The Angry Corrie 1: May 1991

Out and About:
the Glen Gynack hills above Kingussie

Little but good: A walk in the Glen Gynack hills above Kingussie
Distance 19k/12 miles. Ascent 1000m/3300'. O.S. sheet 35.

Life having been plunged into the rigours of a new, chaotically shiftpatterned job, together with the weather having been likewise plunged into an exceptionally wet late autumn, meant that I had hardly been out for any kind of walks at all for a fortnight, let alone any hillwalks. Thus, when the alarm woke me at six for the start of the midweek equivalent of a long weekend I felt an odd mixture of tiredness and enthusiasm. I was desperate to get out, yet the new job had interfered with familiar patterns and rhythms leaving me feeling unusually nervous about the walks ahead. Also, and perhaps more to the point, it was pouring with rain.

I got up nevertheless - insecurity or no, I recognised the need to escape from Glasgow for a couple of days - and by the back of eleven was setting out on foot from the Speyside town of Kingussie, having dumped sleepingbag and spare clothes in some friends' kitchen. Also dumped was my iceaxe: a vastly over-optimistic inclusion. Although the Drumochter hills were wearing smart white cravats of early snow, conditions had been complacently mild all week. It was windy however, a sharp southwesterly, and as I headed up the steep incline of the Glen Gynack road above the town I had little thought beyond a half-day walk over 660m Creag Mhor and, perhaps, the adjoining 786m Creag Dhubh. These form part of a self-contained and unfrequented cluster of small- and medium-sized hills immediately north of Kingussie: just perfect for short November days when darkness falls before five o'clock. The hills themselves are unexpectedly craggy, full of wildlife and almost devoid of other walkers - due perhaps to the lack of Munros, the proximity of the high Cairngorms just across Strathspey, and of their being a southern offshool of the much-maligned Monadh Liath.

Twentyfive minutes brought Pitmain Lodge - looking like a large, gaudily painted Nissen Hut, where I checked out the state of play re stalking - something which I suspect I do more out of not wanting to be disturbed by the gamekeepers rather than the other way about. Fine, no problems, the factor said - and there was a path all the way up Creag Mhor, starting near a disused watertank and leading up beside a line of grousebutts.

I moved on from the Lodge in heavy rain: overcast conditions creating a downcast state of mind that was exacerbated by finding the watertank but not the path. The going wasn't too bad however: the heather was nothing like as clawing as it can be in the east of the country.

Creag Mhor proved a remarkably stony hill, with the majority of stones lower down, and thrust a fairly definite eastern ridge out towards the Lodge. The Mhor (big, pron. Vor) in the name relates to Creag Bheag (little, pron. Vegg) across Loch Gynack, which it overtops by some 170m and which I had climbed one evening earlier in the year.

The ridge eventually levelled and broke into three craggy tops, each one higher than the next and each giving fine, steeply downward views to Loch Gynack. The middle top had a little bouldery crag on its blindside which would probably have given good scrambling in better conditions. It was, however, desperately windy here - doubtless a consequence of the almost corrie-headwall steepness of the Gynack slope - and one gust was strong enough to suck the saliva right out of my mouth, like one of those miniature vacuum contraptions beloved of dentists. Disliking both dentists and wind, I scuttled, crouching, over the highest top and into the relative calmness of a leeward slope.

With the wind - and a rainbow - now behind me, the short dip and steady rise to the parent peak of Creag Dhubh (dark crag) came easily, in under half an hour. Hills called Creag Dhubh are two-a-penny in this part of the world, and possibly the finest of them all, the 740m peak five miles away in the Newtonmore direction, showed sharply triangular, almost a clone of faraway Ben Stack. Shafts of light slanted diagonally down across its slopes, and I mentally moved it up a few places in my list of hills to be climbed without delay.

Becoming overly engrossed in these southward views meant that it was some time before I noticed, beyond the greens, browns and mustard yellows of the moors to the north, the shock of cloudless blue skies. The long, rulerstraight line of a cold front was lying across the grain of the land somewhere between these hills and the Great Glen, revealing the bold cone of Ben Rinnes rising distantly over the shoulder of Geal-charn Mor. It would be a classically windswept, skinscouring day on it and all its neighbouring northeastern hills.

Of the nearer tops, only the heathery hogsback of 745m Cnoc Fraing held any great visual appeal. Most things above the 900m level were still covered over, with the western Cairngorms almost looking as if they were being planed down by a very fastmoving layer of cloud. Only due west, into the main body of the Monadh Liath, was there any real sign of Munros, with a surprisingly open view across to A'Chailleach and Carn Sgulain.

I trotted down the northwest shoulder towards the tall cairn on Carn Coire na h-Inghinn, then angled round the side of the hill to reach a tiny stalker's bothy (unlocked, with tables and chairs: an ideal place for eating out) beside the headwaters of the Allt Mor. Not unexpectedly, I came across a small herd of deer in the final hollow: twelve hinds and a rearguard stag. The Allt Mor was high after weeks of rain, and even though I crossed above the point where two main tributaries converged, the boulderhopping of each was ponderous, to say the least.

Preplanning had made this spot the absolute limit of my day's ambitions; from here I would merely stroll back to Kingussie along the estate road, as I had done on several previous occasions. But with the weather on the improve the clear skies to the north were edging closer all the time - and with the uncomfortably windy conditions having caused me to delay eating lunch until now, I decided instead to return via the system of landrover tracks which crossed the nearby 878m summit of Carn an Fhreiceadain (lookout hill, unpronouncable to townies like me). There were still three hours of daylight left, and it seemed a shame to waste all the extra energy provided by the late lunch.

So I tidied the bothy, added my name to the scores of others scrawled on the wall, then headed straight up the burnt-heather hillside, shortcutting the track's initial zigzag. Fhreiceadain was a hill which I had first climbed the previous autumn and which, with its network of tracks, provides a near ideal way of filling a few spare hours: more a brisk morning stroll than a real hillwalk.

Today I was on top within thirty minutes of leaving the bothy, having paused only once, to admire a lone eagle soaring, gliding, then diving half-a-mile or so to the west. (My Kingussie friends later confirmed the existence of a breeding pair on Creag Dhubh.) Then a branch-track - not shown on the map and initially easy to miss on the ground - led up the final slope past the slender eight-foot-high cairn which is, most likely, connected with the derivation of the hill's name. The trigpoint was 200m further on, with a half-hidden stone shelter nearby, but I paused only long enough to again take in the crisp northem views. These now included the great bulk of Ben Wyvis and some sharper things further west. Then it was on along the track - which showed little inclination to go downhill during its first mile or so across the Beinn Bhreac spur, a fact which would make my ascent route a safer option for retreat in really fierce conditions. It would be all too easy to stray down the long northern slopes towards the upper Dulnain.

From here back to Glen Gynack (passing another good bothy en route) I put up scores of hares, of every shade from brown, through grey to brilliant white. Clearly there was little in the way of consensus as to what season it was! The final section of track leading back round to Pitmain Lodge was sheer delight, with daylight fading and the sky turning faintly crimson overhead. Loch Gynack looked, through the trees, to be a much larger sheet of water than it actually was, whilst Creag Mhor, first and perhaps finest hill of a day which had gradually expanded outwards as the views had done likewise, now appeared, with its three rocky tops deeply in shadow, almost Cobbleresque in outline.

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