Escaping from the paperwork and meetings is all part of the job for Duncan Bryden, convener of the Cairngorms National Park. Here he shares his passion for the mountains and recounts a lengthy traverse of the Cairngorms to explore their hidden depths
Ask any woman who has been there and you will be told pregnancy is a pretty tough gig. Why then, I wondered, only 150 years ago did women, near to term or confinement, as it was then called, trek to Clach Bhan, the women's stone, in a remote corner of the Cairngorms National Park?
Clach Bhan at Munro height on the eastern shoulder of Ben Avon is one of the many granite tors that dot the hills hereabouts and no easy walk even for today's hill-goers.
Apparently, labour pains were eased by sitting in one of the curious chair-shaped holes that pockmark the rock. Did it work? Reportedly, women came in groups until the 1860s.
I guess trudging up there shifted things about so perhaps there was some benefit. Midwifery is not a mountain skill I possess, so I was grateful to find the rock was unoccupied.
My job as convener of the Cairngorms National Park means plenty time spent in meetings, discussing policy and budgets, but taking time to know the park is also important.
Below me, the crystal clear waters of the River Avon cut north, in Scotland's best example of river capture, towards Tomintoul, my day's starting point. By rights, the Avon should be making the River Don a much bigger river, but a glacier decided otherwise. Flowing from the heart of the park the Avon takes a sharp left turn at Inchrory and now joins the Spey.
Culture and geology combine to make Ben Avon and its neighbour Beinn a'Bhuird one of the classic remote traverses in the Cairngorms across hills where you will see more wildlife than people.
Heading towards the summit tor, the lyrically named Bed of the Yellow Stag, I kept a keen eye open for Cairngorm stones. A little cottage industry once existed up here with 30 diggers searching the high gravel beds for specimens of smoky quartz to sell to Victorian gents and ladies to decorate their skean dhu or silver brooches on their Highland garb.
Ben Avon has several of these large granite warts on the summit plateau. In winter they can be boilerplated in ice and snow, turning the final 50 feet into an unexpected ordeal for the hillwalker.
Clach Choutsaich or Coutts' Stone is another large Ben Avon tor, visible from Braemar. Coutts also has a stone on the Sgorans above Glen Feshie and one on Brown Cow Hill too. I have often wondered who he was.
The Sneck between Ben Avon and Beinn a'Bhuird has to be one of the wildest places in the national park. Most folk climb these hills from the Quoich on Deeside using an elegant stalking path up through the pine wood, but it is still a long walk in.
The path to the north top of Beinn a'Bhuird edges around Garbh Coire, one of the many rough corries in these hills. Mitre Ridge dominates the corrie and I recalled a previous visit with a tent and a climbing partner to do the routes Mitre Ridge Direct and Squareface – one of my most memorable Cairngorm forays.
On this visit a fearless little snow bunting flitted along the corrie edge and multi-coloured sphagnum moss emerging from a late snow patch gave me that wonderful feel of wildness.
Like many Cairngorms hills, the western slopes of Beinn a'Bhuird give little hint of the hidden corries on the east. High on its western flank, the duelling scar of a track, inflicted by a previous owner, has been carefully stitched over by the National Trust for Scotland.
Access requires careful management. Well engineered stalking tracks, designed for ponies, make for great walking. Less attractive are the desire lines from the passage of many boots on our popular mountains and the Cairngorm Outdoor Access Trust is active across the national park doing repairs.
Contractors were on Braeriach this summer, living out on the hill in special cabins. Spare them a thought when you are out and about enjoying our mountain paths.
In good weather it is tempting to linger on the high plateau but I still had to return.
Previous circuits involved dropping to the upper Gairn, traversing the two Corbetts above Invercauld, down to Corndavon Lodge and over the wonderfully named Brown Cow Hill to finish at Cock Bridge.
This time the descent took me into Glen Avon, past the intriguingly named Knoll of Otters and another Knoll of Thieves and I haven't even touched on tales of Fingal, murder, caves, hidden howfs, crashed aircraft and tragic avalanches that haunt these hills.
Grouse rising from the heather also reminded me that this wild land is also a workplace for some.
But, believe me, it is still a long way down Glen Avon back to Tomintoul. The entire round is close to 30 miles.
A cycle is a great assist and chalking up another visit to this part of the national park with its remote hills and hidden heritage is always a pleasure.