Saturday, 14 February 2015

Carn an Fhreiceadain - The watchers' cairn

738 feet. Kingussie. I step off the train into the still, gripping cold of a February morning. There's not much movement in town, just a dog-walker and the postman. Old snow is scraped back to the edges of the pavement and piles of grit are crunchy under my boots. I follow the road that follows the Gynack Burn north. Tarmac becomes compacted snow and icicles hang in the dark corners of the stream’s gorge. It’s quiet except for the squeak of snow as I walk.

1148 feet. Pitmain. The road gives way to track which leaves the woods to enter the open hillside. I have to push hard against the gate whose swing is hindered by drifts of snow. I pull on the snowshoes and start to ascend. It’s slow going. I’m carrying a pack heavy with winter walking kit and winter camping kit, and I’ve now got two extra weights strapped to my feet. But they are worth their weight in gold, saving me from sinking into deep snow that would quickly sap energy.

2132 feet. Bad Each. A biting north wind picks up from nowhere and whips down the ridge. Mountain hares in their winter white coats explode from holes in the snow, leaving their snowshoe-shaped footprints across the hillside. I pull on a duvet jacket and snuggle into the hood. I crouch down with my back to the wind to eat some snacks and force down some freezing cold water from my bottle. It's only three hours from the cosy, comfort of the village but this empty place of snow and wind feels like a different world.

2880 feet. Carn an Fhreiceadain. The top is scoured of snow and blasted by a wind that’s increased to gale force. I can barely stand up or walk and spindrift like tiny needles stings my eyes and face. The windchill is severe and the place is gripped in ice. To the north are the beautiful white wastelands of the Monadhliath and to the south the snow-covered whalebacks of the Cairngorms. But today it’s not a place to linger and watch over the view. I turn and begin to drop back down.

1082 feet. Loch Gynack. A pot of tea is brewing beside the tent. I’ve pitched up in a pinewood that fringes the loch. There's less snow and more grass for pitching on under the trees. My view stretches up the loch to the snow-covered peaks above Newtonmore. I take a hot mug down to the shore but there’s no water at the water’s edge, only ice. The sun sets in a sky smudged with mauve and red. I fall asleep listening to the spooky groans and creaks of the frozen loch.

Fact file

Photos: more on Flickr. Click here.
Start/finish: Kingussie Railway Station served by Edinburgh/Glasgow to Inverness trains.
Route: From the train station walk north to the main street and turn right. Take the left at the traffic lights up Ardbroilach Road and keep straight on this road. Eventually you'll pass the entrance to Pitmain Lodge on the left but go straight on and soon you'll go through a gate and leave the woods. Follow the track for another few hundred metres then leave it to the left to strike up the ridge called Bad Each. When there isn't snow you might want to stay on the track which eventually goes all the way to the top. Follow the Bad Each ridge north to the top called Beinn Bhreac then turn west for Carn an Fhreiceadain marked by a slim cairn. I returned via the gully of the Allt Mor and then rejoined the outward road. At the golf course I took the first "Paths around Kingussie" sign for South Gynack/Newtonmore and followed a lovely trail up to Loch Gynack. I camped at the east end of the loch. Next day I rejoined the path to make a beautiful, snowy circuit of Creag Bheag. A subsidiary path leaves the Newtonmore path and is signed for Creag Bheag. It makes a steep ascent up the east side through woods. I walked west along the top of the hill then dropped off the west side to pick up the Newtonmore path again but turned east to make a circle back to my campspot. It was a lovely wee walk on a snowy, sunny morning.