Thursday 7 July 2022

A Wander On Lower Cairngorm Hills

View from Castle Hill

With the summer so far having been more wind and rain (especially wind) with low cloud than sunshine and calm I’ve been seizing any brief easing of the weather whenever possible. One such appeared in early July, a suggestion of a dry afternoon with only moderately strong winds before they strengthened again in the evening and the rain returned. As the high tops still looked like being rather blustery I decided on a wander round the lower area that lies between the Cairngorm Plateau and Glenmore Forest. 

Starting at the Sugarbowl car park on the ski road to Coire Cas I quickly discovered that the bridge over the Allt Mor just below the road has been replaced with a bigger more solid structure. There’s been a footbridge here since the 1950s, this being the third. Giving access to the Chalamain Gap and the Lairig Ghru the path beyond the bridge is quite popular though on this day I had it to myself. Indeed, after passing a few people on the bridge I saw no-one all day. Away from this path it’s a quiet area.

Eag a' Chait

My walk took me through the little rocky ravine of Eag a’ Chait (Cat Notch) then up heathery slopes to the rounded bump called Castle Hill from where a gentler stroll led to rocky Creag a’ Chalamain (Crag of the Corrie of the Assembly), my high point at just 787 metres. From here a path led to the mouth of the Chalamain Gap through which I boulder-hopped to the path back to my start point. This is a mostly easy circuit, less dramatic than the much higher mountains but full of interest.

The Chalamain Gap

The two V-shaped gashes in the hillsides, Eag a’ Chait and the Chalamain Gap, are meltwater channels formed by the thawing of the huge glacier that once covered the area during the last ice age.  Eag a’ Chait is much smaller than the Chalamain Gap and less rocky. A trickle of a stream runs through it, obviously not powerful enough to have carved out this deep steep-sided valley. The ravine rises slowly and ends abruptly on the edge of wide slopes running down to Glenmore Forest. On reaching this expansive vista it felt like the world had opened up. Instead of the hemmed-in feel of the ravine I was gazing into space, looking over a vast forest stretching out to the Monadh Liath hills, a fine sight marred only by some large clear-cut areas. 

The view over Glenmore Forest

The Chalamain Gap is a much longer and rockier ravine. A good path runs up to each end but there are only traces of one in the mass of boulders in the ravine itself. Finding a way through and over these requires a little concentration. It’s an unexpected exciting place. 

The Chalamain Gap

Castle Hill is really just a gentle swelling protruding from Creag a’ Chalamain, rising a mere eleven metres from the col with the latter. The grassy stony terrain makes for easy walking to rockier Creag a’ Chalamain. Up here the wind was much stronger, and I was glad I was going no higher. 

On Creag a' Chalamain

Throughout the walk clouds streamed overhead, fast and fluid. Sometimes touches of sunshine made it through but mostly the sky was grey. My photographs, taken during the better light, don’t give a fair impression!

Coire an Lochain, Braeriach

From the walk between Castle Hill and Creag a’ Chalamain there’s a superb view across the Lairig Ghru to Braeriach and on west to Sgor Gaoith and Sgoran Dubh Mor. For early July there was little snow left on these high hills, just a few small patches in Coire an Lochain on Braeriach. Walking to Eag a’Chait I’d noticed a similar dearth of snow in another Coire an Lochain, this one below Cairn Lochan. I doubt there’ll be any left in a few weeks. I wonder if any snow anywhere in the Cairngorms will last the summer. Probably not.

Coire an Lochain, Cairn Lochan

Many years having passed since I was last on these little hills I was pleased to see the spreading forest. I don’t remember there being this many young trees here. Around Eag a’ Chait there are a few scattered old pines. Now they’ve been joined by a rather larger number of little offspring. The highest trees I saw were at 750 metres on exposed slopes Creag a’ Chalamain. Growing sideways across the ground rather than upwards, shaped I guess by the wind, these trees must be hardy just to survive here.

Scots pine at 750 metres

The first drops of rain were in the air as I reached the car. The forecast had been mostly right, though the wind had been stronger than predicted. I didn’t mind. My head was full of trees and rocks and clouds and the glorious Cairngorms.

1 comment:

  1. One of our favourite low level walks Chris. It's amazing how quiet the path can be once you've passed the reindeer enclosure where there are often visiting groups. The only folk I've come across are either heading for, or returning from the Lairig Ghru, it being a much shorter but tougher route than that from Rothiemurchas. Having endured the Chalamain Gap last spring in semi-winter conditions on our way to Braeriach, we avoided it on the return by looping around Castle Hill and handrailing the deer enclosure back to the path. Great pics as ever Chris and yes, it's grand to see those pine saplings and natural regeneration which sadly is being ignored in lieu of industrial scale planting such as on Brewdog's estate at Kinrara.