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TGO Challenge 2009 - A Third Walk Across Scotland

Day 6 - Wednesday 13th May
River Dulnain to Aviemore
(10 miles/500 metres ascent)

TGO Challenge 2009 - Part 5

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I had rather an unsettled night's sleep, for no apparent reason, since I wasn't cold. I woke at 0415 and read until 0500. Then I slept until 0600 but, reluctant to get up, I dozed until 0700. Suddenly remembering the Aviemore Exos plan, though, I sat up at that stage and began to boil some water for a drink.

First, though, I unzipped the flysheet to see what sort of a day it was, and was amazed and delighted to find that it was yet another lovely sunny morning! It was hard to believe that we were suddenly having such fantastic weather, in view of how dreadful it had been just a few days earlier.

Yet more wonderful weather!

Once my drink was ready I got out and wandered over to say hello to Colin. He was already up and about, and I took the opportunity to have another look at his tarp. It really is an amazing creation. He designs them himself, and, although he's a dab hand with a sewing machine, he gets a bloke in the States to make the tarps up for him. He told me that he felt this one was just about perfect for his needs, but nonetheless he'd probably make a small tweak or two and have another one made for his next Challenge.

Colin's tarp

Back at Errogie, Ali and Sue had been telling me about the excellent Stoats Porridge Bars that they were carrying for breakfast. They're basically a flapjack, but packed with delicious organic porridge and available in a range of yummy flavours. Ali had very kindly given me one as a sample, and I ate it now with my drink. It was indeed delicious.

I also took the opportunity to inspect my feet. Whether it was the combination of two wet days followed by three dry and dusty days, or simply that my new pair of Roclites were not a perfect fit, I really don't know, but I'd developed a large blister on the fourth toe of each foot, where those toes had been squished against my little toes, and they were now so painful that I needed to do something about them. Colin had a pin, and so I ran it through the flame from my lighter a couple of times and then popped the blisters, adding blister-related first aid supplies to the mental list that I was compiling for the shops in Aviemore.

Eep! Blister...

With so much time in hand I'm not sure how the morning began to get away from me, but it did, and it was about 9am by the time we left. I felt rather guilty because, whereas I'd been planning an assault on the walking shops in Aviemore, Colin, since Torridon, had been planning an assault on the 'Eat All You Can' pizza and pasta joint. He thought it was probably only open between 12 noon and 2pm, and although it was only 10 miles to Aviemore we'd need to press on pretty quickly, now, in order not to miss it. We therefore set off for the Burma Road at a great rate of knots.

As we were walking I recorded an update for Bob. It was perhaps unfortunate that we struck off up the side of a hill just as I'd begun to do it, but I just panted a lot and pressed on.

Colin spotted some interesting markings in a rock as we walked, and we stopped to take a closer look. The call of the pizza/pasta place was loud and urgent, though, and so we didn't linger.

Odd formations in a rock

The map shows the path as lying to the east of the River Dulnain, but Colin had taken that one before and found it a little unpleasant in places. He'd therefore suggested that we should take our chances to the west of the river, and I'd happily agreed. In fact the walking was excellent there, and it took us past a series of interesting bothies.

Outside the first of the bothies

And inside -- basic, but more than adequate

On the way to the second bothy we passed another rock with what were presumably ancient formations recorded on its surface.

The valley was peaceful and beautiful, and the river sparkled in the early morning sunlight.

We passed several dead deer, though, of which this was the first.

Death of a deer

The second bothy was luxurious...

Dulnain Bothy (I think)

...with an impressive fireplace...


...and even an array of pots stashed neatly along a shelf.


Once again we didn't stay long, though, and soon we were making our way past small Mediterranean-looking trees...

Wee tree

...and an expanse of dead gorse...

...towards a third bothy, the interior of which was one of the most interesting I've seen. Clearly it provides a comfortable and well-used refuge for somebody!

Home-made ash tray :)

And decorations

I think it was after leaving the third bothy that we passed the remains of a deer draped across a wire fence. For a moment I was confused by the sight, but then it occurred to me that the deer must have collided with the fence in some way, and fallen forwards, breaking its back or neck. It was quite an upsetting sight, and we stood in silence for a few moments, thinking about the deer's dismal end and hoping that it hadn't lain there, suffering. I couldn't bring myself to take a photograph.

Time was creeping inexorably forwards, though, and so we continued, and as the morning wore on we began to discuss pizzas, and make big plans for lunch. Eventually we (well okay--Colin) spotted the bridge that heralds the start of the Burma Road, and not long afterwards we started the long, long, long climb, which was in due course followed by what felt at times like an even longer descent.

