I felt like Ed Wardle in the Alaskan wilderness. I was standing at the top of the Fiacaill ridge looking south across the Cairngorm plateau, Cairn Gorm on my left, Coire an t-Sneachda on my right, when I felt a presence behind me. Standing there was a reindeer, less than five yards away, looking dolefully at me. Were I Ed, I’d have buried a bullet in the poor beast’s head and be feasting on reindeer steaks now. As it was, I offered Rudolf a bite of my banana.
An escapee from the nearby reindeer enclosure, was my first thought. But then five of his fellow reindeer, males, females and youngsters – what do you call a young reindeer? – wandered up the ridge, as if on a family stroll. I know these reindeer aren’t wild beasts, but it was enthralling to stand in their company and see them from just a few yards away.
I left them to it, marching southwards and downhill to Loch A’an. An hour later I was eating lunch by the loch as my feet bathed in the chilly water. Surely there are few greater lunch spots in the UK, if not the world, than the shores of Loch A’an? I defy any Scotophobe to come here and not be instantly ensnared by the wonders of the Cairngorms and Scotland.
I spent a few minutes perusing the numerous howffs below the cliffs of Carn Etchachan, notably the Shelter Stone, before climbing out of the Loch A’an bowl to Beinn Mheadhoin. This Munro is notable for its series of summit stone protusions, making it immediately recognisable from other Cairngorm summits. Guidebooks say descend north-east to the Fords of Avon, but I could find no clear path, so took a short cut, skirting Creag Dubh and descending due north, eventually popping out at the eastern tip of Loch A’an.
With the day becoming warmer and being out of water, the climb from Loch A’an to The Saddle and then to the summit of Cairn Gorm was arduous and long. I touched the conical cairn and dashed downhill to the Ptarmigan for refreshment. All that remained was an amble along the 4×4 track that zig-zags a way back to the ski station car park.