Niall Archibald has been volunteering as a Skills Instructor with the 12th Glasgow since 2009. In this blog, he talks about his DofE Diamond Challenge.
Here’s a question: How would you traverse the
Cairngorms over 3 nights without recourse to a tent? South to north from Linn
of Dee? West to east from Glen Feshie? Using Corrour Bothy, Hutchison Memorial
Hut or Bob Scott Hut? As a DofE Gold Assessor this would be my DofE Diamond
Challenge, to mirror a Gold Expedition.
Duke of Edinburgh’s Award (DofE) supports over 300,000 young people every year
across the UK. Over 30,000 are from disadvantaged backgrounds. Youth leaders
supporting DofE participants inspire and guide them to develop skills for life
and work, making a world of difference where young people can reach their full
potential, whatever their circumstances.
has gone international. Over the last 60 years millions of young people across
the globe, from all backgrounds and circumstances, have challenged themselves through
their DofE Award. The experience, and achieving their Award, is setting them up
for life, opening doors to new jobs, cementing life-long friendships, broadening
interests and stretching horizons.
the Diamond Anniversary the DofE presented me with the chance of fulfilling the
dream of traversing the Cairngorms in a 3 nights / 4 day expedition using bothies
or whatever shelter might be available. And if friends sponsored me for the
privilege that would allow more young people the opportunity of planning their
timing for my expedition narrowed to a small window when my Army Reserve
companion would be available and I too could slip away from a busy workload.
This meant travelling to the Cairgorms after office hours. So no long walk-in
to begin with. The first night had to be within a reasonable yomp from a car
I often mused, probably explains why the El Alamein Refuge Hut is tucked away
on the NE flank of Cairn Gorm. The Soldiers of 51st Highland Division would cut
away on Friday afternoon, pitch up at the lower car park (in their day the only
car park) and then make the 500m ascent over 3˝ km to the boulder field beyond
the northern spur of Cnap Coire na Spreidhe. It was then a case of identifying,
in the late evening gloom and lowering mist, the pile of stones that constitute
the Refuge Hut.
we did on a direct bearing on 350m of pacing. The roof showed signs of
renovation and the tightly bolted door opened to a clean floor fit for two.
Clearly seldom used. Meal on, quick scoff, heads down. We hadn’t calculated on
the clouds condensing on the round granite boulders of the roof to deposit
laden drips on us; otherwise our sanctuary was sound.
is no finer prospect than opening the Refuge Hut door to see the tors on Beinn
Mheadhoin (pronounce Vane); the remote Munro in the heart of the plateau. After
a sedate breakfast we aimed for morning coffee at the Ptarmigan Restaurant
(rear door entry for walkers) and lunch on Cairn Gorm itself.There then followed the long descent to Loch
Avon (pronounced A’an), and the unique thrill of sleeping under the Shelter
English teachers from down south were already encamped with their tent erected
under the Shelter Stone. We waited among midges and walked briskly to and fro
over boulders to avoid them eating us as we tried to eat our evening meal. The
occupants returned from their adventures: swimming the length of Loch Avon!
They kindly collapsed their tent and gave floor space, which we prized no less
than the many climbers who huddle here in winter.
the English teachers were not morning people, we were on our way at 8 a.m. on
the steady ascent to Loch Etchachan before picking up the whale-back ridge to
the summit of Beinn Mheadoin with its line of tors named the Barns of
Mheadhoin. It’s the descent that often catches people out so we continually
checked our route through the various crags on the NE slope as we descended to
our final overnight in the Fords of Avon Refuge.
arrived by midday and consuming a large lunch, it felt a bit phoney to take
such a prolonged rest in what is marked on the map as a Mountain Refuge Hut. So
a quick map appreciation and we estimated 4 hours to return from Bynack More by
the less trodden southern approach, via more tors, the Barns of Bynack. In fact
it took 3˝ hours including time for photos and catching up with text messages
that flooded in from Aviemore, but we had left our packs to travel light.
Despite the hard wooden floor we slept
soundly. The Fords of Avon Refuge was built by Fleet Air Arm ratings under
training in June 1970 as an emergency refuge. It is on record as having
saved a number of lives, being the only shelter for many miles in an area where
people seem to excel at getting lost.
early start on our final day to scale Beinn a’ Chaorainn, and a long trek over
the peat hags and moorland of Moine Bhealaidh to Beinn Bhrec, our 5
Munro of the expedition. Now the weather was turning and driving rain arrived
as we made the long gradual descent to the shelter of the Caledonian Forest
before reaching Derry Lodge for a restful lunch with the sun’s return.
circumstances dictated a short walk-in, we extended the long peaceful trek out
from Derry Lodge to Linn of Dee, detouring to investigate the waterfall and
salmon ladder on the Lui Water but the banking and steps were under repair so
could not see much. Nevertheless the torrent passing through the gorge here and
the force on the River Dee were impressive even with water levels lower than
the surge of Spring. It was no hardship to wait for transport at this RV and
luxuriate on an expedition well executed.
course, I had carried my tent with me. DofE puts a priority on safety and
having a Plan B. But essentially it’s in planning and doing such expeditions and
setting personal challenges that young people gain a sense of purpose, self-conﬁdence, responsibility and
resilience. It’s also great fun and satisfying to appropriate a genuine sense
With continued funding through the Diamond
Fund initiative and with the valued contributions of adult leaders, the DofE
Award will continue to inspire young people from all backgrounds who are
work-ready, well-rounded and ambitious, with the skills that businesses and
society needs.Author: Gary Bainbridge