May 22nd. North Water Bridge to St. Cyrus

Woke to a cool but brilliantly sunny morning with a heavy dew. However there were heavy clouds to the north west. I quick check of the weather radar confirmed they were heading my way, so a quick breakfast, a fast pack up and left in full rain gear just as the first drops began to fall. It didn’t last long, but short showers reappeared at intervals.

It was a morning of walking back roads and lanes thru the rich agricultural lands in these parts. Rape seems a popular crop this year and certainly adds a splash of colour to the landscape.

A few nice houses along the way

Gates to a farm!

First view of the sea

In St. Cyrus I stopped for a read and cake , first there. Eventually any challenger came in, she had already been to the sea a dipped her toes in. So of I set again, in a good shower, to complete the challenge.

At the cliff tops I discovered that most had bypassed the cafe and gone straight to the beach.

So I joined them

It’s done. Now I just have to get up the cliff again.

At least when I got to the top I found all the benches I had been missing along the way.

Then it was back to the cafe, now packed with challenges to wait for Colin and Shiela who were driving across from Ayr to meet me.

Duely met we drove a few miles to Montrose, I signed in, got my certificate, tee shirt, and a pair of socks! Signed up for the celebration dinner tomorrow and left with Colin and Shiela to explore the town, find our B&Bs and have diner. Tomorrow we are going to drive up to Aberdeen which they have never seen. (It’s been about 60 year for me). I also now have directions to my grandparents old house so we hope to find that also.

May 21st. Tarfside to North Water Bridge

Not a good night, it rained continuously, but it kind stopped at 6.30. I packed up but left the tent up while I went and had breakfast.

Then it shake the tent as dry as possible, pack it, and hit the road. Not convinced the rain had really finished I started off in full rain gear. This got gradually shed as the day went on until I was in shirtsleeves.

In the lowlands now, back among the marigolds and bluebells

Most of the day was road walking. More than I planned . I had wanted to cross to the path on West Bank of the river after about 5 k, but found the bridge locked.

I briefly thought of fording the river, but it was in spate from the nights rains . So much for that plan. More road walking. A view back past Tarfside to the hills

Past some highland cattle

And massive ploughed field ready for? Potatoes? Trees?

Eventually I was able to leave the road for a very nice section beside a gorge. Hard to photograph, but the water was really rushing through.

This section should have been longer, but there had been a landslide so it was back to the road for a brief period til I got to the village of Edzell. This was about 2.30. A late fish and chip lunch in the company of many fellow hikers and then on for the last 7k to this campsite.

Arrived about 4. Shortly after getting the tent up the heavens darkened and a thunderstorm started. I has only stopped raining for brief periods since.

When the rain first struck we retired to the reception area for a chat. I got to hear Happy Birthday sang for me.

In a brief intermission in the rain I managed to boil some water to make my supper.

Now for another early night

Fitbit: 39855 steps, 31.9 k, 340 vertical feet, 5300 calories.

May 18th Rest day in Braemar and May 19th and May 20th

A good day for it as it rained most of the morning. Met others for a second breakfast, more like 11sis for me, at 10.30 and watched a steady stream of bedraggled hikers make their way into the village.

Long chat with the couple from Toronto. They live close to Siri so we had a fair amount in common.

I then moved on, explored the village a bit and ended up having a salad lunch at another establishment, also full of challengers, but many tourists as well.

After this I went back to the hostel and napped and worked on Suduko that Colin had sent me.

6.30 out to dinner. Minor alarm at dinner when I found that I would need cash at Tarfside. So dinner was followed by a quick visit to Spar to use their cash machine. I also took the opportunity to buy some sandwiches for lunch.

9. Bed

19th Braemar to Glas-Allt-Sheil

Managed to leave just before 8. Legs feel much better for a day off. Grey sky and coolish, but not raining. I decided to be lazy and take the road out of town rather than the up and over and down scenic route, but at least I got to see Braemar Castle,

deer grazing by the river,

and another grand lodge.

Then it was into the woods, ignoring forestry workers signs, i reckoned, correctly, it was Sunday and nobody would be working. Again nice open scotch pine forests, obviously managed as there was next to no deadfall.

Signs of regeneration work in some areas, including special deer fences designed to be visible to low flying birds.

After a while I was above the tree line. All this while the forestry tracks were well maintained and made for easy walking.

Around 11.30 I reached a bothy and stopped for an early lunch.

