Monthly Archives: February 2016

A Cairngorm Circular – September 2015.

“Braemar and back again.”

The Cairngorms

Day 1 – Glenmore to Loch Etchachan.
Day 2 – Beinn Mheadhoin, Ben Macdui and Derry Cairngorm
Day 3 – Loch Etchachan to Mar Lodge
Day 4 – Braemar
Day 5 – Mar Lodge to Fords of Avon
Day 6 – Fords of Avon to Glenmore
Day 7 – Post-circular extras


Day 6 – Fords of Avon to Glenmore. 14 miles, 2865ft ascent.
A lovely morning started off with the sunrise shining straight into the door of the shelter.

I was so pleased with the Fords of Avon shelter last night, I was a little sorry to say goodbye!

The wind hadn’t abated much from yesterday though, the silly selfie above is supposed to demonstrate that it was three-hat weather. Not my own narcissism. But never mind that, we had to make for the last Munro of the trip – Bynack More.

I decided to go up and along the side of Leachid a’ Bhainnie and this was pretty awkward, ankles not being designed to walk along hillsides. The couple of landslides didn’t help either. The Allt Dearg provided a slight obstacle too.

After just a couple of hours of slog we were up high, the shelter and summit already visible in the distances.

Past the Barns of Bynack.

Very windy but Bynack More wasn’t too much trouble in the end. My 17th Munro!

Whilst posing for this selfie I was alarmed to be suddenly joined by some others, who were almost in time to join me in the photo. A very nice lady came to join in sheltering for a sandwich in the lee of one of the Barns. She was here for the shelter I hasten to add, not my company! The group of four was being led by a bit of a know it all who was trying to tell me where I’d been. He soon gathered everyone together and said they were off to tick off another Munro nearby. Now this confused me a bit and I consulted my map again, but I was sure there aren’t any nearby so I wasn’t sure where they were headed. Had I missed one out??

The views were great from the top especially as the clouds were blown away as quickly as they came back in. I could also see some signs of humanity again – some small Speyside settlements way off the distance.

Looking west from Bynack More.

Mission accomplished now and with the weather looking lovely I wasn’t really paying attention as I headed off the wrong way towards Bynack Beg, but I had plenty of time and wasn’t far away from the path I wanted so was in no rush. As I sat on the rocks I saw the group of four from More hastily heading my way. Apparently they’d done the other Munro and now were heading down. I tried explaining that this didn’t look the best way down they headed off none-the-less.  I can only imagine that the Munro he thought they’d down was A’ Choinneach, which as we all know isn’t a Munro. Anyways – care not I!

I headed slightly back across myself to skirt round a valley to get on the main path back down.

Past a mountain hare – I hope he didn’t mind me gate-crashing his mountain. A mysterious tripod cairn indicated that I was now back on the path and it was all plain-sailing from here.

The strange formations underneath the Sron a’ Cha-no (I think) on the other side of the Strath Nethy looked like some remnants of a long-lost civilisation. But they probably aren’t.

Dropping down the weather got warmer and views tamer, although still very pleasant.

Looking back up the glen of the Nethy and that bridge that everyone seems to take a photo of. I bumped into the group of four again here and while resting at the bridge had a bit more a chat. I can’t remember their names now, but they’d come down this tricky way as they’d headed up the way I had come down, which is fair enough. They were from Hampshire and thought that a lady who was bringing up the rear might know my brother (who’s a local councillor near there), but she wasn’t in the mood to talk when she came by. They set off again as I was still packing jumpers and woolly hats away so didn’t see them again. But I left with some sage words from the know-it-all. “That’s the Barns of Bynack of over there… ” he said, pointing at the Ryvoan Bothy. Thanks Mister!

Feeling a bit peckish I decided to lighten the load by consuming my emergency tin of sausage & beans by An Lochan Uaine. It wasn’t very nice. (The sausage & beans that is).

An Lochan Uaine is green because of the fairies washing their clothes in there. I didn’t see any today, but that came straight from the mouth of the Glenmore park ranger, so there.

After a wander around the woods by the shores of Loch Morlich I found a nice little spot to camp.

