It was wet, cold and grey as I hobbled into Braemar, the sleepy Cairngorm village that for one weekend a year becomes the Las Vegas of the TGO Challenge. The long approach had been playing tricks on the mind. The asphalt had seemed to go on forever and rain had been driven into my face by the fierce wind but in my head I known the sun would be shining in Braemar. It wasn’t. Even through the grey, gloom I had to admit that the village wasn’t looking its best.
The spring returned to my step as I approached the Old Bakery. In an instant I was through the door and my rucksack stacked in a corner. I was soon tucking into a huge breakfast with the enthusiasm that only someone who has been living rough in the hills for a week can muster.
It was still early and I more or less had the place to myself. I was joined, at the next table, by four seventy-something women who quickly revealed themselves to be on a coach trip. They had time to kill. Over their large pot of tea their discontent over-flowed.
There’s nothing here.
What else is there to do?
The hotel was gloomy. The man who’d entertained them the previous evening with his Hammond organ was dreadful.
The hotel food had been horrible.
The shops were dreadful. The charms of the sporran-selling emporium on the high street — a fine shrine to Walter Scott romanticism — had well and truly passed them by.
On and on they went. Strangely they failed to notice either the growing pile of rucksacks by the door or the rather smelly hikers that accompanied them.
Suddenly the café was alive with trekkers, greeting old comrades not seen for a year and hailing new friends recently met on the trail. Huge mounds of steaming food adorned the tables and more than a dram or two was consumed despite the early hour.
My four neighbours remained unmoved; they still had an hour or so to kill.
I know, announced one of them loudly and authoritatively.
Let’s get back on the coach Mabel.