Outdoor Discoveries

What originally was a news section for the rest of the website soon became a place for me to write about human-powered wanderings in the countryside. Photography inspires me to get out there, mostly on foot these days, though cycling got me started. Musings on the wider context of outdoor activity complete the picture, so I hope that there is something of interest in all that you find here. Thank you for coming!

A short sortie in snow-streaked hill country

24th March 2010

It’s amazing how brainwaves emerge and the one that prompted my weekend visit to Glenmore and Abernethy is a case in point, and it might have been caused by the prevalence of cycling outings since my last walking excursion. What resulted was a hastily planned getaway facilitated by a Caledonian Sleeper journey between Crewe and Aviemore (booking a berth this time around) with an overnight stay in the SYHA Cairngorm Lodge hostel. For all that, it worked out very well in the end, and keeping things simple might have helped towards that end.

Overcast skies were pervasive when I got to Aviemore, but I didn’t dally with disappointment at all. One thing that concerned me was that the later-than-usual arrival time because of the need for passengers bound for Fort William to continue their journey from Kingussie by coach due to engineering works. That concern subsided when I boarded my intended bus for Glenmore to make use of the full day ahead of me, one of the advantages of overnight travel.

That day was to be spent poking around a part of the world that I first explored on the last day of my stay in the area last August: Strath Nethy. With that in mind, I picked my way towards the Ryvoan Pass with patches of snow still littering the ground without my need to go that high at all. For safety’s sake, I had my Kahtoola Microspikes with me so, while wary of over-exuberance, they gave me a little more confidence when dealing with what lay underfoot. Even so, much of the white stuff that I crossed was of the softer variety rather than its harder and icier counterpart.

To ensure views over well blanketed summits like Cairngorm and Braeriach, I reversed a higher level course to An Lochan Uaine that had me reproaching my wisdom in August until the vistas repaid my efforts. Though the sun was trying to get through any breaks in the cloud cover, conditions weren’t so conducive to photography, and I contented myself with a few record shots in case nothing better came the way. That is not to say that there was no tinge of blue appearing, but it was taking its time doing so. It was after An Lochan Uaine that any real brightness began to grace the slopes of Meall a’ Bhuachaille.

Leaving the track for Nethy Bridge to take the one going for Strath Nethy took me by the Abernethy Forest National Nature Reserve with the surrounding countryside being eerily reminiscent of what you find around the Rothiemurchus Estate with its mix of lone trees, a heather carpets and a smattering of lochs and lochans. Grouse were making their presence known, and I got to hear the classic “go-back, go-back” call for the first time ever; I have heard grouse before, but never making this sound as clearly as I heard it last Saturday morning. Having left a party of ice axe equipped mountaineers go ahead of me, I could take in the surrounding sights and sounds without worrying about holding up anyone.

Reaching Strath Nethy and the bridge over the river flowing along its floor was marked by a spot of early lunch. There were vague ambitions of reaching Glen Avon and Loch Avon in the back of my mind, but the tempting track shown on the map as following the Nethy on the floor of the glen was anything but appealing on the ground. In fact, it was a boggy mess, punctuated with occasional stretches of stepping stones. Any efforts to make it more passable looked far from concerted, and it’s little wonder that the right of way for Glen Avon took a higher route.

In fact, I chose that right of way to get me onto an unnamed hill acting as a long shoulder to Bynack More. It was at this point that I became beset with rain showers, but there were dry respites too. That reminded me of a rain drenched trot over Meall a’ Bhuachaille’s neighbouring hills last August, albeit with the breaks that allowed so drying time. Snow took over as the main covering underfoot, but it remained largely soft, and I had the Microspikes on in case I needed, and they didn’t let me down on one icy patch where I put them to the test.

Meall a' Bhuachaille & Stac na hIolaire from an anonymous height, Cairngorms National Park, Scotland

Gaining height does allow you to resolve geographical counundra and I saw the way to a well snow-enveloped Bynack More and confirmed that it was its neighbour Bynack Beg that I was seeing from the floor of Strath Nethy. The slab-sided Sròn a’ Cha-no was another landmark across the same glen, and I think that I spotted a small cornice lining one of its minor side valleys too. While I was concentrating on what was near at hand, the views ranged far and wide too, with those opening up towards Cromdale’s hills and those at the back of Aviemore while the showers stayed away.

Loch a' Gharbh-choire, Abernethy NNR, Cairngorms National Park, Scotland

Satisfied with a pleasing bit of reconnaissance, I left a snow-covered Bynack More for another time and retraced my steps. Glen Avon and Loch Avon were left to wait too, but my patience with the passing showers, though wearing thin, was rewarded eventually with a clearance that was to remain for the rest of my time in the area. One of the advantages of an out and back walk is that views that didn’t appear at the best on the outbound trip can look better on the way. So, it was on this occasion and I made the best photos of the surroundings while on my way back to Ryvoan and Glenmore.

Loch Morlich, Glenmore, Cairngorms National Park, Scotland

After An Lochan Uaine, I stayed with the track headed for Glenmore Lodge, but chose a variation later on. This took me over Abhainn Ruigh-eunachan and around by Allt Mòr before crossing the road that leads to the skiing centre and the funicular railway to head for the shores of Loch Morlich. Seeing sandy beaches by a freshwater loch is unusual, but having it all backed by woodland and snow-covered mountains was something else again. With the accessibility of the loch, there was no way that I was going to have it to myself, and I didn’t begrudge anyone out enjoying the sights like me. That’s not to say that there aren’t quiet corners, and I sought one of them out to see what I could capture with a camera.

With the evening light fading, I made for the hostel to secure my bed for the night in a room named Ord Ban and across from another named Bynack More. It was a reminder of where I had been during the day and that a rest was needed after the way that the day had been spent. An early bedtime followed, a fortunate development given that someone rose at 06:30 the next morning and wasn’t being so quiet about it either.

Sunday was never going to be much of an outdoors day, with a journey home to fit into it. Fatigue after the previous day was a factor too, as was the need to sort out a few things before I left Aviemore. Nevertheless, I did fit in an energetic trot from Glenmore to Aviemore by way of the track called the Old Logging Way. Having gone the way before in August, I had memories of the trail that gave a reassuring sense of progress as I was walking. The day was starting out like the one before, with grey skies letting some sunshine through and displaying vague signs of blue colouration. With few distractions, I got into a walking rhythm that made good use of any downhill sections (that there were plenty of these may go some way to explaining why snow was never that far away) to complete the five-mile distance in under two hours. There were patches of snow and ice along the route, but none of these were unmanageable, and it wasn’t overly busy either, though I did encounter the occasional cyclist and jogger.

As if to give me a good send off after a fleeting visit, clouds had broken to reveal blue streaks in the sky by the time that I got to Aviemore. The hills underneath which I had slept looked resplendent in the distance as the sun got more opportunity to work its magic as the day grew older. The journey to Glasgow allowed more chances for admiring any hill country that caught the sun before I continued south again from there. All of this has me pondering an Easter escape. Of course, this is dependent on weather and other circumstances, but the mind is starting to wander, and who knows what brainwaves might be unleashed?

Travel arrangements:

Service 38 from Macclesfield to Crewe, ScotRail Caledonian Sleeper from Crewe to Aviemore and service 34 from Aviemore to Glenmore got me to the start of the walk. A railway journey conveyed me home from Aviemore with changes in Glasgow, Preston and Manchester.

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