A head full of Scotland…

Not long returned from a couple of weeks in the highlands, it’s probably understandable that, randomly, places with Gaelic names still spring unsolicited into the consciousness, accompanied by mental images of a clarity which is almost harrowing. Ironically, the better the time enjoyed, the more acute the ache of nostalgia: this is the comedown to end all comedowns; this is what the highlands can do to you…

The Cairn Gorm wind (Sunday, August 7th, 2016): Winds were predicted and it was indeed a bit blustery in the Spey Valley; blustery but no more than that. After a low-key, settling-in day, we’d ventured to Cairn Gorm, intending to ascend via Sron An Aonaich, otherwise known as the ‘windy ridge’ route – appropriately, as it turns out – and explore some more circuitous descent options, with a view to avoiding the funicular and as much of the ski paraphernalia as possible.

Stepping out of the car at Coire Cas, it was immediately apparent that conditions were a little bit more severe than blustery. As we raised the tailgate a number of items of clothing were plucked from the boot and distributed around the car park. With everything retrieved, an impromptu meeting agreed – unanimously, which is a rarity! – that heading for the tops today would be neither enjoyable or sensible.

It turned out to be a wise decision: later in the day, a record gust for the month of August was recorded by the Cairngorm weather station – a short stroll away from the summit cairn. (From the BBC website): “Met Office meteorologist Stuart Brooks said the wind speed on top of Cairngorm in the Highlands had so far reached 115mph and the weather station there was on track to note the highest gust ever recorded in summer”.

The midges of Glen Einich (Sunday, August 14th, 2016): We love the hills, and being out on them; but sometimes we just like to look at them from beneath. This could be just an excuse for the lazier days, of which we are also quite fond, but there’s no denying Scotland does have some very inviting glens. Glen Einich for one: a walk-in framed on its western side by the buttresses of Sgoran Dub Mor and Sgor Gaoith, with the corries of Braeriach to the east and, when it eventually comes into view, the blank headwall of Coire Odhar. Oh, and of course, there’s Loch Einich.

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The looming presences of Sgoran Dub Mor and Sgor Gaoith, heading into Glen Einich

These are the places where it’s good to pause, reflect, and feel that particular sensation unique to the Scottish highlands; unique at least as far as the UK goes. Uneasy but not in an unpleasant way is the best explanation I can offer; a certain acknowledgement of scale on a number of levels – the physical scale of the mountains themselves of course; but also the timescales represented by those mountains, which will endure long after we, as a species, have become a footnote to their history.

I’m no mystic, but I do believe that on a certain level the genuinely wild landscapes communicate with us: come in here with attitude and you’ll likely come unstuck; don’t take liberties and maybe you’ll be okay – but there are no guarantees. And there would be no point in arguing back – mountains don’t debate!

DSC08507Anyway, to the midges… and maybe, like the mountains, they will endure us as a species; I think they probably will. We’d progressed, largely untroubled, up to the point where the track splits and the lower path descends to closely shadow the river (Am Beanaidh), with the right-hand fork gradually climbing clear of the valley floor. It was here that they sprang their ambush – rising from the ground, descending from the sky, outflanking us and mocking our feeble attempts at defence; and all in the time it took us to make the decision – high or low? The little blighters have no interest in discussing surrender terms either.

Eventually we reached a high point, where the breeze seemed to thwart them a bit, and thereafter we mostly lost them – as long as we didn’t pause anywhere for too long – at least until we picked up a couple of patrols on the return leg, still keen for one last bite.

