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First camp of the year

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First camp of the year

I knew I’d be in the tent last Friday night but I hadn’t decided on the exact location before I left the house in the morning. I did tell Sarah my route though and gave a few options of where I might end up. My first thought was at the col of Lochnagar, just down a bit from Meikle Pap, that’s what we discussed anyway. The forecast was perfect, light winds, clear skies, chance of a meteor shower and perhaps an aurora! I first camped at the col with Sarah circa 1995, can’t remember for sure, but this time I was a little more prepared.…

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Before that though I met up with my chum Struan and we took the boys for a stroll to Shielin of Mark Bothy. The hard frost crafted ice formations on the burns and made the usually damp walk to the bothy quite easy across the peat hags. Dropping down to the bothy in beautiful sunshine we had our picnic by the fire (to add to the bothy experience) and played a game of top trumps, in which I came last. We had both carried in and left fire wood for the next visitor. Be warned though, the chimney is a bit like me, no good at drawing!

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The 4 of us and very happy dog left the bothy (with fire out) and enjoyed our walk back over the heather to the path. The boys tried to smash as much ice as possible, icicles fascinating them as usual. We met another nice chap outside the bothy, carrying two large cameras and enjoying the sunshine and fading light on the way back. We probably disturbed his afternoon but he didn’t seem to mind.
Walking back we admired Lochnagar in the distance and I was looking forward to extending my walk along the road. I walked back to the car park with them and waved them off while I changed over bags and boots. By this time the sun was already getting low and I walked up towards Allt-na-giubhsaich as the light faded.

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This was my first longish day since the festive period and I was feeling it with the heavier pack. The walk up the track was quite slow for my usual standards, possibly because of the weight in my bag and around my waist!

At the path junction before the walk up to the col I stopped for a break to decide what I was going to do. The mist was starting to form and I contemplated turning back for a comfy night in the van. I put on my stove for a cup of tea then out of the darkness I heard footsteps approaching. Thinking to myself ‘who could this be’, along walked Bill Dallas. I used to work for the same company as Bill and we’ve crossed paths a couple of times since. I told him I wasn’t sure where I was going to end up that night. Being a member of the Braemar Mountain Rescue Team he probably wasn’t too impressed with this indecision but he did kindly offer me to join him on the top. I would support that view and it’s not advisable to wander in winter if you don’t know what you’re doing. To explain, I gave Sarah a full late back procedure, including route and times of contact. In winter I also carry Spot SOS tracker, I know the area very well and I’m a qualified Mountain Leader. Camping up high in winter is life threatening if you don’t understand and mitigate the risks. Serious stuff over.

Bill left me and my boiling stove and I stood looking at the stars, occasionally I could could see him switch on the head torch as he wandered up the hill.
It’s amazing the difference a wee hot drink and a snack can make to your energy levels. Inspired by Bill’s efforts I decided to plod on, soon reaching foxes well where I filled my water containers for the trip up top, the best water in Scotland. I didn’t carry my tripod which was a mistake so balancing my camera on a rock I took a couple of poor photos of the corrie before continuing on up the ladder and over towards the top.

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There was some ice on the ground but mostly avoidable. A snow patch on the path before the climb to Cac Carn Mòr was avoided by staying closer to the corrie rim. I didn’t continue onto the top, I decided to leave Bill to the solitude he probably went up for. I pitched my tent on the flat spot west of Cac Carn Mòr, by this time getting tired and hungry.
I only saw one meteor but the glow of the northern lights and huge skies above was eye opening, utterly beautiful. I pitched my tent with the door facing north, sat in my sleeping bag and watched the display eating a lovely...chicken curry. About 10:30 I was dozing off and I heard another couple of voices and torches approaching near the Cairn. Bill’s solitude was about to be disturbed by another couple of team members as I found out in the morning when speaking with the Aberdeen team who were out training.

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During the night the cloud came in and the frost came too. I don’t think it was overly cold but there was a good deposit of rime on anything exposed. I woke up a few times through the night, opened the door at 6 ish and quickly closed it again! Then awoke about 8 for breakfast, still in cloud.
After packing up the cloud began to lift and I had a great walk down enjoying the clouds drifting below and chatting to folk as they walked up.

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Long story short, pick your day, know what you’re doing and go for it. Watching that sky at 1140m is something I’ll never forget. I’ll keep the camping in winter for myself but if you’d like to experience this in summer get in touch.

Happy New Year all, Garry.

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Lochnagar Sunset

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Lochnagar Sunset

Lochnagar Sunset

With glorious weather all week I had an itching to get up high for a camp and take in the sunset over the Cairngorms. So after cutting the grass I headed out Thursday afternoon to Loch Muick, via a quick stop in Ballater to drop off some flyers at the library. As usual, Ballater was looking fantastic in the sunshine, a TV crew were out on the village green, probably for voting day, as were many of the locals, taking in the sunshine. The town is so vibrant and the reconstruction of the old railway station is well underway, I'm looking forward to seeing the finished product.

