Day 10 can only mean one thing – Braemar. I’ve been through there on all 3 of my previous Challenges, and the prospect of the annual visit typically fills me with a heady mix of feelings: anticipation; concern I might not be able to resupply everything I want; concern for the existence of the parcel that I already know has been delivered and waiting for me; excitement at possibly seeing some other Challengers.
But not so much today. I already know that the social possibilities will be much diminished – we started on the 4th day of the stagger, and typically take one more day to get to Braemar than the main wave even when there’s no stagger. We pack up and aim for Braemar expecting it to be a bit more of a ghost town than usual.
I am looking forward to the Co-op, which I know from past experience is well-stocked. I’m looking forward to at least one meal in Gordon’s. And we have a pod at the campsite, and it’s probably time I had a shower.
We stride out along the familiar path down the Dee. No maps are needed today, except before we set off to remind ourselves how far the last bit is, to aid in counting it down as we walk it.
We walk the same paths as before, take the same photos as before, and have the same discussions as before – how long the walk is from Linn of Dee to Mar Lodge, and from there onto Braemar. We both recount previous experiences in the metropolis – largely centering on the preference for the “quiet pint” sort of experience rather than the “beer festival” type vibe I found on my first visit.
Linn of Dee arrives. While Darren scoots off to exploit one of the tall blue cuboids, I find myself chatting to Andrew, one of the rangers. In which I principally express the importance of the maintenance of biscuit levels at Mar Lodge.
The couple of miles from Linn of Dee to Mar Lodge feels like 20 as usual. We duck inside and instantly double our tally of Challengers met – we’re now on 12. One of them is the elusive zpacks shelter owner that we keep seeing. As usual, it’s a fairly languid stop. And Andrew makes an appearance to top the biscuits up – he got the message!
Back on the trail, it’s the usual 6 but feels like 16km road walk into Braemar itself. We dither about a bit and eventually dive into Gordon’s to be confronted with a much slimmed down menu. We haven’t realised Gordon’s has recently changed hands. Worse is to come, as because of this they’re keeping it simple and not opening for evening meals or breakfast yet.
We pop into Braemar Mountain Sports and I emerge with a new layer aimed at curing my temperature woes. And a new pair of rubber ferrules for my poles – one of them is completely worn down by the road walk the other day. Then it’s time to head for our pod, and we learn from the staff at reception that around 70 have pulled out so far – a huge number. Rumours abound, too, of expulsions. But we do at least have our parcels.
We do the usual camp things – first collapse with a brew, then gradually stir ourselves to put devices on to charge, then set about washing bodies and vestments. Then it’s time to hit town.
The chip shop shut at 4pm, just after we passed by, but we were at least aware of this. Everywhere else is rammed, but the streets themselves have an almost post-apocalyptic silence. We can’t get in anywhere, and it doesn’t help that not all of the places are even open. There’s nothing for it but the emergency option of the Co-op. We do our re-provision and buy some dinner too. Then back to the pod for a sad night in.
I think I’m done with Braemar. I always feel a bit disappointed – on the walk to get there I build it up as some sort of paradise, and am inevitably let down. This year it’s even worse – our torrid start to the Challenge only increased the yearning for Braemar. Yet the reality was an overpriced, rammed ghost town and a distinct feeling of merely being tolerated rather than welcomed. It seems the village want our money, and that’s it. The Co-op really is the highlight.
We cheer ourselves up with a spot of planning. The forecast for tomorrow for Lochnagar is a bit fruity and once again it doesn’t look like it’ll be worth the effort to climb. We’d already told ourselves that we’d only bother with it if conditions were perfect anyway. And they won’t be.
Thoughts now are of making sure we finish – not in a desperate lunge to get to the coast as soon as possible, but a steady and certain advance on the North Sea. Darren is still nursing his feet. The contrived route from Ballater over to Glen Tanar and on to Glen Dye, holds little excitement for us at the moment.
We decide to head down the Deeside Way and see how we go – if we’re struggling we can continue all the way to Aberdeen, but we also have the option of cutting down to the Feterresso for our original planned finish too. I like a plan that gives options.
For now though, it’s time for sleep and to let the night wash away the disappointments of Braemar.
8 thoughts on “TGO Challenge 2022 – Day 10: Disappointments”
I’ve only visited Braemar once on my Challenges and found it a bit underwhelming. I prefer Ballater but maybe that’s because I’ve always stayed in the Alexandra Hotel. Shops are better too.
This is the conclusion we’ve come to. Ballater the next day was so much better, and a lot less up itself.
Not a fan of Braemar, never look forward to it and it really is just on route to getting to other, better places. Like Ballater. Love Ballater, even if I have to stay on the campsite, but usually book a private room at the hostel.
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Having stayed in Braemar many times since being a child I found it to be a big disappointment this year. As well as the issues you mention, The Fife appears to be unwelcoming to Challengers. Managed to get a time limited table in Faquarsons at 4pm. Had a day off in Braemar and made the huge mistake of visiting the chippy. Probably the worst fish and chips I’ve ever had (frozen, tasteless and pricey) Perhaps things may improve when The Invercauld re-opens in 2024 – it’s allegedly not going to be quite as upmarket as The Fife Arms is. All not helped by Braemar Lodge having burned down.
Totally. From now on, it’s a daytime passing through sort of place at most for me.
As a first timer Braemar was fine for me. I stayed at the hostel (£55 for a single room). Met Carl and Juraj, of 50 Munro fame, while eating fish and chips with lashings of curry sauce, and joined an interesting bunch for a beer or two at the Invercauld Bar. This is my first visit on foot but I’ve been here many times on a motorcycle. I think it is the people you meet, or are with, that makes or breaks the place so the experience has an element of luck.
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Well, we didn’t meet any people really, because they were all tucked up inside places we couldn’t get in. I don’t totally buy that it’s down to me and my companions or luck as to whether we have a good time – the place and what it offers is part of it too. As a multiple Challenger, I have noticed the trend of gentrification over recent years in Braemar – every year it gets more expensive for a worse experience. It’s not just the Fife, it’s like every other establishment feels they have to go along the same path. I dread what the refurbished Invercauld Arms might turn out like. The concentration of people over the middle weekend of the Challenge probably does makes it worse too. But this year was really just a more extreme version of my my usual Braemar experience. I always feel that the experience never matches the expectations – it’s just that this year I’m pissed off enough to swear “never again”.
I have never taken to Braemar and never spent a night there, just passed through 2 or 3 times in the middle of the day, had a big lunch in Gordon’s, (sad to hear about that), gone to the Coop and moved on. I love Ballater!