We had set ourselves up very prettily for an easy day into Braemar. Okay, it was about 19 miles of walking, but none of it was difficult and I wasn’t expecting any great difficulties with either the Bynack Burn or the Geldie, as the weather had just been showery and it wasn’t hot enough to melt lots of snow on the Cairngorm tops.
We quite fancied getting into town with enough time to have a tea break at Mar Lodge and then check into Ronnie & Fiona’s bunkhouse at the Braemar Lodge Hotel, get the washing done and have a bit of a feed before heading up to the Moorfield Hotel for the Evening’s entertainment. This meant that we needed an earlyish start. So, quite frankly, I was amazed that Andy was up & ready a good ten minutes before our agreed setting off time. This must have been down to one of a few possible causes:
- The poor lad couldn’t sleep, or
- His watch had broken, or
- He had finally cracked and didn’t want the hassle of packing whilst everyone was standing about watching him again.
It looked like Nik was a late starter, and she was just surfacing as we were about to set off, so we said cheerio and left the damsel all alone to her fate, at the mercy of the dive-bombing oyster catchers. What a bunch of knights in shiny armour?
Glen Tilt was, well, Glen Tilt really. It’s a fine walk on a good path all the way up. Bedford Bridge came and went
and I plodded along, carrying my blister. I really had forgotten what it is like to have one of these things. It is really, really unpleasant, but the scenery and the conditions underfoot were soft and so I shrugged it off. We had a few rather nice rest stops as finally the sun had decided to make an occasional appearance. It was still chilly though, with the wind coming straight at us.
The Bynack Burn was crossed dry-shod; Andy picking a fine diagonal across a stony bit and then it was just the Geldie to contend with. Andy & Roger had decided to do the whole boot/sock/trousers faff whilst I just rolled up my trouser legs and plunged in. It was wonderfully refreshing, the freezing water anaesthetising my feet! I fell in with Diane Collins at this point who was cantering along at a fair old lick, having started her day very early from Ruigh-aiteachain. As my blister was now quite numb we enjoyed cracking along at her pace until I realised I had left Roger & Andy far behind as they were now doing the reverse of the trouser/sock/boot faff on this side of the Geldie. I was also getting hungry, so I decided to stop and wait for my walking partner and have a spot of lunch.
Presently, we arrived at the Linn of Dee in very good order. Andy, by now was looking, how shall we say, slightly “Gentleman of the Road-ish.” Unshaven for quite a few days now and with unkempt hair, with bits’n’bobs hanging from his rucksack, and all his extremities bandaged up in filthy micro-pore, he was a bit of a sight. We noticed a nice old couple had spotted us and they had beaten a hasty retreat to their very clean car. It was all I could do to stop Andy from racing over and licking their windows. They drove off smartish.
We tried very hard to try and persuade Mr Boston to accompany us into Braemar for the parties, but he was resolute and so we parted – he to the fleshpots of Derry Lodge and we to the Gun Room of Mar Lodge for restorative cups of tea and biscuits. We bumped into Andy Williams, who seemed to be hobbling very painfully on an ankle that would have put most on the retirement list. But he’s made of the right stuff and was carrying on. Top bloke!
There was also Diane again, who was girding her loins to lunge back out on the road to Braemar and Tony “Fire-starter” Whewell of last year’s Gelder Shiel Bothy Incident, who assured everyone that this year he had a new stove that wasn’t going to blow us all to Kingdom-Come.
Back out onto the road and Andy & I settled into a gentle stroll, heading along to Braemar. We let Diane get a little way ahead. I don’t know what does it with this stretch of road, but you can see Challengers the other side of the bay, seemingly miles ahead. I suppose it all started when I was walking with Terry Leyland back in ‘97 when we had seen a struggling Challenger (which turned out to be Oliver Freudentahl) a good mile ahead and Terry said “We’ll ‘ave ‘im!” and we sprinted off to catch him in double quick time (This, I hasten to add, was only because it was Oliver’s first challenge and he was carrying twenty tons of equipment in his gargantuan rucksack, and wearing huge army boots)
Ever since that day, this has turned into a rather bad habit of mine, and having let the distance between us and Diane stretch out to something of a real competitive challenge, I tried to persuade Andy that we could catch her. Quite rightly, he was having none of it and promptly stopped to thwart my plans with an indescribably ghastly backside slathering of cocoa-buttered Vaseline and underpants faff.
I was off like a whippet. The joy of hauling someone in with an elastic stride is quite a wonderful feeling. No-one stands a chance when I’m in this form.
I know it’s not nice. It’s a competitive and unpleasant character trait, but I just love doing it. It takes me back over forty years to school and cross countries, hauling in chaps who thought they were easy winners and grinding them down to dust…
Ooh dear, perhaps that’s too much information there… It was not my intention to grind anyone down to dust this time though, just to let the old legs have a blast and enjoy themselves. I knew that Andy also has this terrible competitive streak and as Diane & I chatted as we walked along together, we estimated Andy’s catch up point. I just knew he couldn’t help himself, and sure enough, just as we were passing the road sign declaring that we had made it to Braemar, Andy arrived, his firebox sparking with white heat!
Perhaps it’s a bloke thing…
Of course, our careful programme of things to get done in Braemar was shot to hell. Upon arrival it was straight into the Fife Arms.
We *did* get the washing done and we did find our bunkhouse and we did manage to get up to the Moorfield, where I stayed in the bar all evening as Bingo Wings weren’t on and I didn’t fancy the alternative, some sort of Scottish country dancing or whatever. I bumped into all sorts of lovely Challengers, far too many to name here and had a lovely chat with David Towers, who is still going strong at 79 years young. He’s an example to us all.
I was however, quite knackered, and so decided to call it a day quite early in the festivities, and limped off down the lane, only to be dragged into the Fife with Terry Leyland for a few liveners before finally getting back to the bunkhouse quite late to sleep the sleep of the happy but dead.
Today’s route: 30.2 km with about 400m of ascent.