The Cairngorms … being reliant to public transport can make walking in from Aviemore a necessity. Although there may be mutterings to the contrary when one is banging out the final stretch with minutes to spare before the last train south, this long approach does have something to commend it as an alternative to motoring up the ski centre road. It is not a landscape to be rushed. It is too big, too subtle, for that, and one might, I thought, as well adapt to its rhythm from the outset.

Understanding it is a different proposition. The pass carried a wind out of nowhere. On the eastern flank, a crack-thump could only be the shattering of rock, the land re-creating itself, and in the lower shade that same process seemed to be caught in the scattering of boulderfields, the seepage and moss, the crumbly snow, the watercourses in turns absorbed and released by the ground.

When the southward view came with nightfall, it was not beautiful: too bulky, too stark, yet I felt a symmetry and an order was behind it, at once present and beyond. So too the next afternoon on the high plateau patchwork of dusty rubble, soft vegetation, boulders, springs half-covered in snow, gravel formed into waves like sand on a beach and at the edge of it all a chain of cliff-arcs cut out of air.

It was somehow not quite of this world. This unsettled me, for all the splendour: I have tramped these hills often, slept on them in summer and winter, but never had that sensation before. Why? What had I not seen? Having finally written up this post, I realize that it might, in an almost paradoxical way, have been a mark of how familiar the place has become.


The route: through the Lairig Ghru to a bivy site a little downstream from and above the refuge in the Garbh Choire, then up Cairn Toul and down to the Glen Einich between the northern corries of Braeriach. It deserves (or needs, depending on fitness) a night out to be savoured; a start at Coylumbridge lends itself better to this round than the standard approach from the Cairngorm road, and by far repays the extra distance involved.