Ballater to Dinnet
(16 miles/633 metres ascent)
TGO Challenge 2009 - Part 9
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Monday morning dawned dry and relatively bright, and I poked my head out of the tent to find others already up and about and cooking breakfast. Phew! What a relief. I reached for the water to make my hot chocolate, and a little while later I crawled out to see what other peeps were up to.
Little Peewiglet had been up for an hour or so, and it turned out that he'd been making a new friend in Humphrey's wee bear! I found them chatting away together in my shoes.
HMP3's bear and Little Peewiglet getting to know each other
HMP3's bear is a very seasoned traveller, and Little Peewiglet was enthralled by his tales. As I moved off to see who was cooking what I saw them creeping closer for a wee beary hug. At least, I think that's what was happening.
I found Humph cooking up a storm...
Humph cooks brekky
...with what appeared to be half a pig and a handful of random wee creatures thrown in for good measure.
Hubble, bubble, sizzling rubble...
There was a further tantalising bag of what I suspected may well have been semi-illicit culinary delights, but Humphrey swept it away before curious crubeens could disembowel it; more's the pity...
Magician makes the bag disappear...
Other people were now standing around in small groups, sipping at coffee and exchanging details of their plans for the day. As we lounged around thus, every inch a disreputable rabble, the most neat, clean and colour-co-ordinated backpacker that I've ever seen approached from another corner of the campsite, and when we teased him about his impressive appearance he stopped and agreed to pose for a photo with Little Peewiglet :)
I wish I looked even half as good as this when walking!
Eventually it was time to pack up, though, and so we did. Some time later I set off with Alan and Colin towards the green where we'd all met up the afternoon before...
The weary hoardes leaving Ballater
...and then Alan left for Dinnet and Colin and I left for... the sandwich shop :)
H.M.Sheridan -- Fantastic butcher's shop in BallaterWow! This really was one of the most friendly and wonderful butcher's shops I've ever had the pleasure of visiting. It was just up the road from the campsite, and opposite the pub, and if I'd been looking for something delicious in the happy meat line then I've absolutely no doubt that they'd have been able to supply it.
As it was, though, we were simply looking for sandwiches (and pies, in Colin's case), and they were very happy to make us exactly what we wanted. As we waited they even asked whether we'd be returning the following day, because had we been then they'd have been happy to make sandwiches for us in advance, so that we could simply pop along and collect them at our convenience! Brilliant, and very highly recommended to all of y'all who may be travelling through Ballater in the future, in need of a snack.
Eventually, though, even my well-practised powers of procrastination failed me, and it finally became time to leave for Mount Keen. Our plan was to go there and climb it, and then make a decision about whether to find a place to camp or to press on. Colin had offered to show me the map, which suggested to him that we were likely to have to choose between either a short or a long day, with no readily available happy medium, but I was happy to take his word for it as my map-reading abilities, having waxed the afternoon before, were now waning again. I was happy to take the day as it came, though, and so we re-traced our steps across the bridge and set off along a broad track.
Not far along the track we found Humphrey, sitting in the grass at the side and doing something cunning with some Turkish coffee. Poor Humph was wearning a slightly pained expression, though quite clearly he was attempting to conceal it, and a little determined cross-examination elicited the information that he'd done something dastardly to his hip. I experienced a frisson of guilt as my thoughts returned to the crazed whirlings around the Braemar dancefloor... We stayed to chat for a few minutes, but Humphrey insisted that all would be well, and so eventually we moved on.
We spent some time scaling what felt like an interminable hill, and on the way down the other side I managed to idenfity what looked as though it might be the path towards Mt. Keen. We set off to follow it, pausing from time to time to scan the skyline for signs of other Challengers, including the injured Humphrey, coming down behind us.
We made a brief stop for a sandwich in a bit of a shelter, but the bright morning had faded and been replaced by a cold, damp wind, so we didn't stay long.
It was cooooold...
At some stage we'd decided to leave our packs at a small ruin marked on the map near the foot of Mt. Keen, intending to return for them later on. The ruin was cleverly concealed behind the shoulder of a hill, but eventually we found it. There was a convenient wall against which we decided to leave our kit, but as we set the packs down and began to extract the things we might need for the ascent and stuff them into our jacket pockets the weather took a very significant change for the worse, and it began to bucket with rain. Steeling ourselves, we set off towards the junction of paths that marked the beginning of the climb, but I don't think we'd gone more than a dozen paces when it suddenly occurred to me that it was utterly bananas to go dashing up the mountain with the weather now so revoltingly wet and windy. What on earth was the point of it, I wondered? I stopped Colin to ask him the same question, and it turned out that his response was precisely the same as my own i.e. there was no point at all! Therefore we skipped back to our packs with lighter hearts, hefted them back on again and regrouped to reconsider the plan.
