Route: more or less as planned
See http:/www.topwalks.com/tgoc2013.html Day 10 for map
Distance: 27 km (Cum 254)
Ascent: 750 metres (Cum 8490)
Time taken: 9.9 hrs including 2.1 hrs stops
Weather: fog until after lunch time, then above the fog (inversion), before sea fret rolled in
Challengers encountered: Iain Robertson and Simon Hutchinson from Suie to my turn for Cook's Cairn. They were the only people I saw in nearly ten hours of walking. Then I met Archie McBain in the Grouse Inn
I awoke at 6.30 to the sound of a cuckoo, the drip of intense condensation and the sigh of a slug as it fruitlessly mounted my gas canister.
Everything seemed pretty wet as I set off at 8am. The path to Tomnavoulin was like most of those walked today - wet and indecisive.
Mist seemed to envelope everything as I descended in the rural smog. I passed a dead lamb, its eyes pecked out by crows - the very ones perhaps that were fluttering inside traps, in a futile effort to gain freedom.
I took the Smugglers Trail (much whisky was smuggled from illicit stills) towards Clash Wood car park, through a lovely wood, the path bordered by sleepy Wood Sorrel.
Down in Tomnavoulin I was looking forward to a coffee at the Visitor Centre, but sadly its waterwheel was silent and the cobbles in front of it seemed designed to transport unwary visitors straight into the river below.
A riverside path then an empty road took me to the Glenlivet path, at the start of which is a memorial to Margaret Hilton Brown (1886-1952) 'who loved this place'.
I incorrectly crossed a bridge soon afterwards, distracted by a Mercedes 300GD. The vehicle had seen better days; it reminded me of my first trip to Scotland in 1968, in the late lamented Howard Gee's Austin Devon estate car, in a constant search for spares.
The track to Suie was rough but clear, and remained just below the cloud, above which a glimmer of brightness gave me the feeling that there may be a cloud inversion. Oh to be up high!
The air was rich with the sound and sight of curlew, oystercatchers, lapwings and other plovers. Lizards scuttled to avoid my feet. A river crossing in cloud at 330 metres had me reaching for my 'river shoes'. Soon after that the ruined farm of Suie (pictured - there were a few such places today) provided a pleasant enough lunch spot. I explored the building; it must have been a good place to live in its day, which probably wasn't very long ago. It's now inhabited by a family of jackdaws. I don't know who was more surprised, me or them.
Leaving Suie, I spotted two backpackers close behind me. The only people I saw all day, they were Iain and Simon, speeding along on their way to Cabrach. I relished their company for 45 minutes before heading off towards Cook's Cairn. We even had the excitement of crossing a small snowfield at about 500 metres.
Approaching the summit of Cook's Cairn I received a message from Ali suggesting I go high. She was right, there was an excellent cloud inversion, with the Cairngorm summits just poking out of the cloud, and a sea of cloud to the north west. Fantastic! But not easy to catch 'on camera'.
I thought the onward journey to Ardwell would be easy. After all, it was mainly downhill. It turned out to be another of those all too frequent experiences of the path on the map being elusive on the ground, especially in the forest beyond the sad remains of Blackwater Lodge. At least it was t-shirt and sun hat weather, for the first time since leaving Plockton.
I was pleased to see a Black Grouse in the forest, a good omen for my visit to the inn below. There was also a large herd of roe deer down by the river.
The Grouse Inn at Ardwell was most welcoming when I eventually arrived, and it was great to encounter 84 year old Archie McBain, who enthused over having completed three Challenges, the last of which was in 1993. "Nobody will remember me" he said. I thought he might be surprised! After setting up camp in a nearby field I strolled back to the inn for a couple of beers and a wonderful beef casserole. Thanks Maria.
There's no phone signal here so this will transmit tomorrow. Thanks as always for your comments, to which I'll try to reply when I can.
Sent from somewhere between Ardwell and Huntly