The trip started very scenically for me - at the car park of Blyth services where I joined James’ car mid journey. After cramming my bags into the already jam-packed boot, we took a break at the service station. Greggs was raided for their steak pies, and back in the car Tommy gave an in depth account of the subtleties of Costa’s oat milk chai.
Six and a bit hours of Taylor Swift later, (much appreciated by everyone, Grace) we were the first car at the bunkhouse. The sun was out, making its way through the trees, and the holiday had begun! Eventually, all 17 Cambridge hillwalkers made it safely to Muir Cottage in the Cairngorms.
This is where the trip report’s chronology is going to go out of the window because a) my memory resembles that of a small orange fish and b) it is almost impossible to recount five days in an accurate and cohesive temporal linearity.
We met Cat and Mike, the two leaders of our winter skills courses, on the first night. They went over what the course would cover over the next two days. Afterwards, they checked the suitability of our waterproofs (for precipitation that shockingly never arrived) and hired crampons.
For Cat’s group, the next two days consisted of trying to find the odd patch of snow, putting crampons on, lots of tangents about rock formation courtesy of Ralph, bouncing on fat men’s bellies (a bog covered with a thin layer of solid turf that makes one able to stand on top and use it as a trampoline) and much talk of Sphagnum Moss, in all its fascinating versatility.
We practised map and navigation skills, using crampons, and ice axe arrests. Stani tried to learn how to slide on a snowy bank but, alas, denied gravity and was unsuccessful. The views of the Scottish highlands were much more than we could’ve asked for.
After we had had another day of walking in crampons over patches of snow and ice, we said goodbye to Mike and Cat. This day had included walking up a steep snow-covered face that fell steeply away to our left side and trying to deduce where the rivers were underneath the snow so we didn’t have to trek back to the cafe sodden.
Soon after we left our instructors at the cafe, the news that it was Andrew’s birthday tomorrow and we that needed a cake became known. Tommy, can you eat lemons? Good - lemon cake it is.
On the third day Stani, Macarena, Andrew and I took a froggy long path around a lake. This was scheduled to be our last day of absolute sun, which called for a freezing dip in the lake after we had met another CUHWC walk! Meanwhile, Nick, Chris, Tommy and Ralph cycled to Derry Lodge for a walk up Ben Macdui, while Paul and Alexis went on other more adventurous walks.
Back in Muir Cottage, I accidentally grilled the lemon cake. Luckily Stani saved it by transferring it to another oven that actually worked. After the cake was baked and a little burnt, James and Grace decorated it exquisitely. (“The cake was the highlight of my week” - Andrew).
That night I joined the Astrology group for one of its outings. We didn’t see the rarely-seen galaxy we had hoped to, but I did see many stars I hadn't known had names.
On the final day I joined Ralph on a looping walk from the bunkhouse that was scheduled to take 6 hours. Our pace was rapid, the sky threatened rain but held off, and I learnt a lot about rocks. We walked along the river after being on the ridgeline and explored some old ruins. We were first back to the bunkhouse so we tidied up a bit. In the evening, much talk was had around the fire and a group decided to play hide and seek with head torches in the dark surrounding forest.
The next morning we packed the cars and tidied the bunkhouse. Alexis, Andrew, Chris and I made up the last car and so it was for us to take all the rubbish bags to Braemar. They were neatly deposited next to the recycling bins, where locals assured us they’d be collected. We were soon back in the car listening to folk (?) music.
Our next stop was Edinburgh which involved dropping off Alexis, my first Asda, and frantically scrubbing a few pairs of hired boots on the curb. Back in the car again. Final stop, Blyth services.