Saturday, 29 September 2012

Walking the Lairig Ghru.

Walking the Lairig Ghru.

As per normal, I do love my tea in the morning and so found a local cafe called interestingly Taste to have a bite to eat and plenty of tea. Poems were flowing as I sat and looked out of the windows. A dear friend Joyce, my sister in law Debbie's mother had died this morning and so I was decidedly in somber mood. I knew like everyone, that the cancer once it got hold of you, was likely to come back and finish the job. She had been a fighter and a stalwart her whole life and would be sadly missed by many.
(Rest in peace Joyce Mears.)

The staff here were wonderful, I got speaking with Ros the owner and said that I had thoroughly enjoyed the tea and comfortable surroundings. A couple of bikers had rolled up and I offered to share my couches with them, and it would also help me to focus on the positives of this life. Florent from Aberdeen, and Siggy from Kent, both Icelandic nationals, one worked in Poland of all places but came back to his house in Aberdeen the other lived and worked in Kent. They gave me an unique opportunity to add some other nationals to my growing list of benefactors and people who share their stories with me. We passed a while chatting before they had to set off home, in the ease of two wheeled performance.
I had decided not to walk today for the obvious reason, and that I wanted to give my niggling knee a day off before the nastiness it would receive climbing and avoiding falling, on the mountains tomorrow. I walked the glen around the base of several cairns close to Braemar and then up the one directly behind the town, direction of Balmoral where my regal friend lives. She unfortunately hadn't sent an invitation to tea, as she had been here last week for the highland games in Braemar, and had now nipped off to do some more of her official Diamond Jubilee engagements. I had texted her but maybe she had forgotten to prepare the banquet for me. Still I do understand, she is very popular at the moment.

Out walking I met a German couple, Claudius and Merel, from Hanover. A young couple touring Scotland and making the most of their summer holidays. We chatted and walked together for a while and they showed me a funny side to our joint humours and how well we can interact with people of other races and from other parts of the world when we try harder. They popped off to see the Braemar Castle, they had been surprised when I had told them the one they had photographed from the top of the hill was not Braemar Castle but a private house to some wealthy family.

Later as I was in the woods I was surprised to find a fully decorated Christmas tree in the middle of a lot of other fir trees. It was amusing and yet I felt it must have been a tribute to someone passed... Kind of a memorial???
I couldn't afford to eat at any of the hotels or restaurants here, so bought a few supplies from the Co-op. Milk was on sale as the date was out tonight, and I got a two pint for 10p and the same for some yogurt and bread. Wahoo....
I ate my meal overlooking the Dee as it wound around the glen here and the darkness eventually overtook everything, leaving me ready to shiver the night away. The evenings are decidedly colder now, but I was still enjoying it all.

As the dawn broke a few dog walkers passed me and I realised it was a sign to get moving, as the day would possibly be a long one. 26 miles to Aviemore through the mountains would be like forty anywhere else. But I knew that there would be Bothy's on the way. (A stone or timber hut for walkers/climbers who got stuck in the mountains overnight) Basic shelters with a log stove to cook on or keep warm by.

The early stage was a stroll along the Dee, to the Lynn of Dee, via a fairly busy road. The German couple from yesterday passed and waved as they headed northward.

After a couple of hours I found the Car park that everyone had said was at the bottom of the trail. I sat and ate some of my food, but was getting eaten alive by the midges. When people came along they might have mistook me for an alpine skier as all that was exposed was my eyes, being covered in hat scarf and gloves to stop the little blighters munching on Peaceful Warrior. The track was not incredibly well signposted, but then again I suppose most other walkers are clever enough (or at least not daft enough) to walk without guide maps of the cairns and paths.....

I was soon stumbling across the famous Bob Scotts Bothy, at the side of the river and alongside the trail.
I knocked the door. A weird throwback to the etiquete of a former life. A voice the other side said come in. Gary the man inside was laughing as I entered, he knew I was from south of the border as nobody else would have knocked, they would have just walked right in.

The Bothy is owned by a charity I think and was left by Bob Scott for the very aim of helping lone or wayward walkers in the mountains. Anyone can use them as long as they respect the simple rules of behaviour towards others, and Gary was one of those such people. He offered me a coffee which was wonderful as I had no such luxury items. He was from Aberdeen and was here to get a break form life as it was in his neck of the woods. He had cycled here and was planning on being here for a week or so. We chatted about everything and pretty soon we were deep into divorces and relationships and I learned a lot about life from the east coast of Scotland. After a couple of hours I said that I really needed to get a move on otherwise I would not make the next Bothy some 5 miles away before dark. Gary thanked me for showing him a few new ways of looking at life situations, which I am glad to be able to have done. The joy was likewise, as it is when I meet people from all walks of life and backgrounds and social groups. If only the rest of the world could take this approach to others and their views and culture, then maybe all wars would cease one day. I live in hope that the sense we are born with will eventually kick in, and end senseless aggression and violence towards others, human and animal.

