Earlier in the year I decided to buy a tent and give this wild camping and multi-day walks a go, and decided to start off with the Minigaig, which I estimated could be done in two days. I decided on a weekend in either late May or June, as this time of year tends to be the driest and sunniest climatologically, so booked a sleeper train ticket for Friday 8th June, and Sunday 10th June.
Things didn't get off to the best of starts, firstly by putting my mobile on charge and then forgetting to pick it up before leaving, meant I had no way of taking photographs. Secondly, I left my matches behind as well, so had to buy a box at Victoria station. Hopefully this wasn't going to be the theme over the weekend.
I arrived at Blair Atholl just before 7am on Saturday 9th, to be greeted with the standard Scottish dreich. Got waterproofs out of backpack, thought that if the weather was going to be like this, there wouldn't be much to take pictures of anyway, and then set off. The driveway to Blair Castle was locked so had to walk on the minor roads to Old Blair, which took me to the edge of a forest, then the track goes through the forest, steadily climbing. The rain had stopped and it felt warm and humid, so had to take the waterproofs off. It is a pleasant walk through the forest with the drop down to the Banavie burn on my left, and very quiet. I soon reached the other side of the forest and found there was now a gate giving access to the open moor. Previously when I came this way it was a stile I had to climb over (with a mountain bike that time). Once on the moor the track gradually contoured around the hillside and gained altitude. There was a big cairn just before the path crosses one of the streams, then climbs up over another hill. The weather was still a heavy overcast and I entered the cloud when I reached roughly the 500m contour. I was in mist for just over a mile, and as I carried on it looked like the weather was slowly improving, the cloud base seemed to be lifting. This part of the track is a gradual climb and is quite long, and in the mist seems to go on forever, but I eventually reached the top of a col and got my first view of glen Bruar. The clouds were dissipating and it was getting much brighter, the view over the glen was lovely and desolate. I soon got to the bothy, went inside and wrote something in the book, then borrowed the spade as I needed to relieve myself. Digging a hole on heather moorland which is full of roots is hard work, but managed to do the necessary without leaving a trace. From here on it was a case of going over a mound, the path wasn't obvious but I found a cairn when I went up where a path was present.
Now it was a long walk along glen Bruar, desolate, but very scenic and atmospheric. The sun had come out and it was pleasantly warm. Got to Bruar lodge where I had to deal with a dog, which I wasn't sure was being friendly of trying to warm me off ("don't worry, he won't bite", the man shouted, yeah that's what they all say). Once past the dog I made good progress with a tail wind and a good solid surface to walk on, and reached the end of the glen at around 11am.
It was here that there were signs of deterioration in the weather. I knew the forecast was for thunderstorms in this area mid afternoon, and I could see threatening dark grey clouds on the plateau, followed by rumbles of thunder. I waited in the glen for a bit, topped up with water, then decided to start climbing up the Carr Uchd a Chlarsair, hoping the storms would blow over by the time I got up on the high moor. They didn't, and whilst I still had good visibility, there was a wall of angry looking grey cloud ahead, more thunder, then a cloud-ground lightning strike right where I was heading. I quickly made the decision not to go any further, and moved off the path and a bit lower down, pitched the tent and braced myself for torrential rain, and prayed to God I would not get hit by lightning. I sat it out for about 45 minutes (taking the opportunity to have lunch), and once the rain stopped, I ventured out and saw the storms had moved off over to the nearby hill summits such as Beinn Dearg. I therefore carried on, and didn't get any more bother by the weather.
The next tricky bit was getting over another stream (Caochan Lub). The stream was in spate, possibly from torrential rain from the earlier storms. The only way I could cross it was to take shoes and socks off and choose a spot carefully to wade across. I made it without getting wet, thankfully. From there it is a short walk to the Minigaig summit. The views up here on the plateau are awesome. There is such vast openness and no evidence of humanity. It makes me feel very small and vulnerable. I fleeted with the idea of going to the summit of the not quite a Munro Leathad an Taobhain, but decided against it, as the summits still looked cloudy, and I couldn't be bothered if I wasn't going to get a view.
