Life on the Ridge

Monday to Friday of this week has had superb hill-walking weather. The sky has been clear a lot of the time and when there were clouds, they were high. The wind has been light and – the time of year being what it is – the days long. Ideal conditions for long stravaigs through the mountains. However, the only ridge I’ve experienced this week has been on the garage roof and the only views those of our neighbours’ gardens from the giddy height of 4metres. Today I nailed the last couple of pieces of Onduline in place in the drizzle.

All is not lost, though, as the busy week has precluded me from writing up my recent visit to the Loch Muick area. I had ordered my roofing supplies from www.eroofs.co.uk who advertised a three day delivery but took a fortnight and a rather irritated email from me before anything happened. Thursday 4th was eventually slated for delivery and I reckoned as soon as that had happened, I’d head off in the Bongo. In fact they didn’t pole up until Friday, by which time Mrs M’s working week was over and she had volunteered to man the fort as of Thursday afternoon. The driver was very grumpy that he had to unload his lorry himself – there were merely 32 sheets of Onduline and some nails – and she had to “schmooze” him with cups of tea and goodness knows what other inducements.

Anyway, I was able to escape on Thursday afternoon and drove over the Lecht to Glen Muick with my bicycle hanging off the back of the van. I parked on the road up to the Glen Muick carpark: not just because I was too mean to pay the £3 – I had no change – but also because there were bans on overnight parking.

The following morning was nice down in the valley: breezy but clear, though the surrounding tops were shrouded in low cloud. I set off on the bike, cycled to the carpark and past all the folk who had ignored the “no overnight” rule and then headed round the head of the loch and along the NW bank. On the way, I passed a contingent from the Albyn School, Aberdeen, who looked as though they were doing a Duke of Edinburgh expedition. At my age, one starts reminiscing and I recalled applying for a job there whilst finishing my teaching qualification in the mid-70s. In those days it was a girls’ school (it’s now co-ed) and the Headmistress was a rather formidable Miss Bosomworth – honestly. She prefaced some question about how I’d feel working in an exclusively female environment by saying the girls would be delighted to have me: the first time I’d been told that. Come to think of it, it’s the last as well – so far! The Head of English – my subject in those days – was a Mrs Stopper. St Trinian’s came to mind.

Anyway, I didn’t get the job, so felt I didn’t have to speak to the co-educational hordes off to do their walk other than to give a warning ding of my bell and a cheery “thank you” as they scattered into the wayside ditches to avoid being mown down.

L Nag map

Glas-allt Shiel is an imposing granite lodge house with an inscription saying it was “built by Queen Victoria” in 1862. I suspect she actually got some locals to construct it and merely got John Brown to oversee it. Rather intriguingly, George the something or other bought it back some years later. The inscription doesn’t say what had happened in the intervening years but I like to imagine Queen Vic lost it in a craps game to a shady spiv and the innumerate George did the decent thing by the family. You can see why the only history that ever really interested me was Anglo-Saxon: there’s only just a few fragments and you can make up your own story*. So much more interesting – if less worthy – than the Poor Law Amendment Act (1834).

I must try to concentrate.

I left the bike outside the Queen Vic – now apparently housing a bothy – and started up a good, though steep, path towards Lochnagar. By 600m, I was in mist. By 700m I was in the wind and soon it was raining as well. Mostly horizontally.

I saw nothing from the top of Lochnagar, though I was able to imagine it as I’d been there a long time before. Carn a’ Choire Boidheach (the first of my “new” Munros) was remarkable only for the thickness of the mist and the insistence of its driving rain. Carn an t-Sagairt Mor provide an extended panorama of up to 50metres and for a moment I was fooled into thinking the weather was improving. The stony “cherry” on the top of Cairn Bannoch was visible from about 100m and by now the rain had slackened off to “steady” from its earlier intensity, though the wind showed no such intentions of slacking in its duty. By the time I reached Broad Cairn things had improved a bit and from time to time fleeting wisps of clarity would briefly appear in the mist, only to disappear before I could gauge distances. I was very thankful to have my “ruggedized” to IP68-standard Memory-Map gps with 1:25k OS maps on it, as some of the ground up there is fairly featureless making it easy to get lost. Just to add a certain frisson of interest there are some cliffs too, so accurate navigation was essential.

There is a hut just before the Corrie Chash turn-off and I sat down for a few minutes to rest my weary bones. As the weather was beginning to improve, I pulled off my waterproof overtrousers and then made the mistake of standing up and walking a few paces. Out of the lee of the hut, the weather was as determined to soak me as ever. But the descent of Corrie Chash slowly returned me to the balmy low-altitude weather and it was bordering on pleasant by the time I reached the lochside. There’s an attractive wee bay at this end – I wondered if it is called “the bay of pigs”. (One for the Gaelic scholars)

I strolled round to the Queen Vic again and collected my bike.

There’s not much else to tell, really: the wind was behind me as I sped along the glen, glad to be using different muscles. By the time I got back to the van I was looking forward to a comfortable padded seat and no more physical exercise than the flexing of my right ankle (the van’s automatic). As I loaded the bike onto the carrier, the pewits peed, the curlews curled and the sun shone benignly.

 

* If you fancy a go at making up your own story, based on nothing but a sketchy and confusing narrative, why not look at 755AD in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle (http://omacl.org/Anglo/part2.html) as a starting point? Even if you don’t appreciate the creative aspects of this task, the story of “King visits Lady” is intriguing: so unlike our current Royals!

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