Walking to Cape Wrath, Day 16, May 26, 2022
As I would be wild camping up in the Cairngorms area, I was in no real hurry to get started. Last night I made arrangements to eat in the Atholl Arms restaurant for breakfast, opting for eggs Benedict instead of another Scottish meat festival. The yoghurt and fruit were exceptional, as were my eggs. Leaving that lovely stone town, I found the path alongside the Tilt river, which was to be my hiking companion for the better part of the day.
As this was my entrance to the Cairngorms, I was expecting greater difficulty, but most of the day was on a well-made farm road slowly ascending the range, sticking close to the river. At first the glen was very narrow, the sheep stood oblivious at impossible angles on steep slopes. Slowly the landscape widened, with the path passing small farmhouses, some inhabited, others abandoned. Later it entered a forested section, reminding me of riding the train to Aviemore some years ago. I recall on passing the Atholl estate noting the dense forest. John Murray (1755-1830), fourth Duke of Atholl, who was nicknamed ‘Planter John’ was one of the first industrial tree planters in Scotland, planting millions of larch in the land abutting the Cairngorms. Planter John’s vision has clearly been carried forward as the path took me past a textbook example of modern industrial farming. On passing Forest Lodge, the largest farm I crossed, I watched as a harvester cut off scrub deciduous trees, ripping some directly out of the ground, clearing the way to cut the large old pines. The ground shook as the roots snapped, and the “useless” lumber was tossed aside. Later the path passed a huge pile of logs cut to length, partially stripped of bark, stacked, and ready to be loaded out.
Finally near the end of the trek, the water subtly shifted directions as I left the watershed of the Tilt and entered that of the Dee. There is something exhilarating about walking a river to its headwaters, something I wrote about here in one of my favorite blog posts: https://walkinghome.lmc.gatech.edu/pointless-essays/a-walker-of-rivers/
After following the Alltan t-Seilich (a tributary to the Dee) for a few short kilometers just before Bynack Burn, I came to Bynack Lodge, a ruined stone home sitting on a rise, in the middle of nowhere. The only road to it a Land Rover track. Just a circle of wind-twisted trees, crumbling walls, and sheep grazing to keep up its well-mown appearance. The wind was blowing hard and the weather alternated bright sun and brief showers. I pitched my tent in the lee of the house at what seemed the calmest spot (a relative concept). After inspecting the grounds I took shelter and read well into the evening, while my tent flapped, trembled, shook, but ultimately held.
T. Hugh Crawford