Bothy crime

The refurbished Hutchison Memorial Hut, Coire Etchachan, Cairngorms

The scene of crime. The Hutchison Memorial Hut

I’ve railed before in this blog about folk who leave litter and unwanted gear in bothies, and all the ‘proper’ hill folk have nodded in agreement. Isn’t it terrible.

It is. But there’s worse.

And it’s been done by ‘proper’ hill folk.

Two MBA volunteers went in to the Hutchison Hut last week, to fix a faulty door handle and latch and stop the door from swinging open in the wind, letting snow into the bothy and damaging the door and hinges.

It was the sort of job that had to be done sooner rather than later, and volunteers have to fit in their trips to bothies with work and other commitments, so the choice of when to go was limited, and it turned out they found themselves heading up Glen Derry in a major thaw.

Deep snow, which had never properly consolidated, softened as the temperature rose and they found themselves sinking deep, falling into holes and streams as the crust gave way under their feet. It took five hours to get from Bob Scott’s up to the Hutchison.

When they got there, they replaced the broken handle. It wasn’t a big job – maybe half an hour or so to complete – but doing it involved going up to Bob Scott’s one afternoon, walking into the Hutchie the next day and doing the job, and walking out again the following day.

And they – or other volunteers – will have to do it all over again. Because when they were out there they found the glass in the door of the stove was broken. So that means another journey once a new pane of special glass has been bought. Sure, it was probably an accident – or carelessness – but if whoever did it had let the MBA know, then both jobs could have been done on one visit. It’s easy to make a bothy report. Just go to this page and fill in the form online. It means that damage can be fixed sooner, and with less time commitment from volunteers.
So if you see damage in a bothy, or if you cause damage yourself – accidents do happen – please take five minutes to let the MBA know about it.

That’s an important point. But it’s not why I started writing this post. That was because of a worse sin.


One of the other discoveries made when the two volunteers went out to the Hutchison Hut was that a small storage compartment at the hut, screwed shut, had been broken into and the contents stolen: some food, drink and fuel, both for stove and for cooking.

Sometime over the last few weeks someone who stayed at the hut has thought themselves pretty damned clever: sussing out that something was hidden there and managing to get it. Wizard wheeze? Good laugh? Celebration of the anarchism of rough, tough mountaineering ethos?

It was none of those. It was theft, pure and simple; vandalism and theft.

It wasn’t enough for that person to make use of a building created and maintained with the money and labour of others: he (or she, I suppose) had to steal from the very people who have ensured his comfort. Those fire logs, that coal, the tins, were all bought with someone’s hard-earned money, and carried in on their backs to make life a wee bit easier for volunteers heading out there for maintenance. It was even worse: most of the stuff that was stolen was bought and carried in by the bothy’s maintenance organiser not even for his own use but for the use of any of the volunteers carrying out work there.

But now it’s been stolen. By someone who may call himself a walker or climber or mountaineer, but who is, in fact, a thief.

Some may argue that bothies are common property and anything left there is fair game. Sorry, but that’s both legally and morally wrong. A bothy is owned by the estate on which it stands and leased to the organisation which looks after it. It is not common property and not an ‘anything goes’ zone. At the Hutchison Hut the MBA has accepted responsibility for maintaining the building and expects that other people – for whose benefit it is maintained – treat it with respect and don’t damage it – or steal from it.

Quite apart from MBA or volunteers’ property, equipment is routinely left in bothies while walkers and climbers are out on the hill.

Theft from a bothy is no joke: it strikes at the very heart of the bothy system, which relies entirely upon honesty. Bothies are traditionally bastions of liberality, with all sorts of behaviours tolerated and even celebrated, but there are surely limits. And a thief in a bothy is a contemptible creature with no honour who deserves to be hounded out. There is no excuse.

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Bygone Cairngorm bothy photos

I’ve been sitting on some of these photos for a while now, mostly sent in by George Adams and Colin Campbell, always waiting for the context to use them.

