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TGO Challenge 2009 - A Third Walk Across Scotland

Day 10 - Sunday 17th May
Braemar to Ballater
(20 miles/557 metres ascent)

TGO Challenge 2009 - Part 8

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Way back in February, when I'd submitted my route, it had been my intention to spend Sunday night at Lochallater Lodge with Stan, Bill and a hardy band of inebriated Challengers. Oh, and what seemed likely to be a rapidly diminishing supply of interesting beverages. Never having experienced a night there, I'd known that my Challenge experience simply wouldn't be complete without an evening of song, dance and drinkies at the fabled home of legendary Challenge hospitality.

However... having now experienced Serious Alcohol Overload in the form of what had felt like 2 solid days in the Fife Arms, I felt my whole being recoil !!!SCREAMING!!! from the prospect of yet more alcoholic excess, and Stan and Bill's didn't sound like the best choice of destination for a jaded drinker Challenger seeking moderation...

I'd therefore revised my plan in conversation with Colin the day before, and so when I woke to a drizzly Sunday morning I knew that instead of a leisurely stroll down the road towards the loch I was facing a bit of a yomp towards Ballater instead.

To be honest, I wasn't entirely sorry to have had a route revision more-or-less thrust upon me, because on each of my two previous Challenges I'd been keen to pass Balmoral, but had been distracted by places even more interesting intead. Colin's route promised to take us pretty close to the castle and the Balmoral community, though, and I was curious; and so as we set off from the campsite I began to wonder how likely we were to run into the Queen and her entourage, and also to wonder how I might respond if we did.

Too many G&Ts had left their usual mark on my psyche, though, and as we walked I found my thoughts turning with increasing frequency to little Piglet. At first I just wondered how she was getting along with Buster and Blink, but as we progressed I began to worry that some horrible accident might have befallen her, and that Dee might not have been able to let me know (my phone being without reception in the area). By the time we arrived at Invercauld Bridge and stepped over a wall to begin our tramp through the Ballochbuie Forest I'd almost convinced myself that I was experiencing some sort of terrible premonition, and so Colin kindly allowed me to text Piglet from his phone. There was no immediate response, but at least I was able to continue in the expectation that Piglet (or Dee...) would come back to me with news in due course.

The woods were lovely, and as we walked on the weather began to brighten.

We passed a lot of very neat and attractive stone buildings, and I began to wonder just how many properties the Queen actually owns!

At one point we passed an odd-looking structure not a long way off across the grass, and went over for a closer look. It was clearly some sort of aviary, but the size of the perch and the quantity of droppings on the ground suggested that it had been built for some very large birds indeed... Eagles, perhaps? Or possibly something a little more sinister?? Uh-oh...

Pterodactyl's lair...

Eventually we emerged from the woods, and passed a field filled with sheep, and at that stage it occurred to me that I hadn't seen any sheep at all up to that point. One little squeaky had got itself trapped inside a small enclosure of some sort. Daft wee thing! We stayed to watch, though, and soon enough it managed to jump out again.

We didn't get quite as close to Balmoral as I'd hoped we might, skirting round it to the south and passing a series of hillocks named after various members of the royal family. Around about this stage Colin decided that it would be a good idea for me to attempt to navigate, and since this seemed like a great opportunity to get some assistance from somebody who knows how to follow a map I readily agreed. The map was therefore transferred from Colin to me, and I settled down to try to decipher it.

PW assumes responsiblity for navigation. Uh-oh...

Against all odds, I didn't manage to get us completely lost, possibly because one of the first major landmarks was a distillery, and possibly it was instinct that guided me there... *g*

The long, unwinding road

We passed more lovely little houses, some of them boarded up, which seemed a great pity. If I were to sneak along and start occupying one, I wonder whether anybody would notice. Hmmm...

Lovely house: unoccupied

A little while later we entered a lush birch wood, where I spotted my first butterfly of the year...

...as well as some particularly lovely blossom...

Lovely blossom

...and a little further on we passed (yet) another lovely little house, this one occupied by an absolutely charming wee dog, who stood at the fence and allowed me to touch his nose. Aaaaah :)


Further along we emerged briefly onto a road and crossed the burn leading to the River Dee, and as we were passing we noticed an interesting contraption...


...and wandered over to take a closer look.


It seemed quite likely that it was something to do with the salmon--possibly it was for testing the quality of the water?--and Colin noticed what appeared to be security cameras trained on it from the trees. Maybe even as I write this a group of security officers is poring over a grainy film of two suspicious-looking characters creeping through the bushes...

