Saturday 4th August
Having returned from our family camping trip on the Friday, some mad packing ensued in readiness for an overnight backpack for two, from Blair Atholl to Kingussie via the Minigaig Pass.
We were ready to leave just after 9am on Saturday to drive to Kingussie and despite there being a lot of slow traffic on the way, we arrived in good time at the pretty railway station to park the car and buy our one way tickets to Blair Atholl.
A nice little ride and we were soon alighting the train right outside the pub. However, there was a wedding party and we decided two backpackers, all be it not too scruffy yet, would not look too good in the wedding photographs, so we went to find somewhere else to have coffee before setting off. This was supposed to be a leisurely weekend, after all! We found The Blair Atholl Watermill just over the railway crossing which I can heartily recommend should you ever be going this way. It looked suitably inviting and it would have been rude not to.
We enjoyed a latte and cheese scone with butter each, David also had some Tiffin and I forced down a piece of carrot cake. It was all rather lush! We paid a last visit to real porcelain before lathering up with sun cream and Bug Ger Off. As we set off, the crossing closed and we had to wait another few minutes before we were on our way. After passing the pub, crossing the road and setting off down a little lane, we had a map faff and discussion, something about not being able to cut through the estate as access. Whoops. There was a way round this hiccup, by skirting the camp site and taking the track up to the Old Bridge of Tilt car park, which we did. There were lovely woodland paths and a little bit of road walking before we made it out on to the hillside on good tracks.
A very pleasant stroll, gentle ups, gentle downs. We saw raven as we climbed higher and plenty of flowers. After quite a while, and quite a few dead frogs later, it started to spot rain. Nothing much at first, so we walked on as it was a warm day and too hot for waterproofs. After a while the rain became a little more persistent and we paused to don them after all, even though we weren’t far from Sheicheachan Bothy. Not long after that of course, the rain stopped. Just before the bothy, three walkers came towards us and barely managed to say hello, a bit odd for these parts. They probably thought the Paramos a little OTT, but they were walking into the rain, their turn would come.
We stopped at the bothy for a late lunch. It kind of sneaks up on you, it’s in a dip and the chimney is well camouflaged against the hillside. It’s a sweet little bothy with spare sleeping platforms stacked on one of the benches and a fire with some fuel. According to the bothy book, Marion and Graeme Dunsire had visited during the Challenge and a Jeremy Burrows had been there on 31st July, bagging a few hills. We ate ham rolls and someone may have had half of his Baby Bels and all his cherry tomatoes. There may have been some fudge. Boots were removed for a short while.
On leaving the bothy the Allt Sheicheachan is easily crossed and the path then becomes a little vague and boggy, but not lost. We were somewhat surprised to happen across a black highland coo with a very impressive, and sharp looking, set of horns, in the middle of nowhere, alone, and looking a little lost and confused. It had no friends. We gave it a wide berth as it was right on our path and continued on our way, occasionally (and slightly nervously) checking we weren’t being followed. Or pursued at speed. Shortly after Bruar Lodge hove into view, we were surprised again, this time by a pair of aerobatic planes that appeared from over the hill. They flew low over us, one releasing a trail, the other doing a roll, presumably for our benefit as there was no one else except the coo to impress!
The lodge seemed to take forever to reach and the clouds were once again beginning to look a little threatening. The path crosses right in front of the lodge and feels a little uncomfortable, but it would have been worse to make a dash across the front lawn to keep a bit of distance from the building, so we didn’t, despite the dogs going bananas from their kennels around the back.
We managed to tuck ourselves away round the corner before we had to have another waterproof faff and this time, it was the whole kit. It was early evening and the day had cooled, we were no longer going to overheat walking this easy, flattish track. I hadn’t studied the route perhaps as much as I normally would have, but I knew that at the end of this lovely track there was a steep climb, Carr Uchd a’ Chlarsair, and the path became more tricky. As pitches might become few and far between, we decided to stop short of my planned stop and take the next available. We’d just have to put in a slightly longer day on Sunday.
The pitch we eventually took was lovely, just over a bridge on a little piece of ground where two burns converged so there was plenty of water and that nice little background burbling to soothe us to sleep. The surprisingly loud call of the dipper was heard regularly as it flew up and down the burn. The only, somewhat major, drawback were the midgies. I have never, never seen so many! It didn’t get bad until the breeze dropped, just after the tent was up and we’d started emptying the contents of our packs. It was too late to move so we just had to endure it as best we could. We put on our head nets to enable us to complete our tasks, including fetching water and boiling it for dinner. As soon as we could, we dived into Sorlee and zipped up tight.
We both had curry from Fuizion Freeze Dried Food for dinner, David a Chicken Tikka Masala and I had Chicken Dhansak, both very yummy, but as usual, I just wasn’t hungry and picked at my dinner for a while before giving up. We did manage a few mini Jaffa Cakes and a dram before David popped out (the little love) to boil more water for horlicks.
The ensuite? I won’t mention that…
11.3 miles 2419 ft total ascent and around 6 hours.
