Braemar, the terminus of Day 9 was the site of my “rest day”–actually a half-day off, the next day.
I spent the night at a B&B that used to be the priest’s residence for St. Andrews Roman Catholic Church. But there hasn’t been a priest in residence for at least 25 years, said Carole, the woman who lived there and had recently opened it as a B&B. I was the only guest.
After dumping my things I went up to the Fife Arms Hotel in ther village, which I was told was a Challenge gathering spot. It was true; the bar was full of hikers. There was a championship soccer match on television and much merriment.
I went into the great room off the lobby, a big place with prints of Scottish folklife on the walls and a fireplace burning wood and coal at one end. I set up shop and spent a couple of hours eating lunch, writing and reading e-mail. The room eventually filled up–every table taken–with gray-haired men and women. They went into the dining room in shifts and came back later to talk, sip wine and play cards.
I didn’t meet Carole until the next morning. She is a wonderful woman of indeterminate age–sixties to seventies. A devout Catholic, she looks after the church next door in addition to running a sweets shop with her partner, David, who apparently lives elsewhere. She is a longtime widow with four children. She has lived in Braemar for about 15 years; why she came I don’t know.
Her house is filled with Catholic iconography–crucifixes, paintings of Jesus, photographs of popes, religious ephemera tacked to the walls. Braemar used to be a town of two faiths, the Catholics on one side of the river and Protestants on the other. Now there is a bridge, but almost no people.
Fifty years ago the church was full for Mass; 250 people or more. Now a priest rides circuit. He was there Saturday night to say Mass. Sixteen people attended “and a couple of them were visitors,” Carole said.
After breakfast (which included my first taste of “black pudding,” which is blood sausage) I settled into her sitting room next to a coal and wood fire and wrote and uploaded until 5 p.m. I had only a little more than 8 kilometers to go to my next spot, Lochcallater Lodge, a hunting lodge on the Invercauld Estate.
I had dinner in town and set off at 6.45 p.m., needless to say the latest start so far. It was a nice evening, cool and starting to drizzle when I arrived at the lodge about 8.30 p.m. I was the last person in.
One of the reasons to put this place on your route is that volunteers make chili and rice for Challengers. It’s also known for heavy drinking and carousing, relatively speaking, of course.
I got last of the chili (the rice was gone), set up my tent in the rain, and then went back into the lodge for a while.
Unelectrified, built of stone (of course) with small rooms, it once housed a family working on the estate. Now, it is a day lodge for deer hunters. With four-wheel drive vehicles. there’s no reason for even them to spend the night.
In one room, labeled “men’s bar”–it seemed redundant, as I saw only one woman in the house the whole evening–a person was playing traditional music on a guitar. There was singing and occasional recitation of ribald verse.
After a while, the chief guitarist. a man from the south of England named Mick, moved into the kitchen. He sat next to the fire and played mostly American rock and roll–several Buddy Holly numbers, “Big Yellow Taxi” by Joni Mitchell, some Crosby, Stills and Nash. It was an interesting selection from a grizzled Briton in his sixties.
I didn’t stay up too late. Or at least not as late as most of the revelers. It was time to sleep by 10.30. And that was a late night.
It’s worth crossing the Atlantic for a good black pudding. And kippers, of course.