About the Loon

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A happy chap who likes a walk every now and then

Sunday, 26 October 2014

THE TGO CHALLENGE 2014.....DAY 10 (Bonny birds and pagen chefs)

Surely the soul of the hero rejoices,
And rides on the wind o`er his own Highland vale.
Round Lochnagar while the stormy mist gathers,
Winter presides in his cold icy car.
Clouds there encircle the forms of my fathers;
They dwell in the tempests of dark Lochnagar. 

Day 10 Braemar to Sheilin Of Mark 18 miles

A long 18 mile day

A very relaxed start to the day, shave, shower (very warily) and a haircut before ambling downstairs for breakfast, the queue was rather long, blue rinse and horn rimed specs abounded with I doubt anyone under 60 in it, I just assumed they were all challengers…. It later transpired that it was a coach party that had stayed overnight in the hotel. 

As soon as the doors opened they were in like locusts, you could just make out the subtle (you get a seat, I’ll empty the bacon) nods and winks to each other, as an extremely well planned operation was executed with only one or two sweary words used. It was probably planned at 0300Z, while they enjoyed the beautiful sounds of the karaoke drifting up from the bar below. The hotel staff were immediately on the back foot but recovered well when they noticed my young handsome tear stained face quivering at the back, on realising that a couple of innocent hungry bystanders had been caught up in the excitement, and to stave off further bouts of PTSD they bravely ushered us through to a side room, where we received table service and a very fine relaxed breakfast. In the back of my mind though, I knew it was going to be a long day and I should probably get a gildi on and make smoke. 

While the coach party flash mob were cuffed and ushered onto their bus and out of town by the local paramilitary police force, we checked out and headed along to the Coop for my extra supplies, unfortunately some cheap skate suverners had bought all the £3 made out the back whiskey, so I decided to settle on the cheapest of cheap vintage red imported direct from the world famous vineries of the Indian sub continent. 

I was happy enough with my selection process until the lassie at the counter reminded me it was Sunday and they cant sell Alcohol until 1000, (I think its maybe 1000 everyday, I don’t know as im not usually in the habit of purchasing booze that early on any day, the challenge does strange things to you.). Bugger I was to busy enjoying myself the day before that the thought of buying it then hadn’t even crossed my mind, never mind I don’t suppose a cold lonely night on the hill chomping on the finest of Aberdeenshire sirloin with diet coke will kill me, much..

I said cheerio to Mrs McT (not real name) and headed off through the village, past the wee school to begin the climb to Lions Face. There was a surprising amount of folk with bergans on considering it was still relatively early and the amount of alcohol that had been imbued the previous night.

The tracks up the hill through the woods are very pleasant and in the main easy going, with  only a couple of short sharp climbs to ensure any previous evenings excesses are quickly sweated out, every now and then you come across white hares hanging in trees, pretty normal stuff really.

 I didn’t see any other challengers on my path up but when I got to Lions face itself there where three or four folk just moving off after having had a wee “take in the view” stop.

 it is a lovely view out over the Dee and away up towards Ben Avon, there’s also a fine bench at the view point for those requiring 5 minutes R&R

Going down hill towards the A93 I took a wee shortcut, when the path zigs back on itself I just kept going through the woods, I knew there was a style (ish) a bit further on, every half mile saved and all that, I climbed over onto the road and saw a few single challengers spread out ahead, on looking back it seemed like half the challenge were streaming along the road, I can just imagine the reactions of the on coming traffic, they must have thought someone was doing a retreat from Stalingrad remake (on the cheap). 

There's actually a pretty decent verge and the majority of the walk down to Invercauld bridge was done off the road

The old bridge of Dee, just after the Invercauld bridge

Although it was only a very short section and not to much of a problem it’s always nice to get away from the road so the gate into the Balmoral estate was a welcome sight, I actually worked on the estate many years ago so was quite familiar with the area, no chance of getting lost today thankfully, in fact looking back I've only been navigationally challenged the once that I can remember and that was in a car park in bloody Spean Bridge.