My route now was a path beside a watercourse. I soon abandoned it. Very wet and washed out in places. Instead I struck out cross country to the main track up the valley. This worked out fine. Then it was a long grind up to the top of the valley. here are the views lining back and forward.

A rising traverse followed by a steep descent beside a waterfall brought me here about 2.30.

The bothy is well appointed but I elected to pitch my tent outside, along, by the end of the evening a veritable village of us. No we are not in the main house but in a converted stable round the back.

Two Canadians on their honeymoon here, their last day of day hiking from here. An early arrived was a guy from Linton , which gave us a lot in common, including sailing clubs. He also lit the pot belly stove which soon warmed the bothy nicely, and allowed the drying of socks.

Dinner, early night just before we it started to rain.

Fitbit: 30,700 steps, 24.5k, 720 vertical feet, 4500 calories.

May 20th. Glas allt Shiel to Tarfside

Left at 7.30 having had a cooked breakfast and a cup of tea. I was the first away, apart from the honeymoon couple who slipped away quietly earlier.

An hours walk brought me to the other end of the lake

and the start of the days climb over the Grampians.

Some people had camped here in contradiction to advise, plus there a was a group of about 18 seniors gathering for a day hike, fortunately not going my way.

So up the hill initially following a path beside a creek.

At the top the navigation issue started.

I was going to go right, but I had met up with a Steve who had done it before who recommend left. I decided to stick with him. Anyway it worked out find and together we walked the heather a deer tracks to the top.

Here I stopped for a break while he set off down. The first part of the down was very steep and unpleasant. Then followed a long, long trudge down into Loch Lee.

This was eventually reached and another break taken.

Then on passed the other end of the lake and it’s ruined church

and on to Tarfside.

Still no cell reception.

Hospitality at Tarfside was spectacular. I had tea and two cakes, and then made a big mistake. I turned down a room! I booked in for supper and went a put up my tent in the designated field.

The I returned for a shower and the second setting of dinner. All very convivial.

The days on and off rain had started again as when I made my way back to the tent, and it continued all night. Very noisy.

Fitbit: 42740 steps, 34.24k, 1560 vertical feet, 5951 calories

May 17th Corrour bothy to Braemar

The wind dropped overnight and cloud cover moved in so the Tempe did not drop too badly and there was little dew. Nevertheless I was up early. During the night another couple had arrived and set up their tent some distance away. My only other visitor was this chap who posed for me.

I returned to the bothy and made a cup of tea and had breakfast. Then I broke camp and by 7.45 was on the trail. Here is an early look back to the bothy before a reached the crest and bend that took me into the next valley.

Above is a panoramic picture from the crest.

The trail was a mixture of good

and not so good

The hills were all very quiet, no animals, just the occasional bird song.

First interesting place , after about 2 hours, was a Ford. There was a bridge a ways up stream, but after a quick inspection I decided to just walk thru it.

It didn’t go over my knees and I got across no problem.

Shortly after this I met my first person of the day. A solitary lady on a day hike to bag a local hill, on the far side of the Ford. She thought she would be using the bridge.

After this the path became a track and the walking much easier.

Next stop was Derry Lodge, a popular camping spot it seemed. A large group of kids on a school outing, as well as other challengers camped breaking camp. The lodge has seen better days.

Next it was on to Mar lodge.

I arrived about 12 and left about 1, they were offering tea and cookies in the stables

Long chats with other challengers.

Next it was on for the final stretch of road walking into Braemar following the river. This looking back from along the way.

En route a herd of deer decided they had had enough of being by the river and came and crossed the road just ahead of me.

Then it was into Braemar, a late lunch in company of some familiar faces.

Then on to the hostel etc etc

Dinner out with a group of fellow hikers then bed. Late by recent standards, but tomorrow is a rest day.

Fitbit stats: 30,700 steps, 24k, 720 vertical feet ( it was nearly all down hill) and 4522 calories.

May 16th. Aviemore to Corrour Bothie

Another sunny day, but cooler, with a easterly breeze.

Left the hotel at 7.30. A bit of road walking at first, but soon was on a forest path thru the pine trees.

Not many people about, a group of cyclists was about it.

After crossing a river

the path started to climb more seriously, but still in the woods. I passed a few sets of campers on this stretch, they were just getting up.

Eventually the path reached the tree line, and that’s when the effect of the cool Easterly wind was felt. On went another layer.

A long stretch,

after many false summits, brought me to the watershed.

