Jacqueline and I had camped overnight at the Falls of Tarf in the Cairngorm National Park in Scotland. We had gone to bed the previous night with the sun still up, but waking up, we found the sun had beaten us back up already. We opened our tents and walked outside to find a confused looking sheep staring at us. It had seemingly forded the river by the waterfall, leaving a friend and their two lambs on the other bank. We sat and watched it for a bit; it eventually forded the river to the third bank, prompting its friend to ford to join it, but both lambs were too timid to cross and stayed on their own bank. Not that the mothers seemed to care.
We ate some breakfast; I had some milk powder to rehydrate and Jacqueline had an avacado to eat, before packing up our tents and heading off. We repacked such that I had more of the heavier items in my bag, so that Jacqueline could have the bag she found more comfortable. For the first time of our hike, we were no longer following the River Tilt, instead heading up the gully of a tributary called Allt Garbh Buidhe. The path had reduced from a vehicle track down into a single track, which was more rocky and required a little more care navigating. It was fine for the two of us, but the numerous mountain bikers we passed during the morning were struggling and had to get off and walk various parts of the journey.
Soon, the trail left the side of the river, and followed the hill around to the left. The scenery opened up into a wide plain; the two hill ranges on either side were notably shallower and the space between them was flat and boggy. Fortunately, the path mostly stayed to the edge of the hill and away from the bog. As we walked further on, we noted that the number of sheep we were seeing was decreasing, but we were seeing more and more frogs on our path.
Without noticing it, we crossed over the watershed; instead of flowing towards Perth and Dundee, the rivers would now flow to Balmoral and Aberdeen. We were truly in the highlands. We passed by an old ruin that seemed to have a large scout group camping nearby. However, it was around this point that we walked off of the edge of our first Ordinance Survey map. It would only be about 2 kilometres without a map, and my prior research had told me that we needed to follow on the east bank of the river until we reached the Geldie Burn. However, confusingly, the path we were following seemed to ford the river. Unsure, we decided not to ford, and followed along the bank for a short while, before we found a point were the path forded back to us.
Fords were the common feature of the area, we had two more rivers to ford which looked on the map to be evenly spaced out, but instead were much closer together. Finally, we reached the most significant ford of the journey; the Geldie Burn. This was a relatively wide, shallow river, but we knew that we were likely to get our feet wet through this section. After ferrying our bags over, we stopped and had some water and a little rest. The day was turning out to be a repeat of the previous day, at least in terms of the weather: a clear skies and warm morning with the threat of storms in the afternoon.
We pushed on on the edge of a forest that had been logged down and along a long straight path until we eventually reached the White Bridge. This crossed the River Dee and marked just over halfway for the day, so we stopped and had lunch. Here, we also joined a trail that lead to Braemar, a route used by most of the mountain bikers we were seeing. Instead, we turned and headed up the River Dee.
The final 8 kilometres were utterly depressing. The rain hit us hard, and what was an already poorly marked and poorly maintained path couldn’t cope. Parts of it flooded completely, becoming a stream of running water. Other parts were a swamp or a bog, which required leaping from stone to stone or dry patch to dry patch, with mixed levels of success. Combined with the fact we were carrying heavy bags and being pelted with rain ourselves didn’t lift our spirits. Our going was slow and it seemed we would never make it.
The biggest obstacle came halfway through this section. The valley straightened up to give us a fantastic view of the Devil’s Point on one side and the Carn a’ Mhaim on the other, but we didn’t have the energy to look up. Instead, there was a ford of a stream called Allt Clais Mhadaidh. We had had to cross several streams before, most of them were a few inches deep and no more than a metre wide. often with stepping stones. But the ford across the Allt Clais Mhadaidh was different. The water was rushing quickly, it was around knee deep and around two metres across with no stepping stones and the threat of waterfalls below. Together we positioned ourselves to carefully make our way across, firstly Jacqueline helped me into the water until I could find a secure footing to help her across. Then she helped pull me up onto the other side. Fortunately the next kilometre of path was dry, but it quickly devolved into a bog yet again.
With a little more than a kilometre to go, I offered to race ahead, drop my bag off, and come back for Jacqueline’s bag. She agreed, so off I went. The path eventually joined another, much better maintained, path and crossed a rickety steel bridge before heading up to our final destination for the day: the Corrour Bothy. This was a little camping hut at the bottom of the valley used as a departure point for some of the big mountain climbs that surrounded us. There were already people there: two American middle-aged guys and five German women. I dropped my bag off, and went back out into the rain to find Jacqueline, who was herself still trudging through the bog. One final push, and we were both at the hut. We hastily set up our tents, before the nice German women offered us some of their left-over pasta. It was still raining, so it was almost impossible for our shoes and clothes to get dry, but we didn’t have much energy left and both went to sleep fairly quickly.