What lies beneath Scotland’s highest loch – Loch Coire an Lochain
Lying 997m above sea level in the Cairngorms National Park lies Loch Corie an Lochain, the highest Loch in Scotland and also the UK. Hearing some rumours about some clear water I planned a mission to go and find out for myself. The only trouble with the remote location is that everything including dive gear, cameras, mountain safety gear, clothes, food, etc had to carried in and out. Not the usual setup for scuba diving where most people flop off a boat or have a short walk from the shore!
Walking through the Rothiemurchus estate and ancient pine forest was a pleasure and the first few hours were enjoyable as the formed path followed the river. After a couple of hours, it was time to get off the track and head straight up the mountain side – the ‘easy’ part had finished! The shortest route followed a stream bed that flows from the corie and started off as heather, rising up to a steep boulder slope. This ascent was energy sapping and with the incline and weight of my pack knowing at me, I was almost at a stage of throwing in the towel. Thankfully I pressed on the complete the mission!!!
4 hours after starting I reached the Coire bowl, which lies underneath the summit of Braeriach, Scotland’s (and UK’s) third highest mountain at 1296m. The landscape is amazing here as you can look down towards Aviemore through the Glen in one direction and in the other, jagged cliffs of the corie under the snowy peak. It certainly provided for a spectacular dive setting and one very unique in my diving career!
In addition to the landscape, what is amazing here is the clarity of the water. Originating from snow melt and with no sediment or peat the water, it is amazingly clear. The blue coloration is unheard of in Scotland and is usually restricted to the Pacific or more tropical climes. Granite boulders line the edge and some of these have a bright orange colour, which provide a brilliant contrast against the blue water. There is a trade off however and it’s in the temperature. The water was a cool 4degrees, which requires serious dive armour and in turn means weight and thankfully I was able to use rocks from the side of the loch to offset the positive buoyancy. The water did seem to be a little lifeless at first but on closer inspection revealed an algal community along with insects such as water boatmen, I would expect there would be a little more in full summer but I’m not so sure any fish would survive the harshness of this environment. Not having much time, I only had around 20min to look around, so I managed to capture some video and stills footage before exiting the water to face an icy wind in which to get changed.
Once packed up again, with the all laden water in the neoprene, the total weight must have increased a good 5-10kg. Initially the thought of being downhill from here on was an advantage (and gave me some much needed motivation). However the increased pressure from the weight pulling you off-balance was an added factor to deal with but I picked a better route for the descent and I was glad to reach the formed land rover track at the bottom. The return journey was a little quicker and I was accompanied by the setting sun and beauty of the national park, reaching the car on dark. 25km’s for 9hours total time….some folk say I’m mad but there are some amazing places to discover- you just have to make the effort to explore them!