The Burma Road in the distance -- Hurrah!

As we began to descend we had a clear view of the Cairgnorms, and I was filled with excitment at the prospect of getting up onto the tops, particularly in this sort of bright sunshine.

The Cairngorms -- much closer now

As we walked down through the woods near the bottom of the track we heard somebody running along behind us, and when we turned round it was a woman with a lovely dog. She asked if we were doing the Challenge, and when we told her we were she told us that she'd done it many times herself, and that she'd been keeping an eye out for passing Challengers. We were the first she'd seen :) Stupidly, I've forgotten her name, but it was lovely to meet and chat unexpectedly with somebody who's done the walk. The camaraderie of the Challenge is very real, and thriving :)

I was greatly relieved to get down to the road, despite the rather sinister little sign we found there...


...not because we'd covered a great many miles, but because I hadn't taken a proper look at the map, and fondly imagined that Aviemore was now only yards away. It was about 1315, and I was relieved that we weren't going to miss the pizza, but I was even more anxious to get my hands on an Exos before the imaginary queue of purchasers that I'd been picturing since Craig snapped the last one up.

Disappointingly for me, though, Aviemore turned out to be about 2.5 kilometers further, and so we put our heads down and trogged along as fast as our legs would take us. My feet were burning hot, and my blisters were stinging, but neither of us wanted to stop until we'd actually got there. I began to picture a pint of something cold and refreshing, and I almost squealed with delight when Colin finally pointed to a building a little distance ahead and told me it was the pizza/pasta restaurant. Whoohoo!

In the circumstances, then, it was rather a crushing blow to discover, upon arriving at the door, that the restaurant was closed! Closed on Wednesdays, in fact, until further notice! Oh noes!!!


I was sorry to miss out on the pizza, but Colin had been anticipating it with such enthusiasm, and for so long, that for a moment I was afraid that he might sink to the ground and refuse to go any further *g*

Reflections upon what might have been

We sat down at a table outside, though, to compose ourselves catch our breath, and eventually Colin began to talk about an Australian restaurant a little further along the road. "Yum!", I thought, secretly... "That sounds a lot more interesting than any old pizza/pasta place!" I expressed a desire to check it out (in suitably mournful tones), and so after 10 minutes or so we picked up our rucksacks and trogged on.

Crushed Challengers: tired, hungry and temporarily disappointed

It was probably 5 minutes or so before the main drag of shops came into sight. Aviemore wasn't what I'd been expecting. I think I'd been expecting something older--more like Braemar, perhaps, or Ballater--and the slightly tacky appearance of the place rather took me by surprise. The shops were very welcome, though, and at that particular moment the second most important thing on my mind was now the Australian restaurant, and therefore it was with keen anticipation that I began to scan the menu as we arrived.

The menu at the Australian restaurant

It looked perfect, and I felt my tummy begin to rumble as we stepped aside to let a couple of people out before we carried our rucksacks in. If there is a God, though, he/she/it clearly wasn't smiling on us this lunchtime, because the emerging couple stopped in the doorway to tell us that the restaurant had just closed. Aaaagh! Colin poked his head in just to be sure, but the horrible news turned out to be true, and he confirmed that the staff were now mopping the floor.

That truly *was* a crushing blow, as I'd been looking forward to some sort of free-range crocodile or alligator burger with lots of salty chips, a big glass of icy cold lager and possibly a couple of witchetty grubs on the side. I began to wonder whether it wouldn't be possible to get anything to eat at all, but Colin said there was a chippy a bit further on and so we gathered ourselves together for a second time and set off in search of fish and chips.

Joy of joys, the chippy turned out to be open :) We stashed our packs behind a table in the corner, and went over to order something to eat. We each chose fish and chips with a can of ice cold Coke, and when it was delivered to the table about 5 minutes later it was absolutely excellent. We both rated it 8/10, and I'd very happily eat there any other time I'm in Aviemore (as long as the Australian restaurant is closed).


As we were eating another Challenger popped over to say hello. He'd arrived in Aviemore an hour or so before us, and was planning to spend a day there to rest an injured ankle. Once again it was fun to chat with a new person, but once again I forgot to make a record of the new name. Doh...

After eating, Colin retreated to the loos to take a look at his feet, while I stayed at the table and recorded something for Bob. After that I sipped at my coke and stared at the crowds through the window. It was very busy outside, with people clearly making the most of the gorgeous weather while it lasted.

