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Lairig Ghru and a Ruined Camera

Lairig Ghru and a Ruined Camera


Postby Border Reiver » Thu Jun 09, 2011 7:52 pm

Date walked: 03/06/2011

Distance: 61 km

Ascent: 1900m

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It seemed like a good idea, to repeat a walk first done by my brother and I, 34 years earlier. I had found my old photos taken back then in May 1977. Photos of clear blue skies, snow flecked mountains and green glens. It had to be good walk to repeat, even at our age and so it was planned, I’d like to say with military precision, but I wouldn’t lie. We (and our brother-in-law) played around for months, looking at options for tents, food and clothing. We pored over countless weather sites and scanned Google Earth for possible camping spots.
Eventually, a great forecast caused much excitement, holidays were quickly booked and we set off to Blair Atholl to walk through the Cairngorms to Aviemore.
Day 1
“You won’t be able to leave your car there overnight” said the man in the Blair Atholl car park as we shouldered our rucksacks - he pointed to the notice - NO OVERNIGHT PARKING. He assured us that the notice meant what it said, so we drove round to the Old Blair car park and parked there. I wasn’t happy at leaving my car in a secluded wooded area, but a couple returning to their own car after 2 days away said we would have no trouble.
The car thermometer read 27c when we set off at 3.00pm down towards the bridge and the 26lbs of rucksack on my back nearly made my legs buckle, it certainly dug into my collarbone. We turned uphill towards Glen Fender, stopping briefly to chat with an elderly couple sitting outside their house at the roadside. They were happy in the sunshine and said they hoped it would stay like that for us, not a wish we shared. By the time we reached the turning for Kinccraigie and the old right of way up Glen Tilt, we were dripping with sweat and had already had a couple of stops to recover and readjust rucksacks. The grassy track ahead, with trees alongside to shade us from the fierce sun, looked inviting and it certainly beats tramping up the estate road through the forest near the river.

Pleasant walking among the trees, high above Glen Tilt
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Some welcome shade
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Good views opened out of the hills bordering the West side of Glen Tilt and although still uncomfortably hot, the sighting of a Roe deer in the forest and a couple of newts in the ditch took our minds off the heat.

A Palmate Newt
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At Croftmore we stopped for rest and a cool drink from a water supply pipe and as we sat enjoying the view across the glen, a couple of families passed by, heading towards Blair Atholl.

Last of The Summer Wine
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The grass track eventually dips gently down to join the main glen road about a mile down from Marble Lodge and all of a sudden the walking seemed a lot harder on the hard landrover track.
There was more cloud cover by then and the views up the glen between Gaws Bridge and our overnight camp site were impressive.

The view from Gaws Bridge
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Glen Tilt, South West of Forest Lodge
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The river Tilt and Forest Lodge
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The site we chose I’ve used a few times and it’s close to the river Tilt, as well as being open enough to have a midge-deterring breeze. The grass is also soft, even if you have to compete with a few sheep.

1st nights camp site
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The army type ration packs with freeze-dried food proved to be very tasty. As we were eating, a group of 6 walkers came past looking for a camping spot and we shouted greetings. Sleep was good and a quick look out of the tent at 1.30am showed a clear starry sky - things were promising.

Day 2
The next morning had a strong wind coming straight down the glen and the sky was clear to the South West but overcast where we were headed. An all-over wash in the cold river certainly woke me up. We packed up and left no trace of having been there, other than flattened grass. It’s something we are careful about , yet there are so many wild campers who take rocks from the river, light a fire and leave it all on the grass, as well as burnt cans and other litter. Why do some people think that cans will disappear on a fire?
The walk up the estate road is a bit of a grind and most of the time we were accompanied by a cuckoo on the other side of the river. Two or three mountain bikers with day-sacks on overtook us, a brief hello and they were gone. At the junction where the main road goes over the hill to the Tarff, a car was parked and as we had a rest and drink, a figure appeared coming down the glen. It was a man who had been out wandering around the Cairngorms for a few days, bivvying out at night. We had a long chat about various things and found he had walked from Aviemore and had crossed the Moine Mhor as well as Monadh Mhor and Beinn Bhrotain. If the weather stayed dry, he was going back up into the mountains for a few more days. As we were talking to him, a group of four German lads stopped briefly, they were heading the same way as us and hope to reach Aviemore on the same day as us. We watched a few deer high on the hillside and then passed a massive rockslide on the opposite side of the glen and soon arrived at Bedford bridge, where the Germans were lounging about on the grass.

