As we started along the path towards the Chalamain Gap, we looked back east and saw long filaments of mackerel cloud, deep pink against a gorgeous turquoise sky.
Soon, as the sun hauled itself above the eastern most Cairngorm hills, we saw our ‘stick men’ shadows, long and solid, pointing our feet in the way of the day ahead.
It’s a fair path that knifes its way across the heather hillside toward the Chalamain Gap. The ‘Gap’, when you reach it, isn’t that imposing. Translated ; ‘the crag of the doves,’ the hill appears to have suffered a great rending in some past geological era. Massive granite boulders have tumbled to choke the floor of the resulting chasm; it was over these that we had to hop and tread warily.
But it’s a short lived thoroughfare. Soon we were being squeezed out of its western end like toothpaste from a tube…onto a path so well used as to have been rendered a quagmire! The gooey way was downwards, fairly steep too, to the little Allt Druigh, in the jaws of the Lairig Ghru.
Once we’d crossed the burn we were faced with a short, steep path up the other side. Grit gave way to a bouldery trail through the heather.
This in turn led us onto the blunt end of Braeriach’s long northern spur, Sron na Lairig.
With plunging cliffs dropping to the east, this ridge forms the first major bastion on the western side of the Lairig Ghru. As we climbed we were constantly lured away from the spinal path towards the rockier edge and ever more precipitous drops to the pass’s floor, already hundreds of feet below us.
Across the divide, the great red scree slopes of Cairngorm, plunged almost into the burn itself. The stark cliffs of Creag an Leth Choin, the ‘lurcher’s crag’, mirrored the crags that we could only guess at just below our feet. Dominating all else further down the Ghru was Ben Macdui, Britain’s second highest mountain. We arrived at the summit of the sron to be rewarded with our first viewsinto the awesome Corrie Bhrochain. Castellated, pinnacled and entirely inhospitable, we trod warily around the corrie lip. Southwards, across An Garbh Coire, rose Angel’s Peak and beyond her, Cairn Toull and beyond her yet again, The Devil’s Point.
A thin mist hung over Braeriach’s cairn as we snacked. The view west however, over Loch Einich’s trench and Sgor Goaith, was magnificent.
Way beyond we looked through Creag Meagaidh’s ‘window ’; we saw the GreyCorries and the Aonachs; we saw, king over them all, ‘The Ben’ on the far western horizon. Northwards, grey and feint, we saw the line of the Fannichsand the Torridonian giants.
The path we followed stayed close to the corrie lip as it skirted the almost flat plateau that gives birth to the River Dee. The wells lay but a kilometre to the southwest, below Einich Cairn, stranded in a stony plain where nothing grows save mosses, lichens, liverworts and whatever short grasses can secure a foothold. We crossed the infant Dee just as it plunged into An Garbh Corrie; we walked around in the direction of The Angel’s Peak.
The summit cone of Angel’s Peak is reached over a great tumble of big pink granite boulders, and that’s the story for Cairn Toul and its nether top, An t-Saighdeir.
It’s only when you stand at the summit of Angel’s Peak, that you understand the meaning of its original name, Sgor an Lochain Uaine-‘the peak of the green lochan’. Way down in the corrie, gleaming like an emerald eye, the little lochan sits serene amid a great waste of pink granite.
Cairn Toul, ‘the hill of the barn,’ beckoned from across the corrie, offering walking in similar vein along the way. More granite boulders carried us down and then up again, onto Stob Coire an t- Saighdeir, our second ‘top’ of the day. We looked down into the Lairig with its youthful Dee snaking away beneath Macdui. More scrambly ridges rose from the glen, between which the boulder fields of Cairn Toul’s corries fell away inhospitably.
Beyond Stob Coire an t- Saighdeir’s cairn we found ourselves at last on the grassy, southern flank of the hill. A reasonable path wound its way down to the sunny bealach at the head of Coire Odhar, from which, the bothy belowtakes its name. Our main concern now was keeping on the brakes.
From the bealach we embarked on our final ascent. The path weaved its way among weather worn boulders to the bleak summit of The Devil’s Point.
What a view awaited us! Until now we’d been gazing out over the Lairig Ghru, where Macdui and Cairngorm dominated, with Ben Mheadhoin, Bynack Moreand Derry Cairngorm, lurking tantalisingly behind them. Now, below us in the south, a whole new glen opened out, deep, lonely and river gashed. Glen Geusachan, in spite of its name, meaning the ‘glen of the pine trees’, is barrennow. All you’ll see of the old pine forests that once clothed these hillsides, are a few ancient roots, bleached by the sun like fossils.
Beyond the trench rose the huge bulks of Beinn Bhrotain and its westerly neighbour, Monadh Mor. Behind them, in the south, stretched the Glen Shee and Atholl hills. Looking east we could see clearly the Mounth and Lochnagar as well as Scotland’s most easterly Munro, Mount Keen..
The path down to Corrour bothy was steep and towards the bottom, as the ground became more peaty, quite wet and slippery. With Bod an Deamhain’s great boiler plate slabs glinting in the sun we made our way to the little metal bridge over the Dee. This was the messiest section of the entire walk, requiring some adroit foot work to keep out of the bog churned up by a myriad previous walkers.
Once across, we installed ourselves on the Lairig Ghru path. From the high, heady tops, we had descended into the confining jaws of one of Scotland’s most notorious glens. Today, though undenaibly imposing, the glen was warm and friendly; we walked quickly, enjoying fresh views up into the great corries we’d so recently been gazing down on.
The Clach nan Taillear (Tailor’s Stone), came and went. Eventually the path began to labour through the boulder fields in the vicinity of The Pools of Dee, the four lovely, lochans which help the Wells above quench the Dee’s never ending thirst; the water was so clear we could see trout swimming threeor four feet beneath the surface of the largest pool.
We crossed over to the Druigh’s western bank, a little later to re-cross for the final, muddy climb back into the Chalamain Gap, duller and cooler, now that the afternoon was wearing on.
We were beginning to feel the tiredness gripping our bones; our feet were protested at the long day’s pounding. But all of that was incidental.
Nothing could rob us of the pleasure of the last few peaceful miles back to thewaiting car. Fresh clothes and footwear, fish and chips in Aviemore, and best of all, a day full of memories that would stay with us forever!