Off Challenge: Drumnadrochit to Aviemore

And so it was time move on from Drumnadrochit but before we left the village still had some surprises up its sleeve. 

After settling up with the cheery man who seems to run everything we headed off to the Deli/Bistro for breakfast. This was fabulous and what we had been missing. There was a range of breakfast on offer, including lots of fresh stuff.  As we whiled away the time it struck me that the ‘bistro’ but of this might be open in the evening and yes it is (goodness knows why I didn’t clock this before). If you are spending night in Drum I suggest checking this place out first.

The weather continued to be gorgeous. We ambled around the village a little. The village was festooned with notices for a meeting of the Drumnadrochit Flat Earth Society. Apparently, more people are interested in these theories than you might imagine! I wondered whether this was a tourist strategy to re-enforce the eccentricity of the place. Or might it be something to do with quantum physics? Somewhere in another dimension there Drumnadrochit sits on a flat earth and is home to many monsters. You might be forgiven for suspecting — as I did — that this was probably something else to do with the cheery man who seemed to run everything.

We slowly made our way to the bus stop and then spent no small amount of time trying to understand the timetable. (understanding quantum physics is easier). We had checked the times on the Traveline Scotland app while we were in the deli. We planned to walk over to the bus stop about 10 minute before the bus was due (I hate being late). About 15 minutes before the bus was due we saw one coming in — not on the timetable. At the bus stop we seems to have choice of both local and larger coach services. The local bus simply didn’t turn up. And then we realised have made a fatal mistake.

A flashy coach bus turned up. Do you have tickets shouted the driver. No. I can’t let you on then. Where do you buy tickets? You buy them from me. Can I buy a ticket then? no, we’re full. There were spaces but I presume he had to carry some free capacity in case ticket holding people got on at the next stop. Off he zoomed. More timetabled buses failed to turn up. I hobbled down to the post office to ask if there was anywhere locally that I could buy a ticket. Nope, you could only buy them from the driver. If you by any chance happen to be travelling by bus from Inverness (to almost anywhere) don’t forget to buy a return.

We were joined by a young French backpacker. He had a ticket but only for a certain service. He was struggling to understand the timetable and seems rather bemused when I told him I couldn’t either.

Our young French friend was not impressed with the village. He had been down to Castle Urquhart. There’s not even a restaurant there he exclaimed. Not even some nice furniture to look at. Nope, it’s a wreck I confirmed. Of course, in France even such a wreck would have had a café or at least a bar opposite. Where have you been I asked? He’d flown in to Edinburgh. He’d then gone to Glasgow. There’s nothing to do in Glasgow he exclaimed. Then he’d gone up to Inverness. They tell me it’s a city but it’s really a village. Well, I had to agree, it is a little city. There was nothing to do their either he exclaimed. Was it possible to get from the Coach Station in Inverness to the airport? Yes, I confirmed. He seemed not convinced. My French is better than his English and I thought about switching language but then thought there was little point. He clearly would go through the whole of his trip being unimpressed with everything.

Are you going home? No, I’m travelling down to London. I am going to see the Royal wedding tomorrow. He was from Lyon. I had to explain to Kate that Lyon was a pretty conservative and traditional place. Presumably, our friend who had been really disappointed with Scotland and the Highlands was going to be perfectly happy sitting in a Windsor Park and watching the wedding on a big TV.

We had been waiting at the bus stop for two hours – I don’t exaggerate. Next to the bus stop there was a notice fixed to a fence advertising the local taxi telephone number. Now, I am a bit slow on the uptake and eventually realised this notice has been placed here with strategic intent. I rang the number. A very pleasant woman answered and said she would belong in five minutes. It would cost us £32. This seems a bargain after our two hour wait. She turned up right on time. Just as the coach rolled in. But we stuck to the taxi.

Back at the Train Station I went to enquire whether I could claim a refund on our train tickets from Montrose to Birmingham. I was simply referred back to our booking website. We had a couple of hours to kill. I felt we’d spent much of the last week trotting aimlessly through Inverness. We found a Weatherspoon clone next to the station and sat down to eat another indescribably burger. I noticed a few hundred years away was a Travelodge. I suspect this might be a better option for those making their way to a Challenge start, so long as you book in advance. It is strategical locked between the train station and the bus station.

Soon we were on the train to Aviemore. The train was rammed. We had booked into the Cairngorm Guest House. The Guest House is ten minute walk  to the north of the train station — past Tesco and The Mountain Café and keep going. This was quite a find. We were given a warm greeting by the owners. The place was very comfortable. It had very good wifi. Over at the Scotrail website I discovered my train tickets were not refundable.£125 gone. I booked a new set of tickets from Aviemore to Birmingham. It was a bit of a shock. Let’s just say the tickets were not cheap.

We strolled back down the High Street to the Cairngorm Hotel to eat. I’ve always liked this place ever since they looked after me after I collapsed through the door exhausted one Sunday after three days hard walking with Colin Ibbotson. The hotel was full but we managed to squeeze into the last table in the restaurant. The food here is pretty good. It is basically the usual Highland menu but the difference here was that they could actually cook with quality ingredients. It was Saturday evening. I reassured Kate that all the Challengers would be setting up camp at Derry Lodge.

Back in the bar a rather good duo were playing covers. We found a spot to sit. Everywhere you sit in this bar you have a view of two TV screens. One showed a rugby game and the other was carrying Coventry City’s play off final.

A face appeared and said hello. It was a Challenger. More specifically it was Sabine Zawadzki from Germany (number 376 for those of you who worry about such things). Sabine had planned to come through a day later than most. She was also nursing a dodgy knee but was struggling on. She was headed for the Lairig Ghru the next day. I resisted the temptation to say that if I was heading there I wouldn’t be starting in Aviemore but she was headed for Corrour Bothy which meant a pretty reasonable walk the next day. Sabine had started from Torridon. I was jealous. Torridon is my favourite Challenge start. I’ve started from there on two occasions but the weather on each was dreadful. There had been no chance to climb up high and tackle the wonderful ridge  of Being Liath Mhor (which I’d had to do on an off challenge trip). Sabine’s schedule was behind most people’s simply because she’d been able to take in all those peaks. Was a wonderful way to spend the first days of the Challenge.

And that was it. Our off Challenge experience was over. We had least at had something of a break. But there were lessons to learn and there are lessons to share. You don’t really consider the implications of an injury and of pulling out of the event. I’ll deal with these in a final post. These are — at least — with some consideration!

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