Saturday 20 March 2021

Beyond Craigellachie

Braeriach from Craigellachie

Over the years I’ve been up Craigellachie many times. The walk up through the lovely birch woods and onto the little summit with its grand view over Aviemore to the Cairngorms is a favourite if I have an hour or two to spare. Until recently I’d never gone beyond the summit though, always heading back down the same way.  If I had more time the higher Cairngorms had always called.

This time I determined to see what lay beyond Craigellachie so after wandering up through the birches, which were shimmering beautifully in the March sunlight, to the rocky summit I descended steeply on a faint path to little Lochan Dubh, which I’d looked down on so many times before. Wind rippled the water and the surroundings were boggy.

From the lochan I headed up long Creag na h-Iolaire – the Eagle’s Crag. I wondered how long since any had nested here. The going was rough, very rough, a mixture of bog and rock with only hints of a path. Several deep ravines cut across the ridge, making for many little steep ascents and descents. A fence follows the crest of the ridge, one of those that sticks to an improbable line, going up and down every obstacle. I couldn’t help but admire those who erected it in such tricky places. I also contemplated the futility of such territorial marking. The fence wouldn’t keep anything out. It’s purely a boundary marker. 

Beyond Creag na h-Iolaire I crossed open moorland to Carn Mor Dearg, the high point of my walk at 712 metres and one of the least distinguished of the hills with that name, though the view is excellent. The wind was stronger and colder now and the sun was spending more time behind the clouds. I didn’t linger.

A long broad boggy ridge runs north from the summit. As I descended this I could see an old Scots pine forest to my right, outliers straggling towards me. A high fence ran along the edge of the trees. A fence with purpose this time, being far too high for deer to jump. Slowly the ridge and the forest curved towards each other. I was heading for an old track that would take me down through the forest and back to Aviemore. The rugged terrain had taken longer to cross than I’d expected and the glow of dusk was on the hills before I reached the trees.

The track was rough, rutted, rocky, and muddy. The forest was silent and calm. I caught glimpses of a crescent moon above the trees, and, soon, the lights of Aviemore. I’d estimated three hours for the walk. I don’t often record routes on my phone but in this case I did, curious to see the details. 13.4km, 611 metres ascent, 5:39 hours. Average walking speed 2.4km. Further, longer in time and slower than I’d expected. Tougher too. But enjoyable, and that’s always the point. And I’d finally seen what lay beyond Craigellachie.

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