I have been enjoying a few outings to bag Fionas recently, including Creagan a’ Chaise and Càrn a’Ghille Chearr in the Cromdale hills, near Grantown-on-Spey.
It was my second outing to bag these Fionas. The first time, the mist was low and thick and I made a bit of a silly error. On reaching a large cairn, known as the coronation cairn, which was built to commemorate the crowning of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandria in 1902, I turned north to head to the second Fiona, Càrn a’Ghille Chearr.
It turned out, however, that the coronation cairn is not atop a Fiona and that Fiona, Creagan a’ Chaise, is almost another 2km south. It also has a splendid cairn, the Jubilee Cairn, but it’s a different shape and most definitely at Fiona height of 2368ft (722m).
This I discovered on a second attempt to bag both Fionas.
Walking Fionas with friends
With a group of friends – Cath, Claire, Victoria, Rachel, Geraldine, Katy and Linda – beside me, we enjoyed a very chatty walk of almost 20km from close to the Highlands village of Cromdale to reach both Creagan a’ Chaise and Càrn a’Ghille Chearr.
The summits in the Cromdale Hills are linked by by a long, broad, undulating and very soggy and boggy ridge. Our total ascent was a surprising 766m.
At first, we followed a wide track uphill, tending towards a south-westerly direction. The higher we climbed, the steeper the gradient became but it was rarely punishing.
After a couple of kilometres on the track, we took an obvious trod further uphill but through rougher vegetation.
I had been hoping for more snow and ice but mainly because it would mean that the boggy sections higher up, which I had encountered the time before, might be easier underfoot. I figured that the more snow and ice, the more solid the ground would be.
The Coronation Cairn appeared sooner than I expected and on this occasion I could see the hills rising to the south. Last time, it has been very misty and visibility was vastly reduced. Of course, I should have checked the map to see what height I was at but we all make silly mistakes.
This time, our group walk onwards and on an undulating trod close to a fenceline. The higher we climbed, the stronger and colder the wind became but when you are walking and talking with friends the time always goes by much faster.
The ground was soggy in places although mostly it was snowy and frosty. Another cairn rose ahead of us, looming large in the winter sun.
The sky was bright higher up, yet very cold so we took shelter behind the wide Jubilee Carin on Creagan a’ Chaise at 722m and had a quick bite to eat.
A long walk to Càrn a’Ghille Chearr
To reach the second Fiona, we retraced our steps towards Coronation Cairn and then headed north-easterly along the wide ridge. The hills rose and fell and rose and fell for what seemed like hours. This was when the ground became very soggy and boggy and I was grateful for waterproof socks. However, in the end, I wished I had put on more durable and waterproof winter boots because the cold and wet finally seeped in and for much of the rest of the walk I had numb feet.
It is more than 4km from the Coronation Crown to the second Fiona. The clouds came and went and at times we walked in mist, while at other times we had lovely views.
As we climbed towards the summit of Càrn a’Ghille Chearr we came across a large herd of reindeer. If the herd had been red deer, as is a more common sight in the Scottish hills, they would have fled from our group but the reindeer were far more curious. We had a dog with us and one young reindeer was very keen to make friends.
It was rather disconcerting to find ourselves surrounded by these large mammals but they seemed friendly enough. It was an incredible to be so close to such beautiful creatures.
Finally we arrived at the trig on Càrn a’Ghille Chearr at 710m. After a brief pause we again retraced our steps for about a kilometre before tracking westerly and back towards the start point. This section was hard work on a rough terrain of heather and tussocks. We had hoped to find a decent trod but this wasn’t to be.
It was a great relief to eventually reach a track that took us back downhill. Looking at the map, we probably could have met the track a bit earlier and I recommend you do this rather than trudge over heather-covered ground.
The last section was on an icy road, but only for a short section. I was delighted to have reached both Fionas this time although both outings were very enjoyable thanks to being part of a group of friends.