Munro bagging in the Southern & Eastern Cairngorms

Although I have climbed most of the Munros in the Cairngorms that are accessible from Aviemore or Glen Feshie, I still had to do quite a few in the South and the East. It is a long drive from Inverness to Braemar – too long for just one day’s walking.

So I planned a backpacking route from Blair Atholl via Braemar to Aviemore, which would benefit from good public transport links to both start and end point. Another stopover on my route would be Glen Clova, a place I had seen for the first time during the TGO Challenge in May, and which I had been wanting to visit again ever since.

Friday 02 September 2011:
Blair Atholl – Beinn a’ Ghlo – Glen Tilt (22.1 km, 1576 m Ascent)

Saturday 03 September 2011:
Glen Tilt – Carn a’ Chlamain – Tarf Water (16.6 km, 822 m Ascent)

Sunday 04 September 2011:
Tarf Water – Carn an Righ – Glas Tulaichean – Loch nan Eun (18.1 km, 1183 m Ascent)

Monday 05 September 2011:
Loch nan Eun – Cairnwell Munros – Glas Maol – Dun Hillocks (26.9 km, 1377 m Ascent)

Tuesday 06 September 2011:
Dun Hillocks – Mayar – Glen Clova (9.87 km, 251 m Ascent)

Wednesday 07 September 2011:
Glen Clova – Kirriemuir – Glen Clova (Rest Day)

Thursday 08 September 2011:
Glen Clova – White Mounth Munros – Loch Callater (26.9 km, 1468 m Ascent)

Friday 09 September 2011:
Loch Callater – Braemar (9.9 km, 122 m Ascent)

Saturday 10 September 2011:
Linn of Dee – Bynack Stables (28.8 km, 939 m Ascent)

Sunday 11 September 2011:
Bynack Stables – Glenmore (5.78 km, 59 m Ascent)

Total: 164.95 km, 7797 m Ascent

Day 1, Friday 02 September 2011

Blair Atholl – Beinn a’ Ghlo – Glen Tilt

22.1 km/1576 m/09:30 hrs

Munros: Carn Liath,  Bràigh Coire Chruinn-bhalgain, Carn nan Gabhar (Nos. 182 – 184)

After a two hour journey on the Citylink bus I arrived in Blair Atholl shortly after 10:00. The weather was warm and sunny with hardly any wind, and it was a pleasant walk up the road past Old Bridge of Tilt and towards Loch Moraig, where I got the first view of Beinn a’ Ghlo.

Loch Moraig.

About two km past the loch, I left the wide track and followed a clear path up the SW ridge of Carn Liath, the first of Beinn a’ Ghlo’s three Munros.

On my way up, the clouds became darker and started to look a bit threatening.

When I approached the first summit, the wind picked up and it suddenly became very cold.

I was considering to put on gloves and a second layer, but in the end I couldn’t be bothered to stop, and just walked on to the summit.

Past the summit, I stayed slightly to the right hand side of the ridge to avoid the wind, and it felt a lot warmer again.

When I descended to the narrow bealach between Beinn Mhaol and the second Munro, it started to drizzle, but the views were still good.

At 15:30 I arrived on the summit of Bràigh Coire Chruinn-bhalgain.

From the summit, a path leads to an intermediate top and then down to the Bealach an Fhiodha.

Before I descended to the bealach, I got a good view of tomorrow’s target, Carn a’ Chlamain on the other side of Glen Tilt.

Passing the bealach, I tried to decide which route to use for the descent. My original plan was to walk from Carn nan Gabhar along the north ridge over Meall a’ Mhuirich, cross the Allt Fheannach and to aim for the footbridge across the River Tilt.

From higher up, the ridge on the left hand side of Glas Leathad looked easier (grassy and easy angled) – but in the end I was too lazy to re-ascend to the intermediate top and decided to stick to my plan. Not a good idea, as it turned out!

Carn nan Gabhar with its three cairns – the summit is not the trig point in the middle, but the cairn at the far end of the ridge.

When I approached the first cairn, it suddenly became extremely windy and cold again and it started to rain. The wet and slippery boulderfields around the two cairns and the trig point slowed me down.

Looking back to the true summit of Carn nan Gabhar.

I tried to walk further along the ridge, but the ground was more of the same – wet rocks with moss in between. In the meantime, the clouds had come down and I couldn’t see very far ahead. Walking the ridge on this kind of terrain would take me ages, and I decided to “escape” to lower ground along the western edge of Coire a’ Chaisteil.

This was not a good idea at all, because the way down was plastered with even more wet boulderfields, only that these ones were even steeper than the ones on the ridge. It was very slow going in strong wind and rain, and in some places I spent more time on my bum, carefully lowering myself to the next boulder, than standing upright.

Eventually, the boulders changed to heather, but the slope was still very steep.

I tried to descend to the Allt Fheannach, which is flowing in a steep-sided gorge.

In some places I could follow some muddy, narrow deer tracks – very carefully, because in case of a slip nothing would have stopped me from falling straight into the gorge.