Looking forward

Above, looking back

Before this I had been overtaken by a group of three challengers from Portland.

Also there was a gentleman going the other way.

The path was pretty mix. Started very smooth, but got worse the higher I got. There were a couple of boulder fields and a small snow crossing.

I stopped at the top for a while and found I still had cellphone service so fired off a couple of “all well” texts including pics of the view. This was about 12 I think.

Then it was on down. The path was much wetter on this side, but otherwise much the same. The burn going this side was just as full and noisy as on the north side.

Boulder fields for some reason are harder to go down thru than up.

A nice view up a side valley

Eventually my destination for the day showed up.

I took a short cut to the bridge to it and got my first wet feet of the day.

When I arrived one pair were just packing up to leave having had their fun on the peaks for the day. A couple of German med students were using the locale to make a cup of tea before continuing on. Now 4.45 I am alone.

I opted to put up my tent, despite the wind. Apart from a mischievous groundsheet all went well. It shakes a bit in the wind, but so long as the pegs hold I should be good.

I went in the bothy and made myself a cup of tea out of the wind in there, but I did need my headlight to see what I was doing.

The tent continues to act like a greenhouse so I am nice and cosy, but more clothes will be needed later when I venture out.

Knees were good today. A couple of aching episodes but not enough to make we resort to drugs. I did however more than occasionally have to tell myself to stand straighter and put my shoulders back.

7.30

All by my lonesome. This meant to be a very busy bothy, but not tonight. I used it to make supper out of the wind but am now in snug in my bag. The wind has dropped a bit so I should have a reasonably quiet night.

Fitbit stats: 33217 steps, 26.6k, 2660 vertical feet, 4468 calories.

May 15th. Clune farm to Aviemore

Dawn

Knowing it was going to be a warm day I tried to get an early start. Managed to leave at 7.30. The gas lasted just long enough to boil my water for my muslei and a small cup of tea, thank goodness. After close examination of the map I decided on a small variation to the start of the route. Longer but gentler slope, and no need to take to the heather.

The cherry trees were coming into blossom at the farms houses along the road.

After s while I left the road and followed a track to the ridge.

All went well and in about 2 hours I was at the top looking south to the Cairngorms and tomorrow’s challenge.

My knees started complaining shortly before the top so I fed them a couple of Tylenol and they quietened down. However they really liked it when I took to the heather parallel to the track on the way down. Nice a springy underfoot.

Once of the mountain proper began the long slog to Aviemore. Two highlights along the way. Firstly a small holding that would delight Sophie, with a similar selection of bantams, guinea fowl, doves, etc. However no turkeys, sheep or alpacas.

No body at home but I took the liberty of filling my water bladder at their outside tap. I don’t think I was the first as there was a handful of loose change on the sill above the tap. Yes I did add to it.

Next was a nice old bridge

I thought of taking the ford, but decided against it.

Next, many k on, was a superb Ford with stepping stones.

I took the opportunity to give my feet a long cooling which they really enjoyed.

For the final, long, approach to Aviemore, I again deviated from the planned route, keeping much lower, avoiding, so I hoped, more than occasional trips up the mountain side. It meant I was close against the main road, but I thought it a worthwhile compromise as the going was generally quite nice.

On this stretch I also got a good view of tomorrow’s challenge. Up that valley! Still less energetic than going over the top.

Aviemore is a long drawn out community. It seemed to take forever to get to the centre of town, not helped by the fact that I ran out of water about 3 k out, and it was hot. It was a 4 L day till then. Still a nice gelato in the centre of town restored by equilibrium.

After the gelato I continued thru town and out the other side to the hotel. Booked in, took delivery of our resupply package, showered, heaven, sorted and reseated the package, courtesy of the receptionist, and walked back into town to repost it, comfortably beating the 5.30 deadline.

Then beer, pick up supplies for tomorrow, a steak, and then back to the hotel to write this.

An early night is planned.

Fitbit: 42133 steps, 33.7k, 1830 vertical feet, 5633 calories.

May 14th via glen mazeran to Clune farm.

No alarms during the night, though the usual toilet breaks. Finally came to about 7. Found Colin already packing. No change of mind overnight so I took possession of the paper maps, my train ticket from Montrose, the gas cylinder, and his remaining toilet paper. No breakfast so by 8.15 we were on our way, him back down hill, me up.

It was a glorious morning a little cool, but I knew I would soon warm up so I started off in shorts and a shirt for the first time.