Spital of Glen Muick visitor centre

Spital of Glen Muick visitor centre

The car park at Loch Muick was quite full which was no surprise but folks were starting to return from their walks to head home. Some weary looking but mostly happy! I timed my departure to give me enough time to pitch my tent just down from the top of Lochnagar, over toward the Stuic.

Red Spout

Red Spout

There was a reasonable breeze giving a little wind chill but nothing a hat and warm layer wouldn't fix. On my way up I stopped at foxes for a drink, hearing the noises above, I looked up and watched an eagle and raven in overhead battle. The raven was trying her best to see of the eagle, which flew off calmly in the direction of Conachcraig and didn't seem to be fussed about the raven! After reaching the top, just before 8pm I put on my extra duvet coat and sat watching the clouds and views unfold, with the sun stretching the shadows over the glens, Lochnagar itself completely in shadow.

Campsite toward the Stuic

Campsite toward the Stuic

On my way to pitch my tent I passed a fit trail runner in shorts and t-shirt, a quick run up Lochnagar, a couple of selfies perhaps, then off over the Stuic! I pitched my tent out of the wind best I could, put the kettle on and took in the views until I was in need of my bed.

Stuic and Loch nan Eun

Stuic and Loch nan Eun

In the morning I went back up to Lochnagar, then headed back to Loch Muick via Carn a' Choire Bhoidheach and Dubh Loch. I took a break at Dubh Loch as it's such a beautiful place, I was tempted for a swim but resisted, so instead I sat on a rock and watched the swirls in the water and looked for trout rises. On my way down to the loch, I stopped to watch quite a few mountain hare, now in their summer coats, galloping around the hillside. I didn't see any deer or catch sight of a dropped antlers but I did see some interesting remains of what looked to be grouse and a couple raven feathers.

Grouse feathers

Grouse feathers

Mountain Hare

Mountain Hare

Dubh Loch

Dubh Loch

The heather down toward Loch Muick is starting to take colour too, with the odd sprig of yellow flowers which is really cheery. The sundews and butterworts, really shooting up as well, I've a feeling they will be busy this year!

I've uploaded a wee video to YouTube which you can view here, this will hopefully give you an idea of the views, although they never do it justice, you have to be there, breathe and feel it. Apologies it's a little shaky in places. I was getting fed up with the standard backing tracks offered by Apple so I asked my 15yo daughter Emma to lay down a track for me last night, Maggie West's Waltz by Mairearad Green, this could be a new feature on my videos!

If you'd like to join me on a walk get in touch. Our next planned event is 20th May but we welcome bespoke outings too.

Bridge over the Muick

Bridge over the Muick

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Wild Camping in Scotland

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Wild Camping in Scotland

Wild Camping in Scotland

We are very lucky in Scotland, not only do we have the most beautiful landscape on this planet but we also have a right of access to most of the land and inland waters, meaning we can go almost everywhere responsibly.

Camp spot above Glen Feshie, near Monadh Mor

Camp spot above Glen Feshie, near Monadh Mor

Wild camping in Scotland can be a truly uplifting experience. There’s nothing quite like camping under the stars on a crisp evening, watching the aurora and listening to the silence. Being off the grid, back with nature, contemplating your existence, resetting your priorities, being happy!

I had some amazing camps last year, watching the aurora over An Teallach, in Glen Affric and above the Lairig Ghru to name a few. My favourite probably just down from the Devils Point, watching the sunset on Ben Macdui, it was just stunning. 

Ben Macdui

Ben Macdui

The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 established the framework for our access rights. These rights are based on responsible access with conditions for the user and land owners. These responsibilities are set out in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, know the code before you go! http://www.outdooraccess-scotland.com/

Last week’s press was full of comment about the introduction of new bylaws for the Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park. These new bylaws restrict access to some of the areas around the National Park and fines can be imposed should the responsible camper go outside the designated (pay to camp) camping areas. The full details can be found on their website - http://www.lochlomond-trossachs.org/.

These restrictions have been put in place in an effort to clean up the loch sides. Unfortunately they penalise the responsible camper instead of the intended irresponsible “party” camper, who does not understand the concept of “leave no trace”.  True, they might move these people on but they will just go elsewhere. We should be educating them instead and policing using existing laws to penalise unsocial behaviour. Any erosion into our access rights should be a concern but sustainable access must also be considered. It’s never a black and white answer, the key is consultation and buy in. I wonder where the next restriction will be imposed by land owners watching these developments.

I’ll be taking my trusty tent out again this year, so many places to explore. If you’d like to try a wild camping experience just get in touch!

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