After what seemed like an eternity, I made it down to Glen Tilt – in one piece…!

Thankfully, there is a bridge across the Allt Fheannach which is not marked on the Landranger map. I crossed this one and the one across the River Tilt and walked along the track towards Forest Lodge.

It was 19:45 now and because of the dull weather it was getting dark quickly while I was looking for a camp site. It had been raining heavily during my descent from the hill, but now it had stopped and I tried to get a bit closer to Forest Lodge before it got completely dark.

There were lots of good camp spots right beside the river, but due to it being in spate, it was very noisy and I finally found a pitch at the edge of the forest. Unfortunately, the midges liked that place as well…

I felt quite exhausted after this first day, but I knew I had only myself to blame because of my stupid route choice – the descent had been an absolute nightmare, maybe I should start taking Explorer maps on my trips, at least then I would know what kind of terrain to expect! I only had a coffee and a soup, and went to sleep at 22:30.

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Day 2, Saturday 03 September 2011

Glen Tilt – Carn a’ Chlamain – Tarf Water

16.6 km/822 m/08:30 hrs

Munro: Carn a’ Chlamain (No. 185)

At 04:20 I woke with a start because of some very loud screeches that seemed to come from right above my tent – “only” an owl, I suppose, but scary nonetheless! I managed to get back to sleep, but a few hours later I heard several vehicles driving up Glen Tilt, I also saw a gamekeeper leading two horses up the glen.

Apparently stalking was going to take place in this area today, and so I went to Forest Lodge to find out if my planned route for the day was possible. (I did have the Scottish Hillphones leaflet with me, but got no mobile signal to phone the estate.) At the Lodge, members of several stalking parties were gathering between the cars and Landrovers parked outside. I was directed to a gamekeeper and showed him my planned route on the map.

I wanted to climb Carn a’ Chlamain first, then descend to the Tarf Hotel, leave my rucksack in the bothy, climb Carn an Fhidhleir and An Sgarsoch with a small daypack, then spend the night in the bothy. The gamekeeper told me that stalking would only take place in the morning, and only in the area around the Tarf Water – up one side of the river, down the other. That meant I would be ok, because it would probably be midday anyway by the time I got to the summit of the first Munro.

On my way back to the start of the path it was raining heavily, but the rain stopped as I climbed up the hillside. The path zigzags up and gives good views along Glen Tilt.

I was caught up by two day walkers, one had cycled in from Blair Atholl, the other one had walked from Old Bridge of Tilt.

When the path reaches flatter ground, it leads over some very boggy terrain.

Shortly after, I walked into the clouds and the visibility dropped to a few metres, once again no views from the summit…

It was windy and cold, but it didn’t rain (for a change). From the summit I made a bee-line on a compass bearing to the start of the Fèith Uaine Bheag, the stream I was going to follow all the way down to the bothy. On my way I saw lots of mountain hares, but only one of them agreed to have his/her photo taken.

All of a sudden, the clouds lifted and I could see the distant Cairngorm hills in the sun, with dark clouds above.

Dramatic views.

When I reached the stream, I walked along its western bank. Progress was slow, I kept alternating between pathless walking through knee-deep heather and trying to stay close to the water, but then I had to make detours uphill when the banks became to steep.

After fording the Fèith Uaine Mhòr, I finally arrived at the bothy at 15:00. Much later than I had planned, and far too late to do the Tarf Munros. But also too early to stop for the night, so I decided to have a lunch break in the bothy, then walk a bit further on tomorrow’s route, and camp somewhere on the way.

The Tarf Hotel.

I had a look around the four different rooms.

On the window sill I found a sheet with interesting facts about the bothy.

Fireplace in one of the rooms.

I extended my break, waiting for a rain shower to pass, then left the bothy and tried to find a place to ford the Tarf Water.

I walked up and down the river a couple of hundred metres, hoping to find a place to ford it on stepping stones, but in the end I had to accept that there was no way of avoiding wet feet. So I changed into Crocs and waded across just before the confluence of the Tarf with the Fèith Uaine Mhòr.

I followed the Tarf Water downstream, crossing several small contributaries on the way. Eventually I picked up a faint path which made the going a little bit easier.

When it was time to look for a camp site, I first chose a spot on a little hillock, quite exposed to be safe from the midges. But while I was pitching my tent, the wind picked up and suddenly my camp site seemed a little bit too exposed. I couldn’t be bothered to pack everything up again, so I dragged the half-pitched tent through the heather to another spot, a bit more sheltered in a little dip.

Although it was still windy, I managed to get a few midge bites while I was putting up the tent. Other than the night before, I had a sumptuous dinner of coffee, Chicken Korma, hot chocolate, tea and chocolate biscuits…

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Day 3, Sunday 04 September 2011

Tarf Water – Carn an Righ – Glas Tulaichean – Loch nan Eun

18.1 km/1183 m/09:00 hrs

Munros: Carn an Righ, Glas Tulaichean (Nos. 186 + 187)

The night had been very cold with clear skies. In the morning the sun was shining on my tent, and with no wind at all, it was midge hell! The tent porch was full of midges, so I packed my various drybags and plastic bags, threw them out of the tent, put the midge net over my head and dashed outside. Within seconds, the rucksack and myself were covered in midges. After packing up the tent – surrounded by clouds of midges – I started walking with the head net on.

