This pair of Corbetts lie north of the Invercauld estate near Braemar. I’d been to a wedding ceilidh the night before, plus the clocks went forward overnight losing me an hour, so after approximately 4 hours’ snooze I was very tired but still keen to get going. At 7am I sleepily made my way along the very quiet North Deeside Road to the walker’s carpark at Keiloch.
I was on my own last weekend so planned to get out into the hills at some point. I watched the forecast all week, predicting the east side of the country would as usual be the better side, and planned some Cairngorm Corbetts in. As it was, by Friday the west side was forecast to be wall to wall sunshine, a light breeze and an almost 100% chance of cloud-free Munros! Whereas the east would remain cloudy and dull. I leapt at the chance to go up to the north-west in these conditions and randomly looked up the Corbetts map on Walkhighlands. I chose some Corbetts north of Inverness, mainly based on time to reach them from home – notably Carn Chuinneag for Saturday to promise tremendous west views over Assynt, with maybe Little Wyvis or Beinn a’ Chaisteil the next day. I found the campsite at Tain was open (I hate trying to find a suitably remote ‘wild’ camping spot in the dark with the Bongo’s poor lights) so threw all my gear in the van and headed off on Friday straight after work. Yay!
The forecast for last weekend was looking horrendous. Ally and I had arranged a bothy night in Glencoe with some of Ally’s ML course pals, but MWIS (Mountain Weather Information Service) was forecasting heavy rain and winds with gusts up to 80mph in most areas. As usual, the better weather was looking like it would be in the east, so Ally quickly looked out an alternative in the SE Highlands.
The plan was to walk in from Bridge of Tilt carpark to Allt Scheicheachan bothy, stay overnight, walk up the Munro, Beinn Dearg, the next day (weather permitting) and then walk back. If the weather was really awful we could just walk into the bothy and back out the next day.
It’s been a quiet year so far for walking. Illness, holidays, family commitments and my job have meant I’ve not been able to get out but finally a free weekend came up recently. Not wanting to travel too far, Ally and I looked at the quicker local options and decided on a local Graham, Mona Gowan in Donside.
There are several routes up Mona Gowan but we went for the easiest – from the Strathdon side there is a track all the way up. Why we opted for this way I cannot remember – I don’t think we were particularly looking for an easy outing.
After all the December blowouts I was ready for some proper hills! Ally and I initially planned to head to Lochnagar on the Sunday after Christmas – I wanted to climb the Corbett Conachcraig, but Ally was keen on Lochnagar instead. A hill I’ve walked a few times but never in winter. Well anyway, a burst water pipe in the house when we got back on the Saturday night put paid to those plans – Happy Christmas! I was definitely ready to de-stress by Monday. Which, incidentally, was the more perfect day – so it worked out very well in that respect, as Sunday had been OK but cloudy in the Cairngorms.
It was baltic setting off for Glen Muick first thing from the house. Driving through Torphins it was -5.5C – the coldest we had seen it this year. When we got to Glen Muick however it had risen to -4C. So, fairly chilly – however it was one of those blue sky sunny days with no wind which, of course, helped enormously.
Earlier this year in the summit shelter cairn of Pressendye, near Tarland, I met a woman who told me about the hill at the back, towards The Buck, with a larch wood at the top. ‘I swear to God fairies live in that wood’ she said. This pressed a button – my favourite book when I was growing up was ‘The Magical Faraway Tree’ and ever since I heard this woman say those words I have been weirdly excited about going up this otherwise indistinct heathery dome – Coiliochbhar Hill. A fairy wood? It’s the stuff of girlhood dreams.
The run up to Christmas has as usual been busy, so with no rain forecast on the Winter Solstice, it was time to get out and feed my hill obsession, albeit with some short hills for the shortest day. Craiglich (476m) and Coiliochbhar Hill (533m) are two Marilyns close each other and close to where I live, so Ally and I set off in the Bongo for a wee leg stretcher to walk them both.
My birthday has rolled round once again. Ally asked what I’d like to do so I suggested a weekend involving backpacking, bothies and hills – a few of my favourite things. He planned it all and it was going to remain a surprise as to what / where exactly, but my inner planner got the better of me and I asked him to tell me a few days beforehand. It was in Highland Perthshire, north of Dunkeld – a two day backpack and an overnight stay in a bothy with hill options on the way. Not knowing what the weather would be like, Ally had erred on the side of caution and stuck to relatively lower ground. Looking up the planned route on the map I noticed that although we weren’t in the high hills, there were two Marilyns (Deuchary Hill and Creag nam Mial) en route for each day. Always a sucker for hills on a list, I suggested we included these as well.