Morven, Maidens Pap and the Flow Country

June 07, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Having had to travel to Wick, in the far northeast of Scotland for work. I had decided to take my walking and camping gear with me so I could visit the hills Morven and Maidens Pap, which are just a 40 minute drive south of Wick, near the border of Caithness and Sutherland. Luckily I was travelling up on a Thursday and was finishing up on a Friday afternoon, so that I could overnight in my tent near the abandoned cottage at Corrichoich and spend the day exploring. 

Setting off from a sunny Wick on Friday afternoon I finally parked at Braemore, where I changed from my typical work garb and into my walking gear. Starting my walk it dawned on me that the hills were obscured with low cloud off the sea - A typical occurrence for anyone located in the East Coast of Scotland.

Heading onward past the gamekeepers cottages, I hit the track that goes to Corrichoich and sauntered along in a bracing sea breeze that does its best to ruin a warm day - the mist was swirling around Maidens Pap and it periodically cleared to reveal the peak, only to quickly cover it again.

Maidens Pap in the mistMaidens Pap in the mistFor most of the time I was here, Maidens Pap was constantly being covered by mist from the cold east coast, it hit the hill but never advanced.

Morven Shrouded in MistMorven Shrouded in MistOn the day I arrived the sea mist from the coast was enveloping Morven and it had me worried that the visibility the next day would make the climb pointless. After only about four kilometers, the path abruptly ends at the abandoned Corrichoich cottage. I walked around it and found the door locked but the missing window meant that anyone could step inside. 

Approaching Road EndApproaching Road EndGetting near to the abandoned cottage at Corrichoich, the Glen of Mist, where the road ends. Not wanting to be an intruder however, I explored the vicinity of the cottage. I crossed a marvellously swinging suspension bridge to the other side of the river, Berriedale Water,  taking pictures, whilst figuring out the best place to pitch my tent. I was looking for a spot that would be away from the noise of the nearby river, out of the wind and also out of site of any photos that I may take at sunset or sunrise.

The Suspension Bridge at CorricoichThe Suspension Bridge at CorricoichThis wonderful moving bridge takes you across Berriedale Water at Corrichoichh and onto the expanse of The Flow Country Looking back to CorricoichLooking back to Corrichoich Looking back to CorricoichLooking back to Corrichoich and Maidens PapA view looking back after crossing the suspension bridge Finally settling on a flat spot quite near to the cottage, behind a broken wall, I pitched my tent and fetched water from a peaty stream and got cooking my tea. I was savouring my solitude on this sunny evening, I was warm in my tent and I was listening to the Chaffinches, Curlews, Skylarks and many other cheeps and chirps that I was less familiar with. 

After eating, I set my alarm for 4am the next morning and was dozing by 8pm - I woke many times with all the unfamiliar sounds of nature. As a town dweller, cars and emergency services sirens do not disturb me but a grumpy but comical call of a grouse or the bray of a deer do cause me to wake. The most distinctive night noise is the passing snipe that woke me three times, I am glad I know what this is as the sound is pretty mysterious - 

This link is a pretty good reproduction (except there were no frogs where I was). 

My phone alarm activated at 4am and that probably traumatised the local wildlife more than me as everything was now silent by the time I finally awoke. After snoozing for a while I unzipped the tent and peered out.

Moon on Corrichoich4:15 am with the sun soon to riseI peered out my tent to make a coffee at Corrichoich before heading out to capture the sunrise

The sun was yet to rise and the moon was hanging around. I realised there was a heavy dew on the tent and on the grass. I fired up my stove for a quick coffee so I could get motivated to leave the warmth of my tent. 

I emerged from the tent with near perfect timing, the sun was moments away from peeking over a distant rise, giving me time to choose a spot near my tent and set up my tripod.

Corrichoich First LightCorrichoich First LightThe sun rises over the hill and illuminates the dew.

