OS Explorer map OL57, Cairn Gorm & Aviemore Loch Morlich – I own this map, and had visited it before starting this blog. Visited again for this post 13th August 2020.
As the attentive reader may know, for a year from summer 2019, I lived in Cambridge with my three friends Erithacus, Millicent and Vesper. Millicent moved back to his parents’ house at the start of the coronavirus pandemic (and never moved back in – in October he moved to Oxford to start his PhD), so it was just the three of us for several months. However, as mentioned in my previous post, Erithacus moved out too in early August, travelling to the Netherlands to start a cool-sounding master’s degree, meaning that it was just me and Vesper left.
The two of us would be moving to a smaller house (still in Cambridge) in early September, but before then, we had another four weeks or so of working from home after Erithacus, alas, had to depart. However, we’d realised that, with the easing of virus restrictions and so on, we’d now be able to travel, so we decided to visit my family’s holiday cottage on the Isle of Harris, for a 3-week-long part-remote-working part-holiday trip.
We therefore booked some ferries and overnight accommodation for the journey up, packed the car full of our things – including a desk,  chairs and monitors for the homeworking – and set off on a Wednesday in early August.  It was on the second day of travelling that we visited this map area, but I’ll relate the rest of our journey up first, since we made several earlier stops that I’d like to record; they were just all in map areas I’ve already posted about.
The earlier journey
It’s a nine-and-a-half hour drive from Cambridge to Ullapool, where the ferry to Stornoway leaves from, so (especially since I’d be the only one driving) we tackled it over two days, overnighting in the middle.
Leaving Cambridge in the late morning, we made our first stop after about two and a half hours of driving (mainly up the A1), in the village of Micklefield, east of Leeds, to eat our packed lunch in the car. This was duly accomplished while watching some goats in a field across the road, after which we had a bit of a walkabout, partly to stretch our legs, and partly to find some out-of-the-way bushes for a quick wild wee (we weren’t quite feeling confident about service station toilets yet) – we also found the above, uh, creative graffiti under a motorway bridge!
Continuing onwards, we left the A1 at Scotch Corner onto the A66 to Penrith – my preferred road route for crossing the Pennines on a longer journey, and one of my favourite trunk roads! It’s just very pretty, really, and we stopped in a layby near the road’s summit at Stainmore to appreciate the view for a while.
Vesper particularly appreciated the landscape once we descended into Cumbria, it reminding her of her maternal family’s home in the north of Lancashire. After joining the M6, we planned to make a stop in a wood a little way inland from Carlisle, before crossing the Scottish border on some minor road and making our way back to the motorway on the other side. In the end we didn’t find anywhere to park near the wood that was our target, so ended up stopping for a short leg-stretch in the quiet village of Kirkpatrick Fleming, next to the A74(M) (as the M6 becomes when it crosses the border).
We were breaking our journey overnight at a Travelodge in Cumbernauld, just north of Glasgow – for the princely sum of £24, in fact. Now I’m sure Cumbernauld is great for many things, but I have to say I know it primarily as the location of the tax office, to which I, for the various employers I run payroll for, have to send employees’ deducted taxes every month! Cumbernauld has also featured in mine and Vesper’s lives previously, this Travelodge being the very same one that Vesper and I stayed in in 2016, on the Holy Island Trek with Millicent, as described in this post.
We arrived at the familiar Travelodge – I would say eerily familiar, if it weren’t for the fact that all Travelodges look the same anyway – at about 8pm, and after checking in made ourselves a meal of just-add-water noodles, with some green beans and fake curry chicken bits. Tired from a long day’s driving, we went to bed promptly.
This map area
Before leaving for the second day of our journey, I planned a few lunch stop options for us, mainly bits of wood on roads off the A9 in the Cairngorms, so that we could sit down to eat and also have a wander if the desire took us. In the end, we drove a little further than I’d thought (must have been having a good chat!), and left the A9 at Aviemore, driving past Coylumbridge and stopping in a lay-by on the road to the Cairn Gorm funicular.
We got out our camp table and chairs and assembled some wraps for lunch, ate almost the lastbit of some cake that Erithacus had made before her departure (cry), and had a bit of a potter-about in the woods (not least to find a wild wee spot).
It was a short lunch stop in the end due to the attention of some midges, so we decided to move on northwards and stop somewhere nice for a final break on the A835 to Ullapool rather than exploring the woods further. And so ended our half-hour in this map area!
