When Alan contacted me about accompanying him to the Cairngorms for a leg stretch, I lept at the chance. Andy Walker was also invited as pacemaker and jester. In the planning process, it became clear that a reasonable route in the Cairngorms was going to be difficult with the amount of snow still lying around, so our attention was shifted to the Monadhliath. This suited me, as I’d never been to the Monadhliath and I was anxious to see them for myself.
After successfully meeting at King’s Cross station, despite Alan’s radio silence, we boarded the midday train. A seven and a half hour train journey can hardly be described as enjoyable, but Andy kept us entertained. At one point he indulged in a slightly surreal conversation with the tea trolley attendant on the number of cherries in the fruit cake slices.
We arrived at Kingussie on time and walked back along the cycle track to Newtonmore where we stayed at the Newtonmore Hostel, which is now owned by the Mrs O’s of TGO Challenge fame. Solid and liquid sustenance was consumed at the Glen Hotel opposite the hostel and we repaired to bed for a reasonably early night. Despite a heavy cold, I was able to get some sleep and didn’t disturb my compatriots too much.
Day 1, Newtonmore to Dulnain bothy number one (16km)
Morning dawned grey and rather gloomy. In the common room I introduced myself to the only other person in the hostel, Rosemary, who spent her childhood very near to where I live. It’s a small world. Sue Oxley, one of the owners of the hostel came over as we were having breakfast. To complete our happy little throng, Val and Dave, who were walking with us for the day, arrived.
After a bit of a packing faff, we were off. Having (almost) successfully navigated our way through the back streets of Newtonmore, we were amongst the fields. The cloud was lifting and breaking, so it seemed we might get a reasonable day. Our route took us to the wood on the western side of Loch Gynack , along the northern shore of the loch, before striking north just above Pitmain Lodge.
Easy paths and pleasant conversation made for a gentle start to our bimble. North of the Lodge, the land becomes more remote and wild, although the walking was straightforward, following a Land Rover track above the gorge of the Allt Mor.
On crossing the Allt Mor, we branched west to a lunch hut to partake of some food, sheltered from the cold wind.
It was quite cold, even in the hut, so we didn’t hang around too long. To the east of us, over the Cairngorms, the weather seemed to be improving.
However, over the Monadliath themselves, especially to the west, the clouds were still thick and brooding.
After a minor navigational mishap, we located the track up to “Freaky Dean” (Carn an Fhreiceadain). At the south western end of the summit ridge, there’s an impressive cairn, which provided a suitable point for a posed photo.
From the cairn, it was a short march to the summit trig point. By this time the wind had picked up and it was quite cold. On the northern flank, there’s a small shelter, which Val, Andy and I bagged to get out of the wind.
Instead of following the track, we cut westwards over easy terrain and were rewarded with a sighting of a hare, still in its white winter coat.
As we descended, it became warmer and the cold wind less noticeable. On regaining the Land Rover track, we were treated to some sunshine.
Track down to the Dulnain
Despite some occasional patches of snow on the track, spikes were not needed. While most of the snow had cleared there were still some occasional spectacular banks of snow in sheltered places.
Snow bank on the Dulnain
At the bothy, we sheltered from the wind. Val and Dave left us to return to Newtonmore. The wind was beginning to pick up and Alan suggested that it would be better to use the bothy rather than camp. It would prove to be a wise decision.
River Dulnain looking SW from bothy
All in all, it had been a great first day in the Monadhliath.