Saturday 24 June 2023

The Other Northern Corrie And A Quiet Side 0f Cairn Gorm

View over the El Alamein refuge to Beinn Mheadhoin

The day after the solstice summer started well with sunshine and a light breeze. I went up into the Cairngorms to walk in a favourite area that is always quiet even though it’s close to the ski resort and the summit of Cairn Gorm. The most northerly of the Northern Corries lies here, Coire Laogh Mor (the big corrie of the calves). Lacking the dramatic cliffs of Coire an t-Sneachda and Coire Lochain and not on the way to any summit (or anywhere really) it’s little-visited. There’s a softer, gentler, more subtle beauty here.

I was in the corrie earlier in the year to build igloos, as I’d also done six years earlier. On neither occasion had I ventured further than the mouth of the corrie though, the weather deterring going any higher. Unable to remember when I’d last walked right into the corrie, or even, in fact, if I’d ever done so, I decided I should go and have a look. A faint path led alongside old ski fencing above the Coire na Ciste car park but once past this it soon disappeared. Picking a way through the heather and round the occasional rock wasn’t hard and I was soon climbing gently into the corrie.

Coire Laogh Mor

The heart of the Coire Laogh Mor is green and lush. Little burns trickle down from the steep headwall, which is decorated by a few broken rocks. There’s no lochan on the sloping corrie floor. A few little trees, pine and juniper, are springing up all the way to 800 metres. This is a peaceful place. I sat on a rock gazing out over Glenmore Forest to Meall a’Bhuachaille before making the steep ascent up the west arm of the corrie onto the broad ridge above. The climb isn’t difficult, just arduous.

View to Meall a' Bhuachaille from Coire Laogh Mor

Crossing the flat stony ridge I angled down steep boulder slopes high above the long deep trench of Strath Nethy and made my way to the now sixty-year-old and long-abandoned El Alamein refuge, a s tiny metal and stone shelter now full of holes. With the breeze funnelling through them it felt chilly inside out of the sun. The refuge was built in the early 1960s when there was a short-lived trend for building such shelters in the Cairngorms, a trend ended by the Cairngorm Tragedy of 1971 when a school party failed to find the Curran Bothy on the Cairngorm Plateau and perished in a winter storm. The ensuing inquiry recommended that the three high level bothies should be removed. Two were but El Alamein was simply forgotten.

The El Alamein refuge

The location is unusual. Why build a refuge here, on a steep hillside few were ever likely to visit? It’s not on a route to or from anywhere. In fact it was never meant to be here but on the flat land above. A mistaken map reference led to it being constructed on this spot. For more on El Alamein and the other refuges see this post from David “Heavy” Whalley.

This is a lovely place. Quiet, peaceful, yet also dramatic. The views down into Strath Nethy and south to rocky Beinn Mheadhoin are superb. Maybe a rogue shelter builder just thought this was a more interesting place than the bare windswept plateau above.

The sun dropping below the ridge shook me out my reverie as I sat near the refuge absorbing the landscape. Suddenly the brightness vanished and there was a touch of coolness in the air. I soon warmed up again on the steep climb through the boulders back to the ridge. There was no sign of the cairns that apparently once indicated the way to the refuge which soon disappeared into the hillside.

Cnap Coire na Spreidhe

A short walk led to the little summit of Cnap Coire na Spreidhe, a subsidiary top of Cairn Gorm and my high point of the day. From here I looked across the hidden trench holding Loch Avon to Loch Etchachan, another splendid view.

Loch Etchachan from Cnap Coire na Spreidhe

A wander along the edge of the hollow of Ciste Mhearad showed there’s still a fairly large remnant of show here despite all the hot weather.

Custe Mhearad

As I began my descent a red hang glider appeared and floated across the sky in front of me to circle round the edge of Loch Morlich then turn and land in the Coire na Ciste car park.

The hang glider

The path down was dry and dusty, skidding on loose gravel the only hazard. It crosses a number of springs and seeps and wet areas and is often very muddy. Today there was just one patch of mud beside a tiny burn. My feet stayed dry.

Loch Morlich

The evening light starting to redden the mountains I stopped at Loch Morlich on the way home for a short stroll. The view of the hills over the loch was lovely but the highlight of this brief interlude was the sight of a female goosander and six ducklings on a small rock out in the water. A fine end to a fine day.

Goosander family, Loch Morlich



  1. Thank you Chris for reminding me how peaceful it is in that part of the Cairngorms. I really must get up there again. The headwall of Coire Laogh Mor often holds plenty of snow (when we get it!) and is used by Glenmore Lodge and others for building snow holes. It sometimes looks like a snowy housing estate!
    The aircraft you saw is actually a paraglider and the first I have ever seen flying in the area.
    The photo of the goosanders is sublime, a great capture 👏

  2. Thanks Ian. I've never been clear on the distinction between hang glider and paraglider! I've now looked it up. I've seen masses of snowholes in Ciste Mearad (the first one I ever stayed in was there) but not in Coire Laogh Mor. The goosanders were a lovely bonus at the end of the day.