Oops, I’m late for another phone-in. I should have been in Braemar yesterday (or “Graemar” on my virtual route).
Days 8, 9 and 10 on the (real) 2020 Challenge would have seen me head from Kingussie up Glen Tromie, before cutting across to Glen Feshie. I’d then given myself the option of a couple of Munros (Carn an Fhidhleir and An Sgarsoch) before rejoining the trade route to Braemar. (But, hey let’s not kid ourselves: I know I’d have jettisoned the high stuff for the company of the walk through the upper Feshie).
Days 8-10, despite the routes being obvious for the most part, are among the hardest to plan because of the timings. I’ve twice taken the route through the Lairig Ghru, keeping Glen Feshie as the FWA. A FWA that adds at least half a day,or more likely a full day. That has a knock-on impact to planning for the section after Braemar. It also makes it difficult to book accommodation for Braemar itself, as I can’t be sure what day I’ll need it for.
This is why I don’t usually book accommodation for Braemar, and opt to leave it to chance. The main goal for me is a re-provision, which therefore, doesn’t require an overnight stay, or indeed any fixed timings. Of course there is the social side to Braemar too, and to a lot of people that is important. I’m more of a solitary/small group sort of chap though, and generally shy away from the big “set piece” social events. Indeed, my first visit to Braemar in 2017, I found a bit overwhelming. My second in 2018, I was struggling with health issues and in no frame of mind for partying. My third struck a better balance, as I was walking with a partner, we just did what we felt like, which seemed to centre around Gordon’s tea room and a “quiet pint”.
On my first Challenge, Braemar was a huge psychological milestone. Up to then, the longest solo backpacking trip I’d done was about 10 days, that being the point at which I wanted to stop and go home. So getting to Braemar was the point at which historically, I’d be bailing. The desire for that not to happen was strong though, and I arrived in Braemar with one object alone – to finish. Not necessarily to “get it over with”, but to finish, and with as much certainty as possible.
So getting to the coast assumed an overwhelming importance in my head, and overrode thoughts of socialising. Walking into a crowded Invercauld Arms where I knew 1 person, just didn’t fit in with what was foremost in my mind.
Braemar is the bell for the final lap, and I suspect it always may be. I’ll continue musings on this subject when I cover day 11 in a few days time.
So, back to the memories…
Day 8 on my first Challenge saw me leaving Aviemore to walk through the Lairig Ghru. By contrast, the same day on last year’s saw me Arriving in Aviemore, before going on to do the Lairig Ghru the following day.
The middle year was a pleasant walk from Ruigh-aitechain to the meeting of the Geldie burn and the route from Glen Tilt.
Day 9 was Braemar day that first year and the next, but last year was the first part of the Lairig Ghru.
Day 10 has always involved Braemar, whether that be leaving it or arriving there. In 2017, I headed for Lochallater and the Munros south of Jock’s Road, being forced by conditions to seek refuge in Glen Isla, a glen further west than I’d intended.
In 2018, it was the walk from Braemar to Ballater, on the day I’ve come closest to pulling out. Unwell with a nasty cough that stopped me (and admittedly everyone else) from sleeping, I nearly called it at Braemar. But I reasoned that bailing meant a bus ride down the Dee, and I could do that from any point on that day’s walk, so I might as well set off and see what happened. Luckily I fell in with Louise, Emma and Lindy and they swept me along with them, on a day when company was the thing I needed the most.
2019 was Braemar arrival day.