It was very warm, I was sweating, and with my vision restricted because of the midge net, I soon lost the path. After a few minutes, I took the head net off and started walking down the hillside towards the Allt Garbh Buidhe.

When I reached the path in the glen, I made a short detour to the Bedford Bridge and the Falls of Tarf.

Falls of Tarf.

Down in the shady glen, the midges were quite bad again and I had to spray Smidge on my face and arms (I didn’t want to put the midge net back on, I find it just too irritating while I am walking).

After fording the Allt Garbh Buidhe, I climbed uphill and walked on the path high above the gorge of the Allt Fèith Làir.

Looking back towards my camp site from the previous night.

Gleann Mòr.

I walked through between the buildings at Fealar Lodge, which seems almost like a tiny village in the middle of nowhere, with an *interesting* colour scheme… But apart from some dogs barking in their kennels, there was no sign of life.

I tried to locate the path leading SE from the Lodge, and found it eventually after following the stream for a while. It was hot and sunny, and I enjoyed the walking because it felt like a real summer’s day.

After crossing the Allt a’ Ghlinne Bhig, I followed the Crom Allt on a faint path (which becomes clearer further up) towards the bealach between Carn an Righ and Màm nan Carn.

Looking back into the wide glen of the Crom Allt.

On the bealach, I packed a small rucksack and climbed Carn an Righ. From the eroded path I got some good views towards Màm nan Carn on the other side of the bealach.

Glas Tulaichean in the southeast.

On the summit it was very cold and windy, but the views in all directions were fantastic.

The Northern Cairngorms in the distance, with the Lairig Ghru in the centre.

Back to the bealach, where I picked up my rucksack again and followed the path to another (very boggy) bealach below Glas Tulaichean’s north ridge. There I dropped my rucksack off again and ascended the north ridge on a clear path.

Carn an Righ, seen from the ascent path.

Onwards and upwards…

Looking back down Glas Tulaichean’s grassy ridge, Loch nan Eun in the background.

Great views from the top again, looking north with Ben Macdui in the sunshine.

On Glas Tulaichean’s summit I met my last two fellow hillwalkers for the day, a young couple on a backpacking trip who had been camping in Glen Tilt last night and who were heading to the Spittal of Glenshee Hotel today.

This had actually been the busiest day of my trip so far, I had met around a dozen people during the day, no surprise really on a Sunday with such gorgeous weather!

I descended the same way, collected my rucksack and walked to Loch nan Eun, where I was going to spend the night. I had planned to include Beinn Iutharn Mhòr as well, but once again my walk had taken me longer than I had estimated and I decided to give the third Munro a miss.

By the lochside, I found a flat, exposed, windy camp site on a little rise just above Gleann Taitneach – a wind funnel, hopefully!

Putting up the tent, I noticed lots of little spiders on the ground, and my first impulse was to try and find another pitch, but in the end I thought it wouldn’t be so bad as long as I kept the inner of my tent shut and put my boots in a plastic bag over night – at least it would be better than being eaten alive by midges…

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Day 4, Monday 05 September 2011

Loch nan Eun – Cairnwell Munros – Glas Maol – Dun Hillocks

26.9 km/1377 m/11:00 hrs

Munros: Carn a’ Gheòidh, The Cairnwell, Carn Aosda, Glas Maol (Nos. 188 – 191)

In the morning, I found spiders everywhere, crawling on the outside of the inner tent, on my gaiters, all over my rucksack and in its side pockets – yuk!! After packing up and shaking them all off, I started walking, again with the head net on at first. There was no wind, but thankfully the midges were not quite as bad as the day before.

Looking back to Loch nan Eun and my camp site on the left hand side of the loch.

I climbed Carn a’ Chlasaich, the little hill east of the loch, then followed the ridge in an easterly direction, bypassing the unnamed top at 855 m. Then I descended into the boggy glen of the Fèith Sile.

The climb up the other side seemed like a long slog, but when I arrived on the ridge by the lochan between Carn Bhinnein and Carn a’ Gheòidh, it was well worth the effort because the sun had finally come out and the views back to Glas Tulaichean were stunning.

The final pull up to the summit of Carn a’ Gheòidh is less steep, and soon I reached the wide plateau and a large cairn, but the true summit lies another couple of hundred metres further south.

View to the west.

Looking towards Glen Clunie, Loch Vrotachan on the right.

Carn nan Sac and my next target, The Cairnwell, behind it.

Carn Aosda with its “motorway” all the way to the summit…

Looking along the ridge to The Cairnwell, dark clouds were approaching at this point and shortly after, it started to rain.

I left my rucksack behind a boulder and quickly made my way to The Cairnwell.

I found the atmosphere at the summit with its various buildings, phone masts etc. quite depressing, and the rain didn’t help…

The best thing was the view down towards Spittal of Glenshee.

