DAY 2 SATURDAY: MEALL CUAICH( Myall coo ich. The ‘y’ sound is as in ‘yacht’)
Official time for the walk: 8.75 miles or 14km: ascent 614m or just over 2,000 feet; 4 – 5 hours without rest.Our time: 5 hours including breaks.
After a really superb breakfast (including the whole works: bacon, egg, sausage, haggis , black pudding) plus piles of toast and gallons of tea, we had no excuse but to work some of it off on a hill walk!
Oh the calories, I could feel them round my middle immediately but I felt quite reckless about it for a change. The Health Monitor on my phone suggested we’d done 30,000 steps yesterday and I had burned off 1,240 calories – yipee! (Sad, I know) We’d eaten cold meat, cheese and tomatoes the night before with bread, so I was in need of some sustenance at breakfast time and certainly got it in shovelfuls.
It was a 40 minute drive from our lovely Pitlochry B&B, Torrdarach House, to the parking area for the hill. To be precise, Layby 94 on the A9, which at 10.15am was full of cars. Did a quick turnaround and parked about a quarter mile away in Layby 93.
What a glorious sunny morning it was, as we set off under mostly blue skies and faintly warm sunshine.
There was a bitterly cold wind though but we were soon out of it as we walked along the excellent track. It’s a 5km or 3 mile trek – an hour – to the foot of the hill itself and a very flat easy walk it is too. Overhead, larks melodiously sang their little hearts out, enjoying the spring day as much as we were.
And then we spied a Peregrine Falcon, soaring over the moorland, on the hunt, her black ‘moustaches’ clearly visible.Beautiful sight.
Strangely, my legs were absolutely fine from the day before, no aches and pains at all. Chris was mostly the same though a niggling heel injury meant it felt a bit tender but not too bad. We were soon discarding fleece tops, basking in the warm air as we turned off the track and headed up hill. I was dreading this pull up because it looked a slog, but in fact, after the first 25 mins of hard work, we reached a shoulder and the angle eased all the way to the top. On a good dryish track too.
What WAS surprising was the number of hikers heading DOWNHILL past us now just after 11. 30am; a dozen or so in all, folks in ones and twos, who’d obviously risen very early and got a hill under their belts before mid-day. Very impressive. Also slightly deflating , as we still had it all to do! There’s nothing like meeting people who’ve done it all , hours before you, to make you feel you’ve lounged about in bed FAR too long.
I have to say that there is no one in a better mood than Chris, descending from a hill as we meet others still huffing and puffing their way up.Oh, the bonhomie from my husband (usually a Man of Few Words) as he greets everyone with a cheery – ‘Not far to go!’ or ‘Afternoon! Grand day isn’t it?” He denies this of course but – it’s true.
We stopped at one point and sat down beside some boulders, the sun making us feel the heat and desperate for some water. It really was a fine spot and I loved the terrain itself. Even more like Arctic Tundra than yesterday’s hills.Despite the winter snows having just melted, there was plenty colour. Dark reds, palest greens, the glossy dark green of blaeberry and crowberry; lemony mosses; the chocolate brown sprigs of heather. It was a joy to walk through.I remembered the description of this hill in the guidebook as ‘lacking in interest’ and thought – who writes these things? Crag hoppers and mountaineers who need the thrill of ledges and edges? How could they overlook this beauty at their feet?
As we gained height, a pair of ptarmigan crept over the springy soft terrain, reluctant to fly away as they always are, very adept at conserving energy.They live above 2,500 feet in Scotland and survive the Arctic conditions on our mountains.They were already almost in full summer, dappled plumage, the snowy white of their winter coats gradually disappearing.Hardy birds.
In another 1hr and 20 mins we reached the top , at just after 12.30pm, a wind blasted plateau that had us rushing to put on fleeces and, after taking some photos, we tucked in behind the large summit cairn to get some shelter. You couldn’t survive for long in that cold – wind chill must have put the temperature down to freezing , despite it being late April.There wasn’t a soul around.The hill’s name translates from the Gaelic as the Hill of the Quaich; this is a Scottish drinking cup and Chris reckoned it is to do with the shape of the adjacent corrie which has a very wide, round rim.
There were fine views to the distant Cairngorm summits, some of the highest in the country, although they never look their height.We started our walk today at over 400m so the impact of the summits around here is not like in the dramatic West Highlands where everything rises sheer from sea level. But it has a beauty of its own, this country, undoubtedly.
So after 20 mins of snacking on crisps and oranges and feeling increasingly chilled, it was time to head down, always difficult to leave a summit with the wonder of the mountains and the wild country all around.
By 3.30pm we were back at the car, 4. 5 hours after setting off, another Munro under our belts and fuelled by the deep level of fulfilment and satisfaction that comes from being in high country. I can’t quite describe the impact this has on one’s mental and spiritual health but I don’t honestly think I could live without it. As Gerald Manley Hopkins said:
“Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet……..’
The Mountain Road to Braemar from Aviemore
However, the day wasn’t over.
We’d been listening to the weather forecast and it sounded like the OTHER side of Cairngorm around Braemar – about 2 hours drive away – was going to get the best of the weather tomorrow.Where we were, low cloud and drizzle were more likely.So we decided to drive over the mountain road to Braemar and wild camp close to Glenshee for another Munro attempt next day. It was a superb evening, with bright sunshine and scudding white cloud, perfect for doing that winding drive on what always feels like a very lonely road.
We made a minor detour to the wonderful little Pottery Bunkhouse Coffee Shop for excellent tea, a cheese scone and a sublime orange tart with Armagnac – soaked raisins(!) served with cream. A great way to replace every calorie I’d burned in 4.5 hours, in about 5 minutes.
Then a quick stock up in Newtonmore village, picking up the usual suspects of cold meat, bread, cheese etc thinking we wouldn’t feel much like cooking by the time we did that drive and got the tent set up. Off we set at around 5.30pm.
I was mesmerised by some of the views we had on that drive, of lonely moorland and distant mountains, the kind of place you could walk for days without seeing another human being.(That road over by Tomintoul and Cockbridge and Bridge of Gairn is often closed in winter.) Tonight we had it almost to ourselves in benign conditions.
Then on through pretty Braemar , a tiny place and out along the road to Linn O’Dee, admiring the beautiful , very ancient Scots Pines that are a feature of Cairngorm NP.
We set up camp somewhere we knew very well, just a few miles west of Inverey, beside the rushing, whisky coloured waters of the River Dee.Then took a tumbler of wine with us to sit on a log by the water and enjoy the day’s end.
I admit, after downing the sparkling wine much too quickly, that the memories of previous camps in this beautiful wild place, overlooked by ancient Scots Pines, got the better of me and I shed quite a few tears.Chris too, was very emotional remembering our ‘younger ‘ days here.Life is so short, our time on this beautiful planet is so precious. As one ages, there is such a sense of time ‘running out’ – of needing to make the most of the window we have been allocated.Of appreciating the crisp cold air and the scent of spring , the roar of the river in spate and the rustle of the breeze.
We slept that night aware of the river just yards away, loud as thunder.Some instinct warned us that it spelled danger and I slept fitfully as did Chris.But what a wonderful day it had been in the heart of Cairngorm and we had one more day left, to enjoy this heaven sent corner of the country.
Final 3rd day: A remote Munro in Glenshee: Carn a Gheoidh (carn a ghoo –eh)