Tuesday 4 March 2014

The Shining Monadh Liath

A Blue & White World

The Monadh Liath - the grey hills - are often regarded as rather bland and uninteresting, especially when compared with the Cairngorms (original name Am Monadh Ruadh - the red hills) just across Strathspey.  However the rolling hills of the Monadh Liath have attractions of their own, especially for those who love feelings of space and vastness. Here the horizons are distant and the high country rolls on seemingly forever beneath huge skies. Under snow the Monadh Liath can be especially magical as I found today on my first winter venture into these hills for several years.

I'd gone to the Monadh Liath as the forecast suggested the summits might be clear and there could even be some sunshine whilst the Cairngorms to the east remained in thick fog. The forecasters were correct. All day a dark boiling mass of cloud covered the Cairngorms while in the Monadh Liath the sun shone and the sky was a deep blue with only occasional squalls darkening the air. 


I climbed two of the four highest summits - A'Chailleach and Carn Sgulain - but the Monadh Liath are not really about peaks (the second of these two is just a gentle rise above the surrounding moorland) but about the whole high level area. Low down I ploughed through sodden heather and grass on slippery, muddy paths. Then came the first snow, soft, deep and unsupportive. Gaining height was hard work. But once I reached the higher snowfields the world changed. Here the snow was firm, crunching under my boots. Firm and smooth. Instead of the wind-blasted rutted snow-ice and deep drifts I've grown used to in the Cairngorms this winter here was a soft blanket spread evenly over the land in gentle folds and drapes. The only marks were the long tracks of mountain hares (I saw several) and the occasional tuft of grass or tip of a boulder.

Clouds building over A'Chailleach

Then there was the light. And what light! The sun shining through the clouds lit up the shape and texture of the snow. The land was white and blue, shining and shadowed, reflecting the blue sky and the bright sunshine and dancing with cloud patterns. The white world stretched out to infinity. There was nothing but snow and sky, forever and forever. Or so it seemed.

Coming down to the dark glen and the bogs and mud my head was still full of the shining world high above. The Monadh Liath had given me the best day of the winter so far.


  1. A timely post for me, I've just been studying the maps of this area contemplating a few days of backpacking.

    It looks fantastic in the snow, hope it's lovely without it too!

  2. That looks sublime. It must have been wonderful.

  3. I was there in late September, traversed in sun and gale force winds. The plateau looks superb under snow. I can only hope that current threats to the magnificence of the views are dispelled this year.