I collected my rucksack at the bealach and headed up to Carn Aosda. I know some people say there is no such thing as a boring hill – but I disagree, these two are very high on my list of boring hills…

From Carn Aosda, I descended in a direct line to the Café at the Ski Centre.

There I “pigged out” on a Cheeseburger, a large Diet Coke, a Chocolate Cake and a hot chocolate – and two bottles of fruit juice for later. After that I could hardly move, but walked (slowly!) a few hundred metres down the road to the start of the path to Glas Maol. On the way, I passed the sculptures of Alfred Wainwright and his wife.

The ascent to Meall Odhar is very steep at the start (or at least it felt like this, probably because of all the food I had eaten), but the view to Spittal of Glenshee was very nice.

Creag Leacach.

I had been hoping to find an up-to-date weather forecast at the Ski Centre, but the one in the window was from March… Near Meall Odhar I met a couple of day walkers who were on their way down after climbing Glas Maol and Cairn of Claise, and I asked them if they knew the weather forecast for the next day. They told me tomorrow’s weather would be “not too bad, like today”.

At the moment it was a mixture of rain and sun, depending on which hill you were on. There were dark clouds above me, but the sun was shining in the direction of Braemar.

On the ascent to Glas Maol, I was hit by horizontal rain and strong winds.

Creag Leacach under dark clouds.

It was 17:15 when I arrived at the summit of Glas Maol.

I had planned to climb Creag Leacach as well, but I reckoned it would take me about two hours there and back, and it would be quite late by then, considering that I still had to find a suitable camp site. I decided to leave Creag Leacach for another time, descended to the NE and picked up the path leading to Cairn of Claise. In the meantime the rain had stopped and it was a pleasant walk in the warm evening sun.

Little Glas Maol.

The hillside was populated with sheep and mountain hares.

I passed the small lochan near Cairn of Claise, which I had in mind as a possible camp site. But it felt too early to stop for the night, and the weather was really nice, who knew how it would be tomorrow?

Approaching Cairn of Claise.

Between me and my destination lay Caenlochan Glen and Canness Glen, the two glens at the head of Glen Isla. I tried to get to the other side without losing too much height, and avoiding the huge boggy area in the middle.

Contouring around Tom Buidhe, I started looking for a potential camp site and a water source.

Plenty of bog, but no drinking water… I walked over Little Kilrannoch, according to the map there was a stream on the far side of it. There was, but absolutely nowhere to camp, because the ground was waterlogged and felt like a sponge to walk on. I started walking up Dun Hillocks, but then stopped and went back to the stream for water. After filling my platypus bottles, I continued up the hill.

I was already near the top of Dun Hillocks, and getting a bit desperate now. It was almost dark when I finally found a flat, dry-ish spot for my tent at 20:30. After pitching the tent in the light of my head torch, I only had my usual coffee and soup, I was too exhausted to eat properly, and didn’t feel hungry anyway after my big lunch at the Café. The last thing I remember is falling asleep at around 22:00.

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Day 5, Tuesday 06 September 2011

Dun Hillocks – Mayar – Glen Clova

9.87 km/251 m/04:30 hrs

Munro: Mayar (No. 192)

This was by far the scariest night I ever spent in a tent… I woke up just after midnight, outside a storm was raging and it was raining heavily. I was hoping it would soon be over, but it only became worse. The flysheet was flapping, and in combination with the noise of the storm, it was impossible to sleep. It went on for hours, and I became really scared – actually I was shaking with fear and my teeth were chattering.

I don’t normally panic easily, but I kept worrying about how to get off the hill in zero visibility and gales. I wouldn’t even be able to take a compass bearing if I was shaking like this! Besides, I didn’t know my exact position, all I knew was that I was somewhere on the northern slopes of Dun Hillocks. And if I had known that this storm was coming, I certainly wouldn’t have camped at almost 900 metres. At some point I must have fallen asleep, but I lay awake again from about 04:30, desperately waiting for daylight, to get away from this horrible place. When I had a quick look out of the tent door, I only saw thick fog.

I didn’t feel like having breakfast, but forced down a flapjack and some cheese. When I packed up the tent, again I found spiders everywhere. Miraculously, the clouds lifted for a few moments just before I left my camp site.

Clouds lifting.

But a few minutes later, I was in the clag again and kept on walking in a general uphill direction. Earlier in the tent, I had already taken a compass bearing from the summit of Dun Hillocks to the start of the Fee Burn, now I just had to find the summit! When I came across a pile of stones that resembled a tiny cairn, I assumed this was it and started walking on my bearing.

The terrain looked like this:

Instead of climbing Mayar and Driesh (which had been my original plan), I just wanted to get off the hill as quickly as possible. When I had studied the map in the tent earlier on, I had thought that the easiest way would be to locate the Fee Burn, follow it until the terrain drops away steeply and then contour around the head of Corrie Fee until I found the Kilbo Path, which I would then follow into Glen Doll.

My navigation strategy seemed to work, and I soon found the start of the Fee Burn.

