The kitchen was a hive of industry, banging out life-saving bacon rolls and cups of tea. New sticks were crackling and popping in the fireplace and the sun streamed though the windows. Every available chair was sat upon and there was no great hurry. Little groups stood outside in the sunshine, warming their shoulders for just about the first time on the walk.
The tent city was slowly being dismantled and soft conversations drifted into the lodge through the open front door. Some were going high, taking on the snows of Lochnagar, others opting for Broad Cairn and beyond. The party was now to be spread out in a wide fan, all eventually heading for the coast.
I found myself walking up Carn an t-Sagairt Mor with Pete Shepherd. I’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve been up this hill together, but this must have ranked as one of the slowest climbs. Neither of us is getting any younger, with Peter now a sprightly 71 years young. Still, there was no hurry as we had set ourselves the easy target of the Shielin of Mark and it was a beautiful day with the forecast set fair.
Andy set off like a whippet and so we weren’t expecting to see him again today. The higher we climbed, the broader the views of the snow slathered Cairngorms:
Then we headed off around the hill drinking from the icy, clear springs over 3,000 feet up. Then down towards the huge bowl above Dubh Loch.
An early lunch was taken sprawled in the sunshine next to the busy Allt an Dubh Loch. Peter is incredibly nimble and was soon skittering off into the distance. I followed up at my usual leisurely lope, staying close to the burn for the wonderful views of the fabulous water-slides as it careers over the lip of the upper corrie down into the bowl of Dubh Loch itself.
Up above, Creag an Dubh Loch towers over glen.
The walk along Dubh Loch is a bit of a bog hop, with a bouldery section to start with, but eventually all this gives way to a good stalkers path cut tidily into the side of the hill and so good progress is eventually made.
Another fine stop below the horse-tail falls beneath Loch Buidhe for more water and jelly babies and a stomp down the rough old path all the way down to Glass-allt-Shiel.
Young Mr Walker (okay, I admit it, he is centuries older than me) was sunning himself on the lawn in front of the lodge and, indeed had been doing so for a good hour or so prior to our arrival. He very kindly was volunteered to make us some tea. It was a lovely refreshing cuppa and so Pete & I decided to join him in a little snooze in the sunshine for another hour and a half, or so. It was bloody wonderful to be able to laze about, for the first time on the walk for two years! Last year’s walk had been a cold & stormy affair as well… Socks were fluffed up and aired on walking poles, shirts removed. Ingerland was on its holidays!
So then we all strolled off to the Visitor’s centre at the Spittal of Glenmuick for coffees and hot chocolate from the machine and to make use of the newly refurbished facilities. And very nice they were too, with hot air hand-driers and lots of shiny stainless steel.
Upon my return to the hot chocolate machine, Big & Lovely Ian, who had just arrived from the snowy tops of Lochnagar, let me know that “my mates had got fed up waiting and had scarpered”. However, it was an absolutely gorgeous evening and the sun was now lighting up the deep cleft of the Allt Darrarie, which is normally in the shade in the afternoon and so I had an enjoyable yomp up the stream, heading up to the Shielin.
Before too long I overhauled Peter and so we strolled upwards together, taking frequent water and snack stops in the warm evening airs. The views back to Lochnagar were well worth a few snaps ‘contre-jour’; One of which almost works:
Then it was just a short yomp through the peat hags to land on top of the chimney pot of the Shielin. There were a dozen or so tents already there.
We splashed across the stream and flipped up the tents on the far bank, cooked a light supper, supped the last of the cognac and slipped away to oblivion. A corker of a day with a lovely bloke.
Today’s route: 21.3km with about 800m of ascent.