Ashie Brebner: Secret Howff builder, 1935-2018

Ashie Brebner, author of 'Beyond the Secret Howff'

Ashie Brebner

Sad news came this week that Allister ‘Ashie’ Brebner, the last surviving member of the group who built the legendary ‘Secret Howff’ in the Cairngorms, has died.

Cover of new Ashie Brebner book, 'Beyond the Secret Howff'

Beyond the Secret Howff

Ashie had only recently written an excellent memoir of his exploits in the hills, Beyond the Secret Howff, published by Luath Press, reviewed here.

Allister Brebner was born in Aberdeen in 1935 and started to go to the Cairngorms in the late ‘40s and ‘50s, walking, climbing and enthusiastically taking up what was then the novel sport of skiing, he and his friends starting out with very basic ex-army skis and teaching themselves from a book.

That group of friends, in the 1950s, clandestinely built their own base in the hills, which survived on its own after they had all moved on to other areas, and entered the lore of Scottish mountaineering as ‘The Secret Howff’, with the tradition being that its location should never be written down.

In the 1960s Ashie and his brother-in-law were involved in more pioneering activity when they set up Highland Safaris. Although there are plenty such businesses now, at the time this was an innovative sort of tour business, shepherding nature enthusiasts to the mountains and wild country, and involving many adventures, at least in the early days. It was at this time that he and his family moved to the Black Isle, where he remained for the rest of his life.

Highland Safaris (and sundry other outdoor ploys) became his career, and he’d been away from the Cairngorms of his youth for many years when he took his son to see the site of the howff- and was surprised to see it was not only still there but being kept in good order. He was also delighted to learn just last year that a new roof had been installed – and that as a sign of the changing times, where he and his pals had been forced to carry materials in by night to avoid the Laird’s eyes, for the new roof the estate actually helped to transport the materials!

In 2013, wearing my hat as editor of Scottish Mountaineer magazine, I persuaded Ashie to write what turned out to be an excellent article on pioneering ski mountaineering in the Cairngorms in the 1940s and ‘50s (later reproduced on the blog). This was accompanied by his account of his little-known ski descent of the Black Spout gully on Lochnagar, using the very limited ski equipment of the day and surely the first such descent. A further article followed, about travelling to and climbing in what was back in the ‘50s the remote Isle of Skye. Ashie confessed at this time that he’d got the writing bug and, just two years later he had completed his book, which was published by Luath press late in 2017, with valued assistance and advice from his good friend, Mountain Days and Bothy Nights author Ian Mitchell.

Yet he remained a modest man. Though his two main Scottish Mountaineer articles appeared in different form in the book, there was scarce a mention of his Black Spout exploit, which was years, if not decades, ahead of its time. Indeed, it would have remained altogether undocumented if, acting on information from his son, I had not persuaded Ashie it would make a good tale for this magazine. And though he was delighted at the way the howff he and his pals built had entered Scottish mountaineering legend and was still being used and cherished, when he spoke of it there was not so much pride in what he had done as joy in remembering the days on the hills, the brightness of youth and the memory of good pals. I considered it a great privilege to have met and corresponded with Ashie and would have loved to speak to him more, partly for all the amazing stories he had of those formative years in the mountains, but also just because he was just such a nice guy. It wasn’t to be though.

Ashie Brebner died on 8th April, one of the dwindling number of people who were part of an era when so many of the mountain traditions we take for granted were just developing.

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Two days on Ben MacDui

View from Ben McDui, showing Carn a Mhaim, Devil's Point and Beinn Bhrotain, in the Cairngorms

Sunday on MacDui, looking over Carn a Mhaim to the Devil’s Point, with Beinn Bhrotain beyond.

On a clear day you can see forever. Allegedly. Easter Sunday on Ben MacDui didn’t quite provide anything by way of eternity, or even infinity, but a liberal blanketing of dazzling, fresh snow under a blue sky certainly gave breathtaking visibility for more than enough miles of mountains to satisfy.

It was such a day to be on top of a mountain that a complete stranger told me he should take my picture for me because I looked so content.

A far cry from just 24 hours earlier.

Saturday, to be fair, never looked like being a vintage day, weather-wise, but I had hoped it would improve as the day wore on. Hope took me all the way up Glen Derry and into the Hutchie hut in Coire Etchachan. And though an hour spent in the bothy showed no real improvement, nor was it worsening, so I headed upward when I left, followed by a father and son intent on Beinn Mheadhoin.

