After a gap of two years during which the Covid pandemic prevented the Crow Craigies Climbing Party assembling in our usual force, we were back together again, this time in Kingussie.
Despite the looming presence of the Cairngorm plateau nearby, I managed to spend my time without ever creeping over the 3000-foot contour—I arrived nursing a slight weird knee injury, and by the time I’d ramped up my hill activities to the point where I would have felt confident embarking on the high tops, worsening weather kept me (and the rest of the CCCP) low for the rest of the week.
As usual, we sometimes separated to pursue different agendas, but here, in dark blue, are the five routes I followed during our time in Kingussie—nibbling away around the margins of the Cairngorms and Monadhliaths:
But, before all that, we stopped on the A9 on our way north, to take in a short ascent above Loch Garry.
Meall na Leitreach (NN 640702, 777m)
450 metres of ascent
We nudged our cars into a flat area just before the railway level-crossing, next to some large, yellow and inexplicable railway machinery. Our route took us across the railway and round the buildings of Dalnaspidal Lodge, before turning left on to a prominent vehicle track (very muddy in its lower reaches) that took us all the way to the top of the hill. This established something of a theme for the week—several of our hills were served by vehicle tracks, to the extent we began to get a little disorientated and resentful if we ended up doing our own route-finding.
Meall na Leitreach proved to be a splendid viewpoint, which was another theme for the week—many of our hills were high enough, and set far enough back from the main plateaux, to provide long views in many directions.
The panorama below extends from the Cairngorm plateau at left to the Glen Lyon Horseshoe at right. Between the two extremes, Beinn a’ Ghlo, Mount Blair, Ben Vrackie and Schiehallion are all prominent. Sweeping south, beyond the edge of the panorama, we could easily pick out the Lawers range, Stob Binnein and Ben More, Ben Dorain, the Cruachan ridge, the Black Mount, and Ben Alder.
Meall na Fhreiceadain (NH 725071, 878m)
710 metres of ascent
For our first day in Kingussie, we did something that has become a bit of a tradition for these trips—we climbed something directly from the house. In this case, we walked uphill through the golf course and then followed a broad, well-graded vehicle track all the way to the top of Carn an Fhreiceadain. (If you examine the map closely, you’ll be able to pick out the point at which, deep in conversation, we turned right too early and had to make a short cross-country detour to get back on-line. This wouldn’t be the last wrong turn of our week—it seems to be paradoxically easier to go astray when walking along a track than when climbing the open hillside.)
At the top, there’s a rather shapely cairn that doesn’t mark the summit. The triangulation pillar, a little farther on, was surrounded by a drystone windbreak that pointed in exactly the wrong direction for the easterly wind on the day. So we headed a short distance to the west to drop down in the lee of a rocky outcrop, only to discover that it concealed a rather splendid (albeit roofless) howff.
After a bite to eat, two of our party headed off westwards to take in some larger hills, while the other pair, including me and my weird knee, strolled east to Beinn Bhreac and then south along more motorway tracks. About halfway down, we encountered a fancy little building. We peered inside, to discover that it contained a dozen or so chairs arrayed around a large circular table with a central Lazy-Susan turntable. The shooting parties who are ferried around the hill on the vehicle tracks obviously enjoy a lunch that consists of more than a soggy sandwich and a flask of coffee.
Shortly after getting back to our house, I received a text message from the other half of our party on the summit of A’ Chailleach, giving me a rough timing for the prearranged pick-up at the car-park in Glen Banchor, clarification of the number of chicken breasts to be purchased at the supermarket, and instructions to “Bring Irn Bru!” (Honestly, we run these things like a military operation.)
Carn Dearg Mor (NN 823911, 857m)
670 metres of ascent
The weird knee was still behaving itself, so I was happy to push the distance up a little more on our third outing. This took us down Glen Feshie from the car-park north of Achlean, and then across the river at the new bridge (the old bridge, farther south, was swept away in 2019) and on to the tarmac road to Glenfeshie Lodge. We were aiming to get up on to the vehicle track that curves around the north end of the Carn Dearg Mor ridge. A direct line across the open hillside between two patches of forestry looked do-able on the map, but proved to be lumpy and heathery on the ground, so we contented ourselves with making a zig-zag instead.