Then one of the comments after Ashie Brebner’s skiing article remarked that there can be few photos of Altanour Lodge still in circulation – and I got all guilty. Sure, there are a good new old photos in Ian Murray’s excellent books, but here I am sitting with some on my laptop.

So. No narrative to link them all together: just a collection of old photos of old bothies and buildings which were once close enough to intact to spend a night in.

Altanour Lodge, Glen Ey, Cairngorms

Altanour Lodge in 1952

Ruins of Altanour, Glen Ey, Cairngorms

Altanour in 2014

This is the Altanour Lodge, up at the head of Glen Ey, fleetingly mentioned in Ashie’s story as being a broken down even back in 1951. The upper picture, from George Adams, shows it a year later, still being used as a bothy but plainly in sad need of repair. The lower photo I took myself last year, showing how little remains in this remote corner of the Cairngorms.

Auchelie bothy, Glen Ey, Cairngorms

Auchelie in Glen Ey, 1951

This photo, again from George, shows Auchelie, lower down Glen Ey, later in the same year of which Ashie wrote. Again, there is very little remaining today.


Auchelie Bothy, Glen Ey, Cairngorms

Auchelie in 2014 – just an outline of stones.

Across the hills, follow Glen Geldie up to the Bynack Burn where it comes down out of the hills, and you find more ruins – Bynack Lodge.

Bynack Lodge, Cairngorms

Bynack Lodge in 2014

Here it is as it was in 1952, in a photo From George Adams.

Bynack Lodge, Cairngorm bothy, in 1952

Bynack Lodge in 1952

And in some later shots by Colin Campbell.

Bynack Lodge, Cairngorms

Bynack Lodge in 1962 – it suffered a serious fire two years later

Bynack Lodge, Cairngorms, 1989

Bynack Lodge in 1989

Further through into Glen Tilt, there’s a bothy – if you could call it that – which I’d never heard of. George Adams referred to it simply as a shepherd’s hut when he was there in 1952.

Shepherd's Hut, Glen Tilt, Cairngorms

Shepherd’s Hut, Glen Tilt

Colin Campbell, on the other hand, referred to it as Black Bothy when he was there 12 years later.

Glen Tilt bothy, Cairngorms

Black Bothy in Glen Tilt, 1964

Heading back north, Colin has another photo – lower Geldie Lodge.

Lower Geldie Lodge, Cairngorms

Lower Geldie Lodge in 1963, with a rickety-looking bridge

And a couple of Ruighe Aiteachain – the Feshie Bothy.

Feshie Bothy, Cairngorms

At the door of Ruigh Aiteachan, Glen Feshie.

Ruighe Aiteachain Bothy, Cairngorms

Feshie Bothy again, probably in the early ’60s

Finally, an old newspaper cutting from the start of the ’60s, just before George ‘Dod’ Adams emigrated to Canada (he subsequently moved to Australia) – a time when the papers would publish photos from under the Shelter Stone and in the bothies. Luibeg Bothy is, of course, the original Bob Scott’s Bothy. Rubbish quality reproduction by the papers, but good taste.

Newspaper cutting showing George 'Dod' Adams under the Shelter Stone, Cairngorms, and in Luibeg Bothy

As an afterword, I’ve recently heard from Graeme Hunter, who’s looking for a photograph of Lochend Bothy, which used to sit at the lower end of Loch Muick. Graeme remarked that he used to stay there a lot when he was a young climber, but never had a camera in those days. If anyone has one it would be great if they could get in touch.


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Skiing the Black Spout of Lochnagar in 1954

Ashie Brebner skiing the Black Spout of Lochnagar, Cairngorms, in 1954

Ashie Brebner is pictured skiing out of the lower part of the Black Spout, just before falling and almost starting an avalanche.

