If it wasn't for my good friend Pauline, I don't think I would ever set foot in the mountains of Scotland, and what a tragedy that would be. And my available time is more limited than it used to be, but that translates into appreciating our mountain adventures even more.
Of course, only venturing out on the odd occasion also brings with it one big challenge; fitness! Or rather, lack of it.
Accessing a number of our Scottish walks is made all the more difficult by the lack of integrated public transport, or journeys that take almost a day in themselves to get to the start point. We both like to use the train as much as possible, not just from an environmental point of view, but also because we can sit back and relax, and watch the view rush past the window, but on this occasion we were starting out from Braemar, and to make the most of the three days we opted to drive.
Leaving the car in the village we caught a local bus a few miles east to our starting point at Bridge of Dee, where the track into the Invercauld Estate crosses the River Dee. We were heading for the most easterly Munro of the Cairngorms, Ben Avon, and as I heaved on my pack I knew there was a long walk in ahead. But this was the weekend nearest to the longest day, so there was plenty of time.
The sun was shining, the birds were singing, and all around was forest, as we enthusiastically set off. The forest soon gave way to open land, and as the track stretched out before us it entered a narrow glen. As we reached the top of this glen we were met with the remains of a house! The material used looked fairly modern. It certainly wasn't ancient. It puzzled me as to how on earth they had managed to not just build it, but get all the materials up there.
From the vantage point above the glen I could see the path heading up to a distant bealach, which Pauline informed me was where we would pitch the tents for the night.
By the time I was halfway up, with the path increasing in steepness, I was finished. My energy plummeted, and I was struggling to put one foot in front of the other. So ridiculous was my lack of fitness at this point, compared to the years gone past, that I suddenly burst out laughing.
By late afternoon our tents were pitched in an idyllic spot under the scalloped face of Beinn a'Bhuird. Pauline may drag me screaming and shouting up some tough landscapes, but she has a knack for choosing great camping spots.
Dumping all out kit we then headed off to the summit of Ben Avon. Without a pack this was a breeze, albeit the first pull up from the bealach was steep. When we reached the plateau-like top of the mountain, that we would cross to reach the actual summit, we could see the granite tors jutting up in the distance, with a shape like a giant elephant poo. It was difficult to judge the distance due to the lack of any other features, but the going was easy, so it didn't matter.
We stayed a short while at the tor, clambering over the weather-rounded rocks, but as the breeze stiffened, and the temperature started to drop, we headed back to the comfort of our tents and a hot meal.
Day two started with a pull up the adjacent Munro, Beinn a'Bhuird, from our camp spot. From the summit we had clear views back east toward the tors of Ben Avon, and west to the familiar skyline of Cairngorm and Ben Macdui.
As we crossed the short grass plateau beyond the summit, we came across a tiny stream, flowing down from a small spring. It was so peaceful here that we stopped a while and contemplated the age of this little ribbon of water, constantly flowing across this plateau, probably for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.
From here we skirted the dramatic cliffs of the mountain, with snow still in some of the gullies.
We now dropped down into the forested areas of Glen Quoich, heading back out of the mountains on the western side of Braemar.
This route took me by surprise in regards to its length, and as we followed the eroded banks of the river, we were on the lookout for a camping spot for the night. But there was nothing to be had, until we were fairly far down, within a couple of miles of the National Trust's Mar Lodge.
But here was another idyllic spot, beside the river, with a gentle breeze keeping any midges at bay. In the middle of the cascading river was a rock feature with a large, perfectly smooth, hole, created by centuries of pounding water, and known as the Punch Bowl.
After a restful night our final day was misty and damp as we entered Braemar and, you guessed it, coffee and cake.