There’s yet another vehicle track running along the spine of the ridge, starting below Carn Dearg Beag, but (horrors!) we actually needed to find our way across a kilometre or so of tussocky and boggy open ground to reach it. After which it was a fairly easy stroll to reach another fine viewpoint, looking across the cleft of the glen towards the summits of the Cairngorm plateau. Along the way, our walk was enlivened by what looked like a couple of F-15E Strike Eagles chasing each other around the hill at low level, though I wouldn’t swear to that identification.
Gairbeinn (NN 460985, 895m)
Geal Charn (NN 444988, 876m)
Corrieyairack Hill (NN 429995, 892m)
800 metres of ascent
The following day, we ventured out to traverse a ridge entirely unmarked by vehicle tracks. But, almost by way of compensation, we returned to the car along the remains of a centuries-old military road—one of a network of routes constructed by General Wade in the early eighteenth century, as a means of moving English troops around quickly in the face of the Jacobite uprisings.
We parked at the road-end near Melgarve, and followed the rough track farther up the glen. Our plan had been to strike off on to the open hillside at a little stream marked on the map as the Caochan Ban … but we managed to march right past it, deep in conversation. The hint that we might actually need to be on the alert was there in the name—caochan is defined in the Faclair Beag Gaelic dictionary as a “streamlet (esp. those running through bogs, often hidden from view)”. Checking the location on our return journey revealed that the watercourse was indeed almost invisible—appearing as little more than a puddle in the road, and otherwise hidden between incised banks until we were right on top of it. Misgivings accumulated at a merely subconscious level until we arrived at the bridge over the much larger Allt a’ Mhill Ghairbh, at which point we realized we were now west of the little lumps of Meall Garbh Beag and Meall Garbh Mor.
Oh well. There was little point in going back, and the line on to Gairbeinn across the grassy hillside was easy enough, though steep in its upper part and subject to a succession of false summits before we could finally sit down for a bite to eat.
Then we followed the line of a couple of old fences into the dip below Geal Charn, before choosing a diagonal line to cross its summit and rejoin the fence line. A little bit of zig-zagging on steep ground got us down into the next col, and then it was an easy reascent to reach Corrieyairack Hill, pausing along the way to admire the engineered zig-zags of Wade’s road, while attempting to ignore the massive row of pylons which now march through the Corrieyairack Pass.
Corrieyairack Hill and Gairbeinn were once thought to be of the same height, and within the range that qualified for inclusion in J. Rooke Corbett’s hill list. Unfortunately, they are connected by a ridge that never falls low enough to make each a separate Corbett in its own right, so until 1997 they were listed as “twin Corbetts”. Then the inevitable happened, and a resurvey of the area showed that one was lower than the other—so Corrieyairack lost its Corbett status, leaving Gairbeinn as the only Corbett on the ridge. (If all this is Greek to you, you can find out about Corbett’s tables and their inclusion criteria in my post Scottish Hill Lists: The Classics.) And as if that weren’t embarrassing enough, in 1999 it transpired that the highest point of Corrieyairack Hill wasn’t actually where everyone thought it was, on a fine viewpoint with a tiny cairn at NN 428997, but at on an undistinguished lump at NN 429995 which everyone had been walking around up to that point. If you look at the track on my map, above, you’ll see that the CCCP walked out to take in the demoted (but still nicer) old summit before having a seat on the new, but distinctly rubbish, real summit.
While we were there we were treated to a repetitive wailing noise wafting up from somewhere in the vicinity of Loch an Aonaich Odhair to the east. It certainly sounded like a diver to me, and my best bet is that is was a black-throated diver (known as the black-throated loon in North America). Here’s what it sounded like:
And then we walked off down a grassy shoulder towards the pass and the military road, surrounded by the reproachful alarm calls of golden plovers.
Meall na h-Aisre (NH 515000, 862m)
650 metres of ascent
Another day, another vehicle track. This time, we parked next to the lovely old Wade bridge at Garva, then walked along the track that services the huge electricity pylons that carry cables across the Corrieyairack Pass.
