Loch an Eilein, Changing and Unchanging

I've walked up into the Lairig Ghru at least once each month this year (so far) - each time starting from the car park at Loch an Eilein, and inevitably taking some pictures of the Loch each time with the iconic pine trees on a little head-land at its north end.

The cloud level may wander up and down, the sunshine may come and go and the state of the water (from frozen to still to windswept) may change but there is something unchanging about the scene through the year.

January 2015

February 2015
March 2015
April 2015
May 2015
June 2015
July 2015
August 2015
September 2015

Shetland September 2015

After the September visit to the Cairngorms, there was just enough time to fit in a few days on Shetland before heading back to other activities in southern England.

But it was just long enough to have a look around the harbours in Lerwick and Scalloway.

High Tide at Hays Docks
Caribbean Princess, slightly smaller than Bressey but more people
Gemini at Scalloway
Scalloway Castle

And to wander along a few beaches.

West Voe of Sumburgh
Meal Beach
Quendale Beach

And to explore a few cliffs and headlands.

Scat Ness
Horse Holm, off the southern tip of Scat Ness
Looking north from Windy Stacks, Fitful Head

And to chat with the local livestock.

Sheep at Tingwall
Sumburgh Cattle

And to get a quick glimpse of the Northern Lights.

From the kitchen window

Fab place Shetland.

Heather and Water – Lairig Ghru V9

The most dramatic changes since the August walk were the eruption of the heather, and the return of the water.
Rothiemurchus Heather
Allt Dhruidh at Cairngorm Club Footbridge
In August the ground felt very dry, and the trees and bushes had lost their early summer vibrancy, this time Autumn had kicked in and there had clearly been a lot of rain.  The burns were full to overflowing and you needed to give a little bit of thought before striding through the fords.  And the muddy bits were properly muddy again – and had been well churned up by the mountain bikes that were still around in big numbers.

Allt Dhruidh at Sinclair Memorial
Top Ford refilled
Over a weekend I did two versions of my regular walk – once up to Top Tree (see the August blog) and on the second longer day up to the Last Ford, and yet again I got dry, mostly sunny, weather on both days.

Ever changing waymark
Lochan Deo (Sparkling Loch)
The bright clear weather also brings the morning reminder that the year is moving on – there wasn't any sign of overnight frosts but the cool morning air was a reminder that they can’t be far away.

Low clouds around Loch an Eilein
 And, mirroring the August walk, as I was heading off to Shetland a reminder that cloud levels (like stock markets) can go down as well as up at this time of year.

Lairig Ghru Month 8. August 2015

August marked the eighth instalment of my project to walk and photograph the Lairig Ghru every month during 2015.

Looking up into the Lairig Ghru
I’ve been going through my walk notes from the year, and the August iteration was actually the 11th and 12th times that I’ve done at least part of my ‘standard walk’.

The walk starts from the little car park at Loch an Eilein and follows paths through the Rothiemurchus Estate to the Cairngorm Club Footbridge and to Piccadilly before turning right and climbing up into the Lairig Ghru - over the months I’ve started to give the various landmarks up the path - splitting the route into four chunks each taking roughly an hour to walk).

Part 1. Loch an Eilein to Piccadilly (this is a recognised place name - at least it appears on the Rothiemurchus Estate map)

Part 2 Piccadilly to Top Tree (this is my label - it’s the last big tree beside the path as you climb up from Speyside)

Part 3 Top Tree to Last Ford (again my label - it’s the last distinct ford as you climb up into the Lairig Ghru boulder view)

Part 4 Last Ford to The Top (in this case the high point of the Lairig Ghru, just beyond this (from the perspective of someone coming up from the Spey side) are the Pools of Dee.

This month I had the chance to do the walk twice.  On one day I did the first two parts of the walk (time constraints meant this was all I had time to do), and on the next day the first three parts (the weather forecast was rubbish for the entire day, but the threatened rain didn’t appear until late afternoon).