Walking through the estate there seemed to be folk everywhere, its easy pleasant going through the estate and it didn’t to take long to get to Connachat cottage, Im sure my vetter had mentioned to be aware and ensure I take the right track here, aye whatever I stayed here, heck i even once reversed a LR through someones garage doors just 1/2 mile further along the track, Im a local, I ken what path to take…. 

Hence the reason I took the completely wrong track and started heading up the side of Craig Doin, when I got to the wee shed at the top/end of the track my suspicions were confirmed. Decision time walk back down and pretend i had gone that way deliberately or head through the woods and cut back onto the LR track above the Connachat burn.

I took the woods route and enjoyed it, at one point I just about stumbled over three hinds they seemed to be pretty used to lost navigationally challenged walkers, they ran off a bit then just stopped and had a laugh at my expense. If you look really carefully you can pick them out, my camera had decided to go tits up so all the photos are on the phone which doesn't really zoom that well, but trust me they're laughing. 

 There wasn’t a proper path through the woods but it was a mature section of the Caledonian forest and they are usually pretty easy walking with plenty of animal trails to jump back and forth on, this was no exception and it wasn’t that long before I came out where id hoped, lost naa just going scenic, honest.

Around about this exact spot many years ago I dragged a stag out onto the road, at the same time a little old wifie came around the corner driving a range rover, nae crown on but the boss and her sister jumped out (regally) and we had a grand chat for a good 15 minutes or so, pretty surreal stuff.

Happily zipping along on the right track again I skirted Ripe hill and headed towards the Gelder burn, once there I got off the path, filled the water bottle, got the boots and socks off and sat down to some well deserved biscuits and cheese. There was a slight moment of panic when whilst daydreaming I attempted to utilise the wrong spread on the biscuits, luckily I had one of those “what are you doing” moments and stopped myself, thankfully I don’t require to carry tubes of anesol, or I would have looked a right arse…

A few folk wandered past but they all seemed to be heading for Gelder Shiel bothy (in the wee wood, with Lochnagar and meikle pap behind), quite a short day I thought, but maybe the sensible option after the previous days shenanigans. I've slept there a few times over the years and know that the path from the Bothy up towards Conachcraig can be a bit of a pain, my plan was just to stick with the LR track to the east of the Gelder and bypass the bothy completely.

 I chatted to this bonny wee bird for a while

 Ive never understood the lucky foot thing, theres a three legged furry beastie running around the hill, missing a limb and probably not exactly feeling overly lucky.

The small wood in the foreground hides the Gelder, the wooded hill behind it is ripe hill.

the track up to the Belach between Conachcraig and meikle pap is a lot longer walk than I remembered, there was no one either in front or behind although I could see quite a lot of folk heading along to the Gelder Bothy on the track below me.

For the first time on the challenge I plugged in my ipod, ramped it right up and listened to the Shamen for a couple of miles whilst head banging and conducting the band with my walking poles. 

Eventually I reached the top with Glen Muick spread out below me, off to my right there were quite a few day walkers heading up the well worn path to Lochnagar. 

Looking back down into the Gelder, you can just make out the Gelder Shiel bothy and ripe hill away in the distance.

Still a wee smattering of snow around up here, a couple of weeks back there was a lot, I was wondering at the time if it would thin out before the challenge.

From my vantage point I could see all the way across the glen to muckle cairn, and the rough area of my planned over night spot, Glen Muick has become like another second home over the last few years, most weekends through the summer we drive up the deeside road to enjoy the glen and surrounding hills, so again I was on pretty familiar ground.

Going down the LR track into the glen can be pretty dodgy as it has a couple of steepish sections with very loose shingle underfoot, if your not paying attention you can quite easily find yourself coming a cropper. Normally when doing Lochnagar we climb up this track and decend the mountain by the Glas Allt Shiel path to Loch Muick, but there was no way that route was in my plans for today. So straight down to the glen floor it was.

 Then straight across (avoiding the grouse crossing without looking) to the Spittal of Glenmuick keepers cottage. Swinging the lamp again... I also used to work in Glenesk many years ago as a trainee keeper, I lived with a keeper and his family and by coincidence, one of the sons that I lived with is now the keeper in the cottage at Glenmuick, small world.

