Central Cairngorms

After the previous night’s camp I needed to re-stock my food and pack for a solo trip rather than shared kit. A relaxed coffee and cake stop had us part ways and I was on my own to head back into Linn of Dee for the second time in two days.

This time, I was taking the northern path, following the Derry Burn rather than the Dee. Apart from runs in the recent years utilising a stretch of this route, this was my first walk in this neck of the woods for fourteen, possibly fifteen years! On that visit, a record breaking warm February day, three of us were aiming for Ben Macdui and Derry Cairngorm, but high winds and burns swollen with the heavy thaw held us back and we eventually turned back from Loch Etchachan where chunks of ice were flying off the surface at us.

Derry Lodge arrived sooner than expected, where I headed north into a stunning Glen Derry. I had very little memory of the place and was surprised how nice it was: hemmed in by mountains on either side and ahead, yet open feeling with edges softened by the numerous pine trees along the way; Derry Burn close by and the view ahead of the torrs on Beinn Mheadhoin adding something to the scene.

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It was dry all the way to the point where I turned west, just fifteen minutes from the Hutchison Memorial Hut. A very wet fifteen minutes! I took shelter in the hut, until the roof told me the rain had all but stopped. I had wondered about staying here and the place would likely be mine for the night, but a second high camp and dramatic views were more appealing so I continued upwards. Coming level with Loch Etchachan, I was now further than I had been before in this area and took some time to admire the scenery before turning to continue up Beinn Mheadhoin. I was looking forward to views back down Glen Derry from this high point (the torrs I had seen all the way in), but more so to to a place I have read about and seen on maps, but never been into, the Loch Avon basin. Behind me though, views over Loch Etchachan and the cliffs behind towards Ben Macdui were giving me plenty of reasons to stop and take my time.

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It was clear the weather for the remainder of the day was going to be on the wet side, but I got some good views up top – some more dramatic for the swiftly moving cloud and mist – and I took a detour to the lower summit, Stacan Dubha, where much better views of the loch and the Shelter Stone crags can be enjoyed than from elsewhere on Beinn Mheadhoin. My timing was (im)perfect, coinciding with the start of even heavier rain and views were obliterated in seconds. I did get enough glimpse to know it is an impressive view and I’ll be back to see it again soon, I hope.

This actually would have been a perfect place to camp, but I wanted to hold off until the rain stopped to get setup. However, after the walk back to Loch Etchachan and studying the sky to the west, I was starting to shift my attention back to a night in the bothy – it was clear I’d not be getting a camp with views tonight. An easy decision made, half an hour later I was in the bothy changing out of soaked clothes into dry ones. Things improved shortly after with food being taken and the the noise of heavy rain and winds on the roof convincing me I had made a good decision.

It is a great wee bothy – much more appealing now after a recent refit than all those years ago – and I got it to myself afterall.

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After a pleasant, but restless night, I woke to brightness coming directly in the window and didn’t waste time getting packed up and back up to Loch Etchachan where the scenery was even better under a blue sky – cliffs that were grey and black the previous evening, were now showing all kinds of shades of red and pink amidst the greys.

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The walking felt easy and I was soon up high with views of my day ahead and enjoying my breakfast. Derry Cairngorm to the southeast looked further away somehow – something I have experienced in the Cairngorms previously – yet I was on top soon after, enjoying views to the west, where Ben Macdui – just in cloud until now – was showing signs of clearing.

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I lingered to enjoy views at the summit, but walked quickly onwards to Ben Macdui, hoping to get the views over the Lairig Ghru and the hills across it, before any more cloud came in. Just as I approached the ruin of the Sapper’s Bothy, I was stopped in my tracks by a bold snow bunting who was keen to lighten my load. After bouncing over to me, it rounded me in circles and only flew off once I had given up some of my lunch.

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The summit of Ben Macdui was bouldery as expected, but I hadn’t expected so much in the way of constructions – cairns all over the place – not sure that would be helpful in a whiteout. No visibility issues today though, my views were reasonably clear, both across the Lairig and south to my next destination, Carn a’ Mhaim. One of the best views was of the Devil’s Point, somewhat dwarfed among its giant neighbours, at the southern end of the Lairig Ghru – and I found myself looking across at it all the way along the ridge to Carn a’ Mhaim. More great views from there, over my travels of the past two days and my route back out to Linn of Dee.

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Until now my legs had been pretty fresh, but the descent from Carn a’ Mhaim had pushed them over an edge and once back on the path back out to Linn of Dee, I could feel the weekend’s efforts in them.

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Four buzzards (I think) were above me on the latter stages of the walk out soaring and gliding far and wide, calling to each other all the time. Perhaps two parents teaching their young some skills. A final highlight in a couple of brilliant days’ walking in the Cairngorms.

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