We have a new van. Our second trip with it was over the Easter weekend, when we planned to incorporate two hill days along with some climbing the coast to avoid the worst of the weather.
We set off late on Thursday and found somewhere to spend the night just south of Dalwhinnie. On Friday morning we intended to climb four munros in a loop of about 25km in the Drumochter pass. After setting off, the path quickly disappeared into bogginess before we reached the snow near the top the first munro, Geal Charn, where the wind really picked up.
Having descended into a valley it felt like a long haul up to second summit, A’Mharconaich, but the potentially unremarkable hills were redeemed by the sight of at least six mountain hares. They were still in their winter coats and stood out brightly as they dashed between snow patches. We also spotted the first pair of ptarmigans of the trip, which may be my favourite of all the wildlife that we see with any regularity in the hills.
Although the hills we were on were not especially dramatic, we had intermittent good views of the ranges to the west that looked a lot more impressive. The descent off the fourth and final munro, Sgairneach Mhor, was marked mainly by the number of red grouse that we came across, followed by a long walk back along the A9 in the rain, which made us consider whether we should have parked near the end of the route rather than the start.
Once back at the van, and after a cup of tea and digestive biscuits, we drove northeast to Cummingston, where we had dinner and spent the night. On Saturday morning we got in a few hours climbing on the sea cliffs, where the rock is very distinctive and difficult to describe, but interesting to climb, if a bit sandy in places.
We then headed back down to Aviemore via a stop at the Glenlivet Distillery, which puts on a good, and free, tour that includes a dram at the end.
On Sunday, the alarms were set for early but very strong winds had been forecast and we woke up with the van shaking, which was a good excuse for another hours sleep. The walk up Bynack More was lovely; it starts in the forest and continues on a good track out into a massive open area of land that is signposted as the Abernethy RSPB reserve.
It’s a fairly gently and steady climb most of the way up. The sun was out, the wind was less strong than expected and the last steep section was covered in snow and looked beautiful.
The views were great, with mountains extending in every direction except north and more ptarmigan and hares just added to the interest.
We took a different route down, descending faster into the valley and following the river back to the main track, and this included a lot of bog, both on the ridge and along the bottom of the valley. The sense of space, however, was quite special.
Our return to the van was followed very quickly by a tasty dinner at Glenmore Lodge. Before returning home on Monday, we went hunting capercaillie in the Rothiemurchus forest, which was lovely, although full of mountain bikers and unsurprisingly, we didn’t see any capercaillie.