Ashie Brebner is best known as one of the people who built the Slugain Howff in the Cairngorms – the fabled ‘Secret Howff’ of many a hill quest.
However he was also almost certainly the first person to ski down the Black Spout on Lochnagar, using equipment that would nowadays be regarded as hopelessly inadequate for the job.
Once more this tale first appeared in the Mountaineering Council of Scotland members’ magazine Scottish Mountaineer, and is reprinted here with Ashie’s permission.
As he recounted in the previous post, Ashie started skiing in 1949, learning from a book and trial and error with his companions. Possibly with no idea of what his limitations should be, he progressed quickly and within just a few years he felt up for a feat which most skiers would regard daunting even today.
“When you are young you think you are immortal,” he said when recalling the event.
The Black Spout is the major gully in the northern coire of Lochnagar, an easy scramble in summer and a Grade I snow climb in winter. Recent years have seen a number of ski descents, including a couple by Scott Muir which have been posted on YouTube.
Until 1954, however, no-one had attempted it.
“It was spring,” Ashie recalled, “And there was still a cornice at the head of the Black Spout. It was easier to carry the skis into the corrie and climb up from the bottom, so I left Stan Gordon there in case of accident and climbed up. The snow was quite sugary and when I got to the cornice there were two lads trying to get through it. They were very surprised to see me with skis as they were both roped up.
“I got the skis on immediately under the cornice and set off. Just like in the video [Scott Muir’s], you don’t get much time before the wall of rock on each side looms up so you have to turn very fast. The style was quite different then: I was using stem christies and throwing out the shoulder with the weight on the turning ski. The sugary snow meant I side-slipped quite a lot on each turn and it was very hard on the legs. The pressure on my legs was tremendous and I had to stop at one point to ease the muscles and have time to look ahead. You are so busy turning before you hit the rock that you don’t have time to look down and ahead.
“As I came out the broader end of the Spout, I fell on a turn and the angle was so steep that the whole slope started moving with me. Stan Gordon thought I was about to start an avalanche and got out of the way fast. Luckily, I managed to roll over, get on my feet and ski off the moving slope.”
There was no fanfare about Ashie’s descent though.
“Only a few people knew about it because not many skied then and it was not the done thing to boast about something like this. Coming home on the bus Mac Smith* who I respected and was a great climber, much older than me, simply said: ‘I hear you skied down the Black Spout today.’ I said, ‘Yes’ and the subject was never mentioned again.”
(Incidentally, Ashie was reticent about his achievement even when I asked him about it, having been told of it by George Adam, a fellow climber from the ’50s and now still active in Australia. It was only after his son also persuaded him that he agreed to write some of it down.)
Just to give you an impression of what the descent of the Black Spout might have been like, here’s a clip of Scott Muir and friends doing the same gully in 2011, with modern gear and helmets.
*Mac Smith was a noted Cairngorm climber with a number of first ascents to his credit during the 1950s and ‘60s, and was author of the first climbing guide to the area.

Ashie Brebner below the Black Spout of Lochnagar, Cairngorms

Ashie after completing his descent, looking back at the way he has come.


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Cairngorm skiing – the traditional way

This winter, as in a number of winters before, I’ve toyed with the idea of getting skis again. Not to go back to the crowded slopes of Glenshee and Cairngorm which I went to as a teenager, way back in the ‘70s, but to take to the wide open spaces between. The ideal of ski mountaineering is a siren call.

And then auld mannie pragmatism kicks in. Ski mountaineering – especially for someone who hasn’t worn a pair of skis for over 30 years – is something better done in company, and I don’t know many people who both ski and are absessed by the Cairngorms. And, of course, if I spent all that money on the skis and boots etc we’d get a run of snowless winters.

So now is probably a good time to shame myself by re-reading Ashie Brebner’s excellent article about skiing in Scotland in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, when the gear was rubbish and the skiers learned by reading a book and falling over a lot

The article was originally written for the MCofS magazine Scottish Mountaineer, but Ashie has given permission for the article to be republished on the blog. It’s a longer post than is normal here, but worth every word, not just for the information about skiing all those years ago, nor just for the light it throws on the building of the famed secret howff, but for the sheer joy and enthusiasm that shines through from start to finish.