Rockslide
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Lower falls on Tarff, taken from the Bedford Memorial Bridge
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We decided to have a break and a brew-up there and take a few photos. The German lads showed no sign of moving on until we started to pack up, then they started to pack up as well. I had by then stuffed folded clothing under my shirt onto both shoulders, as they were getting very sore from the weight and hardness of the rucksack straps. At that time, a large group of cheery middle-aged walkers came through and we questioned them on the state of the Geldie ford. They said it was OK if you stood on the right stones, but many were below water level. We let them all through, then set off up the ever narrowing glen, meeting 4 mountain bikers who were going faster than I would want to, considering the narrow path and the steep slope down into the river far below.

The glen gets narrower and steeper
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After the glen had opened out onto the moorland, we stopped again and were passed by the Germans, who had rapidly caught us up. We spoke, but they didn’t seem to be even speaking to each other, although one of them gave a grunt as he passed. Soon after, another biker appeared, also going the same way as us, but he was pushing his bike. He was very chatty and he was pushing his bike because it was a touring bike and not up to the challenging terrain. His destination that day was Braemar and he was a bit despondent about all the pushing he had to do. A friend had told him it was a good route. We warned him about the Geldie and assured him that after the Geldie ford, the road was much better. Two of us had sore feet by then. Despite me having put Compeed patches on the usual problem spots, my feet were blistering on the soles below the toes and I had two toenails starting to blacken.
Once we passed the watershed, we could see the snow-flecked Cairngorms in the distance, but they were cloud-topped and the day was still fairly dull, with rain showers setting in a few miles behind us.

Distant Cairngorms, with only the summits of the Devils Point and Carn a Mhaim below cloud level
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We spotted a crow trap away on the hillside and what we thought might be a mink trap near the stream, but we didn’t investigate further, other than with binoculars
As we approached Bynack Lodge ruins, we saw the four German lads by the trees there. They immediately started to get ready to move. The Bynack Burn was an easy crossing without the need to remove boots and there was a large group of youngsters having fun crossing and re-crossing, but the Geldie was a different proposition. The water was very low, but although some stones were above water level, over half were under the water. It was easy to see how high the water can get if there’s a bit of rain. I used my walking poles that I brought just for that purpose and succeeded in getting across, with the water nearly to the tops of my boots. My brother declined the offer of poles and got both feet a bit wet after a stumble and my brother-in-law had one pole and he also slipped on the greasy stones and a bit of water got in.

The ford across the Geldie. The water level is very low on this photograph
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We sat a little while to appreciate our achievement and saw the Germans approaching quickly. They reached the ford and we moved on, looking back occasionally to see how the lads were managing. It took them ages, one going upstream to investigate the remains of the old bridge, one going downstream, one having a few attempts at crossing and retreating again and one watching the show. We reckoned that without poles, they would have to remove their boots. By the time we got to the North end of the forest near Ruigh nan Clach, the German lads appeared in the distance, nearly a mile back. At White Bridge, where our way turned off and followed the East bank of the Dee, I noticed that the track on the West bank that was once a landrover track, is now a footpath, courtesy of the NTS. The path on the East side has been well repaired as far as the Chest of Dee, but from there on, it’s no better than it was 34 years ago, varying between sandy, rocky, peaty and swampy. The Chest of Dee is a lovely spot but I’ve never seen anyone else there in the various times I’ve passed by.