The dew was thick and lit up in the sun. I considered trying to capture the golden dew macro-style, but instead persisted with my landscapes as I am not that good...

Golden DewGolden DewEarly morning sunrise lights up the wet grass Berriedale Water and The Flow CountryBerriedale Water and The Flow CountryEarly morning light on Berriedale Water Golden GrassGolden Grass

Maidens Pap was surrounded by swirling mist, I cannot stress how fast it moved revealing the form of the peak regularly but then covering it up just as quickly...

Fast Moving MistFast Moving MistThe haar (sea mist) was crashing against Maidens Pap and it was moving surprisingly fast. At one point it overwhelmed the hill and started to spill over towards me. I thought that my photo opportunities were finished then, but it faded out before it reached me and after that it slowly retreated. I  turned my attention to Morven, which the mist bothered much less than it did Maidens Pap.

Morven Wide AngleMorven Wide AngleMorven taken wide Morven and Corrichoich BothyMorven and Corrichoich BothyEarly Morning in the Flow Country

I then crossed the rickety suspension bridge for some wider shots.

The Glen of MistCorrichoich - The Glen of MistCorrichoich Cottage and Maidens Pap in Sutherland

Corrichoich and the summit Tors of SmeanCorrichoich and the summit Tors of SmeanThe summit Tors of Smean lie in the distance Mist Shrouding Maidens PapMist Shrouding Maidens PapMaidens Pap and Berriedale Water in the early morning light

After a flurry of picture taking, the shadows and contrasts started to fade as the sun rose higher and the golden hour of sunrise was over. I retreated to my tent and considered going back to sleep, but common sense made me realise I was somewhere good and I needed to make the best of it, lazy mornings would be saved for places more ordinary.

I faffed around making a double helping of porridge with lots of coffee before setting off just before 8am to climb Morven. I am not a peak bagger (although I do keep a record…), as a keen shutterbug, climbing can get in the way of good picture opportunities but I enjoy the trips anyway and I certainly benefit from the much needed exercise that climbing provides. Besides, I had dozed through my evening objective of catching sunset pictures, which would have better caught the cottage and Maidens Pap, so I thought I better try and make the best of my trip by exploring the area..

I decided to leave my tent pitched so that it could dry, due to it still being very wet from the intense morning dew, but being a distrustful townie, I packed everything else into my large rucksack and set off towards Morven almost fully laden.

My Tent - with a great view of MorvenMy Tent - with a great view of Morven As you no doubt know, Scotland is a pretty wet place, but we have had it unusually dry and I realised that this was certainly in my favour as nearly every step was a squelch into wet moist ground. After leaving the easy path that ends at Corrichoich, I was now walking on The Flow Country, the largest area of blanket bog in Europe being over 4,000 square km (1,500 square miles) and I was certainly benefitting from the recent dry weather. My muddy boots and constant squelching in difficult, pathless terrain reminded me of how different it would be after our usual levels of rainfall - I counted myself quite fortunate.

The Flow CoubtryThe Flow CountryTaken near the foot of Morven

I took a diversion to a stony mound that stood out, This is marked on the map as “Dail-a-Chairn”and “Aisled House”, it is described on the Historic Scotland website as a Prehistoric domestic and defensive homestead. As I approached an angry looking Wheatear stood on one of the stones staring me down before reluctantly flying off once I got too close.

I stood amongst these ancient stones of what used to be a dwelling and took a picture. They stand on the flow country that has been here since the ice age over 10,000 years past and contemplating the scene, this crossed my mind:

“Men come and go, cities rise and fall, whole civilizations appear and disappear - the earth remains, slightly modified. The earth remains, and the heartbreaking beauty where there are no hearts to break…”
― Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

Dail-a-Chairn Aisled HouseDail-a-Chairn Aisled HouseThe remains of a prehistoric homestead, there are a few Aisled house remains marked on the map around here. Looking Back to Maidens PapLooking Back to Maidens PapNo explanation needed... I squelched on towards Morven and cut uphill towards the south of the hill - I was heading towards the south slope because it looked less steep… I then remembered I had downloaded the GPS route from walkhighlands and on checking this I realised I was quite a bit further south than the “typical route”, so I cut back to pick this route up the steeper east hillside, in time I picked up a good path that was entertaining but I hit a load of boulders and lost the path, I eventually picked up a slight path which immediately split, so I chose left and came across a couple of Cloudberries! I kept on upwards and took a few pictures looking back on the way, you can see the easy angle of the slope - I was enjoying the climb at this point.

