Cairngorms Women Contributions


I live in the USA and came as a visitor.
I came on my own.

Part of my father’s family came from Scotland – the border country.

walking, climbing cycling, canoeing, gliding, skiing) and what times of the year do you explore the area? I have only been there in summer – and enjoy walking

conservation efforts

JANUARY, 2015 I am an American woman born in 1940 and from childhood the “Cairngorms” held a magical pull to my imagination. There is something about rugged alpine landscape, gray and lichen green colors, and swirling weather that are irresistable. I’ve hiked all over the White Mtns of New Hampshire in the US, built trails, had my fingers in conservation efforts in many places. Finally in 1981, when I was 41, I led a week long ‘exercise for older adults’ workshop in Aberdeen. At the end of the week, my Scottish host (a Swedish woman) loaned me her little yellow VW so that I could drive to the Cairngorms and hike. As a bon voyage gift, the ladies gave me a package of Walker’s Shortbread biscuits. I had brought with me a wee sample bottle of Drambuie from the flight over from Sweden. Yes, in those days all passengers were given free wee bottles of Scotland’s finest!

So I headed west up the Braemar valley. That night I stayed beyond Braemar in a small stone self-service lodge that doesn’t seem to exist any longer. The only others in the lodge were three young women, clearly ill-prepared for their planned hike to the Cairngorm Lodge Youth Hostel near Aviemore where I was also headed. I can’t remember which route they planned to take but I knew that my hope was to go over Ben Macdui. I also knew that as a solo hiker I had to pay close attention to the weather. Needless to say, I quickly left the girls in the dust as they were very slow.

After I crossed the river (name forgotten), I sat down on a rock to enjoy the scene – as you say “experience being in the Scottish landscapes” or I might say, “experience [my] BEING in the Scottish landscapes.”  Obviously I had to ration the Drambuie and shortbread biscuits but when a wee Robin hopped up to pull at the shoo-goo holding my old climbing boots together, I shared a biscuit with it! Shortly after that I split off the trail to the Lairig Ghr to ascend Ben Mac Dui. The clouds were hanging above the summit but I was hopeful and determined. I met and chatted with a man in kilt with his dog. Yes, I was headed the right direction. Later, near the summit, the clouds now very low, I met another friendly man. We hiked along together. He pointed the direction for coming down off the ridge to get to the Youth Hostel so I wouldn’t end up on a very steep trail that drops down into the Lairig Ghru. In those days the trails were very poorly marked and poorly maintained.  In fact, I learned with certainty on this hike that in building trails for the public one must consider both the safety of the hiker AND the protection of the mountain from the hiker. I hope that in respect for the mountain the trails are better maintained today.

At any rate, the descent was lovely walking through heather and on to the Youth Hostel. I arrive in mid-afternoon having thoroughly enjoyed the day. The hostess apologized for the fact that that night they were nearly full up with chattering, noisy school girls. She had a room for me and said that she would seat me at a table with adults for dinner – thinking that that would be more pleasant!  The girls from the other side of the mountain arrived around mid-night totally exhausted.

Next morning, I set out to return to Braemar via the famous Lairig Ghru. Needless to say, I yearned to explore side trails but needed to keep moving. I was even more dismayed by the poor condition of the trails. Heavy use had created multiple parallel tracks all heavily eroded but the scale of the landscape was grand! People had warned me about the very rocky crest of the pass but given my experience in alpine areas of the White Mountains, it felt very familiar and easily negotiated. I remember the lovely little tarn near the pass and ate my bread and cheese there – topping it off with shortbread and a few sips of Drambuie! Coming over the pass back INTO the mountain wildness was wonderful. I was glad to have left behind all the evidence of civilization on the Aviemore side of the mountain.

It was one of the most splendid and memorable hikes I have ever done. It was good to feel strong, agile, and capable in a mountain environment. It was exciting to get to the top of Ben Mac Dui and the next day to go through the Lairig Ghru – to become one with these mountains. Even today, 34 years later, the smells, feel of rock underfoot, the sights are very clear in my memory!

As I have only done this one hike, I know that there are several other parts of the Cairngorms I would love to explore… starting with the areas near the Lairig Ghru.

As I have spent much time in the mountains, on my own, there is no question that my parenting allowed my children great freedom to explore and test their limits in the out-of-doors, in cities, in life.  By the time of this hike in the Cairngorms my children were both teen-agers and we were living in Sweden for the year.

Climbing to the tops of trees (from age 5 perhaps to present at age 75. Also climbed flagpoles, walls, playground swing pole supports, etc). Crossing mountain torrents in bare feet. Being the only woman in many remote situations (in the Arctic, in mountains) in male groups and having to cope. Skiing and snow-shoeing, often alone in remote areas…. Touching, smelling, tasting various aspects of the envirment.

Sound, touch, vision…. The older I get, the more I take time to sense (in broadest terms) where I am.

Has being in natural environment given you more skills or improved certain aspects of the way you move or interact with the landscape both mentally and physically?  Oh my – could write a book about this one. Until recently, I have always been very quick and agile and I loved dancing over the rocks just for the fun of it. I love the feeling of seeing light on a ridge above and pushing to get there – the feeling and excitement of extreme exertion. Yet, running as an activity or sport has zero interest – not enough time to BE in the experience. Mentally – I love the courage it takes to move in wilderness areas, reading the landscape, measuring the safe routes.

I love the feeling in my body as I move up into the alpine zone – the changing terrain, weather, vegetation….  then down the other side.

Taking time to sit and BE in the place, sensing the world about me. Camping above treeline is grand – though seldom permitted (and for good reason) any longer. In the 50’s and 60’s we could camp darn near anywhere and drink from any mountain stream. I still love fresh mountain air that “tastes” like a clear mountain stream.

How much do you interact with the area with skill and practical knowledge and how much is intuitive and felt through your physical awareness? About 50-50. Great question though – as intuition (reading the landscape, trail, weather etc) is such fun.

I have walked at night in situations with no artificial light where one gauges the direction of path by the lighter sky between trees…. Exciting! And I get a much stronger sense of being ONE with the natural setting around me. Certainly camped many times in the mountains in various parts of the world. In fact, I generally sleep better on the ground than in a bed. I love hearing the sounds of the night – there is so much going on out there – and waking up and watching the stars.

How does the weather or time of year affect your body and the experience of your senses? Besides the fact that in winter I bury down in my sleeping bag and hear and see less!! I am still a sensing being – different sounds, different kinesthetic experiences but still alive and curious.