Ballater to Glen Tanar
Monday 19th May
Start 11:00, finish 2:00, 9.7km
Today was always meant to be a short day, to allow for resupply and avoid a long walk to Tarfside. I looked out of the bedroom window to check the weather at about 6:00am. To my surprise someone had pitched their Scarp on the green outside the hotel! 10/10 for style. I later found out that it was Fred Campbell who had been told by the hotel that it would be OK.
I was down to the restaurant for breakfast promptly. Humphrey, Bert and Suus were already at their tables. Humphrey gave me some tips on my day’s route. It was good to have a proper breakfast instead of granola bars.
Back in the bedroom, I did a full rucksack re-pack. By 9:30, I checked out and paid the bill. Next stop was the Co-op to stock up on food. While the range of food was better than Drumnadrochit, the choice was still quite limited. However, I bought what I needed and made my way back to the green outside the hotel, to a bench to pack my supplies.
Just as I finished packing, a familiar figure ambled by. It was Ant Cathcart, who I had met in 2012 on the Challenge. He was walking with Sean Putnam, who introduced himself. After a chat about weather and routes, Ant and Sean left to do their own shopping.
By now it was nearly 11:00am, so it was a really late start, even for me. I crossed the bridge and took the short walk down the B976 and turned off onto a farm track to Balintober. The weather was decidedly murky, with the hills wreathed in cloud and mist.
From behind I was hailed by another backpacker. It was Rob Leech. I waited for him to catch up. He seemed to be struggling a bit. I later found out that he had a 34kg pack and was doing the Challenge as part of some army training. No wonder his feet were a mess!
The navigation was not entirely straightforward and we took a line along the edge of a field. We spotted the path on the other side of the fence and climbed over. The path was signposted Glen Tanar and Mount Keen, confirming we were going the right way.
We started the gentle ascent of Craig Vallich on a LRT. It was quite humid, with not much breeze. Although the cloud was dark and clinging to the hill tops, the sun seemed to be trying to break through. It was obvious that Rob was going to be much slower than me, so when he stopped for a break, I pushed on.
The track was easy and well graded, so even though it was climbing, it was possible to make good time. Before entering the mist, I fortified myself with a Co-op fruit salad. I put on my windproof as the breeze had picked up. Reaching the track junction and lochans, the way to Mount Keen was signposted. I followed the track a little way before turning east on a footpath, again signposted.
Visibility was restricted by the mist. It felt a little bit like Dartmoor with the relatively featureless, boggy terrain. By now I had my compass out to walk on a bearing. After a little deviation, I picked up the path again, which was marked by small wooden stakes at intervals.
At Lach na Gualainn there was an iron gate and a cross. On the other side the track began to descend and I had glimpses of Glen Tanar. After crossing an unnamed burn, the path became more distinct.
As I emerged below the cloud, I could see the floor of the glen and the great bulk of Mount Keen beyond. Further on, I spied the grass at the end on the glen, which was my destination. It looked for all the world like a cricket pitch.
When I reached it, I was amazed at its incongruity. Here was a meadow of close cropped grass with daisies surrounded by slopes of heather. Totally surreal. I was spoilt for choice with places to pitch my tent.
As I was putting my tent up, I was hailed by another Challenger, Fred Campbell. He had read my blog and was interested in my tent mods, so he got a guided tour! In the course of our conversation, it emerged that it was his Scarp pitched outside the hotel, that I had seen earlier that morning.
After Fred said goodbye, another Challenger arrived, Andy Gerrard. Like me, this was his destination for the day and he wandered off to put up his tent. By this time, the cloud had cleared and it was a beautiful, warm, sunny afternoon. It was so good, that I decided to to wash my smelly fleece, base layer and socks as they ought to dry in the sun and wind.
A little later, Rob Leech arrived. I said there was plenty of room on the grass, but he decided to pitch down by the river. After a cup of tea, I wandered over to Andy’s tent for a chat. After talking for a while, it was time for dinner.
I had bought some pork pies in Ballater, so I ate those and further reduced the weight of the food in my pack. As the sun went down, I took down my washing, most of which had dried. Now all my socks were clean, as were my base layers and fleece. Luxury.