Thursday, 9 August 2012

Creag Bheag - Kingussie

Saturday 28th July,

We're in Kingussie for a weekend away as yet another birthday ticks over. Try as I might to ignore these dates there's always somebody wanting to remind me that the number of hills to climb and walks to explore versus the number of years left is becoming an equation that no longer balances. There are, of course, certain advantages to this weekend. We're in a nice hotel; we're in a beautiful part of the country; and for the most part, the weather is pretending it's summer.

The Columba House Hotel
We had taken the long route from Aberdeen, through Braemar and stopping at the Glen Shee hotel for a lazy lunch, then to Pitlochry for afternoon tea and cakes, before arriving in Kingussie in time to sign in and wander down to the village to find yet more to eat. The Tipsy Laird was the place of choice and over a very passable bar supper we discussed where we would walk tomorrow. The decision in the end was that, depending on the weather, we would climb the wee ridge on the northwest of the town called Creag Bheag.

The next morning was promising but we were expecting some heavy showers at some point. Mo had printed off the route from the Walkhighland website but we decided to do it in the opposite direction and follow the waymarked path from the carpark on the south side of the village. This began with an easy stroll along the tarred road that led past the St Vincent's Hospital.

St Vincent's Hospital
St Vincent's was built in 1901 as the "Grampian Sanatorium" for people with TB. It was the brainchild of Dr Walter de Watteville, a Swiss doctor who specialised in TB and who believed that Kingussie, with its clean Highland air, would be the ideal place to offer the new "open air treatment" that was proving popular at the time. The treatment meant sleeping outside, even in the winter, which sounds more like abuse than treatment to me, but maybe I'm just being a big softy! The road finally runs out at the caravan park and we passed through a gate onto a well maintained path alongside a mixed woodland and began a slow but steady climb.

Starting off through the woods
The path deteriorated a bit as we walked and soon began to get muddy and slippery underfoot. This wasn't helped by the first of the heavy, but short, showers that blew through during the day. On the positive side however the view towards the Cairngorms began to open up as the trees thinned and we also got our first look at the destination for the day.

With the squall past and the trees thinning we get our first view of the distant Cairngorms
Our first glimpse of Creag Bheag
The path finally cleared the trees and at a junction above Loch Gynack and we turned to begin the steeper climb up towards the summit. The weather had also brightened up again and we were rewarded with some fine views of the loch and Creag Mhor on its northern side with the higher Creag Dhubh beyond.

Loch Gyack

Creag Mhor with Creag Dhubh beyond
This steeper section of the path was less well maintained but it didn't last too long and with a bit of a pull towards the end we cleared the top just in time for the next rain squall to blow in. Fortunately there's a fine shelter cairn at the top and, unusually for our luck, it was perfectly orientated for us to hunker down and drink coffee and eat yet more chocolate. It all felt quite cosy really!

Towards Kingussie, and the passing squall, from the shelter cairn

A fine shelter cairn tops Creag Bheag (487m)

Looking across the rough summit ridge and our route down

Looking south towards Creag an Loin(?)
The long rocky ridge is populated by a series of cairns, so we wandered up to a couple when they weren't too far from the path but we bypassed the rest and, as another squall blew in, we started down towards the shelter of the pine forest.

Back to the shelter of the woods
The walk through the forest was dreich and a bit humid but by the time we re-joined the road near the hospital the rain had passed and we were again stripping off our waterproofs. It had only taken us a couple of hours for the circuit so when we re-emerged by the hospital, rather than make our way to Kingussie, we picked up our original route and turned back towards the caravan park and the start of a short waymarked route down the banks of the river Gynack.

The River Gynack
The river itself, like most rivers I guess, has a bit of history attached to it. The river was the reason the Duke of Gordon planned the new town of Kingussie some 200 years ago with the hope that the power of its water would drive wool and flax mills which in turn would attract the tradesmen and their families to the area. With him picking up the rents and the profits it was all good economic thinking but there was never enough housing available and what wool and flax was eventually produced was shipped out of the area for processing and selling. The village did of course come into being but more by evolution than by design I think. We stopped in a park just above the village for some photos of a tower donated by a New Zealand exile in 1925 and to have a look back at Creag Bheag.

Donated tower. I wonder if they would have preferred the money!

Looking back at Creag Bheag

Another squall drove us down into the village and we took shelter in the Tipsy Laird where we spent what was left of the afternoon drinking beer and watching Mark Cavendish not winning a gold medal at the Olympics road race. Ah well it's early days and I'm nearly sure things will get better. 

All in all it had been a fun walk that had taken us about four very easy hours and, when you consider that we were here for a quiet and relaxing weekend, it fitted the bill pretty well.

More photos


  1. That looks really good John. I've hardly ever spent any time in Kingussie myself - it always seems that Newtonmore is the regular stopping off point, somehow.

    Oh, and that shelter cairn is definitely the finest example I've ever seen!


    1. Thanks fo looking in Scott. The shelter cairn was great and we were lucky with both the timing and the wind direction that day so were able to take full advantage of it..............J

  2. An afternoon in the Tipsy Laird watching cycling sounds good, despite the disappointment. I spent a beerless afternoon shouting at the television. Still, it beats sleeping outside in all weathers.
    Cheers, Alen