EVERYONE needs a holiday, and I’m currently in the middle of a two-week break from the big mountains.
Not that I’m anywhere exotic; this hiatus has been all about rest and recovery. It has turned out to be voluntary and enforced in equal parts.
Fresh from attending Hazel Strachan’s incredible ninth Munro ‘compleation’ party on Ben Challum, I was off to Aviemore for a family week with tentative plans to escape for a big Cairngorms day if the weather played ball as it had the previous year.
Instead we caught the last blasts of the latest Caribbean hurricane, which meant blustery conditions most of the time. A minor inconvenience: no one can complain about our weather when you see the devastation wreaked on those island nations by this year’s storms.
We were based near Craigellachie, a nature reserve of mixed woodland, lochans and crags, and a wonderful series of paths, the perfect place to explore with children.
My granddaughters love the outdoors. They are not telly addicts, they are not constantly whining for computer screens, they would rather be outside running around. The older one, Ava, climbed her first ‘proper’ mountain last year and is always asking to do more. Despite having been abroad, when asked to name her favourite place she always answers: Glen Doll.
It was an adventure for them – and me - to go out into the woods every evening searching for animal tracks by the light of our head torches, listening for night cries.
It’s a real joy to see the natural world through their eyes, to witness the sense of wonder of a new generation. This fascination can only encourage a greater understanding of life, an understanding that will become ever more crucial if we are to avoid a future which makes the Blade Runner vision seem positively inviting.
I also went up to the large cairn at the highest point twice. The first was an early morning excursion. The sunrise was missing, but the summit views were clear to the west and I was rewarded with shafts of sunlight lasering their way through the dark clouds which blanketed the distant Cairngorms massif.
I made a second ascent to try and catch either a sunset or the Harvest Moon, but again I was out of luck. There were other rewards, however.
The walk up was enhanced by the last light washing beautifully over the sea of vegetation, leaves drifting down gently like drops of golden snow in the evening breeze, the light bouncing off the rock faces. Through a gap in the treeline, I caught sight of a glowing, orange ribbon burning its way across the dark slopes of the Cairngorms.
A small deer appeared from nowhere, then quickly disappeared, a flash of movement in the bracken. Then the sharp, keening cry of a bird of prey pierced the evening silence. Peregrine falcons nest on the crags here, but this was the nearest I came to finding any trace of them.
The sunset was muted, and the cloud negated any chance of seeing the moon, but in any case the wind at the top was so fierce it discouraged me from hanging around to see if things might improve.
The next day, the slow-motion cold which seemed to have been creeping towards me over the last two weeks and some real mountain soakings finally came to the fore, and any thoughts of tackling big hills were put to bed for another week.
Sometimes you just have to accept that and go in another direction. There are many big days still to come this year, and I would rather be fighting fit for the challenge.
Again the consolation came from the younger generation, Ava and I getting up close with the Cairngorm reindeer herd on the hill and then spending a morning in Glen Doll listening to the rutting stags roaring out their territorial claims.
Normal service resumes this weekend in the Cairngorms. I hope it lives up to the adventures I have enjoyed during this extended rest period.