Our main reason for coming to this neck of the woods was to do a long circuit of Lochnagar. When we awoke to glorious sunshine our tiredness from yesterdays travel and yomp soon disappeared. Thankfully we had planned well and arranged a nice early breakfast which would allow us to make a start before nine thirty. Unfortunately by the time we reached the car park in Glen Muick (pronounced Glen Mick) virtually all the sunshine had been left behind and we’d have to make the most of a fair but muggy climate. We weren’t to be alone; the car park was pretty full and included several RAF mountain rescue personnel who were out for a training exercise.
So, having paid our £2 contribution towards the upkeep of this wonderful area we set off through the trees (the near ones) across the flood plane and towards the old Victorian mansion of Allt-na-Giubhsaich. This track was how all walks should start, flat! It was along this track that we were passed by a bloke on a heavily laden bike. I don’t suppose he’d made a bad choice. After all if he was cycling his way to the far end of Loch Mick he was replacing a ten mile walk with an easy ten mile bike ride. Maybe there’s a thought for another day. In no time we entered the far woods and then started the gradual climb towards Mickle Pap. Although muggy it was a really pleasant way to head for the hills. We had the stream to accompany us, the heather clad hills looked well, the weather was fine and just to spoil things I could feel a problem with a toe nail. A quick investigation left the rest making their way ahead whilst I had the joy of removing not only the offending nail, but also the flap of loose skin on the adjacent toe the nail had created. Clearly when I got going again the rest were some way ahead. I could also sense someone else making their way up the path and didn’t really feel like letting him catch me. Perhaps I was off form. The bloke with a great heavy rucksack eventually caught me. The fact that he was one of the RAF Mountain Rescue team made me feel a little better. We nattered for a while and he advised that as a member of this team he had to do two out of every three weekends in the hills as a practice. Although he didn’t get paid for this overtime he seemed pretty happy with his lot and obviously enjoyed the outdoors. He went on to advise that whilst on the way up last night he’d seen our crew making their way off the hills in the darkness. Hmm, what would he have been thinking?
Having said our goodbyes to the RAF chap all six of us made our way towards the inevitable clag. On route we stopped by a memorial to read the inscription to an airman who’s perished whilst climbing on the Lochnagar cliffs back in 1953. He was obviously fresh in someone’s memory as this cairn had only been built in 2003. Having woken to such a glorious day it was a bit of a pity to find ourselves clambering up the last seven hundred feet of ascent in the cloud. From time to time we would get tantalising glimpses down the great snow filled gullies of the “Owd Man”. Perhaps we’d have to come back another day. Our main concern at this time was to find the summit. Everywhere looked the same and at one point (for the second day running) we almost claimed a rather insignificant cairn as the top. Thankfully sense prevailed; we descended a little and then made the final ascent to the true high point of the day. Stood on the summit of Lochnagar our mood was pretty good. It was warm, the sun was trying to break through and occasional glimpses of the surrounding countryside could be seen. The summit trig point had an old mountain identification dial attached to it. No doubt on a crystal clear day the named hills, Ben Nevis, The Cheviot and Schiehallion could easily be picked out. There was also some pretty old graffiti carved into one of the great boulders that formed the summit. No doubt this was some nineteenth century expression of love. Maybe even Vicki and Mr Brown?
Still in the clag we retraced our steps back to the first top and then set off along the rim of crags above Loch nan Eun until a bearing was taken to the summit of the most insignificant Munro I’d ever seen. The summit of Carn a’ Coire Boidheach was simply a rounded undulation on a great summit plateau that somehow overshadowed its neighbours by a few feet. The descent however was a little more eventful. I had a sudden urge and with no option whatsoever had to leave my calling card. By coincidence no sooner had I done my little jobbie than I descended under the cloud level. With this new found visibility everyone’s mood picked up and decisions soon had to be made. There were the remnants of snowfields in several directions. Should we slide down this one or that one? Whilst we had this dilemma to contend with Paul had reverted to yesterday’s mode and was somehow trying to get us to move on and forget the inevitable time wasting excursions. He was clearly outvoted and took his position at the base of a rather large but shallow snow slope. The rest of us, Mark, Stu, Mike, Rachel and myself lined up and on the count of three flung ourselves face first down this slope. Rubbernecking in all directions soon made me realise that my early lead wouldn’t last long. Of all people it was the dwarf who sailed passed us all and finished the race with arms waved aloft shouting “I win, I win”. Leaving Rachel to have another go and show the rest how to glissade on the snow I sensed an opportunity to reach the next summit Carn an t-Sagait Mor whilst we had a break in the clouds. Sure enough the summit was reached in bright sunshine and cracking views of the distant snow clad Cairngorms could be picked out.
