I woke burrowed in my Arc Alpinist. The temperature dipped a few degrees below freezing and it was windy. But I slept well enough. I called Challenge Control to ask about alternate routes since I didn't want to go cross-country alone. I'd determined the only option was a long walk to Ballater and then towards Tarfside from there. It would likely add a day and just wasn't an option. That was confirmed. I also learned many people had stayed at Gelder Shiel so if I waited a bit I'd have company. Peter was right. Moments after hanging up Les and Issey came by. We would do the walk together.
The trek up the glen along Allt Darrarie was quite picturesque and would make a fine though short day hike (about 5 kilometers to the confluence and back) of its own. When we struck out cross country I couldn't tell if Les was checking a compass of not. They had been in the area before but surely not enough times to know a route my heart. We did check the map now and them but I'd not be surprised to learn the navigation was done totally by eye and matching the land to the map. That land was hilly and full of tussock grass. This was much drier and easier to navigate across than the lands through Feshie watershed or the faded footpath that gave me fits yesterday. I would have gotten through it solo, more slowly to be sure, but it wouldn't have been bad.
We found one person relaxing outside the bothy. Taking his ease on a chair in what was a fine afternoon sun that would eventually give way to clouds. Soon four others came. Les made water for coffee and we all relaxed in each others presence I could have happily taken a nap. The bothy sits in an open area between hills with brisk stream flowing by in front. I'm not sure this would be such a good place to camp in stormy weather since their is no real shelter except for the building itself (which is quite small), but on an afternoon like today it is a lovely spot.
I left before Les and Issey but after the rest had drifted away and out of sight. I was making steady if not fast progress before taking a break which is when they caught up. Les again took the lead and we made much better time. This is country where you do need to pay attention to where you step. Sink holes abound and some are certainly large enough to swallow a person. If you were to fall in getting out could be exceedingly difficult. Maybe you could squirm your way through the underground rushing water to a spot that was closer to the surface, but I suspect it's just as likely you find a spot deeper underground or get trapped in water with no air and drown. If it were misty out I would move through terrain like this with great care indeed. At the top of Muckle Cairn with the wind whipping around we parted ways. I would follow two track and they had more cross country.
The walk off Muckle Cairn was wonderful. The two track was rife with boulders but I was able to shoot down the grassy slope dropping considerable elevation before having to return to the track. By then it had improved and was just the usual hard track passing through rising mountains in a narrow valley. I would pass Stables of Lee which could make good emergency shelter and/or campsite. I was above the rushing Water of Lee river much of the way which always cheers me up even if I have to hike into a stiff chilling breeze under overcast skies (again, but that's the weather). Strolling past Loch Lee with light rippling off the shimmering surface brought pangs of desire to paddle into my thinking. Could one do a packrafting coast to coast trip of Scotland? I know people have canoed across.
Passing Invermark Castle which if I'm right about where I was struck more as a monolithic tower than castle was a reminder of the long history of this region. I ended by walking down the tarmac road past my turning all the long way around into Tarfside (adding probably 2.5 kilometers) where I now sit tapping out this entry. All in all it was a very good day of varied scenery and enjoyable company.
Near the confluence of the small rivers that flow down towards Spittal of Glenmuick (the main river is Allt Darrarie). The trail is a fine path and I suspect one of many in the region around the visitor center at Spittal of Glenmuick. The clouds had been drifting in and out for a time, a prelude to the much more complete overcast later in the afternoon. May 19, 2008. 11:07.
It is a shame the picture doesn't capture the real allure of this area. Sure it is true that I am walking along essentially a back country dirt road (like so much of the hiking) but the very intermittent sun glinting off the rippling water of Loch Lee plus all the other sights and sounds made this stretch of the walk into Tarfside really very pleasant. May 19, 2008. 16:45.