I am a roaming Highlander, a native of Braemar
I’ve often roamed the valleys around by Lochnagar
I’ve often ranged the valleys in spite of all command
But now I’m bound to sail the seas unto Van Diemen’s Land (The Braemar Poacher)
Well I’m not sure about heading for a Tasmanian Penal Colony, but a few days from the coast the sea was calling.
Day 10 – Braemar to Shelin of Mark : 32 km
It’d been my intention to scamper up a couple of Lochnagar Munros on my route out of Braemar, honest guv. But festering below my shallow exterior was a wimp about to unleash itself. After a skin full the night before, all it took was an early morning flurry of wind and rain while lying in my tent for me to opt my FWA (Festering Wimp Alternative)
I guess after a wet crossing is probably quite common (and understandable) that people head for the coast by an easier route, I could almost sense the sea from here. But I had no such excuse. It had been a pretty dry crossing so far, no blisters, no aches, no reason other than enjoying the company of other challengers.
So, freshly laundered and smelling of Bold 3 in 1 (which promises to remove struborn odours), I opted to tag along with Dave and Graham through the Balmoral Estate.
There’s not much to report about the stretch through the Ballochbuie Forest, all very pleasant stuff through the pines as the miles trip on by. A couple of JCB road rollers parked by the track had us searching for a coat of arms to see if they were part of the royal fleet (HRH Prince Philip is partial to a quality roller).
We soon joined a few others, David Williams and Ian Sommerville amongst them. I’d intended to have a very short day and only walk as far as Glen Gelder but as David and Ian were heading for Shelin of Mark I decided to tag along for the ride.
Very easy walking up Glen Gelder on good tracks. Dry too, if a little breezy and cool. Not what I’d expected from the early morning flurry. I’ll admit that, as the weather had actually turned out pretty good, glancing up at Lochnagar did prick my guilty conscience a bit.
Descending down to Spittal of Glenmuick, and mid conversation, David stumbled and disappeared southwards ending up flat on his face and pinned to the floor by his pack. In all honesty it could have been a very nasty fall. Falling face first down hill on a rocky path could have ended badly. Luckily apart from the initial shock and a bang to the head David appeared to be intact . I’ve done it myself before, tripped over a tree stump going downhill, and when you’re arms are otherwise engaged with walking poles you just go down like a sack of spuds.
The breeze died away and the sun appeared as we strode across the top end of Glen Muick towards the information cabin at Spittal of Glenmuick. This area is supposed to be effectively off-limits for camping, but there were definitely a few tents hidden away amongst the trees near the carpark. Not challengers however, not unless they were bedded down by lunchtime and carrying 3 birth festival tents.
For future reference I wouldn’t go so far as to recommend the coffee (or tea) at the tourist info cabin. In fact I’d go so far as to advise you just brew your own. Blue Mountain it wasn’t.
The last stretch up and across to Shelin of Mark was the only bit of my entire TGO route where I’d peppered my map with instructions and bearings. I’d read so many stories about the bothy being a sod to locate, hidden out of sight until you virtually trip over it.
Not so in our case. Clear weather, expert micro navigation (and David’s mobile phone) had us drop right on top of it. Can’t say we’d have been quite so lucky in bad weather though. Streams, over-ground and underground, pepper the area, and I can imagine that if you get drawn along by the wrong one then you could end up a tad frustrated and utterly disorientated.
Pitch selection that evening seemed to take longer than the walk itself, none of the potential spots exactly what you’d call a bowling green. Ankle twisting mounds of hummocky grass. Richard (Wanders, Wonders, Worries and Whinges) summed them up best….babies heads. As well as the prize for lexicon on legs, Richard also claimed the prize for top taunt of the TGO. Pitching slightly up stream and up wind of the rest of us, he proceeded to sit outside his tent and fry a steak.
Day 11 – Shelin of Mark to Tarfside : 25 km
The next morning I couldn’t wait to head off. Nothing to do with any exuberance to get up Mount Keen; Richard had been up 30 minutes and was busy frying up sausages. When you’re eating ‘Oats so Simple’ for the tenth morning in a row, there’s only so much a man can take.
