This 3-day hike through the heart of the Cairngorms began at Blair Atholl station, after a sleepless night on the overpriced Caledonian Sleeper train. On our backs was lightweight camping equipment (see review here), food, plenty to keep us warm, and a carrier for Bounty the dog, should his little legs get tired. Our target was Aviemore where, if we timed it right, we’d arrive before the sleeper train back to London.
Arriving before dawn, we donned headtorches and set off. After a short jaunt along a road we were on a forest track that followed the River Tilt, raging in the canyon below. The first day’s walk was around 18 miles long and took us through valleys and past waterfalls. The calls of rutting stags echoed off the slopes of mountains.
Amazingly we only passed one other person that first day. We were going to camp by the ruins of Bynack Lodge, but after a very cold barefoot crossing of a river we were invited to set up our tent beside the Red House bothy, which was being restored and should re-open soon.
The older man who had invited us was staying at the bothy, despite it being a building site. He was waiting to be housed and so was living in bothies until he once again had his own roof over his head. He was also very generous with his beer and whisky.
Images from day 1
There had been a pretty strong wind overnight and so we didn’t get much sleep. I had also made the mistake of quenching my previous day’s thirst with whisky. Hungover, I helped Anna pack up camp before we trudged off along the track to the River Dee. After crossing this we turned left up a path through the heather and began the climb into the mountains. Soon after, the weather worsened considerably.
The gusts were so strong that, at one point, Anna was knocked off her feet. Fortunately our waterproof clothing held out and we were able to enjoy the experience of being amidst gloomy mountains. We were even happier to see Corrour bothy in the distance.
Nestled beneath the imposing Devil’s Point, Corrour bothy is perhaps one of Scotland’s best known. Like all other bothies it had a fireplace, a wood floor to sleep on, and not much more. Despite being basic, it was a welcome refuge against the storm.
Two Belgian men, and two intrepid Scottish women were at the bothy when we arrived. Despite the inclement weather the women marched out to bag a munro (a munro is a peak over 1,000 metres, Scotland has 282 munros), leaving us to chat with the lovely Belgians. Having bagged the munro, the women returned at dusk but then decided to continue on back to Braemar, many miles away. Just before the four of us turned in I noticed three lights in the darkness. 20 minutes later 4 people stumbled in – amazingly they’d walked all the way from Blair Atholl in one day, but were now exhausted, drenched, and possibly on the verge of hypothermia. One hot meal later and they, too, were ready for sleep in the cosy – and somewhat cramped – bothy.
Images from day 2
What a glorious day to wake to. Blue skies and snow on the peaks. Having heated up an energising breakfast (I’d pre-mixed oats, sugar, cinnamon, raisins and powdered milk) we set off from Corrour bothy and up towards Lairig Ghru pass. Despite a constant upwards slope, this was a much easier walk than the one we’d endured the day before through a storm. And hangover.
It took us a few hours to reach the Pools of Dee at the pass. Just over the other side we stopped for lunch. Although still far away, Aviemore was now in view. From here it was a constant descent, first through a large heathland at the edge of a deep canyon, and then into a serene pine forest.
Eventually we found ourselves at a track and, 6 hours into the walk, we passed the first people we’d seen since setting out. The walk out through the forest near Colyumbridge seemed to go on forever.
Eventually, though, we got to the road and, 30 minutes later, we were in Aviemore. Our equipment had held out through storms and freezing conditions, our legs were aching but had carried us here, and Bounty the dog had, all along, bounced along beside us. If we had wanted to catch the sleeper train back to London we would have arrived into Aviemore with at least 5 hours to eat, drink and relax before the train departed.