Wednesday 31 October 2018

Snow & Water & Wind, An Autumn Overnight in Glen Feshie

Dusk merging into night

Sometimes trips don’t quite work as planned. For my first overnight trip since returning from the GR5 trail in the Alps I planned to traverse the Moine Mhor plateau above Glen Feshie from Carn Ban Mor to Mullach Clach a’Bhlair and then descend back to Glen Feshie to camp. I always try and have at least one camp in the glen in the autumn. It’s beautiful year-round but the autumn colours and the stags roaring make this time of year special.

The first significant snowfall of the autumn had fallen just a few days earlier and the summits were white and shining in the sunshine as I set off for the Cairngorms. Packing an ice axe and crampons seemed wise. Summer was definitely over. In Glen Feshie the bright yellow birches glowed in the late afternoon sun. Having been up until the early hours completing work the night before I was late to rise and slow to get going. I didn’t mind. The forecast was good and snow walking under the stars is always magical.


Cold and unconsolidated the snow collapsed under my steps. Others had ploughed a path up to the plateau, making the walking reasonably easy even when the snow became shin deep. A cold breeze sliced across the snow chilling my face. To the west the sky was gold and orange as the sun set. Soon the sky darkened. Down Glen Feshie I could see cold white snowy slopes under a cold dark blue sky contrasting with the last warmth of the sun.

I reached the plateau. The myriad boot prints turned away towards Sgor Gaoith. Towards Mullach Clach a’Bhlair there was just one set of holes in the snow. I set off and quickly realised this was going to take a long time. Stars shone. My headlamp beam lit up sparkling snow. It was magical but for once the magic didn’t work. My heart wasn’t in this. It felt too arduous. I should, I thought, have brought snowshoes. I stopped and dithered. It was too cold to spend long over a decision. I might regret not turning back. I might regret not going on. But the former was easier and less committing. I turned and began to retrace my steps down the mountain.

I wasn’t happy with the decision, but I also felt I wouldn’t have been happy going on. By the time I reached the first trees I was fed up with myself and even considered just going home. That thought startled me. I certainly wasn’t going to do that. I wanted this night out. 

The Enchanted Waterfall. A grainy phone photo but it captures the feel. Nothing was distinct or sharp.
On a whim I turned down a narrow, overgrown side path I’d seen many times. Soon I could hear water rushing. The Allt Fhearnagan, the stream that ran down the corrie below the main path. I pushed through some bushes and suddenly there was a lovely waterfall in a little amphitheatre. In the light of my headlamp it glowed a greenish yellow and the vegetation round the water shimmered indistinctly. I was entranced. Here was the magic of the night. My mood changed instantly. How wonderful to be here. I crossed the stream below the falls then followed it downwards past more sparkling falls and silvery waterslides. The water was smooth and silky and noisy and rough all at the same time. But what I noticed most was the way it and the trees shone whilst all around was blackness. A secret world. An enchanted forest. 

Whatever else happened the trip was now a success. Just that first sight of the waterfall was all I needed. Everything else just amplified that moment. Eventually I left the water and walked through the trees to the next stream rushing down from the Moine Mhor. I followed this upwards until I found somewhere to camp close to two old Caledonian pines and sheltered from the cold wind by a steep bank. A bright waning moon cast a cool light.

A cold wind

Dawn came with racing clouds and a frost. The sun lit up distance slopes but the bank that protected me from the wind also blocked the rising sun. I made way back along Glen Feshie admiring again the brilliant colours of the birches. In the open the wind was fierce and bitter. I reached the car just as sleet and hail began to fall. My short, unusual, but ultimately excellent trip was over.  

In Glen Feshie


  1. As you say Chris, a successful outing and a great experience - that it wasn't the original is incidental

    Kind Regards

  2. I read this last night while walking in my woods. ~1st time I read from your blog. I was still thinking about your waterfall discovery when i awoke.