Bike, Bog and Best route in the Cairngorms

Munros: Beinn Bhreac, Ben Macdui, Càrn a' Mhàim, Derry Cairngorm

Date walked: 07/11/2020

Time taken: 30 hours

Distance: 45km

Ascent: 2000m

With winter approaching and the knowledge that, although I live in a relatively covid free region, freedom could be snatched away in a whisper, I thought a trip to the hills to test a new sleeping bag was in order. I’ve never fancied camping when the balance is tipped to longer darkness than daylight, and the worry was not for the weather or conditions but for the boredom of a long night in a tent. As it was the forecast just got better and more suited to camping as the week progressed, so I set my worries aside and took advantage of some rare out of season conditions.


With a brand new winter sleeping bag in my pack I set off from Linn of Dee for the short ride to Derry Lodge, where I assumed I wouldn’t be the only wild camper. This is a very popular camping spot.

ImageIMG_0166.jpg by dominic boyd, on Flickr

ImageIMG_0160.jpg by dominic boyd, on Flickr

Lunch_Walk.gpx Open full screen  NB: Walkhighlands is not responsible for the accuracy of gpx files in users posts

Having set up camp in an elevated ledge right next to Derry Burn (beside a landrover track which forded the burn) I headed for a short walk to bag an easy top, Beinn Bhreac. With hopes to preserve both my legs and my boots for the longer day to come I was disappointed (although forewarned by this very website) to find the route is waterlogged and boggy. There is one short stretch of relatively dry path but other than that it was a case of dodging ankle deep bog and trying to keep my feet dry. The walk highland route report hardly inspires enthusiasm, but on the positives the walk up glen derry is beautiful and on a good day such as this the views are great, if not outstanding. I can imagine, though, that on a dreich, grey scottish day it would be a miserable and soggy outing.

ImageIMG_0174.jpg by dominic boyd, on Flickr

Near the top I met two ladies who I was pleased to spend a while chatting to as we reached the summit. A first munro for one and the other lady who had a condition meaning she had to haul her heavy oxygen generator with her to the top. In the age where many of us aspire to go the lightest, fastest and furthest in the mountains it was an inspiration to meet someone who has overcome, adapted and still gets up to the summits that we all love. A real achievement, surpassing anything in my report.

Having arrived back at the tent well after the sun had disappeared below Sgor Dubh (mid afternoon) the chill was definitely descending in the glen. It was a case of dragging out some activities to lessen the extent of the autumn night. A bit of photography on the path up to Carn Crom as the sun set, getting gear ready for the next day, preparing tea in the dark then listening to music and packing in some calories before some night photography (I mixed up my settings, so nothing to show), and eventually bed at 9 pm, rather pleased with myself that I'd managed to drag out wriggling into the sleeping bag until such an hour!

ImageIMG_0180.jpg by dominic boyd, on Flickr

I dangled my watch from the outer zip toggle on my tent to record the temperature and settled in my sleeping bag with the outside temp showing around about zero. I’m not sure if there is a trick to it but the first night in a tent at a strange location is guaranteed to leave me insomnious. A fitful night followed - the arrival of a mountain biker (the only other camper), the powerful light beam sweeping the tent in the darkness, a landrover arriving around midnight before turning and disappearing down the glen, a helicopter low flying overhead and a host of other noises which disrupted my sleep. I had considered leaving in darkness and ascending Carn A Mhaim to watch the sunrise but that would mean leaving around 5, which considering the sleepless night was perhaps not the best option. As it was I was up around 6.30, leaving plenty of time to encounter some unplanned activities - defrosting the water, warming the gas canister (it dropped to -4 according to my watch) and getting ready in the dark and cold, which just takes longer.

I wrestled with what to bring and what to leave. Is it safe to leave expensive gear in a tent at a remote but popular location? In the end I settled for a sensible compromise, and left the tent up (I could do with a new 4 season one anyway!), with sleeping mat and cooking gear inside. The bike was an old one and hardly valuable so I locked it and left it. The sleeping bag was new and expensive so it went with me - a valuable piece of survival gear anyway. I needn’t have worried, as all was in order on my return.

