It’s light until well past 10.30pm here at the moment. But that’s not the reason for the title of this blog post, The Longest Day.
You left me at the end of the last blog post in Blair Atholl, feeling irrationally apprehensive about setting off into the Cairngorms. It would have been really easy to go a low level route round, and wimp out of the more challenging route. I didn’t though.
The campsite was still and quiet, and the hills swathed in their night time duvet like mists when I set off at 6am. Glen Tilt is gorgeous. To start with it is really easy going, a quick march on great tracks. There’s a lodge 8 miles up which a post van delivers to every morning, so I made rapid progress. In fact I amazed myself by getting to the 8 mile mark by 8.30 in the morning. The walls of the glen narrow in after this, and a magnificent waterfall is reached after 13 miles. This is a place where a lot of people stop and camp for the night. It’s a great spot. But I’d set off so early at such a lick that I arrived at the Falls of Tarf at 10.45am. Rather a long time to wait until nightfall. Another twelve hours to be precise. I felt great anyway, so I marched on.
The glen opens up at the top, with views further in the distance of the big guys – the Cairngorm plateau, where almost all the summits are above 4,000 feet. There was plenty of snow still up there.
At 1.30, and after 20 miles of walking, I reached White Bridge, which marked the end of the Glen Tilt stage of my journey. I had planned to camp here. But again, my excellent progress meant I could now aim to go further. The funny thing was that some years ago, I camped a few miles further back the valley, absolutely exhausted. It was really motivating and reassuring to know that I definitely am loads fitter now. So on I went, now entering the deep valley and pass through the Cairngorms known as the Lairig Ghru. It’s one of the most famous mountain passes in Scotland. A real gem of a walk. The word ‘pass’ makes it sound easy, but it actually takes the walker up to 835 metres, (2,739 feet) which I think I’m right in saying is higher than most English mountains outside of the Lake District.
Corrour Bothy – a simple hut – appeared at a quarter to four, and at about the 26 mile stage. Now I’d walked further than any other day on my journey so far. Again, I decided against camping near the bothy, as the day still felt young. I was a bit tired but felt strong. Also I was curious. I’d never walked this far before. I felt ok, so how far could I walk? So it was onwards and upwards through grey mists, and over the pass. The actual top of the pass always takes ages – there are boulder fields which seem interminable. Quite a number of snow patches were up there too. Finally I could see light from the valley below. Now I was feeling tired. I had to keep telling myself to focus and concentrate on the rocky path. After a while, legs and feet rather weary, I reached the tree line. Scots pines are my absolute favourite tree, and this time I was so very happy to see them.
I phoned Ian to give him the surprising news that I had popped out the other side a day early. By 7.30pm I’d descended right down into the Rothiemurchus forest, and the very second I crossed the little river and was able to fill my water bottles, I found a grassy spot and put up my tent. Boy did I sleep well.
I had walked 34 miles in one day, with my tent and all that stuff on my back. A kind of challenge within the challenge. I’m rather chuffed that I am physically able to do this. The weird thing was that the next day I was fine. A bit sleepy to start with. But once I’d walked down to the road and met Ian, and been treated to a fantastic breakfast of french toast, bacon and banana at the one and only Mountain Cafe in Aviemore,I was a new woman.
That was Wednesday, and since then I have had a couple of days R&R with Ian. For some strange reason I often feel guilty about rest days. But although I felt fine after my big day I think it’s still important to give myself chance to recharge. Also, there always seem to be a surprising number of things to do – laundry, mending stuff, haircut (of course!), and pouring over maps. Tomorrow I’ll besetting off north for the final couple of weeks on the mainland. After much dithering, I’ve finally decided on my route north. It’s not the fastest or the most direct, but I’m hoping it’ll be enjoyable and a good mix of coast and inland walking. I’m not going to hammer out the last couple of hundred miles, even though I probably could now. I decided that I should try to savour every day, and enjoy the experience to the full.