Hills: Carn a’Mhaim
Who: me and Stuart (no minions this time)
When: Sunday 2 August 2015
Distance: 14 miles
Time: 7 hours
Weather: started out lovely then a bit iffy. Definitely not as forecast.
Also present: The usual billions of Cairngorm midges: a less than pleasant stream crossing
Bog factor: low
Post walk drink: Shiraz (me) Stella Artois (Stuart)
It was 2 August 2015. We had come up to Scotland for a friend’s wedding on the 31st July, and had seen that the weather forecast for the weekend looked reasonable if you happened to be over in the East – indeed as far East as possible. Having done all the hills in the Angus/ Lochnagar area and most of those around Glenshee already, a plan was hatched to make a smash and grab raid into the Cairngorms.
Wait, hang on a minute – where are the usual tales of transportation foul-ups, gear left in London, gear lost, mechanical breakdowns and too many glasses of wine that tend to characterise one of our trips North? Well, for the most part they were absent – things actually went more or less to plan! Yes, there were some beers/ glasses of wine ingested over the weekend, but that was the day before and the day of the wedding (pretty reasonable, really). And inevitably there was something forgotten as I had left our summer weight gloves in London, necessitating a quick stop in Tiso in Perth to pick up replacements. As it happened we may have been just as well taking the winter pairs as for August it was Baltic – summer my a**e as Jim Royle might have said!
We ended up booking a hotel in Perth on the Saturday night with the logic being that we were then a lot nearer to the start point of the walk – and given the forecast was for the weather to be better in the morning we figured that just for once an early start was going to be a good idea. So only a couple of glasses of wine the night before.. and we were actually at Linn of Dee at 9.30, which was just as well as the car park was heaving with very few spaces left. The billions of midges that seem to congregate there don’t need parking spaces though! We kept the faffing with kit to a minimum (having done most of it in Perth) and were booted up and ready for the off at 9.50. Given we often don’t start a summer walk until lunchtime this felt very odd! What didn’t help though, and would become an issue later on, is that despite having had plenty of sleep I felt really tired, maybe not the best start for a walk that although straightforward, is pretty long at 14 miles.
Anyway, at the time it was a lovely morning with good views opening out all round and we got the heads down and got on with it, getting to Derry Lodge in less than an hour and crossing by the new bridge, and about another hour to get to the base of the hill, as we took the detour to the Luibeg Bridge to cross the burn having seen several people not having much luck getting across the ford (and getting wet feet in the process).
The bridge is starting to look a tad rickety, with a number of holes opening up – not good! I’d also managed to forget how annoying the slog across the bog at the other side is before you get back onto the constructed path – oh well, the bog factor for this walk as a whole is pretty low. Never mind, 12 noon saw us at the bottom of the branch off path that leads up Carn a’Mhaim. It was however becoming apparent that the higher hills had started to clag in – so much for cloud lifting during the morning and then staying high until the rain came on later, it had obviously decided it had had enough of a lie in. Grrr! It was a case of head down and get on with it up the constructed path that zigzags steeply up the slope.
I have to confess to not enjoying this bit at all. Not because of the path itself, which is well made and even has a stone staircase in parts, but because the tiredness was starting to kick in properly and I was making heavy weather of it. Having made pretty good time on the walk in I had virtually slowed to a crawl and seemed at some points to be making very little forward, or upward, progress. Stuart kept chivvying me along and I was absolutely delighted when the gradient flattened out at about the 850m contour and we could see the false summit.
I was even more delighted when I realised that a path bypassed the false summit! Stuart commented that it’s strange how aches, pains and tiredness seem to ease off when you know you are nearly at the top and it’s true. The final gentle walk along the bouldery ridge was easy going and we were at the summit at about 1.15, a bit later than I had hoped for but still not too bad given the distance and the tiredness factor. And at least the clag was above the top of our hill, although it was still resolutely sitting at about 1100m so the views were sadly not as great as we had hoped for. At least we got some, though!
We took a quick break at the top to take on some food and then headed off back down. I know it is possible to add other hills on (Ben MacDui/ Derry Cairngorm) but we had already done Ben MacDui in clag a few years ago and have no desperate desire to do it in clag again. Plus it is a long slog over to Derry Cairngorm and quite frankly there just wasn’t enough in the tank, as well as the weather factor, as the cloud seemed to be closing in. So we plodded off down the path leaving Derry Cairngorm for another day. Again I made heavy weather of the steep bit – for some reason I felt as though my balance was off and it took me far longer than it should to get down it. I later realised one of my walking poles had collapsed down a bit so I actually was off balance because of using them! The tiredness didn’t help either, in hindsight.
Back on the flat we had a decision to take about the stream crossing. The stepping stones at the normal crossing point looked iffy and the water was quite deep. Stuart went a bit further downstream to look for a better crossing point and having found one hopped across but got one foot (and therefore boot) soaked in the process. He suggested I take my boots off.. so I ended up with my boots tied around my neck crossing the stream barefoot. It was – to say the least – bracing but the cold was less of an issue than the fact that the rocks at the bottom were quite small and it was therefore quite painful to walk across. On the plus side, at least I had dry boots once I got to the other side!
Boots back on, we could see the weather was starting to turn and by the time we got back to Derry Lodge the lower hills, including Carn a’Mhaim, were shrouded in clag. The rain seemed to be holding off though. We tried to stop for another food break at Derry Lodge, but got divebombed by midges so gave up and decided to just get back to the car as soon as possible! I was really tired by this point but we still made reasonable time and were back at the car at Linn of Dee (otherwise known as midge central) at 4.45.
We then had a decision to take. We were meant to be going back to Stuart’s parents in Irvine but by the time I had driven for about an hour I was feeling completely knackered, so given we weren’t heading back till Monday evening we took the decision to stop off in Perth again, having managed to get a hotel room for £41 for the night. After getting changed and having a bath (I always think a bath after a hill walk is so much nicer than a shower) it was time for the inevitable post walk drinks in a selection of Perth hostelries. Slainte!