Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Destination "mamba"

Late August in Scotland.  The hills are covered with the purple shades of heather, the sun shines on long days and all things seem possible.  Or......the midges are at their worst, the weather is muggy and oppressive and a heavy green and grey cloak covers the hills.  Towards the end of the month it seemed that there would be a bit of all of these things.  I'd initially planned a sea kayak trip but realised that forecast light winds and overcast conditions along the coasts would mean midge purgatory.

So, I looked for a backpacking trip which would give the opportunity of at least one night in a bothy, giving respite from the biting hordes.  The journey I settled on would take me into some of the most remote country Scotland has to offer - I'd need to be completely self sufficient in shelter and food so that if I didn't make the planned route I could still camp and be relatively comfortable.

Linn of Dee is the starting point for many long walks; to the north you can head off on some of the best known treks in the country; through the Cairngorms from Deeside to Speyside via the Lairig Ghru or the Lairig an Laoigh; or onto the great plateaux of the eastern Cairngorms and over to Donside perhaps.

Heading west, the choice is hardly less enticing - the routes shown on the Scottish Rights of Way Society sign indicate an alternative start to reach the Lairig Ghru and two great through-routes towards the west.

Anyone heading off on these journeys will enter true wild country, and though there are either tracks or defined paths the whole way, the challenges of distance and weather can test the strongest walkers.  Then there are the rivers - the routes to the west require crossings of water which can be running hard and fast; and there are no bridges over two of the most significant rivers.

My plan was to take the first part of the route from Linn of Dee to Blair Atholl, then head into the trackless country west of Glen Tilt to visit one of the most remote of bothies.  This view shows just the first few miles of my route, up the River Dee to the hills beyond.

The first significant river crossing at least has a bridge - White Bridge crosses the Dee and is a meeting point of tracks and paths (though it's not white!).

The view up the valley of the infant River Dee is one of glimpsed giants.  To the left, Beinn Bhrotain at 1108m/3635ft with the flank of the Devil's Point and Cairn Toul beyond -big hills for big days.

After such a dry summer I was confident of finding the water in the next river, the Geldie Burn, low - but I can't ever recall seeing it so low.  The Geldie is termed a "burn" (stream), but make no mistake, this is usually a river and it runs hard and deep in wet weather or during snowmelt; it's often impossible to cross safely and there are no bridges over it.  I've several times arrived here and found it birling along with an ominous rumbling sound of boulders being rolled along its bed - a crossing to treat with caution in normal conditions.

From here on I was entering "mamba" country.  Not referring to venomous snakes, thank goodness, the word is an acronym possibly coined by servicemen sent from southern England to serve in the Highlands and Islands during the Second World War.  "Mamba" stands for Miles and Miles of B*gger All !

Beyond the Geldie a substantial ruin stands in a patch of green sward, a bright spot among the heather.  This is (or was) Bynack Lodge, a ruined 19th century shooting lodge from the days of the great estates.  Perhaps it's the green setting or the trees surrounding the ruin, mainly pines and sycamores, which make this such a pleasant spot; I've always found this ruin a place of peace and have camped here several times.

The ruin has been stabilised by Mar Lodge estate and you can see some of the brickwork used to support the mortared rubble original wall.  There are actually a few ruins here, one building was a game larder with a subterranean meat store, there was a separate building which may have accommodated the staff, traces of kennels, a stable and even a walled garden.

One slightly surreal but enjoyable experience I had here was watching the balcony scene from Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" being performed using the window sill in the left of this image as the balcony - and that can't have happened too many times!

After a final glance through the arched wall aperture back down the Bynack Burn towards Geldie I hoisted my rucksack and headed onwards; there was still a long way to go today, much of it "mamba".


  1. A great adventure, Ian, my hat is off to you! "Mamba" country...love it. We have lots of mamba country here in Canada, believe me, and I will introduce the term. :) Enjoyed the read very much!

    1. Thanks Duncan - Scottish "mamba" is on nowhere near the scale of Canadian mamba - but it has the same kind of rewards for those who make the effort :o)