Entirely unexpectedly day 3 of 4, turned into day 3 of 3 and a nice cheeky little 15/16 miler turned into a marathon-esque 26 miles of hell and a kip in the car at the end of it, not another night out in the wilds.
The day started off ok. Well, to be fair, more than half the day was ok!
There wasn’t anywhere near the mist and clag of the previous morning when I woke. There was no chance of getting lost in the 20 metres or so it was to reach the loch.
Loch Etchacan looked, bizarrely quite inviting and so ticking off another one on the ‘to-do’ list I went for a dip. Mmmmmm…. not the best idea I’ve ever had.
When I say ‘dip’, I mean it in the loosest of all senses. A dip in a remote Scottish loch sounds amazing, but cold doesn’t quite cut it. Do not try this at home.
It was colder than a witch’s fridge!
Colder than a bucket of penguin sh!t!
Colder than Hoth (one for the geeks out there!)
Really, Really F*CKING COLD!
No need for me to keep the little swimmers frozen to create future mini-Walking Dads, this episode did it for me. I’m sure that, as I write this, month’s later, there’s still a bit of de-frosting to do! And I’m still talking with a slight squeak in my voice!
The only good thing was that my screams woke up the dog in the ‘loud’ camp nearby, which then woke Tony up! No point being the only person awake at 6am is there?
A pot of coffee and some porridge helped to warm me up as did sticking one of those hand-warming pads down the front of my pants. Again, do not try this at home. Chilblains on your old chap is not clever!
Camped packed up. We headed off, making sure we made enough noise walking past ‘loud’ camp to set the dog off again. Little things please tiny minds eh?
We were still at over 1000m at this point but for the next few hours our journey would be down, down, down – following Derry Burn until it turned into Glen Derry. Our first stopping point was at the Hutchison Memorial Hut (Refuge Centre). Thankfully, there was no-one home for us to wake up at that ungodly hour.
We carried on downwards dropping hundreds of metres in a deep valley whilst the landscape around us turned dramatically from the uninhabitable to beautifully inviting Scot’s pine forests, streams and plant-life. Signs of deer were all around us, but they were keeping themselves to themselves – fearful of midges, no doubt – just like us!
At the point where Glen Derry meets Glen Luibeg and becomes Lui Water (which eventually runs into the River Dee on it’s way to Braemar) we pass Bob Scott’s Bothy and Derry Lodge and head up Glen Luibeg. Crossing Luibeg Burn took some innovative use of our walking poles – thanks Tony for that tip. I’d have been up to my waist otherwise!
We were shuffling around the back of Carn a’ Mhaim at this point when the imposing and unforgettable vista of Bod an Deamhain (The Devil’s Point) appeared ahead of us. Tony wanted to climb both it and Cairn Toul behind it, but the soles of my feet were starting to feel hot and tingly – sure signs of blistering, so I declined the offer.
As we headed towards Corrour Bothy, picturesquely nestled at the foot of the Devil’s Point, some of the devil’s other minions started to rise from the heather. Yes, our nemesis (nemesis’s? nemeses?… dunno??) the midge had returned so we didn’t hang around and cracked on. On our way to the bothy we passed a random Danish lady (a volunteer for the National Park) doing some drainage work on the path dressed to the nines in what look like a fencing outfit – mask and everything. All to keep out the midges.
Lunch was had inside the Bothy whilst the midges beat at the doors and windows trying to find a way in. We’d done about 12 miles at this point, with (in theory) about half that again to go – with just the small matter of the Lairig Ghru valley to negotiate.
It’s at this point that the fun ended and the nightmare began. And not many pics from here on in either, as I had other things on my mind.
And that’s because my blisters burst, just as we crossed the bridge back from the bothy and started heading up the valley, in the shadow of The Devil’s Point and Cairn Toul. Walking with burst blisters is never good even on solid ground, but Lairig Ghru wasn’t solid ground at all. Up past the ‘Pools of Dee’, rocks had slipped down the valley in their thousands creating mile upon mile of rocks that you had no choice but to climb over and hop from one to another.
