Monday 23 May 2022: Tarland to Crathes, 22 miles
After dinner yesterday I considered my options. Today I was due to walk through forestry to the village of Lumphanan, then go up to a wild camp in Turk Wood, but I did not fancy a further wrestle with storm damage; third time unlucky, perhaps.
I checked with the estimable Lumphanan Paths Group too; they thought I would be fine, but by then I’d seen that there was an off-road path, the Tarland Way, to Aboyne. The Deeside Way runs through Aboyne. Indeed, I could possibly avoid that town if I chanced a tiny section of forestry.
And if I was going to use the Deeside Way, then apparently Potarch was a good place for a tent. It was just 11 miles away, but on this route I had three days left to walk around 40 miles, so a short day hardly mattered. Indeed the night before I’d booked an AirBnB at Peterculter on Aberdeen’s outskirts for Tuesday night.
So I pounded off along the Tarland Way, its initial burn-side stretch reminding me of the rhynes of the Somerset Levels that I had crossed back in 2010, the low forested hills ahead serving for the Polden Hills. When I came to the branch off to avoid Aboyne, I knew there was a risk of storm damage, but even if things had not worked out all I would have had to do was make a short backtrack. In the event the two miles between Tarland Way and Deeside Way were fine, and in a sense my Challenge was over; designated long distance path all the way to Aberdeen. And the Deeside Way is popular with Challengers, so I could expect some company.
I soon caught up with Challenger Harry, joined by a friend that day; at 79, he would be the oldest Challenger to finish in ’22, and I was pleased to meet up with him again at the Challenge dinner a couple of days later.
There were two pairs of Challengers at the shop in Kincardine O’Neil too, a useful place with good baked goods. After a break here, I left just before the rain started. I was at Potarch just after 2, ready to pitch on the grass, and looked for the tap that I was sure would be somewhere. There wasn’t, and the café was closed.
Well, I could have gone to the river. But I didn’t really fancy long hours in a tent listening to rain, so off I went to Banchory. Eight more miles, on a forestry track that would be no risk due to its LDP status, in the rain, but to a town the other end that would be sure to have a camp site.
At least I was moving well, and the miles flew by. The greatest difficulty was leaving the forest on the town’s outskirts, the way out barred by chain link fencing with varying degrees of No Entry signs banning the way in from the town.
You can get out of the forest but can’t get in!
Just over the bridge, the Banchory Lodge caravan park was clearly a ‘no tents’ sort of place, but the OS map showed a campsite the other side of town, so I rang it, only to find that they didn’t do tents either. I checked in at the town’s outdoor shop for good wild camp options but the guy said there was nothing much, maybe just before Crathes three miles away. I’d done 19 miles already, I said.
(If I had but known, the Feughside site had been just over a mile off route, about four miles from Potarch, and would have been ideal. But I didn’t.)
I tried a pub, full, didn’t fancy the one next door, was warned against the third, and the only B&B listing didn’t do B&B any more. I thought about getting a bus to Crathes – but then would have to get a bus back tomorrow – and realised what I must do: walk the three miles to Crathes. It had at least stopped raining. On my way out of town, I met Challenger Frédéric from France, who was booked in at the town’s British Legion hostel, which I hadn’t tried, but by now I was committed.
And today was turning out to be one of those days when I felt I could walk for ever. Though I was on the look out for pitches all the way, I recognised the spot that the outdoors shop man had described and got the tent pegged down. Nice little chat with a lady who had once crossed the Highlands on horseback as I was doing so. She pointed out the noise from the adjacent rookery, but I put in a nine-plus hour sleep shift, so it could have been the complete contents of London Zoo for all I cared.
Tuesday 24 May 2022: Crathes to Aberdeen, 16 miles
I’d realised, on leaving Banchory, that my ‘day late’ at Loch Monar would now translate as a ‘day early’ at Aberdeen. Even though I had accommodation booked at Peterculter, half way, I couldn’t string out 16 miles into two days.
Just as I was striking camp, Challenger Andrew strode past, and we shared the miles from then on, talking pretty much the whole time. There’s in all honesty not much to say about this part of the Deeside Way; from Banchory, it’s mostly on old railway line, apart from a diversion after Drumoak, and it’s an asphalt surface from Peterculter. A coffee wagon at Cults was a useful break.
Andrew finished his Challenge in the city centre, but I had always planned to go the mile beyond, to the city’s beach. People think of Aberdeen as the Granite City for its great civic buildings, or more recently as Oil City, but there’s plenty worse beaches in places that think of themselves as holiday resorts.
Off with the boots – they had, bless them, essentially died on the Challenge – for my little paddle, and like I had at St Cyrus in ’19, I found a young couple to take my picture. “I’ve walked from Torridon,” I said. “In bare feet!!?” she said.
On the beach
I honoured my AirBnB booking, even though I had to take a bus back out. Celebrated with fish and chips at the pub over the road. At Challenge Control in Montrose the next day (where all Challengers must sign in), I havered over whether I would be a Challenger again. And who knows – everything has to stay in working order. But if it does, then maybe in ’25, there’s a southern line that looks inviting, Oban to Lunan Bay …
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