Sunday, 15 September 2013

TGO Challenge 2012 - Braemar to Loch Callater Lodge

Day 10, and the hangover was serious.  Really serious.

The 'deluxe' breakfast at my 'deluxe' bed and breakfast accommodation was hovering at around 'average'.  Some of it struggled it's way into my stomach through the oscillating waves of nausea.  I was most anti-social with the owner of the establishment, which is unlike me in normal circumstances.  Anyway, they deserved little attention for being so average.  Average would have been fine, had they not been so bold about the 'deluxe' offering, and had also not charged a 'deluxe' price.  Enough with the moaning, on to the supersonic day I was about to have.

I had already peeped outside, and had been greeted with the beginnings of a most glorious day.  I left my partially masticated petit dejeuner and swayed my wobbly self up to my room.
Gathering my things together, I packed in a haphazard fashion. I dumped my £300 camera (already confirmed as defunct) in the waste paper basket in my room and made sure it was the only thing I had left behind.  Having already paid, I crept out the front door of the mediocre Clunie Lodge B & B without a word.

Most of the day was spent strolling about in Braemar, I was killing time.   I watched for reds again by the bridge, browsed Braemar Mountain Sports for the umpteenth time, and picked up a teeny Michelin map of Scotland which promised to be perfect for planning my NEXT crossing.  I still  haven't found that map!
I remember very little detail about my day in Braemar, having done little that was either specific, or particularly interesting to anyone else.

The things that do resonate in my mind, are the people. The 'challenge' folk. They (you) are mostly bloody lovely.
I bounced from conversation to conversation with folk like Louise, JJ, Lynsey and Alistair (including a million tummy tickles with Isabel), Alan and Andy, Jim Davidson (who sadly had to leave his crossing due to a family illness), countless others wafted in and out of my day. It became a joy, out of the bleary fog from whence it came.
I guess it was mid-afternoon before I got itchy feet. I had to ensure a healthy stock of malted grains so found myself outside the little co-op decanting golden fluid from a lovely glass bottle into a scabby plastic one in unison with one Andrew Walker. He assured me I would need all of it.  I didn't argue.

I whiled another half hour before setting off down the road past the Golf Course with a lovely challenger called David who was off up Morven to bag it's summit.  It really was a terrific day.  He left the lane and I carried on only to overshoot the turning for the bridge.  Clambering the deer fence and tramping through a mushy paddock, I regained my intended route, realising that I actually hadn't overshot after all. Ahem!

It was a true saunter along the lane to Loch Callater Lodge and I bumped into several folk along the way.  Tim (?) from Manchester (?) was belting up the track when I had paused for a chat with John who was wearing a luridly coloured anorak. John is one of the stronger, more vivid characters that the challenge has to offer.  He has a personality it is difficult to forget. You may have seen his YouTube clip explaining why there were actually just 2 days left of his challenge when he was only two thirds the way done. Look it up on Alan Sloman's blog, it's a smasher.

Arriving at Callater Lodge, I was beginning to get a taste of the magic of the place within minutes.  I was thrust into the little 'kitchen' area and proffered bacon rolls and tea. I stuffed these into my mouth and greedily drank my tea down.  I then stuffed some cash into the tin at the side of the table.  There wasn't a price list or a tender taking money, a most alien feeling for a townie like me where everything is labelled, logged, tilled and overpriced.  The chinwaggery continued for some time and would have never ended, but I pushed outside to pitch my tent.  Space was becoming premium.

An hour or so later the call of "Stovies" was hollered and a few folk headed into the kitchen again.  A huge pot of hot potato & meat 'stew' was bubbling on the stove,  and I was urged again to take a plate which was filled with a dollop of stovies and a handful of oatcakes.  It was was delicious stodge, which I hadn't really earned and again I wasn't charged for.  I stuffed some more money in the tin.
This place is ridiculously fabulous.  Not, I stress, because of the sustenance in vast supply, but the warmth with which it is offered. I was beginning to fall in love.