Anyway... we couldn't hang around peering into strange water-borne contraptions all day, and so eventually I managed to drag Colin away we continued.

We passed many very beautiful small flowers at the side of the road, but unfortunately I'd reverted to my flower-blurring photography ways and most of my piccies didn't come out very well. This one's just about okay...

...but although this one is fuzzy I can't resist the colours.

Gorgeous wee thing!

Sometime during the afternoon I received a text from Dee confirming that Piglet was well, and that she was cementing her relationship with Buster. Phew! So that was a relief. Eventually we began to draw close to Ballater, and as the road wound along through farmland lapwings guarding babies followed us anxiously, wheeling and sweeping dramatically in their attempts to distract us from the sites of their nests.


We passed a standing stone at the side of the road...

...and soon afterwards a small family of magnificent highland coos...

...and then a small group of dainty wee creatures, the babies looking like mobile drifts of cappuccion froth...

...and the adults like miniature Rastafarian horned sheep.

I spotted a mirror in a tree and attempted a photograph, but it wasn't a great success.

Do I really look like that? (Don't answer that question...)

It didn't really matter, though. Soon afterwards we arrived at the junction with the main road and the River Dee...

...and as we rounded the corner Ballater and its bridge hoved into view. Yippee!

For some time Colin and I had been contemplating the ever-interesting topic of food, where to get it and how much of it we could eat, and as we crossed the bridge to a grassy little green we spotted a restaurant sign. I assumed a pathetic expression and slumped onto a conveniently situated seat, so Colin went over to investigate, and as I was taking the weight off my crubeens I became aware of a tall and familiar figure approaching from my left. A closer look revealed it to be Alan Sloman, last spotted more than a week earlier at Gerry's Hostel in Craig, and he'd emerged from a pub when he'd seen Colin and I arriving.

Alan and I greeted each other like the old pals we are, and when Colin returned we all made our way over to the pub, and sat down. There was a very select gathering of Challengers and other walking pals already present, including Weird Darren who'd come over on his rest day with Peter Lumley and Peter's wife, Kate. It appeared that Sloman had been quietly absorbing the ambience for quite some time, and he was on great and verbose form :)

Little Peewiglet hangs on Slowman's tale

For some reason Alan showed us his foot. I can't now remember why, but I recognise it from the Walshies in the background.

Slowman's foot

I sought further and better particulars from Colin re: the restaurant he'd been over to look at. It had turned out to be a pizza/pasta sort of place, which made Colin Very Happy Indeed after his crushing disappointment in Aviemore, earlier in the trip. We decided to have a wee restorative pint of something non-alcoholic in the pub and then make our way over for an early dinner, and then to the campsite to set up our tents.

An hour or so later we duly made our way to La Mangiatoia, where we were very lucky to get a table. Had we not been eating early we'd not have been able to get one without a reservation, so prospective pizza/pasta eaters take note!

We both had pizza, and it was really very good. Better than the average roadside pizza by a considerable margin, and *far* better than anything I'd have been able to cook up in my little Kettley thing had we not found anywhere to eat.

It seemed wrong to confine ourselves to pizza when there were so many other culinary delicacies on offer, and so I began with some crunchy calamari with a bit of yummy salad...

My calamari

...while Colin tucked into garlic mushrooms. Yum!

Colin's garlic mushrooms

After that I had a pizza with lots of olives and chillis, and yet more salad...

My pizza with salad

...while Colin had a pizza with seafood. It looked delicious!

Colin's seafood pizza

And naturally we both had lots of chips :)

After that we hired a crane to lift us over to the campsite we gathered our things together and set off to put up the tents. It was a nice place, with flat, well-drained pitches, and it didn't take long to put up my tent. I was pretty drained too by that stage, what with all the walking, eating and post-Braemar lassitude, and I considered going straight to bed. In the end I managed to pull myself together and slouch over to the washrooms for a shower, though, and then I joined the others in the pub.

It was even busier by that stage, and a further bunch of Challenge reprobates had joined the merry hoardes at the bar. I spent the entire evening chatting with HMP3, Alan and various other peepses at a table, because once I'd sat down I found myself entirely unable to get up again.

Eventually I decided it was really time for bed, and I set off to make the short walk back to the tent. It's only a 5 minute stroll, but somehow I managed to get lost (um...) and I found myself back at the pub some 15 minutes later, and had to go in for directions! Doh... I did eventually get back to the tent, though, and there I slept the deep and unmoving sleep of the exhausted and over-fed Challenger...

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