Once Colin had returned we gathered our things together, and then set off to scour each of the walking shops in search of interesting things :) I made a quick dash across the road to the supermarket first, though, as I needed to stock up on things for lunch. I was delighted to find a multi-pack of little cheese & onion pasties--fantastic!--and I also bought some flapjacks, and some small plastic bags to carry the pasties and flapjacks in.

Then it was on to the walking shops. Not having expected to find the weather so sunny, I'd taken my Lowe Alpine Mountain Hat and left my baseball cap at home. The Lowe cap was much too hot for the conditions, though, and so in one of the shops I acquired a new cap, this time with one of those pieces of material that hangs down the back to protect one's neck.

I also wanted a very small waterproof stuff sack for the top of my pack, and was planning to get another Exped. Colin recommended the Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil bags instead, though, as being very light and totally waterproof. I normally put essential small items that I might want during the day in a small Exped, and keep it in the lid of my pack, but it's fair to say that in heavy rain I've found that the Expeds sometimes leak, and so I was keen to try something else. I bought the smallest Sea to Summit bag from a shop towards the end of the road, and it was absolutely perfect throughout the rest of the trip: lighter than the Expeds, and absolutely dry.

The main thing on my mind, though, remained the Osprey Exos rucksack, and eventually I found exactly what I was looking for in Cairngorm Mountain Sports, which is affiliated with the Braemar Mountain Sports from which I'd bought a pair of Paramo Cascadas in 2006. The pack they had was the one with the medium back length, and it seemed to fit fine when I slipped it on. Clearly it isn't really possible to know what a rucksack feels like unless it's loaded with the sorts of things one normally carries, but Alan's had felt very comfortable in Craig, even though it wasn't the right size. The pack was 130, but I'd known that in advance, having spent quite a lot of time looking at them on the internet before setting out on the Challenge. Hmmm...

One of the great things about Braemar Mountain Sports during the Challenge (and possibly also at other times of the year) is that if you replace an item of your gear there during the walk they'll send your old item home for you, at their expense. My main concern with the Atmos was not so much the cost of sending it home but with the enormous faff that would be involved in having to find and buy suitable packaging materials, wrap it up and despatch it from a Post Office. I therefore approached a member of staff and asked whether they were offering the same service as the one available in Braemar. He hadn't heard of it, being only part-time, but I decided that I'd give the Braemar shop a ring over a pint of beer at the pub, since that was to be our next destination.

Colin and I therefore made our way towards the pub. Along the way, Colin went to the post office while I nipped into a Chemist to look for some sort of foot cream. I was also able to buy a further inexpensive set of headphones for my MP3 player, though because Aviemore wasn't the sort of thriving metropolis that I'd been imagining I wasn't able to replace the nice over-ear ones that had broken earlier in the trip. I now had two pairs, though, and felt that I could rest a little easier in case one of them packed up.

The pub was just across the road from the Post Office, and so Colin and I went over and established ourselves at a table in the sun.

Once we had our drinks Colin made a couple of calls from his mobile, and I rang Directory Enquiries for the number of the Braemar shop. Minutes later I was speaking to them, and it turned out that they *were* still offering the excellent deal that had been available in 2006. I explained that I wanted to buy an Exos rucksack (I'm not sure at precisely what point the decision to actually buy it had crystalised, but I suspect it was probably the moment I tried Alan's on outside Gerry's hostel...) but that it would be more convenient to get it in Aviemore, and the woman I was speaking to immediately said that that would be absolutely no problem at all, and that she would ring the Aviemore shop to explain. Great news :) I thanked the woman for her help, and returned to my beer, tremendously excited, now, at the prospect of a big new piece of shiny new kit!

Shortly after that it occurred to me that I'd better take a look through what I was carrying to see whether I could send anything home, since at 46 litres the Exos is a smaller pack than the 50L Atmos. I had a couple of maps that I'd been planning to send back, and it turned out that I was able to identify a number of other things I hadn't really been using, including the Lowe Alpine Mountain Cap. I therefore packed them all up in a plastic bag and took them over to the Post Office. I was also very much looking forwards to being reunited with Little Peewiglet at the Post Office, since he'd promised to follow my instructions to post himself there in a little bubble wrap bag.

Five minutes later I'd freed Little Peewiglet from his bag and settled him in my pocket. I stuffed my plastic bag full of things into a large envelope, handed it to the bloke behind the counter and set off back to the pub. There I left Colin in charge of Little Peewiglet and jogged back along the road to the walking shop. They'd received the promised telephone call and so I retired to the back to see how quickly I could transfer my things from the Atmos to the Exos.

