The French Connection

Sitting waiting for the moon. Not the most stressful way to spend a Saturday evening.


Pitlochry was the first stop on the way. It’s the best way to get to Braemar, the road over the hills to Glen Shee is a joy compared to the dull lands north of Perth. It’s also where Escape Route is with their coffee machine. I poked at some new winter gear, picked through the sale rail and left with some Zero tabs for my water bottle and some coffee samples from a chance meeting with Ross from Rosker, more of which later.
Next is the Scottish Deli, a shop of joy with items of delight displayed on counters of wonder. I clutched one of their special pies, beef, chorizo and more and a packet of oatcakes from Adamson’s of Pittenweem, thick and crumbly, possibly the best oatcakes in the world. I was all set.

I’d forgotten a map, but as the day was rolling on after too long in Pitlochry I decided to go all-GPS again, the evenings route was easy enough to navigate with a licked finger held to the wind anyway.
In saying that I pulled up at the wrong place twice, the big obvious car park with the interpretation board that I’d been by a thousand times mocked my me quietly as I packed my special pie (and pastry from the bakery next to the deli) and donned the colours of battle. You know what they are.

Late afternoon sunlight burned the brown heather orange from an unseen horizon as the river clattered over the rocks to my left. It was just nice, cool but warm, calm with a slight breeze and I rolled over the grid squares with a whistle and a grin. Not simultaneously.
I met a few folk most had been visiting the loch or the scattering of rounded Munros between here and Lochnagar, all seemed happy enough but I was warned of the horses as I got to the old lodge and bothy which made my mind up, I’d camp on the south side of the loch after all. I’ve had horses licking my flysheet in the middle of the night on the beach at Arisaig, an unsettling experience as I’ve ever had and not one I was keen to repeat.

Loch Callater is a quiet place, the bothy had occupants, I think they were on bikes as they had red lights, could have been ninja’s I suppose, but they were rubbish ninja’s if they were, I heard them long before they even saw me sitting by the water with a stove and headtorch buring away.
I was thinking hard as I sat there. I’d brought a pie for diner but neglected to bring an oven. Boil in the bag would do I decided, or boil in the clingfilm and sellotape I should say.
I looked around, “What would Bear Grylls do?” I thought, then to stop me punching myself in the face I improvised instead. I filled the bottom of my Jetboil with some bigger stones from the loch, then poured in some water to the same level and lit the flame. It started to boil pretty quick so I made sure the bottom of the pie was as well covered as possible by the clingfilm and slid the pie into the Jetboil. A perfect fit, the steam was restricted nicely and the pie son started to give off a meaty, saucy aroma. I got my mug prepped with coffee and sat and stared at the now bubbling pie like a trap waiting for the mouse to stick its whiskers into that dollop of Nutella. Oh aye, the mice have been back. All gone now. Ha.

It was warm all the way through, and none of the gravy was lost. A Win. I chucked the stones out of the pot, filled it to the top and reboiled for my cuppa as I walked around the grassy bank with my pie. A golden moment that was. The spout of water ejecting from the pot said it was cuppa time and the remaining water started to heat my Wayfarer chocolate pudding. With no mountains to climb, I was packed for comfort on this one.
I was warm, full up and pretty damned pleased with myself. Then the moon finally broke over the ridge.

It fought with the cloud all night and my last visit to the outdoors around midnight saw it in a black and cloudless sky flooding the glen with pale light. Glorious.
I went back to chuckling at my book to the sounds of the Shadow’s 20 Golden Greats while sipping at a hot chocolate and wondering if I really did have to eat that pastry so late at night. And yes, yes I did.
It was half one, no wonder my eyes were scratchy. I put out the light, shouted at the grouse to shut up and never even heard the end of the next song.

The morning was bright and dull all at the same time. Cloud cover high above with a low blanket creeping over the hills and disappearing before it hit the waters of the loch. Kinda nice really.
I had porridge and raspberry’s which was lovely and read some more of my book. Car chases in New Orleans seemed very far away from a damp tent in the Grampians (their proper name…).
Breaking camp was a leisurely affair as always. I had a plan, but the weather was screwing it up, so beyond getting to Braemar and securing yet more food I wasn’t bothering my arse.

I went and saw the horses, three of them dressed in matching white. Friendly buggers too. The bothy is a good one for short folk, I ducked when I went in the door as it seems awfy low inside, but it’s a nice one as these things go, well kitted out.
The walk out was nice enough a few folks were drifting up the glen and a patch of blue appeared overhead as I through my gear back into the motor. Not enough to stop me looking for a tea shop though.
Braemar is looking tired, shops shut, no people, an air of desolation. That was until I went into Gordon’s Tearoom for rolls, cuppas and a scone. It was warm after the cool morning’s walk, fuzzy cheek warm, and I slumped happily in my chair by the window as I flicked through their menu which has pages and pages of old Braemar photies and stories. A great wee place.

