The walk across the Cairngorm National Park along the River Feshie could have been my most challenging to date. The hiking went over boggy plateau where faint trail would often vanish into wet mud-sucking peat to reemerge on the far side someplace else. It was at these points where I would slow to a crawl as I would have to search for the path. But I found myself hiking with a group of Challengers and that pretty much made route finding a non-issue.
We marched across the open but not featureless Feshie watershed under partly sunny and later overcast skies with moderate temperatures and modest breezes, good hiking weather. The footing could be difficult and I did slip a couple times. The views were of the river and seemingly bare land that receded into rising mountains in the distance. We would hop rivulets and avoid mud holes. I chatted some but was mostly paying attention to where I was going and where people in front were. Much thanks to the others for letting me walk with them.
In some ways the start of the walk was the prettiest because it was closest to the river which sported several small rapids. But the entire day was a good one even though by the time I came upon the old building (NO 002 869, about 19.7 kilometers into the day) and found Mary Ann and Laura resting their feet and talking with Lynsey and Allistair I was noticing my feet were tiring too. About two miles later, walking alone on impossible to miss two-track, I reached the not white White Bridge. The wind had picked up and it was spitting rain. I found a couple people tenting but didn't want to stop because while the Tarptent Virga is a fine shelter it isn't meant for sitting around in. Gus came by heading for Mar Lodge and soon so did Laura and Mary Ann. I joined them and we kept each other company while walking the hard ground the remaining 8 kilometers to the lodge. We passed a couple Challengers at campsites and I was given advice on campsites by them. I think I could have camped at many points up to the tarmac road and Linn of Dee. In fact the spot we took a snack break would probably have been ideal with sheltering pines (or are they spruce?) even though a road was nearby. We pushed our aching feet on the final few kilometers on the road to the back of the Mar Lodge estate. It ended up being farther than we thought but at just after 18:30 we arrived and I was booked into my room. All told this ended up being about a 30 kilometer day.
I really should write something about the ballroom. I can't tell you how large it is. The vaulted ceiling is way up there and I feel confident that you could bring in a troupe of people on horseback and have them parade around the center of the hall and still have ample room for numerous guests to sit comfortably at tables and have sumptuous meals. The lighting is indirect and dim. This adds to the feeling of largeness in the ballroom. It also adds a bit of eeriness as you gaze around and realize that you are looking at nearly 2,500 mounted deer heads. These were deer on the estate that were culled over I can't tell you how much time. I don't have a problem with controlling the population of animals and this is certainly an interesting way to display the bounty of the land but I can see how some people could really find the scene disturbing.
I wish I could tell you exactly where this photo was taken but I can't (if someone knows do let me know). I had joined several other Challengers and we were hiking up and across the watershed by this time. The sun had been chased by the clouds and we would walk under gray skies pretty much the rest of the day. Crossing the plateau was a lot of fun. May 16, 2008. 11:45.