Day Ten – 14.9 miles
I have a shuffle about of plans. My feet are still not perfect, but they’re improving. In an ideal world, I would now have a couple of days’ rest to sort them out properly but I haven’t got that option on the Challenge. And successfully finishing the Challenge is now uppermost in my mind. It’s more important, in fact, than any route choice I make.
My original plan for the next two days takes me over Bynack More and onto Cock Bridge. I decide to alter this for something I assume will be easier walking underfoot, maximising the healing potential for my feet. It will mean a lot of road walking on the second day, but that doesn’t bother me – the flat surface of tarmac is currently more comfortable than a rocky path.
I set off from Loch Morlich then, initially heading for Nethy Bridge.
I’ve actually done this route before, many years ago. It’s very pleasant, passing An Lochan Uaine and Ryvoan Bothy, before heading into the Abernethy Forest.
It’s too early for First Lunch, so I don’t call in at the bothy. Last time I was here, there was snow down and a herd of reindeer pottering about. No such luck today.
The forest is quiet and peaceful, and I find a spot in here for First Lunch.
About 20 years ago, I stayed in a hotel in Nethy Bridge when I was doing a Winter Skills course, but I’d forgotten what a pretty village it is. It also has a shop – which is open – and I buy some more Dairylea Dunkers (the Bread Stick variety this time) and the obligatory can of Coke, and have Second Lunch.
Picking up the minor road which crosses to the A939, I continue on a few more miles. I’m surprised at how pleasant and quiet this road is. Good views and reasonable grass verges, too.
I pass a few B&Bs on the outskirts of Nethy Bridge and there are several spots (complete with small streams) further up on the road where I can pitch a tent quite happily. I don’t object though, when Crowther B&B services turns up. And it seems just a bit daft to pitch the tent outside the van…
Day Eleven – 17.4 miles
Geoff is panicking. He’s worrying about my Road Day. In contrast, the thought of it isn’t bothering me at all. I tell him I’ll be fine.
In fact, the A939 is nowhere near as busy as you might expect and there is once again easy grass verge walking for much of the way. The weather is fresh and dry, and the views are far ranging.
I’m happy, content and singing.
Shortly after Bridge of Brown, I find a nice track which cuts a corner off.
A couple of miles before Tomintoul, I find a footpath which takes me into the town, avoiding the main road.
Yesterday, James told me that Tomintoul has loads of good eating places so I’m looking forward to a nice lunch. As I enter this ribbon development though, it has all the appearance of some deserted town out of a Spaghetti Western.
I’m hungry now and it feels like the town goes on forever, but all of a sudden it opens out and The Old Fire Station Tea Room comes into view.
Lunch is delicious.
I speak to Geoff on the phone. He is still worrying. There is an alternative to the road which I can take from here – along the side of the River Avon to Inchrory, and then the track to Cock Bridge. It looks good, but taking that route would make the distance for today 24 miles, instead of just over 17. I don’t want to walk that far today.
So, I continue on my merry way. The sun has come out and there’s a pleasing breeze. I now have to climb over the pass at Lecht. I’m not a fan of the look of ski resorts in the summer, but nevertheless, still feel good when I reach the top. I call in for an ice cold Coke, then a German couple who’ve cycled up ask me to take their photo in front of the sign.
From here, it’s not far to Cock Bridge. I’ve had a Good Day. With hindsight (a wonderful thing) I reckon my feet would have been fine on my original route over Bynack More. But for now, I’ve got a real buzz knowing that I’ve just walked nearly 18 miles today, and not had a single problem with my toes.
Day Twelve – 13.3 miles
I’m now back on my planned route and heading for Ballater. It’s promising to be a hot day.
Following the Old Miltary Road today, involves more tracks and paths than tarmac. It’s delightful.
Another Good Day. I see no one walking at all, until another Challenger rolls up while I’m eating Umpteenth Lunch, only a couple of miles out of Ballater. This is Mark. We have a short chat and agree to meet up again later – we’re both spending the night at Ballater Campsite.
Geoff and the dogs are waiting for me at the site. And shortly after I arrive, Mark turns up. He pitches near us, and joins us for afternoon tea and cakes. Very civilised!