Edinburgh and the Highland Chieftain (Monday, August 15th, 2016): We’re all pretty fond of Edinburgh, particularly the astonishing variety of landscape to be found within the boundaries of a city. And we also all like a ride on a train…

P1160559Having established that even the walk-up return fares from Kingussie were surprisingly reasonable, we turned up at the station and booked for an out and back trip on Virgin Trains East Coast service,  a train which goes by the name of The Highland Chieftain and eventually ends its journey at either London Kings Cross or Inverness. One surprise was that using the ‘Chieftain’ – a refurbished High Speed Train (Inter-city 125 in old money) – in both directions was actually cheaper than the alternative Abellio/Scotrail option, travelling by 3-car DMU. We enjoyed a nicely turned-out train – even on the northbound return, by which time it was several hours into its journey – with plenty of room and good seats in both directions. This doesn’t make me a convert to the idea of a privatised railway, and anyway the Mark 3 coaching stock dates back to BR days and could show a Pendolino a thing or two when it comes to seating pitch and window alignment.

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Viewed from the train: early morning, low cloud rolling over the hills of Drumochter

Despite closely shadowing the A9 for a a sizeable part of the route, the train gives a much different perspective; particularly to someone who would usually be the driver. Passing Dalwhinnie, there was time to savour the view down Loch Ericht towards Ben Alder, looking massive even at this distance. Somewhere south and east of Drumochter, possibly around Killiecrankie, the highland wildness finally concedes its stranglehold, merging into the fertile prosperity of Perthshire and, for a while, we were back in familiar territory around Pitlochry and Dunkeld, rattling over the iron viaduct near to Dalguise. Away from the fractious and overcrowded peak-time commuter trains – which are an altogether different experience –  it’s a great way to travel.

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Looking along Princes Street from Calton Hill

We had 5 hours in the city: a little more would have been nice but, as we already knew our way around, we were able to make the most of the time available. August in Edinburgh means Fringe, and negotiating The Royal Mile felt like the most tiring walking of the entire fortnight.

There and back, we spent roughly as long on the train as we did in the city. Not once did the journey seem to drag, not even for a second and not in either direction. In fact we were all visibly downcast as the northbound service passed through Newtonmore and began to slow.

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Sadly, all good things have to come to an end – holidays, train journeys…

The birds (various dates and locations): What follows is nothing more than a sequence of disproportionately fortunate encounters, which will probably never be repeated during a single fortnight. That’s all there is to it: no claims of expertise or meticulous planning; just sheer dumb luck.

Two young cuckoos being fed, in plain sight, by a pair of warblers at Achlean – mentioned here

An impromptu pause at Loch Morlich roadside, where a firecrest – a bird I’d expected to go my whole life without ever seeing – worked its way through the foliage until it was a few feet from the passenger side windows, while the three of us sat as motionless as is humanly possible

Two golden eagles – one in Glen Feshie, the other, a few days earlier, barely into Glen Einich – and neither at a time of day when you would generally be optimistic. In the case of the Glen Einich one, we were no more than a couple of paces from stepping out from the tree cover – and almost inevitably spooking the bird – when we spotted it, drifting at not much more than tree height. As it was, we got to see it circle a few times before heading off towards the west. The Glen Feshie eagle was being mobbed by a flock of smaller birds and was distracted enough not to notice us for a while. Neither sighting would have lasted longer than about 15-20 seconds but – having only ever having seen about three or four in my whole life –  I don’t recall ever seeing a golden eagle for more than a few seconds.

We have, over the years, squinted at the tree line, trying to work out exactly where a cuckoo’s call might be coming from; never with any luck. We’ve similarly scanned skylines and hillsides, hoping to pick up the dark shape or shadow of an eagle in flight. Perhaps the occasional unlikely stroke of luck is nature’s trade-off for the fruitless hours.

Meall a’ Bhuachaille (Saturday, August 13th, 2016): For years we did this hill a disservice; an error of omission. We now try to make time for it whenever we’re in the area; the views are exceptional, it can easily be fitted into a part-day, and the summit shelter is sufficiently ‘wraparound’ to protect against everything other than a full-on northerly (there has to be a gap somewhere!). While we were taking advantage of the protection, a couple of young lads arrived who had run to the summit from Glenmore Lodge, via Ryvoan bothy; after all of 30 seconds, one said “Ready?”, the other nodded, and off they went in the direction of the next top – Creagan Gorm. We could only wonder, and wish them well

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Lochan Uaine from Meall a’ Bhuachaille

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Looking back down the track on Meall a’ Bhuachaille; Ryvoan bothy is just visible below.

