It started, as a lot of good ideas start, while out on a run. I was talking to Anne about taking people – especially the over 50s – running locally, perhaps when they’re on holiday (I could also offer AirBnB). She mentioned that her daugher’s sister-in-law runs a business doing exactly that, in Scotland, and that perhaps we should go to visit her.
The long and the short of it was that Anne, Penny, Tricia and I all booked into Glenmore YHA in the Cairngorms and excitedly set off on a Thursday morning for a walking and running mini-break. After a coffee and a chat at Anne and Mark’s house we bundled our multiple bags into Tricia’s car, stopping at Dobbies in Perth for lunch (and a visit to Lakeland). We arrived at the YHA at about 4pm, in time to unpack the car and go for a run round Loch Morlich before doing yoga on the beach in the evening sun. The others then swam in the Loch – I got in up to my knees but it was VERY cold.
It was about 12 years ago I was last there. David, Alex and Bella and I had gone to the campsite with some friends. I was pregnant with Edward and one of the friends we were with found a 4-leafed clover which she gave me: it seemed to be good luck for my pregnancy, still in its early stages and I was by then 48 years old.
I can’t remember exactly what we did that time as we’d visited the area at other times as well: we’d taken the children to Aviemore a couple of times and I have a lovely photo of them at the side of Loch an Eilein, which has a castle on an island. Arriving in the area with my friends so many years later felt quite poignant, and in fact all weekend I alternated with feeling incredibly joyful at being in this amazing place and having such a fab. time, and slightly tearful.
Anne’s daughter’s sister in law turned up the next morning and after a brief chat she drove us to the Sugarbowl car park, from where we started running. There are lots of reindeer (caribou) around this part of Scotland, and we crossed a stream and went past a deer enclosure. They’re quite a problem (they eat young trees for a start), so it’s not only in Scotland but also in England that you’ll see deer fences in order to try to control the various types of deer which roam around. I was surprised that reindeer were white, as I’d expected them to be brown, Father Christmas-style.
Ahead of us we could see a pass called the Chalamain gap – nothing whatsoever to do with the Emperor Charlemagne, and I haven’t managed to find out what the name means (if anybody knows, please let me know). This leads over to the Lairig Ghru, something David had mentioned walking several times in snow as a teenager. Today we weren’t heading up through the gap but instead crossed in a southerly direction and to the top of a hill from which there were panoramic views. We then bounced down a lovely path through trees, coming across a hut hidden in the woods, before getting back to the woods surrounding Loch Morlich. Tricia and Anne jogged back around the eastern end of the Loch while Penny, Jenny and I went a slightly longer route back, all meeting back at the YHA in time for lunch in the garden.
Tricia knows the Cairngorms well – she’s a keen walker and camper, and we benefitted from her knowledge. That afternoon she had a walk planned for us up a hill behind the YHA and then down to the ‘green loch’ or An Lochan Uaine. There was a fairly long climb up, with sculptural trees and heather, and then a strong breeze at the top which almost knocked you off your feet. We then came down the other side and ended up at a bothy before walking along a track to the green loch.
Here it was my turn to stand in the freezing water so Penny could take a photo, but we all agreed it would be a great place to come to for a swim when the water was warmer. We walked to the other end and found a bench erected in memory of a guy, Jim, whom Penny had met many years ago and been impressed with: he worked for the Forestry Commission and ran a B&B near here. She’d mentioned him earlier in the trip so to find a memorial bench to him felt really special.
The track then led back to Glenmore mountain centre, the reindeer centre, and the National Park centre – where there is a memorial to Norwegian soldiers who trained in the area in the second World War (there were also Norwegian links in the YHA).
That evening there was more yoga on the beach, before returning to the YHA to cook dinner and discuss plans for the following day.
I fancied walking some of the Lairig Ghru, and Tricia had some thoughts about a route too. The name of the track – which means nothing more than Hill Pass – had stuck with me ever since I had heard of it from David all those years before – and in fact one day I’d like to do the whole thing from end to end (one end is at the Linn o’ Dee – another memorable name and somewhere else I went many years ago with two very small children. There’s a link here to a blogpost by a group who ran/walked the entire thing in 5-6 hours).
The path is varied: having started on quite wide forest trails, we were soon on single track paths which wiggled through the trees with a springy pine needle surface. Later we came out higher up and were stepping over rocks and through streams. By lunchtime I was getting a bit bored of the path and wanting to know when we were going to stop, but it was well worth the wait as we found a spot by the river, the valley sides reaching far above us and the pass beckoning us to go further over the hills.
We didn’t have time to go further today, and the way back involved re-tracing our footsteps to start with. I jogged ahead of the others a bit, partly to test out how easy or not the path would be to run. It wasn’t dissimilar in some ways to many lake district routes, and having a full stomach definitely put me in a better humour.
After Rothiemurchus Lodge we were back on the forest track, and as Tricia and Penny bonded over trees, plants and wildlife generally, Anne and I chatted about more psychological things (some people might say we were gossiping). We then had a break from being on our feet as Tricia drove us up to the Cairngorm ski lift area to have a look around. Ski areas are so sad in the summer, when there’s no snow and the equipment looks like scars on the landscape rather than the lovely white playground that a ski resort is at its best.
That evening was a lot cooler, so we did yoga in the garden of the YHA before dinner, then went into Aviemore for dinner, and only went down to the beach for post-dinner drinks, well wrapped up.
All too soon our final day had arrived. We managed to have breakfast and pack in surprisingly good time, and Tricia suggested running around the Uath Lochans near the River Feshie. This proved to be an excellent idea: again we all felt it was too cold to swim, though we’d happily go back there sometime, but it was a pretty, wooded landscape with 4 small lochs to run around and a view over towards Loch Insh from one of the higher points.
The excitement hadn’t yet finished, as we stopped to take photos at a stunning gorge, to have a look round Ruthven Barracks (incredibly cold), and then visited the Dalwhinnie Whisky distillery (we didn’t go on a tour, but in the shop I bought some presents for people back home). Our final stop was near Pitlochrie for a drink before completing the final stage of the journey home.
It had been one of the best holidays ever, with a lot of laughter and chat, both light-hearted and serious (Tricia’s question about whether anybody’s watch had the time made me giggle for days after, and highlights the fact that we were all using our watches (Fitbit, Garmin, Polar Flow) to track our steps and route rather than to tell the time (other than Anne who is notoriously bad with IT and whose battery was flat: she was wearing her watch as a fashion accessory); I fell out of the top bunkbed having insisted that I wanted to be at the top; and when we saw the photos of ourselves doing yoga on the beach we all fell about laughing for some inexplicable reason). We all agreed we’d love to go again, and meanwhile Penny and I were talking about possibly changing my ‘swim Snowdon at 60’ challenge to a trip to the Orkneys. I love Scotland.
Whilst a lot of the photos are mine, I must credit Penny, and also Anne, who took the yoga-on-the-beach photos on Penny’s phone (and then joined in with us in the following days).