Day Thirteen – 21.1 miles
Mark and I both have the same plan for the finish, to take the Deeside Way from Ballater to Aberdeen. He plans to do it over three days though, and I want to take two days.
Looking at my map the route is all marked, apart from the section between Aboyne and Kincardine O’Neil. Unless there’s some waymarking on this stretch, I’m assuming that you have to go down the road here.
I’m ready quite early and end up setting off before Mark.
It’s very quiet.
It’s very pleasant. The occasional commuter cycles by.
For most of this morning, I’m walking through a distinctly rural area.
Sadly, I see some remnants still not sorted, from the floods a couple of years ago.
I’m starting to understand why I’ve heard that the Deeside Way makes a very pleasant ending to the Challenge.
It runs parallel to the A93 for a while, but I don’t really notice it, there’s too much greenery around. I come off the track briefly for a mid morning break at Dinnet. I notice our van parked up – Geoff’s obviously gone for a walk from here with the dogs!
I don’t go in, but buy an ice cream from a nearby cafe.
Continuing on my way, I have Second Lunch next to a gliding club, then eventually reach Aboyne.
As I suspected, when I pop out onto the road in the town, all waymarking for the route just stops. I’ve nothing marked here on my map either, so I try and find what looks like a bit of a route through on the south side of the A93. This doesn’t work – a housing estate has been built there now. So, in the absence of anything more obvious, I assume you’re expected to go down the road.
This doesn’t work either. It’s far too busy and after being nearly squished several times, I retrace my steps and plan a route along some minor roads and tracks to the north of the A93 – a bit of a long way round, but hopefully safer.
I can hardly believe it then, when almost as soon as I’ve turned off onto one of the ‘yellow’ roads, I suddenly pick up waymarks again, on what looks like a brand new section of trail! Back onto a pleasant track, through some woods and I’m soon safely on the outskirts of Kincardine O’Neil.
A sudden heavy downpour has me reaching for my waterproofs and as I pass the local church, I spy Mark sitting in the porch, having a break. I go in and join him. We inevitably have a bit of a discussion about the difficulty of finding the route out of Aboyne. He also had a bit of difficulty, but looking at his map, he obviously has a newer version than me, as part of this section is marked on his.
I’m aware that Rich Flint is also on the trail, a few miles behind us – Geoff having already sent me a text earlier to say that Rich was drinking tea and eating cake with him in the van. I send Rich a message then, to warn him about the route problems here, just in case he has an older edition of the map like me.
And it transpires that John Boy is around, too! I get a message from him saying he’s currently having scones and tea a few miles in front of us, at Potarch. It’s almost busy!
Mark and I carry on together now. We discover that we’re both aiming for the same camping spot tonight, so with the wonders of modern technology I screen grab our intended camping spot from Viewranger and message it to Rich, in case he wants to join us there later.
The last few miles pass quickly with Mark to chat to. Geoff is in the car park when we get there. Mark pitches his tent outside and joins us for a meal. An hour or so later, Rich turns up. He pitches too, then Geoff cooks him some dinner. We have a Challenge Party.
Day Fourteen – 20 miles
Rich is planning on taking the Deeside Way all the way to Aberdeen today, Mark is going as far as Peterculter and I want to get all the way to the coast as well. To make it easier for Geoff – who’s meeting me at the beach – I decide to leave the Way at Crathes and pick some quiet roads up across to Newtonhill, instead.
I’ve got about 20 miles to do again, so I set off early-ish. It’s obviously going to be a hot one, but the first few miles are in shade.
I leave the Way behind properly at Crathes and start walking down the B9077, and the heat is becoming quite intense. The road is also unbelievably busy, both cars and wagons skimming past me. I’m not happy. In fact, I’m pretty scared.
A couple more miles and I turn off onto the smaller roads. These are much quieter and I breathe a sigh of relief.
I’ve not gone too far when to my amazement, Geoff appears, driving towards me. He stops. He’s been driving on my route down to the coast to wait for me, and has been totally thwarted by a new road/motorway that is being built. The roads I’m planning on walking down are closed.
Suddenly, I feel totally weary. Suddenly, I don’t care if I junk the whole thing. I ring control and speak to Judith. She chivies me on, she won’t let me junk it. I can get taken back to where I left the Deeside Way at Crathes, and start again for the afternoon.
So, that’s what I do. And as I start again where I left off on the Way a few hours back, and see Mark coming towards me, I begin to think this is meant to be. And as we round a corner a couple of minutes later and come across Rich again, I’m sure it’s meant to be.
But I’ve lost miles and I’ve lost time, so there’s no way I’ll make the coast now today. I decide to stop at Peterculter for the night, like Mark is doing.
The three of us carry on together, enjoying each other’s company. It’s early evening by the time we reach Peterculter and I’m not feeling brilliant. It’s been hot, I’m not sure I’ve eaten enough and I’m tired.
Day Fifteen – 8.7 miles
A good night’s sleep and I feel determined again. I set off about 8:30 – I’ve not many miles to go, but Geoff has to then drive me to Montrose to make sure I sign out before 5pm.
Shortly after setting off, the Deeside Way has to cross this new bypass. A Pelican Crossing is in operation here…
An hour or so down the way, I sit down for a break and can hardly believe my eyes when I once more see Mark coming down the trail towards me. We team up again.
We’re into the centre of Aberdeen, in Duthie Park, before we know it. The trail is surrounded by greenery all the way in, so we hardly notice being in the city.
A cafe stop is had and then we set off for the headland. Mark is aiming for Girdle Ness Lighthouse, I’m aiming for a different car park, further round.
It’s another hot day. Crossing the River Dee, I get a phone call from Geoff.
‘You won’t believe this, but the car park where we’ve arranged to meet is a construction site and the beach is all fenced off.’
You couldn’t make it up.
We arrange to meet at another car park on the other side of the headland…
And finally, I’m there. I quite like the bustling port backdrop to the photos. My dad was in the Merchant Navy, my Grandad ran away to sea when he was young and I’m related to Grace Darling. I’ve always felt a kind of affinity to ships and the sea.
Euphoria hasn’t quite set in yet, but I do feel a bit pleased with myself.
We can’t waste time though. A quick lunch, Geoff drives me to Montrose and I end up having the infamous pleasure of being the very last person to sign out.