glen sheeeeeee

Mon, Aug 24, 2009

Yes it really is pronounced like that, coming as it does from S├Čth, meaning either peace or a fairy. The accent over the “i” makes it a long word, so you really do pronounce it like that. Unfortunately it’s not peaceful any more as there is a hideous ski complex rotting on the slopes. It’s a fascinating and historical area though, as Malcolm Canmore started the royal associations when he built a hunting lodge in Braemar in 1059 after he marched across the Glen Shee pass to meet Macbeth in battle in 1057 and in 1060 he arguably started the tradition of Highland Games in Braemar. I have fond memories of this area from my student days in Dundee and outings with the Carn Dearg Mountaineering Club. I was there at the weekend, bound for the three munros of Carn Aosda, Carn a’Gheoidh and Cairnwell, having driven across on the Friday night and camped at the top of the pass at around 670m. A foul night it was with blasts of wind and heavy rain, although it turned out to be a beautiful morning on the Saturday with blue sky and light winds.

Camping at the Cairnwell

I was on the move by 6:45am and on the summit of Carn Aosda half an hour later, just me and lots and lots of hares. The early morning light was beautiful and once off the ski road down from the summit the walking was superb on short turf and out of sight of the ski rot. Just as I came up onto the ridge behind Cairnwell, a huge stag caught a glimpse of me and we had one of those cartoon moments where I stopped still while the stag stared, not believing his eyes, before doing that funny cartoon bolt where his body shot off, leaving his magnificently antlered head where it was for a fraction of a second.

People complain these hills are boring and ugly but they are alive with wildlife. I lost count of the hares I saw and the amount of ptarmigan was amazing, all with their under wings white. There was definitely change in the air. Brown hills into the distance and a cold wind blowing on the tops. Everything was on the move. Hares running all over the place and huge flocks of ptarmigan flying low and fast across the high moorlands. On Carn a’Gheoidh I watched two ravens keep an eye on a raptor as it swooped from one end of the hill to the other, each time stopping dead and hovering against the strong westerly blowing low cloud up from the plains. Away to the south east the Lomond hills were in bright sunshine and as the land rolled ever higher, to where I was sitting at the cairn, so cloud rolled with it until I was temporarily enclosed in a cold clammy fog which skitted across the bright rocks and hid the hunters from view.

Early morning light on Loch Vrotachan

On the way back I detoured over Carn nan Sac and down the headwall of Coire Dirich a bit, looking for interesting plants. You really have no idea there is a ski hole just across the hill when you’re here. It’s a stunning location looking down into the heathery coire, watching herds of deer roaming around. On the Friday night huge herds were crossing the road, hinds mewing, the rut approaching. Boring and ugly? I think not!

On the way up Cairnwell I took a nice wee path up the rocks at the side and only had to look at the masts once on the flat part of the ridge. A real mess they’ve made of this hill and the chairlift, which was running, looked oddly abandoned. The chairs were no bigger than the seat for a child’s desk and the whole contraption exuded an air of decreptitude. It was a strange moment, standing outside the top station, the wind howling and moaning in the framework and these empty and clapped out looking chairs coming up, going round and heading back down again.

From there, the walk to the summit is strewn with pipes and wires and all sorts of crap until you reach the midden at the top. There’s a horrible shelter in which someone had dumped a tent, the pole having broken. How cheap was that? Apparently there is a problem in the Braemar area with people like that. They buy cheap tents, camp at the roadside, party all weekend and before they head back to the city, they burn the tents.

Summit of Cairnwell

I managed to find a spot out of the wind and away from the mess and wind moaning through the girders, no doubt wailing at the destruction. It was then down to the road, down one of the most delightful slopes I’ve ever been on. I just went straight down to the snow gates at the south end of the pass, causing a hare to run into a group of 20 ptarmigan which flew off round the slope, leaving one to walk after them. I wasn’t sure why it didn’t fly and I could hear its calls from the rocks as it tried to find its friends. I hope it did. The slope down to the road was just wonderfully soft, cushioning the steepness and it was very steep but it wasn’t difficult and the moss and heather and grass was wonderful to walk on.

Four hours after leaving the car I was back and getting ready for the long drive back to Skye. Refreshed by an invigorating day on the high rolling tops. Wonderful!

You can see all the pics here.

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