A frozen and snowed over Loch Etchachan, Cairngorms

Little sign of a large loch here, iced over and covered with fresh snow

We went our separate ways when we reached the site of Loch Etchachan, its presence completely hidden under a thick covering of snow. They seemed confident their goal was achievable, but I was having doubts myself. Although I could see the cliffs which flank the loch to the west and south they were fading into the grey above and if the cloud was moving in any direction it was downward.

Still, after too long off the hills for various reasons, I had in mind to climb something and headed upward in the hope of the cloud deciding, after all, to do the same. Failing that I might cross over to climb Derry Cairngorm instead. I was climbing through deeper, softer snow, but making steady progress and coming closer to decision time. The cloud wasn’t lifting and, with complete snow cover above, there was nothing at all showing ahead, just a vague outline of the ridge above Coire Sputan Dearg, and even that was fading.

When it finally disappeared into a uniform whiteness I was still thinking about Derry Cairngorm and I stood where I was for a surprisingly pleasant half hour waiting for any improvement. Yup, it was blowing a hoolie, but I was dressed for it and comfortable, finding the blankness almost meditative. I wasn’t forgetting where I was though and eventually decided that even Derry Cairngorm was being a bit ambitious and thought I’d at least head up to the col at the lower end of the Sputan cliffs and descend towards Luibeg rather than go all the way back down Glen Derry. I knew fairly well where I was and where the col was, and reached it by following a bearing on dead reckoning. But there doubts and reason started to take effect. I knew I was at the col, and I thought I was towards the eastern side of it, which would be fine. A due south bearing would take me down shallowish ground into the corrie. But if I was more towards the west side of the col, south would take me over some outcrops, small but with plenty potential for accident. I swithered for a while. I was fairly sure I was right, but maybe not quite sure enough to chance all on a choice of route that at the end of the day made little difference.

A white-out in the Cairngorms, with absolutely nothing visible.

This is an actual photograph and shows exactly what I could see from my furthest point at the col. You could be looking past Derry Cairngorm to Sgor Mor, or you could be looking at a bank of snow – I really don’t know.

So I turned and went back down towards the loch and the path down to the Hutchie and the long trail down Glen Derry. Even after I emerged below the cloud the poor visibility wasn’t done with me. I failed to spot a line in the snow and fell down a three-foot vertical bank, luckily sprawling face-first over more snow rather than anything harder and damaging pride rather than body.

There was some faint vindication of my retreat when, about to start down to the Hutchison Hut, I spied the father and son descending from Beinn Mheadhoin. Speaking to them later they said they’d been to the top, but moving at the pace they were I think they were at the 1163m top rather than the 1182m summit on the tor at the far end of the plateau.

I wasn’t entirely disappointed that evening at Bob Scott’s Bothy though. It had been a good leg stretch and cleared some of the cobwebs which had been gathering in my mind. And I’d have been happy enough to have a lazy start and just head home on the Sunday – if it hadn’t been for the weather.

Through the night I woke several times and looked out to see the trees casting distinct shadows and the grass brightly lit by the moon, and morning brought clear blue skies and sunshine which could be felt even through the hard frost which had frozen the ground solid. There was no question about it, no choice allowed: a hill had to be done today and it had to be MacDui.

Sron Riach and Coire Sputan Dearg of Ben McDui, Cairngorms

Sunday’s project: Sron Riach, leading the way to Ben MacDui

Bearing in mind I also had to get home that evening, I decided to go for the short(ish) option of Sron Riach, and though my legs were still feeling the pain of yesterday’s antics, I made good progress across the Derry Flats and up Glen Luibeg. Snow patches as I approached the foot of the Sron were rock solid and once I was on the ridge it was as near perfect as you could ask for. Soft enough to take a boot and hard enough to hold it with just a sole’s depth. Even with a slight steepening there was no need to don crampons and I was able to keep on making good progress… right up until the col before the final steepening up to the plateau. Here the snow softened and deepened, and I was really feeling it in the legs. I stopped at the col, gazing out towards Carn a Mhaim, and ate some shortbread, followed up by a handful of jelly sweets for a quick sugar rush. No idea if it worked or not: when I started again I was still having to stop frequently but – who knows – maybe I’d have been stopping a lot more often without the sugar.

Snowy col on Sron Riach abone Lochan Uaine, Ben McDui, Cairngorms.

Where the going got tough. But how could you resist climbing on?

