Meall a Bhuachaille – Part1 – “The Fatdog in the Forest”
The snowy track climbed upwards through the pine clad hillside onto a high level route which promised an ever expanding vista of the white coated mountains beyond. There was a fleeting glimpse of a white tailed deer which brought a smile to the face as it disappeared into the silent trees. Then…
…Yep, we’d taken the wrong path yet again! We shouldn’t have been here but what a great mistake to make.
When the track suddenly stopped and the animal track beyond ground to an unfortunate halt in deep heather and dense native woodland, I quickly realised we were not where we should have been. A quick perusal of the map showed us to be about 50m higher than planned, with the track we wanted a couple of hundred metres downhill and running parallel to our present course.
We had started from the Forestry Commission Visitor Centre about 30 minutes before, following a waymarked trail through tall larches dripping olive green moss in best old creepy forest tradition. Declining to follow the blue markers at a path junction I had mistakenly pointed in the direction of the higher path thinking it was our route through the pinewoods to Ryvoan Bothy.
The landrover tracks were filled with slush bottomed snow, still white on top but slippy enough underneath to ensure booted feet kept to the raised middle section. Progress was not particularly quick. The white bum end of a deer disappeared into the dense conifers to our left. The Fatdog shot up the path to the point where the animal disappeared but declined to pursue the deer into the forest. She contented herself by sniffing around where the creature had vanished leaving pursuit to far braver creatures than she.
Droplets of melted snow dangled precariously on the underside of delicately thin branches of the silver birches, glistening in the strong sunlight and ready to drop at the merest touch. To the south the mass of the Cairngorm Plateau gleamed white topped although the snow cover was most definitely on the wane with the recent increase in temperature. The Fatdog was in her element, wallowing in any pocket of deep snow she could find, charging happily up and down the trail cascading a spray of snow in her wake.
Shaped by many years of harsh Cairgorm winters the wide contorted trunks of ancient pines, remnants of the old Caledonian forest, stood proudly amongst much younger conifers no doubt glad of the shelter in their advancing years.
A swathe of blue sky sat dead ahead as the trail swung in to an open, tree cleared area. Packs were dumped on the ground and the cameras were hauled out. Temporarily clear of the forest we had fantastic views (and a dead tree) to photograph…a dead tree that sat about 30m from the path. Soon we were up to our nether regions in pockets of snow as we struggled through the debris from the felling operation towards our photographic subject.
Then came the crunch. Ten minutes later at the far side of the clearing we hit the end of the road. I pushed on into the scrub beyond but even in winter it was a near impenetrable wall of foliage so I signalled the retreat. We backed up a hundred metres or so to the forest edge and made our way downhill at the edge of the trees where the going was a bit easier.
As we picked our way past treacherous patches of snow, some of which would swallow a leg, we could hear the uncomfortable sound of running water very close by.
Simultaneously we stopped and listened. The noise seemed louder than seconds before…but there was no sign of a burn which meant it was somewhere beneath our feet! Gingerly we moved sideways from the patchy snow of the forest edge onto the white blanket beyond…with fingers crossed. From here to the main track every tentative move was a lottery, insofar as how much of one’s leg would disappear with each step. Delicate tracks on the snow surface told of a small mammal heading uphill no doubt happily skipping across the crust. By way of contrast we were at times wading thigh deep, trying not to trap our feet in the felled debris below the pockets of white.
Our luck was in and we made the path without being caught on camera for the mandatory embarrassing photograph of the day competition which, in terms of this “Tail” is actually fairly disappointing.
Our new path was well engineered, clear of snow…and lasted all of 30 seconds. At a huge, partly collapsed pine the path narrowed to a trail weaving and undulating downwards through the dense native woodland until it reached the valley floor.
An Lochan Uaine was frozen over which meant we missed out on its renowned green colour but that aside it was still an impressive setting.
From here we would make our way through the Ryvoan Pass to Ryvoan Bothy and from there take a sharp left up Meall a Bhuachaille.