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The Wild Lassies - BETTER THE DEVIL YOU KNOW

The Wild Lassies - BETTER THE DEVIL YOU KNOW


Postby thewildlassielife » Sun Sep 08, 2019 11:42 am

Route description: Cairn Toul - Braeriach traverse

Munros included on this walk: Braeriach, Cairn Toul, Sgor an Lochain Uaine, The Devil's Point

Date walked: 24/08/2019

Time taken: 13.05 hours

Distance: 36 km

Ascent: 1870m

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Written by: The Wild Lassies

Date: 24th August 2019

Munro Count to Date
Sam : 116
Cara: 162
Naomi: 164
Jen: 170

Distance: 8.44km in, 33.74km mountains, 8.44km out.

Ascent: 177m to bike drop, 340m along Lairig Ghru, 1353m mountains.

Time: 13.05hrs

The Braeriach Traverse consists of four munros: in order of our summitting them they are the Devil's Point (1004m), Cairn Toul (1291m), Sgor an Lochain Uaine (1258m) and Braeriach itself (1296m). Nestled in the heart of the Cairngorm National Park, it is a long walk (often split over two days) due to the remoteness of the hills from the road, which is typical for a Cairngorm-located munro. One of the most well-known bothies - the Corrour Bothy - is situated on the route, along the Lairig Ghru. The Lairig Ghru is one of the main passes through the Cairngorms, crossing the Park from Glenmore (Aviemore side) to Linn of Dee (Braemar side), providing a few different ways to tackle these mountains. The route from Linn of Dee appeared to be significantly longer so it was never properly considered to be an option in the route plan.

ImageWH Route by Cara Morison, on Flickr

The Walk Highlands route, which starts from the Sugar Bowl car park and traverses the Chalamain Gap to reach the Lairig Ghru.


The summer has been super busy for all of us and so when it came to researching this trip, most of it was left to the week before. We booked the accommodation in Glenmore for our available dates in Spring time knowing what walk we wanted to do. We tend to plan a few big epic trips at the beginning of the year to ensure they're in our diaries and that we can prepare for them.

Very early on we had to decide how we were going to do this walk; whether we going to do it all in a day, 13 hours of walking but with smaller bags and a bed at the end of the day, or whether we were going to take tents and camp beside the Corrour bothy. We would never want to rely on a bothy having enough room and so would always take tents. Plus Sam, Naomi and Jen were wary of the midges after waking to an epidemic of them after Fisherfields! We all agreed that we'd rather have one long hard day than have to carry large bags. Our daypacks are far more comfortable so we booked the Cairngorm Lodge Hostel for the Friday and Saturday nights.

We came across a walk report for just the mountain of Braeriach which made us reconsider our original route. Normally we always stick to the Walk Highlands route and only if we're combining different walks together do we go off track, however this walk report did not fill us with confidence in going via the Chalamain Gap.

We were worried that, at the end of a long day, it would be easy to twist or break an ankle on the boulder field leading up to the Chalamain Gap and so we looked at the alternative route from Coylumbridge. This did seem more straightforward but would add distance. The question then became 'Is it cyclable?' Jen and Sam got on strava and found some routes that suggested it was. Feeling more optimistic about an hour of cycling at the beginning and end than an hour of walking up a boulderfield, we decided to start from Cairngorm Lodge with our bikes at 6am and make our way up to the point that the Lairig Ghru met the Chalamain Gap. The plan was decided!

So on Friday after work we all made our way to La Taverna (the Italian restaurant in Aviemore) and took advantage of their buffet. The seven of us packed all the carbs we could into our bodies. With the four of us for this weekend were three others; Rory (Sam's fiancé), Allan (Cara's boyfriend) and Craig (our superfit friend).

There will be more on Craig in future posts but for context in this post, we'll introduce him as best we can. Everything for Craig is a competition with himself. He competes with both Walk Highlands and Steve Fallon to see how fast he can do the munro routes; he won't cycle any routes or drop a bag as he believes that is cheating (we disagree); he'll run a couple of km ahead and come back to see how we're getting on rather than waiting around; he'll run an extra 10km to get the car you left at the other end of the walk and he'll always help you out and give you a hand or some motivating words when you're feeling low. We intend to do a feature called 'Craig Time' for walks we've done separately from Craig so you can see how much longer it takes us!

