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A Cairngorms circuit walk

Tuesday September 16th

We left Perth at 9 and drove along the A9 to Aviemore, having a close shave with an idiot overtaking in the other direction and cutting it rather fine. We booked accommodation for the night — 68 pounds for a chalet — then drove up into the Cairngorms.

the carpark
There's a huge car park and visitor's centre at the bottom of the funicular railway, where we talked to a ranger before setting off. He was scathing about the Lonely Planet guide, which is what I was basing our walk on, but I had a topographic map and a compass and wasn't to be deterred.

We set off at 12.15pm, climbing up past the ski-lifts (new and defunct) and their protective fencing to the Ptarmigan centre, where we went in for a coffee. People who go up the funicular aren't allowed out, but walkers can go in and out again. (This is presumably to reduce the ecological effects of easy access to the tops.)

We had lunch on Cairn Gorm, with great views of the rolling mountains to the east. We headed along the tops, with the steep fall-off of the Coire on our right, and rolling grassy hills on our left. We startled some family-sized flocks of ptarmigans, but in the air they were just flashes of white. But Camilla spotted a group of seven quite close, upwind of us, and we had quite a good view through the binoculars before they moved down the hillside.

looking east from Cairn Gorm
Camilla looking for birds
Richard relaxing

The rolling hills, lakes, and peaks to the east were very tempting. If we'd had more time I'd have done the side-trip to climb Ben Macdui — and it would have been great to have had a tent, supplies, and a spare week.

We didn't take first route down, but went over Cairn Lochan, disturbing more ptarmigan. Rather than following the ridge down, we sidled down it to the valley floor, where there was a blocked stream and where we saw more ptarmigan, which I stalked for a while, trying to stay downwind.

water and moss
spot the ptarmigan
ptarmigan closeup (cropped)
The evening light was splendid, and Camilla and I kept stopping to take photos.
grass and a tarn in evening light
the sunset

Back at the car, Camilla wrote a note saying we'd returned safely, while I chased a piece of paper that got loose and blew over a hundred metres in the gusty wind.

Our chalet was on the outskirts of Aviemore, which was nice as the town centre is pretty icky. We went there to buy food from a Tesco supermarket: we had pasta and pesto for dinner, followed up by yoghurt and hot chocolate, while Richard had vegie sausages and tried a vegetarian haggis. Browsing through the brochure folder in our chalet, we saw an ad for a one-day tour of the Orkney islands which got us all excited.

Camilla and I drove off into the forest along narrow lanes to look for insects in the dark, but didn't find anything at all.

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