I’m not enjoying the Challenge. There I’ve said it. Something is lacking. I’ve seen very few people, and it feels like a lonely one this year, and that’s even before taking account of my missing walking partner. We’d have eaten up the miles on the walk if there’d been the two of us, but solo it’s a much different proposition. Of course it’s lacking the novelty and excitement of my first Challenge last year. But now I look back and reflect on how good a route I put together last year. It had everything – sensible daily chunks (well mostly), plenty of other Challengers, scenery I actually got excited by, and better re-supply options. This year has none of them. I’ve screwed up.
After the pounding my feet have taken, I’ve decided overnight to focus purely on getting through the walk. Gone are the plans to go high and bag some hills. I simply need to get myself to Braemar for day 9 via the most economical route. Given I’m taking it easy, I decide to take the time for a proper re-supply. The slim pickings in Dalwhinnie filling station aren’t tempting, so I decide to undertake a side trip to Kingussie for a proper shop. This will also enable me to post some things home. I take the 15 minute train journey to Kingussie, pop into the post office and send off my newly acquired tent accessories and a couple of bits of clothing I won’t need. Then it’s the Co-op. Here I stock up with the essentials (essentially Tunnocks caramel wafers, crisps and sweets), and on impulse add a can of Brewdog Elvis Juice to the basket, having just spotted it chilling nicely in the fridge.
I’m daydreaming at the till while the cashier puts everything through, when she stops and says she has to check the price of my beer. It’s come up at £7, not the £1.89 it should have, and as it’s labelled on the shelf. I immediately know what’s happened. Some idiot has clearly loaded the shelf with cans from a multipack. And of course, they’re “not allowed to reduce the price of alcohol” – yes, because clearly the Scottish licensing laws were totally aimed at preventing shopkeepers correcting their own f*** ups!! I am incandescent with rage, because they won’t even sell it to me at £7. I leave cursing the whole dammed country, and there may have been some darkly muttered comments about how long they’d survive if they ever did get independence. My day is FUCKED. It doesn’t take much to radically affect morale on this jaunt.
Eventually the train drops me off in Dalwhinnie again and I set off. Having planned to take my Foul Weather Alternative by following the aqueduct, I’m not keen on the manoeuvres to get to it and simply stay on my main route. I cross the A9 and climb up on a reasonable track. Hang on, I’m not supposed to be climbing any hills!
The track takes me unerringly to almost the top of the Munro, with just the small matter of some patches of snow in gullies to deal with, and the final stroll across the heather to the summit. This year’s token Munro (Carn na Caim) is ticked off.
I look down my route and it’s a hell of a long way if I want to stay high and on my main route, now I’ve gone to the trouble of climbing up. These hills are big. It feels too late in the day for the amount of hillwalking I’d have to do to get to a reasonable camp spot. No, far better to head down to Loch Cuaich and rejoin my FWA.
I contour around to pick up the track alongside Allt a’ Choire Chaim, which proves to be a pretty arduous descent for a track. My feet are starting to rebel again. There’s nothing for it but to look for an early stop.
I spot some rough grass next to the stream and sort out a suitable pitch. At least water’s in good supply. For bathing as well as drinking. I enjoy a lazy evening in camp. I even have a mobile phone signal so am able to phone home.
It would have been perfect with a beer…