Olive, Mabel and Me: Andrew Cotter on Scottish Mountain Climbing

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BROADCASTER AND AUTHOR ANDREW COTTER.

That’s where it is.

In the Cairngorms, Braeriach.

Why are you going?

To me, Braeriach represents all the Scottish mountains. But I was thinking that maybe I should try to be more precise. I chose Braeriach and the mountains around Lairig Ghru because the area is open and wild and, above all, peaceful, at least in winter. A complete break from all things man-made.

How often do you go there?

Not quite often enough. I live in Cheshire and would love to be further north, but practically it makes more sense to be more central, with easier access to London or an airport. As soon as the first real snow comes and travel is allowed, I’ll be back.

How did you discover it?

My father was (and still is) an avid mountain hiker. Although I grew up in the least bumpy part of Scotland, Troon, the mountains were always a favorite destination. And they became even more important once I moved to London, because they were a necessary antidote to big city life.

What’s your fondest memory?

One of the reasons I chose Braeriach was because I had one of my best days in the mountains a few years ago, climbing it with Sgor on Lochain Uaine and Cairn Toul in the snow with my dogs Olive and Mabel. It was 25 miles, 8,000 feet of climbing, and just me and the Fell Sherpas for 12 hours. Total bliss.

Andrew Cotter’s dogs Olive and Mabel on Braeriach in the Cairngorms. Image: Andrew Cotter

Who do you take with you?

Olive and Mabel. My partner Caroline loves long walks, but not necessarily ones where there’s an incline. And certainly not in the snow.

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I often go climbing with a guy named Iain Cameron, who is a published snow expert. We talk about things like wind slab avalanches while the dogs eat sheep droppings.

What do you take with you?

More gear than you think you can carry. But in all seriousness, it’s not a place where you’re going to get caught with a lack of clothing or gear. And I’m a fan of all the gear. The people at Tiso, the outdoor store in Perth, rub their hands together when they see me coming.

What do you leave behind?

Nothing. Litter is a national disgrace in Scotland and throughout the UK. Of all the countries I’ve visited, I’ve never seen one where the problem is on such a scale.

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I find it annoying and confusing that people who visit the beauty of the countryside are so selfish as to then spoil it. Leaving nothing but footprints. And paw prints.

Sum it up in five words.

Cold. Vast. Wild. Calm. Beautiful.

What destination is on your post-lockdown wish list?

To get back to Australia and visit Caroline’s brother Johnny and his family. And to get some vitamin D. But I will miss the dogs.

Olive, Mabel and Me: Life and Adventures With Two Very Good Dogs by Andrew Cotter is published by Black & White and costs £20.

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