But as so often the state of the legs was a secondary consideration. Here I was, on the flanks of Ben MacDui in the middle of the Cairngorms, breaking a trail in fresh, pristine snow under a warm sun that for much of the ascent had me down to a thin base layer, views stretching as far as the horizon. It was that world of sky blue and pure white that makes a perfect winter day, and made even more perfect by the absence of even a breath of wind and – despite it being the Easter weekend – of people. I was all alone in a world of wonder – a phrase as true as it is cliched.

What is there to say about the rest of the day? I’d been there so many times before, even a number of times on days like this. The slow, steady upward trudge, the changing perspectives with height gain and distance covered, the novelty of seeing the first people of the day – four skiers with a hyperactive hound –  and the quiet pleasure of reaching the summit. It’s a funny sort of summit. There isn’t the sense of climax you get from reaching a sharper peak, and the best views are found around the edges. MacDui’s summit cairn, the ground it sits not appreciably higher than the many shelter cairns surrounding it, is almost a notional point, as if it was put there just to provide an end point agreed by convention.

But it was good to get there and sit down in the warm sunshine to enjoy a bite and a drink. I sat there relaxing and throwing crumbs to try and tempt a questing snow bunting into camera range. After a solitary ascent I was now in the midst of a dozen or more summiteers, all having arrived from the north and all but a couple having arrived on ski. A few words of salutation were exchanged but in the main I just enjoyed sitting there – so obviously so that one guy offered to take my photo just because I looked so contented. So he did. And here I am, with my happy face on. Two days on Ben MacDui, two days of such different but indelible memories. It’s why I love the mountains.

Skier on Ben McDui, with Devil's Point behind. Cairngorms

The first break in my solitude: a skier glides down towards the Tailors’ Burn.

Skiers and dog on Ben McDui

The hound seemed to have no difficulty keeping up with the skiers.

 

Snow bunting on snow on Ben McDui, Cairngorms

The snow bunting which resolutely flitted about just beyond range for a good photo.

 

The author, Neil Reid, sitting at the snowy summit cairn of Ben McDui under a blue sky

The contented man. Note the unusual coordination, with blue jacket, carrier bag and even water bottle. Obviously chosen to match the sky.

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Renovation for Garbh Choire Refuge

Garbh Choire Refuge, Cairngorms

Garbh Choire Refuge in August 2017

It’s long past time I updated the position regarding the Garbh Choire Refuge.

As readers of the Mountain Bothies Association magazine will know, Mar Lodge Estate has finally agreed to allow the shelter to be renovated.

And all going well with the paperwork, there are plans to carry out that renovation during 2018.

Not only that, but a donation of £5000 has already been sent from someone who used the refuge for two nights a number of years ago, who read of the news in the MBA magazine and wanted to mark his gratitude. An amazing sign of the devotion so many people have for this tiny, remote shelter.

Long fallen into dilapidation, despite frequent temporary repairs by walkers and climbers, the refuge was the subject of much debate and a long campaign by those who wished to save it. This campaign dates back many years and was revived in 2011 when Heather Morning sought permission to have it repaired in the way that the Fords of Avon Refuge was, on RSPB land. Since then myself and Kenny Freeman have been the focus of a widespread movement keeping the issue active.

Towards the end of 2017, in a meeting with Mar Lodge Estate, which owns the refuge, I was told that the estate had finally been persuaded that between removal and renovation the better option, all things considered, was to allow a renovation.

The campaign to save the small stone shelter was led independently of the MBA, although it was always understood that if renovation was to take place the MBA would carry that out, using its well-proven expertise in vulnerable areas, and would be responsible for ongoing maintenance.

Following an offer from Mar Lodge Estate the MBA has now agreed to take on responsibility for the refuge and awaits the legal paperwork from National Trust for Scotland, which owns Mar Lodge Estate.

Once that has been obtained work can go ahead to return the structure to its original state. This will involve removing the stone casing and all the rubbish and debris from previous repair attempts over the years. Then a new waterproof membrane will be fitted over the existing iron framework and the stones and turf will be replaced. The floor will be repaired, and the door and fanlight at the front will be rebuilt to withstand the severe weather experienced in the corrie.

It will make the refuge weathertight once more – for the first time in several decades – but it will remain the same size, sleeping just four at a pinch if everyone wants to sleep lying down. And no fire. It will be, as it ever was, a very basic refuge, suitable for emergency shelter more than planned stays.

I’ll post more on here as work takes place, but this will probably be late spring or early summer. Until then the refuge remains an unsavoury hole which doesn’t keep the rain out.

