Cairngorms walks with Cameron McNeish: Spring-time on the Great Moss

My son Gregor met me for a Sunday stroll having managed to get some leave from paternal duties.

He  wanted a walk that would give some height but wouldn’t be too hard on unused muscles.

I was happy enough to wander over the Moine Mhor. Although not much lower in elevation than the great plateaux of Braeriach and Cairn Gorm the Moine Mhor is no rocky, boulder scree-ed moonscape.

Greener and softer than its neighbouring plateaux, the Moine Mhor has also been tamed by a series of bulldozed tracks that climb onto the plateau from Glen Feshie and run to within a few feet of the summit of the Munro, Mullach Clach a’ Bhlair, 1019m. That would be our objective for the day.

Cairngorms walks
The Great Moss

Gregor and I had met at the car park at Achlean in Glen Feshie before tackling the long Foxhunter’s Path that climbs the slopes of Carn Ban Mor and onto the plateau.

Croaking ptarmigan, already turning white, greeted us as we reached the broad swell of land that separates Am Moine Mhor from the gentler summit slopes of Carn Ban Mor.

A quarter of a mile further on we felt as though we were on the roof of Scotland. Away back in the forties VA Firsoff wrote:

“To those with attentive ears who listen to the voices of silence they will yet confide wonders, less tangible but no less worthy, which live in human hearts and in the granite heart of the Cairngorm hills…”

We knew exactly what he meant.

Braeriach, Sgorr an Lochain Uaine and Cairn Toul lay ahead of us and through the gap between Cairn Toul and Monadh Mhor we could see Lochnagar on Royal Deeside. Behind us, beyond the broad strath of the River Spey, lay the broad swathe of Creag Meagaidh and beyond that, peeping its head up above the flanks of Aonach Mor, was Ben Nevis.

Cairngorms walks
Loch Einich and the Moine Mhor

The Moine Mhor is certainly a high and lonely place and it offers a variety of high-level explorations amongst its glacial hollows and rocky knolls, the roches moutonnees of the geologic world. Our objective was simple enough – a wander over the moor to pick up a track that would skirt the edges of Coire Garbhlach, one of the most spectacular chasms in the Cairngorms, and follow it to within a short distance of the Munro, Mullach Clach a’ Bhlair, 1019m.

It has to be said this isn’t a particularly dramatic hill – its summit is merely a grassy rise on the plateau, but on this day of sun and blue skies the views were extensive, gloriously so. All the Atholl hills lay at our feet – a vast, tumbled, mountainous wilderness, and further right a snow-fringed Ben Alder dominated the view. The Monadh Liath filled the northern horizons although we could just make out Ben Wyvis of Easter Ross through the haze.

We didn’t linger by the summit but looked forward to the descent, down the rim of Coire Garbhlach, a long and winding corrie that bites deeply from Glen Feshie into the heart of Am Moine Mhor, its slopes vegetated and steep, its basin a haunt of red deer.

Cairngorms walks
The Moine Mhor

Years before, my good friend, the naturalist  Jim Crumley and I had climbed onto Am Moine Mhor from Coire Garbhlach. After negotiating steep snow slopes we eased ourselves over the corrie edge to gasps of astonishment from Jim.

“You emerge from Coire Garblach to find yourself nowhere,” he later wrote in his book, A High and Lonely Place.

“Oh, there are points of reference, but between any of these and your stance on the rim of the corrie there is just the rolling, dipping, flattening, climbing, sprawling dimensions of Am Moine Mhor, the Great Moss. You have not climbed to a summit at all, but to a space.”

And it was this sensation of spaciousness that we enjoyed as we followed the track that runs down the edge of it, before breaking away towards the Caledonian Pines and juniper bushes of Glen Feshie, one of the most delectable of highland glens. We took an old path through the woods, cooled our feet off with a burn crossing and followed a line of ancient moraines all the way back to the car at Achlean.

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