I bought a map, a Harvey one obviously, and set off into clearer skies. The ducks quacked furiously around my feet and only the last of my precious oatcakes would placate them. It was the oatcakes or my feet, a reasonably easy choice to make. The hat from the gift shop was a dilemma, I liked it, I had been assured it was unisex despite my suspicions otherwise. I’d never had a real tammy before, so what the hell.
It’s a lovely start to the walk up Morrone through the Birkwoods, the juniper and birch mix is beautiful, it has an ambience about it that feels fresh and timeless all together. I descended further to the west later on which took me through an unfenced part of the woodland and I could have happily sat in there for the rest of the day. If I’d brought my stove.

The track is easy once you’re away from the junctions lower down, it’s a rocky highway to the rounded top where the trig pillar is somewhat dwarfed by a huge bloody radio mast. There’s another weird thing you pass before that though, five cairns in a horizontal line like crumbled stone soldiers standing guard. It could be that the janitor’s been sweeping up and has gone to get a shovel I suppose.
Back to the mast and it’s associated buildings, these hills often have scars you don’t get to the west though, bulldozed tracks are a favourite including here on Morrone, it’s a bloody shame. Especially if you want an O2 signal in Glen Callater.

I liked my freeform descent, steep heather is a scream and falling is both hilarious and painless. I was sad to be out of the Birkwoods and close to the car park. I met an elderly lady walking her dog just as I got there and talked for a while. She’d been here all her life and bemoaned the man made changes to the hills while also telling me of the 20 minute Morrone race time from the summer games. It’s not a big hill, but 20 minutes up and down the track is mental.

The ducks were waiting for me, but I wasn’t scared of them any more. I even taunted them with my pale body as I pulled on a t-shirt for the drive home, that showed them.
I fired straight down to Perth and then across country from Stirling. It was incident free and quick, I drove through some rain and when I got home it was clear and moonlit once again.
The girls were pleased to see me, well, before they spotted I was wearing the tammy anyway.

9 thoughts on “The French Connection”

  1. How do you get such great night shots? I was up Stob Ban at night last week and all my photies were mince,long exposure did pretty average.

    Braemar, i hear the Hungry Highlander is closing/closed. Wont be the same without a post walk chippy :-(

  2. Steamed pie is definitely worth a go, thanks for that PTC*, always up for some food ideas!

    Another Hubba report on the way?

  3. My night shots are not much beyond setting the “Night Scenery” or “Starry Skies” modes and pointing the camera at stuff. It seems to come out well enough so I’m quite happy.
    Funny, Stob Ban was the first hill I tried that stuff out, never been the same on here since :o)

    Aye, the chippy’s shut, Braemar is like a ghost town. It’s worrying.

    Pies at camp are the way forward, real food is going to be a feature of trips this winter.

    I’m going to do a bunch of gear stuff from the last couple of weeks, lots of new stuff, Jetboil frying pan, Haglofs Goga bag etc as well as more fun in the Hubba!

  4. Great report, as ever. Delighted to see you back out in the hills.

    That’s a real shame about Braemar – it’s a slippery slope for a town to be on. Aviemore seems to have managed to pull itself back up from where it was 10 – 15 years ago, but I’m not convinced Braemar would be in a position to do the same – in that it probably lacks the year-round outdoor pursuits infrastructure within the surrounding area (Jings, that last bit does sound like something from a HIE policy document – sorry!).

    I was in Ardgay a couple of months back and was struck at how far it had slid. I always make a point of trying to spend some money in local communities, but as wildcamping hillwalkers we’re probaby not the core target market these places need to attract. Keeping large, crumbling victorian hotels on the go must be pretty tough.

  5. Nice to be out! It’ll be into December before I’m back out regularly, I’ve got some catching up to do.

    Braemar is a difficult one, it’s in a great location with very few services for visitors to spend time and money on, it doesn’t even have a proper bus service.
    It needs investment, publicity and folk to stop in it before they leave their cars at Linn of Dee and drive through it again without stopping on the way home.

    I suppose it all depends on where you are, I’ve been to Ullapool a few times in the last years and it’s a lively place these days despite being away in a corner.

  6. Ullapool is one of my favourite wee towns. I guess the difference is that somewhere like Ullapool has its own hinterland – its the main town for a large surrounding area. That gives it a vibrancy and degree of economic stability, insulated a wee bit from ups and downs of the tourist industry.

    If you live in the Braemar area where are you going to go for your shopping? Might as well nip to Banchory… or even Aberdeen.

  7. Aye, Braemar’s an island on dry land.

    I was wistfully thinking about my last trip through Ullapool, sitting in the cafe before the long drive home after a fine night on Cul Mor.
    All my memories feature food.

  8. Ullapool is a ferry port, its got a Tesco and its the biggest settlement between Dingwall and …um…probably Rejkavic

    Since the A90 was improved- Braemar is the end of the road (unless you are going to Pitlochry the scenic/slow way). It is also probably losing out to Ballater, which is itself on the up after seeming a bit ‘tired’ a few years ago, and Tesco-tastic Banchory.

    Braemar does have 5 buses a day though, a great gear shop and …er… a stony bridge (so all it needs is a promotional ‘vido’)

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