Day Thirteen: A Last Full day.

This year we tried to keep some sense of wilderness to the end. Last year the last 2 days were vile and so this year we were keen to stay out there away from it all. This strategy carried risks – we wanted to walk to within 3 miles of the East coast sea and camp, without civilisation getting at all present. But there were no camp spots obvious on the map there, so we knew we’d have to see what we could find. By luck we found gold.

But not after a long 17 miles through forests and past wind farms. My those things are huge. Just past them we met the 3 Belgiums who seemed very fine folk. Then we met the construction team. There are a lot of associated works with the wind farm and by luck some workers were in. We needed water and they kindly gave us the only bottled water we’d had in 2 weeks; 3 litres of it. Thank you. It was chilled too. 

It was a day of hiking through forests and we knew finding a place to sleep was going to be hard. Our fantasy was a place with a view of the sea; flat; by a stream for water; and somewhere we wouldn’t piss off a Scottish father. There is a lot of evidence of guns after all. We got all but the water and had anticipated this, carrying 4 litres of brown peaty water for 2 miles. But it was so worth it. Our camp, for edge of town camping, it truly a joy. 

Day Nine: A Slackers Day

Quite a dull day with little to report other than we walked 8 fairly dull and totally unadventurous miles into Braemar after a very lazy start. We hit the first cafe we saw and gorged for 3 hours then hit the Hostel and washed then went out and gorged more. I discovered the joys of cider. The sun came out at 9pm, a welcome change from the rain. By luck we chose a good day for a slack day.

We had a lovely dinner at Gordon’s with Nina and due to being inept we can’t remember her partners name, but they are genuine warm people. Interesting and interested. And they are 70 and 71, doing the TGO and camping and with long often high days: we felt in awe.

Theresa May nipped up to Braemar for some chips. She wasn’t made welcome.

Day Twelve: We Love Our Fucking Tents. We Really Do.

So. Amazingly we were on our way at 8am, for a longish 17+ mile day with shit loads of ups and down. After 1 mile we were distracted by a Folk museum that served breakfast so at 8.20 we were sat at a table with a plate of sausage bacon and mushrooms (Nick) and beans and egg (me). Oh, and a lot of toast. At 9am we were back in the road.

Little to report as we cruised along those bulldozed estate ‘roads’ that exist solely for fat rich people to travel along so getting to kill things is easier and involves no effort; up and down only 400-500m hills, the climbs still felt hard. It was very noticeable that estates like to kill things. A lot of traps and a place that wasn’t a place for good things to happen. It had a vile vibe. We moved away. 

Onwards. Following Water of Dye for many miles until Char Bothy where we stopped and sat by the stream for the last of our fruit cake, with tea. Sore feet in the river. They still smelt when they came out and our shoes stink of ammonia. We are sexy.
Onwards to Spital Cottage and into the forest where we knew finding a place to camp would be tricky. Unfortunately by now Nick had long since taken refuge in a shelter called ‘edibles’. 

Close to Tire Beggar Hill we found some land that was flattish, without trees nor big nor heather, dryish, and by water. Brown peat filled water but it would have to do. We were fairly fekked and so took the sensible action of slotting rather a lot of whisky and Nicks tent was erected with the professionalism of a dead dog on speed, something Nick both resembled and smelt like. Putting up a tent whilst stoned and pissed is indeed difficult.

Then we were inside as the heavens opened and we are now loving, totally loving, just being here. 


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Day Eleven: A Tale of Two birds

This trip has daily had the sound of one if two birds: lowlands, cuckoo; highlands, grouse.Grouse seem to be permanently underfoot; cuckoos seem to be permanent in the ear, never to be seen. But never at the same time.

It was a nice lie in. Everyone had left. Lots of tents. Then lots of people walked by, 6-8.
We chilled.