We checked into the hostel, enjoyed a game of scrabble and a glass of wine and went to bed, alarms set for 5:30am.

We woke up bright and early and started getting ourselves ready. By the time tyres were blown up, bikes were assembled, chains oiled, sandwiches made and coffee knocked back it was about 6:15am. Craig set off about 5:55am because he wasn't cycling so he wanted a headstart for the run in. Jen had also left a little earlier, about 6:05am, as she was ready and getting bitten (it was quite midgey) and reckoned we'd catch up fairly quickly.

We set off cycling through Glenmore Campsite and round the east of Loch Morlich. We followed a gpx track Sam had found on Strava and headed towards Rothiemurchus Lodge. The track to this point was a vehicle track in great condition and there was hardly any ascent.

As Naomi commented after we shared the photos, the photo below on the left looks like we're cycling through a post apocalyptic wasteland.

ImageBraeriach by Cara Morison, on Flickr

ImageBraeriach by Cara Morison, on Flickr

Cara:

Then a little sign at Rothiemurchus pointed to the Lairig Ghru and we turned right onto it. We knew there was a path and reports had suggested that this path was cyclable and maybe it is .... for DANNY MCASKILL! This path became an exercise in pushing our bikes over large rocks. Our shoulders were already tired but given the difficulty of this path we thought it better that we return via the Lairig Ghru, which meant we first had to get there.


ImageBraeriach by Cara Morison, on Flickr

Cara:

At some point we saw Craig running down towards us, he'd already been up to where the Lairig Ghru joins the Chalamain gap and had come back down to find us. The worrying thing was, no sign of Jen! We had assumed she was just ahead of us as she'd had a 10 minute headstart and we'd had to stop for 10 minutes to blow up Naomi's tyre which seemed to have a slow puncture. Things were not going to plan.

Just at that point she phoned Craig. She had gone to Rothiemurchus Lodge via the west of Loch Morlich and was now waiting for us there. Craig went back to meet her and to help her with her bike. There had been some mix up in communication in our whatsapp chats the week before: Sam had thought she'd posted a GPX track that she then followed and Jen had followed the path that she had posted.

Jen:

A quick five minute conversation beforehand to discuss the route would have prevented this confusion as it was just a series of unfortunate events that led to this confusing start. The different routes in are shown below:

Image3 Routes by Cara Morison, on Flickr
All three main routes in. Jen and Craig (separately): route west of Loch Morlich. Other cyclists: route east of Loch Morlich. Walk Highlands walking route: over Chalamain Gap/below Creag a Chalamain


I essentially had stopped by the side of the main road to wait for the others, whilst they had cycled the other side of the Loch and had joined it further up. I had gingerly kept going expecting them at any moment and getting worried about their whereabouts when I got a hold of Craig who told me they were ahead of me!

Luckily, though, this hadn't actually held us up very much and was such a small part of the overall route; we had much better things to come.

Sam:

At this point I felt terrible. Number one, I had lost Jen by taking a different starting route (not that I knew at the time), and in general I had encouraged the bike route, as there is nothing I hate more than walking more than necessary if there's a potential bike option. I had taken my bike from the sugar bowl up over the Chalamain Gap and down the Lairig Ghru a couple of years prior, and really wanted to do anything to avoid the Chalamain Gap. Originally I had thought about heading up from Coylumbridge but saw that the Rothiemurchus Lodge road looked pretty ideal to join on from Glenmore. I did some research and from what I read, it seemed bikeable across to the Lairig Ghru. It was lumpy, tricky, and super tiring to push the bike so early in the morning. I could only apologise for my error in judgement...

Naomi:

Personally, I was just chuffed that my bike and my legs had survived this far (and with barely any coffee) so I was quite contentedly hoicking my bike through the mud and rocks and admiring the scenery. It really is quite an impressive approach. Cara was less impressed.

ImageCara less than chuffed by Cara Morison, on Flickr

By 7:30am we were all reunited and locking bikes together getting ready for the walk.

At 7:40am we started walking up the Lairig Ghru.

ImageBraeriach by Cara Morison, on Flickr

ImageBraeriach by Cara Morison, on Flickr

ImageBraeriach by Cara Morison, on Flickr

This walk was long, from this point to the Corrour bothy probably took us about 3.5hrs but we all had lots to catch up on and the terrain was fairly easy.

