Wild Camping in Big Country Part 1   12 comments

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The annual Easter wild camping trip. We’d made some plans to meet friends and pay a second visit to Arran. However the weather looked more settled in the East and while they stuck to their plan for Arran we headed east for TJS first visit to the Cairngorms, Scotland’s Big Country.

An overnight in Perth, a hearty breakfast in The Bothy in Braemar and round to Linn of Dee ready for a 5 day trip into the heart of this wild and remote corner of the Scottish Hills

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We took the long walk in along Glen Lui, weighed down with 5 days supplies for a 4 night trip. Skies were threatening and spots of rain were in the air but never heavy enough for waterproofs

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It’s a long walk along the glen but there is a real sense of heading into the wilds. TJS has had a trip to Lochaber where long ridges predominate. The Cairngorms promise something different I told him. Long, deep valleys, high sculpted corries and extensive tundra-like plateaus.

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We passed Derry Lodge before turning north for Glen Derry. In my youth you could use the building for shelter, albeit a draughty one with all the windows and doors open to the elements. Its boarded up now with unfulfilled planning permission for something grander. There were a couple of people camping in the woods nearby, the only other wild campers we saw all weekend

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Our plan was to camp in Glen Derry. It’s a fabulous valley, broad, open, surrounded by towering summits and studded with natural scots pine

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I wanted to return to a spot I’d camped in around 20 years ago and managed to find it! It’s an idyllic spot by the river and we found a sheltered spot under a tree

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We spent a couple of hours making it our home and having lunch. It was more tussocky than I remember and the photo below from the first trip proves it was indeed a much flatter grassier spot (although it was late May rather than Easter). That was a memorable trip for many reasons. Good times

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I wonder if it was the time of year or whether the translation from grass to tussock is part of the natural evolution of the landscape.

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We took a stroll in the late afternoon with a view to reaching Loch Etchachan. It was sunny when we set off but we caught a couple of heavy, wet snow showers, the only time we really got wet the whole weekend

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We passed by the Hutchison Hut, clearly now much improved, as are most of the Cairngorm bothies. We got a good way up towards the Loch before the cold and wet sent us back down to the tent to eat tea and get cosy in the tent for our first night in the wilds. A day of 11 miles and just shy of 3000 feet of ascent. Off to a good start

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The next day dawned overcast but bright and cold. We had a vague plan to repeat a walk I done on the previous trip, down to Loch Avon and back via Cairn Gorm and Ben Macdui. The walk over the Lairig an Laoigh takes you into some real wild and remote country and its a stunning walk even on a grey day

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We crossed the Fords of Avon without too much difficulty and took a peek in the Refuge. This has been massively improved to say the least. Last time I was here it was in effect, a small, squalid dark cave in a large cairn. Now its a wooden shelter (albeit with no windows) and rather snug and cosy for a couple of people.

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We pressed on to Loch Avon. One of the most dramatic locations in the UK if you ask me (I’m sure someone should). After a brief lunch stop at one end we walked to the other. The weather had dipped a little and it was snowing when we reached the other end

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We stopped for some soup and the sun came out! The beach is rather splendid and the water crystal clear, if a little chilly for a swim. There are plenty of spots for a tent so I must pay the place a longer visit.

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By now we’d decided that the main summits were out-of-bounds with the weather so unpredictable, so a circuit around Beinn Mheadhoin seemed better. Onwards and upwards to Loch Etchachan with snow flurries still in the air but gorgeous views across Loch Avon as we climbed.

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After a heavy snow shower we had one of the best spells of the day at the Loch. It’s a magnificent spot, a dark corrie and lake, one of the highest in the UK. I camped up here with TBF and my dog Harry many years ago and this visit rekindled some fine memories. I took a bonus circuit of the smaller lake to take it all in

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We had a spell of abundant sunshine and blue sky on the way down to Glen Derry and all was right with the world. I can handle a few brief soakings if the spells between are as good as this

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TJS seemed to be enjoying it despite the cold weather. The Cairngorms has miles of high quality paths and he hates off-piste walking. He soared ahead of me most of the weekend waiting for me to catch up and show him how to cross awkward rivers and the like!

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A view down Glen Derry. Our pitch is by the two dark trees in the right centre of the shot

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TJS feasting on his preferred snack of choice, Jaffa Cakes

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The day ended in fine fashion.  A few isolated showers and chill wind forced us to retire inside to cook.

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When we emerged for the usual post meal chores and ablutions we were treated a decent late evening light show for as long as our cold hands and other extremities could stand it before retiring

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A highly satisfying and enjoyable day out in wild, big country and another 12 miles and 2800 feet of climbing under our belts. Not bad for ageing and novice sherpas

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12 responses to “Wild Camping in Big Country Part 1

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  1. Excellent Andy, nice to see you back up North.
    Grand touring country.

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    • Thanks Paul, It was good to be back! Its a long drive from where I live now to the Highlands so my trips are limited. Well worth the effort though in grand scenery such as the Cairngorms. I love the huge glens and wide open spaces up here. Bit chilly this time though 🙂

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  2. Those lochs are lovely! Such wide open vistas! Good way to spend Easter.

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    • The huge corries and glens that hold these lochs are one of the features that make this area of Scotland so magnificent. Great to spend days and nights among them

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  3. Over 10 years since I’ve been in that part of the Cairngorms, also backpacking as a fitness test for the GR20, so it brought back lovely memories for me as well. Great photos Andy. I see from the latest weather info most of the country has undergone a prolonged dry spell except for the Western Highlands.- Edinburgh and the South East enjoying desert like conditions this year so far with very little rain falling for months. Less grazing by animals, more folk camping back then or growing conditions changing are the only things I can think of to produce more tussocks like that. Maybe longer lasting snowfalls flattened them every winter. in the past reducing the growing season. My local fields turned from a green sward into a high jungle, almost overnight, when the farm shut and the cows stopped eating the grass.

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    Blue Sky Scotland
    • Interesting points Bob. The milder winters could indeed have an impact which in turns means the growth of menacing tussocks is down to Climate Change – a thought to scare every mountain walker who tries to traverse an area of tussocks! Seriously, it was interesting to see how that small area has changed. Looking at other photos it appeared the course of the river had changed a fair bit as well. So much more Cairngorms for me to see and revisit to rekindle many happy memories

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  4. Some cracking views and photos there. Big country indeed and music to match!!

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  5. Wow. Great post. Brings back a host of very happy memories. Are you sure about Fords of Avon refuge? It was wooden even when the Ginger Whinger and I stayed there, which must be more than 30 years ago – like a small garden shed buried beneath an enormous cairn. That particular memory is probably only happy in retrospect – it was very, very cold when we were there!

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    beatingthebounds
    • I’ve loads of great memories of Cairngorms backpacking and this one was also a classic, albeit quite a cold one. We did over 50 miles in some wild terrain and weather so I’m pretty chuffed we stuck it out and got a reward of some cracking weather even if it was in spells rather than days.
      I’ve not stayed at Fords of Avon but I have stuck my head in the door a couple of times and memory was of dark, damp, stone. I’ll check with UF as he has a better memory for such things

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  6. Your base camp site was definitely one to return to. I love your photo of it. Such dramatic scenery. I wonder how long it will take to turn green again!

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    • I’m not sure if it was the time of year or natural landscape evolution that changed the grassy nature, be interesting to see it later in the year or in another 20 years and see if its changed. Good excuse to keep going back! 🙂

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