Sunday 5th August
I woke around 6am after a somewhat restless night, dreaming of landrovers and fishermen. I lay next to David snoring for about an hour before there were any other signs of life. I have never before lain in a tent, praying for wind. However, it was not to be, we had to make a plan to avoid the marauding midgies. I could pack completely inside the tent, as we had stashed my pack at the foot of the tent overnight, rather than try to sneak it out to the porch. As I’d had the food, we could at least both eat and drink something in the tent, although there would be no coffee or hot Fuizion All Day Breakfast for David. David had unfortunately stashed all his dry bags in his pack which was in the porch. We reached a point when we had to leave the safety of the tent. There was not much faffing as water was fetched, Platypi filled and tent dropped and stashed.
We were soon on our way up the immediate and steepest climb of the day. We hoped that at the top there’d be a midge busting breeze and we’d be able to grab a coffee and David could have his cooked breakfast. As we reached the top of the slope, we paused. There were no midgies. We dropped packs and fired up the Flash. No sooner was breakfast rehydrated than the breeze (somewhat predictably) dropped and midgies arrived, but nowhere near the same numbers as before and they were just about tolerable whilst we took on vital food to continue. Coffee could wait whilst we had a little coke and water to drink. Once all the kit was again stashed, we walked on.
The path was still good at this point, but a narrow hill path, boggy in places and occasionally indistinct. It took a while to reach my proposed pitch for the previous night, along Caochan Lub and I was glad of the decision we had made. We would have been very tired had we walked on and perhaps less well equipped to deal with the midge misery. It was a good call but it did mean a longer day and at this point, I had miscalculated and was expecting it to be a bit shorter than it turned out to be. The path had been washed out in places and it was easier to stay on the west bank before rejoining the path as it crossed to climb to the top of the pass.
We saw something orange bobbing in the distance and whipped out the binoculars to investigate. If they hadn’t have been so far away across the bog, I would have collected the orange and purple balloons that had somehow made their way onto the moor. Soon after, there was movement over the brow of the neighbouring hill. A large herd of deer paused briefly to assess the danger we posed and then popped back over the brow.
The descent of the Minigaig towards Allt na Cuilce is not too steep and wonderful views opened up to us towards the Monadliath Munros, absolutely glorious. The path however was increasingly boggy and patchy until, having briefly lost it on a couple of occasions, we finally lost it completely. As it had become quite heathery, gaiters were deemed a good idea, so we paused to zip them on. Whilst paused, we took a peek behind us to see heavy grey clouds approaching from the east. This might not be so good. A pair of kestrels were seen a few times over the heathery, boggy moor. We stopped for lunch where the Allt Coire Bhran meets the Allt na Cuilce on a rather comfy spot of grass. There were rolls, Baby Bel, cherry tomatoes (for those that hadn’t scoffed them yesterday) the rest of the jaffa cakes, coffee and fudge. As I felt a few spots of rain, I put my Paramo back on, but it didn’t really start to rain for a little while. When it did however, it really did.
In the meantime, there was map and GPS faffing. I knew I was a corner of map missing. A tiny corner, from the lunch stop to the weir before Bhran Cottage. I hadn’t, however, really studied it as I normally would have done. I was still confident that heading west, following the river and staying on the north bank would keep us right. David faffed with his GPS. I got impatient and snappy. When I politely asked what he was doing, he explained he was creating a way point for the GPS to navigate to. I huffed a bit. We eventually set off and stuck with my plan, crossed the river and headed west.
We never found the path, but a good deer trod for quite some time, climbing higher above the river than I liked, but forced to by the apparent lack of bank to walk along. There were boot and tyre tracks, always reassuring assuming they’re on the same route as you! A snipe flew up from just about under David’s feet, a bit of a treat for me as I had the better view from behind. Mind you, David saw the lizard that disappeared into the grass before he stepped on it, I missed it.
The river disappeared into a deep, tree lined ravine as we continued the interesting, precipitous contouring of the steep hill, Meallach Mhor and Bhran Cottage soon came into view. Somehow, we’d got this bit wrong, but we weren’t lost and we picked up a track that took us down the hill and onto the metalled road we should have met earlier. No bother.
We were soon being midged again and by this time, my humour was wearing a little thin. Three roe deer sprinted across our path, not too perturbed by the wildlife they encountered. The road is a bit of a slog, not helped by the smooth surface soon being replaced by a rough, stony surface which was even less kind to my feet. We plodded on and it rained heavily again for a while. The midgies didn’t return this time. Phew.
At Glentromie Lodge, we had yet another map faff. I had expected the path to go along the river bank more or less straight after the bridge, so paused to check. An elderly gentleman came out of the Keepers Cottage to offer help, quite dismissive of my map, “This is my land….” so he advised us to go through the gate and take the vague path that would lead us to Ruthven, “The old estate road.” We did as he said and it was a really lovely route through natural silver birch woodland, absolutely delightful and a welcome break from road walking. We appeared back on the road at Torcroy and continued on past Ruthven Barracks back to the car at the station.