A short but fun day in the quite side of the Cairngorms. A visit to El Alamein Bothy and Ciste Mhearad, old haunts with an old mate.

Yesterday I had a short walk in the Cairngorms with an old mate who was up visiting from down South.  Rhys was in the RAF Mountain Rescue Team with me and we had some great days in the team, when he was a youth. My car is out of action but Rhys picked me up and though the forecast was not great we decided on the Cairngorms an old haunt of Rhys as well as mine.


He was a bit of a climber in the past a “Northern Corries man”so I said lets wander up from the Coire na  Ciste is quiet there and show him the crags above Strath Nethy and see how we go.


I was over at Macdui two days ago and it amazing how different this part is it is so green and few people are about, The lower car park was very quiet as well and we only saw a Glenmore lodge party on the way up above the crag doing “ropy things”. Rhys had his wee dog Hamish with us and he loved the hill and was well behaved. We saw a few deer in the glen and the odd hare bolted past. The weather was sunny to start with and we got great views. I love this walk and it is always a favourite and when I was ill it was all I could manage, so it means a lot to me now that I am getting better.


Great views and in the sun early on – so green and fertile this side of the range.

It is easy walking a great path from the Car Park up the ridge and onto the plateau from here a wanted to contour round by Coire Loagh Mor and have a look at this neglected Corrie. In winter it holds a lot of snow and avalanches every winter and the damage to the ground in summer after the snow is gone. It is amazing and impressive what the weight of snow and the erosion can do and it is a place to take care in winter. Water runs of from the plateau most of the year and this does not help with the erosion but it is a lovely place to be and how many miss it?

Hamish looking into the Corrie

Hamish looking into the Corrie.

There are some great Cairngorm sculpted rocks as you follow the Corrie Rim, wonderful shapes and they blend in so well with the hills. This area is carpeted with grasses and moss and is fairly sheltered from the weather and is a great place to stop and bleather we had lots to catch up on,

The small Cairngorm rocks sculpted by the weather.

The small Cairngorm rocks sculpted by the weather.

We were soon on the ridge and again looking down on the wild Strath Nethy and a wander along to Sron a Cha – no at over 1000 metres it is an impressive place. The cliffs now sport many winter climbs and great views of the Strath the Cairngorm rock and small cliffs with Jenga shaped blocks, pinnacles and ridges always make me smile. Rhys like many had never been here before and was enjoying the walk as we followed the ridge line spotting some old gear left after a busy winter.

On top of Sron a Cho - No - impressive scenery

On top of Sron a Cho – No – impressive scenery.

The weather was still good but we got hit by a small storm with heavy rain and hit behind a rock tor to keep out of it. I was in my shorts but it was still warm and put on my jacket and had lunch while we watched the weather.  It is amazing how quick the weather and temperature dropped but soon we were out of the wind and Rhys produced his hill food.

A bit of weather

A bit of weather

Maybe not the right choice young man for the hill but a nice gesture.

Rhys hill food!

Rhys hill food!

The weather lifted after 10 minutes and I wanted to show Rhys the old bothy nearby El Alamein hard to see as it is in a boulder field and is in a sorry state.

The old bothy

The old bothy.

Again we were hit by another short storm it got pretty wet so we hid in the bothy for a bit of shelter, it was still wild as not much of the roof survives after years of neglect.

A bit grim but still wearing the shorts.

A bit grim but still wearing the shorts.

Again we waited and the sun came out and we headed over and up onto Cnap  corrie na Spreidhe at 1150 metres a “well kent” navigational point over the years.  We wandered over to the old snow hole site at Ciste Mhearad a place i spent many a wild night in the past snow – holing and searching. There was still a lot of snow about.

Heading to the snow hole site at Ciste Mhearad.

Heading to the snow hole site at Ciste Mhearad.

We had a look about and found nothing but a lot of snow still left. Hamish loved it and it was his first time on snow and Rhys relived his past ice climbing memories.

Hamish and me looking for loot but found nothing.

Hamish and me looking for loot but found nothing. Poor photo

I was involved in many searches in this area and on one the snow was over 20 feet deep as we dug down for the snow – holes in this area. wild days.

Rhys !!!!!

Rhys !!!!!

The weather came in again and Rhys was heading to Glasgow that evening so we headed off. The Ptarmigan Restaurant was nearby but we wanted a low key time so gave it a miss and headed down. Later on  in a storm  we got pretty soaked by the time we reached the car park and then home. It was a fun day a sun and a bit windy and wild for a while but we had only planned a short day. Rhys had to drive me back home and we  visited Castle Carrol and then head South. A great catch up and maybe a few plans for the future?

Black Clouds and the bleached fence just as we descended.

Black Clouds and the bleached fence just as we descended.

Before we set off Rhys produced a wee Munro book I bought him it was inscribed

To Rhys

“The man who I taught not to walk along Liathach with his hands in his pockets.”


Quote from the past!

Quote from the past!

El Alamein bothy in the Cairngorms location was accidental – intended to be sighted at the plateau’s edge just above the gently sloping grassy Coire na Spreidhe (Coire of the Cattle), a mistake in the map reference saw it constructed some distance beneath this coire, on the steep and boulder-strewn slopes of Strath Nethy. This is a lovely part of the Cairngorms with great views of Strath Nethy and Loch Avon. It is a place to sit and enjoy the views and peace away from the industrial Ski area.  It is amazing what wild life you see so close to this busy area but in summer and early winter it is usually peaceful and enjoyable.

In November 1972, there was the d Cairngorm Tragedy when six children and an adult in a school party perished in the winter weather. The subsequent Fatal Accident Inquiry concluded that the existence of Curran Bothy caused the school party to head for it to spend the night, and hence if it had not been there they would not have headed for it and not gone on and perished. There are other arguments against bothies on the highly vulnerable plateau.

The plateau bothies, the Curran Bothy and the St Valery were demolished and the El Alamein left to its own devices. Jean’s Hut and the Sinclair Hut have gone, for various reasons. The Fords of Avon bothy on land owned by the RSPB has recently been rebuilt, but not for overnight accommodation. Basically it is an emergency shelter for those marooned while crossing the Lairig and Loaigh. It had been credited with saving several lives over the years. Whatever your views these places were and are part of the history of this place and make a good navigation exercise locating where they were and how they affected this wild area,

This is from Ray Sefton the guru of the Cairngorms – However, I have to make a minor correction to the history of the bothies. They were not built by the 51st Highland Division, but in memory of the Division. They were built by the Artificer Apprentices from HMS Caledonia, Rosyth, led by CSM Jim Curran of the Royal Marines. Jim married a local girl and lived in Aviemore for many years. The metal work for the El Alamein, Curran, St Valery and Fords of Avon were made in the workshops at Rosyth and carried to the sites as part of adventure training exercises and the walls were then built. I think the reason the El Alemain survived is that it was located in Inverness-shire, whereas the others were in Moray or Banffshire.

Thanks Ray Sefton!


About heavywhalley.MBE

After dinner speaker Lecturer and Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 36 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 4 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer and loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Avalanche info, Enviroment, Friends, Gear, Weather, Wildlife. Bookmark the permalink.

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