Thanks are due to the NTS and Mar Lodge Estate, who have agreed to the renovation despite very understandable reservations, and placed a considerable amount of trust in the MBA’s ability to work in such a sensitive location. It is hoped that this trust will be repaid, with the renovated structure being less of a multi-coloured eyesore, and that future users will respect both the shelter and the environment.

Read more about the Garbh Choire Refuge.

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Book review: Beyond the Secret Howff, by Ashie Brebner

Ashie Brebner, author of 'Beyond the Secret Howff'

Ashie Brebner

The Secret Howff is such a part of Cairngorm lore that it’s difficult to remember that until relatively recently so few people knew anything about it other than it existed… somewhere.

Now Ashie Brebner, the last remaining member of the group of friends who built the howff back in 1952, has spilled the beans in this fascinating book – and given us so much more too.

Ashie was born in Aberdeen in 1935, starting to go into the Cairngorms with his companions in the late ’40s, when many of the traditions we take for granted were just developing, and that’s what makes this such an exciting read.

Auchelie bothy, Glen Ey, Cairngorms

Auchelie in Glen Ey, 1951. Photo by George Adams

Bob Scott’s bothy at Luibeg was starting to become established as a centre of activities for Aberdeen walkers and climbers, with Bob himself very much in charge; Corrour was in regular use as a bothy, having been abandoned since after the First World War, and at the end of the 1940s it was being saved from dereliction by the Cairngorm Club. The Hutchison Memorial Hut didn’t exist at that time, but other old buildings were being used by working class climbers and walkers, such as the now ruined Auchelie and Altanour.

As well as exploring the hills on foot, they took up skiing too. With great quantities of army surplus skis coming on the post-war market, the sport had become accessible (just) to working lads, and Ashie writes enticingly of adventures up Glen Ey and on Beinn a Bhuird in those days before ski tows and pisted runs. It was all new and exciting and the massive enthusiasm which the youngsters brought to everything they did comes across well.

Ashie Brebner and Johnny Vigroe at Altanour woods, Cairngorms

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

And of course one of those ventures was the creation of their own howff to ease access to the remote skiing and climbing corries of Beinn a Bhuird and the surrounding area. In an era before the access legislation we enjoy today, building your own hideaway in hills belonging to one of the landed gentry was a risky enterprise. An earlier bid to create a gite in the Dubh Ghleann was short-lived, the wooden structure being destroyed by estate staff.

So it was decided to get serious. Or at least that was the theory.

It has long been part of the lore that the howff builders smuggled materials past the ‘big house’ in the dead of night, sometimes getting off the bus early or late to disguise their eventual destination. In one hilarious section Ashie both confirms the basics of that lore and relates how that was only the smallest part of it, with one ‘work party’ taking on pantomime proportions as drink, darkness, paranoia and ill-preparedness combined to bring about near disaster. That story alone is worth the entry price.

However, as fascinating as the details of the howff builders and their building are, this is only one part of a much more wide ranging book which would be well worth the read even without the howff. There are other tales of walking and climbing in the ’40s and ’50s, but the tale goes into the ’60s with a new adventure.

Getting to the hills at weekends was all very well, but Ashie found his weekdays stuck in factory work intolerably deadening, so together with his brother-in-law he took a massive leap of faith and set up Highland Safaris, a new type of tour business shepherding nature enthusiasts into the mountains and remote country. Nowadays there’s a plethora of guides of all sorts, whether you want to go on a gentle nature walk or hack your way up vertical ice, but back in the ’60s Ashie and brother-in-law Derek were making it up as they went along. And since they set their operations up in the far north, they had a pretty much blank canvas to work with.

Cue great stories about strangely recalcitrant Skye boatmen, prospecting skiing potential on Ben Wyvis, and a bizarre story of ferrying a minibus – at a very exact stage of the tide – on a raft of oil drums, with a very highland incentive to the ‘ferryman’ not to capsize!

The anecdotes are fun, but through it all Ashie captures the excitement and opportunity of the era, and the wonder of exploring and sharing the amazing landscape and wildlife of the far north-west which enthrals him still.

‘Beyond the Secret Howff’ comes to a satisfying close with a coda which brings the story full circle with Ashie’s return to the Howff in the ’80s to discover something he had thought long gone had instead become a legend.

