Cairngorms Long Weekend Part 1

Date walked: 11/07/2020

Time taken: 5 hours

Distance: 16km

When Nicola Sturgeon announced an end to the 5-mile travel restrictions, we both booked off a few Fridays and Mondays for the rest of July, giving us some long weekends to set about making up for the last few months of walking and camping that we’d missed. The weekend of the 11th-13th of July was to be the first. So, with excitement, we began planning our first multi-day trip since 2019. Originally, we had intended on traversing the nine Fannichs over the three days but, once again, the Atlantic delivered its trusty dose of wind and rain to the west. As much as we aren’t fair-weather hikers, we are (at minimum) storm avoiders. We decided to chase the weather in the direction of the Cairngorms, hoping to give ourselves a more enjoyable experience for the first big trip of the summer. We still had a small cluster of Munros around Glen Derry, as well as a couple of western outliers which can be linked up by multiple through-routes and trails. Far away from any road, these mountains would provide us with an epic outing into wild and remote land.

Saturday’s plan was to leave early and pick off Carn an Righ and An Socach (our only remaining Munros in the Glenshee area) before driving round to Linn of Dee and heading off into the wild heart of the Cairngorms for the remainder of the weekend. We had failed to summit Carn an Righ earlier in the year due to some pretty wild winter conditions combined with heavily wind-scoured slopes and our accompanying friend having no winter equipment with him; common sense won the day and we decided to leave it for another day. Of course, I got some grumbles and the usual glare from Scott when he can’t complete the trip he had in mind. However, as we retraced our steps from the summit of Glas Tulaichean that day, we got lost in a fog of cloud and snow for a few minutes, before correcting our navigational error, only then for the boys to struggle with their balance on the steeper sections of iced slopes, which only gave me comfort in the fact it was the correct decision. Sorry, not sorry Scott!

Anyway… after a birthday celebration on Friday night, and our now-tradition of leaving everything to the last minute, our ‘early night’ soon became a very last-minute packing of kit into bags, visiting the 24-hour supermarket for supplies, and preparing lunches. The late night and inevitable snoozing of the alarm in the morning saw us re-jig the plans a little. Taking into consideration that we wanted to give ourselves plenty of time and daylight to walk into (and try to actually locate) the Secret Howff after the walk, we once again decided to return for Carn an Righ another day and to tackle An Socach as a solitary hill. No moans here though - an extra hour in bed definitely kept the driver (ie me) happy.

Approaching Glenshee, the roads themselves still felt particularly quiet considering that the travel restrictions had eased. That was, until we got to the Ski Centre where heaps of cars and campervans littered the car parks and lay-bys all the way up the road towards Braemar. A couple of miles beyond the Ski Centre, we arrived at our lay-by for An Socach and managed to get into the second last space of the day at around 9am. Everybody had the same ideas here! A wee change of shoes, fidgeting with the packs and getting our food packed properly (again, disorganisation is where we excel), we finally set off at around 9.20am. The start of the walk greets you with a ‘Welcome to the Moor’ sign highlighting the various wildlife species found in the area, with my favourite species taking centre stage on the poster; the tick. If you’ve read my last post, you’ll understand. The board also provides a brief overview of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code which is a great wee reminder for those who don’t head into the hills all too often and are out on a daunder during their holidays.

Crossing the Clunie Water

Beyond this, we passed through a large kissing gate before crossing a footbridge above a beautiful river running through the middle of a small forest, and around a bend past a lonely farmhouse. The route follows a good Land Rover track alongside the Baddoch Burn, occasionally crossing it via a bridge or low ford. A mountain bike could be used for the approach, taking advantage of this track as it would make an enjoyable cycle. The track undulates over a few kilometres and the feeling of remoteness can definitely be felt as you venture further into the Baddoch Glen.

