Outdoor World

Homage to the Scottish Highlands: walking in the Cairngorms

This week Scotland was voted the worlds most beautiful country by Rough Guides. It was no surprise to Christopher Nicholson, whos been enchanted by the Cairngorms since childhood. Plus 10 places to feed and is necessary to stay in the region

You don’t need to visit a place to fall in love with it. As a small boy, growing up on the edge of London, I was captivated by the romance of the Highlands. The wild beauty of the glens and mountains offered a thrilling alternative to the straighten world of suburbia. That the Nicholsons had Scottish ancestors, and that I was half-Scottish by blood, persuaded me into the faith that I had a deep connection to the mountains. I toyed with the possibility that some colossal mistake had resulted: I should have been living in Scotland.

Scotland map

When I was seven or eight, we started going there on summer holidays. We parked our caravan somewhere- usually somewhere been hit by midges- and set off for the hills. To say that those walkings were exhilarating would be an understatement; the power implicit in the landscape affected me in a profound route. I was quickly frightened. I still recollect the utter terror that overwhelmed me as we scrambled through nighttime fog up the vertiginous, scree-laden side of one mountain, unable to see the cliff ahead.

On another summer’s period, we visited Glen Feshie, which skirts the western edge of the Cairngorms. Part of Scotland’s magic lay in its place name- Killiecrankie, Rannoch, Crianlarich, Ardnamurchan- and I adoration the musical music of Feshie- like fishy; the river Feshie full of sleek silver fishes.

Uath Lochans. Photo: Alamy

A long, single-track lane contributes from Loch Insh and Feshiebridge into the glen. On a windy summer’s period, the bracken under the young birch trees chills with green light. At Achlean, there is a small car park. Period to lace up your boots.

Among Scottish glens, Feshie is unusual for being both broad-spectrum and well-wooded, and the obvious alternative now is to walk up the glen and investigate the age-old pinewoods by the river. Queen Victoria ride here in the autumn of 1861:” Magnificent fir timbers ,” she noted in her journal.

In recent years, deer have been extensively culled in order to improve the chances of young trees. There are now many saplings , not only of Scots pine but likewise birch, willow and alder, and wildlife has advantaged. Treecreepers devote high calls as they hunt for bugs on the trunks of the pines, while flocks of tits- among them one of those specialist Highland species, the crested tit- flit through the highest branches. Capercaillie have been recorded, and pine marten are also in mansion, though I’ve never been so lucky as to see one.

The crested tit is a Highland species. Photograph: Alamy

Not all the change, at least to my head, has been for the very best. Long stretchings of the path through the glen have been over-improved, which builds the process of strolling- that subtle negotiation of uneven ground, that sense of physical friendship with the land- less interesting. Sometimes the wildness seems in short supply.

For that reason , not far after Achlean, I leave the glen on a route that climbs towards the mountain plateau. After a wearying haul of more than an hour, it nears a green hollow called Ciste Mhearad, or Margaret’s Coffin, where snow often lives as late as midsummer.

One old story tells of a Glen Feshie maiden whose lover was sentenced to death for some unknown crime. When the laird refused to spare his life, she came up here and killed herself; the snow is her pall. Curiously, seven miles back on the other side of the Cairngorms massif, there is a second Ciste Mhearad, where snow lies even later into the summer.

The plateau then seems, and with such suddenness that it’s hard not to be surprised. A different world opens up, a vast plain of dark-browns and ochres that stretches invitingly into the distance. A shortish walk over bumpy grass and springy ground brings you to the cliffs cradling the dark waters of Loch Einich, while a long long one psyche for the bare peak of Braeriach, at 1,296 metres Britain’s third-highest mountain.

To be here on a fine summer’s day is a heady experience. Not today. I reach the plateau to be met by a ferocious 50 mph gale. The detonation is straight in my face, and so strong and gusty that it’s hard to even stand upright. I reel along for a while, buffeted this behavior and that, then give up.

Scotland’s most isolated corrie, Garbh Choire Mor, on the side of Braeriach, the county’s third highest mountain. Photo: Murdo Macleod for the Guardian

I don’t mind; in fact, I desire the uncertainty of strolling up here. It’s the reverse of ordinary tourism- where, by and large, you know what you’re going to get. High in the Scottish mountains the climate is so variable and the terrain so tough that you’re always challenged. That specifies the psyche on edge. For thinking about the difficult things in life, this is the place to be.

So I beat a retreat. Back to Glen Feshie, where there are plenty of quiet, magical spots to shelter from any storm. I follow a lively burn down to an ancient pinewood. The slope is steep, and the burn leaps headlong in an irregular series of cascades flanked by dark boulders that seem simultaneously pink and amber. Birch trees jut out of rock fissures and lean over the autumns. Each cascade powers into a deep pool of fizz, faintly green water.

I sit on the bank, sorting old reckons, and watching patterns of sea and sunlight. The endless motion of the falling sea is counterpointed by the stillness of the great pines rising above me. We were here when you were a son, remember? We haven’t gone anywhere. Whether I ever came to this exact spot I am not sure, but certainly the trees must have been here, and the burn, and the rocks.

Taking off boots and socks, I dabble my feet in the chill of the sea. A few buttercups, lodged on the mossy side of a fallen limb, glitter like bright yellow suns. A pine cone plops into the pool, circles in an eddy of bubbles and, entering the swish of current, hurries downhill.
* Among the Summer Snows by Christopher Nicholson( September Publishing, PS14. 99) is out now. To ordering a copy for PS10. 99, including UK p& p, going to see
guardianbookshop.com or call 0330 333 6846


By Jamie Lafferty

Mountain Cafe, Aviemore


Kiwi chef Kirsten Gilmour is part of the tartan furniture in Aviemore, her inventive menu maintaining this lively cafe in the city centre busy year round, and filling a cookbook written earlier this year. It caters for most food predilections, but is ahead of the curve when it comes to Highland cuisine. Mains from PS11.

Blair Atholl Watermill


On the southern margin of the national park, this watermill turned tearoom offers the chance to load up on carbs before address the Cairngorms. The on-site bakery induces breads, bagels and cakes, and there are light lunches( around PS7)- plus bread-making courses.

Andersons, Boat of Garten


Most guests bypass the tiny village of Boat of Garten, but family-run Andersons restaurant is worth a stop, with a locally sourced menu that changes every month. Lunch might be haggis and chicken pate, then pan-fried mackerel on smoked salmon and spinach risotto. Two courses PS12. 99.

India on the Green, Ballater


The hills of Ballater are a long way from India, but while the recipes have travelled in various regions of the world, as much render as possible is sourced locally. So don’t be surprised to appreciate Indian classics stimulated with Scottish monkfish or scallops. Mains from PS14.

Boat Inn, Aboyne


On the banks of the Dee, just over the park boundary, the Boat does vegetarian and gluten-free food as well as tavern grub and Scottish fare. It also has an impressive range of aircraft brews and eight bedrooms( doubleds from PS75 room merely ). Two-course lunch PS1 0.50.

The Bothy, near Aviemore


The Bothy at Inshriach offers the chance to go right off-grid. Built as part of an ambitious artists’ residency project, it’s a proper wee-wee cabin in the woods, with a doubled bed on a mezzanine, and a wood-burner to cook on.
* Self-catering from PS85, canopyandstars.co.uk

Glenlivet House

Read more: https :// www.theguardian.com/ traveling/ 2017/ sep/ 09/ walking-cairngorms-scottish-highlands-scotland-worlds-most-beautiful-country

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