Made steady progress up the hill. Apart from the great views back,

the first highlight was a hunters cabin.

Beautifully made with a great view down the valley, and a great door with lovely hinges.

After this, according to my maps, I had to make my way over a path less expanse to a nearby peak. Fortunately, unknown to the ordinance survey, the local lodge had built a track right in the direction I wanted to go to service some shooting hides up there. So that part was easy.

Here’s the view back from the top

Next it really was across terra incognito to the next peak.

Fortunately it has been very dry here recently, so the going was not too bad, it fact I found I could generally follow the bottom of the watercourses up, they were generally going the direction I wanted to go, ie up.

Reaching the peak and the crest over looking glen mazeran I found I had a choice. My original intent was to walk down the ridge between the watersheds to left and right, but it looked a mess. Then I noticed the there was a new, ie not on map, track coming up the valley on my left, so I followed a water coarse down to it. Not quite that simple but I made it down reasonably easily and with dry feet, though at one point one of my poles sunk a foot into the mud, I thought it looked a bit soft, so I tested it and it was.

Then it was a very long walk on the track all the way down the glen.

I stopped part of the way down for a bar and discovered another blister on a toe on right foot this time. Again not causing any problems or pain, but now compeded.

On the way done I saw mountain hares, grouse and pheasants. The estate is obviously managed to maximize its shooting potential with gorse burning and cropping,

but also more distressingly, with trapping.

At the very bottom I came on a very large herd to deer blocking my road. They made short work of a sheep fence when they decided to take off.

At the bottom the small river coming down the glen joins the much bigger Findhorn.

My route for the rest of the afternoon followed said river. Around 2.30 I reached where we had planned to stop and found a campsite.

A bit exposed but the weather is good. I spent most of the rest of the afternoon dozing in the warm sunshine until I had enough energy around 5.30 to record this blog.

In this time I also heard that Colin had made his way safely home.

6.30 dinner. The gas lasted with enough left over, I think, for breakfast. I have skipped my evening cup of tea.

A slightly longer day tomorrow, but with a real bed, a shower, and a restaurant meal to look forward to.

Today’s fitbit stats: 29560 steps, 23.7k, 1640 vertical feet, 4620 calories.

May 13th. Drumnadrochit to bridge above Aberarda House

Our early start went as expected, with Colin ready 1/2 hr before agreed schedule. I was 1/4 hr after him for once. We had time to make tea but Colin wanted to get moving. We crept out.

Our first port of call was the local supermarket, we thought it opened at 7 but it turned out in opened at 6. No camping gas available nor anything Colin wanted for breakfast. I picked up a pint of milk for mine. Then on to the post office/cafe/village store. Again no camping gas, but bread and cheese for Colin and bananas for both of us. Sausage butties for sale but nothing vegetarian so we moved on, joining the convoy of hikers out of town to the ferry jetty.

Arrived in good time so had our breakfasts, mine milk, a chocolate bar which had made it from Canada to this point, and a banana.

Ten of us on the boat, we were the only first timers.

A smooth crossing, no monsters.

Then on the road again in our different directions.

One other couple turned out to be going our way, but they were putting in an extra 4 hours which we had not planned on doing. We stuck to our plan and had a nice shorter day.

The first hour or so was steadily uphill through woods with wild primroses every where.

Then we reached a more open and agricultural area and saw the mountains which are the next two days challenge.

Around midday , just before we had to leave the road, we found an occupied house and Colin begged a kettle of boiling water for his lunch, and we also filled up our drinking bladders.

After Colin had had his porridge and I my bars and trail mix we continued on. The path up to where we planned to, and are, camping turned out to be a good track and much a gentler incline than I had inferred from reading the contours. More attention to detail is required Michael.

Anyway we found a nice, if slightly lumpy place to camp and by 2pm were set up and napping.

I discovered I had 4 bars on my phone and received texts from mission control. I managed to text Tina a couple of times before the connection froze up on us. No internet either. Very annoying.

After my nap I went to the nearby river and got some water to boil for my dinner. Very peaty coloured, and still so after being filtered. Does this mean that the first nights frost has done a number on the filter. We don’t know. Very annoying, but looks like we will have to minimize its use.

More wild life today, an orange tipped butterfly, grouse (2), grr footed geese ( says Colin), cuckoos (heard no seen), an oyster catcher, and various other birds mainly just heard, and a small herd of deer.