Unfortunately I fell in the river with my morning coffee whilst sitting on an angled rock on my little cushion thing. Said cushion thing created the perfect slide and before I knew what I was in my back in the river. Biggest tragedy was by lost freshly brewed coffee. Oh and a rather wet down jacket. Nick did immensely well. Not to laugh and I’m grateful for that. He helped me sort my shit and as the sun was out and the wind up all ended well with everything except my red shreds and black trousers dry, even the jacket was dry. Nick took a fetching photo of me in my shreds.
Then it pissed down.

We walked and tried something different to get to Tarfside, but my navigation was lazy as it didn’t truly matter, and we ended up going down to Glen Lee again, still lovely. Then we arrived in Tarfside a bit like arriving at Rivendell, wooded, full of birdsong, gentle, a lovely place. We had butties galore, Nick 3x bacon sarnies plus 2x burgers, me 2x egg sarnies plus 2x veggie burger; some beer and cider. And all provided by lovely people. We also met the bothy occupiers. But nuff said. 
But the birdsong here is unlike anywhere, so noisy til late and I know so noisy so early.

Oh yes, we imbibed much.

Day Ten: It Takes a Special Kind of Moron

The morning forecast said no more rain for a week. The sun shone. Until we started walking, then it pissed it down. All day. Until now – 9pm. We are tucked up bed a tad damp after 20 miles with a pack laden for 5 days in the hills and 950m of ascent. It was very hard work. 

We left Braemar and walked down the road, turning down Callater Burn past the lodge and onto Jocks Road, over Crow Craigies and down past Loch Esk and Glittering Skellies, down to the river and up the back of Bachnagairn. Then followed endless hag bogs until we hit Capel Road then more hills and endless gags and eventually joy – Shielin of Mark bothy.Navigation had been a proper test, conditions were vile and visibility often very poor. And Shielin of Mark bothy is notoriously difficult to find. A final bearing took us, satisfyingly straight there.
We couldn’t wait to get inside and brew up. It was 7.30pm and we’d not really stopped since we started at 9.00am. 
Unfortunately the place was occupied by four people who pretended to be asleep. We stood there like morons saying hello. No reply. They filled the place as it’s a small bothy and we were cold and tired.. Not even a hello. I’ve never been made to feel so unwelcome in a bothy. But I guess they were all tired too.
A day of effort pain and reward.
Anyway all is well that ends well. Tents up, lots of scoff, wine, warmth amidst the damp. Nick is cramping up rather a lot though. Easy day tomorrow. Into Tarfside via Glen Lee.

Day Eight: The Organised Pack, or/and we fucking nailed it today.

So my Z-Pack pack is a bit too fancy and ultimately fragile. There are these thin round carbon fibre stays that run the length of your back and form a frame that transfers weight onto the hip belt. On day 2 one of these forced a hole in the webbing that holds it taught at one end. I managed a botch mend but when you lose trust in your pack… and it also meant I couldn’t tighten the pack so as to bend the stays and thus create a ventilation gap between pack and back. Not that I think it made any difference anyway. But it pissed me off. 
Anyway, I’d kind of half fallen out of love with the pack as it felt a proper mess. Truth is my packing was shite. I had something like 11/12 separate bags in there as well as other bits of bollocks like a loose midge headnet, my tripod poles (don’t ask). So I managed to simplify into 5 bags that lay across the pack in a nice straight tidy line. I like a tidy pack. Possibly I am a saddo.
We did 22 miles today. From our camp site on Allt Bhran up Glen’s and eventually into Glen Feshie (about a mile south of the Lodge). I’ve wanted to walk Glen Feshie for a long time and it is beautiful. Wide, high sided, beautiful wild trees – mostly Caledonian Pine/Scots Pine/Birch. The river has recently eroded the path and changed course totally and the power of that change must have been immense. So the journey along the edges was at times quite adventurous.
Anyway we motored, got in a groove and fucking nailed the day. We met lots of folk but the people we especially warmed to were Dick and Rosie (the boozer), the Canadian couple, and a couple in a tent by the bridge who had a Hilleberg Nallo; all these seemed interested and interesting. Always the test. 
So we cruised down Geldie Burn and here we are in the rain in our tents imbibing by the river, a mile from the car park, chatting and eating. First rain since Corrour. That’s 3.5 days ago. Apparently it’s pissing down tomorrow but its 8 easy miles into Braemar where there is beer. And a youth hostel, restock, clothes wash, and then the final 5 day walk into Stonehaven.
A study of specs. Quite dull unless you are in a tent, imbibed, and it’s pissing down outside.
PS wifi is too shit to upload photos so will do so later