Jen:

The visibility was also incredible and we could see the full traverse that we were tackling later from below. As we came up to the bothy, Cairn Toul (second munro) and Braeriach (fourth munro) could be seen ahead. At the time I knew that Braeriach was the third highest munro in Scotland but it wasn't until afterwards that I realised that Cairn Toul was the fourth highest, and Sgor an Lochain Uaine was the fifth highest.

ImageBraeriach by Cara Morison, on Flickr

ImageBraeriach by Cara Morison, on Flickr

ImageBraeriach by Cara Morison, on Flickr

Naomi:

We reached the bothy, where I had asked to have a 'reset'. This is the term we use for a proper break: bags off, sit down, shake out the shoulders (or do a headstand, as in the Fisherfields), cancel out the memory of what you've done so far and pretend that THIS is now the start of the walk.

We could now see all of the Devil's Point and the larger Cairn Toul looming on the other side. The Devil's Point, despite its intimidating name, looked achievable and so we set out up the steep but clearly-defined path taking us up to the ridge.

Jen:

One thought that gave me cheer was the vague numbers running through my head: there was less than 1900m ascent to the day and we had climbed close to a third of it. We had also walked approximately 10km of the 25km round from the Chalamain Gap turn-off point. Now it was a normal walking day.

Sam:

This kept me so chirpy and I relied on Jen to give me these type of stats as we went. It really helped.

The Devil's Point: 12:00

Imagemunro1 map by Cara Morison, on Flickr

Imagemunro1 ascent by Cara Morison, on Flickr

Jen:

The path up to the Devil's Point was steep in places but we could always see the summit which swept to the left hand side of the route. We followed a stream up and the midges were out, as we were wary of when we passed a man at the bothy who had descended this in full midge net gear. It was humid though so I was down to my t-shirt and had not applied midge repellent that morning. This decision came to haunt me a bit when I woke up the next day with bites all over my arms but, for now, I steadily made my way up.

As ever, Craig was in front. Allan and I eventually caught up with him as he waited for us for the final part of the climb. Naomi then joined us and looking back I could see Sam, Rory and Cara taking off their bags and leaving them where the path returned to take us to the second munro. Good idea!

Within 45mins - 1hr we were at the top of the first munro, The Devil's Point. A few of us (not Craig) had dumped our bags at the midpoint of the ridge and had walked up the last 100m feeling a lot more free, stretching out our backs and shoulders. With 1 munro under our belts, our spirits rose.

ImageBraeriach by Cara Morison, on Flickr

ImageBraeriach by Cara Morison, on Flickr

View back along the Lairig Ghru towards Aviemore. The traverse continues along the path to the left, and Cairn Toul is the high peak.

Cara:

With a rain shower threatening, we hurried back down to our bags and put on waterproofs (only to remove them 10 minutes later). We started up to the next munro top. This climb was probably the most difficult of the day as there were a lot of boulders to climb over and every time you felt you must be nearing the top, you'd see a figure in the distance and realise how far away you still were, it went on for ages.

Naomi:

I made the mistake of looking back: the summit we'd just been on, which had loomed so high and dark and impressive over the bothy (and it's called the Devil's Point, guys!) was a mere nubbin compared to what we were tackling now.

Cara:

One thing about this route was that we met and talked to so many other walkers. On the top of the first munro we came across a group of women who had walked in from the Lin of Dee and were doing the 3 southern munros of the traverse. After the 2nd munro we met a couple that made me laugh when she got angry at the rocks for moving shouting 'You've been here for centuries!'. Later that day we met a guy who we recognised as he was staying in the same hostel (he'd already done Cairngorm and Ben MacDui that morning) and was running the whole traverse!

The Lairig Ghru was also full of people from lots of different countries. Despite our location, we did not feel far from civilisation.

ImageBraeriach by Cara Morison, on Flickr

The path up to Cairn Toul, with Sgor an Lochain Uaine and Braeriach out ahead

Jen:

In this tough ascent we had to include the climb up Stob Coire an t-Saighdeir. Cara called it 'the fake munro' due to its height and a boulder field had to be negotiated up both it and then Cairn Toul. I began to flag on this climb and probably should have eaten a sandwich before this point. I reached for snack after snack for sugar boost after sugar boost. We reached the Cairn Toul cairn in the nick of time for me to get some lunch.