But when I passed to the north of Mayar, I looked to the right and saw the summit almost clear of clouds – and I decided to give it a go.

By now, the clouds had lifted and I could see the crags at the head of Corrie Fee.

The wind had picked up again and I was almost blown over on my way to the summit. When I arrived there, it was in clouds again and I sheltered behind the cairn to wait for the clouds to lift.

And I was lucky – I got some views down into Glen Prosen.

Looking back up Mayar.

After crossing the bealach to the east of Mayar, I reached the Kilbo Path, which connects Glen Prosen with Glen Doll/Glen Clova.

When I came to the junction where the path to Driesh goes off to the right, I was briefly thinking of going up, but then decided against it.

I had booked a bed at the Clova Bunkhouse for the following day, indicating I might arrive a day early and stay for two nights. Now I began to worry the bunkhouse might be fully booked, and as I really needed a shower and a bed for the night, I wanted to get there as quickly as possible.

At first I went wrong and followed the clear path along the Shank of Drumfollow ridge, but after a look at the map I realised my mistake and turned back.

The narrow Kilbo Path leads down the hillside into Corrie Kilbo.

The path enters the forest and leads to the Glen Doll Visitor Centre. There I spent some time looking at the exhibitions and chatting to the helpful Rangers, who printed out the weather forecast for the next few days for me. Just when I started walking down the road, it began to rain and I stopped the first car that came along.

In the car were two very nice ladies who were staying at the Clova Hotel as well, and so I got a lift right to the door of the hotel. I didn’t need to worry, there was plenty of space at the bunkhouse, and at the reception I got my bed linen and the key to my room. It was a twin room which I had to myself for the two nights.

I made my bed, had a shower and washed my hair, then washed some clothes in the kitchen sink. After that I went over to the pub, had a bowl of Game Broth and my first pint of cider – bliss! Soon the second pint followed, and at 18:00 it was time for dinner. I had ordered the Clova Combo as a starter and was slightly taken aback by the fact that the portion was the size of a main course… The waiter informed me later that it was meant for two people sharing (would have been nice to mention that in the menu!). I had been delighted to find the Spinach & Garlic Mushroom Lasagne still on the menu, and so I had that as main course, together with another cider.

After a coffee back at the bunkhouse, I went to bed at 22:00 and slept through until 06:30.

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Day 6, Wednesday 07 September 2011

Glen Clova – Kirriemuir – Glen Clova (Rest Day)

0 km/0 m/00:00 hrs

I went over to the hotel for breakfast at 08:15. The breakfast was as nice and substantial as I remembered it from my first stay in May and really good value at 8 £. After that, I started walking down the road, hoping to get a lift to Kirriemuir.

The sun was shining, there was no wind and it was warm like on a summer’s day.

Glen Clova.

Looking south down the glen.

I am glad that I discovered this “hidden gem” in May, the scenery is just beautiful and there are many high and low level walks available in the area, making Glen Clova an interesting destination for winter as well (as long as the single track road is passable!). The hotel itself feels like an oasis in the middle of nowhere, offering affordable accommodation in the bunkhouse and a cosy pub and great meals in the hotel.

As much as I enjoyed my walk, I didn’t really fancy walking all the way to Kirriemuir (23 km)… Unfortunately, this road is not very busy, and none of the four cars that came along, stopped for me (although I recognised some fellow guests from the Clova Hotel, who had seen me earlier in the breakfast room – funny that it seems to be easier to get a lift when I’m in my muddy, wet and smelly walking gear and carrying a big rucksack than when I’m looking civilised and wearing clean clothes!).

After walking for more than an hour, finally a farmer who was on his way to Dundee, took pity on me and gave me a lift. He dropped me off in the town centre, only a short walk away from the Kirriemuir Tourist Information. First I asked about a bus connection back to Clova later in the day, I got a timetable and was told there was a Service K22 bus at 15:35.

Then I visited the Gateway to the Glens Museum, bought a book in a small book shop, and some food and drinks at the Coop. After a lunch break, sitting on a bench in the town square enjoying the sunshine, I walked up the hill to the Camera Obscura. This is being advertised as one of only three in Scotland, but to be honest, I wasn’t too impressed. The young assistant who guided the tour for the visitors – there were only three of us – seemed to get very excited pointing out every car or dog that was visible on the screen, but couldn’t really explain much about the hills we could see (and which at least I would have been more interested in).

Next I walked over to Kirriemuir Cemetery just opposite, to visit J. M. Barries grave.

Information board.

Back in town, I spent the time until my bus was due, at Visocchi’s Ice Cream Parlour – with a huge Pineapple Sundae and a Caramel Latte. When it was time for the bus, I wasn’t sure which one of the two bus stops at the square was the right one (none of them had “K22” listed on the info board), so I tried to hang around somewhere between the two.