So without further ado… read on.


Charlie Smith, Jim Robertson and Doug Mollison skiing on Beinn a Bhuird, Cairngorms

From left: Charlie Smith, Jim Robertson and (turning) Doug Mollison, Ashie’s fellow howff-builders

On ski in the Cairngorms

By Ashie Brebner

Skiing in Scotland in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s was rather different to what we know today. The Scandinavians had been skiing in some form for more than 1000 years, while the Alpine countries had been fast catching up since the 1920s. However, in Scotland only the middle classes could afford the pleasure and luxury of skiing and, since there was no form of uplift in this country, they travelled abroad.

This all began to change after the Second World War. Large quantities of equipment produced in preparation for winter warfare now came onto the open market, the chief buyer in bulk being Millet’s stores. It was now possible for the working class to buy an excellent rubber-lined frame rucksack for about 2/6d (12 ½ p), an ice axe of variable quality for about the same and a pair of skis for about £2.10s (£2.50). Of course, as an apprentice mechanic, I was earning something like £1.8.6 a week (£1.42 ½ ), so it was, in effect, two weeks’ wages. Nevertheless, skiing was within reach.

A few of the young lads in Aberdeen who were attracted to the hills saw the possibilities and, like many others, I bought my first pair of ex-army skis in readiness for the ‘49/50 season. We soon discovered they were very basic. At that time the correct length of ski for your height was for the upright ski to reach the palm of your hand held vertically above your head. Made from one piece of rather inferior wood, they had no steel edges and had a simple toe plate onto which was hooked a leather binding which slipped around the heel of the boot. The result was the heel was allowed to move up and down as in walking in cross country but useless for any kind of turn. The boot would make the turning movement, slip off the edge of the ski and the ski would continue its forward straight line. We quickly discovered a step turn was the only way to change direction.

Since the quality of the wood was very poor, we had problems with the tip either breaking or simply flattening out over a period of time until there was very little upturn. Every so often we would spend an evening during the week in which the tips were dipped in a bucket of boiling water. We would then jam them in a door which a second man would hold securely while you slowly pulled the ski round to restore a deeply rounded tip. And, yes, we know now that it should have been steamed but we had neither the knowledge nor the time to make a steamer. With this heavy-handed treatment, in heavy, wet snow the tip would break eventually under pressure. Despite these drawbacks, we were off.

Ashie Brebner, on ski in the Cairngorms

Ashie Brebner on a sunny day on the plateau

Kandahar bindings came in possibly the second season and were a vast improvement. These consisted of a flexible steel cable with a large wound spring at the heel. You could tension these with a clip in front of the toe plate and the heel was held tight by the cable which was clipped to the side of the ski for downhill and was unhooked to allow the heel to rise for climbing and cross country. With this development we were able to move on to the more advanced turns.

There was no-one to teach us so it all had to be done by the book description and illustration. The perfect nursery slopes for us were in Glen Ey. There was an excellent bothy there named Achelie (We always pronounced it Acheeree. It is long since a ruin.), and in good snow cover it provided the perfect base with good, gentle slopes close by.

Auchelie bothy, Glen Ey, Cairngorms

Auchelie in Glen Ey, 1951

That early Hogmanay saw five of us – Jim Robertson, Charlie Smith, Doug Mollison, Johnny Vigroe and myself – sharing a very large Austin taxi in Braemar, into which we piled all the rucksacks and skis and being transported up a very dodgy Linn o’ Dee road which was under deep snow to Inverey where we immediately donned our skis, still without steel edges but with the new Kandahar bindings in the cross country position for the three-mile trek up to the bothy. It was a beautiful moonlight night and the recent blizzard had obliterated all evidence of the track so we were choosing our own line. We each had the mandatory bottle of whisky in our rucksacks so we were moving fairly carefully but, even so, the moonlight slopes were difficult to read and Charlie Smith went down with a great clatter. We all laughed, of course, but then he said: “There’s something wet running down my leg. Oh no, I hope it’s blood.” It wasn’t. A precious bottle had been lost.

