Cairngorms: Cnap Chaochan Aitinn

Cnap Chaochan Aitinn (NJ 145099, 715m)

20 kilometres
700 metres of ascent

Avon route
Click to enlarge
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Path data © OpenStreetMap contributors under the Open Database Licence

One of those Gaelic tongue-twisters, I’m afraid. The cnap bit (meaning “lump”) is pronounced “crap”. (No, really.) The whole thing is ˈkraʰp ˈxɯ:xən ˈaʰtʲɪn, “lump of the juniper stream”. (If the phonetics move you no farther forward, you can listen to a Gael pronouncing the name here.) Caochan Aitinn, the juniper stream itself, rises west of the hill and flows south into Glen Loin. I confess I didn’t make the journey to check it for juniper bushes.

When you stand in the car park (NJ 164176) at the starting point of the approach up Strath Avon, you’re a mere 375 metres below the summit of this little hill. Unfortunately, the estate road goes up and down quite a lot, adding an extra 150 metres of re-ascent, coming and going, so you end up climbing the thing almost as if from sea level.

It’s a fine route for striding, though—first along the well-surfaced estate road, and then on one of the many 4×4 tracks that serve the grouse moor. I actually could have got my Subaru to within a 100 metres of the cairn, if I’d been that way inclined and the estate had permitted. Turning might have been awkward, though.

A small detour up a muddy path took me to the local Queen Victoria’s Viewpoint, which is a pleasant enough view up Strath Avon, but not one of her best.

Queen Victoria's View, Strath Avon
Queen Victoria’s View; Ben Avon visible in the distance (Click to enlarge)

The hay meadows beside the river were marked with the interwoven trampled tracks of trespassing deer—one of which had lingered long enough for me to take a quick photo. I kept an eye on the river whenever I could, in the hope of a kingfisher, a dipper or even an otter—but no luck.

Red Deer, Strath Avon
Click to enlarge

At Auchnahyle, a bridge took me across the river and up the hill towards the neat buildings of Wester Gaulrig, after which there was a descent to the ford on the Allt Bheithachan. I think the name of the stream references the birch (Gaelic beithe) trees that still fill the lower part of its valley, but I don’t know Gaelic well enough to be sure. The ford was calf-deep after heavy overnight rains, but it was easy enough to walk upstream a little to the confluence with the Caochan Deas (“south stream”), at which point I was able to jump across each burn in turn.

Bridge over the Avon at Auchnahyle
The bridge at Auchnahyle (Click to enlarge)

Beyond that, it was out on to the rolling grouse moor. It has to be said that the weird artificial duoculture of heather + grouse isn’t the most inspiring landscape to walk through, especially when it’s threaded with multiple access tracks. But I did get to see a lot of grouse, some of them even perched unsuspectingly on the grouse butts from which they will be slaughtered later in the season. The young grouse were just fledging—those lower on the hill were capable of flight, bursting up from the heather and scattering in all directions like a plump brown fireworks display. But higher up, the younger ones were still running around madly when surprised on the path, while their anxious parents shuttled back and forth, dragging a wing to create a distraction.

Looking up Strath Avon towards Ben Avon
Looking up Strath Avon towards Ben Avon (Click to enlarge)

Near the summit, I heard a snipe drumming somewhere, and encountered a golden plover that wouldn’t quite sit still long enough for a good photo of its summer plumage. But mainly, it was wall-to-wall grouse.

Ben Avon, Beinn a' Bhuird and The Sneck from Cnap Chaochan Aitinn
Ben Avon, Beinn a’ Bhuird and The Sneck (Click to enlarge)
Ben Rinnes from Cnap Chaochan Aitinn
Strath Avon and Ben Rinnes (Click to enlarge)

The summit’s a good viewpoint for the tors of Beinn a’ Bhuird and Ben Avon to the south, and up towards the Hills of Cromdale, Ben Rinnes and Corryhabbie Hill in the north, though it’s a bit cluttered with some sort of strange wind- and sun-powered installation.

Summit of Cnap Chaochan Aitinn, Ben Avon in background
Summit clutter obscuring Ben Avon (Click to enlarge)

And then, I went back the way I came. More panicky grouse.

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