At least somebody was enjoying the rain...
Either then or earlier we'd spotted on the map a small structure in a wood to the North East, described intriguingly as the Half Way Hut. I had visions of the truly lovely shooters' hut we'd encountered on our descent to the River Dulnain en route for Aviemore, and we both agreed that if it was even a fraction as nice as that place had been then it would make a very welcome shelter for the night. We therefore set off towards it, crossing and then re-crossing the Water of Tanar along the way.
We hadn't gone far when we ran into two of the Challengers I'd spent the evening chatting with in the pub the night before: Andy (no, not *that* Andy) and his OH, Nik. They were erecting their tent near the river, and having quite a job of it in the gusty wind that had now blown up. We pointed back towards the site of the ruin, which was relatively sheltered, but they were keen to stay where they were (I think they were just stopping for a break, in fact) and so we pressed on.
A little further on we spotted a figure making its way down the hillside far to the left of us. It was moving at quite a pace, and we wondered whether it might be Humphrey. Humphrey it in due course turned out to be, and eventually our paths crossed again near a low wall, and we stopped to chat for a while.
We explained our Half Way Hut plan, but Humph's plans lay in a different direction, and so a few minutes later we said goodbye again and pressed on.
The weather now took a further turn for the worse, and the sound of not-so-distant thunder began to rumble round the hills. I hate lightning, and was very glad indeed that we'd abandoned our Mt. Keen plan. It wasn't far to the hut, though, and I continued to cherish images of a snug interior generously provided with a heap of dry wood and a small but efficient wood-burning stove until eventually we arrived, and found it to be more akin to a 1960s garden shed :( Oh, well! We went in for a bit of a rest and another re-think, and from inside we recorded something for Bobs and gave further thought to our plans for the night.
A fresh scanning of the map revealed what appeared to be a campsite behind the hotel at Dinnet, some 5 or so kilometers to the north, and we decided that in the circumstances we could do worse than head for that. I immediately conceived a chips fantasy, which proved impossible to dislodge from the forefront of my mind for the whole of the rest of the walk.
It was quite a pleasant walk, mainly along broad paths, and even the weather seemed to improve a little now that there was the prospect of chips and food and hopefully a nice, well-drained pitch for the tent and tarp lying ahead of us.
There were pretty flowers too...
Do Not Adjust Your Set...
...as well as curious cows...
...and although I don't now remember it my piccies show that at one stage we passed along a very lovely terraced path.
Eventually we came to Millfield, and not far from there we encounted Laura, whom I'd not seen since leaving Gerry's hostel many moons earlier. She was following a small path across a field, and, having recognised her at a distance, we called across and trotted over to say hello.
Laura was heading in a different direction, and so some 5 minutes or so later we said goodbye for now and set off again.
From there it wasn't far to the hotel, but on arrival it wasn't at all clear where we were supposed to go to ask about the camping. We wandered round the back and failed to see any signs of a campsite--uh-oh--and having drawn a blank at a building labelled 'Bar' we went into the main hotel to make enquiries.
Despite the fact that there's still a reference to it on the sign outside, it turned out that there hadn't been camping at the hotel for several years :( That was rather a crushing blow, since by that time it was after 6pm, and it wasn't obvious where else we might be able to head for at that time. We had a quick think and decided to pool our resources and share a room--the chip fantasy was too well established in both of our minds to be discarded at that late stage in the day--and enquiries at Reception confirmed that they did have a room available. There was no bath, but a shower was sure to be very welcome. The only niggle was that we were told that we had to be ready in 30 minutes in order to be able to have dinner (I'm still not quite sure why, as there was certainly no rush when we got downstairs), and so we shot upstairs at a great rate of knots and took it in turns to stand under the rather desultory flow of water in the bathroom, before re-dressing in the least dirty of our clothes and returning to the lounge to eat.
Downstairs we found Slowman and Rolf, another Challenger I'd first met at Gerry's hostel. The four of us settled quickly into easy conversation, and the evening passed very pleasantly. Colin didn't want the crispy skin from his fish, and so I snaffled it before he was able to have second thoughts (yum!), and Rolf turned out to know just about everything it's possible to know about ticks. Slowman shared with us his patent method for drying a wet tent (i.e. remove the pictures from the hotel wall and hang up the tent from the picture hooks!), and at one point (well, quite possibly more than one point) we all thought with regret of the absent Phil and drank a toast (or several) to his rapid recovery and return the following year.
We were all tired, and so it wasn't very late when we eventually decided it was time for bed. The bed was comfy and warm, and it was hardly any time at all before I was snuggled up and drifting off into a dreamless sleep...
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