Morven ViewApproaching 500m on MorvenSomewhere not far on from here, I managed to find a much steeper slope, which defeated me with my heavy rucksack and chicken heart :)

I carried on and then the faint path ended somewhere above 500m leaving me with a steep slope to clamber up. Basically I was grabbing onto heather due to the steepness of the slope at this point. I suddenly decided that I was at a point of no return; where, lumbered with my heavy rucksack (my suspicious nature made me carry everything) and two now useless walking poles, I would have to rely on the heather taking my weight for balance and I could not see how far to go before it became less steep. It was probably only a few metres but I suddenly decided that I did not feel comfortable clinging on, so I turned south and contoured downward to the slopes that made me less nervous, cursing myself for not taking the route I had originally decided upon. I headed round to the south of Morven and then discovered an easy (but longer) route. There was also evidence that it is used regularly, as this picture illustrates almost a path.

Morven Southern slopesThe Easy route from the SouthIf you want a much longer but less steep stroll, then head round to the south of Morven. I will be back!

I checked the map and this route was a climb of approximately 200m of relative steepness to the left of a large Tor from where I stood, then another 200m of relatively easy terrain to the peak, obviously over a bit of distance as the summit is at the north, but only 400m of ascent - it was easy but, at this point I decided I could not be bothered! My ankle, which I sprained a month earlier was starting to ache and I had at least 2 hour return walk and a 4 hour drive to get home - All this way to end in apathy!

My lesson for the day is that if you see an easy route then take it, rather than try and follow some route that is best left for the more experienced hill walker. On more visited hills then the paths are usually the best route, on these smaller less visited hills however, it does take a bit more thought in finding a way up that suits your comfort zone. No harm done though, I climb hills for fun and reaching the summit, although nice, is not my main priority. Exploring and looking for a special place to take pictures was my main objective.

As I squelched back towards Corrichoich to reclaim my tent,  I kept turning to look at Morven to figure out where I got stuck.  The sun was now beating down, it was a beautiful day and the mist had retreated from Maidens Pap, I contemplated staying another night… At Corrichoich however, I took down my tent and after disconnecting a newly resident tick from my arm, I headed for my car.

Corrichoich BothyCorrichoich BothyTaken near where my tent was pitched

Until I reached my car, I had not seen a single person, it was a fantastic feeling of solitude.  I realised though that there are too many deer here! Everywhere I went, I could see deer in the distance - their footprints were everywhere, even where there was no path. Their droppings were too. They have no natural predators and their presence on this vast land was more obvious than the presence of sheep is obvious in the Ochil Hills…

I finally reached my car and changed into fresher clothes.  As I drove up the hill, I looked back and realised there were many photo opportunities looking over Braemore.  I will be back here in a couple of months as I will be relatively nearby with some free time - I have unfinished business with Morven.  As a photographer though this area has very many visits worth of potential to get that special shot.

Maidens Pap and Morven from the roadLeaving BraemoreI stopped the car near the top of the hill, before I headed home. Maidens Pap was now in front of Morven with Smean rising on the left. The potential scenes round here are immense and I could spend a lot of time here! I have since learnt that Corrichoich means the Glen of Mist and I feel privileged in being there to see and being able capture the mist as it swirled around Maidens Pap. I learned the name from this 19th century book in which the author recalls his visit in very different times.


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