Day Six dawned fair and cloudless. I had slept like a log. Breakfast was served in a bright, flowery, sunlit room that looked out towards the small amphihetare that hosts the annual Braemar Gathering. When Mary asked what we would like for breakfast seven hungry voices responded as one,
“Porridge and Full House please!”
The boys were catching on to this Scottish breakfast lark.
Needless to say the food was delicious. After the obligatory photo shoot with Mary the van was loaded, we piled in and were off, three miles back down the road to theVictoriaBridge.
Having successfully overcome what I saw as our major challenge the day before we were in good spirits, no doubt helped by the good weather, and wasted no time in getting started. Twenty minutes later we reached the point where our route turned eastwards off the metalled road and through pine forest to skirt Braemar.
As we made our way through the pine wood we came across a small loch, nestled in the trees and surrounded by flat green grass. It would have made the perfect bivvy; flat, sheltered, fresh water, nice view, rising trout. I asked Dugendra what the Nepali for ‘trout’ was.
We exited the pine forest and before us the track threaded its way deep, purple heather. To our north lay the Morrone Birkwood. To our east, on the horizon, could be seen the massive flanks of Lochnagar, proud in the sunlight.
We were bound for the summit of Lochnagar and then on eastwards down to Glen Muick, a favourite spot of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. I was hoping that, weather permitting, we would be able to seeBalmoralCastlefrom the top as the Queen, Prince Charles and Camilla were in residence. But first, we had to cross the Clunie Water over the footbridge at GR153882 and then the A93 from Glenshee to access the track up to Loch Callater.
As we made our way over the bridge I was shocked to see what discomfort Dugendra was obviously in. He was struggling to put one foot in front of another. There was no way he was going to be able to complete today’s march, which had the highest climb and descent of the whole route. I was going to have to suggest that he take today off in the hope that his knees would be recovered enough for him to join us again the next day, and I was going to have to do it now, before we set off up Glen Callater, so that Temple could come and pick him up.
I knew he would probably say that he was fine, but he obviously wasn’t. I broached the subject with Rajen, believing that a softly, softly approach through the Gurkha hierarchy would achieve the desired result with least feathers ruffled.
“He’ll be fine, saheb”, replied Rajen dismissively.
‘Mmmm’ I thought, surprised. Then I thought, ‘Bugger, this is going to be difficult’.
As the man in charge I was responsible for ensuring the men were returned to their units in one piece. I also had to get the team over the mountain and down to Glen Muick in time forTempleto get us to our next overnight stop at the Royal British Legion hotel in Banchory, before returning to the Inver Hotel at Crathie for our supper with the Lord Lieutenant. As a civilian however I did not have any military jurisdiction over these men. Rajen was the senior officer. I decided to push it a bit harder. Putting on my serious face and addressing both Dugendra and Rajen I said,
“Dugendra, I really think you need to take today off. That way you will still finish the walk. I don’t want you to get injured and have to pack it in”
Dugendra tilted his head and indicated that he was fine. Rajen added,
“He’ll be fine, saheb. He’ll want to do the whole walk”
I knew this was the case. We were a tight team now and not one of us would have wanted not to complete every day of the whole walk, as that would have been tantamount to failure. I felt for Dugendra. I would do exactly the same thing if I was him. But there was a larger picture here. I felt angry. Should I overrule them all and order Dugendra to stop now? That would risk alienating the entire team. Or should I let him stagger on, in the process possibly screwing up his knees and the evening’s arrangements? I decided that it would be a big mistake to override both the wishes of Dugendra and the opinion of Rajen, so I nodded assent. We crossed the highway and ploughed on up the track to Loch Callater. Inside however I was seething.
The higher we got up the western flank of Lochnagar, the stronger the wind became and the colder it got. We were also making very slow progress given Dugendra’s difficulties. My tiredness had made me very prickly. I was angry with myself for having given in, when more resolute leadership was required. I was angry with the boys for being stubborn. I was angry with our hosts that evening for dragging us 45 miles back up the road from Banchory where we were staying that night, to have supper on their doorstep. We were the ones who were exhausted and sore, not them. Couldn’t they have made the effort to come to Banchory to save us a 90-mile round trip?
We weren’t even going to get a curry, for gawd’s sake. Boy had I worked myself up into a lather. They had asked us to be there for 7.00pm and had apparently arranged a piper to greet us. Given our rate of progress we were going to be very late. Even if we rushed our turnaround at Banchory I couldn’t see us getting there until nearer 9.30pm. Truly was I ‘nursing my wrath to keep it warm’.
I stopped and waited for Dugendra and Kal, who had dropped behind to accompany him.
“Kasto hunu hunchha Dugendra? Ghunra haru kasto chha?” How are your knees?
“Ghunra tikchha, hajur” It’s OK Sir.
When I had done the Caledonian Challenge the year before my knees had packed in completely after 40 miles. Despite having two walking poles I had reverted to descending steep hills going backwards. Monty Python’s Ministry of Funny Walks had nothing on me. Someone then suggested I take a couple of Ibuprofen tables.
Within five minutes I was as right as rain (relatively speaking) and bouncing along like a bunny. It was miraculous. I sucked Ibuprofen continuously to the finish line 14 miles later.
“Dugendra, take one of my poles; two poles will make a huge difference to you and help you get up the mountain”
“I’m OK, saheb”
“Here, take these two Ibuprofen, they will get your knees working again. Take two more in four hour’s time”
“I’m OK, saheb. I don’t like to take pills”
I felt like pulling my hair out and screaming, ‘Take the bloody poles and pills for gawdsake man !!!’
I think he sensed my inner cauldron as he accepted my offered pole. And one pill.