It was the sort of day which teeters on the verge of rain, but with the rarity of a good morning it was decided we should bite the bullet and climb Ben Macdui. The Cairngorms are home to some of the largest mountains in the UK, with Ben Macdui, Braeriach, Cairn Toul and Cairngorm making up the second to sixth tallest mountains in Scotland.
Not many of the guides provide this route from the Linn of Dee, and as we were based in Braemar, this seemed the logical path to take. My recommendation: Try to come equipped with bikes, as the walk from the Linn of Dee car park to Derry Lodge is a bit of a slog.
Note: Distance and time is taken from Linn of Dee car park
Stage 1: Linn of Dee Car Park to Derry Lodge (3mi/4.8km)
Starting in the car park at the Linn of Dee, close to Mar Lodge, follow the signs to Glen Lui. The path starts going through forest before crossing the marsh over a boardwalk and through a gate. Climb slightly, before joining the main path. From here, turn left and follow the National Trust for Scotland roads to Derry Lodge. It is a fairly straightforward walk over undulating ground.
Stage 2: Derry Lodge to Carn Crom
Derry Lodge is quite a distinctive feature in the land. After following the river through Glen Lui, you will come to a dilapidated house, next to which is a barn and the bothy just after. Leave your bikes here, and walk down to the bridge which crosses the river. Immediately you'll see several paths forking off: Just before the bridge is one path to the right, straight ahead is another, and to the left is one signposting the Lairig Ghru and Coylumbridge - you will come back this way.
Take the path directly across from the bridge. As you walk, you will enter a Scots pine forest and climb up the side of Carn Crom. This is a fairly obvious path, and will skirt below Carn Crom after you leave the trees behind.
Stage 3: Carn Crom to Derry Cairngorm
Continue following the path, which will skirt around the east side of Carn Crom, which looks down to the glen below to the right. A summit is positioned before you to the north, which sits in front of Derry Cairngorm/Càrn Gorm an Doire.
Head over this summit, and you will see Derry Cairngorm ahead. The path up disappears a little, and requires some care and balance to negotiate the boulders up its sides. One of our party fell here, reached out their hand into a gap and knocked their head against the rock so be careful.
From the top, you get some superb views, including (to the north west) Lochan Uaine which rests at the foot of the crags below Sròn Riach.
Stage 4:Derry Cairngorm to Ben Macdui
The path descends over the back of Derry Cairngorm through some similar bouldery terrain. Stop for a moment and listen on a still day, and you will hear nothing at all. It is quite amazing. Now, for some mental reason, some books recommend skirting around Lochan Uaine to ascend towards Ben Macdui.
In a word, this looks crazy. The descent off the bealach to the west is steep, into a similarly steep ascent and again a mental ascent up Sròn Riach (1113m). Don't bother with that. Instead, keep to the path as it flows through the bealach. It then sweeps left to ascend the back of Sròn Riach.
This hill has quite dramatic views over its south side, so take time to enjoy it. As you near the top, you will turn right and head up the final climb to Ben Macdui.
As you climb, you will pass a well-built hut of stone. Hut is maybe a stretch, so let us say shelter. When we got to the top of Ben Macdui (1309m) it was deserted. We had a good five minute to ourselves and the view across the Cairngorm massif before a few people appeared, but not many - what a contrast to big brother Ben Nevis!
Grab yourself some scran before the descent.
Stage 5: Ben Macdui to Carn a'Mhaim
Now, you have some options. We saw a few people climbing to the top of Macdui from the south west, which would send you directly towards the path to Carn a'Mhaim. It is really a case of picking your way through the boulders and finding semblances of a path.
We retraced our steps back to about 800m from the top of Ben Macdui, before turning right across to Sròn Riach. From here, you can see a shortcut back to the Lairig Ghru. To your right, you can see Carn a'Mhaim - a rolling ridge. If you look at the contours on a map, it is quite a steep descent, and you want to head to the right, as below you can see the path of Carn a'Mhaim far below.
I would recommend investigating that path immediately to the south west from the top of Ben Macdui, as there is a potential path there.
Keep descending, moving away from Sròn Riach and towards the path of Carn a'Mhaim. Fortunately we had a clear day, but if you happen to have poor visibility you are heading south west to south-south west for about a mile. This will take you down to around 800m.
Join the path that leads you up to Carn a'Mhaim (1037m). To your right, you will see the volcano-like shape of Cairn Toul, alongisde Bod an Deamhain - tamely called Devil's Point thanks to a Highlander appearing a bit too embarrassed to tell Queen Vic its real name.
It was at this point the rain flowed in from the west, rolling through the Cairngorms before it hit us. We got pretty drenched, which was a shame after such a spectacular day.
Stage 6: Carn a'Mhaim to Derry Lodge
After summiting Carn a'Mhaim you will see a top ahead and to the left of you - ignore this. A path bends to the right just off the top of the main summit, and takes you on a drier, well-worn path off the hill. Keep heading down until you reach a second fork in the road - again, favour the right, but both end up in the same place.
On a nice day you will see the Lairig Ghru stretch out before you into Glen Lui. You will rejoin the Lairig Ghru at the bottom of the descent, and will continue following it east. A path heads left towards a bridge, which will carry you safely over the river.
If, like us, you were too wet to care about getting wetter, you can continue and traverse the river. It isn't much of a crossing, but the rocks could be submerged in wet weather. We returned two days later to do Cairn Toul and co., and this spot is incredibly picturesque in good weather. Great for camping too (if the midges aren't too bad).
Follow the path back (around 2.5 miles) to Derry Lodge. You will have to cross some slightly boggy land before returning to the bridge next to Derry Lodge.
From here, retrace your steps, and well done on completing the route!
Disclaimer: The route mapped out here is not perfect, and was done after the walk with some guess work, but it is mostly sound. Also, take care descending to Carn a'Mhaim, because it can be sketchy in bad weather. This walk is quite long, so fuel up!
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