 

Day Seven: The Demons Left; Eventually

It is fair to say we were shagged after the previous day. A big pack, a big mountain, a lot of beer and shoddy sleep make for tired people.It was a long day ahead, meandering from Dalwhinnie into Glen Feshie, so obviously we had a very big breakfast, said goodbye to Pongo (who was going whisky taking) and set off, up tracks, past dams, following rivers, crossing rivers, along glens. On and on, quite fucked actually. 
Up Allt Bhran I think we felt tired. So 7km behind schedule we called an early camp on beautiful level grasses by the river surrounded by gentle rolling hills, the sun bright, sky blue, chuffing beautiful big complex clouds. We chose to imbibe and dip feet in the river, eat by the river, lie in the tents in the sun. Recharge. Big day tomorrow as we head to Braemar with a wild camp on Devils Point. Or we might abandon that and take the direct downhill route to Linn of Dee.

(Warning for Cano) Some waffle follows.

A few things I like:
Lying in my tent I realise bringing this one, the Z Packs Duplex was the right thing to do. For one it is so roomy. Tonight it is so taught. I’ve seen so many other tents flap like beasts in a panic that this thing, although light, gives a lot of comfort in its rigidity and room, all for about 650g – and as the name suggests it is a 2 person tent. Just like I am now a two tent person. Ignoring the Wendy House tent as that’s not really mine. So thank you for helping me chose this one. You know who you are!

Now the Z Packs pack is another story…
And music in the hills, seeing the sunset, a blue sky, writing this, headphones on, whisky or wine in hand. Are there many better things?
My favourite albums so far include:

  • Depeche Mode – Spirit is a great album, anthemic and very relevant to the bullshit of the world as we slide like a turd down a helter-skelter into who knows what.
  •  Gas (Wolfgang Voigt) – slow and big and stripped bare
  • The National – sorry! I like them!!
  • Ought – Beautiful Blue Sky is 8 minutes of genius and joy
  • Thurston Moore’s new album is one of long songs that twist and grow and take you on a journey. Mostly a smooth joyous journey.
  • Oh, Slowdive. An album of beauty. 


Day Six: The Day the Demons Came

A very long day. Involving a wonderful breakfast with coffee and feet in the Uisge Labhair, in preparation for taking the immense Ben Alder from behind. Straight up it. It was all a bit much for Nick who sadly vommed on a multitude of occasions as we struggled up the stream that came out of Ben Alder’s gaping rear. 

We won’t mention the other Munro Pongo was due to take as she had no bloody idea where it was. First it was ‘that hill’ (and having been on Ben Alder before, on a vile cold wet day, I can’t remember there being a Munro where Pongo pointed, but being dim witted and of shoddy memory I just had a vague thought of I’m sure that’s not the second Munro and failed to communicate this. And it wasn’t. Indeed it measures 903 metres so isn’t too far off, other than approximately 4.5 miles. 
So we parted and Nick and I slowed to fight the nausea and Pongo shot off to bag her hills. Which she did (the right ones too).
And so the day was long. From the summit we traversed round to the col and descended on (eventually) good paths, past the easily pronounced Loch ã Bhealaich Bheithe and down past the apparently ‘closed due to asbestos’ Culra bothy (I say apparently as it was rammed the night before), and onwards to Loch Ericht and eventually into Dalwhinnie, where the bunkhouse people took great care of us – like washing and drying our clothes free of charge and letting us camp outside.
And so shagged out (might as well maintain the theme) we were to bed. It wasn’t the best night as it was noisy but it was fine to have a shower and a lot of chips and beer, and clean clothes after a sweaty day in lovely weather. And Ben Alders rear is very sexy.

