The Rudyard Kipling poem, “Mandalay”, later popularised in the song “On the Road to Mandalay” in 1907, refers to a soldier’s romantic experiences in 19th-century Burma, now Myanmar. Such things were far from our minds as we set out in freezing fog along Scotland’s own Burma Road, which runs for 13 miles from Lynwilg, near Aviemore, over the Monadh Liath into the Dulnain valley and on to the village of Carrbridge - arguably most famous for its historic pack-horse bridge built in 1717 and also home to the World Porridge-Making Championships,
In the company as usual of XYL Ann and YK9L Sula, we weren’t going that far, though, as our haul up to the watershed would take us within easy reach of our objective, the 824m-high Corbett of Geal-charn Mor. This Burma Road was built apparently by prisoners of war in the 1940s and it must have been a major undertaking. It is solid and deceptively steep but easy going underfoot.
We emerged from the fog into cold but bright conditions with only light breezes and were treated to a splendid temperature inversion along the valley of the River Spey below, with the Cairngorms lying to the east of us.
It was slow going for me as I struggle to get my hill fitness back but after about 90 minutes we were at the watershed. Close to a small memorial cairn that remembers Alasdair Polson, the one-time head keeper of Kinrara Estate - “a greater friend hath no man” it says - we left the road for the path to the summit, ironically somewhat less steep than the road we had just ascended.
There were great views westwards towards Ben Wyvis and the hills of Sutherland as we climbed, A quick hop over a stile across a deer fence, and an inevitable false summit, and the broad plateau revealed the trig point and small stone shelter.
It was now about -4C so there was no time to waste in setting up the 6m carbon pole jammed into the rocks (no chance of guying anything today) with a 66ft EFHW in an inverted-L configuration with 49:1 UnUn at the foot of the pole and a couple of metres of RG174 connecting it to the KX2.
I am extremely fortunate to have some great SOTA pals in north-east Scotland and so a call on 40m brought immediate responses from Fraser @MM0EFI and Hibby @MM0RFN who were listening out for me. They were followed by welcome calls from Allen @2E0AGB and Ken @G0FEX. Next up, Pedro @EA2CKX completed the short activation as the cold was now biting and there were concerns about various extremities of mine dropping off!
There was just time for a quick CQ on 2m as Simon @GM4JXP was monitoring on the other side of the mountains to the east but my 5w from my FT4xe coupled to a Slim G was unable to make it over the Cairngorms between us. As is not unusual in these parts, there was no other response on 2m after 5 minutes of calling. Time to pack up and head back down into the fog the way we had come up.
There was some brief discomfort as circulation returned to some semi-frozen parts of my anatomy, but arguably a bigger pain was to come for me. Ann decided that it was an ideal opportunity to enjoy a couple of hours pre-Christmas shopping for us in the various outdoor shops in nearby Aviemore! Not my favourite pastime but no matter, some interesting packages from Santa Claus might make wintry activations even more doable soon.
While she shopped, I struggled with the “ear worm” tune of “On the Road to Mandalay” looping irritatingly in my brain.
“On the road to Mandalay, where the flying fishes play…” it says. Any fine fishes in the adjacent River Spey were certainly not flying today as we set off again in the freezing thick fog for the two-hour drive on the road home. Burma, aka Myanmar, it wasn’t but GM-land in its characteristic wintry beauty, it certainly was.