Tuesday 30 April 2019

Visiting New Hills in the Cairngorms

In a familiar area it’s easy to always go to favourite places, ones that you love and are happy to see again and again. Sometimes, maybe, you’ll look the other way and think “I must go over there one day” but you never do. I’ve done that many times. But on my last trip I decided that ‘one day’ should actually be ‘this day’ and I finally explored an area of the Cairngorms I’d only looked at from a distance before. 

From Glenmore through Ryvoan Pass is a standard route I take many times a year, sometimes turning west up Meall a’Bhuachaille, sometimes heading east and then south for Bynack More. To the north lay Abernethy Forest and I have occasionally followed the track from Ryvoan into the trees. But to the east lay a big area of woods and heathery hills I’d only seen from afar, always turning away for  higher more rugged hills. Not this time.

At the bridge over the River Nethy I turned away from the path climbing the hillside towards Bynack More and took a faint narrow trod beside the river towards the edge of Abernethy Forest. The indistinct trail came and went amongst tussocks and the first small trees of the spreading woods. The river ran in a gorge here, swirling and crashing out of sight. I’d set off late in the afternoon and the sky was darkening when I found a perfect camp site, an area of flat grass beside a long-fallen pine. 

Rain fell during the night, wakening me as it spattered on the tent. Dawn was dry but showed low clouds over the hills. There was no wind and the air was damp. Walking through the wet grass and heather I was soon soaked from the knees down. Little pools appeared on the edge of the forest; the trees reflected in the water in perfect silhouettes. A pair of  goldeneye ducks sailed out from a reed bed, leaving v-shaped wakes in the smooth water.

Boggy slopes led up big, bulky Carn Bheadhair. Ravines with shattered rock towers and splintered crags broke the regular curves of the hill. There were no paths, but a large cairn marked the summit. A golden eagle soared high overhead as I approached. To the south the clouds were beginning to break up over Cairn Gorm and Bynack More. I went onto the next top, Carn Tarsuinn, the walking easier here, just above the bogs and the deep heather. 

The view from Tarsuinn was superb, a great sweep of Cairngorm hills – Ben Avon, Beinn a’Bhuird, Beinn a’Chaorainn, Bynack More, Cairn Gorm, Meall a’Bhuachaille. From this perspective they all seemed surprisingly close together. All were familiar hills, walked many times, yet I’d never seen them from here, never seen them like this.

Carn Tarsuinn marked the easternmost limit of my walk. Now I turned south-west, heading back towards the track to the bridge over the River Nethy. The going was soon tough again with peat hags, endless tussocks, bogs and deep heather to negotiate. Maintaining a regular rhythm or a straight line was impossible. Below deep banks lay last remnants of snow. If I came this way again, I thought, it would be on skis or snowshoes when the snow lay deep. That would be much easier. 

The track gained I relaxed. No need to concentrate on footing or route now. Just walk the familiar stony path back to Ryvoan and Glenmore, satisfied after a new look at the Cairngorms.


  1. Amazing isn't it? I thought I knew Great Langdale pretty well until I took an 'alternative' route. Eyes opened yet again.

    1. A different look at a place often reveals surprises. I must so it more often!

  2. Useful reccie, Chris, always fancied exploring those hills. Tent looks good too, probably a bit on the heavy side, but a good one to have by the look of it. Don't recognise the logo, new kid on the block? Looking forward to reading your review in due course.

    1. The tent is a Robens Verdin Andy. Weighs about 1.8kg so yes a bit heavy but very roomy for one. It'll appear in a two-person tent review in The Great Outdoors October issue.