Magical Scotland: The Cairngorms Road and Hiking Trip
I was picked up from Aberdeen airport late on Friday night from my tiny plane, and we drove an hour or so towards the Cairngorms through an increasingly wild and pitch black landscape. We parked the van in a little carpark at the start of the hike to Mount Keen, and stayed the night there before the hike the next day (17km and about 1000m of elevation in total).
We started the walk on a fairly cold and grey but bright April day and walked along a clear gravel path through heather fields and along a small river, passing occasional pine forests between mountains. The path is pretty flat until you reach the Queen’s Well, an ancient stone dome structure around a deep water-filled hole, but once past that point it got increasingly steep but not unmanageable for most people. The views of the river through the valley are stunning and the surrounding mountains still had patches of snow on their peaks. As you get close to the top the wind really picks up and our lack of gloves became more of a problem. The peak had ice formations spiking out from rocks away from the wind. The wind gets seriously crazy at the peak – almost intimidatingly so, and we were under-dressed for the situation, so we turned back pretty quickly, walking back the way we came.
We drove on to hike the Loch Nagar trail, stopping overnight by the side of a road through the mountains and next to a stream. Wild camping is generally allowed in Scotland though there are a few controlled areas to be aware of that require a bit of planning. We started the hike the next day – a more intense munroe to hike almost from the outset through a lovely pine forest, and with stunning views over lakes and snowy cliff faces during the ascent. As you get closer to the peak the path becomes much less clear and requires serious caution as the cliffs are very steep and the winds fairly crazy. Despite 40mph winds and -12 conditions with wind chill, we pushed on for the peak which is partly marked by cairns (large and obvious piles of stones marking the way. The very top is marked by a large rock and stone circular sign pointing out the landmarks surrounding the peak.
The way down from the peak heads into valleys and eventually passes high waterfalls, and leads towards Loch Nagar eventually passing through another green mossy pine forests. It's an incredible walk - tough but so rewarding.
Anyone who loves the outdoors will be spoilt in Scotland. It seems everywhere you look is quiet, often stark wilderness to explore.