Cairngorms Women Contributions
Live in Aviemore (since 2010). But was a regular visitor since I was a toddler (though I’ve only really become acquainted with this ‘side of the hill’ in the last 15 years.
The National Park is my main study site.
I’ve studied conflicts between walkers and bikers in the past, and currently look at how to balance recreation, conservation and housing objectives (with a case study of capercaillie management and politics)
Walking, biking, scrambling, skiing (downhill, telemark & cross country), with a dog
What times of year do you like to go into these mountains?
All. But less in winter now with young child to look after.
My grannie and granddad used to have a caravan at the Linn o’Dee when I was younger and we went up for the weekend and for holidays very often. Some of my earliest memories are grubbing around in the beautiful pink and multicoloured rocks and stones of Cairngorm landrover tracks and old riverbeds (oh and also feeding slices of bread to red deer – oops)
First time you went into the Cairngorms.
I can’t remember th very first time but earliest memories were of the Linn o Dee Campsite (before it was shut down) and walking up Glen Lui (my grandparents favourite) and also walking into the hills over the moor from Crathie. It felt like a real epic but I don’t think we ever got that far – the main objective seemed to be to get far enough out to see Lochnagar and have a ‘biley up’ (getting out the old stove that took for ever to boil and have a ‘cuppie’). By the time I was 6 or 7 we often got to Corndavon Bothy and the adder story I was talking to you about before was on that route. We often went to see Rab Bain at his croft (you have probably heard others talking about him, one of last to speak Deeside gaelic though I just mainly remember him having the most incredible border collies – likely another reason I have collie obsession now). Lochnagar was the first mountain I ever knew the name of.
I have an ongoing love affair with Craigellachie – but that may be just because you can have a mini-mountain experience and see over to the massif all in the space of your lunch hour. Amongst the bigger hills, I already mentioned to you that I find Bynack Mor fascinating because of ‘the Barns’. And I’ll always have a soft spot for bein a bhuird because Pete and I used to go there all the time in our younger ‘courting’ years – walking, camping, biking.
Could you describe what it is about that place or routes/pathways that resonates with you?
Difficult one! For me it is the combination of being somewhere wild and challenging with a person or dog that you are really close to (or the memory of them) – these routes for me cut away all the noise and rubbish of everyday life and let me feel some solidity.
Do you know any stories about the mountains that relate to how women relate to the area?
Not specifically but I know women in the mountain rescue (like my friends Heather Morning that you’re talking to and another friend Fran who is currently in Antarctica) are brimming with amazing stories and are themselves hard as nails and about as windswept and interesting as they come.
But in general, women don’t get to play much of a part in the lore of this area
Hardly ever completely alone. Usually with a dog and maybe also with a friend or two, and sometimes family (tho now my parents are older this usually means staying on the low groun). I’m not into massive groups when I’m in the hills. More than 4 means you’r paying less attention to the hill.
If you are a mother has this changed how you interact with the environment?
Risk-taking: happily I’ve found I can still really operate at the gnarlier end of things (something I was really worried about). Though I often have to turn back before any real epics unfold just because of childcare limitations! I try not to act differently from before e.g. in order to be ‘safer’, esp with mountain biking, as that kind of vibe makes you tense, make worse decisions and therefore more likely to do something daft. I’ve found that I just have to trust myself – I was always trying to come home in one piece before anyway so I find I need to tune into the fact that I still have knowledge, skill and judgement and that worrying more is not going to make me safer, perhaps the opposite.
Time: the biggest change. Before I would be out on the hill for hours every weekend, often for whole days or weekends, whereas now it is rare to be out more than a couple of hours. But that time has often tasted even sweeter because it is rarer and more hard-won. I drink it in more and take it for granted less than pre-child.
Physical: I’m WAY less fit than before which does sometimes limit what I can do, but not really as if I get time to do something demanding I just do it anyway and bear the consequences for a week after of hardly being able to walk. Living in the Cairngorms has meant I’m much fitter than your average post-natal person though. When Solveig was 5 weeks old I was walking her to the top of Craigellachie in the papoose (and this was feb/march time). If I had still been in Aberdeen I would just have been mosying in the park doing not much. The hills here call your name and make you go out even when you don’t feel like it. The outdoors in or near cities don’t have that effect on me. The Cairngorms are just constant inspiration beaming out at you.
Being in the Cairngorms and exploring here and similar rugged places is so much part of who I am that I can’t imagine life without it. I would just shrivel up and die without it. These hills are like an invisible limb that props me up and keeps me able to keep working, mothering and staying sane. It is also a treasured portal into memories of my grandparents and their memories make me feel so at home. When I am here I am rich (even when I am skint).
Here is link to the women’s MTB club in the Strath that I co-started: