Wednesday, 11 July 2018

The Rain Returns: A Wet And Misty Hill Walk

One of the few views of the hills 

Rain, soft and gentle, falling in a fine mist. The hills hidden in grey cloud. The dusty ground darkening, yellowing vegetation glistening with moisture, rich earthy smells emanating from the ground (the last has the wonderful name petrichor). An unusual start to the day after weeks of hot, dry weather.

Having just completed a batch of work I’d planned on a day in the hills regardless of the weather. I had thought of lower ones to avoid too much exhausting ascent in the heat. Seeing the low clouds, I now thought of lower ones in the hope of staying below the mist.

Despite having lived in this part of the Highlands for nearly thirty years there are still smaller hills I haven’t explored, ones always left for another day. This was to be that day for at least one of them. Carn Glas-choire (hill of the green corrie) is on the Dava Moor not far from Carrbridge. At 659 metres high it’s classified as a ‘Graham’  - a Scottish hill between 2000 feet (609.6 metres) and 2500 feet (762 metres). Whatever its place in a list it’s the highest hill for quite a distance in any direction and said to have extensive views of the coast and the Cairngorms. Whether I’d see anything on this day was another matter.

This is heather moorland country with grouse shooting as a major activity, along, these days, with wind farm construction. Much of the day I was on tracks built for one or other of these activities. I’ll put up another post about the effects on the hills. This one’s about the rain, the walking, and the wildlife.

A new forest emerges

Initially I walked through regenerating and recently planted forest, mostly Scots Pine, with some birches and rowan. This was heartening. There are deer fences, but trees are growing either side of them and the only deer I saw all day was inside a fenced area. For a while I looked down on an attractive winding valley with a rushing burn, little crags and scattered trees.

How did you get in there?

Above the trees and away from the tracks the ground was a mix of heather, deep peat hags, and stony ground with sparse vegetation. There were masses of cloudberries, more than I can remember seeing anywhere else, the fruit a bright red, along with the bright yellow spikes of bog asphodel in the wetter areas. I saw many mountain hares speeding across the ground, well-camouflaged in their darker summer coat. One that loomed up on the skyline in the mist looked deer size!

Cloudberry

I put up several families of red grouse, the chicks scuttling off in every direction. High up golden plover piped loudly, the only sound other than the rain lightly pattering on my jacket. Meadow pipits fluttered in the heather and it was probably a flock of these I saw mobbing a cuckoo. On the lower moorland wheatears perched on stones then flashed the white rumps that give them their name – it comes from ‘white arse’ - as they flew off.

Despite the relatively low height of the hills I was in the mist long before I reached the summit of Carn Glas-choire. Away from the tracks I had to concentrate on navigation as the terrain is fairly featureless though there are some little crags and many rock outcrops. Visibility was very poor, even close-up views hazy in the falling rain and drifting cloud. 

On the summit

The rain was never heavy, barely more than drizzle, but it was constant and penetrating. There was no wind and I wasn’t really conscious of feeling wet as I was warm. I didn’t bother with waterproofs, feeling I’d be too hot. When I got back to the car I found I was soaked to the skin. It really had been a wet day.

Whilst I hope it doesn’t last the rest of the summer the rain is welcome. It’ll damp down the high fire risk, freshen fading vegetation, and eventually refill rivers and lochs, which are very low. On this trip I walked over dry peat bogs that are probably usually quagmires. It was easier to walk on the black peat and follow its channels than on the heather tussocks above. That’s not usual. But then, it’s not been a usual summer.



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