shower and anyway, as Andy was donning his waterproofs it was bound to turn out sunny.
Hmmm. Before we had left the grounds of Mar Lodge the thin concentrated rain had turned into fat concentrated straight down stuff. It was too late now; my strides were soaking. However, it was warm so no great shakes. By the time we eventually hauled our arses into the Fife Arms it was hosing it down.
At the Fife we bumped into zillions of Challengers. This is where they had been all the time! Andy & I were due to stay with Kate at “Rucksacks” (Phil was living the high-life in the Fife) but then Laura and Louise made us an offer we couldn’t refuse: A night sharing a lodge cabin at the Braemar Lodge Hotel with two beautiful ladies! Within a flash, Andy had rung Kate to let her know that she could re-let our bunks and we were skipping up the road to a kitchen, a sitting room with reclining chairs, our own room and two lovely girls.
[LAURA'S PIC INSIDE THE CABIN: ME, LOUISE & ANDY]
Andy volunteered to take the smalls to the washing and drying machines – he wanted the thrill of his undies mixing intimately with Laura’s. There was talk about the campsite being flooded and people having to move their tents to higher ground. It seems we had made a very wise choice.
Then it was back into town for a slap up feed at the Old Bakery and a few pints of the black stuff in the Fife. Old friends were re-acquainted and a fine evening was had by all.
A good day, with the back of the Challenge now well and truly broken.