Friday, 2 July 2010

Monadhlaith Magic

Mull Magic has recently returned from a week- long trip to the Cairngorms National Park, where we spent two days walking and watching in the Monadhlaith mountains, before venturing on to the Cairngorm plateaux, in search of the unique and highly specialised wildlife that resides on the roof of Scotland in Summertime.

Our initial base was established at the Creag Meagaidh National Nature Reserve, near Loch Laggan, on the immediate periphery of the National Park. This area provided the setting for the popular BBC TV drama series ‘Monarch of the Glen’, where several Munro summits (mountains over 3,000 feet), a great whale-backed ridge and ice-forged scenery combine to provide the “complete mountain experience” for climbers, naturalists and walkers.

Creag Meagaidh, at 3,701 feet, is the 30th highest of Scotland’s 283 Munro’s and a strenuous walk, so we decided to build up our stamina with the ascent of a neighbouring mountain in the range to test our leg muscles and lung capacity first. All be it, our decision to climb Carn Liath, a mere hillock at only 3,300 feet, was both impromptu and unconventional. Having started out along the 3 mile footpath to view Coire Lochan, nestled in the corrie below the impressive cliffs of Coire Ardair, we suddenly felt the urge to scramble up the steep heather slopes for a better view of the surrounding area. Life would have been so much easier if we had only noticed the small cairn depicting the path up to the top. Needless to say, we didn’t make the same mistake on the way down!

Degraded by centuries of grazing by sheep and deer, the ancient woodland on the lower slopes of the nature reserve has been given a welcome and restorative boost by control measures employed by Scottish Natural Heritage in recent years. In damp areas, we were delighted to find several small colonies of the exquisite Globeflower, a large member of the buttercup family. Bright yellow petal-like sepals hide the nectaries contained within the true petals and are curved over the top of the flower in a sphere resembling a globe, hence its name.

The white, star-like flowers of Chickweed Wintergreen were commonly encountered on our walk and not just in the wooded lower reaches. As a woodland indicator, this attractive perennial is also found on acid moorland at Creag Meagaidh, suggesting that woods formerly clothed a more extensive area in the past that has since converted to open land. We noticed that some of the leaves were already showing a reddish tinge, ahead of assuming their characteristic copper hue of mid-Summer.

Another plant that we came across growing in the damp woods and on wet moorland was the Marsh Violet, whose pale lilac flowers are usually borne on stalks that emerge from large, kidney-shaped leaves. The lowest petal of this delicate flower is boldly suffused with darker veins and readily caught our eye as we made our way towards the top of our spur-of-the-moment Munro.

Blessed with fine walking weather, the views from the summit cairn of Carn Liath were impressive: to Loch Laggan, with the largest inland beach in Scotland, and Ardverikie House below; East to the Cairngorm massif and Grampian Mountains; and West to the ski centre at Aonach Mor, with Ben Nevis still holding on to the snow scars of Winter in mid-June - Brrrrr! Our appetites had been well and truly whetted for our week in one of Scotland’s last true wildernesses.

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