Chest of Dee
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We sat on the rocks admiring the view and spotted the Germans arriving at the White Bridge, where they stood for ages, only moving off when we did.
It was 6.30pm by then and we were tiring and needed to look for a suitable place to camp for the night. After a half hour of pacing around various spots and heading slowly up the path, we found a great place to camp. It was a large dry area, covered in soft dry grass and right on the edge of the river, with a large flat rock that was perfect for setting up stoves on. The day had improved a little and we had been able to see the top of the Devils Point, but not Cairn Toul.

2nd Camp
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The German lads disappeared behind a glacial mound further back and that was the last we saw of them. We all slept well, with the river Dee being the only sound we could hear.

Day 3
I looked out of the tent at 6.00am and the cloud level had come back down, but at least it was fair . The cloud was still low at 8.30 when we set off on our way again, but I felt that it might improve even though I could see showers over the Tilt direction.

Looking back towards our camp site - marked x
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It’s a pleasant walk up through Glen Dee, the path occasionally very muddy, but mostly a mixture of sandy gravel and rocks. As we approached Corrour bothy, we spotted a lone figure moving slowly up the path into Coire Odhar and we also saw two distant figures heading over the pass towards Luibeg. As we passed the Tailors Stone the cloud had lifted, and Cairn Toul was clear, even though there wasn’t much clear sky. We saw the walker that had climbed behind Corrour turn and head up towards the Devils Point, another figure was in the dip between Cairn Toul and Stob Coire an t-Saighdeir and three walkers were making their way down the ridge of Carn a Mhaim.

The Devils Point and Corrour Bothy
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As the path, getting drier and rockier, rose up towards the head of the pass, the clouds lifted off Braeriach and we could see that there weren’t too many patches of snow left, although the huge snowbed that lingers where the Dee plunges over the edge of the plateau into Garbh Coire Daidh was still there.

The Garbh Coire and Braeriach
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We stopped beside a small burn to brew up and said hello to a few walkers passing by. Most were doing the Aviemore to Linn of Dee day walk. Shortly after, a man with a large rucksack came walking quickly down past us and we said a cheery hello, to which we got no response, “miserable bugger” we said. About 5 mins later a woman came towards us, clearly distressed about something. We spoke and she burst into tears. After we had got her to sit down and calm down, we got the story that she was foreign and she and her partner (the man who had just passed and who was getting much further away) had argued and he set off without her. She didn’t know where she was and wasn’t sure where their car was, but her description seemed to indicate that it was at the Linn of Dee car park. She couldn’t tell us where how they had got to where we were, but seemed reasonably happy when we pointed out the path in the distance and estimated that around 4 hours would get her there. We said, “well at least the hardest part is over” - referring to the walk, to which she replied “the hardest part is having to be with that a**ehole for the next 4 days”. We agreed after she had left that she would make him suffer big time.

Sgor an Lochain Uaine and Garbh Coire
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Onwards and upwards and I was needing a drink, so I bent to scoop a handful of water out of a mountain burn and calamity!…my camera fell out of my pocket and into the water. I grabbed it quickly, but too late, it had stopped working. I took the memory card out and luckily the pics were fine, but the camera is still dead and I’ll have to get a new one.

I tried to see if I could spot the Dukes Path, but couldn’t….it’s barely shown on most maps now.