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Hillsides virtually stripped of trees – lynx needed!

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Curtains of rain moving across Loch Morlich.

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Bynack More from Meall a’ Bhuachaille

It’s probably a consequence of its distinctive shape and position at the head of the Ryvoan pass, but Meall a’ Bhuachaille – despite keeping company with much loftier neighbours – seems to be in view from most of Strathspey. We began to wonder whether Meall a’ Bhuachaille might be Gaelic for “visible from everywhere” but apparently it translates as ‘The hill of the herdsman’.

[Below] Meall a’ Bhuachaille and neighbours from… actually, I’m not sure. Probably (top to bottom): Glen Einich; Whitewell; somewhere else…

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So that’s it for reflections until next time.

Which can’t come soon enough.

 

There’s some corner of a highland field…

DSCN0951Just past Whitewell, returning from Glen Einich, I paused to look back towards Braeriach, take a couple of photographs and noticed an item of equipment parked in the corner of the field. I use the catch-all term “item of equipment” to allow some latitude for my lack of knowledge in these matters; although I think this is probably a tractor and that’s as specific as I’m prepared to be.

That said, I do know that there’s a wealth of knowledge out there among the outdoor community. My thing is railways – even old, long disused stretches of the former network, trying to picture how things might have been in their heyday; or the dedicated freight loops where a couple of trains a week fight through the buddleia en route to some surviving remnant of a quarry or colliery. We all have our little idiosyncrasies…

Anyway, all of that aside, zooming in revealed this…

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Judging from the tyres, it might still be in use, although the front ones seem to have sunk a little, and the more you zoom the more blemishes are revealed. If its working life is done, it’s got a splendid place to spend its retirement.

Carn Ban Mor: 1,052 m (3,451 ft), not a Munro

It doesn’t matter that it tops out at well over 3,000 feet – there’s more to it than that. Scottish hill classification is – like life itself – something I don’t fully understand; probably because, as with life itself, I haven’t always been properly paying attention.

It’s to do with relationships and proximity (like a restraining order?), and also parents and subsidiaries. That last bit sounds like the kind of stuff you’d find in a PLC’s profits warning and maybe it all serves some purpose, but…

(Here’s the ‘but’): if it’s the case that Carn Ban Mor is blissfully indifferent to its designation – and we can probably take that as read – then I don’t really think it should matter to me either; which is convenient, because it doesn’t. To misquote Robbie Burns “A hill’s a hill for a’ that” and Carn Ban Mor is a fine old hill, and one with a particularly fine path.

Just before the croft at Auchlean, a track leaves the tarmac road and cuts away across the heather and bilberry. Alternatively, just past the croft, another track leaves the path to Glen Feshie at roughly 90º. It’s not long before the two converge, but fortunately we chose the latter option, otherwise we would have missed the two cuckoo chicks being fed by a pair of warblers in the lee of the farm buildings.

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Cuckoo chick, waiting to be fed (Glen Freshie)

The energy expended by those small birds, incubating and nurturing the two cuckoos, is a genuine wonder of the natural world. For perspective, imagine a pair of robins tirelessly rearing a couple of young pigeons and you’d be about right.

Many hours later, we chose to return via the same route, just to see if the feeding was still going on: it was, even though the chicks both looked well capable of taking care of themselves. And their foster parents.

I’ll not dwell too much on the route, as there are any number of detailed and well-written descriptions available online. The path climbs through mixed woodland, which eventually gives way to open hillside and views of Glen Feshie and then the Spey valley. The Cairngorms national park is accessed via a gate and introduced by a boulder situated just inside the park boundary.

