Sunday 22 July 2012

A Summer Walk in the Cairngorms

With a weather forecast for a dry day and the clouds above the summits, very unusual in recent weeks, I decided it was time to head up onto the Cairngorm Plateau, especially when I realised with a shock that I hadn’t been there since May Day, when I skied across a snowbound world. A whole series of events from the TGO Challenge to trips to Sweden and Germany have kept me away from my local hills. And when I have been home the constant low cloud has made wanderings in the forests and fields and beside the rivers more attractive than navigating through the mist high in the hills. I had a reason to visit the Plateau too, a reason that required clear views. The Mountaineering Council of Scotland has asked me to take photographs of the Allt Duine area from various points in the Cairngorms and Monadh Liath for the Public Inquiry into the proposed wind farm. Yesterday was the first day when such photographs seemed possible.

From a surprisingly only quarter full Coire Cas car park, the site of my first photos, I climbed up Sron an-t Aonaich (now signposted as Windy Ridge by Cairngorm Mountain, who run the ski resort) to the Ptarmigan Top Station and my second set of pictures. From here there is a spacious view over forested Glenmore to the Monadh Liath rising above Strathspey. The line of barely undulating moorland where the wind farm may be isn’t distinctive; it’s only a small part of the view. It is central though and big turbines there would be the dominant feature in the vista, totally changing it.

I photographed the same view again from the summit of Cairn Gorm then set off to walk over the tops of the Northern Corries. There was much to see and much going on. The hills were green with summer growth watered by the rains, a complete contrast to the snows of May. Only two big patches in Coire Domhain were a reminder of the late winter conditions. 

A cool west wind swept the Plateau, keeping the clouds moving. Very occasionally there was a burst of sunshine and the air was suddenly hot. There were squalls too, hiding the summits as they swept over them. I only caught the faint hints of rain as one passed nearby though. Unsurprisingly for a Saturday there were quite a few people about, with a large party at the top of the rocky spine of the Fiacaill Coire an t-Sneachda and rock climbers on the cliffs of that corrie and those in Coire an Lochain. Down in the corries the little lochans were still full. Sometimes at this time of year they have shrunk almost away. 

Ptarmigan with chicks darted about amongst the stones, trying to remain hidden. On the featureless slopes south of the summit of Cairn Lochan – a good place to get lost in mist – a herd of reindeer grazed on the moss and lazed on the stones.

Below Cairn Lochan I wandered over to the edge of the great cleft of the Lairig Ghru pass and gazed for some time down this big slash in the hills to Cairn Toul, Bod an Deamhain and distant Beinn a'Ghlo. In the heart of the pass the Pools of Dee were shining and the slopes were green with vegetation between the ribbons of scree and boulders.

Descending the west wall of Coire Lochain I was disturbed then entertained by a big yellow RAF Mountain Rescue helicopter that flew over a few times then hovered above the Fiacaill Coire an t-Sneachda where it dropped a flare onto the slopes below then lowered down a winchman. A practise exercise I guessed. The walk ended with a walk across the soggy mouths of the corries, where the burns were in full flow.


  1. Some lovely photos, Chris. let's hope the wind farm gets kicked into touch.

  2. How lucky you are to have these as your local hills!

  3. Good to see sunshine in the Cairngorms - my first visit there was in May when conditions were distinctly be wintry. Hope it's better in October when I return.

  4. Hi Chris, I was on the summit of Ben MacDhui with my son Michael on Saturday. We camped in Glen Luibeg and walked from there to the summit. Later on I realised that Carn Etchacan would have been a great viewpoint. We'll have to go back one day.