Wednesday 25 January 2012

A First Cairngorm Experience

The cliffs of Cairn Lochan

It’s many, many years since I first reached the Cairngorm Plateau and gazed in wonder at the vast mountain expanse stretching out before me, then by far the biggest I had ever seen. After over 20 years living in the area with a view of the Cairngorms from my windows and trips on the hills most months the Plateau is a familiar friend. The Cairngorms are my home hills. My sense of wonder hasn’t diminished though. I still find them as splendid and overwhelming as ever. The first startled and magical impression faded long ago of course but hints of it are rekindled when I take someone on their first trip to the Plateau. I also now feel a totally unjustified sense of pride at seeing their reaction. These are my hills. I like people to be impressed.

Yesterday was particularly gratifying in this regard when I took Rhodri Lewis of Nordic Life, importers of Brynje clothing from Norway (a brand I remember from the past but haven’t seen in the UK for many years), up on to the Plateau on his first visit to the Cairngorms. Rhodri had come up from the deep south (somewhere in Southern England, an area of mystery to me) to show me Byrnje products and have a day out. After an hour or so looking at clothes and piling them precariously on a table rather too close to coffee cups and milk jugs in the Mountain Café in Aviemore we drove up to Coire Cas. The sky was cloudy and a cold wind swept the car park. The forecast though was for clearing and even some sun during the afternoon, after snow in the morning. The snow never came and we didn’t see much of the sun. The wind did continue and the cloud continued to envelop the Plateau. On the ascent the wind increased in strength and spindrift blasted in our faces. Maybe, I thought, this would be a short trip. However on reaching the big cairn on the edge of the Plateau the wind eased a little and the spindrift vanished.

 Rhodri Lewis on the Cairngorm Plateau

Not wanting to venture into the heart of the Plateau and follow compass bearings through the cloud, seeing little, we followed the edge of the Northern Corries over Stob Coire an t-Sneachda and Cairn Lochan. The cliffs abutting these summits were plastered with hoar frost and rime ice and dotted with the dark figures of winter climbers. The cloud sweeping the Plateau broke and dispersed as it passed the edge of the cliffs so that we often had views of the grand rock scenery below us and out over the dark pine forests of Rothiemurchus and Glenmore and the pale waters of Loch Morlich to the distant snowy Monadh Liath. To the south the cloud hung low and we had no views. Crunching over the thin snow and ice on the stony ground, and occasionally through deeper, wind-sheltered snow drifts, we revelled in the wild landscape and the wild weather, which was just on the edge of challenging without being severe enough to impede our delight in being there. Rhodri was captured by the area and bought a map when we were back down to see where we’d been, emailing me later to say he would be back soon. The Cairngorms had worked their magic again.

As to Brynje, Rhodri was clothed head to toe from the skin out in the stuff – everything except boots in fact - and stayed comfortable and dry in what were fairly difficult weather conditions with high humidity (my beard was full of ice much of the time and dampness was freezing on clothing as well) and temperatures oscillating around zero. I’ll be trying some of the garments soon for test reports in TGO magazine (and probably on the TGO website too).


  1. A nice read that, a place I would like to visit, it seems the weather there is the worst the uk has to offer. Thanks for sharing

  2. I've had a Brynje synthetic long sleeved 'string' top for a couple of years. Works very well under another top. The pockets really do seem to trap heat, and keep the skin feeling dry.
    Unfortunately, mine stinks terribly after a days use, so it is relegated to day walks only.
    Mike fae Dundee.

  3. Don't write off the England's deep south. Despite the traffic, there's a network of quiet lanes for cycling. It's better for birdwatching than anywhere else in Britain, if you like little brown jobs, and the south slopes of the South Downs have an almost French biology. Not impressed yet? The beer is Britain's best.

    Even the backpacking is better than you would expect. I had some great weekends hiking with John Thomson and Dave Topley of the Backpackers Club when I lived down there.

    Having said all that, if you live in the Cairngorms, a special trip down to Hampshire might be over the top. But if you've got to head south to write a piece for the comic...

  4. All this talk of ice and wintry stuff makes me a tad green - we've had a single snow flurry and 10 nights of frost since october. I want my money back.

  5. I'm not writing off southern England. I just don't know it at all. I would miss mountains though. I don't agree about the beer though. The best (i.e. my favourite) is Black Sheep. There's good stuff up here too - Black Isle, Cairngorm, Isle of Skye.

  6. Sorry, Chris.

    I wasn't levelling an accusation - just saying there's some great outdoor opportunities in Britain's warm bits.

    Black Sheep is excellent, particularly on draught, but from London to Wiltshire is amazing beer country. I always enjoyed the Backpackers trip to Cheriton.

  7. Black Sheep on draught definitely. I can only get it bottled up here, Best pint of it I ever had was in a pub in Ingleton. I don't know southern beers.

  8. Hi. Rhodri Lewis here. Quick comment for Mike fae Dundee. Brynje now have a Merino mesh and micro mesh product line. This obviously does away with the odour issue with synthetics. Check them out at Nordiclife under "Classic Original". Of course the older the synthetic the worse the smell will be. So far, mine are OK after thrashing them for about 12 months.
    Also Zed is right.....great cycling down here in the South......but Chris is also right......I miss the mountains!