Sunday 8 November 2020

Conversation & whisky, sunshine & splendour in the Cairngorms.

Sometimes it can be great to have a companion in the hills. As a loner who mostly goes solo I easily forget this. I was reminded of it a few days ago when I went up into the Cairngorms for a high camp with fellow outdoor writer and photographer David Lintern. Over the two days we talked of much - conservation, mountains, gear, photography, writing, politics and, inevitably, Covid 19 and the effect it has had on each of us and the wider world. Fascinating conversations in a wild landscape stimulating to the mind. The weather helped too. The air was dry and quite warm, the wind light. No need to hide in jackets and hoods, any words blown away by a storm. 

The western sky was afire as we crossed the Cairngorm Plateau to Ben Macdui, the late sun dazzling and fierce. Dropping down from the summit into sunless shadows we soon found a good camp site looking to Cairn Gorm and more distant hills. David had brought some delicious Ardbeg malt whisky as promised and we toasted the night as the stars came out and the thin clouds faded away. Overhead the Milky Way arced across the sky, hundreds of billions of stars. An immense universe, its vastness ungraspable. 

Light returned with a dappled sky and a sunlit glow on distant hills. In these glorious surroundings we were in no hurry to depart,  we just revelled in being here. A half-moon hung yellow high in the sky. Late last night it had risen blood-red through the clouds. 

There were few clouds left by the time we set off, down to Loch Etchachan. The hills were edged hard against the sky, silhouettes towards the sun, glowing away from it.

 From Loch Etchachan we went up Beinn Mheadhoin, a first for David. And it was many years since I'd last climbed it. The air was surprisingly warm and very dry. High on Beinn Mheadhoin the arid atmosphere, the rich red-brown of the granite, the wide stony plateau with its sparse coarse vegetation, and the towering rock tors brought to my mind the Arizona desert and to David the Sierra Nevada in Spain. It certainly didn't feel like the Scottish Highlands. 

Back at Loch Etchachan we followed the loch shore then wound a way up a broad buttress and north across the Plateau. This is pathless terrain and I'd never been exactly this way before. The landscape is huge and complex and feels much bigger when explored cross-country. The short day was hastening to dusk, the low sun turning the summits gold just as it had eight hours earlier. Then there was just the darkening sky and distant wisps of cloud catching the last faint light.

At a final brief stop before the descent my phone picked up a cryptic text message from my partner -"Seems we have a win for decency". I knew immediately what she meant. Trump had lost the US Presidential election. We were descending back to a world that already felt better.


  1. Looks like a good trip was enjoyed by you both,with a bit of good news to haste ye hame !

  2. What a grand wee exped and some cracking pictures. I had hoped to get up there in November but it looks like I'll be stuck in North Ayrshire for a while longer. Never mind, at least I've got your blog to keep me in touch with the Cairngorms and I've still got Arran on the doorstep. Stay safe Chris.