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Travel Guide: Wild camping in Scotland's Cairngorm Mountains

14th Feb 2012 12:50pm | By Editor

Wild camping in Scotland's Cairngorm Mountains could be just the way to fall in love, says ERICA CROMPTON. Just don't forget your trowel.

An adventurous streak is something I love in a man. So when Phil, a reporter I’ve been on three (fairly successful) dates with, suggests a weekend wild camping in the Highlands, my blood pumps a little faster. “You’re on!” I blurt.

And so our fourth date is spent getting to know each other intimately against the backdrop of Blair Atholl, a tiny town nestled at the foot of the Cairngorm Mountains, Perthshire, which we plan to explore together. Beats banal pleasantries at the local Pizza Express.

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We spend our first night at the Ptarmigan House bed and breakfast. Phil has booked this off his own bat – but we’ve agreed on a double bed. No doubt, this’ll speed up the ‘getting to know each other’ bit.

Once unpacked, we head for dinner at the Atholl Arms Hotel. We’re getting on well – mutually excited about the adventure ahead, and musing on keeping each other warm in the tent (it’s currently only two degrees in the evening).

After a haggis and venison feast, we head back to our room, where we’re up all night (chatting about the trip, of course). Phil tells me that in Scotland, the right to wild camp is established in law, along with the right of open access. However, he adds, we should keep away from dwellings and roads; take all litter back with us; and if we need to relieve ourselves, dig a hole and fill it in afterwards. Then he shows me the trowel he’s brought along. “I think I’m in love with you!” I gasp sarcastically. Camping in the wild can be so unromantic.

The following morning and it’s still going well. But while temperatures soared last night, thanks to Phil’s filthy talk of trowels, the weather for our camping is still a cool three degrees. As we venture outside, hoods up ready for adventure, we hold hands.

“You’re so cold!” I say, as his icy extremity grips mine.

“Cold hands, warm heart,” Phil retorts. Smooth. And with that, we’re off.

It’s 8am, and we want to make the most of the daylight hours. The plan is to walk as far as we can up Glen Tilt, following the River Tilt, until it starts to get dark, and then we’ll set up our tent.

I’m impressed by how organised Phil is. He’s got all the right equipment, maps, and a plan about where we’re going. I’ve done very little in organising anything. I guess in dating terms it’s the equivalent of a man holding the door open for a lady. Yup. Still smooth.

The scenery is gorgeous, majestic. And it’s just the two of us here to enjoy it. But, by 2pm, we find ourselves stuck. The path we’re following has ground to a halt. Phil then wants to climb the mountainside, but I’m too scared. I feel like a bit of a killjoy and a slight strain is put on our date as we spend the next hour ignoring each other.

But, by 4pm, we’ve found our way again and, although slightly set back, Phil says: “I guess these things all add to the adventure.” I’m relieved by his easygoing attitude and put my arm around him to express thanks. And we plough ahead, literally and metaphorically back on track.

The sun is starting to set at about 4.30pm and we decide to set up the tent in a small forest that we’ve come to just by the river. The wind is howling and we can hear cries from nearby deer – it’s all a bit spooky. But the stars are starting to come out as we put the finishing touches to our humble abode. It’s 7pm and we’ve had something to eat – a self-heating meatball, no less. You can buy meals like this in most good outdoor shops; simply add water to the bag of food and ingeniously, it starts to boil until it’s piping hot (handy for cold nights camping).

As we sit under the stars and snow-capped mountains, the sound of a lively river providing our very own private concerto, Phil makes a promise: “I’ll keep you warm tonight ...”

I’m smitten. He keeps to his word.

Afterwards, we feel the weekend wild camping helped us to bond more than a traditional date. A few weeks on and our relationship is ‘official’. Like I say, I do love a man with a sense of adventure.



See next page for where to eat, drink and sleep near Scotland's Cairngorm Mountains...