Scotland 2015 Day 3: Hiking Cairngorm and the Lairig Ghru
Up and at 'em! We started off the day by biking the rental bikes back to Active Cafaidh. I met Spring at the Mountain Cafe in Aviemore (NICE selection of outdoorsy clothes there!), got packed sandwiches, juice, apple and an epic Anzac square for lunch. A quick Tesco stop to check it out (I am PSYCHED to spend time shopping at grocery stores in London and get elderflower and all the tea and biscuits!)... and the back to the AirBnB for brekkie. It was SO amazing.
Lilli absolutely rocked the breakfast and it was so amazing. OMG the porridge. It was boiled with milk, WOW, WOW, WOW. Memories like in Spean Bridge with Lausch last year! Scots sure know how to make porridge better than anyone in the world. She said I could have it with either salt or sugar. Mmm. Oat Cakes! Also she made something called "Butteries" which she described were like "Quasons" (Croissants?!), Jam, Marmelade in cute containers, and amazing cheese. "Oooh, Wensleydale!" She also had Smoked Gouda, Scottish Cheddar, a tomato cut really cool, fruit, homemade yoghurt... amazing! What an incredible spread! Couldn't believe it for this little AirBnB. Amazing. We were certainly very well set-up for the hike!
We met Andy and his buddy Hugh, from Up and Doon Guided Walks. I strongly, strongly recommend Andy as he was totally incredible. We had started chatting a few months back by email, and Andy always sent such nice long and detailed messages to help us plan our trip. We were originally asking about hiking Ben Nevis, but he steered us towards the Cairngorms since the weather would be more appropriate at this time of the year and generally more enjoyable. He was an absolutel pleasure to help plan in advance and even more awesome on the big day of our hike. We weren't sure exactly where the hike would be as Andy called it on the day-of so we'd have the best time with the weather as it was (unpredictable!) His general plan of attack for the day was as follows, and we did the hike roughly in this area that he describes!
As I mentioned depending on snow and ice Ben Macdui and Cairngorm. This walk can be shortened or lengthened depending on how you feel on the day. If snow and ice is a problem I would suggest with Meall Buachille in Glenmore. Again options to make longer or shorter. Alternatively there is another route from Glenmore going through the Chalamain Gap and into the Lairig Ghru finishing in the ancient pinewood of Rothiemurchus.Andy and Hugh were hilarious and sooo Scottish! Up we went to Glenmore Lodge in Andy's car and started the hike. It was such a totally awesome plan. We went up a big, steep hill to start with great views of the mountains. It was a little windy but so far no snow?! Up the top, turn left, and then way up to the top of a higher mountain!
We double-backed the way we had just come and then back up an even steeper mountain. Then the snow began, quite suddenly, and sideways! It was surprising to see how fast the weather can change on these mountains (and thus the necessity for going with a skilled guide like Andy). A funny animal was making noise a lot and Andy called it a "wild haggis", and said it had just gotten away! :) Andy at some point heard a Grouse call, "Ooh! It's the haggis again!" This one he dubbed the "Domesticated Haggis".
We got up to the top of one of the mountains and stopped for a while in a nice "Cairn", a wind barrier, for lunch. As we were eating the skies filled with clouds and the visibility went down to a very low level. "Let's just wait 5 more minutes", Andy said, and sure enough by then the clouds had all dissipated and it was completely clear. Wild how swiftly the weather changes on you up here.
From here we started the long walk down the mountain towards a "Bothy" a temporary traveler's hut kept up by the "MBA". This particular one I believe was the Ryvoan Bothy. We made some tea there and had nice lunch and a stop, and chatted about "Yes" vs. "No" -- the votes results from the Scotland separation referendum. High is from the Shetlands and had a really cool perspective on his country's scenario. It was fascinating to chat with the guys -- this is my favourite part of travel: hiking, exploring the amazing nature of a new land, eating amazing locally-sourced food, and talking to real-deal locals about their day-to-day, where they grew up, their impressions of their country now and its place in the world... this is what travel is ALL about :)
We continued on to Loch Morlich and then to Emerald Lake. It was a great walk and only in the last 5 or 10 minutes it started to SNOW like crazy! RIGHT at the end when we got back to Glenmore Lodge, it started coming down even harder. "You guys are really good at controlling the weather!" i told Andy and he grinned. It snowed so hard, it was like rain. Then it hailed 2 min before we got into the car.
We peeled off our excess jackets and warm gear as Andy drove us carefully to the Glenmore Shop for coffee and whisky. I had a Dalmore 12. It was utterly glorious and such a nice moment to relax in a warm place with a fire going after a long and amazing hike and day out.
Since Andy is epic, he had agreed to actually drive us all the way to Newtonmore, where we were staying overnight in another B&B. We took the scenic route via Kingussie to Newtonmore, and Andy dropped us roughly right in the middle of nowhere at out new B&B, Crubenbeg House. We got lost a few times but ultimately found it. No wonder the folks at the B&B suggested a car rental made sense -- we were quite "out there" -- but that was exactly the purpose, to be in the countryside and to enjoy it and relax. Crubenbeg House was a very nice place and fancy. We stayed there for the rest of the night.
After a shower and clean-up, we chatted and then had dinner. John, the friendly host, chatted with us a bunch as we got ready for dinner. It was fancy and very tasty. John was amazingly accommodating of our various Kosher details -- he checked and double-checked all the details and was on the ball. The amuse bouche was Norweigan Cheese -- my favourite "Ski Queen" brown cheese! He was surprised I knew it. For dinner we had salmon with ginger sauce, which was so good. John also had quite an unusual collection of Whiskies, lots of stuff that was local that I'd never heard of which was awesome. I got 3 of them (as you do!) -- the first "Leinburn" was smooth and sweet, even Michal sortof liked it. The 2nd one I didn't love but it was so unusual, it was like "hay"! It tasted like this was made in a barn (and it kinda was!) John mentioned this place was part of a land deal, the guy paid £5.5 Million to buy the land, and got the distillery with it! This was called "Drumguish" and I'd never heard of it before either. Amazing. The 3rd one "Cu Dhub" was dark and rich, but with caramel colouring. Not bad, but the first one was my favourite. John also let me try Penderyn, the Welsh Whisky.
John's wife, Irene, had an amazing Harrod's Bear collection! The bears were placed carefully all around the stairwell and it was cute. There was a Welsh dragon bear which I liked the best. We chatted late into the night (10pm!) and given our jetlag and hiking that day, we were pooped. So tired, jetlagged and so much exercise... time for sleep! Needless to say, we slept very well.