In twos and threes we arrived at Mill Cottage on Friday evening. Over drinks after dinner the plans for the morning were discussed and eventually it was decided that the entire party would head for Loch an Eilein and walk up Glen Einich. We set off at 7am and by 7.30am were booted up and ready for the off. It was still dark - the morning star and the slender crescent of the ‘old’ moon shone in an inky sky as we started walking along the track that skirts the loch. Gradually it got lighter and by the time we reached the junction where the paths for Lairig Ghru and Glen Einich separate we could see the surrounding hills. A frison of excitement in Glen Einich when I almost toppled into one of the burns – that would have been the end of my outing as it was pretty chilly and the water was only a little above freezing. However I regained my balance and tried again from another angle. I paused to take a photograph as the sun was rising over the shoulder of Braeriach, lightly dusted with snow – I may never have the opportunity to snap that view again!
The party split up as the advance guard powered ahead, so by the time we reached the loch I had decided that I was not climbing the hill – at my pace there weren’t going to be enough daylight hours to complete the expedition safely. Ian and Liz decided they would try the path into Coire Dhondail, with the possibility of walking round above the head of the loch and traversing Carn Ban Mor (a plan they later abandoned). The others, having decided that fording the river was not a good idea, set off along the east shore of the loch, heading for Sgorr Gaoith.
After climbing steeply from the lochside, Ian and Liz and I reached the track into the coire at which stage we parted company. I dallied and took some photos and then made my leisurely way back down to the landrover track before stopping for lunch. I met a couple from an Aberdeen Club who were heading for Glen Feshie – their St Andrew’s Day dinner in another hut near Feshiebridge would be haggis. They were impressed when I told them about our planned Christmas dinner.
As I walked down the glen the clouds rolled in above Loch Einich – I wondered if the others would be encountering snow as well as poor visibility. On my own it seemed much further to walk out; I met several people on mountain bikes but no walkers. Rather than follow the low path by the burn I took the landrover track and enjoyed wide views to the north – including the hills Mike had designs on for Sunday, which had very little snow.
Further on I stopped to watch a flock of crested tits among the pines – in Scotland these cute little birds are usually found only in the pinewoods of Inverness-shire (particularly in Speyside) – and later I was fortunate to see a red squirrel too.
Once back in Inshriach forest I turned left and took the path that goes round the south and west sides of Loch an Eilein. Initially I met lots of people but as the light faded I began to wonder if I had missed a turning as the path twisted and turned and I passed several paths with ‘trail not maintained’ signs. I had just spoken to Iain on the mobile when I came abreast of the castle and realised I was nearly back at the car park – and it was almost dark! A member of estate staff told me to shut the gate when I left and then drove off into the night. About half an hour later I was relieved to be rejoined by Iain and Liz. Soon after that we ascertained that Colin and Nigel were on the way back to pick up the cars and so we left the key of Jim’s car as instructed and headed back to Mill Cottage – where Mike, Lynn and Stu were now in residence.
Christmas dinner lived up to expectations, but everyone who had been walking was tired so conversation was not as lively as on previous occasions. Alarms were set for the morning and we retired to bed.
Sunday dawned all too soon; then it was breakfast, packing and some clearing up before Mike, Lynn and Stu and Jim and I headed for Glenmore Lodge. Nigel and Colin also headed for Loch Morlich, and Fraser and Rob had left some time earlier hoping for a winter climb on Cairngorm. The others were heading for home.
Great activity at Glenmore Lodge as a lot of small children registered for some ski-ing event. We soon left the bustle behind as we set off towards An Lochan Uaine and Ryvoan Bothy. The mist was resting on the top of our hill so waterproofs were donned and we set off up the zigzag path. Our first refreshment stop was the shelter at the cairn on top of Meall a Buachaille, surveying the views all around this fine Corbett. Then we were off down the path towards our next hill, Creagan Gorm.
There were quite a number of walkers on the hill – no ski-ing on Cairngorm so maybe people just wanted to get out in the fresh air. There were shafts of sunlight piercing the clouds above Loch Morlich which made a nice picture. The track between Creagan Gorm and Craiggowrie was much less busy. We stopped for lunch beside the final cairn on the ridge and looked out towards Loch Garten and along the course of the River Spey in both directions. The tops of the Cairngorms were cloud covered – maybe we had made the best choice for the day.
Soon it was down to the forest and a long trek back along a hard forestry road towards Cairngorm Lodge youth hostel and then taking the path back to Glenmore Lodge and the waiting cars.
It was a satisfying day out and hopefully we were back in just enough time for Mike to get Stu back to Edinburgh airport for his flight home. (An accident near Dunkeld nearly put paid to that but Mike found a way round and got him there in the nick of time!)
Thanks for the delicious food that everyone brought to the feast on Saturday: the standard of cuisine was as high as ever. Good food, good company and great walking made for another enjoyable ‘christmas weekend’ at Mill Cottage.