I settled down in the warmth of the setting sun and entertained a visitor. My Cairngorm Circular was at an end – but my trip wasn’t. I’d allowed a couple of extra days in case of emergencies, navigational errors (Who Sir? Me Sir?!) or changes of plan, and in fact I’d got back a day early so now had three or four extra days to kill. A nice problem to have as I consulted the maps for inspiration and listened to the gentle lapping of the waves and the distant-but-raucous party from the boat club on the other side of the loch.

Today’s walk.  Top

Day 7 – Post-circular extras 1. 10 miles, 3377ft ascent.

The serious business of the trip over, what fun little odds & ends could I distract myself with now? For today the peaks of Meall a’ Bhuachaille, Creagan Gorm and Craiggowrie looked like a nice ridge walk, just to the north of the Loch Morlich. I packed up and left my gear at the Glenmore visitor centre, taking a few essentials with me in a day-pack, including my jelly babies. “Sorry!” I said to the staff at the centre, as they showed me where I could stash my bag, “…these are coming with me!”. We chuckled.

The view from Meall a’ Bhuachaille, Loch Morlich far below.

The walk up to Meall a’ Bhuachaille was straight-forward but steep, and once out of the woods got very blustery indeed. The thick stone walls surrounding the cairn at the top were a welcome shelter. Time for some jelly babies… only they weren’t in my bag!! They’d gone. I must have dropped them. Oh the shame of such wanton littering in such an unspoilt landscape! I wasn’t chuckling now. Oh well, maybe I’d see them on the way back down I suppose.

The photos above are the misleading but windy non-summit cairn between Creagan Gorm and Craiggowrie and on the right the cairn on Creagan Gorm.

The rest of ridge walk was great and at Craiggowrie I could carry on and descend and loop back or turn around and go back the way I came. I chose the latter option.

In the woods on the way down I spotted a bunch of children wearing the brightest colours I’d ever seen. No chance of losing these lot! Which I suspect is the idea.

Back at the visitor centre guess what was waiting for me on the reception desk? Yup, my jelly babies! We all chuckled even more and we munched many of them and I watched the red squirrels from a few feet away behind a window.

With an hour to kill before the bus back to Aviemore I stopped off at the Pine Marten bar for my first pint since Braemar (actually just two days!). Predictably I was there slightly longer than an hour, but not to worry as very nice a couple I got talking to very kindly gave me a lift back. I can’t remember their names, but thanks!

Where I’ve been this week.

I got dropped off by the High Range hotel, camp-site and pizza restaurant and headed off into town to the Cairngorm Hotel for some quality entertainment from Tweed.

I must admit that I didn’t really like the High Range very much, but after a week in the wilds couldn’t be bothered finding anywhere just yet. First off when I asked for a camping pitch (for £15!!!) the lady said all she had left was just round the back of the main building and was a bit hard so I might to hire some extra hard pegs and a large hammer! And she wasn’t joking, the pitch was like rough concrete! Even with the huge ship’s-nails-like pegs it wasn’t looking good, so I went back and asked for a room – for £25, bit of a no-brainer really. I checked that it wasn’t by the main road, no it’s not she said.

Above left is the view of the main road from my room. And above right is some of the various other camping pitches that I noticed the next day. The High Range is only place on the trip I won’t be rushing back to. The rest of stay in Aviemore I stayed at Macenzie’s Highland Inn, worth it just for The Falconer by Louis Shabner hanging above reception. And it came with some fantastic entertainment from Sarah & Alan too.

The next day’s distraction was a walk down to Loch an Eileen and it’s water-locked castle. All very interesting.

And on the way back I got chatting to and enjoyed a wee dram with Duncan and John in the Old Bridge Inn. Charming chaps indeed! I hope they’re still propping up the bar next time I’m there.

Day 8 – Post-circular extras 2. 15 miles, 3855ft ascent.

After a Saturday-night sojourn to Inverness (Aviemore was full because it was ‘Glasgow weekend’ or something) on my last day I checked out the old stone circle and the Strathsprey Railway.

And then another walk in the hills. This time quickly taking in Geal Charn Mor. It ended up being a 15mile circular.

After some navigational problems – forest tracks abruptly ending and gun shots coming from ahead – I ended up having to wade along this fence line through the heather and gorse for quite some while, before finding a track again on the exposed moor-tops. My scarf had to be donned bonnet-style to keep the whipping wind from blowing in one ear and out of the other.

Carn Dearg Mor top – I think, and a memorial stone for Alistair Polson the estate gamekeeper back in the day.

