Of course, it was raining by the time I’d packed up and got ready to leave the hostel in the morning but at least I’d managed to get all my kit and clothing dry and I felt well refreshed and ready for a long-ish day towards Red Bothy. My route sheet showed that I was going to go via Loch Gynack and Pitmain Lodge, bypassing Kingussie, but the map showed a cycle path running alongside the A86 and, feeling rather dithery, I decided to use that to get to Kingussie and make up the rest of the day’s route as I went along.
I was really looking forward to a cup of fresh coffee when I got to Kingussie. My mind wanders when I’m walking, and I was running through all the delicious goodies that would go well with coffee. There was a choice of cafes on the high street, so I chose one that took my fancy and went in to order my coffee and cake. “Can I have a pot of tea and two rounds of toast with jam, please”, I heard myself ask. Erm, I’m not sure what happened to the intended coffee but the tea, toast and homemade jam were excellent. The cafe proprietor was familiar with the Challenge and had seen me plodding along the side of the road on her way to work a couple of hours previously. We must appear to be an odd bunch of people at times!
Having now avoided a few miles of potential bog by walking on the cycle path and road, it was time to get back on track and head North towards Red Bothy. None of the tracks or paths on the map went exactly in the direction I wanted, so I knew I’d have some trackless bog-wading to contend with, but I rejigged my plans to make the terrain a bit easier at the expense of adding a few kms. During the course of the day I had the occasional hail and snow showers, mixed into the heavy rain, so it made sense to stick to easy tracks where possible.
Somewhere (very roughly) around NH800085, there was a track on the other side of a six-feet high locked gate with a ladder-like fence next to it. Things weren’t really adding up on the map but the track may have been the one I wanted which would allow me to stay on tracks rather than having to go cross-country in a kilometer or so. I climbed the fence and kept an eye on my compass bearing as I followed the track. It was a decent enough track but I seemed to be heading South and East, when I really wanted North, and I decided it was too much of a gamble to persevere with a route that didn’t appear to be marked on the map and could end up taking me in completely the wrong direction. It was now after 5pm and I had at least 7 miles to the bothy (assuming I could wade the Dulnain) and I didn’t want to waste time and effort. If the weather had been better, maybe I’d have carried on a little further. I turned round, walked back to the gate and climbed back over.
My Vetter had advised me about the state of the bridges near Dulnain Bothy and he’d also said that I should try to cross the river here. However, comments that made perfect sense when I was sitting at home became very confusing when I was standing, soaked through, staring at a torrent of swirling water and I was having trouble figuring out what to do for the best.
With hindsight, I should have used the rickety bridge over the Feithlinn then tried to wade the Dulnain and stayed on the West side of the river to Red Bothy. However, I chose to stay on the East side and made several attempts to wade the River Dulnain further on. Again, with hindsight, I’m not sure I would have been able to wade across near Dulnain Bothy either, as there really was A LOT of water. The banks of the river were being washed away in big chunks and, every time I managed to wade across to an island or a bend in the river, I then couldn’t cross the next part and had to go back. The Dulnain has lots of bends here which means that for every wide, shallow, slow-flowing section, you have a narrow, deep, fast-flowing part and you have to cross both to get across!
Resigned to having to walk past Red Bothy and double-back after using the bridge at NH813166, I dug deep and tried to keep my spirits up. My original plan had been to use this bridge but turn right, not left, and camp near Eil a couple of km further on. The bothy would give me warmth and shelter and was well worth the extra distance in the wrong direction.
I reached Red Bothy just after 8pm (having wondered about sleeping in the cab of a bulldozer I saw near the bridge!) and was surprised to find it empty. I now know that it had been full of Challengers the previous night, all having a whale of time around a blazing fire. My experience was rather different.
It was good to be able to strip off my wet clothes and use the table to spread out all of my gear. The last inhabitants had obviously swept the floor so I laid out my matress and sleeping bag on the most comfortable-looking part and boiled up some water for my tea. The bothy was COLD and there was no kindling or firewood inside. I noticed a few pine logs outside but I was too tired to chop wood, so I changed into my warm dry clothes and had my tea.
John Hesp had very kindly given me a couple of spare meals so I sat, wrapped up in my sleeping bag, and tried to eat a pouch of spinachy curry which I’d really been looking forward to. It was tasty and hot, but I was absolutely exhausted and it took a lot of effort to force it all down. As usual, I read the bothy book and was slightly dismayed to read about strange lights seen in the middle of the night by another Challenger. Oh well, “they” can’t get you if you’re fast asleep (and don’t believe in “them”).
Wrapped up in my sleeping bag, I was starting to regret not chopping some wood for the fire. It really was perishing cold and I ended up wearing my pyjama bottoms over my Ron Hills and draping my Paramo smock over my hips inside the sleeping bag. I still had a few extra items of clothing I could have put on and, once I’d managed to get comfortable, I slept all night. Whether the strange lights appeared or not, I’ll never know.