I wake, refreshed by a decent night’s sleep, to the knowledge that yesterday’s big day has given me options. This is a nice feeling and I resolve to buy similar opportunities throughout this walk. I’ve only got about 23 miles to Aviemore, meaning I can do 2 nice comfortable days or work it so that I get a half day in Aviemore. In the event, circumstances decide for me.
Lisa and I are ready to leave at the same time, so we carry on where we left off yesterday and begin the walk together. Not for long though as once we get to the bridge over the Findhorn, there’s a parting of ways. Pretty much everyone else is going north from here towards Carrbridge. My course is a more direct one over the tops to Aviemore. All of the people I walked and interracted with yesterday walk off in the opposite direction to me, and I’m alone with just the wildlife and the occasional landrover for company.
The track is mine and I enjoy the novelty of walking without the expectation of seeing anyone. I’m alone with the sound of my feet crunching stones on the track and birds going about their business above. A herd of deer scatter on the hillside to my left, a rabbit bounds away through the wood. A solitary sheep fixes me with a steely gaze. For the first time in the walk, I feel like I’m properly testing myself in this unfamiliar terrain.
I take a break by some trees as the last proper chance of some shade before I begin climbing. A bit of lethargy has come over me as my mind drifts off to enjoying the surroundings rather than making forwards progress. But that’s ok, as I have the time to play with. Most of my allocated snacks for the day are devoured before I make myself get going again.
The slog up the track brings me to my declared camp spot for the day. It’s the sort of spot you go for when it’s pissing down and you just want to stop – nicely sheltered, near a stream, views not up to much. I can do better. Especially as it’s only 2pm. Far better to deal with the next challenge of some pathless terrain now rather than first thing tomorrow. If I get this bit done then tomorrow is an easy day on well-defined tracks.
I follow the stream until it splits, initially choosing the wrong tributary to follow and then switching when my compass alerts me to my mistake. The stream shrivels and dies, but its bed takes me unerringly to where I need to be amid a myriad of peaty trenches. Chocolate Brownie Land again. It’s harder work today though, as the peat is softer and there’s more climbing in and out of trenches.
Ahead a dip in the horizon suggests the top of the Allt Steallaig and I aim for it, reversing my earlier pattern of trenches and stream bed. Grouse fly startled into the air at frequent intervals, shouting “feck, feck”, or at least it sounds that way. The stream gathers pace and becomes, well, a stream. I step forward and a sudden pain shoots up my right heel. An awkward placing of my already weak foot gives me a sudden panic I’ve properly hurt myself. The pain subsides sufficiently for me to recognise it as more a jarring of my existing problem. Nevertheless, an early stop will be welcome.
The Allt Steallaig gathers pace and various possibles for camp spots present themselves. Eventually I find one I’m happy with and settle down for a rest of my poorly foot. I just hope I’m able to walk in the morning…