TGO Challenge 2017, pt 4. (Loch Muick to St Cyrus)
Day 10: Loch Muick to Tarfside
Blue skies early in the morning are a false dawn; a breather for the rain, but also a chance to capture a great view and rare blue sky down Glen Muick. Grey skies return on the climb up Allt Darrarie. After nine days of walking and climbing, the poor weather is water off a duck’s back and strangely invigorating as, walking over the top of the bogs heading for Shielin of Mark bothy, the wind and rain hits my face as the scene opens up across to Lochnagar.
A couple in their late fifties have made the isolated bothy their weekend retreat. She Nottingham English and he Glasgow Scottish and, judging from our conversation, they are disconcerted by the arrival of two more walkers. Three left half an hour earlier. I move scattered belongings from a bench to make room to sit down and sign the bothy book as they cook breakfast. The chap kindly heats water on the fire, although where he found fuel for the blaze he does not say. As Ian, me and a chap called Greg, who we guide through the bogs heading for Glen Lee, climb, we spot the woman leaving the bothy with a trowel. We can see that her routine is about to be disturbed yet again by more walkers that she cannot see, trekking along the river.
Into the glen, the wind subsides but the rain persists, past the empty Stables of Lee and alongside Loch Lee, and the cloud remains low, but the isolation stays high. Auchronie and Invermark Castle signal a return to more populated environs with a half-full car park.
A mother sheep bleats beside the unnerving sight of a dead lamb with its eyes pecked out near an abandoned farm at Westbank. On my first visit to Tarfside, food, beer and a great craic make the evening flow.
Early morning looking east along Glen Muick – the rain is still falling
Day 11: Tarfside to North Water Bridge
The rain clears by mid-morning and after two rounds of bacon sandwiches Ian and I head east for Edzell but are forced onto the road by agitated cows with calves that block the way on the Gannochy Estate. A sign on a gate that we climb over to avoid the cattle says: Beware, ticks, snakes, bulls and bullets. Welcome to Scotland.
The walk via the Rocks of Solitude and down the river Esk to Edzill feels like the end of the walk because we are on flat farmland with only road walking to the campsite at Northwater Bridge. This is a TGO trade-route campsite and won’t be visited again by me. Overnight a deafening, thunderous and torrential electric storm makes the purgatory of the site – the noise of the A93 – pale into insignificance. The Trailstar entrance is closed in on itself for a second time this trip as the torment plays out.
View over to the Wirrens at 7.20am
Day 12: North Water Bridge to St Cyrus & Montrose Bay
The brightness of the morning and freshness in the post-storm air is clouded by news of the bombing and deaths in Manchester. Suddenly I am not looking forward to my visit home to the northwest. The wander into St Cyrus is a cake walk, along unremarkable minor roads, but – after breakfast in the village pub turned cafe – the stunning beach that greets us is worthy of the hour we spend there in the sunshine, paddling, taking photographs and just sitting enjoying the sea, the birds and the satisfaction of completing the walk. The ease with which we walk back up the steep cliffs makes me realise how good physically I feel, yet sad because the wandering is over.