Nation diary: pursuing in the footsteps of Nan Shepherd | Mountains

Creag Dubh is the to start with hill that the Scottish nature author Nan Shepherd climbed on her journey into the Cairngorms, described in her 1977 ebook The Residing Mountain. It indicates “black crag” but, on the working day we wander, its slopes are lost in white cloud. Captivated by these mountains from childhood, Shepherd manufactured this approach as a youthful woman in the 1940s, by yourself and thrilled by her have daring. It was “blue cold and good immediately after weighty snow”. For us, there is also cold and snow, but the earth is sodden and the skies are significant.

However, it is enjoyable. I have been up the Cairngorms frequently, but this is my initially time subsequent Shepherd on this route via Creag Fhiaclach, a single of the past remaining stands of montane scrub in this fragment of historic Caledonian forest. We acquire what she phone calls the “unpath”, throughout humpy, heathery ground. Here are spiky, fragrant junipers, Scots pines with crimson bark and needles of unfailing environmentally friendly, and birch, their lichened trunks climbing as a result of a haze of purple branches, beaded with water droplets.

Like Shepherd, we toil up the slope, slower with each individual snow-sinking move. But we do not access the breath-catching perspective of Glen Einich down the other facet. As an alternative, we wander deeper and deeper into mist. By the time we attain the scrub, the dwarf trees are like the ghosts of departed bonsai. We listen to pink grouse gurgling but see only their prints and two drifting feathers. Checking map, compass and element of slope, we climb higher, until even the rocks disappear and there is nothing at all but white.

No seam now between sky and snow, up or down, here or there. Small brown tendrils flicker throughout my eyesight and vanish like smoke. I am dizzy. For a second we believe that that the cloud might dissolve to a singing blue sky, but a hard stare renders only blankness. When Shepherd received the top rated, she “jumped up and down … laughed and shouted”. We help save that for one more working day. It has taken far too very long to get this far now and we ought to change household right before the brief working day turns darkish. As we plough slowly and gradually back again, knee deep and led by the voice of a buried stream, the lightest motes of snow start off to drop.

Creag Dhubh in mist.
Creag Dhubh, which means ‘black crag’. Photograph: Merryn Glover
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