THE car park at Linn of Dee was unusually quiet, a dozen or so vehicles scattered amongst the trees, some covered in leaves and pine needles, looking as if they had lain abandoned for days.
There was a distinct feeling of change in the air, a sharp chill and a fading of colour suggesting we were on the cusp of a dramatic switch.
The Indian summer was coming to an end. The clear, brighter days of the last few weeks had packed up and were ready to head off on their annual holiday. High pressure was finally slipping away and the Atlantic lows straining to be let off the leash.
I had reckoned this would be my last chance of a big traverse this year. The forecasts suggested a better day in the eastern ranges before the rain and wind swept in so I chose to go large in the Cairngorms.
The weak, low sun that accompanied me along the track to White Bridge highlighted perfectly the muted colours of the later days of autumn.
The heather which, just six weeks ago, had been a rich purple had faded, the brilliant yellow grasses that had looked like fields of burning candles had been snuffed out, and the trees were starting to shed in the cold wind. It had the feel of a holiday resort shutting down for the coming winter.
And yet there was always a chink of light that suggested I had caught the Cairngorms in a benign mood. Walking up Glen Dee, there was plenty of blue sky despite the higher peaks still sporting white caps of cloud, and the softly running waters were a deep blue.
There was a brief scare as I made my way up to the first Munro of the day, Beinn Bhrotain, a wave of grey cloud being driven in from the west on a suddenly strengthening wind with a noticeable drop in temperature. En route to the next peak, Monadh Mor, the rolling cloud disappeared just as quickly as it had appeared. Its legacy, however, was a greyed-out sky which would be my companion for the rest of the day.
There was a marked rise in the temperature during the drop down to the burnished landscape around Loch Stuirteag. This wild and lonely spot at the head of Glen Geusachan is encircled by massive mountains and it only served to remind me that I had still hadn’t seen another soul.
The only signs of life had been sudden bursts of flight from ambushed grouse and ptarmigan, their snowy white undercarriage reminiscent of giant snow flakes blowing around, the only sounds the distant roaring of stags carried by the wind.
Instead of the route down the glen, I opted to make a rising traverse south-east on steep and sometimes greasy slopes on the edge of Cairn Toul and Stob Coire an t-Saighdeir, finally peaking on The Devil’s Point. It was worth the extra effort. The summit, standing at the crossroads of three great glens, provides a bird’s-eye view of a Spaghetti Junction of rivers and paths.
The ochre ribbon of the Lairig Ghru path can be seen heading north to the distant horizon between Braeriach and Ben Macdui and south where it runs across the long wall of Carn a’ Mhaim before swinging round into Glen Luibeg. Another branch sticks to its southern line following the water into Glen Dee, back to where I had emerged some six hours earlier.
Thousands of feet below my feet ran the Geusachan Burn, a sandy python twisting and turning its way effortlessly round every contour beneath the dark slabs of Beinn Bhrotain.
I managed the run out along the Lairig Ghru in about three hours, the cloud rolling in menacingly to fill in the gaps behind me, preparing to unleash its heavy burden on the landscape I had just evacuated.
The same cars were sitting in the same places, still seemingly untouched, as I arrived back after nine and a half hours on the hill with darkness closing in. Shorter days are now the way ahead.