At that time most people worked on Christmas Day but had three working days’ holiday at the New Year, so we had time to concentrate on getting the stem turns and stem christies right by watching each other and deciding where and when the weight should be at a particular place on the turn. The result was that each developed a unique style which the rest of us could identify from miles away for years to come.

By the third day we had developed a confidence which was probably beyond our actual capabilities and decided we were ready for our first ski mountaineering trip. The plan was to climb Creag an Lochain to the south of Achelie and follow the ridge to Carn Creagach. Both hills were just under 3000ft which we thought we could cope with and leave us with a nice downhill run to Altanour, which was even then a broken down bothy at the head of Glen Ey. We would then return to our base along the floor of the glen.

We hadn’t reckoned on the weather changing. This was in the days before transistors made it possible to carry a small radio for forecasts. We just had to take whatever came along. And come along it certainly did. By the time we had reached the top of Creag an Lochain, the wind was screaming from the north-east and then the snow hit us almost as a solid wall. There have only been a handful of times in my lifetime in the hills when I have experienced a blizzard of this magnitude. Any communication between us was impossible because of flapping hoods and the howling wind. Soon it became very difficult to remain in visual contact with the others and we just plodded along in our own little world. Eventually, just ahead of us, we could make out something of a greenish-blue colour. A few more steps and we all came to a halt on the edge of an icefield which sloped at an alarming angle down to our right. Though we couldn’t communicate, we individually realized the wind had pushed us off the crest of the ridge and onto the headwall of the burn which comes off Carn Creagach and which earlier freeze and thaw conditions had converted to solid ice. This was beyond our skiing experience. The question was: how do we cross it? We still did not have the steel edges so were unsure whether we could get a grip with our by now slightly rounded edges. Do we attempt to cross it on ski, take our skis off, or perhaps turn into the wind and driving snow to regain the ridge? This last alternative, though practical, was not appealing. We each stood there deliberating, using our sticks to brace ourselves against the wind which threatened to drive us onto the ice. Doug Mollison made a decision. He bent down, took off his skis, slung them over his shoulder and edged onto the ice. Almost immediately the wind caught him, spun him round and he was off at high speed down the steep gully and out of our sight. We each stood there in silence, our slowing brains taking in the situation. We knew he would not come to real harm. There were no outcrops of any kind. He would have to find his own way back.

We now knew not to take our skis off and that we had to regain the ridge, so we backed away from the ice and reluctantly turned into the wind and snow to climb over to the right side of the hill. By one of those freaks of nature the driving snow parted momentarily as we came over the crest and we could see directly below us the trees of Altanour. Without hesitation we all pointed our skis downhill as the weather closed in again. This led to another new experience for us. We had lost contact with each other as we had each chosen our own line and were alone in a total whiteout with no point of reference. The result was the feeling at one point that you were progressing at a moderate speed then you would hit something that threw you off balance and you would pitch into the snow and only then realise you had been going quite fast. At other times you felt you were racing down, get scared and fall, and realise you had hardly been moving. Finally, and thankfully, we arrived at Altanour, where conditions were much more moderate and we were able to discuss the situation. We were all concerned we had left Doug to fend for himself, so we got back to Achelie as fast as we possibly could, only to find Doug toasting himself at the fire. He had slid all the way down the gully, losing his skis on the way, and out of the worst of the weather. He deduced he was in the Connie Burn, so it was quick and easy for him to get back home from there, though he spent the next weekend searching for and finding his skis.

Ashie Brebner and Johnny Vigroe at Altanour woods, Cairngorms

Ashie Brebner (left) and Johnny Vigroe in the woods at Altanour after the blizzard

So ended the first lesson. We had learned how to control the skis but still had a lot to learn about reading the weather in winter, a vital factor which would only come by experience. In mitigation, our summer activities meant we had a reasonable knowledge of the terrain and we resolved to explore much further afield during the summer so that we had an inbuilt knowledge of the Eastern Cairngorms which we could fall back on in winter.