Part 1. Loch an Eilein to Piccadilly.

Loch an Eilein, Summer 2015
Through Rothiemurchus Estate
Through Rothiemurchus Estate
Cairngorm Club Footbridge

Part 2. Piccadilly to Top Tree

Through the tree line
Top Tree

Part 3. Top Tree to Last Ford

Pathside Mosses
Fox gloves
Way-marking up toward the Sinclair Memorial
Top Ford - snow filled in Winter, water-filled in Spring and very dry by August
And on the third day. 

Once the rain arrived late on the second of my August walk days, it stayed around. I popped back to Loch an Eilein about 16 hours after the rain started, it was still falling steadily.  I took that as my cue to start driving back down to Oxford.

Loch an Eilein, Also Summer 2015

Shetland Summer, August 2015

The weather on Shetland is often a bit of a lottery, and summer is no different to any other time of the year.  

The temperatures might be wee a bit higher, but the winds can still blow and the sea be transformed from enchanting blue to storm-lashed grey in a blink of the eye.

And, of course, there is that uniquely Shetland weather feature that can cause travel havoc around the islands - gale force fog.

Puffins, Sumburgh Head
But not over the last couple of weeks.  

As with any lottery you can, just sometimes, get the winning numbers.  Over the last couple of weeks Shetland has delivered on blue skies, warm temperatures and most remarkable of all light (in some cases, no) wind.

This meant that the puffins were able to enjoy a last few days lazing around in the sunshine at Sumburgh Head before they head out to sea for the winter.  And I got to spend lots of lazy afternoons wandering around Scat Ness - and even, and I don’t do this often,  fall asleep in the afternoon sunshine lying on the beach at Quendale.

Lerwick Harbour

Quendale Beach - perfect for an afternoon snooze

St Ninian's Beach

Scat Ness

Calm afternoon at Scat Ness

And just in case anyone thinks that Shetland has been relocated to somewhere significantly south of 60N, more normal service did appear a few times.

Limited view from the office window.

Walking the Walk, July 2015

This is the seventh iteration this year of my monthly walk up the Lairig Ghru.  

Loch an Eilein, Rothiemurchus Estate

It being high summer in the Scottish mountains one would obviously expect to see clear blue skies and warm temperatures.   Today I was wearing waterproofs and, for some of the day, my woolly Fair Isle hat – my only real concession to the summer weather being the fact that I didn't need to put my gloves on.   In fact the weather wasn't too bad – there were gaps between the showers (isn't that a definition of British summer?) – and at least as I walked up from Loch an Eilein into the Lairig Ghru the rain was blowing against my back.

Climbing through the Forest

It’s been about six weeks since I last did the walk – on that walk the fresh green tree shoots looked very bright, and other dominant colour was of yellow flowers.  This time the green shoots had mellowed to match the rest of the trees, and the yellow flowers replaced by purple ones.  

The birds have also moved on in their breeding cycle. The ptarmigan that were so vociferous a couple of months ago as they tried to distract you away from their nests are now silent, but you just might see them leading their flightless young away from perceived danger.  

The other change was less welcome.  The slightly warmer weather and (on the day I was walking) light winds gave the legendary Scottish midges all the encouragement they need.  I'm really very fond of most forms of wildlife, but I'm really not sure how the midge fits into the bigger picture – would anyone miss the midge?

Top tree - heading into the Lairig Ghru

Cairns on the Path

The other big change in the six weeks was the retreat of the snow.  In mid-June there were still patches of snow at path level, by late July the only snow was very high up on north-facing slopes.  It’ll be interesting to see how soon the new season snow puts in an appearance.

Looking back down into Speyside

Looking through into Deeside

Last Snow

Mist-covered crags

Next walk iteration is planned for early August.  Lets see if the weather improves, if there is fresh snow, or if the midges are any thinner on the ground. I'd be happy if any of these pans out.