I have to confess an interest in the success of this book. When I first wrote about the Secret Howff on this blog, the very first comment was from Ashie, surprised it was still secret and delighted it was still being used. A few emails went back and forth which resulted in Ashie being prevailed to write two excellent articles for the Mountaineering Scotland membership magazine Scottish Mountaineer, which I was by then editing. One of these has since been republished on this blog but, more importantly, Ashie confessed he had got the writing bug – and this book is the result, making it one of the more delightful consequences of this blog. (Credit, of course, should also go to Ian Mitchell, who was also in correspondence with Ashie and gave invaluable help in steering the book through the publishing process, writing an introduction and even organising the book launch, where Ashie gave an enthusiastically received talk about his career and answered questions from the floor, all his enthusiasm still shining through, as it does in a book which really should be on your reading list.

Cover of new Ashie Brebner book, 'Beyond the Secret Howff'

 

 

Beyond The Secret Howff, by Ashie Brebner, Luath Press, £9.99

 

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Glas Allt Sheil refurbishment completed

Work party underway at Glas Allt Sheil bothy, Loch Muick, Cairngorms

Kenny and Elaine framing up the wall under the stairs ready for insulation and wood-lining – and bunk beds.

After a third weekend work party, MBA members have completed a major refurbishment of Glas Allt Sheil bothy near the western end of Loch Muick.

A good turnout of volunteers at the final work party at the weekend there included folk from the Eastern Area MBA, members of Bob Scott’s Bothy Association and a couple unaffiliated.

Previous visits had seen the upstairs sleeping quarters insulated and wood-lined, and two of the downstairs stone walls insulated and lined, as well as installation of  a new stove (replacing the previous stove donated by Friends of Bob Scott’s) and repairs to the flooring.

This final trip saw further insulation and lining, with two bunk beds built under the staircase and shelves added in a window bay and corner alcove, along with a lot of finishing work.

Officially, the bothy – an out-house of the main building, which is owned by the monarchy – is looked after by Dundee University Rucksack Club, but after discussions with the club it was agreed that the scale and nature of the work was beyond the resources and capabilities of students, so the MBA and BSBA provided the skills and personnel, along with a generous grant from the MBA to finance the project.

A number of Rucksack Club members attended and helped out at the first work party back in May, but the only students present this weekend were a rather bemused trio from the ‘neighbouring’ St Andrews University, who had come expecting a quiet evening and ended up drawn in to the usual BSBA ceilidh. One was snitched upon by his pals as able to play guitar and, despite his protestations of incompetence was prevailed upon to give us a tune on Bill Sutherland’s guitar, surprising everyone with a very fine-sounding piece of classical finger-picking.

Perhaps the most notable thing about the evening, though, was how warm the bothy was – inside and out – despite the sub-zero temperature and snow outside. Those who remembered the Glas Allt Sheil as it used to be could scarcely credit the difference some insulation and a good stove (helped by lots of coal and offcuts) has made to what used to be a cold, dark hovel of a place.

A good job well done.

Neil Findlay and Derek Stewart at Glas Allt Sheil bothy work party, Cairngorms

Neil Findlay at the chop saw set up under the tarp out in the snow

Walt Black at Glas Allt Sheil bothy work party, Cairngorms

Walt Black starts to measure up wood for the window shelf

Cleared gutter at Glas Allt Sheil bothy, Loch Muick

Guess who got to go up onto the roof to clear the piles of frozen pine needles from the guttering.

Work party at Glas Allt Sheil

Stevie the Plumber gets started on the bunk beds under the stairs.

New bunk beds in Glas Allt Sheil Bothy, Loch Muick, Cairngorms

The finished bunks

Window shelf at Glas Allt Sheil bothy, Glen Muick

The completed window shelf

Alcove shelf in Glas Allt Sheil bothy

A new work shelf in the newly lined corner alcove

Stairs and bunk at GAS bothy, Cairngorms

The new bunk again, showing the paneling inserted behind the stairs, leaving room to get a hand-hold round the treads

Bothy page with full details of Glas Allt Sheil.

 

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Going beyond the Secret Howff

Cover of new Ashie Brebner book, 'Beyond the Secret Howff'

Beyond the Secret Howff, new book by Ashie Brebner

Anyone who has been to the Secret Howff, and many who have just heard of it, will know the name Ashie Brebner.

The last remaining builder of the legendary howff, Ashie has finally decided to tell his story. Published by Luath Press, Beyond the Secret Howff will be launched in Aberdeen later this month.

As the title suggests, the book will describe Ashie’s life not just in terms of howff-building, or his pioneering adventures in Scottish skiing (ski mountaineering, of course), but also his later career in pioneering guided outdoor holidays in the Highlands.

