THE deer were walking across the horizon in single file, little silhouettes against a backdrop of grey skies.
It had the feel of a great migration, a sign that autumn’s time was up and winter’s mission creep had reached the point of no return.
But that sense of abandonment runs right through Glen Ey. As soon as you leave behind the few houses at Inverey and head south on the track by the Ey Burn, you come across poignant reminders of communities lost.
There were crofters here at one time, but they became victims of the Clearances. In 1829 five families were moved out to make way for deer, and in 1842 another eight were thrown out along with thousands of cattle and sheep.
A crackdown on whisky distilling further added to the depopulation as some crofters relied on this to supplement their meagre income and, without it, were unable to pay their rent.
There are two large ruins at Auchelie, standing out on the skyline with their sentries, two tall larch trees which have survived the fierce winds that have ravaged so much of the tree cover.
Beyond this lay the main area of settlements and everywhere there is evidence of former houses, walls and shielings. A stand of pines on the slope above looked like a port wine stain on the landscape as a wave of diffused light washed over them.
Five miles in and you arrive at Altanour Lodge, a once-grand venue for shooting parties, but now just another crumbling ruin. Every time I visit, it seems to have deteriorated further. I suspect it won’t be long before there is nothing left to see, the remaining stones overwhelmed by nature.
There are new fenced enclosures to encourage fresh tree growth in a place where cover is sparse. A few skeletons remain standing but the ground is littered with the fallen. Ahead lie the Beinn Iutharns and their satellites but this was as far as I was venturing.
My previous two outings had been long Munro days, but in the two weeks since I seem to have spent my time mostly emulating Homer Simpson, never venturing far from the couch, alternating between reading and napping.
This is the time of year when I hit the wall. Every walk for the next eight weeks or so will be more of an effort. I used to get worried when this happened, now I just accept that it is my body telling me it’s going on annual leave. And having been out more than 50 times already this year, I told myself I could afford to chill.
Abigail and Barney hadn’t left a lot of wiggle room, but when I saw a little weather window I decided I should really make the effort. I hadn’t gone more than a few hundred metres from the car when the difference from two weeks ago became apparent.
Heavier winter jacket and trousers, heavier boots, heavier pack with crampons and ice axe = heavier legs.
The sky was heavier as well, dark and threatening. The hilltops were streaked with snow, remnants of last week’s initial blast, the rivers were bubbling white and the high points of the Cairngorms were invisible.
Within a mile I had made the decision to abandon any assault on a mountain. Some days you just know it’s not worth it.
There was time, however, to soak up some more of the chequered history of Glen Ey with a detour down to the Colonel’s Bed.
This narrow ravine was the hiding place of John Farquharson of Inverey, known as the Black Colonel, who was being hunted by government troops in 1715 after the murder of a laird. His ‘bed’ was a ledge of slaty rock and his lover would visit him daily to supply him with food.
It’s a place of ferocious beauty, raging waters ripping through narrow passages below overhanging rock walls. But take care - the path is narrow, muddy and loose and some of the walls below have collapsed.
A ten-mile walk through history and then back to the couch. Perfect.