I'm not sure exactly when I walked out the door of my B&B but it was after 09:00. The skies were overcast and it felt a bit blustery. I walked down the quiet road towards the forest that has paths that lead, among other places, past the Lion's Face rock formation. The woods here are full of nice paths and I began ascending the path I thought would take me where I needed to go. But I had gone the wrong way and as I gained elevation I realized I had made an error and was climbing Craag Choinnich. As I left the woods I noticed that the wind had picked up considerably and I donned my poncho more for wind protection than against the spitting rains. The view from the top of the peak was nice enough but it really was not worth the extra time and effort to get up there given the quality of the weather. However, on a nice day I think this must be a popular spot. I went back down and took a path that would take me out to the A93. I ended up popping out a lot sooner than I would have liked. The best path for avoiding the A93 turns out to be off to the right of where I was. Walking the busy road was not much fun but you do what you have to do.
Photo: The view from the Craag Choinnich. Definitely a windy morning up on this fairly exposed bit of rock above Braemar.
I crossed over the Invercauld Bridge into the Balloochbuie Forest and began heading towards Balmoral Castle. At this point the walking is all along forest service style roads. The roads in this managed forest are very well cared for. In fact I would pass by a road crew that was adding gravel to the road base and then flattening it down with a steam roller, what a huge racket that made. During part of this time walking under the now clear skies I hustled to keep up with another Challenger who set a pace I really could not keep up with over the long haul. We passed by the old cottage, with some aggressive dogs that I definitely would not trust, where two years back I realized I was going the wrong way (fortunately a path exists that leads, or used to, back towards Glas Alt Shiel and Gelder Shiel bothy). My hiking buddy had been hiking for a lot longer than I and decided to pause for a tea break. I kept going along the forest road alone.
Photos: We were still a little ways from the castle at Balmoral when we encountered these hairy horses and reddish brown cattle. The walk had been through managed forest up to this point where farm fields took over before coming to the castle and its immediate surrounds.
As I was photographing some rather hairy horses in fields not that far from Balmoral Castle my erstwhile partner caught up to me and we continued on towards the castle. We had hoped to see the castle but we couldn't get close to it without paying an entrance fee which we did not intend to do. We both thought there was a tea room we could get a drink at but if it was present I certainly did not see it (we had separated again by this point). It was time to head down the B road towards Ballater. This was a quiet road with infrequent traffic which made it tolerable. But it is a long walk.
Passing by the sign reading "Ballater 6" around 16:00 was a rather depressing event. It meant I still had 6 miles to go and I had thought I was a bit closer than that. I pushed on. I passed the old memorial to Queen Victoria and pushed on. I passed by some nice farms with huge fields and shaggy horses. Some had people working in them. I kept pushing on. I passed a sign telling me that Spital of Glenmuick was 7 miles away and continued on along the eastern bank of the river Dee. Traffic increased and at last I was crossing the bridge that would put me in the heart of Ballater - it was a bit pasted 18:00. If only I had known where the campground was I might have gone right there and camped out but instead I spent quite a bit of time tracking down a room. I ran into a few people, Challenters from prior years who recognized me, and learned from them of a possible place to stay. Turned out they were full but the lady who ran the place called another guest house and found that he had a room left. I walked over to that B&B (turned out to be farther away than I had thought though still only 5 minutes from the heart of the village) and found a welcoming B&B waiting for me (the Glenernan Guest House). Once I settled in I went down to the Alexandra where I had learned I could get a good meal and was likely to find other Challengers. The guest house owner was right on both counts.
I had a reasonably good steak though nothing special after enjoying a hard cider at the bar while waiting for a table. As I finished off my meal Mase, Paddy, and Jill who I had first met back at Stravaigers campground and bunkhouse in Fort Augustus came on by. They had already eaten but were hanging out enjoying the fine atmosphere of the place before returning to their campsite. I joined them and for the next few hours, until the staff told us it was time for them to close, we enjoyed each others company and shared a few good drinks. It was a great way to spend the night. I left them to return to the campground (never did figure out where it was) and I went back to my B&B. As I arrived I met the owner who was closing things up for the night. I hope I did not seem to drunk. I don't think I was. I'll sleep well.
Location: Ballater (near Glenernan B&B)
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