I haven’t read the book yet but have exchanged a good few emails with Ashie over the last couple of years and know he has plenty of great tales to tell, so I’m looking forward to getting stuck into it myself.

In the meantime, whet your appetite with a couple of tales from Ashie which he allowed me to carry in the blog: one about the early days of ski mountaineering in the Cairngorms, and the other of a specific legendary exploit skiing the Black Spout of Lochnagar.

Ashie’s book will be launched at Extreme Sports, Links Road, Aberdee, at 7pm on Wednesday 22nd November. Ashie will be there himself, as will Mountain Days and Bothy Nights author Ian Mitchell, who has written an introduction to the new book

The launch is in Aberdeen on Wednesday 22 November in the evening at Extreme Sports on Links Road. It’s an open event, so if you’re interested come along and pick up an early copy of the book.

Find out more about the book at the Luath Press website.

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Trees of the Cairngorms

Pine seedlings in Glen Lui, Cairngorms

Just away from the bothy and already the trees were standing out, young seedlings catching the morning sunlight

It had started out a day for the tops. Beinn a Bhuird to be exact. But having emerged into Glen Quoich from Clais Fhearnaig and seen the south top with its head in the clouds, I decided to set my sights lower. After toying with various ploys, I decided to have a return to my childhood and follow a route I’d first done with my father as a bairn – and probably not done since.

I came down to the jeep track up Glen Quoich and crossed the Allt Clais Fhearnaig to take the path which just a few yards on leads diagonally through the woods and on over Creag Bhalg.

The woods, standard plantation fare, were quiet save for the odd bird, but there were tracks of a red deer which had recently wandered up the path ahead of me, prints still sharp in the wet ground. The woods ended suddenly, as is the way with traditional plantations, and there was a sudden feeling of release, with views across the wide glen of the Quoich and west into the main Cairngorms giving a sense of limitless space.

Looking from Creag Bhalg into the central CairngormsThere’s an attractive quality to this bare hillside under the right light.

Looking across woods on the south flank of Creag Bhalg and on up Glen DeeBut it was good to swing round to the left and see the open woodland on the Glen Dee slopes of the hill. It looks like a natural tree line you see in the picture above, but the lack of growth on the moorland may just be because it is so wet, for as I climbed into drier ground nearer the summit I came among more young pine seedlings, now being given a chance to grow since the removal of the deer. In fact there were seedlings all the way to the summit at 668 metres.

Scots pine sapling near summit of Creag Bhalg, CairngormsLarge, long-dead tree on Creag Bhalg, CairngormsFrom new life to old. This must have been a grand old tree in centuries past.

The variety of shapes in Scots Pines is amazing

Solitary pine on Creag Bhalg, Glen Dee, CairngormsThis one had a touch of the Japanese Bonsai in its shape.

Pine tree in CairngormsAnd here I was reminded of acacia trees in the African Savannah. All it lacks is a leopard over that lowest limb or a giraffe nibbling its needles.

Spreading Scots Pine, Caledonian Pine, CairngormsAnd this, as I moved along the hill onto the Glen Lui flank, reminded me of a great old oak.

As I moved along into the more mixed woods above and north of the Black Bridge across the Lui, I began to get the full benefit of the bright autumn gold of the birch trees, standing out like beacons against the dark of the pines.

Birch trees on end of pine plantation, Glen Lui, CairngormsMixed tones of green, russet and gold.

Floats of golden birch leaves, CairngormsDrifts of golden leaves look like they’re floating independently of their trees.

Birch tree in autumn gold, CairngormsAt any season Birch are bonny trees, but who could resist them in autumn?

Birch and pine above the River Lui, CairngormsLooking down a row of birch towards the Black Bridge, which takes the Derry Lodge road across the River Lui.

Golden glow of birch in autumn, CairngormsThis young birch positively glowed.

Birch and pine in autumn, Glen Lui, CairngormsFlame in the forest.

Birch and pine wood, Glen LuiA cascade of fluttering gold.

This final plantation, the one above the Derry Lodge track just before the Clash, is thickly planted and movement was awkward at times, but the joy of the colours and textures made it a fitting finale to a wander that had been nothing to do with tops and all to do with the pleasures of stravaiging and remaining open to sensation – on this day dominated by the glory of autumn trees.

Plantation in autumn, Cairngormsmixed plantation on steep slope in autumn, Cairngorms

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