Time, distance and transport were major constraints in those days. Most of us worked on a Saturday morning, we had to use public transport and the winter days were short. So we would normally arrive in Braemar about 6.30pm on the Saturday night and if there were enough of us and we could afford it, we took the taxi to the Derry Gate. From there it was a four-mile walk or ski to Derry Lodge and Luibeg, where Bob Scott, the keeper, would let us use his bothy. The next day would be spent getting onto the snow, weather permitting, then the reluctant trudge back to Braemar to catch the 7pm bus to Aberdeen.

One day from that period stands out. It was early spring and must have been one of those rare occasions when we were given the key for the Derry Gate at a cost of 2/6. This allowed us to take the taxi right up to Derry Lodge and for it to pick us up again the following day in just enough time to get back to Braemar for the bus. The Sunday turned out to be one of those days one dreams of but seldom gets in Scotland. Cloudless blue sky, no wind and excellent snow cover on the high tops.

The snowline was about 2000ft so we carried the skis all the way up the Lui Burn and donned them on the Sron Riach. The aim was to take in Ben MacDui and see how the time went from there. So we contoured up the hill, the snow conditions getting better and better, and we arrived on the summit in remarkably good time. There was not a breath of wind and visibility was crystal clear. We debated our next move and someone suggested going across to look into the Cairn Lochain corries. That seemed a great idea so we pushed on across the plateau. Only other mountain skiers will appreciate the tremendous pleasure of gliding along effortlessly on a high top in perfect conditions with good companions, each taking turn to break the trail but making their own individual line on the downhill stretches. In no time we were peering into Corrie Lochain and had to consider our route back. The natural line was to skirt the Feith Bhuidh slabs at the head of Loch Avon, then down to the frozen Loch Etchachan. We were reluctant to leave the snow by going down through Corrie Etchachan so we contoured around the side of Derry Cairngorm and on to the Carn Crom ridge and finally ran out of snow halfway down Carn Crom. There was just enough time to collect our gear at Luibeg and meet the taxi at Derry Lodge. One of many memorable days.

Charlie Smith on ski in the Cairngorms

Charlie Smith in warm weather gear

Glen Slugain and Beinn a Bhuird had always been a favoured area for us in summer. We would camp in the Fairy Glen at the head of Slugain and climb in the corries of the Beinn, go on to Ben Avon or wander down the Quoich. We had long noticed that the shallow corrie to the south of Coire na Ciche held good snow long after it had gone elsewhere. The difficulty was in carrying skis and winter camping equipment to the head of the glen – quite apart from the discomfort of winter camping. This just did not appeal. During the summer of 1952 we deliberated this problem and Jim Robertson, a stone mason with building experience, came up with a possible solution. What we would do was build a permanent base which would be so well hidden that the estate would not find it and pull it down. This would make a good base for summer and winter activities. So the idea of the Howff was born.

The Secret Howff

The Secret Howff, still going strong

We started building in the autumn of 1952 and completed it in spring 1953 and it was probably the best thing we ever did. I am delighted to say that 60 years on it is still being used by climbers and is now in even better shape than ever. Succeeding generations have added improvements which have increased its comfort and it looks like it will shelter many more generations.

From this base we could explore the Beinn on ski. I think the earliest we skied there was the third week in October, though, of course, it didn’t last and had thawed by the following weekend. Almost invariably we ended the skiing season there on the third week in April, for this was the Aberdeen Spring Holiday. What we had discovered on our various ski tours across the summit plateau was a wide, curving gully (Altan na Beinne) which left the top behind A’ Chioch and swept south and down at just the right angle to finish in the Dubh Ghleann. It was the perfect end to a good day’s skiing but a longer trek back to the howff.

