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Wednesday, 9 June 2010

The 2006 Challenge, day 10: Up Mount Keen and Down to Tarfside

Leaving Ballater I crossed the Dee and turned right (yes, I know that's back the way I'd come ... but I didn't have to go too far in a Westerly direction!!). Then at Bridge of Muick I turned South, and took the track up past Craig Vallich. It was here that I encountered a first time Challenger who was beginning to struggle, and as we were both heading for Mount Keen I fell in beside him and settled us into a manageable pace of 25 minutes walking followed by 5 mintues' rest.

The path over Lach na Gualainn turned out to be a figment of the cartographer's imagination; but the weather was clear and the landforms unmistakeable, and before long we had dropped down onto the Mounth Road. We stopped for lunch at the Water of Tanar and then began the long slog that was the ascent of Mount Keen, adjusting the pace to 15 minutes and 5 as the gradient began to take its toll.

I am glad to report that we both made it to the summit of the most easterly Munro, and were able to enjoy spectacular views clear to the coast. Now that it was downhill all the way my companion invited me to press ahead at my own pace and I did so, taking the track down to the Queen's Well and along Glen Mark. At Queen's Well it started to rain, so I upped the pace and barrelled along Glen Mark, then along the path between Cairn Robie and Hill of Rowan and so into Tarfside.

Tarfside Challengers' Hostel was already full by the time I arrived, so I pitched my tent on the green and heated up a Wayfarer Meal. Then I made my way to the Masonic Club where, having been signed in as a guest, I enjoyed a convivial evening with a number of other challengers who were not averse to a glass or three to drink.

The 2006 Challenge, day 9: over the hills to Ballater

After re-crossing Cock Bridge, I took the old military road south of the River Don, noting Jenny's self-catering bothy in passing. I then took the path up Scraulac, and continued over Cairnagour Hill to Mona Gowan, where I stopped for a bite of lunch. The weather was turning against me now, so I had full weatherproofs on as I sat with my back to the summit cairn. I was warm and dry, despite the hail beating down on me. Behind me the Ladder Hills were bathed in a beautiful, dappled sunshine; and ahead of me, hidden away in a dense, enveloping cloud I knew that, somewhere, there was the brooding mass of Lochnagar. Surveying the scene and enjoying the solitude, I was struck - as I had never before been struck - by the fact that I was totally, completely free to go as I pleased. I had all the equipment I needed, and I could simply stay up there for as long as I chose. It was up to me!

Eventually, I decided that I would get up off my arse and head in to Ballater. My route card said that I would take in Morven ... but looking at it, with its top shrouded in cloud (the base being, now, at about 800 metres) I decided that I really wasn't in the mood for blundering about in poor visibility. So I just headed down the south ridge of Mona Gowan and collected the track past Morven Lodge, and over the Lary Burn and Peter's Hill, up and over the ridge between Craig of Prony and Creagan Riabhach, and down to the Pass of Ballater. I turned left at the road, then right past Monaltrie House, and was soon in Ballater where I pitched on the campsite and did a bit of laundry before heading out to find a bar and a bite to eat.

Ballater, I decided, is a delightful little town. And where else, I ask you, will you find a little back street garage with THREE Royal Warrants (the Queen, the Queen Mother and the Prince of Wales) proudly on display?

The 2006 Challenge, day 8: Tomintoul to Cock Bridge Inn

By next morning the rain had cleared, and it was a lovely fresh day as I headed out of Tomintoul and south along the river Avon. My route card said that I would take the path up Burn of Little Fergie and over The Eag ... but when I got there and looked at it, I decided that Wainwright had been right! Don't lose height unnecessarily ... means don't gain height that you'll only have to lose again! So I carried on as far as Inchrory, then took the track past Lagganauld and Inchmore.

Somewhere along the River Avon, I finally got an opportunity to make that wonderful multi-tool I acquired on my first Challenge to good use. Not for my own purposes, you understand. But for a cyclist I encountered who was having problems with a loose chain. He wanted to remove a link, and needed a suitable tool. I was sure that there must be something suitable somewhere in my multi-tool, so I offered him the use of it and it seemed to do the trick!

I don't really recall much else about this day, save that it's a bloody stiff climb from Cock Bridge to the Cock Bridge Inn, and that much beer was consumed upon arrival!