Geal Charn Mor top. All downhill from here.

Start of the long journey home now, but it still looks lovely.

My last view of the Highlands as I drop down in to Aviemore, and although my first view of London from the window of the Sleeper the following morning was kinda nice too, it’s no match for any view of the former. See you again soon Highlands!



A Cairngorm Circular – September 2015.

“Braemar and back again.”

The Cairngorms

Day 1 – Glenmore to Loch Etchachan.
Day 2 – Beinn Mheadhoin, Ben Macdui and Derry Cairngorm
Day 3 – Loch Etchachan to Mar Lodge
Day 4 – Braemar
Day 5 – Mar Lodge to Fords of Avon
Day 6 – Fords of Avon to Glenmore
Day 7 – Post-circular extras


Day 3 – Loch Etchachan to Mar Lodge. 16 miles, 1835ft ascent.

Thankfully there was no snoring during the night, not that I heard anyways and that’s all that matters. Today looked a lot cooler than yesterday and held no mountains in store, in fact it was going to be downhill through Glen Derry all the way – easy! Right…?

Just down the glen from the last two nights’ camp was the Hutchinson shelter which was worth a look in. And very nice it looked too – a lot nicer than how the chap up on Derry Cairngorm was describing it!

The path was good and dry heading down. Looking back up at Stob Coire Etchachan above from where I’d been looking down to here yesterday.

A bridge over the Derry Burn and the inscription I meant to read.

The bottom of the glen and its Scots pines.

It was getting quite warm once out of the wind.

Crossing the Derry again at the bottom of glen.

Don’t know what this marker was. Treasure?

Derry Lodge, shamefully boarded up. I wonder why they don’t do something with it? Some good reason I suppose. I stopped for a sandwich and sit down by the front door, but the midges were instantly all over me so much so that I couldn’t get my pack back on quick enough and had to eat my sandwich on the go, and try to have a rest on foot.

On the other side of Lui Water there was a group of people traversing the lower slopes on Sgor Dubh spaced apart, as if searching for something. They continued for a some time – I wonder what they were looking for? A lost fellow walker? Someone’s car-keys? The treasure I’d seen marked earlier!?

Down in to Doire Bhraghad now and thankfully only a couple of miles to my intended camp site, down near Mar Lodge somewhere.

There was quite a bit of traffic driving into Mar Lodge when I got there – looked like there was a wedding or some such do on – so I decided to camp away from the lodge and nearer the Dee. There was a nice looking flattish field right by the water but the gates to it were locked, so I set up just by the fence in a wooded area not far from the Victoria Bridge. Much to the interest of the horses in the field. The trouble with camping under trees is the amazing number of pine cones that manage to hide under the ground sheet and slowly reveal themselves one-by-one as the night goes on! Also when it rains, it carries on raining after it’s stopped raining.

Later when getting some water I discovered that the gates into the nice field weren’t locked at all! Oh well. I was set up now, so let’s head off the Punch Bowl and the Linn of Quoich a couple of miles away.

All very interesting! Although I’m suspect if the clansmen of old had literally used it as a punch bowl they might have wanted a lining. It does make you think how long water has been sloshing over the granite for.

A few other punch bowls had been started by the river and then abandoned – maybe nature will come back to finish them one day?

The waterfall at the Linn of Quoich under Scotrail’s bridge is impressive enough to warrant not falling in – although I wouldn’t be first.

I wonder how many bridges Scotrail have built that have nothing to do with the railway?

Over the bridge was an interesting but abandoned little cottage. The midges’ great interest in me caused me to abandon the Quoich and head back to camp for tea.

For all the problems with a woodland campsite at least they do provide all mod cons!

Returning from the river having done my dishes (just upstream from Her Majesty too. Sorry Ma’am!) I was taking a short-cut over a low fence by a track and the fence-post I was clinging on to snapped sending me tumbling over. Well, most of me. One leg hadn’t yet made it over the barbed-wire yet and a full half-inch of horrible dirty barb sank into my thigh. I was hooked like a fish and the destination side of the fence being much lower than the track-side my legs were now proclaiming 6 o’clock precisely. I managed to disgorge the metal from my flesh with minimal trouser damage, and applied much Savlon and a plaster to the neat hole in my skin hoping the clean air round here would have kept the barb clear of germs. Thankfully it was ok and this was the only plaster I was going to need all trip. Stupid fence post.

