Tuesday 21 February 2012

Winter Returns, Briefly

After a week of thawing and mildness the weather turned abruptly and a north-west wind brought snow and freezing. A day and night of snow turned the land white. The strength of the storm fading I set out for Glen Feshie and the vast upland expanse of the Moine Mhor – the Great Moss. It being Sunday the minor roads had not been ploughed or gritted and the drive was slow and slippery. Perhaps that was why there were few vehicles in the car park in Glen Feshie. The sign for the Cairngorm ski resort said the car parks there were full. Those roads are ploughed of course, to ensure the skiers and tourists make it to the funicular railway, the ski lifts, the shops and the cafes. There are, thankfully, no commercial facilities where the road ends in Glen Feshie, just the river and the forest, the meadows and the hills.

Glen Feshie
The track up onto the Moine Mhor was snowy and icy and frozen hard. Across Strathspey the Monadh Liath hills glistened in the patchy sunlight. The air was calm and the sun warm as I climbed out of the trees but soon I felt the north-west wind that was driving the clouds across the sky. Once on the heights I headed for the great rounded hulk called Mullach Clach a’Bhlair (summit of the stone of the plain) that dominates upper Glen Feshie. Crossing the Moine Mhor was awkward as the snow varied from soft, and in places ankle and more deep, to hard and icy and was mixed with areas of scoured crunchy black peat and protruding granite stones. Zigzagging across the slopes, I tried to search out the firmer ground where I could stride out rather than the energy sapping soft snow that slowed me down. All the while the biting wind lashed against me and the clouds rolled and twisted across the sky.

View across Strathspey to the Monadh Liath
The summit reached I paused momentarily to take in the view but there is no shelter here, just a small cairn, and I was soon heading down the long Druim nam Bo ridge that led down into Glen Feshie, passing frozen Lochan nam Bo, its surface grey with the slush of snow that had started to melt in the afternoon sun and was now turning to ice. Thick clouds in the west meant sunset was no more than a brief golden flash as the sun passed between two layers. As darkness fell I reached the first trees and turned up the glen in search of a camp site, soon finding one on a gravel bank close to the River Feshie itself. There was no wind down here and the clouds faded away, leaving bright stars. Owls called from the scattered pines as I pitched the tent and there was an air of peace and cold beauty.

Across the Moine Mhor to Mullach Clach a'Bhlair
As I dropped off to sleep the temperature was below zero and ice was forming in my water bottles. The cold and calm was not to last. Not long after midnight I was woken by the wind rustling the tent flysheet and a feeling of stuffiness. I was too hot. The temperature was now a few degrees above zero and I needed to open the hood and the top of the zip of my -9°C rated sleeping bag. Cooler again I dozed off only to wake an hour later as the strengthening wind buffeted the tent even more. A continuously disturbed night followed as tiredness and the noisy tent fought each other for dominance. Dawn came with a shower of rain and general sogginess as the snow was melting fast. Packing up I headed back down the glen, my mind more on reaching the car before the light showers turned to heavy rain and on the cafes of Aviemore. The rippling waters of the Feshie were a pleasure to watch as always though and I was delighted at the rampant regenerating Scots Pine that were springing up everywhere. Glen Feshie never fails to delight.


  1. Feshie is a delight that must be enjoyed. A short window of winter you had there Chris before the rain came. Winter will soon be gone and you can go and enjoy the glen in spring.

  2. Mm, That looks a very interesting tent. I like the canopy for cooking under, corner supports and head height. Although the flapping would be a bit of a nightmare.
    What make is it Chris?

  3. Interesting to read that you've had winds from the north-west, Chris. We had a spell of north-westerlies down here in the midlands and I don't recall us getting wind from that direction very often.

  4. Another great read, Chris. I'm also fascinated by the tent. (Why don't they incorporate the corner rods in the flysheet like an Akto, I wonder? It's sort of an Akto with an upright pole, which means the door can be central...
    A cross between a Trailstar and Akto... Interesting.

  5. "...tiredness and the noisy tent fought each other for dominance"
    Would you recommend ear plugs for this?
    Glen Feshie - I have never been. Is there anything quite different about it compared with Derry Lodge or Lairig Ghru - I know each area has it's own unique beauty?

  6. The tent is a Robens Mercury. With a few modifications the flapping could be reduced greatly. The porch is huge. It's designed for two people but as with all tents with one door on the side one person only has access to the door by climbing over the other person.

    Ear plugs would have helped Alastair. Good idea. Glen Feshie combines steep sides and a narrowing glen with an ancient pine forest and a wonderful braided river. I think it's one of the most beautiful glens in the Cairngorms.

  7. I know the feeling, I was up there last wk, and managed to get an overnight stay at loch avon.
    Could hear the wind coming off cairngorm, then feel it lashing the tent moments later.
    Was a sleepless night, but still worth it to see that place for the first time. Took my missus for a walk down the feshie too. She loved everything except the bothy toilet seat!.