DSC07544A food stop was taken in the comfort of a peaty gulley, just to the side of the path. It was only on emerging onto the higher open ground that we realised just how much we’d been sheltered from the wind by the presence of Carn Ban Beag on our northern side. On the upper slopes a group of reindeer crossed our path on the ascent, and did so again as we were returning.

What sets the path apart from many others is that it takes you to within a whisker of the summit, without the degeneration into either quagmire or ankle-snapping boulder field, which is so often the case and usually just at the point where the trickiest part of the ascent is reached. A small waymark cairn marks the point where you need to leave the main path and head across gently sloping open ground to the summit cairn/shelter and take in the views which, in this case, really do justify the use of the word “panoramic”.

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Sgor an Lochain Uaine and (right) Cairn Toul

The summits of Cairn Toul and Sgor an Lochain Uaine are familiar from a thousand pictures seen in guidebooks and on internet sites and; a little further on, there are excellent views across to the western corries of Braeriach. Almost due north, the rocky summit of Sgor Gaoith looks within touching distance; a little deceptive, as there is a drop down onto a saddle before needing to reascend another 100 metres in height.

 

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The summit of Sgor Gaoith (1,118 metres) – Carn Ban Mor’s ‘parent’ hill

The return to earth (20/06/2015)

The return to earth

There’s no avoiding the fact that leaving the highlands involves ‘coming down’ in more than one sense. From a seemingly unending choice of mountains topping three and a half thousand feet, we return to a locality where the highest accessible summits reach around half that height.

Abdon Burf (Brown Clee), at 540 metres (1,770 feet), is the highest point in Worcestershire and Shropshire; Long Mynd – despite feeling much more like proper hill country – tops out at the summit of Pole Bank (516 metres/1693 feet).

It’s hard not to suffer withdrawal symptoms, and not just for the landscape either: highland place names evoke a particular nostalgia, all of their own. Simply planning a route in The Cairngorms can be enough to prompt anticipation and excitement: tracing a line on the map across allt; gleann; creag; stob. The principal waterways – Dee, Spey, Feshie – mostly seem to be identified by the anglicised ‘river’ but elsewhere the landscape is doing its bit to preserve the mystery and romance of gaelic. Could there be a better and more appropriate way of conserving a language than through the naming and identification of iconic landmarks?

The Welsh have a word – ‘Hiraeth’ – which has no direct equivalent in English, but one definition is “… a mix of longing, yearning, nostalgia and wistfulness”. And there we have it, in a nutshell – an Englishman, back home and stricken with hiraeth for the wild places of Scotland (and their names). It’s almost a subliminal argument in favour of the union.

So, what to do? The realities of daily life demand attention and recreation has to take its place in the queue; not always at the front, unfortunately. Meanwhile, the post holiday void has to be filled, as best it can, by the frequently shorter and invariably less dramatic outings taken closer to home. As coping strategies go, this seems better than any of the alternatives…

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The Worcester and Birmingham canal, near Droitwich

Canal walks are one of our staples, and what they lack in terms of hills is usually compensated for by the generally less hurried pace of life and movement around inland waterways. That and the often surprising diversity of wildlife colonising the margins; particularly where the canals border on areas of arable farmland.

Canals in the Droitwich area have benefited from substantial restoration efforts in recent years. These are too extensive and complex to cover in a blog post but there are a number of online sites detailing the work which has been carried out. Suffice it to say that the restoration projects have reactivated previously derelict and overgrown sections of waterway and towpath, created a variety of new wildlife habitats and some excellent walking opportunities. The restored canals are now in the care of The Canal and River Trust: their site can be viewed here; there is also, among others, a wiki page giving some of the back story.

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Reed Warbler

One particular component of the  habitat enhancement has been the creation of extensive reed beds; these attract a variety of bird species but seem particularly appealing to probably the highest concentration of reed warblers we’ve ever encountered anywhere. Perhaps the day will eventually arrive when I can reliably distinguish them from a whitethroat at first sight; I’m not there yet.

