After a very pleasant night, a great sleep and a full fat lads breakfast we sat on the front steps of the Cairngorm hotel and donned our boots in glorious sunshine. It looked like being another cracker.
Aviemore to Faindouran lodge 19 miles ish
Aviemore to Faindouran lodge 19 miles ish
Today's first leg was from Aviemore up to Loch Morlich, (funnily enough, where I learned to canoe in 1987, it will be forever embedded in my memory, as the course started by learning Eskimo rolls, after spending a day upside down in the loch, its easy to see why Eskimos find igloos cozy).
Leaving Aviemore began with yet another crossing of the Spey
I didn't expect to be over enamoured with the path which parallels the Cairngorm road, but it turned out to be a very pleasant start, fine weather, easy paths, scenery, and especially the second breakfast at Glenmore.
A few challengers also leaving Aviemore turned off the road early to head through the forest towards the Lairig Ghru, or maybe up and over the Braeriach plateau for the more adventurous.
Bonny loch in the Ryvaon pass, I'd read years ago that Lochan Uaine has loads of leeches, I don't know how true that is, but its a good story (with added embellishments) to give your walking parther the willies.
Out of the pass and back into the hills
Pretty much at the start of the climb up Bynack More. Its still a nice day although the glorious sun of the early morning had disappeared and clouds coming in from the west looked rather ominous.
All of a sudden the wind kicked in, the rain came on and the temperature dropped to "dashed nippy"
Detouring around Bynack More, the path splits hereabouts, right for mountain goats, left for the weak, we went left.
Every now and then I had to check my partner was still there, the camera was the easiest option, turning my head in the wind would have resulted in whiplash.
The wind around the east/south side of Bynack became pretty mental, if anyone at the cheese and wine party got smacked in the head by a bright orange, size small osprey rain cover, sorry. The story of why I even had a small osprey rain cover on a montane 55ltr bergan is a story for another day. Needless to say it made no difference being without it for all the good it was doing.
The last mile or so into the Fords of Avon were rather uncomfortable underfoot, along with a head on gale there wasn't much scenery enjoyment going on. I had offered Suz the chance of a shortcut by going cross country and up and over the saddle on Corie Riabhach, her feet decreed that sticking to the path was probably the best option.
Looking through Strath Nethy. It had been planned route into the Fords but the other (north) side where we intended to enter the glen looked decidedly wet underfoot, hence a spur of the moment change of plan, up and around Bynack More instead. The strath remains as the one route into the Fords of Avon that I've never stepped foot in.
Heading down to the fords of Avon bothy, in reality an emergency shelter, a beautiful place on a nice day, nae much fun on a day like today. There were a surprising amount of folk milling about and a couple of tents already up, quite impressive as the ground is pretty rough and always soaking in the bowl. TBH, I couldnt think of a worse place to stay in this weather, Suz was knackered but even she demanded we push on and get somewhere slightly more three star.
As soon as we turned down Glen Avon the relief from the wind was instant
Pretty wet and knobbly underfoot for the next few miles, there was a spot here and there that would have been plenty comfortable enough to bang up a tent, but Suz had got a second wind and decreed we would stop at Faindouran lodge and not before, thats was me telt then.
Back up towards the fords, snow in the air.
It seemed a long three miles from the fords of Avon to Faindouran, mostly due to the underfoot conditions, but every step was worth it, we arrived to three tents already up and a couple of hardy folk in the remaining bit of the bothy. We had the scarp up in record time, and were into our doss bags with a couple of XL tomato cup a soups within about 10 minutes of arriving. Happiness is boots aff, wrapped in a down bag with a cup a soup
Faindouran lodge to
Corndavon lodge Renatton
This early start thing is becoming a habit. Looking back to the lodge where most folk were still purring in their PJs, the slow and steady crew needed a head start though. The path had now become a LR track, not so much fun, but easier going.
We noticed quite a bit of fresh snow higher up this morning, that made us a bit smug at our decision to keep going last night and get a bit lower.
