Above Kingussie in Autumn

After taking my headcold and camera for a walk yesterday, I thought I'd share some new photos of autumn in the Cairngorms, alongside a slightly edited version of a route I wrote up for TGO recently. 

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Creag Bheag - my new local hill - is a walk or run from my front door, from the valley floor through tiers of forestry and native woods to the montane scrubline, where the trees peter out and the moorland takes over. It's not a Munro, a Corbett, a Graham or any other... it's just a hill above a highland village, and a great source of solace to me.

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The first time we visited, we opted for a simple up and down as a break from the unpacking, not expecting our three year old to meet the timberline, yet alone reach the top. I’ve since found a much more satisfying circular route that makes a great microdose of the outdoors. But of course there's as many ways up, down and around as there are days in the year.

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Whichever way I go, it's a compressed adventure: Dark forestry cloaks the lower slopes, mixed in with elegant birch sporting the real colours of Scotland – green and grey (and now yellows and oranges)  – their leaves shooshing away my worldly woes in the breeze, then a crown of blaeberry and heather on an otherwise craggy top. I’ve found the place where 2 young birds of prey are nesting, sorrell to snack on, sturdy trees for abseil practice and short ridges to scramble. The local kids are building their own red (more like black!) run MTB track through the plantation, far beyond my riding abilities. It’s the Cairngorms in miniature.

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The summit is broad and dotted with fairy hills, most of which feature small cairns and are all worth visiting on a little circuit, offering different perspectives on the giant views across Strath Spey to the Cairngorm Plateau, north to the RSPB reserve at Insh Marsh, south to Glen Tromie and west to the Newtonmore Munros.

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Then the small details where the mountain fades back into the village: The rusted remains of cars, aging fencing collapsed under treefall, a haunted forestry ride overlooked by a dilapidated treehouse, pregnant with some memory of itself. These edge lands remind me of my youth on the fringes of another town in another country, same same but very different. 

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The Bard of Kingussie, Donald Campbell, whose grave can be found in the town behind Main Street, wrote a famous poem about the Clearing of a nearby Estate in 1838, following the potato famine. ‘Here’s good health to the people’ promises the emigrants ‘silk and ribbons’ at the end of their journey... not to mention the maidens, wool, cattle and sheep.

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Five were born on the four month journey to Sydney, but twice that number died. Before they left, they convened on the top of our ‘Little Rock’ for a last farewell to their homeland. Local historian Thomas Sinton documents their keening lament as: “Let Fortune use me as it may, I will think on Scotland far away.”

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I think on that leaving ceremony every time I go up there. For me, moving to the Highlands 70 years after my mother’s family left, Kingussie is a place not of leaving but of returning. Home is not far away now, I can see it from the summit of Creag Beag. 

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Walk Highlands have a route guide to Creag Beag (different again to my route, but just as nice)