Saturday 23 October 2021

Autumn colours and a pine marten alarm clock: a camp in Glen Feshie

Autumn in Glen Feshie

A loud guttural hissing, growling sound, rising and falling, moved somewhere above me. Waking groggily, I checked the time. 5.45 a.m. Outside it was very dark, the sky overcast, I looked up into the silhouette of the huge ancient pine that towered over my little tent. Unsurprisingly, I could see nothing moving. The sound moved away. Wondering what it was I fell back asleep. Almost two hours later the sound woke me again, this time even closer. I again looked up into the twisted branches of the old pint, this time shining my headlamp. A face appeared about five metres away, a sleek bright brown face above a creamy throat, a pine marten. For a few seconds we stared at each other, then the marten darted higher up the tree, turned for another look at this bright apparition that had appeared below, then slid away into the branches.

That wildlife encounter alone would have made the trip memorable and magical. But I was already entranced as I was in Glen Feshie, one of my favourite places in the Cairngorms and indeed the Scottish Highlands. I always venture into the glen sometime in the autumn, as the colours then can be spectacular, and usually several other times during the year. This was my first visit of 2021, which surprised me. Indeed, it was over a year since I’d last visited the upper glen. Where had the time gone? Lockdowns, work that took me elsewhere, other events – none seemed enough but the time had disappeared whatever the reasons.

Camp at dusk           

For a few weeks I’d been looking for a weather window for a trip to the glen. At the end of a week of storms that brought the first significant snowfall to the summits there looked to be a brief lull of maybe twenty-four hours, one afternoon and one morning. Just right for an overnight camp.

Walking down the glen I was enthralled, as always, by all the young trees springing up – pine, birch, rowan, alder and more. Their numbers seemed to have grown since I was last here. This forest restoration, courtesy of the landowners, Wildland Ltd, gives hope for the future. This is what a Highland glen should be like. And if this glen, why not others, many others? 

The Allt Garblach

There are three stream fords on the walk down the glen, the burns tumbling down from the Moine Mhor – the Great Moss – high above to the east. In spate, after heavy rain or snowmelt, these can be difficult to cross, especially the middle one, the Allt Garbhlach, which half a dozen years ago roared down from the Coire Garbhlach and ripped out the high banks either side, destroying the path, and leaving a wide rubble-filled flood plain. Descending some 600 metres in around five kilometres these burns rise and fall very quickly. I had wondered if recent rains would render the fords tricky but in fact I was able to cross all of them dry-shod by careful selection of rocks to balance on.

Creag nan Caillich

The autumn colours were reaching their peak, with birches glowing yellow and gold in the weak cloud-filtered evening sunlight. Down the glen shafts of late sunshine touched the slopes of Creag nan Caillich. One tall birch shone out like a beacon amongst the dark pines, a glorious sight. 

A perfect camp site

I camped under the spreading boughs of an old pine. Young pines grew all around. The evening was calm and peaceful. A hazy moon rose. I fell asleep watching the dark sky and the darker trees. Then came the pine marten. Was it chattering at me, at my tent, or was it nothing to do with me at all and it was talking to other martens? Maybe I’d heard more than one. It didn’t matter. Seeing and hearing this one was wonderful and yet another reason for camping in wild places.

Autumn colours in the old woods above and the new woods below

With dawn came the wind, strong and gusty. Clouds raced over the sky. The weather was changing sooner than forecast. Rain was coming. I packed and returned down the glen, the autumn colours holding my attention. This is such a beautiful place. I will be back.

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