Our first day, a lovely bright summer day. We were so very lucky with the weather. Not so lucky in other ways maybe. This would have been so much better split into two, not least because we found out at the end that the trains have been on strike every Sunday and we had a last three miles to walk (16 miles…my poor partner). The loop up from Newtonmore was the best and I wish we had started there to walk further up the Glen, though Gynack Burn out of Kingussie is quite lovely.
Gynack Burn is, of course, the falling water that the Duke of Gordon planned to harness to his industrialising schemes, powering factories for flour, wool and linen. One mill still stands — now The Cross, a most lovely, delicious (and expensive) restaurant that I recommend highly. But up the burn you can see worked walls of stone that once served as dams, attempts to wrest power from the water.
There is an old sanitorium up here that once drew it’s power from this burn. There was a moment there, wasn’t there, when green energy would not have seemed such a stretch.
It turns out Robert Louis Stevenson spent holidays here in the 1880s, I’ve been meaning to read him again. He used to race paper boats down these waters, and wrote this:
Where Go the Boats
Dark brown is the river.
Golden is the sand.
It flows along for ever,
With trees on either hand.
Green leaves a-floating,
Castles of the foam,
Boats of mine a-boating—
Where will all come home?
On goes the river
And out past the mill,
Away down the valley,
Away down the hill.
Away down the river,
A hundred miles or more,
Other little children
Shall bring my boats ashore.
After leaving the wooded path we followed the burn up along a paved road, passed a sick female grouse, were forced to detour around a lodge. I will say it is never clear on the OS map what paths are still open, what simply do not exist, and we also found a number of well-established and older trails that aren’t on them at all. Trails here also mostly seem to be roadlike, I suppose for the logging, with some work to make them good(ish) for cycling. We climbed and came down again. We walked and saw one young grouse, another, another, looked up to the woods and saw thousands of them and their great fluttering of wings. Not even Covid could stop the grouse hunting.
Then along Loch Gynack. It is not really possible for a loch not to be scenic, but the plantation farming made this one better for a bike ride, not so much a walk. Once we had passed it, Mark humoured me looking for the burnt mound (this rocky bit in the foreground far as I can tell) and the hut circle (beneath the heather on the purple rise opposite). But there is nothing to see.
The views beyond though as you climb the hills were so beautiful, and we startled a red deer. We walked into Newtonmore, pints, food. Energy to head up towards Glen Banchor.
In a field below the path we watched a young Highland calf startle another red deer from what looked like a clump of reeds, they both sprang away. Scared at first, then curious, the calf turned to watch the deer bound away.
We climbed up to the hill fort Sidhean Mor Dail A’ Chaorainn and stood in wonder at the views, found melancholy in the homes razed to the ground beside the great meeting of waters beneath it.
We ourselves later waltzed up to yet another deer. We were like ninjas, it was ages before it knew we were there.
I found a sundew, marvelous things that I did not know where to be found here in the wild. Marsh orchids as well, what happiness to finally see them, and the eyebright, the wild thyme, the tiny red caps floating above the lichens.
A lovely day, though when we found out about the strike…I support the strike, of course. We were so tired though, damn management for not settling.
Now as I look back I feel much the same as this, Robert Louis Stevenson again
In the highlands in the country places,
Where the old plain men have rosy faces,
And the young fair maidens
Where essential silence cheers and blesses,
And for ever in the hill-recesses
Her more lovely music
Broods and dies.
O to mount again where erst I haunted;
Where the old red hills are bird-enchanted,
And the low green meadows
Bright with sward; And when even dies, the million-tinted,
And the night has come, and planets glinted,
Lo, the valley hollow
O to dream, O to awake and wander
There, and with delight to take and render,
Through the trance of silence,
Lo! for there, among the flowers and the grasses,
Only the mightier movement sounds and passes;
Only winds and rivers,
Life and death