8:30 came and went with no sign of Andy being ready for the off, so Peter & I set off slowly in the morning sunshine to wander down the Water of Mark before cutting across a few peat hags and heading up over Muckle Cairn.
This is a delightful walk in these conditions, following a gurgling caochan’s grassy banks up hill, a route that’s popular with the deer, resulting in a dainty little track. The view back to Lochnagar was slightly hazy, yet I never tire of it; It’s still one of the finest on the Challenge.
At the top we collected the old track down into Glen Lee and another fine view, this time with a bit of foreground interest that is Peter Shepherd.
This is a short day and there is no hurry, but it’s best to get the walking done before the heat of the day and so we strolled down, admiring the sights.
It was time for an early elevenses and so we picked the shade of a few ancient old scots pine trees and lay down for a bit of a snooze to wait for Andy’s inevitable clatter. We were joined by a few more and soon there was a little peaceful gathering under the pines,
Val told us of her torrid start from Lochailort on the Sunday (the bad weather Sunday) and how she had to double back after a day’s walking and completely revise her route due to the raging torrents she encountered in South Morar. All in all, an indomitable first timer, who still managed to get back on schedule and have a good time.
Big Ian still had some red wine left which he kindly shared in the hot sunshine. If I had shut my eyes, I could have been in the south of France. Bloody lovely, it was! There was then a great deal of excitement as two white-tailed eagles were spotted soaring up above. They circled and played for a good ten minutes or so and everyone tried to get snaps of them. I shall wait for Mr Cotterill’s efforts to see good pictures – mine were very poor snaps; Here’s the best of a bad bunch:
Everyone set off once more in dribs and drabs down the valley. I really love this stretch; it’s a good track, mainly downhill with wonderful views opening out as you round each bend. I gave Morpeth a head start and then gleefully loped after him at a good lick to catch him up. It’s all good fun.
On the way to catching him up I had a madcap chase with a snake; the snake slithering away at some speed with me trying to snap her with my little point & shoot job. The bright sunlight on the screen meant that I could not see if I had captured the beast. In fact in five of the pictures there was no snake at all. I was keen to get a picture as I had not seen one this large in years.
Having caught Peter up and after all this excitement, it was time for a rest. At the junction with the path from the Shank of Inchgrundle we spotted a figure on the far side coming our way. We both guessed the figure’s identity correctly as Lynsey Pooler and we also guessed correctly that to be here at this time, she can only have been camping at the top of the Waters of Unich, the location of our 2010 Cheese & Wine Party.
Then we all loped off together as a ramshackle bunch of sunburnt hikers to the end of Loch Lee to have a spot of lunch at the old graveyard. I could get to enjoy this Challenge lark at this sort of pace… Lots of warm sunshine, lazing in the shade on short cropped grass with friends.
After a fine repast of bread, cheese, sliced ham and orange juice we were off again. The hill path up and over to Tarfside is another cracker, a bit like the bay in the road on the way to Braemar. I just can’t help myself when I see small groups of Challengers spread out on the path ahead, and I immediately switch into ”catch-up racing” mode. I reeled in zillions! I know it’s bad, but it’s just such wonderful fun. It’s not good for the blister on the bottom of your foot though, but that was fixed for me by Lynsey at Tarfside.
The new team running Tarfside this year did a wonderful job this afternoon, looking after dozens of hot, thirsty, hungry Challengers as they piled through the door of St Drostan’s. I was in time to bag a room had I wanted one, but as the evening was wonderfully warm and dry, I opted to flip up Wanda on the school playing field with about fifty other Challengers. I did have a lovely shower and washed the smalls and managed to get everything dry in the sunshine. Sunshine makes a huge difference to morale.
We drank St Drostan’s dry of beer and so moved on to the wine, before strolling across to the Mason’s for a great evening catching up with old friends and new.
I slid off comparatively early, out into the pitch black of the night with no headtorch – tricky… but found Wanda glowing in the dark to sleep very happily indeed.
Today’s route: 18km with 180m of ascent.