Distance: 23.5 miles
Weather: warm and sunny again!
Number of adders found basking in our path: 2
Number of mountain hares: 8
Number of mice which ran around us whilst we ate tea: 1
Number of emergency mustache-trimming stops: 1
That was a long day, and latterly quite hard going too.
It started fast and easy, but lacking in significant interest, as we took the Deeside Way from Ballater to Dinnet. Being a disused railway line it was flat and at times so straight that it felt like we were on a treadmill. The treadmill-effect was countered by making a few phone calls as we went, calling in to Challenge Control and indulging in a little kit shopping.
Within 2 hours of leaving we had covered the first 7 miles (a third of our intended day), but we knew that we were soon to slow down. Having stopped for elevenses on a bench outside of a fishing hut on the river, we took to some tracks which were to take us into Glen Tanar.
It was along one of those tracks, with sweet-smelling gorse in bloom, that the emergency mustache trimming was required. An errant looped-back hair on Mick's now-bouffant mustache was tickling his nostril, but the trusty Swiss Army Knife (which must be one of most used items) sorted things out.
The walking was now pleasant, with some points of interest and some good views, including the white tops of the Cairngorms poking out from behind the nearer, more modest, hills.
Challengers Jan and Chris appeared as we were admiring one view and we walked with them for a short while until Jan decided that a change into shorts was required. It really was that warm today - or at least it was when walking. We did get a bit cool when we stopped in the shade of a tree for lunch.
Only a few hundred yards after lunch the track was left for a yomp over to Hill of Duchery. It turned out to be something of a heather bash, but it wasn't for dreadfully far before we picked up another track.
We had been uncharacteristically indecisive, on the approach, as to which way to go when we got to Birse Castle, but in the event the decision was made for us. A Scottish Rights of Way Society sign asked us not to go straight on, through the grounds of the castle, but to follow the marked path around it. That was one of the options we had contemplated, so we were happy to comply.
We had saved the biggest climb of the day until last (or at least, it should have been last), but it wasn't as bad as it looked from a distance. At the top of that climb was the first of the two Cock Hills (obviously a bit unimaginative around these parts, as they're only just over a mile apart), from where another yomp was on the cards, over towards the other Cock Hill.
Our intention wasn't to go all the way there today, as in between them lies the Water of Aven, which was to be our night-stop.
We got there at 1620 and spent not less than 40 minutes considering potential pitches. Nothing good was springing out at us, even with a substantial survey of the area. Big tussocks and heather ruled.
Eventually, having found a spot which was flat and dry enough, but then having discounted it for failing the tick-test, we decided that we would continue on for a couple of miles (including a big uphill heather bash, complete with peat hags), hoping that a building shown on the map would be an open shooting hut.
And so it might have been, if we hadn't walked straight past it, distracted by another hut which was in plain view, further along on the other side of the track. Alas, when we got there it was a very smart (and very new) double-glazed wood cabin (a summer holiday villa sort of a place), which was firmly locked up. We did give thought to pitching on its deck, in the absence of any other campable land, but opted to continue to the second hut we could see.
That one was open, but was an uninvitingly damp, dirt-floored place. We used one of the table and chair sets inside to cook and eat tea (the sofas were too damp and mouldy!), but opted to camp elsewhere. The problem was that we still hadn't seen any obvious pitches. There were some good flat areas nearby, but all covered by the remains of old heather which would threaten the groundsheet of the tent. What we needed was the extra protection of a second groundsheet, and what do you know, but inside the hut was exactly that - and almost the exact size of our tent footprint.
Having borrowed the footprint, the tent was soon up and finally the weary feet and legs are being properly rested. With just 27 miles to go to the coast, by my reckoning, and with 2 days at our disposal, tomorrow should be a bit easier and shorter than today.
(Conrad - we've had Clachnaben within our sights for much of the afternoon and look forward to getting there in the morning. It looks an interesting hill, so thank you for the recommendation)
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