Now almost 5 and the first signs of the day cooling off. I hiked most of the day in shorts and a shirt which was a nice change.

Another shorter than average day planned for tomorrow, and again I and my body are happy with that, I just hope we find as nice a campsite. I think Colin is happy to have had an easier day.

Fitbit stats as of 5pm: 28000 steps, 22.5 k, 1300 vertical feet and 4200 calories burnt. An easier day.

postscript: it seems Colin was more glad of the short day than I thought. He has decided to abandon the challenge. One of his knees is really aching. A new development for him and he does not want to aggravate them further without knowing the cause, and is unwilling to take my anti-inflammatories. So there we are. I am going to carry on by myself and see how it goes. Should be ok. Only obvious problem is lack of camping gas, but freeze dried food does not require hot water, it is just quicker to dehydrate with it, and of course tastes better warm.

May 12th. Carrich to Drumnadrochit

Woke to a mildy frosty but bright morning . Saved the worst to it by camping between some tall trees.

Left as usual about 8.30. Made our own breakfast as the cafe didn’t open until 9. The camp site was well appointed, with indoor cooking area, drying room, laundry room etc. Somebody had also donated a box of bananas, free for the taking. Supplemented our breakfasts well. A good scattering of fellow Challengers, our gregarious friend amongst them as he had another change of plan.

The hike started with 7k of road walking, the first half of which, after crossing the Africa

was uphill. Then open land

gradually down to the next river.

We were moving along quite well, definitely felt more energetic than yesterday, but still well short of full trail fitness.

Here we were meant to leave the road, cross the river and take to forestry tracks on the other side. However we were advised that the was forestry work going on an a detour was in place, said detour going a long way up and then back down again. After consulting our maps we decided to continue along the road to the next bridge and rejoin the track there, hopefully after the detour. We were successful. At least as far as that part of the diversions was concerned.

The next few k of the trail was very pleasant, relatively flat and a good surface passing thru a variety of forests, but mostly conifers with massive piles of moss at their bases.

Then, at a cros roads we found a bench and stopped for a cup of tea. It was about 1 when we left. Then started a very long upward slog which seemed to go on forever. But eventually this too passed.

A look back from the top. If you look closely you can see snow covered peaks in the distance.

Then we started downhill but some ran into more forestry work,

were diverted from our desired descent. After a very long detour we finally made it down to the lanes that led to Drumnadrochit.

And there is Loch Ness in the background.

In the village we stopped for a late lunch 3.30, and then found our hostel. Shower, laundry etc, then out for dinner, quite a light on on my part, but excellent food.

Now back in our room getting ready for an early start tomorrow. The 8.00 ferry across the loch, and its an hours walk to the ferry!

So good night.

Fitbit says: 34778 steps, 27.8 k, 1480 vertical feet, 5200 calories burnt.

May 11th Strawberry cottage to Cannich

First the night. Lots of rain, most of which I slept through, and apparently I missed a large herd of deer coming down to the river on the opposite bank. Beggar. Anyway, after the rain passed by the skies cleared and the temperature plummeted. I woke to have a pee to find the grass covered with frozen rain.

I had just got back in my lovely warm bag when I remembered that the water filter was out side, and freezing them is fatal to their innards, so up a gain on a quick rescue mission. Hopefully in time.

Come the real morning the tent was covered in ice, inside the condensation had frozen to the walls and ceiling. But at least the sun came up and it was a nice morning. Here is our campsite and the last tent being taken down.

And the view in the opposite direction

That’s Strawberry Cottage just over the river from us.

We left about 8.30. Neither Colin nor I were full of bounce.

The cottages are accessible by a track which we followed down the glen.

until we cross the river by a bridge and came to the main road down the glen. Here we decided to take the road rather than continue on the trail which left the road and headed up the side of the glen before contouring along above the road.

This decision was immediately rewarded by a bacon butty and a proper toilet, courtesy of the organizes of a triathlon. Here are the competitors leaving the start.

By now the day had clouded over and for the rest of the afternoon we had intermittent showers.

We eventually descended to the lower land at the end of the glen, and trudged wearily on through the petty spring day

To get here about 3.30. About 25 k , though my Fitbit says I have done 34 in total. Less energetic than yesterday, only 5525 calories.

We had a celebratory ice cream, found our campsite. Returned to the village for a pub supper and so to bed.

This is a google map of our route, sorry not very informative definitely not our times, we were dragging.

Over to Drumnadroichit tomorrow