From this position we knew that we were now at the furthest point from the car. The only issue was that it was now well into the afternoon. Paul, by now had decided to have a bash at navigating and quickly pointed out the next top and the even more distant next munro. Surely the hills weren’t that distant. After collaring a rather unwilling owd chap to take our team photo we made our way along this highway in the sky towards the first of a series of hills. The top Paul had identified turned out to be Carin Bannock the next munro. Ok, his direction finding was spot on, but his understanding of scale was a little wayward. It was amazing how quickly the ground could be covered and how quickly the perspective from one hill to another changed. After only half an hour we found ourselves on munro number four with a clear view of the final hill of the day. Another half an hour later and we were all perched on the top of Broad Cairn taking in the views across to Lochnagar and down Loch Mick. Some time before the summit Mike had set off at great pace and was merrily making his way towards the summit when Mark decided to go after him. There was no chance of Mark catching Mike, but even so late in the day they both found enough energy to race off up the final few hundred feet of ascent. As an onlooker it was hilarious. Mike was scurrying away rucksack swinging from side to side, with Mark in hot pursuit bounding over the rock and rubble trying his best to bridge the gap. Needless to say Mike’s advantage proved a little too much, even for Mark’s long legs and energy.
Cairn Bannock might have been our ninth munro in two days; however we were still seven miles from the car. Yes, we knew we’d have decent terrain and paths to follow, but walking seven miles is equivalent to walking from Newmillerdam to Wakey and back. The highlight of the treck back was a cracking view down over Loch Mick and the dwelling Glasalt-shiel. What a location this house stood in. Right on the shores of this loch, its own manicured gardens, its own island just off shore, a great patch of woodland on its doorstep and no other habitation within miles. Rachel was taken by it and there was some rumour flying around that it was owned by the royal family. Both ways it wasn’t for sale and we didn’t have the money. Within the last mile of the walk we came across a heard of red deer. There must have been one hundred plus. It was almost like a scene out of a safari as they slowly grazed at the side of the outflow from the loch. Some would decide the pasture on the other side of the river was greener and then wade through the water. Quite a tranquil way to end an energetic day.
Having managed to return to the car before it became dark our priorities turned to our evening meal. Last night we had missed out and so we called in the first pub that served food, the Invar Hotel, Here we endured a long wait for decent food and joy of joys watched the England Rugby Union team beat the Jocks. A quick trip back to the B&B and we were ready for the pub. There was no sense in trying elsewhere when we knew the Fife Arms served a good pint. No sooner had we arrived, taken our seat in front of the turn and Mike was up teaching Rachel how to dance. That just about set the tone for the evening. A few pints, a good sing along, a few more pints, plenty of banter and then the odd dram. The turn managed to entertain with the banjo, drums, bagpipes, guitar and the mandolin; however the highlight was a single handed version of duelling banjo’s with just the one banjo. As a finale one or two drunken members of the audience stepped forward to coax a tune out of the bagpipes. As Paul put it, it was a Scottish Karaoke. On our way out it only seemed right to help the musician out to his car with his gear. Just as he was packing everything away Rachel managed to persuade him to give one last rendition on the mandolin. That just about topped the night off as he stood there on the pavement playing away at gone twelve o’clock. The day and night had been that good that even the sound of Mike snoring again failed to detract.
In summary this had once again been a top notch trip to the highlands. Although the scenery wasn’t as wild as it is in the west the company easily made up for that. Role on September.