Friday 20 October 2023

Before Storm Babet: A Walk Through Ryvoan Pass And Over Meall a' Bhuachaille

View across Ryvoan Pass to Cairn Lochan

Two weeks ago I was in the Eastern Cairngorms bivvying outside a shooting lodge to shelter from very strong winds as Storm Agnes approached. The next day I was camped in a forest after crossing the hills on an equally windy day. That evening the rain began, rain that was to last the next two and a half days and bring floods to eastern Scotland. With Tony Hobbs I walked through the start of these floods. (See
this post for the story of the whole trip).

Now Storm Babet has arrived and again there is flooding in Eastern Scotland along with very strong winds. This time I’m at home. Here we’ve had a day of rain, winds strong enough to blow you sideways, and one power cut, which thankfully only lasted just over an hour. Others are not so lucky. The storm is forecast to last another two days.

An Lochan Uaine

Before the storm blew in I went on a favourite walk through Ryvoan Pass and over Meall a’ Bhuachaille. I love this walk at any time of the year but the autumn colours make it even more special than usual. The day started out sunny and warm. Thin high clouds drifted over the sky later on but the air remained warm. There was no breeze. The contrast with the two big storms was immense. The same world but so, so different.

Blaeberry autumn colour. It's not just trees!

The track to An Lochan Uaine and Ryvoan Bothy was busy with families and cyclists (it’s the Scottish school holidays), all enjoying the sunshine and the beautiful landscape. The reflections in the lochan were gently rippled by an almost undetectable breeze.

At Ryvoan Bothy I met Paul and Helen Webster of Walk Highlands, also intent on a good walk before the storm arrived. I followed them up Meall a’ Bhuachaille as thin clouds started to form. 

Clouds & smoke

Away to the south-east there was an unusual double-layer of low clouds. When I posted pictures of these on social media I had a reply from Steve Carver (@landethics) saying “looks like smoke from muirburn coming up against a boundary layer and flattening out as it moves downwind”. I had wondered if some of it might be smoke but wasn’t sure as I couldn’t see the source. Thanks Steve!


Away to the north on the moors above Grantown-on-Spey there was no doubt that muirburn was happening with great plumes of smoke rising into the sky as heather moorland was burnt for the sake of grouse shooting, destroying all other life.

Ryvoan Pass

As I climbed higher I could see back down to An Lochan Uaine and Ryvoan Pass, as always looking far narrower and enclosed from up here than it feels when walking through it. Further west across Glenmore and Rothiemurchus Forest the cliffs of Cairn Lochan were spattered with snow. And everywhere the yellow and gold of autumn birches shone against the green of the pines.

Paul and Helen Webster on Meall a' Bhuachaille

Paul and Helen were just leaving the summit as I arrived. Not far from the top a couple were pitching a tent, a lovely site in good weather. I sat by the summit cairn for a while absorbing the view and feeling peaceful and calm.

On Meall a' Bhuachaille

To the west I could see along Strathspey all the way to Ben Nevis, the distant hills in layers of different shades. For once I’d taken my big zoom lens up a hill. It was worth it just to photograph this view. I can’t decide whether it looks better in colour or black-and-white so I’m posting both.

That view stayed with me for most of the descent, only disappearing when I reached the first trees. Soon this always fine walk was over. I’ll be back.

Back in the forest


  1. That's a cracking "layer" shot Chris...I think I prefer the black & white.

  2. Thank you for your story and photos Chris. I wish the UK Governments would ban grouse shooting and restore and rewild our moorlands and Mountain landscapes. J Hobbs.