I HAD been planning the walk for weeks, a Cairngorms traverse from dusk ’til dawn.
Set off from Linn of Dee around 9.30pm to catch the sunset, walk up the Lairig Ghru through the dark hours before catching the sunrise from the summit of The Devil’s Point.
Then descend to lonely Loch nan Stuirteag before walking back out over Monadh Mor and Beinn Bhrotain to White Bridge to complete the circuit.
Three weeks earlier I had caught the sunrise over the Braeriach plateau, the night walking bug back in my system. Now I was ready to go again. I had been over the route umpteen times: which direction would be best to get the setting sun, which to soak in the first rays of a new day.
I had even been thinking about and planning this expedition while on holiday lazing around in the heat of Sicily (all that sun always makes me think about the cooler, greener scenery of home).
My car was packed, the weather forecast was perfect. Every piece of gear was in place, including my emergency shelter in case of having to sit it out for a couple of hours, and all my food and drink sealed and in my rucksack.
I set off from home about 7.15pm, a beautiful evening for the drive to Braemar. Then, at Bridge of Cally, it all came crashing to an abrupt halt.
Two words: Road closed. The Glenshee road was shut from 8pm to 6am for the next ten days for much-needed repairs. There was no way through to Braemar.
Well, there was actually, but it involved retracing my route all the way I had come and then heading north to come in from the Deeside road, a three-hour detour. Not what I was looking for at this time of night.
Now had I been heading out during daylight hours I probably would have just shrugged off the initial disappointment, changed my target and headed over to the A9. But there’s a different feeling when you are heading out at night. Any disruption to the plan causes turmoil. The flexible approach does not come into the equation.
The momentum that had been building for almost a week was gone in 60 seconds. The night is coming, the roads are quiet, everyone else is getting ready for the bed; there’s a sudden stark realisation that what you are doing is not normal. And so, rather than face a massive extra drive in the dark or have to think about a change of plan, I turned round and went home. It seemed the easiest thing to do.
I watched the late sun disappearing through the rear window as I drove back, this unexpected setback still gnawing away.
It was doubly galling the next day when I heard that Braemar was the sunniest spot in the country, but the one consolation was that just a few miles away on the A9 the peaks were shrouded in cloud, and that further west the rain was falling. It vindicated my decision not to head somewhere else.
That brief weather window then slammed shut and it was a week before there was another chance to resurrect my grand Cairngorms plan. Incredibly, though, I started to come down with the sniffles and snuffles the day before, and another rare opportunity in this summer of sodden misery slipped away.
Eventually, four weeks and one day after my last mountain walk, I finally got out again.
No big night walk though, just brief respite from the torrential rain which allowed me to do something shorter and closer to home. A sunshine round of Ben Vorlich and Stuc a’ Chroin would suffice for now.
Now all I need is for summer to disappear and autumn to allow me to have at least one more big night out.