So lunch over and a chill coming over me from sitting down I move on. As I continue around the base of the Forest of Mar I can see woodland in the distance. After a short while I cross the Lin of Dee river and see numerous signs stating ‘no fires’, quite rightly as it is very dry and the vegetation let alone the peaty ground is perfect tinder, sadly though I come across a ring of stones with a large old fire inside. This really spoils the countryside and I am so very glad that I have been taught to leave no trace wherever I camp!
This is now the point where I need to make my decision as to whether I head north onto Ben Macdui – the second highest mountain in the UK, and then over the west side of the Cairngorm plateau, descending back to the Rothiemurcus forest and ultimately finishing in Aviemore. However, I’m tired, my feet are aching adjusting to new boots and climbing over unforgiving terrain, my pack is heavy and I decide that I do not want to head back into the mountains. This was a difficult decision as I very much wanted to climb the summit of Ben Macdui but felt I would be too tired to do so safely – especially as I had rolled over on my ankle a few times already from bad foot placement.
So do I risk it or do I exit the mountains and try to get back to Aviemore to do a couple of day hikes? Yes, that is the sensible option! So I aim for Braemar with the intention of getting a bus to Aviemore – around a 10 mile walk still.
The landscape is now descending and the vegetation gives way to grasses, bracken and trees and I continue onto my next campsite which is marked as a salmon ladder with woodland touching the edge of the river. This is about 2 miles from a national trust car park that I hoped I may be able to get a lift or a taxi from to braemar. After a few hours I arrive at the fast flowing river which has carved pools and shelves from the granite. My campsite is set up in the evening sun in a birch woodland with soft grass as a carpet and I indulge in a wash followed by couscous with mackerel with for dinner.
The next day I press on to the car park via the salmon ladder (constructed to help salmon ‘run’ up the river to spawn) which was sadly dilapidated but a feat of engineering none the less. Soon I arrive at the car park to the north of the Lin of Dee where a couple kindly drove me up to Braemar after a good conversation about my plans. The date is the first of September – if you have been to Braemar on this date you will know that it is the day of the Highland games and that there are usually members of the royal family in attendance. So not an ideal day for catching a bus!
The couple kindly dropped me off in the middle of the high-street to be surrounded by armed police and nearly swept away by the marching band of bagpipes and drums. This all came as a bit of a shock after 3 days on my own! I stayed and watched the processions and listened to the music for a while before ordering a taxi from a local pub back to Aviemore. Lesson learned here – although I had planned an exit route I had failed to look at transport options or if the highland games were to be on! But that is okay – part of journeying is to make some mistakes and learn for next time.
I arrive in Aviemore and head back to the Rothiemurcus forest for the evening. The next day I meet up with Keith Whitehead and we take a trip up to cairngorm mountain with every intention of climbing it. Unfortunately, upon arrival at the main car park next to the funicular railway the wind gusts reach 80 mph with whiteout conditions, the advice was not to attempt the summit! Never mind – we took the tourist route up in the train instead.
To complete the day we walked around the forest local to the RSPB osprey centre and marvelled at the loch, the scenery and flora and fauna.
Looking back upon my trip I made some good and some bad decisions, I planned to do more than I was capable of but adjusted to this. Camping alone is a wonderful experience, if a little lonely at times, but there is no substitute for pushing your boundaries, being in your own head for a while and overcoming challenges and obstacles with only your own decisions to rely upon. Bushcraft and of course Woodlore have given me the ability, skill, knowledge and above all confidence to undertake a trip like this and I would encourage all to get some training in outdoor skills and make a journey. Primarily first aid and navigation but also in fundamental outdoor skills such as finding clean water, decision making and planning, sleeping out, identification of flora and fauna – the list goes on, but the world is a large place and it is there for exploring!
– Callum Hilder