I can’t quite work out how the day’s ascent came to over 1800ft. But the GPS doesn’t lie.

Today’s walk. Top

Day 4 – Braemar. 13 miles, 2329ft ascent.

Nice easy day today. No mountains, no glens. Not even any very long walks. Just a castle and some household grocery shopping to do.

Tried & tested morning midge protection and more luxurious camp facilities.

Today was the day of Braemar Castle. And more importantly to stock up on some meths – I was running very low and if I didn’t manage to get some more I wouldn’t have had enough for the trip back, and the thought of cold beans for the next few days wasn’t exciting.

The walk into Braemar was along the B-road in the wide flat valley of the Dee and was about 4 miles or so. I’d planned it so I’d get there for about “brunch time”, but just as I arrived in town it started raining. And also just at the same time two coach loads of elderly American tourists turned up who proceeded to fill up every tea shop and cafe (all three of them) in Braemar. So while they all just sat there a nursing a coffee and a short-bread I was at the back of queue blimming starving. Typical. Bloody tourists. Thank heavens for the fantastic Hungry Highlander!

There was a Co-op-cum-Post Office where the chap told me I could get some meths, I also asked what time he was going to close so I get some sandwiches and a stamps. Five pm he said. I headed off to the garage where the owners could see how I pleased I was to see the large bottles of meths. Splendid.

The castle was just along the road a bit from the garage. And it was closed. Oh well. We’ve seen it now, that was the plan. Let’s head back.

After a brief sit down in the summer-house, it really started pouring down, so I took shelter in the only pub left in Braemar – The Invercauld Arms, where the Earl of Mar started causing trouble. The Cairngorm Brewery beer was lovely, and free pint of keg left over from the man who came to fix a pump was welcomed too as the rain continued to come down. But here we had a spot of camera bother. I’d forgotten my lead to charge it, but barman said he had one in the office so took my camera off there. I thought it would be prudent to take the memory card out, just in case – you can’t be too careful! Anyways, he came back as the lead didn’t fit after all so that was that, and he gave me my camera back. But I forgot to put the card back so no more of my day in Braemar was recorded! This included Kindrochit Castle, the Fife Memorial Park and the Wellington Bomber Memorial.

I went back to Co-op before it closed, and asked the Polish (I think) girl for some stamps. She had no idea what I was talking about no matter how much I explained. Now it’s all very well English not being your first language, and in fact her English was very good, but to work in a shop that also contained a Post Office you’d think someone at some point would’ve asked her for stamps before. Anyways, it turned out the Post Office counter closed at 3pm. Would’ve been nice if the fellow before had told me!

By now peckish again I decided to pop into the very highland-looking Braemar Lodge, but was kept waiting in reception like a lemon for so long I just walked out and went back to the good old Hungry Highlander again. This should be everyone’s first port of call for food in Braemar.

Full of fish & chips, the daylight was fading as I headed back over the Victoria Bridge back to the tent for a good night’s sleep. The mountains are back tomorrow!

Today’s walk (of sorts). Top

Day 5 – Mar Lodge to Fords of Avon. 16 miles, 3968ft ascent.

Heading off nice and early in the morning I thought I take advantage of the Mar Lodge wheelie bins to take care of my rubbish, but just as I got near a chap in a Land Rover drove past (the warden I think) with a friendly nod. I kept walking past the lodge swinging my Sainsbury’s bag full of crap, and quickly nipped back when he’d gone. But then he turned up again as I emerged from round the back of lodge and pulled over pointing at his passenger door. Thinking he’d noticed the bright orange carrier bag was now missing I reckoned he might be inviting me in for a ticking off for cheeky use of his bins, but turned out he just wanted a chat about the weather and where I was off too and did I need directions. The window was broken which was why he beckoned me to open the door! Phew. Off we carried on, past an impressive double garage at Claybokie.

Heading back away from civilisation now – I always like to see signs like this.

Through Doire Bhraghad and Bob Scot’s Bothy, which I’d missed on the way in.

Other signs warned of flood damage which were soon seen…

As we plodded up on the other side of the Derry Burn than we’d come down I was carefully looking out for a path leading off to the right which wasn’t on the map but which I think I found. It looked a bit like a path and went in the right direction from about the right point on the track. So took it, I suppose if enough people carry on taking it will become a path!

