Wild camping and walking in the Cairngorms: Glen Callater and Lochnagar

This has taken some planning, the main challenge being how to pack so that 2 adults can carry most of what is needed for 6 people to camp overnight and enjoy a day in the hills!  Iain and Julie carried most of what was needed (tent, sleeping bags, stove and gas, food etc) and the kids carried smaller bags with their own clothes and a water bottle each.  Julie did also squeeze a few extra lighter items into Rhona and Isla’s bags.  This trip was not only fun but was a planning trip for what can sensibly be carried for a 100 mile family long-distance walk later in the year (watch this space) – it will be a case of carrying only what is essential!

Julie spent Friday morning collecting everything needed for a weekend in the hills – we originally planned to camp two nights and do two days walking but the great Scottish weather was not on our side!  We had already bought small lightweight sleeping bags as six sleeping bags take up a surprising amount of space.  Julie dug out two large rucksacks from student days, two smaller bags for Isla and Rhona and Lewis and Angus squeezed what they needed into school rucksacks.  The teepee tent was split into two halves (poles and outer for one person and heavier inner/groundsheet for the other).  

Tesco delivered a very random order of food with lots of different things to try to see what everyone liked and what was easy!  Julie had found ‘mug shots’ – a range of pasta dishes in a packet (just add water), cup-a-soups, tins of beans and sausages, cereal bars, dried fruit, apples, sweets, hot chocolate sachets, tea bags, milk sachets, hula hoops… the list goes on.  What we can all eat in 24hrs is impressive!  

We try not to spend loads on extras if we can use what we already have, but Julie has concluded that a lightweight saucepan and collapsable mugs and bowls will be a huge benefit on a long distance walk, cutting down on both space and weight – 6 mugs take up a lot of room and a saucepan is heavy and awkward (even strapped to the outside of a rucksack).

Everything was squeezed into bags, the kids’ were nice and light but ours ended up being heavier than either of us would like (mainly because we carried about 12 litres – enough water for the whole weekend!).

We headed off after lunch and were in Braemar by mid afternoon, via an emergency stop in Perth to get Lewis new walking shoes as he announced as we were heading out the door that his were too tight!  Braemar was looking lovely in the afternoon sunshine, we had a little wander, and then got an early chippy tea from The Hungry Highlander.  It was the best chippy we have had in a long time – the chips were amazing and sitting outside in the afternoon sun was a great start to the weekend.  We then all piled back into the car to nip down the road to the carpark at the start of our walk in.

When we pulled in to the Auchallater car park we found it was pay and display.  Only £3 a day but slightly unclear how to pay for multiple days, plus we only had £3 in coins and we wanted to park for 48hrs.  So we ended up heading back into Braemar to get change for the meter!

Car parking sorted, backpacks on, we were ready for our walk in at just before 5pm.  The walk to Loch Callater where we were planning to camp was just over 3 miles up a good path with heather on both sides and amazing views all around.  The kids enjoyed (to varying degrees) the rickety wooden bridge part way up.  Just as they were getting tired of carrying their bags the Callatar Lodge and the bothy at the end of the loch came into view.  A slow wobble over a stile (interesting with heavy bags) and we were at the loch.  It is a stunning location and would really recommend it as a wild camp site.  There were a few others camping at various places near the lodge so we wandered a little way along the loch and found a spot sheltered from the wind by a little rise. 

The kids played by the loch while Iain and Julie pitched the tent (ten mins at most), sleeping bags were laid out and the stove was on.  The breeze was enough to keep the midges away.  Perfect 👍

Supper of hot chocolate and an apple and then we all retired to the tent to read and admire the view as it was starting to get cool.

Sleep the first night camping is always mixed and this was no exception.  With six bodies all in one space someone is always migrating and getting in someone else’s space! Julie always gets sore hips and a couple of loo stops in the night meant everyone was a little disturbed, but the tent did well in a light breeze and a little rain in the night.

At 7 in the morning it was still and clear.  The only downside being this meant the midges were out! But what a view to get up to! Some hardy souls at the end of the loch could be seen braving an early morning swim. Iain got sent out to make a cup of tea (essential to start the day) and Julie sorted out bags for the day’s hill walk, and after a quick breakfast, loo stops, teeth brushed and we were ready to go by 8.15am (everything takes longer with more of you).

The kids were pleased to be walking without bags and Iain and Julie happy to have smaller, lighter ones!  Iain had plotted an ambitious route for the day including five Munros over eighteen miles, but with the option of cutting it short after the first three.  We headed back along the loch to the lodge and then headed up the good, clear path, heading for the summit of Carn an t-Sagairt Mor. The sun was shining and we had the advantage of starting at about 500m so less climbing to do!  Admittedly there was a degree of grumbling from the pack but we have found from past experience this usually passes once you reach the first summit.  We weren’t rushing and took our time to reach the top for our first summit of the day.  We had a second breakfast just off the summit before heading on to the second munro – Carn a’ Coire Bhoidheach.  The views were amazing and the walking easy, it felt good to be out in the hills and away from everything.  The summit itself is a bit of a nondescript bulge, so after a quick photo stop we headed back to the main path and turned East towards Lochanagar. The walking was easy going and, you lose hardly any height before a short climb up to Cac Carn Mor (which despite the name, is the lower of the two summits of Lochnagar).

It was windy by now and jumpers were now definitely needed!  As we made the short walk to the main top, Cac Carn Beag, the cloud descended and the wind picked up further the kids did brilliantly in not the best walking conditions.  We had a very quick photo stop at the summit and then headed down to the smaller top to hide behind the cairn for another food stop and shortly after it was time to put coats on to keep warm  Iain had been telling us how amazing the views are from the top of Lochnagar were, but sadly not today!  We headed back retracing our steps to where the path branched between the first and second Munros of the day.  At this point we could have turned left and headed for Cairn Bannoch and Broad Cairn but had already decided that we would end on a positive as everyone was clearly tired and not enjoying walking in the cold and mist, so we skirted round Carn an t-Sagairt Mor on the main path and headed back to camp.  Everyone was pleased when we finally got out of the cloud and into the sunshine as we headed back to the tent for a well earned afternoon snack.

We enjoyed seeing several grouse (some of which gave us quite a fright!), a couple of frogs and a small (grass?) snake while out for the day.

Once back at the tent Rhona and Angus decided to brave the loch for a little paddle, Iain sorted drinks on the stove and I started repacking for the walk down to the car.  The forecast wasn’t great over night or for Sunday so we decided it was better to head back in the sunshine and for everyone to get a good nights sleep in their own beds.  Packing the bags was easier as most of the food had been eaten and the water used!

A quick snack and everyone was happy to head back the hour’s walk down the glen to the car for the drive home.  Within 15 mins of driving the rain started – perfect timing.  And as we drove down the road we got to see a bird of prey circling overhead.

Overall a successful introduction to wild camping and a nice day’s hillwalking.  In all we climbed 3 Munros and walked 16 miles (including the walk out to the car).  The kids did great and we learned lots to help plan for the long distance walk!

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