7.00am hit the retina before this body could make a move, on the fifth day of my Munro bagging trip, 2 hours later than the day before. I had walked or cycled for 35 hours over the last four days; enough was enough. A cup of coffee first thing was a luxury and breakfast hitherto unheard of, in this week of conquest. I was about to join the slow movement.
Nevertheless, it wasn't long before my mind turned to tomorrow's even longer walk and my plan to accomplish it. According to the route from Walk Highland this would take between 11 – 12 hours though, for me, it could come out at anything up to 14 hours. This I would not survive! I already knew that a cycle through the glen could reduce the time. Even so, I would still be on the go for about 12 hours. Thinking about my day off today, a little seed had been sown, giving fruit as I packed the bike for an overnight stop. My day of rest would culminate in a cycle to the ruins of Geldie lodge, another of those elaborate shelters for the Victorian hunting and shooting fraternity. There I would spend my first wild camp, at the ripe old age of 64 and, thus poised, I would have an advantage the next morning.
Packing up the Sherpa was no small matter, particularly as my back remained painful and I still couldn't carry a rucksack. But, in time, I had all my gear loaded for the overnight stay, and the next days walk; this feather weight could barely lift the bugger!. For it's fourth outing my hybrid bike had luggage on the back, sides and front. I experimented on tarmac where balance seemed fine, but I wasn't at all sure that this would hold good for the stony core of the tract that separated me from Geldie Lodge.
For the rest of the day I shaded from the sun, just beyond the car park at the Linn of Dee, drank lemon tea and make notes about the adventure so far. Before too long I had company, as a deer pottered into sight and stopped to graze, right in front of me. Avoiding the temptation to make a dash for the camera, and frighten it off, we spent a convivial 40 minutes together as it pottered and grazed, pottered and grazed, until eventually it was out of sight. Though not before I did get a shot as it was going out of sight!
Just a little latter, I was graced with the company of Pieris rapae, the small white butterfly. It fluttered into the van, surveyed the scene and flew out again. Clearly the domestic arrangements were not to it's liking.
From first thing this morning, while packing up, and until mid afternoon, I was really excited about the prospect of my first wild camp. Then, as the leaving hour drew near, I found myself stalling, becoming preoccupied with minute adjustments to the contents of my van. This was no accidental wavering, I began to get nervous. I had never ventured into the middle of nowhere to spend the night before – with or without company. The procrastination continued as the hands on the clock neared the bewitching hour.
In the end I did leave at 5.00pm and I did cycle, fully laden, to near Geldie Lodge as planned. Though, in this case, cycle needs to be construed as a word with fluid meaning, particularly if used to describe my traverse of the estate track. As I wobbled over stones of unkind dimension I had a clear image of my parents watching me, aged about 5, when the stabilisers were removed from my first bike. Here today, I could actually hear their oohs and aahs as, with each unnerving turn of the handle bars the bike lurched and, coming to rest - face to the ground - seemed the most likely outcome. Somehow, I managed to stay on for most of the journey and, on only a couple of occasions, found myself up close and personal with the insects that had a liking for the verges that lined the track. Thankfully, no harm done. Bike, insects, and my good self, were all in one piece on arrival.
After two hours of steady progress – for steady read slow – I got as far as I was going. Two river crossings would get me to Geldie Lodge and, though the waters weren't high, I had a near certain premonition that trying to trundle through the uneven waterbed would not end happily; the vision of my overnight 'comforts' floating down stream had a certain hold on my mind.
Determined to avoid this fate I set up camp – if it could be called that – just about a mile short of Geldie Lodge. Selecting a pitch under a bank to give me a bit of shelter and with just enough flat ground for reasonable comfort – or so I thought – I set about the business of erecting a tent. The flysheet was up without a problem and I went inside to put up my sleeping quarters. I hooked up the inner tent and eventually gave up the battle for a smooth groundsheet, with unforgiving heather, reckoning that my body weight would subdue the beast. Then, damn and blast - just the mild expletives that past my lips - placing the inner tent horizontally, on that perfect triangle of flat ground, nudged the extremities outside the protection of the outer skin. It was meant to go the other way round – vertically. I should have moved the flysheet but I didn't; it was just so much easier to unhook, and turn, the inner tent around – sorted. Having put up my overnight accommodation I stepped outside to soak up the moment - alone in the hills, as the sun was casting it's farewell to the day.
A little while later, amazed at having a phone signal - of sorts - I was able to dial up the soul mate, to share my excitement, and catch up on the news from home. Then, with the best part of the day behind me, I crawled into bed. Alas, for my folly. With the inner tent now positioned vertically in the flysheet my head and shoulders were now lying up the bank and, to add further discomfort, my head rested on a pillow made of rock. I slept hardly a jot and it wasn't nerves that kept me awake. Every time I slipped down the bank I woke up and had to readjust my position, finding that worn indenture in the rock that was the least uncomfortable position. It was a long night...
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Warning Please note that hillwalking when there is snow lying requires an ice-axe, crampons and the knowledge, experience and skill to use them correctly. Summer routes may not be viable or appropriate in winter. See winter information on our skills and safety pages for more information.