Thursday 19 March 2015

Following Rivers in the Cairngorms: Glen Feshie & the Eidart

Camp by the Allt Coire Bhlair

Not having been to one of my favourite places in the Cairngorms yet this year I decided to pay an overnight visit to Glen Feshie a few days ago. My rough plan - amenable to alteration or abandonment due to the weather, my mood or just a random whim – was to walk through the glen and camp somewhere beyond the forest for a change (I love camping in the big old pines but sometimes it’s more interesting to do something different) and then make a way up onto the Moine Mhor plateau and cross this back to the lower glen, a circuit that would make a long day but in this case would be split into an evening and a day (the actual walking took ten hours in total).

The weather forecast wasn’t wonderful but it wasn’t terrible either. No storms were predicted, nor was any sunshine. The tops should be clear of cloud though and the only rain was meant to fall during the night (and it did). As it was, due to various delays, it was only an hour before dusk when I set off on a calm evening with an overcast sky. Dribbles of drizzle trickled down on and off as I wandered up the glen, enough to occasionally have me pulling up my windproof jacket hood but never enough to have me putting on my waterproof jacket.

By the time I was entering the old pine woods around Ruigh-aiteachan it was quite dark. The path was wide and firm though and I could see well enough so my headlamp stayed in a pocket. The trees became silhouettes, clumps of bushes dense blocks of blackness. An owl hooted softly away in the trees. The only sound was the rush of the snowmelt swollen river. The path began to narrow and climb as the always meandering river curved in towards the bank. I pushed through invisible bushes, feeling them brushing my clothes and pack. As the slopes eased I saw a red light off to the side and then a faintly lit tent. I strode past, lifting my trekking poles without thinking so they didn’t click on any stones. Although early the darkness and quiet made it seem late and I felt I shouldn’t disturb the tent’s occupant.

A dark night in the tent

The path rose again onto steeper slopes and crossed some washed out gullies. I was aware of steep slopes falling away to my left into darkness with only the white-flecked tips of waves in the river showing that anything lay below me. I kicked a large rock then tripped on a trailing root. It was time for the headlamp. I switched it on and the world changed. The wide beam illuminated trees and rocks in a circle of pale light outside of which all was now solid black, the vague shadows and shapes of trees and rocks gone. 

Walking on I left the forest for heathery flats fading into distant slopes. I’ll camp soon I thought. A side stream rushed down to join the Feshie. My light picked out a few trees along its banks and some steep rocky slopes nearby. A flat area recently washed by snowmelt and flood invited a camp. The waters were fairly low now. I didn’t think the area would flood again. As I pitched the tent the drizzle finally turned into real rain. Perfect timing, I thought, thought aware it was nothing to do with me. Inside the tent lying half in my sleeping bag and with water heating on the stove I enjoyed again the familiar pleasure of listening to the rain beating on thin nylon walls whilst warm and comfortable inside.

So this is where I'm camped ......
Although I quickly worked out from the map that I was camped by the Allt Coire Bhlair I didn’t know just what I’d see the next morning. That’s one of the joys of camping in the dark, waking to a world you haven’t seen before but which you are already immersed in. Dawn showed the site to be delightful. The Allt Coire Bhlair poured out of a narrow rocky ravine with little trees hanging on every tiny patch of earth then ran into the River Feshie, itself racing between stony banks and overhanging trees. Steep heather slopes rose to distant snowy tops. I stayed a few hours. It was too good a place to rush off. A heavily laden backpacker came up the track – the camper I’d passed the night before, I guessed – and waded straight through the shin deep stream. I’d rock hopped the night before but I had trekking poles and he didn’t. He came over for a brief chat and then vanished up the glen. I saw no-one else all trip.

The Eidart Bridge

Finally moving on I followed the now moorland glen to the River Eidart. Not much farther on the Feshie doubles back on itself and heads into some really remote little-visited country. I hadn’t time to go there this time. Continuing east I would come to a very narrow and shallow watershed (the map shows no contours) and then the Geldie Burn. I didn’t go that way either. Instead I turned north to follow the long River Eidart right into the heart of the great Moine Mhor plateau. Guessing, rightly, there would be more snow on the western side where the slopes were protected from the sun and the south-westerly winds that had brought the big thaw a few days earlier I crossed the narrow Eidart Bridge and made my way up the east bank. There’s no path but the route-finding is easy – just follow the river. Gradually the moorland slopes steepened and became more mountainous. The glen narrowed, more and more snow appeared. High above big cornices rimmed the steep walls of Coire Mharconaich. After nine kilometres the Eidart splits into two feeder streams. One, the Allt Luineag runs down some five kilometres from high on the flanks of Braeriach. The other, my stream today, the Allt Sgairnich, descends four kilometres almost from the summit of Carn Ban Mor. 

The upper River Eidart

Coming out of the lower narrow Allt Sgairnich glen I suddenly found myself in the middle of the Moine Mhor, somewhere that from any other direction requires crossing a large expanse of high ground. I knew I would arrive here. It was still a shock. I didn’t feel as though I’d climbed up here yet here I was. The weather was a surprise too. I’d assumed there would be a wind once I left the protection of the deep glens. It was absolutely calm. A thick grey cloud lay not far above, covering the summits of the highest hills, Braeriach and Cairn Toul. Across the white expanse of the Moinr Mhor I could see the hazy pointed summit of Sgor Gaoith. It didn’t seem quite real. The whole place didn’t seem quite real. Standing still there was no sound. No wind, no running water. Moving my boots crunched in the snow. Sweat trickled down my back, down my arms. What is this weather, I wondered? I searched for a word. ‘Muggy’ appeared in my mind. Yes, it was muggy. No, part of my mind objected, it can’t be. Muggy is for horribly humid hot summer nights not for a snow-covered mountain plateau in March. But muggy it was.

Across the Moine Mhor to a hazy Sgor Gaoith

I crossed the snowy expanse towards Carn Ban Mor. The cloud thickened. Visibility faded. A compass bearing was needed to find the start of the path back down to Glen Feshie. On the edge of the plateau there was, briefly, a breeze. I was back down at the car some 25 hours after I’d left.  I thought about the trip. Enjoyable, yes. Interesting, yes. But also unusual.


  1. Very nice prose and photos!

    Bill Gordon

  2. I always find myself skimming your posts for the pictures before going back and reading them :)

    As usual great images and I think the River Eidart would be great fun to mess around in (if the weather was warmer).

    1. Thanks Carl. It would have to an awful lot warmer!