We stopped at the first of the Pools of Dee, brewed up and watched tiny fish leaping out of the water. The sun shone at times and for about a mile there were quite a few other people around….two groups of about 10 youngsters, with tents…two couples, also with tents…..and a couple of women who were travelling very fast and light, all heading South. Further on, we were overtaken by a youngish lad, then by a middle-aged couple and another couple caught us up, but always stayed at a distance, even when we stopped. There was a huge snow bank at the top of the March Burn and I could imagine that there would be some large snowfields left on the plateau, especially the one by Lochan Bhuide that is often there into August.
My feet and shoulders were getting really sore by then, although my feet hurt more when I stopped and the long walk down through Rothiemurchus forest seemed endless. You really don’t see how beautiful it is when you’re hurting. We spotted a ravine on the West side of the glen where there had obviously been a huge amount of water that had washed massive amounts of gravel and stones away. On down to Picadilly and turn left to where I had a camping spot in mind, next to the burn, but here were 4 youngish lads already there, they had a fire going and one of them had a midge net on…it didn’t look good. I was a bit concerned at the fire, it was quite big and a few sparks were flying and the undergrowth among the nearby heather was tinder dry. I can still remember the huge area destroyed by fire nearer Loch Morlich, quite a while ago. We found a good spot beside the burn another 200 yds further on and got all 3 tents pitched quickly…then the midges started. It was unbearable, trying to cook food and flap at midges, so I moved my tent to the other side of the track where there was a slight breeze. My midge net wasn’t working too well, but soon after, the wind picked up a little and the midges left.

Day 4
It rained a little overnight and it was windy for a while, but in the morning we were surprised to see fresh snow on the mountains, almost to the foot of Sron Riach…not much at that altitude, just a greyness disappearing up into the cloud. We packed up and set off to Coylumbridge, hoping to catch the bus into Aviemore, but arrived just in time to see it disappearing down the road, so we walked the rest of the way and had a good shower at the public toilets - only £1.20 for about 8 minutes. Then it was an expensive train ride back to Blair Atholl and for me another 1 mile back to my car, which was still there and still intact.
Now I need to get a new camera, and I’ll have to pay £100 excess on the insurance claim.
Last edited by Border Reiver on Wed Mar 27, 2013 12:15 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Lairig Ghru and a Ruined Camera

Postby Jock McJock » Thu Jun 09, 2011 8:57 pm

Nice report that. Forming some plans myself for this area so always nice to see reports like this. From what I've seen of it so far it looks a great place to walk and camp in :D
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Re: Lairig Ghru and a Ruined Camera

Postby Border Reiver » Thu Jun 09, 2011 9:18 pm

Jock McJock wrote:Nice report that. Forming some plans myself for this area so always nice to see reports like this. From what I've seen of it so far it looks a great place to walk and camp in :D


Thanks. The Cairngorms has to be one of the best places in Scotland for wild camping, literally thousands of possible places to pitch a tent or two and there's always a plentiful supply of clean drinking water nearby, often in the form of springs bubbling out of the ground.
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Re: Lairig Ghru and a Ruined Camera

Postby Gable Gable End » Thu Jun 09, 2011 10:33 pm

great report and a walk I really like the look of; how "bikeable" is that Glen Tilt route to the Falls of Tarff? Looks ok on the OS map but the story of the chap pushing has raised suspisions....

Shame about the camera :(
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Re: Lairig Ghru and a Ruined Camera

Postby Border Reiver » Fri Jun 10, 2011 7:10 am

Gable Gable End wrote:great report and a walk I really like the look of; how "bikeable" is that Glen Tilt route to the Falls of Tarff? Looks ok on the OS map but the story of the chap pushing has raised suspisions....

Shame about the camera :(


The route is very bikeable to the Falls of Tarff, a good hardened estate road that is currently having all the winter damage repaired. The gradients are mostly gentle, but steady. The lad who was pushing, had a touring bike with ordinary road tyres and when we saw him, he was half way through the section of narrow path beyond the Tarff, that is rocky in places and has quite a steep slope down to the river. He just didn't want to puncture his tyres out there.
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Re: Lairig Ghru and a Ruined Camera

Postby rockhopper » Fri Jun 10, 2011 10:04 pm

Enjoyed reading your report and some great photos but a pity about the camera - sometimes if you leave them to dry out completely they work again but I guess that didn't work this time. :D

Would agree on campers and disposing of cans. I've also met people who wouldn't even respond when I said hello to them but have never had the follow up that you had. 8)

Love the "compo, clegg and foggy" photo :lol:
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