Hiking The Fjällräven UK Classic | Field Notes - Outdoors Magic

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Hiking The Fjällräven UK Classic | Field Notes

One of the largest trekking events on the planet, the Fjällräven Classic, took place in bonnie Scotland this year. Hiking across 67km of the glorious Cairngorms National Park, here's how our reader Jeroen De Brouwer got on...

Last year, we gave one of our readers the chance to win a place on the first ever Fjällräven Classic UK first ever. The winner? That turned out to be a friendly chap called Jeroen who came all the way over to Scotland from his home in Belgium in order to take part. It’s safe to say he was sucked in by the spirit of this event. Here’s his report from the four days on the trail.

It was a (rare) sunny day in Scotland, and I arrived solo at Perth train station. Eagerly awaiting the shuttle to Mar Lodge Estate, I joined a group of hikers who were also taking part in the first edition of the Fjällräven Classic UK.

Anticipation and excitement buzzed through the air, intensifying along the route as the Scottish landscapes unfolded before us.

After a heartfelt welcome from the Fjällräven volunteers, we arrived at our basecamp and pitched our tents in the shadow of the beautiful Mar Lodge Estate.

Knowing that the next four days would involve mostly freeze-dried foods (and a whole lot of walking), we enjoyed our last fresh meal before finishing the evening with a route briefing, and a good night’s rest.

Waking up bright and early the next morning, I (re)organised my backpack – leaving all unnecessary luggage at the lodge– before bagpipes announced the start of the first ever UK edition of the Fjällräven Classic.

In four days we’d hike 67km through the Cairngorms National Park, passing some of Scotland’s highest peaks on the way to Loch Morlich, through the fords of Avon, and back to Mar Lodge. Created to bring like-minded people together in the great outdoors, all two hundred hikers snaked their way to the first checkpoint through the Glen Lui valley.

A wide valley with masses of flowers, shrubs and patches of forest; Glen Lui gave us a sneak peek of what landscapes we could expect on our trip. As the days went on, however, vegetation would become steadily more limited.

Near Derry Lodge (about 7km into the hike), at the first blue checkpoint tent, we were treated to tea and coffee. From there, smaller groups began to form as everyone started to find their pace. The silence also started to settle in, making the vastness of the area feel all the more real. Coming from the small and crowded country of Belgium, silent places are rather hard to find and it was a welcome relief to be hiking in a small group of three.

The path started to rise steadily through landscapes with low vegetation. We eventually reached a mountain river called Luiberg Burn, which was knee deep and – one way or another – had to be crossed. A refreshing challenge when carrying a heavy backpack, that’s for sure.

The chill from the river water quickly left my body, thankfully, after climbing up the mighty Carn a’ Mhàim. A spectacular viewpoint over the heart of the Cairngorm mountains awaited us, with The Devil’s Point in plain sight.

The trail led us around the peak of the mountain and descended towards the River Dee where we found the second checkpoint at Corrour Bothy.

“Anticipation and excitement buzzed through the air, intensifying as the Scottish landscapes unfolded before us.”

Upstream we reached the wide valley of Lairig Ghru, where we set up camp for a windy night next to Ben Macdui, Braeriach and Cairn Toul: three of the highest peaks in the Cairngorms National Park. 

Day Two started with a cold drizzle. The path, scattered with the typical pink granite boulders of these mountains, took us uphill between the peaks of Ben Macdui and Braeriach, reaching the pools of Dee. There, surrounded by mist and silence (and without cell signal since the start of the journey), the remoteness of the area really hit me.

The path continued up and over the other side of the pass, as the weather steadily improved, bringing some colour back into the landscape.

We started a slow descent into an ever-widening valley towards the Caledonian forest of Glenmore. Picking up two more Fjällräven hikers along the way, we lunched at the edge of the pine forest. The forest path was easy to follow and a welcome change of scenery, with sounds other than wind returning following the silent passage through Lairig Ghru valley. 

A forest road took the five of us to the edge of Loch Morlich. We passed the town of Glenmore and continued through the forested valley towards Ryvoan. On the way, we passed the beautiful Green Lake (An Lochan Uaine) and then reached Ryvoan Pass checkpoint where the vegetation became scarce and the area more mountainous. After a fulfilling 25km, we pitched our tents on a hillside before Bynack stables, and called it a day.

Day Three began cloudy and chilly, a problem quickly resolved with a shot of whiskey provided by the checkpoint volunteers. Any remaining cold was then remedied by climbing to Bynack More plateau with an amazing view over the valley.

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We arrived on the plateau at around 700m of elevation, where the sun, wind and rain picked up in ever-changing combinations. Rainbow sprinkled blue skies, followed by a windy hailstorm and dense wafts of mist… as the Scottish say: “If you don’t like the weather, wait thirty minutes”.  Too bad this works both ways…

Some kilometres further, we descended  to the next checkpoint at the Fords of Avon where we enjoyed a wet and windy lunch. After hopping stone-to-stone to cross the River Avon, we started the final (small) climb to the Glen Derry valley. Here, the lichen and moss covered alpine environment slowly transitioned into a diverse pine forest. After selecting a slightly elevated, cosy and flat-ish camping spot, we settled in for the night.

Wet, cold, and satisfied after a long day battling Scottish weather over stretches where ‘path’ was synonym for ‘puddles’ and ‘creeks’; we called it a day and rolled up into our warm sleeping bags.

As Friday morning commenced, we threw on our wet boots one last time. We left the mountainous wilderness behind at Derry Lodge and started the final straight line through a young pine forest to Mar Lodge.

Upon our arrival at Mar Lodge, we were warmly welcomed by fellow participants, the Fjällräven team and some singing bagpipes. Weary but delighted, I collected the last stamp to complete my Fjällräven Classic passport, and sank a cold beer. While cheering on remaining hikers when they arrived, we shared our experiences with each other over some much-needed fresh food. 

Our writer, Jeroen, with new friends met on the trail.

The relaxing afternoon was closed off with a dish of Haggis in Fjällräven’s Trekkers Inn. A Ceilidh and a traditional Scottish feast was hosted in the very appropriate Stag Ballroom of Mar Lodge. As everyone took the opportunity to loosen up heavy limbs and sore feet, any pain and sleepiness was soon forgotten.

The following morning we left Mar Lodge on the shuttle bus, enriched by the fantastic experience we had shared together. The ride back to Perth was a content one, with most people – myself included –either reliving their joyful moments, or catching up on some well-deserved sleep. 

Needless to say, the Fjällräven UK Classic was an amazing adventure. Not only was the route and scenery spectacular (Scotland had long been one of the top destinations on my to-go list), but so too was the atmosphere among the hikers. From the get-go, there was a strong bond between the participants. Even for solo travellers like myself, the event provided plenty of opportunities to meet like-minded people, with whom you could share stories, experiences, great views and the joy and laughs of life on the trail.

For more info on the Fjällräven Classic, visit classic.fjallraven.com.

Words and pictures: Jeroen de Brouwer

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