Mar Lodge also offers Challengers a help yourself continental breakfast for a fiver. Great value, especially when you get up early, eat whilst everybody else sleeps, pack your tent up then go and have another breakfast whilst almost everybody else except Dave the Devon policeman still sleeps. Not that I would stoop so low as to eat a second breakfast and pretend it was my first. Certainly not. Oh no, that would be just greed that would.
|Victoria Bridge on the way out of Mar Lodge|
The walk into Braemar is short and sweet. I walked with Alan Kay from Ilkley (I don’t think he was bah tat), who had come down from camping at a very windy White Bridge that morning. We met a married couple of Challengers on the way. The lady was sitting down on the verge tending blisters. Her husband chivalrously helped her on with her pack. “Crikey this is light” he said as he picked it up. I asked her how she managed to have such a small load. “Simple” she replied “I do all the packing. I pack his sack as well as mine.” I assume after that revelation they will both be consulting family law solicitors.
|Braemar from Creag Choinnich|
Braemar. My first visit. As I arrived it started to rain. Later it heaved down. Absolutely heaved. Cats and dogs and lions and tigers. My B and B, Callater Lodge on the Glen Shee Road, let me in at 12.30pm, long before the official 4.00pm opening time. Thanks hosts. Spent the afternoon drinking tea, eating and drinking Guinness, but not necessarily in that order. Actually it was in that order. As those heavens really opened I was thankful that I had finished early for the day, and that I wasn’t staying on the camp site. Not well'ard me, you see. The town was filled with Challengers and I met others only known previously through the blogosphere, including Martin Rye and Philip Werner, both with their wealth of knowledge on matters backpack. I also met more loveliness in the forms of Norma and John Keohane who were staying at the same B and B. Well Norma is lovely, whilst John is not. John is just funny. That’s funny ha ha not funny weird, although he may be weird too, I can’t judge, although I can have suspicions. And of course there were a whole bunch of other Challenge legends around including Messrs Lambert, Walker and Sloman with great stories of derring do to tell. Alan, in particular, enthralled the audience as the photo below shows. I think I may have taken this on the Sunday morning, but I am not sure whether he was on the same anecdote from the Saturday at this time or whether he had moved on to another one.
It was a disappointing evening in the Moorfield. I thought there would be communal Challenge entertainment. There wasn’t. I was put on a table for one to eat (I mean to eat dinner, not to eat the table), just like Billy All On His Own Because He Is So Pathetic He Has No Mates. I wasn’t having that, so I physically man handled another solo Challenger who was dining alone, Tony Pugh, and twisted his arm behind his back until he submitted and agreed to sit with me. “Just pretend we are together”, I hissed, “and make out that I am the sort of guy that people would like to spend the evening with. If you don’t you’re dead meat”.
Sunday was a planned rest day and was a considerably better day, both socially (sorry that is not a criticism of Tony Pugh who was good company) and weatherwise. James Boulter stormed in to town despite his bad ankle. Hurrah! Chaz and Dave arrived too. More cheers. I was feeling fit, and not really in need of anymore rest after the short Saturday, so in the fabulous afternoon sunshine I walked up Creag Choinnich (538m above seal level), the small but perfectly formed hill behind the town, admiring the beautiful pines on the lower slopes, disturbing a small herd of deer higher up, and enjoying the great views of the village, and the Dee Valley and surrounding mountains from the top.
|The Pines on the way up Creag Choinnich|
|Looking down the Dee Valley from Creag Choinnich|
James and I had a good meal in the Old Bakery in the evening before heading into the Fife Arms. We took our Guinnesses and joined Chaz and Dave at a small window table. They were eating pizza. What happened next was all over in about 15 seconds, so the precise sequence of events is unclear. But as we discussed our Challenge heroics a brown streak of feathers flashed through the air between the four of us. It was a low flying duck, moving at what seemed the speed of an RAF Jet Fighter. It splatted into the window, bounced and landed slap in the middle of our table. It reared up on its webbed feet and flapped its wings violently and at speed. I grabbed my Guinness and leant backwards. James grabbed his Guinness and leant backwards. Chaz kept on eating. Dave the young Dutchman calmly leant forwards, reached out, took the duck by its neck and held it at arms length away from the table. The duck flapped. Dave didn’t. The barman walked over, took the duck by the neck and said “sorry about that guys”, and carried the duck to the front door and chucked it out into the street as if it was a drunk on a rough Saturday night.
We looked down. The table was covered in - how can I put this delicately? – the biggest pile of bright green duck shit you ever did see. I checked my Guinness. The head was still perfectly cream. James did the same. His was also ok. To me, Chaz and Dave’s pizzas now looked dead dodgy. Were those anchovies, green peppers or something far less edible? The barman reappeared. “I’ll get you some fresh meals” fellas he said. “No need, these will be fine” said Chaz, taking a mouthful. Dutchmen are just so cool.
This incident had a fortunate spin off. We all sought out another table and hence ended up making more new acquaintances, the wonderful Vicky and Toby from Leeds, both with lots of interesting tales to tell, and not all Challenge related. I shan’t repeat them as that would be telling tales….