A Trip to The Highlands – Part 2

Our second instalment from Senior Assistant Callum Hilder, of his recent solo trip to the Cairngorm National Park:

As I wake (a little late!) to the sun glowing through the walls of my tent, I climb out of my sleeping bag and have a simple breakfast by the side of the river – even more majestic in the dawn sunlight.

Tent in the morning

Tent in the morning

After packing and sorting everything out I head back to the well-metalled path and continue south through the forest towards the cairngorm club footbridge. Crossing the river and then following its meandering course until the trees thinned and I began to gain height.

The Scots pine is a persistent tree and stunted, twisted forms of them still cling to the heather covered rocks in places, but the terrain gives way to the grasses, heather and rock of the Larig Ghru pass. The sweeping slopes framing the pass create breath-taking, rugged beauty and on a day as clear and sunlit as this it cannot be rivalled to be in such a place.

Navigating through the pass for the morning is relatively easy, I stop from time to time to make sure I maintain my position and to check off my ‘tick features’. As I stop for lunch on a large boulder the only sound is bumblebees and the trickle of the stream. Finding water here is not an issue  – whilst it is not a particularly wet environment I have no trouble filling my water bottles and keeping well hydrated. My choice of water purification is the MSR trail shot coupled with chlorine tablets.

The afternoon passes much the same as the morning, getting into a walking rhythm, feeling the weight of my gear on my back, checking off my tick features and admiring the beauty of the pass. 3 o’clock arrives and I am at pools of Dee – beautiful glass clear pools with small fishing darting beneath the surface. By now I am tired after a long walk over loose rock and I decide to push on to my next campsite.

I walk for another two hours and come across some Ptarmigan along the way in summer plumage. These three are the first I have seen and I am able to observe them from five meters. After ten minutes or so the cock bird stands upon a rock, crows, and they fly to the opposite side of the valley.

Arriving at camp two around 5:30pm was a relief – I am tired! I put the tent up and organise my bed area, drop down to gushing falls of the river below and collect a billy can of water. Whilst this is heating up for a wash I gaze up at the summit of Ben Macdui and relax. The silence is still absolute except the tireless running of water over rocks, but there is a stillness to the air that reminds you how remote this place can be, and how the landscape has changed little in millennia.

A full ‘bucket wash’ at the end of the day is one of the greatest pleasures of outdoor life I think, I carry a sea to summit kitchen sink which allows me 5 litres of warm water – to look after myself and especially my feet – essential after a day in boots with a few more days to come!

At the time I put dinner on, a light shower of rain came up – quite refreshing in its own way until it stopped. Then the dreaded midges rise up and engulf my head and any exposed flesh. A dreadful experience at the time you wish to sit and eat dinner! For an hour I sit in my tent with the flysheet zipped up gazing down the pass at the setting sun behind the summits. The breeze picks up and the midges drop back down to allow an hour of reflection in the sunset.

I rise to a gloomy, cold and windy dawn. Rain has fallen again overnight and my tent is wet, never mind though – it can dry tonight when I get it out again. Gear packed down I carry on to my next tick feature – the Corrour Bothy about 2 kilometres away. The wind is still cold but the sun is up again now and is falling across the bothy on the western side of the river as I approach. I can imagine in worse weather the sight of this tin-roofed shelter is a welcome sight.

I cross the bridge and head up to have a look – what is a charming hut from the outside is a great shame on the inside. It has clearly been newly renovated, but fresh graffiti adorns the walls, old food is piled in the corner and signs explaining that the toilet no longer works after vandalism ruin the atmosphere somewhat.

These bothies are maintained by volunteers across Scotland as refuges in the mountains that may be utilised by anyone passing. A treasure that should be looked after rather than vandalised!

Onwards though. Onwards to the forest of Mar and a spot of lunch looking down on the Lin of Dee river snaking through the valley. I feel the tiredness of yesterday still with me and have a longer lunch – perhaps I am not as fit as I thought!

– Callum Hilder

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