All of a sudden, a bus with “Glen Clova – 801” on it appeared, drove past me and disappeared around the corner! This happened so quickly that I didn’t have time to react, even more so because I was looking out for a K22 bus, not 801. I rushed into the Tourist Info and asked if that had been my bus, the young girl behind the counter didn’t know, but phoned the bus service and they offered to find out and call back…

Meanwhile, the girl asked the young man who had been talking to her when I came in (her boyfriend, presumably), to give me a lift to the High School, which is the next bus stop. We arrived within a few minutes, and the bus was still there – phew!! After I got confirmation that this was actually the right bus, I went back to my friendly driver, thanked him again and said goodbye. I was surprised and delighted by everyone’s readyness to go out of their way to help me, and who knows when I would have got back to Clova if I had missed that bus.

Another surprise waited for me on the bus: The journey to Clova was only 1.05 £! On the way, the bus almost had a head-on crash when it passed a blind summit and a car coming from the other direction could only just stop in time. The side mirror of the bus got bent when the driver steered left into some bushes to avoid a collision, but otherwise nothing happened, thankfully. Later I found out that there is an unofficial one way system in place, traffic to Clova goes up the west bank of the River South Esk, traffic from Clova down the east bank. The other driver obviously didn’t know about that…

After all that excitement I went straight to the pub to have a cider and read my new book.

I wasn’t really hungry (shouldn’t have had the ice cream so late in the afternoon, I suppose), but after 19:30 I felt ready for dinner.

This time I had the Smoked Salmon Platter, followed by Beef Lasagne. After reading about half of my book, I went to sleep at 23:00.

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Day 7, Thursday 08 September 2011

Glen Clova – White Mounth Munros – Loch Callater

26.9 km/1468 m/09:30 hrs

Munros: Broad Cairn, Cairn Bannoch, Carn a’ Choire Bhoidheach, Carn an t-Sagairt Mòr (Nos. 193 – 196)

During breakfast, Anne and Yvonne, the sisters from Windsor/Sevenoaks who had given me a lift to the hotel two days ago, offered to take me to the Visitor Centre at the head of Glen Clova. That was great, because it saved me almost 6 km of road walking, and I gladly accepted their offer. I really appreciated their kindness, considering they were leaving today and had a very long drive ahead of them, yet still they made a trip in the opposite direction just for me.

The Visitor Centre was still closed, but I had seen a printout of today’s weather forecast at the hotel, and it had looked very promising. I was looking forward to walking along Jock’s Road from this side, because so far I had only walked from Lochcallater Lodge to the south end of the loch, and then climbed up to the plateau to do the four Munros around Loch Callater a few years ago.

After I had left the forest and climbed over a large stile, the views into Glen Doll opened up.

The scenery was impressive, with large cliffs on both sides, the next photo shows Craig Maud.

The weather was very nice, but quite windy, even in the sheltered glen. I expected the wind to be a lot stronger higher up.

Looking back into Glen Doll.

The cliffs of Craig Maud.

I had a short break outside Davy’s Bourach, a small basic shelter that I would only use as an overnight stop in an emergency.

Inside the shelter.

After reaching the plateau, I could see Tom Buidhe and Tolmount on the left.

Looking across the bealach to Crow Craigies.

My first target of the day, Broad Cairn, on the right hand side.

Soon I reached the summit of Crow Craigies.

From there, I tried to figure out a route across the boggy bealach to get to Broad Cairn, with dry feet, if possible. I wasn’t very successful, though…

Looking down along the Burn of Gowal.

Approaching Broad Cairn.

On the summit of Broad Cairn it was so windy that I was struggling to stay upright. While I was there, two walkers approached from the other side, but a conversation was almost impossible because of the wind.

The crags of Creag an Dubh-loch on the left.

View down to Loch Muick.

Looking back to Broad Cairn.

From Broad Cairn on, there were paths all the way which made the going very easy.

Heading towards Cairn Bannoch.

On the summit of Cairn Bannoch I met another walker who I chatted with for about half an hour, and later I noticed that I completely forgot to take a summit photo – but I was there, honestly 😉

I left my rucksack near the path that contours around Carn an t-Sagairt Mòr and continued to Carn a’ Choire Bhoidheach. On the way I came across a large herd of deer.

The summit of Carn a’ Choire Bhoidheach.

Lochnagar in the distance – if I had had more time, I would have included its summit in my round, but I had climbed it before and I wanted to get down to Loch Callater before it got dark.

View into the Dee Valley.

I walked back to where I had left my rucksack, and climbed from there in a straight line to the summit of Carn an t-Sagairt Mòr. On the summit plateau I saw two cairns, the first one is the true summit.

The second cairn.

Near the second cairn I found the plane wreckage the walker on Cairn Bannoch had told me about.

Plane wreckage.

Looking back to Cairn Bannoch and Broad Cairn.

Dubh Loch.

I collected my rucksack and followed the path around Carn an t-Sagairt Mòr and down to Loch Callater.

Down at the south end of Loch Callater, I noticed two tiny orange dots moving slowly across the water.

Lochcallater Lodge.

I had a quick look around the bothy, but didn’t feel like staying inside. Outside the lodge two tents were pitched already, so I walked around to the little beach near the bridge and put my tent up.

