Frank falls for Findhorn...

The Monadliath are the Grey Moors. The name is dull; some would have you believe that the hills are also dull. Don’t believe it!

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 3rd July 2013, 11:00 am

There are some fine munros in the range as well as a number of very worthwhile Corbetts. Some of the glens are superb, supposing you didn’t climb a hill. The Corrieyarrack will convince you of that just to mention one.

Though noted for their bleak and barren moors, tucked in among the wild and lonely miles are a number of fine hills, some, as already mentioned, even attaining munro status. Admittedly this week’s hill itself turned out to be somewhat duller than many, yet even that failed to detract from an overall fine day out.

North of The Slochd, on the A9, Tomatin, better known for its fine malt whisky, opened a gateway into the fine glen of the River Findhorn. Overlooked by green hills of much character, this river irrigates a lush valley well dotted by farms and estate lodges.

Twelve miles into the glen, at Coignafearn, (old lodge), the narrow public road ends and is replaced by a well maintained track which henceforth probes the hill country deeply. Time to leave the car and walk.

The cloud and rain of the previous day had given way to more intermittent cloud and sunshine, a brisk breeze kept us cool. Long green ridges hemmed us in on both sides of the stony chatterbox river where sandpipers hunted, oyster catchers and peewits made us noisily unwelcome and a colony of raucous gulls shouted at the world in general.

Mid summer means lush vegetation and here was no exception; marsh marigolds, little golden suns in flowing water, caught our eyes, as did violet mountain pansies, blue speedwells and white alpine bistort. Lured by their sweet smelling nectar, butterflies such as fritillaries and blues flitted frequently.

With so much to look at the long miles to Coignafearn (new lodge), and then on to the shuttered bothy at Dalbeg, passed with ease and apparent speed.

Time to leave the track to its own devices now. In fact we took a rougher track, marked on our map as a path, westward along the Allt Creagach. Here was the only steep section of our entire journey.

Above an aspen shaded gorge at first, we followed the burn in its own quest for solitude. At one point we crossed on giant boulders, my companion, secretly amused I’m sure, by my own stiff kneed teetering. Annoyed I was too, to have to re-cross on similar rocks, just a handful of yards further on!

The map shows waterfalls upstream. In spite of the recent rains these proved to be more cataracts or rapids than kin of Niagara.

Hereabouts, again according to the map, the path ends. It doesn’t - the track continues yet another mile.

From a green world of well shaped hills we’d emerged onto a plateau of low rolling, peat hag infested moorland. When at last the track did reach its abrupt end, our sole guide was the shrinking burn. We singled out a suitable looking hag and settled down to lunch.

About a half kilometre along the burn we found the tiny tributary which would lead us into the shallow col and signal our final, short and gentle ascent of the Cairn of the fox’s lair, as Cam na Saoibhaidhe is translated. A green swathe marked the water’s course. Flotsam, sometimes six feet higher than the water’s surface, told of the spates of recent days.

We reached the col and in just under a kilometre and were left with only 60 metres to climb. Almost immediately we saw ‘the wall.’ The guide books speak of no wall! The map shows no boundary! We arrived to find a long, piled up ridge of bull dozed debris, the spoils of a 30-foot wide track only recently pushed up from the north to facilitate, apparently, the erection of yet another wind farm. Utter ruination!

The track led almost to the summit and its tiny cairn. The walk in had been magnificent, one I shall certainly repeat. But at 811 metres Cam na Saoibhaidhe, with its limited views of far off mountains and Inverness, was an anti climax, a hill for the baggers and no one else!

We didn’t linger.

Instead we dropped down quickly, back to the green swathe and the heat of the afternoon sun. We’d hidden our packs at our earlier lunch spot and taken only cameras and coats, even so we sweated all the way down hill.

I couldn’t imagine many people coming up this way. Then again, with so many people having completed munro rounds, corbetts do seem to be growing ever more popular these days. Though there is no path here, there was a definite foot worn line in the grass. Folk have started coming and we saw the boot prints of at least one other walker in a bare patch of peat.

Away from the desecrated hill top one can enjoy the remoteness of the area, happy in the knowledge that you are unlikely to meet another soul all day. Amazingly, we did!

Having retrieved our bags and stepped back onto our original track, we met a chap heading from the hill we’d so recently fled. We warned him of the butchery ahead. He seemed unsurprised. He spoke about the protests that had been launched by various conservation minded parties, against the proliferation of the turbines. Alas, it seems, these monstrosities are now a fate accompli.

But we still had miles yet of pleasant walking left to do. Down stream we went, back towards the River Findhorn and its grassy glen. Beneath the long green ridge of Am Baithach we walked, to the incongruous new lodge that has stood here for so few years.

With a last cup of tea we sat awhile on the bank of the shallow river, watching an unusually flagrant sandpiper playing sentinel on a waterside boulder.After that progress back to Coignafearn was slow, not because of any tiredness but because there was still so much scenery to soak up. To add to this was the natural life around us, so much to hold us up for our admiring inspection. There were even feral goats to see.

The end of day, below the shimmering birches of Creag Irielis, and the screes and mini crags of Sith Mor, across the water, rather crept up in us. I will probably never visit Cam na Saoibhaidhe again, but I will be back again to tread the heights above the Findhorn’s glen.