Just before the electricity substation, a new track turns right, climbing slowly into the Coire Iain Oig, and then on to the shoulder of our chosen hill, Meall na h-Aisre. This seems to be a service road for a power cable that comes over from the huge windfarm in the headwaters of the River Killin, on the far side of the hill.
It seemed like a good route for a quick up and down before the rain came in, forecast for three o’clock. Unfortunately, the cloud settled on the hill and started dropping water almost as soon as we set out, a state of affairs which then persisted until we returned to the car in a somewhat soggy state. The only way we could sit down and eat under shelter was to crawl under the metal bridge over the Allt Coire Iain Oig, trying our best to ignore the yellow tape marking where the high-voltage cable crosses under the streambed.
Then we pressed on upwards, eventually reaching the end of the track at a turning circle at almost 800 metres altitude, and just a few hundred metres west of the summit of Meall na h-Aisre.
After which it was just a matter of walking uphill in poor visibility, following a line of fence-posts, to the wet and misty summit.
We made a pretty quick turnaround and trotted back down towards the track to retrace our steps. We’d only just dropped out of the cloud when I spotted this little fellow of to my left, holding very, very still and hoping he was invisible.
Meall a’ Bhuachaille (NH 990115, 810m)
Creagan Gorm (NH 978120, 732m)
Creag a’ Chaillich (NH 968127, 711m)
Craiggowrie (NH 962134, 687m)
800 metres of ascent
For my last day with the group (the others stayed on one more day) I’d hoped to get up on the plateau and make a circuit of the Northern Corries. However, the mountain weather forecast predicted the high tops would in cloud for most of the day, so instead we elected to walk the ridge above Loch Morlich.
We parked at Glenmore, and walked up past An Lochan Uaine to Ryvoan bothy. Nowadays, An Lochan Uaine seems to be mainly known in English translation, as The Green Lochan. As we stood on its tiny beach and admired its green-tinted waters, an earnest young man advised us not to go in swimming “because it’s full of leeches”. Knowing that the medical leech (Hirudo medicinalis, the one that attaches itself to humans) is vanishingly rare on the Scottish mainland, we took that one with a pinch of salt. But it transpires that the lochan does contain a population of horse leeches, Haemopis sanguisuga. That sounds like an even worse prospect, until you discover that, despite their name, they eat larvae, worms and snails and can’t actually latch on to mammalian skin at all. So apart from a wave of the heebie-jeebies, swimmers in An Lochan Uaine are safe from leeches. (However, during a long hot summer, you might encounter a sign warning of potential danger from a blue-green algae bloom.)
Behind Ryvoan, a beautifully engineered but absolutely infuriating path climbs the hillside. I hate to be churlish, given the amount of work that has gone into creating what is effectively a long flight of stone stairs, but the steps are the wrong height for me—too shallow for a single step, but too high to ascend two at a time comfortably.
Eventually, after a lot of stumbling and cursing (from me, at least), we arrived on the broad summit of Meall a’ Bhuachaille, and settled into the lee of the shelter cairn for an early lunch in the sunshine.
Our onward route undulated over three summits with craggy names—Creagan Gorm, Creag a’ Chaillich and Craiggowrie—but none of the steep ground that gives the hills their names impeded our line of travel along the ridge.
To the south, the Cairngorm plateau remained shrouded in cloud, with a banner of rain falling into Glen Avon. The panorama below looks back from Creagan Gorm, with Meall a’ Bhuachaille at left and Loch Morlich in the centre.
Eventually, we walked off the far side of Craiggowrie and descended into the Queen’s Forest above Loch Morlich, at which point I managed to sink up to my knees in a boggy sump, to the immoderate amusement of my companions.
After I’d extricated myself, if was just a matter of finding our way down through forest tracks and back to the road. On the way we passed through the Badaguish Outdoor Centre—a manicured array of lodge-style dwellings and camping pods which was eerily uninhabited and silent.
We mused that this odd cluster of buildings surrounded by forest might make a suitable location for a remake of The Prisoner. There was even a deeply strange wooden owl mounted on a post beside the access road, which brought to mind the rotating surveillance statues that featured in the TV series.