Into the Cairngorms: a wild camping adventure

The wind blew hard and rain wept tirelessly from the sky, but in spite of the weather the magic of the Cairngorms shone boldly through. 

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Editorial assistant Danny Graham and girlfriend Maria felt the full force of the elements on a recent wild camping adventure in the Cairngorms 

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For the fifth time in less than an hour, the tread beneath Maria’s feet gave way, sending her crashing to the ground with the full weight of her pack behind her. I helped her up, and then pulled the map and compass from my pack.

We had been climbing for about an hour, first through tussock and mire before rising several hundred metres between a series of rubble-strewn quartz and limestone crags. A cold mist sat heavy upon our shoulders, its mass weeping rain; its expression forlorn.

‘Lower ground?’ I shouted through the weather. Maria nodded, and we descended, cold and wet, out of the storm.

A few hours earlier, my dad had dropped us off at the end of a gravel road, wishing us luck before driving off into the rain. Beside the track, swallows whirled above a placid loch, its shores banked with bulrush and small gatherings of lilypads. A roe deer waded lazily through the water and, somewhere above us, a raptor called.

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A swan floats through lily pads during a break in the rain

The serenity of Loch Moraig, as it transpired, didn’t last long, and so we found ourselves at the based of an unconquered mountain – Carn Liath – in need of a plan.

‘Let’s go that way,’ Maria chirped, her delight to be off the mount impossible to hide.

No longer enveloped in cloud, the lay of the land was clear. And although our way was trackless, we stepped with relative ease from one valley to the next, over heath and bog, river and wall. Deer antlers, shed from their owners six months prior after the autumn rut, jutted from the uneven ground like bleached tree roots, and black grouse ­­grazed within the shrub, their white rumps a vivid contrast to the glossy black upon their backs.

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Water refill at the Allt Craoinidh river

Bellies rumbling and in need of shelter, we sought refuge within the ruinous walls of Aldandulish, warming soup on our stove among sheep dung and nesting swallows, before continuing on into the hills.

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Lunch break within the crumbling walls of Aldandulish on the banks of Fender Burn

Some hours later, and with dusk upon us, we called it a day and made camp on the flanks of Caisteal Dubh, our tent facing into the vast throat of Glen Tilt. We collected water from a stream, cooked pasta on the stove and watched a herd of three-dozen red deer step skilfully north along the valley’s steep walls.  

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Camping on the flanks of Glen Tilt

That night a light wind wrapped against the skin of the tent and, at some point in the early hours of the morning, the rainfall ceased.

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Images: Daniel Graham