Reed warblers are one of the varieties vulnerable to being used as a host by parasitic cuckoos and we heard distinctive cuckoo calls coming from a copse quite close to the towpath. In fact we’ve heard a number of cuckoos calling in the vicinity of local canals this spring/summer, where we can often go several years without hearing a single one in the locality. I suppose it could be that this is connected to the apparently thriving warbler population.

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Serendipity: while trying to pinpoint the precise location of the cuckoo, Rob chanced upon this green woodpecker sitting uncharacteristically motionless on top of a tree stump…

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Cultivated land, hedgerows, some woodland. A nice mix of habitat for warblers and other varieties.

 

 

A stroll in upper Glen Feshie

I’ve heard it said, in fact I think I’ve even seen it written, that Glen Feshie is the finest of all of Scotland’s glens; how you would ever make such an evaluation is beyond me. Even if you’d seen all of them and in all conditions (which I haven’t, on either count; nowhere near), to select a single one as the outright best would be… well, I’m struggling; it would be too much to process. All of that said, I can see why so many have nothing but good things to say about Glen Feshie.

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When that heather comes into bloom…

We started our walk from a small parking area, just before the cattle-grid on the approach to Auchlean. There is actually a more substantial car park a couple of hundred yards further down the road, but we’d left it tucked safely away and causing no obstruction, in the company of a couple of other cars. After no more than a kilometre of tarmac walking, the road ends at a croft and a distinct path continues, left of the property boundary.

The river Feshie is, at this point, a couple of hundred metres or so to the west (right) but it and the path steadily converge. After about one and a half kilometres there is an opportunity to switch to the west bank, by means of a footbridge. This side of the river seemed to be more popular with cyclists but we’d already decided to follow the path on the eastern side, partly because – with future visits in mind – we wanted to look for the trails heading off towards the hills above Loch Eanaich – Carn Ban Mor and Sgor Gaioth. And what a great name for a hill – Sgor Gaioth; it sounds like somewhere Sauron could have located himself, had Escape to the country not been able to fix him up with Mordor.

From a walking perspective, the weather was very agreeable; from a sitting down to lunch perspective, a little less so. There was a nice mix of high cloud and clear blue skies, with the clouds being kept moving by a lively wind. Views and visibility benefitted; the downside was the wind carrying a bit of bite. Choosing the correct lunch spot would be critical: not good news – choosing the correct lunch spot is something we can prevaricate over at the best of times! The optimal flat boulder – out of the wind; in the sun; with views of the hills, the loch, the birds, the river – these decisions are not to be rushed.

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Crossing one of the smaller burns

Thankfully, it sometimes just comes down to dumb luck. We stumbled on a spot, sheltered by pines, but with a view through to the river: flat, mossy, comfortable; and with enough space to rest the tea cups. And once we’d settled and stopped fidgeting, the birds returned.

Lunch was so enjoyable that we discussed the likelihood of finding this same spot again when we returned to Glen Feshie in future; seriously, that conversation actually took place! In all honesty, the idea of returning to the glen with a plan to sit in exactly the same spot did seem just a bit… well, weird.  Anyway, chances are it will all look completely different next time and we’ll search in vain.

It was an out and back walk, no more than about 12 kilometres in total: river on the right on the way out, river on the left on the way back, was about as much navigation as was needed. The paths which leave the glen and cut directly into the hills of Badenoch, look like they will require a bit more attention to detail.

