This month’s challenge reminded me of my first view of one of Scotland’s best kept secrets. At first I thought it was very small but, as I walked closer to the cliff edge my opinion changed.
This is Loch Avon, (pronounced ‘An’) in the Cairngorm Mountain range. I first saw this in 1969 when a party of us, from teachers training college, visited the area. I will never forget the sheer amazement having walked across the plateau, from Cairngorm’s summit, then suddenly the ground gave way to reveal this “small ribbon of water” below. It was only after studying the view that I realised that the loch is far bigger that I perceived as it’s so far below. I was destined to return a few times but, due to an awful tragedy, have never returned since 1971. This is the account of the ’69 expedition.
We were a party of 12 . It was in June 1971, a month before Margaret and I married so this was a sort of “stag do”. After reaching the summit of Cairngorm we spit into two groups. My best man-to-be, Duncan and I decide to walk across the plateau and climb Ben Macdui – Scotland’s second highest peak.
(See http://www.flickr.com/photos/28475994@N00/4961422236/ )
The other, larger group headed for the slopes above Loch Avon. Many in this group had little experience of our mountains so it was felt that this might be easier for them. Duncan and I completed our climb but heavy mist meant we could not see much from the top so we headed to our meeting point passing Loch Etchachan, one of the country’s highest lochs, on the way.
(See http://www.flickr.com/photos/28475994@N00/4961420160/ )
We eventually met our comrades who had not only viewed the scenery but had decided to climb down the 800 or so feet to Loch Avon to see the Shelter Stone.
(See http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/1045961 )
They didn’t appreciate that they would have to climb back up again so were VERY tired when we met. This photo shows the group when the two parties joined together again.
(See http://www.flickr.com/photos/28475994@N00/4960821285/ )
If you look in the background, you should see the mist which seemed to have followed Duncan and I from Macdui. It soon overtook us and we had to use our compasses to get off the mountain. This is a dangerous place and there was a real risk that we could have walked off the left hand side of Cairngorm instead of the right which allows access to the path off the hill.
(See http://www.flickr.com/photos/28475994@N00/4960824465/ )
Needless to say we made it since I am still here. I always found the views here breathtaking hence the reason for posting this for the latest “Theme Challenge”. My tale, however, is bitter-sweet.
A couple of years later, 22nd November 1971, five kids, from our school and their instructor were lost in the worst mountain tragedy in this area. when they were caught in a sudden blizzard. After that regulations were tightened and, until recently, it was not even possible to use the new funicular railway, built in 2001, to access the Cairngorm Plateau in an attempt to avoid amateurs wandering off up there. If you ever visit this area please be extremely careful and please remember six young people who died too young.