A return to the hills

As soon as lockdown rules lifted and we were allowed outside our five-mile travel restriction, I tossed the rucksack and the pup in the car and headed to the hills. An early morning departure meant that I caught the sunrise coming up to Stirling, and had a peaceful dawn drive past Perth, and through the farmlands around Blairgowrie. As I followed the winding A93 North into the Cairngorms, the hills open up around me and I felt something in my heart shift and unlock.

Oh, I had missed this.

I drove through Braemar and turned east, following the River Dee past Mar Lodge, arriving at the Linn of Dee carpark. A few moments to organize myself and my gear, and we hit the trail.

The walk starts on a lovely forest track, leaving the carpark quickly behind. Pausing at a look-out point and then over a little boardwalk, we passed through a gate and climbed up to meet the main track headed to Derry Lodge. Turning left, we started the walk up Glen Lui, with valley spreading out around us, filled with the purple and green of heather and grasses.

Perry was in alt, with water all around, and spent the first part of the walk racing into and out of the Waters of Lui, splashing and rolling. We were trying out his panier packs for this walk, and I was grateful that all his food was stashed in dry bags, as his bags were well and truly drenched.

After about an hour of walking we reach Derry Lodge, which looks suitably atmospheric, tucked away in its little wooded copse. Crossing the bridge over the Derry Burn, I looked north up Glen Derry and made a note to return again to do that walk at some point, before turning West again and starting towards the Lairig Ghru. Still following the water, we walked on, Carn a'Mhaim looming ahead of us.

Just below the hill, we turned north for a brief spell, not wanting to risk the ford crossing and instead taking the Luibeg Bridge. Then back to the trail, and as we passed below the hill, the Devil’s Point and Cairn Toul came into view in front of us. A light rain had started, but not enough to stop me from putting down my pack and just drinking in the sight of the hills ahead of us.

Then it was time to trek on, turning off the Lairig Ghru and crossing over another little bridge before stopping for lunch and a quick coffee. It had been over 8 miles to here, and about 3.5 hours, so I was feeling good – but starting to re-evaluate my plan for the day. My original goal was to make it to the Wells of Dee to set up camp – but that was a further five miles on still, mainly across exposed ridges. And, given this was our first walk of the season, both the pup and I were at less than full fighting weight here.

But, we both still had energy and plenty of daylight, so I hoisted my pack and we headed up the steep path behind Corrour Bothy. And up. And up. It doesn’t look like too much from the bottom, but it is pretty much a mile straight up to the saddle between the Devil’s Point and Coire an t-Saighdeir. It’s a beautiful climb – but with the full weight of the pack, I was starting to let go of the idea of making it to the Wells of Dee. When I paused at the top of a ridge to plan the next part of the path on to Coire an t-Saighdeir, Perry dug up some moss, curled up in a ball and promptly fell sound asleep – which decided the day for us – no more pressing on!

I took off his pack, and settled in next to him to allow him a little nap, and after 30 minutes or so, he was up again and ready to go, so we headed back down the way we had come, stopping to enjoy the view out to the Devil’s Point, and the wonder of seeing a huge snow patch on the hill in July. About halfway down the hill I pitched our tent, put Perry’s pjs on him, and we headed in for a rest – no matter that the sun was still up and would be for another 4 hours!

There’s something so soothing to me about being in a tent on the hills. We had an incredibly windy night, but even so, the sound of the water burbling all around us, and the clean smell of the air and the heather and the mosses – I rarely sleep through the night when I’m out, but I rise in the morning feeling as rested as if I had because the environment has done something to recharge me.

After a windy (!!!) night, the morning dawned cold and beautiful, and I packed up early and we headed back down the hill. The plan for the day was a simple walk out back to the Linn of Dee, this time following Glen Dee out to the White Bridge. An uneventful but lovely walk and we were back to the car well before noon.