This ‘path’ soon disappeared though, and I was just following a NE / N bearing as it was too steep and tedious and overgrown to look up to see where I should be going. I was so glad to leave the trees behind. Even if then it got very boggy but I’m not sure if the bogginess was actually a path of sorts – it’s often hard to tell.

After a while the wind had picked up and the terrain leveled off. Head down I tramped on, guided by compass needle. I just happened to look up and noticed that I’d almost walked straight past Beinn Bhreac, its be-staked cairn just a few hundred yards away to my right. I gleefully scampered over.

It was very very windy – as my scarfie-selfie hopefully shows.

The views were grand.

The next peak was Beinn a’ Chaorainn postponed from a couple of days ago. It was just about 3 miles away across pretty flat looking ground, and only a couple of hundred of feet ascent. Peak to peak it looked like one of the easiest Munro-Munro passages going! But oh boy, was I wrong. In my excitement I’d forgotten that flat grassy land high up generally means one thing – bog. And it was very very boggy. Not just boggy but very uneven with huge areas totally waterlogged. I had to consider every footstep and often had to double back and walk around an expanse of dark foreboding looking gloopy water.

On top of that the rain / mizzle was coming down very heavily. Although when I say coming down I mean it was coming across. One side of me was dripping went, the other quite dry. This three mile section took an unbelievable three hours. You work out the average speed!

Finally at the top of Beinn a’ Chaorainn and straight back down. Too wet & windy and too fed up for a rest. Mountains and backpacks do not mix!

Looking back over Lairig an Laoigh from the opposite side from a couple of days ago, now I could see that there probably was a way down. But with hindsight I think that I’d done it all the right way, even if I’d only been about a third of a mile away as the crow files.

Down in the steep-sided glen of the Allt an t-Seallaidh the weather and the ground both got wetter and wetter. But slowly the Fords of Avon shelter came into view, and given the conditions I was sure I wouldn’t be the first there but would there be any room at all? Or would it be rammed out like the Hutchinson shelter a couple of nights ago? Also, the funny thing about the Fords of Avon shelter is that the nearer you get to it, the smaller it becomes!

And anyways, before we should be worrying about the availability of shelter inside the shelter we really had to worry about the Fords of Avon itself – I already decided that I really did not want to take my boots off. After much thought and a little dithering I managed to scamper across it with no more wetness.

And added to the relief of the successful crossing I found I had the shelter to myself. Camping wouldn’t have been that much of a problem but I was dripping wet and it’s a great convenience to be able to hang up wet things over night. No-one else came to disturb my little dry shed of tranquility and a smashing night’s kip was had. The joy of bothies!

Today’s walk. Top



A Cairngorm Circular – September 2015.

“Braemar and back again.”

The Cairngorms

Day 1 – Glenmore to Loch Etchachan.
Day 2 – Beinn Mheadhoin, Ben Macdui and Derry Cairngorm
Day 3 – Loch Etchachan to Mar Lodge
Day 4 – Braemar
Day 5 – Mar Lodge to Fords of Avon
Day 6 – Fords of Avon to Glenmore
Day 7 – Post-circular extras


So, I’d decided I wanted to see Braemar Castle. The Cally Sleeper would take me to Aviemore, bus to Glenmore and Shanks’s pony down to the castle and back. Seems there’s a few Munros on the way too and seven of them were right in my way.

Looks like fun.

Day 1. Glenmore to Loch Etchachan (via Cairn Gorm). 9½ miles, 4475ft ascent.

I arrived in Aviemore on time but then realised that the bus I had planned to get to take me the 6 or 7 miles into Glenmore only ran on school holidays, and this wasn’t a school holiday. The next bus would be an hour. Luckily just then a taxi turned up…

I got to Glenmore at around 8.30am and leaving the hectic (another car came!) main road set off into the forest – The Queen’s Forest no less! – heading towards Cairn Gorm (via the Coire na Ciste route) over the Abhainn Ruigh-eunachan. HM’s forest was nice at first, cool and fresh and the paths were clear.

