Wednesday 2 August 2017

Wild Forest, Wild Hills : A Quiet Corner of the Cairngorms

The forest at dusk

Remoteness, wildness, solitude, time to be alone with nature. These are not hard to find if you're prepared to wander away from paths and popular summits. I wanted a challenging walk that would thrust me deep into the natural world after a week of intense desk work. The word forest recurred in my mind.

Loch an Eilein

I began at Loch an Eilein, my first visit since being shocked at the felling back in March (see this post). As expected there were many people wandering round the loch. As soon as I left the main path and headed off beside little Loch Gamhna the others vanished though. A couple of mountain bikers passed me then I was alone. At the Allt Coire Follais I turned off the path and headed up into the forest. There is an old path here, half-buried in vegetation and hard to follow. Few come this way. Often a depression in the hillside is the only sign of it. The walking was hard now. Steeply up over tussocks and stones hidden in deep heather and bracken.

A forest pool

The beauty and power of the forest held me entranced though. I didn't mind the tough terrain. This was raw nature. Soon the trees began to thin. The dense vegetation didn't though, the ground just grew boggier. Looking back I could see the shining line of Loch an Eilein far below.

Looking back

Out onto open moorland I revelled in the summer colour. From afar these slopes look brown and green, tinged with the purple of heather. Close to they shimmer with a mosaic of colour. The yellow-green grasses red-tipped, the bright yellow stars of bog asphodel rising through them.

Summer colour

Finally the vegetation thinned and the walking became easier. Then I was on a broad ridge, views opening up all around. Across Gleann Einich Cairn Gorm, Cairn Lochan and Braeriach were a long line of corrie-bitten hills. A cold wind swept the stony slopes, drying my sweat-soaked clothes and causing me to shiver and zip up my jacket.

Cairngorm hills

Ahead rose the granite tor of Clach Mhic Cailein (The Argyll Stone), an important landmark on this featureless ridge. Today it provided shelter for a snack before I continued on northwards, the wind behind me, over Creag Dhubh to Cadha Mor.

Clach Mhic Cailein

The first trees appeared, tiny Scots Pine almost prostrate on the slope, stuggling to exist in the thin soil and the cold windswept terrain. Outliers far above the forest.

Scots pine

I plunged down boggy slopes, skidding on moss-covered stones. The descent was steep. Soon I was back in the dense heather and grass, wading waist-deep at times through greenery. I stumbled into holes and tripped over roots. Loch an Eilein grew closer.

Loch an Eilein

Down in the trees at dusk as the sky darkened and shafts of late sunlight, the most of the day, cut through the clouds. The walk hadn't been long, six hours or so, but the submersion in the forest and the moor had been intense, a far different experience from walking a path. Hot, sweaty, and scratched I emerged from the trees onto the track back to the car park. For a while the world had been wild.

1 comment: