Northern Scotland June 2015

Another month, another visit to the Cairngorms National Park, with the added bonus of a few days in Sutherland and the extra added bonus of a couple of days in an Inverness hospital.

As I've been doing the various iterations of the Lairig Ghru walk this year (the plan being to do the same walk each month during 2015) I've been saying that while I'll stick to hotels during the winter I'll revert to camping once the weather improves. Once it gets to June (even in Scotland) it's hard to say this with a straight face and book in to an hotel - so for this first time this year the tent was broken out.

And, perhaps surprisingly, the Scottish weather co-operated - I got to spend a couple of dry nights camping and a couple of downright hot days in the mountains.  It was about six weeks since the last walk, and the seasons had clearly moved on.  There was much more bird life visible (and audible) below the tree line, although there were fewer grouse making their presence felt higher up.  The gorse was in flower, and there were lots more insects around (including the legendary scottish midge). The snow banks that were still very obvious in early May have mostly disappeared except in a few protected gullies.

June at the Pools of Dee at the top of the Lairig Ghru
The lower level walking in the forest was very easy, but higher up the boulder fields were pretty attritional under the bright Scottish sun.  Early in the year the boulder fields are covered with snow and offer pretty simple walking, in June there is no alternative to scrambling through, between and over the boulders.  The way-marking cairns high up on the Lairig Ghru are often pretty much impossible to spot until you've passed them.  My only consolation was watching a couple of mountain bikers struggling through the boulder field - they needed to do the same boulder-to-boulder dance I was doing while carrying bikes.

After two days of sunshine (often referred to the Scottish summer) weather reverted to type. The cloud base dropped to Loch an Eilein level, and now that my tent was throughly soaked I decided to pack it up and move on to the second target for this trip.

June at Loch an Eilein, Rothiemurchus Forest
A couple of years ago I'd driven up through the Flow Country in Sutherland en route to Orkney, and have been saying that it deserved a longer visit. This time I arranged to spend several days around both the Flow Country and the north coast of Sutherland.  There have been changes around RSPB reserve at Forsinard since my last visit - the hotel appears to be permanently closed, there is a lovely new viewing tower on the reserve and pretty much every house in the village appears to have an anti-RSPB sign. I don't (yet) understand where the disagreement lies between the RSPB and the locals.   There are also quite a lot of areas around the Flow Country where there appears to be industrial-scale forest clearance underway. I'm hopeful that this is all part of the programme to restore the peat lands there were damaged by large scale drainage and tree planting in the 1970s and 80s, but on the ground it's not always clear quite what's going on.

Lochan Dubh, RSPB Forsinard
New viewing tower, RSPB Forsinard
After a couple of days exploring the Flow Country, I spent a bit of time on the north Sutherland coast - area I've not visited for over 40 years. There are some wonderful beaches along this bit of coast - and, even in the summer, not very many people visiting them.

Ceannebeinne Beach, Sutherland

If you get a chance to visit here, you should also stop off at the Smoo Caves - a dramatic little series of caverns!

Smoo Caves, Sutherland

And the hospital visit? I decided to ignore an ear infection on the assumption that it would sort itself out.  A GP in Ullapool told me that I'd got to a state where some intravenous antibiotics were needed - so if you ever wind up in Inverness, the Raigmore Hospital is highly recommended.  Although I'm hoping to avoid needing a repeat visit next time I'm in the north of Scotland.

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