Day 11

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Origin:        Blacklunans
Destination:   Tomintoul
Waypoints:     Braemar, Crathie, Cock Bridge
Lunch:         provided by Glenkilrie B&B lady, and eaten at Gairnshiel Lodge
Accommodation: Glentorets B&B, Tomintoul
Cake:          The Clockhouse Restaurant, Tomintoul
Dinner:        The Glen Avon Hotel, Tomintoul
Google Maps
Distance:      53.5mi
Ascent:        3747ft by Google

Climbing! Ski resorts! Heather! Fog! This was the day of extremes, with three major climbs. The road north from Blacklunans builds anticipation nicely—a ribbon of tarmac through increasingly lumpy surroundings. The grind is manageable for a good while, even being slightly downy as well as uppy.

The grind intensifies, and when you hit the signs declaring “no stopping on the carriageway for 4 miles” you know it's serious.

The climb up Glenshee is a real grinder. I'm good at hills, but it was the first time in the whole trip (out of two total, the other being later the same day) where I was forced to pull up for a rest in the middle of a slope, rather than at the end. When you hit the “welcome to Aberdeenshire” sign you've crested the summit—of this road, but also of the entire trip (it's roughly 670m above sea level).

Over the top, it's down towards Braemar, where if you're quick you can take the little Old Military Road rather than the main one (which is still quiet). Braemar has several shops and a nice cafe—I treated myself to early cake, although it was too early for lunch and we already had sandwiches courtesy of the B&B lady. From Braemar the road bends eastwards and passes the Balmoral estate. The dominant notes are trees and heather, and there's a rewardingly scenic climb to cut the corner off between Crathie and Gairnshiel... heading down the hill alongside the babbling Gairn, we reached an insanely picturesque bridge where we had lunch.

The next chunk is a moderately tough but very rewarding bash through the heathery hills, the tarmac ribbon stretching up and out before you as the Old Military Road bends gently left and left again. Once you've settled in for the slog, it's quite manageable, and the view behind is marvellous. This climb is followed by a little downhill relief towards Corgarff.

And then boom! It's the sudden terror of Cock Bridge and the hill that lies beyond. This hill will take you by surprise. Down over the bridge, round the corner and... it's steep, but you think it doesn't look too bad. The problem is you underestimate its power to just keep going and going. If memory serves, I made it as far as the little farm entrance before my first break. Then, as a second bite, I puffed my way up to lay-by which has a sort of modern stone-circle sculpture off to the left. That's almost at the crest, and once you reach that there is a scrubby bit of shoulder where you should take another break and behold the last big climb of the day, the meandering strip in front of you, leading up to the Lecht ski resort. It looks fabulous but slightly daunting from afar. Actually, the hill you've just done was much tougher, and this one mostly takes patience. I didn't have to break part-way, mainly because the road has a little levelling-off that does that for you. The last push takes you up to the resort with its Alpine-style buildings and the cattle grid that marks the boundary with Moray. That's enough climbing for one day. From here it's nearly seven miles of pure “whee!” down to Tomintoul, the highest village in the Highlands.

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Content updated at Thu 23 Jan 22:49:00 GMT 2020.
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