Day Five: Bloody hell its cold

Bloody hell its cold; I’m in bed under a down quilt wearing a down jacket a synthetic jacket and a merino base layer. Fuck it’s cold. But I’m watching golden clouds float by, against a blue sky, watching the river flow by; I should be listening to the river flow by but it’s music that fills my head: The Lovely Eggs, Slowdive, and WALL. All joy. Shivering.


Tonight feels like this is what being in the hills is all about. We are behind Ben Alder, to the west, having walked from Meanach Bothy, 16 miles, slowly uphill. Surrounded by hills, mountains, heather, rocks, water, rocks, moss. No trees here as people chopped them all down and deer eat anything that tries to grow. Too many deer and too many estates building roads in the wild places. How they get away with it these (closest in the U.K. anyway) wilderness areas I don’t know.
It was windy. It rained. It was bloody windy. The sky, the clouds have been amazing: grey black white, now orange. Its been bloody windy. The sun shone. The sun hid. The sun ran like fuck from the bad cold winds chasing. Then the sun won the day but the bloody wind persevered until the clouds turned golden. 

Right now it’s chuffing cold.

Its been a lovely day walking with Pongo and Nick. Pongo lived up to her name in a spectacular way close to the mighty angular and almost sinister Corrour Lodge. But we won’t mention The Fart. We are gentlemen. Especially after Pongo bought us a lovely lunch and a welcome shelter from the weather at Corrour Station (cafe/restaurant/B&B); one of the best veggie burgers I’ve ever had.

And later after walking for a few hours we put up tents in the shadow of Ben Alder, then we ate dinner by the river perched on rocks partaking in various things until it became too cold. And here we all are, happy as this is what it’s all about. But bloody hell its cold.

The source of The Fart:

Day Four: from Pong to Physcho via Princess

Time creeps up then kind of jumps out like a bear in the forest, just to make you aware that shit happens. Like time going so fast. 

So day four. We called Mission Control to say we were good and on course the morning of day 4; ooops, it should have been night 3. Alas the pub had prevented said call so a we got a junior bollocking BUT also were asked to help a woman in distress – Louise AKA The Bid. Louise was going solo hardcore style but the 50+mph winds were causing her distress and it was our responsibility, the fundamentally inept us, Pine and Pathetic, Piss Head and Stoner, to cheer her up and bring hope. Which we naturally did with aplomb, sharing the best banter (The Bid may have thought otherwise) and a whole fruit cake and tea,  as we travelled along Glen Nevis and through lush woods and past waterfalls and then into a vaste, wide featureless Glen, surrounded by the Mamores and the Grey Corries, that became a bog trot in shite weather. Yet strangely enjoyable – it felt like the first time we were in the wilderness. 

We left The Bid in the safe hands of her friends who caught us up as we ate more cake and continued up the Glen to Meanach bothy, my third visit (previous visits included abandoning mountain bikes due to excess coal and snow with Jut and Sarah, and the infamous Geoff arse bearing chaps incident that will remain a myth; but George knows Geoff’s arse better than most; nuff said). In the mist drizzle and winds it remains a dark shelter, one that needs a fire to feel welcoming. So we put up the tents and waited, and waited.

For today was the the return of the Pong. Pongo was to meet us at the bothy. But Pongo was late having eaten beyond her 3000 calories and done a Munro and quite a lot of miles. It was ace meeting again. Tomorrow her Physcho tendencies involve a mere 26km, preparation for 30 or so km the next day, when we will allegedly ascend Ben Alder. 

All this without whisky. Bollox I forgot to put some in my re-stock box to Fort Bill.

Oh we found a funky gate too. And it was the return of the Pongo. Jennifer joined us. Blimey. Pongo is now Physcho woman.