Camp site by the loch.

After I had pitched my tent, the owners of the “orange dots” (and the two tents) arrived on the beach, they were Martin and Paul who had dragged their kayaks up to the loch to fish for pike. They were on a charity trip in aid of Help for Heroes, called the “Three Tarns Challenge”. Their aim was to visit the three highest lakes/lochs in Scotland, England and Wales with their kayaks.

A few weeks later, I googled the Three Tarns Challenge and found a report about their trip in which Martin referred to me as “young French lady” – very flattering, but unfortunately I am neither young nor French 😉

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Day 8, Friday 09 September 2011

Loch Callater – Braemar

9.9 km/122 m/02:30 hrs

It was raining when I woke up, and I decided to stay in bed a bit longer and read my book. When I eventually left at about 10:30, the rain had turned to drizzle and there were a few midges around, but it wasn’t too bad.

The walk to Braemar was quite miserable, in low cloud and very wet.

First I went to the Tourist Information to find out if there was any public transport to the Linn of Dee, my start point for the next morning. Unfortunately there was no bus, and a taxi would cost 25 – 30 £.

After a quick look around the shops, I visited Gordon’s Tearoom for lunch. The friendly waitress noticed how wet and cold I was (I was actually shivering), and directed me to another table right beside the radiator – very much appreciated! I had a prawn sandwich and garlic bread, together with a large coffee, and in the end I was struggling because the size of the portion would have been sufficient to feed a whole family!

When I had finished, I had to find another dry and warm place, because the Youth Hostel which I had booked for the night, wouldn’t open until 17:00. So I spent the rest of the afternoon at the Fife Arms, reading and drinking cider – after I had freshened up and changed into dry clothes in the washroom.

Shortly after 17:00, I checked into the hostel, where I shared a dorm with a group of very nice ladies from the Ayr & District Ramblers Club. Later I went back to the Fife Arms to meet some friends who I knew from an online forum and who were on holiday in the area. After a pleasant evening in the pub we went to the Hungry Highlander chip shop, where they had a late dinner, but I still wasn’t hungry after my big lunch.

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Day 9, Saturday 10 September 2011

Linn of Dee – Bynack Stables

28.8 km/939 m/10:00 hrs

The weather was still miserable, and most members of the walking club opted for low level routes around Braemar. Betty, Janet and Jean decided to walk along Glen Lui from the Linn of Dee, and kindly offered me a lift 🙂 At the car park, I spent a long time faffing about with my gaiters and partly re-packing my rucksack, but I soon caught up with the three ladies and we walked towards Derry Lodge together.

We stopped at Bob Scott’s Bothy for a tea break and to shelter from the rain and cold. Inside we met a group of hillwalkers who had spent the previous night in the bothy, and we had an interesting chat with them.

Afterwards, we parted ways – Betty, Janet and Jean walked up Glen Luibeg, hoping to meet one of their club members who had left the hostel early in the morning to climb a Munro (despite the weather), and I followed the path up Glen Derry.

I had taken the higher path on the east bank of the Derry Burn because I wanted to climb Beinn Bhreac and Beinn a’ Chaorainn, the two Munros east of Glen Derry. Considering the rain and low clouds, I didn’t really feel like climbing any hills that day, especially not those two with a huge featureless, boggy plateau between them, but I was still hoping the weather might improve during the day.

At a small cairn I left the main path and started climbing up the hillside towards the bealach between Meall an Lundain and Beinn Bhreac. There was a path of sorts I tried to follow, but it had turned into a stream.

As I was gaining height, the cloud level changed every few minutes and I was indecisive if I should keep going or turn back.

Approaching the bealach, there was no sign that the clouds were going to lift, and I didn’t enjoy this ascent in the slightest. The ground was waterlogged, with every step I sank in ankle-deep – and I finally decided to leave these two Munros for another day with better weather and views.

I dropped down to the path again, slipping and sliding on the boggy, grassy slopes. Unfortunately I reached the path just before a ford where a large stream crosses it from the northwest. The stepping stones were under water, but by now my feet were wet anyway, so I just waded through the nearly knee-deep water. After another km or so I finally reached the main path in the glen.

The nice and dry path in the photo above soon turned into this:

The Glas Allt Mòr was in spate and I couldn’t see a way across.

I walked further upstream, hoping to find a narrower stretch where I could get across using rocks as stepping stones. I didn’t find a suitable place, and in the end I decided to wade through, at a point where the current seemed a bit less dangerous and the bottom of the stream looked more level, with no large rocks in it.

The stream was deeper than it looked and the current was very strong. I shuffled along sideways, but whenever I lifted one foot only a few centimetres, I lost balance and was almost thrown over by the force of the water. Leaning at an angle against my trekking poles for some stability, I finally made it across – phew, that was one of my scariest river crossings so far!

After this experience, I was wondering if I would be able to cross the River Avon later on. I walked further towards the Lairig an Laoigh and got this view of Coire Etchachan with the Hutchison Memorial Hut.

Looking back to Glen Derry.