I didn’t stop in the glen as it was really busy, a lot of folk drive up and just have a wander around the immediate area, there’s usually a herd or two of red deer hanging around so its popular with families, walkers and bikers. I kept going past the keepers cottage and followed the Allt Darrarie for a few hundred yards before stopping for another wee break, my usual rule of thumb involves a stop roughly every 5, 9 and 13 miles but today was a bit longer and id forgotten my own rules

Following the Allt Darrarie was very enjoyable and easy going, I was vaguely keeping an eye out for prospective camp sites, there were plenty of wee spots that would have done if required, but I was enjoying myself and not overly tired either, so the planned trek up to the  Shielin of Mark bothy was still on, i just kinda like to have fall back spots, in case of mishaps. 

I hadn't seen another challenger since the Gelder Shiel, I half expected to see some around here, but I seemed to be the only one about, I did notice a couple of tents in the field beside the rangers hut at the Spittal,  I suspect they weren't challengers though plus I'm sure we are asked not to camp in that vicinity anyway.

Looking back down the Allt Darrarie from near the top end, it looks pretty hard going but in reality there's a fine easy path all the way.

The spot where you leave the Allt Darrarie and follow the burn of Muhamad for a short bit, its quite narrow with a bit of scrabbling around as the path gets a bit more vague in a couple of spots, I was trying to guage the best bit to cross the wee burn and climb out of the mini glen.

I seemed to pick the right spot (more luck than skill) and followed a tiny wee burn up through a fine green bit, there was a couple of soggy patches but it the main it was a very pleasant walk

You pass through a couple of peat hags and then all of a sudden the ground in front of you drops away to the burn that eventually becomes the water of mark. Its quite a steep, high embankment and rather than drop down into it, I stayed high and carefully made my way along the bank allowing myself to slowly decend as I went, 

Just as I was beginning to doubt my map reading for the second time in one day, the bothy appeared about 300 yards in front of me. 

As I wandered up to the bothy I noticed 4 tents already there, I had inadvertently stumbled upon a coven of bloggers,  (Ian Sommerville, John Sanderson and David Williams), probably the nicest thing they've been called for a while... I had a quick chat but quickly realised it was far too dangerous pitching close by as it became frighteningly apparent that pagan rituals would be talking place with plastic bags, custard, cooking whisky and other evil foodstuffs, I disapeared back up the burn to a fine wee patch, got the tent up and rustled up a quick sirloin, hopefully the nasty smell didnt travel to far downwind. 

Suitably sated I felt brave enough to go back down to the bothy and confront the demons, they actually seemed all right once they had finished the rituals, I enjoyed the company and learnt quite a lot from the group of experienced wanderers. As the evening progressed a couple more tents sprang up and even more frighteningly basterised versions of school dinners appeared.

Day 10 Thoughts and Impressions

A long day, but a very enjoyable one, started and finished off in great company. Again no cuckoos, apart from the crazy folk at the bothy. The vetors advice is valuable and definitely worth paying attention to. I love Lochnagar.



  1. What a great write up. However, it is a well known fact that cooking steak just upwind of Challengers eating dehydrated Mountain House crap followed by Tesco instant custard made with the secret plastic bag method is an act of pure evil and you should make afull, written and very craven apology, preferably with some monetary recompense.

    1. You could be banned for the mere mention of "mo####ry", I'm from Aberdeen were so thrifty the seagulls have to bring their own sandwiches up here, another instalment of the pagen chefs tonight I rekon.

  2. And another thing! I was paying attention when I came a cropper on that path coming down to the Spittal. I reckon I was pushed by one of my companions, jealous of my pretty boy face.

    1. Ha, id actually forgotten you took a nose dive going down there, ive also had a few slips going down there.

  3. "While the coach party flash mob were cuffed and ushered onto their bus and out of town..." Indeed. That lot can strip a breakfast buffet in less than a minute.
    You're on a roll, now.
    Will you finish your excellent scribblings before your next route is vetted?

    1. Alan, Aye its been a bit of an epic write up, not helped by Google locking me out of blogger for a while, well im blaming them anyway. Next routes done, even though it was going to be a one off... just hoping to be selected now, somehow I hope to pass about 2 miles south of your tea party after an oban sprint start