It was now time for the descent. I was surprised by the clearness of the path on the plateau, even marked with a series of white cairns. Soon after I began the descent, following a river on my left, the path petered out (it was not due to my route finding, it really did just go), and I had to pick my own route whilst doing my best to keep on course. Not that easy, as the terrain is quite rough with clumps of heather interspersed with boggy bits and the occasional hidden hole, which I did once sink my leg into (that was a bit scary, as that is one way to break a limb). This route bashing went on a long time, and I didn't find it much fun. I eventually got down to the glen which eventually leads into glen Tromie, and just decided to keep following the river westward. I also knew to aim for the left corner of a patch of forest at the base of Carn Dearg, then turn left just before reaching it. I met up with a group of men coming the other way from glen Tromie, who I think were doing the same route as me but in the other direction. They told me there isn't a proper path until near glen Tromie, and I returned the favour by telling them there was no proper path until they get to the Minigaig summit, and to keep Leathard an Taobhain on their left, and the side glen on their right, and they will eventually find a good path. Shortly after we parted company I found a nice bit of flat ground, elevated above the river flood plain, and decided to pitch there for the night. It was only about 4:30pm but there was no point in going further, as otherwise I will end up in Kingussie on Sunday morning, and have to find something to do until 9:30pm when my train leaves.
I had a very good nights sleep although woke up at 3am feeling chilly, so had to put my long sleeve base layer on, which was just right for the job. That is the problem in a valley which can get very warm in the day but temperatures can drop a lot if the sky is clear with no wind. Once Sunday morning arrived I had a bit of a lie in, since I had done well over half the walk, and estimated no more than five or six hours to get to Kingussie, so set off about 10am, continuing with the heather bashing, but eventually found an intermittent path, which became a substantial path just as I was rounding Meallach Mhor and beginning to turn into the head of glen Tromie. The path was useful here, as the route I was taking was squeezed between the river and the slope of Meallach Mhor, which would have required considerable care trying to walk over rough heathery ground. This path did come to an end but there was a short track down slope on grass which brought me to the road in glen Tromie, near an unmarked building about a kilometer south east of Bhran cottage.
From here I knew the end was in sight, but the final challenge was eight miles of footsore walking along a metalled road. The glen marks a transition from the vast open heather moorland with big hills, to a more civilised looking forested glen, with more grassy than heather vegetation, and the occasional building. It is a beautiful glen to walk along, especially the Glentromie woods. I thought about taking the route over Sron na Gaoithe which leads to Ruthven and cuts a big corner, but decided to go further down to Glentromie lodge and pick up a marked path which also cuts the corner (and I wanted to enjoy the beauty of the glen). The route over the hill may be the proper Minigaig route, I'm not sure, perhaps someone in the know can confirm. I took my time walking down the glen as my quads and calves were now sore, and there was no advantage in getting to Kingussie quickly. I got to Glentromie lodge and walked along the drive, over the river, to the end of the drive and a building, where the OS map says there is a path going up and over to Ruthven, but I could see no sign of it on the ground. Reluctant to do any more trail blazibng, I headed back to the road and continued following it the rest of the way to Tromie Bridge and the B970. I then followed this road past Ruthven barracks, under the A9, over the Spey, and into Kingussie, arriving around 4pm. Had a few hours to kill, so had a couple of drinks in a nearby bar, then walked around Kingussie for a bit (it is dead on a Sunday), sat down on a bench to read a book, had an evening meal, then went to the station to wait for the sleeper (which turned up just over 20 minutes late).
So in summary, this was a successful attempt at wild camping from my perspective. I achieved my aim of a multi-day trek, sleeping in the wild, and not feeling too battered at the end of it. I was lucky the weather was mostly kind, and apart from the thunderstorms, it stayed dry pretty much all the way. I was surprised at how dry the moor is underfoot. I was expecting much more bogginess, it is clear that the central highlands have had below normal rainfall for some time. The Minigaig is an easy two day walk, I reckon I could do it in a long summer day between sleeper trains. I am pleased that I felt good strong throughout, despite this being the furthest I have ever walked in that time scale. I also managed to follow the general rule of leave no evidence I was ever there, apart from a water bottle and spork which I lost somewhere during the tedious heather stomping section. I will have another go, maybe next year, with a three day excursion, perhaps doing the Ben Alder munros, or Knoydart if the Carnoch bridge has been rebuilt.
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