But after a little while the path had disappeared and I ended wandering way off course and had to compass-correct myself with a tough ascent up the banking on the left using ferns and tree roots as grips. Up and over at the top and back on some sort of a semblance of a path, although the thick heather and tall ferns would suggest it wasn’t used much. It was all so dripping wet with dew that the waterproofs had to come out despite it being bright and sunny. The ground was uneven and rising, it was hot and damp and a boring start to the day. Pretty though.

Eventually I was out of the woods, figuratively and literally, and finally heading up what looked like a proper mountain. It had taken the best part of 45mins to get through the woods, and shortly after when I had passed the lower ski car-park the bus I could’ve waited for went by, round the sharp hairpin. I could have just been sitting down in Aviemore drinking tea for the past hour and only been about quarter of mile behind where I was now! And a tenner better off. Oh well, I wouldn’t have a good discussion about Scottish independence from my Islington-born and Camden Town-schooled taxi driver. Anyways, the bus may not have dropped me there anyways, or that’s what I’m telling myself at least.

Although the weather was looking good behind us, ahead of us there was a slight hint of mist.

It was a steady slog up a clear path, but not much to look at. Things just slowly appeared from and then disappeared back into the mist. A strange sign post…

At first an alien spacecraft which just turned out to be rickety-looking ski-lifts…

Reindeer, feeding up before their hectic Christmas schedule…

And a digger! A chat to the driver’s mate quickly turned to midges as conversation often does round here.

And an emergency stop button hovering a good 10 or 12ft up in the air. The winter snow here must easily cover the wooden fencing when it’s skiing season. Impressive.

The other photo is, I think, the Marquis’s Well – at around 4,000ft the highest spring in Britain. I’m not too sure though, there was a damp patch a bit further but this one looked more the sort of thing a Marquis of Huntly would go for. Not far to the top now!

Funny how one’s pace is quickened by the sight of a cairn! The cairn of Cairn Gorm was reached. Phew! Quite a slog with the full pack on.

It was very windy here, and what I thought was a shelter must have been just for the University of Edinburgh’s meteorologists. So I settled down for a chilli-egg sandwich in the lee of the weather station. But suddenly the relaxing peace was shattered by a strange mechanical whirring, and the top of the large dust-bin type thing on top of the weather was slowly but purposefully opening up. At first I wasn’t quite sure what was going on – the misty winds do things to a young man’s mind up here, but it turned out that the dust-bin was actually the weather station taking one its half-hourly readings. The vane waggled furiously and anemometer was having a blast. The sandwich was finished and onwards we went.

As I got towards the far side of the lunar-like rocky summit plateau of Cairn Gorm I could hear the weather station closing up again for another 26 minutes, and the view ahead of me looked a lot more appealing. (I later checked out the website to see what the wind-speeds were while I was up there, but couldn’t make head nor the tail of the data!)

What wasn’t so enticing was the view of someone’s carefully bagged up litter just below the top. The odd crisp packet whisked away from a careless hand by an eager wind I can understand, but just leaving crap like this knowing that the park rangers will clear it up at some point is a tad grating.  Luckily my gaze was distracted by Loch Avon (Loch A’an to the locals I was later told) in the near distance.

The beaches of Loch Avon looked very enticing, but a long way down.

The descent down the very well-constructed granite steps of Coire Raibeirt was torturous!  On the knees but also because every now and then as I cautiously and unavoidingly took a large step down, my pack would catch on the step behind me, nudging me forwards before my foot was set down, and so nearly send me hurtling downwards, to end up in a Sea-King no doubt.

Thankfully I made it all the way down to lochside without major incident, and swung to the west to head round the beach-end of it via the Shelter Stone.

But annoyingly it took me so long to navigate the drops and bogs and streams and dead-end paths at the top of loch that when I got near the Shelter Stone I just couldn’t be bothered actually going towards for a look. This is what I missed. I like the cairn on top though – good effort someone! The abandoned (peat?) spade wasn’t budging though.

Anyways, we got across the glen eventually and on my way up the Allt nan Stacan Dubha saw my second people of the day after the digger crew, a local fella and a very nicely made up (always important when walking!) American girl who was here for a wedding. Anyways, they were very pleasant and we chatted briefly. But just after what seemed like about 5 minutes they were down and on the beach, across what had taken me about half an hour to get across!! How did they do it?! I also saw some very colourful mosses.

