Any thought I had yesterday of a better night’s sleep in a proper bed, was proven to be spectacularly wrong overnight. Not only did I struggle to get to sleep, but to say asleep, and was up in the middle of the night with a massive coughing fit. Perhaps it was also the fact that not being in a tent with others close alongside, I could really go for it. Whatever, it was an awful night.
Unsurprisingly, I’m feeling rather grim when I get up. So grim, in fact, that I seriously consider whether my Challenge is done. All that makes me go through the motions of getting ready for a day’s hike is (a) the fact that I usually feel better walking than I am overnight, and (b) the fact that to bail out I’ll need to head towards Ballater anyway, so I might as well at least make an attempt to start the journey on foot.
I set off along the road to Braemar Castle and further to Invercauld Bridge. There’s no way I’m taking my planned route round by the Lion’s Face. If need be I’ll road walk all the way.
I get to Invercauld Bridge, cross over and head into the forest. Now I start to see Challengers. Ahead of me I spot a group of three, and I quicken my pace slightly to ensure I’ll catch them. They turn out to be Emma, Louise and Lindy. I tag along with them for a while in the hope that a bit of company helps things along. It does.
Lindy leaves us right after our break at Connachat Cottage and the three of us carry on to Balmoral, where I discover that I’m with a pair of horse fanatics in an area where there’s an abundance of horses. There a lots of oohs and aahs over the various equine specimens on offer.
The other thing we notice is the preponderance of portaloos sitting in the middle of fields. We’re still scratching our heads about that one as we sneak into the back of Balmoral for a visit to the tea room. This is most welcome.
Back on the trail, the rest of the walk features the delights of the B976 as its main attraction, and we alleviate the tedium with a game of I-spy. Yes it was that boring. In one stretch of less than a kilometre we spot not one but two dead snakes on the road. Personally, this is my preferred type of snake.
The other thing that this walk involves is frequent rest stops. Not just a 5 minute sit down, but full “boots off” stops. These help massively with the long walk on a hard surface, and are a discipline I struggle to stick to by myself. The benefits are immediately apparent though, and I wish I’d done this in the first few days when my feet were in a terrible state. Even with the religiously-observed foot breaks we’re still crawling into Ballater campsite with tired feet. The office is shut, and they’ve helpfully left out something for each person who’s booked a pitch. Except Me, of course. I briefly toy with simply pinching Andy Howell’s, knowing that he’s pulled out, but eventually simply wander over to where the group is and pitch where there’s space. It’s not as if I haven’t paid already anyway.
Somehow I’ve made it through the day, on the day when I’ve come closest to pulling out. I can only put that down to company. I can quite easily see that if I’d done that walk (which will turn out to be the biggest daily distance I’ll do on the Challenge this year) by myself, the last part of the journey would have been highly likely to have been on a bus. Somehow, having got to Ballater, thoughts of pulling out are gone. I’m now really into toughing it out mode.
I head to the pub with my posse, now expanded to include Lynsey. We just about manage to cajole a table out of the staff at the Alexandra Hotel. It’s not a late night, but I do try a new tactic of sitting up in Delilah until I’m eye-droppingly tired in the hope that I drop off to sleep rather than spend several hours coughing first. It sort of works. A bit.