Cairngorms Revisited

The Cairngorms are a very special. Geologically and climatically the high plateau is like no other place in the UK. The Cairngorms are also very special to me personally. It was a trip to the Cairngorms that got me hooked on backpacking and wilderness travel. Although I've been involved in outdoors-sport in one way or another since I turned eleven I'd turned twenty-one before I went out and stayed out. For many years I orienteerd, ran and day-walked the fells from youth hostels, outward bound centres and camp sites. I didn't know what I was missing. In the middle of my finals, after weeks of nervous revision, couped up in a clammy cramped student house, between the piles of unwashed plates and underware, I was invited to join a group of friends for a midweek trip to the Cairgorms. The idea was to do a round of the 4000'ers and bothy and bivvy for a few nights. At the time not exactly my thing but given my circumstance the thought of the fresh air, space and freedom was irresistible. I didn't take a lot of persuading.

It's now eighteen years since that trip and I now realise, with a great deal more experience under my belt and garage bursting with kit, that we realy struck gold that weekend. It was June but we were treated to a dump of snow and the range was transformed to an addictive mix of winter mountain, blue summer sky and short-sleeve temperatures. As we walked back out to Breamar, resplendent in foul stinking Helly-Hansen base layers, I was carrying something I hadn't taken with me: the need to spend time in wild places. I still don't know exactly what threw the switch, not just the views, not just the company, not just the activity but something about the rhythm and simplicity of moving through and bivvying self-supported in wild country.

Considering how deep an impression the Cairngorms had made on me it still surprises me how long it took me to get around to going back. My list of things to do and places to visit is just too long. Fourteen years passed before I found myself sitting down with a (different) group of lads to plan a trip to the Cairngorms. By that time the first trip had been elevated to mythical status by the mists of memory and, in truth, I was concerned that the repeat wouldn't live up to the original. I needn't have worried.

I promised to post some of my trip accounts. I'm going to start with an account of that second Cairngorm trip. However, the fact that I'm incapable of keeping things short poses a problem: I think some of my ramblings, including this one, are just too long to post as blog. For that reason I've decided to upload and link to the files. For those who are still interested, the Cairngorm account can be found here: Cairngorms 2005.


  1. Cairngorms are always worth a long write up. I have so many memories of the amazing place. I was looking at some photos of my first trip there the other day. Would blog them but they are not taken by me and I lost contact with the owner for his permission. I will look forward to more Cairngorms stuff from you.

  2. I only have a few Cairngorm memories having only been in the heart of them twice but every one is precious. I started writing up my trips a long time after that first outing so what remains of it is what's in my head. I sometimes wonder if it wasn't so fantastic as the picture my memory paints of it and then I dig out the photos: slightly ropey first attempts with my first 35mm SLR, poor composition but the amazing conditions still shine through. Might be a while before I get back to the Cairngorms. I still suffer from the same affliction, Jutenheim, Finmark, the Rockies, Iceland have all shuffled higher up the list. This summer looks like a toss-up between Norway and the western highlands.

  3. Another great piece of writing. I really can read the enjoyment you get out of writing it, its superb. And still that great humour, how you get the kick out of ridges, the planning evening excuses, excellent.

    Its also interesting how you're incorporating some private bits in the story, eg how your work is so far away from your hobby. Are you still in that same job, and if so, has your perception of your work in contrast with the climate change debate changed?

    Also the mentioning of how the rain is hitting the tarp and you three are falling asleep, that's so perfect, the real good stuff which I love so much - falling asleep in the rain. And the "incident" with the Scot in trainers - hilarious!

    All in all, again are splendid read. And I am left with the idea that the Cairngroms would make for a good first experience of the Scottish hills! Dank je!

  4. Hendrik: Graag gedaan! Thanks again for the positive comments. It's realy nice to see you get some pleasure out of reading this stuff.

    Yes I'm still in the same job and yes I still have moments where I doubt if what I do is right. Just like I have moments when I'm convinced it is. It's a complex equation.

    I wouldn't hesitate to recomend the Cairngorms. It's a wonderful stretch of wild country. Unique in the UK. It doesn't represent everymans Scotland. for that you can better go to the western highlands, but for my money there's nowhere better in the UK for backpacking. There are places just as good, for other reasons, but nowhere better. You have to be aware that the Cairngorms can be an unforgiving place though. If you go then go prepared. Navigation can be difficult in bad visibility and the weather can be unpredicatable.Not that I'm trying to put you off. Far from it, I would encourage you to experience the area, but you must plan carefuly, be prepared to change plans when conditions dictate and get your basic navigation skills in order before you head up onto the plateau. Hope to see a Cairngorms trip report from you in the future!



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