As I got higher I took one final look back at Loch Avon, and saw my first ptarmigan of the day. I’d managed to walk obliviously past the Ptarmigan on the top of Cairn Gorm with it right under my nose because of the mist. Not that I really minded though. The feathered kind was much nicer and much more in-keeping with the surroundings that some tourist cafe. Mind you, I was soon to get very fed up of ptarmigan – they’re worse than grouse for suddenly and noisily appearing out of the undergrowth while you’re rambling on peacefully miles away in a world of your own, croaking and squawking like some angry strangulated terrier puppy. Bloody things. I like their trousers though.

Once at the top of the Allt nan Stacan Dubha I had one last look back, I think – I can’t remember which way that photo is looking now, and headed down to Loch Etchachan – my campsite for the next two nights. Unfortunately when I got down there hoping for hermit-esque solitude I was aghast to see someone had beaten me to it, and not only that but he seemed to have bagged the only dry spot in the marshy loch-periphery. By the time I’d found a spot and settled, and pitched up it was getting dark so for some reason I didn’t take a photo of my first evening’s camping.

But what I did take a photo of was some more rubbish. Working on a small pit to use for nature’s callings behind a large boulder about 20yards away from my tent I uncovered a drink carton and a foil packet of sausage and beans. Judging from the date on the foil they’d been there at least 2½ years and obviously were not far into their decomposition process. (A couple of very nice locals – Duncan & John – much later on in Aviemore on hearing this tail just rolled their eyes, and said “Aye – that’ll be the army cadets…”, and curiously much later I Googled “army cadet ration packs” and it does look similar. Come on lads, sort it out!)

No problem getting to sleep that night, although I did wake up in night needing a wee visit. It was still quite light it seemed although it was about 3.45am. Not very bright but bright enough for my hand to be clearly silhouetted against the tent. I went outside to a clear sky but no moon – the nocturnal illumination was provided by nothing but starlight. The Milky Way clearly visible to the delight of my eyes and annoyance of my neck. Usually when I camping out under these skies I sleep straight through it all, but it’s really not to be missed. Such an amazing sight – our ancestors were spoilt!

Today’s walk. Top

Day 2. Beinn Mheadhoin, Ben Macdui and Derry Cairngorm. 11 miles, 3547ft ascent.

Next morning the skies were still clear and the first thing I noticed was how much nicer it would have been on the top of Cairn Gorm today! I’d finished breakfast and been to my own little shelter stone (ie. loo) by the time the sun was warming my tent.

My plan today was to head up Beinn Mheadhoin and then dip down the Lairig an Laoigh to head up Beinn a’Chaorainn. Didn’t look too bad on the map, and I might even have time for some afters somewhere too. On the way up Stob Coire Etchachan I got my first good view of my campsite. My tent is just above about half-way along the smaller loch.

After a short but steep climb up the views were grand, Loch Avon and the Barns of Beinn Mheadhoin above.

The walk over the plateau towards the barns was very pleasant indeed, clear firm ground and clear blue skies. The view above left is looking backwards in SW direction.

Looking SW again through the barns, but I can’t remember which the other view is. Northerly somewhere I think.

A summit-selfie, and behind yours-truly a truly fine panorama. The low-lying mist is above the Aberneth Forst / Nethy Bridge I think.

Heading briskly over towards Beinn a’Chaorainn via the cairned peak above Stob Coire Etchachan I noticed an odd perfectly circular lichen on the way looking like a company logo or something.

Once up at the top of said little peak I had a better view of where I was going and it didn’t look too promising. I couldn’t see any path, which isn’t the end of the world, but the drop down the Lairig an Laoigh did look like the end of the world and I couldn’t see a way up the other side either. Also pretty much the whole way as far as I could see was a boulder field and not easy to get across. So I could’ve got to the top of the drop, not seen any way down and then have to retrace my steps all the way back across the boulders which wouldn’t have been fun and could taken a good hour or two. So with plenty of other hills dotted around I headed back – Beinn a’Chaorainn was going nowhere and could wait for another day.

The view down Glen Derry from the top of Stob Coire Etchachan. The Hutchinson hut clearly visible in the sunshine.

On the way back down to camp Etchachan I wondered how that boulder got on top of that boulder? Also I wondered how my neighbour across the loch with (I think) the same tent didn’t seem to be suffering the same sagging problems as me…

With plenty of time left today getting Ben Macdui and Derry Cairngorm out of the way would make the walk – with pack – down to Braemar much easier tomorrow. So that was now the plan.

