Despite having a couple of really good days, this year’s Challenge had really lived up to its name and I was now mentally and physically drained. The next two and a half days would be mainly road-walking, although I’d planned in a couple of hills and off-road bits to make it more interesting. However, to be completely honest, I didn’t want it to be interesting, I just wanted it to be easy.
Today’s route was due to be 33km with 590m of ascent but I decided Coiliochbhar Hill and Tibberchindy presented the possibility of navigational dismay (ie getting lost) and they were definitely uphill, so I opted for a day of lane walking. By now, my body was used to the routine – it was my brain that was struggling.
The map showed a PH near Muir of Fowlis. I had some food and water with me but, psychologically, I needed that pub to be there. I’d arrive there at the perfect time for a lunch-break and with just a couple of miles further to Alford – where I could have another lunch-break – before a 5-ish mile walk to my evening’s camping spot. I reached the Muir of Fowlis cross-roads and, having not read the map properly, expected the pub to be there. Mild panic ensued, as there was a house which looked like it may have once been a pub. Re-checking the map, I realised I needed to walk a little further towards Alford.
Not only was the pub where the map said it should have been, but it was open and serving food and beer – Inveralmond Ossian. I ordered a veggie pasta dish which came with a huge bowl of veg and a bowl of chips; I’m not sure if it was supposed to – but the Landlord reckoned I needed feeding up if I was to carry my huge rucksack to the East coast.
I spent a very pleasant hour or two chatting with the Landlord and one of the locals. I learned that all of the hotel’s rooms were booked that night due to a big conference in Aberdeen. Even whilst I was eating, a young man came in and asked if there were any rooms available; he’d tried several places to no avail already. I’d been hoping to stay in Pitmedden on the following night, but that was starting to look unlikely as it seemed like every bed within 50 miles of Aberdeen was taken.
Absolutely stuffed to the gunwales, I eventually had to leave the comfort of the pub and waddle my way to Alford. Oh my word, I was full. I’m not sure whether it was greed or not wanting to appear ungrateful but I’d done my best to eat nearly all of the food that had been put in front of me, and I could hardly walk. The few miles into Alford took a lot longer than it should have, mainly due to frequent groaning sit-downs at the side of the road.
However, when I got to Alford, the first thing I saw was an ice-cream shop – and I do like to support the local economy 😉
As well as an ice-cream, I bought a couple of bottles of water just in case I could not find a suitable supply to camp next to . It really was proper summer weather and it was hard to believe that I’d spent the first week of my holiday wrapped up in my waterproofs.
Now, towards the end of another good day, I should have known that the good times wouldn’t last. I got lost. 😦
I had planned to leave Alford by walking through the Country Park. Looking at the map, I should have been able to walk in a straight line almost due East through the park and pick up a minor road. However, after geting lost within the park itself and having to ask for directions, I then came up against a huge locked gate (by the sewage works, I think) and just could not find a way through. Despondent, and a little bit cross, I had to turn round and walk West. Grrr. I reckon this added at least 6km onto my day, and I was not happy about it.
The enforced change of route took me through several patches of woodland. As I walked, I scanned the sides of the road for a suitable place to pitch. I used to assume that “wild camping” was only possible in “wild” places, but nowadays I can often spot a pitch tucked away behind a wall or in a clump of trees. There was a gate on the right hand side; it lead to an overgrown but flattish field with a burn running through it – perfect! There were a few midgies buzzing round so I quickly put up my tent and gathered some water from the burn.
I was still carrying some bottled water from Alford, but I wanted to keep that for drinking as fresh water. The field had obviously had cows in it very recently and the burn was not particularly fast flowing, so I did not want to drink that water untreated but it would be fine if I boiled it. I screwed my stove onto the gas cannister and started to heat up some water while I pottered in the tent. After a few minutes, I realised I could not hear the stove – but I couldn’t smell gas, so it hadn’t blown out. I tightened the stove on the cannister and…. DISASTER…. the stove continued to turn round and round. Oh bother, I must’ve cross-threaded it. I gave it a good staring at, but there was no hope of fixing it. Either the stove or the cannister had stripped threads and I was left with a luke warm cup of water. Oh well, I still had enough fresh water to last the night but it was an uncomfortable feeling knowing that one of my camping essentials was U/S. At least the weather was now warm and dry, and there were plenty of opportunities for food and drink before the East coast.
Now that a cup of coffee was out of the question, I eked out some of my precious drinking water with a healthy slug of Scotch. I wasn’t going to let a mere equipment failure ruin my evening!