The later journey
Continuing on our way, we passed Inverness, and got onto the A835 towards Ullapool, with plenty of time for our 5:30pm ferry, so we did indeed find time for a fun break, at Silverbridge falls just past Garve, a dramatic little place where the eponymous 18th-century bridge crosses the Blackwater just as it’s having quite a steep descent.
We walked a little way across the old bridge to appreciate the view, and sat around on the rocks for a bit before continuing on our journey. A very pleasant stop! I’ve actually stopped here 7 years previously, on my 2013 breakneck trip around Scotland with the Dearest Progenitors and a visiting cousin – but this particular stop has never featured on this blog since, both this time and last time, it was just a brief stop on the route I was travelling through the map on anyway, which doesn’t count for a map visit according to The Rules. I’ll visit you properly one day, map 437 – maybe for a jaunt up Ben Wyvis?
In the end, we arrived in plenty of time for our ferry, stopping in the car park of Ullapool’s Tesco to eat sausage rolls, as we wouldn’t be eating until we got to the other side. The ferry journey passed happily enough – we spent most of the journey outside on the deck, not yet at that stage feeling comfortable hanging around indoors with strangers, though everyone was masked. But the weather was good, and the ferry not very crowded at all. We went to Stornoway’s Co-op after our 8pm arrival, ate some food and did a big shop, and then were in the Harris cottage before 10. A successful journey!
The two and a half weeks until our departure passed smoothly; we did a bit of work and a lot of relaxing, and were very happy we’d come!
Sitting on the A9 road that runs from the Scottish central belt up to Inverness, I’ve ended up passing Aviemore many times on various trips to the Highlands, and particularly on the way to Ullapool for the Stornoway ferry. However, I think I’ve stopped there for a significant period only once before: on my summer 2014 driving-and-camping trip around Scotland with my school friends Cabbage, Joystick, Climbing Programmer and Geochunderer.
For most of the trip, the group was me, Cabbage, Joystick and Climbing Programmer, and our holiday started off with a stint in Edinburgh, followed by the Uists and Skye. After that, we drove on to Fort Augustus in the Great Glen, and set up in a campsite there that would be our home for the next five or so days. It was during this period that Geochunderer, the fifth member of our old school friendship group, who unfortunately wasn’t able to make the whole trip, joined us for a few days.
Now, being in the Highlands, we were all quite keen to see some big mountains, however, it being a fairly lazy holiday, we weren’t feeling like any serious hiking. It was for this reason we decided to make a day trip out to Aviemore, which not only sits at the edge of the Cairngorm mountains, but has Cairn Gorm itself, which has the benefit of a road going a good chunk of the way up it and, for those so inclined, the aforementioned funicular up to the very top!
We therefore drove over to Aviemore in the late morning, taking little roads by the less-travelled southeastern shore of Loch Ness, and then along the edge of the Monadhliath Mountains – a mostly pathless expanse that I’d love to get deep into someday! I remember the drive being rather spectacular but, being the one driving, I don’t have any photos to share with you.
Arriving in Aviemore, we lunched in a café and had a little wander around. Aviemore is rather a hub for the Cairngorms and surrounding area, so is filled with outdoors equipment shops and the like, and is generally rather busy. I bought myself a blue tweed waistcoat in its branch of the Edinburgh Woollen Mill!
From there, we took the cheaty way of getting to high altitude as planned and drove up to the Cairn Gorm car park, where we had a walk around for half an hour or so. There were indeed some great mountain views to be had!
And that was it – as far as I can tell, from there we returned to our campsite, having had a nice trip out!
 Technically, the desk and chair that I took with me weren’t mine, but belonged to my previous employer techspert.io. I’d left their employment in early July, but what with the pandemic and everything, hadn’t yet given them back the desk and chair they bought me when I started remote working in March – oops! I eventually returned the desk and chair (along with two monitors, my laptop, a keyboard, mouse and, uh, another chair) after returning to Cambridge at the end of the month.
 We actually were delayed in leaving due to a bit of a panic when Vesper couldn’t find her wallet. We couldn’t find it in a good half hour of looking, so ended up leaving without it, Vesper having to cancel her card. Naturally it turned up the day after we got home a few weeks later. Oh well, these things happen!