My feet had been feeling a bit sore since the walk along the Lairig Ghru and I decided to take some Ibuprofen after eating my sandwich. I wouldn't advocate taking painkillers for any old walk but this was a particularly long day that didn't need the addition of my sore flat feet to it.

Cairn Toul: 13:30

Imagemunro2 map by Cara Morison, on Flickr

Imagemunro2 ascent by Cara Morison, on Flickr

Eventually we got to the top of the second munro and we had a bit of lunch, protein bars no longer providing enough energy. Craig now decided to leave us and start running the traverse so we were down to 6 people.

From the top of the 2nd munro the 3rd munro looked so close and we were worried. We had learnt very early in our munro bagging career that things were never as easy as they seem!

Some munro rules to keep in mind to avoid disappointment.

    If you think its the top.... its not the top.
    If it looks close, its probably not the top.
    That summit you can see from the road? It's not the top.
    Always check on a GPS that you're at the top. Sometimes the top can appear to be lower than another cairn or trig point and it's always further than you think!
    It's always harder than it looks!

So on that cheery note, we were suspicious that this peak we could see so close and with not too much of a drop was not the 3rd munro of our day despite all evidence suggesting the contrary.

We descended Cairn Toul by way of another boulder field which required our full attention on a couple of occasions to make sure we got down it without any mishaps. The visibility was still excellent and there was no concern as a few fell behind to take off layers that had been thrown on when we stopped for lunch.

We dropped to the lowest point and started to ascend, the weather was starting to get sunnier and we suddenly glimpsed what appeared to us to be the most perfect wild infinity pool.

ImageBraeriach by Cara Morison, on Flickr

Presumably, the 'Lochan Uaine' (green lochan) of Sgor an Lochain Uaine (peak of the green lochan)

Cara:

It was a beautiful lochan sitting overlooking the Braeriach mountain. Rory was desperate for a swim, you could see his mind working out how much additional effort this perfect swim would cost him and in the end it was judged to be too much. The photo doesn't quite convey the height drop and the terrain of boulders between our path and the lochan. One day....

As a group we are fans of a wild swim... look out for a post on some of our favourite wild swimming spots in the winter.

Sgor an Lochain Uaine: 14:00

Imagemunro3 map by Cara Morison, on Flickr

Imagemunro3 ascent by Cara Morison, on Flickr

Cara:

It turns out that this munro was as straightforward as it seemed and I think this is the only time I'm ever said that!

Sam:

One thing that stressed me out a lot was that it was so busy that finding a good place to pee without an audience was pretty tricky. However I was keen to not get dehydrated so it was required. I found an excellent spot at the bottom of the boulder field!

As can be seen by the elevation profile, the ascent from the bealach was short and sweet with, gladly, a rest from boulders. As we reached the summit one-by-one you could tell that everyone had relaxed a bit from the Cairn Toul ascent. Cara even lay down for a couple of minutes to stretch her back!

ImageBraeriach by Cara Morison, on Flickr

The path up to Cairn Toul, with the Falls of Dee in the background

A couple were sitting at the summit and eating their own lunch, so we spent a few minutes revelling in the easy bagging of this peak before setting off for our final munro of the day.

Naomi:

After some confused glances (really, it was that easy?) and the checking of at least 3 sources, we were convinced and ticked off the third summit of the day.

Braeriach: 15:20

Imagemunro4 map by Cara Morison, on Flickr

Imagemunro4 ascent by Cara Morison, on Flickr

Encouraged that we now only had one munro to go and that there wasn't too much of a drop we reverted back to our normal rhythm, chatting and catching up. There was quite a distance between these two munros but with very little ascent, fairly straightforward terrain and easy navigation this passed very quickly.

We had continued to pass people throughout the day and now we seemed to join a small train of those heading towards Braeriach. Three people were just a few hundred metres in front of us, then a man we had seen in the hostel the previous night was suddenly bounding around us and he spoke to Sam and Rory for a while. Another man seemed to appear from nowhere from the west and it's possible, looking at the map, that he was walking from Sgor Gaoith.

