Day Walks in the Cairngorms Review

© Vertebrate

The latest title in Vertebrate Publishing's Day Walks series, this is the first to venture north of the border. Written by Helen and Paul Webster, authors of Vertebrate's guide to Scottish Island Bagging, and the couple behind the Walkhighlands website, this new book covers 20 routes chosen from around Britain's largest and wildest National Park.

Day Walks in the Cairngorms cover  © Vertebrate

Ranging in length from 10 - 29km, the routes are all achievable in one day (the clue is in the title), but some are going to be big days. Meaty high-level hill walks rub along with tamer valley and woodland rambles.

This small guide is just the size and weight to slip into a pocket for handy access on the trail, but large enough that the text is not crammed in, and to give sufficient space for the photos. I'm not convinced by the soft paper cover though, which seems likely to get damaged in use.

Grouped in area sections, each route gets an attractive headline image, a good long intro with plenty of information, and a clear and focused point-to-point description. Helen and Paul Webster live in the Cairngorms, and their experience and local knowledge is obvious in the authoritative text. OS map extracts are used throughout, though they sensibly urge readers to also carry a map.

The quality of the photography is similarly high, with a good number of pictures capturing the hills in all their moods and in all seasons, from the lush green of the native pine woods to the winter drama of the high plateaux.

In a National Park as big and varied as the Cairngorms you could do a lot more than these 20 walks and still barely scratch the surface. While the chosen selection is inevitably cherry picked, it does convey the diversity of the area. But are these the 20 best days out in the National Park? It depends what you're after. There is quite a contrast between the low level forest and lochan circuits, however wildlife-rich, and the more strenuous and serious journeys to the remoter summits. I'm sure the selection was picked with care, but given the constraints of the 20 route size I'm not convinced it hangs together that successfully in a single small volume. Who is the target audience: summit-focused hillwalkers, or the more casual visitors you'll often meet on the tracks of Rothiemurchus Forest? The subject matter might better suit two separate volumes, low level walks and hill walks.

In terms of hills, many - but not all- of the unmissable Cairngorms biggies are covered, from Ben Macdui to Lochnagar, along with a few frankly minor and peripheral days. I don't understand all of the inclusions, primarily because expending some of the limited pages on them has necessitated making some regrettable omissions elsewhere.

A pleasant-looking circuit around Kingussie and Newtonmore looks like the sort of thing locals would enjoy, but definitely not something to travel for, or to fill valuable space in a top 20 of this stunning National Park. Why did they cover the C-list Munros of Geal Charn and A'Mharconaich above the ugly A9 pass of Drumochter, but miss out the mighty Beinn a' Bhuird, a contender for the greatest mountain in the Cairngorms? The rolling peak of Geal-charn Mor in the Monadhliath looks like it has great views over to the Cairngorms proper, but is there much more to it than that? Now I've not been up it, so I may be missing something, but is this really a better hill day than the stupendously remote Ben Avon, with its surreal tors? More surprising still is the omission of the Loch Avon Basin, arguably the grandest place of all. What, no Cairn Toul or Sgor an Lochan Uaine? Yes they're tall orders for a day out, but not beyond a serious walker. There's a very long and remote expedition up Glen Avon, but nothing venturing right into the Lairig Ghru, the finest natural through-route in Scotland. Was it deemed just too far to walk in a day? It is miles...

I guess that's the problem with the Cairngorms - they're just so big, and the remoter recesses so hard to access, that they do stretch the day walks format in a way that The South Downs (another in Vertebrate's series) never could. Here, a mountain bike and/or a sense of purpose will get you a long way, though perhaps that's not a concept that's likely to sell too many walking guides.

But I don't want to sound sniffy. I'm sure all of the routes described here are worth doing, even Drumochter - if you've already been up Beinn a' Bhuird. I may have spent a lot of time knocking about the higher Cairngorms, but a fair few of the lower walks described are new to me, and many look lovely. Thanks to Day Walks in the Cairngorms, I may be found this summer rambling around the Muir of Dinnet for the first time, or investigating the Clais Fhearnaig. If the primary purpose of a walking guide is to inspire you to visit somewhere new, and to hold your hand all the way, then Day Walks in the Cairngorms should do the job nicely. It both celebrates these very special mountains, and invites you to explore them more deeply.

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