Take a pass

Derek Emslie’s response to Doug Bruce’s recent post on the Challenge message board, in which he described current conditions in the Lairig Ghru, reminded me of a chapter in Alastair Borthwick’s classic from the ’30s, Always a Little Further. This is some of the stuff that first got me interested in Scottish walking.

“Scotland has two great passes which, relatively small though they are, exercise as vivid a local appeal as the giants of Europe and northern India. They are the Corrieyairack, where Wade’s old military road climbs over the Monadhliadths from the Great Glen to Speyside; and the Lairig Ghru, chief pass of the Cairngorms. Both are long, and both fulfill the prime function of a pass, which is that it should link, across some desolate region, two centres of civilization. They have become the pilgrim routes of those who like to take their pleasures strenuously. By far the finer of the two is the Lairig Ghru.”

My Challenge route takes me over both the Corrieyairick and the Lairig Ghru, and I’m sure Borthwick rattling around in the back of my mind had something to do with it. Here’s his description of the Lairig Ghru and part of his walk through it.

“My way climbed gradually upwards through the trees, which opened out every now and then into a clearing with sometimes a deer or two standing there watching me; and the further I climbed the more did the path twist and squirm as it avoided hummocks where heather had grown over ancient roots and fallen trunks….

“And then the trees thinned out, and I emerged on to a species of natural midden right in the mouth of the Lairig. The old glaciers had picked up all sorts of odds and ends on their way down to the plains—boulders, and mud, and rocks of all sizes and in vast quantities—because glaciers flow like rivers and when they reach low levels they melt, dumping all the solids they have collected on their way. These rubbish dumps, or morains, are common all over the Highlands, and there is a particularly fine example where the Lairig Ghru begins and the Rothiemurchus stops. The mouth of the pass is silted up with a great conglomeration of mud and rock overgrown with heather. Into this soft stuff a burn has cut its way, so that when I came out on to the open hillside I found myself on the lip of a cutting step and deep out of all proportion to the tiny burn which flowed at the bottom on the bare rock of the mountains. So enormous was this accumulation of silt that I had to walk nearly two miles uphill before the bed of the burn rose to meet me and I too was travelling on rock.”

I’m really looking forward to this, and seeing if I experience the walk the same way or somehow differently.

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