Wednesday 18 December 2013

Filming in the Cairngorms for Countryfile

The film crew in Coire Lochain

The snow has returned to the Cairngorms and the hills are white, though still storm-blasted and inhospitable. Before the temperatures dropped and the snow began to fall I went out into the soggy, windswept hills to do some filming for the BBC's Countryfile Winter Special, which will be shown on January 19.

The wind was too strong to film on the summits - standing up would probably have been a challenge - and anyway the cloud was low so we'd have seen nothing. Instead with a three-person film crew and accompanying ranger in tow I wandered over to Coire Lochain where there was still some snow - enough for me to clamber about with ice axe and crampons - plus the usual dramatic backdrop of this magnificent corrie.

On the upper edge of the long snow bank I climbed we could see and hear ptarmigan, lots of ptarmigan, lots and lots of ptarmigan. The more we looked the more we saw. I'd never seen anything like this many in one place before and neither, had Nick, the ranger. He counted 150 so we reckoned there were probably at least 200. A magnificent sight.

Coire Lochain

From the corrie we descended a little in search of a reasonably sheltered camp site for me as the director wanted to film me setting up camp before the crew retired to a hotel in Aviemore. Most ground flat enough for a comfortable camp was absolutely sodden from recent rain and snowmelt and it took a little time to find a just-about-adequate spot, right on the banks of the Allt Creag an Leth-choin. The stream was roaring down in a series of little whitewater cascades. Luckily I find this noise quite soothing!

Before departing the crew left me with an infra-red video camera and infra-red torch so I could make a night time video diary. I used it several times inside and outside the shelter but whether any of the material will actually appear in the programme I have no idea! I'd never tried filming myself before. I hadn't expected to start doing so with an infra-red camera.

When I made camp the wind wasn't too strong and I was looking forward to a peaceful night, especially as I knew the film crew would be returning to film me having breakfast and packing up. I didn't want to look too bleary-eyed or sound half-asleep!

However during the night the wind shifted slightly and my sheltered site was sheltered no longer. Rain came too, rattling and bouncing on my shelter walls. The storm woke me several times and at 3.30 a.m., fed up of the racket, I hastily donned my waterproofs and went out to lower the profile of the shelter so it shed the wind and rain better and wasn't so noisy. I then fell back asleep, waking as the first grey dawn light crept over the sodden landscape. It was still raining and there was no colour in the morning sky.

A grey and stormy dawn

The film crew returned, their waterproofs dripping, and I displayed my gear for the camera and was filmed packing up before we headed back across the moorland to warmth and coffee, pausing for a little while in a wet but sheltered peat bog hollow to record me talking about the joys of the Cairngorms in winter and the pleasures of long distance walking.

If only the snow had come sooner.


  1. It's many years since I camped in that corrie, the Eighties, I think, and there was more snow that August than you found in winter. One lad said, "No women, I'm swimming." He lasted less than 30 seconds in the lochan, which was being fed from a mini glacier.

    In the evening we went to the summit and, at 10pm, saw someone fetching reindeer back from Ben Macdhui. Later, a storm blew in so I took down my tent because of the noise and finished the night in Jean's Hut.

    Were the ptarmigan visible because they had gone white and the hills hadn't? It's like that now for the hares here on the Isle of Man.


    1. John, yes the white plumage did make the ptarmigan stand out when they weren't on the snow.