Walking along a boggy Lairig an Laoigh, Dubh Lochan in the distance.

Dubh Lochan.

I didn’t need to worry about the Fords of Avon, the river wasn’t much deeper than usual and I could get across easily, using the stepping stones.

On the other side of the river, I had a short break, and a quick look inside the newly-refurbished shelter. It is windowless, very basic and small – but then again, it’s not supposed to be used for planned overnight stops, only for emergencies.

I continued towards Loch Avon.

Loch Avon.

After reaching the loch, the path climbs diagonally up towards The Saddle, but at this stage it is a mixture of large boulders with bog in between.

View east into Glen Avon.

The seemingly endless Strath Nethy.

About halfway down Strath Nethy, the evening sun shining on Stac na h-Iolaire.

When I turned round and looked back towards The Saddle, the clouds behind me were even lower than before – the bad weather seemed to be chasing me!

In the lower part of Strath Nethy it was difficult to follow the path, it disappeared frequently between the heather, and most of the time it consisted of deep bogholes with some rocks sticking out of them.

Daylight was fading very quickly, and I was walking as fast as I could, trying to reach the end of the glen before it got completely dark. It was difficult to estimate the depth of the bogholes in the fading light, but I managed not to fall into any of them (for a change!).

If it had been possible, I would have camped somewhere in the glen, but the ground was either boggy or covered in heather. I knew that there was a flat, grassy area by the footbridge at the site of the former Bynack Stables, and it was a great relief to finally reach the main path and the bridge. I didn’t even need my head torch to pitch the tent, because I could see enough in the light of the (almost) full moon.

It had been a long and tiring day, and I don’t think I will use the route along the Lairig an Laoigh and Strath Nethy again in a hurry…

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Day 10, Sunday 11 September 2011

Bynack Stables – Glenmore

5.78 km/59 m/1:30 hrs

My camp site by the footbridge.

It was very windy, but dry, when I started walking on the wide track towards the Ryvoan Pass and Meall a’ Bhuachaille.

An Lochan Uaine, the “Green Lochan”.

When I arrived at Glenmore, I checked out the bus times to Aviemore and found that I had some time to spare. I spent the time waiting for the bus in the Café at the Glenmore Campsite, where I had their apparently famous Apple Strudel and a hot chocolate. Outside the windows, I could see some red squirrels at the feeders in the trees, and when I had finished, I went outside on the balcony to have a closer look.

Red squirrels.

From Aviemore I took a train back to Inverness. Because I had missed out on a few Munros, I had finished my trip a day earlier than I had planned. Instead of 22 Munros I only managed to do 15, but my plan had been quite ambitious anyway and I had known in advance that I would need perfect conditions for it – which I didn’t get, unfortunately.

But I am happy with what I achieved, and probably the most important thing I have learned from this trip is that the more I get to know the Cairngorms, the more I like them 🙂 They are great for backpacking, and especially the day I walked Jock’s Road and did the White Mounth Munros was one of my most memorable days in the hills.

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4 thoughts on “Munro bagging in the Southern & Eastern Cairngorms

  1. Hi Ness. I’ve just come across your fantastic blog this afternoon. It looks like I’ve got a lot of catching up to do but I don’t think that is going to be too great a hardship! This one is already developing into a fantastic wee trip, despite that horrible descent of Beinn a’ Ghlo. This is the perfect area for extended backpacking and linking together different hills. I camped besides the Crom Allt back in April in order to bag Carn an Righ which was my last Munro in this area and it was nice to see the same views but in their late summer splendour. Anyway, I’m looking forward to coming back and reading about the remainder of the trip. Cheers!

    • Hi Nick, many thanks for your comments! I had some great backpacking trips in the Cairngorms recently (after neglecting them for many years – I used to find them a bit boring compared to the hills in the Northern and Western Highlands… but not any more!), and I think you are right in saying they are just perfect for that.

      I had a look at your very interesting website as well, your photos are brilliant and I am also looking forward to exploring your various trip reports. I see you returned from Carn an Righ via Glen Ey – that’s another trip I’ve got in mind, walking in from Inverey, camping at Altanour Lodge and doing Carn Bhac, Beinn Iutharn Mhor and An Socach from there. But that will have to wait until next year when the days get longer again.

      And it’s interesting that you’ve got a Scarp 1, I have been thinking of buying one for quite a while now, because I am getting a bit fed up with sleepless (stormy) nights in my wildly flapping, noisy LaserComp…

  2. That picture of the midges at your Tarf Water campsite made my skin crawl! It took me back to one of my worst nightmares in a June up near An Teallach. It was midge hell.

    Really looking forward to the next thrilling instalment. The picture back to the Lairig Ghru was sensational.

    • The strange thing about the midges on this trip was, that you would normally expect them to be bad towards the West Coast, or around Glencoe/Glen Nevis. At least I have heard from many people that midges were not really a problem in the Cairngorms. But I had two of my worst “midge experiences” ever in the Cairngorms this year, the first one on my failed attempt at Ben Avon in August, and the other one on this trip in September…

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