Sunday 11 November 2012

A First Winter's Day In The Cairngorms

Stob Coire an t-Sneachda & the top of the Fiacaill a'Choire Chais

Snow has come and gone and come again on the Cairngorms already this winter. I missed the first falls but today I ventured up onto the Cairngorms Plateau for the first time in many months and found the land frozen hard in the grip of winter. Dark swirling clouds draped the summits and a bitter and strong north-west wind roared up from the corries. Away from the edge of the cliffs there was little more than a breeze but I could still hear the wind, thundering against the rocks like surf. I could have believed I was on some icy cliff in the arctic and the sound was that of the ocean surging against the rocks below. I’ve never heard the wind quite like that before. There is always something new up here.

Walkers on Stob Coire an t-Sneachda
The wind, strong enough in places to almost knock me off my feet and to make walking difficult, plus the dense cloud, deterred me from heading for Ben Macdui as I’d have had to struggle against it all the way back. Instead I followed the rim of the Northern Corries over Stob Coire an t-Sneachda and should-be-a-Munro Cairn Lochan. The ground was hard and icy with patches of old refrozen snow to crunch through and the stones were coated with hoar frost. The wind was harsh, almost painful, and my face was scoured by the icy blasts. My cheeks felt burnt by the cold. I could not tell if they were hot or cold. There was ice in my beard. This was a real winter’s day. Spindrift swirled around me. Or perhaps it was snow falling. I couldn’t tell.
A pair of ptarmigan in their white winter plumage half-flew, half-skittered over the rocks. In the whirling wind above the edge of the cliffs a raven hung in the air, wings angled, then plunged straight down like a diving gannet, before soaring back up and letting the wind blow it backwards. The birds of the mountains, at home in the snow and rocks.

Cairn Lochan

Down below the mountains in the corries the world was still frozen and monochrome. Ice covered the pools and the bogs were crisp but treacherous, the skin of frozen water and vegetation not supporting my weight.

Feeling refreshed and renewed by the intensity of the winter landscape and the power of the weather I drove home. Rain was falling. I didn’t mind. Up there it would be snow.


  1. Glorious stuff, Chris! I hope to be camping there in a couple of weeks' time. Nothing like the first blast of winter to refresh and renew the old bones, eh? Thanks as ever for posting these pictures. I live two hours away from the 'Gorms. Every time you post your pictures, I wish I lived as close as you do!

  2. Great to see Scotland in its winter coat again!

  3. Wow! Winter is amazing! It really draws a pretty yet harsh landscape, but a whole new dimension of wildness any man would be tempted to conquer. Thanks for these great shots.