Tuesday 30 June 2009

Twenty-Four Hours in the Cairngorms

The urge to head for the wilds is always strong and I try and seize any opportunity to head out for an hour, a day, an overnight or longer. A few days ago the chance of an overnight trip came about with the completion of a piece of work and a gap between city trips – Aberdeen a week ago, Edinburgh this week. It had been twelve days since I managed more than a few hours in the local woods and on that occasion strong winds and low cloud persuaded me a long day over Braeriach, third highest mountain in Scotland and one of the finest in the Cairngorms, would not have had enough rewards for the effort involved. Instead I took a lower route over smaller hills and through a section of Rothiemurchus Forest I hadn’t visited for a few years. The likelihood of better weather in the late June heat wave persuaded me to think of Braeriach again so I wandered back through the forest, which was somnolent and silent in the heavy, humid, hot air. Nothing moved, nothing called or sang. Just once a heron flapped slowly out of a boggy trailside pool. Lush grass speckled with flowers edged the path. The first orchids poked their pink and purple spikes through the greenery. This is old natural forest and rich with vegetation, beautiful with age. Leaving the trees I climbed into the rocky confines of the Lairig Ghru. Thick grey clouds hung over the peaks and a southerly wind gusted through the pass. The moving air was warm though and I was fine in shorts and thin top. Once over the pass I found a streamside camp site, still in the breeze at around 750 metres and hopefully midge free.

The sudden spatter of rain on the tent woke me at 5.30 a.m. I peered out into dense mist, rolled over and went back to sleep. A few hours later the rain and mist were gone. To the south Cairn Toul and Bod an Deamhain looked grey and cold, the clouds still brushing over them at times. Knowing the forecast was for a gradual clearance and a fine end to the day I did not hurry to pack and move on, lingering over a second coffee, taking photographs, dismantling a recently built little rock shelter and chucking the stones into the stream, writing my journal, watching the clouds swirl and split, revealing specks of blue and short bursts of hazy sunlight, and just delighting in being there, in the heart of the hills. When I did eventually move I left the trail and contoured round the hillside into Coire Brochain, a fine, high corrie backed by the summit cliffs of Braeriach. Out of the wind here and with the sun strengthening and hot I found a granite seat with my pack softening the rock backrest and ate lunch, wrote more notes and studied the complex, shattered rock architecture curving round the flat, grass and boulder floor of the corrie. Close to hand a clear stream gurgled out of a boulder pile and trickled away across a bed of pale golden sand and gravel. Not very seriously I contemplated investigating one of the gullies, still half-choked with snow, to see if a way could be found to the summit plateau. A sudden loud bang followed by a series of cracks and roars startled me out my reverie. High on the cliffs a smudge of dust hung in the air. Below this I spotted a rock, the size of a football, bouncing wildly and fast out of a gully, spinning many feet into the air each time it hit a boulder until finally coming to rest almost on the corrie floor. I would not be entering any gullies. Instead I clambered over the boulders and up the edge of the corrie to Braeriach and an expansive view of the northern Cairngorms. Further away all was hazy and cloudy.

After a brief chat with the few other walks on the summit I strode across the broad stony plateau to pick up the old stalkers’ path that runs steeply down into Coire Dhondail and then more easily into Gleann Einich. Once off the plateau and out of the breeze the sun was very hot, the sky now cloud free. The long walk down Glean Einich and back through the forest to my car was relaxing and leisurely, with flowers and trees and streams and rocks to keep me interested and involved.

Photo info: Camp in the Lairig Ghru. Canon EF-S 18-55mm@20mm, 1/60@F8, ISO 100, tripod, raw file converted to JPEG in Lightroom 2.


  1. Lovely stuff, Chris. It sounds like a great trip.

    I did that Coire Dhondail and Gleann Einich walk on the Challenge this year, though the other way round. It's nice to be able to picture where people have been :)

  2. Sounds like a great trip! What tent is that?

  3. It was a great trip. The tent is a Lightwave ti Ultra xt. To be reviewed in a round-up of two person tents in the September TGO.

  4. Nice one Chris. How near a miss was the boulder? How come you're looking so much younger in that photo?

    Good to know also that I'm not the only one who seems trapped in the office much of the time - did manage to get out into Wales on Monday though, for a stravaig over the Pumlumon peaks - damn fine too. Red kites and buzzards everywhere - and far too much hot weather!

  5. A few weeks back there was large amounts of snow in those gullies also waiting to come down. Sound choice missing them out. It is a fantastic place. That tent looks a good two man tent with that porch.

  6. John, the boulder was at least a hundred yards away and not heading in my direction. Luckily. I haven't been on Pumlumon for over 30 years - since I was at college not far away.

    Martin, there is still masses of snow in the gullies. I guess the rockfall was caused by snow melting. The burns were running strongly and there were several pools in the corrie. It is a wonderful spot.

  7. Hei Chris,

    just wanted to point out that your address at http://
    www.christownsendoutdoors.co.uk/ doesn't work anymore, maybe you
    forgot to renew your contract? The http://
    christownsendoutdoors.blogspot.com/ works fine, though.

  8. I wished I could get away more!!

    I can almost smell the hills from your photograph!

    I also thought what tent is that?
    Look forward to the review

  9. Hendrik, there was a hiatus but that address should work fine again now. Thanks for pointing it out.

  10. Try the Brooks-Range UltraLite Tarps from the USA. Great Tarps!