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Saturday, 7 June 2014

The 2014 Challenge, day 11: Mar Lodge to Lochcallater Lodge (3)

After crossing Victoria Bridge, I turned left and followed the road to Braemar. I paused a while at the layby where I had watched Howard Butterfield painting his landscape view of the upper Dee valley, and I took a photograph of the same view, with both Mar Lodge and Victoria Bridge faintly discernible in the distance. I then walked on towards Braemar.

As I neared the village, I encountered Richard walking his dog. We paused a while and chatted, exchanging reminiscences of past Challenges. It was good to see him. I then pressed on, reaching Braemar youth hostel at a quarter to 9.

Alas! Disaster! Braemar youth hostel has two washing machines; but one of them was broken down, and the other was required for the youth hostel laundry. This would take them right up until the scheduled afternoon closure, and I would not be able to do my laundry until they reopened at 5 o'clock. I was, however, able to hang out my tent and waterproofs in the drying room, and stuff my boots with old newspaper. In truth, I was not really all that perturbed by this. As long as I was away from the youth hostel by 7 this evening all should be well; so I headed back into Braemar in search of something a little more substantial to eat by way of breakfast.

The Old Bakery obliged me with a ham and red pepper omelette; and as I ate I enjoyed a lengthy chat with another Challenger who was a North Sea helicopter pilot, and who had unfortunately had to retire from his first Challenge in 2013. We had a fascinating and wide-ranging conversation, but what I was particularly interested to hear was the professional gossip which related that Prince William had been an absolutely top drawer search and rescue pilot. Well, good on him!

After my second breakfast, I went about a little shopping. Lucy had been complaining of tight leg muscles. I had advised her on some stretches, but suspected that an offer of massage might not go amiss, so I set about seeing what could be obtained at the Braemar pharmacy. Very little, unfortunately, was the answer. The only essential oils they carried were lavender and tea tree - whereas for tired muscles I ideally wanted black pepper and peppermint - and whilst they could offer me a large bottle of baby oil as a carrier, the only carrier which came in a handy-size container was an aloe vera gel. Still, aloe vera gel enhanced with lavender and tea tree should prove reasonably efficacious, so I bought the necessary supplies, as well as a bottle of Irn Bru.

As I sat outside the pharmacy drinking my Irn Bru, Doug Bruce recognized me as a Challenger and came across for a natter; following which I decided it was time to visit Braemar Outdoor Sports. I had some attritional damage to me gear to sort out, so I asked if they could sell me a replacement bag for my tent. Alas, no. They did, however, have some shock cord from which I could fashion replacement tent loops, so I bought some of that. I also noted that they had some of the smaller MSR petrol stove fuel bottles, the existence of which had been strenuously denied by the outdoors shops in London. I had up until now been carrying a large fuel bottle with my main petrol supply, and a smaller bottle into which to decant a certain amount of fuel from which to run my stove. Past experience, however, had been that the large bottle carried more fuel than I needed for a crossing, and that two smaller bottles should meet my needs admirably (and would be lighter). So I bought another small fuel bottle and, noting that it came with a safety cap (the sort which, when applied to medicine bottles, are described as child-proof ... and which arthritic fingers can never open, such that the elderly often have to ask their young grandchildren to open the bottles for them) I asked whether it was possible to buy just the tops so that I could replace the top on my other fuel bottle. Yes, they said ... but they didn't have one in stock. Never mind, they said ... we'll order one in. No good, I said ... I'm heading out this evening. That's OK, they said ... we'll sell you the top from one of the other bottles we have in stock, and then replace it when the one we've ordered comes in. I can't quite see the London outdoor shops offering that sort of service, can you? Maybe that's why they keep going out of business ...

So I bought a small fuel bottle and an extra safety top, and then I repaired to a well-ventilated place and transferred all of the fuel in my large fuel bottle to the two small bottles (which filled them both to the fill line; so I only just had the capacity to carry all the fuel I had with me). The large bottle and two simple screw caps were now surplus to requirements, so I dropped them into a waste bin. I thought long and hard about whether I should carry the empty bottle back with me ... but I don't actually have a use for it.

By now, it was getting on for lunchtime. I didn't really need any lunch; but a pint at the Fife Arms and a packet of crisps did not seem out of order, followed by a second pint, perhaps, and a packet of beef jerky which I had liberated from the "free food" box at the youth hostel. I then turned my attention to the tent bag. If I couldn't replace it, I was going to need to repair it. So it was back into the pharmacy where I bought a small self-contained sewing kit, and then sat stitching up the tears in it. They are not the prettiest of repairs you will ever see, but they should hold, and that's all that really matters.

Having finished my running repairs, I saw that Alan, Lucy and Maggie had arrived in Braemar. We chatted for a while, and then I took Maggie to see a few of the interesting sights of Braemar. The Great North of Scotland Railway station building (from which it was not possible to catch a train; but from which you could catch a horse-drawn omnibus to Ballater, to connect with the trains to Aberdeen); the Invercauld Arms and the memorial to the raising of the Jacobite Standard by the Earl of Mar in 1718; the old castle; the aircrew memorial; and one or two others. As I was showing her around, quite by chance we ran into two of her colleagues, to whom she introduced me as her new husband. I must look older than I am!

As the afternoon drew to a close, Alan and Lucy headed out for Lochcallater Lodge and Maggie had to head off home. The youth hostel wasn't open yet, so I went to see the display on the history of Braemar in the church; and then I finally headed back up to the youth hostel.

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