One extraordinarily sunny, warm (dare I say, “hot”?) August day, I took a short train ride from Inverness, Scotland to the charmingly-named Aviemore. From there, I walked about a mile and a half along the road and into Rothiemurchus Forest, part of a massive estate at the foot of the Cairngorms mountain range and which gives access to the Lairig Ghru hill pass.
Purple heather carpeted the day, and in the forest rough-barked, tall pines towered over it and the pale blue/green/gray lichen, shrubbery and ferns and tight-knit, spiny ground cover. Baking under the bright summer sun, it all smelled like sandy ground and pine. The sound of water rushing was never distant, all day long: rocky streams ran clear and clean not too far from the path.
There were actual toadstools, which made for a “those-really-exist?” moment, plus little butterflies and bees and big old dragonflies.
And then I came out of the forest and into the pass… There’s nothing like the joy of an open trail ahead in glorious weather.
The Cairngorms are such odd, fat mountains, with pebbly slopes, some of them gracefully angled like dresses or upside down flowers.
The trail was easy to follow – with mountains on either side you can’t really go wrong.
Still, it was difficult to pick my way across the rock fields, where the best path wasn’t clear and the boulders sat precariously – there were a couple of moments where I thought I might pull a 127 Hours… or at least break an ankle.
Because of the train schedule, I really only had time to reach the Pools of Dee and then jog back the way I came. These little shimmering puddles reminded me just a tiny bit of another boulder-strewn hike I once did in France (though the Lacs de la Pra outshines poor Dee even in worse weather – sorry Scotland).
It was a beautiful day, and my appreciation for it only deepened when I dug into Nan Shepherd’s evocative The Living Mountain on the train. The first line: “Summer on the high plateau can be delectable as honey; it can also be a roaring scourge.” Isn’t that delicious?
If you’re in the area, I highly recommend this walk (though be forewarned that for much of the year the Cairngorms are windy, snowy, and relatively remote). There’s a decent guide to Lairig Ghru walking here, and I used the OL57 map.