The walking became decidedly harder as the mountain grew steeper, though I was merely in the valley between. It tested my endurance I can tell you. I wondered if it would kill me off before the next Bothy. I saw the most amazing close up herd of Red Deer on the hillside to my right. They all stood watching me, and checking out if my intentions were harmful or not. Presumably they reasoned me no threat as they carried on grazing happily. As I rose higher the path broke away in two directions. My intuition said left the reasoning part said right. So glad I used my intuition as the right hand one led towards BenDui and Gorm the highest peaks in this mountain range.

I crossed a small river and climbed some pretty steep steps for a while until the route went to the right at the place where several valleys met. I wondered how far the next Bothy was as it was nowhere in sight and I could see a few straight miles ahead. 

Just as the light had begun to fade I saw the bridge made by students and the Corrour Bothy. I nearly wept for joy.
Inside were a few other weary travelers but as this Bothy was in such a remote place there was no wood from fallen trees to collect, and so no fire roaring in the stove as I arrived. I nearly wept for sadness.
Still, Tom from Shrewsbury, Mike and his girlfriend Christina from the Chec Republic made me most welcome with their tales of adventures new and the struggles to get here. Tom was doing an event for a charity that helped his daughter Rosie. He was walking or rather climbing, every 4000+ foot mountain in Scotland in a week. He had only Ben Macdhui and Cairn Gorm to do tomorrow before he headed home triumphantly. He was raising money for the Hope House Children's Hospice, a very worthy cause indeed. (Justgiving/TomCave) As he would not be needing his last food pouch he offered it to me, cooking included, which meant that I was going to have a hot meal after all. Spicy Couscus and meatballs.... I was in heaven I swear, as I ate the carefully prepared meal. I felt under prepared as all the others had their boilers and stoves and JetBoil gear for cooking and hot drinks. I didn't even have a cup for the coffee offered, after I ditched so many things a few weeks back to try to reduce weight being carried. Tom was a kind man and took it upon himself to share his stuff with me, which was most appreciated.
As we sat shivering, chatting and preparing to bed down, a group of 4 more walkers arrived, and thank god they had carried fuel bricks with them, so the cabin soon became very warm indeed as they cooked their food and shared tales with us all. It was a not sure it would have held many more.
In the morning Mike and Christina were the first to leave closely followed by Tom who needed to get a good start on the two peaks he needed to cancel off the list.. I was next to leave as the others had decided to climb the mountain behind the hut before breakfast. They kindly informed me that weather reports were predicting high winds this afternoon coming up the Liarig Ghru, reaching gust of about 100 miles per hour. I thanked them for the tip and was glad that at the moment the winds were behind me pushing me up the climb towards Aviemore. I could see what appeared to be the highest point in the valley as I passed the foot of Ben Macdhui some time later, but the wind was already picking up. I felt like the sail of a ship as the wind battered me from side to side. By the time I reached the peak, another peak had appeared, giving me rise to remember that I should never get my hopes up just on what I can see, as there may always be something hiding beyond that point. Its a bit like life really. Just as you imaging you've reached the top, you find there are more tops to climb to. Unless of course you are content with never climbing and always being at the bottom of the experience, which I am not. Some people say, that if you climb to such heights, the fall will do you more damage than the thrill received for climbing. I say, those people probably live in fear of not reaching the top, so they make ridiculous statements that seem wise, whilst not aspiring the spirit to rise above fear......But I still love them, even if they won't accept the challenge life throws at them.

Back to Lairig Ghru, the wind was now coming directly at me from the north and it was pushing me every which way but loose. I struggled to stand at times as the almost million mile an hour wind gusts threw me from rock to rock. At one point I was literally pinned to a huge boulder waiting for the wind to drop off so that I could carry on the decent into the national park below. As you can see from the photos, the views were awesome and very powerful on my soul. I felt as though I had been here before and yet I am sure I have never been through this pass in this life.

Later after much struggling across boulders and streams and across boggy marshes, I exited the mountains and the Lairig Ghru trail and into lush woodlands of the Rothiemurchus estate. I met a lady coming out of her driveway and she directed me towards the town some 3 miles away via less strenuos pathways and into the edge of Aviemore, the nations most famous ski resort. (Not largest) I saw what I considered the youth hostel, it was called the Bunk House. I checked in for a well deserved shower and bed at a reasonable price for the resort. I assumed that the Old Bridge restaurant next door which was attached to the hostel would be the place to eat. I however found out to my chargrin that the prices of a simple meal were as much as the accommodation. I went elsewhere, but the girl who tried to take my order must have thought me rude to suggest that it was expensive. She said that the soup was quite reasonable at £4.75 and I nearly laughed at her patronising tone. To be honest the food looked fantastic, but I am on a budget and I cannot afford the prices for Michelin star cooks.
I found another bar further into town, but even that was not very affordable. I suppose it is because this is a rich man's paradise playground. When I returned David on the staff of the bunk house allowed me to use the laundry facilities for free, which was amazing value and gave me clean clothes for the first time in a week. I was on my last reserves, and needed clean socks as my boots leak a bit. I was sharing the room with a few guys who were doing their outdoor cycling instructors courses and their tutor. Bernard told me all about the gruelling pastimes of his desired profession, and I was amazed at the level of fitness these guys had. He was amazed at the bag that I carried... as am I, constantly....
The day ended in a slumber to have died for after defeating the CairnGorm mountains and the Lairig Ghru pass. 


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