Soon we couldn't believe it but we were at the top of Braeriach!

ImageBraeriach by Cara Morison, on Flickr

Descent to bikes 15:20 to 18:00

ImageDescent maps by Cara Morison, on Flickr

ImageDescent Ascent by Cara Morison, on Flickr

Jen:

The long sloping ascent to the summit of Braeriach was followed initially by a sloping descent. We had descended a few kilometres before we could see the Lairig Ghru path which was astonishingly still so far beneath us. It gave me a feeling of unease; this was going to get quite steep at some point! We had to cross another boulder field on the route down so what was next?

ImageBraeriach by Cara Morison, on Flickr

ImageBraeriach by Cara Morison, on Flickr

Cara:

This was indeed a difficult descent, but mainly because our muscles were becoming jelly. Sam and I hung out at the back, taking out time and trying to distract each other from what was becoming quite noticeable pain.

I am very happy being at the back because I hate feeling someone behind me because, although this is not their intention, I feel pressure from holding them up and I'd rather be able to go at my own pace no matter what that is.

It didn't, in the end get too steep, but it was long and continuous! Some of the track down was gravelly and so slippery and there were a few slips and slides. By now however, the sun was fully out and we were thankful we had done this route clockwise.

Naomi:

After walking for what seemed like ages/miles and miles, the path took us out to a shoulder from which we could see the route ahead. I had to have a little sit-down here, because it still looked like so much effort ahead of us. The path we were aiming to join was far away, and far below us, and even looked like it went uphill on the way back. And I couldn't even see where we'd left the bikes yet...

I sat down, had some chocolate and soon felt better about life.

ImageBraeriach by Cara Morison, on Flickr

The view down the way. The path on the left is the route back to the Chalamain Gap, our route is slightly to the left of that. The trees away by the river are where we left the bikes.

We got back onto the Lairig Ghru path and not long after (although it did seem to go on forever) we were back at our bikes.... breathing sighs of relief! Hometime!

Bike Pick Up: 18:00

Imagemap home by Cara Morison, on Flickr

Imageascent home by Cara Morison, on Flickr

At this point we met two men who we'd met in exactly this spot that morning. They had done the route counter clockwise and thought we were crazy for doing it the other way. The feeling was mutual.

They believed they couldn't have walked up the Lairig Ghru all the while looking at the mountains we had to climb and were glad they got the harder part over with first.

Our view however, which we put to them was that, firstly the weather had been forecast to be far nicer in the afternoon and that turned out to be true (they must have been in cloud for much of the morning) and secondly that we hardly noticed the Lairig Ghru walk as before the climb that part was easy.

It probably shows for this route that it depends on the group and that whatever route you take, the need to reduce cognitive dissonance will force you to justify that your decision was the right one.

Cara:

So now a free-wheel home......or so I thought!

It probably should be mentioned at this point that of the 6 of us, (Craig already back at the hostel) 3 of us were very competent mountain bikers and 3 of us were not.

My boyfriend, Allan, is a bike fanatic. Our flat has 3 bikes of his that I'm always trying to get him to hang up and this year he competed in the Strathpuffer 24hr mountain bike race as part of a team of 4 friends from uni. They came 7th! So he's into biking. For this reason and also because I knew that at some point having a bike would make remote munros easier, I bought my first bike since the age of 16, in March. It is a beautiful bike and I love it but I'm still getting used to riding it. I'm happy with tracks and very easy mountain biking routes.

Naomi was on a bike which performed incredibly for its state of wear and tear - it was a hero. She had bought this bike second hand years previously and it was beginning to show signs of age; rust and soft tyres. Jen was perfectly competent having done mountain biking routes before but is naturally cautious.

Sam is very into mountain biking (and general biking) and she's been pretty happy about the fact that recently we're getting more into it and using them for munros. So her and Rory zoomed off down this track the excitement clearly visible on her face.

The bottom half of this track was great and despite the concentration and bravery needed, it was great fun. The first half was not (for the 3 of us). We were tired and this was beyond our capabilities even in ideal situations. So after a few attempts; with stops to roll bikes over drainage ditches, falls into heather and very angled turns we resorted to walking with our bikes for most of the first half. This was difficult for my mental state at this point. I was regretting the bike decision. However, after the second half and the pleasant cycle home I decided it had been worth the pain as I wasn't sure I could have done the additional height and distance the Chalamain Gap posited.

