Disclaimer: this report does not discuss roadworks. Even if any did take place in or by Grantown around this time, I didn't see them, and definitely wasn't hampered by them in any way. Nah; the title is, rather, meant to describe myself...
With the start of uni looming near and a change in the weather even nearer, I wanted to use the Tuesday to get one more walk in before I'd have to start camping in front of uni literature. Carn Glas-choire had been in my mind more or less as a short back-and-forth walk from Carrbridge, but looking at the map again - and realising that I wasn't SO out of shape, right?! - made me want to go for something bigger, so I set off for Grantown-on-Spey, aiming to eventually make it 'back' to Carrbridge, albeit via a longer, more challenging route.
Seafield Avenue led me out of Grantown. Under a bridge and up two zig-zags, and I was leaving asphalt behind, entering a canopy of birch branches looming over the track. When the forests cleared, Laggan Hill could be seen clearly on the other side. I'd originally considered starting the walk from Laggan Hill and making my way to Beinn Mhor from there, but went for the Grantown approach in the end. Laggan Hill might remain a distant goal at some point in the future, though.
A short while later, the altitude I'd gained had to be lost in order to cross Glenbeg Burn, then reclaimed again on its other bank. Then, after turning right, I entered a territory where not sporting wings suddenly placed me into an overwhelming, and vocalised, numerical disadvantage. If you'll excuse my non-native-speaker-ness, is 'to rouse a grouse' some kind of saying or idiom? Because I did tons of that for a good few hundred metres. Sort of like a film scene where the character runs to the horizon, with birds taking flight left and right. Except this time, calling it 'flight' would be rather generous, and I had no reason nor want to run just before the first real ascent of the day would begin
Speaking of the ascent, after exiting the forest and bending left, at first I followed a path branching off of the track to the right - to my surprise as I hadn't really expected one there, but I gladly took it. While it existed, mind you. As soon as a flatter bit of ground was reached, the path fizzled out in the heather, leaving me to find my way across the boggier parts without its guidance. Not that the bog there was so awful, but it still saves some time and effort to see where I can afford to place my feet a few steps in advance. Then, once the slope got steep again, the path reappeared, so I followed it up to the trig point, where a short break and a snack were in order. And while that was progressing... Beinn Mhor isn't quite up there when it comes to height, but I'd say it still provides some pretty good views.
Descending Beinn Mhor was, expectedly, heathery and pathless. A few times, I'd feel like I could join some semblance of a path, but then it would turn in a direction I wasn't following, so I'd just have to leave it. Making my way through the untouched, heathery slopes, I started to feel like a bulldozer, even though I wasn't leaving any clear path behind. Maybe with a little more emphasis on the 'bull' part, as I hadn't expected many paths to grace these parts to begin with, but still decided to plan my walk there. Eventually, I was grateful to reach a fence; not because a path led next to it, although that was still true at some points, but mostly it just gave me a sense of direction; I could see Cam Sgriob in front of me, but that sight wasn't changing much; being able to follow my progress on how the fence was passing me by, it was easier to see that I was really moving in the right direction.
At the bottom of the slope was the part I was a bit wary of: the valley that feeds the Glenbeg and Achnahannet Burns. On the map, it just looks like an area with zero change in elevation; add the two burns, and even though I was aiming to cross it in between, it still gave me boggy warning signs. But upon arrival... sure enough, it was absolutely flat. But getting to the other side was no problem at all; most of it was completely dry.
Crossing a track sporting a lone gate, I then started the next bit of ascent, aiming for Cam Sgriob. Similarly to the NW slopes of Beinn Mhor, paths were non-existent and heather was deep and thick, so it was about shifting into a lower gear and slowly bulldozing up the hill. Sometimes, the heather was live, shedding leaves into my shoes as I was trudging through; sometimes, it was burnt, the bare branches scratching me above my socks. Just can't win! But only about 200 metres had to be ascended, and whenever I turned around, Beinn Mhor and the flat, non-boggy valley were right there, so it was easy to judge how much further I had to go.
That being said, though... at one point, I looked up and was convinced that I could see the cairn. When I came closer, and the cairn moved, I realised that it was, in fact, a sheep. Yeah, the actual cairn was quite a bit further. But the first time I saw the sheep, it was completely still, as though posing for some against-the-sun silhouette photo. Cairn of the Sheep... Carn nan Caorach... from what I could find, there are two - one an E top of Druim Fada by Kinloch Hourn, the other overlooking Loch Mor Bad an Ducharaich, WNW of An Teallach; there are also two Carn na Caorachs - an E top of Carn Mhic an Toisich above Glen Moriston, and the other just in the neighbouring valley, overseeing Allt Loch an t-Sionnaich flowing into Allt Saigh. As far as I'm concerned, the Cam Sgriob sheep now extends this list. (Or should it be the other way around - Caorach nan Carn? )
There isn't that much to say about the traverse between Cam Sgriob and Creag an Righ. It's just as it looks on the picture above: a gentle, heathery slope on the way down, and a very similar one on the way up. When approaching from NE, quite a long plateau has to be crossed before the summit of Creag an Righ is reached; given that the grass was long and the ground was soft on the plateau, and no paths could be found whatsoever, the going wasn't fast. But, I mean, it's not like Creag an Righ is among the top 10 most popular Scottish mountains; I wonder if it even makes the top 2000. Notwithstanding the B9007 below, this is some real, non-touristy wilderness.