Into Baddoch Glen

It isn’t long until a ford over the water is reached, where my river crossing skills, as always, leave a lot to be desired. Scott, as always, looks on exasperated, unable to empathise with the fact that despite being taller than average, I was back of the queue in the legs department, leaving me with two wee dumpy numbers that can’t reach as easily or as gracefully as his can. After crossing faster than usual, I could see that, due to the number of bikes discarded in the heather, a number of cyclists had taken advantage of the track to reach the foot of the hill. A small cairn marks the point where we leave behind the vehicle track and head up hill now using a rough trail next to a beautiful waterfall. The heather seemed to be overtaking the path, and I’m unsure whether this is normal, or if this is with the lack of footfall during the great shut down of 2020, but it made for some gruelling going. The path seemed to definitely be getting slightly tougher and we discovered we’d ended up on the wrong track, so headed more directly uphill through the heather to arrive onto a flatter section of ground before reaching a cairn. From here, more flat and boggy ground is crossed before a choice of paths pull you up the nose of the slope and onto the stony ridge.

Bog and heather bashing on the approach to the ridge

My ‘we climbed that so fast’ bubble was burst exceptionally quickly when, instead of going to the cairn in view, Scott pointed out the long ridge ahead of us, the actual summit being reached by traversing some exceptionally rocky and uneven ground.

The long, rocky ridge to the summit

We reached the summit by 11.55am, 2 hours and 35 minutes since leaving the car. I was delighted with that, as the walkhighlands description suggests a duration of 5-6 hours. We sat atop with our lunch enjoying the views, having missed most of the rain, other than the odd shower, however we didn’t sit too long as there was still a particularly strong breeze. The views are extensive, as you can see the huge tors of Ben Avon (tomorrow’s target), across to the Inverey Munros, Carn an Righ, the long and lonely Glen Ey (featured in last weekend’s walk!) and across the vast Cairngorm plateau.

Looking towards Glen Ey, where we'd walked the previous weekend

We left the summit at 12.05 after a brief chat with a man who’d been walking on the hill at around the same pace as us. It was lovely to meet him and, although we didn’t catch his name, he (like us) appeared to be absolutely delighted to be back in the hills as he was beaming from ear to ear. Some walkers will give a slight acknowledgement and move on as fast as they can as they seek the hills for solitude which is entirely fine as it’s a personal preference. However, for me, I absolutely adore blethering away to random strangers on the hillsides and summits, hearing about their adventures and excitedly chirping away about the hills and whatever else you happen to find out that you have in common. That’s sometimes my favourite part of a hill/bothy experience is the people… there’s another idea for a separate post! Anyway, back to An Socach… For the descent, it is really easy, as you retrace your steps back the way you came and follow the path back out, over the stones, down the hill and across the various boggy sections you encountered on the way up. Soon enough, we were back at the track, which we followed to the farmhouse, where I was delighted to spot (what I thought were wild, doh!) four beautiful white horses roaming the hillsides. Note to self – remember carrots next time. It has to be said, anytime we are in an area like this, we are insanely envious and jealous of those who live in such beautiful and remote locations and always discuss how we could live somewhere like this, what we would do and get carried away discussing our dreams. We arrived back at the car by 10 past 2, with my Garmin recording the entire walk as only 4h:43m. I don’t know about you, but there is always something extremely satisfying about beating the walkhighlands ‘fast’ time, especially as we had stopped for plenty of pictures and videos.

Since we had so much time, we were able to enjoy the drive around to Braemar in the sunshine to grab some ciders and more Irn Bru for dinner and the evening ahead. This was more than welcome when we finally got set up later that night, after some horrific heather bashing and my near-death experience on my part (far from it, as I’m sure you’d hear in Scott’s version of the walk) during our attempt to locate the Secret Howff. However, that’s for the next walk report…

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Comments: 2

3 days and 5 Munros in the heart of the Cairngorms

Attachment(s) Munros: Beinn a'Bhuird, Beinn a'Chaorainn (Cairngorms), Beinn Bhreac, Beinn Mheadhoin, Ben Avon
Date walked: 11/07/2020
Distance: 64km
Ascent: 2520m
Comments: 1
Views: 222

Beinn Iutharn Mhor and Carn Bhac - our post-lockdown return

Attachment(s) Munros: Beinn Iutharn Mhor, Carn Bhac
Date walked: 04/07/2020
Distance: 32km
Views: 131


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