Simple things make me happy. Like standing on a bridge to watch the train pass below and the driver waves up at me. I was crossing over the railway line at Dalwhinnie to walk into its wee hills to the northwest. Hidden away up there are two fabulous landscape features.
Snow and ice scrunched under my boots as I walked into the hills alongside the partially frozen waters of the Allt an t'Sluic, using an old drovers route through to Laggan. It was a quiet place gripped in the stillness of a cold winter's day. The glen was devoid of life except for a few deer scraping back the snow for some meagre grazing. Ice was draped over the rocks like sheets over fine furniture in an empty house. There was not a breath of wind to stir the winter-bare birches and the only sound was the tinkle of the river where it wasn't locked in ice.
After a while the glen opened out to a high heather moor. The snow-capped rocky peak of Meall nan Eagan rose above while the southerly boundary of this high valley was formed by the snowy flanks of the Fara with its lower skirt of forest. But the place was dominated by two gigantic gashes up ahead, the Dirc Mhor and the Dirc Beag. These ancient glacial melt water channels had sliced through the hills leaving behind two massive cracks in the landscape. It's hard to imagine the power of natural forces that can slice a mountain in two.
l pitched the tent in this big open space, forcing tent pegs into semi-frozen ground, then easily climbed Meall nan Eagan. It's snow was deep and soft in some places but shallow and wind-scoured in others. I put on snowshoes a few hundred metres before the top as the sun glinted briefly through a grey sky, bronzing the snow-speckled moorland below. There was a panorama of snow-covered mountains all around but their tops were cut off abruptly by a ceiling of low cloud.
From the top of the hill I could look onto the Dirc Mhor and the Dirc Beag. Their eerie recesses were filled with loose scree and a jumble of massive boulders. They looked rough and wild, and dark and foreboding. I couldn't believe I'd traversed the Dirc Mhor a few years ago as from here it looked quite impassable. That was also the opinion of my companions at the time by the end of it. But I'd loved its primeval, lost world atmosphere.
I dropped down off the hill and crossed frozen cascades of water to reach the bottom of the Dirc Beag. It revealed a secret birch wood whose leafless branches added their delicate, purple hue of winter to an otherwise monochrome landscape. I found the Dirc's outflow and followed it downstream. In some places it ran clear and fast, and in other places it disappeared under bridges of ice. It was soon swollen by the outflow of the Dir Mhor then wounds its way down ice-encrusted and snow-dusted moorland back to my tent. It provided the water for a warming pot of tea, enjoyed with the last of the Christmas cake and a view through snow flurries back to the Dircs.
More photos on Flickr click here.
Start/finish: Dalwhinnie Train Station
Map: OS Landranger 42
Route: On leaving the station continue down Station Road and turn left on the main street. Follow this road passed the distillery, over the railway and up the steep road that continues to Laggan. A short way up the road take the drovers' route to the left signed for Feagour. When it reaches a cottage, take the left fork. The track soon ends but becomes a footpath. When it peters out, climb the bank to your right to regain the original track. It continues criss-crossing the Allt an t'Sluic but there is always a bit of a footpath on the right side. At the head of the glen, the track ends, the terrain opens out and I pitched the tent here. I continued across rough moorland and climbed up the east side of Meall nan Eagan. I left the top heading northwest for a few hundred metres to avoid crags on the south side then descended west to a broad bealach with the Dirc Mhor and Dirc Beag above. Following the outflow back to the tent provided good walking. I returned to Dalwhinnie by the same route.
Tip: Great collection of old photos in the waiting room at Dalwhinnie Station.