Rodents, eagles, pylons on a gorgeous April day on Gairbeinn

Route: Gairbeinn and Corrieyairack Hill, Melgarve

Corbetts: Gairbeinn

Date walked: 24/04/2021

Distance: 10.5km

Weaving our way along the single track road of the upper Spey, I glanced in the mirror to see grandson Finlay had turned an interesting shade of pale. I slowed right down and asked if he wanted to swap with Ian to sit in the front, but he stoically said he was fine. He's not a complainer, this lad. So I was glad for him (and me) to reach the parking space at the end of the road!

We got booted up and out of the car and once in the fresh air he resumed normal colour quite quickly.

Finlay and Keira at Melgarve start point

We walked up the track towards the General Wade bridge and Melgarve bothy.

On the track

Zoomed to Melgarve lodge with Creag Meagaidh beyond

General Wade bridge and Melgarve bothy (which was closed)

We stayed on the track as per WH instructions before striking off north over easy ground, keeping east of Meall Garbh Mor. On the way back we aimed directly for the bothy and that worked just as well.

Finlay and sniffer dog in the lead

Keira had her nose glued to the ground in the way they do with fresh animal scent and then we saw a vole or three scuttling for cover. I remembered gld73 had photographed multiple small burrows and right on cue there they were studded into the ground ahead.

Field vole burrow

Lifting my eyes from small holes in the ground there came the infinitely more uplifting sight of a pair of golden eagles rising and falling in what might have developed into a courtship dance, but they quickly disappeared from sight and we didn't see them again. I don't know if eagles stoop low enough down the food chain to hunt field voles (I think buzzards do), but this hillside is a well stocked moving larder of tempting snacks for raptors. They also kept my dog focused in that intense way dogs go when there's small furry things about. For the sake of ground nesting birds I kept her on the lead - well to be exact my understudy dog handler kept her on the lead and was doing a good job of it.

We climbed more or less straight up until we were on the ridge which, once on it, had us turning in a north easterly direction. Higher up with the appearance of some cragginess the hill became more interesting and being firmer underfoot was easier to climb.

Ridge more rocky as we climbed

Zoomed to Aonachs

First patch of snow on our hill

Summit ahead and Finlay already there

Zoomed to Finlay on rock slightly higher than summit cairn

Gairbeinn summit cairn 896m

Finlay and Ian


The plan was for Ian to finish the round over Corrieyairack Hill while Finlay and I relaxed on Gairbeinn before a leisurely descent to wait for Ian back at the car.

Ian off to Corrieyairack Hill

Continuation of Gairbeinn ridge

View west with conical Ben Tee's head poking head out

The distinctive shape of Ben Tee never fails to remind me of the day Mary broke her ankle and was winched into a helicopter, leaving me to finish the descent concentrating hard on not slipping in mud and doing likewise!

Zoomed to Ben Tee and pylons marching over the pass

North west to Glen Doe dam and reservoir

South east to Melgarve

Zoomed to Ben Nevis

After an extended lunch and wander around the summit we started the easy descent back to Melgarve.

Our leisurely descent

Dog cooling her paws

Part way down the ridge we had a second break, lying in the sun with heads propped on rucksacks, just chatting about this and that. It was a gorgeous spring day, warm but not too hot, no midges or clegs to contend with - perfect conditions to be on the hill.


White fluffy clouds like the ones children paint

When we got going again we each picked our own route down over grass and heather (as long as I could still see him) since we could see the bothy we were heading for.


We let Keira off for a bit but called her in again when we saw a herd of deer below.

The keen eyed may spot two that got detached from the herd standing in front of the pylon


South to Stob Poite Coire Ardair and Carn Liath

General Wade's bridge and another pylon

As we neared the gate we could see a figure standing beside a red vehicle further up the road than we were parked. Could it be Ian already? Had we spent too much time sitting chatting up the hill?


It wasn't Ian but a man standing on the track flying a drone. He didn't look up as we passed but kept his eyes fixed on his screen. It was okay at first but after 15 minutes of a lawn mower sound buzzing above our heads it started to feel an annoying intrusion. Being British we didn't say anything and after another 10 minutes he packed up and drove away. Strange behaviour, specially that he didn't acknowledge us passing so close to him. In remote places there are different rules of engagement and it's normal to acknowledge someone on the hill that you wouldn't in town, although I've noticed covid has changed that and most folk on the outskirts of town will pass the time of day. There's nothing like a common foe to make us connect.

Once drone dude had gone, peace settled around us again, and after opening all the doors of the car to get some cool air in we went down to the burn to cool our feet and paws. Two ladies appeared on the track and when they reached us asked how far it was to Garvabridge. They had walked over from Fort Augustus and their husbands were meeting them there. Ian had predicted he'd be back at the car by 4.00 and at 3.50 we saw a lone figure moving down the track towards us. He'd enjoyed the round but found the peat hags at the bealach had slowed him down a bit.

Corrieyairack Hill summit cairn 896m (Ian's photo)

General Wade's road over Corrieyairack pass (Ian's photo)

For the return I put Finlay in the front with instructions to keep eyes on the road and he was fine. We passed the old guy flying his drone at the point you first see the Spey dam. This stretch of water isn't named on maps so conclude it was never a natural loch but purely the result of building a dam on the river?

Spey dam under a threatening sky

The drive north went without incident and Finlay was delivered home a happy lad after another superb day on the hill, more than ever convinced climbing hills is something he wants to do in the future - music to his granny's ears.

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