As I always say, this is how I remember it an not necessarily how my good companions do. For that you would have to ask them. All thoughts, opinions, conjectures, etc, are mine and mine alone.
It was the September weekend and this trip had been organised for a few weeks. A couple of days in the Cairngorms. I was really looking forward to this for several reasons, I always enjoy myself walking with Phil, he is good company and the times we have walked together they are always memorable, for me. Also this time Colin and Steve would be there and I would be meeting them for the first time. Although we had all spoke plenty on interwebs. More added excitement. Phil, Colin and Steve had walked together before and from what I had heard it had been good. I was hoping for more of the same. Finally the mighty Cairngorm plateau itself. I had never been on it, save for an ill fated ski trip with my secondary school PE class where I managed to face plant ice, yes there was more ice than snow and wrap the skis round my head more times than I care to remember. I am not made for skiing. The least said the better. I had been up to Aviemore on several occasions and camped there as a wee Tookster. I love the Rothiemurchus estate and the old forest there. Some brilliant walks. I was excited that I would be walking on that high tundra, a different landscape and higher than what I am used to. I would be out my comfort zone if you want to put it that way.
The Friday arrived and generally I was ready. The car was packed, my good lady had me well stocked in rolls, chocolate and sweets for the next couple of days. Not to mention IRN-BRU. I'm lucky, she is very good to me and indulges my need to disappear into the wilds. It was an easy enough get away, early afternoon. No rush. My in-laws had dropped in and we all sat around having lunch and chatting. Originally the plan was to wild camp over a couple of nights but the weather was looking a bit iffy and there would be a good chance of a severe buffeting at high levels. About 3 to 4 pints on the Stella scale. The decision was taken to use one of the campsites in the area and start early on the Saturday. Saturday looking like the best day, weather-wise and go from there.
I said my goodbyes. Collecting my food and my camera, fully charged and ready to go. First stop was a carry oot for later. We were glamping after all, no weight penalties here for bottles of beer. Two of us being card carrying card CAMRA members, I went to my local well stocked beer emporium (read Sainsburys) as they have a good selection of real man Scottish Ales. Also having checked with Phil that both Colin and Steve liked a beer. I made my informed selection. After paying the lady the next stop was petrol. Aviemore is a fair old distance and as we all know petrol ain't cheap north of the central belt. I filled the Swift to the gunwales. Which is approximately £50 these days. Time to hit the open road? It was a going to be a fairly long drive, 3 to 3 and a half hours. A725 Express Way down to the Raith Interchange then the M74 towards Glasgow. Then on to the M73, A80, M80 heading for Stirling then onto Perth, M9, A9 then turning on to the A95 and finally the B9152 in towards Aviemore. It's a drive I always enjoy especially when the weather is fine. The A9 can be particularly bad at times with it's long lines of traffic no real passing places, roadworks, impatient drives and sometimes bad weather.
I made Aviemore in good time and drove into the village. Heaving would be an understatement. The place was mobbed with throngs of people. All descending on the Highlands for the September weekend. I managed to get parked in the Tesco car park. I had arranged to meet Steve and Phil here earlier as I wasn't sure where the campsite was. They both turned up within minutes of me getting out the car and heading to the main road in front of the supermarket. I was pretty sure they wouldn't miss me as I was wearing my newly aquired Social Hiking t-shirt in a fetching outdoors woodland green, which was gathering admiring glances. Phil spotted me straight away. After they were parked and Steve and I got our proper introductions done, we headed into Tesco for them to stock up on supplies. Phil informed me that Colin was at the campsite and had managed to secure us a couple of pitches. We got back to the cars and I followed both of them out the car park and out of the village towards the camp site at Coylum Bridge.
As we turned left at the round-a-bout I was flooded with childhood memories of this area and I got more and more as we drove past the entrance to the Rothiemurchus estate. Fishing in the fishery, bike rides and walks through the trees. Next it was the turning into the campsite and I had a deja vu there. I remember being here with the caravan and my family. This was where we had stayed the 1st time at Aviemore. It was lucky that Colin was at the campsite early as when we turned up the sign was out saying no more places were available. We stopped off at the site off and signed in, paying the deposit to get our tent tags.