Allan loved every minute of this route and, in fact, he and Rory returned the next day to do it again!

Finish Time: 19:15

Jen:

After finishing the walking part of the day decidedly chipper, I was now a bit more tired as I rolled in - literally so, as my chain had slipped off the front derailleur for the second time on the cycle back. Craig was waiting for us by the cars; he'd booked dinner for us which was going to be ready in 15 minutes! He instantly went in to coach/pit mechanic mode, moving between our cars as we dismantled and/or lifted our bikes into them : "Great stuff guys! Well done, great day! Need any help with that?"

The difficulties of the cycling felt like a separate day to the walking, so different was the muscle usage and thought process, so in the end I was still glad to have taken the bike. The route we cycled in on - the road up to Rothiemurchas Lodge -would have provided the most comfortable and efficient cycle back for me. If I did this again I would leave my bike by the Lodge rather than taking it up to the Lairig Ghru. So if you think you'd be a bit like me, where landrover tracks are preferred (I'm not too natural at tackling the narrow forest paths) then I'd recommend that route. Looking up at the Chalamain Gap as we passed it on the way to the bikes I was certainly happy that we had an alternative to it!

Sam:

My first aim was to avoid the section we came up on the way back. The last section that we pushed up would have been very tricky on the way down. I could remember previously that continuing down the Lairig Ghru was a lot of fun so hoped it would be the better option.
Once I set off I instantly realised this was not good. I was not going to be popular! The top section is steep, with roots, and drainage ditches. You can't go far without getting off (unless you have the skills that the boys had!) I certainly was off and on constantly, but I think I'm more used to hopping on and off and identifying when to do that way in advance. Again, I reached out my apologies and made a mental note to not choose the route again! The bottom section is super fun and swoopy, just as I had imagined. For me, it had been worth it but not for the whole group.
I still don't know which route I would choose if I was in those shoes again, as although what we did felt hard at the time, I'm pretty sure the top section of Rothiemurchus would have also felt very hard.


Naomi:

The first section of the ride back was a walk, rather than ride, situation, which went much more smoothly once I accepted that it was beyond my abilities and settled for pushing. The second section was pretty fun (as Cara has mentioned, my bike is not the fanciest but it got me down and I quite enjoyed it) and then the last bit back to the hostel was a breeze apart from a quick stop to top up the tyre due to a slow puncture. Overall, I found the cycling a good break from walking, but was glad there wasn't more uphill as that was what I struggled with the most - I'm not convinced the gears on the aforementioned bike work quite as intended.

We don't have a literal trophy, but Craig won my MVP (most valuable player) award for this walk: not only did he help with bikes and coordinating when we were separated and generally cheering everyone on, he organised food to be ready pretty much as we walked in the door. I think the idea of having to work out where and how to get food would have been a step too far for me at the end of the day we'd had!

That night we had a meal at the hostel (ordered in advance by Craig), watched an awful film (Vertical Limits - hilariously bad) and went to bed, muscles still twitching.

The following day the girls woke early and it was stunning. Already at 8am it was over 20 degrees. We sat outside in the sun after checking out and waiting for the boys to wake. The only thing that would have made this better was coffee. There was a cafe across the road from the hostel, The Pine Marten Bar & Scran, and Naomi went, very kindly, to investigate. She came back with 3 fantastic coffees which we sipped in the sun. Once the boys rose we went to the Druie Cafe in Rothiemurchus and had a fantastic breakfast, sitting outside.

t should be mentioned that Craig had risen early and completed Bynack More before we'd even finished breakfast! He did say he was a broken man!

It was at this point that we had to make a decision..... go back to Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen or enjoy the Cairngorms in the sun!

Jen had to leave unfortunately for her and Craig had headed straight home in time for a show at the Edinburgh festival but the rest of us stayed. The boys went biking and the girls went to the beach at Loch Morlich. We had a lovely couple of hours people watching, eating ice cream and strawberries and attempting to rehydrate with lots of water.

The boys came back and we all went for a swim and then dried off before heading home. Fantastic and relaxing end to a difficult walking weekend.

ImageBraeriach by Cara Morison, on Flickr
thewildlassielife
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