Via the Devil's punchbowl whilst the bridge is repaired, then deep on the east side of a wide valley, past victorian forestry plantations, the twisted shattered trunks of caledonian pine exposed on grouse moor, and upwards. 3 O clock fireworks on the hills above, then the end of the path and into the heather and snow, contouring alongside the river in the slip sliding undergrowth.
In the UK we don't call it the backcountry or bushwhacking, but I suppose that's what it is. Off the beaten track, joining the dots, intuiting our way through frozen marsh and scots pine. Using the lines of animal tracks wherever possible. I know how the deer go, after a year in the north. They are one step ahead, still fat from their summer feed, eyeballing us nonchalantly from high on the bare hill. T always spots them before I do.
We make our way slowly through the woods until we almost run out of light, and find a flat pitch on icy heather level with the treeline, near our jumping off point for the day ahead. We make a small fire in the stove inside the tent, warming our hands and feet for a few hours until long hours of sleep. The synthetic quilt works well, moving the dew point away from the down bags, but summer sleeping mats leach the last of our warmth in the long dark hours before dawn.
Dawn when it comes is painfully slow until pale yellow light hits the slopes opposite. We finish stowing gear and move off, contouring awkwardly through the rapid thaw, moving at a snails pace towards Ben Avon, maybe a kilometer or 2 an hour at most. Hard, unnecessary graft with no skis or snowshoes. Packing axe and crampons was plainly wishful thinking on this trip. A lesson in benchmarking. Time to change our skillset again, if we want to do this every year.
Following the winding river, overshooting our turning point for Avon, then cutting back and stopping for lunch. We head between the granite tors on two low summits around 600ms and follow a riverbed down to a deep valley. In these quiet places there are eagles, buzzards and kites (we think), mountain hares, ptarmigans now in winter plumage, even a silent, gliding crane. Footprints cross in all directions. Far away from Tinseltown, the snow lies consolidated, deep and soft on the downhill. This is the reward for no real tops, the reward for taking the quiet way that few bother with, the reward for moving neither hard nor fast. Effort is rarely wasted.
Later, we skid and teeter along a water ice path, out under rain, the snow is gone. Into forestry commission land, old widely spaced plantations, the newer, cheaper, denser stuff interspersed. With dark approaching not long past 3.30pm, we make camp under a killing tree. The young buzzard abandons its pitch as I examine ours. Judging from the bones beneath, it won't be interested in our meal. Another fire, soup and pasta, mince pies and custard.
The following morning is cold and wet, and the rain follows us out past a closed ski resort to soup and tea at Blairgowrie.
We are back in the CNP with friends in 2 weeks time, to welcome the New Year in properly. Until then, have a great midwinter's break and here's to coming back kinder and wiser in 2013. As always, thanks for tuning in.