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Sunday, 17 January 2010

The 2004 Challenge, Day 14: Banchory to the East Coast

The last day!

I got up early, and hit the road. Another last minute decision to avoid unnecessary hills saw me abandon my original plan to follow the track through Rhindbuckie Wood and Cairnshee Wood, in favour of the little back road south of the Dee towards Balbridie and then the Slug Road to Crossroads, where I could rejoin my original route.

Believe me, that little back road was NOT fun. The locals use it as a racetrack, and I think I'd have been far better off on the tracks through the woods, hills or no hills! I therefore opted to take the track through Funach Wood (which was really lovely) rather than the road route I had put on my route card; and then I took the road to Meikledams and the path to Little Tulloch.

And it was here, less than 15 km from my destination, that I encountered my first really serious obstacle of the entire Challenge: for, just after the river crossing at NO 775949, the path was closed off with barbed wire. I looked for a way round, and there simply wasn't one. So eventually, and as I did not fancy the long detour which woudl be necessary were I simply to turn back, I hoisted myself up and over with the aid of an overhanging tree bough - runing my trousers in the process, which got snagged on a barb at the knee and torn right open. GRRRRRR.

I followed the road to Woodlands, then turned right for Denside, Upper and Nether Muirskie, Nether Craigwell and Mill of Monquich. The pub at NO855952 looks realy rather fine; but I had my sights set on the coast, and there woudl be plenty of time for drinking when I got there, so I pressed on.

Turning right onto the track to Backhill, I saw an utterly unmistakable silhouette coming towards me - that of a lady in riding clothes. I greeted her; and by virtue of that strange and inexplicable bond which undeniably exists, she knew at once that I, too, was a horse owner and rider. She asked if I was doing the TGO Challenge. I was surprised that she knew of it, but she explained that in previous years they had had lots of Challengers coming through this way - although there had been none for the past couple of years, so far as I was aware.

She then asked me a most extraordinary question.

"How long is it since you had a good cup of coffee?"

This lady's name was barbara Winmill, and she lived in the house by the track at NO857948. In no time I found myself invited in for coffee; and the offer quickly expanded to include a sandwich - and then finally lunch. The rain was pelting against the windows, and I was not particularly anxious to head straight back out into it, so I accepted. We chatted away about our various exploits. I told her of the Challenge, and of the trials and tribulations of competing in TREC competitions with my little cob mare Whisky. She, in turn, told me of the Silver Boot - a remarkable long-distance trail-riding competition in which she had been invited to compete for the first time that year. I wonder how she got on. I ought to try to find out, I suppose.

Eventually I had to press on. It had been raining on and off all morning, but now there was a steady curtain of rain and I had all my waterproofs on. I somehow missed the path to West Stoneyhill and so turned left at Backhill through Cookney and Harecraig. Approaching Cookney, I encountered a bull. I cannot now recall the encounter at all, but it is clearly marked on the map and obviously made a significant impression at the time (although evidently not so great as the impression made by Barbara Winmill, whose kind hospitality I still recall so clearly!)

At Cairnhill I rejoined my planned route, through Windyedge, and over the A90 on the bridge that took me into Newtonhill.

As I strode down off the bridge, the rain finally stopped and the sun came out; and for the final kilometre of my challenge, I was walking in bright sunlight with little clouds of evaporating rainwater rising from the pavement at my feet. It was a truly memorable end to my second TGO CHallenge!

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