Hiking Cairngorms National Park

Evan McKemon University of Aberdeen, Scotland


September 25, 2014

There are three things that are a must on every hiking trip:

  1. My Buffalo Bills tin water bottle that I got for 50¢ at a garage sale.
  2. My buddy Rupert - a hand-sized bear donning a Royal Canadian Mounted Police uniform that clips on to the pack. Everyone needs a hiking buddy, eh? Plus, Canadians are well liked and he can do the talking if I run into any trouble.
  3. Last but not least, an anklet with 7 turquoise stones that I purchased on a service trip to a Franciscan mission in Tohatchi, Navajo Nation, New Mexico. Turquoise, in Navajo culture, is their sacred stone and it is worn by many Navajos to ward off bad spirits. This Western New Yorker needs all the luck he can get.

I decided on Thursday night, the 18th September, to do a hike the next day through to Cairngorms National Park. I put on my pack and bought a bus ticket to Ballater. Ballater is a small town in Cairngorms National Park, the largest national park in the United Kingdom, and is an excellent entry point to the park.

I left Aberdeen a wee bit late and arrived in Ballater around 1400. I then purchased a map and decided my first project would be to climb The Coyles of Muick, three peaks averaging 1800 ft. They are 2 miles from the town itself with two roads leading along the River Dee to them. I met a gentleman named Ken who offered better directions when I was unsure of how to get there and I was on my way, jamming out to banjos and fiddles on the way there on my iPod.

I finally hit the trail and after going off the track and over peat moss and boulders, I reached the trail and ended up at the foot of the Coyles with a slow ascent. I then hear a ‘Yowwwl!’ I see to my 2 o’clock 14 doe with 1 stag and to my 9 o’clock, 11 doe and 2 stags. They then pranced away as I come closer to the one on the hillside. After about a gallon of sweat rolled down my body and 400 meters higher, I finally reached the top! Couldn’t help but think of the song “On Top of the World” by Imagine Dragons. The mountains, lochs, and glens were in full view. I’ve been dreaming of this since I was 14 and now I finally made it.

I then notice the town, behind the view of the photos, is engulfed in a low cloud that is approaching the Coyles so I hightail it off the mountain faster than a witch riding a broomstick on Halloween. I make it to the main road. I see around 40 sheep grazing so I decide to give them a wee pick me up at 1830. I yell as loud as I can and they ran like hell; clearly scowling at me as I laugh and continue down the road. After 5 minutes of walking and chuckling, I hear barks. I then see 3 dogs and they’re chasing me. I stand my ground and yell at them, ‘Back up! STOOOPP!’ Two stop, but one continues and he gets within three feet of me, I then am running at him and he runs back to his buddies, especially after the farmer comes outside. “What the bloody hell are you barking at?” I had a bit of a jog back to the village after that.

I then head into a pub, befriend two older Scots, Ivan and James, and board the bus back to Aberdeen. This trip was my first time exploring the Scottish countryside in Aberdeenshire and this is just the beginning. There are higher mountains out there and they’re on my bucket list.

Til next time folks!