Looking back down over Loch Etchachan from the walk up underneath Creagan a’ Choire Etchachan. It was getting warm now as I headed up towards Ben MacDui.

On the way up I paused for a breather by this gap above Coire Sputan Dearg, two young men also paused on their way down. Without saying hello they started moaning about the view! “Not much down there, is there?”, “Nah, couple of crags but that’s it.”, “Not as rugged as the Lakes is it?”. I thought maybe they were climbers looking for good craggy ascents. “All we’ve seen so far is Aviemore and some windmills…”. Hard to please some folk!

The ruins of the Sappers’ Bothy indicated I was nearing the top of Ben Macdui.

The terrain leveled off towards the top, but was very rocky so I hopped and jumped the rest of the way to trig point.

The top of Ben Macdui was chockablock!! Families, ladies’ rugby teams, French people – the world and his wife was up here. Up on the large summit cairn as I was coming down two girls came up, and like the two lads earlier had no time to give me the time of day as I stood to one side to let them pass. They went off to discussing the best spot to catch some rays, and generally nattering loudly as they went.

After a spot of lunch I headed back down the same way I’d came – splendid views in every direction! But the two girls from the top had left about the same time as me, and were 20 yards or so behind… and never stopped talking all the way down. Grrrrr.

As we headed down my plan was to cut across in a west-ish direction to cut the corner a bit and left the two girls behind to carry on chattering away amongst themselves. But when I got towards the bottom of my short-cut to join the Derry Cairngorm path heading south I saw the two girls now ahead of me on the path up to DC! I should’ve just stayed on the path too – I might have been far enough ahead of them to be out of earshot by now. They were studying a map so maybe they were going a different way, dipping down in to the glen perhaps? I passed them but just after that they set off again. And so once again I had them right behind me all the way up Derry Cairngorm, nattering endlessly and pointlessly. Is it just me being a cantankerous old grump or is that really annoying??

Anyways, lots more boulders to hop, skip and jump across and I got to the first of two cairns.

The second one seemed to be the summit, so I had a rest here and made a new friend in the form of a Staffie with a collar saying “Deadly friendly” on it. And so he was! His owner, who was heading off home, on hearing I was camping kindly offered me his rations. A nice pair they were! He was also telling me about how last night he’d stayed in the Hutchinson shelter, and while it was only a few degrees above freezing outside, inside the hut was that crammed and the fire so stacked it was closer to 90 degs! Eventually a couple of lads there couldn’t stand it anymore and although it was late and dark and left to trudge all the way down to Bob Scott to stay there. I think he was in a tent, wisely.

The girls turned up, so I gave it plenty of time at the top for them to disappear off. Which wasn’t too bad as sitting down out of the breeze the top of Derry Cairngorm is a not too bad a place to be.

Clouding over a bit on the way down Derry Gairngorm.

I saw quite a few of these neat round holes in the granite – I wonder how they were formed. Wind and rain I suppose… but how?!

Lots more boulders to skip over and not all of them firmly anchored. Got to look after the ankles! As my campsite came back into view I noticed another tent not far from mine. After the initial annoyance of having a near neighbour I suddenly started worrying that he might have found me lavatory stone, as I hadn’t covered the hole up yet!

On the way down to my as-usual saggy tent I got chatting to a bloke and talk again inevitably turned to midges. I mentioned that my Sainsbury’s insect repellent hadn’t been working too well and he very kindly gave me a squirt of Avon Skin So Soft. It seemed to work pretty well – and it certainly smelled nicer than the Sainsbury’s! My tea that evening was didn’t seem midge free but I’m sure they weren’t biting, so I reckon I’ll be applying my own Skin So Soft on the next trip.

That evening two lads without bags turned up and walked round the entire loch seemingly inspecting the water all the way round in an almost official looking capacity. They disappeared briefly, returned with their packs and set up camp on the other side of the loch, then proceeded to strip off and plunge into the refreshing Ethcachan waters taking nothing with them except for a bar of soap. I think they were foreign. My worries for tomorrow’s drinking water were right now overtaken by my worries about how many of my new neighbours would spend the night providing the rest of us with a cacophony of snoring…

Today’s walk. Top