Phil and I invariably take a couple of days to get to Braemar from Kingussie, which involves two quite long days passing though remote landscapes. However, when I planned this year's walk I'd given myself the luxury of three days as I wanted to cross the Cairngorm Plateau and take in a few of the tops. I was also mindful of having surgery just three months beforehand. My struggles on the second and third days of this year's walk suggested that I ought to be sensible and instead enjoy the walk up the Feshie, taking the 'trade route' to Braemar.
Lindsay and I met up in the village and set off at a leisurely hour for the stroll to Glen Feshie. We had no fixed plan for a camp spot but thought that anywhere from the bothy onwards would do nicely.
|LINDSAY, IAN AND BRIAN|
At Ruthven Barracks we collected Ian & Brian for a while and together we strolled along until we split at Drumguish as they were heading off toward Aviemore. I hadn't met Brian before but had always been grateful for his helpful advice on the Challenge Message Board so it was good to meet him. There's a lovely little resting place organised by the locals at the crossroads at Drumguish, equipped with a comfortable bench of which I took full advantage. I would have dallied longer had the midges not descended. I'm certainly looking forward to the Challenge resuming its mid-May slot next year.
Here's today's route, care of those awfully nice people at Memory-Map. You can click on it to blow it up, as you can any of the pictures, to see them at droolingly lovely bigly-hugeness.
|DAY 7: THE PURPLE DASHED LINE. CLICK TO ENLARGE|
Soon after Drumguish we have a couple of miles walking through a conifer plantation, easy enough walking, and out of the wind so protected from the increasing drizzly weather. It was lovely to have a fun person to chat with after a week in my own company. I'm not suggesting I'm not happy on my own - I walked solo for four months on my LEJOG in 2007 and the discussions then at least had some sort of logic and natural flow to them rather than the crazy careerings of a conversation with, say Mad'n'Bad, Lord Elpus or the Supreme Ruler. Those boys have minds like a modern fighter-jet; inherently unstable, their change of direction is lightning fast and often very difficult to follow let alone keep up with. That's why I love the bastards.
I counted myself fortunate that Lindsay was with me. This girl's also a fighter, and made of the right stuff. The miles peeled away effortlessly in her company.
It was as we were entering the next chunk of forestry, after Corarnstilmore, that we noticed a lone figure in blue about half a mile behind us. We could make out that he was carrying a backpack but appeared to be travelling at warp speed. Was he on a bicycle? It brought back images of Marshal Joe LeFors and Lord Baltimore hunting down the heroes of this tale. (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid - look it up)
Lindsay proposed that we hide behind large trees to ambush the wallah. Having an already full and pretty heavy backpack the only thing I thought might be of use to me were the chap's legs as they seem to be of a much faster variety than those hanging uselessly from my hips. The girl thought there was bound to be some valuable titanium stuff buried within his pack, lighter than our own... We passed on the idea as the rain changed from light to light-medium with cold gusts to boot and so decided to seek shelter for a spot of lunch instead at the first available opportunity.
Taking a break from the now medium to soaking rain under the side canopy of the holiday home at Stronetoper - if these names weren't already in the here and now you would have to make them up for any wild story - who should arrive but Lord Baltimore himself, loosely based on a character known as 'Andy.' He seemed a decent enough sort so we hailed him to join us in our makeshift dining room. He was rightly hesitant as the shelter was pretty poor and we were liberally splattered by overflowing trickles of the deluge with the added convenience of a cold wind whistling about the place. However, with a fine sense of camaraderie he made an effort before suggesting we move on to the more salubrious shelter of the bothy further up the glen.
Through the good offices of the Challenge Message Board we three knew that there was a major washout of the newly built path up the glen at the Allt Garbhlach but we made a reasonable fist of the temporary precipitous descent and the muddy scramble up the other side. As we hauled each other up Paul arrived - you remember Paul of course, from my journey up and my first day - and so now we were four. Now Paul has a gadget for every occasion, and his wrist watch was actually a global positioning device with a screen. On board it had a variety of mapping not known to this luddite. However it helped us choose the correct path towards the bothy that wasnae (we're in Scotland now, so adapt or die) on our vanilla Ordnance Survey jobs.
After a few more steepish ups and downs in the pine woods we came across a sign that pointed up the hill in apparently the completely wrong direction with the word bothy inscribed upon it in a child-like script. Well, we were not going to fall for that little scam, were we? Of course not, so we took the very well made quite new path down towards the Feshie with a devil-may-care spring in our collective step.
After a grunty, very steep clamber up the side of the heavily eroded bluff, hanging on to twig-like saplings for dear life and an equally steep descent down the other side followed by a bit of a bog hop, we eventually regrouped where the path once more continued onwards up the glen, each older, wiser and more amenable to following child-like scrawlings in the future.
|ANDY, PAUL AND LINDSAY, AFTER REGAINING THE WASHED OUT PATH|
If you right-click on the picture and look at Paul's black jacket and his trousers you'll see that it's still raining miserably but our little gang is happy, knowing that the worst of today is now over. We made the bothy at Ruigh Aiteachain with no further mishap and piled inside for a bit of a snoop. The Estate had made a commendable job of the extensive renovation and extension. Even the loo had been extended and improved considerably. We each produced our stoves and decided that before continuing our walk it would be a good idea to have some hot food.
As we were generally lazing about eating and drinking, a Challenge Treasure arrived, Scottish Colin, a veteran of many successful Challenges.
|A BALANCED DIET; GIN & TONIC AND WHISKY.|
Lindsay eschewed hot food, preferring a liquid starter.
The weather outside had now taken a turn for the worse - it looked pretty horrid 'out there.' I decided that despite the Covid restrictions, this was a suitable reason to stay inside and not invite a soaking for the sake of a few extra miles when the next two days were easily do-able from our present warm and dry spot. It didn't take much persuasion for the others to decide the same. There were only us few and plenty of rooms to spread out for the required social distancing. There's a thought. Social distancing in the Great Outdoors. Everyone double jabbed... Colin, however, decided to pop his tent up outside in the maelstrom. He's proper hard.