Last month I took and met up with two cousins for a day’s hill walking near Dalwhinnie and what a wonderful day we had.
Not only was the craic good but the weather was perfect and the views from the top were just breath-taking. At the age of 43 I have discovered a new passion – munro bagging.
Now seasoned pros will probably be shaking their heads reading this thinking: “My god, he’s climbed two hills and already thinks he’s Sir Edmund Hillary’’.
But by the time the three of us had come off the hill and were sitting in Kingussie eating fish suppers we all had an enormous degree of satisfaction with our efforts.
The fact is I’ve had a hankering to do this for a few years now but do tend to procrastinate a bit.
I’ve got maps, books about hill walking, I’ve even got a book of maps on every Munro, watch Paul Murton regularly and have viewed every archive episode of Weirs Way on Youtube.
I had done plenty of research so what was stopping me? Maybe it was the thought of climbing over 3,000ft? Vertigo?
I felt a bit like a swimmer who knew technically how to swim but when it came to diving in couldn’t bring themselves to actually do it. I think I’ve got Morag to thank for saying: “Och just do it will you”.
‘No going back’
So after agreeing to a suitable date with my co-climbers and doing a bit of research there was no going back.
The mountains we would climb were called Carn na Caim and A’Bhuidheanach Bheag, and at 941and 936 metres respectively they certainly weren’t the highest but were chosen for a nostalgic reason and not the fact that the car park is already at 350 metres above sea level.
The two mountains just sit east of the Drumochter Pass on the A9.
It’s the stretch of road where you cross the watershed between the Tay and the Spey and the radio rather eerily fizzles out for a few miles.
My two cousins were brought up near Fochabers so after years of both families commuting up and down the A9 we always wondered what was behind these hills – as it turns out it’s just more hills.
After a hearty breakfast at Dalwhinnie we set off with rucksacks packed full of sandwiches, emergency chocolate, water, first aid kit, map and compass, and walking poles. As Morag commented: “All the gear and no idea.”
The first two hours was the hardest bit with a steep climb; we really should have been conserving energy but I hadn’t seen the lads for months so just blethered non stop on various issues such as farming and the fitba (well, what else is there?).
At about 900 metres the climb eased off and we had a canny walk of about a mile to the summit of our first mountain.
The route was by an old wrought iron fence and I thought what hardy lads these men must’ve been putting a fence up away up here.
We were delighted to see two or three sheep kicking about too, although being a farmer I felt a bit of unease about tramping over someone else’s land even although we had right of way.
‘Piece at the summit’
We reached the summit just by midday and found a cracking spot to have the ‘denner’.
Being farmers we always enjoy pieces in the field but as we looked down on Dalwhinnie with its distinctive white Distillery looking like a model village we thought this was pretty hard to beat.
In fact we all wondered why didn’t we do this 20 years ago but all agreed we had different priorities then with Young Farmers and nights out taking up any spare time.
By mid-afternoon we had reached our second summit of the day, just in time for ‘afternoon piece’.
By now the sandwiches were long gone and we were well into the emergency chocolate, and having put the world to right we all had one last look before making our descent.
What struck me was the extent of the distance we could see; by doing a 360 degree turn we could see the Cairngorms in the north, the hills above Braemar and Glenshee in the east, the Sidlaws to the south but more surprisingly we could see Schiehallion, Glencoe, Ben Nevis and even the Cuillins in Skye to the west.
At this point I suddenly totally got it why so many people head for the hills; we could see about a quarter of Scotland’s land mass but barely met a soul.
They are the perfect place to get some headspace, gather your thoughts and have some quiet reflection and I would highly recommend anyone to try it. It’s worth it for the chocolate alone.
- Jim Smith is a Perthshire farmer and comedian.