Staying Low In The Cairngorms

Well, we very nearly cancelled this trip at the last minute. The caravan site in Grantown on Spey had been booked for a couple of months, but with losing Dixie just before Christmas the holiday fortnight had been a bit subdued, and Geoff and I were starting to get a bit snappy and grumpy with each other.

In the end though, we decided that it was probably important that we had a change of scenery.

The first trip away in the van without our beloved Boxer was always going to be a bit strange too, but it had to be done.

It’s a long drive up to the Cairngorms, so we decided to do it over two days and wild camp with the van up in the Otterburn Ranges for a night.


It was a gorgeous evening, dark and clear, and the temperature dropped below freezing overnight. The next day dawned blue and clear, and we had an enjoyable remainder of the journey north.



This would have no doubt been a good day for going up on the Cairngorm plateau.

We’d taken all our winter gear with us – ice axes, crampons, snowshoes etc – but at the same time weren’t really that bothered if the conditions dictated that we never got up high.

In years gone by, Geoff and I used to regularly go up to the Cairngorms at February half-term holiday (putting the poor dogggies in kennels for the duration) and have already done all the major tops round there in full snow conditions, several times.






Anyway, it would be nice to do stuff we hadn’t done before, even if it did end up being low level.

And it was just as well that we weren’t that bothered what we did!

The first day was pretty settled and we contented ourselves with a good 7 mile wander around the local forests and the river Spey. Very pleasant it was, too.





But the weather soon changed.



Every night and morning we studied the weather forecasts carefully, and every evening we looked at the avalanche conditions (which are posted at 6pm for the next day).



The snow cover up top was not that brilliant anyway. The western slopes were wind blown, whereas the eastern slopes had loads more snow, but generally with a considerable avalanche risk.



We’d only been there a couple of days when the first storm warning came in. I’d also tuned in to tweets from the Cairngorm Mountain site, which – whilst being primarily about the ski conditions – were also very good at posting current conditions and wind speeds at the summit.



I don’t think there was a single day after that when wind speeds on Cairngorm were much below about 70mph, and on a couple of occasions they were over 100mph.


There also seemed to be a smattering of rescues going on fairly regularly.



And as soon as the first storm was through, the second storm warning came in. And then the third…. dumping a load of snow in the process.



So, we took it easy, stayed low and enjoyed some very pleasant wanders around Rothiemurchus, Loch Garten and all the countryside around Grantown itself. We even saw some Goldeneye Ducks on Loch Garten…



Of course hot chocolates and cakes had to be enjoyed in Aviemore, as well.




By the time we’d been there nearly a week (we had 10 nights booked at the site) yet more snow warnings were coming in thick and fast for the next few days, and it began to appear that if we didn’t set off for home early, we might be stuck there for longer than we’d planned!

So, we made a considered decision and left 3 days early. Even then, snow was starting to make driving a bit challenging on the A9.



We got as far as the Southern Uplands that day, spent the night wild van camping there and carried on home the next morning.

And what was Tilly’s verdict on the trip?


13 thoughts on “Staying Low In The Cairngorms

  1. There looks to be surprisingly little snow on the hills for the Cairngorms. I love the Cairngorms in snow – they’re my favourite Scottish winter walking.

    Definitely the right decision to get a change of scenery though to cheer you both up a bit. I always feel better after a trip away 🙂


    1. Yes, the general snow cover was nothing like what we used to regularly get in February. Maybe that’s normal for January – we’ve never been straight after New Year before? The winds were certainly fun though – although it’s very difficult to show that in the average photo!

      And we do feel better after the trip. I think in the end just getting away was the important thing for us, it really didn’t matter what we were doing, just chilling was fine 🙂


  2. It looks like you made the best of a bad lot in more ways than one. Hopefully 2015 will bring you lots of good trips, in happier circumstances.


  3. The Cairngorms are another world entirely in bad weather and well advised to stay away from the summits in storms – advice I haven’t always heeded! Rothiemurchus forest is a very fine alternative and I have a soft spot for Aviemore even though it’s largely pretty horrid


    1. Yes, unlike Kielder (which I do also quite like, as you know) the Cairngorm forests are all lovely old growth stuff, full of character and very pleasant to wander through.
      And I also have to admit to having a vague fondness for Aviemore, even though it’s not the prettiest of places…!


  4. It was probably good for the three of you to get away from the house during a difficult time. Jealous of all that snow you got, although a good decision to leave before travelling got too difficult!


    1. Yes, it was definitely the right thing to do, not to cancel the trip. We did enjoy it in the end and Tilly had lots of fun – especially bouncing through the snow! And with hindsight, I reckon we’d have ended up staying 3 or 4 extra days if we hadn’t left early!


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