By: Blonde Two
Fi Darby (Blonde Two) is an outdoor writer and copywriter based in Devon. Check out her writing portfolio, and get in touch if you’re interested in walking routes or outdoor advice to enhance your website or publication.
Mr B2 and I are recently back from a three-week road trip that took us as far north in our campervan (we do like north) as the Outer Hebrides and the Cairngorms National Park. Visiting the Cairngorms has become a near pilgrimage for us. There is something about the mountain scenery, lochs and impressive contour lines that keeps calling us back.
For a walker used to Dartmoor’s gentle slopes and relatively easy access, the steepness and remoteness of the Cairngorm’s mountain peaks can be a bit intimidating. Each time we plan a trip, I dutifully get out my Cicerone, Walking in the Cairngorms guide, read it from cover to cover, then put it away, dismissing the walks as too demanding, or the navigation as too intimidating.
I sometimes wonder whether learning to navigate has made me over-cautious. Certainly in the mountains the stakes are higher. If you set off in the wrong direction on Dartmoor, you’re likely to suffer nothing more than very wet feet, and a late return to the car. If you do the same in the Cairngorms, you could easily end up flying over the edge of a hundred metre ledge.
Which is why, when we got chatting to a lovely Scottish couple who had been visiting Loch Morlich for 32 years, I asked them which their favourite walk was.
They both replied at once, ‘Up to the Chalamain Gap.’
This was good news to me. You might remember that, a few years ago, Mr B2 took his bike through the fabled Lairig Ghru, a steep-sided pass that connects Speyside and Deeside. I say ‘took his bike’ because for most of the six-plus hours, he was carrying it rather than the other way round.
He started his route by setting off from the Sugar Bowl car park above Loch Morlich, and entering the Lairig Ghru via the Chalamain Gap. The story he told of this boulder-strewn part of the adventure was so intriguing that since hearing it I’d wanted to go and visit the Gap myself.
It turned out to be a wonderful walk. Not too long (it was our first of the holiday) but with plenty of weather, amazing views, and an opportunity to gaze into the Cairngorms proper. To the most part we retraced Mr B2’s steps (or wheels) but started and ended the walk from a lower parking area. This was fortuitous because it took us, through what can only be described as a Faery Glen, alongside the Allt Mor burn to Utsi’s Bridge (at the time of writing the Allt Mor trail above the Bridge was closed). We might have passed through this section more quickly if I hadn’t discovered a rather tasty foraging treat!
After admiring the bridge and the rushing burn below it. It was a short but steep climb up to the ridge path that would take us along to the Chalamain Gap. Utsi’s Bridge by the way was named after the Sami reindeer herder, Mikel Utsi who first introduced reindeer to the Cairngorms.
It was on this path that the mountains demonstrated their dominion through the medium of wind-driven rain. It was chilly enough for us to require hats and gloves but wonderful though, to feel so exposed. It was also a reminder that mountain walks, even short ones on well-marked paths, that start in sunny river valleys are a serious affair.
The path upped and downed enough to keep us warm, and it was with excitement (me) and reminiscence (Mr B2) that we approached the Gap itself. Imagine a slope made of boulders (some man-sized) that rises above you further than you can see, and you will get an idea of what it was like. If we had ventured right across the boulder field (about 250 metres) we would have had a choice, turn left and continue through the Lairig Ghru towards Braemar, or turn right, and head back down to Loch Morlich through the Rothiemurchus plantations.
As it was we did neither, although Mr B2 did pop up a wee way to take some photos for me. Scrambling really isn’t my thing so I huddled out of the wind and enjoyed my lunch (oatcakes and cheese of course).
Just look at those contour lines!
On the return journey, as well as admiring the other-worldly views we chatted to a few people who had walked up from Rothiemurchus. They were even wetter than we were. Tireder too after their boulder field crossing. We decided two things.
- That we were glad we’d opted for the shorter walk.
- That I needed to see the Lairig Ghru itself before we went home.
More on that walk later…