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Mid-stream: for some reason, this almost perfectly formed red granite boulder seemed worth recording

A traverse of Meall a’ Bhuachaille

Meall a’ Bhuachaille: I couldn’t say how many times we’ve looked, in passing, at Meall a’ Bhuachaille and wondered about the possibility of incorporating it into a day’s outing. But wondering was as far as things ever went; there were always other plans, other destinations, other priorities. Until today…

We started from the visitor centre in Glenmore, with a counter-clockwise route in mind; the ascent of the hill proper would be via the track leading up from Ryvoan bothy. The first surprise was the weather, as we walked outwards from Glenmore – warm and springlike, with clear blue skies; not particularly unusual for the last week in May, but much better than the forecast had suggested. We felt that we might be carrying an over-cautious amount of spare layering; but a day can be a long time in the highlands…

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 Blue skies and green water at Lochan Uaine

Heading up the short section from Lochan Uaine towards Ryvoan, one of the party enquired as to the possibility of a “brief pause for a snack” and so we parked ourselves on the flat rock just across the track from the bothy. There we waited (and waited) while a “snack” became a banquet – unfeasible amounts and varieties of food being retrieved from a modestly sized daypack and consumed in a leisurely, unhurried fashion. We could have been at the summit by the time we eventually got moving again.

No more than a couple of hundred feet into the ascent, it was already becoming clear that some of the extra layers were probably going to be needed after all; the temperature was steadily falling, the wind gathering both speed and bite as the path wound its way upwards. Long before the summit cairn I was regretting not packing at least a pair of liner gloves, and glad of the hand-warmer pockets in my jacket.

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Ryvoan bothy is a distant speck, just below centre.     The clouds had begun to gather a little by now.

The path on Meall a’ Bhuachaille is generally good: it varies in terms of its surface; some parts are engineered, with a gritty texture; others are pretty much unmade and with loose stones; some of the trickier sections have been stepped, using natural materials and mostly in a fairly unobtrusive way. The track does twist and double back on itself on occasions and is probably a little longer than a route planned on – for example – Routebuddy would suggest. But it’s easily navigable and climbs at a steady rate. 

The summit cairn/shelter is a decent size but doesn’t come into view until you’re quite close. Reaching summits is generally a welcome sensation and today it was particularly so – we were well in need of some food, a hot drink, and a sheltered spot to enjoy both. It had been our original plan to make the top our one and only food stop, albeit a little sooner. Surprisingly, the leisurely luncher had managed to work up a whole new appetite and – even more surprisingly – still had some food left in his pack.

Meall a’ Bhuachaille, occupying a position at the eastern end of its own small group of hills to the north-west of Ryvoan Pass, provides an excellent vantage point; particularly so for making sense of the complex, forested expanses of Abernethy, and for giving an insight into how things must have looked back in the days when the boundaries of both it and Rothiemurchus extended well beyond their present ranges. This kind of terrain can play tricks on the mind: if someone had blindfolded me at the summit and invited me to point to the twin lochs of Garten and Mallachie, I would have been at least 30º adrift, despite having visited them many times over the years. It’s never a bad thing to be reminded of the discrepancy between what we know and what we think we know; intuitive navigation isn’t a gift given to all of us.


And that wouldn’t have been the only error of judgement, when it came to perspective. The Ryvoan pass is guarded to the north-west and south-east by two peaks – Meall a’ Bhuachaille and Creag nan Gall respectively. These two hills, viewed from the path heading up towards Lochan Uaine, I would have estimated at roughly similar heights; probably with Meall a’ Bhuachaille as slightly the higher of the two. What I wouldn’t have imagined is a disparity in summit heights of 188 metres (810 cf 622), or more than 600 feet; it was a lesson in how different things can look from the valley floor.

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Descending towards the saddle before Creagan    Gorm; Loch Morlich in the distance.

From the summit shelter, the difference in elevation becomes obvious, with unobstructed views across Creag nan Gall to Bynack More and Cairn Gorm. The last week in May and plenty of snow was still lying in the northern corries and elsewhere. (Addendum: later in the week there would be a fresh overnight dusting).

Leaving the summit, we headed west for the obvious saddle between Meall a’ Bhuachaille and Creagan Gorm. At just about the low point of the ridge the path forks and the left-hand option leads down into the woods of Glenmore Forest Park and back to the visitor centre. By the time we reached the tree line, we had escaped the wind and it was once again mild, if a little cloudier than in the morning.

