Distance: 17.75 miles
Weather: Sunny! Warm!
Number of fighting snakes nearly stepped on: 2
When we left the tent without our headtorches yesterday afternoon, we expected to be back before dark (it not being dark up here until gone 11pm). What I didn't expect was for the football to go to extra time and then penalties. It was later than we expected when we found the tent and crawled into bed.
We were still up bright and early this morning, and a bright morning it was too. Finally, some sunny weather, although it was a bit parky first thing.
Whilst the weather was very pleasing, the day's walk was a bit disappointing. It did have its highlights, but after 9 days featuring a grand total of fewer than 15 miles on roads, today featured more road than I would have liked.
We did keep off the roads as far as possible, with the map suggesting that only just over 4 of today's nearly-18 miles would be on tarmac. The reality, however, was a little more, as what looked like tracks on the map, around Balmoral, were surfaced.
Balmoral Castle was one of the highlights of the day. I'd not seen it before, and as we stopped on a bench for second breakfast (from where the photo above was taken), we had the place to ourselves. Minutes later the contents of a couple of coaches appeared around the corner. Our timing had been excellent.
The next highlight, after a couple or miles or so along a B-road, was an old track which goes around the back of Creag Ghiubhais. It was a bit longer than continuing along the road which runs the other side of the hill, but it got us off road. The track was rather overgrown, but it was easy enough to follow if you don't mind wading through heather, and under the blue skies the surroundings were quite lovely.
Mick was a little unconvinced about the next off-road detour I had planned, as it was noticeably longer than just following the road. He came around to my way of thinking, and it was definitely the nicer way to go, first crossing over a foot-bridge (which looked new from a distance, but has actually stood there since 1892), and then following a waymarked path which, after a while, took us to the river. It was along there (right on the path) that we encountered what I first thought was a single, very long snake, but was actually one snake biting the tail of another. They wriggled around until the one in front also had its fangs in the tail of the one behind, such that a full circle was formed. More wriggling and biting and a game of chase ensued until the one in front managed to get away. With both having hidden in the grass, on we went.
Arriving at a sunny bench on the outskirts of Ballater at 1345 we thought we'd best slow down a bit, so plonked ourselves down for some lunch (herring fillets in mango and peppercorn sauce - tasty!). Being so nice in the sun (with a river and snowy mountain view) we could have sat there for an age, but equally, if we stirred ourselves to walk another mile or so then we could sit in the sun for the rest of the afternoon.
And that's what we did, just pausing for an ice-cream on the way. It seemed wrong to shun an ice-cream in the first good weather we've seen!
Since we arrived at the campsite a good handful of other Challengers have come in, so we've been occupied by watching various makes and models of tent/tarp go up and catching up with people we've not seen for a while. Everyone seems to be in agreement on one thing: it's nice to have some fine weather. I don't think there will be any complaints (other than cold nights) if it continues.
(Conrad - did the shorts get up and walk by themselves when you took them off? That makes my 12 days look quite reasonable! (And I'm not admitting to how long I wore a single pair of socks continuously...). Unrelated to that - loved your knee via ferrata photo!)
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