Descending Creag an Righ was surprisingly tricky at some points, with several 1-2-metre drops that took care to get through. The following ascent didn't have those, but the terrain wasn't that well defined - perhaps because only <70 altitude metres was lost between the two Creags, and some ~90 then had to be regained. But as long as I was heading roughly NW, there was no issue. In 30 minutes, I moved from one Creag to the other, and could start wondering: How do I descend the W slopes of Creag Ealraich?
In short: definitely not as the crow flies, since I can't fly myself. But a short detour N did the trick, and I made it down, across Beum a' Chlaidheimh (which, once again, I was pleasantly surprised was easily crossable and not boggy in the slightest), and to the road.
Then came the time to climb Carn na Leitire. It's only ~100 altitude metres, but on a steep and heathery slope, and I wasn't feeling as fresh as at the beginning of the walk, so breaks were frequent - and during every break, I took the opportunity to look around. To judge how far until I'd reach the Carn na Leitire plateau, or to just enjoy the views, the wavy land to the north dressed in quadrilaterals of varying shades of autumn brown. But with increasing frequency, my eyes were drawn to the Cairngorms - or, to be more precise, to the clouds forming above them. Nothing of the sort had been forecast, but I definitely saw patches of rain, and the wind would carry those clouds right to me. I wish I could say that this sight gave me more motivation to carry on, but in reality I continued pretty much at the same pace, just more uneasy...
Alongside the rain, another thing getting me nervous was the time. The schedule I'd drawn up for myself would see me reaching Carrbridge just in time to catch the train, and I was already some 15 minutes behind. I made it to the summit of Carn na Leitire (or somewhere in the vicinity; it's such a plateau that even my map doesn't say where the highest point is) and headed further west. I'd planned to cross Cnoc an Lamhaich, ascend Carn Allt Laoigh, and follow the ridge from there - but right below Cnoc an Lamhaich, looking up at the slope I'd need to ascend, my body just went 'No way'. So instead, I turned pretty much exactly west, ascending and mowing the ridge sideways, and making it to the top somewhere between the 556-metre point and the bealach SW of it.
Fun fact: somewhere between Carn na Leitire and the 556 thus lies the northernmost place my feet have ever stood on. Carn Allt Laoigh would've made it a somewhat remarkable place, at least; this way, I don't even know where exactly it is. But... (spoiler alert) I still think I made the right decision by opting for the shortcut. And the 'northernmost place award' will be re-written and updated at some point, so I can have a think about choosing a more appropriate place for it. Once being alone in the nature is legal again.
Following the ridge sounds like quick and easy walking, and often, it was. There were paths, too, and a track at some points. But the ridge was also where the peat hags started. There was a big one just E of the track I guess most people aiming for Carn Glas-choire would take - the track I would've taken if I hadn't changed my mind and gone from Grantown instead. Another bog laid right before the summit - and then another right after it. All of them were passable - maybe, just like for the two flat valleys, it had been so dry recently that they didn't present such issues and threaten to give me peaty SD - but still, like, encircling a Graham summit? Seriously? So it sort of became a routine: What's the time? How's the Cairngorms rain looking? Okay, where can I cross this bog? And again, and again.
From the summit (where I hardly stopped for a bite of something sweet and a few gulps of water), I headed SW to the 630-metre point and beyond, hoping to reach the track in that valley. Problem #1: a fence, completely absent on the map. Problem #2: the valley of the stream (Allt Ruighe Magaig? Is this its true origin?), which looked quite harmless on the map, but took quite some time and care to cross. All in all, when I made it to the end of the track, I was a good 40 minutes late. But hey, at least the Cairngorms rain was falling apart on the way and didn't look like it would reach me!
What to do. The big question. I was 40 minutes behind schedule. Initially, I gave up, thinking that, tired as I was, there was no way I could make up that much. So I set off, slowly. But kept thinking. And the more I thought about it, I came to the realisation that... Hang on a minute. All I had left was a track, going downhill, and a road, on level ground. On such surfaces, and without terrain difficulties, I tend to be marginally quicker than the estimated time, and tired as I was, I still felt like that could be the case - so I might make 10 up minutes without even trying. So what if I did try?
I'd been in a similar situation several times. Once, I'd had to give up and rely on hitchhiking. If worse came to worst, I might try that again - and given the road in question was the A938, I might not be chanceless. But, in the best-case scenario, if I managed to run all the way to Carrbridge, I might make it without needing to hitchhike at all.
I've no clue whether bulldozer racing is a thing anywhere. But nevertheless, I started running down the track and giving off plenty of steam, slowing to a walk momentarily when the track turned uphill at times, and then again once I reached East Foregin and had to navigate my way through multiple cow herds; spooking one to use its horns to give me another reason to keep running is something I really didn't need. But once I left the farm, I ran pretty much non-stop (except for taking the picture below) all the way to Carrbridge, the whole time urging myself not to stop, and hoping the few minutes I'd 'wasted' up on the track, going slowly, wouldn't be what would cost me at the end. But after crossing the Dulnain, I looked at the time and could confirm: yep, I'd made it.
Looking back now, an adventure with this kind of ending might seem a bit cool. But in the train (which arrived less than 2 minutes after me), once I sat down, the first thing that came to mind was "Never again". Having a goal is good, but at a place like this, I want to have a chance to enjoy it, fully take in what's around me. Let's leave racing behind.
On another note, after getting home and taking off my shoes, I discovered that in my shoes and embedded in my socks, I'd carried back about half a hill's worth of heather. That's another thing I'd welcome not happening again
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