I’d had a clear view of Mount Keen from my sleeping bag, and quite honestly it looked like a pleasant mornings amble over a bit of heather. Most times I’m surprised how quickly I cover ground to a point that looks miles away in the distance, so I made a mental note to take it easy and just enjoy the stroll.
Now there’s a reason why my chosen route to Mount Keen doesn’t appear in any recommended guide book; It’s horrible. My own fault entirely. My vetters had warned against it and advised I head down the Water of Mark and then scamper up the side of Mount Keen, avoiding the rough area along the high ground.
To anybody intending walking to Mount Keen from Shelin of Mark, take their advise and don’t follow me.
It all started quite innocent enough, heather interspersed with peat, then peat interspersed with heather, followed rapidly by peat interspersed with peat, and ending in several km of peat interspersed with peat bog.
It was all getting a bit too much like home. At one point, low down in a peat grough that could have swallowed a double decker bus, I could have easily believed I was trudging across Featherbed Moss in the Pennines. You drop down into one of these trenches heading east, and you pop out the other side heading south…..and you don’t even sense that you’ve changed course.
About half way across to Mount Keen, already disorientated by the constant trench leaping and clambering, a thick mist came down. I could only guess where I was at the time, take a series of bearings in generally the right direction and hope for the best. Luckily my best seemed to be OK and couple more km of leg jarring yomping had me at the foot of the rocky screes below the top.
I’m not too ashamed to say I stopped to gasp for breath at several times up that rock strewn slope, I was completely wasted.
What’s the view from Mount Keen like then ? Ask anybody but me. Several hours of exhausting bog hopping and I could just about make out where I was putting my feet. And the trig point wasn’t a place I was going to hang about long at, it was suddenly become absolutely freezing.
A quick compass bearing from the trig, and within 20 yards I stumbled on the M62 stretching far into the distance. The particular junction I joined at even had my namesake carved on a boulder; JB. Well if they were going to name a stretch of road after me it would be rude not to follow.
I think I covered the next 6km in a little under three minutes, it at least felt that way. I comes as a disappointment to me sometimes that after labouring for hours up a hill, the descent is over in a flash. After all that effort I feel cheated. I want to spend hours strolling down like a Cheshire cat, enjoying the scenery and the ability to take in as much oxygen as I need with a single shallow breath. But the ground just sweeps by beneath me and before I’ve blinked I’m at the bottom looking back up. I really must learn to slow down.
What didn’t pass so quickly was the walk from Queens Well to Tarfside. Glen Mark seemed to just keep stretching with every step. Perhaps it was the promise of bacon butties at the end that caused some impatience, but I think that was the first time on the TGO when I was willing the days end to come in sight. And that’s not to distract from the setting, which is fantastic.
In a sad case of speed walking, I picked two lone figures in the distance and gave myself the mental challenge of catching them up by Tarfside. It was close call which could have ended with me going off to sulk in some darkened corner of the village, pride wounded and suffering the realisation my legs aint what the used to be. As it was, Dave and Ian (as they turned out to be), opened the last gate at an unrealistically leisurely pace allowing me to sprint the last yards while they weren’t looking. This is the sign of true gentlemen. Spotting a poor wretch following them at a distance they’d deliberately slowed their pace to an amble and allowed me to save face.
Bacon butties, cakes and tea at St Drostans is a grand way to sooth aching feet. And they were….aching. Quite sore in fact. So much so that they needed extra soothing and so I booked in for dinner that evening. A few cans of ale also helped as a mild anaesthetic, followed by several more at the Masson’s Arms that evening.
It’s easy to see why almost all roads lead to Tafside on the TGO. Camped on the green in the sun that afternoon, sat outside your tent watching more challengers arrive well into the evening, whilst rubbing primula cheese into your heels to prepare them for the road ahead. Yes, it’s a special place indeed.