Tuesday 11 July 2017

Under the Clouds: Camping & Walking in the Eastern Cairngorms

The green landscape says summer, the brooding, dark, clouded sky says November. July in the Highlands. And much of June this year too. Rise above the trees and the hills are almost colourless, the flat grey light subduing and overwhelming any brightness. Monochrome mountains.

With this in mind here’s an account of a trip from a few days ago with black and white pictures. I’ll do another post with colour ones – the two don’t mix well.

With the forecast for clear tops though the sky remaining overcast I went to the Eastern Cairngorms for the first time in half a dozen years to walk through the splendid pinewoods of Glen Quoich and then climb to the vast plateau-mountains of Ben Avon and Beinn a’Bhuird.

The first night I camped in Glen Quoich, above the trees and in the wind to keep off the midges. Across the glen Coire na Ciche rose to pointed A’Chioch and the South Top of Beinn a’Bhuird. The only sound was the wind in the grasses and the soft trickling of the burn.

On the way up the glen to The Sneck, the narrow neck of land separating Ben Avon and Beinn a’Bhuird, I passed a backpacker resting by a burn and then stood aside for two day walkers hurrying down. They were the only people I saw on the hills. Then it was up onto the vast and always slightly strange Ben Avon plateau with its many isolated rocky tors. There is no other hill like it.

At the summit the wind was strong and cold so after sheltering briefly for a snack behind the rough granite rocks – coarse enough to rub skin off your fingers – I was soon on my way back down to The Sneck and then warming up on the climb to Beinn a’Bhuird, staring out over the great eastern corries back to Ben Avon and across Deeside, where the clouds were thicker and swirling round the tops.

My second camp was high on the mountain near the headwaters of the Alltan na Beinne. Here there was just enough of a breeze to keep the midges away. To the west I could see the tangled mass of the central Cairngorms, the broad dome of Ben Macdui dominating the lower summits. Specks of snow dotted its flanks, very little for this time of year. Maybe this summer it will all go. As I watched the mountains a distant shaft of sunlight cut through the clouds and lingered for a few minutes, the only sign of the sun all day.

Sleep was disturbed by the popping of bits of my air bed, which sounded like an explosion when happening under my head, so I had a very early start the next day. The clouds were lower now, my camp only just below them.

Over Deeside strands of mist drifted across the land, white and ephemeral. Somehow during my descent I managed to stay out of the clouds though patches were often below me. Once back in the trees I admired the old pines and the new growth but kept moving after one brief stop brought the midges out.

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