Having pointed out a rotting tree stump and suggested that it looked an ideal nesting spot for crested tits, I somehow managed to be the only one to miss the actual crestie which was flitting around its dead branches. Wildlife watching can be an exasperating business at times…

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The crested tit I never saw…

 

A High and Lonely Place

A High and Lonely Place

It’s the title of a book: a good one, by a good writer (Jim Crumley); first published in 1990 and it’s as relevant now as the day it was written, possibly more so. I re-read it a few weeks back, just before a visit to the highlands (although those two things had no deliberate connection) and much of it reads like a present day commentary; you have to remind yourself that it was written a quarter of a century ago, raising concerns which went largely unheeded, much as they still do today.

The high and lonely place of the book’s title is the Cairngorms – the mountains of course, but also the forests and valleys, rivers and marshes, which feed, drain, shelter and, in innumerable other ways, enhance each other and the whole. Some will say, and with valid arguments, that we have better hills and more evocative landscapes. In the end it’s all about opinions: there’s no definitive best mountain, or most magnificent glen, particularly when none of them are the same from one day to the next.

As early in the book as page 22, I came across this passage, where Jim is expressing his anxieties over the future of the remaining forests of Rothiemurchus and Abernethy: “Stand in them, and know that when you do, these same trees were brushed by wolf and Jacobite. Stand in them, feel the past and fear for the future. [Man] has long since passed the day when he could say with any honesty that he never knew”.

All of this was written before the the funicular; before the re-branding of the mountain; before the proliferation of onshore wind; before the ‘need’ never to be without a mobile phone signal.

On one of our outings we crossed the summit plateau of Cairngorm; partly to take in the outlook to the south and also with a view to some reconnaissance for future outings. Scanning around and taking in the views of Derry Cairngorm, Ben Macdui, Cairn Toul, Braeriach (and that’s just a few to be going on with), we were immediately struck by the difference between looking into the heart of the mountains and what you see when you stand near the summit cairns and look outwards. The difference bestowed by national park protection; let’s hope that holds firm when it (inevitably) comes under pressure from speculators and developers.

Low cloud moving across Cairngorm summit. In the distance and just visible, some clearer weather down in Glenmore.

It’s true that Cairngorm itself is an untidy clutter on its northern side: mostly the consequences of ski development. I know there are arguments in favour of skiing as a leisure pursuit; not least the economic benefits in the winter months and, equally importantly, the fact that, for some, it’s an enjoyable activity. There’s no denying though that skiing is greedy for land and creates an awful mess on the hillside when there’s no camouflaging blanket of snow. Of course there are equally instances of spots (Snowdon summit, Ben Nevis as examples) where the accumulated effects of tens of thousands of walkers can leave the place looking far from attractive. The difference on Cairngorm is how quickly, if you choose your path well, you can leave behind the crowds and their debris.

The landscape sometimes pays a heavy price for our recreational activities

On the other hand, it doesn’t take long to escape any evidence of the crowds: a couple of twists in the path, a couple of folds in the landscape, is usually sufficient.

What all this means for us in the longer term is open to conjecture. One definite is that plans for future trips will probably involve walking deeper into the hills, rather than on or around them. More forays into quiet glens – places like Glen Einich – to avoid seeing the things we’d rather not see. In a way, it almost seems like an admission of defeat; albeit one with compensations.
 This was the view from Cairngorm towards Ben Macdui and Loch Etchachan
 
The Spey, assisted by some input from its tributaries, had flooded the Insh marshes and created a wetter than usual wetland habitat. Apparently this is not a typical August scene and certainly one we’d not seen before
 Ruthven Barracks, for a few days at least, gained a moat…
 
A different view of the extensive flooding on both sides of the A9. This was taken from Creag Bheag, a small hill which lies behind Kingussie…
 A roe deer in that peculiar ‘walk forwards, look backwards’ pose, which seems to be a speciality of theirs