Jim Robertson, skiing in the Cairngorms in the 1950s

Jim Robertson, showing how it’s done with no poles

We considered this and came up with a solution. Every spring holiday we would take a taxi to the Derry Gate, walk about a mile beyond the Black Bridge and then cut through Clais Fhearnaig and into the Dubh Ghleann to camp. We each carried several bottles of beer (no cans then) which we resisted drinking and buried in the snow wherever the Altan na Beinne run ended that particular year.

Ashie Brebner and others skiing near the secret howff, Cairngorms

Ashie Brebner (front) and the others ski touring somewhere near the Howff

Then the next few days we would climb to the summit, explore the corries and take the last run of the day down the curving gully and plunge our hand into the snow at the end to extract an ice-cold beer. That seemed to us to be the ultimate in luxury.

Inevitably, as the years went on, girlfriends joined us and we discovered they were every bit as capable of crossing a mountain on skis as we were.

I look at ski equipment now with envy. There are remarkable developments in skiing and sometimes I wish I were starting all over again. But we are all of our time. You can go up and down a crowded piste all day and be happy but there is nothing like having a whole mountain to yourself where you are choosing your own line and working out how to use the hill for the maximum enjoyment. There is a new season coming soon and there will be miles of empty, virgin snow on the high tops once again. Get out there and make the most of it.

Norma Brebner on Beinn a Bhuird, Cairngorms

Norma Brebner heading down the upper slopes of Beinn a Bhuird, with a panorama of Cairngorm peaks in the background

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Access problems at Linn of Dee


The following news is from the Cairngorms National Park website, and is being updated as more news comes in.

Mar Lodge estate

Update: 09/01/15


The gale force winds experienced over the Cairngorms between 8th/9th January have brought down a number of large trees adjacent to the Linn of Dee.  As a result, for the safety of visitors, the road at the Linn of Dee bridge has been temporarily closed. This means there is currently no access for visitors to Linn of Dee, Linn of Dee car park or beyond to Linn of Quoich.

Estate staff will rectify the situation as soon as possible, but with more high winds forecast for the weekend, it is currently unsafe to undertake tree work.  We will be hoping to re-open the road sometime on Monday, 12th January

Link to Cairngorms National Park website is here –

Update 10th January

Mar Lodge Estate have confirmed via Facebook that the trees on the road will be cleared as soon as weather permits. In the meantime access to the Linn of Dee car park is still possible by crossing at the white metal bridge before Inverey. However the west road, which used to be the standard road route to Mar Lodge from the Linn, is now closed and access to the Linn of Dee-Linn of Quoich road is via the back of the stable block, which I seem to recall as being bumpy and muddy in places, especially the brae up to join the road. So ca’ canny if you can’t wait for the main road to be opened.

On 16th January the Park authority reported: Continued high winds and wintry conditions have prevented forestry staff from making safe all trees adjacent to the road bridge. As a result, the Linn of Dee bridge remains closed to traffic. We now hope to re-open the road at the first opportunity, week commencing Monday, 19th January.

In the meantime, drivers have been told that they can park just before where the trees block the road and walk the extra distance across the bridge. Not a huge addition to your journey, but if you do leave your car unattended do make sure it’s off the road and doesn’t block access for estate or forestry staff.

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The Mountain – on the Beeb … and Mar Lodge – on the web

Cairngorm under snow cover

The Mountain – Cairngorm under snow

This blog tends to concentrate on the more genteel parts of the Cairngorms, but a new BBC Scotland series perhaps merits a quick visit to the fleshpots of Cairngorm.

The Mountain is a six-part documentary series about the Cairngorm ski resort and the people who make it run, following the course of a winter season.

It kicks off on Monday, 12th January, with an episode about the Ski Patrol, working to get the slopes open as early as possible.

Working out of the mountain’s base station, Colin Matthew is responsible for a team of 40 workers. He says: “Skiers, they’ve got the bug now, it’s winter, they want to get skiing and boarding so we’ll do what we can. I think if you’re from this area the snow is just part of your life, and the mountain’s part of your life really.”

Among the preparations is a newly introduced system of ‘banking’ snow to help build lasting depth on the ski runs.

