Crows. Crows. More Crows.
The noise coming from above the tent finally stirs me into getting up, after laying awake listening to them for ages. There’s a fair bit of time to kill before setting off today, as Darren can’t retrieve his laundry from the drying room until 8am, and can’t return the key and get his deposit back until 9am.
But today we are taking advantage of the fact we’re at a campsite near a shop. And that I have been carrying an, as yet unused, frying pan. So it’s bacon rolls for breakfast, taken on a picnic bench once the rain has stopped. As we sit there, Sabine wanders past – we hadn’t spotted that she was on the site. At last a familiar face, and only the 5th Challenger we’ve seen since setting off. Even better, Sabine is going our way, so there is the prospect of company at some point on today’s walk.
Key handed over, and deposit safely recovered, we set off for Old Bridge of Tilt and Fenderbridge, and a very easy day of navigation. Our vetted route has us going over the hills from Fealar Lodge to Braemar (tomorrow), but we decided early on in the Challenge that was unlikely to happen.
Somewhere in the misery of the first couple of days, the desire for straightforward walking had already manifested itself, and there wasn’t even a need for a discussion when we finally got to Blair – we’d be going up the glen and the trade route. I’ve never done Glen Tilt before, so I still have something new to look forward to.
A steep climb up lanes brings us to the edge of farmland, and then a muddy wooded path. Soon though, we are on more open ground and following an easy path up alongside the River Tilt. A few people cycle or run past. We’re keeping a lookout in case Sabine pops up. She doesn’t.
It’s one of those coat on-coat off days where it’s impossible to feel quite right. A short shower lasts just long enough for me to don my waterproof jacket, before abruptly ending. I walk on with the coat still on, becoming gradually hotter and hotter. Off it comes. Now I’m too cold unless I keep moving.
As we progress up the glen and approach Forest Lodge, there’s plenty of evidence of the recent storms.
We find a spot for lunch tucked in off the path but wishing there was a bit more shelter. It’s ok as long as I press myself in towards the ground as much as I can, and use my pack as a windbreak.
Our routine for breaks has become pretty fixed now. We’ll announce readiness to resume walking, at which point I’ll pick my pack up, possibly shed a layer, and buckle up ready to go. At this point Darren is still putting things away. Then he’s strapping on his chest pack, a Heath Robinson arrangement of straps and buckles securing a bag that’s seen better days. Then he starts rolling a fag.
I usually bear this in good humour, and have been experimenting with giving him various lengths of head start to equalise our “actually ready to go” timings. None of which actually makes much difference.
Today, with the wind being funneled up the glen, I’m getting cold really quickly waiting for his maneuvers to complete. (Possibly a bit abruptly) I announce that I need to start walking as I’m getting cold, and head off, at the slowest pace I can commensurate with not freezing.
It takes a while for Darren to catch me, hindered by a number of people coming the other way. There’s a group of 4 guys who look like they’re Backpackers Club members, and it’s no surprise to later find that Darren, a fellow member, had stopped for a natter. He certainly does know them.
Meanwhile I’m plodding on as slowly as I can handle.
Darren catches me in time for the Falls of Tarf. There’s a zpacks DCF shelter parked up on the grass in front at about 3:30pm. I think it’s the one that was pitched next to me in Blair. There’s clearly someone in there as I can see shadows moving – the sort of furtive slow movement that you might do when camped up and want to pretend not to be there when a couple of axe murderers walk past.
This is also the point at which we would turn off for Fealar Lodge, were we still going that way. No effort is made to do that though. Darren pulls ahead as we walk over the watershed and into the next glen. I’m flagging a bit.
We spot a tent (looks like a Notch) at Bynack Lodge, reasoning it’s possibly Sabine. We decide to leave her, or whoever it is, alone and push on.
I’ve had dry feet all day, but that ends at the Geldie Burn. I’ve made it across the Bynack Burn and various subsidiary streams, but the Geldie is a rock-hop too far. Soaked feet in sight of camp.
It’s quite busy over at the bothy, with a lot of vehicles and tents pitched by the construction crew. It’s also very open and exposed to a keen wind. More shelter is needed.
So we push on to Ruigh nan Clach and step off path to investigate. There’s another Notch here, belonging to Jon, a Kilchoan starter on the same day as us. A bit of chat as we put up the shelters and then we’re too tired to hang around and socialise much. I chill out in the Pioulou, enjoying the windbreak provided by the trees.