We headed round to the tent area. Parking up the two cars, we crossed a small bridge and headed along a path. It was obvious to me where we were going and having never met Colin before I would have found him without trouble. He already had his TrailStar pitched by the time we rolled up. As I walked around I had all those memories as a kid running around these woods, playing in the burn. I was a nice surprise to come back there after all those years. Back then summers felt like they lasted forever. It felt like nothing had changed. It was shaping up to be great.
After meeting Colin, I did the civilised thing and went and got the beers from my car and handed them out to everyone. We cracked the bottles open and got one with pitching the other 2 Trailstars. One was Steve's and the other Phil's. Where's mine I hear you ask? Sadly I don't have one but I was going to be sleeping under Phil's. Even with Phil testing one of Sean's OookStar inners, there is still plenty of room for another Tookie sized person and gear. The TrailStars really are great shelters.
For dinner we decided rather than fire up assorted stoves and rehydrate our assorted dehydrated dinners we would head in to Aviemore for the famous Italian buffet at the La Taverna. I'm sure it's famous to those familiar with the place. Pizza and beer is always a winner for me. You didn't have to ask me twice. We got stuff packed up and locked up in the cars. Grabbing our jackets we set off by foot. There was a brief discussion about taking a car but then some-one wasn't getting another beer. Like I said, it was brief. I'm sure Steven Hawking could measure it. It was a millionth of a second, if that. Heading on down the road to town we talked about everything and anything.
It was busy when we arrived at the La Tavern and we said we were happy to wait. The waitress asked us to take a seat in the bar. In the bar we ordered some more beer this time it was Black Gold from the local Cairngorm Brewery. A really nice pint. We sat down at the nearest empty table and got the map out to discuss the next days escapades while we waited to be called to the restaurant. Bringing the beer back to the table, someone spilled the top of their pint. I can't remember if it was me or not. I remember going to the bar to ask for the cloth but for fairness I'm blaming Phil. Apparently he's the clumsy one.
We didn't have to wait long before they had a table for four. The restaurant was stowed like the village was earlier. Evidently the buffet is indeed famous and popular. Always a good sign. Not that I had doubted the guys. Would you like something off the menu? Err, no just the buffet please, for 4. Here's your plate, batter in and batter in I did. I managed to get through 10 fairly big slices of pizza plus some ice cream to finish it. Between courses on my way between table and the buffet, I noticed that my t-shirt was gathering further admiring glances. Phil had his on too so they were being admired twice as much. I wasn't the only one getting a good feed, Colin managed to shovel away a fair few slices plus other assorted pasta dishes. However technically he was far from being the stank I was. He was recovering from some seriously weight loss brought on from a severe bug that he caught walking the Colorado Trail. All in all I think we all managed to eat more than our fair share. It was all you can eat and we did.
Paying the bill we headed on up the road. Bellies full and a couple of pints wiser. It was now dark, the sun had well and truly set while we fattened ourselves. We would have to pass the Coylum Bridge Hilton. It was suggested by one of the others that we could pop in and have a couple of pints before retiring to our sleeping bags for the evening. I was all for that but did ask are the Hilton people happy to have walkers tramp through their lovely expensive hotel? Colin said not to worry as there is a bar round the back, away from the main hotel that was more then happy to have walkers. I was introduced to the Woodshed at the Coylum Bridge Hilton.
On entering the Shed; the shed being a bit of a misnomer, it's bigger than my entire flat. It's huge. With a massive open fire at one and some interesting wall art. We doubled the number of punters in the place. The size of the bar exaggerates the emptiness. The fire was blazing and the pub was roasting. Shedding layers we walked over and acquired more fine beer from the Cairngorm Brewery. The cask now being 4 pints lighter we turned to be met with a myriad of seating choices. Which to be honest I found a bit weird. A Friday night and the pub was empty. Location?
To say there wasn't much of an atmosphere is no exaggeration so we went about making our own and having a laugh. In the hope of making things better they have live music and it wasn't long before one man and his guitar turned up. Oh dear. Don't be shy he said, any request just ask. In our case we didn't. We had another pint and drank up instead. It was bad. I have a feeling that if the entertainment hadn't turned up we may have stayed longer. Maybe that was a good thing but before all that we were fascinated by some of the wall art. In particular what looked like a tribute to the walking legend, Chris Townsend. If it wasn't, it had an uncanny likeness. I was sure. Go see for yourself I'm sure you'll agree. We left the Hilton's grounds crossed the road and headed for the sleeping bags. Dreams of tomorrows hills were waiting...