Carn_a_mhaim_macdui_Derry_Cairngorm 2.gpx Open full screen  NB: Walkhighlands is not responsible for the accuracy of gpx files in users posts

The path along the Luibeg burn from the bridge is very boggy, but the sub zero temperatures had firmed the ground to make it easier, so wet feet were avoided. A stunning walk up to the Luibeg bridge where regenerating forestry showed the glens as they should be, not parched deserts of heather moors where only the grouse survive.

ImageIMG_0212.jpg by dominic boyd, on Flickr

An excellent path continued up the SE ridge of Carn a Mhaim with open views of Deeside to the East. Once the ridge was crested the views opened of the Lairig Ghru and Devils Point. This is a stunning part of the Cairngorms and the photographer in me couldn’t help but stop and shoot in the morning light. The sweep of the river dee and the speck of the remote Corrour bothy with the high ridge of Cairn Toul in the background was just stunning.

ImageIMG_0231-Pano.jpg by dominic boyd, on Flickr

ImageIMG_0255.jpg by dominic boyd, on Flickr

ImageIMG_0245-Pano.jpg by dominic boyd, on Flickr

Route planning highlighted the amount of climbing the route provided, so mathematically the climb ahead should have been obvious. However, I admit to being a bit unprepared that the path dropped some 200m from the summit along the ridge to the bealach before a brutal, rocky ascent to the SE flank of Ben Macdui. My intention was to avoid the summit in order to maintain the air of a remote and unvisited stretch of the cairngorms that my chosen route provided. But the draw of bagging an additional summit (albeit one I’ve done many times) in perfect conditions overcame my worries that the summit of Macdui would be busy. I should have listened to my instincts.

The descent off the Summit Cairn of Ben Macdui can be confusing in bad weather, but on a cloud free, perfect day such as this is straightforward. Having retraced my steps to the bealach on the SE ridge I followed the route (well sort of, I was drawn northwards by the ridge, as this masks the way ahead!) around Coire Sputan Dearg. A superbly rocky and remote path curves north eastwards providing excellent views southwards and north east over loch Etchachan to Morayshire beyond. A stop at a small lochan just off the path is a natural infinity pool with the ultimate backdrop.

Turning South Eastwards to Derry Cairngorm the views from the path can’t compete with the first half, although behind to the high Cairngorm plateau and of Ben Mheadhoin it is superb. Once the rocky top of Derry Cairngorm is achieved it is almost entirely downhill on a sometimes rocky but easy path to Derry Lodge. The only rise is a small climb skirting the summit of Carn Crom over a steep drop east to Glen Derry, which may unnerve the less experienced.

ImageIMG_0279.jpg by dominic boyd, on Flickr

ImageIMG_0278.jpg by dominic boyd, on Flickr

Back then to regenerating forestry and stunning glen views, although by this stage thoughts were turning to resting weary legs. Once back at the tent it was a case of packing up and squishing gear into any available void (strange how every care is taken to pack meticulously on leaving, but on departure it's crammed in anywhere!) There was one last hurdle, however - my bike lock refused to open, and I considered the consequences: walk out with the back wheel in the air, which really didn't appeal or leave the bike, walk out and pick it up later. Perhaps the thought of either option being utterly unappealing strengthened my resolve to get the damned lock open and sure enough after several minutes of trying both keys in various orientations and force, it popped open. It goes to show though, that equipment failure can happen at any time, and when you least expect it! Relieved that I could now get on my way I set off for the short, mostly downhill ride to the car.

All in all, a great circular walk, one of the best in the Cairngorms.

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Activity: Mountain Walker

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Trips: 1
Distance: 45 km
Ascent: 2000m
Munros: 4

Joined: Jun 10, 2018
Last visited: Feb 28, 2021
Total posts: 32 | Search posts