White hare in there somewhere, quite a few around the glen.
Hinds keeping an eye on the dafties in the glen.
Just before we reached the bridge, we were faced with a choice of following the road that went up and over a wee hill, we left the track and followed a wee path alongside the river, pretty easy going, until the bank become a 20/30 foot sheer (ish) cliff with a fence at the top, we weren't going back so hanging on by our teeth, fingers and remaining toenails we traversed along like real adventurers. (Probably not that dramatic really, but its my story.)
Between the bridge in Glen Avon and the junction of glens at Glen Builig we started bumping into the "cheese and wine crew", big ginger brutes, all scarred and battle hardened, we shuffled past without making eye contact as they jeered and threw tangerine segments.
The Avon is pretty impressive here
I really really like Glen Builig, i wish it was a bit longer, theres always wildlife of some variety, last year I watched as a pair of sea eagles worked the hills right above me here and through into glen Gairn, sadly they weren't about today.
The burn needs fording a couple of times while walking through, today it was easy enough, last time I passed through I got wet feet.
Loch Bulig, as bonny a loch as you'll see hereabouts.
A raft of colour as a very civilised lunch is taken, note the bergan cover, what sort of fool carries two...
All to soon we were passing through the huge deer fence out of Glen Builig and into Glen Gairn, we followed the land rover track and burn down to Corndavon Lodge, our evening stop over. It was early afternoon so we sat against the old lodge and debated our options over a bag of cashews, two tents were already up, but we decided to keep going down to the railway bridge and see how we felt once there.
The old railway bridge over the Gairn, i rekon there isn't actually a proper railway for at least 40/50 miles in any direction. Local legend is that this bridge was destined for the Aberdeen to Braemar line, until Queen Vic said "they'll be nae bloody railway passing my wee hoose". Hence the now defunct line stopped at Ballater and the buckshee bridges from the Balmoral section were sold at car boot sales to the local estates.
At the bridge a couple of fine upstanding fellows were scratching around, we presumed in the hunt for the perfect pitch, so we decided to just wander on a bit, another mile and a half as it turned out.
The two chaps were right behind us as we indicated left and turned off at Renatton, A nice pitch beside the ruin gave a bit of shelter from the wind, the other lads pitched just across the garden. A lovely sunny evening, but a biting wind and random squalls ensured another early night.
Renatton to Ballater
Again up early and rather surprised to see about 9 tents pitched, its a very large area so everyone had plenty of room to stretch out. The bigger surprise was the iced up tent and frost on the ground, there had been a few chilly nights, but last night had been more February than May. Looking back to the hills it was fairly obvious there had also been a decent dump of snow higher up.
A mile or so on LR track took us to the road at Braenaloin, from there it was a simple wander along the road past Gairnshiel lodge.
Second year running ive come across a car wreck in the back of beyond, this one looked very recent, looks like we weren't the only ones surprised by the frost this morning
Just after Stranlea we left the road and crossed the burn on the footbridge,
Away from the road, the going became very pleasant again
a steady climb along tracks and paths through inverenzie saw us top out at Lary
where we joined a quiet wee road that would take us all the way down to Ballater.
A mile or so down the road we came across the only traffic we encountered.
No passing places but he/she? kindly moved over to allow us past. Last seen heading north up the middle of the road.
It was a very early arrival, but the barrel was open so we popped in for a swift livener and a bag of crisps, friendly bunch in there who made us feel very welcome (does sarcasim work in print?) Changed days, it was once "the" bar in Ballater.
After the fastest relaxed pint ever we headed round to the Alexandra. Different class, a fantastic lunch, very friendly service and loads of good company as challengers started coming in, We disappeared after a couple of hours to check in to our digs, the Deeside inn, more on that later.
After a laundry and shower we headed back to the Alex for a grand supper, again in fine company, the place was wall to wall challenge legends, all enjoying the atmosphere and local fruit juices.
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