Wednesday, 31 August 2016
Kingdom of the wind - down to earth
From the summit of Ben Avon my return route went northeast across the plateau to the tor of Stob Bac an Fhurain (Point of the bank of the spring). From this outlying summit a broad ridge leads down to the dome of Da Druim Lom (Two bare ridges) above the River Avon. Part way down the ridge is perhaps the most impressive of ben Avon's many granite tors - Clach Bun Rudhtair.
The view while descending this ridge is very fine, with Lochnagar particularly prominent across 20km of clear air.......
...but it was the view nearer at hand which really caught my attention. Across the corrie, below West Meur Gorm Craig ("Meur Gorm" is blue finger) there's a tantaalising view of the green jewel of Lochan nan Gobhar (Little loch of the goats). Highlighted in a flash of sunlight the water seemed intensely green and I mentally stored this as the destination for a future walk, perhaps even a wild camp.
From the top of the ridge Clach Bun Rudhtair had looked fairly insignificant, close to hand it's a formidable outcrop of weathered brown granite which reaches 25 metres above the ridge. Despite its position quite low down the ridge, the top of this tor is at 914 metres or 3000ft. The central blade has a "window" right through it and I scrambled up to take a look through - it's quite an awkward scramble and fairly tight at the window itself.
Clach Bun Rudhtair (the name possibly translates as stone of the foot of the peat stack) was appropriatley described by Dr Adam Watson in the SMC guidebook to the Cairngorms as resembling Rhinoceros horns. Below the tor the ground levels out before taking a final steep drop to reach the River Avon, where a short way downstream the main track from Inchrory up Glen Avon is met.
I'd spent many hours high up on Ben Avon where the predominant shades are those of muted greens and the delicate pinkish brown of Cairngorm granite. When coming back down to a glen after a day high up the smells and colours always seem very striking, and on this day the effect was particularly noticeable on the track by the River Avon.
The damp ground adjacent to the track was studded with two of Scotland's carniverous plants, the pale green starfish-shaped Butterwort (Pinguicula vulgaris) and the deep red Round Leafed Sundew (Drosera rotundifola). Both live on poor, wet ground and supplement the lack of soil by trapping insects on sticky parts of their leaves.
The Butterwort's leaves curl over to digest the unfortunate insects trapped by the sticky surface with a cocktail of enzymes. In the case of the Sundew, insects are trapped by a sticky "dew" secreted on the leaves and contact initiates a touch stimulus causing the nearest tentacles to bend inwards - remarkably this can start within ten seconds of an insect becoming trapped. The leaves take about a day to close fully and remain shut for one to two weeks before opening to release indigistible parts of the insects. Both species typically trap very small insects of about midge size, but Sundews can trap surprisingly large insects across several leaves.
Another plant of damper ground and a real late summer indicator is the Bog Asphodel (Narthecium ossifragum). The flower spikes open to a brilliant yellow cluster on 10-20cm stems and seem to fairly glow in sunshine. When the flowers have died in autumn the spikes of pale, bleached Bog Asphodels can last well into the winter.
On the track margins in dry and well drained ground were large areas of Wild Thyme (Thymus polytrichus), the intensely coloured flowers a magnet for bees and hoverflies in the warm sunshine. Getting close to the plants to take photographs, the herbal scent was really strong - the leaves make a very tasty addition to wild camp meals too!
The flowers along the way helped to ease the 3km walk along the rough and stony track to Linn of Avon, a favourite spot which never loses its appeal. I'd left my bike in the heather by the track here to speed the way back over the hill to my starting point at Cock Bridge. The track climbing out from Inchrory over to the bowl of the Feith Bhait is quite steep...and was quite beyond me staying on the bike after 20km of hillwalking...I gave in gracefully at the bottom and pushed the bike up!
Fortunately it's pretty much all gently downhill from there on, finishing with a fast stretch of cycling on the tarmac estate track leading to the car park below the gaunt castle at Corgarff to end a really enjoyable day.