The next couple of days would be a very sociable affair, walking with the Chuckle Brothers and the man who taught Bear Grylls everything he’s forgotten about wilderness navigation. It was also when a new piece of kit acquired me; A homing hat !
Day 8 – Glenfeshie to Mar Lodge : 26 km
By the time I emerged from my tent in the morning David Williams had already been up several hours, had a brew, limbered up, written a couple of chapters of a dissertation and was ready for the off. Obviously he’s far more at one with the rhythms of nature than myself, and can oft be seen sat outside his tent in a duvet jacket as dawn breaks, attuning himself with his surroundings as the first rays of the sun break over the morning skyline.
I on the other hand, had a lie in.
Another outdoors guru, David Wishart, was busy packing away some hand whittled tarp pegs which he’d fashioned out of a fallen tree the night before. I’d met a more drenched version of David five days previously in Glen Garry forest as I’d been brewing a cup of tea in a forest shelter, and somewhere between the west coast and Glenfeshie nature had relieved him of a few pegs. He’d obviously been running short on protein powder over the first week as I left him struggling to unlock his trekking pole as I set off up the Feshie.
Part way up the Glen I spotted a brown fleece hat lying forlorn besides the path. Spotting the likely owner a way in the distance, a sudden burst of vigour had me soon about to reunite the two together and claim the reward fee and a TGO pat on the back.
‘Not mine mate, my heads far too big for that hat!’, was not the response I was expecting, leaving my carefully honed pack weight almost 80g heavier…..and I already had a hat.
So a few yards out of sight I ditched the hat and sped off as though it might try and follow me, and once a safe distance away I sat down for a drink. Shortly after, an elderly gent sauntered up waving something brown and familiar.
‘I think you dropped your hat lad!’.
I didn’t have the heart to disappoint him, so just thanked him and tucked it behind my rucksack strap.
The falls over the River Eidart are crossed at the head of Glenfeshie before you start the wet trudge over to Geldie Burn, and they make an obvious spot for a photo call. As I approached, Fellbound was poised ready to take a catalogue shot of Graham Weaver sashaying over the bridge. Graham was another challenger I’d bumped several days before, over an evening supping brandy at Spean Bridge.
Completing what was rapidly looking like an old boys reunion, David Wishart caught us up at the falls leaning distinctly to one side. He’d failed to unlock one of his poles, brute force proving ineffective. What was called for was group effort, so each in turn we turned our backs (blokes always do that when untightening something in company) and burst neck vessels trying to unlock it. We can now finally answer the question ‘how many blokes does it take to unlock a Pacer pole?’…four.
Graham and David Wishart turned out to be quite a double act, dubbed the Chuckle Brothers from there on, a fusion of Merseyside and North Eastern whit (forgive the geographical generalization).
The four of us pretty much walked together as a group for the rest of the day and it was probably one of my favourite of the whole crossing; walking and talking interspersed with hilarity.
With Fellbound acting as group pacemaker and cool weather to keep core temperatures down on the forced march, the ground flew past below our feet. I was grateful for the cloud cover without which I’d have been reduced to a pool of sweat on the track.
It wasn’t until Graham decided to remove his day-glow fleece that the sun finally decided it was worth making an appearance. My camera barely registered a difference between the two.
Following a few wraps and Primula at White Bridge I got a sudden burst of energy, and pulled away from the Chuckle Brothers enough to try and ditch that dammed hat again. A quick glance over my shoulder to make sure and, like a resident of Stalag Luft III, I dropped the offending item down the leg of my trouser, and gave it a swift sidewards kick into the heather.
Ten minutes later the Chuckle Brothers marched up grinning. ‘You dropped your hat John’.
The last few miles, now following the Dee past Linn of Dee to Mar Lodge, was walked in glorious sunshine. Beautiful skies, scenery and setting. I can really appreciate why so many people walk through this way on their TGO, even if they’ve done so many time before.
Missing the delights of Mar Lodge had been painted as the equivalent of going on holiday to Cornwall and not having a pasty. And so it proved. After a week in the relative wilds, supping tea and biscuits, camping on the lawn and the promise of a shower was just too good to pass up. Such a shame that the same quirky experience won’t be available on this years Challenge.
Challengers of good breeding had opted for a meal at the lodge that night. Those of us in the cheap seats made do with a beer run to Braemar, and foraging of the scraps of food left by the moneyed gentry. The scraps turned out to be rather large bowls of venison stew, mash and green beans…courtesy of the cooks over-estimating appetites, and Fellbound’s inability to eat it all before it fell to us paupers.
The evening ended with a very pleasant few beers around the gun room fire. If only every wild camp could be this way.
Day 9 – Mar Lodge to Braemar : 7 km (+2 km scenic detour)
I must have had a cracking nights sleep because I had absolutely no problem extracting myself from my sleeping bag next morning, even after the beer. And what a morning. Heavy dew on the lawn and a glorious sunny start to the day.
It was only going to be a short 7 km stroll down the Dee to Braemar today so no rush to get off, but somehow I found myself packed and sat there twiddling thumbs well before 8 am. There was nothing for it but set off and find a nice café and wait for the others to catch up later.
I followed the drive out from Mar Lodge over the Dee to the road enjoying being able to just stare at the views without needing to constantly look down at my feet for fear of tripping over something. I’m no fan of hitting the road, but now and again it has it’s compensations.
Along the way I found a freshly lost antler, still pink on the stump, evidence of it being recently cleaved. Must have been quite a young deer as it only had a few branches. I strapped it to my pack as a fitting memento of the walk; It now sits on my window sill at home.
Rather than follow the road all the way into Braemar I took a diversion into the forest beyond Dairy Cottage, looking to head up behind An Car to a viewpoint near Tomintoul. All seemed to be going well until I started getting a distict sense of deja vu, like I’d seen that turn of the path before..and then emerged from the forest at exactly the point I’d entered it.
No problem, nobody need ever know I can’t read a map. I’d simply hit the road and get into Braemar before anyone notices; At which point David Willaims appeared and scuppered my plan. I had to admit ineptness to a superior woodsman and followed him back into the forest.
David, having examined the pleurococcus on a couple of trees and carefully observed the flight pattern of a murmuration of starlings, then did some trickery with his analogue watch and the sun and pronounced the direction I should in fact have followed. He also made the sensible decision of checking Viewranger to confirm his calculations. We emerged from the forest on the right path but with my self-esteem in tatters.
Having arrived safely in Baemar I recall I spent the rest of the day and evening reconciling myself with bacon butties, cakes, and rather a lot of beer with the Chuckle Brothers. Oh and there was a rather unfortunate incident involving purchase of an inferior blended whiskey, but as I have atoned for this sin in an earlier post, I have no desire to revisit it again.