All of which would be good fun if you were a) fit as fuck, b) not knackered or c) suffering from severe blisterage. So for Tony, skipping like a smug f*cking mountain goat from one rock to another – FUN.
For me – HELL!
As such it was painfully slow-going and excrutiatingly painful and Tony was soon way, way ahead of me. But at the back of my mind I knew we weren’t so far away from stopping for the day and having some time to treat my feet.
Unfortunately this never happened. We couldn’t camp in the valley – for fear of being crushed by rock fall, albeit I would’ve taken that chance given the state of my feet.
I bumped into a fellow traveller at this point, heading the way I’d come struggling from – asking how far it was to the bothy at Devil’s Point. When I told him it was a long hard stretch… his nose suddenly started pouring blood. ‘Don’t worry he said – it’s just the altitude, happens all the time’! Absolute loon eh?!
Further on in the vicinity of Castle Hill and Creag a’ Chalamain, in the Chalamain Gap, we looked for good camping ground. But nothing was right – either too wet, too rocky, too heaving with midges.
So onwards we went, mile after mile, one painful step and rocky leap after painful step and rocky leap until after 20+ miles we were in sight of where we’d started the day before – the Cairngorm Ski Resort.
But the day had one final sting in the tail – or for me a dagger to my screamingly painful feet. For whilst the end of our journey was visible and, as the crow flies, only a mile away, the actually journey for humans (not crows) was a winding, up and down trek across a forested valley until we got to the road to the Ski Resort.
It’s at this point, with Tony ahead and out of sight, that I f*cked up badly and decided to take the longest short-cut possible – adding another 2 miles to my journey. It was around 6 o’clock at this point, with the best part of 11 hours and 26 miles of walking behind me – half of that done on blistered feet. So whilst I wasn’t lost, or in danger, I hadn’t got the slightest bit of humour left in my body.
I’d also been listening and singing along to some cheesy choons (to try and distract myself from my ailments) and so my phone was running on fumes too, making me a little nervous.
So using the barest of signals I made a decision and called Tony telling him to come and find me, wherever I was. Tony told me I wasn’t too far from finishing, but I’d had enough and wasn’t moving. About ten seconds later, Tony arrived in the car – the finish was just around the corner – about 200 metres ahead.
Anyhow I was beyond caring. I just needed to get by boots off, switch to trainers and apply some compeed.
So another dinner in the wilds became a Chippy Dinner instead! Fish and Chips and Mushy Peas sat on a bench next to Loch Morlich as the light faded. And before you ask – yes, deep-fried haggis AND deep-fried Mars Bars were on the menu at the Chip Shop!
Perfect eh, you’d imagine? Chippy Dinner, next to the lake, mountains in the background.
Nope! Perfect, except for one thing.
Or should I say ‘eleventy-billion f*cking things’.
They had returned
With a thirst for human flesh
…and mushy peas.
MOTHER-F*CKING TW*TTING MIDGY B*STARDS!
So it was fish and chips and mushy peas… in the car.. staring out the window at the loch. In a car park, next to other cars full of people who’d had their night spoilt by the little bastards.
So another night in the wilds, under the stars, turned into another night in the back of the car – as I couldn’t be arsed to put the tent up! Tony, sensing my decayed sense of humour, pitched his bivvy away from the car and away from my constant blister-driven whingeing.
The whiff of fish and chips and mushy peas and vinegar in the car was quite nice though!
And so was the sunset. Spectacular in fact. Quite possibly the best I’d ever seen.
The next day should have been Day 4 of our walk. Instead it was a quick jaunt back into Aviemore, where I paid for two of the most expensive Full English (Scottish??) breakfasts ever. Tony said paying for them probably hurt more than my blisters did. Cheeky b*stard – albeit he wasn’t wrong!
And then back on the road for home – with Tony driving, as my blistered feet and the pedals of the car were never gonna be friends.
All in all a memorable trip. A remarkable amount of things done in just a few days. And can’t wait for next time!!