I was surprised but delighted to find Phil Turner there this time, rifling through gas canisters and other interesting bits of kit. It turned out that he'd walked to Kingussie that day only to find the walking shop closed, as a result of which he hadn't been able to restock with gas. Apparently quite a few people had found themselves in the same situation. He'd therefore jumped on a train to Aviemore in the hope of finding what he needed. We were both in a hurry and so we didn't have much time to chat, but we said goodbye and hoped to meet up again in Braemar at the weekend.

I turned my attention back to the Exos, and started pulling things out of one pack and shoving them as neatly as time constraints allowed into the new one. The shop assistants looked a little surprised but they were very patient (there was stuff all over the floor...) and just let me get on with it. I began to worry a bit that I mightn't be able to get it all in, but I did in the end, and approximately 20 minutes later I made my way back to the front of the shop, handed over the Atmos and paid for the Exos. Phew! As soon as I put the Exos on it felt great, and as I trotted back towards the pub I could immediately tell that the irritating clash that had been going on between the waistband on my Cioch trousers and the waistband on the Atmos was now a thing of the past :)

Fortunately Colin was still there, and so we settled down together to finish our drinks. By now it was just after 1730, and we were both intending to head for the Coylumbridge campsite. I hadn't been sure where I was going to stay in Aviemore, and it had occurred to me that I might treat myself to a night in a hotel, sipping gin and tonics in the bath and dressing my blisters on a bed in front of a television. Having spent lots of money on the rucksack, though, I'd now dispensed with that plan, and was more than happy when we set off for the campsite 20 or so minutes later.

We passed John Manning along the way, but we didn't stop to chat because he was on the phone at the time. We hoped we might see him at the campsite later, though, with Andy and Kate.

The walk was pleasant, and my new rucksack very comfy, and not an awfully long time after leaving the town (is it a town?) we arrived, and went into the little reception office to book in. It was 7 for a tent, which is relatively expensive in my experience. Having said that, it was Aviemore, and, as things turned out, Coylumbridge was by far the loveliest campsite I've ever stayed at. I'd very happily stay there again.

A quick check at reception confirmed that Kate and Andy had already arrived, and shortly afterwards we found them at their tent. Colin put up his tarp and Little Peewiglet put up our tent...

Um... Little Peewiglet put up the tent...

...and then all five of us went over to the washrooms to have a shower.

The washrooms were quite amazing, equipped with individual cubicles which each contained a sink, a toilet and a shower. And a mirror. Stupendous! I've really never seen anything quite like it, and I spent a very happy time soaping myself down and scrubbing myself clean beneath a jet of hot, steamy water. (Little PW spent so long in the shower that he became a little waterlogged, and had to be squeezed out and restored to pink fluffiness with a hand drier.)

Afterwards I went back to get changed for the pub, and Little PW took up a position on the roof of the tent.

Guard Pig

Andy and Kate were a little ahead of Colin and me, having arrived at the campsite before us, and so they went on before us to the Woodshed Bar attached to the nearby Hilton Hotel. I tucked Little PW up in his sleeping bag, because he was tired from the journey, and put him to bed...

Aaah! Sleepy :)

...and then Colin and I set off to join Andy and Kate.

We had a great evening in the bar. There wasn't a great choice of food, but what was on offer--a huge plate of cheese-covered nachos with guacamole, sour cream and salsa--happens to be one of my favourite things to eat in the whole world, and so I was happy :) Andy and Kate had got there in time for some sort of tuna panini or other, but it hadn't been terribly inspiring and so they decided to get some nachos as well.

An hour or so into the evening we were joined by John Manning, who was anticipating the arrival of a new tent and a spare part for his broken walking pole, and was hoping they'd be there in the morning. We all chatted away, whilst stuffing ourselves with salty carbohydrates and fat (yum!), and slaking our thirst with an interesting variety of bottled beers. At one stage there was even live music from some sort of band!

John left first, and some time afterwards he was followed by Andy and Kate. Colin and I hung on for another couple of drinks, and I grabbed the opportunity to join the Scots on the dancefloor for a communal 'dance' when the band played 'Loch Lomand'.

Bop with the locals to Loch Lomand -- piccy by Colin Ibbotson

Eventually we heaved ourselves reluctantly out of our seats, though, and made our way back to the campsite by the light of the moon. We eventually arrived back at the tents (and tarp) at about 0100 (!), and shortly afterwards I snuggled into my fleecy bed pants and ancient Helly T shirt and slipped into the sleeping bag next to Little PW. Minutes later I was fast asleep.

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