August should be a time for relaxing summer walking. It brings warm, dry weather and gives way to high summit camps and long, lazy evenings.
I kept reminding myself of this as I drove north through the torrential rain, bouncing off the tarmac, and my wipers on double-speed. But unfortunately, this summer – in Scotland at least – has been a very disappointing, wet affair.
After an impromptu night away in the camper van with my son on Friday (where we played board games and ate crisps and chocolate as the rain pounded down on the roof outside) I had the chance to go away walking and (tent) camping the next night. But where to go? I studied the weather forecast and headed northeast to where rain was least likely.
For once, the BBC were spot on. By the time I reached Glenshee the heavy showers had passed and by Braemar the sun came out. I was headed for a little-visited Corbett, Sgor Mor,which provides a great view overlooking the 4000 foot-ers in the heart of the Cairngorms.
I love the short few miles of road from Braemar to the Linn of Dee. The valley opens to up to give wide vistas of Caledonian pine forest, heather-clad moorland and snow-patched mountains. It’s a rich, wild landscape that’s the starting point for many an adventure up into the hills, and one of my favourite places in Scotland.
It was a sunny and breezy late afternoon as I headed west from Linn of Dee. Excepting the few walkers heading home near the car park I didn’t see a soul for the best part of 24 hours. Just how I like it. The wild swimming pool at the Chest of Dee looked inviting, but even on a hot day the water would be freezing cold. This year there are still many snow patches feeding directly into the river, as the photos show.
I left the path to climb the heathery slopes to Sgor Mor’s summit (813m). It’s perfectly situated, giving wide views north to all of the Southern Cairngorms. Most walkers will be familiar with the shape of these hills from the north or east but the view from Sgor Mor follows the lines of the various glens: Geusachan, Dee (the Lairig Ghru), Luibeg and Derry. Looking down into the watery glens, and tracing the walkers’ paths up the popular routes, gave a bird’s eye view and brought the features on the map to life.
Having found a level pitch I cooked up one of my latest ‘real food’ backpacking recipes (Sicilian Sardinian pasta, if you’re interested) and washed it down with a bottle of ‘Black Gold’ beer from the local Cairngorm Brewery. Just because you’re camping in the wilds doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t forgo decent home comforts !
Unfortunately I hadn’t managed to find a particularly sheltered spot and the flysheet was flapping in the wind. I watched the dusk light fade, giving some nice light in the process, until I was too cold to stay out any more. (Here I was wearing a hat and gloves on the 1st August, shivering with cold !).
I slept soundly and woke on a still morning with the sun streaming through the tent. At last, this was ‘proper’ August weather and I was able to have a relaxed breakfast and snap some photos.
My return route to Linn of Dee followed the wide, alpine plateau for a full 5km via Sgor Dubh and Carn an Duibhe. I then took a bee line down steep slopes to the track alongside the river, past the lower slopes dotted with majestic ancient Caledonian pine woods.
After just less than 24 hours of solitude away, sanity restored, I was soon back home.