The programmes are all fairly short – just half an hour – but should be irresistible for the scenery alone. Coire Cas may be full of the mechanics of skiing, but it still boasts peerless views round about.

The Mountain shows from 7.30 to 8 pm and the link which follows has more details about the series along with the necessary links to watch episodes on iPlayer after broadcast.

Mar Lodge blog

While I’m on the subject of the Cairngorms and the media, it’s about time I mentioned the Mar Lodge Estate blog. Iwas particularly glad to read today’s post (January 8) from volunteer ranger Duncan McNeill, which mentioned almost in the passing the presence of otters on the estate. A couple of times I’ve seen what I thought could be otter spraint, but was never very sure, so it’s nice to learn that I was probably right.

The blog is written by different staff members and volunteers and covers a wide range of subjects but is always worth a look, so I’ve added it on the blogroll at the side of the page.

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Killing trees for conservation

ringed trees near Derry Lodge, Cairngorms

Some of the ringed trees visible from the track near Derry Lodge. Photo by John Watson

A few folk have been curious about the ring-barking of trees in the forestry plantation just east of Derry Lodge.

I did ask one of the estate ecologists if he fancied writing a guest post to explain it but haven’t heard back, so you’ll have to settle here for a layman’s account, based on a chat with one of the rangers.

The ringing of the trees – removal of the bark in a strip right round the trunk of the tree – does, as you might have guessed, kill the tree, and has been carried out quite extensively in this plantation.

This is done to thin out the densely packed plantation and create more natural-looking woodland, and to create dead wood as a resource for insects and birds.

Map showing location of ringed trees near Derry Lodge in Cairngorms

The plantation where the ringed trees can be seen, in the unfenced section of the plantation circled on the map.

Just walking by along the Derry track, it’s plain that a whole group of trees near the south-east corner have been ringed, and I wondered about this concentration of activity rather than spreading it out evenly. (There are other trees ringed further into the woods, but all in clumps similar to what can be seen from the track.)

The reason is twofold. The estate has selected certain strong trees and ringed all those around them, to give them room to grow properly. Many people don’t realise that the beautiful, gnarled old Caledonian Pines which spread out in a dense, bushy crown, are exactly the same as the pines which grow straight and narrow in plantations; they’ve just had the room to spread. And that’s the intention by clumping the trees selected for ringing: to make a clearing around a strong specimen and give it room to grow as it should.

The other reason is that experiments have been done elsewhere, comparing forests where the ringing has been spread evenly throughout the wood and those where it has been clumped. The results have shown clearly that where there are groups of dead trees there has been much greater success in attracting birds such as woodpeckers and others which rely on dead wood for nesting or for food.

This explanation underlines the importance of campers and bothy users abiding by estate strictures about fires. Two wildfires this summer, one in the Luibeg and one in the Quoich, were both started by campfires – and the strong suspicion is that these were campfires which the people who lit them had thought were properly extinguished. It’s a fact appreciated by too few people that peaty ground will, itself, start smouldering under a fire and may do so for days before bursting into life, even though the fire which initiated the smouldering was otherwise completely doused.

But the danger of wildfire aside, the dead wood which is used for a campfire may be ‘dead’ in one sense, but is a valuable source of food for insects and, ultimately, birds and other wildlife. There’s no doubt a campfire has its own charm and romance but, especially in the Derry Lodge area, the arguments against campfires are overpowering.

Bothy-users too, should carry in coal rather than scour the area for deadwood, whether lying on the ground or still standing. We’ve all burnt wood in the past, and those who remember Bob Scott’s Mark II, built on the edge of a newly felled plantation, will remember weekends of blazing fires where wood could be collected almost at the door.

But in view of the efforts the estate is making to improve the health of this whole area, my feeling is that we all have a duty to give them a bit of a hand and lay off the deadwood. Be worth it to see woodpeckers up at the Derry.

Posted in Nature, Wildlife | Tagged , , | 2 Comments