Half of the Challenge was camped at Ballater. I’d briefly chatted with a couple of Challengers in the evening but it was only in the morning that I realised just how many were there. I spent a very leisurely couple of hours catching up with old friends and making a few new ones. Nobody seemed to be in a rush, although I noticed that some had already been up and away whilst I was still asleep. I felt refreshed and ready to crack on with the walk. As a solo walker I’m usually happy on my own but this visit to Ballater, with its opportunity for a bit of gentle socialising, had given me the morale boost I needed.
My original plan for today was to walk to Tarfside and camp there. However, after several long, tiring days I made up my mind to camp a few miles short which would even out the distance today and tomorrow and give me a bit of a rest. I had a Munro – Mount Keen – on my route sheet but I also knew that there was a pretty good chance that I’d take the bypass path to the West. Still, I was definitely going near a Munro and I could always see what happened when I got there.
I soon got the impression that Mount Keen must be a popular mountain as I kept coming across signs.
Despite there being plenty of fellow Challengers around, I walked alone ….. apart from when this little fella accompanied me for at least 15 minutes.
I knew that several Challengers were going to camp at Shiel of Glentanar. It looked like a good spot and by 1:30pm I could already see several of them making camp.
Just after taking this photo I tripped and gave myself a nasty jolt. The weather was starting to get a bit sleety and – despite the opportunity of a pleasant camping spot down in the glen – I wanted to get the mountain behind me rather than waking up in the morning with aches and pains, poor weather and a flippin’ big hill ahead of me.
As I ascended the Mounth Road the weather got worse. The wind was icy and there was a mix of sleet and snow. Navigation was simple enough and I was grateful for that as I really didn’t want to stop to get my bearings. At times I wondered about stopping to put on some warmer clothes or change my socks but I gambled on staying warmer by keeping moving rather than risking chilling even more by stopping. It was the sort of weather in which I would have used my bothy bag to warm up and have a flask of tea …. although I had neither of these things with me.
Through the falling snow I could see two cyclists who appeared to be pushing their bikes to the summit. At first I couldn’t figure out what they were doing but then I realised that they had a trailer on one of the bikes and they were alternately pushing or riding their bikes up the hill then walking back and manhandling the trailer over the rough terrain.
Even though I’d not taken the summit route, it was a relief to eventually drop down and get out of the wind. The cyclists soon caught me up and stopped for a chat. I was amused to see that their backs were covered in snow…. then realised that mine was too.
From the hillside I could see that Glen Mark was just what I’d been hoping for and that there’d be somewhere to camp.
Queen’s Well was interesting …..
…. but I presume Queen Victoria had a hardier constitution than me, as I certainly wouldn’t have drunk from this fetid pool:
The cyclists were camped nearby and I decided to go on a little further. I camped in the lee of a small wood a mile or so from the road. It was a lovely spot and this photo, taken next morning, is one of my favourite from this crossing.