I realise that I haven't even begun to describe the setting!  I'll let the pictures do the talking.  They are at the end of the post.

More folk we arriving  - Ngumo and Di showed up and set about making camp close by, as did PC Dave Pickles.  He popped his Akto up near to mine, I was glad - he's a diamond.
The afternoon turned to evening, almost without a though I grabbed my whisky and aimed squarely for the lounge, where folk were relaxing and stories were already beginning to be shared.
There was Croydon Mick, Stefan from Belgium (?), Alan, Andy, Lynsey, JJ, Ian C, Doha Jim, John (the aforementioned).  And of course after much cajoling there was Lynsey Pooler, who had a surprise in store for her.  This room must have been palatial, but it wasn't.  It was cosy.   The gas light flickered and hissed and signing began in earnest.  Beer was being handed out, freely.  The generosity was limitless, as was proven when the Laphroaig was proffered to ALL in decent measure.
A quaich was passed gently round the room in a pleasing round and salutations a plenty were shared.  Banter and insults strewn about, the likes of "shut the fuck up!" yelled by JJ to Andy, as he belted another liquor fuelled folk song into the room.  It was a good song too, I recall - "oh good ale, thou art my darling, thou art my joy, both night and morning!".  I could not agree more with the sentiments of this song - I've included a link to it at the bottom of the post.
Bill, the most hospitable, warm, friendly man I have met, was our head host and gave a rendition or three of some lovely songs and verses, my favourite being 'The Northern Lights of Old Aberdeen' (a link to this is included at the bottom of the post).  It left tears in my eyes (aided and abetted by the booze, I have no doubt). The situation was so delightful I didn't want to leave.
There was a round of 'music man' too which included the impromptu verse of "I can play the blister scream, blister scream, blister scream" arranged by one Alan Sloman.  Alan had developed a blister in case you didn't know. He was quiet about it though. Never made a fuss once.  Not a whimper.  Nothing - a real 'ard nut.  ;-)  That's about the way of it, Alan.  Right? ;-)

I am well aware that the order of these events may not be laid out precisely as they occurred, but spare me the corrections - I was hammered!

The entire room erupted in a chorus of "Happy Birthday" as a large chocolate cake adorned with a blinding number of candles was escorted into the room for Lynsey, at which point she immediately realised why she had been bullied so vehemently into heading up to Loch Callater.  Lynsey's husband, Alistair, had made the cake and gone to huge effort to get the masterpiece up to the lodge during the afternoon, assisted by others including JJ who had also circulated a birthday card among what seemed to be the entire challenge community.  She was clearly overwhelmed and delighted, if a little abashed by all the attention. 

Long did the convivialities continue until at one point I fell drunkenly onto Stefan who failed to bat an eye lid.  He simply laughed and helped me up into my seat. It was clearly time for me, at least, to retire.  I composed myself as best I could before staggering outside to a sky that was so peppered with stars, planets and galaxies that it hurt my eyes.  I began waxing loudly about them until I was politely reminded by Ian Cotterill where I was.  Yes, I was enthusiastically bellowing out in the middle of a campsite full of sleeping challengers.  At long past midnight!  Thanks Ian, sometimes the drunken one needs a nudge of reality! :-)

I found a suitable place to empty my bladder, and tumbled into my Moment.  I had reached the end of a day had furnished me with such a collection of great memories.  I knew by now that I would be crossing this way again on a future challenge.  I wholly recommend that you do too.

A lovely day in Braemar

The River Dee, Braemar
The track to Callater Lodge
Blue skies over the Cairngorms

Some photos require no caption
Loch Callater Lodge
Charles (Ngumo) and Di.  Triffic pair of challenge folk.
Just a Moment, is that a Laser, or two, and an Akto?
The growing encampment at Loch Callater Lodge
The dim,  and oh so atmospheric, gas lighting of Loch Callater Lodge
The last stand?
Above Loch Callater
Come back again in a few months to see if I have made it to day 11.

The Northern Lights of Old Aberdeen
Oh Good Ale