Cairngorms National Park: Loch Callater, Carn an t-Sagairt Mòr, Carn a’ Choire Bhaidheach and Lochnagar

After pottering round Aviemore and stocking up on supplies, we headed east towards Braemar. I can’t remember exactly how Loch Callater came onto our radar, but it didn’t take long for us to find a way to fit it into our itinerary. Of all the lochs I’ve seen in Scotland so far, this is a strong contender for being my favourite. We parked the car at Auchallater, fed coins into the machine, and changed into our hiking clothes. (As it turned out, it was a popular spot for wild swimming so no one bats an eye when they see people changing between car doors.)

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Cairngorms National Park: Beinn Mheadhoin, Derry Cairngorm, Ben Macdui and Cairn Gorm

With its craggy peaks (including enough Munros to keep the avid Munro-bagger busy for a very long time*) and arctic-alpine lakes, the Cairngorms National Park is the gift that keeps on giving. Our multi-day loop concluded with a string of peaks in the vicinity of Loch Avon: Beinn Mheadhoin, Derry Cairngorm, Ben Macdui and Cairn Gorm.

*Unless you’re the guy we bumped into up Beinn Mheadoin and Cairn Gorm who’d packed eighteen into a single weekend, that is.

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Two Beinns: Beinn Bhreac and Beinn a’ Chaorainn

While we slept – or perhaps I should say while we tried to sleep, for sleep evaded me for much of the night – the wind howled. When we woke, it was still – almost eerily so. Others camped around Corrour Bothy were, for the most part, yet to surface.

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Conquering the Cairngorms’ Angels and Demons: Braeriach, The Angel’s Peak, Cairn Toul and The Devil’s Point

When it comes to planning a trip to the Cairngorms National Park, the biggest challenge is its size.

There’s a whopping 4,500sq kilometres of it. To put that into perspective for you, Greater London (i.e. the city proper, and all the suburbs that sit within the M25) is 1,583sq kilometres. Luxembourg, at 2,586sq kilometres, could almost fit into the Cairngorms National Park twice.

There’s so much to see, and that makes it hard to choose which parts to see and which to save for a subsequent trip. After much deliberation, we opted to spend the first half of our trip in the area around Cairn Gorm itself, and the latter half around Braemar.

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Snapshots of the Cairngorms National Park

If you’d asked me a couple of months ago to name my favourite national park, I’d probably have been torn between Snowdonia, the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District. But now?

I’d say the Cairngorms National Park, sans doute.

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Deepest, Darkest Devon: Postbridge to Bovey Tracey

Postbridge lies on the fringe of Bellever Forest, right in the heart of Dartmoor National Park, and is best known for its medieval clapper bridge. We’d crossed it the previous evening, but as we hadn’t had time to admire it properly a detour first thing in the morning was in order. After eating our fill of cereals, we set off into Postbridge, opting for the dirt tracks instead of the main road.

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Dartmoor’s Heartland: Other-Worldly Woodland and Peat Bogs

I was expecting bleak expanses of moorland, shrouded in fog. What I experienced was the polar opposite: blistering heat and clear, blue skies. If I had to choose a favourite day in Dartmoor National Park, it’d be the one spent hiking to Postbridge, via Princetown (for that all-important cream tea) and Wistman’s Wood (a magical spot which, in misty conditions, would be a dead ringer for the Forbidden Forest).

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More Tors and Burrator Reservoir

I’m used to waking up under canvas on hiking trips; on this trip, we branched out into the world of camping pods and B&Bs. I woke snug as a (fried) bug, toasted by the underfloor heating. Outside, blue skies, sunshine and footpaths (twenty-odd miles of them) beckoned.

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Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho: To Tavistock We Go

First stop: Tavistock, a stannary and market town on the fringe of Dartmoor National Park. From Exeter, it should have been two trains (down to Plymouth, up to Gunnislake) and a bus ride away, leaving us with a short, scenic walk across the moorland to our accommodation. Two trains in, outside Gunnislake station, those plans unravelled.

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Snapshots of Dartmoor National Park

Dartmoor National Park is peat bogs, pine forests and ponies (lots of ponies); mile upon mile of open moorland, crowned with tors; and stars – more than I could count, than I’ve ever seen before – twinkling against inky skies. Over Easter, Laurence and I spent five days hiking across Dartmoor National Park, sampling cream teas, exploring market towns and quaint villages and getting very (very) sunburnt along the way. I’ll retrace our footsteps through Tavistock, Princetown, Postbridge and Widecombe-in-the-Moor in subsequent posts, but for now, here’s a selection of my favourite snapshots . . .

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