Saturday, 11 May 2013

In Rothiemurchus...

In Rothiemurchus... from david hine on Vimeo.

Rothiemurchus is a little of what remains from the 'Great Forest of Caledon', which once covered much of the highlands. Like the Black Wood of Rannoch, or the swathes of forest in Glen Affric, the trees are predominantly Scots Pine. It's quite refreshing to visit these places, so much of the woodland in Scotland being composed of dreary plantations of fast growing foreign firs planted in ruler-straight columns and covering hillsides in perfectly squared-off blocks of green. In contrast, natural forests are distributed messily. Straight lines are few and far between, and the understory is a mass of broken branches, rocks and heather - all of which has its own natural reason for being there. The ancient woodlands are also the homes to some of the last survivors of Scotland's rare species. Rothiemurchus is thought to be one of the last strongholds of the Scottish Wildcat  and the turkey-like Capercaillie (once hunted to the brink of extinction for the crime of tasting so damn good).

But despite its credentials as a 'natural' environment, much of the time you spend in Rothiemurchus feels far from 'wild'. There are pockets where this isn't the case, of course, but there are a great many manicured cycle paths, information boards and even sign posts. All this stuff just completely kills any feeling of being 'out there', and unless you make the effort to get away from the beaten tracks you will never be far from families of cyclists ringing their bells.

I had a lot of fun on this weekend's trip. You couldn't call it much of a serious effort at hiking or a serious effort at packrafting, or a serious effort at anything really (although we consumed a fairly serious volume of single malt - shame on us both). I think I probably burned more calories by laughing than by either walking or paddling, and I think that probably goes for both of us.

We started out from Aviemore, having arrived on a Friday evening train from Edinburgh. We camped stealthily among trees opposite the pub. It was convenient location! Unfortunately, after we left the premises following a meal and some drinks some kind of dub-step party broke out inside. So it was a noisy night (a silnylon tarp doesn't muffle bass very effectively).

After breakfast the next morning, we headed out along the road that leads into the forest. When the road petered out, a rough track was welcomed and we made out way through the trees and up a path towards the Lairig Ghru (a pass between Speyside and Deeside). There was still a considerable amount of snow on the mountains.  On a loop through the Cairngorms during April a few years ago I encountered a  fantastic snowy scene in the Lairig Ghru. After the winter we had this year, the snow coverage in the high reaches of the pass this weekend would probably have been similar.

Where the trees turn to scrub, and the climb into the rockier stretch of the pass begins, we turned around and squelched our way down another boggy path back into the woods. Even though it was early, there seemed to be no compelling reason not to take advantage of a good looking spot to camp by the shore of Loch Morlich.

The next morning brought a welcome change from clouds and rain. The sun was out and the sky was blue. Although we only had one packraft with us (mine), we took to the water. The last time my boat (most definitely designed for one person) had two people in it was in Norway. But a 5'4" female is an easier passenger than a 6' male and despite the wind picking up there was no real problem. We paddled around, going nowhere in particular. Then, aiming for a beach on the other-side, I paddled us across the loch, where I deposited my passenger and went back for the baggage.

More general laziness followed. Bacon butties and beer were consumed in the Pine Martin bar at Glenmore (beside the loch). We made our way back to Aviemore, the weekend's whisky was finished and we both feel asleep on the return journey to Edinburgh.

Thanks to S for a fun time. And thanks for letting me post these photos.


  1. I know what you mean about Rothiemurchus being "not quite wild", though it's lovely all the same. For somewhere that looks very similar but is much quieter try heading south from Nethybridge, past Forest Lodge then south and west to Loch a'Chnuic and the Eag Mhor. You'll know you are still in the same general area of Scotland but it feels much more remote.

    1. I really don't mean to come across as disparaging about the place, I really do like it. And there are some great wee nooks and crannies. Thanks for this tip, I'll remember it.

  2. Sounds like a fine weekend. Loving the last photo especially!

    1. Yeah, swigging from the bottle! Love it - much good fun was had...


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