Friends, collies. art lovers,
The day was announced by bright light peeping through the curtains of my van . This confirmed the forecast from yesterday and a clear blue sky was envisaged. The downside of this was it made my van v. v. v cold and I really didn’t want to be separated from my lovely warm blanket, so we had a lie in. At 5.45am B chimed out those chilling words, “Munros calling”, in a tone that wasn’t up for negotiation. Anyway, I needed to get up and find a tree, not being able to keep all my paws crossed for much longer.
Before we set off, B did some walking about to test out her bad knees and then reported back. It seemed we were giving it a go again today. Although a fairly short walk, Sgor Gaoith was steeper than anything demanded of us yesterday and therefore, it was going to be a good test for the hypothesis we had formulated. Namely, walking the Munros is a sure cure for bad knees. After the summit the route would follow an arching ridge, with little variation in gradient before a short steep return. If we made it to the top the pain on the way down would be accompanied by the satisfaction of having achieved number 45 and, importantly, it wouldn’t last too long.
We started off through Inshriach Forest, into the Invereshie and Inshriach Nature Reserve, where native Scots pine trees filtered the early sunlight sparkling about us; filaments of gold created contrasting shadows on the path ahead. Soon though, a build up of cloud compromised the blanket blue coverage we had been promised and – as we got higher – the wind spun up to meet us from the south west, making for a stiff breezy walk. It was dry, the cloud was high above the hills and all was well with the world. Even the knee was holding out as we crossed the Allt a’Chrom alltain and ascended Sgor Gaoith’s western flank.
The Cairngorms seem to divide opinion among walkers. For many the endless, featureless rolling hills are a tedious expedition, which lack the excitement and scenic beauty offered by the North West Highlands. Others are enticed by the mountains that stretch deep into no man’s land, with their vast hinterlands of wilderness. Every now and again though, even the Cairngorms can surprise. Sgor Gaoith is one such mountain. Having reached the summit on good paths, set among the rounded slopes on the west, the view as we approached the summit was sublime. A quick peep over the edge set all those butterflies scampering about my tummy in a frenzy of adrenalin fuelled activity. The landscape fell away, from under my very paws, in a fearful collapse of eroded mountain that plummeted down 500 metres to Loch Eanaich below.
It was so dreadful I had to keep looking over the edge, trying to believe my very eyes, much to B’s alarm. Beyond the abyss the dominant presence of Braeriach was resurrected from the depths of water, parading an iconic mixture of geological features: sheer scree slopes, serpentine ridges, and scooped out corries; a dynamic work of art thousands of centuries in the making. Stepping back from the edge safety was resumed on the contrasting plateau, as flat as any pancake that came out of my person’s frying pan on shrove Tuesday. We did a big walk round but found no summit cairn. The ritual took place on a large slab of rock and it was left to our mascot to prove that we had been there.
Our traverse of the ridge was conducted in high spirits, with a second Munro bagged that we couldn’t even have contemplated, when the knees gave way two days ago. And, to add even more bounce to my paws, the sun had finally broken through the cloud, exhibiting the hills all around us in their finest apparel.
Nevertheless, I felt the quiver of expectation, that passed through B, as we approached the point of descent. A pathless hike through heather which – rich in burgeoning growth and budding purple – hid the undulations of the terrain below, and wrapped tendril roots around a pair of mucky boots. Meantime, my – flawless paws – fared rather better and I bounded down the hillside. B’s progress was interrupted by much stumbling and frequent flopping onto banks of heather, while she sought respite from the strain. This, of course, worked to my advantage as I ran back to offer sympathy and had my loyalty rewarded with a nice slab of my favourite west country mature cheddar. Needless to say, long before we were back at Inshriach Forest the stumbling and flopping was accompanied by much oohing and aahing, as knees objected heartily to the incline we came down. Then, much like yesterday, almost miraculously, as soon as we hit a decent path the pain evaporated and the remainder of our walk was a joyous amble back through the Scots Pine.
The shorter nature of today’s walk, and the early start, meant we were back at my van with most of the afternoon ahead of us. Excellent, I thought, but – just as I was nestling down for an extended period of shut eye – B had the lead back on, telling me this wasn’t just about doing the Munros; that was news to me. Apparently, it was also a brilliant opportunity to see more and do more in what was, for us, virgin territory. Therefore, we were off on a sculpture trail that led out of our car park, through the Northern fringes of Inshriach Forest.
Well now, I really didn’t know what to make of Frank Bruce’s clever art works. Being a dog my brain isn’t wired up for an aesthetic appreciation of art works but, I had a horrible feeling my slumber was going to be interrupted tonight, with such images swirling around in my headspace. I took comfort from what – possibly – I love best about our whole adventure. It’s when I’m dog tired, after a v. v. v big walk, and B tucks me up in my special blanket as I curl up for sleep. And… do you know something? That night I didn’t even flick open an eyelid one millimetre and then suddenly, it was the next day and time to go Munroing again.