Friday 3 March 2017

Twenty-Four Hours of Winter Perfection

Sunset from the Moine Mhor

Winter conditions in Scotland are erratic and unpredictable most years but have been exceptionally so this season. Cold weather and snow has only come in short bursts, followed by longer periods of milder wet and windy weather with rapid thaws. Making the most of the times when the snow is crisp and the sky clear has meant watching the forecasts and seizing any sign of calm. When there was such a prediction for the very end of February with maybe twenty-four hours of settled cold conditions an overnight trip seemed a good idea.

Glen Feshie was cold and still as two of us hefted our packs on our backs and started the long haul up to the Moine Mhor. The snow in the glen was thin and patchy. A walker coming down said there was a strong bitter wind on the tops but by the time we were there it had died away to nothing. Ahead vast snowfields stretched out to distant summits. Under snow this is always an amazing place with a real feel of the arctic, a sense of huge wildness. I love it!

Crossing the Moine Mhor

We tramped across the snow, sometimes sinking in shin deep, sometimes just biting into the surface. The clouds that had swept across the sky as we climbed began to dissipate, creating beautiful patterns in the sky. Out west there was a wide strip of cloudless blue. The sun would soon be shining there, lighting up the snow and the clouds. I paused, letting Mark march on far ahead. As the crunch of his boots and click of his trekking poles faded I was enveloped in silence. Not a sound anywhere, not a single tiny sound. The world felt huge and pure and ecstatic. For that brief moment there was perfection.

After sunset with Venus high above

The sun cut under the clouds and the mountains and the snow glowed. Slowly it sank into the far west and the sky began to darken through shades of blue. As we began to descend the planet Venus appeared big and bright in the sky ahead. With no wind we didn’t feel cold while moving though the temperature never rose above zero. 

A starry camp

Down in Glen Feshie headlamps came out for the walk through the woods to find a spot to camp. Once the packs were off the cold began to bite. Tents up we were soon inside making hot drinks and soup. Then the night sky lured me out to stare at the brilliant starscape above the silhouettes of the trees. A wonderful night. Still virtual silence, though I could just hear the trickle of the river and occasionally an owl called.

A frosty morning

Dawn came with a hard frost. The tents were white. The temperature was -7°C. A real winter’s night. Soon the sun came and the world brightened. Wandering down the glen we admired the magnificent old pines and the youngsters below them, well-established regeneration bringing health and continuing life to the ancient forest. 


Two day walkers talked of avalanches. I wasn’t sure what they meant but on reaching the confluence of the Allt Garbhlach and the River Feshie I knew. Here a high cliff of soil and stone, the side of a moraine sliced through by the ever-changing river, was eroding before our eyes. As the sun melted ice in the cliffs rocks, stones and pebbles were released, tumbling into the river and sending spurts of water into the air. We watched fascinated then walked on to the finish. By early afternoon we were in a café in Aviemore. I looked out of the window. Snow and sleet was sweeping down the street. The twenty-four hours of calm had been just that and had given us a memorable winter trip.


  1. Great Chris! You have the ability to take your reader with you.

  2. Chris, the banks around the confluence of the Allt Garbhlach and the Feshie had fallen away quite appreciably last summer, when compared with the previous year, as had the path out from Achlean, on the eastern side, in a couple of places. Looking at your pictures it seems to have eroded quite a bit more in the time since then. I suppose it's just what happens in genuinely wild landscapes.

    1. The erosion has increased noticeably since I was there late autumn. The Feshie is a very mobile river - you can see many previous channels. There's now a rerouted path from Achlean, well in from the river to avoid the collapsed section.

  3. Thanks Chris; really enjoyed our Cairngorms trip; all the best from Mark & Helen xxx

  4. Thanks for your company Mark. It was a great trip.