Country diary: The bewitching white powder snares us

·2-min read

Locals call it a bluebird day, though no birds of that colour are anywhere in sight. It’s the sky. The particular brilliant blue on a clear, cold morning when the Cairngorms are flanked in white and the sun dazzles. Early spring snows have turned the mountains to swan backs, looking so much higher and grander as the light sets them shining and marks out their shadows in indigo.

We set off from the car park at pace, my golden retriever hauling us up the slope in her excitement. But it’s not long before all that bewitching white powder snares us. This is a mountain that will not be mounted quickly, even when she looks so benevolent. The snow is thick and so softly layered that our steps sink deep, sometimes over our knees. Each one is slow, slow, slow. It’s called postholing and we take it in turns to lead the way up the pure expanse, pausing now and then to free the dog’s paws from frozen clumps.

But the tough going is a small price to pay for all of this. Looking back, Loch Morlich lies like a jewel in a velvet forest, a mirror to the sapphire sky. On the hills beside it, the snow begins as a soft dusting in the dark trees, thickening with altitude, till finally, the woods give way to the flowing white. At our feet, the wind has drawn twisting patterns across it and sculpted crystals into shapes of infinite design.

Cresting the ridge, we look east across the chasm of Strath Nethy with its plunging cliffs, to the overlapping folds of summit and scaur beyond. Here, the artist wind turns assailant and we dive back into the jackets we had shed on the way up. Our coffee turns stone cold in minutes as our gloved fingers fumble with snack wrappers and cameras. But the vision holds us.

The way down is easier, bumbling through the drifts, greeting other walkers and dogs, laughing as a hapless snowboarder decides to sledge it instead. On the far shore of Loch Morlich, we look back across the frozen rim to the pearly line of hills. A kingfisher sky wings above them, feathered with the lightest clouds. A bluebird day.

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